Sunday, 29 April 2012

"I Capture the Castle" and writer's angst

One of my favourite novels that I reread every few years is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. If you haven't read it, you are missing a treat.

This novel was part of the inspiration for Remix; my narrator is intelligent but a little naive, like ICtC's heroine, and it may have been as a nod to Dodie Smith that I called her Caz, short for Cassandra. When the offspring went off with my ancient copy, I went on Amazon to replace it. I read the introduction by Valerie Grove, and was astonished:

"Dodie finished drafting the novel shortly after the war ended, but even the longed-for peace did not rescue her from the anguish she suffered over the book... The revisions went on for two years, and tormented her. She rewrote every line, under [her husband] Alec's critical supervision, rehearsing every line of dialogue and unable to stop thinking about it, even in bed, waking each morning with a visceral dread, her mind throbbing with nerves and nagged by doubts. She felt she was disintegrating mentally and physically. But her industry was unflagging."

I Capture the Castle is such a delightful, spontaneous read, it's difficult to imagine its author fretting and toiling over it for years. As soon as it was published, it became a huge hit - at which point no doubt Dodie Smith worried that she'd never be able to repeat her success.

Writing to publish is, I think, one of the most angst-ridden things you can do. We have to try not to let it get to us, even while noting that Dodie Smith's obsessive and anxious work undoubtedly contributed to the excellence of I Capture the Castle.

Moral: do your best but Don't Fret.

Friday, 20 April 2012

ITINs and not paying US tax to the IRS

Unless a British author applies to the IRS for the right paperwork, Amazon will retain 30% tax on all US book sales. Everything I'd heard about applying for an ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number) stressed how difficult, nay impossible, the process was. I'd read so many 'helpful' horror stories that I kept putting it off.

This February, my sales with a KDP Select Remix promotion were such that Amazon was going to withhold about $2,000 in US tax. This galvanized me into action, and I visited the American Embassy in London on 22nd February. I took with me:
I took lots of other stuff too - a blue pen, printouts of my sales, my Citibank dollar chequebook, a UK tax letter, two paperbacks in case of queues, but needed none of them. After going through various checkpoints, a nice chap copied my passport, stamped it, my letter and form, and told me I should receive a certificate in due course, which could be several months. When I had it, I was to send it with Form W-8BEN to Amazon. The whole thing took twenty minutes.

My ITIN arrived in the post from America on the 26th March, and I posted the W-8BEN to Amazon. And yesterday I received an email from Amazon (I'd emailed to ask if it had arrived) saying: The form arrived recently and it was just recorded for your account. Your withholding rate is now set to 0%.

And that was it. David Gaughran describes how to get an EIN instead of an ITIN over the phone here - but the word is you need persistence - they may put you on hold for half an hour or cut you off.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

An offer of representation from Trident Media NY

I was flattered to receive an email out of the blue last month from the prestigious New York literary agency, Trident Mediasaying that their chairman, Robert Gottlieb, had been following my success, and asking if I was interested in exploring the possibility of literary representation. I emailed copies of Remix and Replica, and then Erica Silverman, an experienced agent with TM, said she wanted to represent me.

I can't tell you how extraordinary I found this. On finishing Remix, I gave myself a year to find an agent, resolved to self-publish if I failed. I didn't expect to fail - I had faith in the book. Forty-odd agents and a handful of publishers rejected Remix, mostly with form rejections. Two approached me; some were complimentary; four read the whole thing. All passed on it.  Jane Judd said, "I have to admit to liking your writing," which amused me. Kate Shaw found my voice not distinctive enough. Broo Doherty told me books about rock stars are notoriously difficult to sell.

I would love my writing to go to the next level; a print deal, audio and more foreign rights. Not to mention film and television rights...what author does not dream of seeing her characters on screen? Emails between me and Trident Media zipped back and forth, and Erica and I spoke twice on the phone as she helped me get my head round what the deal would mean for me. They drew up and posted me a contract, which I read carefully.

And in the end, I said no.

This is a time of huge change in the industry. I don't know what will be happening next week, let alone in two years' time (the length of the contract). I do know I've sold a lot of books on my own, and probably made more money than I would have done had I managed to acquire an agent and a publisher in 2009/2010 when I spent a year trying. I'm going to keep writing, selling and wait to see what happens next. I have a lot of respect for Trident Media, and found Erica helpful and positive. This just wasn't the right deal for me at this particular moment.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Bargain author cards from Moo

Cameron Chapman mentioned on Facebook that she was getting cards made for the cost of the postage only, so I checked out Moo and ordered some myself.

