Saturday, April 28, 2012

Some More Natalia covers

Well, I'm still working away at my latest novel, Natalia.  These things always take me longer than I expect, but hopefully it will be ready before too long.  In the meantime, I'm still playing around with cover possibilities.  Here are a few more today: 

I like the fact that the model looks very much like I picture my character, and also the Russian hat works.  On top of that, most of the photos you find with girls and guns are blatantly sexual, which I don't think is a particularly good idea for this novel.  Any comments or suggestions are definitely appreciated.  Does one of these stand out more than the other?  Am I on the right track with the font?  Does the gray color work?  Or is it too plain?  Or is the whole thing just cheesy and amateurish?  Remember, honesty is the best policy! ;-) As usual, the little swirls will disappear once I decide which image to buy.  Thanks!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The First “Indie” Blockbuster

I was thinking a bit today about those books that hit real blockbuster status in our society.  Not just bestsellers, or even number one bestsellers, but books that sell so many copies and become such a part of our culture that nearly everybody on the planet has heard of them, if not read them.

I’m talking about books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or The Da Vinci Code.  Of course the Harry Potter books, and also the Twilight series.  All of these books have tens of millions of copies sold and counting, and whether you like them or not, it can be argued that they’ve left a mark on our culture simply by the phenomenon of their success.

All of this got me to thinking; will there ever be a self-published mega-blockbuster?  An “Indie” book that everyone seems to be talking about, if not reading?  There have been plenty of “Indie” success stories, with self-published authors selling more than a million copies of their books, but these have all been at discounted price levels.  None have done it at full retail price, let alone sell the estimated 80 million copies of The Da Vinci Code.

Part of me thinks it isn’t possible without the marketing reach of the big six publishers.  After all, they’ve got an army of publicists, marketing and advertising departments, cover designers, and a direct pipeline into the remaining brick and mortar bookstores.

An independent writer doesn’t have these things, but who’s to say they couldn’t?  Who is to say an independent writer couldn’t hire an entire team on their own?  The way things are going, with more and more readers switching to e-books and more writers foregoing publishers altogether, it almost seems like the self-pubbed blockbuster is actually inevitable. 

Perhaps the more interesting question is, will this first blockbuster come from a real “Indie” writer working their way up from the bottom, or from an author with a traditional publishing background who decides to make the switch?  My guess is the latter.  Someone who is already famous has a lot less work to do in convincing readers to take a chance on their work.

Imagine if Stieg Larrson had survived to witness his great success.  What if, after his original three book deal, he’d opted to go it alone on his next one?  Some might say why bother, given the way things worked out for him so far, but on the other hand, current e-book royalty rates from the major publishers are stuck at 25 percent of net.  “Indie” writers on Amazon earn 70 percent of gross. 

On a printed copy a traditionally published author can expect to earn around 10 percent or less of net, compared to about 30 percent or more of gross through Amazon’s Createspace.  On top of all of this, the self-pubbed author needs no agent.  That alone ads 15 percent more to their bottom line.

One of these days a famous writer with blockbuster potential is going to go it alone.  Or, just perhaps, lightning will strike and a real “Indie” writer will somehow hit blockbuster status.  When it does finally happen, given self-publishing royalty rates, this person stands to become very, very wealthy.

It will also be a particularly significant nail trad-pub coffin.  Just imagine how many traditionally published authors might jump ship after witnessing that kind of success…  I don’t think traditional publishing companies will ever disappear completely, but if I were in charge of one, the prospect of a self-pubbed blockbuster would make me very nervous indeed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What’s it really like in Lisbon?

It’s been five weeks now since I arrived in Portugal to visit my good friend Ed and spend some time here working on my latest novel, Natalia.  So what’s it like so far?  Well, it is an interesting place, no doubt about that.  Lisbon does have character, and a certain easy-going ambiance.  It’s also a little more beat up than I’d expected, with a population that at times seems to be hanging on by a thread.

The Baixa neighborhood, near my apartment.
There is plenty to like here, from the quaint old trolley’s running up and down the hills, to the weaving alleyways of the Alfama district, an ancient, winding maze of a neighborhood that dates back to the days of the Moors and evokes comparisons to a North African casbah. 

