Roast Me

In my endless, slightly spastic quest for attention for my novels, I’ve gone and volunteered to have The Digital Plague roasted. I’m scheduled for July 22, so mark your calendars to be sitting at your computer all day in order to participate, or maybe just to post endless insults until I cry.

Here’s how it works: They’ll post a short excerpt from The  Digital Plague and then 3 questions. The questions are written by the Book Roast folks, not me, and will skew towards the humorous and/or ridiculous. Then people post answers to the questions, and I’ll be monitoring the blog comments and jumping in as well, so feel free to ask me questions or, as I said, insult me (do I know my readers or what?). I will, of course, be sitting at my desk pantsless with a glass of whiskey in my hand and will post photos to prove this if asked. If anyone’s working on the little puzzle over at the TDP web site, I might be induced to offer hints. But only if you’re super nice.

Then, I pick a “winner” who I think answered the 3 questions best – not necessarily correctly, just “best” – and the winner gets a free book. I might get creative with the prize, actually, and if you already own TDP we can figure something out, and naturally I will sign the book as well if asked.

So, start thinking of creative insults to have ready on 7/22. But be warned: I’ve heard them all, and nothing makes me cry any more. Well, almost nothing.


Filthy Lucre

I was reading Nick Mamatas’ interesting take on SFSignal’s posting “MIND MELD: Is the Short Fiction Market in Trouble?” the other day. The long and short of the SFSignal piece concerns the SF short story market, whether anyone can make a living writing short stories any more, and how the payment for short stories hasn’t kept up with inflation. Nick’s look at it is, as always, interesting stuff:

“I’m reminded of the equally old canard that ‘Nobody can make a living writing novels anymore,’ which shares an implicit claim with the short story version of the complaint. When someone complains about making a living writing novels, what they really mean to say, ‘I cannot maintain a bourgeois existence that matches the perceived social status of being a novelist by writing just the novels I would like to and at the rate I’d wish to’. . .While generally not possible to make a living writing short stories for genre magazines and anthologies. . .even when it was possible it was hardly anything more than a miserable existence. The ‘can’t make a living’ crowd makes the same error as a novel crowd: they are ultimately complaining that they cannot make a living writing just those stories they wish to write, at the rate they wish to write them.”

Personally, I’ve never tried to make my sole living from writing; I’ve always had a day job. I’m too soft to try and survive from just writing – I like my Scotch too much, eating out too much, my house too much. I am about as bourgeois as they come and don’t feel too badly about that.

Could I survive just writing? Maybe, depending on what kind of survival I’d be willing to accept. Last year my earnings from writing – including book advances, short story sales, column fees, and, believe it or not, revenues from The Inner Swine (I can’t believe it either!) – put me over the 2006 official U.S. poverty line for an individual. Of course, I’m married, but let’s stay simple for the purposes of mental experiment. Assuming the old saw that housing should not exceed 40% of your income, and assuming I had all my writing monies available either all at once or at least on a steady monthly basis (ridiculous, of course; writing money trickles in like molasses running uphill) AND overlooking my tax bill for the moment, I possibly could find an apartment in Jersey City that would be barely affordable. If I chose to move back in with my Mom, we’re in jackpot-city.

Of course, remove the assumptions and add in my bill to the IRS, and that all kind of falls apart. I might be able to survive, but I don’t think I’d be happy – I am a flabby little man, after all, and quite whiny when my comforts are taken away. Then consider that my writing earnings were twice as much as 2006 and twenty-five times as much as 2005, and that there is little guarantee I will earn the same amount in 2009 (my advance for the third Avery Cates book will probably keep me at a similar level this year), and you see a problem developing. When you consider my problemed-drinking combined with the quality of booze I’d be able to afford on such an income, it becomes obvious I would be dead within two years of embarking on such an experiment. This also includes my book advances in the mix; if we’re talking about just short stories (which is the sole subject of the SFSignal posting), then I earned a whopping $460 last year from story sales. I think I might have to scale back my lifestyle unacceptably to live off of that, to be honest.

I don’t cry about this. Aside from being enormously lucky in most respects, from upbringing to education to having a good job that leaves me time to write at all, I am precisely the sort of author Nick describes: I want to write leisurely and write only what I want to write about. I would love to ‘write for a living’, but I am far too lazy to actually work towards that goal, which would involve pursuing freelance work of any kind to pay the bills. It is, strangely, much easier to have a day job, which pays for my crippling bar tabs while I poke around submitting stories here and there, making a sale now and then. I much prefer to pray for a film rights sale or that Orbit will want a fourth Avery Cates book and then spend some time figuring out how to reduce my whiskey bills without giving up the single malt. This is the literary life I’ve chosen, and it may well sentence me to a life of day jobbing. Oh well.

