Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Post: A Writer's Space... Ideal vs. Reality

by Christi Corbett

When I was young, I pictured the location where authors/writers did their work. It was always some variation of the following:

The recently showered and fully dressed author/writer pads down a long hallway and opens a door to their own private writing space. Clutching a mug of tea/coffee, the writer sits down at a comfortable chair located behind a highly polished, very organized mahogany desk. There is a wall of books on one wall and a window with a completely astounding view of a lake, a mountain, or a field of wildflowers.

Selecting a full pen from a drawer, the author/writer thinks for a long moment and at the precise moment inspiration hits, leans over a clean piece of paper and the words begin to flow.

Then I became a writer. Here is the reality.

On a typical day, when I’ve begged and pleaded for time to write, I can count on a minimum of five interruptions per hour. Last time I reserved a block of time to write I kept track of said interruptions for my own amusement.

6:30 AM Hubby wants to know where the flea powder is—dog is scratching
6:41 AM Hubby comes in room for some clothes
7:01 AM Hubby brings me breakfast (OK—this one is great! Love him!)
7:09 AM Powdered, yet still scratching, dog is let into the room
7:25 AM Kids come in to see if I have any bacon left and can they have it
7:36 AM Boy twin comes in for a hug
7:42 AM Hubby needs toilet paper, where are extra rolls kept?
8:08 AM Girl twin needs me to fix her hair
8:25 AM Knock at window reveals family showing ripened tomatoes
8:26 AM Boy twin can’t find toy army men… do I know where they are?
8:50 AM Girl twin wants to weigh herself
9:01 AM Hubby needs jersey to watch upcoming football game
9:17 AM Hubby wants to know if he can pull bread from freezer

And so on.

So, that is a typical block of “writing time” for me. Now, let's move on to the instruments for said writing.

My computer is ten years old, shuts off at will (usually when I haven’t saved in a while or I’m in the middle of a fantastic run of words), and is located in a peeling wood veneer cabinet that is shoved in the corner of my bedroom. My kids find everything in the cabinet fascinating and things disappear at will. (4-year-old twins find calculators, screen cleaners, coasters, my drafts, and note cards to be much fun to play with).

Sometimes I don’t use the computer. When inspiration strikes I use anything that is at hand. Some examples:

• Sticky notes (they paste so nicely to the computer monitor, don’t they?)
• Backs of envelopes
• Any kind of paper with a blank space on it anywhere
• You get the drift

As for writing utensils… our pens never have ink in them (my fault since I leave them clicked open all the time), so I’ve had to improvise at times:

• Crayons
• Lipstick
• Dry erase markers
• And my personal favorite—using the tip of an empty pen to gouge the words into the paper. Trust me, if you’ve got a great flow of words coming to you this will work!

It is during these times that I try to remember it all comes down to this: How you write doesn’t matter, as long as you’re writing!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Guest Post: Ideas That Sell Are Not Always Groundbreaking

by Lydia Sharp

As a writer of speculative fiction, the pressure of coming up with an original concept/ plot/ setting/ whatever constantly weighs on me, and in my experience, I've learned it just isn't possible. This is true of any genre, really. When working with new writers, I often hear the statement, "This is the most original idea I've ever come up with." And sadly, it's usually something that has been done before, not just once or twice, but so many times that you cannot even number them. All it requires is a little digging through the intrawebz to find your "most original" idea has already been used, sometimes decades before you, or perhaps your parents, were even born.

In science fiction, it is often a new technology or a scientific breakthrough, a concept that the author believes is so "out there" that it just might work, and there is no way in Hades that anyone else has ever thought of it.

Examples: Machines/ robots/ AI have gone astray from their intended purpose and plan to overtake humanity; through scientific research a miracle drug is created, allowing the human race to live forever in perfect health; an alien race wants to destroy us all… oh but wait, they're just misunderstood and actually need our help to save them from extinction… etc, etc, etc, the list is endless.

Try again. Please.

In fantasy, it is often a magical element, one that controls nature and/or physical objects, or something regarding telepathy. That is SO overused that I don't think I need any examples to prove the point. You've already thought of five or more by the end of this paragraph.

