I thought I’d do something a little different for this post and discuss some current events in the publishing world. As most of you have probably heard by now, Amazon has recently announced its acquisition of social-network-for-books, Goodreads. This after already acquiring Goodreads competitor Shelfari, and 40% of competitor LibraryThing. Wow, if that’s not intent to dominate, I don’t know what is.
Could one company (which is already the 800-pound gorilla in the room of retail bookselling and which has recently established multiple publishing imprints) owning so much digital book real estate be a good thing?
What are your thoughts?
I, for one, wonder if they will synch the reviews from Amazon and Goodreads.
If you want to dig a little deeper, here’s one of a plethora of articles about the deal and its implications:
I myself have been a long-time user of Goodreads (and Amazon), and I hope that Goodreads continues to be as useful and entertaining as it has been so far. Join me and let’s go along for the ride:
I first learned about sharks from nature books and television shows. Later I saw them in aquariums, and then of course there was Jaws, the novel and movie. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to encounter many species of sharks in their natural environment, and it’s always been a fascinating experience.
The importance of sharks, aside from being creatures with as much right to live as any other, is basically two-fold: One, they are seafood fish consumed around the globe.Two, they occupy key ecological niches in marine ecosystems everywhere, including that of apex predator.
Sharks have retained the same basic form for a quarter of a million years. Perfect living machines, doing what they do. Also, the bull shark has more testosterone than any other animal!
“Serpents, bears, hyenas, tigers, rapidly vanish as civilization advances, but the most populous and civilized city cannot scare a shark far from its wharves.“–Henry David Thoreau.
My wife and I were part of a dive group scuba diving in the Blue Hole of Belize, which is about 450 feet deep (its labyrinth of passageways was famously explored by Cousteau). We were at about 100 feet, on the way down to the stalactite caverns, when we saw three sharks the local divemaster said were bull sharks, circling in the center of the hole, about 70 feet from us. They paid no attention to us or the yellowtail snappers around us, just kept circling in figure eight patterns. We descended to the caverns at 137 feet, and shortly afterward ascended. The sharks were still in the middle of the Blue Hole, circling. They’re probably still there now!
I love sharks! Here’s a brief account of all the sharks I’ve seen in the wild, how and where: blue shark, night snorkeling Catalina Island; basking shark, from the deck of a whale watch boat in the channel between Catalina Island and Long Beach; baby leopard sharks in a few inches of water at Santa Monica Beach; horn sharks and swell sharks while scuba diving rocky ledges all over southern California, and the amazing egg cases of these creatures where the tiny embryo can be seen through the case, attached by an umbilical to a yolk sac; a huge angel shark 110′ down off Catalina that scared me because I scared it–it flew up out of the sand and left us in a big sand cloud; circling bull sharks deep in the Blue Hole of Belize–they stuck to the middle of the hole while we divers clung to the stalactite caverns on the sides; countless nurse sharks while snorkeling in the Florida keys and in Belize; Sandbar and Galapagos sharks during the only shark cage dive I’ve done, off the north shore of Oahu (yes, they chum the water to attract the sharks, and yes it’s a controversial practice); a bonnethead shark in three-foot deep water near Tom’s Harbor Key, Florida Keys, spotted from my small Zodiac inflatable boat; a group of three sleeping whitetip sharks underneath the hull of a shipwreck, as seen from the Atlantis submarine off Waikiki at a depth of 100 feet; small blacktip reef sharks seen while surfing the outer reefs of Waikiki, their dorsal fins piercing the surface of the water as they thrash about the reef; a school of hammerhead sharks cruising the deep water well away from the wall we were diving in Fiji; I feel extraordinarily lucky to have witnessed all of these sharks in their natural habitats.
The practice of shark finning is both wasteful and inhumane, and should be outlawed everywhere.
Here’s a 6-pack of my Youtube shark videos (videos taken by me; warning: video quality is not great, but I got what I got!):
Hawaii shark cage dive:
Bull sharks in Belize’s Blue Hole:
Shark Ray alley, Belize:
Florida Keys nurse shark:
Huge sawfish, Bahamas:
What are some of your experiences with sharks?
