Clutter Returns

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If you’re an avid reader of All Things Holic (there might be someone out there who fits under this description…maybe? seriously, does anyone want to step up and be a Holic-aholic?), you might have noticed that my serialized graphic novel “Clutter” went on hiatus sometime last Fall.

It’s okay. Don’t worry. The project wasn’t abandoned. The publication, Smalldoggies Magazine, just underwent a major renovation (<—-that’s a metaphor that seems to fit within the world of “Clutter”). Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Smalldoggies Magazine was demolished so that a new building could take its place. Matty Byloos, the co-founder of the magazine, created a new online publication called Nailed Magazine; all of the content from the old magazine was transferred over, and now they’re starting to publish new material.

So anyway. “Clutter” has just resumed. It feels a little weird to pick up the pencil and pen again after so much time off, and it will likely feel weird to read this single new installment of the series (since it takes place within the very short time span of the overall series, and assumes that you just finished reading Part 13), but hopefully that weirdness doesn’t last.

Get set for more “Clutter” soon. Until then, maybe it’s time to get a refresher, and to reread some of those old installments, right? Just click on “Publications” on the menu bar up there, and then “Graphic Narratives,” and there are links to every single episode.

Review – 15 Views Volume II

There’s a new review of 15 Views Volume II published at The Nervous Breakdown.

 

Check it out! Here’s an excerpt:

The hard work and attention to detail that went into producing 15 Views Volume II: Corridor is uncanny. The narrative is fluid, and eerie silhouette-like papercuts kick off each chapter and add to the overall personality of the compilation. The result is a mosaic of literary and visual brilliance that captures the everyday essence of life in two of Florida’s most misunderstood metropolitan areas.

–Lavinia Ludlow, The Nervous Breakdown

Huffington Post

Guess what? I’m on the Huffington Post.

The column is called “When Do We Stop Caring About the Brands That Define Us?” and originally appeared as part of a feature at UCF Today called “The UCF Forum” (columns by faculty members and students).

Okay, okay. I know that this–like my recent appearance on Amazon–isn’t exactly a milestone. There are hundreds of thousands of authors who have appeared on the Huffington Post.

But don’t ruin my fun, okay?

Check out my first column at Huff Po, and always remember where you were when you saw it for the very first time.

Reading Books While Burping My Baby

My baby is no longer a baby. He’s a toddler. And he doesn’t need to be burped, obviously. The kid can put down some food.

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But for the year 2012, I wrote a column at Burrow Press Review (and Burrow Press Extra, the BP Tumblr site) about my reading habits over the course of the first year of my fatherhood.

At some point, we hope to release the essays  as an e-book, with original content not previously published. But here is one of the final short essays that I wrote in February/ March 2013, in which I take inventory of how many books I was able to read, and what these books say about me.

Taking Inventory of Books Read While Burping My Baby

It’s actually the final note of a three-part essay about my sucky reading habits when it comes to female authors. If you’re in the mood to read all three, just use this bullet-pointed list:

Oh, and one final link: here is the latest installment of my Fight For Your Long Day comic adaptation. I haven’t been as quick to put out new comic installments, simply because [insert excuse about being busy here], but if you’ve followed along, or if you’ve read the book, hopefully you’ll dig it.

The Adventures of an Elderly Couple…

With all the hoopla surrounding my book release, I forgot to post this quick writing update a few weeks back.

My story, “The Adventures of an Elderly Couple Unseen  in the Avengers,” appears in the awesome magazine Barrelhouse, as part of their online superhero issue.

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This story is part of an ongoing collection of fictions I’ve been writing in which I focus on a throwaway disposable character in a horror/ B-movie (usually someone who appears in a movie solely for the purpose of dying), and try to actually re-create that person in an empathetic and meaningful way.

In the world of the Hollywood horror film (and action film, in the case of The Avengers), people exist as props. They have no back stories. No one cares about them, except as interesting “deaths” or whatever. We watch them appear on-screen, and then we watch them die, and aside from a quick shudder (or a laugh, if the movie is especially bad), we forget about them.

In the fictional world I’ve conjured, though, every human life has value. Every horror movie death is a tragedy, even if it isn’t the A-list lead actor/actress. In fact, the death is made all the more tragic if it isn’t the lead actor…if it’s someone who did not die heroically…if it’s someone whose death meant nothing. That’s some sad shit.

Anyway. Most of the stories I’ve written involve horror movies. This is the only one that takes place in a superhero movie, but The Avengers was definitely a big-budget B-movie, a monster film in the Godzilla tradition, where buildings fall and get knocked down and blow up  and we are asked to not think about the human lives lost in each explosion…Check it out.

