Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Guest Post by Mark Edward Hall

Joe sez: I'm going to be taking a blogging break during August, but I've got twelve guest posts scheduled this month, so they'll appear as slotted.

Today it's Mark Edward Hall...

One Writer’s Journey: Adventures in Publishing

This sounds strange to most writers when I talk about it, but I have never actively pursued a traditional book deal. I mean that. Never in my life. Unlike writers like Joe who in the beginning sent manuscripts to hundreds of publishers, I’ve never sent one.

Most of my career was spent on the road as a musician/singer/songwriter, and although I’d always longed to write fiction, I simply did not have the time. I’d always been an avid reader and was especially influenced by a young writer I’d gone to grammar school with by the name of Stephen King. That’s right, we both hail from the small town of Durham, Maine. He was a year ahead of me but we knew each other and played together as children. Later we attended different high schools and went our separate ways.

When I read Carrie I was flabbergasted that it had come from the pen of an old schoolmate, and very proud of him. And of course I was more than a little bit envious. Then came Salem’s Lot, and well, you know the rest of the story.

So, I continued to play my music and write songs and live life on the road. By the time I reached my late thirties and had not seen any major success with my music, my wife Sheila and I decided to return to Maine, settle down and become antique dealers. I still played music part time but now I tried to keep it local.
I’d been talking increasingly about writing a novel, and finally one day Sheila said, “If you’re going to do it, you’d better get started. You’re not getting any younger.”

She was right of course, and that was just the motivation I needed.

In 2001 I sent my first novel, The Lost Village, (along with four-hundred dollars) to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in New York. It was something they called their Discovery Program and promised that the work would get an objective opinion and a speedy response. A nice editor got back to me within a month and commended me on the ambitiousness of my novel, said I was a promising writer and that The Lost Village was actually a great book, but, no one would publish it because it was too long. 258,000 words. He told me there wasn't a publisher in the land that would touch a first time author with a book of that length. He qualified that and said that if I was a celebrity author like King or Patterson it would be fine, no problem, I could publish my laundry list and it would probably sell. But I wasn’t King or Patterson, I was an unknown. And publishers wanted nice tidy little eighty to one-hundred-thousand word books from unknown authors. Please send something else along that's at a more appropriate length, (along with another four-hundred bucks, of course).

Well, that was that, thank you very much. I never sent another thing to that agency or any other agency, for that matter, nor was I interested in legacy publishers. Maybe I’ve got a thin skin, but I was not interested in what the establishment had to say about my books. I was keenly aware of the statistics, of how many manuscripts ever made it to an editor's desk. One writer friend of mine had been rejected so many times he was on the verge of suicide.

So, I did the unthinkable. Way back in the dark ages before Kindle and Nook and all those other reading devices we now take for granted were invented, I decided to self-publish my magnum opus. This was before Amazon or any of the other booksellers were selling ebooks. If you wanted to self-publish a book you needed to go through one of those “vanity” presses that charged for services. So that’s what I did. I brought The Lost Village out in hardcover and trade paperback and sold downloadable copies from my website to those willing to read an enormous book on their computer screens. The book actually came out pretty well. It was formatted nicely, had a good cover. My wife, who had worked as a newspaper editor, did a fine job editing the book.

I signed up with the New England Horror Writers, did some group signings, made some friends, and, to my amazement, the book began to sell. Not in great numbers, but sell it did. I will say that initially I was shunned by some of the other members of the NEHW who were almost all legacy published, but when the line in front of my table was consistently longer than the lines at theirs, some got curious and actually bought my book. Before long I was receiving some nice reviews from fellow authors as well as readers, and low and behold I found out that several ‘respectable’ authors with ‘real’ published books had recommended to the HWA ( Horror Writer’s Association) that The Lost Village be nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

This was very exciting news, but of course it wasn’t nominated. Back then, and even now, the HWA has a very hard time recognizing anything self-published. They love their legacy publishers, and if your work isn’t sanctioned by one of them, well . . . They claim they consider all published works, and I believe they do, but it’s been my experience that very few independent books ever get much consideration. No matter, I believe they are for the most part, a good and beneficial organization, and their current president, Rocky Wood, is a super nice guy. But I also believe in my heart (and this is just my opinion) that if they continue on their present course, they will one day become as irrelevant as bookstores and legacy publishers are becoming.

