If everyone jumped off a bridge, no, I wouldn’t also do so. More than likely I’d end-up standing there watching and moaning about how I can’t afford to jump off a bridge, or about how my leg hurts and that’s stopping me, or probably there’s be some sort of ‘my arms are too short to grab the cross-bar to swing out on’ complaint. This may sound like I’m actually avoiding the jumping, but it’s actually a way of “getting one up” on the people who are doing the jumping and, thus, getting more attention for myself in the process. Which, mostly, is what we’re about to engage in, only using the year of 2011 as a basis of examination, rather than jumping off a bridge.
Cheered-up yet? Don’t worry, it’ll get dour soon enough.
Publishing & Frustration
If anything can be said to be “what 2011 has taught me”, it’s that one should either have tonnes of cash to force your plan to come to fruition in a small amount of time, or you shouldn’t have any delusions about being successful to any degree beyond a tiny amount. Publishing is under-going a massive re-structuring in how it gets stories to people, who controls what, and even how they make money at all. Thinking “yes, well, I’m small enough to bounce when necessary and adapt as fast as required, plus I’m already starting from the idea that eBooks are ‘good’ and they need to be priced as though they’re Mass Market Paperbacks”, I wasn’t too worried about breaking even eventually on things.
Sadly, I’m in the same situation as publishers at any size of operation are: doing badly financially.
The autumn saw two more books published by Atomic Fez Publishing, both by Canadian authors. They are Dirk Danger Loves Life by Chris Rothe, as well as Terribilis by Carol Weekes. Sales of both have been fairly solid, including a substantial order from Canada’s high-street bookshop, Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s (which is actually a mixed blessing, and click this link to learn why). So, good!
Once the books were delivered, there was still some time to get myself organised properly with them in time for them to be on sale at VCon Nº36, as well as adverts for them in the programmes of that event, plus the British Fantasy Society’s annual “FantasyCon” the same week-end, plus the UK editions of Terribilis in hard-cover were ready in time for that same event. Hooray!
During the BFS “FantasyCon”, Atomic Fez was in the running for two awards: “Best Small Press (2010)” and “Best Novella (2010)” for one of its books, Ponthe Oldenguine by Andrew Hook. There were also a few other categories and titles Atomic Fez showed-up in as part of the ‘long list’ of nominated books for people to vote for. To make it into the shortlist in the first year you qualify for consideration is pretty good (and Atomic Fez is the first non-UK publisher to be ‘shortlisted’ for “Best Small Press” as far as I can tell), and there was one other author being considered by a BFS Awards committee which is the sort of thing they don’t announce. So that’s good too! Unfortunately I couldn’t interest the media in talking to me about that at all, even in a slow news period, and even considering one of the other novellas in the running for that award was 1922 by Stephen King, and he didn’t win either.
Additionally, I contracted a PR person to help me with marketing, media relations, and other things that I hadn’t a clue about, and she did a bang-up job in the early months of 2011. The difference she made didn’t manifest itself until the last half of the year, but the effect she’s had shows-up in the fact that Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s didn’t give a sweet fuck about my books until she worked her magic. Additional things she beat me for until I did them was to get copies of some back-titles out to readers through a contest over on GoodReads.com, copies of the two new titles out through that same process as well as LibraryThing.com.
At the same time, though, sales dropped tremendously, no matter what I did. Advertising didn’t seem to do much; at least not more than have people visit the site more. I’ve always considered advertising as a “long game”, with the notion of repetitive exposure being the key to eventual sales increase. Visit the site though people did, part with their money they did not. Even deep sales of 50% or more, as well as transatlantic distribution centres to reduce postage costs, didn’t seem enough to interest people in September.
So, with the end of this year, and a continual smash on our household finances causing us to hit the limits on all of our available credit and no further allowances for extending that any more, I’m now seeking a ‘day job’ to provide as much cash as possible in order to pour funds into the coffers of Atomic Fez. “Selling out” might be the best description, really.
I’m sick and bloody tired of trying to be my own man, frankly. Over the past quarter-century I’ve often been entrepreneurial out of sheer necessity, but mostly due to me not being drawn to the life of a veal-kennel-living worker-drone. Thus, I’ve been a professional photographer, a retail store owner, an actor and arts-journalist, and now editor and publisher. I’ve probably made far more “working for The Man” in retail, and when with the BC civil service as a file clerk, than all of those others combined. Most of one’s life is supposed to be spent being self-supporting and ensuring that society’s less-well-off are provided for properly; whether through tax payments or charitable donations. So far I’ve spent the vast majority of my working life with so poorly an income that I’ve not paid a cent in taxes (although with no “deductions at source”, so there’s been no refund cheques either), and – being in my late-40s now – I’m sick and bloody tired of it. If spending the daytime hours making someone else rich through my effort means I get enough money every fortnight I can do what I bloody want the rest of the time – and not have to make do with either not having something or having crap instead – then it’ll mean I’ll be free to actually see a film occasionally, have a suit that’s newer than my current 15-year-old one (and it was bought at a consignment store, so who knows how old it was already), and maybe even not rely on the generosity of others for ability to do just about anything.
