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.

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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Platform Games

So, how are ebooks doing, really? In recent years, we’ve heard stories – maybe even seen data – that say sales have peaked and are declining, but are they? I wanted to get behind the headlines and find out what was really going on. And it turned out to be more interesting, and more complicated, than some of us might have expected.

For ebook sales to peak, or appear to peak, first they had to surge. Ebooks dawdled for the first few years of this century while we all waited for a user-friendly ereading platform. The Kindle arrived in late 2007, and ebook sales took off, provoking a response from established publishers that amounted to around 2/3 fear and 1/3 excitement. Maybe slightly more fear. Then the iPad came along in 2010, and soon tablets were everywhere, and a great platform for reading. So, over a period of maybe four years, ereading soared.

What’s happened since?

Some technological evolutions, but no revolution. Bigger phone screens mean more phone reading, but that’s not as big a deal as Kindles and tablets. In the absence of great tech leaps forward, there haven’t been the drivers of ereading that kicked in a few years ago.

On top of that, big publishers changed their deal with Amazon on pricing ebooks. And they put their prices up. Amazon had spent years habituating ebook purchasers to a $9.99 ceiling, and prices above this proved a barrier to quite a few. Also, publishers shifted their ebook prices much closer to their paperback prices, drawing readers back to paperbacks.

But that’s far from the whole story. The ebook market was also evolving.

Those stats you see on falling ebook sales? They’re almost all from a limited range of sources, none of which measures the ebook market as well as it measures the paper book market – Nielsen surveys, Association of American Publishers figures, other studies tracking sales by ISBN. When paper books were the market, those measures stacked up reasonably well. But they don’t for ebooks. The AAP might have 1200 members, but it’s not the ebook market, which has an uncountable number of indie publishers, self-publishers and other people bringing books to market without AAP membership or ISBNs. The Kindle Store is full of books that are ducking under the stats radar, and it’s not the only place that works that way. The quarterly updates at the Author Earnings website give a much better idea than some of the figures that are widely talked about.

The book industry is split in two: the companies the mainstream media  often view as the book industry, and the epublishers who are happily doing business anyway and, overall, selling many millions of books a year. While newspaper articles often say ebook sales are falling, they’re actually still growing, if you add them all up, even if not at the spectacular rate they were in 2010-2012.

For the foreseeable future, books will come on paper and as a digital ebook file – and audiobook file – and authors need to think through at least all these formats, if not more.

In my PhD-student capacity, I’ve  written way more about that here at TEXT, but it also made sense to drop in here and spell some of it out, and to say it’s clear that ebooks aren’t going away. Many of the prophets of doom may have a vested interest or have skim-read the stats. Whatever the reason, I think they’ve got it wrong. The ebook market is evolving, as it was always going to, but it remains a place where authors need to be and where readers will go to find them.

 

Nick Earls was the second author signed by Exciting Press, and the first who didn’t also own the company. His novella series, Wisdom Tree, has just been awarded the Adult Fiction Ebook gold medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Vancouver, one of the novellas in the series is currently shortlisted in the Christina Stead Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and also a contender for the People’s Choice Award. We’re not going to be subtle about it. Please click here and choose it, people!

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.