The Lost Village sold reasonably well without the benefit of being sanctioned by a legacy publisher, or being recognized by the  Horror Writer’s Association.

In the meantime I wrote several other novels and was doing okay selling short stories to various magazines and anthologies.

Then, a little more than three years ago, on invitation, I sent my novella, The Haunting of Sam Cabot to a brand new small press publisher, Damnation Books. Now this is the important part. It was the first time in my writing life that I had ever sent a manuscript to a book publisher and I sent it only because they queried me. At the time, Kindle was a brand new concept and I had never heard of it. Damn my error. Well, I heard right back from Damnation Books that they wanted to publish my book. Wow! First time. Couldn't believe it. They subsequently published two more of my books including a re-issue of The Lost Village. I signed five year contracts for each of those books. Stupid me. It was just about the time Kindle exploded on the scene and I was suddenly tied to a publisher who priced my books much too high to sell well on Kindle. And oh my lord, the formatting! It was atrocious. Still is, and my publisher is so arrogant they refuse to fix the problems. If you check sample e-versions of both The Lost Village and The Holocaust Opera (the latter which has a wonderful introduction by Bram Stoker Award winning editor Vince Liaguno) you will see that the text of both books is entirely in italics. E-gads! It’s downright embarrassing.

And, to my utter chagrin they priced the Kindle version of The Lost Village at $9.95. Celebrity authors can get away with selling e-books at that price, unfortunately nobody else can. Try telling that to my publisher. I know in my heart that if it had been priced at $2.99 or even $3.99, where it should be, it would have been a Kindle bestseller by now. I begged and pleaded with my publisher to just try it but they wouldn't budge. Too bad for them because they have lost me as an author. I am presently in the process of fighting to obtain the rights back to The Haunting of Sam Cabot. The other two will be next. It's going to take some legal wrangling, but it will happen. Not that they should care, They have what seems to be a massive stable of authors now, most of whom seem quite satisfied to live with poor formatting and earn 17.5% of the list price instead of the 70% they could earn as independents. Go figure. I guess for some the prestige of having a REAL publisher outweighs everything else including earnings.

Last year at this time I self published Apocalypse Island, not a horror novel like most of my others, but a crime thriller with some supernatural and science fiction overtones. Some writer friends were kind enough to read and review, and in the first year I garnered a whopping 28 reader reviews and sold a respectable amount of copies. Then, through Joe’s blog, I heard about an email blast service called Bookbub and decided to give it a try. Apocalypse Island went free on April 8th of this year and by that first evening it held the number one free spot on Amazon. When the promo ended five days later I’d given away nearly 100,000 copies. The next day it catapulted into Amazon’s top twenty paid and stayed there for more than a week.

The book continued to sell well for nearly two months making me more money than I’ve ever made with my writing, more money than I make in a year playing music, and garnering nearly 150 reader reviews, the vast majority of which are positive. I’m stunned and very grateful to all those who downloaded and reviewed my book so positively.

I have a new novel, Lion of God, in the editing stages which will be released before the end of the summer. It is a sequel to Apocalypse Island. I am planning on releasing it as a free ebook for the first five days, and if Joe doesn’t mind I’ll announce it in the comments section of one of his blogs.

As you’ve probably surmised by now, I’ve been around awhile. Nevertheless, I’m fit and healthy and determined to write many more books before I throw in the towel.

Apocalypse Island will be free from August 6th thru August 10th. Hope you all download it and give it a read. I will announce the release of Lion of God just as soon as I have the release date.'

I wish to thank Joe for his kindness and generosity. I’m a frequent visitor to his blog, usually reading all of the guest posts and most of the comments. I especially enjoy the pinhead comments.J Mostly I just lurk,
posting only if I have something relevant to add.

Joe, you’re a prince. Thank you for your inspiration and generosity. 

Joe sez: More and more legacy publishers are going to be plumbing indie authors for their rights. They'll have no choice, because more and more legacy authors are going to leave because they're fed up with being unfairly treated.

Now's a good time to go over some rules when approached by a publisher.

1. Don't ever pay any editor, publisher, or agent, for anything. Ever.
2. If you sign a deal, don't ever expect to get your rights back.
3. If you have any leverage, don't sign over your ebook rights, unless you're getting a huge amount of money.
4. If you get an offer, have an agent or entertainment lawyer look it over and explain it to you before you sign.
5. Some clauses to be careful of are non-compete, which says you can't publish anything else while under contract, and next work option, which says the publisher gets first chance at the next thing you right. Both of these are unfair.
6. Don't ever take an ebook only deal. A publisher's only advantage over an indie is their ability to get paper books onto store shelves. An indie can reach the same amount of readers with an ebook than a publisher can.