They arrived today, five days later, and I'm really pleased with them.  They're a nice quality, and the logo is reasonably discreet. Total cost for fifty double-sided cards, free sample pack, two images: £3.90.

Normal cost? £17.09 inc. VAT, p&p, and you can have a different design on each one.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Traditional Publishing Is The New Vanity Publishing

From The Hyperliterature Exchange
"Traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing." If you are the originator of this bon mot, quoted in Passive Guy's comments, come here and claim attribution.

Of course, one thing publishers CAN do is get your book into bookshops, and in a world where the majority of book sales are still print, this has value. I'd love a print deal myself - though an ebook deal, entailing swapping a 70% royalty for 17.5%, would not arouse my enthusiasm.

When writers protest they will settle for nothing less than a traditional publishing contract, a frequent reason they quote is 'validation'. Search for 'validation' on AbsoluteWrite and you'll come up with ten pages of quotes. Just as vanity presses turn your text into a book in your hand (at a cost) so the big publishing conglomerates will allow you to hold your head up and say you are 'properly' published (at a cost).

Authors certainly aren't hankering after a contract for the sake of the money, given the size of most advances. And any lucky trad-published writer who makes a small fortune (earning 8% of the price of her book) has made a big fortune for her publisher.  The writer of a popular book can make more on his own, and faster. I've noticed that new writers with a trad deal are much less likely to bandy figures about than indies.

Does a legacy deal let you off the chore of marketing? No. The majority of books get little or no promotion, unless the author does it himself.

Editing? You might get lucky with a brilliant editor. Or you might get one who wants you to rewrite your novel to fit her ideas, or one who misses nonsenses in the plot. I enjoyed Lee Child's Bad Luck And Trouble, but when the protagonists needed to find out what the sixth track on Jimi Hendrix's second album was called, they walked a long way east on Sunset to a record store and bought the CD. Really? They didn't just google it on their smartphones?

For those whose spectacles are still firmly rose-tinted, you need to read several scary and true stories of writers' experiences of publishing when it all goes wrong in this thread.

EDIT: I believe I have found the identity of the first person to call traditional publishing the new vanity publishing - Scott Nicholson, here, July 6th, 2010.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Getting Away With Murder...

One of my lovely beta readers, William Urinoski, wasn't altogether happy with the ending of Replica because of what does, or rather doesn't, happen to the villain, Sir Peter Ellis. In his thoughtful critique he said:

"I think he might have benefited from a bit of Jack Reacher's brand of justice - not necessarily fatal, but extremely painful with a prolonged recovery time - followed by some time before the bench with the threat of an also-prolonged prison term...Though as much fun as it is to speculate about alternate endings, I don't mean to imply that yours isn't good. I think, now that I've spent the time writing about it, that I must be troubled by the fact that I think Pete (he really doesn't deserve to be called Sir Peter) got off too lightly...I think readers like endings where most everybody gets their just desserts. That's probably why Child's work consistently sells so well."

This stayed with me, because originally I had wanted Nick to kill or severely damage Sir Peter, and get away with it. And there was the rub - I couldn't work out how a character these days in central London could plausibly get away with the murder or even assault of someone known to him. What with forensics and a thorough police investigation, he wouldn't have a hope.

I'd never read any of Lee Child's thrillers (though Nick does in Replica) so recently I read three, Gone Tomorrow, Bad Luck And Trouble, and Worth Dying For. I can see why he is so successful; the books are gripping and unputdownable. My favourite was Bad Luck And Trouble, my least favourite Gone Tomorrow (torture scenes). With none of them was I entirely convinced by Reacher getting away with murder. Lots of murders, plus crippling assaults. However remote the district in Worth Dying For, I don't think four members of a family could simply disappear, along with six or seven other people, without questions being asked. In fifteen books, Jack Reacher kills 77 people, and gets away scot free. A bit of an eyebrow raiser, though Lee Child does it with great panache.

Perhaps I'll go back to writing fantasy, where heroes kill baddies all the time, with nothing to prevent them riding away into the sunset, rough justice done to the satisfaction of everyone.

Can any of you think of good examples of modern heroes getting away with murder in a totally believable way?