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 one’s 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.

I Am Not Coal

Today, I am not proud of myself.

As of late, I’ve been looking for a new position. I loathe to admit that the situation at my current place of employment has depleted my morale considerably, and I can’t deny that this loss has affected my better judgment. It has been almost two years since I’ve been on the job market and there were certain lessons that have been forgotten since my last foray.

A little background to understand my situation. I work as a software developer. The field is in considerable demand, and the nature of the workplace environment has given rise to the business of recruiting. Thus, once a programmer places their resume for display, they are often swiftly besieged by phone calls and soliciting emails. Swarms of headhunters descend upon us, individuals with no concept of timing or personal space. There are only a couple, and I strictly mean only two, whom with I’ve developed any rapport. That is how rarely it is to be treated well in the placement industry.

Last week, I took the call from a random recruiter I had never met before. Out of the many, this one proved tenacious in speaking for a particular client, insisting without modesty that everyone placed under this employer never quit, the turnover nonexistent. When I tried to discuss salary, my position was battered down to the absolute minimum of what I would accept. I eventually agreed to be submitted as a potential candidate.

The recruiter, with unyielding optimism, took it upon herself to insist that I maintain a positive attitude. This sentiment aggravated me, but I said nothing.

I was submitted and the day hadn’t passed when the client showed interest. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to a phone screening with the manager. The process took roughly 40 minutes, and I nothing about the call bothered me. I actually wasn’t dissuaded by the manager, which piqued my curiosity about the job in question. I agreed to a face to face.

But shortly after, there were red flags. The first interview had to be postponed due to a patch release. I understood. Server updates aren’t always routine affairs and there are plenty of possible pitfalls. But I perked my brow when the recruiter emailed me asking how the interview went, oblivious to the rescheduling.

The weather and other circumstances caused a series of rain checks. And each time, the recruiter contacted me again, hoping for a placement and the resulting commission. The manager, it seemed, excluded her from the loop, and she further taxed my patience with prods for updates. But the man seemed determined to meet me and persevered.

At last, I went in for the face to face. To their credit, the commute was not bad. But the moment I entered the office, I immediately felt a sense of dread. The lighting was paltry. Entire hallways were converted with incredibly small cubicles, where the cramped employees sat with their backs turned, and their monitors for all to see. There was not even a modest attempt to feign privacy. My spirits sank even further when I entered a conference room barely bigger than a full bath, and was seated sandwiched between the wall and table.

I hadn’t even begun my employment and I utterly detested the work environment.

Are they going to fit you and a laptop in a shoebox? A voice in my head seethed. Did you see those other employees? Droning away in this hole as co-workers pass by, walking this labyrinth of close corridors. Denied sunlight and quiet.

As the interview began, I was informed the process would take two hours, to which I shirked and said that I only had time for one. And the questions immediately started on the wrong foot, as they asked for details of the smallest features that developers use and never really think about. On the job, we never really worry about this issues because the answers are just a Google search away or consorting through Stack Overflow questions. A good developer is heuristic.

Let me get this straight. That voice echoed in my psyche again. They’re expecting you to fight, grovel and struggle to prove what you know, just so you can sketch out an existence in this s@#% hole? For less than you want?

And no matter how dark that voice sounded, I realized it was right. I could sit there and smile, nodding my head, wasting time in my ever dwindling life, scrapping my brain to obtain answers for something undesirable. Or I could take a stand.

I stopped the interview. And I told the manager, point blank, that I didn’t want to work there.

The manager, who needed perhaps two seconds to get over his initial shock at what is effectively a powerful insult, responded tactfully. “That’s fine. It’s best not to waste either of our time.”

He of course showed me the door, guiding me with both swiftness and silence to the office entrance. He didn’t even bother to escort me back to the lobby. As I walked out of the building, I sent the recruiter an email informing them that the interview went south. She responded with an immediate phone call, completely failing to understand or even listen to the problems. All she knew were the statistics, how no one placed in this agency was ever dissatisfied. And of course when I told her what had happened, she informed me that her recruitment firm could never represent me again.

I asked her if she had even been to the site. She said she had not. When I tried to explain my grievances in detail, she ignored them, screaming over the phone, “You burned bridges!”

Then let them burn, the voice responded. To her, you’re nothing but coal she’s shoveling into the furnace anyway.

At this point, I told her to go f%#* herself, and hung up.

My disappointment with myself wasn’t because of how the interview went. Or even my handling of the recruiter. It was because I let myself be dragged into this situation. I should have listened to my gut and told the recruiter no. I should have known that the eternal optimist is often terrible at empathy. I’m tired of not caring.

