Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Guest Post by Bernard Schaffer

There are some people, in any given industry, that have what it takes to lead. Not just thrive. Not just innovate. But to actually move the chains of what is possible, and drag the rest of us along with it.

When Joe Konrath talks, you're listening to one of those people.

On the great football field of independent publishing, Joe is a starting quarterback, calling the shots, making the big plays. He's got championship rings in the form of million dollar paydays and exclusive deals with Amazon. He's got widely celebrated contests with opponents that are filmed and studied and voted on by the public at large.

Me, I'm just a second string receiver. A utility player. I wasn't drafted high, there wasn't any fanfare. Nobody is screaming my name when I run out on the field.

They're doing what many of you are doing now. Scratching your heads going, Schaffer? Never heard of him. But I've got a little scrap in me. A little fight. If you give me a chance, I'll go all out trying to prove I deserve to be on the field.

When a major player like Joe Konrath says he's got an idea for something new, I stop what I'm doing, and I pay attention. And when he says he will give you a chance to ride his coattails and play in his sandbox, well, you'd be foolish not to at least try.

It was scary, to be honest.

When Joe first put the call out for submittals to the Jack Daniels universe, I had two immediate thoughts. One, I want to work with that guy and learn whatever I can from him. Two, it would seriously suck to be rejected.

Every artist must believe in themselves before they expect others to do so, though, so I sucked it up and got to work. I quickly banged out a 12k story that would later be called Cheese Wrestling and shipped it off. Fingers crossed. Impatiently checking my email for a response. I was proud of it, sure, but what really surprised me was that I felt good inside the Jack Daniels world. Pretty damn comfortable actually.

Konrath_CheeseWrestling_eResFINALWhen I got the acceptance email from Joe, it came with a challenge. He told me the short story was good, but novels sold better. Why didn't I step up to the plate and take a swing?

Now that was an animal of an altogether different sort.

Short stories get banged out. Sure, they're well-crafted and worthy, and sure some are literature, but the point is they can get done quickly. You aren't devoting a huge amount of resources and time to them, which is why they sell fairly cheaply.

But a novel is art. A novel is a statement of an author that speaks to where they are in their writing career and life. It is a landmark event, a personal statement, and if you're a writer worth a damn, a decent chunk of blood, sweat, and tears.

Obviously not everybody feels the same way. You can find thousands of novels, or novel-sized ramblings, that are as devoid of life as a reality starlet. But not from someone who actually lives this life.

Joe Konrath lives it. I live it too. I think that's why he and I get along. Oh, and also, because he's certifiably batshit crazy. But more on that in a moment.

The first thing I knew I needed for a proper Jack Daniels novel was a good drink name. All her books are named after mixed drinks, and I knew I needed a good one. Something interesting. Eye-catching. Unique. Turns out, that's easier said than done.

I scoured the Internet for interesting drinks and all the good ones had been taken. But I kept digging. I needed something nasty. Something muscular. Something dangerous.

Snake Wine.

JAKonrathKW_SnakeWine_FrontFINALSnake Wine is an actual drink, enjoyed mainly in Southeast Asia. Those crazy bastards take a cobra and let it ferment inside a bottle of alcohol, garnishing it with charming accouterments like scorpions and other snakes. Then, they drink it.

With that title in hand, I got to work straight away. I wrote Snake Wine in three weeks. It just came pouring out of me. I already knew Jack's character from Cheese Wrestling, and by God, if Joe Konrath wanted to throw me a touchdown pass, I was going to break every bone in my body trying to catch it.

When I finished the book I knew that it was a damned good story. No, scratch that. It was a damned good novel. I also knew that if Joe didn't accept it, I would burn the manuscript and never use it for anything else.

Snake Wine is, before anything else, a Jack Daniels book. It's infused with her heart and soul and I'd rather destroy it than slap a different name on the character and try to pass it off as my own.

