Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In the Year 2029

Full disclosure, mes amis: this post on THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING (patent pending) is pure speculation on my part. Informed speculation, to be sure, but speculation nonetheless. So, now that you've taken your mandatory grains of salt, come with me on a journey to...


In the year 2029, the power of wireless Internet, Amazon, and Google (among newer and even more fantastic companies and services) will have taken connectivity to a new level. We could have search engines in our contact lenses, people! True, video or Matrix-style virtual reality may have largely replaced today's text-based Internet by then, but I'm betting there will still be text involved, and therefore (drumroll, please): reading!

Google's and Amazon's Sith-level grips on electronic books may well still be holding (fun activity: which is the master and which is the apprentice?), meaning that between them, a huge and continuously growing volume of e-books will be available on-line. Mix that with paper-thin, flexible, full-color e-readers (or those mega sweet contact lenses I just mentioned) and you've got almost any book you could ever hope to read wirelessly available almost instantly.

Will piracy be a problem? Absolutely—in twenty years, I expect the publishing industry to be suffering the same issues as the music industry in terms of illegal downloads and pirated materials. Ninja DRM and lawsuits from publishers/copyright holders/author estates will hopefully be enough to deter some pirates, but certainly not all.

Now, as we have seen, there are always going to be early adopters, late adopters, and non-adopters of new technologies, meaning that there will probably still be folks reading paper books in the far-flung year of 2029. I'm pretty sure that's going to be those of us who are college-age or older now, since we have a significant attachment to print books. But those three-year-olds you see running around now? They'll be fresh college graduates with almost no knowledge of The World Before E-Books. They saw us using e-readers when they were tots and thought they were cool. They probably got their own e-readers in middle school. Heck, they might not have ever even touched a physical book in all four years of college. Sure, a few young fogeys might think "p-books" are cool and retro or whatever, but most will view them as archaic and hard to use. (There's no search function on a paperback.)

I think hardcover books will swiftly become novelties, so only a few very small publishers will continue to produce them. For those of us who actually want to read physical books, POD will likely have become the norm, since dwindling demand will long since have forced houses and booksellers to abandon the current mega-print-run-and-returns model. If you want a physical book, you order it, it gets printed just for you, and that's that.

The good news for publishers and agents: I still think we'll need you in the astoundingly distant year of 2029! Roles will have changed drastically, though. Agents will be needed to negotiate royalties & contracts, filter out the detritus, and scout out the self-published stuff that's actually good; publishers will be needed to provide editing, marketing, and publicity services (viral media blitzes and e-co-op, if you will). The industry will be generally more compact, but will still exist and, hopefully, be thriving.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: in 2029, all you author folk will be making six-figure advances! Hooray for inflation!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

...unless your book is terrible and you're a hack. (I kid.)

Seriously, though, I couldn't help but notice in the epic comments section of yesterday's post that a number of you are either relatively young, relatively new to this whole novel-writing business (i.e. are still hard at work on your first manuscript), or both. Well, good news: this is the part where I bust out my grandpa glasses and learn you a thing or two about writing stories.

Anecdote #1: When I was in sunny COLLEGE, USA this weekend, I ran into several visiting alumni. Many of them were in their thirties or forties and were generally more than happy to talk about what they did for a living, what school/work/life was like back in their day, and so forth. Of these gentle folk, one (in his late 30s) told me he's still not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, having had jobs in at least four different (and very diverse) fields since graduation. I told him I worked in publishing, and replied that maybe he'd give novel writing a go. And you know what? I hope he does. He could be at the very beginning of a great writing career.

So, if you're 25 and you've shopped a novel or two and it hasn't worked out yet, it may not necessarily be time to throw in the towel. Not everyone is Jonathan Safran Foer; chances are, you've got plenty of time.

Anecdote #2: This one is apocryphal, but the story goes something like this: a doctor and a novelist meet at one of those parties where you stand around with cocktails and talk about what you do for a living (perhaps a college reunion). When the doctor hears that the novelist writes for a living, he says, "I'd love to be a novelist, if only I had the time." The novelist then takes a characteristically long sip of his drink before responding, "Yes, and I'd love to be a doctor, if only I had the time."

Long story short (Eric said, removing his grandpa glasses): writing is hard. It takes time, talent, time, knowledge, luck, time, and luck (as well as a thousand other factors, like time and luck). It's not all going to magically come together overnight, but if you work hard at it and you've got the skill, chances are you'll see results. Maybe not when you're 20, 30, 40, or even 50, but you won't see anything if you give up now. I mean, come on—if I'd given up on this post at 10:00, you'd have nothing to read. But—o frabjous day!—I kept at it until 10:10, and now look! Results. You can't fake this kind of success, kids.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Prithee, Inform Me: How Far Along Are You?

Greetings, lords and ladies, from sunny COLLEGE, USA! I decided to pay a visit to my dear alma mater for some general broings-on and good times this weekend, so that's the reason for the shorter-than-usual post—but please accept my promise of extra content this coming week to make up for it.

So, prithee, inform me: where are you in the publication process? Do you have a finished novel? Are you agented but unpublished? Have you already penned fourteen bestsellers?

The thing is, the sales aspect of book publishing is (I hope) interesting to you, but I want to make sure PMN's content is as helpful to those of you who aren't yet published as those of you who have been through the gauntlet of the Great Publishing Rube Goldberg Machine and are now wondering about everything from cover art to comp titles.

So, if you don't mind: to the comments, and let me know where you are on your fantastic voyage!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Little Round Up of Horrors

Another Friday, another round up, another chance to hang out with yours truly ('s Laura. You know. Laura? Who writes the round ups? The one who isn't Eric). So round up below (cue sweet tunes):

Ah, late September, a time when love is in the air. All the more reason that Elizabeth's first literary crush really tugged the heart strings--a teen girl in love with a gay octogenarian WWI poet is most likely doomed to failure, but she persevered nonetheless. So Elizabeth, salve your broken heart with the knowledge that you've won last week's contest (and new contest below!), and call Kristi for your free therapy (yes, blog comments are contractually binding. I know this because I watch a lot of Law & Order).

These kinds of broken hearts happen in the quest for great literature, it seems. The answer? Don't read great literature. Read John Grisham instead! He doesn't write literature, he says, and he fully supports Dan Brown's quest to also not write literature. They will probably start a Get Rid of Smelly writerS club, in which they buy first editions of Stephen King and light cigars with burning Gutenberg Bibles. I would join their club but, alas, I only write fine round up literature, and we all know anything good tends to get rejected. Some poorly written money makers also get rejected--which editors will only admit to anonymously. Agents, on the other hand, are wily rascals who we love for their lies, because their honesty is overrated.

I think the answer is to sell out (at least sell something) and get stuffed animals of your characters, CDs packaged with your books, and fans who bring guns from your historical fiction to your readings. Who needs MacArthur grants and to be one of a few great writers invited to read torture memos aloud? With political resonance? We can have Moby Dick written in emoticons, or be part of the Manga hall of shame, or try and revive a career as a former head of state by insinuating that you slept with Princess Di.

