Saturday, September 6, 2014

Logos and Publishing Houses: Why the Need for Words?

Scott D. Parker

Another week of writing the same way I mentioned last week, so my mind drifted a bit this week. Football season started on Thursday and starts in earnest tomorrow. I’m talking NFL, of course, but the college guys are already on the gridiron. It’s got me thinking about logos.

With the NFL, lots of sites on the; NBC Sports, etc.--make predictions about the upcoming season. My favorite, bar none, is Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback. I do not consider my weekend football complete until I’ve ready King’s column on Monday. He’s just about the best in the long-form sports journalism that I know.

Anyway, these sites make their predictions for the upcoming seasons and most of them use the team logo to indicate which team they think will advance to the playoffs. Here’s a shot of all 32 logos:

What I’ve always appreciated in a logo is the conveying of a message without letters. Most of the NFL teams (21 out of 32) do not use any form of a letter. Why do I like that? Frankly, I don’t like having things spelled out for me.

Publishing houses are different. Google “publishing house logos” and you will get a lot of them...and they almost all have words associated with them. When I think of logos for publishing houses that have a graphic, I can only think of three: Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Penguin.



Penguin press

Penguin’s the only one that can stand on it’s own but it’s so on the nose, it doesn’t need words to help the uneducated.

I wonder why that is? Why do logos for publishing houses almost always come with words? You don’t need words for AT&T, Mercedes Benz, or Pepsi.

What do y’all think of logos? Are publishing houses an inherently different animal and words are needed?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours

I pushed send and my baby was gone. It sounds like a country song you’d hear blaring from a jukebox in a dive bar.
It’s also a tad melodramatic, I know, but I felt a weird void a few weeks ago when I finished off a round of revisions and sent the manuscript to my second Pete Fernandez novel, Down the Darkest Street, to my agent. The book has consumed my writing life for years. While I’ve worked on other stuff – comic scripts, songs, short stories - The Book has loomed large as the top priority.
Now, it is far from done. My agent may have notes. The publisher will have notes. My wife will have notes. So, yeah, I will revisit this book. But I was dealing with a serious case of “what now?” for a second.
So what did I do? I wrote something else. I dove into the third book and it felt great.
It was nice to jump forward – to deal with my characters in a different stage of their lives, to have a sense of what had gone on before and have it inform their new adventures. At a more basic level, it felt good to write something different. A different set of circumstances. A different conflict. After months and months of wading in the minutia of Book 2 – from commas and copyedits to rewrites - it felt good to get my hands dirty and build something.
I surprised myself and wrote a lot more than I expected while away on holiday. I was that jazzed about where things were going. Which isn’t to say everything I wrote was gold. In fact, it’s safe to say a big percentage was crap or will be changed at some point. But writing is about doing – keeping things moving and staying active. Writers write. That’s it. You can think about it for days on end – how you want to structure a reveal, how a character is going to be introduced, whatever – but it’s all ephemeral until you sit down in front of your computer and work it out and make it real. Put the time in. Keep going. Let the bad stuff out so you can get to the good stuff. You’ve heard all the platitudes and clichés, but they’re often repeated because they’re true.
I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. There have been very few times where I feel like I just can’t write – and maybe that’s because I know that not everything I put on paper is going to be great. In fact, great is rare. But writing is a process that will hopefully bring you closer to great through work and repetition, and it’s like working out any other muscle: the more you do it, the stronger it will get.
My point is, don’t let the lags and lulls become bigger gaps that take you away from the one thing that brings freaks like us creative happiness: writing.

How do you deal with lulls and downtime? Do you transition quickly from one project to the next? Curious to hear.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dealmaking and the second novel

My second novel of the HARD BITE series released on September 1st. It's different this time around because of pre-orders: I had some, which astonishes me because I've never pre-ordered anything in my life.  Just goes to show that the way I shop is not the way everyone shops, and it came as news, delightful news.

There are not one but three publishers for the series. The way my arrangement works is first Blasted Heath releases the digital versions and paperback rights deals follow. This time around Down and Out Books will release the BITE HARDER trade paperback on October 15th just in time for a Bouchercon signing and a panel or two.  (New Pulp Press still distributes HARD BITE, even though Jon Bassoff has handed day to day operations of the house over to Jonathan Woods and Shirrel Rhoades.)

There is more leeway these days for authors to forge unique publishing arrangements but eventually "all roads lead to Rome" at the intersection of Readership and Sales. Personal experience indicates that a combination of good reviews, social media exposure, word of mouth, targeted advertising like BookBub, and the alchemy of Amazon algorhythms make an e-book successful. In the past I've had good luck with reviews and word of mouth. Social media has a knack for making me feel awkward but I make the best of it. Sometimes Amazon algorhythms work for me (HARD BITE went to #2, twice, in Hardboiled, right behind Allan Russell and BURNING MAN) and sometimes they don't.

Rebecca Forster, the queen of legal e-thrillers, emailed last week and said the "perma-free" status of one of her novels (out of the field of twenty-six) on B&N online was the "secret to her success." I've got a ways to go before having  a 26-novel body of work but with two short story collections and two novels currently on market, maybe I'll benefit a bit more when Blasted Heath makes one of them free. (Right now Amazon limits "free" status to a five-day window.)

Waiting in the wings is a 15,000-word novelette called CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS  that I'm planning to self publish December 1st. The strategy is to ride some of the wave created by the paperback release and publicity. If (and it's a big if) CTM gets the kind of enthusiasm and reviews of HARD BITE, I'll parlay them into a deal with any publisher willing to pony up advance money to fund writing it full-length, and kick off a series. I wasn't the first writer to dream up this kind of  business deal but I might have brought it back from the dead with my Uncanny Books contract.  

