In other news…

…Dial wants Hamster Princess. Three books of Hamster Princess! Oh god, I am SO happy–A) I love that book, I love the heroine, I love her riding quail Mumfrey, and B) I hate pitching series ideas a lot and was down to “Lawn Flamingo with Lawn Gnome Sidekick. They fight crime!” and it was actually starting to sound GOOD in my head.*

And also they bought Dragonbreath 11, and upon consideration (translation: “Just park the dumptruck of money next to the mulch.”) I think I can manage that. (I swear, every time I start to think “Maybe it’s time to move on!” I get an e-mail from a parent thanking me for getting their kid to read. I’m starting to think my agent is putting them up to it.) We’ll be switching the schedule, however, so that only one comes out a year, with Bread Wizard and Hamster Princess taking the other slot, so I won’t be eyeball-deep in little dragons all the time.

The first Hamster Princess is not due to hit stores until 2015, so it’s gonna be awhile, but I’m just ecstatic that Dial’s on board. I love my editor there, and I am so happy that they decided to give Princess Nibblemark a shot. Yay for Dial! Yay for my editor! Yay for my agent! YAAAAY!

 

*Lawn-related crimes, mostly. Fire-ants. Watering during drought. Y’know.

I Still Have Most Of My Organs, Actually

So there’s this publishing horror story making the rounds the last few days—the saga of Mandy DeGeit, who submitted a short story to a small press that did anthologies and discovered that it was published with a whole lot of changes, including animal abuse, which she never saw, never okayed, and never had an inkling of until the bizillion copies she’d ordered came in.

I feel for this woman, I do. I remember the first time that I got a cover I did back with an element that had been wee down in the corner blown up and pasted in the middle of the cover, about fifteen times the size it should be (and thus blurry) and with a white-pixel-cut-out line around it. I felt ill. (And no, it wasn’t “I HAVE BEEN VIOLATED!” because I’ve been at this way too long for my art to be my precious babies anymore. It was “Oh my god, somebody’s gonna see my name on this and think I’m a HACK!” I roll my eyes whenever anybody compares art theft to rape* but seeing a lousy thing with your name on it and the lousy bit isn’t your fault sure is a nasty shock and hits you right in the ego. Obviously I never worked with them again.)

The owner of the “publishing house” in question does seem to be a semi-literate piece of work whenever he shows up on the web, too. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t know either of them, I have no dog in this fight beyond the vague grey shaggy one with “GENERALIZED SYMPATHY” on its collar.

However, there IS something I want to say, because you and I both know that even as I am typing these words, someone, somewhere, is hitting “SEND” on a comment that begins “Sadly, I’ve heard far too many horror stories like this…blah blah blah traditional publishers want to kidnap you and sell your organs blah blah blah SELF-PUBLISHING IS THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE!!!”

Sigh.

I tell you now, O readers, mine, this is not a traditional publisher issue, a small press issue, an editor issue or an e-book issue. This is a douchebag issue.

There will always be douchebags. The world is full of them and we are currently prevented by law from hunting them in the streets. They are limited to no one particular craft or creed, and it is unfair to glom onto any particular example of douchebaggery in order to grind your own particular tangentially-related axe. Complaining that because this guy committed an act of serious editorial malfeasance means that we should all self-publish is like saying that because my cousin got screwed over by his mechanic, we must all learn to build our own cars from the axles on up. Knock yourself out—me, I’ll just go to a different mechanic.

Self-publishing is utterly fantastic for what it’s fantastic at, and you should absolutely do it if that’s the route for you, but do it for the right reasons. The right reasons do not include “Big publishers want to lure you into their den and tear out your still-pulsing spleen as an offering to Yns-Morgoth, Lord of the Slush Pile.” I would also be leery of “Because I am SPECIAL and do not NEED an editor.” And certainly I would avoid “Because the editor will totally rewrite my story!” because…well…

I’ve never encountered it. I know many authors who have also never encountered it. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data” but this sort of thing is really not standard and a lot of editors are expressing great shock at this. This is not “how the industry runs.” This is not normal.

