Magicians Undercover — “Professor” Leon and the Counterfeiters

Undercover MagicMagicians and undercover work go hand in hand. The ability to surreptitiously take, leave, or swap an item under watchful eyes is extremely helpful in situations where discovery could mean life or death.

One agency which is historically linked with magicians is the Secret Service. Before they were assigned to the protection of the President, the Secret Service was originally created in 1865 to suppress counterfeit currency.

The New York Times reported on May 15, 1886, that in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a man named Ezekiel Wellington Jones was arrested for passing counterfeit silver dollars. He was arrested along with a man named Morehouse and was taken to the Kalamazoo Jail. Also arrested was “Professor” Louis S. Leon, a “reputed magician and sleight-of-hand performer.

Professor Leon gave information to the officers who raided Jones’ “underground cellar, where they captured a large quantity of dies and other counterfeiting implements, with a large quantity of finished and unfinished coin.”

Leon was held at another jail in Cassopolis, Michigan, almost fifty miles away. As per Secret Service practice, undercover agents will submit to arrest until headquarters can be contacted. And, as the New York Times noted in the article, “It is suspected… that Leon is really a detective.”

Why Self Publish? Part Two

This is the second part of my rant on Why Self Publish. Here’s the link for Part One.

Given the issues that are inherent in the publisher/author relationship the obvious question is “What does a publisher do, and how can I do that myself?”

A publisher basically does three things:

    1. Works with the author to get the absolute best content possible;
    2. Assembles a professional looking product with an eye-catching cover and an interior that is conducive to the reading experience; and
    3. Gets the book out to the world. That means distribution and marketing.

This post will concentrate on the first part: getting the absolute best content possible.

My first job is the job of any author of fiction, whether I’m doing the publishing or not: write a book that makes sense and is entertaining.

To be honest, this is the hardest part. It’s making characters who have personalities that you’d care enough about to want to follow them through hundreds of pages. It’s the creation of situations that those characters are put into that are entertaining. It’s describing the world they are in and the things that they do in a manner that makes the reader see it in their mind the way you saw it in yours. And it’s making the whole thing make enough sense so that the readers feel they’ve spent their money well and want to come back for more.

Then there’s the rewriting and the re-rewriting to make sure the book does all those things for you, because I guarantee you won’t get it right the first time. When it works for you, then and only then can you go on to the next step.

The next step is to make sure it works for people who aren’t you. You’ve got to give the book to readers whose job it is to make sure it makes sense to them.

Their job is to look at the book from many viewpoints: the larger overall structure (does the book climax halfway through and slog its way to the end?); it’s internal consistency (does a character do something they wouldn’t do just so the author can move things along?); all the way down to the basic tools of writing – grammar (does the author get so lost in his sentences that the reader would have no hope to understanding what the heck is going on?).

These readers are your editors, and they must be willing to pull up their sleeves and go toe to toe with you on anything that isn’t clear, or doesn’t belong in the book, or belongs in the book and isn’t there. As the author, you have the final say on what your book says, but make no mistake, your editor is your collaborator. Your editor wants to make your book better.

And the trick on your part is not to be so pig-headed that you don’t see that.

Between the two of you, and the proof-readers you have making sure that the right words are there (something that spell-check just doesn’t get) and they’re all spelled correctly, your job is to create the absolute best content possible.

And that’s just the first thing that a publisher does. If you skip out on any of this, don’t bother with it at all. Find another way to make a living. If you do skip the part where you’re working with an editor, and you’re able somehow to get people to read your first book, you’ll be really lucky if they read any more.

So now that you have the words all put together, the next step is putting them in a package that people would want to buy.

And that’s the subject of the next post, all about designing the interior and the cover.


Why Self Publish? Part One

People ask why I’m going the self-publishing route instead of the more “legitimate” route of sending Bullet Catch and the rest of the Smoke & Dagger novels through an established publisher.  My immediate answer “been there, done that,” isn’t really helpful, so I’ll tell the entire reason that I’m doing it, for now.

Overall, I can’t see what a traditional publisher brings to the table nowadays.

Before the ebook revolution, a publisher was an author’s gatekeeper to the rest of the world. Without a publisher taking a book, editing it, printing it on paper and sending it all over the world, a novel would just be a stack of papers in a box sitting on a shelf in the author’s closet. Because of that, the publisher had all the power, and the Internet is full of stories of how that power was abused.

Some of the horror stories I’ve heard include:

    1. Draconian contracts that kept a book in limbo decades after they were out of print;
    2. A series being killed after only the first one was published. The old editor left and the new one wanted to make his own mark and canceled the rest of the trilogy. The writer was stuck with the final two books written and an audience that was waiting for it, but no way to deliver them. No other publisher could or would touch it;
    3. A larger publisher bought a smaller one and the authors were told that certain important aspects of their contracts — the entire reason they went with the smaller publisher — would now be unilaterally changed by the new owners, and the authors had no recourse.

Then there’s the issue of money. Having previously worked in publishing houses and having seen actual budgets, I was appalled to learn that the guy who put the staples in the book was making more than the guy who wrote it. A typical publishing contract will give you 8 – 12% of the cover price of the book as your royalty. And, unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson, you have to do your own marketing, so that comes out of your share of the money. Publishing on Amazon’s Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, or the Kobo eReader will get you about 70% royalties on your book, leaving a whole lot more money for marketing, advertising, and you know… paying the rent.

Finally, there’s the fact that bookstores (when you can find one) are deluged by new books. If yours doesn’t sell within a couple of months, it’s taken from the premium shelves and tables where they get exposure, and stacked sideways, where you hope the spine is intriguing enough to grab a potential reader.

The ebook revolution has changed all that, giving the author control over his work, a greater share of the profits, and enough time to nurture a book to market.  I put a lot of work into writing this series, and I want it to have the best chance to reach a lot of people.

But all that comes at a price — there is a rocky road to navigate when you go it alone. That’s why I called my company Frontier X Studios.

In my next post, I’ll talk about that rocky road, and the process of being an Indie Publisher.


Magic and Espionage: The Arts of Deception

Magicians and spies have one very important thing in common: they both practice the art of deception. Making your “audience” look one way while you do something else has been practiced in venues ranging from an uncle pulling a coin out of a child’s ear all the way up to the invasion of Normandy in World War II.

It was inevitable that magicians and spies would eventually work together and share techniques. During the Cold War, the CIA had a top secret program called MK-ULTRA where various techniques for behavioral engineering — mind control — found intelligence operatives working with magicians and hypnotists.  This was one of the inspirations for the SMOKE & DAGGER series.