Author Ken L Gould
Author Ken Gould
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~Ernest hemingway


Head to Head: Createspace vs. Ingram Spark

Posted on April 30, 2017


Ken L Gould's Blog Blog BlogOkay, I haven’t blogged in a couple months. I’ve been a bad boy. Someone should spank me. I’ll get my fiancee on that right away, though usually it’s the other way around with us. I’ll let you ponder that image while I get on with the post.

What was I writing about? Oh, Createspace vs. Ingram Spark. This really shouldn’t be a “versus” thing, more like the pluses and minuses of both, because as other bloggers have written before me–and will surely write after–they both can work together in perfect harmony. Amy Collins does a terrific job of breaking down how to use both over at www.newshelves.com, if you are interested in someone else’s take on it. I will give you my two cents worth here, particular in relation to the quality of the product. And by the way, I’m talking about the POD (Print on Demand) services they offer.

First, an overview of how the book thing works or at least a simplified version of it. Print on Demand prints off the book when it is ordered and doesn’t give a per-book discount for volume, because the whole system is setup for about as cheap as it will go. I’m not a printer, so for the finer details of POD vs. offset printing, you’ll just have to resort to Google like everyone else. Offset printing DOES offer a discount for volume. It’s made for large runs of at least 500 but usually in the thousands. Ever heard of those out-of-the-gate bestsellers that have an initial printing of 20 or 40 thousand or more? That’s offset printing (with a lot of marketing and build-up by the publisher.) POD is relatively new and much easier to setup, though the costs per-unit are higher. POD is basically a computer, a digital file of your cover and interior, and a massive laser printer (see below for the so-cool-I-want-one Espresso Book Machine!)

One of the advantages of POD printing is that you don’t have to store large quantities of your books. No warehouse space (or garage space) needed for a bunch of unsold units. I mean, where would I put 1000 or 5000 or (ugh) 20,000 copies of my book? The rats would probably eat them or the humidity degrade the paper before I got them all out the door! Not having to store large quantities of your book is a huge advantage for POD. This no-need-for-storage thing and low costs per-book for a single copy allow indie authors to be competitive.

I looked into offset printing just as a matter of curiosity. With Createspace, my book cost me $5.07. Now before you go bitching about why it cost you 9.95 through Amazon, realize that some other people have their fingers in that pie, and I don’t have much control over it. Offset printing would allow runs that can push that price even lower to 3 dollars or less per book. I looked it up, and at least with one printer, the cost would have come down to $4.10 a book (for a 352 page book) for an order of 1000 books. That would have come out to $4100 for those bad at simple math.

That’s the economics of POD printing. It’s been both good and bad for the publishing industry, just like the Internet has been both good and bad as a dispenser of knowledge (and often ignorance). But that’s for another post and another day. Another bitch-fest about the infectiousness of idiocy.

There are a couple other aspects of the business of books to note (this is a business and anyone who doesn’t realize it has already lost. Mark Twain was the greatest self-promoter ever, and Dickens and Hemingway weren’t far behind. Writing a great book is only the start.) I’ll cover the dangers of self-publishing and why you might want to navigate them anyway, but for now you just need to know how the bookstore model traditionally works. They (the bookstores) usually want a 55% discount off the retail price for them to stock it. Actually, that’s not quite true. They actually get a 40% discount, and the rest goes to the printer. But unless you select a 55% discount, you aren’t going to offer the bookstores even a 40% discount off retail. In other words, their profit margin diminishes quickly. And considering the high overhead of brick-and-mortar stores, that’s not going to make them happy.

They also want the right to return the book if it doesn’t sell. I’ll explain the dangers of selecting “returnable” in a minute, but without that offer of returnability, you will never be on the bookshelves, not as a stocked book, though they can still order your book if a customer asks for it. The bookstores only get paid (and pay you) if the book sells; otherwise, they return it to the distributor. I assume this whole model was invented by the New York publishers (“the five sisters”, as they are called) and enforced by an informal, age-old agreement between those publishers and major book sellers across the country. It probably never was a formal contract, and now exists solely by the inertia of tradition. The whole system makes some sense. The publishers only push the books they truly believe in, they market the hell out of them and accept any returns that come back to the distributor as a price of doing business. With offset printing their costs can be fairly low per book so they don’t lose much, if a book sells decently. It does make the traditional publishers risk-averse, so they put their marketing muscle behind big names or the best of the best debut authors. This system is a huge reason why royalty checks from major publishers aren’t sent out that often as they wait for the returns of unsold copies.

As I understand it, though, this system is a little bit different in today’s world. The bookstores no longer stock multiple copies of a book but maybe only one or two, if even that. Their ordering system just keeps refilling the book in quick succession as books go out the door. At least I read that somewhere. But I’m in the business of writing books, not selling them.

This whole process can be horribly slow, frustrating, but it does make some sense. At least it used to. Until Amazon came along and upset the apple cart.

 


Createspace

Createspace (CS) was formerly known as CustomFix, a distributor of on-demand DVDs, and was acquired by Amazon in 2005, along with POD company called Booksurge, which had been in business since 2000. In 2008 reps from Booksurge, now a division of Amazon, began calling all publishers and informing them that they had to sign a contract with Amazon to publish their POD books through Booksurge, and not whatever company they had previously been using, or else they would suffer the consequences, i.e. be taking off Amazon. Okay, Booksurge (i.e., Amazon) didn’t really put it like that, but the implications were clear. Pretty shitty of them, right? Well, that’s Amazon for you. It’s why some people hate Amazon, particularly indie authors and small publishers.