And honestly, I just want something I can be passionate about again. I won’t allow myself to do this again. But I also won’t be put in this situation again, either.

“Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2015” Out Now!

One of my earliest stories, years in the making, is now available thanks to the folks over at DefCon One Publishing!

msjIf you enjoy mad science, and I mean real mad science and not that engineering stuff, check out my tale Sins and Dust in this release, edited by Jeremy Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel! It includes thirteen tales by authors like Marla L. Anderson, J. M. Perkins, Dorian Graves, Lorraine Schein, and Sylvia Heike! It’s also complete with illustrations from Steve Maschuck, Katie Nyborg, Dawn Vogel, and Scarlett O’Hairdye to name a few.

Available for the Kindle on Amazon today.

Injuries Journal Part II

There was good news yesterday.

At 6:30 pm, I started feeling pain in my neck, the first serious spike of the entire day. That was a long stretch without feeling discomfort. I had taken two aspirin that morning and four ibuprofen in two sets of two throughout the day. No Tiger Balm and limited use of the heating pad and ice packs. No carpal tunnel in my hands and only a bit of discoordination in my foot. That’s a great sign because normally I feel that discomfort around 2 pm.

I regretted skipping lunch though. Come noon I just wasn’t hungry, so I snacked on a few pretzel sticks that went down fine enough. For dinner there was a casserole of chicken, broccoli, cheese and brown rice. Great news there too in that I only needed to swallow tea every three or four bites to ward off the brain freeze. Another improvement.

This morning was rough however. And I don’t know whether it was adverse sleeping conditions or just the extreme cold outside, as it was briefly less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt pretty fatigued in my limbs, particularly my legs. There was an ache in my neck and shoulders but that went away with walking. I had a tough time swallowing the dry bread sample at Pete’s Coffee, and I felt a twinge of pain in my heart, probably from muscles being pulled there. But just a dash of the heating pad and I feel fine now.

A little later, I noticed some asymmetry in my right soleus (part of the calf), above the ankle but below the gastrocnemius. I realized the muscle was quite sore, and when I checked the less swollen opposite muscle, it too ached of soft muscle pain. I believe that my fatigue is actually being caused by stress from my neck throughout my entire body, which might explain why my physique has increasingly looked buff despite my lack of even looking at the gym. Some muscle relaxant on it has allowed my legs to recover from the exhaustion.

A friend of mine who usually prefers to remain nameless recommended something called epsom salts, a compound of magnesium and sulfur that has considerable muscle relaxing properties in the bath. It’s also very cheap, and available at our local Target and Walmart stores (for my foreign readers, Target and Walmart are the big budget department stores in this country). I will try to obtain some soon for both current and later problems.

However, I truly suspect that the cold is masking the symptoms of my condition behind the effects of the chill. I think I’ll hold off on the doctor until next week (unless of course the problem goes away by then).

In other news… I finished the first draft of my novel.

It was a stretch, I admit. That last chapter always taking just a bit a longer than I anticipate. I ended up not accomplishing everything I intended to that day, but finishing a novel is certainly nothing to complain about. I’m going to be taking a few days break from it while I work on a few other submissions, including a Black Library submission piece my friend wants me to take a look at and an edited manuscript from Emby Press that I need to review and approve. I also have a novel pitch I need to wrap up and submit very shortly.

Injuries Journal Part I

About a week ago, I injured myself carrying my backpack from work to home. The condition, I believe, is a pinched nerve. I’ve done my research and the symptoms match it far, far too well.

The vertebrae, being the key to the central nervous system, is incredibly complex, although that complexity reduces the further down the back you go. Among my symptoms include a bit of pain at the base of my head and spine, fatigue in my legs and sometimes my arms, minor carpal tunnel syndrome and cold flesh at my neck. The spot in question is definitely on my cervical vertebrae.

The worst problems are two fold: first, the nerve endings in my throat are convinced that almost anything I swallow is cold, resulting in persistent brain freeze. Second, muscles connecting my esophagus to my spine keep clenching whenever I eat. This caused acid reflux and heart burn. Eating can be quite an ordeal.

The good news is that there seems to be definite signs of improvement. The first few days, I had trouble getting to sleep because of the pain. Now, I can get 8 or 9 hours uninterrupted. I’ve been taking ibuprofen for anti-inflammation, aspirin for blood thinning, using a heating pad to reduce the cold and muscle pain, and have also alternated with an ice pack to reduce any swelling. Tums for the acid reflux.

Oh, and for the pain… I am now a proud initiate of the Tiger Balm cult.