We’re working on…let me think, math…Okay, not counting Digger collections, I just turned in my thirteenth manuscript, we’ve had edits and revisions on eleven of them, and nobody’s ever just started adding crap out of the blue. The sort of things I hear are “When we stick this scene here, I feel like we interrupt the climax in the middle, and then the momentum never quite gets back up. Can we re-arrange?” and “I don’t know if this bit here actually moves the story along.” I have had a couple of scenes proposed to me–“You’ve got a nice bit here that we end the first book with–can we get another couple like that, to insert in the second book, to tie it together?” but the editor does not sit down and write the scene. That would be kinda nuts. I would probably take offense. The closest I have ever had to an editor writing something in my manuscript is single sentences, usually accompanied by “I’m afraid it isn’t clear who’s talking. Would something like “She said, sitting down on the bench” work here?” (Even then, this generally occurs in the editing sidebar, in these Word-heavy days, and it is left for me to actually execute them in the text.)

Also, they send you a copy-edited manuscript or PDF or whatever. Everyone does this. This is your last chance to look over and say “Oh, crap! Changes!” People who don’t do this are not acting professional. Be afraid.

But not of publishers in general, and certainly not of small presses. Small presses are fraught with peril, mostly in the form of well-meaning people who have no idea how much work they’re getting into and how much money they won’t be making, so yes, vet your small press thoroughly. But don’t curse the lot of ’em because one moron with an e-book converter claimed to be a “publisher.” (Case in point, my buddies at Sofawolf are beyond fantastic, and I would encourage anyone with a story to check their submission guidelines, because they do it very, very right. Also, they send me gin. HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THIS?)

So. In conclusion, horrible situation, very sad, but not typical. If this happens (or has happened!) to you, then speak up! Don’t fear that you’ll be blackballed or anything like that! Tell people! Good presses treat their authors right, and they’re awesome, and nobody ought to have to put up with morons like this who aren’t.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming…

 

*If you try to argue this point with me, I will close the thread and delete it. I’m not in the mood right now.

Actually, I Like My Traditional Publisher or “You Leave My Dill Pickle Alone!”

This will be long. I may ramble. Sideways. Through walls. You’ve been warned.

So in the last few weeks, I have found myself, for whatever reason, tripping repeatedly over things on the interwebs about self-publishing. I didn’t do it deliberately, at least at first, but Google+ makes it easy to fall over this stuff, and then you chase links or read comments and suddenly it’s dinner-time and you’re not quite sure where your pants went.

…possibly that last is just me. I have a problem. I’m willing to admit that.

And because it is the internet, one must take things with a fifty pound bag of salt.

But.

…Man, there’s some really bizarre crap out there about self vs. traditional publishing. It’s not quite up there with the some of the Great Internet Debates, which burn like underground coal fires and can last through entire geologic ages—I think breastfeeding* holds the line on this one, narrowly edging out religion, gluten, and operating systems—but it’s definitely got some meat to it.

I have seen people say, in all sincerity, that they would never ever consider being traditionally published because big publishers treat you so horribly and you make so little money at it and they’re all out to screw you over and…well, a lot of stuff. And I have seen people say “Well, a lot of self-published stuff is godawful crap, have you noticed? And there’s kind of a stigma against it because of all that godawful crap, have you noticed? And so even if you write a really damn fine book, as many people do, there’s a good chance a huge swath of the population won’t read it, because of that?” and then be treated as if they were tying people to the railroad tracks while twirling an Olde Timey Mustache Of Evile.

Internet. What’re you gonna do? Still, better to light a candle than curse the darkness, etc.

I am, as y’all know, traditionally published. I have always been traditionally published. Sometimes it’s a small press, like Sofawolf, sometimes it’s a big honkin’ press like Dial, subsidiary of Penguin.**

I have been moved to comment on this because of this post, where an author says, very sensibly, that his series failed through no fault of his publisher, that they went to the mat for him, that they were AWESOME, and hey, shit happens. And he assessed quite correctly that a lot of people would ask questions about why he didn’t self-publish, or self-publish the sequels, or get out t’ol Kickstarter and everything. I suspect this is because he, too, reads the internet.

So, let me say this, from the bottom of my heart—my big traditional publisher is fantastic.

