Monday last we brought our son Joshua home from college. He was suffering flu-like symptoms and had a persistent nosebleed. We took him to our family doctor. He sent us to the local hospital after a blood test showing extremely high white cell and low platelet counts.
After a day full of tests Joshua was diagnosed on Tuesday evening with Acute T-cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He began chemotherapy on Wednesday and early Thursday morning his heart stopped, overwhelmed by the toxins created as the leukemia cells were destroyed by chemo. But the amazing doctors, nurses, and technicians in the intensive care unit brought him back.
It was the dramatic beginning of a very long week. Surprisingly, when the oncologist told us our son had leukemia I wasn't shocked. Somehow, in my heart I already knew - even before the blood test. The nose bleed was the give-away. The extent of his disease did surprise me. The cancer has invaded every part of his body: from brain, to spleen, to liver, to lymph nodes, to a mass in his chest.
I knew the diagnosis was a life changer. I knew nothing would ever be the same and our lives would be consumed in helping our son fight the disease. But when Joshua's heart stopped that morning my world crashed as well.
My son is twenty-one years old with three-and-a-half years of a 4.0 GPA toward a degree in philosophy. He is the most brilliant man I've ever met, and that isn't a father talking. His peers and professors agree. His first question when told the course of chemo was, "How will I go to class?" His oncologist informed him he would not be returning to school.
Joshua was devastated as much, I think, that he would not be graduating this semester as he was by the prospect of facing the impending battle with leukemia. My life is now focused like a laser on my son. Writing, publishing, and promoting my books seems trivial and honestly irrelevant.
My son, like many his age, has amassed a huge debt in college loans. Though helped by our insurance, Joshua faces the staggering cost of prolonged cancer treatment. He asked me in ICU how much all of this would cost. I told him it wouldn't cost a penny - just get well. But he knows better. We are a working class family. Joshua would have been the first person in my family to graduate college.
I am putting all the proceeds from sell of my books into a fund to pay for Joshua's treatment. I am also setting up a donation link on all of my websites that will go to that fund. Any donations beyond the cost of his treatment will go toward paying his student loans. He asked that anything beyond that go to leukemia research.
My son is facing his illness as he faces life - with strength, poise, and determination - though as his father I know he's scared. Twenty-one is a difficult age to face death - old enough to fully understand the possibility, but in many ways too young. I am proud and amazed by the man he has become.
If you would like to offer encouragement to Joshua you can post on his Facebook Wall. He is keeping up with his friends on his smart-phone and had me post updates while he was in ICU. He is currently continuing chemotherapy. If you can donate to help cover his treatment you can do so through PayPal - you don't need a PayPal account to donate. And as I said, all royalties from books purchased will also go into that account.
I obviously will not be spending much time on social media for awhile, but I truly appreciate all of my friends, fellow writers, and readers. Please leave me messages and I will respond when I can. Above all, we need your prayers.
We've witnessed a series of miracles already, from his acceptance to participate in a special clinical trial aimed at his particular cancer to a trauma doctor who was standing by when Joshua's heart stopped. That doctor immediately began CPR and continued until they lowered his potassium levels and got his heart beating again.
Joshua is determined to win this battle and return to school as soon as possible. As a family we are determined to stand with him in every way we can, and trust that God is there too - every step of the way.
Please stand with us.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
I recently had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Megan Bostic's debut novel NEVER EIGHTEEN. I met Megan the first year I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and I've followed her career since. NEVER EIGHTEEN was published by New York giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Megan invited me to be one of fifty friends and family to participate in a unique grassroots campaign to promote her book.
NEVER EIGHTEEN is a poignant story of a young man who will never see his eighteenth birthday. Austin Parker decides not to undergo another round of chemotherapy. He courageously accepts his impending death and vows to make a difference in the lives of those around him before the end comes. Austin has a bucket list, and one special person he knows he can depend on to help him in his last mission.
I was reminded of Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther, a classic published in 1949 and read in schools by generations of young readers. That book touched me in a powerful way when I was young. NEVER EIGHTEEN could very well become a comparable book of this millennium. The prose is fresh, real, and at times raw. Megan has an amazing knack of writing with the voice of a seventeen year old male.
The thoughts, emotions, and actions of Austin Parker are intense and believable. I was immediately drawn into his life, the lives of those close to him, and his mission of spreading hope. The author shows both insight into the culture of her young adult audience, and a wisdom far beyond her own years. The emotionally difficult subject is handled with thoughtful honesty and life affirming hope. I would recommend NEVER EIGHTEEN to any older teen or young adult.
As I said, I received NEVER EIGHTEEN as part of a special grass roots promotion. The author is calling this promotion Project: Pass It On. It is a very fitting idea for the story. We were asked to pass the book on in some unique way and ask the recipient to do the same. I've thought a lot about how I would pass my copy of NEVER EIGHTEEN on, and to whom. So here's the promotion part ;-)
As an author myself I decided to "Pass It On" to a fellow writer and ask them to do the same. As a unique twist I'll ask each writer who reads NEVER EIGHTEEN to sign it, write a brief email to Megan which she can post on her blog about the experience and who they passed it to, and after 17 writer/readers the book will be returned to Megan as a keepsake.