I’ve been encouraged to go to the doctor’s office but two things hold me back. First, it’s a cost I don’t need right now to find out two, that as a pinched nerve, they recommend a conservative treatment (what I’m doing now). At best, I could probably receive some muscle relaxants and something for the agony (which is reducing on its own) but I’d rather not bother. At the most worrying end of the spectrum, it is possible I could require surgery to repair the damage… but I don’t think my current physicians is particularly scalpel-happy.

Today, I made myself a breakfast of bacon, coffee and some egg creation of mozzarella cheese and sauerkraut with spices. Went down alright with minimal brain freeze and almost no clenching, both very good signs. But, it’s very common for the problems to grow worse throughout the day. The two biggest problem foods are anything solid and hard, and cold. Particularly beverages. That hot coffee makes everything easier.

One interesting thing that happened yesterday night while a few coworkers and I were playing Cards Against Humanity. I had quite a few shots of Fireball, a cinnamon whiskey served room temperature. (Amusing note: I remember my coworkers disdain at Fireball until last CAH night, when they kept wanting more shots after trying it.) It was only after I got home that I remembered that Sarah made a bowl of popcorn, and I ate it without feeling any discomfort whatsoever. This might be a solution at the next dinner with friends, where I could carry a flask of Fireball and chug it as not to feel the pain when I eat. Until then, I’m going to conserve what I have for later.

Today I’m taking a day off of work to stay on my back (sans sex) as much as possible. I’ve hooked up my PC to run off the big screen television with zoomed in text for easy reading. (Tip: hold CTRL and use the mouse zoom button. I recommend it while web browsing to ease strain on the eyes, dear readers.) I made a deal with myself that if there is no improvement by tomorrow, I would schedule a doctor’s appointment.

We’ll see what happens… going to get back to wrapping up this novel I’m writing. And will post another update tonight after dinner. Later chummers.

“Far Worlds” – Promotions Day

Far WorldsFar Worlds is about a month from release.

I can say without a doubt, that Far Worlds is our most ambitious anthology yet. Packed with 13 original short stories, additional flash fiction and illustrations, the anthology is one impressive feat of literature in the wide realm of speculative science fiction and epic fantasy, and yet all tying together.

Here’s a listing of what is featured:

“Rainer” by Heidi Ruby Miller.
“Anomaly” by Jonathan Ward.
“Alone” by Alex Helm.
“Shard of Heaven” by Damir Salkovic.
“Endaris” by Michael J. Hollows.
“The Lost and Found” by Kerri Fitzgerald.
“Helzenthrax” by A.R. Aston.
“Bequeathal” by K. Ceres Wright.
“City Blue” by Edward Smith.
“The War Room” by Michael Seese.
“A Pelnodan Bounty” by James Fadeley.
“Golden Planet” by Evan Purcell.
“Salvation Comes” by Simon Farrow.

And there’s more to come. We have a few other goodies and surprises in store.

Unexpected Complexity

On sale now!

On sale now!

First thing’s first. My newest story is available at Fox Spirit Books, in their 3rd pocket volume Guardians. You should buy a copy and find out who tomorrow’s hottest authors will be.

I’m knee deep in my first novel’s synopsis. And I have to admit, every time I look at it I find some new plot hole that needs filling. Some undiscovered problem. Part of me really wants to keep the plot moving, which I feel is a great author’s trait to have. So I’m working hard to ensure that although the heroes do eventually slow down and rest, something critical or important happens during or at the end of every chapter.

My biggest concern is avoiding “patch” fixes to plot holes. I would rather go back and correct the problem via planning and foresight than a shoddy explanation.

As far as novels go, there’s a lot of moving parts here. Numerous characters, each with their own desires and history. A lot of background to cover. I have nine parts of the synopsis finished (out of probably 23) and I wrote a chapter and a half. The original first chapter was cut out. It was slow and didn’t add much that I couldn’t fit in later. This thing is rapidly becoming massive. I’ve only just revealed one of three major villains. And I’ve still not yet gotten all my protagonists on the same page, although they are starting to come together.

The biggest problems kept coming from a turncoat character. His reasoning was frequently terrible. His actions didn’t jive as well as I hoped. Hopefully an extensive rewrite works out better…

Anthology Publishing Theory

An idea came to me during the day. My friend sent some flash fiction to edit, which was intended to go between the stories of a new anthology we’re working on.

The flash was great, but diverse. Some were happier endings, some comical. Some were darker. They hit a wide range of emotions in anywhere from a paragraph to a page in length.

