pieces of ‘Whisper’

Inspired by the tiny books, I’m re-energized to attack a mini-book that’s been in progress for over a year. Here are the components laid out in an old teak tray I like for beading:

Whisper book

Whisper, 1″ x 1.75″ x 1″ when complete. The tiny fabric pages are layers of linen and commercially printed cotton, hand-inked, and overlaid with ultra-sheer nylon panels. The nylon comes from high-end tea bags, which I’ve been collecting and washing out for a while – because they’re a glassy sheer fabric I haven’t seen anywhere else. (Some people call it hoarding, I call it upcycling.)

Whisper book pages

The covers are glass blanks I bought at a local bead store, then drilled, etched, and frosted with the aid of a flexible shaft drill. (Yay power tools.) whisper glass in hand

I’m looking forward to Coptic-binding it this week.

Tiny books

Just…tiny books. They’re awesome. They’re like…Night Vale meets a dollhouse. Go see them here.

The first pieces of ‘real’ art (the ones I remember) I did at age 5 were miniatures, and the concept has stayed with me through many different crafts (jewelry, alabaster sculpture, felt sculpture, weaving, painting, mosaic, etc).

But the smallest book I’ve ever made is a behemoth compared to these from Evan Lorenzen.

Moss agate pillow

…or, experiments in home decor.

For a decade or so, I’ve been seeing Chinese jade, agate, and tourmaline-beaded pillows on the import market. Some are panels of beads sewn onto a pillow-top. Others are elaborate hollow cage structures shaped to fit the head and neck, and supported by jade or wooden end-caps.

Metaphysically-inclined folks will swear these help with headaches and other ailments. At the very least, the coolness of the gemstone is supposed to help naps on hot afternoons.

moss agate pillow

Five years ago one of my local bead suppliers had a sale on large-hole (3mm) moss agate beads. Not quite jade, but lovely (and cheap: a 16″ strand for $2.00). I had linen and cotton scraps left over from several projects, plus a lot of hemp macrame cord. My local fabric store carried foam and cotton batting pillow forms in every normal size. You can guess what happened next.

One right-angle-weave panel later, I had a 16″ x 16″ x 5″ linen and moss agate pillow that actually does make a comfortable snooze pillow. It’s pretty, and looks like a high-end decorator find. It can be hand-washed inside a pillowcase in my washing machine, not something I’d dare do to a $200 designer pillow from the usual Fancy Home Decor Store.

moss agate pillow 2

I will probably never make these to sell, because the bead supply is too chancy and expensive, and the cheaper import market means I could probably never charge the minimum $50 retail I’d ask for it. Also, I don’t want to be sewing pillows all the time.

But it’s fun knowing that my DIY skills came through well enough on the first try.

Is Etsy bad for honest artisans?

Garnet Dusk detailFor anyone who has been in a cave for the last nine years, Etsy.com is a sales site meant to showcase original handmade objects. It is poised to offer a major IPO. It is also coming under increasing pressure by detractors who:

1) Claim Etsy is often a haven for cheaply-produced overseas goods marketed online by Etsy resellers. This is the buy/sell category loathed by many regional arts festivals, contests, and crafts galleries. Both unscrupulous sellers and well-meaning crafters resell objects to bulk out their bottom line, or keep up with unexpected demand. Etsy is not the only offender among online sales portals, but its failings seem to be among the most notorious.

2) Point out that Etsy’s lowest sales ranges are often filled with original-but shoddy merchandise from amateur crafters. For good or bad, and like the hobby/art supply stores I’ve mentioned before, Etsy.com has democratized artisan craft. (The late, great Regretsy.com showcased the worst offenders of online Bad Craft, with items seen on Etsy and other display or sales sites.)

3) Charge that Etsy’s vast size, coupled with its previous unenforcement of its own founding guidelines, essentially pushes a lowest-common-denominator effect on the commercial home decor, fashion, giftwrap, and jewelry trades.

