Show of Hands

These lovelies arrived today from AZ Art Supply: Richeson 10″ Female Right and Left Manikin Hands. 2/3 articulated, posing hands in blond wood (probably box, lyptus, or poplar, I’ll have to check.)

Meant as an artist’s drawing aide, I find they make amazing jewelry models. I’m resisting the urge to woodburn henna designs on them, but I did (in an inside joke) nickname them ‘Johani 1’ and ‘Johani 2’.

I got them so I could photograph things like this, without my burn-scarred and carpentry-sliced hands getting in the way.

 

Mark Engels: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER

One of the best side-effects of online novel-pitch contests: the community around them. Whether or not a writer makes the cut (agent request, mentorship, etc), most writers can find new friendships and even collaborations within the larger pool of the hopeful and hopeless.

Mark J. Engels and I met during a pitch contest in 2016 (was it #DVpit? #Pitmad? #SFFpit? They blur, yanno.) Neither of us got anywhere meaningful in the actual contests, other than some helpful critiques. But we hit it off as sounding boards.

Who is Mark, other than a cool guy who is a go-to source for locomotive engineering and logistics questions? Go here and find out. Or here: https://www.mark-engels.com/ 

Psst: if you do, you are going to see some wicked cool art. Like Pawly Doing What Pawly Does:

Mark has a book launch today: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER, which I read in beta form last year. This novel will be slanted toward ‘Furry’ readers, which is okay, because the Furries I know are eagerly waiting for it. But GRAY is so much more than what many outside readers (and even Furries) are expecting. For one thing, it’s not erotica, romance, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

I stand by my initial impulse to call GRAY ‘Furpunk’: a Military Thriller that happens to have shapeshifters in it. Pawlina Katczynski is a well-written strong female character without being a caricature. Her story runs on high stakes, killer action sequences, sneaky plotting, and some deft worldbuilding (as there should be, to fit an embattled clan of Polish were-lynx mercenaries into a world that would be familiar to the leads of ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Bourne’.)

Will you like it? The book will be in print first, but hopefully the publisher will release an ebook version soon, too. Go to Mark’s site, click on ‘Novel’, and see if it sparks your interest.

Book links:

https://www.amazon.com/Always-Gray-Winter/dp/1945247193/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36008025-always-gray-in-winter

 

Unrelenting Optimism

Or in other words, the Twitter phenomenon that is #ThinkBIGSundayWithMarsha, begun and hosted by media entrepreneur Marsha Wright.

Okay, many of us roll our eyes at those inspirational quotes slapped on lovely or heartwarming posters, and presented in slim metal frames. You know, the ones your boss and mine put up on our office walls?

I can be deeply cynical, but I have a soft spot for those posters. Sometimes they’re a guilty pleasure, like listening to ABBA or having Nutella toast.

Sometimes they truly help me deal with an awful week of everything going wrong.

Some of the best places I’ve ever worked had such things on the walls. And a lot of their owners and upper management actually tried to operate by the noble, kind, or funny tenets the posters proclaimed.

So imagine my joy when a chance Twitter follow opened my eyes to Think Big Sunday With Marsha, a weekly extravaganza of optimistic, positive, inspirational tweets, quotes, and images.

This is such a quintessential American phenomenon: the kind of stubborn, willfully optimistic outlook that gets stuff done. Or bankrupt and on fire, in a ditch.

As entrepreneurs and inventors, creative people must look beyond that latter fear. Life is full of mistakes and obstacles. So are business careers. When problems happen…and they will…the most adaptable people can learn from them, not remain shackled by them.

It took me years to understand the highest goal of the optimism industry isn’t to sell vague dreams and bridges. It helps open people up to possibilities they hadn’t considered, and goals they never knew they had. Sometimes all we need is the right opportunity at the right time, and we can work miracles.

And along the way we can drink coffee and look at gorgeous posters and GIFs.

 

CraneHanaDesigns now on Etsy

Trying another sales portal, this time on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CraneHanaDesigns

 

I’m conflicted about Etsy. They’re the best game in town for many crafters. They’ve made some colossal blunders in the past, and I feel terrible for them that the only way they can save the company now is at the cost of their allegedly benevolent company ethos.

I say ‘allegedly’ because many of those blunders involved touting themselves as a ‘handmade item’ portal, while allowing some of the worst of the buy-sell trade to dominate many of their categories. Buuutt…Etsy took itself public, and now pays the price with stockholders who don’t actually give a damn about ethics.

Maybe they…and we…can strike a balance between Return-on-Investment and the love of skilled handmade work.

We’ll see.