Strange topic for a writing/book blog, you ask? Perhaps. But let’s think about solar energy for a minute. Hailed since the 1970s as the Next Big Thing, decades have passed and solar still remains the red-headed stepchild of the energy world. We haven’t run out of oil yet, there are other forms of alternative energy such as wind power and more exotic solutions like algae biofuels, etc. But beneath all the hype, solar energy has quietly been forging ahead. Technology has advanced significantly from the clunky panels of yesteryear. In California, huge billion-dollar solar farms have been sprouting up in the mojave desert.
I been thinking a lot about solar power lately because my new thriller, SOLAR ISLAND, releases in 10 days on December 11, 2012, from Seven Realms Publishing. A description is available on my website:
Writing a thriller about solar power was tricky because there is a fine line between including enough technical detail to remain convincing, but not so much that the reader feels like they’ve waded into a textbook.
What’s your experience with solar power? Do you have any panels on your house or do they make the property look too industrial? Anyone have one of those portable solar chargers for your smartphone?
I may not be certain how the world will meet its energy needs going forward, but I do know one thing: the sun will still be around. it makes sense, therefore, to learn to make use of its natural energy.
Thanks for reading!
I sat down to write a blog post, but nothing I was going to write about seemed as significant as the events that transpired on the east coast this week. In lieu of a business-as-usual post, I would like to take this moment to reflect on the tragedy that Hurricane Sandy brought to so many. The storm has passed, but in its wake is devastation and, for some, misery, that will take a lifetime from which to recover. With the official U.S. death toll reaching 74 at the time of this writing, and monetary damages initially estimated at $15-20 billion, now revised upward to as high as $50 billion, it’s clear that the eastern seaboard will never be the same.
Pictures, before and after:
As more and more individual stories emerge from the superstorm, one stands out to me in particular. From the “what the heck was he thinking” file, the mind-boggling account of the captain of the HMS Bounty replica ship who decided to set sail from Connecticut bound for Florida on Monday morning with an inexperienced crew in a 50-year-old ship based on a 250-year-old-design:
The captain himself has still not been found, and one crew member is dead. The other fourteen crew survived after a risky rescue off North Carolina by the Coast Guard:
I doubt that way back in 1789, when Christian Fletcher decided to wrest Her Majesty’s Ship from its captain, William Bligh, that he could have imagined in 223 years sailors would still be losing their lives at sea on the Bounty.
Wishing the best to all those affected by Sandy,
I’m here to discuss one of my latest book projects, something very different from anything I’ve tried before, not so much writing-wise (a thriller is not all that different from a techno-thriller, after all), but in terms of how to bring the book to the reading public. I’m working on a suspense thriller called BLOOD HARBOR. The book isn’t done yet, but it’s well underway and as I’m sure more than a few writers can attest to, the question of “What the heck am I going to do with this thing when it’s finished?” crossed my mind more than once. I wrote this book completely on spec, no prior contracts in hand. Today more than ever there are a plethora of options in addition to the big 6 NYC houses: small press, self-publish to kindle, self publish with print books and kindle, serialize on the web, a combination thereof. But even these options are pretty well traveled these days, and so when something new comes along that seems viable I pay attention.
Enter Kickstarter.com, billed as a “funding platform for creative projects.” A novel is a creative project, right? And hey, I’m writing a novel! So just what is this Kickstarter? Technically, it’s known as a “crowd-funding” site that utilizes a “provision-point mechanism.” All that means is that multiple parties (people, businesses, whatever) can fund or “back” a given project and that the project has to reach a minimum dollar amount of funding within a pre-specified period of time in order to receive the money raised. So picture people surfing a website for ideas to fund, they come across one that looks good and say, “That would be great if that guy can really do that, I’m in with $50!” If the project is trying to raise $5,000 in 30 days but only $4,000 is raised at the end of that time, that project will not be funded. They get zilch, and the backers, whose money was held in escrow by Amazon Payments from the time they “pledged” to back that project (you knew that Amazon would find a way to get involved in this somehow, right?), are not billed.
