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Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQ)

and Writing / Marketing tips from my blog

Everything from copyright, tax tips, publishing and inspiration to exploitation and survival.

- Can I get your books in bookstores?

Yes. L.A. Stalker, Elephants, White Trash and Cuqui are in stock in some bookstores. Store managers decide which books are to be ordered and placed on the shelves. Therefore, not all stores carry my books. However, all major bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powells, etc. can order the books for you. Tell them the book is in "INGRAM BOOKS IN PRINT" and they will know what to do. Ingram is the largest distributor of books in the world, and all bookstores order through them. Do not let them tell you it is "out of stock" because my book is a Print-On-Demand book and is never out of print. If you choose to do it this way, expect a 4-6 week delay in getting it to you. Hopefully, as the books become more popular, more stores will order them for on-hand stocking purposes. By far the best way to get a book is to order it either off the Internet or by phone from the publisher.

- What is Print-On-Demand?

Print-On-Demand (POD) is a relatively new technology that allows an entire book to be printed and assembled by one machine in a matter of seconds, cover and all. The thing looks like a big photocopier and is attached to a computer. The computer stores the book digitally, and a command from the computer is all that is needed to get the book printing. The POD printer can print one or 10,000 books, depending on the order. So when you order a book from let's say, Amazon.com, Amazon takes your order, sends an email to the printer (LightningSource) who prints the book and mails it to you. Money for the order is transferred electronically between the order taker (Amazon), the printer, and the publisher. You get your book in 4-5 days. The advantage of POD, and the reason why ALL major and minor publishers are going over to it, is inventory. Publishers are tired of gambling on big print runs, hoping that a book will sell. If it doesn't, they are forced to take back all the books from the stores and do something with them. Often they opt to destroy them rather than store them because of the costs. That's one reason why it is so hard for new authors to break into the business; publishers want a sure return on their money. They are a business, after all. POD allows a publisher to invest a small amount of money to set up the computer files for the book and list the book with the distributor and bookstores. That's it. No big print runs, no big loss if the book doesn't sell. And if it does sell, the POD printers can handle it. If the publisher wants to, they can always do a standard print run whenever they want; they are not tied down to POD. The downside to POD is that the price per book is higher, because like everything else, there are savings in volume. Elephants, for example costs $18.95 wholesale. Normally, if this book would have been printed in a short-run (5,000 or so copies) the wholesale price may have dropped to $12.00 or so, and to $8.00 in a 10,000 copy run, etc. However, the publisher would have taken a big gamble that my book would have sold that many. If I only sold 2,000 books, then they'd be eating the rest. Consequently, no big publisher wanted to risk taking me on.

- Do you have any advice for new authors trying to get published?

I've been shopping books around for over 20 years now and have learned a few things.

1. Copyright your material through the U.S. Copyright office. It can take up to 8 months to get this done. Here's their link: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/

Technically, a work is "copyrighted" the moment you write it. However, you'll feel much safer mailing out the idea, samples, etc. to everyone on the planet with a copyright certificate in your hand. Remember that ideas do sometimes get stolen. Read the FAQ page on the Copyright Office website for tons of good info.

2. Try to obtain an agent. Some agent tips:

  • Get the Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents book. Make sure it is current.
  • Do a mass mail-out ONLY TO AGENTS THAT CHARGE NO FEES OF ANY KIND. The fee-charging business is a ripoff and is to be avoided. You will most likely not get any real representation from such an agent; they will do just enough to dodge a federal indictment for mail fraud. For non-fee-charging agents, give them what they want. Some will want some or all of these: outline, synopsis, sample chapters, entire manuscript. Sending out manuscripts is expensive. Most agents will not even return these to you any more; they claim to "recycle" them. If you want them returned, you have to include return postage. A typical percentage agent these days wants 15%. Avoid any that charge copy fees or other "hidden" charges..
  • Try this for 6 months. If you haven't signed with an agent, go on to item #3. Or you can do item #2 and item #3 at the same time.

3. Try a few publishers directly. This is the most ineffective way to get something published. Publishers have pretty much discarded their entire "acquisitions" departments; instead they rely on agents to "filter" material for them. Many agents are actually ex-acquisitions people laid off from the publishers. They get many hundreds of manuscripts a year. The chances of them noticing your good work are slim. Try this for 6 months.