(My little traditional publisher is fantastic too, but nobody seems to be hating on the small presses as soulless bloodsuckers, so I’ll just leave it at that, except to say that you should totally go to Sofawolf Press and buy stuff.)

Seriously, love ’em. Tell my agent every few months that she has utterly changed my life for the better. (I may have to stop that, I think it’s starting to weird her out.)  They are wonderful. My editor is wonderful. My art director is wonderful. I may scream and pace around a bit during edits, but every time we turn out a better book. (Okay, honesty time, once or twice I’ve thought I had a better cover beforehand, but that’s art on demand for you. There’s a universal law about it.)

And when we’re talking about a ten book series, seven of which have gone through the process already, that’s a pretty good thing.

No one has ever drunk my blood. No one has even looked at my neck in a thoughtful fashion. I get nothing but respect. They send me cookies at Christmas, and a gift book that my editor picks out because she thinks it’s the sort of weird morbid silliness that appeals to me. She nags me to come to New York so we can go drinking together. My art director sends me e-mails saying she’s proud to be part of the Dragonbreath team. The nice woman in foreign rights always includes a cheerful note with the Portuguese copies.

Occasionally, sure, we have one of those we-are-two-co-workers-on-one-project-who-do-not-quite-agree moments, but we are eager to talk it around, and everybody goes home figuring it’ll work out eventually. Given what sort of field this is, that’s really damn good. I freely admit that I am fortunate in the people who work with me, but not, I think, terribly unique.

Shortly before the release of Ghostbreath, I got a fan letter from the caretaker of an autistic boy. She said he loved the book, and he’d gotten interested in reading other books as a result of Dragonbreath, and that it had made a huge difference for him.

Well, first I wandered around pretending I had something in my eye. Then I forwarded it to my editor. They said “Look, we just got in the advance copies—we’ll send him one early.” And they did. And that is a small thing, but it matters.

So when you’re talking about those horrible big publishers that are out to stifle your creativity and suck your blood, to you, it may be a faceless monolith who sent you a mean rejection letter. But to me, you’re talking about a group of women that I work with pretty much constantly. Who send me cookies. Who are damn decent human beings.

Likewise, when you gleefully predict the downfall of traditional publishing, you are not talking about blowing up a building with nobody in it. There’s at least three or four real people in mine and a couple of hazy groups like “the marketing team” and “the sub-rights guys” who I also do not wish to see blown up, even if I don’t know their names.

Okay. Enough sentimentality, let’s roll up our sleeves a bit here.

There’s a couple of points I’d like to address more practically, because I keep seeing them and they keep not being as true as people would like them to be when they keep saying them over and over again.

Big Traditional Publishers are on their way out.

I’ve been seeing this one for years now, and…well, they’re an awfully lively corpse. Penguin keeps posting profits. Their sales are up 6%, and that’s adjusting for loss of Borders. They keep writing me checks. The checks keep clearing. They are doing a brisk sale in e-books. My advances went up by a third on the last contract over the one before.

“I don’t care!” you say. “Five years, they’ll all be bankrupt!” (And yes, somebody said this to me recently.)

It’s possible. It’s also possible that they won’t be. It’s also possible we’ll be struck by a meteor. All I know is that they’re making money hand over fist at the moment. We are, most of us, poor prophets. I’m as heavily invested in big publishing as you can be, and I’m still not losing a lot of sleep over it, and neither is my agent.

Now, brick-and-mortar bookstores? Yeah, those should probably worry, and my heart aches for them. But the publishers do not appear to have gotten the memo about their impending demise.

Big Traditional Publishers are running scared of self-publishing!

…’kay. Look, if you say so. I can’t say I’ve seen any indications. If you want to interpret spats with Amazon as “fear of self-publishing” then go for it. I won’t stop you.

My agent has suggested I release things too weird for conventional publishing as an e-book on at least one occasion. As she makes no money off that and quite a lot off the Big Trad Publishers, and is furthermore the cleverest, canniest, and possibly most dangerous woman I know, I am inclined to trust her judgment. (My editor’s entire opinion was “Didn’t you do something with wombats—dear god! You’re still doing that? How do you have time? Do you sleep? Wow!”***) Nobody has ever said “Oh god, if you self-publish, we’ll shake you ’til your teeth rattle!”