I know people who stay up late at night (probably on some kind of intoxicant; I’m not judging) and do a lot of Amazon shopping. I mean, they have everything! Why not, right? I know, put away the credit card before you use your retirement savings to buy a bunch of crap you don’t need. The point is Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and everyone has to deal with them, whether you want to or not. I personally don’t have the energy to bitch about Amazon any more. I just play the game. They probably do screw everyone over one way or the other, particularly indie authors. Mostly, though, authors are upset because they aren’t selling and Amazon makes money off you, whether you sell or not. That’s kind of their business. As long as you price your book right, you’re probably getting more royalties than you are if you published through the New York houses, though without their distribution and marketing muscle.

Okay, enough of the Amazon bashing, because I really do like their system (mostly). First, I’ll finish the story of Amazon, Createspace and Booksurge. Basically, Createspace absorbed Booksurge and their POD service, which makes sense, given the negative publicity mentioned above. So that’s how Createspace became the POD service for Amazon. Amazon, in its attempt to control the Universe (at least the universe of books), did try to put a dent into the business of Ingram Book Company, who runs their own POD service, Ingram Spark, but then gave up and learned to work well with Ingram Spark (hereafter, I’ll refer to as IS). They even use IS for what Createspace calls “Extended Distribution Channels”.

I’ll quickly go through the pros and cons of Createspace first:

  • Easier setup than Ingram Spark (and it’s free!)
  • Better customer service (emails answered within 24 hours)
  • Free updates to your cover or interior file at any time and for any reason. Ingram Spark charges for updates.
  • Amazon offers expanded distribution through non-Amazon sellers, though the royalties are a lot less than through Amazon
  • No returns accepted
  • Printing costs for color books is much higher than Ingram Sparks
  • International shipping isn’t as good as Ingram Sparks, but domestic U.S. shipping costs are better

Createspace is a breeze to setup. Your file is given the okay in 24 hours or they’ll ask you for adjustments, if needed. In my case they made some adjustments for me and simply asked me to okay the result, which was kind of cool of them. After I approved the proof, which you can examine both digitally online or in person, if you order a proof copy (some errors just don’t really stand out until you have the paper version in your hand), the book is up on Amazon in a couple of days. It’s really quite fast. And you can update the files at any time, free of charge. This can be a big deal. You can use the extra money for marketing or for a bottle of Champagne to celebrate! At some point, you will probably have to upload new files as you get professional reviews for your book. You’ll want to add them to the cover and/or interior (I left a page at the beginning of my book for that.) Maybe you got Stephen King to say something nice about you. Damn, you lucky dog.

You should note that any time you update the file it will be taken down off Amazon for that period of time. This means that, if your book is also offered through Ingram Spark, it will all of sudden be available at Amazon through third-party sellers for a higher price than when you were offering it directly through CS. Just something to keep in mind. This happened to me, and it freaked me out at first.

There are some downsides to Createspace.

CS Doesn’t Play Well With Others (i.e., Non-Amazon Customers)

The default CS distribution channel is Amazon, but they do offer what they call “Expanded Distribution Channels (EDC)”, which you will notice as you get setup in their system. Createspace will ask you if you want to use EDC. Just say no. Why? Basically for two reasons. One, if a clerk in a bookstore looks up your book on their computer system, it will say CREATESPACE on it, which screams self-published, amateurish and that brings me to the second reason not to use EDC through CS: poorer discounts to bookstores.

CS offers 40% discounts (off list price) to Amazon to sell and 60% for everyone else (that expanded distribution or EDC thing.) I’ll get into the nitty gritty of what this means in practice, using my book as an example, which comes in a 6×9 trim size and is 352 pages, black and white on creme paper. The cover is matte, not glossy, because I liked the look of the matte better for paperback, though I went with glossy for the hardback. Anyway, for a 352 page book, my print cost is 5.07. I offer it through Amazon for 9.95, which is the only way to offer a decent price point and also make a decent, though not huge, royalty.

Let’s break this down further. If you sell through Amazon, what does the 40% discount really mean? Well, it means that 40% of 9.95 is about $3.98. Subtract the 3.98 discount and the 5.07 printing cost from the 9.95 retail price through Amazon and you get 0.90, which happens to be my royalty. So who gets the 3.98? A combination of Createspace and Amazon for distribution and the use of their supply chain.

So how about the 60% discount for EDC? First of all, this forces my price point up. I have to offer it at 14.95, just to get about the same royalty rate (60% of 14.95 is 8.97 plus 5.07 printing costs, leaves .91 to me.) It also means more hands in the cook jar, since CS actually uses Ingram Spark for expanded distribution. What? Yes, now you have another mouth to feed. CS doesn’t have the distribution of IS, so CS turned to IS to handle all non-Amazon orders. This leaves a much smaller cut to the bookstore and adds a third party to the supply chain, CS to IS to distributor to bookstore. I personally rather the bookstore (even the giants Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million) get their cut than add a third-party distributor to the chain.

So don’t use Createspace’s EDC. Get set up with Ingram Spark instead. That’s my advice, for what it’s worth. IS has a much better distribution system, particularly internationally, and they have deeper roots in the industry. But CS is still the best option when selling through Amazon, particularly for your price point to be competitive. So I say use both.

One last thing to note about ISBNs. Createspace will also ask you whether or not you want to use their ISBN. I highly advise you to buy a block of 10 ISBNs from Bowker (www.myidentifiers.com). Yes, it’s $250 for 10 (you can easily use 3 or 4 of those for a single book), but if you use Createspace’s ISBN, you will show up to anyone as “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform”, which used to show up as “Published by Createspace.” This will be listed under publisher when a clerk at your local book store looks you up in their computer system. This screams self-published. It screams poor quality. It also screams non-returnable and poor discounts for the bookstore. Having your own ISBN, listed under your own publishing business, simply says professional. If you’re going to do this for the long haul, then you really should invest in your own ISBNs.