Or maybe you can get a ghostwriter--especially for your work in medical journals and your letters to friends (letter writing is an art, you know). Hey, it's not like there's anything new to write, no matter how many literary techniques you learn from dinosaurs (Lisa, that one's for you). Plus, small children will be better at plots than you anyway.

Well, maybe that's not true; you're probably better at plots than at least one kid. Maybe the reason no one loves book is because it isn't a book. Maybe it's a non-fiction graphic novel for children. Maybe the detailed ethnography that is your dissertation is really a cookbook. Or maybe your book just really, really needs a subtitle.

What it doesn't need is dirty, rampant sex...ism. Not sex either, because writing about sex is awkward, but mostly not sexism. The British Fantasy Society chose not to interview a single woman on their horror panel (horrific!). While female characters are missing from sci-fi in general, actually excluding the lady-types is pretty not nice. The creator of modern horror was, in fact, a lady-type. The BFS swears it was only "lazy sexism" (as opposed to that active, gym going sexism) but others are saying the line in the sand has been drawn: horror is for men, paranormal romance is for ladies.

And the discrimination doesn't end there. Why hasn't there been a sci-fi Booker winner? Virginia Woolf liked sci-fi. I like sci-fi. Sci-fi even has some serious, real world type rules. Potentially, the sci-fi titles aren't that good. But more potentially, the Booker people aren't closet sci-fi fans. Either way, the odds can only be evened by joining a writer's club, potentially in Second Life. I mean, why not? Publishers are learning to love the web, so you should too.

Yes, the book world is changing. You know how I know? Diablo Cody is adapting the Sweet Valley High books for the big screen. Now Elizabeth and Jessica will call each other on ironic phones and wear ironic tees and oh my god they'll be terrible terrible hipsters. So my contest to you (which I think is entirely unwinnable, by the way): come up with a worse pairing of classic, beloved book or series and a modern writer. I call Jonathan Franzen's adaptation of the Babysitter's Club. Just so he will learn the value of writing characters that aren't thinly veiled versions on himself. ...Was that mean? I think that was mean. You're very talented Mr. Franzen! But there was no need to cast yourself as the hero of The Corrections!

Well, that's all from me. Submit pairings for my contest, and remember to pine for me until next Friday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

¡Happy Punctuation Day!

That's right folks, today is officially Punctuation Day. So corral your commas, saddle up your semicolons, and let's hit the dusty Publishing Trail. (If you're wondering about the cowboy theme, it was also recently Louis L'Amour Day.) Today's topic: the importance of good writing.

True, our dear friend The Rejectionist has a point: no matter how heartbreakingly beautiful your prose, you're not going to sell a book if nothing actually happens in it. And, to be brutally honest, you can probably sell a copy or two with a great idea, great pacing, and relatively average writing. However, you cannot, cannot, cannot make errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation and assume they'll all be caught by editorial before your book goes to print. You can't be stylistically boring. In fact, you can't just be good. You can't even be great. You need to be as perfect as humanly possible.

Here's why: every week in this country, tens of thousands of books are published. Said published books are only a fraction of the books that are accepted by agents and shopped to publishers, which are in turn only a fraction of all the books written and submitted by you, the unpublished. (Much like Editorial Anonymous, I am not a fan of the phrase "pre-published." Litotes, people!)

The point is, there are hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people competing with you for book deals. Since (sadly) most of you won't get one, you need every advantage possible if you want even a prayer of seeing your work on a book store shelf someday. Now, it might be enough to have a solid plot, great pacing, good voice, strong characters. You might be able to get away with average writing/spelling/grammar if you've got a stellar agent and editor on your hands. Then again, maybe not. Why leave anything to chance?

In short: make sure you dodecatuple-check your MS, get all your !s, ?s, ""s, ;s, and —s squared away, and only send agents the absolute best piece of work you are capable of creating. They're going all out for you. You need to go all out for you, too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Importance of Face Time

Every month or so, my bosses leave the office and journey to the corporate offices of their accounts to sell our books. Sometimes they'll sell over the phone if there are drop-ins, but this is considered a last resort. All sales calls are done in person whenever possible. Bottom line.

When selling your book—which is your primary job after writing said book—you should keep this in mind. If you've got legitimate contacts (read: people you actually know, and not famous authors you met at that party that one time) in the industry, make use of them. Meet for dinner/drinks. (Commandment #7: Thou shalt pimp thyself.) This goes for other authors, agents, publishing folk, book store staff, you name it. You're going to want to do local author events once your book drops, and there's no better way of greasing the wheels for that than by getting to know the staffs of your local stores (chains and indies) ahead of time.

Now, some of you might not exactly be social butterflies and may well say to me, "but Eric, I'm a writer—let me write and leave the schmoozing to the professionals!" And yes, if you are super painfully shy and honestly believe you will do more damage by trying to work these connections yourself, you might want to consider letting publicity handle all of this. But I have a feeling most of you don't fall into this category, so I say to you: soldier on. You wrote a great book. Now sell that book!

To quote Daniel Menaker: "And you have to understand that even though you are formally separated from the literal sales force, you are still above all fundamentally 'in sales.'" True, here he's talking about editors and the editorial team, but it's just as true for authors. Yes, you're on the writing "team." But you're also on the sales team.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speaking of Our Benevolent Overlords

Hot on the tail of our discussion of Oprah yesterday—which confirmed my theory that, just as you are not largely controlled by Dan Brown, neither are you totally swayed by the powers of Oprah Winfrey—is the news that the DOJ has rejected Google's book deal.

For those of you just tuning in, some background may be in order. You can find a good rundown here and a timeline here, but I'll provide it in trademark Bullet-O-Vision™ for the link-averse:

• December 2004: Google conceives the Google Print Library Project, the precursor to today's Google Book Search.
• September/October 2005: the Authors Guild of America and Association of American Publishers independently sue Google, citing copyright infringement. Google objects, citing fair use.
• August 2006 - July 2007: Over the course of a year, a bunch of university libraries announce they'll be partnering with Google in the Book Search venture.
• March 2007: Microsoft jumps on board the litigation bandwagon. This isn't surprising, since Google and Microsoft are rivals (Chrome vs. IE, Google search engine vs. Bing, &c.)
• October 2008: A settlement is reached in which Google agrees to pay $125 million to remunerate all copyright holders whose rights were infringed, cover all legal fees, and create a public Book Rights Registry. Ever since, the terms have been under negotiation, with a ruling expected next month. However, as mentioned above, there's been a bit of a setback.

The main problem, at least as far as I can see, is this: Google believes they are allowed to keep full scans of any book—even those still under copyright—in their database, so long as they only permit public access to books that are already in the public domain; most copyright holders disagree, particularly publishers who are 50% legitimately worried that permitting one private company to effectively control the majority of the world's printed word is dangerous and 50% terrified of technology in general.

