Nick Earls Wins the Ippy Award

According to my Gmail account, I wrote to Nick Earls just two days ago that, though we had submitted for the Ippy awards (and I thought we had a good shot), we sadly hadn’t been selected.

A couple of weeks back, you see, I got an email from the Ippy folks about whitelists and subscriptions. Apparently Gmail often sends their emails straight to spam. And there they all are, in my spam folder: “Yes, you are an Ippy Award medalist!”

Dated 4/17.

Earlier today, while I was at my dayjob, I was in a meeting when I noticed I’d gotten a call that had gone to voicemail. Which Siri/Apple helpfully transcribed — about as well as anyone might transcribe an interview with the current US president. Which is to say it was garbled and there might have been three complete sentences among a dozen, with lots of ellipses and some random nonsensical tangents.

What stuck out was “good news” and “congratulate.”


I mean holy shit.

I missed the selection because I wasn’t looking at regional/ebook. But there it is.

I’ve known Nick’s work for more than 15 years now. I read Perfect Skin just weeks after moving back in with my parents after 9/11.

I’ve been working with Nick for going on five years. Nick is the reason Exciting Press is a thing, a business, an entity. Nick was the first author besides me I signed on to publish.

And honestly, I’m one to take big bites before I know what I’m doing. I’m lucky that Nick has been patient while I’ve grown and explored and figured out what Exciting Press is and how we work. Nick is a brilliant author I’m honored and challenged to work with because working with him means I need to do better.

What I like is that that’s true of all the authors I work with. They’re all amazing, and as their publisher it’s a challenge to do better by them. To keep revising formats and covers and strategies and approach to continually improve to be sure that awesome work is getting what it needs.

I’m so proud Wisdom Tree won Best Adult Fiction Ebook. Because Nick had a vision, and challenged me with making it reality. With making a great ebook.

I talked to Nick just a little while ago to tell him the news. I hope he could sense my palpable excitement, and I hope his excitement only increases.

We made a great ebook. An Ippy-award-winning ebook.

I couldn’t be more proud or excited.

Do check Wisdom Tree out. It’s wonderful.

Don’t take my word for it. Or Nick’s. It won an Ippy.

No Expectations & The True Story of Butterfish

At this point, we probably have to call this launch one of the marshmallow variety, given how it’s going. I’m working to tweak and fill in pages behind the scenes while trying to keep up with the publishing (that’s the real work) behind those scenes, and meanwhile there’s life and taxes and housework and day jobs to attend to.

But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and anything worth building is worth building solidly. As my father would tell me.

This summer, Exciting Press has at least two brand new titles on the way: Miya Kressin’s great new No Expectations and Nick Earls’ truly excellent The True Story of Butterfish, as I mentioned a week or so back.

And I mentioned an Easter egg, and now that it’s Easter, I think it’s only appropriate to reveal it.

The astute among you will have caught the “1” there on the No Expectations reveal. And if you didn’t you can see it right there in the cover.

We’ll be serializing it. In five parts, starting on the first day of summer.

We’ll be doing the same thing with The True Story of Butterfish, as well as Nick’s other novel Analogue Men. No cover reveal there, because I’ve been working on the text first and haven’t gotten to the cover yet. You can, however, expect a late summer/early autumn release for that one. As far as I know, both will mark the first publications of those two novels outside Australia and New Zealand (where Nick’s huge).

We’re doing it as an experiment, much as Nick’s Wisdom Tree novella collection was. But keep an eye out, and expect to see installments announcements as we go.

We’ll also be looking at doing preorders.

And I’m saying “looking at” and “experiment” because I’m not yet sure about this format, but I’ve talked to both Nick and Miya about it and both have been encouragingly excited about it.

