Monday, June 8, 2015

The Crossover Myth

Let me paint a scenario for you: you are a 40 year-old adult, and you have two kids, ages fifteen and eight, respectively. You take those two kids and you and see... let's say The Avengers, which is the flavor of the moment. Now: you love it, the eight year old loves it, and the fifteen year old loves it. No surprise, right? That's why big studios make movies like The Avengers, so an entire family will want to see it and each of them will buy a ticket. More people, more money, everyone wins. 

The scenario I described above is what most of the world would call a family going to see a movie designed for the whole family. No big deal. To the publishing industry, though, a family enjoying the same piece of entertainment across multiple generational lines is a mystical phenomenon with its own name: crossover appeal.
"That'll never work." - The Publishing Industry
It's absurd, of course, but in modern publishing, where books are divided by age before genre, all-ages appeal is inconceivable to plan for. Here's how the industry parses it down: you have your general fiction, which is for adults. You have your young adult fiction, which is for teenagers. And you have your middle grade fiction, which is for about ages 7 to 12. Before everything else, before genre even, every book must be categorized along those lines.


Now: the industry recently noticed there's a gray area dividing young adult and adult fiction, and twenty-somethings were gravitating towards books designated for both age groups. For you and I, this would have been a sign that dividing all stories up by age was probably too strict an idea, and crossover appeal, perhaps, was more the norm than the industry believed. 

In the world of publishing, it was taken to mean that a NEW age-based genre was needed, which they created and called NEW adult fiction. Books for twenty-somethings. Because twenty-somethings are NEW adults.

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because I've been running up against it for years. To the publishing world, Race & Cookie is an enigma. Here's how the publishing industry looks at Race & Cookie

"Okay. This is a book with a decidedly middle-grade tone, but neither of the protagonists are of middle grade age."

(Oh, books aimed at an age group can only star characters of that same age group. Have I mentioned that yet? Does it make you want to give up on humanity? We had a nice run.)

Continuing: "So it can't be middle grade fiction. One of the protagonists is 15, but she's the only teenager in the book so it can't be young adult fiction; besides; there's no love triangle and not enough sexual titillation."

I remind you, these are actual things that have actually been said to me. Going on:

"Race is an adult and the other characters are adults, but without swearing, sex, and/or explicit violence, you can't call this a straight-on piece of adult fiction. It's too much of a children's book, but that brings us back to problem one: there are no children for main characters."

Still all real things.

"So unless Race and Cookie are de-aged so that they are both grade school students, this book is completely unmarketable."

Stand and make with the slow claps, people. Stupidity like this deserves to be recognized. 

Now. Here's how the rest of the world looks at Race & Cookie:

"It's an all-ages book."


Okay, then.

Hollywood puts out all-ages blockbuster ten times a year. Publishing finds one of its precious "crossover appeal" Easter eggs once every five years, BUT ONLY BECAUSE THEY REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE ALL-AGES MARKET ACTUALLY EXISTS.

Congratulations. The next time someone tells you "print is dying," you'll understand why. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I've Got an Amazon Author's Page

Here it is:

I'll grant you; it's a little sparse right now. But it exists, and that's the thing that matters. I wonder, though: is this the, "Look, I'm on the bookstore shelf!" for the 21st century? See, one of my dreams as a writer of books (I still can't bring myself to call... myself... a 'novelist'. I don't write what I'd consider novels. I write stories down in books)... anyhoo. One of my dreams as a book author (that's better) was to see my shiny trade paperback cover on the shelf of a Barnes & Noble or a, I don't know, a Target or something, wherever people buy books today.

Now I think about it, though, I don't know the last time I bought a physical book in a brick-and-mortar store. Even when I saw something I liked on a shelf I would, nine times out of ten, look it up on my phone and order it from Amazon where it would be A.) cheaper, and B.) in better condition.

Which is treated by many in the books world as some unforgivable sin, right? We have to support our physical stores and whatnot. Which, okay, yeah, I get it... but this is what happens, isn't it? Technology changes everything, and that change usually happens fast. Borders goes from a hot chain to dust in less than two years. Barnes and Noble begins closing the doors to superstores that made up a huge part of the neighborhood I called my high school stomping grounds. Books are bought elsewhere, and by other means.

So I'll never have a book on the shelf of a Walmart or a Wegmans. Okay. I can live with that. My book cover on an e-reader is still bright and shiny and, bonus points, backlit. And it features prominently on my equally bright and shiny new Amazon author's page.

I'll take that trade-off.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Published Author

Tomorrow, June 1st, 2015, the first volume of The Unlikely Adventures of Race & Cookie McCloud will go on sale, and I will be a published author.

Well... in one marketplace. In e-book form. For one device and its various applications. But still...

