Year End Wrap Up

2011 was a very eventful year for me. I published my first novel, Comet Jack. I tested for and attained the rank of sandan in Aikido. I wrote and illustrated my first picture book, I Like My Dog (True), and published that for Kindle and Nook. I wrote the first Pepperjane Gingersnap book, but alas it will not be published in 2011 (since that would require me doing it in the next few hours). So, while I predicted Pepperjane Gingersnap would be out this year too, it appears I set my sights a bit too high. The possible good news on the Pepperjane Gingersnap delay is that a talented and well-known artist is considering illustrating it. My fingers are crossed. If that comes through, I'll be ecstatic, and I'll be loudly announcing here.

All this pales, of course, to what my family has accomplished. I won't go into details here, because it involves other people, but let's just say my extended family triumphed over adversity this year. As did my immediate family, in large and small ways, over and over. They also started learning the piano and have been kicking butt, which is impressive because I can hear the difference day by day. Working on something every day yields impressive results. There's a painfully obvious message about writing I should take from that.

Back to writing... The three books are all very different, but in some ways very much the same. They fall into specific age-groups:

I've got a picture book for infants and beginning readers, a (forthcoming) short chapter book for intermediate readers, and a novel for, well, everyone. While Comet Jack might officially be a middle-grade novel (or middle-grade/young-adult... is that a category?), I'm very happy that both kids and adults have found Comet Jack entertaining and enjoyable. I was hoping the book would work on many levels and apparently I've achieved some measure of that.

So what's next? Comet Jack #2, naturally. The response to Comet Jack #1 has jazzed me up to roll my sleeves up and continue Jack's story. And while I work on #2, I find Comet Jack #3 is knocking at the door, clamoring to be heard. Also, I've got several first and second drafts of other novels, these decidedly more adult. By this time next year, maybe I'll have two or three Comet Jacks as well as a book or two in the next age category: adult. That'll make at least one Steve Kopka offering for every age group, cradle-to-grave.

Perhaps the biggest change for me in 2011 was my attitude toward writing and publishing. I went from thinking self-publishing was an experiment I'd try to thinking that it may be a primary avenue for being read (and with luck and perseverance, making a living). I'm big on math and it's hard to argue with the math. Instant and more or less free distribution, world-wide--that's hard to argue with. That would be the retail equivalent of having a store on every corner. In every city on the planet. While I'm a needle in the haystack right now, at any moment all eyes in the haystack could focus on my books. My plan? Write the best quality pieces I can publish. I hope more and more readers will find them and enjoy my work.

And when they do, I want them to have more than one or two pieces to read.

So I'm off to write! Please tell anyone and everyone if you've read and enjoyed Comet Jack or the others. Write a review. Tell your mother about them. Give one as a gift to a nephew. Pester your librarian. Ask me to speak at your school. Send me a note: give me feedback so I can make the next one better. Do the same for any author you like. Readers have more power than ever with digital publishing. You have direct access to the author, you have power to get the author read (or not). This new publishing world is not being built top-down, by someone who deems particular works worthy or not. It's being built from the ground up, by everyone, by all of us, readers and writers alike. It's pretty cool.

A "Working" Lunch

I had the great fortune to have lunch with Marcus Sakey the other day. In case you don't know, he's a talented and successful crime writer who lives right here in Chicago. He also just launched a television show. And Ben Affleck bought the rights to one of his books. And Tobey Maguire is going to star in another one. The guy is busy. A friend of a friend put me in touch with him and, really, I don't know how he found time to squeeze in a chat with an up-and-coming writer like me.

Marcus Sakey

But, man, am I glad he did. We had a nice long chat, over some delicious spicy food and BYO beers at Belly Shack. It was fascinating to hear some of the inner workings of publishing and how someone who is shooting up on a successful trajectory sees the current state of publishing. While I don't want to go into too many details, here's one thing he said (paraphrased):

If we were meeting two years ago, he'd have all sorts of advice for me and my publishing career. Now, though... the industry is in the midst of a storm.

Everyone on every level of writing and publishing knows something of that storm--bookstore struggles, publishers operating under what suddenly seem like old-fashioned models, e-readers, changing everything. It's not news (except that it's changing almost day-to-day, which I guess means it is news). What was new for me was hearing something of it from the point-of-view of a successful insider. I mean, this guy has award-winning, great-selling books, a publishing deal, movie options, even a TV show (that he writes himself). He's the definition of writing success. You'd think he'd shrug off this upheaval in publishing. Well, maybe not shrug it off, since obviously he's got some serious vested interest, but, you know, you'd think he'd be comfortable with it, or have some kind of steady mantra, a set and settled black-and-white opinion on the state of things.

Judging from his books and his show, though, he's obviously comfortable in gray areas, so it shouldn't surprise me that he's still watching the storm, waiting, riding it out. (At least that's what it seemed to me.)

Everyone who tries to tell me exactly where publishing is heading sounds like a lobbyist. And, really, give me a smart person's not-wholly-formed thoughts on a subject over an on-message canned speech any day.

We also talked a bit about what a writer can control. Good stories, good quality writing, good editing. The work has to be excellent. That's what you shoot for.

And with a little luck a good writer finds an audience. I'll work on being a good writer and, if you're reading this, you can help with the audience part by pointing a friend to Comet Jack.

Here's to luck, striving for excellence, and 2-hour lunches with beer on a Wednesday afternoon! Thanks a bunch, Marcus.

John Scalzi: helping out the little people

Today on John Scalzi's blog he allowed and encouraged us non-traditional published authors to post to his Whatever: Shopping Guide 2011 (part 2). It's beyond awesome, of course, that John shares his considerable audience with people like me. He says in the post: " someone who published his own first novel on his Web Site long before it was available in bookstores, I can say good writing is where you find it. I hope you find some good stuff today." That is just ultra-cool. Thanks, John!

I had the pleasure of being instructed by Mr. Scalzi at Viable Paradise in 2008. I found him generous, entertaining, and opinionated, three traits that fed one another. Of course smart too, but you couldn't swing a dead cat at Viable Paradise without hitting three people with genius IQs. Anyway, those of you who linked over here from his blog probably know him better than I.

If you came from there, welcome. You might be looking for these helpful links:

Comet Jack on Kindle
Comet Jack for Nook
Comet Jack in paperback

Try a sample. Buy a book if you like what you read. Please let me know what you think!