(Yes, I read that one article about the one writer too. It strikes me as very peculiar, and there are a few more details I’d like to know before I pass judgment.)

You can make more money self-publishing!

Maybe you can. Me, I’ll take my advance and the bit where I don’t do any of the editing, art layout, design, marketing, more marketing, selling foreign rights, sending out ARCs, wrangling with printers and keeping stock in my garage.

But if you self-publish your e-book, you get a higher percentage!

Higher percentages of e-books are great. I get 25% of e-books. You can get like 70% through some of the various e-books people, or so I hear. That’s quite a bit bigger, yup.

‘Course, you have to actually SELL those books. And if you are confident in your marketing ability to move as many books—hell, mathematically, to move a THIRD as many books—as a big marketing department, then rock on. Do it. Fly free, little self-publisher! Spread those wings! FLAP ON, YOU CRAZY DIAMOND!

Ahem.

I am not confident of this. I could not market my way out of my own pants. (If I knew where they were.) I haven’t a clue how many e-books we move of Dragonbreath. It’s probably on a sheet of paper somewhere in the pile, god knows.

And I like not worrying about it. Are you kidding? Somebody sends me a lot of money and then I get to go sit in a coffee shop (once I find my pants) and get a cup of coffee and a chicken salad sandwich and pull out my laptop (which I bought with money Penguin sent me) and write. For hours.

And they keep filling up the coffee cup! And the sandwich comes with a dill pickle!

You want me to pitch that over for doing lots of work of the sort that I hate desperately, cutting savagely into my writing time, in hopes that maybe I, on my lonesome, can out-market a team of literate mako sharks wearing nice suits?

Feh. Next you’ll be trying to steal my dill pickle.

This, I think, is what a lot of people in self-publishing have failed to understand—yes, if you DIY it, you make a lot more of the profits! Well, great! That’s awesome if you like to DIY stuff! I, however, do not know how to change my own oil, cannot sew, and can just about make mac and cheese on a good day! I DIY nothing.

The only things I am any good at are art and writing.**** I would like to do that.

Just that.

And traditional publishing says “It’s cool, we’ve got people who can’t draw stick figures but who can charm the little birds out of the trees over here, we’ll put ’em on it. And we have printers! And people who know what copyediting marks mean! Here, have a dill pickle.”

So. Self-publishing is a GREAT fit for people who want to run around like crazy and talk about their book to everybody and get into the guts of layout and direction and make sure they know where everything is at every step of the process and are absolutely confident that they know the best direction to get their book sold.

Me, I don’t even do my own taxes. Thinking about numbers makes me tense and unhappy and as if small animals are clawing underneath my sternum. Thinking about marketing makes me want to apologize to everybody who has ever bought my book, ever. I am a bad fit for self-publishing. I am the worst fit for self-publishing. I cannot think of any reason why I would WANT to abandon traditional publishing, unless it’s to put out something I can’t possibly move in traditional circles and which the fans are yelling for.

Now, you can dismiss me as an elitist snob if you’d like—go for it! Rock it! I’ll get my monocle! And you can dismiss me as a hopelessly inept dweeb who wants to make no decisions and be the literary equivalent of a kept woman, and I will say “Yes, now you’re getting it. Also, have you seen my pants?” If you are a self-publishing zealot who thinks big publishers are the Devil, there is absolutely nothing I can say, as a minor demon, that will change your mind.

And I’m cool with that. It’s the internet. These things happen. If you’re looking for things to insult, I am several pounds overweight, snore loudly, and afraid of the monster under the bed.  Also, I have a really painful zit on the side of my ear—you know, the excruciating ones that get up under the fold at the top of the ear? Arrgh!—and you can probably do a good five minutes on how I deserve it. S’cool.

But the moral of this story is that you go where you fit. One size does not fit all. And despite what you might see on the internet, traditional publishers are not bastions of intergalactic evil who want to eat your tasty tasty brainmeats. All of the ones I’ve had have been staffed by real human beings who have been very nice to me and worked long hours to make my book succeed.

