Tuesday, 23 September 2014

“Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”

Dr Seuss

So I don't want my blog to get bogged down in how awful Damnation Books are, and I've been lazy lately and just posted loads of promo spots instead of actually...you know, blogging. Since I am actually doing more than just hanging out waiting for publishers to laugh at me on Twitter, this seems a good morning for a general update.

First off, I've released this year's Halloween limited edition perfumes over at Common Brimstone. This year's theme is the Vampire Hunter's Kit, and as with last year's limited editions, all the profits will be donated to the British Heart Foundation in memory of my dad. There's six scents to chose from, as well as a sample set and (if I do say so myself), they're all fabulous. My personal favourite is Vampire's Bride, though.

In writing news, Ragnarok Publications are sharing some of Ethan's best one-liners from UNDERTOW over on their Facebook page, If you want a glimpse inside the mind of a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, demon-possessed PI, this is your chance to get it!

In other writing news, I've been trying to get back into the swing of daily writing since the most recent flare-up of the Mysterious Arm Injury of Undiagnosible Origins seems to have died down again. I've got three projects on the go at various stages. The next Ethan novel, Descent is sitting nicely at about 56k, and is not the horrible pile of shit I thought it was a year or so ago. I'm hoping to have a first draft wrapped up before the end of the year. Nightmare Moon is next in the pile, with a new Urban Wolf spin-off, tentatively titled In Cold Blood following closely behind. For ages now I've wanted to write an Urban Wolf spin-off, so when the inspiration struck, I decided to set aside Nightmare Moon to get started on that. The problem I'm really having juggling these projects is lack of time, as Common Brimstone has been busy all year, and is getting busier as we move into Autumn. It's a good problem, but it is still a problem. But anyway. Writing is happening!

In adult news, Kyle and I are moving out of our crappy house into an adorable cottage!

It's perfect! It has a huge kitchen for perfume-making cooking, a spare bedroom so we can have people stay over without making them sleep on the sofa, and it's pet-friendly, which means the snakes and Fergus won't have to be hidden in cupboards at every housing inspection.

Just like Harry Potter.

We're moving on October 10th, if all goes to plan, so everything is kind of chaotic at the moment as we declutter the old house and figure out where Kyle is going to put Skynet in the new house. I might also destash some solid perfumes, so if people are interested, I can post a list here of what's going and you can claim your very own Common Brimstone prototype.

This is all pretty hardcore adulting for me, since it involves rearranging direct debits and sounding like I know what I'm doing, which is something I usually reserve for the day job, so I'm using my downtime to re-read the Dragonriders of Pern books in chronological order. This is an excellent use of my time, but it has reminded me that we were going to get leopard geckos and we still haven't done that, so...Possibly something else to get for the cottage.

How can we not?

Monday, 22 September 2014

"If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, then there would be a lot of empty pages."

Elaine Liner

So last week I wrote a blog about my experiences with Damnation Books and quite a few people read it. Including, apparently, whoever manages Damnation Books' Twitter account, because they had this response:

It's reassuring to know they take their authors' concerns so seriously.

The same day I posted that blog, I'd sent an email to Kim Gilchrist reminding her she'd said she would "get the ball rolling" on returning my rights for my first novel with them this month. I haven't a reply yet.

What I did get this morning was this email from Damnation Books admin:

My first instinct was to delete it, because generally speaking when you get an email with no signature, no message, and just a link, it's going to do something horrible to your computer if you open it. But then I thought, "no, Naomi. Don't be paranoid. Maybe it's a really useful and informative article that they're circulating to everyone on their mailing list."

So I sensibly waited until I got to work and opened the link on my work computer *ahem* And it's a link to this post, "Ten Things I Wish I Knew Then That I Know Now," by author PJ Parrish.

It's an interesting read! Salient points:

"You have no control over what your publisher will do for your book and they probably won't do much at all."

Haha! Tell me about it, right? 

"You have to handle yourself well in public."

"Your publisher is not your friend."

I think it's safe to say at this point that Damnation Books and I are no longer even vaguely friendly. We would probably ignore each other at cocktail parties. I'm fine with that. I don't submit to publishers because I want to make friends.

"You won't get rich."

I don't remember ever saying I expected to get rich. I do feel it's not unreasonable to expect four titles in a popular genre to sell more than the equivalent of one bus ticket to Cambridge each quarter, but maybe I'm being unrealistic.

