Saturday, October 26, 2013

QCV Kindle Smoldering

Quests, Curses, & Vengeance has been out for 2 months now, and sales have been well below expectations.  This massive collection of Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories had an initial sales price a bit higher than other Martinus Publishing releases, though considering it is about 150,000 words the price wasn't unreasonable.  The $3.99 Kindle version has thus far done horribly, which is a real shame considering the quality of the stories and the talent of the authors involved.  This volume deserves greater exposure.

Kindle Edition
To help facilitate a larger market share, the price of this anthology will be cut down.  At $3.25, perhaps more people will be willing to give it a try.  This will mean lower profits per copy sold, but hopefully that will be offset by the increased sales.  I have also enrolled this book in the "Kindle Matchbook" program, giving anyone who purchases the print version off of Amazon a free copy of the Kindle version.  That should appeal to buyers, as well.

Thus far, Martinus Publishing has not performed all that well, though I wasn't expecting a massive profit margin to begin with.  That's why a lot of small presses don't last; their editors go into it thinking they'll make money hand over fist, when in reality it is a very uncertain industry.  Most of the small publishers these days have to understand that it is largely about the art of writing, and doing your best to bring new pieces of fiction to light as best you can.  In time, it will either pay off, or not, but the quest is the thing!

I assure you, Martinus Publishing is here to stay.  Money may not be forthcoming at the moment, but if things get tight we'll just slow down, not give up.  I will always make sure that there is enough in the bank to cover basic publishing expenses, but if an anthology has to wait for publication because money isn't available, that's just the way it is.  On the bright side, we now have paid cover art for all of our currently announced anthologies (one of the biggest expenses), so there should be no interruption in the release of any of them.  We just might have to hold off on announcing some new anthologies until I can divert more of my personal funds into the coffers.

Of course, this could all turn around tomorrow.  Bookstore X might call up and order 100 copies of MP titles, thus bringing some much needed capital into the company.  Well, at least it would be a good story.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Wrath of Carthage

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) takes place in November, and after failing to write anything of substance all year I'm finally going to sit down and commit myself to putting down another 50,000 words on a novel.  I've done it the last 3 years in a row (successfully), and I'm trying for a four-time win.

This year's novel is tentatively entitled "The Wrath of Carthage," and it is a continuation of my "West of the Warlock" series, and a direct sequel to last year's "Unforsaken," which is finished in a rough-draft cliffhanger fashion.  In fact, the story of "Unforsaken" leaves so many loose ends and unfinished threads lying around that I may end up merging these two books into one volume when it's all over, but for the moment I'm writing this as a second "novel."

So, what's this one going to be about?  Well, I don't want to give away too much, as it also continues some unresolved issues that are revealed in "The Man Who Shot Thomas Edison," the 3rd West of the Warlock novel that has yet to be released (details about its prospective 2014 release will be revealed in the Martinus Publishing Newsletter in November; to sign up, go to and click the "Newsletter Sign-Up" button on the left side of the page).

Here's a quick blurb for The Wrath of Carthage:

The "West of the Warlock" saga continues into the roaring 20's. An ancient relic is uncovered, the key to unleashing an untold evil upon history. The mystic allies of fallen Carthage lay trapped in the past, and the unwitting meddling of elven mobsters could change the fate of the world. Earth's only chance lies in the hands Joella Talus, Boron Grimes, their ragtag band of allies, and some old foes. Failure means slavery and slaughter, yet to assure success, it could mean the demise of one of their own.  Dare they make the ultimate sacrifice to assure their future's survival, or will love condemn their world to oblivion?

This two-book set (Unforsaken/Wrath of Carthage) is not so much a departure from the "Fantasy Western" format as a continuation.  We get to see some old favorites like Joella Talus and Ron Grimes in old age, and see what the last 46 years have done for our heroes.  It's fun to explore what magic in the twenties would be like, and—as you might expect from a West of the Warlock novel—we'll have appearances from some famed historical figures (including J. Edgar Hoover and Presidential candidate Al Smith).

So, November's going to be a busy month for me.  I plan to have the backlog of Martinus Publishing anthology submissions read and decided upon by the end of October, so my calendar will be clear.  Sometimes I miss the days when I could just focus on my writing, and extraneous distractions didn't stand in the way.  Oh well, at least I'll get something done next month.  See you in the trenches.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Big Blue '54

It's been a little over a year since a 1954 Chevy Bel-Air rolled into my yard.  Of course, back then it was a derelict, little more than a junkyard special.  It wasn't running, half the glass was broken, and the interior was dreadful.  It was mostly complete, and it had spent its entire life in Arizona, so rust wasn't a big issue.  For the preliminary work on this beast, you can check out last year's post about it.

"Big Blue"
My initial intent was to have this thing road ready for the spring of 2013.  As these sort of things go, that didn't happen, but I am pretty sure that I can have it on the road in 2014.  There are still quite a few things to do to it, but things are progressing, as you will now see.

Due to various other commitments, I didn't really do much to the car this spring.  Later in the summer, I began picking away at it again, finished giving it a first coat all around, stripped much of the dash and painted that, as well as the entire interior floor.  I reupholstered the seats, put together new door panels, and recovered the door post molding.  I then installed new windlace, which is the round bead that rings the interior of the doors, just in case you're wondering.