And I’d feel kinda bad about myself if I didn’t say that, in public, where people could read it.

 

 

(Sidenote here–there’s actually one area where an author can have their pickle and eat it too, that being backlist. I know a couple of big names who are happily self-publishing their backlist, which has gone out of print, as e-books, and sometimes doing very very well at it. There, it absolutely makes sense to go out on your own. It’s out of print anyway, the heavy lifting was already done, this is one area where I think established authors get a seriously good break on the self-publishing end. But, of course, you have to be fairly well established already to make this really work, since it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a backlist if nobody’s buying the front list.)

 

*Whatever you did, it was wrong. As a result your child is doomed, you are worst than Hitler, and if the other person had their way, SWAT teams would descend on your house and shoot the breast pump from your hand with high-powered weapons. I’m pretty sure that’s still the gist.

**I will state categorically that Sofawolf edited far more intensively and thoroughly and at no point did I run around the room screaming “OH MY GOD, I ONLY CHANGED THAT BIT IN THE FIRST PLACE BECAUSE THEY TOLD ME TO!” On the other hand, Penguin was able to give me an advance as big as my head. So, y’know. There are pros and cons to anything.

***Expressed pre-End of Digger, obviously.

****Even my gardening is mediocre. Just when I think I’m getting good, I harvest an onion that is actually smaller than the set it came from.

A Very Good Day

Today was the sort of awesome day that makes me a little wary of going up and down the stairs, because it seems so out of balance that I am undoubtedly bucking for a broken leg or something. I finished the art for Fairybreath (oh god yay!) hit another mental landmark in Bread Wizard (yay!) and unexpectedly got a royalty statement for Batbreath and Wurstbreath (double yay!) informing me that Batbreath had earned out. (Double-triple-quadruple uber-screamy YAY!)

Batbreath having come out in March, and the end of the sales period being in July, that means that it earned out in the first four months, which is fabulous. As of the end of July, we’ve moved about 35K copies of Batbreath and 46K Wurstbreath, which is pretty darn awesome. (Not including foreign/Scholastic book fair sales–I won’t see numbers on those for awhile.) Both had a jump in unit returns, most likely owing to the end of Borders, but that should smooth out long-term, and hey, that’s why there’s the reserve against returns, after all.

For non-authors out there, who are scratching their heads—“earning out” means that the book has sold enough copies that your share of the sales has exceeded the sum they paid you as an advance. I.E, if they give you ten thousand dollars and you get a dollar a book, your book has earned out when you have sold ten thousand copies. Everything after that is pretty much gravy—they sell another 3000 books, you get another 3000 dollars. Theoretically.

In actual fact the math is horrifyingly complicated and they send you a lot of sheets of paper—since a lot of my books sell through “discount” sellers (i.e. Wal-Mart and Amazon) where both the publisher and I get less cash, that’s on a different sheet than straightforward full-price sales through brick-and-mortar stores, and there’s always a page that has one single book sold on it that is somehow different and required another sheet of paper for some reason, but fortunately you get a nice little summary sheet in there somewhere that says “This is how many units you sold last time, this is how many you sold this time.” There is also a chunk of money called the “reserve against return” which is a chunk of cash they hang onto for a few years on the assumption that stores are going to send back X number of books. (There was a time I got grumpy about that, but now I’m kinda glad they take it out up front—that way it’s not real money in my head.)

It must be said that Batbreath only just earned out—it probably would have broken about even, except for aforementioned Scholastic and foreign rights, which tipped it over into an actual sum of money. This is also complicated, but the Cliff Notes version is that they give the publisher an advance, and depending on the sort of rights they buy, the publisher passes between 50 and 75% of that advance on to you. (Before anybody starts to rail at this, let me point out that they are buying the text from you, but the cover/layouts/design/etc from the publisher, rather than get their own art director to redo the whole kerfluffle. As my art director earns her paycheck every day she has to deal with me, and I get a correspondingly higher advance on the books to begin with for also being the illustrator, I begrudge them nothing.)