Marketing My Writing Part IV: Blurbs

It is with great pride that I submit to you the following statements about American Fraternity Man, written by authors for whom I have tremendous  respect:

The culture of Greek life is both skewered and embraced in this take-no-prisoners coming of age novel from debut author Nathan Holic. Here, you’ll meet one character who has reached the conclusion that goodness is just and that evil is easy to spot. But for Charles Washington, the dynamic hero of this compelling story, right and wrong are slippery things. In the end, it’s a pleasure to tumble into Charles’ world, even as we watch that world pulled out from under him. American Fraternity Man is, at once, satire and seriousness itself. But, more than anything, it is a compulsively readable book, a thrilling ride, beginning to end.

David James Poissant, author of The Heaven of Animals

Nathan Holic writes with the precision and confidence of a true badass. Hide your valuables and DIG IN.

 –Lindsay Hunter, author of Daddy‘s and Don’t Kiss Me

In a transnational tour of the college scene, it’s Man versus the Fraternity World, and even the parents are too drunk to drive. Nathan Holic offers a fast-paced and multifaceted look at campus Greek culture and what it might take to effect change from within.

Alex Kudera, author of Fight For Your Long Day

Three simple statements, and they appear unassumingly enough on every press release for my novel, tucked into a corner or a margin or a final paragraph; they appear on the book itself, one on the back cover and the other two just inside the front cover; they appear on the publisher’s web site, and they appear on the web site’s of booksellers, and they appear (just one, or maybe all three) on posters and flyers for release parties and readings and appearances…

Three simple statements for which I am incredibly grateful, and which I share endlessly, and boast about loudly, and yet collectively they constitute (for the first-time novelist…you know, me) one of the greatest sources of anxiety in an emerging writing career.

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These types of statements, known in the writing/publishing/editing industry as the genre of the “blurb,” feel–to readers–as commonplace and simple as the book description itself. Perhaps they’re borderline invisible, taken  for granted in the same way that we often take for granted excerpts of movie reviews on DVD boxes. “Of course there’s a critic out there who liked the movie,” we say, and our eyes glaze over the quote.

But–to writers/publishers/editors–the blurb genre is not something to be glossed over. It’s a genre that evokes strong feelings, and it’s endlessly complicated and (maybe I’m just a nerd here) endlessly curious.

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As unassuming as the blurb seems, many find it to be absolutely vital to establishing a book’s credibility. It is an ethical appeal (ethos, they say in the composition classroom), with the blurbing authors lending the totality of their brands to this newly published book. Sometimes the reason is obvious: Peter Straub (an esteemed and celebrated horror author) writing a blurb to endorse newcomer Benjamin Percy, authors of similar content or subject matter speaking just a few sentences and propping one another up (a la Bill Clinton and Barack Obama).

Sometimes the connection is not always obvious. Looking at my bookshelf, the spine of Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End (a humorous but deeply empathetic look at lives in an advertising office) shows a quote from Nick Hornby (“Terrific,” he says, and it’s easy to see why his endorsement is so important, since Hornby writes humorous but deeply empathetic novels) and also Stephen King (“Hilarious,” King writes). But wait…when was the last time you picked up a Stephen King novel and thought “This one is going to be a laugh riot!”? In this case, perhaps the publishers were looking to reach a new audience; perhaps the Stephen King crowd could be convinced to step outside their boxes.

Examining the blurb more closely, though, we might also ask further questions: was this blurb for some sort of mutual benefit? Stephen King, after all, began his quest for “literary” (and not strictly “horror”) recognition in the early 2000s, editing The Best American Short Stories and publishing regularly in The New Yorker. He wanted to be known as something more than just an easily dismissed horror writer, and in fact, in his book On Writing he dedicates an appendix to his “reading list” of the past several years…a list that includes a wide variety of genres and shows King as being well-read not just in thrillers and horror novels, but also in literary fiction. Does this blurb help King’s growing reputation as a literary writer? The blurb might have been genuine, but it was a statement that bolstered the brands of both writers.

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This type of thinking, of course, leads you down this dark and difficult path whereby you start imagining “mutual benefits” everywhere, strings pulled, favors called upon, authors weighing whether to lend support based upon whether said support will boost their own brand. There’s an essay by Rachel Donadio from The New York Times a few years back called “He Blurbed, She Blurbed,” which calls into question the “business” of blurbing. This article shows us something far more disturbing than just a favor, though: she highlights a company called Blurbings LLC, which helps authors to find blurbs. Donadio’s discussion of the intricacies of the blurb business are far more nuanced than my own ramblings here, as she interviews editors and agents to get their take on whether blurbs are truly “worth it,” with some of them answering wearily that a moratorium should be placed on blurb-hunting. Destroy the genre!