The thing is, I think writing has become a lifestyle choice, and people have this movie-image of what a writer’s life should be. It should be book signings with big crowds, some inexplicable fame and lunches with your agent, a comfortable life including a nice lake house or something, and long shots of you at your typewriter or computer, pensive and brooding with a glass of wine or cognac or some shit next to you while you contemplate your next brilliancy. When people who have dabbled in writing because of this attractive image do sell their first book, they often (usually) discover that the advance is nothing to write home about and the royalties vanishingly small, if there are any. Of course, some folks do get huge advances from the get-go and possibly lead that movie-writer lifestyle, but I think 99.99% of us do not. Naturally, I state this with the usual level of Somers research and fact-checking, which is to say none. Your mileage may vary when quoting me as an authority on, well, anything, bubba.


TEC in Magyar

I woke up this morning to discover that My Corporate Masters had removed the lien on my house, though they’re still garnishing my wages. When I asked why this sudden gift had been given to me, I was put on hold for sixty-seven minutes while Gimme More by Britney Spears played on a loop, and then a gruff voice finally picked up and said “Hungarian Rights.”

Yup, the Hungarian publisher Ulpius-haz has purchased the rights to The Electric Church. I am pleased to welcome my new foreign masters, and hope I can advance their cause of world domination in some small way. Perhaps by assassinating someone? Or maybe selling some books, why not.

I never know if anyone cares about stuff like that – I mean, should I send out an email update to folks? While some people seem politely interested in my career, I have to think what they want to hear about are exciting public appearances or major events, like “I sold the movie rights for eleventy billion dollars and will now proceed drinking myself to death” or “I’ve built a fort out of the couch cushions and there is no power in this world which can make me leave its protective walls”. You know, important shit. I can’t imagine foreign rights makes anyone excited.

Then again, it’s hard to imagine any part of my exciting career – which involves, mainly, petting cats and mixing highballs – warrants an email bulletin. And yet I do occasionally contrive to send them. In a weird way that kind of sums up my career altogether!


The Vacuum of Doom

I called my Corporate Masters the other day and was put on hold for seventeen hours while their Muzak played “MacArthur Park” softly into my ear until I was convinced that I’d never have that recipe again. Every few minutes someone would pick up and ask if I was still there, and every time I said “Yes,” as politely as I could, I heard raucous laughter in the background and then I was unceremoniously put on hold again.

I’m in that strange first-book twilight zone, where I don’t know anything. I won’t get sales figures on The Electric Church until next summer, probably, and in the mean time I’m in the Vacuum of Doom, where I have no information to go on and therefore am free to imagine the worst possible scenarios, like Doom Scenario #1: Not only have sales been too low to measure, but people are actually returning it for angry refunds.

Okay, maybe a little paranoid. Part of the problem is that damned Amazon Sales Rank, which has been swelling of late into larger and more frightening numbers. On the one hand, Amazon is one of the few metrics I have to judge sales by. On the other hand, it is famously useless, as Amazon has invented its own New Math to calculate it and Amazon is less than 10% of the total sales market for a book like mine. Still, it’s all I have to go by, and as it grows it looms large in my paranoid fantasies.

My shelves here in the Compound, you see, are stocked with a lot of 1980s SF/F paperbacks by people who have completely disappeared. Some have died, of course, which is a good excuse for not publishing anything since 1987, of course, but some you can find on the Internets, sadly wondering why they haven’t sold a book in 20 years. So I glance at my shelves and think, damn, that could be me. Damn, maybe that is me. And then you pour yourself another drink.

Of course, then you read about something like this: an author defying his own publisher and helping to pirate copies of his own book by way of marketing, and as a result seeing a huge surge in sales. This reminds me of another recent story here, where a self-published author spent $50,000 or so of her own money promoting her self-published book and eventually got a $2-million deal for it. It all starts to make you wonder.

On the one hand, I’ve heard from a lot of people who believe fervently that giving away your art actually results in more sales, and the first story I linked to seems to be another proof of that concept. But I don’t buy it, personally. This is probably because I’ve been trained too well in the education system, but I think about my own experience, and the simple fact is that when someone gives me something for free, I tend to not buy it. Simple truth. I regard free shit as a sucker’s gift and I run away with it clutched in my hands to gloat over it and call it precious and then sleep the sleep of the just later on.

Now, if you give me a part of a book or album of movie – a sample – that will, naturally enough, sometimes inspire me to buy the whole thing. But if you give me the whole thing, I simply never even consider buying it. I don’t steal books or music either, I want to point out – I’m talking about a freely given copy of something. Maybe I am just an evil little bastard. It’s always possible. Certainly my imaginary double, Mr. Evil, tells me that all the time, generally while he’s advising me to burn down buildings and build homemade pipe bombs.