My take: I am 100% in favor of Google maintaining a database of public domain works, as are, I think, most people—except possibly public libraries, who may go by the wayswide if and when e-books come to power, meaning Google + Amazon = Your Reading Experience™. (In case you couldn't tell, I really love that little "™" symbol.) However, I am not in favor of Google maintaining a database and book registry for copyrighted material for the following reasons:

Security. Book piracy isn't really a problem yet, but once e-books are commonplace and Google's got a massive (ostensibly private) database of copyrighted material all in one place, it will, I think, be very attractive to e-pirates who don't want to pay full price for electronic books.
Accountability. Depending on the nuts and bolts of your contract, the copyright is either in your name or your publisher's, yet Google's holding onto it without your permission. But don't worry, they'll pay you if people are accessing your copyrighted material through them.
Destruction of competition. With everything centralized and controlled by one entity, it seems to me healthy competition (e.g. from publishers, other electronic book databases, libraries, &c) could be stifled.

Then again, I'm the cautious (some say conspiracy theorist) type, so it could all be unnecessary hand-wringing. But I know if it were my copyright and my livelihood involved, I'd be damned sure no one was exploiting my work or stealing from me while citing free exchange of information.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Oprah Effect

Fall is in the air, dear readers, and I know this because I've just started coming down with my annual autumn cold. Will this stop me from delivering hot, fresh publishing news five days a week? Not a chance. I'm like the Postal Service on crack.

Since I (not unexpectedly) got a wide range of responses to my questions re: Twitter, Facebook, &c last week, I'm going to do some more research (mostly of the "how much time do I have to devote to these additional venues" variety) and get back to you.

Last update regarding Dan B... er, He Who Must Not Be Named: I finished the book late last week and was entertained, so I'm comfortable saying I liked it. No ifs, ands, or buts. Oh yeah, and if you're curious about the ending SNAPE KILLS LANGDON OMG serious publishing news, Dear Leader has selected Uwem Akpan's Say You're One of Them for her cult book club. Remember when I said short story collections don't sell? What I meant to say was, "short story collections don't sell unless Oprah Winfrey puts her Official Seal of Approval™ on them."

Yes, Oprah could affix her coveted book club sticker to even the most asinine, worthless "book" imaginable by someone who "would never want a book's autograph" (whatever that means), and it would still become an instant bestseller. This is colloquially known as The Oprah Effect.

TOE (not to be confused with the Theory of Everything) is difficult to quantify, but it seems to be on par with (or possibly more powerful than) the Pulitzer Prize in terms of ability to generate word-of-mouth buzz and sales. Thousands of copies turn into millions. Film rights are immediately negotiated and sold. Now, this says a lot about Oprah's tremendous influence, but it says just as much about the people being influenced.

I'm not sure which way the causal chain runs—or if it's even causal at all—but the correlation between women and readers in America is pretty strong. (The same is probably true of the UK, but this is just a hunch.) Most readers in the good old US of A are women; most agents (from what I've seen) are women; most of my fellow English majors were women; most of my colleagues are women; most of the people belonging to Oprah's book club are women. In fact, most of you are probably women!

The bookosphere (hooray neologisms!) is pretty heavily slanted toward the lady folk, and so I think part of the reason Oprah holds such tremendous sway in the literary world is because there's a preexisting gargantuan overlap between her target audience and the book-reading public. That is to say, if she were to devote an entire show to her fantasy football picks, I'm sure it would have no effect on anyone else's picks whatsoever (simply because most men between 18 and 35 aren't watching her show, and that's the prime population for FF). I know I'm using broad strokes here, but that's necessary when analyzing huge populations of people.

This is all a roundabout way of asking: are you influenced by Oprah? Do you (or your loved ones) religiously (or perhaps just casually) follow her and her recommendations? Have you ever devoted a year of your life just to doing what she says? Or do you think I'm full of the proverbial bologna? This is all part of my continuing informal series on "are people reading industry blogs a good sample of the larger book-reading public?" You folks don't seem to be quite as into the Da...rk Lord as the rest of America. What about Oprah?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dan Brown-ed Up

Friday is both round up day and Eric's day of rest (he gets very cranky without breaks). Thus, as always on Fridays, Laura (cue sweet tunes).

Fact: I am 30 pages into The Lost Symbol. Fact: every minute I spend writing this post is a minute I will not be reading. Fact: I don't care that a lot of you are Dan Brown haters—I, too, am often a DBH. But I am also a complete and utter hypocrite who is secretly into both mysteries and scoffing, and this book lends itself to both! So round up ahoy, the weekly contest makes its triumphant return, and if you mock my reading habits in the comments I will totally disemvowel you (and that, Nathan, is how you deal with sucky anonymous comments—castrate them by nom-ing their vowels).

Although I'm reading The Lost Symbol, I'm super sick of reading about it (and exposing myself to potential spoilers for you people—you're welcome), so here is the super condensed version of everything about the book that happened this week: TLS was embargoed, but rules don't apply to the New York Times or the LA Times, which kind of sucked for the Waterstone and Borders people who were going to speed read it and be the first to review. If you don't want to read it, the Guardian spoils it, but otherwise you can read embargo respecting reviews from the National Post and Omnivoracious, or read Gawker and Phillip Pullman give Brown some serious shit. The book broke the one day sales record by selling a million books, set a UK sales record, sold more e-books than print books on Amazon, and saved Random House, hurray!

Feelings are mixed about good old Dan—he'll either be the ruin of us all, or is a great student of human nature, highlighting our need for secrets. We shouldn't hate him, even though he's totally wrong about everything in DC, and lied about professors of symbology existing at all. Maybe he just needed an unsolicited editor, or a plot generator, or some good theories. If only he weren't fettered by the golden handcuffs of bestseller-dom...

I'm sure Robert Langdon didn't need this, but just in case, here's a guide to books that teach manliness. I'm sure Dan Brown doesn't need this either, but T-Rex has broken new ground in post-modern detective novels. That's right. Dinosaurs explain everything. Except for, well, why publishers hate books. Or why no one will read your script, or publish your book (but Jeff VanderMeer will read it for cookies—thanks Jeff!).

If you, in your infinite kindness, want to read the work of others, Fantasy Magazine needs slush readers. Before you apply you should read this steampunk FAQ, and this explanation of all sorts of punks (not the street corner kind, the sci-fi kind), even though some people think the punks are dumb. We'll see what they say when the street corner and sci-fi punks band together, become the Warriors, and come out to play.

Punk haters are, of course, literary snobs. They tell us that having a volunteer army is the reason there hasn't been any great war literature in Iraq and Afghanistan (because living through a war—not good enough for the hoi polloi, oh no!). From America, anyway—Denmark isn't having that problem. That arbiter of taste, Bin Laden, has thrown his literary choices into the ring, yet he didn't choose any Kafka, which we all know makes you smarter.

The publishing elite tell us why the industry doomed—because "[g]enuine literary discernment is often a liability in editors." Sales show that illiterate inbred hicks are buying books (they don't read them, just buy them), so true literary taste is a problem. And good God, Muffy, the e-books are coming! How will people know you're reading Proust on the subway now?