Brad Listi, on his Other People podcast (which I listen to religiously, and which–strangely–seems to touch on topics just as I’m dealing with or pondering them in my own life) spoke at length about his own experience in blurbing. For his debut novel, Attention. Deficit. Disorder., he was honored to receive a blurb from poet-junkie Jim Carroll of Basketball Diaries fame. Listi allowed himself to imagine a life in which he became friends with Carroll, and (his mind drifting to fantasy) the two of them hanging out in LA with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg (from the film version of the book), a whole new life stemming from Carroll’s blurb that Listi’s novel was “a perfect book.” Listi, however, never met Carroll…and now doubts that Carroll ever read the book at all, the blurb instead the result of Carroll’s editor giving a favor to Listi’s editor. The realization (on the podcast) is depressing, especially since Carroll is now dead, and really there’s no chance to ask and to learn the truth.

Clearly it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t proposition. Get a blurb, and there will be some inherent distrust over why the authors are listed on your book cover (just a favor?); there will be questions over whether they even read the book, or whether it’s all just marketing and advertising and branding, and whether there’s any honesty whatsoever in the entire blurbing game. But if you don’t get a blurb? Well, now your book looks barren. Now it looks as though you have no one who will step up and endorse you. You are a resume without references. You are a movie that has “not been screened for critics.” You could have the best book ever written, but somehow the omission of the blurb–the unassuming, innocuous blurb–is a glaringly obvious reflection of your book’s terribleness.

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So anyway. These were the thoughts on my mind as I imagined the blurbs I would seek, the authors I would ask.

My publisher actually told me that I didn’t need blurbs. “I’ve never bought a book based on a blurb,” he said.

Maybe that should have been encouraging? Maybe he was trying to relieve my anxiety? I don’t know. All I could think, though, was that some readers do put a lot of stock in the blurb. For a first-time novelist, at least. Nobody’s buying Philip Roth based on a blurb, probably, but if a reader is intrigued by my book, my first novel, and then they see Stephen King’s “Hilarious!” on the cover, maybe that pushes them over the edge and the reader gives me a chance?

(No, Stephen King did not call my book “hilarious.” But you’re free to believe it if you want!)

So I had to have blurbs. Really, it wasn’t even a question. If they helped me to reach new readers, then I needed them. It took me seven years to write and publish the damn novel, so I wasn’t going to skip out on this one last little step.

But blurb requests (no matter what) are favors, a request for someone else to read and evaluate your work and then (potentially) offer a statement, and I hate asking people for favors. When I ask a favor, I feel like I’m basically saying “Your time is less valuable than mine,” and/or “I want something from you for free,” which I know isn’t always the case…but that’s what I’m always thinking, at least…I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade (ever since I started grad school) building relationships with writers I appreciate and admire, getting to know other authors and becoming a part of a larger literary community where we lend support and share advice and commiserate, etc., and when you start asking for favors, you can put a lot of strain on those relationships. You can come across as a “user,” someone who takes and takes and builds up a ridiculous credit card debt but never makes a payment. I mean, my novel is 450 pages: requesting blurbs meant that I would be asking someone to read a brick-heavy book that would consume several weeks of their lives, and to then write really nice things about it so that I could capitalize off their name/work.

Not to mention: what if I started asking other authors to read and blurb my work, and they responded simply with “No thanks, I don’t really like your work.” (Or something more polite, but still equally deflating.) That was a devastating thought, to be rejected once again even as I was about to be published.

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I still find it remarkable that I found three authors–David James Poissant, Lindsay Hunter, and Alex Kudera–who think enough of me to not only read my work, but also to have written blurbs for me that are so perfect that I can nearly recite them all by heart.

I’ve never met Alex face-to-face, though we’ve corresponded for awhile because I’ve been (for a couple years now) enamored of his novel Fight For Your Long Day. I only worked one semester as an adjunct instructor (the subject of his book), so I’m not completely immersed in the lifestyle his book describes, but still, it’s a piece of social commentary about our university culture that needed to be written, and he rendered it perfectly.

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And Lindsay Hunter? She’s emerging as one those “voice of our generation”-type writers. And she had her own new book to worry about (it should be released in the next couple of days), and she just had a baby (she read my book and wrote the blurb in the weeks before her delivery; her blurb labels me a “badass,” but seriously, Lindsay’s the true badass here).