Still, given the amount of effort that’s gone into the earlier endeavours of my own, it’s damned frustrating that none of them actually paid off, and the declaration by Kevin O’Leary that “if a business hasn’t turned a profit by two years, take that dog out behind the shed and shoot it” is something that either makes me weep or wish to punch the guy in the face for saying. Still, it haunts my mind daily, especially as it could very well be the right approach to take for all I know.
During the rest of the year, I watched movies galore in order to teach myself something about story and structure of it therein. As having never taken an English degree (or a degree of any kind at all, actually), the ability to examine a story and not only know if something doesn’t work, but know why it doesn’t work, has been done based on a combination of reading experience, text examination as an actor, and pure gut-instinct. Being sure I was making adjustments to a story without merely making it match my eclectic and esoteric tastes was something I’ve lacked. Thus, I jammed as many well-regarded movies and TV series into my eye-balls as I could. There’s a lot of films I’ve missed through lack of opportunity or due to considering them “beneath me” for various reasons, but their influential natures are coming to surface in too many things I’m working with as an editor that I could no longer ignore them, in my view. The end result of this effort is recorded in the reviews here on this site, which number over one hundred in quantity (and there’s a bunch I’ve not reviewed during the past year). I’ll probably continue to do it into next year, as it’s a good way to focus one’s views of the film and re-enforce the lessons in structure the stories might teach.
My conclusion early-on in this effort was that, to be successful, a story requires only three things: a solid plot, some developed characters, little bit of action (minimal, even, but at least a bit), and you can mix in with them any story-form, genre, or influence you want. Miss out one of those three, or get the balance wrong, and you’re screwed.
Case in point: the three-part series under The Matrix banner, which got an entirely wrong balance in the final two films, which contain a complete shortage of plot and character but oodles of action, and I found the them to be so generally pointless that their simple existence was insufficiently justified. The first one ion the series was not only the best re-telling of the New Testament I’ve ever seen, and was so perfectly structured in its story and character arc that stopping right there would have been far better than anything else. But the film made too much money, and Hollywood can’t leave “well enough” alone, and need to rape it for all the opportunities it might offer.
An interesting thing to note about the “Matrix Trilogy” is that the gross box office receipts for the first film were $171,479,930 (as of 26 September 1999), with an estimated production budget of $63 million; the second film’s gross was $281,492,479 (as of 26 October 2003), on an estimated budget of $150 million; and the gross for the third was $139,259,759 (as of February 2004) for a film with an estimated budget of $110 million [all figures are $US]. Thus, we have three films made for $323 million making a gross income of $592,232,168, thus supposedly netting $269,232,168, and that’s just the films at the box office during their initial wide-release; there’s still the DVD releases of each film – and don’t forget the box-set, anniversary, and BLU-RAY editions – plus distribution of the film itself after those initial cinema receipts. Now for the bizarre part: none of the films have ever formally posted a profit. Ever. This is a prime example of Hollywood Accounting, which sufficiently screws with the financial records so that they never have to pay someone a part of the profits; just look at Art Buchwald’s experience for further proof.
Key films for various reasons: Star Wars Episodes I-III; Kurosawa’s Ran and The Seven Samurai, as well as Yojimbo; the “Man With No Name” trilogy from Sergio Leone; the Brothers Coen, for demonstrating they do nearly all noir films, but in a minimalist fashion, Spartacus, for the commentary track with the scene-by-scene detailed memo from the writer about why bits were required to shore-up character and plot points; the Bond series to appreciate how well made the early ones were, as well as how each of the films add to a continuous influence of tales reflecting the politics of the times; the series of “Planet of the Apes” and “Alien” films for demonstrating how action and SF can co-exist with intelligence, as well as the latter for introducing me to the brilliance of David Fincher; 2001: A Space Odyssey and Doctor Stranglelove (or “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb) for demonstrating the range of Stanley Kubrick’s talent, back-to-back (the comedy was released in 1964 and the SF-film was his next film, in 1968).
So… there we are: 2011. The only things that I seemed to do well returned no income, and that’s been the pattern for me since leaving high school. Stunning.
So I look to 2012 to provide me with an income derived through the anonymity of working for other people as a tiny cog in a massive machine which probably contributes to the continual division of the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ becoming more and more cavernous every day. Pardon me whilst I leave you to search for a corporate teat from which to suckle.
Bitter? Me? Hell no! That’s not a strong enough word, for one thing…