Speaking of literary discernment, I turn to you, great wide world of readers, with an important question. Moonrat and I have been having a discussion about our literary boyfriends. First, a question: can you call Shakespeare? Really? Not cool. And second, this week's contest: tell me about your magical, romantic first date with your literary crush (author or character). Funniest and most emotionally scarring experience (scarring for you, not me) wins eternal glory next week! And, potentially, therapy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Expanding the PMN Empire

Apparently a new figure has entered the light saber-rattling, empire-versus-rebellion, Sith-versus-Jedi battle between Nathan and me, and that man is none other than... Barack Obama. 10,000 PMN points (redeemable at all participating PMN locations*) and mad props** to anyone who turns the green screen-ready version of that image into one of President Brobama lightsabering illiteracy in the face. Be as creative as you like!

Also, before I get going (I feel like I'm always saying that), it turns out some famous people really are reading PMN! (Apologies to all you other famous readers whom I may have inadvertently overlooked.) Michelle, if you're reading this: thanks for mentioning us, and congrats on your new book! And I promise to actually buy Cleopatra's Daughter and not try to acquire it for free through my myriad mega sweet publishing connections.

Ahem. So yes, update. I can tell a lot of you aren't die-hard Dan Brown fans, so I'll keep it brief. It is as follows:

• I do have a vague idea of how individual accounts did in terms of day one sales, but since those numbers haven't been made public and I don't want to post anything I'm not sure is true, I'm going to keep my mouth shut for now.
• I will say, however, that the rumors I'm hearing are more or less in line with the overall one million copy figure being quoted in the media. Congrats to Dan Brown, Doubleday, Random House, Bertelsmann, and all the fine people involved in making this book a hit.
• Amazon seems to be selling more of the e-book than the hardcover. Our e-book overlords are nearly upon us!
Records are being broken, people! (Although Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling are still king and queen, respectively.)
• Finally, I was right! I was right! Dan Brown is eating everyone else's sales! Not that that's a good thing, mind you—I actually think it's quite the opposite—but I do so enjoy being right.

Now, speaking of all things Sith and insidious (i.e. The Lost Symbol's overwhelming sales), I'd like to gauge your collective interest in the following: the Facebook and the Twitter. Would PMN's presence on either be positive for you? I'm talking the possibility of new and unique content for FB and Twitter, not to mention more than one update per day and the un-pass-up-able opportunity to be bona fide FB friends with yours truly. Status updates, tweets, &c could transmit more data to you on a more regular basis and in more easily digestible units.

Will expanding the PMN empire to other e-venues help you folks out? Do you have any questions/comments/ideas/misgivings/&c? To the comments with you, then, and make haste—Dan Brown sold another thirteen (thousand) books while you were reading this!

* Pimp My Novel is not a participating location.
** "Mad props" distributed at the discretion of PMN. Cash value 1/100 of one cent. Not redeemable for cash. Consult a physician before using. Your results may vary. Not for opthalmic use.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It Was Under the Couch Cushion the Whole Time

First of all, thanks to everyone who voted for PMN on the Book Blogger Apprecation Week awards page, and a big round of applause for the winners. As you can see, I totally got Ben Kenobi-ed by Nathan. Looks like he really DID become more powerful than we could ever imagine! (I mean, the man helped forge a blog that wasn't even his own. Without him, PMN literally wouldn't exist.)

In all seriousness, though, hats & Sith Lord life-support helmets off to you, Nathan, and the rest of the winners as well. More than well-deserved.

But there's always next year...

As you may have heard (unless you've been stuck on a deserted island for the last five months), Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol came out yesterday. It's already taken the UK by storm (they're in the future, you know) and I'll be updating this post later today with US info and news reports. So far:

• Tesco (a British grocery store/general merchandiser) was selling 19 copies PER MINUTE;
• Asda (a British supermarket) sold 18,000 copies before 4:00 PM;
• Rumor has it that one of the Manhattan major chain stores (just ONE STORE) sold 400 copies by 2:00 PM. By my rough calculation, that's about one copy every minute. Heavens to Murgatroyd.

Now, being an enterprising young man, I've acquired Mine Very Owne Copie of the book and am already a third of the way through it. (The font is huge.) Now, WITHOUT SPOILING ANYTHING AT ALL, I PROMISE, my reaction is as follows:

I once accused Dan Brown of writing the same book twice (Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code). I'd like to formally retract that.

He has written the same book three. Different. Times.

Now, if you really liked those other two books, you'll definitely like this one. I think the writing is better and the pacing is as good as ever. He does have a lot of characters/shadowy organizations/plot points that are annoyingly similar to his previous books, though, and there are times (roughly every other page) where I get the impression he just keeps a giant Crazy Conspiracies Mad-Libs that he fills out every few years and turns into a book. (Maybe that's exactly what he does.) That aside—it's pretty entertaining. To sum it up as only the British can (courtesy of the Guardian link, above):
The Lost Symbol charts similar territory to The Da Vinci Code, with the hero decoding puzzles and going on the run from shadowy forces, this time Freemasons. Some reviewers branded The Lost Symbol "moronic, derivative and clunky" .

Others applauded Brown's ability to give his millions of fans what they want. For the publishing industry, the book's strengths and weaknesses were only being measured in numbers.

And those numbers are going to be intense.

It wouldn't be a true PMN post without a healthy dose of doom, however, so before I go, these parting words (again from the Guardian) and a mini-Prithee-Inform-Me:
Baggaley said it remains questionable whether the soaring sales of Dan Brown books will have a beneficial effect for publishers of other books. "In Tesco this morning the book was on display, not in the book section, but as soon as you walked in, so it is not as if you are going to be drawn into buying other books as well," he said.

I've been warning that books going on-sale around this time will be cannibalized by Dan Brown rather than see a boost from his generating additional foot traffic. Prithee, inform me: do you think the DB phenomenon will increase or decrease the sales of other books in the stores?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Self-Publishing II: Attack of the POD People

Happy deforestation day! I'm sitting here with crossed fingers hoping the creation of five million copies of THE LOST SYMBOL (and therefore the subsequent loss of trees) doesn't cause a noticeable decrease in my breathable oxygen.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about self-publishing, and it ignited a small firestorm in the comments section. The majority of it was great, lively discussion and I was really interested in a lot of what you all had to say. Some of it, though not strictly disrespectful/incorrect/&c, was a little heated, and I'd like to revisit the subject to clear up a few things. (Apologies in advance for the rant, but it's in the air this week.)

First (as I've said before), I, too, have been known to write things—primarily poetry, although I also write some weird sci-fi-ish literary-ish fiction. The point being: I am very well aware that what I am writing is not really salable. I am not some sales-obsessed Big Publishing Corporation nut who insists that there is no virtue at all in POD, (fre)e-book dissemination, guerrilla Facebook marketing tactics, &c—on the contrary, I am super in favor of those things. I'm not trying to keep you good folks down! However, what I am not in favor of are vanity presses and self-publishing companies that capitalize on writers' lack of knowledge, insecurities, &c. Which, as far as I can tell, is most of them.

Again, first caveat: if you really don't care about selling books, self-publishing is fine. Go nuts! If you only want to sell a couple copies of your Regional Guide to Edible Berries and Flowering-Type Plants, or you're a college professor who just wants to bind a bunch of notes and excerpts into a DIY anthology for a class, or you want to collect all those fun stories you made up for your children over the years into one neat package they can read and hand down to their children, I say: more power to you. Hooray for self-publishing.