As I finished, a thought occurred to me. In my opinion, the grand problem with anthologies is that their nature doesn’t permit them to be page-turners quite like novels can. A story comes to an end, and you say goodbye to the characters, the setting, the events and plot. You have to start something new.

Every tale has an emotional impact associated with it. So when it ends, I suspect that most people shut the book and set it aside to digest the ending. We’ve made some effort in the past to be careful with the order of our tales, trying to keep similar stories apart.

But as I thought about it, what’s the job of a DJ? To come up with a playlist of songs to keep people dancing, to maintain a kind of energy high so people don’t want to leave the dance floor. If the music doesn’t keep up the pace, people start to hit the bar. (And if the music is bad, people leave.)

A flash vignette is tempting however. If the reader sees that there’s a short passage just after a short story has ended, I suspect that they’d want to read it just because it’s so simple and brief. So could there be a way to balance it? If the short story ends on an evil note, could a hopeful and uplifting flash fiction piece help the audience carry onto the next story more readily?

More initial instincts say that the emotions should contrast to find balance. If something is sad, make it happy. If something is depressing, give them hope. If a tale ends with the bad guys winning, have the next piece contain an outlet for the reader’s anger.

Will have to try it…

Writer’s Scars

“Today was not a possibility. It was an inevitability.”

So long since my last post, and so much news.

The Black Wind’s Whispers is (finally) out in print edition. Still working on the same for Marching Time, although the Kindle version of that is available. And we’ve been making strides towards Far Worlds, our next Bolthole anthology which is currently in the works.

I’m also stepping down from the Bloghole. I enjoyed my time there and learned so much about the business, but I want to return to writing and writing related projects.

But the whooping news is that a particular publishing company is shutting down. Their printing ends in February next year. And with it, fellow writer Jonathan Ward and I are losing over half our published works.

As I spoke to him, I learned final warnings from the owner. He told me stories of queries from contributors and new authors, trying to find out when the next opening was. Gauging if they could openly submit a novel. He told me how disheartening it was to turn people down and dealing with points of reduced sales.

But despair and I are old friends. Few people know how to hold onto lost causes better than myself or Rhett Butler, and the education given to me by others only serves to enhance my zeal.

But the former point the owner mentioned is a lesson. I’m spoiled because so many new writers dive after novels instead of trying their hands at short stories and mastering their craft. I did a novella once, and have learned that it is better to do as you are asked than try your hand at something unexpected and not requested.

It seems that future writing projects will need to have some kind of buffer. We’ll have to draw our line carefully and find a means to filter that which we do not ask for.

Well, that’s a concern for a future day.

But there’s a coming-of-age lesson here and it starts with the title. Today was not a possibility. It was an inevitability. Every writer who held on has to deal with the moment that the publication containing their works goes out of print somehow. Maybe the one-time rights expire. Maybe the company shuts down, or violates some agreement and has to stop the book from further circulation.

Maybe you knew it was coming. Maybe it’s a bolt out of the blue. But those stories you crafted, the tales that wowed editors enough to be printer worthy, are given back to you. And it dawns on you that, for the first time, your pieces of work must be submitted with the word “reprint” stamped to it.

All of a sudden, this great tale is no longer quite as valuable. Sometimes, companies flat out refuse reprints. Other times they’ll take them… at 10% the cost of what they would pay for an original. “Our normal rate is $.05 a word. But since this has already been published once, we can only offer you a flat rate of $25.”

Or less.

But like I said. Anyone who holds on long enough has to deal with this. Stories do eventually become homeless. I think of accomplished guys like Josh Reynolds, who have or had well over a hundred short stories published. There’s no way they could all remain in circulation.

It’s a day to remember at least. But for now, the following stories are available for only another five months. Get them while they’re hot…

“On Ne Passé Pas!” from War is Hell.

“Happily Ever After” from Under the Knife.

“The Child of Iron” from From Their Cradle to Your Grave.

“The Eyes” from 100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of an Eye.

“Marching Time” Release and More!

Wait! Wait! I have an excuse for my absence! Because we’re finally about to release this!

marchingtime

After months of work, we’re finally about to release the new anthology from the Bolthole, Marching Time. A collection of stories involving the various aspects of war and time traveling, Marching Time is the second anthology we’re to publish.

Marching Time should be available on Amazon later this week. I should also note that we’ve started work on a third anthology and the call for submissions will be going out shortly. If you’re new to writing and want to get a tale in or an old hand who wants to try, keep an eye out and expect the submission flyer real soon. But you may want to check out and read the anthology to make sure it’s your cup of tea.