Now, I suppose there is still the possibility that Damnation Books admin are sending this post to every one of their authors, but the lack of any kind of message or signature sorta kinda makes me doubt it. So I have to ask myself what the point of sending it to me is? Am I supposed to feel ashamed of something? I submitted my work to Damnation Books in good faith after chatting to some of their already-signed authors, all of whom were happy and excited at the prospect of working with a new publisher dedicated to dark fiction. Was I naive to go with a new, unproven publishing house? Of course. But I'm not ashamed of my naivety, and if Damnation Books thinks I should be, that doesn't say much about their attitude towards writers.

Am I supposed to feel guilty for speaking up about my experiences? Is this blog supposed to teach me not to bite the hand that feeds? Am I supposed to believe that I'll never work in this town again? Should I sit down and shut up in case I get a barrage of emails directing me to helpful blogs about how publishers don't care about writers? I don't know! I welcome your thoughts and interpretations.

I do just want to point out one thing to whoever at Damnation Books sent the link. The last comment on the blog post is by Kathryn Meyer Griffith, also published with Damnation Books/Eternal Press. I hope she won't mind me highlighting her comment, but I recommend that, if you're going to passively-aggressively contact an author with a blog that's supposed to slap their wrist, make sure it doesn't contain a comment slamming your own publishing house.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

I suppose we should talk about the elephant in the room...

Not this one, although he is adorable and worth talking about.

So UNDERTOW has been out a few weeks now and it's picking up some awesome reviews (thank you, awesome reviewers!). And if you read those reviews, and the ones over on Amazon, you might notice a common theme occurring. People are talking about the series. As in, is UNDERTOW a standalone, the first in a series, or part of an existing series? Luckily, all the reviews seem to agree that UNDERTOW does stand alone, and certainly I think so, as do Ragnarok Publications, and we've labelled it the first in the Ethan Banning series.

But yes, there are other Ethan Banning stories. And no, I don't actively promote them anymore. They are available for sale on Amazon and wherever else you can buy ebooks (I think), but you won't find links to them here. Why?

Because they are published by Damnation Books and I, as well as other authors have concerns about, problems with, and in some cases legal rulings against Damnation Books and its sister company, Eternal Press. By and large, I'd decided to keep quiet and not rock the boat, because I'm not a fan of confrontation and I have neither the time nor the energy to devote to messy online/legal battles.

However, having been told in no uncertain terms by Kim Gilchrist of DB that she has no interest in renewing my contracts with them because A) I don't promote my work with them and B) I said a mean thing about them on Twitter, I kinda feel like, "well, why not?" Why not add my voice to the others? After all, somehow, DB is still in business and acquiring authors, and I feel like those authors should have all the facts available to them before they sign their books away.

So, let's address Kim's points first.

A) I don't promote my DB books. Well, no, not anymore. When I first signed with them in 2009 however, I promoted like a crazy person. I submitted my books to every possible reviewer and by and large got great reviews. I did guest blogs with other authors, engaged with my fellow DB authors to help cross-promote. I bought swag and did giveaways. I went to a couple of conferences. I tweeted, I blog-toured, I did interviews wherever I could. And if you check places like Amazon and Goodreads, you'll see my DB books are all rated pretty solidly. I don't think I'd have that if I hadn't been active at spreading the word about my books. I was proud of them (I still am proud of them) and I used every resource a broke part-time writer could muster to tell the world about them.

And I didn't reap any benefits for it. My royalty checks from DB have always been on time and they have always been poor. Initially, I received an actual check from them each quarter, and frankly they were not worth the cost of cashing them. After I'd travelled to my bank, paid the fees for having the money converted from dollars to pounds, and gone home again, I had no money left. I switched to getting payments via Paypal as soon as I could, and I'm delighted to say that once a quarter I am able to treat myself to a fancy chai latte from Starbucks with my DB royalties.

And that's royalties across four titles, plus a handful of novels and novellas I edited for them. So it's not just that my books don't sell. Those books I edited don't sell either, and I know how hard those authors worked to promote them too.

So yes, over time I became disillusioned with how little return I was seeing for my effort and I did stop promoting so hard.

