I was freelancing in TV and being a Vice President of one startup or another and wasn’t making all that much money. I had work every day and I had clients backed up nicely but the startups always failed and freelancing is insanely boring because they always let you go before you can really see how your project works.
Then I had a flash of enlightenment (or an infarction) and Realized an Eternal Truth.
NO ONE WANTS TO WRITE.
I don’t know why. I think it’s leftover from school where all those term papers and essay questions always seem so daunting. In addition, you do an immense amount of work, write something and get a letter. An “A” or a “B.” It’s not a tremendous reward.
Money, on the other hand, is quite a nice reward and it turned out that I could write something and get paid for it and it was usually more fun than watching companies crash (although I must say that the weekend I spent in Los Vegas was fun: on Saturday I was the VP of a pretend company that did online education courses, all of which I’d shot and edited in a single day, and then on Sunday, I was a reporter for Japanese television which meant I walked every damn aisle of Comdex and interviewed everyone Japanese. Since I don’t actually speak Japanese, this consisted of having someone else ask “How’s it going?” and then smiling and nodding through the answer.)
So I began to write stuff: Computer User Manuals, Safety Instructions for Explosives in Semi-trailers, the first real-time comparison between computer video editors, the first news-blog for the Don Imus Show, documentary scripts on Moral Courage, Jews being rescued in the Philippines, Broken Government on Capitol Hill, and finally, the really tough one: I wrote standup jokes for Wolf Blitzer to tell at a roast of Christiane Amanpour.
Both are wonderful people but humor is not their strong suit. The only joke I can remember is:
”Wolf: There are people in the newspapers who say Christiane fires off an AK-47 in the back yard to relax. Well. I’m here to tell you that this story is completely untrue. I mean, a machine gun designed in World War 2? No!
She fires off a Remington Bushmaster with a quick-change barrel/trunnion system, adjustable gas regulator, non-reciprocating charging handle, and storage compartments located in the stock and grip.”
Well, people laughed at the roast.
Oh, the question was about Authorage, wasn’t it? Or is it Authoritage?.
Writing books, anyway.
Well, the stimulus was that I kept getting fired—really for no reason at all, I’m a total sweetheart—and I was getting to the age where they gently push you out the door in most places and leave you sitting on the curb so I wrote a book.
Motorcycle courier carrying newsfilm back in 1972 picks up the wrong film and people start trying to kill him. Since I had BEEN a motorcycle courier back in 1973 it was fairly easy to write although I really resent that it’s in the Historical Fiction section in most places. How can my life be historical?
“Courier” was picked up by an agent and then a publisher, a small operation in Britain (as it turned out, it was one guy and a phone number.) First, they decided to take 18 months to put it on the market which upset me since I wanted to be rich and famous NOW, not after my death. Second, I misunderstood the contract so I finished “Warrior,” the sequel in three months instead of a year and they said that would be published in two and a half years. I pointed out that I could very well be dead in that time but there was no budging the Brits.
My first book “dropped” in May of 2014 and I was beside myself with… well with panic because I had no idea what to do and the folks in Pounding on the Remington or whatever were no help.
Six weeks later, I found out why. They went out of business with a snide remark about the authors “not making their market share” This was the day before I was to speak at my very first Debut Breakfast—at the International Thriller Writers in NY.
I told a story of a good man with the hubris to think he could write a book who gets humbled by the market and are there any agents in the crowd who’d like a nice thriller? It’s even got a cover and everything.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
All it’s cracked up to be?
Well, no. The publishing industry is in total chaos; Amazon is going for a monopoly and driving prices down—not to mention scaring the pants off all the publishers—I honestly believe that a lot of agents make most of their money being paid to go to conventions and get pitched by desperate sweating authors, no one wants anything that isn’t brand new AND has already sold a million copies, and every book has to go through a committee where I imagine every other person is just suggesting they get Patterson to write something instead. There are a million people out there ready to teach you how to write and edit and market and…if they’re so bloody good, why aren’t they writing books?
