Tag Archive for publishing

What Does a Story Look Like?

Book designer Chip Kidd recently presented at a TED Talk, and he shared the essential question he asks about every book before he starts working on its physical design: “What does the story look like?”

It’s a great and entertaining talk, one that designers will find interesting and anyone looking to self-publish their own work should watch to get an idea of how much thought can go into book design.

Around the 13:00 mark, though, Kidd says “Try experiencing that on a Kindle!” and starts to discuss the things that can’t be done with an e-book and the differences in the experience between a print book and an e-book. He makes some valid points, of course: I know few readers who haven’t smelled their books, relished the feel of deckled edges and raised type, or played around with die-cut dust jackets.

Can we say for certain, though, that e-books will never produce a related experience?

Right now, e-books are still in the gimmick stage. There are guys throwing short animations or sound effects into comics, embedding video in e-books, developing books that are interactive apps, and so forth. While they are cool things a book’s paper counterpart can’t do, they have yet to become an integral part of the story or a part of the experience of the book. Sure, it’s an experience with the iPad or the Kindle, but not necessarily with the book itself.

As much as I enjoyed Kidd’s presentation, I would love to see people like him turn their disdain for the e-book experience into a creative drive to elevate the e-book experience. It doesn’t have to replicate the paper experience (hell, maybe it shouldn’t), it just needs to bring its own experience. If the words on the screen aren’t enough, then shit, Chip, tell the damned software engineers what else you’d like them to do.

I bet Amazon and Apple will listen.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Coming Soon: Douchebag Lit

I’m not sure what else to call this crap by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from Jersey Shore, which I fear will spawn a whole genre. It’ll be on end caps, then we’ll see shelves like we do Twilight and its ilk.

I fully expected it to be garbage, but the excerpts that have come out take it to a whole new level. An example of her shining brilliance:

“Gia danced around a little, shaking her peaches for show. She shook it hard. Too hard. In the middle of a shimmy, her stomach cramped. A fart slipped out. A loud one. And stinky.”

I think the ghostwriter dropped about twenty IQ points trying to channel Snooki. In fact, most folks are already blaming the book’s very presence on the ghostwriter. I disagree. I blame the editor, the publisher, and the people who made Snooki a star. This is someone cashing in on the success of a TV show, and the ghostwriter was just following orders and collecting a paycheck. This is like Hollywood, pandering to the lowest common denominator because people are suckers for celebrity culture.

It’s all about glorifying stupidity.

I had hope it may actually bomb because I’m told the students at our school have expressed no interest in it; they haven’t asked the librarian to stock it, and they haven’t asked to borrow it from another library. Unfortunately it’s doing very well on Amazon’s sales rank. It’s averaging three stars on the reviews, but half of the five-star reviews are sarcastic.

The rest of the good reviews are from people like this:

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Hellboy Model for World Domination

I’ve never been a fan of what I call the shotgun method of marketing: fire a property at the market and see if it hits anything. This is most often seen in the small presses, but it’s not unheard of from larger publishers.

In the horror small press, this typically involves getting a book listed on Shocklines or the Horror Mall and calling it a day. In the comics direct market, the publisher gets their placement in Diamond’s Previews catalog and hopes the cover and/or title description will attract retailers’ attention. In the mass market, this means the publisher drops a title into their distribution chain and then kicks backs and waits for the numbers.

This is a bit simplistic, of course. In all cases, I’m sure review copies are being distributed and maybe a title shows up in an advertisement or book club here and there. However, nobody’s doing any real legwork; for the most part they’re crossing their fingers that the readers, retailers, and media will find them. If the book does well, the publisher claims they’ve found the next Brian Keene, Frank Miller, or Stephen King. If the book doesn’t, they declare it a failure, cancel the title (or decline to purchase another book from the author), and move on to the next guy.

To be fair, this is part of an economic reality. Small presses — both prose and comics — run on a tight budget, and they have to sell through most of their print run before they make a profit. Mass markets and the larger comic companies pump a lot of advertising and marketing dollars (not to mention royalties and advances) into their larger titles, making slim pickings for the guys in the mid-list arena. They’re not picking on anyone or playing favorites, this is just how their business operates.

Unfortunately it’s not doing either side any favors: the publishers absorb their loss or shut their doors, and the creators either pray that poor performance doesn’t harm their chances with the next publisher or they scan the classified ads and wish they finished their degree when they had the chance. Nor is it doing the property any favors, as this one-time performance is not in itself an indication of whether the product is any good or not. If the property was good enough for publishing in the first place (a subject for another day), then there’s bound to be an audience out there somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding that audience and making sure they can get their hands on it.