4. Publish the book yourself through authorhouse.com. The advantages of this are awesome:

  • You maintain ownership of the copyright! This is absolutely incredible. If Simon & Schuster ever comes knocking, they deal with YOU, not the publisher. If Steven Spielberg wants the movie rights, he negotiates with you.You can still shop the book around to publishers and agents all you want; having it in print and with a verified sales record may even help agents and publishers realize that you are worth their risk.
  • You get your book into a ready-made, worldwide marketplace. You are not stuck with a garage full of books, as you would be through a "vanity press." You have your book distributed through Ingram Books (the largest distributor in the world) and featured on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Borders.com, Powells.com and others. Any bookstore anywhere can order your book for their store if they want. Any person anywhere in the world can order your book online. Your sales are directly proportional to how much time and energy you want to devote to marketing!
  • It is cheap. You can get started for less than $500. A deluxe package will set you back less than $1,500. With Elephants, I made my money back in the first month. You will, too. I spent more money on postage trying to get an agent than I did publishing Elephants.

Here are some pointers if you choose to go with authorhouse.com:

  • Contrary to what I wrote here earlier, I wouldn't bother with the hardbacks. I have had very little interest..
  • Get a back cover. People want to read a synopsis of the book on the back cover, not inside. Put a picture of yourself on the back cover; people like that. If you don't have some good publicity shots, you need some. Go to a pro (NOT Glamour Shots!).
  • Get the Advance Magazine option. It is cheap and bookstore managers will see it.
  • The Special Promotions packages may be valuable to some, depending on the type of book. Think about it carefully.
  • Do not get the RocketEbook option. I only sold four of these. As a matter of fact, I've sold over 50 printed books for every electronic book I've sold. I'm not enamored with the electronic book as yet; maybe there's a future for it but right now, most people want paper.
  • Be sure and include a page at the front or back with your web site and contact information. If you don't have a web site, GET ONE. Get a dot.com site, too, not a freebie. Free sites have names that people cannot remember. Dot.com's are cheap now. I started mine with less than $100 and keep it running for $35 a year! You'll need to learn to create and maintain the site yourself unless you want to hire a web host that does that. It is expensive, though. For a good web host, try: http://bitshack.com
  • Be sure and include a page that includes your other books. A synopsis and complete contact/ordering info should be there, too. This should go at the back of the book.
  • At the front of your book, put a page listing good review excerpts from previous work. Your Amazon.com page is good to glean these from. Get permission from each writer and from Amazon first.

- I've heard that many of the things that happened to Edward Prescott in Undercover White Trash really happened to you in real life; is this true? If so, what were they?

Yes, it is true. But until I'm sure the statute of limitations has run out, I'll never tell. But I will say that these happened to me: The porno drive-in scene; the punk rock club Frisbee, door hosts, and dominatrix scenes; the bar scene where the girl writes her number on Eddie's arm (yes, it hurt); and the cow-shooting scene (yes, the cow was unharmed, and I didn't pull the trigger, anyway).

- I've read L.A. Stalker. Are you some sort of twisted, demented pervert?

Stalker deals with some very sensitive, controversial subjects. The violence and twisted behaviors are things I see every day in my day job; they just aren't the things people talk about in "polite society." Over the years, I have seen that this etiquette, this euphemistic denial of truth, actually leads to more sexual predation, more rapes, more child sexual crimes, and more suffering for the victims. I guess in that way, this novel is my feeble attempt to shed some light, in an entertaining way, on these issues. Perhaps I can enlighten some people out there that these things do happen and it is okay to talk about them. I can tell you this without any hesitation:

  • Child sex crimes are a major epidemic all over the world, and they have been for a long, long time; even before the advent of the Internet.
  • The damage done to societies as a result of these crimes is immeasurable. Victims often grow up to manifest the scars of their abuse through self-destructive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, dangerous promiscuity, abusive relationships, suicide, and violence. Topless bars, street corners, crack houses, and porno studios are staffed with the human wreckage left in the wake of child abusers.
  • The most dangerous thing we can do, especially people like me who know the truth, is to keep it all quiet. Keeping our heads in the sand only compounds this problem.
Writing tips and other assorted writing entries from my blog:

Time

I've met many gifted writers over the years who rarely write. Inside of them, there is a great book, short story, poem or screenplay. They have the talent to put their idea onto paper, yet they don't. Desire isn't their problem; they feel the urge to write just like I do. Yet something stops them. They worry about an issue that is one of the main drawbacks to being a writer: time, or rather, a commitment to time.

Other villains that prevent people from writing are a lack of talent or a lack of imagination, and the ability to sustain these things for very long. A poor knowledge base of grammar and punctuation can also do it, just as a home builder would have a difficult time with their task if they had a shortage of basic carpentry skills. Embarrassment or a fear of failure are another two that kill writing before it even begins. But the time factor is the usual one I see that prevents people from finishing the work they want to do.