Here’s a powerful article from a crafter who joined Etsy early and shut down her Etsy site last year. (http://www.wired.com/2015/02/etsy-not-good-for-crafters/

***

In February of 2009, I registered an Etsy account. It was a Thing people told me to do, during the hiatus between leaving one full-time job and starting another. I knew so many crafters who had Etsy accounts. None were making a living at it, and most sold only a few items a month. 

A day after registering, I sat down and really looked at Etsy: major sellers, trends, price ranges, costs. I reached the sad and familiar conclusion that selling on Etsy was, for me, probably going to be more of a waste of time than a moneymaker. (As it would be if I picked the wrong small press or co-op art gallery; the hunter’s equation of effort-vs-gain applied equally well in this case.) 

Even in 2009, Etsy seemed rife with cheaper objects swiftly made and serving the ‘under $20 crowd’. I knew that market from my days selling jewelry at small outdoor trade shows and SCA events. I knew I could sell almost anything well-designed and obviously handmade, provided it sold for less than $20 and took less than a day to create.

But most ‘under $20′ projects are necessarily simple, if the artisan is being honest. Personally, they don’t stretch my imagination or prospects. They merely use resources and time in exchange for relatively low profit. I learned early that one or two museum-grade big projects can use up the same materials and time as fifteen or twenty lesser pieces. (One $1500 –  $2000 book art sculpture, or twenty beaded necklaces I could sell for no more than $25 – $40 each.) The big pieces got noticed, and I could charge more for them. I didn’t think they’d sell quickly on Etsy.

So I walked away from my Etsy site and forgot about it. I have online vendors who take a modest commission in return for relatively fast turnaround. I am considering a direct online sales portal for some of my artwork and jewelry, but it probably won’t be Etsy. The problems I noticed in 2009 are still there and appear to be getting worse.

(There are honest artisans selling original work on Etsy. I certainly do not mean to detract from their efforts. I just didn’t think the site was right for me, at that point and now. If Etsy cleans up its act prior to the IPO, I’ll reconsider.)

More fiber art award ribbons

Tempe Spring 2015 Best of ShowIt’s spring. Next weekend is the Tempe Festival of the Arts, where 40,000 people will somehow find places to park around the core of Tempe’s Mill Avenue Downtown district. Hundreds of artist booths will line Mill and its side streets. There will be decadent food and more decadent booze. Several million dollars will change hands, in one of the biggest art festivals in the Southwest.

(And we’ve already had three or four slightly smaller ones going on just before this, in nearby cities. That’s right, while the rest of y’all are freezing and shoveling snow, we have open-air art festivals in the spring and fall when the blast furnace climate isn’t so bad. Don’t worry. You’ll be laughing in July.)

I recently finished the latest round of award ribbons for the festival: sixteen category winners and one best-of-show, all in fabric applique and bead embroidery. (I’ve done this twice a year since 2010. It’s a hoot, even if it takes approx. 50 hours to design and complete.) This spring’s design was a riff off the festival Featured Artist Andrea Merican’s luminous watercolor painting ‘Just Breathe’.

Tempe Spring 2015 Fine Jewelry, GlassSeriously, I nearly fell over when I saw that piece last year. Watercolor is not an easy medium. It demands a delicate marriage between trained skill and the recognition of serendipity.

For our award ribbons, the festival organizers and I chose a creme raw silk striped with gorgeous candy colors in the weave, a rich dark purple suiting, bright blue printed cotton and blue linen, orange satin ribbon, commercial prints in multicolored wrought iron ornament patterns, digitally printed sections of a 1926 Arizona road map, several patterns of blue-green to acid-green cotton, and a riot of polyester sewing thread from soft pastels to vivid orange and scarlet.

I will admit that my current favorite fabric glue, Beacon’s Fabri-Tac, makes a strong but unseen appearance in these ribbons.

Tempe Spring 2015 Printmaking, PhotographyThe basic motif is the balance between light and dark, and the botanical focal point is either a stylized yucca in bloom, a fruiting cardon cactus, or a prickly pair cactus. Glass beads in harmonizing colors add a bit of sparkle. The show labels and titles are printed, then hand-inked on cotton applique. All ribbons are finished with coral-orange seam binding, white-on-white cotton backing fabric, grosgrain ribbon ties, and a metal pinback so the lucky artist can pin it to booth draperies.