 


 

Ingram Spark

According to Wikipedia, “the Ingram Content Group was formed in 2009 as Ingram Lightning Group merged with Ingram Digital Group. Ingram Content Group’s operating units are Ingram Book Company, Ingram International Inc., Ingram Library Services Inc., Ingram Publisher Services Inc., Ingram Periodicals Inc., Ingram Digital, Lightning Source Inc., Spring Arbor Distributors Inc., and Tennessee Book Company LLC.” That’s a lot of Ingrams in there, except for that last one. O.H. Ingram founded the company in 1938, using money he inherited from his grandfather’s timber business. Mostly, they were into oil and refineries and barges (one of their barges wound up in New Orlean’s lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina, not that you care), but in a flurry of acquisitions back in the 60s, Frederick and Bronson–the sons of O.H. Ingram–bought a text book depository for the Tennessee public schools. The rest, as they say, is history.

They have the industry’s largest active book inventory with access to 7.5 million titles and serve booksellers, librarians, educators and specialty retailers. That’s how big they are. Traditionally, they supplied traditional New York publishers with offset printing, but over time they entered the POD game as self-publishing became more of a thing and founded a company called Lightning Source (LS) in 1996. LS also licenses books for a printing kiosk called an Espresso Book Machine (invented and sold by On Demand Books) that can be setup in any public space and accepts files downloaded from LS. It prints, binds and cuts books on demand while the customer waits. Pretty cool, huh? You should watch the YouTube video of the process. I really, really want one for Christmas (please, baby!), only they cost about $17,000.

One more historical note, Ingram Content Group, along with Lightning Source, was almost sold to Barnes & Noble in 1999 until independent bookstores and the American Booksellers Association balked and put pressure on Ingram to nix the deal, which they did.

Okay, now to Ingram Spark. Their parent entity, Lightning Source, was really setup for publishers more than authors, so the company came up with Ingram Spark (www.ingramspark.com) as a way to keep up with the changing landscape of publishing today. IS markets directly to authors and competes with Createspace and other POD services like LuLu.

Now to the bullet points:

  • Much larger reach than CS, so international shipping costs are much better
  • Much cheaper on color printing, if that’s your thing
  • Industry standard discounts that work well with non-Amazonian retailers, both online and brick-and-mortar
  • Does charge a setup fee ($49) and another fee to change any files for your book ($25 for the cover, $25 for the interior, and $50 for both)
  • Books can be returnable or non-returnable
  • Hardcovers available, which are no longer offered through CS

IS is much larger than CS, which is why CS uses them for their expanded distribution. But because you have to pay CS in addition to IS, it’s much better to go with IS directly than to use CS’s expanded distribution. I found that for that same book listed for 9.95 on Amazon, I had to offer it for 15.95 through Ingram Spark to get the same royalty rate. This is partly because CS does the 40% discount for their own distribution, whereas I used the 55% discount through IS (which, as you might recall, lets IS take a cut of 15% and give 40% to the book stores, approximately.) IS does now offer a 40% discount option, which allows a book seller (you or another publisher) to sell a book cheaper to online retailers, just as CS sells to Amazon for a 40% discount. I personally chose that 55% discount, because I like to let the old-fashioned independent bookstore make a profit.

As for returns, I made the mistake of selecting returnable with IS when I first started. I also made the mistake of selecting the option for sending unused copies to me, rather than destroy them, which is the other option. Within about a month, I realized my mistake and changed it. You see, someone could order a 1000 books, then return 999 or them (or all of them) up to 180 days later, and you will be charged. That’s right. They could charge you for all those books with no risk to themselves. There’s really no downside to ordering a bunch of books for a book that could take off like a rocket but probably won’t. Well, there’s no downside to the distributor. There’s a HUGE downside to you. If you see me on the side of the road in a house made of cardboard, living in a puddle of my own piss and looking as if I haven’t shaved or showered in months, you’ll know why. Have pity on me and buy me lunch.

 


 

Head to Head

Okay, now for what matters most: quality. I read the blogs and the discussion groups. They indicated that Ingram Spark was the better quality book, though not by much. I found the exact opposite to be the case. Now, maybe CS stepped up their game, I don’t know. The CS book was just better quality paper. It felt better and read better.

The IS book arrived damaged. I wasn’t very pleased about that. It had a dent in the cover and something smudged on it. The printing wasn’t smudged (that would’ve been a deal breaker), but a little dirt seemed to have gotten on it. I’m pretty forgivable about most things and want to chalk it up to just random human error that is rare and won’t happen again. Whatever happened, it was careless. That being said, even with none of that, I would have preferred the CS copy. You can see why when you look at their template for the cover design. The spine is not as wide for IS. That’s because the paper is simply thinner. I think that leads to a less quality book, IMHO, and some of the pages did fall out as I read the copy.

On a side note, you will have to design your cover to the specs of the printer, which as I said, are different for CS than IS. It’s not a lot, but you have to be very specific in your design to get the spine to align properly in Photoshop, which you save as a pdf file and then upload to CS or IS or whomever.

You definitely benefit from having a paper version of your book, so I highly recommend. You just look more professional and more appealing to Amazon, since you offer value. I’ve read somewhere that this will, in turn, help your rankings, over just having an ebook version. I also rather enjoyed the process of designing the cover and seeing it in hard copy form.

I found found IS customer support to be more responsive than CS, though I’ve read others who said the opposite. IS has an online system that seems pretty responsive. I could get someone on chat within minutes, whereas I had to wait for a 24-hour email response from CS, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t nearly as helpful. When you need answers, sometimes you need them now, not tomorrow.