Kindle Create: The Best Thing to Happen to eBooks Since Kindle (if you don’t have Vellum)

Yesterday, I saw  The Digital Reader  post about a new Amazon-created tool for publishing on the Kindle platform, called Kindle Create. The screenshot (right) looked both simple and cool. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get tool that could help turn a Word doc into a Kindle ebook. I’m a total publishing geek, so I was excited all day to get home so that I could download it and try it for myself —

And it’s exactly as described. You import a Word doc, it runs some likely fancy algorithms, and BOOM nicely formatted Kindle book with guesses at elements like new chapters and such.

I’m not sure how the screenshot is appearing for you, but the interface is nice. It’s a simple menu, and then there are three columns:

Contents – which appears to be mostly navigational, and lets you flip through the book based on its chapterination (that’s not a word, but pagination is, and this is based on chapters, not pages, so there).

Preview – which you can move the cursor within, highlight and delete and add.

Text properties – which is basically formatting, so you can highlight something in the preview and change it to a different element. Like make a heading a subtitle, or something.

I downloaded and played with it for ten minutes. I imported a complete copy of Miya Kressin’s No Expectations, which I’m going to be working in this weekend to lay out and design, and it seemed to get most everything right. It broke out the chapters well, maintained section breaks, and where it didn’t it was fairly obvious what I should be highlighting to change so that I could format elements correctly.

From that ten minutes, I’ll say this: it’s fantastic. It’s easy to use, easy to understand, and it has all the basic elements necessary to import a Word doc, change formatting you can see, and export a file ready to upload to Kindle.

There’s an important word in that sentence, and it’s “basic.”

If Kindle Create had been available, say, six months ago, I think I might have adopted it and never looked back. It’s that good. Like Kindle, it’s platform agnostic, available for both Windows and MacOS as Kindle is available for everything from Amazon’s own e-readers to iPads to Android to etc.

And “essential” may be a better word than “basic.” It’s got everything essential you need, and there’s something to be said for essential. Without digging too deeply into it, I don’t see a way to change the design of the “Separation,” but hey three black diamonds is as good a signifier as any.

I specify “without digging too deeply into it” because it may include others, but I just didn’t see them. Just like I think it can handle pictures and videos, but I wouldn’t see that because I don’t really deal with those.

But recently I’ve been using Vellum. I use switched to Apple’s ecosystem after one too many Windows laptops crashed on me and several too many Android phones went without upgrades to the latest, most secure versions, so I didn’t mind that Vellum is a Mac-only program. So is iTunes Producer, which is the only way to upload your book directly to the iBookstore.

Which is what I do. Where Exciting Press ebooks are available on different platforms (we’re still building out), they’ve been uploaded directly to those platforms. Mainly because there are four, total (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and B&N).

Among those four, Amazon not only has the most marketshare but also the best experience for readers. Honestly, sometimes it feels like Amazon is the only ebook retailer that cares about readers and the experience of reading.

So maybe concentrating there isn’t a bad thing. That’s something for authors to decide for themselves. For authors who are fine with Amazon exclusivity, Kindle Create seems pretty great. Also, Amazon being Amazon, the algorithms that guess chapter breaks seems pretty spot on.

I’m not sure the final file is easily converted to an ePub, though — which may not be surprising, as ePub as a file format is awful. So backwards and difficult to format. (It’s no wonder all the corporate publishers chose it as their “standard” — long after the market had already decided on a different standard on its own.)

Also, Kindle Create is free. That’s huge. Vellum is better, with deeper formatting options, but it also costs $200 for a copy that is available only for Mac.

Another Cover: The True Story of Butterfish

Perfect Skin was the first Nick Earls novel I read, shortly after its release, most likely during the early months of 2002 in January or February. It might have been even earlier, during the final months of 2001 — those months remain a blur to me, loomed over the sudden absence of the shadows of the twin towers. I’d moved back home, then, from Manhattan to my parents’ basement in south Jersey, and my life was a bit of a wreck. It would remain so for a long while afterward.