 

 

The Gear’d Heart, by AG Carpenter

This has been a *long* time in the works, but I’m so happy to see ‘The Gear’d Heart’, a new steampunk serial by AG Carpenter. I’ve read it in an earlier beta form, and seen the kickass sequel.

Now’s the chance to get in on a charming, devious, and dark story, via Patreon!

Begging for Eyeballs: authors and reviews

Now that I have your attention, here’s a little rant about authors asking for reviews.

In short, we shouldn’t get grief for this.

We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for asking, or told we’re ‘pandering’ or ‘imposing’ on our readers. Likewise, we shouldn’t hold ourselves loftily above promoting our work in careful, tactful, honest, and sometimes even funny ways.

Reviews and word-of-mouth are some of the most effective ways to sell books, no matter whether those books are self-published, small-press, mid-sized independent, or Big-Five imprint.

Without reviews, we don’t get sales. Without sales, our agents and our publishers cut us loose as poor investments. Or if we’ve self-published, we un-publish or otherwise stop promoting our writing altogether. So then you never get to see more of it. Without reviews, this kind of work (and believe me, it’s hard work) is a solitary hobby.

Our review requests usually happen on social media, where they might get boosted by sympathetic allies…or lost in the static. Sometimes we’re lucky enough that our publisher will place a small note in the back of our books, saying something like this:

If you like our books, please review them!

Some savvy publishers add incentives for on-site reviewers, offering them points toward purchases with each review.

I’ll add: don’t like our books? Review anyway. Get that unhealthy anger and disappointment off your chest.

Our ulterior motive: your one-star or two-star negative review still has the potential to sell our books. Reviews can be highly subjective. Something you think is a bug could be a feature to someone else. Your intelligent, honest negative review can spark lots of curiosity! Likewise, your banal, ill-considered, or downright petty review can be so unintentionally hilarious it becomes the best marketing stunt you could give us.

As an author, it’s not my business to wade into your specific reviews of my books, good or bad. I’ll sure as hell learn from them, but I’m not going to start the social media equivalent of a teenage clique-fight over a Goodreads review.

Where I do get angry is when publishers themselves advise their authors against asking for reviews within the end matter of the book. I’ve seen this several times recently from different publishers. One’s an e-pub only press, the other two favor print editions first and e-pub a laggard second.

Um, hello, publishers? The end matter of your book is some of the most priceless real estate you have. It’s where interested readers, still in the afterglow of a story, go to find out what’s next. Most of them are predisposed to being friendly. Asking for a review at that moment is just solid business 101.

Especially if you’re already hampering sales by offering only one platform outlet at launch, whether e-pub or print.

Authors, this is something to seriously consider when researching publishers or signing an offer contract. How does the publisher approach reviews? Do they send out timely and professional Advance Review Copies (ARCs)? Do they court the larger buying outlets and distributors? Do they aggressively promote to the online book-blogging influencers of their genre? Do they have easy-to-use review platforms on their own websites? Do they ask for reviews within the front or end matter of their books?

Think about these factors before you sign that contract!

As for readers, we understand if you feel infringed-upon about our review requests. Sometimes we hate doing that, too. But please consider the relatively-tiny fraction of readers who bother to leave a review in the first place. We bug you for the same reason NPR does: we succeed or fail based in large part on our audience’s goodwill and participation.

Patreon Ahoy!

Happy Independence Day, for my fellow US friends (and for everyone else!)

While we’re on the subject of independence, do you know about Patreon?

The company bills itself as the best way for creators to build a sustained income. From what I’ve seen from many Patreon accounts, it’s succeeding. 35 creators each earned over $150,000 in 2016, according to a recent Patreon blog analysis. Many more earn a respectable $500 to $1000 each month from their subscription services.

Who’s on Patreon already? Artists of every kind. Writers of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and webcomics. Science and pop culture bloggers. Musicians, gamers, teachers…it’s a dizzying array of skills and interests.

All operating under one simple idea: fans helping content creators afford to be creative, in return for regularly delivered content (often first-run or available nowhere else.) This can range from digitally delivered stories, interviews, podcasts, videos, songs, lesson plans, and even physical items. The Patreon service can run indefinitely, for a limited duration, or a set financial goal.

The webcomics on my right sidebar? Most have Patreon accounts. If you love them, subscribe!

Are you a content creator? What could you do with an extra few hundred dollars a month? What would you do if you didn’t have to rely solely on a day job, publishing royalties, a gallery or art agent, or a music label?

All you need to do is set up an account with Patreon, be somewhat social, and have the time, energy, and willpower to provide that regular content.