Also, second caveat: this is not a hard and fast rule because there are no hard and fast rules in publishing, but it IS based on probabilities. If you really want to sell your book and you've tried everything and you can't get it published traditionally, you are probably better off shelving it and writing a new one. Here, cats and kittens, is why:

1.) Your book, as I've said, is probably either not something that will earn the publisher (and, by extension, you) much money, is not very good, or both. You have nothing to earn by paying your hard-earned cash to print a tiny run of your book that probably LOOKS self-published (although this can be avoided), doesn't cater to more than six people, and/or is not representative of your best work. (Or, worse yet, is representative of your best work and STILL doesn't pass the proverbial mustard.) Grey Poupon, please, with a dash of mondegreen.

2.) Would you want videos of your very first piano lesson on CNN? Or your first crème brûlée on Top Chef? No? That's what you're essentially asking for if you self-publish. This is not my kidding face. (This is my kidding face.)

Seriously, though, the odds of you getting any attention or money at all for a self-published book are ludicrously small—you'll have to get in line behind all the mid-list authors who are scrabbling for publicity/marketing/fame/fortune/&c and DO have big houses supporting them—but what you're essentially saying when you self-publish is "I want the entire world to read this novel that was declined by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of experts in the publishing field." Again, this is either because it's not considered salable in the existing market, not very good, or both. Again again, there are exceptions. Again again again, your novel is probably not one of them. Write a better one!

3.) If you go through the money and hassle of getting an ISBN and actually getting your self-pubbed book into stores, congratulations: you are now trackable on Nielsen BookScan. Publishers—whose attention I assume you're trying to get (see below)—will now be aware of Self-Published Boy Wizard and His Quest for Publication (as well as the fact it sold three copies in two years) and may likely want nothing to do with you for fear of catching your poor sales themselves. Self-publishing does not show publishing houses initiative. It shows publishing houses you don't have an idea they consider publishable and you're getting desperate.

4.) You're ostensibly self-publishing to avoid having to deal with the Big Cantankerous Publishing Monster... yet, paradoxically, you're also self-publishing to get enough attention from the Big Cantankerous Publishing Monster such that it'll give you a six-figure advance and tickets to the Super Bowl with Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. Interesting.

5.) But John Grisham and Christopher Paolini were self-published! Oh, wait. No, they weren't. Yes, there are exceptions, but when you consider how many books are self-published every day, the odds of you being the next William P. Young are fractions of fractions of a percent. Your odds are still bad with a traditional publisher, but they're better.

So please, gentle readers, feel free to self-publish if it's not about national media attention, big advances, or triple-digit sales. If you want more than six fans and six dollars in net profit at the end of the day, though, I suggest you write a fantastic book, edit the hell out of it, get an agent, and get a publishing house behind you. E-books will change a lot. POD will change a lot. But we will always need experts to divide the salable from the non-, the well-written from the crap. And let us say: amen.

Tomorrow, our good friends at Nielsen (and everyone else on planet Earth) will have DB's sales figures. The results... when we come back!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Part Two: The Long Answer

So on Thursday I answered some of the easier questions you asked in the comments section of Tuesday's post, and now I'll answer some of the longer ones. There are, of course, a couple really comprehensive ones (e.g. the overall progression of a book from acquisition to book store shelf, my thoughts on the future of e-books, &c) that will just have to unfold as I continue to post here at PMN, since I don't want to paralyze your browsers/inboxes with a 100,000 word post.

Now: to the questions!

Anonymous @ 10:17 asks: "Are there just a few accounts that represent a large portion of sales? To B&N, say, and Borders? Or are those handled regionally? What does a salesperson -do- all day? I've never noticed one visiting an account, and I've spend thousands of hours in bookstores."

The major accounts are Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon, although Books-a-Million and the wholesalers (e.g. Costco) move a considerable amount of stock as well. Sales to national accounts aren't handled regionally—the sales reps at the trade houses generally travel to their corporate offices to sell to the buyers—but there are field reps who handle a lot of the other outlets (especially the larger indie stores) and those are handled regionally.

As for what we do all day, I shall direct you to my recent account of the continuing adventures of INTREPID SALES ASSISTANT. And we sales folk do often visit the stores; we just don't usually do so wearing t-shirts that announce the publishing houses we work for, so you probably wouldn't spot us walking around. We are among you and LOOK JUST LIKE YOU OMG

...moving on.

Anonymous @ 11:15 asks for "Something on the seasonal swings in publishing; are there better months than others to have a book published, and do some genres do better at certain times of year than others?"

In my (admittedly limited) experience, February's not a super great month—there are a lot of returns from the end of the previous year and a lot of people are probably still plowing through the gajillions of books they got for Christmas. (Come on, I can dream, can't I?) The summer is usually pretty good, especially with all those movie tie-ins floating around, and the fall/holiday season is where we do the majority of our business.

In terms of genre/category—the only thing I can think of is that children's/YA usually sees a small sales bump around Easter that doesn't exist in adult sales, but that's really it. There's not really a "best month" for science fiction, chick lit, &c.

Kathe asks: "Can you please explain what constitutes a best seller? Does it vary by genre? I.e., YA versus Mystery versus Literary. Also when is the best time of year for agents to try pitching debut authors, especially YA?"

Alack, the exact processes by which bestseller lists (e.g. the New York Times' bestseller list) are generated are generally considered trade secrets and thus are either unknown to me or are not for me to divulge. Quite literally and unhelpfully, a bestselling title is defined as a title that has sold enough copies to be in the top x titles for that week, where x = however many titles the list in question feels like tracking. I imagine most lists are based on projected as well as actual sales, since these lists are available unbelievably quickly after new books go on sale each Tuesday.

As for Anonymous @ 4:35's question regarding how many copies it takes to make the New York Times' list: it depends on whether you're writing fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, self-help, &c, but you'd probably have to sell in the tens of thousands your first week to land near (or at) the top of the list.

Bruce Pollock and Bron ask about the mythical "pub date" and if there's anything you can do if you realize you're pubbing on the same date as Oprah, Dan Brown, &c. The pub date is very simply the date your book goes on sale, and if it doesn't take off by word-of-mouth, land on a bestseller list, &c, there's probably not a whole lot more for you as an author to do for said book (at least in the way of publicity and things like that) after that date. And, alack, if you're busting into book stores on the same day as Hotshot Author with his/her brand-new book, Much-Anticipated Title With Initial Print Run in the Millions, there's really nothing you can do about it unless you also are some kind of hotshot author with a major book. The publishers will move your pub date if they think you're important enough; they won't if they don't.

And, finally, to Anonymous @ 4:21 on 9/10: foreign sales are a very tricky issue that I don't think I'm entirely qualified to blog about, but if a book sells phenomenally in another country, the publisher will probably decide to continue to only publish that author in that country rather than drop him or her from the list altogether (a strategy they may re-evaluate a few books down the line once enough reviewers in, say, the US have said, "Whoa, check it out, this author's books have been selling super well in Germany, American readers should be reading this guy again," &c).

