Thursday, October 21, 2010

Featured Author: Henry Baum

A lot of people work harder than I do to promote Indie writers. Henry Baum is one of them. In addition to his person blog titled after his latest novel (The American Book of the Dead), Henry also edits SelfPublishing Review, one of my favorite sites, where everyone from Mark Coker to yours truly comment on developments in the self publishing industry. Current topics include, Barnes&Noble's new eBook publishing platform, Pubit!, and Borders' new vanity press.

I asked Henry to take some time and do the SBR Q&A. We talked about writing, de-listing, blogs and marketing.

Henry, I’ ve read somewhere that your books are print published in Europe. How did that
happen? Were you working with an agent at one time?

I lived in Paris for a year and met up with some literary people. In fact, it was the most literary experience of my life, hanging out with old and aspiring beatniks. I got connected to an agent working in Paris who was working with an agent out of London who got the deal with Rebel Inc., an imprint of Canongate.  My good friend in Paris is a pretty well-known translator and got the deal to have the book published by Hachette Litteratures. Things have been more seamless and easy in Europe than in the U.S.

Tell us how you became an indie writer.
I've always been indie, as the presses where I've traditionally published have also been independent - like Soft Skull Press in the U.S. I wrote a couple novels in college, had an agent, nothing happened.  Wrote my first novel that was eventually published, but said agent hated it.  Sent it to Soft Skull Press myself.  Wrote a follow-up that took three bitter years, had an agent who had some very dispiriting notes right before it was supposed to go out - He said, "Does she have to join a religious cult?"  This is a book about a porn star who joins a religious cult - the cult part is 200 pages of a 300 page book.  Wrote another book while my wife was pregnant, this time trying to write something that was more-saleable, as much as I'm capable of doing that.  An agent said, "They're not buying books about Hollywood now.  A book just sold about the magazine industry, so that's what's hot."  Madness. Found another agent, he didn't sell it. Finally, discovered Lulu and wondered why it had taken me so long.  With the last book, I didn't bother submitting to agents, as I was tired of the whole process, and I love being in control of my own future.

You founded and edit Self Publishing Review, where many Smashwords authors, as well as
Mark Coker, make regular posts. Is this blog/zine open to everybody?

Most certainly - submissions are welcome to everybody.  They all go into a queue, which I then put up on the site.  It's been pretty eye-opening about this kind of submission process.  People will submit a post with one sentence.  Why would you think that should be up on the site, especially when it says posts need to be at least 250 words?  It makes you understand at least a little bit why agents are cynical.

The American Book of the Dead. Terrific reviews, good buzz on the Internet. Yet I understand
you actually had a de-listing at Amazon.com just as the book was taking off. What happened?


A confession: I sort of suck at the technical aspect of self-publishing. Writers like Zoe Winters seem to revel in it, but my main advocacy for self-publishing is more philosophical - the idea that all writing can find the light of day. But when it comes to number crunching, I'm as terrible as when it comes to balancing my checkbook.  So...I had my book listed to distribute on Smashwords at .99 for Kobo, B&N, etc.  What happened is that the Kobo discount put the price below Amazon's own threshold for pricing a book.  Instead of Amazon listing the price of my book below the price on Kobo, they chose to remove the buy button entirely.  This isn't a great policy, but I should have been better about understanding these pricing discrepancies to begin with. 



Your bio says born in New York, raised in Los Angeles. Are your folks in show biz or
something? I spent some time in Venice and Santa Monica long ago (Fred Flintstone was my
roommate) and have always like the atmosphere around UCLA in Westwood. How do you like
living in LA?

My dad's a screenwriter and my mom's a producer.  Scratch that, my dad recently dropped out of Hollywood and has devoted his time to playwriting.  That may sound sort of glamorous, and it might be compared some other upbringings, but there are thousands of people working in Hollywood, and not all are Angelina Jolie.  Actually, my parents' experience in Hollywood (and my brother, who was a screenwriter but dropped out to be a social worker) has contributed to my desire to self-publish.  I've seen them come so close to having something be produced but then fall apart due to stupid reasons.  It's contributed to my distrust of corporate media. It's also contributed a lot to what I write - as my first two novels are devoted to pretty dark cynicism about Hollywood.  So, do I like living in L.A.?  Not exactly.  But I have a daughter and family's here, so that's the main reason I'm staying.


Tell us about your novels. The combination of humor, satire, thriller and suspense is something
that seems to endear readers and alienate agents. This is what my novels are, and I have
trouble presenting them as this genre or that genre because of the serious message I’ m trying to
laughingly communicate. How do you deal with this as a writer?