 


Conclusion

I liked both Createspace and Ingram Spark for different reasons. The quality of the book is better at CS, IMHO. And the price point through CS for Amazon customers is better so you can remain competitive, though I prefer to use IS for non-Amazon orders instead of EDC through CS.

Ingram Spark, because of their larger reach, is better for international shipping and offers industry-standard discounts without adding another hand to feed. They offer the option of accepting returns, which you shouldn’t take, unless you blow up so big you can afford to take the risk when your book is selling like hotcakes. But at least it’s an option, which it isn’t through CS. It also looks more professional when ordered through a book store, since your own company (you do have a separate company name other than your author name, don’t you?) will show up as publisher. Even if you use your own ISBN through CS, something with Createspace in the publisher field will show up and raise red flags. It just doesn’t look professional.

So I say Createspace for Amazon customers, since most of your business will be through Amazon anyway, and Ingram Spark for everyone else, since their wider reach works well with non-Amazonian outlets. And if you need to order copies for yourself to distribute for free to reviewers? Order from CS. They are better quality.

One more thing. I have no experience with LuLu, another POD service, so you can Google that one and see what you think. This is just my two cents about Createspace (www.createspace.com) and Ingram Spark (www.ingramspark.com).  Leave a comment and tell me about your own experiences.

Later.

Ken L.

 



no comments yet, click to start the conversation






An Eye-popping Cover Starts with a Simple Idea

Posted on February 14, 2017


Ken L Gould's Blog Blog BlogIf you are considering designing your own cover for your latest, greatest self-published novel, don’t. Pay a professional.

Let me say that again in case you are hard of hearing. Hire a professional. Did I hire a professional? No, absolutely not. Mine was born of a creative mind and a modicum of talent. But as with most things in my life, you should do what I say and not what I do, because generally speaking, I make horrible, horrible decisions (which were a hell of a lot of fun when I made them, but still. You should really not use me as an example of anything.)

Hire a professional.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the fun part. How I designed the cover for Death’s Grip, which may or may not help you design your own cover, which I told you in no uncertain terms not to do.

Well, before I get into the nitty and gritty of what I did that I shouldn’t have done, I’ll go into the pros and cons of it. Writer’s tend to make a mess of covers. They are too close to the material. The best cover ideas are abstractions of themes or a pivotal setting in the book. Nevermind the proficiency required of photoshop or some other image-editing, collage-making program, you have to have a good eye for space, colors, fonts and images that convey an abstract idea. Many writers aren’t that skilled with words, let alone those things, which are a different skill set entirely. Those are the tools of graphic designers. And the writers who ARE wonderful with words (the incredible gift that they are) should stick to telling stories and weaving those words into beautiful tapestries that mesmerize and haunt us. Leave the painting to the painters, the sculpting to the sculptors, the song writing to the song writers (and the playing to the musicians), and the photo montages and such to the graphic artists. To each their own.

Now that being said, there does exist the possibility of translation. I, by sheer coincidence I suppose, have been using photoshop and Adobe programs for years. I am by no means a graphic artist or professional of that ilk. I have, however, developed a certain skill with the programs as well as an eye for colors and space that helped in the translation of literary ideas into cover art. Because the writer does have one benefit that the graphic artist does not. They’ve lived in those ideas for years. The writer understands his material and can condense and distill the vapors of creative thought into an interesting visual that’s represented in a medium other than words.

Unfortunately, the writer’s tendency is to overdo, to put the whole book onto one cover. No! Just, no. You must simplify, simplify, simplify. A single image to represent a single idea. A crime in the woods becomes a night-time forested scene, only with no characters at all, leaving one to wonder what went under that dark canopy. (Okay, that’s been done before, ad nauseam.) Let’s add a shovel leaning against a tree, perhaps with a dark splotch on it or a tuft of hair. Okay, I’m truly sick, but you get the point. Whatever you do, DON’T put a character in there (unless they’re like mine and silhouetted or like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and all you see is the hair of someone fleeing.)  I’ve seen so many soap operaish covers with characters displayed. The reader wants to imagine your characters, not be shown what they look like. That’s just uninteresting. Like our forested scene above, they want the abstraction of an idea, in this case, a horrible event that will make them curious. Remember, the fundamental commonality of every reader is that they are curious, regardless of what genre they read, though what they are curious about may differ. Your job as the writer is to stoke that curiosity, which starts with your title and cover. The combination of the two is the powerful first impression that you must make.

(There are exceptions to everything. Sometimes a depiction of an unusual character might work, perhaps some member of an indigenous tribe in face paint. If it’s intriguing and stokes that curiousity, use it. I’ll repeat of common phrase you’ll see throughout this blog: there are exceptions to everything.)

Let’s take To Kill a Mockingbird, a cover I examined at great length because it’s classic and it’s image–and the words within–were truly haunting. The setting is a small town in southern Alabama during the 30s. The cover absolutely invokes that sense of a small town with the tree that one can imagine in every front yard behind the picketed fence. Playing under that tree is an innocent girl, who also happens to be in silhouette as Dr. Hodges is on my cover. The title is written in black letters as leaves on the tree. Very professional, very artistic. But something is amiss in this town. Perhaps we know something is amiss because all of us know the story. Perhaps it’s because the title says something about killing a mockingbird. Who knows? The cover and the title reinforce each other and work together to draw us into the pages. We are curious and interested. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that secondary schools across the land have made students read the work going back decades. That might explain why it’s in the top 20 selling books of all time (so are several of the Harry Potter books, by the way, which don’t have the benefit of being forced on high school students. Harry Potter books are read in droves. Voluntarily.) Do I sound a little bitter? No, To Kill a Mockingbird truly deserves its status. It’s one of the greatest works of all time, that great American novel we should all aspire to. Still, I’d love it if they made every high school kid in the country buy my book, too. Ahhh, to dream big.