I’m not at the level of name recognition to jump on Patreon, and I don’t have enough professionally-edited content to do it well. If the Lonhra Sequence books don’t end up with an agent or a large publisher, I might bolster my self-publishing with a Lonhra/Blue Night Patreon. But that’s probably a year away, at least.

I have several friends who are researching their Patreon options right now. I plan on hosting their links when their accounts are operational. It will be an interesting experiment to watch!

Moro’s Price 2nd Edition

(Just because I love this Natasha Snow cover so much.)

Now that I have your attention: on Monday June 26, the second version of my M/M space opera romance goes live.

The paperback version is already selling on Amazon, but all the other links will be active on Monday.

NineStar Press formats e-book link

Amazon US Kindle link

Amazon paperback link

Kobo link

Smashwords link

Barnes & Noble link

For some reviews of the first edition, go here.

I’m pleased that my longtime friend Sherwood Smith bravely took up an ARC of this version, then gave me this jewel of a blurb:

“For fans of C.S. Pacat, m/m passion set against a space opera world of violence, power, and dynastic intrigue!”
(That one still makes me fall over. Thanks, Sherwood!)

 

Now on Ko-fi.com!

I get approached by advertisers more than than I expected, for a blog that has too many words, not enough pictures, and a very low (but loyal!) readership.

So far, none of those advertisers have made a compelling case for value-added vs annoyance factor…so, no ads on Blue Night. I’ll happily review products and works of my own choice, making clear that they are either an ARC or other kind of review copy, or my whim.

But the world is changing all around us, and content creators have to juggle lots of different earning and support streams. When I have more art and writing content that can be targeted to supporters, I’ll probably open a Patreon account.

For now, I’ve joined Ko-fi.com.

Their slogan is ‘Buy me a coffee!’ (meaning relatively small donations that might buy a cup of coffee, some writing paper, art supplies, etc). It’s a charming and simple idea. For me, a $3 donation can buy a pretty good cuppa. Or a fat-quarter of quilting fabric. Or some really nifty beads, which can turn things like this:

Into things like this:

If you like my weird mishmash of art, jewelry, fiction, social comments, and downright rants, you can still egg me on with comments to this blog. If you can afford it, please consider a Ko-fi donation. I’ll answer when I can, chat your ears off, and be deeply grateful (creating isn’t free or easy, as I’m sure most of you know!)

 

Now selling on iCraft as Blue Night Designs

After looking at a dozen different sales portals, I’ve settled on one more to try out: Toronto’s iCraft.com.

I can say that (unlike some other sites), registering is easy (not free), and uploading art very simple.

Eventually my Blue Night Designs booth will carry my beaded jewelry, small wall art, fiber art, some book art pieces, and costume/couture pieces.

 

Phoenix Comicon 2017

That’s right folks, the madness that is Phoenix Comicon starts in just a few hours!

I probably won’t attend this year because of schedule conflicts with other work and art stuff. If you’re brave enough to deal with the heat and crowds, I can promise there will be lots of insane, wonderful, awe-inspiring moments for you.

This show is nowhere near as vast as San Diego, which still makes it approachable and fun. Phoenix is in the midst of reinventing its city center (yet again), which gives intrepid visitors and locals plenty of great food, drink, and entertainment…if you even leave the convention itself.

The rise and fall of Tate Publishing

It’s May 2017, and America (and the world, really) is still reeling from perhaps the greatest case of affinity fraud ever perpetrated: the election of Donald J. Trump to the American Presidency.  

Let’s look back at Tate Publishing, as a company deeply interlocked with some of the mindsets enabling Trump’s election: nominally ‘Christian’ worldviews that enshrine greed, corruption, hatred-of-others, and the belief that poverty is a moral failing.

Donald J. Trump and his immediate family (and many donors, sycophants, etc) are fans of the Prosperity Gospel. This philosophy bluntly preaches that wealth and success are outward signs of God’s favor, and that poverty and illness are signs of his disfavor and/or a flawed person. ‘Anyone can become successful’ is an innate American ideal, but these days the game is rigged. It’s not only stacked against most people, but the proponents of the Prosperity Gospel tend to cleverly repackage their corruption to shunt public attention away from them.

Many multi-level marketing companies, mega-churches, and vanity publishers have similar goals: to enrich a small percentage of their members/founders at the expense of all others, and to instill a cult-like level of support from those same defrauded members.

Perhaps no other American vanity publishing company took the religious overtones to such extremes as Oklahoma’s Tate Publishing.

Tate Publishing’s corporate headquarters at 127 E Trade Center Terrace in Mustang, Thursday, 19 2017. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman

It was started by Dr. Richard Tate and his wife Rita about 18 years ago, and has been run recently by son Ryan Tate and his wife Christy.