So, if a project is successful, it’s clear what the creators get: money to achieve their goal. But what’s in it for the backers? Rewards, as they are known in Kickstarter parlance; whatever was indicated the backers would receive in the tiered pledge system common to the site. With novels, it might work something like this:
Pledging $5 gets you a copy of the (as yet unpublished and in some cases, even unwritten) e-book. This is effectively the same as pre-ordering the book. Pony up $15 and you get your name in the acknowledgements section of the book as an early supporter. $25 results in you getting a paperback signed by the author and mailed to your door, and so on and so forth. Typically the higher rewards are all-inclusive of those below them. High dollar amounts sometimes come with unique and customized rewards. For example, those who contributed $100 to my campaign for BLOOD HARBOR, in addition to receiving signed copies of the paperback and e-book editions ($25 and $75 rewards, respectively) you’ll also see yourself as a character in the novel (based on your name and physical description you provide me). So it’s a flexible and interactive platform that really is limited only by your imagination.
Launched in 2009, Kickstarter has long been the domain of indie film and music endeavors, which continue to dominate the site to this day both in terms of sheer number of projects and total dollars raised. But books, including novels and particularly graphic novels, have begun to carve out a strong niche on the site as authors with some kind of following began to see the appeal of funding the business aspects of their publication. Basically all of the things a publisher would (or at least might) do were they to secure a publishing deal—buying ISBNs, commissioning cover art, paying editing fees, handling interior layout, formatting different e-book and print editions, creating a book trailer, producing an audiobook, perhaps buying advertising space, mailing promotional review copies, etc. etc. etc.—all of these things now have the potential to be funded (and therefore controlled) directly by the writer, provided they can run a successful Kickstarter campaign.
So how to do that? Kickstarter recommends that campaign duration be “30 days or less,” and that although campaigns of up to 60 days are allowed, the success rate for those are significantly lower than those less than 30 days. I set my own campaign length at only 23 days, figuring that if I can’t raise a thousand bucks or so in 23 days, it’s doubtful I’d be able to raise it in 30 days either, so why drag it out? It takes a lot of time and energy to run a Kickstarter campaign, after all (letting people know it’s there, following up with prospective backers, providing updates to backers as the campaign progresses, etc. So, like a cheetah, I prefer a short and fast burst over a long haul to get my kill.
What are some of the pros and cons to Kickstarter? Why doesn’t every writer use it? While I’m definitely no expert, I can tell you already that this is not for everyone. It takes do-it-yourself publicity and guerrilla marketing to new heights. Not only are you self-publishing, but you’re crowd-sourcing the funding to self-publish. But let’s look at some pros and cons.
First the pros: aside from the obvious benefit of raising funds to get your book project off the ground, there are other more intangible benefits to a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been surprised at how engaged I feel with my readership and cadre of social network friends, fans and followers as they interact with me during the campaign. It’s really made me aware of how effective the far corners of my networks are, or in some cases, are not. Kickstarter has a nice feature where they indicate in painfully clear pie charts just what sources are delivering your angel backers to your campaign when they make their pledges, and many people will contact me to let me know they just made a pledge after they saw my tweet or heard about it on a blog, etc. It also really lights a fire under my writerly self to get that book done! There’s nothing like knowing readers are waiting for your novel to motivate a writer to finish that manuscript, and because you are required to give a date of delivery for backer rewards, you even have a deadline. Also, the entire campaign itself can be thought of as an early publicity drive for the yet-to-be-published novel. It can’t hurt to have all those people knowing about the book early on, even if they don’t make a pledge. It’s a way of gauging enthusiasm for the novel. Finally, you retain all rights to your work, and you have no advance against earnings to “earn out” after it’s published.
Now for some cons. Kickstarter is not a sure thing. Many projects do not reach their funding goals, and as I said above, those projects receive no money at all per Kickstarter terms even though they raised some funds. Some writers may find it demoralizing to finish writing a book knowing that it wasn’t funded. Ask yourself before you start what you will do should your campaign fail. If you really want the campaign to succeed, be ready to be “on,” promotion-wise, for the entire length of the campaign. Early on in my campaign, I found myself sitting down at night to write my novel. Then I thought, What am I doing? Instead of writing the book I should be writing a blog post, or tweeting or doing something to spread the word about the campaign! Because if the campaign isn’t successful, I’ll have written more pages on a book that wasn’t funded. Wouldn’t it be better to get the book funded and then write it? So that kind of thing can be at play. In some cases I’ve seen projects where the book is already written, such as something from an author’s backlist they wish to bring back to life, so that wouldn’t be an issue. Finally, if your campaign is successful, you must pay taxes on the funds raised, and since you will have expenses associated with raising the money, you’ll want to keep good records of what you’re spending on everything, such as rewards, so that you can make the appropriate write-offs come tax time.