In short, it takes patience, and for that I like to look at Mike Mignola and Hellboy as the model.

Hellboy first appeared in a short in ’93, and Seed of Destruction came out in ’94. Seed had a few more things going for it than many small press projects, mainly a John Byrne script, the Dark Horse logo, and Mignola himself already had a modest career established in comics. Yet by his own admission, shifting over to Hellboy was a big step, and a big risk. I don’t know how the sales were on that book, but I’m sure it wasn’t equal to those of the mainstream titles he’d been doing covers and backups for.

Yet Mignola kept plugging away. With each subsequent release he built upon his audience. Here we are in 2009, and in addition to the main series he’s got spin-off comics, novels, anthologies, two animated movies, two feature films, and countless toys, posters, and other products. Hellboy himself (as portrayed by Ron Perlman, of course) appears in DirecTV commercials, effectively making him a household name. The takeaway?


Instant hits happen, but they’re rare. You can’t predict them, and you definitely can’t bank on them. If you believe in a product, you have to keep plugging away. You have to have the patience to develop it, to let it find it’s audience.

And there’s never been a time there were more tools to reach that audience than now.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Creators Breaking Tradition

I think Nine Inch Nails is a perfect example of what can be done when creators break the traditional distribution models.

When their contract with their label ended, they went digital, offering both physical CDs and MP3 downloads unencumbered by DRM and copy protection schemes. Now you can download their latest album for free (in multiple formats!), they take advantage of online tools, they designed their own iPhone app, created virtual reality games for their fans, and yet they’re still turning a profit.

Here’s a great quote from the iPhone app article:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think music should be free,” Reznor says. “But the climate is such that it’s impossible for me to change that, because the record labels have established a sense of mistrust. So everything we’ve tried to do has been from the point of view of, ‘What would I want if I were a fan? How would I want to be treated?’ Now let’s work back from that. Let’s find a way for that to make sense and monetize it.”

Reznor knows the music is his bread and butter, that if he doesn’t turn a profit somehow he couldn’t afford to keep pushing out music like he does. Yet he understands that the digital market and the Interent completely changes things. How is it the distributors — the record labels, the publishers, the movie studios — are having so much trouble figuring this out? The music, books and movies — the creators’ properties — are their bread and butter, yet they guard the end product more jealously than the creators themselves.

Sure, Metallica sued Napster. The creators don’t all get it. Iron Maiden, on the other hand, encourage their fans to record their shows and share the recordings with as many of their friends as they can. Iron Maiden knows it’s all about earning mindshare, about earning those ears and eyeballs, to build success. Radiohead played with a digital distribution model as well, and despite mixed results, they saw 1.2 million downloads and the physical CD still debuted at number one on US and UK charts.

In the publishing world, I again mention Cory Doctorow. It blows me away that he can give away all of his books for free in every digital format you can imagine, yet his sales are still strong enough that Tor Books is willing to publish his work in hardcover. This runs counterintuitive to most publishers’ ways of thinking where it’s assumed that if someone can get a book for free, it will be detrimental to sales. Instead, it appears that the increased mindshare actually results in more word of mouth and, in turn, more sales (or at least downloads don’t negatively affect profit).

I recently learned Wil Wheaton’s latest book is available through Lulu, a print on demand service, in both digital and paperback formats. While POD and self publishing have been acceptable in the comics realm for some time, it’s generally frowned upon in the prose world. I’m curious to see how his numbers are looking.

The big question, of course, is how these guys are able to pull it off.

Something they all have in common is trust. They’ve built relationships with their fans over a long period of time, and they earned their ears and eyeballs long before they went digital. They already had fans lined up and eager to get their hands on their new creations. (Incidentally, it’s a good example of the 1000 True Fans theory.)

So where does that leave the rest of us?

Good question. These are interesting times to be a creator.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Fear of a Digital Age

It’s been nine years since Metallica launched their crusade against Napster. Since then we’ve also seen the MPAA and RIAA shit their respective beds, Sony’s assault on consumers, the DeCSS controversy, and the rise and fall of DRM.

Through that time, I’ve been wondering when the same behavior would hit the publishing industry. The Google Book Search brouhaha came first, and it was subsequently settled. Now we have the Kindle 2 and the controversy over its text-to-speech capabilities. Neither of these have been as bloody as the music and movie entertainment battles, but they amount to the same thing: a given body fighting change they don’t understand.

And the worst part is they’ve been through this before. Why aren’t the industries learning from their mistakes? Why aren’t they partnering with digital innovators instead of trying to crush them?