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And I’ve written enough about David James Poissant in my “Reading Books While Burping My Baby” column that he probably thinks I have a creepy man-crush on him, so I’ll hold off on further praise here…(except to say that I can’t wait for his short story collection to be released next year).

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All the arguments over blurbs. All the anxiety. All the nervousness, the internal/external debate. The articles I’ve read, the spines and dust jackets I’ve studied. The fear over asking for favors. And what, in the end, am I left thinking? What am I left feeling?

Happiness. Seriously: I complicate and over-think everything, but I feel only happiness of the most uncomplicated sort. Gratitude that these authors lent me their names and their talents, yes, but every time I read those blurbs and see those names: just pride and happiness. Poissant read my book twice, in fact, and remains the only person to have read the original draft (my MFA thesis, which he checked out of the UCF Library) and the final manuscript. And–knowing that I really have no return favor I could possibly offer him–he said amazing things about my book, and then made it a point to send another email to reassure me that he meant every word. How can that not make you happy?

I have a feeling that, should I become further immersed in the world of publishing, blurbing might eventually take on the slimy, you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours feeling outlined in the article I shared. It might feel ickier and ickier, and maybe dishonest, with each new book or each new publisher or each new blurb or whatever. Maybe in twenty years I’ll wonder whether an author actually read my book before I blurbed. But right now, no matter what any reader/writer/editor/publisher thinks of those statements on my book, those blurbs make me feel like I’ve made it…like I’m a real author, with a good book to share with the world…who wouldn’t believe it, after all? Those are some incredible authors who have told you so.

Marketing My Writing Part III: Amazon

Yesterday, I finished creating my Amazon author profile. It’s right here, and it feels really good to have that tiny corner of Amazon all to myself. There’s something official about appearing on Amazon, having my book for sale in the world’s largest marketplace. There’s something affirming about it, even if the idea of appearing on Amazon shouldn’t really be affirming, since I could have technically self-published my book in rough draft form through CreateSpace.

But still, whenever someone asks, “Can I buy your book on Amazon?” I can easily say “Yep. It’s easy to find.” And readers can see my whole bio, and search inside the book, and see my other books, etc.

And hell, I suddenly have a “sales rank,” too (not a good one, obviously, but I exist on some gigantic spreadsheet somewhere, at least!), and there’s a whole “Customers who viewed this product also viewed…” portion of the page, which–potentially–could help me to see the wider literary landscape in which my book will eventually settle.

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I know that Amazon is a big place, and everyone’s here. I know that it shouldn’t be a milestone, and yet it sort of feels that way.

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The bigger issue, though, is that I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Amazon.

On the one hand, there’s nothing I love more than building my wishlists of books, and scrambling to find that one extra item that will push my shopping cart to $25 so that I can get free shipping. I love coming home to find the box at my front door.

On the other hand, though, my point-of-view on Amazon has certainly changed since I’ve become an author. What was once a fun site for book-hunting (how could I have even found half of this stuff without the help of Amazon?) now feels a little too much like an Big Dark Empire. The tactics that I have tried to ignore over the past few years (i.e. scan the prices at brick-and-mortar stores so that Amazon knows what to beat!) now feel decidedly evil.

Why do I feel this way? Well, Amazon basically takes a 55% cut of the price of the book that you sell through their site. Some might say that this is reasonable. It’s hard for me to argue, being new to the game of book sales. But it’s also hard for me (or anyone, really) to reconcile that only 45% of the book’s earnings will go to the combined team of writer, editor, agent, publisher, layout and graphic design, marketing/PR/publicity, and printer. That’s a lot of people splitting a tiny piece of the pie, while Amazon gets the lion’s share simply for existing.

I just wrote “simply for existing,” of course, knowing that this isn’t really true. Amazon has built itself into a mammoth operation that does indeed perform a service, and it’s a service that I rely on as both consumer and producer.

Still. They’ve also insinuated themselves into the American economy in such a way that they can demand whatever cut they want, without really doing any work. They’ve put a gigantic number of brick-and-mortar book/movie/music stores out of business, thereby limiting the options for the consumer. They’ve made “convenience” and “free shipping” into an expectation (they can take a loss on their 55% cut, because they’ve never really made any investment in the product: $10 is as good as $2, if it means someone is buying from them instead of from another retailer), and the results are chilling for the book industry: average readers will not purchase my books if they don’t purchase them through Amazon.