(I'm begging now) try again.

And when I say "try again," I don't mean, "try harder to come up with something original," I mean, "try a different approach because this current strategy of yours will get you nowhere fast." I need only mention the outrageous success of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series to prove that an original idea is NOT what sells. Vampire romance? Been there, done that so many times that I just puked in my mouth a little. Yet the series is making millions.

So what's the catch? How can you create an engaging story out of a concept that's been done to death? To put it simply, it is not the idea that gets attention, it is how you present it.

In his latest book on writing technique, The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass says it best: "What gives any novel the impact of the new is something that does not come from plot or milieu but from a perspective: yours."

Yes, that is YOU, the author. Many writers are afraid, although not consciously, to put their personal viewpoints into their stories through the eyes of their characters. They take well-intentioned advice that they should be writing with a specific audience in mind, and then they mistakenly write what they feel that audience wants to read. More often than not, readers can see right through this, and if that reader is a prospective agent or any other professional in the industry, you're in trouble.

The most important audience, in my opinion, is yourself. If you are not passionate about what happens in your story, how can you expect anyone else to be? So go ahead and write about the lowly wizard's apprentice that was prophesied to be the next great ruler of a kingdom currently oppressed by the queen of all that is evil, just make it your own.

How exactly do you go about that? That question has as many answers as there are writers. Everyone has different experiences, desires, lost opportunities, etc. Choose the elements of your own life that will enhance the story in a way that only YOU can create. Then watch your readers devour it because now, truly, they have never seen anything like it before.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guest Post: Books on Writing

By Randy Susan Meyers

Whisper the words books on writing to a bunch of writers and you might have to watch the whoosh of air as they take sides so fast it’s like being transported to West Side Story.

Jets: “Books, I don’t need no stinking how-to-write books. Long as I have John Gardner, I’m fine.”

Sharks: “I can’t hear you over this pile of writing books stacked in front of me.”

Me? I love astute books on writing. Over the years, they’ve offered common sense techniques, given succor as I wept over rejection letters, and taught me ways to use the hundred-dollar technical writing words used by smarter writers. Books on writing can be divided into the before, books that interest you before and during the process of writing, and after, books that become your bible when you are trying to sell your work.

PART ONE—BEFORE: Technique, Tools, and Support

Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive by Joni B. Cole

Joining a good critique group, writer’s group, or writer’s workshop is often a frightening move for a beginning (or not-so-beginning) writer. Cole’s enjoyable book speaks to the good and bad of both sides of this process, making this a great book for both teachers and participants.

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch

Reading this book is like having the best kind of writing teacher—kind, smart, clear—talking you through the rough spots and teaching you why you need motivation, action, and clarity in your writing and how to go about getting it. In addition, Koch includes advice from writers ranging from Ray Bradbury to Samuel Johnson.

Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Morrell

A gifted and experienced teacher, Morrell offers a full tour through writing a novel, starting with Chapter 1: Art & Artifice: Keeping Readers Spellbound through Chapter 18: Transition. She had me at her chapter headings.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway

Burroway “attempts to guide the student writer from the first impulse to final revisions, employing concepts of fiction elements familiar from literature’s study, but shifting the perspective towards that of the practicing writer.” A thorough book. Very.

On Writing by Stephen King

King weaves the story of his journey to becoming a writer, his life-changing near-death experience, and his struggle to overcome addiction with top-notch writing advice. Write much? Read. This. Book.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Lamott covers not only the writing basics (with clarity and humor), she also reveals the writer’s underbrush: jealousy, self-doubt, self-deprecation, depression, anxiety, and waiting. What a glamorous life writers have, eh?

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King

What William Strunk and E.B. White do for anything and everything requiring The Elements of Style, Browne and King do for fiction. What? You don’t already own this???

The Artful Edit: On The Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell

Bell writes a fascinating book in which she uses Max Perkins' editorial collaboration with F. Scott Fitzgerald as a teaching tool about the fundamentals of editing. Read. Reread. She also includes interviews with writers such as Ann Patchett and Tracy Kidder.

