Secrets and Lies
by M. Stephen Lukac
While I was thinking about this month’s column, my thoughts drifted back to Kansas City, Missouri in 2003.
This World Horror Convention was my second, and was memorable for several reasons. I saw a novel of mine available for the first time. I had several people approach me to say how much they had enjoyed the book (all right, there were only two, but the book hadn’t been out long). I gave a largely forgettable reading to a largely empty room, and pitched the Oogie Boogie books to Don D’Auria from Leisure over beers in the hotel bar (and I’m still waiting for an answer, so don’t whine to me about response times). Then, there was the early morning trip to the liquor supermarket with Mike Oliveri, Joe Nassise, and my hetero lifemate, Drew Williams to stock the HWA suite during which Mike introduced me to the wonder that is Tenacious D.
But that’s not germane to today’s discussion.
As a result of pre-registering like a good convention doo-bee, I was placed on two panels (and for those of you who might not understand the term, a panel is a moderated Q&A session during which three or more authors sit at the front of a conference room and field questions from the audience on diverse topics such as “Who’s killing the Horror Genre” or “Who wants to sleep with my sister?”). The first panel was great. “Humor in Horror” was a subject I felt comfortable discussing, even though I never set out to combine the two. After a few perfunctory inquiries about the inherent dichotomy of the ha-ha and the gross out, the hour devolved into a series of dick and fart jokes, which is always fun.
The second panel’s stated topic escapes me, but I have the feeling it was in the “Who wants to sleep with my sister” category, because I remember having no idea why I was appointed or what I could contribute (because I don’t have a sister).
What I do remember is that, during the introductions, I mentioned my day job as a bookstore manager, and the panel devolution happened again. This time, instead of scatological funnies, the hour was devoted to a host of questions about the hows and whys of what happens at one of the big two Brick and Mortar bookstores.
It was an interesting hour, and brings us to this month’s column.
On the web, articles about how to write are only slightly less prevalent than offers for free Xbox 360s or naked pictures of ex-girlfriends. In print, there are enough books and magazines on writing, publishing and finding an agent to fill thirty shelves, and, other than a few exceptions, all have about the same intrinsic value as the aforementioned free Xbox 360 offers (and if you’re curious, a few of those exceptions are Stephen King’s On Writing, David Morrell’s Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and What Lie Did I Tell? and J. A. Konrath’s The Newbie's Guide To Publishing Book).
So, why should I waste your time and Horror World’s bandwidth with my personal opinions on the ins and outs of writing? I shouldn’t, and I won’t (mostly). But, I do have knowledge to impart and secrets to share. This is privileged information, so after you read this you are instructed, Mr. Phelps, to destroy the internet. And understand, if you’re captured, the Secretary will deny any knowledge of you or your mission.
So, let’s get started.
First, let’s get some annoying math out of the way. At any time, there are somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million books in print. That number includes everything, from the latest mega-blockbuster bestseller from the industry’s self-anointed Flavor of the Month, to the incoherent, error-ridden ramblings of a illiterate troll in possession of a 28K modem, internet access and a LuLu Account.
That’s a lot of books.
Now, the average mall-based bookstore has sufficient shelf space to house approximately ten to twelve thousand titles. A big box, stand-alone store can carry more; let’s assume ten times the stock, or about one hundred thousand titles. An impressive figure, but think about it for a moment.
Using 1.5 million as our estimate of available titles, and twelve thousand titles in the store’s inventory, the chances of a bookstore having the book you want in stock is less than one percent. If I told you there was a one percent chance of lightning striking where you’re sitting right now, you wouldn’t move. Hell, there probably is a better than one percent chance that lightning will strike where you’re sitting, and you’re still there, reading this.
You are still there, aren’t you?
Change the comparison to a big store, one of those corporate monoliths that sell over-priced DVDs and what passes for coffee to those that wouldn’t know a real cup o’ Joe if it burned through their stomach lining, and the numbers improve slightly. Use the same 1.5 million possibilities and 100,000 as the number of individual titles in stock, and the odds shoot up to a startling 6.66%.
Yeah, I know. It’s like ray-e-ain, on your wedding day.
Now you know the arcane algebraic equation that explains why Masturbatory Mayhem, published by Ass From a Hole in the Ground Press, isn’t on the shelves at your local bookstore, no matter how many message boards have multiple threads trumpeting its impending release.
It’s a numbers game, and the numbers will never justify wasting valuable shelf space on a pamphlet-thin book “published” by a cellar dweller with enough computer savvy to convert a .doc file to pdf.
So, quit looking.
Also, in case you’re wondering, I’m fully convinced the program Poseur was developed in secret by the major publishing houses, and then unleashed on the unsuspecting ranks of wannabe literary moguls and special-needs cover designers. It’s for the same reason scientists tag migratory waterfowl; they want to be able to find them easily.
There. It’s not a meal, just a small appetizer designed to whet your appetite for what’s to follow. There’s more I can tell you- more, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy- but rather than select your entrées, I’ll let you peruse the menu and choose the next course for yourselves.
That’s right kids; it’s homework. I’ll set up a thread on my message board, you think up a question and post it there, and in December’s column, I’ll answer. It’s an easy assignment, and it’ll help me out immensely, given my next deadline’s proximity to the rush of the dreaded Bagel Season (I won’t utter the evil “C” word anytime before Thanksgiving, so we’ll just call it “Bagel”, just like I do in my store
M Stephen Lukac has been reading since he was three, writing since he was seven and selling other people’s books since he was twenty-eight. At forty, he realized it might be time to get serious.
He loves stories set in coherent worlds, where the rules and situations –no matter how fantastic they may be- remain consistent across the author’s body of work. Experiencing the creation of a fictional universe –whether overt or subtle- is akin to peeking over God’s shoulder. Inhabiting those creations, regardless of the medium, is his second favorite thing.
His favorite thing is definitely not talking about himself in the third person.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .
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