Anyone have anything to add?


w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Be careful of "out of print" definitions and clauses that deal with the return of rights to the author. Also, as technologies advance, you should limit the types of media to which the publisher has rights. When St. Martins published my minimum opus, PSYCHIC BATTLEFIELD, guess who didn't get any electronic rights--contract was back in '98, book published in early 2000. Who knew then? Who knows what other types of delivery options may exist in the future?

Tabitha Maine said...

Thank you for the free download. I'm looking forward to reading it.

I'm also curious about The Hunting of Sam. I'll look into that.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Thanks Tabitha. Hope you enjoy.

Joe Flynn said...

Joe's right about having a pro review your contract. My former agent deleted the clause in my contract with Bantam Books that gave them the ebook rights. This was back before those rights became as valuable as they are today, but he had the foresight to see what was coming. Saved me a lot of trouble. That's the kind of expertise that's valuable.

Even so, these days I'd go with a good attorney with experience in the field who would work for a fee rather than a percentage of your advance/royalties.

One more thing. My biggest mistake was not going to NY to meet my editor and publisher in person. Ask anyone who offers you a contract if they'll fly you out to NY to meet them before you sign. If they're stingy enough to say no, that will tell you what they'll be like to work with.

Jill James said...

Mark, I got your book in my email this morning. Looks cool. Off to download. Love your publishing story.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Thanks, Jill. Hope you enjoy.

Nancy Beck said...

@Mark - Of course I d/l it, looks like it'll be a cool read.

And Stephen King was right coming out with horror novels based in Maine - the parts I ventured into were totally creepy. ;-)

Good luck!

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hey, Nancy - Maine seems to have the perfect atmosphere for creepy. Thanks for downloading. Hope you enjoy.

Alan Tucker said...

Mark, thanks so much for sharing your story. Good to know that it's never too late to start :-) Downloading your book now — sounds like a great read!

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Thanks, Mark, for another excellent guest post! I remember hearing about Scott Meredith back in the old days. So sorry to hear about your experience with the legacy publisher -- but it sounds as though you will continue to put out strong new material while working on getting back the rights to your books. And you will, eventually.

By the way, was Stephen King a scary kid? ;-)

Darlene Underdahl said...

Thank you, Mark and Joe.

Mark, I also came to the game late since life kept me so busy.

Joe, if I may, my fictionalized memoir THREADBARE will be available free to Kindle on August 8, 2013. It’s certainly a change of pace.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Mark!

It's definitely scary to consider doing all the work on creating a book from thin air only to have someone take away the payoff. eBook prices have been something I've debated about with friends and colleagues for a few years now, and it's wrong to price a digital item so high in many cases. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you can get your rights back and use those works as better assets than your publisher is doing in the future!

Mark Edward Hall said...

Alan, thanks for downloading. Hope you enjoy. By the way, I very much enjoyed your story the other day.

Patrice, thanks. I've never had so much fun in my life as I'm having now. And about your Stephen King question; I actually get asked that a lot. Truthfully he was just a normal kid. A real good guy, and one of our favorite things to do was make up stories and tell them to all the other kids. Surprise, right?

Darlene, welcome to the game. I wish you every success.

Franklin, it feels terrible to have three of my books held hostage by an uncaring publisher, but I vowed to keep writing and publishing. It's the only way to win. Don't ever give up.

S. A. Lusher said...

Hey! A fellow ex-Damnation author. There seem to be more and more of those...

I myself am one now and...wow, I really feel your pain on that pricing issue.

Lots of luck and congrats on your success.

Anonymous said...

great blog and great notes from Joe.

One quibble:

While there are agencies with lawyers on staff - big, powerful, influential agencies - DO NOT let an agent negotiate a contract for you unless it is in partnership with said IP lawyer involved.

Agents are NOT lawyers. The guy who handled your divorce or the closing on your house is , but he probably knows NOTHING about pub contracts.

IP attorneys do this work. Agents are former publishing editors who needed a new job. Not lawyers.