Category ribbons are 16″ x 4″. The best-of-show ribbon is 20″ x 5″. All are signed by me.

I look forward to seeing the winners and their art.

 

 

 

Anne R. Allen’s ‘How Not To Sell Books’

The sun rises. The living move in the waking world. Sadness remains, as well as selfish fury at a universe that would take Terry Pratchett before he could give us another Tiffany Aching book…*

Sigh. I’m short-tempered this week, partly because of that. I’ve put several people on ‘ignore’ in various social media forums, because I can’t figure out if they are trolls or just clueless – and I don’t care enough to engage to find out.

There was a #pitmad this weekend, and already I’m seeing giddy authors talk about this or that new, unknown (and in some cases, old and notorious) publisher or agent liking the author pitches. I expect heartbreak in a few months.

I saw the lineup for the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend. Yep, more non-book exhibitors than publishers (though self-pub and commercial authors had a good presence.) What’s more troubling was the presence of at least two known vanity publishers. I’m deeply skeptical of this book festival now (sad, too, because I’ve loved going there in the past.) I’ve seen these same publishers at two recent festivals, so it’s not like they’re sneaking in. I’m beginning to get the feeling this shindig is not vetted as well as I thought it was…

Lastly, in the wake of several vast Twitter campaigns by some marketing social groups I know, this article from Anne R. Allen was refreshing in its bluntness.

If you have a published book and you are trying to sell it to people, please read this:

http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2015/03/how-not-to-sell-books-top-10-social.html

It contains wisdom.

It will keep people like me from having to ‘ignore’ bad marketers.

* So, I learned there will be a last Tiffany Aching novel, and a couple more posthumous books from Sir Terry. I’m glad, but still weepy. Because those will be the last.

In Memoriam: Sir Terry Pratchett

(I keep coming back to this post and fiddling with it. A threnody-in-progress, as I consider what this man meant to me.)

Well, we knew this day was coming, but we are no less sad. The world is without one of its finest satirists and humanists today, with the passing of British comic writer/fantasist Sir Terry Pratchett, from complications due to Alzheimer’s.

News here. A lovely segment from Buzzfeed here, on some of PTerry’s best quotes. The BBC obituary is here. A more in-depth tribute on Junkee here.

Terry Pratchett was the most deft writer I knew at weaving ultra-deep, ultra-serious content into rollicking humor. Along with Tanith Lee and Guy Kay, PTerry showed me the incredible catharsis of smile-through-your-tears endings. He was also an exemplary human being, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the 2009 and 2011 North American Discworld Conventions.

Since 1983 and the start of the Discworld phenomenon, I have marveled at how kind he was, even to the idiots in his books and their real-life inspirations. Unlike many modern comedic writers and satirists, Terry Pratchett’s humor was never needlessly cruel. It could be pitiless, real, and unflinching*, exasperated by human frailty and pigheadedness, but a core of basic decency and ‘I understand’ shone through everything he wrote.

He and his work remain one of my litmus tests for new acquaintances, especially of the writing kind. If they don’t understand or dislike Terry’s writing, if they can only see into the surface layer of farce and whimsy – then they and I don’t have much in common.

*Last year, Neil Gaiman wrote an appreciation of Sir PTerry in The Guardian; it’s worth reading again for the insight. Most notably, that Terry Pratchett was driven by a deep, powerful fury: a drive to testify for human intelligence and heart, and against the horrible or banal tribal conventions we so often use as excuses to be neither intelligent nor kind.

We’ll miss you, man.

our version of March Madness

Throughout the month, the authors over at Marketing For Romance Writers (MFRW) will be having Tweet Days, blog hops, interviews, and contests showcasing some of the best romance writers around.

