Monday, April 26, 2021

Before I took up writing again, I was told that an old friend of mine had commented that I'd gone about my career backward: having my first three novels accepted, and then...nothing. 

I took a bit of offense at that. I mean, as far as I was concerned I wasn't done yet. And indeed, I've written a ton of books since I came back.

But there is a bit of truth to it. 

I have another example. 

Most of the other writers who are my peers, more or less, started their careers--or at the least, spent a fair amount of time early on and continuing--writing short stories for magazines and anthologies. As I mentioned yesterday, the last time I'd investigated short stories it looked as difficult--if not more so--than writing novels.

But things have changed with the internet. There are plenty of venues for short stories now. They may not pay all that well in most cases, but that isn't the point. The point is to get your name out there, to associate you name with other writers, who in many cases are better known than you.

I just had a short story accepted for an anthology and the editor commented that I'd taken criticism like a pro and that I had a great future. Well, these short stories are a way to continue my writing, but I hadn't thought of them as a new beginning.

I have another short story being considered for an anthology. I've made the first cut, so to speak. My expectation is that I'll be asked to rewrite, though I suppose I could still be rejected. This particular anthology is the source for a Netflix short story animated show, so that's at least a possibility.  

What I'm trying to say here is--I wonder if I shouldn't have started this way and worked my way to novels.

But no, the novels were there to be written, and now the short stories appear to be there. It happens the way it happens.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

 I don't need lots of encouragement, maybe just a little. 

When I sent "Star Axe "off in 1979, I suppose I had starry dreams, but even then I was aware of the long odds. Not fully aware. Ignorance is bless. Later on I read the odds on having a book accepted "over-the-transom" and it was pretty scary. 

Story is, some writers would throw their manuscripts over the little transom above the doors of the offices of publishers in hopes they'd be discovered and that became the term for all unsolicited manuscript. Supposedly, transom manuscripts would be picked up at random by everyone from editors to office clerks and the first page would be read and most often inserted back into the return envelope and that was that. 

Even back then, only a few publishers would read unsolicited manuscripts. If I remember rightly, the yearly "Writer's Market" book--which was about the only source I could find for addresses to publishers--listed about twelve or so publishers. Later I understood that there were basically three tiers of publishers, even paperback originals publishers, which is a lower tier on its own: the elite, prestige publishers, the middle-respectable publishers, and the lower tier "real" publishers but just scraping by. 

By instinct I sent my book to two of the lower tier publishers and one upper tier publisher and got acceptances from both of the lower tier publishers. I was so excited by my acceptance that I whooped and hollered in the courtyard where the mailboxes were, confirming once and for all to my neighbors that the hermit in room 212 was crazy.

Only after it sunk in did I realize how little money they were offering. $1000 (equivalent to $3500 today.) But I was sure I was on my way. And indeed, I sold two more books in a short time, for the equivalent of $12,000 today. I was living at such a bare minimum that this was almost an improvement in living standards.

I moved back to Bend and started mowing lawns for a living. I got an agent who would only send manuscripts to the upper tier publishers. 

And I stalled. 

When I bought Pegasus Books in 1984, shortly after marrying Linda and the two boys, my writing career faltered and stopped. 

Flash forward 25 years and I finally decided to see if I could finish just one more book. Struggled for a couple of books, finally finished one I liked, sent it off--got rejected. But instead of being put off, the more mature me kept in touch with the publisher, who expressed an interest in my writing if not in vampires, and when I wrote something I thought he'd liked, sent it off. I think Andy Ziegert's cover to "Led to the Slaughter" was the final touch that got it accepted.

And I was on my way.

Since then, it seems like I've always had a thin sliver of opportunity to pursue. A door that was opened just a crack. A path to follow.

It doesn't need to be much, just a little bit of encouragement. Right now, that sliver of encouragement is short stories. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

 Finally sat down to finish my werewolf story, "Unidentified." I mean, actually, rewrite the entire second half. 