Tomorrow: Dan Brown kills an entire forest!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday, Bloody Friday

Brace yourselves, faithful PMN round-up readers: there has been a spike in Amish romance. No, that's not the shocking part. But, ok, shock: this intelligence comes, suspiciously, mere weeks after the PMN Amish vampire contest. Clearly this is not the culmination of slowly growing interest, word of mouth, or some continuation of the trend that inspired the article that inspired the contest. Nay, this is pure plagiarism, and I won't stand for it. This must be how Jesus feels about Phillip Pullman's new book rewriting the Gospels. Or how the Nazis felt about Hemmingway lobbing grenades at U-boats. Or how Dickens would feel if he realized that people question why we should actually read his work. Or how every writer ever feels about James Patterson's 17 book, 3 year deal with Hachette, which will be completed with the help of small Indonesian children in a sweatshop.

Yea, he'll put out a lot of books. Yea, he'll make a mint doing it (probably like the money of one Dan Brown novel!). But will it be quality? Apparently nothing new is quality anymore. And maybe that's true. Spell-check has ruined us, and turned us into blobs of poar speeling edeyots. The Simpsons has trumped PhDs in English (and how!). The c-word is no longer shocking. And the Harry Potter books are the most popular books at Guantanamo.

On the other hand, people are reading on the subway (eruditely), you can start a WASP book club, and I am seriously considering adopting the word "ovablastic" (it means exactly what it sounds like it means). So maybe the quality isn't so low--something good better come out of the shame huts that are writing workshops. What else would Neil Gaiman put on his shelves? Please wipe up your book-lust drool--it's very unattractive, and may carry zombie virus. Quick, take this quiz and see how fast you could start showing zombie symptoms, so you know how much time you have left to read!

Before the zombie venom seeps into your veins, order your Christmas books and save the industry. And now that indie publishers are competing with big publishers in terms of salaries, they need your hard earned cash more than ever for "breaking even" purposes.

Order your embargoed books early for the winter season, so you can be the first kid on your block to read them. Well, first besides the New York Times, who nabbed an early copy of the Kennedy memoir. A very angry Hachette has hired a private detective to track down the leak (this is also the plot for Patterson's 13th book of 17). A great post explains what it means to embargo a book, because I had no idea what that technically "means."

For more terms that you may use but don't know, check out this vocab list. It can help you write your lit papers, in case you can't take this great model for avoiding writing a paper on The Time Machine. A time machine could also maybe help you avoid ever becoming older than your favorite novel characters--a depressing prospect. And it might stem the depression that comes from realizing that the managing editor of the New Yorker is 26, and the new books editor for the Daily Beast is 24. That's right: you. Are. Old.

Oh well. Make yourself feel better with the knowledge that The Hobbit is slowly wending its way into your movie theater. Finally. And before I leave, I pose a question for you: weekly contests, yay or nay? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Part One: The Short Answer

So I've decided to make this a two-parter: today I'll answer some of the questions from Tuesday's comments that involve shorter answers, and Monday I'll provide the longer ones. (Stay tuned for Laura's round-up tomorrow!)

Without further ado:

Anonymous @ 10:15 AM asks: "How much input does Sales have with titles and covers?"

A lot, especially if it's backed up with the magic words "the buyer(s) hate/love this cover/title for XYZ reason(s)." If all the buyers at the major chains and the bigger indies hate a cover, it'll probably be sent back.

Anonymous @ 10:58 AM asks: "If most books don't earn out, how do editors calculate the advance they offer?"

I'll get back to you on this one, and don't let me forget. I've got a P&L/acquisitions class later this fall and will pass my hard-earned education on to you.

Monkey Mama asks: "Who drinks more, sales or marketing folks?"


Rogue Novelist asks: "How many trees were downed to accomodate [the trillions of manuscripts that are trashed daily]?"

Well, apparently the US book publishing industry uses about 30 million trees each year, so somewhere in that neighborhood.

Thomas Taylor asks: "What ever happened to [the Espresso Book Machine]?"

As Jenny noted, the Espresso Book Machine is alive and well! More to come on this interesting device.

Marianne asks: "I'm curious about the jobs of buyers and whether they exist all over the country or if there are only a few (in NY?) who buy for all the stores in the U.S. (I'm talking the major chains like Barnes and Noble). How might one become a buyer? Thanks!"

So sorry to have missed your question, Marianne. The answer is that buyers exist for major chains and retailers wherever those corporate offices are (for B&N, New York City; for Borders, Ann Arbor, Michigan, &c). Indie stores have their own buyers, often the owners.

Becoming a buyer at a major account is difficult work, and many buyers have been editors/agents/book sales reps/other significant figures in the industry for a number of years before becoming buyers. If you're interested, you can periodically check the corporate job listings for Barnes & Noble and Borders to see if anything that interests you crops up.

More to come on Monday!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Sales: A Day in the Life

Random aside: happy 9/9/09 at 9:09 AM!

Now then: a couple of you asked, among other things, about what I and my bosses actually do all day. Come with me then, gentle readers, on a magical journey...



Enter INTREPID SALES ASSISTANT at 9:00 AM sharp. He turns on his computer and begins downloading, formatting, and e-mailing information on electronic orders that came in from ACCOUNT overnight.

Enter BOSS #1.

BOSS #1: "'Morning, INTREPID ASSISTANT. Did you print out IMPORTANT EXCEL REPORT for me?"
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Yes. I highlighted your titles and left it on your desk. I also left you sales kits I made for IMPORTANT DROP-IN TITLES."

BOSS #1 thanks INTREPID ASSISTANT and locks himself in his office for the rest of the morning. Several titles have DROPPED IN (i.e. been added to the list with little or no notice) and must be sold to ACCOUNT over the phone, as BOSS #1 already sold in that month/span the last time he went to visit ACCOUNT.

Enter BOSS #2.

BOSS #2: "Good morning, INTREPID ASSISTANT. Before I forget, could you upload XYZ TITLE to ACCOUNT? I was asking them about it yesterday and they don't have it listed in their system."

INTREPID ASSISTANT busies himself for the next two hours with relaying information on electronic orders, placing orders that came in non-automatically from ACCOUNT, formatting and distributing daily/weekly sales information from ACCOUNT, and uploading missing titles to ACCOUNT's system so they can be properly sold in.

10:00 AM: INTREPID ASSISTANT e-mails daily sales information to various folks in-house.
10:01 AM: INTREPID ASSISTANT receives 1,042 responses, which comprise of out-of-office messages, requests to be removed from the e-mail distro, and requests for confirmation that these sales numbers are, in fact, correct, as they appear either far too low, far too high, or, somehow, both.

BOSS #1 (opening door a crack): "INTREPID ASSISTANT, could you please go over to ACCOUNT's local store and let me know what the CO-OP looks like?"
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Sure. Can I do it after lunch?"
BOSS #1: "Yes. Also, I just e-mailed you the report on XYZ MONTH's SELL-IN. Could you update all those estimates in FANCY COMPUTER SYSTEM?"