I like this group because it connects commercial and self-publishers, writers across all subgenres of romance, and some amazing promotional opportunities. Today is one of the Tweet Days, with higher than normal Twitter traffic enabled by a successful Thunderclap campaign last week.

While I do not retweet endlessly or blindly pitch authors I haven’t read or at least researched, I wholeheartedly support the group.

If you’re a romance reader, MFRW has some great inside coverage including author interviews, essays, and publishing news. If you’re a romance writer of any stripe, and you want some great tips to reach new readers, follow the website link or the Google+ link.

And now back to our irregularly-scheduled rants.

Margo Bond Collins, Legally Undead

 A reluctant vampire hunter, stalking New York City as only a scorned bride can.

Legally Undead cover

From Bathory Gate Press principal Margo Bond Collins comes another fast-paced, grimly funny paranormal romance/mystery/horror/comedy.

And this week only, it’s $.99! (Buy links after excerpt)

_______________________________________________________

Elle Dupree has her life all figured out: first a wedding, then her Ph.D., then swank faculty parties where she’ll serve wine and cheese and introduce people to her husband the lawyer.

But those plans disintegrate when she walks in on a vampire draining the blood from her fiancé Greg. Horrified, she screams and runs–not away from the vampire, but toward it, brandishing a wooden letter opener.

As she slams the improvised stake into the vampire’s heart, a team of black-clad men bursts into the apartment. Turning around to face them, Elle discovers that Greg’s body is gone—and her perfect life falls apart.

_______________________________________________________

Excerpt

The worst thing about vampires is that they’re dead. That whole wanting to suck your blood business runs a close second, but for sheer creepiness, it’s the dead bit that gets me every time. They’re up and walking around and talking and sucking blood, but they’re dead. And then there’s the whole terminology problem–how can you kill something that’s already dead? It’s just wrong.

I was twenty-four the first time I . . . destroyed? dispatched? . . . a vampire. That’s when I found out that all the books and movies are wrong. When you stick a wooden stake into their hearts, vampires don’t disintegrate into dust. They don’t explode. They don’t spew blood everywhere. They just look surprised, groan, and collapse into a pile of corpse. But at least they lie still then, like corpses are supposed to.

Since that first kill (I might as well use the word–there really isn’t a better one), I’ve discovered that only if you’re lucky do vampires look surprised before they groan and fall down. If you’re unlucky and miss the heart, they look angry. And then they fight.

There are the other usual ways to kill vampires, of course, but these other ways can get a bit complicated. Vampires are notoriously difficult to trick into sunlight. They have an uncanny ability to sense when there’s any sunlight within miles of them, and they’re awfully good at hiding from it. Holy water doesn’t kill them; it just distracts them for a while, and then they get that angry look again. And it takes a pretty big blade to cut off someone’s head–even an already dead someone–and carrying a great big knife around New York City, even the Bronx, is a sure way to get arrested. Nope, pointy sticks are the best way to go, all the way around.

My own pointy stick is actually more of a little knife with wood inlay on the blade–the metal makes it slide in easier. I had the knife specially made by an old Italian guy in just about the only ratty part of Westchester, north of the city. I tried to order one off the internet, but it turns out that while it’s easy to find wood-inlay handles, the blades themselves tend to be metal. Fat lot those people know.

But I wasn’t thinking any of this when I pulled the knife out of the body on the ground. I was thinking something more along the lines of “Oh, bloody hell. Not again.”

_______________________________________________________

99-cent Sale Links

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Legally-Undead-Vampirarchy-Margo-Collins-ebook/dp/B00KKV44BK/

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/legally-undead-margo-bond-collins/1119607989?ean=2940149615803

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/legally-undead

Universal Kindle Link: http://bookShow.me/B00KKV44BK

_____________________________________________

About the Author

Margo Bond Collins is the author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Sanguinary, Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them.

