Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sad News, Bad News, and Good News

By now, you've probably read half a dozen blogs concerning the announcement that Samhain Publishing is embarked on a six-month journey toward closing their business.

If you haven't, well, now you have. This affects me because my Markhat books found their home at Samhain in 2007, when they bought Dead Man's Rain.

Since then, I've published nine Markhat titles there.  

Before I go any further, I'm going to make one thing plain. Samhain has always been a wonderful publisher. They did everything right, and with a lot of class. My covers were works of art. My editing was always challenging but professional. They made every book better than the book I first submitted, and they worked hard to get them in the hands of readers.

Things are no different now in the way Samhain is doing business. They're still unfailingly professional. Still working hard to do right, as my grandmother always said, by their authors and staff.

So while I'm sad, there's no anger here. Quite the contrary.

Many other publishers have decided to shut down by simply disconnecting the phones and changing the locks. Emails go unanswered. If they comment at all, it's just a generic smattering of legal boilerplate designed to obfuscate and deflect. Or worse, to give them time to finish packing before that flight to Aruba takes off.

Samhain is doing none of that. They are still in business. 

They are still selling ebooks.

They will continue to sell them while the orderly shutdown continues. Authors will still get royalties, just as we always have, right up until the day sales cease.

 And that's the very definition of class. 

I've been asked a few times 'What happened? Why did sales slump so low?'

I don't know. I just write books. What makes them sell, what makes sales falter, what drives the engines of profit and loss? I have a better grasp of quantum thermo-electrodynamics than I do the bookselling industry, and I'm pretty sure I just made up the term 'quantum thermo-electrodynamics.' 

I do know that Samhain marketed my books. They got them to booksellers, both electronic and print, in markets that spanned the world. 

So was the fault with me? The ebook sellers? Was there some preternatural configuration of planets and sunspots that caused sales to sputter? Did I cut off an old Gypsy woman in traffic on I-55 in 1997, and this is the result of her muttered curse?

You tell me. 

Being a publisher takes courage. I do know that. You can find and polish and offer books that are treasures, marvels of the written word, only to have them languish while Snooki's latest reality-show tell-all flies off the shelves. 

It's risky, being courageous. You're taking a chance, hitching your fate to a work of art that you believe in.

Sometimes the price you pay  for courage is temporary failure. A passing defeat. Loss of a battle during a long-fought war.

I know the folks at Samhain are hurting now. For any of you reading this, please take heart.

Writing books, selling them, editing them, running the business. It's all, to borrow a phrase Markhat would probably use, a long game. 

There will be setbacks. Disasters. Heartbreak. 

I spent most of Friday night, right after the news broke, in a hastily-born chat room filled with Samhain staffers and Samhain authors.

Everyone was shocked. Bewildered. Confused. Wholly and utterly dumbfounded, as to what to do next. 

Well, not entirely dumbfounded about what to do next. We are, after all, writers and editors. So, 'get drunk' is our collective go-to solution for Life's cruel arsenal of heartbreak. 

But even so, I noticed a collective and surprising attitude emerging, even as the shock (and booze) of the day's events still bore down like the tragic weight of a funeral. 

We will go on. 

The writers will nurse their (not inconsiderable) hangovers and glare at a blank screen and eventually their fingers will start hitting keys in the old familiar rhythm. My former editor is hanging out her shingle as a freelancer, and I am here to tell you, boys and girls, if you want an editor who will beat you prose into sale-able submission, EVIL EYE EDITING is the way to go. I'll be using them -- more on that a few paragraphs down.

The cover artists will keep making art. The marketing folks will find other homes. We are scattered, yes, but we'll keep going.

The Markhat series isn't dead in the water. The first nine titles will still be available while Samhain suspends operations. At some time after that, the rights will revert back to me, and I'll find a way to get them back out there. The covers will change, probably, but the books will be the same. 

When will that take place?

Like Markhat claimed earlier, this is a long game. The proper unit of time to apply in this instance isn't days, or weeks, or even months.

Am I basing my assertion on things I've been told by Samhain? By whispers in a chat room?

Nope. It's a wild guess. Like every thing else in publishing, I suppose.

But I figure I have a year, probably, to plan how to re-introduce the first nine Markhat titles.