One thing I remember is browsing my local library’s stacks and reading book after book after book. Looking for authors I enjoyed whose other books I could seek out. Nick was one of those; after finding Perfect Skin I immediately sought out Bachelor Kisses and Zigzag Street and what became known in the US as Two to Go but which was known elsewhere as World of Chickens (if I’m not mistaken) and which is known now as Green.

That was about where my access to Nick’s work dried up, because it became mostly available only in Australia or via import, and I didn’t have access to those channels. I read about The Thompson Gunner but couldn’t get my hands on it.

It was years, then, before I heard about The True Story of Butterfish. It’s a novel about Curtis Holland, keyboardist of an Australian band who sells huge and then . . .

I’m not going to spoil.

Because I’m going to publish it! Nick sent me a copy of it when we first began working together (along with a hardcover of Perfect Skin). These are the perks of publishing your favorite authors.

I couldn’t be happier. I love this story. It’s utterly Nick’s — the sort of story that’s warm and funny and real and hard to summarize in just one sentence. You’re left with describing it as “Well, this retired rockstar moves to Australian suburbs and lives next door to a nubile teen girl and her also-attractive mother. Hijinks ensue.”

Which of course doesn’t do it justice. I mean, just look at that cover!

Look for upcoming posts about timing, so you’ll know exactly where and when you’ll be able to buy brand new Exciting books.

Either Black Magic or Miraculous

Sometimes I wonder what sort of pen Raymond Chandler used — and if finding out and buying one would somehow imbue my writing with a similar ethic.

Not his voice or style. Already we’re a sentence in and I think it’s ostensibly clear that I’m not writing as Chandler did. I’m usually not concerned with the same themes, and I’m not emulating his rhythms or aping the way he wrote his plots–

“When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.

As I look back on my own stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published.”

A lot of people recall that first sentence of that quote, but I’ve always been drawn to the rest, about writers who are afraid to overreach, and especially that jewel there at the end.

(For what it’s worth, I think Chandler is up there among the great writers of the 20th century, easily earning a place alongside folks like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and King.)

What I like about Chandler is his dedication. I picture him as a clean-cut guy in his 50s (that’s how old he was in he wrote The Big Sleep, as I’ve heard), wearing hard-resin eyeglasses as he sits at his desk tapping out his stories on an old Underwood from notes composed using the flex-nib of a now-vintage fountain pen — probably a Montblanc or a Parker.

As an engagement present, my wife gave me a Montblan pen — an Edgar Allan Poe writers edition. I confess I wish I used it more often, but it has a medium-size nib, and I like when I write to fit the words more closely together.

I wrote this very post with a Pilot/Namiki Falcon pen that has what they call a “soft fine” nib. You can’t tell, obviously, because I typed it out so that I could post it, but what’s neat about this pen is that it produces variations in line width. I’ve purchased a few fountain pens over the past couple of years, starting with a Waterman Expert nearly two years ago based solely on Stephen King’s mention that there’s no finer word processor. Apparently, after his accident, he couldn’t sit as well for long periods of time at a desk, and so he figured out other ways to pursue his stories. Because that’s what we writers do. We figure out a way to make sure the stories get told. There’s something about fountain pens I enjoy, something that brings to my mind a long-gone era in which men always wore suits and locks were always secure and there was always the possibility of a case falling into your lap, whether you were a private investigator or not. Sometimes you just trip and accidentally end up in North by Northwest.

Because it was like anyone could do it, wasn’t it? Anyone could be a PI, and fiction was full of them, the Shaynes and Marlowes, the Hammers and Dupins. That was one of the best things about Marlowe. He was Bogey, played with a slightly worn, hangdog way.

That’s one of the great things about writing, too — anyone can do it. It doesn’t require special instruction or licenses. Nowadays it doesn’t even require equipment any more special than what we all have on our desks — and that’s nevermind that you can post something on the internet for all the world to see using something you normally keep in your pocket when you’re not charging it.

I wonder what Chandler would have thought of that. Probably he would have thought it either black magic or miraculous, depending on how positive he was feeling when you asked.