Joe sounded a little surprised when I called him just a few weeks later and said I had taken him up on his challenge, and the novel was ready. I told him I'd found the perfect title, and no matter what else we changed about the book, it had to stay. It was completely unique, and nobody, but nobody, had ever even heard of Snake Wine.

And here's where Joe proved to me what a maniac he really is.

He listened to me describing the bottling process, how they stuff a cobra into the flask, and ferment it, and he stops me in mid-sentence and says, "I know."

"You know? What do you mean you know. Nobody knows about this."

"I do. I've got a bottle of it on my shelf and I'm looking right at it."


Well, as it turns out, ladies and gentlemen, it was not bullshit. Joe texted me a picture of his personal bottle of Snake Wine, and that is the photo we wound up using for the cover.

See what I'm taking about? That's why he's the top dog. You think you've got him finally one-upped, and the man just dunks on you.

One final thing before I go. Cheese Wrestling was a collaborative effort between both of us. I sent Joe the original story, and he Konrath'd it up, and it's a much stronger piece as a result.

However, he actually wrote two different versions of his edit that read like completely different stories. We are packaging all three in a "Directors's Cut" special edition for Kindle Worlds, which might interest fellow authors out there who want to see what the collaboration process looks like.

Snake Wine is all mine, with one secret, thrillingly awesome fact, that I hope Joe doesn't mind me sharing with you.

He edited the book.

In the midst of high-profile debates, major publishing deals, family duties, writing, and the responsibilities of running the massive Konrath empire, he took the time to edit my book.

So, while Snake Wine is my vision of Jack Daniels and her world, it does have traces of her creator, and direct lineage. I'm sure if people like it, it's a world I'll be returning to in the future.

Also, for the record, Joe not only owns a bottle of snake wine. He's also tried it. What does fermented cobra soaked in grain alcohol taste like, you wonder?

"Death," Joe told me, very matter-of-factly. "Snake wine tastes like death."

Which, given the nature of my book, is very fitting, indeed.

Joe sez: You can buy the novel SNAKE WINE on Amazon for just $3.99. It goes down a lot smoother than actual snake wine, which is the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth. Everyone who tries it agrees. No one can do a full shot. Ten drops is the most anyone can handle. Remember being a kid and walking through a field and turning over a piece of cardboard and seeing a dead mouse or rat or snake or frog? Remember that smell? Well, liquefy it and drink it, and that's what snake wine tastes like.  

The book is a lot better.

CHEESE WRESTLING is also available for $1.99, and was a lot of fun for me to work on. Three versions of the same story for one cheap price. Check it out if you haven't, and also check out Schaffer's work. Start with SUPERBIA

Schaffer forgot to mention that he's a cop, so it has been interesting for me, who writes about cops, to talk to one and see how he fictionalizes the truths he lives every day. If you're looking for truth in your thriller fiction, look no further.

Check him out, and check out other Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle Worlds stories, 45 and counting. Think you can write better stories than some of these? Prove it by doing it. Looking for new authors to read? If you like my writing, give these a try. 

Summer is here. Read. Now.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Back Ups and Ownership

So I just wasted too much time trying to get my computer up and running again after my hard drive committed suicide, and it got me thinking.

I work on a HP Pavilion desktop PC running Windows 7. Many of my peers have switched to Macs, and while I understand the appeal I’ve also spent time in Apple stores at the genius bar lamenting iPhone issues. If you use electronics of any kind, there are eventually going to be issues. The key is to try to head off as many problems as possible, mitigate them as needed, and get things back to normal quickly.

Which brings us to back ups.

I'm a bit obsessive about back ups, dating to the time I used a Brother word processor with floppy disks and a power outage killed 3000 words.

Hopefully, you're part of some sort of cloud. My goto is Dropbox. I've got MS Word configured to automatically save a back up copy, and to save an AutoRecover every 5 minutes, directly into a Dropbox folder.

I also save different versions of the same manuscript. As I revise, I'll add 1.1, 1.2, etc, so even if I mess up in some gigantic way (like deleting the whole story and saving it) I've got earlier versions I can go back to.