INTREPID ASSISTANT spends the last half-hour before lunch (12:00 sharp—INTREPID ASSISTANT likes to eat ASAP) entering BOSS #1's estimates into FANCY COMPUTER SYSTEM.


INTREPID ASSISTANT does one of the following for lunch:

1. Eats in the ever-pricier but nonetheless pretty good company cafeteria;
2. Acquires a sandwich/hot dog/&c from an inexpensive local restaurant/vendor;
3. Works through it because PUBLISHING IS A HAPPENIN' PLACE

After lunch, INTREPID ASSISTANT goes to ACCOUNT's closest store and examines the CO-OP.

INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Hark, kind sir! Where is ABC TITLE that is supposed to have FRONT OF STORE CO-OP?"
HELPFUL STORE CLERK: "I don't think that's how you use 'hark.' And it's right here."
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Thank you for your assistance! And what about HIJ TITLE?"
HELPFUL STORE CLERK: "...I actually don't see that one here. We'll get it out right away!"
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Most excellent!"

Having recorded (and possibly helped correct) the CO-OP, INTREPID ASSISTANT returns to the office around 1:30 PM. He spends the next hour or so going over CO-OP contracts for previous months, entering them in FANCY COMPUTER SYSTEM, and, when necessary, untangling any mysterious financial errors in said contracts. It should be noted that INTREPID ASSISTANT has been answering dozens of e-mails all the while (they start around 8:15 AM and end around 7:00 PM).

RANDOM CO-WORKER: "INTREPID ASSISTANT, the printer is jammed!"
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "'Zounds! I'll repair it post-haste!"
RANDOM CO-WORKER: "Also, the copier!"
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Great Caesar's ghost!"

BOSS #2 (emerging from office): "INTREPID ASSISTANT, could you please mail these 842 galleys and ARCs to the appropriate buyers at ACCOUNT? Also, could you print out X, Y, and Z covers and send those, too? We didn't have them for sell-in last month."
INTREPID ASSISTANT: "Most assuredly!"

BOSS #2 returns to office to continue endless call with BUYER at ACCOUNT who agreed to certain BUY and CO-OP but is now changing his/her mind about it. Meanwhile, BOSS #1 is on the phone with IMPORTANT IN-HOUSE PUBLISHER to explain why some of his titles got different buys than previously anticipated at ACCOUNT.

2:30 PM – 3:00 PM: INTREPID ASSISTANT takes periodic breaks to read industry blogs. Hilarity occasionally ensues. Whenever IMPORTANT COWORKERS walk by, INTREPID ASSISTANT pretends to have been studying IMPORTANT-LOOKING EXCEL GRID the entire time. He is not generally successful. But industry blogs, people! Publishing research is publishing research!

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: IMPORTANT MEETING at which INTREPID ASSISTANT records minutes. This is pretty much the only IMPORTANT MEETING that INTREPID ASSISTANT is required to attend. BOSSES #1 and #2 are required to attend several such meetings every day. IMPORTANT MEETING chiefly concerned with monthly sales figures, year-to-date sales figures, important titles about to go on sale, anything newsworthy going on at ACCOUNTS, &c.

INTREPID ASSISTANT spends the last hour of the day replying to e-mails, both in-house and from ACCOUNT, following up on random requests from BOSSES/ACCOUNT/various people, and tying up any loose ends so he will not have to deal with additional panic/doom when he returns to the office the following morning.


INTREPID ASSISTANT leaves work at 5:00 PM (if he can afford to—he sometimes works as late as 7:00 and has been known to work as late as 10:00) and heads directly to LOCAL BAR, often with other ASSISTANTS, where he imbibes

1.) Four beers or
2.) Two martinis or
3.) One pitcher of beer

But never 4.) all of the above unless it is 5.) Friday. He leaves LOCAL BAR by 7:00 (again, unless it is Friday).


INTREPID ASSISTANT, now garbed in white t-shirt and superhero pajama pants instead of collared shirt and dress pants, sits at his laptop, e-penning another post for his blog while eating SLIGHTLY UNDERCOOKED PASTA with perhaps SOME KIND OF CHICKEN. He generally goes to bed by 11:00 in order to be well-rested enough to begin the cycle anew the following day.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Prithee, Inform Me: What Interests Ye?

Special announcement! PMN has been shortlisted for Best Publishing/Industry Blog over at Book Blogger Appreciation Week (we got a great button from them, which I'll add to the blog ASAP), so if PMN has been of help to you, I'd be eternally grateful if you'd vote for us! Many thanks in advance. This blog wouldn't be possible without you.

Now, it's been awhile since I've asked you what you'd like me to blog about, so I figure I'll open the gates once more. Do you want to know what I do all day (besides blog, that is)? What the Dan Brown juggernaut (just one week away!) will do to the market? More on e-books? More doom and gloom on the state of the industry?

Prithee, inform me (in the comments)!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

No post today, folks. Enjoy the rest of your long weekend!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sexy Friday Round-Up

Book worshippers and novel pimpers alike, gather round: today is Judgement Day, on which I judge your suggestions for book-based faiths. I present to you the one true way, the Church of the Rye Catcher, brought to us by the Apostle MattDel, follower of the prophet Holden Caulfield. Phonies, repent! Or at least get out of my personal space.

It is these same phonies who don't realize how hard book blogging can be. But if you hope to be a successful book reviewing blogger, you should follow this advice. Part of it says to be professional, which was clearly inspired by my conduct. You didn't know I do reviews? Well, if you send me your book and fifty bucks, I'll give you top notch reviews in my diary. Unless your book sucks, in which case I will keep your cash and fulfill a beloved aphorism, parting fools and money. But I promise I'll read the whole thing, even given the joys of half finishing novels. I might even read it while walking, a method I am not particularly good at (thank you, girl on the street, for stopping me from walking into traffic while reading the other day), but that I hear can be quite fabulous.

Another thing I hear is fulfilling: sex. At Smart Bitches Trashy Books there's a discussion of the type of sex possible with a Sony Reader and with an iPhone. Don't worry, my office procrastinators, it's SFW. And, sexy sexy, the iPhone has a ton of bookish apps. Kindle sex isn't mentioned here, but it turns out if you lose your Kindle you can't track it back down, so you probably should just stick with it and not cheat.

Maybe directly referencing boning is in poor taste—and, in fact, literature may be swinging back toward sexual modesty (hey, if Twilight can sell Wuthering Heights when it's free at Project Gutenberg, anything is possible). Although I'd prefer it if literature would swing toward steampunk romance.

I think steampunk romance would be good. And Lev Grossman (whose new book looks great, btw—Lev, read my review policy above! Top billing in my diary if you send me your book!) tells us that good books don't have to be hard. But then we heard that they don't have to be easy either, and Andrew Seal writes that Grossman could learn a little something about promoting himself by postulating theories from other writers. Honestly, I only link to all of these things because Grossman responds to all the hubbub, sums up all the arguments people have been throwing at him, and writes, "I'm not actually a dick." I say that all the time. And while I'm usually lying when I say it, I believe Grossman is, in fact, not a dick. Tintin, on the other hand, is a racist dick, and is getting sued.