I won't be idle as I wait, though. 

A new Markhat book will, a little bird tells me, be appearing soon (as in months soon).  It will be edited by the very same people who edited the last several Markhat titles. The cover art will be done either by the same people or by someone equally talented. 

As an experiment, I've decided to publish this one myself. 

In this instance, it makes perfect sense. While the bulk of the series is unavailable for submission to a new publisher, why not get the new title out there? The series has an established audience. Sales of the first nine books are still steady. The same team that brought the first titles to life is ready to get started on the next. The only thing that will change is the publisher's name on the product information page.

Well, not the only thing. I will lose the marketing engines that Samhain brought to the table. But I can climb aboard Amazon and Barnes & Noble myself, and even create print versions of the ebook.  

Whereas I received free editing and free cover art and free marketing from Samhain, I'll now be footing all these bills myself. 

This won't be cheap. Good editing, by someone who is in fact an editor, someone who has actual publishing industry experience, that is going to cost what Markhat would label as 'real money.' So is cover art. One thing I will NOT do is try editing or art on my own. I'm a lousy self-editor. My artistic skills are routinely matched by pufferfish and nails. The series deserves better than that. You, the readers, deserve better than that. 

It's a risk, sure. Is the book good enough to pay for itself and still make a profit?

If deep down in my shriveled little soul I can't answer that question with a defiant 'Hell yes,' then I need to write a better book, or stop writing altogether.

I am aware that Kickstarter and similar sites allow authors to seek fan funding for their projects. I even considered that, for about one-quarter of a Yalobusha Brewing Company's Larry Brown Ale. But that's not for me. I don't question or impugn the writers who do use Kickstarter.  I wish them every success. But that is not my path. 

Even with the costs and the risks piling up, I think this is the right decision, at this moment. Keeping new titles coming is the only way to keep the series alive. 

Self-publishing the new title feels like an experiment worth trying. 

Most readers will never be aware of any of this. I'm revealing my plans here just in case anyone else in my situation is ever curious as to what steps one Samhain author took next, or if fans enjoy the occasional peek behind the scenes about what it takes to put a new book in their hands.

Will I crash and burn? Skyrocket to fame and fortune?

Probably neither. I'll be happy with somewhere in the middle.

I'll provide a few details, now and then, as this experiment progresses. 

Oh, by the way -- the Mug and Meralda books, All the Paths of Shadow and Every Turn of Light, are not at all affected by the Samhain situation. They weren't Samhain titles, so their status is unchanged. 

Ill leave you with better words than I'll ever write. Samhain brothers, Samhain sisters, we are none of us done. Just keep those furry feet moving.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

--J. R. R. Tolkien, from Roads Go Ever On 


  1. I hardly think you had anything to do with Samhain's failure or problems, Frank. You have some wonderful series, and great connections. You will be fine. I think self-publishing is a great idea. There is nothing out there that you can't handle. There are sources out there where you can find help if you need it. Indies Unlimited offers some great resources at no cost for indie authors. They can point you in the right direction to find any answer you need.

    I am sending you lots of luck and good vibes for this new journey into the unknown. I also look forward to hearing more about your adventures. Stay positive!

  2. I adore Markhat. Thank you for continuing the series. I don't know if you are interested but for mine, I'm using to create the file. I'm lazy as all get out and hate fussing with what you have to do to format one. Pressbooks lets me do it in a couple clicks and also offers a Print on Demand PDF with the ebooks. I've had friends check their ebook files they created and they work beautifully. I even tried the converting via Calibre and they convert without error. They offer 50 themes for the books and you can change it at a click. Disclaimer: Not affiliated with them except to use their services. And thank you for the editor. Mine is MIA right now because of a car accident.

  3. As long as I can buy the next Markhat book, I'll be happy. I wish you luck in finding a new publishing house (unless self-pub makes you millions of course!).

  4. It's a mystery to me why you aren't picked up by one of the major publishers. But just let us know when and where to buy and I'll be there.

  5. It's a mystery to me why you aren't picked up by one of the major publishers. But just let us know when and where to buy and I'll be there.

  6. Yep, I'll follow wherever you may lead. Love your stories!