But let me share how I screwed up. When my HDD began to fail and my files became corrupted, I restored my Dropbox files to my son's computer while I reinstalled Windows on a new drive. Besides writing, I have a lot of music and movies (about a terabyte's worth) and it took up all of my son's space. Since I'd only downloaded stuff to his system to make sure the restoration worked (I'd never done one before), when he asked me if he could delete the files, I told him sure.


Since it was my Dropbox account on his computer, when he deleted the files, he deleted them from my Dropbox account as well as from his computer.

Dropbox has a feature where deleted files can be restored. But since I was restoring my files on one system while they were being deleted on another, I created a gigantic mess that required the fine folks at Dropbox Customer Service to roll back my entire account to several days earlier.

Even with a decent Internet connection, restoring a terabyte takes a long damn time.

But that got my brain working. I was able to give up CDs in favor of mp3s, forsaking  a hard copy for a bunch of ones and zeroes. But why do I need to keep those ones and zeroes on a personal hard drive? Isn't data fine in the cloud without having to be on my computer too? Why restore at all?

Streaming is becoming the norm. Subscription services, online storage, and the growing ability to access anything anywhere has really borked the concept of ownership.

Google Docs is a great example. I've used Google Docs on many occasions while collaborating; it makes it much easier to share a file than emailing back and forth, or even Dropbox. But why should it only be for collabs? Microsoft Word Online is exactly that. and it's free (though you can buy GBs of online data through OneDrive). Apple is now allowing users to store their music files in the cloud via iTunes Match and the iCloud. Amazon gives you unlimited cloud storage for sixty bucks a year.

We've come a long way since Netflix began shipping DVDs via snail mail in a paper sleeve.

The good news is, as writers, we create data and there is a much smaller risk of losing that data.

The bad news is, as writers, we create data, and the way people consume data is so radically different than it was just ten years ago that our future may be uncertain.

Don't get me wrong. Paper still sells. Ebooks still sell. Some people want a hard copy. Some people like owning an ebook collection. At this moment in time, sales (not rentals or subscriptions) are how most of us earn the majority of our cash. And the sales market will likely continue for many years.

But, as I've said before, the rules of supply and demand don't apply to digital media that can be copied and delivered for practically free. The artificial scarcity of storage space is quickly becoming obsolete. Why pay extra for more GBs on your phone? Your tablet? Your PS4? Streaming eliminates the need for it, and for ownership.

To put it in simpler terms; there is no need to own a book if you have access to that book whenever you want.

Say what you want about Kindle Unlimited, Amazon is simply giving readers what they want. This is where the market seems to be heading. No one owns, everyone rents.

So what does that mean for writers?

Right now, through KU and Scribd and Oyster, writers are lessors. We have the ability to lease our work exclusively, or non-exclusively, for a limited time. Publishers--once essential middlemen who connected us with readers via paper--are being replaced by companies who connect us with readers via ones and zeroes. It's still about distribution.

My sketchy history of technology doesn't reveal many examples where proprietary formats win. At least, not for very long. Distribution channels, even newly created ones, inspire competitive innovation.

I believe the advance of technology follows similar rules to natural selection, but it isn't survival of the fittest. It's more akin to Lamarck's soft inheritance; namely, tech evolves because it wants to. It doesn't accidentally improve due to random mutations which make some innovations likelier to succeed. Rather, technology has a will to power because it is fueled by humans with that will. Better, faster, bigger, more--it will inevitably happen. And that can't be contained or controlled by a single company, or even a handful of companies.

Ebooks managed escape velocity from the printing press. There is no going back.

As the technology of distribution inevitably evolves, so to will our ability to reach readers. As long as people want to read, there will be avenues for writers to connect with readers, and there will be ways to monetize these avenues. Maybe with subscriptions. Or advertising. Or taxpayer dollars. Or profit sharing. Or subsidiary rights. Or something that hasn't been thought of yet.

If you're dwelling on how to sell books, you're playing catch up. It isn't about selling. That's so 2014.

It's about monetizing the writer/reader connection.