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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Born Ugly: The Ragged Edge Retrospective Part 3 (of 3)

part 1
part 2

So, what's it all about, Skunkie?

There are three ways I could try to encapsulate the Ragged Edge:

1) I could write about how, in wrapping everything up, Ted Dekker called one of his adult children on-stage, sat with her on the couch and had a serious discussion about her desire to pursue the writing game as a career. The unexpected, impromptu, unguarded family talk was surprising, frank, and left me with a sick feeling inside.

Bruce's praise for brilliant amateurs came years too late in my writing process to do any good, but as I watched Ted discuss the professional struggles with his family, and the mixed emotions of horror and awe he experienced, I was torn up. It laid the professional writing life bare in a way I'd never seen it before. But because I don't feel right going any further into that deeply moving but personal episode, I could try...

2) ...telling you about Yoda instead. Kevin Kaiser, Ted Dekker's brand manager, stage manager, brain manager, and stain manager* had some time on stage, and the diminutive sage provided a lot of good advice, frequently channeling Frank Oz. He was good at it, too, and funny. Even funnier was the fact that somehow, Dekker, 2010's million-unit selling pop culture phenom, weird fiction explorer, motion arts junkie, somehow missed that one time they showed The Empire Strikes Back in Colorado. Yeah, he had no clue that Kaiser's advice was coming straight off the streets of Dagobah.**

And Kaiser's advice was good (I'm conflating it here with some of the comments of other individuals - there was a discussion going on during much of it). His breakdown of the publishing industry was extremely clean:

Publishers are three things:

  • A bank - this means that they are in the business of pre-financing the writer in exchange for content. If you have any understanding of how a bank makes money by loaning it out, you get closer to why a publisher is willing to pay you, say, $10,000 (if you are very lucky) up front for a project that won't make any money for at least 18 months (best case scenario). Hint: They are hoping to make considerably more than $10,000 off of the product over time. Please discuss this ad nauseum in the comments. It is an important business thing*** to grasp if you want to be a professional novelist.
  • A printer - they take on the costs of producing the units for sale in print and electronic forms. I'm sure the Charles Foster Kane of weird fiction, our own brb, can attest to the unique challenges of turning trees and pixels into readable products. If I were to sum it up in two words, they would be "costs and headaches." Okay that's three words, which would be both a headache and a cost if I were a printer.
  • A distributor - this is where the chaos happens. Unlike manufacturers who practice sane business policies such as selling their inventory to retail outlets, publishers lease their inventory to retailers, and buy back unsold stock. This is well-known, and has been the way of doing things for fifty years or more. It is a fifty-year old stupid idea, I think, and can't be anything other than an albatross on an industry struggling to be nimble during the Depression 2.0. I'd love for someone to come on and show me the error in my thinking.
On the good side of things, distribution from a well-connected publisher provides reach. Even if you only make $1.20 per book after hitting the advance, good distribution can translate into a higher volume of sales than, say, selling them out of your trunk. An additional bonus from distribution is that the publisher-backed book can provide advertising for your other books, whether those others are traditionally published or self-published.

One thing that Kaiser mentioned that publishers do in theory, rather than in practice (at least very well), is market the books. From an individual point of view, it is important to remember that your debut novel at a major publisher is 1 of 40 novels that will be new to the market, from that publisher, that month. Your precious, flawless baby becomes their produce.

There's a lot of meat there, and I really can't get into those particulars, either, so I'll just...

3) ...Bring up a few random things that are worth looking at:

Bruce Judisch's site. He was an attendee, and has had three or four historical novels published by a small press, and is looking for representation on his sequel to Katia, a tale of the Cold War, dedicated to the "Unbekannt" (the unknown dead who died attempting to cross the Iron Curtain.)

He's done a very professional job of running his work personally, and positioning himself for a run at a larger publisher. Not all of the independent authors out there do this - some because they don't care, some because they don't know. If you care, Judisch is a good example of how to do it.

Arisia reminded me to sign the Book of Mortals. They went into some of the specifics of this really lovely campaign designed to draw in readers to participate in the community that is likely to follow Dekker and Lee's new book series.

Or maybe I should just repeat the lesson of Write-Fu Master and Prose Ninja Tosca Lee: Finish the book.

If it helps to think of your writing self as a Mortal Kombat character, you just need to focus on executing your finishing move - The End-o-nator.

In any case, I came away from The Ragged Edge with more lessons than I can recount here, not the least of which was that even if this writing gig never does work out, I've got a promising future as a Skunk Oil Salesman.

*Water stains. I'm sure it was water stains. I'll have to remember to go into that story sometime. It was...explosive.

**Okay, yeah. Dagobah has no streets. I'm just keeping it real.****

*** "Important business things" happen to be important writing things. You probably knew that. I wasn't talking to you, obviously, who are brilliant and savvy, and one of those writer types who just loves thinking about business models. I was talking to that other guy - the dumb one. Yeah. Definitely not you.

****Ever notice how "keeping it real" always means "ensuring that one portrays oneself in as false a light as possible?"
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