The Tate family leveraged new technology and new social norms to begin marketing their pay-for-publishing business to primarily Christian authors, artists, and musicians. They promised a wholesome Christian outlook, a supportive ‘family’ experience, well-produced physical books and music recordings, state-of-the-industry marketing…all for a hefty front end ‘subsidy’ from the author, as well as a commission charge on all sales.

How hefty? Authors could pay anywhere from almost $4000 to well over $50,000 depending on what ‘marketing packages’ and other frills sales people could convince them to buy.

Tate’s book editing was often done by low-skilled, underpaid, and in some cases even outsourced foreign editors. Covers were often low-quality, as were interior illustrations. Tate’s marketing of finished products was nearly non-existent, and for the large part ineffective for most authors. Many of them were told various forms of ‘buy the books from us, and hand-sell at local events’. This naturally limits an author’s effective sell-rate, as most people can only reach a few hundred of their family and friends. Effective trade publishers market to much broader groups, and generally command much higher sales.

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware wrote a few years ago:

Tate takes pains to depict itself as a selective traditional publisher that accepts “only a single-digit percentage of authors who submitted manuscripts for publication” (a claim that’s a little hard to credit from a publisher that, if Amazon is to be believed, pumped out 3,000 titles in 2015). In fact, authors must pay nearly $4,000 to publish with Tate, with even more due if they choose to buy any of Tate’s array of extras, such as “personalized author websites” and video book trailers. Tate also incentivizes author book-buying, by promising to refund the original fee once 2,500 books are sold and allowing author purchases to count toward the total–though only if made in bulk quantities of 300 or more.

Of course, Tate never mentioned these fees in its front-end website material or videos. Only when authors asked for more information or submitted a manuscript, did Tate begin to disclose its fees. If authors balked at the cost, the the sales rep often backtracked to ‘offer’ a lesser amount. Authors were stalked with hard-sell tactics including multiple letters, emails, and phone calls, all to close the sale.

Tate representatives also didn’t disclose the very small probability of any author making enough sales to earn a refund of their original fee.

Tate’s main source of income appeared not to be consumer sales of their books and music, but book and music sales to their author/creators and expensive marketing and other packages.

Authors couldn’t even be certain of what they were actually earning, because Tate’s royalty accounting was so opaque as to be nearly meaningless. Authors complained that they diligently marketed their books, knew of documented sales, and collected testimonials from readers…and yet did not see those sales reflected in royalty reports.

This could be seen as early as 2004, beginning in this AbsoluteWrite thread. While the warnings abounded, Tate never lacked for customers to buy its ‘services’, thanks to the enduring power of religious affinity fraud.

Because Tate marketed heavily to fundamentalist Christians who were already put off by ‘coastal elites’ and ‘Jewish mainstream publishers’, they could conceal their less-savory operations from unsuspecting authors who never bothered to learn how trade publishing worked. Tate Publishing also marketed heavily to senior citizens wanting a retirement income or a family history project in print, to misery memoir authors wanting to memorialize a lost loved one or bring attention to a medical issue, and to ‘fringe group’ believers who might not have the writing skills to reach an audience through a big trade publishing imprint.

Here’s the opening story of a typical Tate author, revealing how she was conned by Tate:

When Tate first called me, it was like I had won the lottery! I felt so proud of becoming one of the 4%. My children’s book was special, as it was written after my daughter had her 2nd heart surgery. I was filling a niche. I knew it would be hard to publish a children’s book about Down Syndrome, but I had tried and succeeded.

This author had a noble cause and good faith in Tate’s public persona. She didn’t research enough to understand Tate’s failings before signing a contract with them. She did all the right things by industriously marketing herself at Down’s Syndrome support events across the US. But she received no marketing help from Tate after the first couple of months, and her royalty checks ranged from sixty-some dollars to forty-two cents.

Tate authors were often warned away from naysayers as ‘negative influences’ and ‘liars’.

The Tate family were quick to take offense and threatened critics, bad reviewers, and recalcitrant authors with libel lawsuits. They threatened their employees often, and had a high turnover as disillusioned editors and artists fled the company.

Of about 1000 current authors in the 2016 Tate catalog, Ryan Tate claimed most were ‘very happy’. I’d believe it, if only for the power of Sunk Cost Fallacy and even perhaps Stockholm Syndrome. Many people never want to admit they’ve been conned, and go through mental gymnastics to avoid it. Likewise, authors who never know anything different might be happy with poor marketing, vague royalty statements, and tiny sales. For some people, it’s not about the money, but having something in print.