I went to an event (I believe it was titled, “Let’s Hate Amazon” but I might be wrong) and Susan Cheever talked about how she was raised on the advances of a “mid-list” author and, in turn, raised her family on the advances of a “mid-list” author. Then she said that was completely impossible today. That just cheered me right up.
I have this vivid picture of real “published” authors being wined and dined (I had my book launch in the parking lot of a motorcycle dealer,) bookstores leap at the chance for them to speak, and their royalty checks are taken to the bank in armored cars.
I doubt that’s true of “real” authors and I know it isn’t true in the swamp of the “self-published.”
Which takes me to your next Question:
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
As I’ve said, I’ve had the pleasure of taking both routes and I can tell you that traditional is great if you can get it. For one thing, you can get in to those swanky conventions and sit on a panel or two. The unwashed and unpublished stand at the gates and beg for an agent to listen to them for just a second. It’s like France right before La Révolution. I mean, you can almost hear them hammering a guillotine together.
Well, in my case, my company disappearing because another company was merging with Random House apparently meant that I was a terrible writer and only wore rags. No one would speak to me, pick up my barely-used first book, or even toss a coin in my hat as I stood with a sign saying “Will Write Novels for Food” at Killer Nashville. The last straw was when I finally flew out to Bouchercon and found that my panels had been canceled and my book was no longer in the store. (At that Debut Breakfast, I pulled copies of my book out of a backpack and offered them for sale right then and there.)
So, Christmas rolls around and I find that my eBook has vanished (What? Was it taking up too many storage electrons?) and Random House declared that what was left of my inventory would be mulched for compost. Really! That’s what they said.
In complete desperation and with the certain knowledge that it would end my career as an author, I formed an LLC, and created Ronin Robot Press.
What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry (e.g. rejections, the long wait, etc.)
Sadly, I’ve already told you the snarkiest thing. The creeps said the authors at Exhibit A Press weren’t good enough when it was nothing but a three carom billiard shot that bankrupted, cleaned up, and resold the parent company. Well, that and they’ve blocked me from commenting on their tweets.
I actually think that’s a reasonable thing to do.
My other complaint is about a wonderful book that I’ve been editing for the past 8 months—a memoir of a TV News cameraman in Vietnam—keeps being turned down because “Wow, that happened so long ago” and, “Gee, our Sales guys say no one really remembers that far back.”
Well, yeah! That’s why it’s the 50th Anniversary of the War and everyone and his brother (meaning Ken Burns) is going to come out with a retrospective!
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
Well, the dog doesn’t say much but the cats are complaining like crazy because there’s nothing to eat but turkey. Why would cats hate turkey? And how do they know that making a gesture of covering it up with their paw means they think it’s poop? Where does a cat learn sarcasm?
The fact is that I’ve blown a considerable amount of my retirement money—well, all of my retirement money in fact—but I have a cunning plan. I’m going to write completely terrible Western novels because they sell better than anything else on the market. I mean, I hate Westerns (just read the first chapter of Mirage, Colorado) but they sell like crazy.
I’ve also got several books that I’ve edited that I hope will get published. There’s the Vietnam memoir, a novel (really a memoir but don’t tell the CIA) about a soldier in Laos when there weren’t supposed to be any soldiers in Laos, and a book at Len Bias and the astonishing legacy he left with the players on the Maryland team.
My wife only complains when I don’t ever come out of the office from sunup to sundown. Usually, that means I’m doing something fun like my next book which is a private eye in 1930’s Manila and the real secret of the Tsar’s 3 Billion in Gold. That one is all in my head, I just need time to get my fingers on the keys.
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I have been a loyal and perhaps crazed social marketer. I have almost 14,000 Twitter followers, several thousand Facebook fans, and I’m on Goodreads, Tumblr, About, Google+, and Quora. To be honest, I haven’t seen them do anything for book sales.