Okay, so how did I do my cover?

my awesome cover for my debut novel Death's Grip!Well, it helps to have a little knowledge of photoshop, its inner workings and its tools. I’m by no means an expert. And as I said before, I have developed a sense of space and color, both important in graphic design. I had taken on the idea of doing a cover so I started tinkering around with ideas. Well, of course the first few ideas were atrocious and amateurish. Often they are, as you flounder about for that brilliant idea that just works. I was at work one night (I work nights as a sleep technician), and the idea struck me. Often, ideas come to you, whether for stories or plots or a phrasing you’ve been working on, or for a cover as in this case, while you are doing something else like the dishes or taking a shower or at work at your day (or night) job. It just hits you, bam! You only hope you’re not in the middle of doing something important, and you fall over and crack open your skull or hit someone with your car. Be careful out there. Ideas can be dangerous things when they come to you in the middle of other activities. Yet that’s the fate of the creative person.

So the idea came to me. First, the colors. White, black and gray. A woman on a platform bed at the bottom, a man in silhouette obsessing over her. The white like a cross, and the woman laying as if on an altar. It was perfect. I couldn’t wait to get home and play with the idea. The title, font and effects would come later, since the title at that time was Ghosts in the Wind, which I thought was artistic, but a best-selling author came out with a middle-grade book of a similar title in December of 2015, so I floundered about for a new title (more on that in another post).

Once I had the title, I created a sheet of fire, which had a mix of colors, from orange to bright red to dark red, but it’s the oranges and bright reds that really popped. As fire, it didn’t really do what I wanted it to, but it looked cool when I created a mask out of the title characters (using a minion pro font). (A mask, by the way, creates an outline of the characters and displays the background like the characters are a window to what’s behind them.) Most importantly, this new design looked great at thumbnail size, absolutely critical to today’s Amazon-driven marketing environment. I added the tank of pressurized gas later for a little color and something more of visual interest. At one time I wanted to do something of interest with the title, such as a drop shadow or a 3-d effect or skewed letters but nothing worked so I left it as is. No reason to overdo it, as so many amateurs are wont to do. (And I definitely didn’t want to LOOK like an amateur, even though I was.)

So there you have it. The Death’s Grip cover in all its glory. Perfect at thumbnail size. Perfect spacing and coloring. The abstraction of an idea, translated from my imagination to visual imagery. I added my name at the bottom, perfect against the black background. I wrapped the black, white and gray all the way around the cover. It really looked cool. I came up with some text for the back. I even did a larger version of the cover for a dust jacket for a hardcover version that will not be sold. It’s for personal use and may be auctioned off at some point in the future.

In summation, if you can’t do it well, hire a professional. Your cover truly is your one and only shot at a first impression. A horrible cover and title could damn you to obscurity for all time. Of course, once they dig into your words, the story contained within better meet or exceed expectations. But, hey, at least they cracked the cover.

Later.

Ken L.



no comments yet, click to start the conversation






The Book That Almost Killed Me. Literally.

Posted on February 9, 2017


Ken L Gould's Blog Blog BlogOkay, the book didn’t really try to kill me, so maybe not literally. I mean, it didn’t reach out and try to smother me in my sleep. It didn’t hit me over the head time and time again with a tire rod until I was unconscious and bleeding to death, then pour gasoline over my body and light me on fire. Nothing like that. So maybe not literally. But in the process of writing my debut novel, I did almost die. The act of writing almost killed me. Literally. So here’s that story, if you are interested.

On some morning in October of 2012, I awoke with a strange feeling. I took my dog for a brief potty outing. As I held her leash and wandered out onto the grass, as she pulled me toward the bushes, I passed out. I mean, black and out. The world faded into darkness, my vision receded from me, and I writhed around on the grass until the world came back to me just as suddenly as it had disappeared.

My dog, in the meantime, wandered around the bushes, happy as a lark, glad to be free of restraint. What did she care that I was dying? She was free.

Did I mention I was dying? Or did you miss that part?

Every time I stood up, I started to pass it. If there is a doctor in the house, they might have figured out what was going on. I had a pulmonary embolus partially blocking the vessels to both my lungs. The clots most often come from the legs, from what is called deep vein thrombosis. You see, the body throws out small clots all the time as the blood pools and doesn’t circulate, so the clotting factors go to work and get the blood cells to clump together. Normally, this is a good thing, but not when it happens a lot and the clots are really big in size. In that case, they can get lodged in places, or worse, break apart and go to either the brain or, more likely, the lungs.  This can happen with atrial fibrillation, as my grandmother had for the last ten years of her life, since the blood pools in the heart. Clots can also be associated with hip replacements and other hardware in the body. In these cases, where clots are anticipated, they put you on blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin) or Xeralto or Eliquis.

In my case, it happened spontaneously thanks to prolonged periods of sitting in one place. You know, sitting, often the main activity (or lack of activity) of writers. Because the action is really in the brain, only it’s hard to use the brain when it’s not getting oxygen because of some huge damn blood clot clogging up the works! It turns out, as I was informed later, that sitting for as little as 2 to 3 hours can greatly increase the risk of blood clots. Usually, we associate DVT (deep vein thrombosis) with long plane trips across oceans lasting six or more hours. Obviously not.

Also, as it turns out, what I had was huge. I mean, HUGE. It was what they called a saddle embolus because that’s what it looks like on the CT scan, a saddle. It looks that way because it’s blocking both veins to the lungs. I mentioned that sometimes it can go to the brain and cause a stroke, but most of the time the fragments of clot go to the lungs because that’s the huge flow of blood through the body. From the legs (actually, up through the vena cava, if you want to get technical) through the heart and to the lungs, where the clot is forced into smaller and smaller spaces as the veins become capillaries. Somewhere along that journey, the clot or fragments of clot get stuck. And there, they remain. Until you die or you go to the hospital and they do something about it.