Tips and Pitfalls
Other Crowd-Funding Platforms
Kickstarter is the dominant one out there today, but they’re not the only one. I’m not going to go into details on the competitors, but also possibly worth a look are Indiegogo.com (projects keep all funds raised even if they fall short of their goal, and non-U.S. parties are allowed to create projects) and the brand new unglue.it.
So that is pretty much everything I’ve learned about Kickstarter and crowd-funding so far. The campaign for my new suspense novel ended in June earlier this year, and so I hope you’ll take the time to experience the finished product when it’s released next year. I’m also happy to answer your questions in the comments section of this blog.
Finally, as an aside, there are many interesting possibilities with Kickstarter in addition to writing and entertainment projects. Small business ideas are also finding their way onto the site, new technological inventions, and even spaceflight projects. The possibilities are limitless. What could you use a crowd-funding platform for?
I thought I would write a bit about how our backgrounds can influence our writing. The old cliché says, “Write what you know,” but I can’t help but feel if everyone did that, literature as a whole would be shortchanged. The whole point of writing and reading is to imagine things you haven’t experienced before, to explore new worlds, concepts and personalities.
That said, it does help to be writing about something to which you have some sort of connection. Arthur Conan Doyle was not a professional detective himself, but his medical school training and work experiences enabled him to imagine in fantastic realism the intricate details of those famous fictional cases. Did you know that while in med school, Doyle took a position as a ship’s surgeon on a whaling vessel that sailed to Greenland?
As a marine biologist, I’ve never even seen a blue whale (although I’ve been in the water with other kinds of whales), much less tagged and swam with one, but in my new thriller/mystery WIRED KINGDOM I’ve managed to do just that. Having a foundation in marine science enables me to write with some semblance of authority, and to incorporate a few technical details that add realism to the story. It’s not exactly what I would call, ‘write what you know’ but more like ‘write what you can convincingly get away with.’ Real life can be a bit…well, mundane at times, right, so the point is perhaps to take the familiar and make it unfamiliar, to infuse our sense of normalcy with an element of excitement.
But exactly how this element is introduced is critical. The devil is in the details, as they say, and to be able to negotiate those details a writer needs some background and experiences to draw upon. Sure, research helps, but there’s a big difference between someone researching something they know nothing about for the first time and researching based on past experience and knowledge to clarify details.
With research based on past experience, anything becomes not only possible, but convincingly, even alarmingly so. A seemingly random killing in a small town that exposes the strange interrelationships of its residents, perhaps, or a whale tagged with a webcam that films a murder at sea. Anything that expands upon a writer’s background and experiences in such a way that it fills the story with convincing detail and vivid realism. For me, some of the background that would find its way into WIRED KINGDOM, kiDNApped, and the upcoming SOLAR ISLAND began with my personal experiences of scuba diving around the world.
So while there certainly doesn’t need to be a direct connection between the writer and the work, most of the time there will be some past history with at least one element of the story. We’ve all heard of M.D.’s writing medical thrillers and lawyers writing legal thrillers, but there are successful examples of these types of books written by non-professionals, too. The goal of the novel first and foremost is to entertain; everything else is a distant second.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts.
Since my debut novel (thriller Wired Kingdom) prominently features a whale, I decided to focus this post on whales. I’ll share a few of my personal experiences with them as well as what made me want to write about them in my book.
Allow me to begin by providing a brief description of the story:
When a blue whale tagged with a web-cam designed with stolen defense technology broadcasts a brutal murder at sea as part of a television nature program, Special Agent Tara Shores finds herself navigating an ocean of manipulation and deceit in a deadly race to reach the 100-ton creature roaming the Pacific before an unknown killer can destroy the digital evidence it carries.
You can view a book trailer for the novel here:
So, at its heart, Wired Kingdom is a whodunit murder mystery where a whale harbors a key piece of evidence in the case. In some early drafts of the story I even had the web-cam on different kinds of animals, such as a shark, but there was something about whales that just made the most sense. They’re big, formidable animals if one needs to confront one, but they are also beautiful, majestic creatures that have come back from the brink of extinction after nearly being hunted from the Earth. Many people feel a certain empathy for them, a sentiment that figures prominently in the novel.