The audience for books is a) Old and b) Picky. (I know because they’re like ME!) They want to buy something from someone they’ve read before, someone who is just like the guy they read before, or someone that a person they know has told them is like the guy they read before. They are totally resistant to advertising and most social media. They will try out something that’s recommended by a website they like (Thank you for having me!!) or a book club. One of the few things that works is giving away free books. It really is quantum economics but I’ve given away at least 50,000 copies of Courier and it simply means that I sell more of both Courier and Warrior.
No, social media is pretty useless. Most of my followers are other authors or people who want to sell me 5,000 zombie followers for only 12.95. I care for each and every one of them deeply and personally—which is why I have 4 Twitter feeds and use Tweet Jukebox and Buffer to feed them all my incredibly personal notes.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Ronin Robot Press has over 20 titles on our list. Some I’ve written under various names, some are written by others and we split the royalties. Sometimes $600 comes in and sometimes .50. I swear there are books that I’ve spent months working on and I can’t sell a single copy and others that I think are complete junk and sell like hotcakes.
I don’t go to physical book sales—the kind where you bring your little tent and table—because I’d have to take a nap on the railroad tracks afterward.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
I guess the hardest thing to understand is the strange arrogance of agents. I think it’s quite possible that they can’t get any books through a publisher and are as desperate as the writers are but why do they always demand a brand-new book with a new hook that no one else has seen (in other words, self-published is still “published” to them.)
I try to offer them a consistent writer who has completed three very different books and fully intends to put out 4 books a year for the foreseeable future (writing fast is a TV specialty) but they don’t want that. I mean, don’t they represent a client, not a single book?
So I have to write a book and NOT SELL IT and write silly little suckup letters to several hundred agents hoping that one will find it interesting enough to even read.
Can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
That’s easy. This is the only job I could think of where I could work in a Hawaiian shirt, jeans, barefoot, and listen to music all day.
I mean, what’s not to like?
Inside the Book:
Inside The Book
Title: The Day of the Dragonking
Book 1: The Last American Wizard Series
Author: Edward B. Irving
Publisher: Ronin Robot Press
Publication Date: Paperback - February 2, 2106 / eBook - May 17, 2016
Pages: 316 pages
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Satire
A “mystical terrorist group” sacrifices an airplane full of innocents to a dragon and uses the deaths to power an event that wreaks magical havoc on Washington, D.C. All the wizards in the U.S. government’s employ abruptly lose access to magic, and the world’s computers and gadgets become sentient.
Second-string journalist Steven Rowan embodies the tarot's Fool and is forced to figure out the card's magic on the fly. Bombshell soldier Ace Morningstar, who used her magic to disguise herself as a man so she could become a SEAL, drafts Steve and his cell phone, which contains the ghost of a Chinese factory worker who now communicates through screen animations and bad autotranslations, to help fix the mess. Gathering allies, including NSA supercomputer Barnaby and Ace's BMW, Hans, the team fights off newly transformed demons, dog monsters, and ogres while trying to find out who is controlling the Illuminati before the villains embark on the next step of their world-domination strategy.
It was the insane screaming of four of the world’s largest jet engines being pushed twenty percent past their factory- recommended maximum thrust only thirty feet over his head.
In addition, awake wasn’t really the correct term for his state of consciousness at that point.
Steve was standing stark naked in the center of the room, jerking back and forth in the classic fight-or-flight reflex–his mind frantically spinning between possibilities, developing and rejecting dozens of possible threats every second, and running throughas many options for escape. A small part of his mind was simultaneously working on the less-important questions of who he was, where he was, and what he’d done to himself the night before.
The pulsating howl of the jet began to diminish, but the screaming only grew louder and more intense. Suddenly, Steve fell to his knees, slamming clenched fists into his temples over and over, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Tears flew from his eyes as he crawled forward and began to pound his head against the glass door to the balcony. A small rational part of his mind wondered that he could be driven to such desperation that he would fill his mind with self-inflicted pain in the vain hope that it would expel the shocking sound, the sheer terror, and the infinite grief.
He felt a sharp spark of agony as the glass cracked.
