Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zombie Kalen Will Eat Your Brains

Hopefully brains taste like sushi or something yum.  Whatevs.

Fair warning:  To make up for an overly extended absence, this blog post will be the lengthiest blog post in the history of blog posts EVER.  (Partly due to the unnecessary repetition of 'blog post'.  Just roll with it).

ANYWAY.  Let's get this out of the way, Kalen's been a bad bad blogger, since he hasn't touched this thing since last January and forgot his own password.  I was busy yo!  With stuff!

Oh.  You want details?

FINE!  Okay, so not this WriteOnCon, but last one, so like a whole YEAR ago, some drama and shizz went down.  Which was really unfortunate because I'd had a bunch of agents request material that I inadvertently left hanging, and plus, you know, drama.  I ended up moving cities for a year, family in crisis, blah blah blah ohmygawdWHATEVER I'm so bored.  Point is, by the time things settled down last spring and I was able to start focusing on my writing and career again, I'd had a lot of time to think and reflect and decide what I want and how I want to get there.

'Oh Kalen', those of you who know me well are saying as you shake your heads pityingly.  'That never ends well.'

No.  No it does not.

Self-deprecating wit aside, this is a Very Important Question that every writer needs to ask themselves at some point, the sooner the better.  What do you WANT?  For your book, for your career, for yourself?  What are your priorities?  Would you rather your book be commercially successful or award-winning and praised for its literary merit?  Is your dream to see it in hard cover on the shelf in a Barnes and Noble, or just to get it to as many people as possible wherever you find them?  To find a niche, build a brand, and revisit the same world and characters as often as a publisher will let you, or branch out and write in multiple genres for multiple demographics?

So I sat down (well, remained sitting, more like.  I was already sitting down) and asked myself these questions.  And asked my friends to weigh in.  And then went to the nearest McDonalds and asked the cashier what he thought, just to be sure I'd been thorough.  I started to develop a sneaking suspicion that my plans were going to have to involve self-publishing.

Those of you who've read my blog from the start aren't surprised by this, I'm sure.  I've always been curious about that road, not from any dissatisfaction with trade publishers, but because I like flexibility, and adaptability, and above all I love the chance to be experimental.  My mother calls it Special Snowflake Syndrome.  And people wonder where my flavor of wit comes from.

Most of all though - wait, I already save above all, I can't do most of all on top of that.  WHATEVER.  Point is, I like options.  The more, the better.  I have certain worlds in my head that I want to know once I publish them, I'll be able to revisit them with readers whenever I want, rather than have to depend on sales to justify further sequels.  I have a book I came up with a specific way to market, that I don't want to have to go through a publisher's marketing department for approval.  I have another book where I just don't want to leave a paper trail of the illegal subliminal messages I insert in order to recruit the youth of America into vandalizing property with the graffiti tag: THIS BUILDING IS PROPERTY OF KALEN.  ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.

And so on and so forth.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm 'giving up' on trade publishing!  Far from it!  I'm sitting on a MG fantasy about a boy who's part of a secret society of thieves who steal magic from all corners of time and space.  I fully intend to query, submit, and shop it to agents and publishers at some point with completely unreasonable expectations on my part.  But that's exactly what I'm talking about.  Every book, every author has their own path in the big, wide world of publishing.  My path, I've come to believe, involves walking down both the self and trade publishing roads simultaneously....either in accordance with or in defiance of the whole Schrodinger's Cat thing.  (I can never figure out which.  I'm an author, not a physicist, damn it.)  Being able to decide with each book whether publishing it myself or finding a publisher is best for it.

I'll admit, when I first realized that I was seriously considering self-publishing, there was a lot of neurotic backlash.  There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and my friends are saints for just tuning out the BUT BUT BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PRETTY HARDCOVERS AND EVERYONE'S GOING TO THINK I JUST WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH AND OMGAWD WHAT IF NOBODY BUT YOU GUYS EVER READS IT EVER AND AND I JUST WANT A MILLION DOLLARS AND A FILM DEAL WHAT IF I NEVER GET A FILM DEAL YOU GUYYYYYYYYYYS.

Yeah.  It wasn't pretty.  Snot.  Was.  EVERYWHERE.

But then, I started thinking.  So my road to publication wasn't going to look like everyone else's.  Wait, what DID everyone else's road to publication look like?  And then I started looking up people I knew from QueryTracker and AbsoluteWrite and AgentQuery, in the year and a half since I first started building a query list for my first novel.

And it occurred to me, another question I think every author needs to ask themselves:  Just what exactly did I expect my road to publication to look like?

