26 November 2007


Los Angeles, CA: 10,569 miles

I have finally limped, literally, back home. Something went horribly wrong with my left knee over Thanksgiving, but the car, Eva and myself managed to make it home relatively unscathed, other than that.

So, here's the tally (not the final tally, as there will be a few more events and signings to come) since the official West Coast Book Launch Party at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood on October 6:

21 scheduled bookstore events / signings,
39 other drop in signings at stores that already had my books,
9 successful drop ins to stores that didn't have my books, but that subsequently ordered the books.

That's not enough. I've got to figure out what more to do. By the time the year ends I plan to have shown up at every single bookstore in Southern California that is carrying my books, so as to deface their title pages with my nearly illegible scrawl.

But, short of getting arrested, having sex with Britney Spears or running for office - three highly undesirable activities - what's an author to do? How do you publicize a book?

I keep telling myself the same thing that every single author tells themselves: "every little bit helps." And maybe it does. But sooner or later you can't help but do a little informal cost-benefit analysis. And once you do, it is nearly impossible to come to any conclusion other than that this is one really sucky business.

I've had a lot of fun, met some great new people, hung out with some increasingly good pals; but when you compare the number of books I've probably sold with the expense (in both money and time) and consider the fact that for the past two months I have been, by far, my publisher's most active (unpaid) sales representative, you do have to wonder: what's the point?

With a few exceptions, I am coming to the conclusion that book writing is work for people who are A.) Independently wealthy. B.) Possessed of massive egos. C.) Maniacs who have enough self-discipline to get their writing done in their off-hours from their day-jobs. D.) All of the above.

I guess I fit into some of those categories - although it's not all that comfortable a fit. Maybe I haven't quite yet rested enough from the road. Not enough home cooked meals, not enough nights asleep in my own bed, not enough mindless TV... But it's hard not to get discouraged.

Here's some more pictures:

Geese in Portland, OR

Unfortunately, I didn't feel like a drink when I passed the Bettie Ford Cocktail Lounge in Portland, OR

It was, apparently, chili season in Seattle?

Heavier people on the right, please.

What sort of experience is money lending for a palace? Pawnshop in Reno, NV

The ham & eggs were apparently "glorified" with some sort of caramelized banana, so I didn't order them. The huevos rancheros were very good, though. Reno, NV

I'd forgot how beautiful is around around, and from Mammoth Lakes. I did, however, for the first time ever experience some altitude sickness. View from Mammoth Lakes, CA

23 November 2007


Sometimes I just have to wonder about my fellow writers. Too many of them seem to have little appreciation for the business we are in. A great many of the responses that I got when I posted the details of my problem with Powell's selling my ARCs - and only my ARCs - seemed to indicate that a lot of writers have self-image problems. They think they are in business to create great literature and then if someone is kind enough to publish it, well, that's reward enough. Everything else is just gravy - if not the kindness of strangers, then the kindness of publishers, booksellers and book reviewers.

Now I have to confess to harboring a bit of that sentiment myself. It is a great privilege to have something I've written published. I feel honored by the mere fact of its publication and that people who don't know me are actually willing to pay money for my books and to read them.

But I also know that like any business, the point of what we do is to sell something - in our case, books. If that wasn't the point, we wouldn't need to worry about all this nonsense with agents and publishers and editors and bookstores; we'd just write 'em and stick 'em in the closet, maybe take them out every so often to show to friends.

But that's not what we do. We are in a partnership - with our agents, publishers, editors and booksellers to sell books. Sending out Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of our books, is part of that sales effort. ARCs are the sample products that we send to potential buyers and readers to generate sales. Just like most companies do. Just like auto supply companies do. Just like movie makers - another "creative" group of people - do.

There's a simple, ethical rule that governs what sellers do with product samples - whether they are auto supplies, new candy bars or books. If they receive a sample, they have every right to decide whether or not they are going to sell the product. If, however, they decide not to sell the product, it is unethical to turn a quick, easy buck by selling the free sample they received. Give it to a friend, use it yourself, well, okay, but don't sell it. In many businesses, it is not merely unethical, it is illegal. (Most samples are stamped somewhere: Not For Resale; or something similar. Review copies of movies and music CDs are, I've even seen bags of new types of potato chips with a notice like that on them; and, oh yeah, so are ARCs.)

The film industry is a good case in point. The most important aspect of film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, isn't who wins what prize. The most significant activity at those events is the film market. Filmmakers bring their movies to show to buyers for theater chains, TV and DVD production companies. Sometimes, though they aren't usually accepted for the competition part of the event, they bring rough cuts to those events because the final product isn't fully finished.