Race McCloud came to be in 1997, as the main detective character I played in a series of murder mystery dinner plays in college. He was named, fittingly enough, by my longtime friend Kevin Gillespie, who I met in high school back when we had nothing in common aside from the ability to make each other laugh. Kev has has since become the official artist of Race McCloud, doing publicity posters for me, and logos and symbols and backdrops and now the covers of these books that begin releasing tomorrow.

After college, I wrote Race into a screenplay. This is how Cookie came into being, designed to be the foil to her idiot uncle and initially a precocious eight-year old, not the easily-irritated fifteen-year old she is now. (She's still the foil to the idiot uncle, though.) After that? Comic book scripts, radio plays, a stage play at the New York Fringe Festival, and now, a book. A book that is going to be published, on sale tomorrow.

Saying, "and now, a book," is a little disingenuous. I wrote the book initially about six years ago, between the play's acceptance to the Fringe and the Fringe actually going up. Sure, I've worked on it, slashed at it, rewritten chunks of it, all of that... but there was a first draft finished six years ago. Which seems like a long time, until you consider that I first came up with Race McCloud nineteen years ago.

And now he's the main character of a published book that goes on sale tomorrow.

I submitted the book to agents and publishers, as the dance goes, to no success. Some encouragement, some "Why don't you turn it into a comic book?" and some, "I like this but I'm not sure how to sell it." A note on that last: Race & Cookie is an adventure comedy, featuring one teenage protagonist and one twenty-something protagonist, suitable in tone and content for kids but not necessarily a kids' book, an adventure story but too soft to be a grown-up adventure story. I've been told it skews too old to sell to children by agents who represent Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, and I've been told it skews to young by agents who represent fiction and genre fiction. Agents and editors tell you to never write for the marketplace, which is great advice right up to the point where they turn your book down because it's not a good fit for the marketplace. The agent I ended up signing with picked me up not for Race & Cookie but for Just Debbie, which is as traditional a Young Adult book as can be.

Maybe, though, they were all being nice, and Race & Cookie just isn't any good. I don't believe that. If I believed that, I would have ditched them at some point in the last nineteen years. Maybe I'm just being stubborn. I mean, yeah, I AM being stubborn, but I'm not JUST being stubborn. I'm being stubborn with just cause. And stubborn pays off, because tomorrow, my book goes on sale.

When you've been at this for as long as I've been at it, how you get to this moment isn't important. All I know is that for the first time tomorrow, people will get to pay money for a story I wrote, if they so choose. And no matter what, that's pretty cool. Typing your name into the Amazon search box and having your book come up? That's pretty cool. So maybe this is the grace period before negative reviews come pouring in. That's okay. I've had bad reviews before and lived to tell the tale. What's most important is that those reviews would be coming from people, even if it's just a handful in the end, who have read my book and decided on its own merits if they liked it or disliked it.

Because tomorrow, my book will go on sale, and I will be a published author. And that's pretty cool.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Boy Who Cried 'Sentry' (This Time I'm Serious)

Last week I wrote a post that nobody saw where I pretended to have inside information that the Sentry, maybe the most hated character in the Marvel Universe, is set to debut in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

That was made up.

Fast forward: today I was reading up on Disney Infinity 3.0. My daughter and I are big fans of Infinity, and the Star Wars-themed 3.0 is sure to eat up many of our dollars. What bugged me about 2.0 is that there were only Playsets (pre-built traditional video game campaigns) for the Marvel characters, and the Disney characters could only be used in the build-a-world Toy Box mode. There were a handful of Toy Box games in which you could use any character, but they weren't very good.

So I was reading about the new-and-improved Toy Box games for 3.0. One is called "Toy Box Takeover", and it's a dungeon crawler (like Diablo, is the comparison they made on the Game Informer site) and I noticed this unassuming line in the game's description:

Wait. What was that? "The Void"? An "unstoppable, slow-moving force" that destroys "everything in its path?"

You mean, THIS Void?

That would be the Void, the Sentry's arch-enemy, or evil alter-ego, or both. I never quite figured that out, and I'm pretty sure Marvel never did, either. (Side note: I love the idea of the Sentry as a character. I just never think he was well-executed.) The Void is described as a "black and destructive counterforce" and a dark-sided "entity". A shape-shifter alluded to at times as the Judeo-Christian Angel of Death, he has appeared as a shadow man in a trench coat, a formless black cloud, and an armored demon, to name a few of his forms. His existence, though never clearly explained, is at least in part due to the psychological instability of the Sentry and his human alter-ego, Robert Reynolds. The Sentry is all-powerful, and the Void even moreso.