Suddenly, as blood began to stream down his face, the terrible pain diminished. The confusion and terror, the immense waves of emotions, all of that continued to pour through him, but the anguish had ceased. The massive assault of sound began to break down into hundreds of what he could only think of as voices.
Men and women were screaming, a mother was kissing the top of a tiny head and whispering soothing sounds, a man on a cell phone was frantically dialing and redialing–desperate to leave a message. In contrast, two men were running through a checklist with professional calm, but curses tickled at their throats, fighting to get out.
In the center, he heard a steady sound. A quiet chanting– young voices tinged with success and anticipation.
The glass door exploded.
It was going to be a lousy morning, his head hurt even worse than usual, and his head usually hurt like someone dying from alcoholpoisoning.
Steve opened his eyes at the sound of someone singing about hiding in Honduras and needing “lawyers, guns, and money.”
OK, that was Warren Zevon, so it was probably his phone ringing. On Mondays, he set it to Afroman’s Because I Got High just to irritate any senior editorial staff he might run into, but this song pretty well summed up his mood every other day.
He waited patiently until the late Mr. Zevon finished singing about how “the shit has hit the fan” and then listened for the Asian gong that would indicate a phone message.
Instead, Max Weinberg’s driving drumbeat pounded out the syncopated SOS that began Bruce Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own. Since every journalist knew (but would never report) that this song raised the dead whenever the Boss played within a mile of a graveyard, Steve figured someone was truly serious about talking to him.
In addition, he was curious because he’d deleted it from his phone over a month ago, exhausted by its contrast between the American ideal of “help your neighbor” and the reality of greed and selfishness that was currently sweeping the nation.
There was a series of clicks and several of those odd changes in the quality of silence that indicate a call is being bounced from machine to machine or area code to area code. Of course, these were also the sounds that you heard when a telemarketer’s robot war dialer realized it had a fish on the line and switched in the human voice to make the sale.
“Is this a freaking robot?” he said, sharply.
There was a short pause without any clicks. For some reason, Steve thought the caller was thinking.
“Mr. Rowan?” It was a man–the deep and authoritative voice of someone used to giving commands.
“Who the hell wants to know?” Steve hated people with that kind of voice.
“Mr. Stephen Rowan of 14500 Windermere Drive, Apartment D2?” The voice had changed, just slightly. It wasn’t quite as abrasive and superior. Steve thought he could have a conversation with this guy.
“Yes.” Steve’s state of awareness was beginning to recover sufficiently so that it wasn’t taking all of his concentration to talk on the phone. Unfortunately, that allowed him to begin to look around the room. If he hadn’t just received his ten-year chip from Narcotics Anonymous, he would have instantly identified this as a drug dream—and not a pleasant one.
The smashed sliding door. Glass shards covering the carpet. The dozens of framed photographs he’d hung to remind himself of the good times when he’d worked in cool places were gone. They were in a heap of wood, glass, and photo paper on the other side of his bed. Only one remained. A picture of a Lebanese militiaman with an AK-47 wearing a T-shirt decorated with a picture of an AK-47 and the words “Lebanon War.” He reached over and straightened it.
“Mr. Rowan.” The voice on the phone had changed again. Now it sounded like a person cowering with fear. Hell, this guy was afraid to speak to him. “Umm. Are you busy at the moment?”
Steve looked around the wreckage of his apartment. His cheek tickled and he touched it with a finger. He stared at the blood on his fingertip. “Busy? No, not really.”
“Would you be so kind as to consider possibly doing me a favor?”
Now the voice had gone all the way to obsequious.
“Not until you tell me who the hell you are and what the hell you want.” Steve licked his finger, tasting the blood as if it might tell him something about what had just happened. “And stop sucking up.”
“‘Sucking up’?” There was another series of clicks and silences, and the caller continued in its previous, more confident tone. “Mr. Rowan. Let me ask you a question. Could you use a job?”
Steve reached into his back pocket to check his wallet for his current financial position. Suddenly, he felt a hand stroke his butt. He jumped. When he looked down, he realized it was his own hand because he was still naked. Then, a sudden stab of pain proved that the silvery dust all over him was tiny bits of glass from his broken door and he’d just shoved a shard into his ass. He pulled his hand away sharply and held it out in front of him–carefully examining both sides.