Should it look my critique partner Gennifer Albin, who got seven agent offers the first week she queried, sold her trilogy in a major deal, and whose book CREWEL just released last week?

Or how about my dear friend A.G. Howard, who was on submission for months before selling her debut Splintered at auction, and has gone on to receive gushing praise from book reviewers and bestselling authors like Melissa Marr?

Or my friend of almost ten years, Corinne Duyvis, who got an agent, went on sub, shelved her novel, sold a short story, attracted the attention of her future editor Maggie Lerhman with said short story, submitted her novel to Maggie, got a new agent (the incomparable Ammi-Joan Paquette), and sold a completely DIFFERENT novel to Maggie, the amazing LGBT fantasy novel Otherbound?

Or Lydia Kang, who sold her sci-fi CONTROL to Penguin/Dial just TWO weeks after she signed with her agent.  I KNOW!  Holy shizznizz, right?

I could compare myself to Karen Akins, I guess, since she got requests for her sci-fi novel LOOP at the same WriteOnCon I did over a year ago...and then went on to sign with Victoria Marini thanks to MSFV's Baker's Dozen agent who had already rejected her original query months before, and now landed her a two book deal at St. Martin's!

Or there's Emily Murdoch, who parted ways with her agent and later signed with the amazing Mandy Hubbard, who sold If You Find Me also to St. Martin's.

And then there's Natalie Parker, who signed with Sarah Davies and almost a full year later announced her six figure two book deal for BEWARE THE WILD.

Josin L. McQuein, who we hate btw, sold ARCLIGHT in a major deal the DAY it went on submission.  Then she sold PREMEDITATED a few short months later.  If she sells another book or announces a film deal or something, I will probably have to shank her, because she's just freaky, okay?  (J/k, I adore Josin.  She's awesomesauce.)

Bethany Hagen sold LANDRY PARK in a major deal three days after she signed with Mollie Glick.  Jessica Khoury signed with her agent last fall, sold ORIGIN not long after, and it's already out in stores and has a film deal.  Her agent sibling Anna Banks had a similarly fast publishing timeline, selling OF POSEIDON a few weeks after signing, releasing her book a little over a year later, and just announcing this morning that her publisher has requested a third book in her series.  Ryan Graudin sold ALL THAT GLOWS after a relatively short submission period, at least compared to the months my good, amazing and fantabulous friend Bethany Crandell spent on sub before landing SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS at Running Press.  Mindee Arnett has sold TWO series before her first novel's even debuted.  So did Meagan Spooner if you count the BEA Buzz Book SKYLARK she wrote on her own, and THESE BROKEN STARS, the space age version of Titanic she wrote with Amie Kaufman and sold in a significant deal to Hyperion.  And you should also check out STARGLASS by Phoebe North, THE WITCH HUNTER'S BIBLE by Michelle Krys, and THE MURDER COMPLEX by Lindsay Cummings.  Kate Karyus Quinn sold ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE two weeks after signing with Alexandra Machinist, Stefan Bachmann landed a home for his BEA Buzz Book THE PECULIAR two weeks after signing with Sara Megibow, and Mindy McGinnis was on submission for awhile before selling her dystopian NOT A DROP TO DRINK.  Mindy likes to stay busy though, so while on submission she started a popular blog about the in's and out's of various writers' query and submission trials....check out her interview with RC Lewis, who landed her agent and book deal for STITCHING SNOW in a most unusual way.

So you see....even this block-headed numbskull, when confronted with facts like that, eventually realized that even if I did want my road to publication to be just like everyone else' would that even be possible?  Each and every one of the above authors was unagented when I first started pursuing writing as a career a little under two years ago.  Each and everyone of them has become successful in their own way, and no two of those ways look even remotely alike.  And these are just their debuts....who can imagine the varied shapes the rest of their careers will take?  When I realized I couldn't even pick out one specific author's road to publication to wish for mine to imitate, it became very freeing in a way.  Welcome, I realized at last, to an industry where normal means being different from everyone else!

I'd now like to bring this back around to making it all about me.  Stop groaning, it was inevitable.  I use the word ego in my blog address, you were forewarned.

So in the spirit of charting my own path, I decided at last that my debut novel will be self-published, and it will be completely unlike any of the above.  The Special Snowflake Syndrome has no cure.  I've made my peace with that.  I chose self-publishing for this particular novel for a number of reasons.  No agent or editor has ever seen the manuscript for this; I never queried or submitted it to publishers.  It's a superhero novel, or more accurately, a novel about the daughter of a supervillain.  It will be categorized under YA on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the other online retailers, but technically its more a 'New Adult', since the main character is out of high school and on her own, for thematic purposes and reasons pertaining to story.  But most importantly, it's serialized.