Rear seat floorboards, cleaned and freshly painted.
Laying the carpet took me half the day, and part of getting that down was trying to cut holes for the pedals.  Of course, to do one of these perfectly, you would want to have the pedals totally removed, and then carve neat little holes to feed the metal rods through.  If I ever get to do a frame-off restoration on one of these, that'll be the way to do it; get the carpet down before anything's in the way.  The other nasty thing I had to do was cut a big hole for the master cylinder access.  Unlike every car made today (or since 1955), the 1954 and earlier Chevrolets had the brake master cylinder under the driver's side floor.  If you want to be able to check your brake fluid, you need to tear up the carpet, or have an access hole.  I ended up carving one out.  Again, in retrospect, I could have been neater about it, and perhaps glued a hunk of carpet onto the access plug to hide it.

Back seat, reinstalled.
With the carpet in, I reinstalled the seats.  That left one major interior project left: the headliner.

Of course, getting to the headliner would have to wait, as it turns out I got quite sick directly after installing the carpet.  When I first started feeling ill, I thought it might be a reaction to the spray adhesive I was using, but it wasn't.  I ended up having 2 different viruses, and one left me unable to do much of anything for over a week.  I'm finally feeling better, so this morning I decided to tackle that headliner.

It was damp when I went out at 8:30AM, and there was the threat of showers all morning.  I took down the old metal bows that are used to hold the headliner into place, and I cleaned them off with a small wire brush.  Bits of the old headliner were still glued to the metal rods, and a little surface rust was present.  I made sure to number the bows with tape, as each one is unique in its placement, even though they look nearly identical.  Once they were removed and cleaned, it started to rain, so I went inside and fed them through their appropriate sleeves in the new headliner.  By the time I had that done, the shower had passed, and I proceeded to set the bows back into place.  It's a time-consuming process to set the cloth just right, and tack it along the windshields (of course, I had the foresight to glue new tack strips above the windshields beforehand, as the original strips had rotted away long ago).  I eventually got the thing into place, and then got around to reinstalling the metal trim that rings the inside of both windshields, and helps to hold the cloth in place.  Then it was a matter of attaching things like the dome light assembly and the sun visor brackets.  By the time it was all over with, it was 4PM, and I hadn't stopped for anything, not even lunch.  But it was done!  Mind you, I could have gotten it smoother, but it didn't turn out too bad.

That clock actually runs!
The interior work has been made easy thanks to my purchase of a complete interior last fall from National Chevy Association.  They've supplied most of the parts for my restoration, and I recommend them for anyone with a 1949-54 Chevy car.  Most of their prices are as cheap as you'll find anywhere, and since they're specialists in these cars you know you'll get the right part.  Of course, a lot of the stuff for these cars hasn't been made in 50 years, so there are times where you have to work with an "almost" right part.  There is a certain amount of fitting and figuring that goes into this, but that's all part of the process.

One minor thing that wasn't part of the "complete interior" kit was a pair of triangular panels that sit on either side of the back seat.  The original cardboard panels were rotted out of my car, so I had to fabricate new ones.  To do it right, I ordered some waterproof cardboard, and covered them with the same vinyl material that came with the interior.  I have enough left over cardboard to make a few new door panels, so I may try my hand at making those from scratch sometime.

There are still quite a few things to tackle.  I still have to put the heater back into the car, and then install the new glove box.  I have new kick panels (the little cardboard triangles that go by your feet under the dash), and I have an original radio to put in it, though I don't know if it works (not that you can get much on AM around here).  There are still a few minor mechanical things to do, but for the most part it is good to go.  The only two things it needs that I don't have right now are a front windshield (there is a small crack at the bottom center which is spreading), and an exhaust.  That will all have to wait, as money is an object at this point.

A question of seat-belts:  This is something I'm still pondering.  In 1954, there were no seat belts.  Zero Chevrolet cars came with seat belts in 1954, though some were refitted years later with aftermarket belts.  While it wouldn't look bad with belts, and I personally prefer to have one buckled whenever I'm driving, it wouldn't be truly original if I installed them in this car.  The other thing to consider is that Maine is an original equipment State, meaning if your car didn't originally come equipped with some part, then you do not need to add it.  Even though Maine law requires you to buckle your belt, if you own an antique car that doesn't have them, then you don't have to wear what isn't there.  It may be appealing to some people to have a car that they could legally drive without the restriction of a seat belt, though I'm just not sure if that's for me.  I know I wouldn't be driving the kids around without belts, so this won't be a "family car" if I choose to go the no-belt route.  It would probably stay cleaner that way.

I mentioned last year that I may want to sell this thing when I'm done with it, but that'll all depend.  I don't need to sell it.  That is, I may let it go for the right price, but I won't be chiseled, and if nobody wants to give me what I've actually got in it, I'll just keep it and use it myself.  The only reason I'd want to sell it is because I could then restore another one.  Right now, my "restoration budget" is tied up in this 1954.  If somebody wants a decent driver with a ton of new parts and a complete, new interior, this is the car.  If they want a spotless show car they'd only take out once or twice a year, it isn't.