“Oh. Sorry, I was distracted for a second. What...Oh, yeah. I have plenty of money.”
“From your increasingly occasional work as a freelance reporter?”
Steve didn’t say anything. The caller continued. “How’s that working out for you?”
Steve surveyed his ruined stereo and television and stopped as he saw his metal-cased laptop. It was rolled into a cylinder. He wonderedwhat in hell could do that to an expensive computer. Or at least one that had been expensive when he’d bought it.
“Don’t worry about the laptop. I think you’ll find your telephone will be sufficient."
Steve’s eyes widened and he slowly pulled the cell phone away from his ear and regarded it carefully–again, front and back. When he turned back to the main screen, a cartoon of a hand making a “thumbs up” sign had replaced his usual home screen picture of the Lebanese militiaman.
Steve just stood there and looked at the hand. He knew it was a cartoon because it only had three fingers and a thumb. Somehow, the artist had made it look happy and confident. That worried Steve.
He heard a faint squawking from the phone. He held the phone with only two fingers and raised it gingerly until it was an inch from his ear.
“Mr. Rowan? Can you hear me?”
Steve cleared his throat and answered carefully. “Yes.” “Good, we can continue.”
“Not until you tell me how you knew about my computer, we can’t.”
“Your computer? Oh, you mean that you were looking at it?” “Yes. How did you know that I was looking at it?”
The voice sounded more confident, almost comradely. “That’s easy. Look straight out your window. See the apartment building with the exterior stairs?”
“They all have exterior stairs.”
“Well, the one with stairs and exceptionally ugly pink paint.” “Got it.”
“OK. Look at the left edge of the building and then run your eye straight up.”
Steve saw the gleaming black cube of a building on the other side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. There were dozens of round white satellite dishes on the roof.
“OK, I see the building across the highway. The NSA or Fort Meade or whatever.”
“Just keep watching.”
Slowly, almost ceremonially, all the dishes on the roof turned, swiveled, swung, or tipped so that they were all pointed straight at him. Without thinking, Steve’s left hand moved to cover his crotch.
He made a noise, but it wasn’t a word. Something between a cough and the beginning of a scream, but definitely not a word. On the top of the black building, all the dishes nodded up and down in what he could only describe as a friendly fashion, and then moved back to their original positions.
Steve cleared his throat again. “I guess you just made that happen.”
“That was better than anything I ever saw in college, even on mushrooms, but it still doesn’t tell me who you are.”
“But it does answer the question of how you could see me.” “Yes.”\\
“And demonstrates a certain amount of power over things.” “Things and quite a few people as well.”
“I would have to say that that remains to be proven, but I can agree that you’ve gone a long way in that direction.”
“Why don’t we leave the rest of your questions for a later time and let me ask you one?”\
Steve’s eyes wandered from the roof of the building across the highway. “What am I looking for?” he wondered.
Then he remembered.
“Give me just one more question first.” Steve walked out on the balcony and scanned the horizon as far as he could. “Where is thesmoke?”
“Smoke. From the crash of the plane that just flew over me.”
“Mr. Rowan. Can I suggest you step back inside? Good. You were frightening several of your neighbors. No, there is no smoke and, as a matter of fact, no airplane. Since there is no airplane, there wasn’t a crash and, ergo, no smoke. That’s one of the things I’d like to hire you to investigate.”
Steve thought for a second. “I don’t like it when people say ergo. But we can deal with that later. Right now, I’d like to know why–no wait, let’s begin with how I would investigate the nonexistent crash of an airplane that wasn’t there.”
“You’re getting a bit redundant.”
“You’ll have to live with it. It’s a side effect of the unease I’m feeling due to the stress of this uncommon and aberrant situation.” Steve’s voice rose to a shout. “Stop fucking around and tell me what the hell is going on!”