Here too, Tate failed a lot of writers. Many of the Consumer Affairs complaints involve claims of shoddy books, bad covers and illustrations, or simply no physical books produced.

Even when authors finally wised up and tried to leave the company, Tate Publishing had one last con to play: they charged authors a $50.00 ‘processing fee’ to turn over final print/sound files so the authors and musicians could republish their work. (Rights buy-backs are a huge problem in the publishing industry, see my posts on Ellora’s Cave for how bad they can get). Because Tate’s final fee wasn’t large, many unhappy authors simply paid it and moved on…often to similar vanity publishers!

A few years ago, driven mostly by the attrition of their prime senior citizen clients and the advent of easier digital self-publishing, Tate Publishing fell on hard times. They started outsourcing much of their editing and other production work overseas. There’s a famous rant online from when Ryan Tate fired 25 employees after none of them told who leaked their dissent about the outsourcing. It’s here, and epic.

Soon, Tate couldn’t even pay its foreign workers in the Philippines, and ‘scaled back production’ returned to their Oklahoma facilities. Bear in mind, they still released thousands of books and hundreds of records a year, showing how little money and time actually went into production. Authors who visited the Tate offices at this time described the formerly busy company as ‘a ghost town’. High employee turnover caused communication breakdowns between authors, staff, and company officials.

By mid 2016, Tate Publishing’s lease deals with major print machinery and computer suppliers were on the rocks, leading to at least one hefty lawsuit.

The Tate family announced in late 2016 that it would close its doors, but not without hinting they would simply rename the company and rise anew as Lux Creative Concepts LLC, which was registered in February 2016 by Ryan Tate’s wife, Christy Kelley-Tate.

By late 2016 there were at least 800 complaints being considered by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, and thousands of warnings by disgruntled authors and ex-Tate employees across the internet.

The case broke to the public in full drama this week. First, the Tates announced that they might open up again. The OK AG office was understandably reluctant to add more names to its case files against Tate, so they charged the Tate patriarch Richard and his son Ryan with felony embezzlement charges, misdemeanor embezzlement charges, and three felony attempted extortion by threat charges.

Those last charges, the extortions? All come back to those $50 processing fees, which were apparently paid to Tate Publishing but funneled to the Tate family’s private bank accounts. A day after the charges were made public Richard and Ryan Tate were arrested, held on $100,000 bond each, and forced to surrender their passports.

As a final insult to many ex-Tate authors: they either can’t buy back their rights in total, or they can’t prevent Tate from still profiting off older editions still listed on Goodreads and major print and ebook distributors.

There will be authors who still champion Tate Publishing. Many of them also voted for Trump. And there are still plenty of fully-operational vanity publishers, some even modeled after Tate, ready to take their money and dreams.

As the old Sun Tzu quote goes, ‘The wheels of justice grind slow, but exceeding fine’.We can hope at the very least the Tates lose most of their ill-gotten gains and serve serious jail time. At the best, we can hope this is a harbinger of greater justice to come.

(This post compiled with images and information courtesy of newsok.com, koko.com, Writer Beware, Publishers Weekly, and consumeraffairs.com.)

 

The dark side of Pinterest

I both love and hate Pinterest.

On the plus side, it’s an incredible resource for worldwide inspiration in every visual art field, curated to various levels of research and granularity.

On the minus side(s), it’s a hot mess.

The app is pushy as hell, and locks down random scrolling unless you log it. Which I don’t always want to do or have time to do. No, Pinterest, you are not my go-to image search app, and the pushier you get the more resistant I get.

Even worse is the citation problem many visual artists feared from the beginning. When Pinterest started, there were few mechanisms to track the original source of an image. Pinterest addressed some of those, but it’s still not easy to tell who first came up with an image, and who merely reposted it.

I’ve been guilty of the same, I’m certain, even though I try to cite my Pinterest sources, and hope others will do the same for me.

For a cautionary story of the right and wrong ways to use Pinterest and other social media image-sharing apps, check out this tale of a mural in Chicago, two artists, and the best First Lady we’ve had in decades.

Tempe Festival of the Arts, Spring 2017

If you’re in the Phoenix, AZ area this weekend, check out the Tempe Festival of the Arts, running March 31 to April 2. It’s a sprawling wonderful circus occupying Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the surrounding side streets: plenty of art, food, live music, and people-watching.

This festival’s Featured Artist is Hannie Goldgewicht, known for her blending of ceramics and basketry. Her pieces have a monumental simplicity, combining the textures of pine-needle basketry with the rich colors of her stoneware base forms.

I’ll expand this blog post later today, to show the festival award ribbons I designed to riff off Hannie’s signature ‘look’ and themes.

***

And it’s now later.