When writing Elephants, I did a time study on myself. In this, I learned that, on the average, it takes me one hour to write one page, single-spaced, 1-inch margins. Pages heavy with dialogue are much faster, but when combined with pages of straight prose, they average-out to a page an hour. Elephants' first draft manuscript was 824 pages long, written over two years. That comes out to 412 hours per year. I did this on top of a full-time job. That's ten 40-hour work weeks per year.

A lot of time? Hell, yes; like I said, it is a commitment to time. I have found that the one-page-per-hour rule is fairly common; it is probably what most writers, even the pros, can manage. That means you. Now, most books aren't as long as Elephants. You, being a sane person, should have a manuscript of normal length, like 300 pages (which will translate into about 225 pages in a 6x9 book). If you wrote that manuscript in a year, expect to spend 300 hours, or 7 1/2 work weeks. Daunting? Scary? Crazy? You're probably saying to yourself, "There's no way I can do that. I have the kids, the job, the yard work, the church duties, grocery shopping...forget it!"

However, these are lies you tell yourself. Writing-Killers. Creativity Bombs. In actuality, it is quite doable. 300 pages a year, if you work just five days a week, comes to about 1 hour and 10 minutes per day. Factor in days where you work more than 1 hour per day, like a vacation day from work or a Saturday per month, and that daily figure comes down even more. At the end of a year, you'll have a manuscript, and you'll find that your life has gone on, you're still alive, the lights are still on, and your mortgage is current.

Just like investing money, take care of yourself first. Plan ahead. Set a goal. Say to yourself, or write it on a piece of paper and tape it to your mirror, "I will have a manuscript by July 26, 2004." Then make a plan. When doing your plan, be realistic. Commit the time you can really take. A Sunday per month, four days a week from six to eight o'clock, a day of vacation or sick leave from work every other month... Plan what you can do, for you don't want to have to alter the plan once you've begun. Part of your plan should be not only the time factor, but a location factor, too. Where are you going to write? My suggestion is to distance yourself from your regular life as much as you can. Write at the library or coffee shop. Get away to a sleazy hotel room for a day where the phone won't be ringing and the household chores aren't looming.

The second thing you must do is inform everyone in your life of your plan. If they laugh or scoff or blow you off, make a mental note of this and continue on. Believe me, after your year of self-sacrifice, you will find out who your friends are. Tell them what you want to do (but never reveal your story to them; that's another blog entry coming soon) and that you will appreciate their understanding, yadda yadda. Believe me, I've done this before; pave the way for your plan. It is well worth the effort and will save you much misery in the future.

(To be continued - What to expect from your loved ones once you start your writing plan and how you should react)

Time Part II

Last month, I ran an entry about making and sticking to a writing schedule. I noted that having a schedule, with a clear goal in mind, will focus you on your writing. If you write one page per hour, it will take the average writer about one year to finish a 300-page manuscript. Since most books fall there or well short of that mark, you can have a rough draft in a year or less. If you set the goal of having your book done in a year, it can be done. However, 300 manuscript pages (about 225 book-size pages) translates into about 7.5 40-hour work weeks. Fitting this much time into your busy schedule will take sacrifice, and that sacrifice will impact you and those around you to a degree you might not expect. I concluded by saying those people who are important in your life will have mixed reactions to your dedication.

First, they will tell you they admire your determination. When you disappear for your scheduled writing time, they will feel a mild sense of unease. Abandonment will be there. So will envy. Jealousy. But in the early stages, their respect for you and your work will overpower those emotions. Now of course, those who don't support your writing, those who dismiss it as fantasy, will not have a sudden sense of admiration for you. But those who do will see your determination, your scheduling, as you chasing your dream. They will be willing to go along with your plan. For awhile.

Next, you will find them growing anxious. Their anxiety as the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, will grow. You will miss important things, like birthday gatherings, your weekly coffee sessions at B&N with them, your monday night football parties. You won't be there; you'll be writing. They will try to contain themselves, but their anxiety will turn to anger. They'll resent your writing at this point. It is a mistress keeping you away from your friends and family, a usurper, a concubine. As their anxiety grows, your emotions will soar. Freed from these mundane activities, you will find that your book is finally taking form. It is becoming a living thing, consuming not only your time, but your thoughts as well.

When they finally lay their guilt trips on you to reel you in, which they will, you will put your schedule on hold. They will sense victory as you go back to your former life. You will feel bridled. They will feel better, and you will feel worse. Your dreams are slipping away. In your mind, you will still be writing, piling up the ideas so your dream doesn't grow cold. Sitting at the bowling alley or the church pew or teeing one up on the golf course, you will be thinking of the next chapter, the next plot twist, the way you will develop the main character... Your friends will see that you are with them, but you are not really THERE. You go through the motions, but your heart and mind are not into it. Their anxiety and resentment will reach a peak at this point. You may even get the big ultimatum: It is either me or the writing; choose now.