That might sound a little silly, but consider this: when we (Burrow Press) published 15 Views of Orlando, we made it a point to bypass Amazon. We decided to only sell through the Burrow Press web site, and through direct sales. We will not give in! But what happened? A significant amount of marketing effort went to waste, since many of the people who were likely to buy searched for it on Amazon, didn’t see it, and gave up. Many others wouldn’t buy from the web site because they didn’t want to pay shipping. So now you’ll easily find 15 Views: Volume II on Amazon, and we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that it takes much much longer to recoup costs.

It’s near-impossible to compete with Amazon’s shipping, by the way. You can’t compete with free. To put things into perspective, my book American Fraternity Man could potentially ship free from Amazon (if you buy one other thing). I went to the post office yesterday to mail off some copies of the book to friends, and shipping was seven dollars. I almost cried. I’d be spending seven bucks to ship books off to friends, just so I could save them a couple dollars off the Amazon price and also get them a signed copy? That basically meant that–with the cost of book-sized envelopes–I was paying my friends to take my book.

Allow me just one second to shake my head sadly.

But hey, it’s Amazon. This year their cut is 55%, and next year it’ll probably be more, and then more, and then more, until they’re our only option and we’re all working for free to make sure Amazon gets richer and more powerful.

And here’s the final depressing note: because there are so few brick-and-mortar bookstores left, I can’t really tell anyone to buy my book elsewhere. You can get it from me (personally, at a discount), or you can get it from Amazon (who also slashes the price and gives free shipping because, hey, they’re not paying for it!). Barnes & Noble sells my book online, and you can order it in-person at their store (which I would encourage, just to support the physical stores), but they likely won’t stock the book unless there’s clear demand. I’m not James Patterson or Stephen King, and no one is dedicating shelf space to me that could go to something far more profitable, like endless variations of the Monopoly game, or stuffed Dr. Seuss toys, or “teen paranormal romance” “novels.”

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Lest this sound strictly like I’m hating on Amazon, I want to assure you (and I want to assure any of the Amazon Stormtroopers who might be scouring the internet looking for anti-Amazon authors to blacklist) that this isn’t the case.

But my thoughts have become much more complicated now, ever since I went from casual consumer to author. Now that I’m actively marketing my book, and actively keeping spreadsheets of my own costs and my own revenue, it’s hard not to be upset when I make a single dollar off a book that took seven years to write and revise and publish. I’d always told myself that I didn’t care if I ever made money off my novel; I’ve got a full-time job, after all, and I have no aspirations of beach-houses and yachts and guest appearances in rap videos. Really, I just want to create art that I believe in, and I want others to experience it (and to enjoy the experience). If I reach a million readers but make zero dollars, I will be a happy man.

But still. Voice in the back of my head: “You made zero dollars. But you want to know who just profited off your work? Good job, kid. Really shrewd.”

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My book is available through Amazon.

I hope you’ll buy it.

Regardless of anything I’ve written above, I will be happy if you read my book. Really.

Just, when you add another book to your shopping cart to take advantage of the free shipping, make sure it’s 15 Views of Orlando.

The Drunken Odyssey

Just prior to my book release party this past Saturday, I sat down with John King, host of the literary/writing life podcast “The Drunken Odyssey.”

It’s a fun conversation. We talk about my book American Fraternity Man, and fraternity life in the state of Florida, and hazing, and alcoholism, and road trips, and mixed-media literature, and–best of all–I sing the praises of the clever Rebecca Martinson (the now-famous “deranged sorority girl” whose email has since been read by Michael Shannon, Gilbert Godfried, Morgan Freeman, and countless others, perhaps making it the single most talked-about piece of “fraternity/sorority literature” since Animal House). Don’t you want to hear me say the word “cunt punt” just once? I mean, seriously. If I said that while Heather was around, I’d get punched…but with a glass of wine, and sitting in John King’s studio: let the curse words fly!

Here’s the link. You can download the single show, or–better yet–you can subscribe to John’s excellent podcast through iTunes.

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When you visit his site, do him a favor. Click on the “Audible” link and get a free audiobook download. It’s also the easiest way to support the show financially (and costs you nothing!).

Goodreads

American Fraternity Man is now on Goodreads.

Help a brother out, and add it to your “want to read” or “currently reading” (or whatever) shelves. And whenever you’re finished, just give it a little rating and/or review. There are a few things that make me truly sad in this world: an empty playground in the middle of winter, a silent birthday party, and a book on Goodreads with no ratings, and no one reading. Oh man, that’s sad stuff.

And if you don’t have a Goodreads account, start one up. It’s free and easy, and since they’re now owned by Amazon and collaborate constantly with Facebook, they’ll soon be taking over your life anyway…so might as well be proactive about it, right?

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Release Party

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Be there.