“Well.” The voice on the phone paused as if choosing the next words carefully. “The jetliner did crash. At the same time, it did notcrash.”
“OK, I’m relieved that you made that clear. Now that I understand, I’m hanging up.”
“Mr. Rowan! Wait! Just one more minute.”
Steve didn’t say anything, but he didn’t punch the END symbol, either. He really wasn’t sure why.
“There has been a Change.”
Steve blinked and looked at the phone. He put it back to his ear. “Did you just capitalize the word change?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, I suppose I did. This particular change is a pretty big deal and certainly deserves to be capitalized.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. What do you want me to do about this capitalized concept?”
“Would you work for me? Investigate this Change?”
Steve’s answer was quick and automatic. “I’m an experienced freelancer. I don’t work for just anyone.”
“Really? Not even if it was for the Good of the Nation?”
“Stop talking in capitals and, if you mean working for the government, the answer isn’t ‘no.’ The answer is ‘Hell, No.’”
"I believe those last two words were capitalized.” Steve’s head felt like it was about to explode.
“Would it make you feel better if I hired you on a temporary freelance basis?”
Once again, the answer was swift and automatic. “What are you paying?”
“Well, I think I have unlimited funds...”
“Then you’re full of crap. I’m hanging up now.”
The phone began to vibrate in his hand and the voice became agitated. “Mr. Rowan. Don’t do that! It has to be you. No one else observed the airplane!”
Steve’s eyes closed and whatever it was that had woken him up came back with the feeling of a knockout punch. His face twisted up in anguish at the memory of all the people...their terror...their helpless panic. He groaned.
“Mr. Rowan! Are you all right?”
“Not one of my better mornings.”
“I am actually glad to hear that.”
Because I’d hate to think of what it might take to cause a worse morning. What’s your daily rate?”
“Five hundred dollars. Double over ten hours.” Steve always held out hope even though he hadn’t made over $350 a day for the pastdecade.
“You’ve got it.”
Steve opened his eyes. “Plus expenses?” “Expenses and the use of a car and driver."
“A car?” Steve walked over and looked out to the space in the parking lot where he’d parked his light-blue Prius. He thought it was still there, but it was difficult to tell because an enormous jet engine was smoking sullenly on top of the entire row of parked cars.
He could make out some twisted pieces of light-blue plastic in his usual parking space.
“I guess I will need a car.”
“Good. Then we are in business, right?” “I guess so."
“Good. I’ve got some things to do right now, but I’d appreciate it if you could begin immediately.”
Steve slowly turned around and looked at his apartment. His clothes looked as though a knife-wielding fashion critic had attacked them. He touched his laptop and it rolled away, revealing fluttering bits of paper that he deduced must be his stack of notebooks. One of his shoes was lying by his right foot. He picked it up and slowly poured broken glass out onto the floor. “I’m going to need to be paid up front, I think.”
“Not a problem. Just answer the door.”
There was the synthetic clicking sound that cell phones made to indicate the end of a call.
There was a firm knock on his door.
For More Information:
Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads
Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGAQxeQgmYE&list=PLsr5cyVheaIZA45ttkzCXzkudqwGNLe77&index=1
Meet the Author
Edward Irving was a respectable television journalist for 40 years in Washington D.C. Any shred of respectability has been destroyed by "The Day of the Dragonking." He is waiting for the committee to call and demand his 4 Emmys back at any time.
He has worked for just about every TV channel: Nightline, Wolf Blitzer, Don Imus, and Fox News Sunday - talk about culture clash! He has written 4 documentaries - mostly on Moral Courage - and the last one was particularly fun since it was about rescuing Jews to the Philippines, a decision made over poker and cigars by Manuel Quezon, Dwight Eisenhower, a private detective named Angel Zervoulakos, and brothers from a family that was the biggest importer of cigars to the USA.
Mr. Irving enjoys many things he can't do anymore: motorcycles, racing cars, hang-gliding, scuba-diving, and long vacations. The good thing is that he can put them into books. He has a very forgiving wife, two kids, two grandkids, and a LOT of old books.