At the same time, I was signing contracts with Evernight Publishing, and for various reasons I wasn't able to scream from the rooftops about my titles with them either. And yet my royalties with Evernight have grown every quarter and my books with them have consistently been ARe bestsellers, as well as cracking some bestseller lists on Amazon for their genres.

B) I said a mean thing on Twitter. Maybe? I don't remember it, but if so I apologise for hurting anyone's feelings. But honestly, it doesn't restore my faith in DB to think that they are monitoring their authors' online interactions to make sure nobody's saying anything mean.

Now, the other stuff.

Despite low sales with my first DB titles, I was actually pretty happy there initially. I love my cover art still - I think it's gorgeous and I feel lucky to have worked with some truly talented cover artists. I'd had good reviews on my books and I had no reason to complain about the editing I'd received. So I figured I needed to keep working, build a backlist, finish my series, and I'd see success. Rome wasn't built in a day etc.

So I submitted a couple more novellas to them, both of which were accepted. One actually went to Eternal Press as it was a sweet paranormal romance. And it remains the single worst editing experience I've ever had. This was a short book, probably not even 20k if I remember right. How bad could it be, right?

Well, when I got my line edits back (the weekend before the book was due to be published), I found changes I'd made had been ignored. One entire paragraph I'd added in was no longer there, with no word or explanation as to why. It was just gone. I was in the midst of trying to arrange promo for the novella and was pretty freaked out to discover that at the line editing stage, the book I was looking at was missing so many big changes.

It got fixed. But the panic remained, and it reminded me that my first novel with Damnation Books actually went to press with the entire final page missing from the published version. That got fixed too. Still, not great points in favour of a publisher, I feel.

The second novella, my editor and I went through and submitted back to DB six months ahead of publication. Six days prior to publication, the manuscript was returned to me with a list of errors to be fixed. Now, if my editor and I missed problems, that's fine; I'd rather they were fixed before publication. But six days before? When the manuscript had been back with the publisher for six months? Come on. Really.

Those two novellas taught me not to submit to DB again, more than the lack of sales did. I can look everywhere for reasons for low sales - I don't promote hard enough, I don't write fast enough or often enough, I don't push myself hard enough, I write in an over-saturated genre, I write in a dying genre, I write stuff that's too niche, whatever. That's probably all true. But the editing issues...No. That's not on me.

I could tell you more, about my experiences as an editor, but out of respect for the authors I worked with, I won't. I will say that I see, quarter after quarter, books that have sold zero copies, books that deserve to be selling lots of copies, books that I and the authors worked extremely hard on.

I once contacted Kim regarding low sales, asking her opinion on why sales were so low and asking what I and Damnation Books could do to raise the profile of my titles. I got back a snippy email (which I regret I didn't keep) placing the blame entirely on me. That was pretty much the last time I attempted to engage with anyone at DB until earlier this year when, after another dismal royalty statement, I approached Kim about releasing my first novel early. Given the consistently single-digit sales of the title, I didn't and still don't see how it benefits me or the publisher to keep this book out there.

I had to send several (very polite) emails before I got a response, which is when Kim told me she had no interest in renewing any of my contracts. Huzzahs! She did say we'd get the ball rolling for that novel this month, but so far I haven't heard from her. Granted, the actual contract doesn't expire until December, but would it have taken her long to send me an email to remind me of that?

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is: I have four great, well-received stories with a publisher I don't trust or respect, and two of those stories feature Ethan Banning. If you want to read them, they aren't hard to find. However, until I have the rights back (and believe me, I'm counting down the days), I won't promote them.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Guest Blog - Bethany-Kris brings us Spray Paint Kisses

I'm delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Bethany-Kris' New Adult novella, Spray Paint Kisses. These characters sound fascinating to me - can't wait to read it!

He’s left his mark everywhere. She’s still trying to find a place to leave hers. 

 Gage Masselin is a graffiti artist whose life has revolved around his art, and focused entirely on his career. He’s never needed a muse to get his inspiration flowing, so when an unexpected blonde-haired beauty knocks him out of his zone, he knows he’s in trouble.

Summer Davey is just a traveling girl with a gypsy’s soul. The one constant she has is her need to keep moving on. She’s never stayed in one place long enough to plant roots, never mind finding a man with spray paint kissing the tips of his fingers to make her heart beat faster. 

She inspires him. He’s the first thing to ever feel like home.

Sometimes the hardest things to find in love and life are the easiest to lose.

Read on for a teaser!