_____________________________________________

Connect with Margo

Newsletter: https://confirmsubscription.com/h/d/03A21E5E161401F0

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/margocollins

Email: MargoBondCollins@gmail.com

Website: http://www.MargoBondCollins.net

Blog: http://www.MargoBondCollins.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin  @MargoBondCollin

Google+: https://plus.google.com/116484555448104519902

Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mbondcollins/

Tsu: http://www.tsu.co/MargoBondCollins

rich people’s hobbies

Dear Bead & Button Show in Milwaukee, I love you to bits. I’ve had several pieces entered in your Bead Dreams competition over the years. I adore seeing the amazing ‘statement’ pieces that your other entrants show off every year. I get so much inspiration from you.

Green Vest for blog

I’ve never been able to attend; my days of being able to afford $1500 convention vacations are long past, I’m afraid, a casualty of the new working class in America.

This year, I can’t even enter, thanks to your $50 entry fee, ostensibly chosen to offset shipping and insurance. Really? I ship stuff all over the place, and I can do it for less than $50. Most shows that I’ve seen make their artists do that, anyway.

Here’s why I think raising the entry fee for those reasons is bogus: it’s applied at the front end of the entry process. If we paid a more modest fee to enter and were juried into the show, most of us so honored would be happy to pay our own return shipping and insurance costs. It’s fairly easy to calculate. Ah, but if *all entrants* pay that $50 per-item fee, the funds accrue whether artists are juried in or not. I’ve heard that high entry fees are often driven by the venue (bad hotel, greedy hotel, we’d already be staying there, try not to gouge us more!). I’ve also heard that high entry fees are a better guarantor of quality entrants. Nope – that’s what your jurors are there to assess. Let’s not forget the other battlecry of the fee-happy venue: ‘It’s a tax writeoff!’ Duh, sure – next year.

Even major regional art festivals tend to charge less than you do, just for entry into the jurying.

I can’t even ask you directly, Bead & Button Show, because your website feedback form is wonky. So I’ll remain on your mailing list and daydream over convention notes, and hope I win a lottery someday.

Because I probably can’t enter this piece this year, the only time it will still qualify.

rain gloves modeled

I’m a sad puppy. All my avocations have been overtaken by people richer in time and funds: artwork, costuming, jewelry, writing. A lot of shows and workshops I’d love to enter are raising their entry fees, or levying fees for the first time. Air travel and hotel costs are more exorbitant than ever. So is the cost of finishing out one art degree, and adding another. Artists like myself – who do not teach and thus earn class fees, and don’t make a lot from gallery sales – are shunted to the sidelines more and more.

I’ll still do what I love, because I can’t not do it. But I can buy a lot of beads and fabric for $1500 or even $50. The show-stopping book arts projects I could complete and reserve for exhibition entries I instead send off to my art reps, for as-fast-as-possible sales. There is no point, in my area, in making jewelry pieces like the Rain Gloves (above) for gallery sales, because my ROI would be so low.

It’s reality – I can play with y’all, or I can earn money in commercial freelancing, and keep art as a hobby.

Yet another literary writer epicfails at genre…

…then revels condescendingly at her own faceplant, and then manages to sell a smug little literary essay about it while touting her ‘purer’ work.

To round out the trifecta of writing-related articles this week, here is the National Post’s unintentionally funny ‘confession of a failed romance writer’. Jowita Bydlowska’s essay touches on every single stereotype of romance writers – as seen from the outside. Usually from literary writers, for some reason.

Okay, okay, it’s amusing in a cringeworthy, Lena Dunham-esque way (indeed, Dunham has enthusiastically blurbed for the author’s literary fiction).

The comments (now closed) on the essay effectively take Bydlowska to task for her misinformation, laziness, and insulting tone.

Her pen name’s fake profile would have been a better parody, if marketed openly. Her knowledge of the romance field is apparently limited to one self-published friend’s efforts, as well as decades-old recollections of old Harlequin novels encountered during a friend’s parents’ divorce. Bydlowska never bothered to research publishing in the romance industry.

Her agent is apparently just as clueless, if we are to judge from Bydlowska’s essay.

Sure, the same old Harlequin books nearly put me off romance novels completely. For years, I had almost the same attitude as Bydlowska. I’m grateful that I looked deeper at modern romance novels, and learned they push far beyond the old formulas. Romance and erotic romance gave my (rather plotty and overcomplicated) stories a home when commercial mainstream science fiction and fantasy couldn’t.

