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Third Wave: HTML Novels

What To Call Them? Neon eBooks? Most of the clever domain names are taken, and I can't quite find a rhyme like "p-book, e-book, and now v-book" where V is Virtual. H-Book is an Asian car site. You get the idea. I was going to refer back to my 1996 published HTML novel Neon Blue. I believe that Neon Blue was the world's first HTML novel (criteria soon). No, Project Gutenberg does not qualify in this category because the books are public domain, whereas the first thing to understand about what I am saying is: I published my own, proprietary work online. So Neon eBooks might be a catchy phrase. I'm going with HTML novel right now. Note that HTML books are generally books about coding in HTML, which will be a very useful set of skills for aspiring HTML authors to learn.

Why a Third Wave?

Old Wave: P-Books. I'm referring here to the print-only world of previous centuries. I'll discuss the history in more detail soon on this site. Most writers in the U.S. were totally shut out by the forty or so U.S.-owned imprints mostly centered in New York City. That world has vanished, after growing through years of consolidation driven by the great shopping malls of the mid to late 20th Century (which are in terrible trouble these days, largely due to myopia, the affliction of bookstores as well). Look, I have an MS in Business Administration (Boston University) so I'm reasonably equipped to analyze business trends, at least in my own industry. I have my own insights or 'takes' and ideas that I'll discuss in due time—all with the focus of making us all more successful writers, which will produce happier readers.

New Wave: Digital or E-Books. Writers were finally able to exercise their First Amendment rights and put their works before the readers, both online and on portable (hand-held) reader platforms like Droid, Kindle, and others. There are many problems with the publishing industry overall as it goes through growth & chaos, and looks like a huge trainwreck at times. Bottom line is that millions of new books are flooding the market, while the number of readers has probably not significantly changed. Publishers Weekly has kept statistics on 'avid readers' since the 1940s, and the percentage (people who read a book a week or more, by their definition) did not change for a long time. It's less than 10% of the U.S. population. Access to stories for most citizens is through visual media, and for screenwriters, those markets are at least as hard to crack as the Old Wave p-book world. Problem is now that e-books are at a saturation point that can only get worse. Those of us who invest lifetimes in writing books need to be looking for new ways to reach at least *some* readers. Enter: HTML novels.

Third Wave: HTML Novels. My own story will serve to illustrate some of the general and backgound noise leading up to where I am today, and where I invite you to take a closer look (both to enjoy free reading, and to figure out what strategies you might find useful). I published my (probably also 'the') first HTML novel starting April 1996 in an innovative method of posting weekly serial chapters.

As a tribute to the breath-taking wonder of the new World Wide Web (the Internet's computer language command line with an attractive and intuitive Graphic User Interface or GUI superimposed; e.g., Mosaic, Mozilla, etc.), I adopted the pseudonym John Argo for my SFFH. That's the ship of wonder, Argo, which sailed the Aegean Sea of mythology over 3,000 years ago, carrying the Argonauts (literally: Argo Sailors) on their voyages of discovery. That was, in effect, the Space Age of the late Bronze Age, remembered with awe by the later Hellenes or Greeks and immortalized in the poetry of Homer, Hesiod, and others. I often get blank looks, but there is a reason for everything.

My early HTML novels tended to have many chapters—e.g., Neon Blue (Suspense), This Shoal of Space (SF), and CON2: The Generals of October (Political/Constitution Thriller)—so we had enough material to keep uploading weekly serial chapters every Sunday evening well into late 1997 and beyond. A note of applause goes to my then-business partner Brian Callahan, a talented web designer, graphic artist, and visionary among his many talents, who created with me C&C Publishers. We never decided which of our names (Callahan, Cullen) came before or after the ampersand. I was left as sole proprietor of Clocktower Books and of our web-based SFFH magazine by 2001, and had my hands full with both writing and many projects. We recenlty received a nice entry from Mike Ashley at the authoritative SF Encyclopedia online for our magazine, which ran 1998-2007 (a virtual decade). All that and more can be found at the Clocktower Books Museum site. I don't mean to distract you with off-site links, but mean for you to see what a busy time (okay, struggle, thousands of hours of work) it all was. I don't regret it overall at all. But now we're all drowning in a sea of new e-books, and most of us will be as lost and forgotten as we were in the old print regime. So I'm here to tell you that I find great joy and permanence in publishing my work online today, in HTML format, as I did soon to be a quarter century ago.