Since 2010, I’ve designed and made the fiber art ribbons used as category and grand prize winners at the Tempe Festival of the Arts. The organizers and I have hit on the strategy of having me focus on themes (such as the AZ Centennial in 2012) or riffs on that show’s Featured Artist’s show poster. When I first heard they were considering Hannie’s work for this show poster, I started getting design ideas.

First, a look back at someone who may or may not have been an inspiration to Hannie, but they were certainly firing on the same wavelength: the late fresco artist Marcia Myers.

courtesy Gail Severn Gallery

I first came across Myers’ work in a coffee table art book, and then in person at a show at Phoenix’s Bentley Projects gallery. Inspired by Venetian frescos, Myers developed her own techniques for creating lush, many layered faux frescos on canvas or board with acrylic mediums (plus other art media). Deceptively simple, these must be seen in person to be really appreciated.

They show the same light-soaked, rich colors and pleasing textures as Hannie Goldgewicht’s work.

How to show those textures and tones in fabric? Ultrasuede: it has a soft nap and leather-like look that almost mimics the textures of fresco or ceramic. I had some oxblood red, aqua turquoise, and caramel-gold suede on hand from other projects.

How to keep a clean, crisp edge without a lot of bulk? Ribbon facing: a black-cherry red satin ribbon binds the edge of the cutout thick interfacing shape. Ultrasuede panels are glued and sewn on top. Bonus: I can use this edge trick on fiber book pages!

Text blocks and logo are digitally printed fabric, sewn in place with satin stitch.

Wood and stone beads (jasper, carnelian, dyed magnesite, various agates, tigereye, and aventurine) made great accents.

How to mimic Hannie’s simple pine-needle basketry? I thought about pine needles, but they are too finicky to work with in very small forms (for me, at least). Pigtail raffia, however, has long thin fibers in a rich straw to green-gold tone. When soaked to soften, then twisted, they were perfect to couch-embroider over the suede panels.

For the raffia accents, I chose very simple shapes to echo the simplicity of Hannie’s work.

The ribbons are finished on back with seafoam-green canvas, frayed out along the edges for more texture. Ribbon ties and pinbacks offer a variety of display methods for the winners of the three major awards, the category winners, and the honorable mentions. There are 23 ribbons total in each show’s set.

I can’t wait to see what next fall’s design is going to be!

Why enter pitch contests?

Other than sheer masochism? They offer a slight shortcut to the usually long query process, they let you meet fellow writers and industry professionals, and they offer the chance to get agent offers and free feedback.

I’ve blogged before about some dangers and darker sides of online pitch contests. Now for a spotlight on the second valuable gift they offer: feedback and editing.

Very few people can write in a vacuum. We need feedback in developmental stages of a mms, and capable editing at the later stages.

Would-be self-published writers, do you know that it can cost between $1500 and $5000 for qualified professional editing of your mms? Most self-pub authors don’t bother, and it shows in the final product.

Many pitch contests offer author-peer and professional feedback, for free or a minor donation! Some offer the finalists or winners a few weeks to a couple of months of pro editing, as well as a final showcase to tempt agents and acquisition editors.

Sure, it’s a long shot, but why not try?

I just finished a rewarding and humbling experience: tightening up my smutty M/M space opera MORO’S PRICE, which is being re-released (in a heavily revised version) from NineStarPress this summer. I have an awesome editor, and I really need her skills. (So many mistakes!)

The experience made me look again at my newly revised high fantasy mms. It’s a better book that the version I shopped last year, but I know it needs editing.

So I’m bashing my head against the mostly-so-far-fruitless pitch contest scene again, and entering this mms in the upcoming Pitch 2 Publication melee.* I have a teeny chance at getting anywhere in that event, but I’ve got to try it.

Because even if I don’t snag an agent, I’ll get strong feedback. All the ‘unsuccessful’ contests last year, plus agent and editor feedback, led to my recent revisions and a much stronger book.

If I need to, I can then self-publish that book.

(I have been known to submit work to top SFF short fiction markets, just for their personalized rejections, for similar reasons.)

*Which has now been postponed and replaced with Revise & Resub.

 

Shame on Samhain

A brief but long overdue update, on erotic romance publisher Samhain. After announcing their closure late in 2015, they regrouped in a flurry of activity over 2016.

But they’re closing for real at the end of February 2017, only a few days after releasing a last round of contracted books. Those first rights are burned, and how much will those authors earn now in less than a week of sales? I’ve seen new authors who actually submitted mms to Samhain over 2016, when many seasoned authors warned them off. Loyal readers are scrambling to back up their digital libraries.