I've been a lifelong comic book fan, not just for the brightly colored and spandex clad superheroes, but because I'm a fan of the medium.  The different ways it plays with storytelling.  Leave aside the pairing of art and story, modern superhero comics are structured in an interesting way, frequently having 'story arcs' made up of five or six issues released either monthly or biweekly that go together to form an overall storyline.  Each issue has its own rising and falling action, some issues end on cliffhangers, some don't, but at the end of the story arc you're left with a complete resolution.  It's a format that is well suited to superhero adventures, and its that model I've chosen to imitate here.  And so 'FENCE: Sins of the Daughter' consists of five 'issues' or installments of 15-20K apiece.  Each with their own relatively self-contained piece of the overall story, a novel of approximately 90K.  I'll be unveiling my website at the start of next week, along with the first chapter as a free sample and news on other projects as well.  The first installment of FENCE will be available on all major online retailers the following week.  Each issue of FENCE will be $1.49, and new issues will be released every two weeks, with a complete volume releasing once the last issue is out.  The complete volume will be priced at $6.99, so if you wait to read the whole thing then you'll save fifty cents.  But, you know, screw waiting guys.  Instant gratification is so much more rewarding, yanno?

ANYWAY.  So that's the scoop, the buzz, the poop.  Be a gaggle of darlings and spread the news, mark it in your dayplanners, confer with friends.  Or you know, don't do any of that and disregard as Not Your Cuppa Tea.  I WILL LOVE YOU EITHER WAY!  *smothers you all with lurv and adoration*

Kalen out!


noun,often attributive\ˈfen(t)s\
a : a receiver of stolen goods
b : a place where stolen goods are bought

Two years ago, the villainous Dr. Moreau plummeted to his death from 20,000 feet in the air.  It was agreed a superhero had to be responsible; it was also agreed nobody was terribly concerned with figuring out which one.

Nobody except Cassidy Moreau.

Unimpressed with justice's selective blindness, Cassidy adopted her own ridiculous cloaked persona and set out on a revenge spree that would make her father proud.  As the Fence, she's perfected her dad's technology and uses it to strip heroes of their abilities....which she then sells to the highest bidder.  So far, it hasn't gotten her any closer to unmasking her father's killer, but at least it keeps her credit cards paid off.

It's strictly business when she targets Manhattan's literal golden boy, the teen heart throb formerly known as Kid Midas.  Problem is, Midas turns out to be more than just a set of washboard abs when he uncovers Cassidy's secret identity.  His brief spurt of brain activity is mitigated by his belief he can get his powers back by appealing to her better nature, but whatever.  Cassidy's got bigger problems.  The guy she sold his abilities to is a crazed nihilist intending to use them to destroy the city.  Who knew changing things to gold involved moving atoms around, right?

As the city counts down towards doomsday, its fate rests in whether or not one hero can convince Cassidy to give a damn - preferably before she takes the nearest bus out of town.

Don't hold your breath, Manhattan. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Sound and the Fury (of Internet Flame Wars)

So for anyone who's been on twitter in the past couple of days, I'm sure the news that there's been yet another kerfluffle in the epic YA Reviewers Vs YA Authors war comes as no surprise.  Let's call this one Round Fifty Bajillion, shall we?

Being as I have no connection to anyone in the Goodreads thread, am not yet an author, and am too lazy to actually review books, I read said thread with the kind of morbid fascination I normally reserve for viewing Joel Schumacher movies.  This isn't to say that it was a new or unfamiliar phenomenom to me - I am a hardened veteran of internet wars in other arenas and have conducted myself embarrassingly on more than one occasion.  Hell, there are certain parts of the internet where my name is used as a verb - but don't ask.  It's a long story, and I don't look pretty in it, so I'll only lie anyway.

My point is, this shit happens.  We get worked up, we say things we shouldn't, and as we have ostentatiously large vocabularies with which to arm our insults, things get ugly real quick.  We are all imperfectly evolved monkeys after all - the urge to occasionally fling our own poo at each other is hard-wired into our DNA.  (Or something like that.  I dunno.  Biology wasn't my best subject.)