If I was having a really bitchy Thursday, I could insert a longer, equally condescending analysis of pretentious, self-absorbed, over-sharing literary writers who make bank on their miserable childhoods, sleazy personal addictions, and dirty laundry through memoirs and thinly-fictionalized autobiographies**.

But I’m going to leave the rest up to readers, and give Bydlowska’s own book Drunk Mom (Penguin, 2013) a link, so that folks can read the sample and reviews, and judge for themselves. Her book seems to be selling well enough and getting strong enough reviews* that she might not need to ‘lower’ herself into smut to make a living at writing.

The really sad thing to me is this: if Bydlowska had applied the same grit and fearless emotional resonance from her memoir to her romance novel, done the proper research to either properly self-publish it or have her agent sign it with a commercial publisher – it would probably have earned her as many great reviews, as much notice, and perhaps more money than Drunk Mom. And her agent should have known that.

*Then again, maybe not. The strongest negative reviews of Drunk Mom tend to focus on the self-centered behavior of its author, as revealed by her own words.

** I’ve since had a reasonable email exchange with Jowita Bydlowska. While I maintain my criticism of her tone and lack of research, I would like to add that the National Post failed Bydlowska when its editors removed one key paragraph. It didn’t change the gist of the article, but it might have softened a lot of snark against Bydlowska.

It seems the Post knows very little about the romance field.

Added 1-4-2015: No less than the Smithsonian Magazine has weighed on (albeit on a tangent) with the following article about romance studies in higher-learning institutions. It references the stereotypes still popularized by many mainstream scholars and literary writers, as well as the recent Library of Congress symposium on romance fiction.

An agent talks about publishing

Another article of note, this time a Guernica Magazine interview of superstar agent Chris Parris-Lamb.

He’s mostly into literary fiction, not genre, but he has some very interesting and incendiary things to say about writing, publishing, Amazon, big books, and big advances.

Selected quotes:

On Amazon’s huge efforts to police its relatively tiny returns from publishing: “Almost no one writes books for economically rational reasons.”

On National Novel-Writing Month: “I frankly think that initiatives like National Novel Writing Month are insulting to real writers. We don’t have a National Heart Surgery Month, do we? I’m being intentionally provocative there, obviously—being a good or bad writer isn’t a matter of life or death—but I’m also serious. Great writers are as rare as great heart surgeons—maybe even rarer; I don’t actually know anything about heart surgeons. But I would argue that it takes as much time and work to perfect their craft, in addition to having talent to begin with that most people just don’t. What I really object to is this notion behind these initiatives that anyone can write a novel, and that it’s just a matter of making the time to do it. That’s just not true…But I am really skeptical of the idea that, but for National Novel Writing Month, those gifts would go undiscovered. I think part of the nature of the gift is that you can’t not give voice to it—having received the gift, you must give it in turn. Which is to say, the people who really do have a great novel in them are going to find a way to write them anyway.”

Whether we agree or disagree, the whole interview is worth reading, from an author research angle.

Vulnerability and victimhood

Paraphrased quote from the following essay: ‘One problem with treating (post teen) students as children, is that they become more childlike.’

http://chronicle.com/article/Sexual-Paranoia-Strikes/190351/

This essay may enrage some people, and be used by others as an excuse for terrible behavior. I take it as another data point, on a cultural metamorphosis I’ve been watching unfold for nearly 30 years. 

This post will probably become a longer essay itself, as I gather material and consider it. But I wanted to get a link to this part up right away. 

Why hall costumes? (part 2)

Last year I finished this swing coat, in hand-embroidered linen and cotton:

Vine Coat front

But the seafoam green, gray-tan, and turquoise colorways were not quite right. Too high a contrast.

So a couple of hours with a fiber-reactive dye, soda ash, a big plastic vat, the right kind of salt, and much care, I got exactly the color ranges I needed – a sort of blue-green-gray mix that’s not only very flattering for my ruddy tones, but is rather important in my Lonhra Sequence series.