If you would like to take part in this chain of writers send me an email. I will compile a list of 17 writers who will participate and track the books progress until its return to the author.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Welcome to 2012 and the new publishing. Okay, it's not so new anymore. There's been Indie authors on the New York Times best seller list, eBooks have been added to most of the popular lists of best sellers, and getting to the top of Amazon's lists is the new Holy Grail for many authors. We are in the age of eBooks, print books are lagging in sales, and Indies are no longer considered less than legitimate (ie traditionally published) authors. But the landscape is still untamed territory and many are scrambling to map out the new normal of publishing.
But as the old song says, "everything old is new again." History tends to repeat itself and the new wave of ePublishing is little different than the rise of mass market paperbacks decades ago or, for that matter, the revolution started by the printing press centuries ago. Each quantum leap in publishing technology has made publishing books faster, cheaper, and easier. Today we have eBooks, POD books, and even vending machines that print books while you wait. It's a great time for authors - or is it? With each step forward in publishing technology we also see a decline in income for authors.
A flood of .99 cent, and even free, eBooks requires authors to sell more copies to make the same revenue enjoyed under traditional publishing models. The market has changed for printed books as well with printing costs driving up the price of books and down the author's royalties. An average paperback cost around $10.00 to produce, leaving little room for author royalties and publisher's profits. With eBooks selling for anywhere between .99 and 9.99 it's hard for print books to compete, and hard for publisher's and authors to make a profit. Average print book prices are around $12.99 - 19.99.
The way books are marketed and sold is also changing. Online sales of printed books have eclipsed physical store sales, and eBooks are outselling paperbacks. The game has changed and publishers are playing catch-up. But again, let's look at the present model and the historic model.
Traditional Publishing - late 20th century publishing - is based on a few large publishing houses who dominate the industry by marketing books to large "Big Box" bookstores. They can advance sell so many copies of a popular author's book to the big chains that the books are instant "Best Sellers" before they ever hit the shelf. The stores then put up big displays and fill their advertising with the newest "Best Seller" and thus create a best selling book. Popular authors enjoy huge advances and any author lucky enough to break into "the big time" enjoys a good advance on almost guaranteed sales to the large chain stores.
After that initial stocking of the nationwide chain stores a book has about three months to live. If it sells well, there could be reorders. If it doesn't, returns flood back and that author is unlikely to ever publish another book. Each quarter a new line of books emerge. The whole scheme is based on mass marketing and one time flood of books. But that is a fairly new phenomenon created by the merging of the big publishing houses in New York and the advent of large chain bookstores. In days gone by a book would slowly build momentum through thousands of small bookstores, one or two copies at a time. A "Best Seller" might take months or even years to reach that level.
The new ePublishing and POD revolution is allowing authors to publish their works outside the traditional channels of New York. Yet without the big budgets of the New York publishing houses, and access to the big chain bookstores, their books don't receive the big initial surge of orders at release. The new publishing requires old wisdom for marketing. Small presses, Indie publishers, and Indie authors must rely on time tested forms of marketing and a slow, methodical growth in sales.
The internet helps, with social media and global reach, but even with the new tools an Indie cannot roll out a pre-order best seller like New York does. Indies simply do not have the sales and distribution channels available to the Six Sisters. Yet with the failing of the big box stores, the rise of online sales, and the advent of the eBook, the big boys are quickly losing that edge themselves. In my opinion the field will level soon and we will return to slow sustainable growth in sales for both Indies and established authors.
Of course the big publishers, with their big budgets, will continue to outspend Indies in advertising. But they will be forced to sell books one at a time through independent and online outlets. And the nature of social media allows for the viral phenomenon to catapult an author to the best seller list without spending the big bucks on ad campaigns. As is shown in many industries, the agility of small independents in adapting to emerging trends often trumps the money of the big corporate giants who react slowly to any change.
My advice to emerging authors, which at one time was conventional wisdom, is simple: Put away the idea of grabbing the brass ring with an instant best seller. Keep it in your hope chest, but don't measure your success by it. Stay realistic. Build your fan base and work toward slow, sustainable growth in sales. Keep writing and keep publishing. Every book you have in your catalog is a potential first sell to a new fan who may then read your other works. Publish free stories or low priced novellas to introduce new readers to your writing.
You may not be able to quit your day job anytime soon, perhaps never, but why are you writing? If you are writing to pay the bills I would suggest a journalism degree and a job with a newspaper or magazine. If you are a poet or novelist, you are probably writing for the love of writing itself and will continue whether you make money or not. Don't stress over rankings on Amazon or how many fans you have on Facebook. Write the best you possibly can and enjoy the friends, fans, and fellow writers you connect with along the way. For an artist it's all about the art, not the paycheck.
Lastly, encourage your fellow writers with a comment, a "like," or even a review of their work. There's an old saying, "to have a friend you must first be a friend." The best way to increase your social media presence, and thereby promote yourself and your work, is to support and encourage fellow writers in their work and to honestly and sincerely interact with your readers. In life, whether you make it to the best seller list or not, the relationships you build along the way are what make you truly rich and successful.