Rough cuts of movies are a lot like ARCs - often uncorrected proofs, without the final cover on them. They are not the product that the director, writer, producer, actors and other participants in making it, want public audiences to see. Filmmakers have an advantage, though; they can show their rough cuts to controlled, large audiences in theaters rather than giving them each their own copy to take home and show or sell to whoever else they want. Or, when they do give out DVDs of rough cuts - a relatively new phenomenon, they keep a very tight rein on what people do with them.

There's a good reason for that. Copyright infringement is one of the major issues in the movie industry. Film studios are doing whatever they can to avoid having thieves - which is what they are - make and sell counterfeit copies of their movies. If they, say, handed out DVDs of rough cuts of their films, and those DVDs then found their way into shops for the public to buy, theaters where the public can view them, or on TV; the companies selling or showing them would soon be put out of business from the lawsuits that would follow.

It is hard to imagine that any of us in "creative pursuits" can't sympathize with that.

Filmmakers also invite reviewers to advance screenings, sometimes of rough cuts if they want to get reviews in advance of the release of a movie. Or they send rough cut DVDs - but heavily stamped throughout to make it clear they are review copies only. They take a chance doing that. It costs them money and there is no guarantee that the movie will get reviewed. That's just part of business. But they do whatever they can to avoid having those unfinished movies find their way into the public market.

Book publishers don't have that luxury. They need to send out a lot more ARCs far in advance to try and get reviews scheduled for when the book is published. Booksellers make their orders far in advance of publication as well, so they need to get ARCs early.

None of that, however, excuses anybody from the basic, simple ethics of the situation.

But, we writers, and our publishing companies, do, for the most part, cut everybody some slack with regard to ARCs. (Although, I don't recall seeing too many ARCs for sale from big name authors, or the bigger publishing houses. Perhaps they actually enforce those "Not For Resale" notices.)

If a store has customers who are collectors, who want ARCs for their collections, I have no problem with that if they are also selling the real book. A couple of days ago, I happily signed an ARC for a store that is also selling the final, finished copies of my books. In a lot of businesses, even that wouldn't be tolerated.

When my fellow writers tell me that things like what happened with my ARCs at Powell's are simply the price we pay for trying to get our books reviewed and stocked in stores; or that we should even be thankful for the fact that only our ARCs are on bookstore shelves because in some way that helps promote the real book; all I can be is aghast at their remarkable lack of professionalism.

13 November 2007


Portland, OR: 7749 miles

Powell's Books in Portland is one of the world's greatest, if not THE greatest, bookstores. I've been a customer there since the late 1970s when I lived in Portland. One of the highlights of my career writing books was the event that I had at Powell's Hawthorne store in 2005 when my first two books came out. There were 35-40 people - an excellent turnout for an unknown author - and best of all it was in a place that I'd fantasized about walking into and finding books written by me.

Yesterday I walked into the main store, on Burnside, and found a couple of copies of GRAVE IMPORTS, my latest book. But it didn't make me happy.

Both copies were ARCs - Advanced Reading Copies. ARCs are uncorrected proofs that the publisher sends out to book buyers and reviewers prior to the release of the actual book. In the case of GRAVE IMPORTS, they had a blank white cover, a number of typos and minor mistakes that were corrected before the final book was printed, and were clearly marked "Not For Resale."

A lot of authors get really pissed off when stores sell their ARCs. It is sort of embarrassing. Still, I'm not one of those authors. I realize that there are collectors who are specifically interested in ARCs and in the case of Powell's, the ARCs were priced at about half the price of the trade paperback, so maybe someone who couldn't otherwise afford to buy one of my books could afford one of the ARCs.

I, however, don't make a penny off the sale of one of my ARCs. Neither does my publisher. In the case of the two ARCs for sale at Powell's, I am fairly certain that the store got them for free. I had personally sent ARCs to the event coordinator at the store, and also to their buyer for their airport outlets - who I had met at a conference.

Now as I said, I'm not one of the authors who gets completely hot under the collar about stores selling ARCs. Not completely. I don't like it. I think it's wrong. But so long as a store carries my actual, published books as well, I can live with it.

Powell's did not have any copies of the actual, finished, published GRAVE IMPORTS. It was available from Powell's, but only online.

Now that did piss me off, plenty.