At this point, you will have to make a decision, and those choices will be: 1) continue as I am, and damn everyone's opinion. If they don't stand by me, then f*** them; 2) I'll scale back my work schedule...maybe I'll finish in two years instead of one, or; 3) This is too much trouble. I'll lay down the book; it was a stupid plan, anyway.

I can't help you with that decision and neither can anyone else. You just have to stand back and take stock in your writing; Just how important is it to you? I made my decision and my writing came out on top. My relationships have never been the same; those who are my true friends, and my family, have stuck it out. Those who didn't fell by the wayside.

Can you live with that?

Discouragement.

It is a part of this game, this business of writing. And it is a business, you see. We hock our wares like shills on an infomercial. Only we have books, not Ginsu knives, to sell. We whore ourselves sometimes, kissing ass and practically begging for notice. But it doesn't always come.

I've found that encouragement comes in waves, like every tenth wave in a riptide. One in, nine out. I send out my queries, email my contacts, hoping for a return.

Sorry, we're not booking any signings until next year...

I check my web pages for new reviews, good reviews. They are idle. Sales crawl to a stop. Web counters tick slowly.

I follow up with those who I know have a book.

Sorry, been really busy lately; haven't had time to get to yours yet, but...

At the low end of this ebb, the darkness comes. A shadow over the room that whispers give up.

Many writers fall to this goblin that hovers behind them, whispering its negativity. I've seen some go to pieces at the first rejection letter. They put away the manuscript and never open it again for the rest of their lives. I have 160 rejection letters, and those are only the formal ones. The list of actual rejections probably runs into the thousands. Sometimes I ask myself why the hell I go on with it.

Maybe its for that one email from a stranger that says how much they love my work. Maybe its for that one person who sends me a little elephant gift of some kind, giving their thanks for the joy that Noah brought to them. Maybe it is for that good review I see someplace. Maybe it is for that fat royalty check this quarter instead of the one for 38 cents last time... Maybe.

I guess what keeps us all going during the dry times is hope. Hope that the cycle will swing up again. It always does, at least for me in these past two years. But one day it may stop altogether. I guess the only thing to do then is to write another book and start the whole thing all over again.

Am I an artist or a masochist?

Independent writers get little respect.

This is especially true in your home town.

This seems hard to believe, but it is true. When my first book was published, I got a little attention locally. The Fort Worth Weekly reviewed it, a full page's worth. Nice. My alma mater's magazine gave me a little blurb. It was supposed to be a full feature but wound up being a two-inch blurb after another story bumped me and another TCU alum writer. I guess a football team story was more important... Anyway, I managed to land a few book signings in local Barnes and Noble stores. When Undercover White Trash came out, I did a couple of spots on a local TV book review show. Then Fort Worth, Texas magazine did a little blurb for Trash, too. The mainstream press, namely the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, refused to review any of my books. Why? "It isn't available in hardback" was the first excuse. Then it was "We don't review subsidized books." They followed up with this lie by printing a full-page review on a Texas journalist who wrote a book that not only wasn't available in hardback, but also was not even available in bookstores: the guy printed the books himself and sold them out of his garage, literally. To this date, all my requests for a review have been unanswered. Ditto the Weekly. Ditto the Barnes and Nobles; there isn't one of my books in any Barnes and Noble in the entire Dallas/Fort Worth area. I have more books on the shelves in Los Angeles than I do in my home town. I sell more books in the U.K. than I do in my neighborhood.

So what's the deal? Why do the local media tend to promote out-of-towners more than their local writers? Why does your local newspaper spend more time covering national music stars than local bands? What is more important? Maybe my philosphy is just wrong; I think that one of the missions of local media is to promote not only local sports teams and politicians, but also local artists. If local media won't do it, who will? Perhaps my way of thinking is just old-fashioned, but the phenomenon of being ignored by your own people and accepted by those outside your city is not a new thing; it is as old as civilization itself.

Jesus Christ, as told in the first four books of the new testament, said: A prophet has no honor in his own country and in his own house. First, let me say that I am no prophet, nor is any other writer. Nor is this me preaching at you. I think Jesus was speaking not only about a spiritual phenomenon, but a psychological one as well. He recognized this part of the human psyche for what it was: a sense of jealously, maybe a sense of competition. I think people are reticent to accept a success from their own ranks because it is easier to accept a stranger's success than it is to accept a neighbor's. Placing honor or attention on a stranger is easier because one can always say to themself that this person acheived their success because their circumstances were different than mine. They must have gone to better schools, had more encouragement, had more opportunities, than I did. Accepting the success of someone from their own community may be to admit that the success they desire for themself was just as attainable for them as it was for the outsider. Maybe that feeling is what is so difficult for some people to swallow, either individually or collectively. Thus, it is easier to pay attention to those from the outside and ignore those from nearby. Whatever the reason, this phenomenon is indeed a fact.