So back to the story. I, being an idiot, remained in bed all night watching TV, instead of calling an ambulance. I awoke the next morning with the same problem. Every time I stood, my blood pressure bottomed out. The echocardiogram later showed my right ventricle was beating like crazy as it tried to force the blood through the clot.

As I said, I awoke the next morning (that’s the important part, waking up) and drove the dog to the boarders, since I knew I would be going into the hospital for days. I drove myself to the ED at Holy Cross Hospital, where they confirmed the clot with a CT scan. They whisked me away to preop, where they did an echocardiogram and administered tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) that is the big gun for breaking up the clots. It worked. They also took me to surgery, where an interventional radiologist inserted an IVC (inferior vena cava) filter into my inferior vena cava (go figure) to catch all those nasty clots from my legs, since, at that time, they had no idea if this was a one time thing or a regular occurrence.

Later, a hematologist told me that I had a slightly greater risk than the normal individual of forming blood clots, thanks to an allele in my genes. If you have both alleles, you are at a significantly greater than normal risk, but I only had one allele.

To sum the whole thing up, they put me on Coumadin and later Xeralto, since Coumadin requires a blood test (prothrombin time, to test how quickly your blood clots) every four to six weeks to check to see if it’s working and Xeralto does not. Of course, Xeralto comes with risks like bleeding to death. As always, consult your doctor.

Eventually, I got off the blood thinners and haven’t thrown out any clots since. So all’s well that end’s well. I’ll let you know if I die of a blood clot. Or someone else will. Or you’ll read about it on social media.

As I sat in ICU for several days and on the main floor for one more, I came up with the final structure for Death’s Grip. All writers have stories about their works and how they came to be. This is mine. The story of how I developed the final version of a book about dealing with death as I convalesced from a near-death experience. Certainly one of the oddest chapters in my life.

Later.

Ken L



no comments yet, click to start the conversation






Does anyone read anymore?

Posted on January 31, 2017


Ken L Gould's Blog Blog BlogAs I confront what to blog and when, I figured I’d start with a basic question: does anyone really read anymore? Well, if they don’t, I’m fucked. I have all these wonderful, interesting stories in my head, and I need desperately to get them out of there before they drive me mad. I really think I’ll wind up in a straightjacket if I don’t keep writing.

Anyway, back to the point. Do people read these days? Well, yes and no. They read blogs. They read stupid social media posts about nonsense or politics or about what someone ate for dinner. (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t give a shit what someone ate for dinner unless they’re buying it for me.) They read road signs, although they probably just look at the shape.

Obviously, I mean do they read books, either non-fiction or fiction, digital or paper. You know, those things with a lot of words in them that require someone to sit down for  awhile and enter someone else’s imagination for a time (although you could be driving, since audio books still count, I believe.) The answer is complicated, so let’s turn to a few statistics. More than 700,000 books were self-published in 2015, while over 300,000 books were published in 2013 through traditional means. Those numbers come courtesy of Bowker, who tracks these things. That means over 1,000,000 books are being put out there per annum, based on these numbers from past years. Meanwhile, the people are given a greater and greater choice of where to spend their entertainment dollar. As a published author, I’m competing with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime, just to name a few, all of which have great, well-written shows that I watch myself. Shameless and House of Cards are awesome, though you should check out the original BBC House of Cards on Netflix. I really liked that one as well.

[my blog stalker:] So what you’re saying is we’re all fucked.

Maybe. Here’s some more bad news to throw on the growing fire. Industry sales peaked in 2007 and have fallen ever since. E-book sales spiked from 2007-2012 (I mean, they couldn’t go anywhere but up, since they didn’t exist in any widely available form before then) and now have plateaued. Yes, small bookstores are holding their own, thankfully, yet print books haven’t picked back up as e-books fell. The pie is NOT getting bigger. It’s shrinking. Fiction has suffered more than non-fiction in this decline, though experts will tell you not to draw too many conclusions over such a short time frame as even a decade. This things go up and down and may go trend up again. Let’s hope so.

[my blog stalker:] Okay, so I should slit my wrists already, right?

Not quite yet. There is some hope. But let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. I know people who brag they don’t read. They’ll wait for the movie, they say. (If they only knew what I was thinking when they say this, I might get punched in the face or at least be defriended.) I know other people who read the same genre over and over and over again and never challenge themselves with something new. At least they’re reading. I know one person who says she only reads black erotica. Okaaay. Whatever floats your boat. (I had to look up what black erotica was and found a bunch of images that were pretty descriptive. Let’s just say I stayed on that website for longer than the usual 7 seconds.)

[my blog stalker:] I am starting my game of Russian roulette as I read this.

That’s your call, but you might want to read on. Here’s the answer as to whether anyone reads anymore. (Finally! Just answer the damn question!) I’ll answer that question with even more statistics (oh, God no!) to go with our understanding of the modern reader. As of 2014, as many as 16% of adult Americans state they did not read a single book in the past year, up from 9% in 2010, but that still leaves 84% who read at least one book. And a whopping 49% say they read 6 or more with 21% in the 21+ category. These numbers come from a survey, by the way, to be found on www.statista.com and so are self-reported and estimates. Men read more non-fiction than women, according to the latest polls, while women read more fiction. Young people read more fiction as well, but the older we get, the more we turn to non-fiction. I guess considering that time crunch, we’d rather stuff our brains with as much information as we can before our cognitive abilities start to fall apart and we can’t read at all.

[my blog stalker:] Okay, now your statistics are starting to piss me the fuck off. I think I’ll shoot you instead and end this blog post.