And one thing I definitely am is ignorant and slightly foolish, so it’s always possible I’m totally missing the damn point with this theory.

None of which helps me with my paranoid fantasies, of course. Oh well.


GUD Magazine a-comin’

Having a writing “career” is an odd thing, sometimes: There is an awful lot of waiting around for things to come out. No matter how many stories or novels or epic poems you sell, you spend a lot of time with nothing going on (aside from the maddening attempt to record your genius on paper, where genius tends to wilt and brown up a bit). That’s why whenever I have news, I tend to post it everywhere, to create the illusion that writing isn’t all about sitting at a desk in the dark, tapping on a keyboard.

So: Check out some samples of GUD Magazine issue 2.0, which include my short story closer in my heart to thee. You can read samples of all the pieces, and even buy individual stories electronically if you’re so inclined. From what I’ve seen, however, you should buy the whole damn thing as it’s excellent. I mean, damn, it includes a Somers story! IT MUST BE GREAT! Or something. Ahem.

Looks like I’ll end 2007 with 51 short story submissions and 1 sale. Last year I managed 64 subs and sold 4 stories – it always varies a little. Submissions can be a lot of work; in 2002 I managed a whopping 107 submissions (4 sales) but there’s been a steady slide since then as I’ve acquired a wife and 4 cats since then, not to mention a few steady writing gigs (like my column in Brutarian and my column in Xerography Debt, not to mention the Avery Cates books). I’m a little disappointed I only got 51 subs out this year, but on the other hand it’s almost a triumph of the will to have gotten that many out the door.

Plus, response times seem to have shot up all around as markets are deluged with submissions, and that’s a factor. If I’d gotten things back more quickly I might have turned them around a bit. I don’t believe in “trunk stories”; I’ve sold stories years after first sending them out, and I think a good story is a good story even if 30 people reject it. I admit that sometimes when a story’s been rejected a lot I take a second look at it and realize there’s a reason it keeps getting the bounce, but I’ve also had stories that were rejected a lot suddenly sell and get praise, so I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule. Besides, the damn things won’t sell unless you submit them, right? I mean, maybe when you’re world-famous editors are calling you up to beg for stories, but when you’re Jeff Somers, moderately unknown author, you have to hustle a little.

So. Check out GUD Magazine and buy some fiction fo’ yo’self, ‘kay?


The Whirligig Reborn


The WhirligigThat’s right–The Whirligig, famed lit-zine, is back in business. Featuring fiction by Your Humble Writer here as well as Nick Mamatas, August H. Bjorn, Karl Koweski, Kevin Dole 2, and Mikael Covey, as well as poetry and non-fiction. Go check out the web site and be amazed. It’s a paying market, too, so if you’re a writer in need of liquor monies, check their submission guidelines.

When you’re done, send editor JD Finch a note to say how cool he is to publish me, and hint strongly that you’d buy scads of issues if my name appeared on every cover, yes? Yes.



Well, what’ya know: The Electric Church is available for Amazon’s Kindle. I had no idea.

I think the Kindle is a loser, personally. I think all e-readers are losers. Granted, I’m an old fogey who was raised on books, but frankly I think the book is simply a near-perfect information delivery system and won’t be replaced. Certainly not by some clunky, DRM’d piece of crap like the Kindle, which doesn’t let you loan books to friends and won’t take a dunking in the bath very well. Sure, you can keyword-search it, but, well. . .who cares?

The other day I wanted to recall a bit of Victorian slang I’d read in The Great Train Robbery  by Crichton. Good book. For my own obscure reasons I wanted to remember this slang, so I picked up the battered hardback copy I’d bought from a library a few years ago and started reading. I flipped around until something seemed vaguely familiar and on-target, and spent half an hour pleasantly re-reading parts of the book until I found what I was looking for.

Sure, I could have searched on the text for two minutes and found exactly what I needed, but shit, that would not have been nearly so fun. So screw searchable text. I won’t miss it.

Some people think e-readers might actually kill books someday. It’s possible that if kids start getting their information exclusively from e-readers some day they’ll never know how grand a physical book can be, and boom! There go books. But that doesn’t address the fact that books, so far, deliver the information in a more efficient, flexible, and affordable way. They never stop working, require pretty much incineration to become unusable, and also happen to be beautiful physical objects, unlike your e-readers which are hideous blobs of carbon. Plus, you own a book in the old-fashioned sense. You can lend it, give it away, doodle your name on page 69 and use it to balance your kitchen table when it rocks annoyingly. It’s yours.

I like that. Someday I will build a small fort in my living room out of my books, and live there until my wife loses patience.


God Bless the Local Press

News from Jersey and Ohio:

First–yesterday I picked up a copy of our proud local newspaper, The Hoboken ReporterHudson Reporter and Handsome Bastard, and lo and behold, there’s an extended story on, you guessed it, Your Humble Author. Because I am the hotness.