David's Tip of the Day:

Focus your marketing efforts elsewhere, not in your home town. You'll be surprised at the attention you get from book buyers, reporters, book reviewers, and bookstores elsewhere. Of course, try to do some marketing where you live, but don't be discouraged by a lack of response. The larger your town, the less response you'll get. Believe me, it isn't anything personal. And from a purely mercenary standpoint, remember that the world is a bigger place than your town. There are nearly seven billion people out there, each a potential buyer of your book. If your neighbors ignore you, that's their loss. You will just go beyond them to the rest of the planet.

Copyright Woes

Back to stuff about writing. Spoke to a copyright attorney today. I was considering suing a company because I feel they stole some ideas from one of my novels to make a movie. Long story, no details. The conversation with the lawyer was very enlightening. I thought I knew what "copyrighting" really meant, based on what I had read in books about writing. But the reality of copyrighting, and of people stealing your ideas, just like every aspect of the law, is far different than its practical application. Actually proving that someone stole your idea is nearly impossible. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff (the accuser) and the courts seldom side with them. Even with a smoking gun, such as an agent who has your manuscript and sells the ideas from it to a film company, it is possible for the thieves to alter those ideas just enough to protect themselves. It is also easy for them to come up with the "the same idea from two people at the same time coincidence" defense without much effort.

Let's say I wrote a book about a basketball player on crack who kills his coach and steals his wife. I send my manuscript, screenplay, etc. to an agent or a film company. The reject it. A year later, they make a movie with the same plot. I sue. They argue that they had the same idea at the same time. The plot of their movie involves a football player on heroin, not a basketball player on crack. And he kills a fellow player and steals his wife. In my mind, the same plot. In the eyes of the courts, it is not exact. Then I'd have to prove: 1) that the agent had my story to begin with, and 2) that he sold the ideas knowingly, and 3) that the film company knew they were stolen. If I couldn't prove that the agent had received money from the film company, or that the agent had in fact been in contact with the film company at all, I have no case. The level of detective work to do this is very, very expensive. Which leads to another problem; if I sue, I will get counter-sued. If I lose, then I must pay all of mine and the defendant's legal fees, which could easily surpass $200,000. So, attorneys are not likely to take on copyright infringement cases where the odds are low in winning, especially if I don't have their fees paid up front. It is just like criminal law; you're presumed guilty unless you can afford a $50,000 attorney to defend you, and your odds are still good you'll get convicted if you go to trial. It is a lose-lose situation.

David's Tip of the Day:

Copyright your work as soon as you're finished with the rough draft. Don't believe that crap about "U.S. law protects writers by automatically copyrighting their work as soon as it is written." First, you can't even sue for infringement unless that work is copyrighted through the U.S. Copyright Office. Period. If you initiated a suit on an undocumented work, you are required to go ahead and copyright it then. Your chances of winning a suit without a copyright certificate date that precedes the stolen work are ZERO. Forget having witnesses testify that they read the manuscript prior to the theft, etc.; if you don't have a certificate number, you may just as well have stolen it yourself. So fork up the $30 to copyright your work and register it properly through the Library of Congress Copyright Office. You can download the forms from the web. Remember it takes from 6-8 months for them to process it, so don't wait!

Exploitation

I just received a brochure today on the upcoming screenwriting expo being held in L.A. later this month. Big affair, two halls in the convention center, lots of movie muckity mucks will be there, yadda yadda. The thing will feature a "pitch" marathon where wannabe screenwriters can pitch their ideas to people who are looking for material. No problem with that. But the classes offered, the seminars, the books, the vendors...it is the same as in the book publishing industry. Most are presented by people who: 1) have never sold a screenplay, 2) are only on the fringe of the Hollywood machine, 3) still make most of their money by teaching people how to write the things they can't even do themselves. It opened that old wound in me once again, that thing I call the gross exploitation of writers that you see in this country.

I'm going to make a bold statement: The industry that exists to exploit writers is larger than the book publishing industry itself.

The phoney literary agents, book doctors, story coaches, promotions companies, ad nauseum, are there not to help a writer get published, but to suck money from him/her by praying on their hopes and dreams. Bookstores are full of books on how to write. Note that virtually all of them are written by people who have only written books on how to write. Same with the seminars, online tutoring, editors...the list goes on. All writers want to hit the big time; don't let any of us tell you otherwise. We all want to quit our day jobs and be a full time, professional author. But the field is limited. Less than 4% of writers make enough money to live on that alone. The vultures circling above us know this, but lead us on to think that we will be in that 4% if only we purchase their service, their book, their advice...

