September 23rd, 2012

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A Pseudonym's Story (Part 4)

A Little Help From My Friends

Collaborative writing on a serial benefits from all collaborators being on the same page. It benefits from more than a little communication. Carlos Dunn had a vision for the thing, an outline, but he remained pretty open to where I wanted to take the action. I was getting increasingly discouraged, though. The little voices in my head were telling me it was time to move along, find more exciting pastures. Some of this, I'm sure, was due to hubris on my part. Carlos' output had plenty of typos and plotting issues. My stuff was not perfect, by any stretch, but they were readable. Instead of developing his own characters, he seemed to glom onto mine, trying his hand at expanding them. He took them ways I didn't really understand or dig, but as with the adlibbing exercise in acting classes, I decided just to say, "I accept that. What will I do next?"

Ultimately, I found I was really getting bored with the whole 3500 word segment thing. I was trying to make each piece stand alone but contribute to a larger arc—learning lessons from television, I suppose. Each story was an episode. However, Carlos' stories turned out to be a scene or two, with little to no resolution. The result was very much a Frankenstein's creature of a story. Then, Carlos got some other eager writers interested in adding their own takes on it. When someone tried to write Chuck Cave (giving him a drawl and making him a good-old-boy, which he most certainly was not), Rhianne and the other people I had created, I realized this thing had really taken too much advantage of my properties.

I had agreed that Carlos Dunn could use some of these people. Not anyone else. To his credit, Carlos understood my desire to keep Chuck Cave to myself. But the damage was done. I was completely unenthused about the serial. I decided to pack up my dinosaurs and go home, by trying something different. I wrote a two-parter taken from a new character's perspective, which ended with Chuck Cave getting dragged into an abyss, apparently dead. Carlos wanted to know what happened next, but I needed a break. It was my way to ease out of the serial. Since he had an outline and other writers, I figured they would pick up the slack. Instead, the Vampire Abduction story died on the vine, shortly after I left it.

It only goes to show: Enthusiasm can get you started, but willpower, discipline and determination see you to a project's end. Apparently, I was the source of that for almost the entire serial project.

I carried on with my carrying on, shifting my attention to non-fiction work and trying my hand at different fiction outlets (another pseudonym was getting pretty hot, and the work was filled with far more opportunities for fresh approaches; more on that in another blog series).

The eBook Revolution (Will Be Delayed)

A couple of months later, Carlos Dunn dropped me yet another line. He had decided to give eBooks a try. He'd got a guy to do collage covers. He wanted to pay me to publish my stories in this new format, the same flat $50 per piece.

This was something I had been debating doing, on my own. Putting together electronic versions of the stories I'd already sold sounded like a no-brainer, cheap method to getting stuff back into print. I had written the damned things. Sweated over them, gotten them accepted into anthos and magazines, gone through galleys and other revisions, and seen edited, professional looking versions of them. After the rights reverted back to me, why should I let them sit in my computer collecting virtual dust? The prospect of learning the publishing side of the business was daunting, however. Putting together eBooks seemed like learning a whole new skill set, which I did not really have time for. I had tried my hand at it, putting out an electronic version of "Chuck Cave and the Vanishing Vixen" for the Kindle, but I had defaulted to an amazon cover and had been shy about trying more. At the time, I said, "I will do this when I have more time," which is one of my go to excuses, which can be translated as "I don't understand this process, and I really don't want to make the time to understand it." Making time and allocating time are vital skills for getting anywhere in artistic endeavors (writing, publishing, painting, etc.).

I considered his offer and said, "Nope," and expressed how eBooks were a different animal than short stories: I would consider his proposal if the $50 was an advance against royalties. He said that would be fine, and then asked me what a good royalty was. I came up with a figure that wasn't ripping anyone off too much, told him what I wanted, and had to explain the differences between gross and profits. Then, we were off and flying, again.

He put out the two stories I’d written for his revamped site ("Cave's Dark Mistress" and "Cave's Deadly Beauties") before I even had a chance to look at the editions. These were weak stories to be standalone books. ("Cave and the Vamp" should have been first, since it set up everything.) I wrote him that I was unhappy with the versions. They were too short, there were problems I'd like to hammer out. Why didn’t I rewrite them? Expand them a bit. He was keen. I went to work, toning their muscles and getting them from 3500 words each to 5000 words. He published the new versions to Kindle. Then, he combined them for a Smashwords release (giving them an unwieldy damned title that just combined the two names with an AND). He kept asking me for advice, since I had worked and befriended quite a few people in the publishing biz. Somehow, I knew more about publishing that my publisher did. Along around this time, I guided him to the free Smashwords guide for publicizing your releases. When he would come to me with more questions, I would do a little research, and give him answers. My knowledge of the publishing side was growing.