And... he's in Disney Infinity 3.0? Are we really getting an Infinity figure for Sentry, the bi-polar superhero with the dark side capable of destroying the universe? For this guy?

I doubt it. Still: that's a hell of a coincidence. And I'd be first in line to buy a Sentry figure, and use him in the Toy Box kart-racing game alongside Mickey Mouse.

Why I've Decided to Self-Publish

Really, it's easy enough to explain: I'm tired of waiting for other people to tell me it's okay for me to do what I've always wanted to do.

But why oversimplify?

If you're a regular reader of my blog, and I'm not sure such a creature exists, but if you are you know that once upon a time I had an agent, until I didn't. (You can read that story here.) I lost my agent... no. My agent left me about halfway through the process of shopping my YA rom-com novel, Just Debbie, and though I then began the submissions process on JD anew, my heart wasn't in it. I had (and still have) the sneaking suspicion that being in another agent's hands has turned JD into tainted goods, and I was unsure if any new agent would be willing to pick it up for that reason. Nobody likes sloppy seconds, after all. 

So what were my options? Just Debbie felt like a non-starter to me, and Snooze, my current WIP, is nowhere near done. Besides, I broke out into hives whenever I thought about going through the process again: drafting, beta-reading, re-reading, re-writing, querying, waiting... I've been submitting my stuff for 15 years, in different mediums: theater, film, comics, prose, etc., etc. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. Like, I think that's actually the textbook definition. I could look it up, but I'm not going to.

Besides, and maybe this is just my own frustration talking, but it feels like the traditional marketplace is getting harder and harder to crack, and the responses from agents and editors are fewer and far between. I get it, to an extent: the Internet has unlocked the query process. Submissions flow, unceasing and unabated, into agent's inboxes. They're swamped. If I were an agent I'd have nightmares about my digital inbox turning tactile again, burying me alive in queries. So I get it. 

On the other hand, I got tired of having to pretend that a 3-6 month response time for a 1-page query is acceptable as a business practice.

Let me tell you a secret: about a year ago, right before I signed with my agent, I was actually preparing to self-publish. It's true. Then I got the e-mail offering representation, which was the thing I had wanted for my whole adult life, and so I put my self-publishing plans on hold to begin my adventures in Agentland. Agentland, to let you in on the secret, is a lot like Disneyland, inasmuch it involves a whole lot of waiting around doing nothing until you get to the good parts. If you know Space Mountain is going to be greeting you at the end of your wait, you can deal. But imagine getting to the front of the line and realizing you had actually been on line for It's a Small World? Yippie.

So Agentland was behind me. Just Debbie was old news. Snooze was nowhere near ready to go. So I've decided to do what I always do when I don't know what to do: I've turned to Race and Cookie McCloud.

On June 1st, I'm going to publish Volume 1, Book 1 of The Unlikely Adventures of Race and Cookie McCloud: Awkward Introductions. On July 1st, Book 2 (Questions and Tacos) will follow, with Book 3 (Perfectly Imperfect) arriving on August 1st. One story in three serialized parts, Race and Cookie will be available exclusively for your Kindle and Kindle App; a release on other major e-reading platforms may follow at a later date. 

Also: for the first month of each book's release, you can take advantage of the special introductory sale price of $.99, a full $2.00 off the regular list price, so make sure to jump on this deal while it's hot, mom!

(I'm kidding. My mom's not going to buy this. Race McCloud stories make her squint.)

Yes, I know, I may be committing career suicide, the traditional publishing establishment will never touch me now, I'm an outcast and a pariah, blah blah blah. To be blunt, though? I have no career to kill, the traditional publishing establishment still has no idea who I am and they weren't touching me anyway, and as for being an outcast and a pariah... well, if I can sell a few copies of Race and Cookie along the way, gain a few new fans for what I believe to be a good story with good characters, then you can go ahead and call me Old Ben Kenobi. Which, if you really did do that, would be awesome.

This is a DIY world we live in. Never before in the history of civilization have artists been able to present their work to the masses so easily. The middle-man is becoming disposable across almost every field of entertainment. The revenue an author can generate self-publishing is easily comparable to what a mid-list author in the traditional environment can pull in, and this way? I retain full creative control over what happens to Race and Cookie, which is something that appeals to me in no small way.

Also: I never want to see another Twitter pitch contest for as long as I live.

It's more than past time to put my craft to work for me. I still believe in Race and Cookie, and I still believe in myself. I've not found a home in the world of traditional publishing, so I'm going to strike out on my own and let the audience decide. I've resisted self-publishing for a long time, and I know I've gone through a lot of the reasons here why I've decided to do it now, but honestly, the only one that matters?

I'm tired of waiting for other people to tell me it's all right to do what I've always wanted to do.