I guess what I am trying to say is that we wannabe writers need to be aware of this. Don't fall for the rap laid onto you by just anyone. Check them out carefully. Explore your options before you commit any money.

This vampiric industry is one reason I started this blog. Hopefully I can pass on what I have learned about it to fledgling writers before they make the mistakes I have made. So stay tuned, be sure and read my FAQ page for a good intro on the whole writing quagmire, and keep your guard up.

This Begets That

I wrote an article for the 1stBooks ezine last month. For those who haven't seen it yet, I'll post it here with an intro by someone who read it. If you're an independent writer, you should subscribe to this free ezine. They notify you of writing contests and such, and have pretty good articles about writing. The current issue has a good article on handling your taxes properly.

Your last newsletter was an inspiration to write. "This Begets That" is an inspirational approach of being noticed and of getting off the couch and write. The other article, "If you need to write...then write". Both articles have inspired me to compile my thoughts and write! - Jessey Munoz

This Begets That; or How I Optioned the Movie Rights To My Novel

Since publishing my first novel a couple of years ago, I have found that there is seldom a magic promotional bullet that can propel your book into the public eye. In the world of book promotion, the name of the game is what I call "this begets that." I just optioned the movie/TV rights to my second novel, Undercover White Trash. People have asked me what miraculous act of self-promotion I performed to get this book noticed by the Hollywood crowd, which is just one step short of the writer's Holy Grail: a full movie deal and the accompanying money and press that goes with it. My answer to these people is simple: This begets that.

First, I wrote the book. This sounds stupid, but this is a fact. I've met many who say, "You know, I've been working on this novel for ten years..." or "I really would like to write that novel that's been in my head..." The bottom line is that I made up my mind to do it, and I did it. I put the ink on paper. Period.

Second, I published it with 1stBooks and got it out there for the world to see. How many manuscripts are collecting dust in a drawer because their authors are afraid to let people see their work? Tens of thousands that will not see the light of day again, that's how many.

Next, and more specifically, I hawked my book wherever I could, in any way I could. This particular deal began when I contacted my local cable TV book review show and asked them to interview me. They said "sure" and I taped a couple of shows with them, one of them for Undercover White Trash. Somehow, an editor for Fort Worth, Texas magazine saw the show. The magazine contacted 1stBooks and got a review copy. In their next issue, I had a little review and image of the book there, with a kudo for the local-boy-done-good. The TV shows and the magazine article were enough to have 1stBooks put my book on their site's home page under the Featured Authors section. A few months later, Tara Mark of Remarkable Films, an independent movie developer, was surfing the net, desperately seeking new comedy material to develop into a feature film. Bada-bing-ba-da-boom, she finds Undercover White Trash on the 1stBooks website. She buys a copy, loves it, and emails me. And the rest is history.

This begets that.

What will happen to my novel now? Will it sell to Hollywood for a million bucks? Or will it fade into obscurity like 99% of option deals? Will my new novel, L.A. Stalker, get picked up, too? I don't know. Only time will tell. If it sells it sells, if it doesn't, it doesn't. But one thing is for sure; I wouldn't have come this far if I had not gotten up from the couch and done something.

David Kilpatrick has four novels with 1stBooks. The movie rights to Undercover White Trash have been optioned, and it also won a Silver Award in the ForeWord magazine book of the year contest. His sci-fi novel Cuqui was a finalist in the IPPY Awards and in the ForeWord magazine (yes, again) awards this year. These and his latest novel, L.A. Stalker can be seen on his website at http://www.davidkilpatrick.com.

Tax info

I was posited this question today by email:

If you buy software or equipment that you only use for your writing, can you deduct it as a business expense on your taxes?

YES. I've been claiming an "artisan" business for over ten years now. You need a CPA or certified tax preparer. Even though it will cost you, you will save 10x that amount. Basically, the IRS changed its small-business rules years ago to allow artisans a measure of leniency. Before, we were just small, home-based businesses. Those rules are different. They say you must start turning a profit within x number of years. The IRS realizes that most artisans NEVER turn a profit, and for some strange reason, they cut us some slack. You need to find a preparer who is up-to-date on this. Do not try to cheat the IRS by nickel-and-diming them; only take deductions you can safely take.

Here are things I deduct every year:

All computer equipment, computer furniture and supplies, including ink cartridges and paper, writing-related software

Books on writing, dictionaries

Trips that are book-related. Rent car, hotel, air fare, meals...