I am not saying agents are useless. Hardly. But your real estate agent doesn't advise you at closing on a house does he? (If he does, you might have an issue) You have an attorney deal with this sort of thing.

Contract law - especially IP contracts - are WAY too intricate for agents if they are not using in-house IP attorneys.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hey, Sean A. Lusher. I wish I was an ex-Damnation author. They won't release me from my contracts no matter what I do, short of hiring an expensive lawyer. How did you become an ex?

S. A. Lusher said...

I just walked away, basically. I guess I'm pretty lucky in the sense that the three titles of mine they have aren't crucial to me. Well, except for the most recent one, but I just have to wait that one out.

I guess I mean I'm ex in the sense that I won't publish through them anymore. Self-publishing all the way.

Dale T. Phillips said...

Mark, congrats on persevering. I had Stephen King as a writing instructor back at U Maine, and it was incredible, with insightful feedback on what we wrote. Truly a wonderful person, and a great teacher- he definitely helped us hone the craft.
And up until 3 years ago, I'd have signed any terrible contract Big Trad Pub put in front of me, just to say I was legit. Then I talked to a lot of writers with horror stories about publishing big. With the advice of Joe, Dean Wesley Smith, and many, many others, I started looking elsewhere. Now after novel #3 just released, and 6 story collections out-- in just over two years-- I'm so very grateful that Big Trad Pub moves with glacial speed, so I could outrun them, laughing all the way. It's so heady putting out a book when and where and how you want.
Gotta say, the New England Horror Writers have changed for the better-- there's as much self-pub and small-pub now-- I've found a lot of great new friends, fans, and supporters there recently, even though my novels are mystery, not horror.
Downloaded your book, am hoping for a great read. Thanks for sharing your story. I'll be posting here in the Fall, with Vlad Vaslyn, another writer from NEHW, and we'll each have a new book to promote.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Thanks for the comment, Dale. Congrats on your success. I'm looking forward to your blog post.

I know what you mean about laughing all the way. It's very liberating to call your own shots in this writing business. And the money ain't bad either.

I only knew King as a boy but he was a good guy. He deserves all his success.

The first few signings I did with NEHW I was the only self published one there and initially some of those guys looked at me like I had two heads. Now I'm doing better than a lot of them, but there's no hard feelings. It's all good. That's just the way it was then.

Vlad Vaslyn said...


Thanks for sharing! My decision to self-pub in July 2012 is constantly reinforced when I read about experiences such as your own. I still have a day job, but I expect to be able write full-time in about 3-5 years, provided I continue to make slow (isn't it always?) but steady traction. And the best thing is that my wife agrees, and since she runs our finances...

Very liberating being in charge of my own career!

Writers such as yourself and Joe have broken a clear path into the literary wilds by bucking traditional models and by going against the status quo, which have allowed others like me to follow.

For that, I thank you both!

I'll definitely be grabbing Apocalypse Island. Good luck with Lion of God!

Mark Edward Hall said...

Thanks for commenting, Vlad. I wish you success with your writing career. Let me know when you have a book out.

Yes, I agree, it is very liberating to be in charge of your own career. There is no greater pleasure in life.

I hope you enjoy Apocalypse Island.

David Darracott said...

Who did your Apocalypse cover? Do you mind telling us how much it cost?

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hi, David. A guy by the name of Cyrus Wraith Walker did the Apocalypse cover. he's a really good guy and easy to work with. He does ebook formatting, book covers, book trailers, and he's the chief designer for Dark Discoveries Magazine. I don't remember what it cost. I provided the photo and he put it all together. Very reasonable as I remember. Here's his website: http://cyrusfictionproductions.bravehost.com/?page_id=2

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Linda Branam said...

Took advantage of your August Amazon promotion of "Apocalypse Island" and enjoyed the heck out of it. In fact, I spent this morning finishing it, putting other plans aside. I don't normally do reviews on Amazon unless the book is really good or really bad. I imagine you've guessed which category yours goes into. ;-). Thanks for a rattling good read! I'm anxiously awaiting the next in the series.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hi, Linda, thanks so much for the kind review of Apocalypse Island. I really do appreciate it.
I wonder if you kept track of the few errors you mentioned in the review, and if so would you mind sharing? Since my books are self published I really appreciate readers who share errors and I usually fix the problems immediately.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hi again, Linda. I meant to add my email so that you can send the errors privately. Here it is. mark@markedwardhall.com