Quick Fire At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Terry Irving

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Terry Irving is a novelist, journalist and an American four-time Emmy award-winning writer and TV producer. He is the author of Courier, and The Day of the Dragon King. He has also set up Ronin Robot Press, a publisher that specialises in the best of the books ignored by the major publishers. Terry met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about Publsush Crowdfunding and publishing.
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Tell us about Pubslush Crowdfunding.

Great name, isn’t it?

Pubslush is the literary equivalent of Indiegogo or Kickstarter. It’s named after the “slush pile” where unwanted manuscripts ended up at publishers back in the day. If you look at the other crowdfunding sites, you’ll see films, graphic novels, plays, etc. but very few books so it’s clearly needed.
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Now, it’s a site that serves a relatively small but growing number of independent authors and publishers with readers looking either to read the latest new books or to support struggling writers and publishers in these days of complete confusion and collapse in the book business. It supports three types of projects: simple crowd-funding: an author or (in my case) a struggling publisher looks for funding through a combination of selling the project and handing out awards depending on the amount donated, Book Pre-orders: a small press can pre-sell a book and get a feel for whether the market will support it and get the funds to publish at the same time. Finally, it’s a marketplace where an author (or publisher) has the space to really sell a book. There are over 150 publishers taking part–from Iguana Publishing to Grey Gecko Books-and they are partnered with major companies in the field like Lulu, Smith Publicity, and NaNoWriMo.

Why do you think many good novels do not get published?

An interesting question that really has to be answered in two parts: How many unpublished novels are good? And of those good novels, why don’t they get published?

First, I have to say that the vast majority of self-published novels–particularly of the eBook variety, aren’t Good. They aren’t even OK. They suck. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Sadly, I’m a Baby Boomer and when one of us does something, every damn one of us does the exact same thing. In this case, we have all retired (or can’t find work) and are writing that book. Or are trying to make some money and are writing a couple of dozen books in the hope of making a reasonable income. Since we’ve been told our entire lives that everything we do is wonderful and perfect, indie writers seem to go in one of two directions: either they go to endless meetings where you sit in a circle and have your work critiqued by every Tom, Dick , and Harry who walks by and, as a result, never actually publish anything or they throw the most incredible drivel up on the market and see if it sells.

Usually, someone buys it.

Sadly, it’s usually a self-defining definition. If you’re “self-published” your book sucks. If your book didn’t suck, it would be published. It’s like finding a “respected scientist” who researches UFOs. You cannot be respected if you research little green men. Ipso Facto.

In my case, I was published and then the publisher was killed in a brutal and completely criminal fashion by the grandparent company. (I guess I should point out that I am referring to the company in a metaphoric sense and not the Publisher as a human being. Did I need to explain that?) I had always intended to be a “Published Author.” For one thing, you can’t get into any of the cool book conventions as a “selfie” or an “indie” or whatever they call us these days. In addition, you’re stuck in a category with some truly dreadful books. It’s not all Shades of Gray and Dust or Sand or whatever.

The third part of my two-part answer is that the book publishing industry is in flux. Which is nice way of saying that it resembles trying to make a living in Weimar Republic when your money would drop in value between the time you bought a loaf a bread and the moment you paid for it. No one has a clue what will sell, what stores will be open to sell it in, what advertising still works (if any,) what marketing works, and what authors are worth putting any money into.

If it wasn’t for Patterson, I think half of the American publishing market would be defunct.

So, the big boys only take on established authors with a track record of sales. This looks a lot better when you go into the weekly meeting where you have to defend every book you’d like to green light. Instead of mumbling about this Tolkien fellow and goblins and rings, you can just say, “Hey, it’s Steve Berry, he sells back our investment in the first week and if we don’t take him, Simon & Penguin, Marks, Knopf, $ Gireaux will.”

At which point, the president of the company walks in and announces that they’ve just been sold to Random Osprey & Robot and everyone has to find three best-selling gay/cis-male nonsexual erotica books with at least two holistic brownie recipes by tomorrow noon.

Tell us about Angry Robot Press.

Angry Robot is a publisher determined to survive. To my knowledge, they’ve gone through three owners in the past decade and continued to publish crazed gore-sodden noir and equally insane science fiction. They aren’t evil people, it’s just the nature of the business. When Exhibit A got the axe, they were owned by Osprey which was a company of incredibly serious military books (Polish Aces of World War 2, Uniforms of the Boer Wars) that had grown out of a manufacturer of tea cards a million years ago.

What I suspect happened was that the CEO of Osprey was also the Editor-in-Chief. That indicates to me that she was the only person at Osprey who knew diddley about books. She departed for an editor’s job at a big publisher and the suits at Osprey jumped up within 24 hours and announced a “reassessment” of the company–which means they threw a big “For Sale” banner on the outside of the building. One thing I learned from my dalliances in the world of tech startups is when you want to sell a company, you need to make it neat and simple for the suits on the buying end. You don’t want to present a combination of tea cards and blood-splatter fiction to a banker.