A percentage of:

  • My house mortgage and house insurance
  • All utilities, including phone
  • My internet service, web server account (davidkilpatrick.com).
  • I could also write off mileage and such, and my cell phone and home phone line, but I really don't use them that much for such, and it is a red flag for audits. So are "business lunches." As my calls to L.A. and New York increase with these movie things, I will begin writing these off as well.

I save thousands every year. You'll need to specify a place in your home as your "office." Get the square footage of this. They use this to calculate the % of write-off for all your utilities and mortgage (or rent). You don't need a business name or account, or a DBA or corporation. You are a sole-proprietor. If you start claiming it now, you can go back a certain amount of time and write off older things that you now use for your writing. Like if you bought a computer two years ago, you can write off that cost this year. Be sure and KEEP EVERY RECEIPT and copies of all your bill stubs, etc. Get a folder and put it all in there. Make it religious.

Screenplay blues

I've been writing a screenplay for L.A. Stalker for awhile now. After writing novels, I figured writing a screenplay would be easy. After all, a screenplay is only 120 pages max, and 75% of it is dialog. I'm good at dialog. Very little inventiveness in terms of describing the action. In a novel, I'd write: Bob sauntered into the room, the hardwood floor creaking beneath his boots. The smell of cigarettes filled his nose. Out of the corner of his eye, movement... In a flash he saw her. The same thing in a screenplay would be: Bob walks into the room. The director would be responsible for coordinating the action and setting the mood of the scene; they don't like the writer telling them how it should be done. Screenplays are minimalistic writing.

A piece of cake for a guy who has written about 1200 novel pages, right? NOT. I have found that writing a screenplay is difficult. Writing a screenplay is a lot like writing a short story with a pre-determined word limit, as if for a contest. Or maybe it is like an obituary. The writer must decide what to leave out, and every bit left out hurts the story to a degree. Adapting LAS to a screenplay has been just that: omitting parts of the novel to save space. I am on page 78 of the screenplay, yet I'm not even 1/3 the way through the book! And I've already eliminated two complete subplots. Now I see why books rarely translate into good films. Too much is left out. So why are screenplays only 120 pages? Because one page of a screenplay translates approximately into one minute of screen time: a two-hour movie. With rare exception, that's the most American audiences will sit still for.

To web or not to web

I've been perusing the web lately looking for an illustrator (if you know one, send them my way). I'm cruising through artists' personal sites, some pro and some amateur. There's a lot of talent out there waiting to be discovered, and many of these people are eager to work. So I've been to about 50 sites this week alone, all found through artist links on Yahoo and such. Now, I have my own web site and I know a little about designing one, even though I am certainly an amateur. Some of these artists know very, very much and some are even web designers as well as being fine artists. But to them, and to any writers out there reading this blog, here's a few tips on what to do on your web site and why:

DO create a splash page. That's a SMALL, quickly-loading entry page to let people know they've hit the right place. DO NOT put 40 images, animations, animated cursors, songs, or anything else there. It should load in a few seconds.

DO NOT use animations, animated cursors, music or any other cutsie bandwidth-hogging thing anywhere on your site. Keep it simple. I just went to a site that had 36 images plus animations on the index page. I dumped it like it was radioactive.

DO NOT use Flash. It is really nifty, but it slows dial-up to a crawl, and many people do not have the Flash software to play this stuff. It says to the viewer, "You're not cool enough to see my work if you don't have Flash."

DO NOT use Geocities, Homestead, MSN or any of those free site places. The trade-off is that these put advertising popups on the viewer's browser. I immediately dump these sites because I HATE POPUPS and so does everyone else. Especially when four or five of them pop up at every page change. Quit being a cheap-ass and buy a domain.

DO keep your site updated and make sure the links work. Visit it at least more than once a freaking year.

DO have a viable email address and keep it working. I've passed on three artists who had bad email addresses on their site. If you want to work/sell or whatever, how can you if no one can contact you???

DO NOT use the word "whimsical." If I see ONE more artist use this word, I'm going to track them down and kill them.

Hypocrisy and resentment

I guess these two words could sum up my experience with the local newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Those of you who read my blog piece about "a prophet has no honor in his own country and in his own house..." (see above) know what I'm talking about. I encountered a great example of this in Friday's S-T. There's a front page article on a local defense attorney who just released his first CD. His name is Greg Westfall, and his wife is currently a prosecutor in my county. The article talks about what a shocker it is for everyone he works with to know he's a musician on the side. Hard-nosed defense attorney by day, songwriter/guitarist/vocalist by night. Don't get me wrong; I'm proud of Greg and his achievement. I hope his indie CD is a hit, and I hope he attracts the music industry. I hope he gets a contract and gets to pursue his true love - music - and gets to quit being a lawyer (if that's what he wants). Exposure in the local media can do that for a home boy. That's one of the main things local media should do: promote local talent.

Here's my beef: I work in the same county, in the same system. I've released not one work, but four. I have two of these works in the movie machine. Two of them have won a total of three literary awards. I've appeared in four local television shows, one local newspaper and in one local magazine. People who work with me are shocked when they learn I'm a writer on the side. Yet unlike Greg, I have received not ONE mention in the S-T in three years, and after repeated attempts.

Much of this can be explained in the way newspaper staffs are organized. The article on Greg was written by Melody McDonald, a columnist who probably works in the Life/Arts department. Her boss obviously has a mandate to showcase local musicians and artists. They understand their role. On the other hand, all stories concerning books seem to be filtered through one man in the S-T hierarchy: Jeff Guinn. Another reporter for the S-T once told me that no book-related article could be written by anyone without his seal of approval. If you don't meet his standards, you don't get in. He has been allowed to position himself as the self-appointed Reichsführer aus Literatur for the S-T. This is the guy who refused to review my first novel because it wasn't "available in hardback." He then said since it was self-published, it wasn't worthy of review due to S-T "policy." He then turned around and reviewed a fellow journalist's self-published book (printed himself and sold out of his garage) in a full-page Sunday paper spread. He also wasn't shy when it came to having his own book reviewed in his own paper by his own staff. I wonder why that's okay in S-T "policy" but reviewing a local author isn't. Makes one wonder if Jeff's "policies" are just a smoke screen for his literary snobbishness.

Yeah, stuff like this still pisses me off, even though I know that's just the way it is. And I don't need the S-T; I'm doing just fine without them. But there are a lot of indie writers in this town who aren't doing as well; they could use a little exposure. Maybe they're willing to beg for the attention. Not me; I won't suck Jeff Guinn's #!@& to get my name in one of his pieces if that's a requirement.

Reverse Cudos

I spend a lot of time on this blog tooting my own horn. Posting great reviews, reader feedback, stalker ramblings... But everyone out there needs to know that there's a flipside to this admiration; there's a dark side to writing and allowing others to see your work. I've been fortunate - blessed - to have more praise than I've had slams, but I have indeed had my share of down times and negative comments.

I was digging through my Rubbermaid box in the garage yesterday, looking for some old hard copies of short stories to post. I ran across a folder marked "REJECTIONS." I put many of my early rejection letters and critiques in here. I won't bore you with the full texts of these letters, the bulk of which are simple Xeroxed form letters or postcards that read "Not for us" or "We are not accepting new submissions" blah blah. I will, however, post a few of the more choice quotes:

Regarding Undercover White Trash -

by the University of North Texas Press: "...too coincidental... too harshly critical of the lower classes (Wal-Mart types)...characters are too stereotyped and thin; they fail to engage the reader's sympathies...intent to be humorous fails."

This reviewer must have been a Wal-Mart shopper.

by Crown Publishers: "...there's a lot to like about this amiable and clever story...but I'm not sure this one works in a fun and unpredictable way..."

Crown was absorbed by Random House. Their lack of sales placed them in position to join or go out of business.

by Fawcett Books: "...we don't publish much humorous fiction, since we found it doesn't sell."

Fawcett also was on the verge of bankruptcy before being bought out by Random House.

by Sherry Robb literary agency: "...Although I loved the name, I'm afraid too much dialogue gets in the way of the plot."

This agency is apparently out of business, period. The Preditors and Editors publishing-industry watchdog site calls them a definite "NOT RECOMMENDED" for their readers because of their past practices and lack of definite address. No wonder: any agent that says "the dialog gets in the way of the plot" should be running for their lives in front of a mob of pitchfork-wielding readers.

by Charles Stern Associates, literary agent: "The storyline is too weak."

Again, this agency is apparently out of business.

by TCU Press: "...we tend to favor historical novels which fit into Texas' pastoral tradition."

Translate "Texas' pastoral tradition" into "Perpetuating the myth of the cowboy, oil baron, and big-haired cheerleader," all stereotypes this state would be glad to dump.

by Harper-Collins: "...it just isn't well enough written to survive in the world of fiction these days."

But it was written well enough to win a writing award from Foreword Magazine.

So, I guess this a long entry just to remind all the indy writers reading this that you have to have a tough skin if you want to be in this business. Take constructive criticism gracefully, but NEVER acquiesce to tripe like this stuff. Always fight them, always keep your head up, always keep pushing forward. After it is all said and done, you'll be the one standing, and they will most likely be by the wayside, watching your backside while you count your money.

 

 

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