With four publishing deals contracted so far (and myself as a fifth publisher), at times I feel like "the house that Jack built" roaming and rambling all over the market. But they have an important feature: these deals allow autonomy as well as flexibility to grow. Instead of signing away all my rights to one publisher at the start, when a writer usually has the least negotiating power, I'm able to sequentially leverage growing sales and reputation into better deals. The books benefit from combined distribution channels and the loyal readership of each house—when a reader of Publisher #1 likes the Anonymous-9 product, they then seek out Publisher #2. Soon, when contracts are firm on foreign rights deals, the process will start all over.

It's strange and new, yes. But I feel this approach is tailor made for an outside-the-mainstream writer like myself and lends credibility to my quirky little brand. For me, it's working. Feels like a great time to be a writer.


BITE HARDER: Compare Prices

Monday, September 1, 2014

Orange is the New Black and the Art of Leaving the Viewer Hanging

We recently buzzed through the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black. I wanted to focus on one technique that I thought the show used to great effect. There are moments in the show that are incomplete but leave the viewer wanting to know more. This does a couple of things. It places narrative hooks that leave the viewer wanting more, and adds to the depth of the world.

David Mamet is the biggest proponent of this technique:

Get into the scene late, get out of the scene early.
Why? So that something’s already happened?
Yes. That’s how Glengarry got started. I was listening to conversations in the next booth and I thought, My God, there’s nothing more fascinating than the people in the next booth. You start in the middle of the conversation and wonder, What the hell are they talking about? And you listen heavily. So I worked a bunch of these scenes with people using extremely arcane language—kind of the canting language of the real-estate crowd, which I understood, having been involved with them—and I thought, Well, if it fascinates me, it will probably fascinate them too. If not, they can put me in jail. 

The Wire had visual variations of this. The series is over and people are still wondering about Rawls in the gay bar. The camera casually passes him by, like we weren't supposed to see him in there but did. And of course Rawls means nothing to the character scanning the crowd so the reveal is a casual bombshell to the audience.

Back to OITNB. 

The first scene is a personal anecdote that Taystee is telling at an AA meeting. The scene starts with her saying:

“So there I am, topless, sitting on this bulldozer, like in a construction site. So I’m sitting there, barbecue sauce on my titties, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck? Again?’”

We do get an ending to the tale but no start. The tale is funny and sad at the same time we want to know more but never do.
 The second scene takes place in the visiting room where an inmate is talking to her husband. She feels the he is letting the bank run all over him in regards to not dropping some late fees. At the end of this scene she tells him:

You get a baseball bat, the wood kind, not the fucking metal kind, and a big trash bag, the black kind, not the see-through kind...

The scene then moves to another inmate, one that we've been primed to see, and we can only hear the above exchange in the background before it fades completely. We want to know what to do with the bat and the trash bag damit!

The last example is played as a recurring joke. There's a joke that is told by two different characters in two different scenes. They only give the setup 

"So a penguin and a farmer walk into a bar..." 

and the punch line.

"And so the penguin says, "Dude, he's not an eggplant, he's retarded".

Even though it's played for laughs the audience is still in the dark and wants to know more.

So leave 'em wanting more. Not just by seeking resolution to a cliffhanger at the end but by investing them in the smaller moments in the middle too.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back off! I'm Writing!

by Kristi Belcamino

One thing I’ve learned in my writing journey is if I want to be a writer, I have to guard and protect my writing time and sacrifice other leisure activities.

I have to protect my writing time against outside influences and temptations, such as the desire to grab a latte at a café table overlooking the Mississippi River.

Or maybe my cupboards are bare and I need to stock up on food at the market.

Possibly a friend called and wants to meet for an early lunch.

For me, any one of these appealing distractions are really a step onto a slippery slope to a non-writing day.

This was all fine and good before I had book contracts and deadlines to meet.  Not anymore. A day lost writing means not only fewer words on the page, but a longer time to get back into the story on the next day.

So I must fiercely guard my writing time, which is normally 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Anything that needs to be done in my life outside of writing can be done before or after. Otherwise, I’d never have written a book. And without these rules, I would not finish the one I’m going to start next week that is due in December. I got a slight kick in the pants this week, when I saw the book, Blessed Are Those Who Weep, already up on Amazon and Goodreads with an April 7th pub date.

Luckily my career is in journalism, so working on deadline is something I am used to. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Editors screaming at you and the fear of losing your job effectively eliminate writer’s block for life. I’ve learned how to write fast. Every minute counts on deadline. And distractions can be deadly.

In addition to guarding your writing time, choosing to lead a writerly life also involves sacrifice.

For me, the first thing I cut out several years ago was TV watching. I just couldn’t fit it into my day, not if I wanted to read at night, which is something that helps me as a writer. I do believe that studying TV shows can help with writing, but I also believe that studying movies can help more, so I do set aside at least one day during the week to watch movies.

A few years back, before I wrote my first novel, I was an avid reader of blogs. I probably wasted a few hours a day reading blogs about style and European life and food. That was the second thing to go. I love reading blogs, but if I’m going to be a writer, it is something I can’t take the time to do. Now, I have a handful of writerly blogs I read every day and use Feedly to skim the headlines and decide which ones to read each morning.

Time online can be an incredible black hole time suck, especially for someone with the tendency to engage in addictive and compulsive behaviors, so I must limit myself.

I do allow myself to spend a lot of time on Facebook, but because this is a way to keep in touch with my readers, I indulge myself here the most.

And I set aside time on Saturday mornings for another online activity I love: checking out Pinterest. By designating Saturdays for this, I actually look forward to it and enjoy my time looking at cute clothes, animals, and pictures that inspire me creatively.

Those are just a few of the things I do to protect and guard my writing time? What do you, dear readers, do or find works for you?