So, after about two minutes of “reassessment,” Angry Robot was cut loose and on their own. They had the same problem, two new imprints which weren’t making money yet (Exhibit A and Strange Chemistry) so they had to go in order to make their own sale simple. Boom. We were dead.

COURIER 250x389 photo COURIER-250X389_RRP Courier front 72dpi.jpgI followed it vaguely in the trade press and it appeared that Angry Robot went into bankruptcy for about ten minutes and then was acquired by an American company that specialized in holistic meditation–now, that has to be a marvelous synergy. To their credit, they didn’t use the author’s contracts as collateral and returned my rights on a relatively quick basis.

I guess I wish them well on their journey toward holistic splatter-fiction synthesis.
My agent tried to get me another publisher but–even though he has told me that 4 editors at Random House and 3 at Simon & Schuster have read Courier–had no luck. He always disliked Dragonking–just not his cup of tea–and I was left in the cold. In December, when Courier was about to off what few shelves it was on, I decided to take the leap and created Ronin Robot Press.

In truth, it’s a combination. I’ve blown most of my savings on living for three years without an income while I wrote my books and the far longer time I spent waiting for Exhibit A to put them on the market. Then I blew a LOT of money on PR firms that did very little and on going to book conventions which were enjoyable but not sales monsters. Finally, I’ve been a freelancer for too long and I believe in paying an invoice the day it comes in the mail. Far too many people have used the Bank of Freelancer to fund their business and left people with nothing when the business craters. More than anything, that’s what I’m looking for with the Crowdfunding effort at www.roninrobotpress.pubslush.com, the funds to bank away and use to pay the people who are writing, editing, designing the covers, and proofing our books.
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Consequently, I need Ronin Robot to succeed. Sure, I’d like to sell my own books but that comes second to making money. Thus Westerns, Romances, and whatever else will sell. I care intensely about the books I write and I’d like to see them go mainstream but it’s quite possible that the books from other authors will be what keeps me alive.

Tell us about your aims in the crowd funding project.

In truth, it’s a combination. I’ve blown most of my savings on living for three years without an income while I wrote my books and the far longer time I spent waiting for Exhibit A to put them on the market. Then I blew a LOT of money on PR firms that did very little and on going to book conventions which were enjoyable but not sales monsters. As a result, I’m 63 years old and have about enough savings to keep us going for the next six months.

Additionally, I’ve been a freelancer for too long and I believe in paying an invoice the day it comes in the mail. Far too many people have used the Bank of Freelancer to fund their business and left people with nothing when the business craters. More than anything, that’s what I’m looking for with the Crowdfunding effort at www.roninrobotpress.pubslush.com, the funds to bank away and use to pay the people who are writing, editing, designing the covers, and proofing our books.

Consequently, I need Ronin Robot to succeed. Sure, I’d like to sell my own books but that comes second to making money. Thus Westerns, Romances, and whatever else will sell. I care intensely about the books I write and I’d like to see them go mainstream but it’s quite possible that the books from other authors will be what keeps me alive.

Finally, I enjoy sitting in my office and pounding on the computer keyboard. I’ve spent far too many years dressing up in a suit and trying to train tv producers and writers half my age with double the ego. I simply don’t want to do it any more. I enjoy writing my own books, which is rather normal for writers I suppose, What’s odd is that I enjoy editing and/or rewriting other people’s work. Most of my career hasn’t been in original writing but in editing and improving the writing of others and I find that I can work out their “voice” and style. Not all the authors agree with this. In fact, one out of eight has agreed so far. Most independent authors are terrible and quite a few are borderline illiterate but all have a very healthy opinion of their own work.

I’d like to have Ronin Robot Press mean something in the market–a guarantee of a quality, enjoyable book with a comprehensible plot and a minimum of screaming errors. I still will buy a Baen Book almost automatically because Don Baen was a superb editor and I knew I’d like whatever he chose. If the stars align, I would like to be able to do that.

At the minimum, I’d like to put food on the table and money in the pockets of as many freelancers as possible.

Thank you Terry for an informative interview.

 photo TIRVING_400x266_PRODUCTION_IMG_8664.jpg Links:
Ronin Robot Press Pubslush event

Ronin Robot Press Website

Ronin Robot Press on Twitter @RoninRobotPress

Terry Irving’s fan page

Terry’s author pages on Amazon US and UK

‘Courier’ at Amazon US and UK

‘Day of the Dragon King (The Last American Wizard Book 1)’ at Amazon US and UK

‘Gold for San Joaquin’ at Amazon US and UK

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One Response to Quick Fire At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Terry Irving

  1. What an interesting concept, I had seen a piece of the AR issues, but wasn’t aware of the extent of destruction that went on. Wish you best of luck there Terry, hope you find that reliable source of income soon.

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