 


Vine outfit 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I rounded out the experiment by dyeing a linen tunic and pair of pants, the Veil Cap I blogged about last week, and two crocheted cotton gloves. Now everything blends!

Vine outfit 2

The blue embroidery is still blue, the green is still green, just blended into richer background textures. My only problem was using light gray poly thread, which didn’t take the dye as strongly. It gives an interesting contrast, so I’m not unhappy with it.

Vine outfit 3

Whether I use it for mundane gallery openings or a convention hall costume, I finally have the outfit I wanted.

Musa Publishing: a case study

Once upon a time (2007ish) a new publisher came online with the usual bells and whistles, and then devolved into a sea of acrimony and accusation (circa 2011 – 2012). That publisher was Aspen Mountain Press, and out of its ashes a group of authors, editors, and support personnel banded together to create Musa Publishing.

From the start in mid-2011, Musa looked interesting to me. They were ambitious, courting a wide range of genres across many imprints and a short fiction magazine. They promised they wanted more than the ‘usual erotic romance’, and wanted to push the boundaries of genre science fiction and fantasy work, as well as horror, thrillers, mysteries, and women’s fiction. I penciled them onto my submissions list, for when I might be querying a mainstream fantasy and a M/M erotic romance space opera.

Few other publishers are as well-documented on AbsoluteWrite’s publishing forums. Many of the Musa principals had previously been AW regulars for years; there was an undercurrent from outsiders accusing AW of ‘going soft’ on Musa because of that connection. I did see a lot of uncritical enthusiasm, but mostly from new writers like me who didn’t know better. The old pros asked the uncomfortable questions.

I saw cracks in Musa in December of 2011. I queried them anyway for one book, and got a rejection letter I counted as a blessing. I’d already decided to decline any offers.

Over nearly 130 pages of posts on AW, I watched Musa’s rise and fall through the lens of its loyal authors and reasoned skeptics. So many of the former said variations of ‘I didn’t see this coming’. I knew there was trouble early in 2012. I guessed the company probably couldn’t survive, by Q1 of 2013. 

I expressed doubts in public, but didn’t push it too hard: Filigree’s Rule, and the fact that many of those authors were going to be very hostile to me if I did. I actually hoped Musa would trim most of its under-performing imprints and its magazine, and recover to become a stronger market. But I wasn’t willing to commit even one short story to it, until I saw positive change.

At its best, Musa was prompt with royalty checks and transparent about its accounting. Many of its ideas were brilliant, just undermanned and underfunded.

Its principals tried to run a small publisher with the output and scope of a Random House, with marketing leveraged mostly toward authors themselves. Musa took on a huge workload, and many books (and writers and editors, etc) suffered stress because of it. Most of Musa’s staff worked for royalties only, a risky move for a publisher that small (though many of them still do it.) Market forces combined to hit Musa with lower and lower sales per author (at one point, there was an odd consensus that many Musa authors were selling low double-digit copies during the entire life of contract.) By the end, even long-tail marketing of hundreds upon hundreds of books couldn’t bring enough operating cash.

Musa will be gone as of February 28, 2015. To their credit, its principals decided to go out with grace and dignity to themselves and their writers (unlike other meltdown publishers.)

I’d have no qualms about considering any new company they might found, provided they answer the issues that combined to fell Musa.

Those are worth looking at again, as an object lesson to new writers:

1) Reliance on author-based marketing. This may work for one in a hundred small-press authors; the rest are effectively limited to only several hundred sales over life of contract. If that.

2) Staff paid on royalties. I’ve seen this in the art market, too, where it usually creates a downward spiral of more product, rushed production, high staff turnover, and lesser earnings overall, as well as a perception of lower quality.

3) Which leads to too many books published per year, to the point that many of them were not professionally marketed at all.

4) Too many genres to earn a solid industry focus and reputation. Musa had many imprints dedicated to separate genres, plus its Penumbra magazine. Musa’s cover branding was fairly distinct, but it never earned breakout status in any of its genres.