I'm sort of perfectly unsuited to publish in the mainstream because a lot of what I write is devoted to pointing out how stupid the mainstream can be.  Publishing feeds at the trough of Hollywood, so perhaps they don't want to publish something critical of that beast.  But also I've heard that "satire" is a dirty word in publishing, as it's a code word for not classifiable - not comedy, not serious.  With my latest book, I went from writing a Hollywood satire to a science fictional satire.  I knew I had no hope in the publishing industry - if one book can't be classified, two books that are totally different face a larger uphill battle.  I deal with this as a writer by dropping out of the system entirely and hoping that my book reaches people. It'll take a lot longer than if I had a publisher, and indeed may never happen, but I won't have to rely on the industry's acceptance or rejection, but the reader's.  Writers write to be read, not to get published.

Are Oscar Caliber Gun and The Golden Calf the same book?Yep.  I really liked the title Oscar Caliber Gun - a combination of Oscar Caliber Performance and .38 Caliber Gun, but a lot of people didn't get it.  "So your name's Oscar?" someone asked me. I got sick of explaining it in the States and the UK publisher wanted another title.  When it was re-released in the U.S. with Another Sky Press, I was happy to keep the title that I wouldn't have to explain.

What writers do you admire, living and dead?

Most of the writers I admire are dead. My influences I guess are pretty standard for a fringe-centered writer: Kerouac, Henry Miller, Hunter Thompson, Bukowski, Philip K. Dick.  Writers who aren't afraid to be personal - which is pretty much my problem with a lot of contemporary writing. Writers trying to show how smart they are, which means not always revealing darker parts of themselves. Recently, I've been almost totally obsessed with non-fiction, and Daniel Pinchbeck's a writer I admire. But I admire him more for the brazen quality of his ideas than want to mimic his writing style.

What are you working on now?
The American Book is ongoing.  I'm working on Part II now and expect it to be a three part series.  I'm posting all of Part II online, and I'm hoping to build some momentum for the time when I'm ready to start work on Part III.  That's partly why I'm giving it away for free - to generate interest in the whole project, not just the one book. This whole thing will take many years to complete.

How do you market your work?\
Nothing that off the wall.  As my novel is very niche-specific, I tend to hang out on those places that cater to those readers.  The niche is conspiracy theory, UFOs, that sort of thing.  So I post on sites like RealitySandwich.com, Disinfo.com, and Dailygrail.com.  Brings in a lot of traffic to my site, theamericanbookofthedead.com.  I've done interviews like this one. But I kind of treat my main site like an ongoing interview.  I spend a lot of time working on posts there, and if I can get people interested in reading that site, they'll might be more interested in taking a look at the book.  It helps that the novel is sort of an extension of the non-fiction writing I do on the site - if you consider conspiracy theory and UFOs to be non-fiction.

What sites should SBR readers go to learn more about Henry Baum?
Definitely http://theamericanbookofthedead.com.  Readers of the Self-Publishing Review may be surprised about just how far out my ideas can be about other topics.  I've mentioned in other interviews that I see the UFO issue as similar to self-publishing: the implications of both are so astounding and important that it seems extremely short-sighted to ridicule either. Also check out http://soundcloud.com/theamericanbookofthedead for my songwriting.  My other writing goes on http://www.selfpublishingreview.com.

Where do you see the self publishing market heading? Isn’t there a danger of the Big Boys
taking over again?

I don't see how. Once everyone has an iPad and brick and mortar bookstores are not as necessary, the main thing advocating traditional publishing will no longer be true.  This will happen - just as mobile phones were once an anomaly, now children have them.  Remember when it was annoying when someone would be gabbing on a cell phone in public? Now it's everywhere - not that that's a perfect development, but anyway.  The iPad is too great a device for it not to take off.  For every iPad that sells, the traditional publishing industry dies a little.

I keep trying all these related sites for indie writers and see zero return. It’s more like the so-
called marketers want to catch the self-pubber in a panic attack, and take what little money
there is. The Kindle people seem much better organized. Am I hallucinating? I don’t mind
hallucinating, as long as it doesn’t cost anything.

Yeah, unless you can really afford it, I don't see much value in paying for marketing. I mean, I'd love to pay $10000 for a publicist, which would probably help, but I don't have that money to spend.  I actually spent $70 on an SEO link-building service recently - submitting my site to directories with different keyword phrases.  It actually worked, because now my novel comes up in the top results for "UFO fiction," "World War III fiction" and others.  That SEO has way more value than paying for an ad on some website. 

As for the listing services, I also think there are better ways to spend your money.  The Amazon DTP service is free to list and probably more important than all the others.  Basically, you should only be paying for these services if you can afford it.  They can only help because visibility's important, but can hurt if it's a major percentage of your bank account.

Neil's note: Henry's books are available at Smashwords.com, and at Amazon.com as paperbacks and eBooks. North of Sunset is described: Michael Sennet - movie star - hates his life. The Vanity Plate Killer is enjoying his new life in Los Angeles, targeting people with vanity plates. When Michael Sennet is framed by a paparazzi photographer – license plate PAPRAZI – the movie star finds something he enjoys even more than making movies: killing people

Henry Baum's Smashwords books are Set Your Own Price! so I encourage SBR readers to be generous and actually kick in 3 bucks to enjoy fantastic, entertaining reading from someone who actually tries to help you out.







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