The company had a good run over much of its eleven years. I’m sorry to see Samhain go, but wish they could have kept their first promises and folded more responsibly last year.

The death of the romance industry small presses…claims another round of victims.

Update 2-12-2017: In a move eerily like their announcement in 2016, Samhain announces it will retain a handful of employees and ‘wind down’ company sales to help satisfy customers. During this process, as rights come due, those will be reverted to the authors. Ready-to-launch books will still be sold. Uncompleted projects will be reverted.

Potentially, this means that a Samhain title released in late February of this year might not go out of contract for 7 more years…or by March of this year. We don’t know yet, because we don’t have a ‘lights out’ date for Samhain. A potential title (contracted but not ready for release as of February 2017) would be reverted this month to its author.

Now, this is just a year’s delay of closure, not long in the publishing world. Samhain is closing because of poor ebook sales. So it’s very likely those remaining Samhain authors are not going to see the sales levels they might have, from back in the company’s glory days. How much marketing and promo will Samhain do now, over how long the company winds down?

I still think it was irresponsible of Samhain to solicit and contract more authors between 2016 and 2017, but at least the company appears to have a plan in place.

If you love erotic romances and Samhain authors, keep buying while you can…and back up your digital library!

Of Shade and Soul: A Touch Trilogy Novella

My friend A. G. Carpenter and the great people at Falstaff Books have released ‘Of Shade and Soul’, the second novella in her Southern gothic ‘Touch’ trilogy.

Delaney Green might be dead, but she don’t mean to stay that way. As she searches for a way back to the realm of the living, and the man she lay down flesh and bone for, Percival Cox and his team investigate a series of deaths and stolen souls. But Percy is not the man he used to be. If Del can’t find a way to stop him from waking his past, he could destroy everything, including himself.

This is a powerful continuation of the first book (I was honored to read both in their beta stages and final form). The final product is worthy of a Poe award. If you like moody Southern gothic, horror-fantasy, magical realism with a languid air of magnolia and burnt blood…this is your trilogy. Come read it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Shade-Soul-Touch-Trilogy-Novella-ebook/dp/B01MZE2D64

More publishers behaving badly

As if 2016 hadn’t sucked badly enough before this, December saw news that two more publishers were going under with messy implosions. In both cases, authors and readers were left hanging.

Torquere was a small erotic romance publisher once reasonably respected, but torpedoed by mismanagement over the last few years.

The bigger news a few days ago: the abrupt dissolution of AllRomance Ebooks/OmniLit. This was a digital ebook sales platform that had just branched into direct publishing. For other publishers, ARe/Omni had thousands of titles across many genres, from Big Five houses to small independents and self-published authors. (I even had a spot on ARe, in prep for my future self-pub efforts.)

I lost a few dollars from sales of Maestro this last quarter, I’m sure. I know other authors who estimate they’ve lost $10K or more. Follow the link for more news about this crash (which may have less to do with financial losses than graft and fraud.)

Torquere’s troubles, we knew about at least half a year. The ARe debacle had hints of trouble a few months ago for some authors, but most of us never saw it coming.

We don’t like to see Amazon as the only outlet. For many of us, ARe was the next biggest earner, and its loss will ripple across the romance genre.

Welcome to the future, I guess.

Update 1-2-2017: The AllRomance/OmniLit sites have vanished now, like a once-vast city buried in lava. I remember how big those sites were, especially to romance. It seems surreal that they’re gone.

More disquieting are the hints and rumors of continued odd behavior from Lori James, and the realization that ARe/Omni were on shaky foundations at least two years ago. The good news is that Big Five publishers will almost certainly file suit, but that won’t help the small presses and individual authors also dragged down.

I’m no lawyer or publishing professional. My sense, from listening to people who are: look closely at your publisher. Try to determine if they’re responding quickly and responsibly to these debacles, and to shifts in the larger publishing world. If not, you might want to pull back or get out while you can.

There will almost certainly be small publishers who will lose large amounts of money from what Lori James owes. Some will lose more money trying to pay their authors’ ARe/Omni royalties out of pocket. Some won’t pay, or will only pay the 10% they might get. Either way, some of these publishers won’t survive the financial hit or the exodus of angry authors. If you love your publisher, rally around and help…but be willing to take the risks, too.

As a reader, the most important thing you can do for the writers you love: leave online reviews. Wherever you buy a physical or ebook, give an honest review. Don’t randomly gush 5-star reviews…put some thought into them. Why did you like the book? Why not? Even a guarded 3-star review can have great positive effects; even a negative review can spark the interest of other readers.

Digital books can make an author’s backlist accessible. But no one will buy that backlist if they don’t know it exists. So review!