Problem is, we're all so busy pointing fingers in the aftermath that we rarely bother to take a good hard look at ourselves.  But it takes two to tango, as much as we try to pretend otherwise, and there were some gross misassumptions being thrown around on BOTH sides of this most recent argument which all but guarantee that it will happen again in some form or another.  And as I'm hoping the next big internet kerfluffle is about something a little more interesting, like say, Zombie Dinosaurs Were Responsible for Ending the Vietnam War: True or False, I thought I'd point out some of those misassumptions here in a blogpost I shall inevitably regret when I sober up in the morning.  Please know that not everything I say in this post is directed at the Tempest review thread that....its simply the most recent brouhaha in a long line of YA review brouhahas and it (and even moreso, the responses to it all around the 'net) have gotten me thinking.

First off, there's a LOT of talk going around about readers and reviewers railing against authors for weighing in on their reviews, and how this is like censorship and etc, etc, etc ad nauseam.  The thing  It's really not.  And the more people say that, the more people who don't know any better will start to really believe it, and the more I will bang my head against my desk when my doctor has told me any more concussions and I'll start randomly speaking in tongues like Klingon and High Elvish, which has the potential to be mad embarrassing, yo.

See the thing about free speech: contrary to popular assumption, it does NOT equal freedom from the SOCIAL consequences of your speech.

You get to say whatever you want on the internet, this is true.  About the books you read, the authors who write them, whatever.  You get to say it however you want to, as well.  You can be angry, sarcastic, passive aggressive or even speak in rhyme.

What you can NOT do however, is dictate how people respond to you.  Nor can you dictate who composes those responses.

Look, however you try and spin it, the review that sparked this most recent argument was antagonistic in tone.  I don't say this as a condemnation, just as a point of fact.  It was about a hot button issue for the reviewer, and lord knows I have hot button issues of my own - queef me a smoke signal about bisexuals being misrepresented and I'm likely to show up two seconds later with nuclear warheads armed and at the ready.

All I'm saying is if you're going to put something like that out there you need to hold yourself responsible for putting it out there in the manner you chose.  You can't start the party off with some righteous hellfire and brimstone and then get pissed that when dissidents eventually show up, they're not wearing their Calm and Rational Discourse party hats.  You're the one that set the tone, and as like begets like, people respond accordingly.  This is basic schoolyard politics.  We learned this stuff in grade school.  You can run up behind little Sammy Stickuphisass on the playground and push him over if you feel like it, but its disingenuous to then run to the teacher and play the victim when Sammy turns around and pushes you back.  Take whatever tone you want on the internet and vent accordingly - just don't expect to be disagreed with in a kind and thoughtful tone.

But, you might say, I have a right to say what I want about this book I purchased without having to worry about the author looking over my shoulder and weighing in on what I say about it.

No.  Wrong.  You absolutely do not have that RIGHT.  The fact that MOST authors do not do this has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and their personal desire to conduct themselves professionally - with the provision that there is no single standard for professional behavior and they all have to make their own decisions on what constitutes behaving professionally.

But make no mistake, the generally accepted standard of behavior in no way gives you some right to say whatever you want about an author's book and expect that they know better than to engage you on it.  I'm not saying this is a good idea for authors - in fact, I think its a freaking godawful idea for authors.  I'm just saying, authors or friends of authors who DO take umbrage in regards to a review aren't breaking some law.  You don't actually get to go round up in the internet in defense of yourself if you crossed the lines of good taste because you were operating under the assumption the author 'knew better' than to return fire.  (And please note, I'm not actually talking about the Tempest review when I say this - I think the initial review was antagonistic but not overly so, and did not actually cross any lines into attacking the author personally - but let's not play the 'I've never seen a review that went too far' game, mmkay?)

My point here is simply that I've seen too many reviewers getting dangerously close to that line-of-good-taste simply because they know the author is going to come off looking bad if they speak up about it.  If this is or ever has been you, let's be real - you're taking advantage of social economics, not waging the war of the underdog against the big bad asshole author.  There is no actual unwritten law that protects you from authors getting pissed at you...and there sure as hell is no unwritten moral law that excuses you from behaving like a mature adult just because you dropped eight bucks on a paperback.

I'm not even going to get into the comments I've seen from people who justify their attitude towards authors in reviews and comment threads by saying 'oh they bucketloads of money from their publishing deal so they should just suck it up and deal'.  Umm yeah...that's not actually justification.  It's just you being a dick, and the less said about that the better.

But now for the flip side of the equation, the authors.