It also bothers me that it’s never been proven that all this digital bootlegging has been detrimental to the industry (in fact at least one study shows file sharing does not affect music sales). They see X number of people downloaded an album/movie or may have read a book on Google, and they claim it’s Y lost dollars. Meanwhile, they have no idea how many of those people turned around and bought a copy of the real thing. They have no idea how many of them enjoyed the item and told all their friends about it, and how many of those friends turned around and bought copies.

The music and movie industries are coming around, finally doing away with DRM and coming to agreements with distributors and retailers to get their product out in such a way the consumer won’t get screwed. I shudder to think of how much money they wasted on lawsuits, studies, and encryption/restriction research that ultimately failed.

With luck the publishing industry will step up before it’s too late. Guys like Cory Doctorow give away their books in multiple electronic formats, yet still sell enough copies that Tor Books is wiling to publish his work in hardcover. That may not be a common situation, but it shows that it can be done without harming sales.

For my own work, I know for a fact Werewolves: Call of the Wild showed up on several torrent sites. Did that have a negative effect on my sales? I sincerely doubt it. I’m much more concerned about the number of people who told me they ordered copies but their comic shop never received them. That tells me if I want to be read, I can’t rely solely on the current distribution model.

Whether we’re talking books, movies, comics, or music, they’re all about one thing: grabbing ears and eyeballs. If you can get enough people to pay attention, you’re going to make a profit, regardless of how the product is getting to those ears and eyeballs and how much they’re paying for it. Theft, be it shoplifiting or digital distribution, comes with the territory. It’s a cost of doing business, and publishing has been lucky to get a free pass for this long.

Keep in mind, people are not afraid to pay for their entertainment. Take movie ticket prices, for example. I spent $27 for the Midget and I to see Monsters vs. Aliens: $9 for each ticket and the 3D glasses and another $9 for a medium popcorn and medium drink. People bitch about that, but you know what? The theater was packed, despite all the whining about the economy. Or consider the Kindle: it’s essentially a $359 bookshelf. If Kindle books average $6 a pop for titles available in mass market paperback for $8, you’d have to purchase 180 books to break even. Nevertheless, everyone I know who owns a Kindle raves about it to anyone who will listen.

Content creators who want to make a living on their properties need to concentrate on earning those eyeballs and eardrums. We need to market ourselves as best we can, and if our publishers are unwilling or unable to leverage new technologies to get our work out to our fans in every way possible, then we need to make sure our contracts allow us to do it ourselves.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Ego and the Writer

It was a good ego stroke to get home and find people talking about me. If people aren’t talking about your books, people aren’t buying them. Not that I have any to sell right now… Maybe I should revise that: if people aren’t talking about your books, publishers have no reason to print them.

I almost never hear from readers directly, so it’s good to see things like this from time to time. Whether a writer is a hobbyist or is a dedicated professional, we all have one thing in common: we’re storytellers, and storytellers want their stories to be heard. Writing for pride, writing for money, and writing for validation all point to a necessity to be read.

No happy readers = no happy writers.

I should add, too, that if you’re waiting on publishers to print some Oliveri work, you should feel free to write publishers directly and ask them why they aren’t coughing up the Oliveri goodness. Brian claims at least two publishers read this blog, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to up and publish me just because I bitch about not getting published.

I write best with a deadline. Why is Powerless a priority? Because Otherworld Verlag wants more work from me. It’s that simple. I don’t expect publishers to come beating down my door; that’s just not how this business works. But if you pester some of these guys, maybe they’ll give a manuscript more than a passing glance when I drop it on their desk.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Das Tödliche Geschlecht

Das Todliche Geschlecht – Cover draft

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

The above is the cover to the German edition of Deadliest of the Species, aka Das Tödliche Geschlecht or “the deadly gender.”

I’m posting this as a sort of insight to the process. This is the second draft I’ve seen, and it’s getting closer and closer to a final product. There’s still some tweaking to do to the fonts/lettering and their placement, and the artwork will be tuned a bit more, but this is the concept.

Maybe I’m biased, but I kind of like it. I feel there pretty much has to be a woman on the cover given the content, and they’ve certainly done that. It’s also tough to complain about the size of my name in proportion to the title. Heh.

The geschäftsführer (sounds much cooler than “managing director,” doesn’t it?), Michael Krug, tells me the cover will be appearing in a program review in December, which will be used to pitch the book to booksellers. I also see the ISBN numbers for the book are listed on the site, so things appear to be on track.

I’m really looking forward to having this in hand. I got a look at Brian Keene’s Otherworld titles when I visited him, and the company really puts out a quality product. I get the impression they have big plans for the future as well, so I feel like I’m climbing aboard at a good time.

I best get off my dead ass and write them something else.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.