I’m very sorry to see them go. I’m sorry for the authors who now have to decide whether to self-publish, or attempt finding reprint publication with other presses. I wish all of them well – and I’m very glad my debut novel isn’t in that pack.

It’s hammered home to me that authors should be wary of publishing with only one house, or even in one genre.

 

I honestly don’t know what to tell people who only post updates, photos, links, etc on Facebook – and then get huffy when I don’t respond. Chances are, I didn’t even see it. If you’re only interacting on FB, then I’m going to miss a lot of it. Until long after the fact, and possibly never.

I check my FB account when I remember to. Maybe once a week, sometimes once a month. I keep it as a placeholder. I’m not thrilled with the directions FB seems to be going. I’ve already abandoned a personal account. The only social media I find more annoying is Zorpia, and that’s because they don’t stop spamming once they have an email addy.

If you are *a business* and you’re only updating on Facebook – good heavens, what is wrong with you? Cross-post and link to Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and LinkedIn. Have an actual blog: WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace, and others make it easy. I’m not that social media-savvy yet, and I manage to do it.

Consumers and collaborators like me would probably like to work with you more, if we don’t have to deal with Facebook on the way.

 

Facebook is not the only way

Kushiel’s Dart re-read on Tor.com

I’m linking to this post over on Tor.com, because Jacqueline Carey’s first fantasy series (from 15 years ago, now!) still stands as one of the most breathtaking and interesting fantasy arcs I’ve read. Some very literate and lucid writers are doing a critical re-read, and it’s worth following along. Especially for erotic romance writers who have never read deeply into the fantasy and science fiction genres.

The Kushiel series serves up political intrigue more efficiently than George R. R. Martin’s wallowing ‘Game of Thrones’ series. For people who yawned at ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and its utterly irresponsible relationships, Carey introduces not only BDSM but some of the deeper thought processes behind that kink and others, through the narration of her clever, honorable courtesan-spy protagonist Phèdre nó Delaunay.

See, Phèdre has this thing for pain, a holy calling for it. Literally. And unlike some hapless maidens of popular erotic romance fiction, she embraces her gift, and the wonderful and terrible places it leads her.

The Kushiel series is erotic romance published as mainstream fantasy, with just enough graphic sex to make a romance reader happy. It’s got decent worldbuilding (even if Carey tends to veer into travelogue territory in later series.) It has joy and angst aplenty (Alcuin, dammit, noooooo!) It has philosophy, skullduggery, piracy, madness, some sneaky humanism thrown in, and some of the most luscious descriptions of clothes and costumes I’ve seen in recent fantasy. (And they’re all important to the plot, so ignore them at your peril, lazy reader!)

If you’ve ever looked at these gigantic books and thought, ‘cute girl on the cover, but damn those are big books, maybe I’ll wait’ – the Tor re-read is a good field guide.

 

The script test

Here’s one detail that seems to divide professional genre publishers and many self-pub authors/inexperienced small presses/vanity publishers:

Cover font.

Specifically, a hard-to-read script font.

Font matters as much as imagery and composition. For e-books, the cover may be one of the most important investments an author or publisher will make. The ‘thumbnail’ sized or small-format cover (seen on Amazon, B&N, ARe, and other online vendors) has to manage these tasks in only a few seconds of a reader’s browse time:

Catch the reader’s eye: interesting color choices, strong composition, action scenes, symbols, etc.

Announce the genre: is it epic or high fantasy, science-fiction, romance, magic-realism, contemporary urban fantasy, etc?

Tell us the title and author: who’s claiming responsibility for this thing? In addition, the book cover might sport a series title or tagline.

Many script fonts look amazing at full-size, quite readable and evocative. When shrunk, they are squiggles.

Cover designers: if you can’t read the title, author, or tagline on a smaller-sized cover image, don’t rationalize your gorgeous font or make cosmetic changes like backing it with more contrasting mist or moving it to a less effective but clearer cover location.

Change fonts.