There are the many viewpoints overlooking the river, and there is the Bairro Alto neighborhood, where revelers spill out onto the streets on a Saturday night.  The Chiado neighborhood is full of swank shops and cafes.

On the downside, there are also looping scrawls of graffiti all over, decaying streets, abandoned buildings and homeless people pleading for change at every turn. 

A few local characters in Baixa.
For the last three weeks I’ve been living in a rented room in the Baixa neighborhood, smack dab in the center of town and the only flat section in the city.  Most of the streets here are pedestrianized, the tile walks filled with outdoor cafes that cater mostly to tourists.  Each building has retail space on the ground floor and then five floors of residential units above that. 

My building, on the right just past the white car.
 In my building, I’m living on the fifth floor.  It took me a few days to realize that the second and third floors were completely abandoned.  From across the street you can see broken windows covered with torn tarps that blow in the breeze. 

Not long after that I realized that nearly every building in the neighborhood seems to be abandoned in whole or part above the ground floor.  Walking around in the early evening one can see that most of the windows have no light in them at all.  Once the last of the restaurants closes at 11 p.m. and the tourists go home, the whole place is a virtual ghost town. 

I can only surmise, but it seems to me that perhaps 30 percent of the residential units in the entire neighborhood are occupied, and most of those are old and beat up.  My own place is definitely no exception.  I rented my room from Maria, a very nice 61-year-old woman who lives alone with her two dogs. 

The room is nice enough, with a comfortable bed, two windows, a writing desk, TV, dresser and wardrobe.  It was only after I moved in that I began to see how tough Maria has it.  No job, no income, and relying on the occasional renter like myself just to get by. 

She’d spent my rent on her bills within days of my moving in.  And my additional two-week deposit on top of that.  She still doesn’t have enough to fix the kitchen plumbing, where the sink drains into a bucket underneath that she dumps down the toilet when it gets too full.  The washing machine is broken, too, and she can’t afford to fix that either.

The instant hot water heater runs on gas from a propane tank under the kitchen counter.  Before we take a shower we have to light the pilot.  When we’re done, we turn the pilot off.  She can’t afford to keep it lit.  Yesterday the propane tank ran out.  I was a little afraid she wouldn’t be able to pay for a refill, but she managed.

On the outskirts of the city things appear to be much worse.  I took a train to Sintra last week to see a historic palace, and on the way we went through long stretches of what could best be described as slums; tall apartment buildings that mostly look like they are on their last legs.  The residents were primarily Africans from former Portuguese colonies who emigrated here and now seem completely out of place in their new surroundings.  Some of them still wear their traditional African clothing.  I can only imagine what their lives must be like here.

As for my rented room at Maria’s place, I only agreed to stay one month but given that I’ll never see my deposit back, I’ve paid for six weeks.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stay, but eating a few weeks rent and moving on is not out of the question.  Such is the life of a struggling, itinerant writer, I suppose.

Overall I’m glad to have spent some time here in Portugal, to get to know the place, and I’ve managed to get some work done.  There are a few nice cafes to write in and a couple of old libraries.  I feel my time is running short here, though.  I’ll probably stick around here another week or two and then let the winds take me where they may…

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lucky Seven Challenge

Thanks this week to Janice Horton for including me in the Lucky Seven Challenge!  The rules are thus:

Go to page 77 of your current novel or WIP. Go to line 7. Copy the next 7 lines, sentences or paragraphs and post them as they’re written. Tag 7 more writers and let them know.

If any other readers here have works in progress, consider yourselves tagged!  As for me, here are the 7 paragraphs from my latest, Natalia:

            “You must eat something,” Victoria continued.  “To keep your strength up.”
            “They killed her,” said Natalia.
            “Yes,” answered Victoria.  “I know.”
            “They killed my Sonia.  They killed my Sonia and her baby.  Her Italian baby.”
            “Look at you!” said Victoria, examining Natalia’s cuts and bruises.  “We need to change this bandage!  And these burns, you need some ointment!”
            “I need to go home.”
            “We all want to go home, Natalia.  They won’t let us go home.”

That's it, nice and short.  Now if only I could get the novel finished!  Hopefully just another month or so...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lisbon afternoon

I walked around Lisbon yesterday afternoon with my new camera, shooting some video clips of the city, so I decided to upload my first blog video!  Here it is: