Hot (off the Press)

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A NYC Trip to Collect an IPPY Award

A few weeks ago, when I learned Nick Earls had won the gold Ippy award for Best Adult Fiction ebook and called him to let him know the news, I also let him know that I wish our publishing company’s budget included funds enough to fly him and his family to Manhattan to collect said award. He asked if it was something I’d be able to do, that maybe the award could be as good for the press as for him and his book, and I told him I’d be honored.

So over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I dropped off our dogs early Sunday morning and started our drive. We planned to cut straight east, through Philadelphia, to see my siblings in southern New Jersey before darting up to Jersey City, where we were staying a PATH train away from the World Trade Center.

It was bittersweet. Sweet because I was honored and excited to represent Nick, to collect his well-deserved accolades and try to continue spreading the word about his books. Sweet also because Manhattan is one of my favorite places in the world, a city that always feels like a planet unto itself, and because that’s where my courtship with my wife was. I realized how deeply in love with her I was in Manhattan. We giggled through Times Square, visited the Strand. I proposed to her at the Cloisters, which part of me is convinced became my favorite place in all the world when I first saw it, nearly two decades ago now, because at the time I had a memory of my own future.

Bitter because last Memorial Day, my father passed away. It was a sudden loss for my siblings and I; we’d just lost my mother not even a year before, after a long illness, and none of us expected my father would go so soon after. He might not have been in the very greatest health, but neither was he ostensibly ill. When I got the call that Sunday morning, my reaction was “What? I just talked to him Friday night! He was totally fine!”

You can probably imagine, then, that 2016 wasn’t my favorite year. For all the reasons 2016 wasn’t everyone’s favorite year and then for that one, as well. I’m sure there are many other people who feel the same way, who experienced loss on top of chaos.

When Nick asked if I would get the award, I told him my wife and I would be happy to make the trip. And we were. We haven’t really had a trip completely for leisure since 2015 or so.

NYC Memorial Day 2017

Here’s a Flickr slideshow of the day:

NYC Memorial Day 2017

One of the things I’d wanted to do was see the new World Trade Center. When my wife and I moved away from Manhattan, the PATH WTC stop was mostly plywood and chainlink anchored with what felt like heartbreaking anticipation, though that might have just been me. After September 11th, part of me ached for a return of — not normalcy, exactly. It wasn’t that. Maybe it was just seeking some way to breathe and to grieve. Wanting to see buildings and business there, at that site again, where once they’d been.

It wasn’t a great experience, but possibly because we’d gone on a national holiday, and while we as a nation were intended to be mourning those lives lost in the myriad battles fought for our national identity . . . only part of the mood at the WTC Memorial was somber that day. For me, too much of the mood included selfie sticks and one young woman forever burned in my own memory as having basically Vannah White-d the memorial pools. She was there with a guy I assume was her boyfriend, and as they approached the northwest corner of the north pool she stepped in front of his camera and shot one arm high and the other to the ground like an oblivious Saturday Night Live-era John Travolta, smiling for Insta-hearts and FB likes, and my wife and I left basically right after. We returned to our hotel, where a wedding party celebrated and we could watch twilight fall over the new tower.

The IPPYs

Tuesday night was the IPPY awards. After a visit to Fountain Pen Hospital not far from WTC (highly recommended), we made our way uptown.

Well. We intended to make our way uptown. Not before we got on the wrong A train first and ended up in Brooklyn, and then double back uptown to Times Square.

We ate, first, at Tir na Nog. During our very first visit to Manhattan, we ate at their location not far from Penn Station, so we figured it only fitting to revisit before making our way to the Copa Cabana —

Yes! The Copa Cabana! The funny thing is that as long as I’ve known the IPPY awards ceremony would be at the Copa Cabana my next thought has been “Music and blasters and old Jedi masters” because for me the original has been supplanted by Weird Al’s Star Wars Cantina, and I think that’s okay. Heading up we got stuck among the Times Square theater crowd, a bunch of people either confused or waiting for Phantom of the Opera doors to open (that show is on right now? Really?) before making it to the Copa. That’s how people in the know refer to it. Ring-a-ding-ding and all.

After checking in, we headed into the main room:

That’s Jim Barnes up there at the mic. I’m not sure of Jim’s official title, but Jim sent out most of the logistical emails in the days leading up to the event and did a great job of announcing all the winners on the night of — and there were many. One thing I liked about the IPPY process was the multiple categories, because I thought it was great that, say, a cookbook didn’t have to compete with a fantasy book. What’s more, the fee for submission is reasonable, somewhere around $90 if I remember correctly (for context, I think the Pulitzer organization requires $150, again IIRC. Remember, though, that I would have submitted my novel back in 2011, so that may have changed).

And what was also awesome is how happy everyone was to be there. It was an atmosphere of total celebration. And there, the selfies and the poses with books and medals was totally appropriate!

Here’s me with Nick’s medal and his book on my iPad:

I wish his cover showed up better in the images, but LCDs just don’t photograph well, apparently. I held his medal because it’s HIS, after all.

The ebook group was toward the end, so I collected the medal and then talked to a few fellow winners, Jim, and a couple of other Independent Publisher folks before heading back for the evening.

It was terrific. The Independent Publisher folks have been doing this for years, and it’s only been growing; this year was the first the ceremony was held at the Copa, and I get the feeling that previous venues were likely smaller.

What all this means?

That’s what I’m still working on. Do awards really lead to sales? I talked to one author who noted he was in Amazon’s White Glove program (that’s one Amazon has authors’ agents), who said his sales had gone from a few thousand to tens of thousands and was only growing.

I can tell you that we’re not there yet with Wisdom Tree, but I can also tell you we’re hoping. Because it’s a book that’s been highly praised by the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, The Guardian, and basically every Australian publication you can list, but simply hasn’t caught on yet here in the States.

But hey, you can help change that: here’s the preview, and if you like it, pick up a copy. Leave a review.

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No Expectations News

My wife Hannah (also executive editor of Exciting Press) and I went to Manhattan last week to attend the Ippy Awards ceremony and collect Nick Earls’ gold medal for Best Adult Fiction ebook. I’ve got pictures and thoughts on the event and organization, but they’re going to take a bit of attention to wrap up and convey best.

In the meantime I’ve also been finalizing Miya Kressin’s No Expectations ebook and building out a publishing plan.

So far, our plan is that it will be available within the next week for preorder for $2.99.

On 6/21, we’ll publish the first installment of five, with a new one every week. But the preorder will last until publication of the third installment, at which point the full version will also go live.

I’ve long held that my approach to publishing is as a reader first, and that stretches to patience and preorders. I’ll be honest that when I see one announced on Twitter, my response is to pretty much write off whichever book I’d once been interested in. It’s my impatient side; if it’s finished, why not just put it up for sale?! If it’s finished, why not publish the whole thing at once, rather than in installments?!

But on the other hand my wife has been encouraging me to practice more patience, and maybe that’s got to become more of my approach.

Most days I wish that Exciting Press would already be a publishing force to be reckoned with. That straight out of the gate just five years ago, Nick Earls would have climbed to the top of the Amazon charts and rested comfortably atop them ever since.

But on the other hand going from completely unknown publisher to working with an author to produce the best adult fiction ebook of the year — that’s pretty rad, too.

Point is, we’re doubling down on quality. Strategy. The long game.

Look for a preorder and a first installment in the coming weeks.

We’re going to make summer a long, slow sizzle. You’ll want marshmallows and beers.

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Congratulations Again to Nick Earls (with further thoughts on indie quality)

In addition to winning Best Adult Fiction ebook for Wisdom Tree, I’ve just learned that the collection also won the gold eLit award for literary fiction.

The eLit awards are intended to “illuminate digital publishing excellence.” From the site, “The eighth annual eLit Awards are a global awards program committed to illuminating and honoring the very best of English language digital publishing entertainment.

The eLit Awards are an industry-wide, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the electronic publishing industry.”

These are, in other words, digital-specific. Even the FAQs mentioned that if you absolutely must send a hard copy, you can, but . . .

Which I think is terrific. That’s what I intended Exciting Press to do. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a print book; I used to say it’s been five or six years but I feel like I’ve been saying that for several besides. We’re a specifically digital publisher, and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

What’s more, though, is that I think it’s awesome for venues like this to recognize indie literary fiction. “Literary” is a weird genre, unlike most others. You know with fantasy that you’re getting fairies and with science fiction you’re getting spaceships and with crime you’re getting a dead body in the first chapter (and yes I just oversimplified all those genres but bear with me here), but what are you getting with “literary” fiction? I think a lot of people dismiss the idea of literary as a separate genre as snobbery, and perhaps that’s a response to a perceived condescension, because there’s a thought that writers who aim for literary would sniff at genre fiction as trashy, as “oh, I don’t read that. I prefer LITerachure.”

But I’ve said before I’m desperate for discussion of quality in the indie world. Far too often coverage of indie success stories is positioned as “Self-published author sells go-jillion copies, sells book to HarperCollins.” This is the lazy sort of narrative that lumps 50 Shades of Grey into the indie world (it wasn’t “self-published” — it was posted in fan-fiction forums before it was picked up by a small Australian publisher, who later sold it to RandomHouse).

I think I get why it happens. Because anybody can click that publishing button, there’s no longer an impedance, so the corporate publishing industry and those associated with it want to maintain an illusion that there’s a separation of wheat from chaff, if you will. That sure, anyone can put some chaff out there, but without that “refinement” it will never be wheat. And the indie world, meanwhile, still wants a seal of quality, a way of demonstrating legitimacy, perhaps,  and so it falls back on the only objective measurements it can — sales and Amazon rankings and a lot of numbers more related to algorithms than to stories or books.

My hope is that one day we’ll talk, simply, about great books. That one will be able to open the NY Times or Atlantic, or tune into NPR, and will hear a story about a great book, and when one goes to find that book, it’ll turn out to cost five dollars on Amazon and the author of that book will get 70% of those royalties when readers get it for their Kindles.

And you’ll notice never once do I hope that who published a book will be part of the discussion. And sure, one could try to argue it’s not now, that NPR never mentions X book was published by so-and-so, but often that’s because media venues are, by policy, closed to what they consider “self-published” titles. They don’t just not want to cover them — they outright don’t want even receive anything. Book blogs, lots of awards . . . “Sorry, we don’t accept self-published submissions.” They’re the ones who will write about indie success only when there are sales numbers behind them.

If you sense a frustration here, you’re right, but moreso I’ll argue this is my hope. This is why I founded Exciting Press. To bring great indie fiction — and not just titles we’re publishing — into a conversation about fiction and quality that may never even consider an algorithmic result or a moment-to-moment ranking on some list or other.

It’s also my hope that congratulating the others I’m working with on more accolades becomes something of a habit.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. And don’t take the eLit or Ippy awards for their word, either.

See for yourself how terrific Wisdom Tree is:

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On Plans & Agility & Ippy Awards

Updated Wisdom Tree cover featuring gold Ippy seal

This post was, as of even as late as mid-April, intended to announce the availability of the second installment of Nick Earls’ The True Story of Butterfish. I’m looking very forward to uploading those installments and sharing that book with you, but barely more than a week ago we learned, as we shared last post, that Wisdom Tree had won the Independent Publishers gold Ippy award for Best Adult Fiction ebook.

That night, I got to talk to Nick by phone for the first time. We’ve been working together for going on seven years now, but all our communication has been digital. It’s mostly logistical; given Nick’s location, he lives not only around the world but technically tomorrow from me most of the time, and that’s not to mention that though a cell phone can call basically anywhere, they’ll sure charge you for it, and I think I paid nearly five bucks a minute to deliver the good news by voice (WORTH IT).

Within that initial excitement we were still able to discuss current plans a bit, enough to note that we’d planned for Butterfish‘s launch in just a few days, and to rethink that. We’re excited to make it available digitally, and hopefully for it to find a new audience.

In fact, that’s what we’ve been hoping for ages; that Nick’s work will find a new audience. I’ve long held that Nick’s work deserves it — I’m thrilled that Nick has one in his native Australia, but his work isn’t so very Australia-specific that it should find its only audience there.

That’s why we’re holding off on Butterfish for now.

The Ippy award is big. There are an incredible amount of entries, and previous awards have recognized authors like Dave Eggers and Ayelet Waldman and publishers like McSweeney’s, Grove, and Dzanc. It’s basically a who’s who in indie publishing.

So it’s a huge honor for Exciting Press (and me) for Nick’s work to be recognized in that context. We want to celebrate Nick and that recognition.

Which is why we’re for the moment postponing Butterfish. We want to focus for a few weeks on this cooler than cool (ice cold) news.

The good news is that’s the benefit of agility, and Exciting Press. We may be small, but we can pivot quickly when we need to, update sales info and cover images within hours, instead of days or even weeks.