Wow. Don’t do anything drastic. The good stuff is just around the corner, I promise. In addition, the pie, though shrinking, is still HUGE or UGE, depending on your dialect. Total revenue for U.S. book publishing industry stands at $27.78 billion, a figure which fluctuates from year to year, but is up from $26.5 billion in 2008. In 2015 there were about 652 million units (books in any form) sold. When you break down this pie by genre or by fiction vs. non-fiction, you’ll find that the sales fluctuate for identifiable reasons. In 2014 no fiction book sold more than a million copies, but in 2015 four did: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman at 1.6 million, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Grey by E.L.James and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Hence, fiction jumped in sales that year.

[my blog stalker:] Well, now, I’m just exhausted. Numbers give me a headache. Good night.

Good night. So what you write matters. Those who do read, those of us who still fight the good fight, who still require our fix of storytelling, won’t just buy any old piece of crap. Statistics, as always, tend to assume everything is equal. Even when you separate fiction from non-fiction, statistics don’t say a damn thing about whether the book is any good or not. Most of them aren’t. Probably 99% of them aren’t a good story or they’re poorly edited or not edited at all. They’re boring, or the characters are dull. I mean, give me something to chew on, dammit! I don’t have all the time in the world for this story to get going.

The decline of fiction reading overall may partly be due to a lack of creativity on the part of the publishing industry, some experts would say. So what if they are publishing more? More crap isn’t going to equate to more sales. I mean, to paraphrase a movie I love, Tommy Boy with Chris Farley, I can shit in a shoebox and sell it to you. I have time on my hands to do that if you want. It’s still just shit in a shoebox, no matter how I dress it up, and you’ll be pretty pissed when you open it and smell it. (Farley’s character was selling brake pads, but the concept’s the same.) We have to remember we’re competing with the writers of Shameless, House of Cards and all those other wonderfully written shows that are far more entertaining than most of the crap in print. Yes, I think some people would read books, which are far more immersive than TV shows, about the characters in Shameless if someone were to write one. The beauty of books is that they can go back and forth through time within the breadth of a single sentence. That’s power that no TV show or movie can muster. They allow us to enter someone else’s imagination, if only for a time, and actively engage with ideas. That may also be what holds books back. They require effort. Why read, when you can let Kevin Spacey do all the work for you? He can tell AND show you what you should be feeling. All of which leads to the conclusion that the modern entertainment consumer is mentally lazy.

In the end, the name of the game is still the same. As an author, you have to separate yourself from the pack. I read Margaret Atwood, and she writes such wonderful sentences. Her stories are imaginative, though they can be a bit bizarre for some. I’m not a huge Stephen King fan, of his books anyway, but he’s extremely smart and knows his craft well. You don’t have to be a horror fan to admire him. I can see why his fans love his books. There’s just something different about him. Same with Clancy, Crichton, and so forth. They stand out.

That changes the game somewhat. Just looking at statistics misses the point that you–if you want to make it in this business–have to be different. And you have to keep at it. Find material that sets you apart–not an easy task, I know–and then write it to within an inch of your life. To paraphrase Hemingway (from the quote on my site), just sit down at your computer and bleed. Then rinse and repeat.

People want interesting ideas. That’s what sets Clancy, Crichton, and King apart from the rest. They just do it better. They feed the needs of their readers over and over again. As I’ve said before, the high from a well-crafted story beats the hell out of heroine any day. And without the negatives. But it’s hard to compete with a handsome actor with star power.I mean, have you seen most of us? We look bizarrely normal.

I believe it’s called having a face for radio. Or a podcast.

Later.

Ken L.



no comments yet, click to start the conversation






The Great Debut

Posted on January 17, 2017


Ken L Gould's Blog Blog Blog

Seven years of my life comes down to this.

Of course, I didn’t spend all that time working on Death’s Grip, now available on Amazon for the Kindle and out in paperback next week. I did work 40 hours a week (well, 33 to 48 or more, depending.) I had to do dishes, laundry, eat, occasionally catch a flick or go out for a night on the town (will someone please remind me what happened that night in Flagstaff?)

In other words, I lived my life. I also took a break to work on something else, which will soon take form as my sophomore effort. It often helps to step back from a work and find another distraction. Mark Twain said of Huckleberry Finn that he thought the creative well was dry at one point, but he went away for awhile, slept some, came back to it and the well was full again, full of fresh ideas.

In addition to all the above, I made amateurish mistake after amateurish mistake, which is understandable. I mean, few, if any, come out of the womb telling wonderful stories. The perfect physique may make the runner, but even a great vocalist has to train the ear, which often comes from hearing your parents sing around the house. Mozart’s father was the director of the Austrian symphony. Of course, genetics played a role but so did that immersive musical environment.

But writing is something different. It’s almost solely cerebral, as compared to those other disciplines, which depend on physicality to a much greater degree. The size of the fingers or the angle of the hips and leg joints that make for the efficient runner. Writing is just much different. Twain honed his skills through a lifetime of story-telling on the stage and yarns spun for  his friends and family. Hemingway picked up his style and absorbed a lifetime worth of story ideas from his experiences overseas as a journalist.

Not that I am any of those, certainly not. Wouldn’t claim to be. They are just examples of what it takes. For one, it takes time to stumble on a good story (and stumble I did; more on that in another post.) It takes time to figure out who you are and who you want to be. These things might seem obvious, but I began this journey from the vantage point of naivete, certain that I would soon be published. “Oh, this won’t take long at all. I can do this.” Of course, reality does make fools of us all (p 295 of Death’s Grip). When I made my first stabs at writing 20 years ago, I wrote in circles, and everything came out as copies of this author or that author, whomever I was reading at the time. I didn’t give myself time to get through that process. I didn’t realize that’s how it works. That’s what all amateurs do, and there’s nothing wrong with it. You make a lot of mistakes, before you learn not to.