So, yeah, it’s complicated. The first time I got a royalty statement, I had to call Deb and go “And what does this mean? And what’s this number? Really? How about this number? No kiddin’…”  Nevertheless, as I occasionally like to point out—say what you will about the death of traditional publishing, they can casually move nearly eighty thousand copies (in this case) for an author on the high end of kid’s mid-list without me lifting a finger, a success I couldn’t hope to duplicate with Kickstarter and enthusiasm. (And while this counts as “doing great” in the field, I am myself far eclipsed by things like Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries.)

So today has been fantastic. And I am going to be very very careful going to down the stairs tonight, just in case.

General Round Up…

Life continues apace. In theory I get sales numbers for Ninja Frogs soon—preliminary call from agent indicates that it’s goin’ good, but I’d kinda like to see actual numbers of copies, since going good could cover a range anywhere between “not sucking” and “talk to your accountant about offshore tax havens.”* This is the woeful fact of many publishers—that book came out over a year ago, and I still don’t know sales figures. It definitely earned out fairly early on, but they only now are sending out statements and (hopefully) a check. Whenever clerks at the bookstore go “Wow! This one’s selling really well!” I go “Yay! Thank you—I have no idea, they don’t TELL me!”

Some publishers are better. Some are worse. Given how many books are in the series, I foresee a point ‘long about 2013 where I am getting a statement every month or so with numbers on it, at which point my brain will explode and I will no longer remember what exactly I do for a living and will probably start hawking MY TOTEM IS A SLIME MOLD bumper stickers on the street corner.

Speaking of which, I have a post about my experience with the delightful Dog Vomit Slime Mold over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. (Howzat for a segue?)

The LA Times had a nice review of kid’s graphic novels, including a couple of paragraphs for Batbreath. Yay!

Mr. Printy II just made a horrifying series of noises and spat black ink, prompting me to finally start calling every retailer in the area to see if they had replacements, which they don’t, so I had to order on-line, from Amazon, the only place that seemed to have the damn things in stock. (Sure, it was a hundred bucks less at Staples…but they’ve been out of stock for MONTHS, so what good does that do me?)  This is very sad, but I got quite literally thousands of prints off Mr. Printy II, I ran it until it nearly caught fire at times, and given how much abuse I subject that sucker to, I cannot claim anything but superb workmanship on the part of Epson. I am happy to get exactly the same thing again.

(Of course, now that I’ve ordered it, the current Mr. Printy has settled down and is printing beautifully, flawlessly, without a qualm. Watch Mr. Printy III sit in a box for a month because this one suddenly realized that it was about to go the Great Ink Cartridge In The Sky…)

And my garden is awesome, but you knew that already.

*Okay, there’s actually no chance the range includes that.

Foreign Language Books!

Whew! Lots of interest, lots of worthy causes out there! (From not knowing what to do with them, I am suddenly wishing I had more!) I tried to give one to all the librarians/teachers, and then assigned the rest at random by rolling d100’s…

So! Without further ado…

From Tea with the Squash God, Jude J, you get a Spanish copy!

From LiveJournal (where most of the activity still is!)

Portuguese:

Rabidsamfan

therecklesslady

fatfred

penrynsdreams

Spanish:

learnteach

ltdead

goldblend

aceofshrubs

speak_candidly

If you’re on the list, please e-mail me at ursulav (at) gmail.com with your address and your online handle, so I can cross you off the list! (Also, a bunch of you offered to pay shipping—not necessary, happy to send them off, but if you really wanted to kick a few bucks to payursula (at) metalandmagic.com on Paypal, I won’t cry.)

Hee!

I went out to do some coffee shop writing and came home to find a mailer full of books on the porch. When I slit it open, puzzled–I’m due some ARCs soon, for Ghostbreath, but not anything in hardcover–I laughed out loud.

I am now the proud owner of four or five copies each of the Spanish and Portuguese versions of Dragonbreath and Ninjabreath! It’s awesome to see it in those other editions–I feel like a real writer!

…mind you, I have no earthly USE for multiple copies, so I’m not sure what to do with them. Give them away at random, I guess. So, uh…leave a comment if you want a foreign language versions, and I’ll pick a couple people at random and send you a copy of Dani Bocafuego!