Return to Keltia...and Other Places
As you know, The Keltiad was cut off at the knees by HarperCollins, who in axing it said some very horrible and untrue things about me as an author. Basically, they claimed I always missed deadlines (TOTALLY a lie), and made a nuisance of myself (well, okay, this I will cop to. But only in the service of the books and when trying to get answers out of HC was like pulling teeth), and made undue demands on their various fiefdoms (if that means I bugged them to give me map dimensions when they ignored phone calls, and had typography issues, and didn't like their editorial suggestions, then guilty as charged).
Basically they were pissed off that I knew what I wanted, and could do their jobs better than they could, and knew they WEREN'T doing their jobs.
They also claimed the books weren't selling, which I kind of find hard to believe. But both my editor defenders left the company (quit or forced out), and then my not-much-liked and incompetent replacement editor did likewise, though not before cutting me loose and sending this vile lying letter to my agent, which somehow, hmm, wonder how, her (the editor's) assistant "mistakenly" sent to me.
I was furious, needless to say. Still am. I believe she had a car accident not long thereafter. Not serious. Just shaken up and car messed up. I'm sure it was just coincidence. Rural roads can be icy in the winter. Gotta be careful.
And thus the Kelts and I became orphans with no one to look after us and protect our interests. So when we were turned out into the cold snowy night, to sell matches on the street corner, nobody cared but the readers. Who were SO loyal, sending irate letters and everything...
But I was devastated. I'm a writer. It's not only what I do, it's who I am. There's no separation. For me, writing is like breathing. I have made my living at it since 1967.
And the thing about writers and writing is, we need readers. It's no good writing in a vacuum. We write for you to read us. That's the deal. And when we are prevented from having readers, it's hell.
It's almost a physical thing, how you feel when you write and write and write in the hopes of somehow getting out there, in your chosen form of novel, and nobody wants to let you do that. Which is why, after "Deer's Cry" (I'm using quotes, itals are too much trouble to make) was decreed the last by HC, I curled up under my grandma's affagans and just...bled. For about a year.
Then I started writing a spiritual memoir of Jim and me and how archetypes affect all our lives, "The Crystal Ship." Chapters on the Sacred Marriage, Isis and Osiris, Dionysus and Ariadne, the Grail, the Nature of Sacrifice, the Saturn Return, etc. Good stuff. Nobody wanted that either, at least not without major alterations.
Then, as I mention below, I started tinkering with "The Beltane Queen", to make it a generic fantasy. Again, no interest.
That was when I started the rock mysteries, in I guess 2004 or so. My agent loved them madly, swore it would be a slam-dunk. Murder, the Sixties, sexdrugsrocknroll...what's not to like? Again, couldn't close a deal.
Then I started a Viking novel, about Alfred the Great's tremendous Pagan adversary, Guthrum the Dane. Again, no takers. I mean, it's VIKINGS! Who doesn't love Vikings? And this guy was fascinating, and little was known about him so I could make up all sorts of stuff with impunity, like a raven-tressed Welsh girlfriend...
But no. And the reason? No editors would buy a Viking novel because NO EDITORS WERE BUYING VIKING NOVELS. Right. Wouldn't you like to be the leading edge of the upcoming Viking craze that this book would start, I asked? Apparently not. So that's another one for self-publishing, maybe. "Son of the Northern Star." You'll like it, I promise.
Not that publishers thought all this wasn't GOOD, mind you. No, they all loved it. They just didn't want to give me any money and contracts. Couldn't find a niche for it to fit into. (Hey, jackasses, how about just, you know, Good and Well-written Books That People Would Enjoy?) So the frustration continued, though since at least I was once again writing something I loved I felt a bit better.
I was offered a few suggestions about what I SHOULD be writing: everyone and their auntie's cat seemed to want Elizabethan murder mysteries. Though my agent did his best and most for me, because why wouldn' he, I had to accept the fact that what I want to write is not what publishers want to buy.
Still, this is the general plight of the midlist genre author, and far more famous and bestselling folk than myself have also fallen victim. Which made me furious yet again when the current head of HarperCollins, some incredibly stupid woman, defending some dubious decisions, recently bleated in the press about how good books will always have a home there. Shut up, bitch.
Not that anyone ever thought publishers had, you know, brains. But apparently they would rather get rid of steady old warhorses who bring in not a ton of money but reliably continuous money, and prefer to spend all their dough on flashy celebrity ponies that never earn back their multimilliondollar advances.
Which is why, for my new mystery series, I have turned to Lulu.com. But more of that in another post. Just now I want to talk about Keltia.
I never thought I'd ever go back, since after three publishers, two agents and eight books nobody wanted it. But now, again, there's Lulu.com, and for the first time I'm actually considering doing POD/Lulu on at least one more Keltiad book (The Beltane Queen, about Aeron's great-grandmother Aoife, from her misspent Prince Hal-ish youth to her vast and cunning Queen-Victorian old age).
I have it plotted, completely, and perhaps 20,000 words done on it. In fact, at the urging of my then agent, at one point I switched it over to a completely generic, non-Kelts, no-series stand-alone fantasy novel, called some title can't recall. But he didn't seem to think it worked, and I threw up my hands and went on to the mysteries.