It Was And Remains Wonderful, But… Along with e-books, the new world of digital publishing (all of it: net, tablet, computer, you name it) offered so much excitement, and I had the joy of being part of it from its modern beginnings. In recent years, some major changes are looming, as you know. Brick & mortar retailers (those bookstores we love to sit in, drink coffee, and cop a free read) are in a mortal crisis they may not survive. More on this and other stuff coming soon from my tippity-tapping fingertips.

e-books have become an impenetrable avalanche, an unfathomable and dark ocean, in which the vast majority of writers are lost. What I mean is: just as the p-book world was closed to most of us, so the e-book world is rapidly looking very similar for different reasons (and under the hood if you look, some of the same old reasons; again, more on that later. So I'm telling you a simple thing here for starters. P-book and E-book are effectively closed books now, for most of us. The entire game is now, and has always been, convincing readers to stop and read. Readers (all of us) are busy people with life on their minds. I'll discuss reader habits and all that in later posts. For now, just now: I find enormous peace in creating my own Web-based place to read. Call it a library, a reading room, a bookshop, whatever: it's a place where I have total control. I don't need to plead with bookstore clerks (my good friends) to get a book into the store. I don't need to… well, you get the idea. I do well in a room, selling my books, but overall I prefer to sit quietly in a corner of the bookstore with my coffee and just read someone else's books. I buy a lot too, don't worry.

In my virtual bookshop, I open the pages of the book, and apply good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and social networking (whatever one is good at) to bring readers for a look. If you are a good writer, they'll be unable to stop reading, they'll see the movie in their head, and they'll ask when your next book will be available. And that will make you feel a warm glow all over. We'll talk a lot more, later, about what brings readers to an author. Industry studies have been clear for a long time that, except for the occasional (very rare) runaway bestselling stand-alone title, the most significant *BRAND* element is the writer's name. Most of us, in a lifetime, will never reach that, but it's like winning the lottery. Don't bank on it (I don't) and just enjoy playing the game. Preferably, find something else you enjoy doing to put bread on the table. It's a great stress reliever.

A recent study suggested that it takes about three novels that do very well before readers recognize an author as a brand (which ultimately means names like J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, John Grisham, Dean Koontz; you can probably name most of those two dozen or so New York industry front list authors). My goals are modest and realistic. I keep going back to home base, which is that I have a passionate love of writing, which started when I was a child learning to read. If you're in it for the money, just about any other profession will be more remunerative. For the energy it takes to write nearly fifty books, as I have done in over half a century and am still going strong, it's not something you get into for a quick buck. And nobody owes me anything. I don't approach the business with the anger, bitterness, and other toxic emotions I perceived from not so talented writers in my decade or more as an editor/publisher online. My observation has been that, with some notable crank exceptions, generally people who are not good at being people will not be good at being authors, much less poets. I've made some solid lifelong friends in this activity, all of them as much strong authors as they are good people. Think about it.

A Grown Man, Model Train Layouts. So here I am, approaching a quarter century as a published author. It's been a great ride, which continues on new tracks all the time. I keep checking the train schedules, making transfers as needed (as I am doing with this Third Wave idea at Galley City). That's all metaphor talk. I love building websites, and I have my own ideas about how I want to do them. I use simple HTML, and as much as possible avoid fancy gimmicks. I'm goal oriented: what can I do to present my work to the world? There we have it: three waves, and I'm sailing on top of them all. Having a great time. Wish you were here. Oh, you are. Well, stay… pull up a tiller or a jib, and kick back with me in the sunshine on San Diego Bay as we have a great time telling stories.

Again, it's all about getting readers (those busy, rushing people) to stop and take a look. We'll talk about that some more. An HTML novel (or book) is always an open book. It lies open on the Internet, waiting to be found, to be stumbled upon, to work its magic and entice the reader to take a closer look. If you tell a story well (and not every story or style suits every reader) then they should become captivated and keep reading. That's what it's all about. Writer, never forget that were, are, and must always be a reader first. Keep reading, learning, and writing.


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