As someone with a degree in marine science, I have spent time formally studying whales and the environment in which they live. But reading about them alone doesn’t begin to do justice to these mysterious creatures. To truly appreciate them, one needs to see them in their natural environment, which I have been fortunate enough to do on several occasions throughout my life. Below I will share a few videos I’ve taken of whales in different parts of the world.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaIhSVrr52k This is a video of a humpback whale in Hawaii. I took this while on a whale watching boat called the Navatek, on the island of Oahu. Can you see the calf by her mother’s side? You can hear the screams of the excited passengers when the whale breaches, or jumps out of the water. No one is exactly sure why whales breach. It may be just for the fun of it, or perhaps to shake loose parasites.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9Dc2j844mY This clip shows a gray whale off Los Angeles, which I took from another whale watch out of Marina del Rey (where, incidentally, part of the story for Wired Kingdom is set). Grays are famous for their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico, where they give birth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_mPHwGLpDo This is a special clip, not for what you can see, but for what you can hear. My wife shot this when we were scuba diving on a shipwreck in Hawaii (yes, that’s me diving in the video). The sounds you can hear are the songs of humpback whales! We could hear them all around us throughout the dive, although we never saw one.
Note that I don’t have any blue whale shots—I haven’t been lucky enough to see one of those in the wild—yet—but that’s part of what made them so alluring to me, and so worthy of being a main character in Wired Kingdom. That, and the fact that they are the largest animals ever to have lived on our planet.
These types of whale encounters have been a source of inspiration for me as I wrote Wired Kingdom, and which helped me to inject a dose of realism into the story’s pages. I hope that this post has stirred your imagination enough to make you want to learn more about whales for yourself!
Thanks for reading.
The 1960s was a decade of incredible human accomplishments, and I’m not talking about the music. Or the drugs. I’m talking about the physical exploration of the real world—the universe—as well as the pride in showcasing American science & technology, the “because-it’s-there” attitude that satisfied the curiosity of a nation when that nation thought it was great to have those clunky color TVs with their handful of channels in their living rooms.
In 1969 the first humans ever to step foot on the moon did so from a U.S. government spacecraft called the Eagle. And space wasn’t the only exploration front in that decade. In 1960, the first humans ever to reach the deepest part of the ocean did so in a simple but rugged U.S. Navy submersible called the Trieste. This latter accomplishment was greatly overshadowed by the moon landing, but in retrospect was nevertheless a milestone accomplishment for human ingenuity and expanding our species’ physical presence. In a mere 10 years we managed, through extraordinary technical innovation and a striking spirit of adventure, to visit two places that had eluded all of humanity.
Little I suppose the men in the sub that day knew, it would be over a half-century later before a man would visit the true bottom of the sea again. And the moon? Almost 40 years later, we still haven’t been back. Robotic vehicles have been to both the moon and the Challenger Deep, but the last moon landing with humans was in 1973, and the rest of the ‘70s played out without further exploratory milestones. The 1980s came and went, with a new space shuttle system to dog-paddle around in near-Earth orbit for a few decades. We saw the International Space Station (ISS) and underwater submersibles that would remotely visit the Mariana Trench and take people to culturally interesting underwater sites such as the Titanic‘s resting place. But no more major “first-visit” human milestones. Same for the ‘90s and the 2010s, where robotic exploration marched forward while humans stayed behind to watch from their screens. Interesting as well as useful, but it doesn’t captivate the public’s imagination in the same way that human presence can, which may be part of the reason for NASA’s declining funding throughout that period.
But this year, a human once again visited the bottom of our planet. James Cameron, in his private sub, Deepsea Challenger, reached the ocean’s deepest point on March 25. The moon? Apparently out of reach for now, but this year we also saw the first time a private spaceship, Space X’s Dragon, successfully delivered cargo to the ISS, not to mention that Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is now taking reservations for would-be space tourists. So it seems we’re on the way to repeat the old exploration milestones, but this time with private vehicles and programs. Faster, better, cheaper, and without governments. But the next real “first” still awaits. Odds are, though, it will be a privately funded venture rather than a government mission, and a high percentage of people will watch it on a smartphone instead of the ole’ RCA or Zenith, where a galaxy of YouTube videos will compete for their attention.
What do you think? Will the next human to set foot on the moon be part of a private expedition or a government sponsored program?