Again, look, I get it.  If you've never actually tried writing a whole book and getting it out there for public consumption - that shit will wear you down, kids.  True fact.  It's not actually an extreme exaggeration to say that by the time of publication most authors view their stories as something akin to a beloved child.  And much like sending a beloved child off to school for the first time, the temptation to 'tag along' and just see how they fare out in the big wide world by you know, secretly stalking them from behind bushes and trashcans - it can be overwhelming.  But what authors have to realize is if you give in to that temptation, sooner or later you're going to see some punk bullying your precious baby and taking his lunch money, and while running up to the bullying little shit and kicking him in his pre-pubescent balls will sure FEEL satisfying....its absolutely not going to end well for you.  Hands down, guaranteed.  And this goes for friends and colleagues of the author as well....the general public isn't likely to look any more kindly on you for castrating that smart-mouthed little asshat because you're just the doting aunt or uncle rather than the mouth-frothingly over-protective Mother Bear herself.    

Secondly, this is the internet, and Rule One of Internet Warfare is He Who Shouts the Loudest is most likely to win.  And authors on the internet have Big Voices.  The mere act of getting a blurb about your book posted in Publisher's Marketplace is usually enough to net an author an easy hundred more twitter followers than your average reviewer.  When an author says something on the internet, they say it to more people.  When an author points something out, more people look where they're pointing.  When an author says 'I'm right about this', more people respond with 'you absolutely are!'  The internet is at times an anarchistic wasteland, my friends.  We make Mad Max look like an upstanding citizen of a genteel civilization at times.  Screw the rules of common courtesy, mob rule holds sway more often than not, and just by virtue of being able to say 'I have a book', internet-math ups your chances of having at least a few sycophants at your beck and call.  It's just the way things are.

So yeah, let's not kid ourselves - you don't have to fight your own battles when you're an author.  You just have to point towards them with heavy-handed implication and you can expect friends and fans to do the fighting for you.  Just like when reviewers start things off explosively and then cry foul when it backfires, its disingenuous when an author just points a negative opinion out on twitter and then stands back with a 'oh, but I'm not going to get involved.'  Yeah, but no.  To go back to my Oh So Intellectual playground analogy from earlier, its the equivalent of showing up to a fight behind the bleachers with all your friends from the football team standing behind you.  And if you've never seen how that one ends, you've never slept with the quarterback's super hot cheerleader girlfriend, thinking they were on a break.  (I do not recommend, btw.  Not that I'm uh, speaking from experience or anything.)  But yeah.  Nobody's going to lock you up in Internet Jail if you bring your posse to each and every one of these little soirees....its just, ya know, super hella tacky if you do.

Again, just to reiterate, because pedantic is how I roll, I get it dudes.  I still hope to be published someday myself, and I can tell you right now, I'm gonna absolutely SUCK at the whole behaving professionally thing.  I mean, real talk.  I'm a writer AND an actor.  I come with a double dose of built in insecure neuroses.  If I'm ever lucky enough to land a big bucks publishing deal, the first thing I'm investing in is a tattooed, physically intimidating club bouncer to hover behind me everytime I go online and punch me in the throat if it even looks like I'm about to hit reply to a negative review or comment.  But you what you have to in order to take the higher road.  It's seriously worth it.  Get up and go take a walk everytime someone pisses you off.  Head down to the nearest ATM, withdraw a hundred bucks in singles from your bank account and bring it home, toss it on the bed and roll around in it to make yourself feel better if that's what you absolutely have to do.

....Just don't tell anyone that's how you handle criticism if you do.  That's not gonna go over well either.  Just saying.

So yeah, in conclusion to this epic the end of the day, the writer's obligation to their reader begins and ends with writing the book readers purchase.  The reader's obligation to the writer begins and ends with plopping down however much money their book cost to purchase.  It's THAT simple.  Anything and everything outside of that simple transaction comes with absolutely zero guarantees.

Writers and readers are inevitably going to come into conflict at times.  But when that happens, guess what?  Both sides bear the onus of behaving like mature adults equally.  Neither side is inherently more responsible for catering to the needs or wishes of the other - not the authors, because the reader spent their hard-earned money on them, and not the readers, because the author wrote that story they liked.  Honestly, people need to stop worrying about what other people SHOULD be doing or how they SHOULD handle themselves and just worry about the only thing they can control - how they conduct themselves personally.  And yes, I'm perfectly aware that this entire blogpost is about telling other people how they should behave and I'm absolutely a hypocrite, but like, whatever and stuff.  I'm an imperfectly evolved monkey, remember? 

Act like adults, or don't.  It's totally up to you.  But if you choose not to, accept that you played your own part in whatever follows, and don't run off crying foul to the rest of the internet because so and so hurt your feelings.

Some of us are busy playing Skyrim, thank you very much.