The editor accepted the story earlier with a caveat that I would have to rewrite it. So I kept spinning out scenarios to her, of which the fourth one was the winner. 

Then I procrastinated. And yet...and yet...I do believe that the space gave me some new energy. I just knew last night that today was the day. I made some last minute decisions this morning, which I think really helped the story, and slammed it out in three hours. About 1500 new words, and cutting about 500 words. 4300 words altogether.

The last minute decisions were 1.) to make it dark, horror rather than SF. and 2.) to restrict dialogue to a bare minimum. Both worked out much better.

I was really feeling the creative high at the end of it. It seems like the best thing ever!

Of course, tomorrow I'll probably hate it. The truth is probably that it's something between the "best thing ever!" and it sucks.

I'm very demanding of Linda. I was excited to get her to sit down and listen. Buddy Jasper came meowing in at the middle of my reading, and annoyed, I lifted him up and took him outside. Then finished reading the story. Linda liked it. She likes all my stories--or at least, she says so. Heh.

Meanwhile, I think Buddy was traumatized. I don't think I've ever done that to him before. He's sleeping at the foot of my bed right now, as close as he can get while I write. 

I don't know. Short stories are fun to write. I seem to do well if I have some prompts--something that I don't do writing novels. Perimeters seem to help me focus. 

But I'm not sure what it gets me. Maybe some people will give me a try rather than read an entire novel. I'm not sure where the markets are. It's not a way to make money, I don't think. It's a way to get your name out there, hopefully associated with writers who are better known. 

It's the route that many professional writers took--maybe most of them. But the few markets that existed in the 80s when I started my first stint as a writer were nearly impossible to break into. Literally, it was easier to get a novel published.

Now there are lots of small indie presses and fanzines. They may not pay much if anything, but they are a way to get noticed. Besides, I really like maintaining the emotional momentum for 2000 or 3000 or 4000 words, instead of the more complicated arc of a story 80,000 words. 

Rewriting isn't quite as daunting either. And rewriting is the dealbreaker for me.

I'll just keep my eyes open for opportunities and write specifically for publications rather than generalized stories at spec. So far, I've found two opportunities--of which one is a partial acceptance and the other is in limbo though the editor has said he's sent rejections. (I sent an email 5 days ago and haven't heard back.)

That story I also liked a great deal. I thought it was very good too. 

Maybe, just maybe, short stories are what I should be doing.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Oh, Well. That's business for you.

It would be good if I manage not to throw the store into chaos again. That's my tendency--not to leave well enough alone. It's like all my risk-taking and excitement all come from store and I can't stand to just let it do its thing without interference.

It's time for me to just keep the store going at its current level which is a very nice level indeed. 

For instance. I have a nice level of Magic in stock. Except for more recent boxes for sale at box rate--which is in no way a priority for us, we have plenty of packs. Packs are where I focus. I can stretch the inventory farther. Selling by the box really doesn't add to the profit margin all the much, though it can be an incremental profit. That is, to make any money selling boxes, and still be in the ballpark with the rest of the vendors, I have to accept a lower profit.

Anyway, I could have ordered enough boxes for that purpose with a $XXX investment, instead I spent $XXXX, or seven times that amount. The difference was buying up older boxes of cards that I have no intention of selling by the box but instead selling by the pack.

As I said, my strategy with Magic is to be the guy who has the most variety of Magic in packs at affordable prices.

This is getting harder and harder to do. Like all product, much of the older Magic is drying up fast and what is still there is increasing in cost every week that goes by.

So even though we don't need older packs right at the moment, I could see that by summer much of the backstock would be gone or much more expensive. So I spent my profits on buying up these older boxes. This should stretch our reach into the summer and beyond, hopefully.

For the last few years, I've been willing to buy older boxes at higher prices and then sell them for $5.00 a pack. This is one dollar more than retail, but even at that price, I'm not earning as much profit as I do at boxes I can still buy at wholesale.