 

 

 

 

White Walls, Ghost Ship, and the arts in America

While we’re looking at the economic and social issues coalescing around the Ghost Ship fire, we need to accept that exploitation of creatives is so common it’s basically a tenet of American culture.

The vanity publishers I talk about in the ‘Filigree’s Rule’ section of this blog? They’re only one of the more-blatant tips of a big iceberg, culminating in our President-Elect.

Coded into bedrock American culture is the idea that art is frivolous or a luxury, that artists are second-class citizens who don’t contribute much to the greater good. ‘Safe’ art gets a nod from the powers-that-be, while ‘unsafe’ art gets tagged as unsavory and socially dangerous. ‘Play’ is never as worthy as ‘work’, even though play has been shown to be a common behavior among smarter animals, and a core practice of many genius-level humans.

I can hear any number of civic boosters, art professionals, teachers, grants committee members, and charitable foundation members yelping ‘Not so!’ if they read this. While they are all tirelessly working to fight upstream against the very attitudes I just mentioned.

Ask yourselves how much better your jobs would be, if Americans truly valued art and creativity?

From the San Francisco area comes this update on a story I first heard about years ago: the saga of a hip gallery called ‘White Walls’, a grifter called Justin Giarla, and the artists who ran afoul of him.

I was in the art supply retail business around the time White Walls became really famous. I remember seeing the glossy magazine ads for the space. I can see how artists got seduced by the pitch.

Quoted from the first story: “He did this intentionally to people, and bullied them when confronted,” Soukup wrote. “He hid behind the threat that he could ruin you if you spoke out against him.”

Quoted from the second story: When street artist David Young V, also known as DYoungV, saw Harman’s post about Giarla, it inspired him to go public with his own story. “It’s been public knowledge that Justin has been either stealing from or attempting to steal from artists for years,” DYoungV wrote in a public Facebook post. “Yet artists heard all the warnings and continued to work with him anyway. It’s almost like nobody wanted to believe the ‘rumors’ until it actually happened to them.”

Anyone who has been in the art sphere for a while has met a Giarla. I’ve known several, and yes, lost money and art to them. That artists, musicians, and writers have a tendency to shrug off such misadventures as ‘part of doing business’ is a sad but necessary fact of our lives. When any gallery exposure might be the lucky break we need to become famous – or even just solvent – we gamble.

The Giarla story at least has some merit, now that other artists beyond the initial whistle-blower have come forward to admit being scammed, too.

So if you’re a new artist trying to get your big break, what can you do? Here’s some tips I’ve learned from 30 years in the trenches:

It’s a business first, friendship second. Don’t believe anyone you work with, when they call your relationship ‘a family’. The more they emphasize ‘family’, the more you should silently add ‘dysfunctional’, and plan accordingly. Be nice about it, but protect yourself. While you’re at it, don’t completely trust your fellow artists, either – they’re all subject to the same temptations and shortcuts, and you might become a handy patsy or scapegoat.

Get everything in writing. Do not rely on handshake deals, since they can fall apart like wet toilet paper. Even the most well-meaning gallery owner can fall off the wagon, or even the map. Getting terms of your business relationship on paper may help bump you up in the line, if it comes to litigation or bankruptcy courts.

Never risk more than you can afford to lose. Accept that every single painting, sculpture, manuscript, poem, or song you produce in that relationship is subject to theft, in one way or another. Gamble – but spread out your risk factors.

Very rarely is ‘working for exposure’ worth your time. Any time someone asks you to volunteer your labor, materials, and time for free or a pittance, make sure the ‘exposure’ is actually worth something on your CV.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably either a filthy lie from a scammer, or the nonsense from someone too airheaded to survive in business.

 

 

How Electors can redeem their honor

This is a long shot, for actually doing anything…but you can sign a petition to the US Electoral College to recast or overturn their votes for Trump. They have a little over a month. Try this site, for more information.

Clinton won the popular vote, but not the Electoral. Hmm. When have we seen this before, recently? Oh yes, in 2000. And it was a Republican-engineered takeover then, too.

And we ALL saw how eight years of the Cheney/Bush White House worked out.

Trump is magnitudes more unfit for office than George W. Bush. He’ll not only make America more of an international pariah state and laughingstock, he’ll endanger our livelihoods and our lives. His mere victory has emboldened the alt-right thugs who helped drive his campaign, and he’s shown no sign, willingness, or ability to repudiate them.

Maybe our voices can’t coax the members of the Electoral College to save America from a Trump regime…but it can signal that we’re here, we’re not going away, and we can play the obstructionist long game, too.

Sign the petition for that reason, at least, and pass it on to people who feel the same way.