I considered simply shoplifting the two ARCs, but that seemed like a bad idea in spite of the no doubt sympathetic publicity I'd probably get if I could have blown my arrest up into a big deal. So instead, I took them to a manager and complained. To her credit, she seemed rather embarrassed by my complaint and indicated that she absolutely understood why I was so bothered. She looked online and discovered that Powell's was selling my books online. She said that she would order several to have brought to the store and put on the shelf next to the ARCs.

I hope she does. I hope they sell. If you go to Powell's, please ignore the ARCs on the shelf and buy the real book.

Now don't get me wrong. Powell's sells used books, and unlike some authors, that doesn't bother me at all. Someone, sometime, has actually bought a real copy of my book and then sold it to a used bookstore. No problem. My publisher and I benefitted from the original sale. But that's not true of ARCs. Selling an ARC is a form of petty theft perpetrated on me and my publisher. Petty enough that I let it slide. I even politely sign ARCs that stores put on sale. But I'm only polite about it when they are also selling the real deal.

I still love Powell's. But now I feel like we've had our first really ugly spat and I can't trust them like I used to.

12 November 2007


Roseburg, OR: 7,570 miles

It does get tiring. There's only so much really awful AM radio anyone can reasonably be expected to listen to. NPR wears thin after a while. I'm sick of the CDs I brought. We tried listening to a Bill Bryson book on tape yesterday and couldn't get into it. The scenery only gets you so far. The little trimuphs, are little indeed. I went into a Borders in San Francisco and there were seven copies of my books rather than the usual four. That perked me up for a little while.

City Lights Bookstore didn't have my books. One of my goals in life is to walk in there one day and find one of my books on a shelf. It's one of my favorite places. As much as San Francisco isn't one of my favorite places, so long as I can go and hang out at City Lights for a while, I never regret going to the city.

I've begun toying with openings for book four in the Ray Sharp series. The first attempt had him burning his nose with the juice from a xiao long bow - a Shanghainese juicy pork dumpling. Stab number two has him kicked under the dinner table by his colleague and friend Lei Yue for asking an impertinent question of a potential client. I don't know yet. I'm currently rereading Moby Dick and neither of those ledes are "Call me Ishmael."

Moby Dick is funnier this time than it has been in the past. And I'm convinced that in many places it is deliberately humorous. That never struck me before. There's plenty of seriousness going on as well, but I sure have been chuckling a lot more than the last few times I read it. Maybe it's my mood. It's one of the reasons I do reread it every ten years or so - it's like an old friend of Eva's used to say: "Every time around the fishbowl, it's a whole new world."

That's still sort of true with book touring, I think. But I am beginning to have more fantasies than in the past about breaking out of the fish bowl. Only problem is, does that mean I have to flop around on the linoleum gasping for breath?

Did I stretch all that too far? Did any of it make sense. I haven't had coffee yet.

06 November 2007


Los Angeles, CA: 6,321 miles

Time to catch a bit of a breath. If you divide the number of "logged" miles I've driven on this book tour since leaving L.A. on October 14, by the number of days, I've averaged 287.318 miles driven per day. That doesn't even count the many other miles I've driven once I've got to my various destinations. (As they are spent driving around towns looking at and for things, I don't count them as business driving - though I imagine I could get away with it if I wanted.)

I'm home for four days to catch up on a whole lot of things, to give my car a little pampering, and then will hit the road again on Friday to San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Olympia, Seattle, Reno, Las Vegas, Sedona and finally Tucson again for Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll suggest to Janet, my agent, that my next book advance be paid by the mile.

Anyhow, here's some more pictures from the road:

Mammy's Cupboard on Highway 61 just south of Natchez, Mississippi. Apparently, Mammy used to be black, but what with modern times and all, they have deliberately painted her sort of an in-between mulatto color.

The fabulous Klondike Mall in Klondike, Louisiana. They have a nice selection of spicy pickled stuff and various Cajun spice powders.

It might have been a mistake to miss our opportunity to eat at Donuts & Seafood in Giddings, Texas, but we'd only recently had breakfast.

Having driven right past it many times, at long last we stopped in to view "The Thing - The Mystery of the Desert." Arizona exit 322 off I-10.

The Thing was something of a disappointment, but at a buck a ticket, not that big a disappointment. It's about five feet tall, looks like a mummy and is holding what looks like a kid-thing. It also has a Chinese straw hat thrown in the case with it. From what I can find out online, it is apparently a well done carnival gaff; a paper mache creation by a guy named Homer Tate.