But it was clear to me early on that in order to compete, I was going to have to find a way to sell magic that differentiated me from the other vendors. Since I couldn't -- or wouldn't -- try to compete on box prices (there are local vendors who sell boxes at very low prices, and online they are even cheaper), nor could I compete by putting on tournaments and play space (simply no room or interest in that), nor was I willing to go all in on singles. (In order to make singles work, I'd have to be willing to buy or trade with the public and I have PTSD about that process--I'd rather quit than do it.)

So packs are where it is at.

So I just spent a bunch of profits in order to keep that going. 

The future looks iffy unless things slow down. I've already had to make one change. I've changed the older packs from $5.00 to $6.50. This allows me to buy about half of the older brands that I would have had to let go of if I stuck to the old prices. The margins aren't any better--in fact, they are slightly worse, but it's the only strategy that seems to work for us.

I have decided to go ahead and sell boxes that I still buy at wholesale prices at slightly more competitive prices, which also require an investment. 

Oh, well. That's the nuts and bolts of it. It's a moderate response. The crazy response would be to buy up lots of boxes of current product for the future. 

We'll see.


Oh, I see I never got to the "chaos" part. 

So if you've read the above, you can see that there is a steady progression from being able to buy Magic boxes for regular wholesale, which I can sell at regular prices: to only being able to buy boxes at increased prices, which if I want to continue to have variety I must sell for more a pack; to boxes that are so expensive they move into the "speculator" realm of pricing, which I try to avoid.

So that being true, why don't I buy as many boxes at regular wholesale as I can now, so that when they jump in prices--which they will--I'll have them already in stock?

Do you see the problem here? It's a money-sink. There is no end to it. I can continually buy product at cheaper prices--especially comics and cards--and see an increased valuation. I've all but stopped doing this with comics--I've taken the stance that comics are "for reading and enjoying."

But with Magic and Pokemon, I still have to somewhat play the game. (Notice I haven't mentioned Pokemon, which is so hot that I'd buy anything available, but it ain't...)

So there's the chaos--the ability to spend my entire cashflow on stuff that won't pay off until the future. Tempting as hell, as usual. 

We'll see.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

I'm an Institution!...or I should be in one.

 The Bulletin's "Go Magazine" feature was "Nerd Alert."

Wait a sec. How come I wasn't contacted?

So I look up the feature and there we are: "Long before anyone regarded nerds as cool, owner Duncan McGeary was working away to create a bastion of nerd culture in downtown Bend..."

OK. Bastion, not Institution. Same thing, right?

I have to say, every day that goes by, I'm still amazed to be almost the last person standing in downtown Bend from when I started. I mean, I don't know if that's such a big accomplishment. I'm stubborn and what the hell else was I going to do? But we certainly stand out as different.

"How long you been here," the innocent customer asks.

Pregnant pause, "Oh..." milking it..."forty years..."


"Or 150 years in Bend years..." I add. 

What is really amazing me is how good business is right now. Not only surviving, but thriving.

I wish I could take credit for the current boom, but I've learned that almost every nerdy store like mine is doing extremely well, which means that rather than it being my brilliant business moves and downtown Bend, it's the current economic climate. 

People have money in their pockets, time and energy to look around, and less places to spend it. (Movies, concerts, etc. etc.)

Which means that it will trend back to normal eventually. But it is fun to be at the store right now and watch all the activity. 

You just never know.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Oh, pride.

Oh, pride,

I got a story for you. A lesson if you will. A lesson if you won't. 

You think you're unique, but you're so average, so very plain.

You aren't all that different, sorry to say, yet happy to live.

There was a time when average was a fervent wish,

just to be among people and not stand out.

So, pride,

Take a step back, rethink your thoughts.

Remember fame is empty, 

money but a tool, 

the woman beside you is all,

I admit it, she is all. 

She'll scoff, she may even frown,

but I'll just laugh. 

"And maybe the cat. And my sons, 

and my store, 

and the words written on this page."

So, pride,

You've been told, 

and you been dismissed, 

we're all average in the end.