Also dicks: book pirates. Among the top ten most pirated books are the Kamasutra and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex. Also, the Madoff sex book is selling really poorly—no one wants to read about old man sex. I. Am. Shocked.

Why is everything in book news this week about sex? Are these the book morals we're teaching our children? And killing off Reading Rainbow was low—butterfly in the sky, children will no longer fly twice as high. We will be teaching them to appreciate the written word in one of two ways: a point system, based on a numerical interpretation of art, or the hippie "read your feelings, not the classics" method. What's so wrong with forcing children to read classics they won't appreciate until their twenties, if ever? Kids today. Can't even walk barefoot through the snow to school.

On that depressing note, I take my leave. No contest this week (I'm only so creative, people, and I had no Internet all week, which crippled my soul and my contest-thinking-up brain lobe), but I really loved this post on what editors eat while they read. What have you been eating while reading? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Ten Commandments of Blogging

1. I am thy blog. If you're an author, you should already have a blog. If you're not yet published, now is the time to start.

2. Thou shalt have no other blogs before me. We all love reading blogs—we wouldn't be here if we didn't—but yours comes first. Write your own posts before you spend all afternoon reading someone else's.

3. Thou shalt not make of thyself an idol. Keep your ego in check; you always want to portray yourself positively in your blog. Your reputation is all you've got in this business, and if you earn yourself one as a likable person as well as a great writer, you're a golden calf.

4. Remember thy Schedule and keep it, wholly. You don't have to write a post every day, but keeping a regular schedule is a courtesy and a sort of unwritten contract between you and your readers; they'll know when to expect new content and will come to appreciate and respect you for that.

5. Thou shalt honor thy agent and thy publisher. You couldn't have done this without them. Give props where props are due.

6. Thou shalt not commit character assassination. Everyone has authors or critics they don't like, sometimes personally. Don't pull an Alice Hoffman. And, I guess, don't try to kill anyone in real life, either.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery, but thou shalt pimp thyself. No one sells you like you do. Facebook, Twitter, &c. The more pervasive your presence, the more likely it is that people will buy your book.

8. Thou shalt not plagiarize. Always quote. Always cite your sources. Always link back to them if they're on-line.

9. Thou shalt not deceive thy audience. Never post anything you don't believe is true, and be sure to provide links to any research you've done. Always be sure to clarify whether a point you're making is an opinion or a fact.

10. Thou shalt monetize. I don't do it because I don't consider blogging a part of my livelihood, but you, as authors, should consider self-promotion as part of the job. Let Google or whomever run a few relevant ads on your blog and make a little cash on the side. (Unless you've got a large readership, though, it probably won't be much.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Finally, the Fame & the Glory

After all the blood, ink, and tears I've put into this blog and my job as a sales assistant in the wild and crazy world of publishing, CBS has decided to air a show about my life. And by "air a show about my life" I mean "air a show about the world of book publishing":
The project, tentatively titled "Open Books," has received a pilot commitment from the network. It revolves around book editor June and her circle of friends.

"Books" is inspired by the time Lerner spent as a temp in the publishing world at the beginning of her career and by the experiences of her sister Betsy, who worked as a book editor for 15 years before becoming a literary agent.
I have no idea how accurate or entertaining this show will be, but I think it's worth seeing the pilot. No word on a date for said pilot, but I'll keep you posted. On the one hand, I'm hopeful that a really good show about the publishing world will not only make for great TV, but will also educate people about how the industry works and, to some extent, get people excited about reading. On the other hand, if it's mega boring, it might do more harm than good. Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Self-Publishing: Great Idea... or Worst Idea Ever?

Well, it really depends on why you want to self-publish. In my humble opinion, self-publishing is great if:

• You have an idea for a book that would only be targeted at an extraordinarily small "market," i.e. your family. If you want to bind your great-grandmother's recipes into a cookbook, create a collection of stories for your children, &c, and you only need a few dozen copies, self-publishing is for you.
• For whatever reason, you have no interest in selling your work and merely want to see it in print before you die.
• Alternately, you have no interest in selling your work and merely want to disseminate it widely on the Internet as a (fre)e-book. (If this is the case, though, you might not even really need the self-publishing company, unless you need their website to legitimize your book.)
• You do not have enough copies of other peoples' books to keep your coffee table level.

I consider the following reasons for self-publishing to be very bad:

• Your book has been rejected by every agent and his/her mom, so now you're going to show them/the world/your own mom/&c that you really are a published writer.
• You believe you can sell more books on your own than you could through a traditional publisher, so you're going to forgo the whole system.
• You say you have no interest in selling your work and merely want to disseminate it widely on the Internet, but secretly believe as soon as it's out there you'll start getting phone calls from all those silly agents and editors, offering seven figure advances and instant literary stardom. Later, Brad Pitt will call to politely ask if he might be considered for the role of your protagonist once the details of the movie deal(s) are all hammered out.
• You believe your book is too literary for 99.9999% of agents/publishers and won't sell within the traditional publishing framework because you and your book are just too darn smart.

Before I go much further, I want to make this clear: I think the traditional system is flawed. All systems are necessarily incomplete. (That's a math joke, folks. I don't really think Gödel's incompleteness theorems apply to books. Man, if only you'd read my self-published book, 1010010010101111 Binary Math Jokes—which, by the way, is way too intellectual for the average agent, editor, or reader—you'd get that.)

All joking aside, though, just because the system isn't perfect doesn't mean you're better off avoiding it altogether. Consider these stats (and also these) over at How Publishing Really Works, courtesy of this SFWA article. Compare that to the sales of the average traditionally published book—around 12,000 copies—and you'll understand my general skepticism. Very occasionally, a self-published novel will be something that was somehow overlooked by the publishing industry as a whole and is actually quite good and/or salable. 99%+ of the time, however, these books are either written by the functionally illiterate, are tangled messes of inane plot and one-dimensional characters, do not appeal to the vast majority of readers, are way too long or way too short, or some combination of all of these. In short, most self-published novels are crap.

You might argue that most traditionally published books are crap, too, and if that's the case, you could very well be that guy who believes he and his book are too smart for the entire world. Whether or not this is true, it is a sad and inescapable fact that the market for your book is a subset of all the people in the entire world, so you're S.O.L. even if you and your book really are that smart, which is unlikely. I mean, really, how many Prousts can there be?

So, in summary:

• If you just want a couple dozen copies of your book for family and friends, my recommendation is: self-publish.
• If you ever want to earn money from your book, my recommendation is: do not self-publish.
• If you've tried and tried and done absolutely everything humanly possible and still can't sell your novel, it's probably not very good. Lock it in a drawer and write a better one.

The publishing industry is a creaking, hulking, slow-moving, kerosene-burning juggernaut of 19th-century jerry-rigged methods and models all built pick-a-back one atop another, but it does adapt and is your best bet for getting an audience and a halfway decent check for your writing. Unless you're one of those very few who are better off self-publishing (as described above), get back to work and write something engaging that any agent or editor would be proud to show the world.