So, as I say, I haven't been back to Keltia for a while. Things are very different now: Aeron and Gwydion have been empress and emperor for at least twenty years (their imperial seat is on the planet Galing, outside the Curtain Wall), and they have two children; Rohan is High King of Keltia, married to Rauni of Fomor since three years after the Kelticoranian War, and they also have offspring; everybody is great friends with Elathan and Camissa, and with the current Terran government, and with the Yamazai; and things look good.
Until they don't. And that's all I'm saying. I'm just saying.
So obviously there would be at least one post-Throne of Scone book, probably the one called "The Cloak of Gold", not a trilogy which maybe was too ambitious in the first place. But once I got back into it that could well change, especially if people expressed an interest in buying my online books.
Which I wouldn't think to be a problem. I went into Barnes & Noble the other day with a list of I think nine books, and of those nine only TWO did not have to be special-ordered. So even books from trad publishers aren't getting into the stores.
And through Lulu, readers can order from Amazon and I think also B&N, so whaur's yer differ noo, I ask?
Well, the BIG differ is that with Lulu, I can control everything. And I think you know how much I like the sound of that.
I can spec the type, supply the jacket art (a fine-artist/art-director friend of mine has graciously volunteered; in fact, I'm going to look at his concepts for Ungrateful Dead, the first mystery, on Tuesday), set the price...I would indeed be Queen, and it would indeed be good.
No arguments with idiot proofreaders who want to change my ellipses and slap in serial commas all over the place. No pig-headed editors. No assholery.
I can set the cover price, and the buyers can choose among hardcover with the trad paper jacket, trade paperback or casebound (which means hard covers with the jacket art kind of vinylized on, not paper), as the buyer wishes. All differently priced.
And Lulu will ship it, so I won't have to have thousands of pre-purchased books in my kitchen. It's sort of like I'm the publisher, and they're just the printery. In fact, it's exactly like: I think Lizard Queen Publishing could use a logo...
And the startup cost is: TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! For setup, and for Lulu to get me the ISBN number, and to put me into the Amazon database. There might be a couple of other charges, but this is the basic nut. Not like x-libris or i-universe, which both required thousands up front and only offered a 20% royalty.
AND: 80% of the cover price for me, 20% for Lulu (for printing, binding, mailing, etc.) I think that's fair.
What's rip-offedly UNfair is the regular publisher deal.
For most midlist authors, this consists of a minimal advance (I never got more than 45 grand for any Kelts book) which you have to earn out before you become eligible to receive the minimal royalty rate of 8% (which is also used to calculate your advance earn-out).
If you sell a ton of books, the rate moves up to 10% and then, if you're really lucky and had a really good agent, 12% .Which means the publisher keeps 92, 90 or 88 percent of the money you earned them.
So if it takes you two years to get a book from your computer to the bookstores (one year to write it, one year for the publisher to "slot it in", produce it, etc.), that means you're making $20,000 a year before taxes. No wonder most authors have to have day jobs.
And I am an established author, with, if I say so myself, a certain degree of general public name recognition, thanks to Jim and Jazz & Pop and That Damn Movie and Paganism, that other midlist authors don't have.
So we see how it sucks. And therefore it's Lulu for me. All organized online, hopefully by MDF Mary's brilliant and gorgeous and talented niece Miss Bianca.
Mary, in fact, is Lulu-ing a book of her own, a YA called "Figures of Echo," about a young New York girl called Echo, who lives with her dad over his fearfully hip and intellectual Columbia University-area tavern. Our mutual agent couldn't prevail upon any of numerous houses to buy this one either...despite the fact that it has been greenlighted for a Lifetime cable movie!!! YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!! It's being cast now. And y'all have to watch when it runs. And buy the book online.
So anyway, she's doing the Lulu thing for Echo, with Bianca as her general, and I plan on closely emulating everything they do.
With some help, I hope to set up a website for the new books with a PayPal clickthrough, and sell them that way in addition to selling them through Lulu, as my own publisher either way, and I'm hoping that with all of you as a reader base, this will actually work.
There are tales of POD books with quite reasonably attainable sales figures, like 5 or 10,000 sold, being picked up by regular publishers, and if that happened for me, I'd have to consider carefully. And they would have to pay through the nose for the privilege. Hey, if they didn't want me when they could have gotten the books cheap, why should I give them a break now that the books are selling and I'm doing better without a regular publisher? That would have to be some sweet deal...but I get ahead of myself.
First I have to get them out there, and you will almost certainly be seeing the first of the Rennie Stride mysteries later this year. I'm thinking October...it's a 2-month turnaround, and I'm waiting on art and setup, so maybe it'll be later than that. But we'll see.
And after the first three of those (already written..) are out there, and I've got something coming in, I'll be in a place where I can get back to Keltia. So it won't be any time REALLY soon. But it will be.
I think publishing now is where music was ten or so years ago, where artists who couldn't land a record deal or were dropped by their labels for the same reasons I was dropped by my publishers went indie and online and cleaned up. Without having to let the evil labels in for a share. Ani DiFranco, I salute you!
So that's pretty much where it is just now. Three rock mystery books complete and ready to go, five more in serious stages of completion...yeah. I could use a vacation in Keltia, I think. And we all certainly deserve one.