So, there you have it.  This car has acquired the name of Big Blue—at least, that's what my oldest daughter dubbed it (it's actually teal, but close enough).  It seems like a decent enough name.  It's better than "rust colored piece of crap," which was its name before I got it.  With any luck, Big Blue will be rolling down the road sometime in 2014.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fevered Musings and Altered America

I've been sick on and off the past week, and right now I have a moderate fever and half the muscles in my body are burning with knots.  Don't worry, I'll survive, and if not there's nothing your worrying can do to stop it.  Seriously, though, I've had worse, and I hope to be back on my feet in a day or two.

Now, while I'm trapped at my desk and unable to do much else, I'm reading through the latest batch of submissions for Altered America.  A lot have been pouring in over the past week, and that was a welcoming sign, as I've been facing a shortage of submissions to this collection.  However, as I pick through story after story, I find a lot of stories that simply aren't want I'm looking for.

I hate to reject otherwise good stories, but the vast majority of the newest batch are not right for this collection.  It seems a lot of writers have overlooked or ignored the entire premise of the anthology:  "Tales of Alternate History and Forgotten Possibilities."  Apparently, they skim over the "Alternate History" section and focus on "Possibilities," and have submitted a lot of interesting stories that just don't fit what I'm trying to create here.  In a few cases, writers put together stories that may qualify as "Alternate," but they don't explain the history sufficiently to make it work.

Maybe this is my fault, for not being more explicit in saying that I'm after "Alternate History," for this collection.  I thought saying it was a collection of "Tales of Alternate History..." would have been plain enough, though apparently a lot of people don't understand what that means.

Is Alternate History a genre that is so hard to write?  I have to wonder.  Perhaps those who write it are simply above my pay grade?  I'm sorry I can't afford to pay you professional rates and spend millions of dollars promoting authors like I wish I could. I'm not working for a big New York firm.  I'm just trying to produce fiction that is worth reading, based on specific themes that create some uniformity and hopefully market appeal.  The fact that I'm deep in the Red right now isn't the point, but I'd hope that people would refrain from sending me nasty letters, mocking me for trying.  Yes, I've gotten a few unsolicited notes over the past year, condescending comments complaining that I'm "trying to rip people off" because I'm not offering 6 cents a word, and deriding me for "not helping to advance their careers."  As if I'm raking in a living off of this!  It is pretty pathetic for someone to waste their time to attack a small publisher like this.  I'm glad it is infrequent, but it should be never.

Okay, enough ranting.  I have a lot to consider.  So many good stories that just don't fit; it's a damn shame, but I can't compromise the contents of the anthology too much.  It wouldn't be fair to the consumers who will buy this expecting to get "Alternate History."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Editor's Notes & Rejection Letters

A wise editor once advised me to "never give out detailed rejection letters," and after more than a year of serving as an editor I understand and appreciate their advice more than ever. Mind you, I knew enough to avoid giving out lengthy rejections from the start, so I didn't run into a lot of the problems that other editors have noted over the years.

I'd like to take a moment to assure every Martinus Publishing submitter, both accepted and rejected, that your entire story was read before any decision was made (in some cases, they're read twice or three times).  Yet, some people may feel that they are being ignored or that their writing wasn't really given consideration, as I do not generally go into detail about why I reject a story.  That isn't the case, and I'll explain why.

There's one big issue you run into when writing up extensive rejection letters, and that involves the emotional reaction from the writer in question.  In some cases, a writer will get very nasty and upset over things that you pick apart from their story, and most editors do not have the time or interest in arguing with a writer about why a story was rejected. 

These days, if a writer wants feedback about a story, they can find any number of online critique groups or utilize their friends and acquaintances to improve their story.  It isn't an editor's job to be a "beta-reader."  It is our job to find stories suitable for our publication(s), and we generally need to devote ourselves to that, above and beyond giving out explanations for why we don't want to accept a particular story.

It is very time consuming to point out what I like or dislike about every story, so I reserve that for stories that are what I'd call "borderline," ones that could fit with a little work/adjustment.  Once in a while, I do find a story that is almost right, but needs something different to make it work.  If it is a minor revision, I sometimes do that, myself, but if it has a major creative impact on the overall story I want to leave it up to the writer.  This is when I will point out a change I'd like to be made; when I would like a writer to make a change and resubmit.

Altered America needs more exciting
 alternate history stories.
Deadline is December 31st 2013!
In a lot of cases, I will let a story go due to my personal preference (it didn't grab my attention, the theme wasn't what I was looking for, etc...), so there is nothing technically "wrong" with it.  In these cases, a detailed rejection wouldn't work, since it's all subjective.  Another editor might love a story that I found uninteresting.  Either way, most writers aren't looking to totally rework a story to satisfy a small-press editor's taste.  If so, they're probably better off writing a totally new story and submitting that.

It's a hard job searching through slush, but somebody's got to do it.  Right now, I'm hoping to see some more submissions for VFW & Altered America.  The deadline has been pushed to the end of the year, so hopefully we'll see some more thrilling adventures submitted.