I was interviewed by none other than Caren Lissner, Editor-in-Chief and also a popular author in her own right, which means Caren knows a thing or two about the writing business and asked me some really interesting questions about the business of being an author, and also let me ramble on quite a bit about various things the way I often do. It’s really a very nice piece and if you live in this area you should pick up a copy and then tell me how much of a nerd I sound like.

This was good timing because ever since World Fantasy Con I’ve been sitting here dozing at my desk wondering how to keep up momentum. Promoting a book is a marathon, not a sprint, and I often wonder how in the world you keep the universe interested in your novel, aside from wandering the earth with a copy in your backpack and stopping at every diner and bar and reading a bowel-shaking snippet of action-packed prose, and then having some handy order forms ready to take orders.

I don’t think the piece is on their web site yet; if they ever post it I’ll let y’all know. [UPDATE: Posted.]

Second: The Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s John R. Alden wrote a really nice review of The Electric Church:

“”The Electric Church” proves once again that, at least in the world of books, being bad can be a whole lot of fun.”

So there you go–today I am dominating the local press of the world. Don’t let the efforts of these fine folks go to waste! Buy another copy today!


Quimbys, and then the World!

Two quick notes:

QUIMBYS WILL CRUSH YOU1. The fantastic bastards at Quimby’s, our beloved Chitown bookstore, have stocked The Electric Church on their hallowed shelves. I did a reading at Quimby’s a few years ago during the first incarnation of the Big-Assed Famous Tour, 2002, and it remains a fond memory. This is one of the coolest bookstores left in this sad world. Every time you’re in a big-box store and thinking it totally kind of depresses you, think about taking a pilgrimage to Quimby’s, my friends, and refresh your soul.

2. My publisher has just informed me that we’ve sold Italian rights to The Electric Church. We sold Russian rights some time ago, so my Reign of Terror marches on, unopposed. These translations should be easy, as all you have to do is come up with the Italian or Russian equivalents of about 10 expletives and you’re about 50% done.

Still contemplating World Fantasy. Met so many damn people I’m still coming up with more folks I have to send a note of thanks to, a few every hour or so. Amazing that I remember any of them considering how much I drank–my publisher ought to know better than to offer me free booze. All of my interactions with them went like this:

Brilliant Editor: Hi Jeff! Can I buy you a dr–

ME: Yes please.

Brilliant Marketing Person (joining us): Hey guys! Jeff, anyone bought you a drink yet–

ME: Yes please.

Now just picture me wearing a sash that says PUBLISHED AUTHOR while dressed like the Monopoly Man, and you have some small idea of what my weekend was like. Though admittedly some of this is conjecture as I remember very little of it.


The Whirligig is Comin’

Since there’s nothing in my contract that specifies I must blog about my own damn book all the time, I think I’ll take a break here and flog something else. My Corporate Masters might send someone to break a finger or perhaps deny me potable water for a few days again as punishment, but screw it. What’s life without chances?

So I direct your attention to The Whirligig. The Whirligig used to be edited by Frank Marcopolos, who later sold it to the indomitable J.D. Finch. The first issue of the new Whirligig is coming out very soon, and I have a story in it. Huzzah for me.

The Whirligig is a litzine, though now that it’s a paying market I’m not sure it’s a zine, really, but screw semantics. What it is is a grand read—always was under Frank’s stewardship and I have no reason to doubt the new incarnation will live up to the legend. Here’s the description:

“Included will be Bram Stoker nominee Nick (Move Under Ground; Under My Roof) Mamatas with another of his well-wrought entertaining/disturbing stories. Longtime zinester Jeff Somers, who has a new novel called The Electric Church (Orbit) out now, will be represented with a hard-edged story that almost needs a new genre to describe it — how about avant-noir? Jeff will be at WFC with the book, as will I, to catch any stray rays of his reflected glory, which I’ll use to illuminate the wonders of The Whirligigzine, Issue 1a. Or something like that. (Jeff’s site, is worth a visit.)

And if you like hard-hitting stories, where horror is an everyday occurrence and the writing keeps you off balance, Karl Koweski and Kevin Dole2 will set you up with a couple that make Palahniuk look like a sissy. And top it all off with an excerpt from Arik Berglund’s novel The Prodigal sending you on an all-expenses-unpaid trip to one of the circles of an outrageous and hilarious Dantesque hell in the modern world.

And then the poets…

But I’ll tell you about them in another update. They deserve one of their own.”

Finch will be attending World Fantasy Con concurrent with the launch of the first issue, so if you’re planning to be there come find us and we will tell you more than you want to know about TW and my story in it. In the mean time, you can also check the Whirliblog to keep updated. Send him some money, dammit.