Carlos was hungry for more Blake books. He wanted to put out “Cave and the Vamp,” and sent me the tweaked rewritten version he had published on his website. I said, "Why don't we publish a revised and expanded, author's version?" This was no work on my part, since I had already rewritten the story to be a 17,000 words long opening for a Cave fix up novel. That made a real meaty novella. He was happy, and so was I. The novel proposal that had been rejected by Dorchester Books (right as they entered their final decay-spiral, a period I was glad to have avoided being a part of) was finally going to see the light of day. I sent it off. Carlos read it and was pleased. He got another of those covers, and put it out. I had an entire novel to draw off of, now.

When another author abandoned Vampires2 Publishing, leaving Carlos with a zombie cover, I decided to send him a zombie story. I had one in the files. It was one of the many C. C. Blake projects I’d written for a now defunct, if questionable publisher. I’d considered using it as a jump off point for an action-adventure zombie-smashing series. Carlos took that first story (a 20k word novella called "Kane and the Hungry Dead"), and it has sat in limbo. Does that mean he doesn't like it? Does that mean anything at all? Not that I'm aware of. He had a cover. He has a book, right? Not so, padawan . . .

Carlos told me he wanted “Hell on Earth” to be next. Why? I have no idea. Wasn’t that ending the Cave series too soon? There goes the open end. There goes the possibility of putting out numerous Cave books, which could later be collected in an omnibus version (my end goal). Who would want to read subsequently released middle parts when the end was already revealed?

I persuaded him to wait a bit. To consider a brand new (for him) novella called “Cave and The Feral Angel.” I had written this for the Cave fix up novel. He was interested, so I did a light revision/rewrite and sent it. Carlos liked it, but insisted on “Hell on Earth” as the next Cave release. The man had no patience. That's kind of flattering in a fan, which Carlos certainly is. Unfortunately, publishers need both enthusiasm and a plan. When publishing a series property, might it not be wise to release the first installment first, and then subsequent sections that build to the finale? This seems like common sense to me. Unfortunately, he had already released middle parts ("Cave's Dark Mistress" and "Deadly Beauties"), then went back for Part 1 ("Cave and the Vamp") and then wanted to end it all ("Hell on Earth"). Also, it might be wise to indicate what book comes where in the sequence of events so readers have the chance to hop onboard at the beginning?

He continued to request HoE, until I got fed up. I decided I would send it to him and be done with Vampires 2 Publishing for a while (again!). I went through the fix up novel's version, revised it a touch, and then sent it off. Carlos was pleased, but "The Feral Angel" and "Hell on Earth" are in limbo, waiting for cover art. As is a collection of three previously published stories I called Mystic Dangers.

Currently, Vampires2 Publishing has released three eBooks, and has another four in the wings. With luck they will see release by year's end.

Enter: Twice Told Tales

Helping Glenn learn the ins and outs of publishing had given me a hell of a confidence boost. I knew how to assemble eBooks. I learned how straightforward cover design could become. I knew what I did not like (V2's collage style was too jumbled for my aesthetics. I prefer a cleanliness, which speaks volumes about me as a human being.), and writers such as Lawrence Block and Wesley Dean Smith taught me (via blogs) how easy it is to get a book out the door into the electronic marketplace.

I have the backlog of published, edited editions of my work from anthologies that had come and gone like a flash to draw upon. I decided to finally make the time to give them a second life. The reason writers are told to send to the high paying markets first is a good one: money should flow to the writer. This is invaluable advice and good business sense. These stories should be entertaining people, since that is their purpose. They should also be earning me money so I can write more, since that is their equally important (but unspoken) other purpose.

I created a press I dubbed Twice Told Tales, taking an obvious page from Nathaniel Hawthorne's first collection. It was a venue to produce electronic versions of my published material through Kindle and Smashwords. This wasn’t cheesy self-publishing, I assured myself. This was self-REpublishing. The stories had been edited, polished and produced through paying markets. The copyrights had reverted to me, so they should be available. I've decided to start with the C. C. Blake name, since he has some books from V2, already.

Twice Told Tales has just released its fourth book, In the Clutches of El Diablo, and it's available through Smashwords and It's a collection of thriller stories from the pages of Man's Story 2 magazine, several of which feature Chuck Cave, as well as a new introduction. There’s another four books in the pipeline.

I have no illusions about Twice Told Tales. It's a reprint house, putting forth the stories that people may not have seen, but which have gone past several sets of eyes. Having an editor and a copyeditor are absolutely valuable, and I will continue to pursue other publishing venues for the first runs of my stories. I don't have the capital to recruit an editor's services, and I don't forsee that happening.

Blake's Progress

There you go. The story of one of my pseudonym's genesis and progress. The story's not over yet, and though there have been some rocky points (and there will be more to come), I hope the future will be a bright one. Good luck to us all.

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