Then I crossed some threshold. I couldn’t tell you when it happened exactly. It just did. I began to understand the story at an abstract level that defies articulation. You can’t really teach it. Oh, there are plenty people out there who will claim they have the answers, that they can turn you into a great, best-selling offer. They will gladly take your money, but you won’t be any closer to being a real writer (or a story-teller or both, since they are separate but related skills; let’s face it, we often see interesting stories that aren’t very well written or well-written stories with great, fascinating sentences that are boring as hell.) The point is you have to go on your own journey, suffer through your own mistakes, like a guitarist who becomes really good by playing night after night in the clubs. You have to put in the time. Everyone’s journey is different and takes variable spans of time. Even those great creative writing programs like the University of Iowa or Columbia University can only give you a milieu in which to put that journey in a pressure cooker. You might get there a little faster. You might not. But you certainly will find yourself in a great immersive environment that fosters creativity like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and all those literary and artistic giants in 1920s Paris. That won’t necessarily make you a good writer, and certainly not a great one. Necessarily. It’s got a better shot than anything else.

It all comes down to time. Persistence. A stubborn refusal to quit. Passion, yes, but go a step further into obsession. That’s what separates those who make it from those who don’t. Of course, you have to have a great story, and I found a pretty good one. At least I think so. You’ll be the final judge of that. And then you have to find an agent who believes in you as much as you do, and believe me, that ain’t easy. No one believes in you as much as you do. If you decide to self-publish, a path I would warn you about but certainly not discourage you from in today’s publishing environment, you have to shoot for the same target, a finished product that meets the same standards as any traditionally-published best-seller on the market. Professional editing. A professional book cover, layout and design, all that good stuff. If you are firing on all cylinders, including a fascinating story well-crafted, you might actually have a shot at the best-seller list (which don’t always measure total sales; more on that in another post.) Probably not, but maybe.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to break through the noise. Separate yourself from the pack. Make yourself into something different and interesting. That’s what even the great icons of pop-fiction have always down. Clancy. Chrichton. Grisham. King. They all became their own brand, their own unique thing. You know who they are and what kind of stories they tell, because they aren’t like anyone else. That’s how you make it.

But before you can even think of selling books, you have to have a finished, polished book in hand, and even before that, a finished, polished manuscript. Somehow I got there. I don’t even know how. I guess just word by word, or as Anne Lamott wrote, bird by bird in her book of the same name (Bird by Bird is a great book on the writing process and the life of a writer that I encourage any would-be published author to read.) I crossed a threshold, I understand the story at an abstract level and I sculpted that story into its perfect form until my fingers bled and my head hurt. I crafted a delicate, intricate story with multiple parts that wove around each other until they found their expression in the climax, which, unlike some books, was pretty much near the final page. The reader will judge its ultimate place in the pantheon of literature.

But I did it. That’s satisfaction enough for now. A writer gains validation through several means, but the first moment of true ecstasy is leaning back in your chair and smiling, probably at 3 or 4 in the morning, in my case. I did it. I did it. I’ll never forget the journey. I’ll never forget the people who helped along the way and tolerated my insanity. As I say in the acknowledgments, it’s hard to appreciate and understand someone else’s obsession. So thank you everyone.

Of course, the market place matters, and perhaps that validation (sales does bring validation) will come in time. But for now, the satisfaction is in completing the monumental task that took up seven years of my life. It’s like climbing Mount Everest back in the 50s or 60s, without an oxygen tank (that’s just cheating). You look around, as you are slowly dying, and see the world as if for the first time. And you think, I did it. I really did it. Because you can’t speak. You need that oxygen, you know.

Later.

Ken L



no comments yet, click to start the conversation






Countdown to Death’s Grip Begins!

Posted on November 23, 2016


Ken L Gould's Blog Blog BlogIt’s happening! My debut novel, a science thriller entitled Death’s Grip, is soon to be released. Finally, at long last, I’m nearing the end, though a novelist is never really at an end as a new journey already beckons. Over the coming months, I will detail and relive the journey of Death’s Grip through this blog. I will connect with both readers and fellow writers who might be interested in how that journey unfolded and the travails of it as I present my own behind-the-scenes documentary.

The internet is an abundant of riches when it comes to writing advice and authors who blog about their own journey. Every book has a unique coming together tale, usually involving much heartache and triumph, that is worth relating for posterity. And so I will relate you mine. I hope it inspires you to read my latest work, the fruits of seven years of labor (more on why later) and the distillation of my dreams, which might suggest my dreams are a scary place to live.

Perhaps it will also inspire you to conjure your own narrative. I know you have one in you; we all do. Weaving it into an interesting manuscript is the hard part, probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But the immense satisfaction that comes with each brilliant success, each late-night breakthrough, each well-crafted sentence is better than any high from cocaine or oxycontin. Trust me.

I will continue with the roll out for Death’s Grip through the holidays. This weekend I will release the trailer and cover for the very first time. The manuscript’s pretty much set (barring some last minute input from my girlfriend Angela, whose advice means the world to me). I’ve finished the layout of both the print and ebook versions so it’s pretty close to launch, though I still refuse to set a hard fast date for fear of missing it. I’ll let you know when I have something solid.

I’m incredibly excited and absolutely terrified, but it’s great relief to be at the finish line at long last. It’s like reaching the summit of Everest and looking around at the world as if for the first time (while you struggle to breath, unless you brought an oxygen tank, you cheater). Now I have to juggle promoting one book while I immediately dig into another. No reason to slow down now. I can sleep when I’m dead.

Later.

Ken L.



no comments yet, click to start the conversation