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon

Lyon’s book bridges the "before" and "after" of writing your book, first outlining tools for a smart revision and rewrite, and then providing the how-to of preparing your manuscript (including suggestions for font and point!) and queries.

PART 2—AFTER: Selling Your Book Without Selling Your Soul

Writing a book resembles entering a reverie where the entire world is your playground. Birth, death, war, and peace—it’s all in your hands. Then you finish. It’s the next step and you can’t get a handhold anywhere. Control is gone. You are subject to the whimsical tastes of agents and editors who hold the key to your future.

The books below are for when the writing (seems) finished, and you are about to enter the dreaded world of querying agents (immediately followed by checking your email every .5 seconds). They are for when you finally have an agent, and she is passing along notes from potential editors reading this book is well-written, but too quiet, too loud, too happy, too depressing... simply not right for our list.

And these books are for when you've sold your book and now that your baby’s been handed over, you have no idea if they will even remember to feed her.

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner, an agent, a former editor, and a writer, takes us on a journey through the world of publishing: querying, rejection, success, and everything in between. In a former blog I called her an instant shrink for writers, where I wrote, among other praise: "Clear as water, cool as the same, and welcome as a brownie to a food addict, her words entertain, teach, and soothe." For this writer, it’s self-prescribed two ways: 1) take as needed. 2) Read minimum once per year.

There is a new version coming out soon—but if you need to understand the process now, get it now. She’s worth two buys.

Your First Novel: An Author Agent Team Share the Keys to Achieving Your Dream by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb

This book takes you through every step from writing a novel to finding an agent to getting it published, from first sentence to editorial production—even how to break up with an agent. Warm, chatty, eminently readable—a book I turn to on every step to publication.

Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye by Katherine Sands

This series of fascinating interviews with agents illustrates how different their wishes can be, as regards writers and their query letters. Sands provides a grounding book to read before setting off on the querying journey.

How to Get Happily Published by Judith Applebaum

This bible provides the steps towards getting published and is especially useful for nonfiction writers working on book proposals.

Agents, Editors and You: The Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published edited by Michelle Howry

A collection of enlightening articles by and about agents and editors, including deconstructed query letters for fiction and non-fiction.

The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors by Catherine Wald

Because we need some support! This collection (including interviews with Brett Lott, Arthur Golden, Wally Lamb... ) saved my life many a night. Read and reread with each rejection letter. This book provides rejection-tonic.

The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit: Everything You Need to Know About Queries, Synopses, Marketing, & Breaking In by Elizabeth Lyon

Filled with advice we all need, including querying, formatting (yes, she’ll tell you what font to use!) and how to look at your manuscript with the cold eyes you need.

Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Neff and Prues

A reassuring set of rules for everything (fiction and nonfiction) submission-related, because we all become obsessive at a certain point. How do you write a synopsis? An outline? It’s all here.

Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer

Subtitled Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, this book calmed me, despite being about promotion—a topic which sends me straight to the cookie jar. VanderMeer breaks down promotion in a clear non-scary way, plus, he reassures writers that they don’t have to do everything.

Friday, December 18, 2009

French Fry Friday

It's time for the Friday Laura round-up, so Eric can start his break early, unlike some of us who will be at our blogs at least for a while:

Although Eric did a great job rounding up last week (I admit this grudgingly), I pined for you all, and hated that Eric forgot to leave a note in your lunch that said, "You're special! XOXO." Because you are special and deserve both Xs and Os. Also, surprisingly, the world keeps turning even when I'm not around, so there is a ton to round on up. So let us get right down to it.

But first, a quick digression. Happy last night of Chanukah, readers of all stripes! This is important partly because I lived through a menorah fire that almost burned my apartment down last night, which was a Chanukah miracle (the living, not the fire), and you should always share good fortune (and, tips: don't let me light candles). However, this is mostly important because I like celebrations. So whether you light 'em up or not, have a happy beginning to the national American holiday of "time off work because it is cold."

And now rounding-up. E-books: they make people mad. A number of publishers are delaying e-books until after hardcovers, and we have to ask: should they delay? And how will we remember these folk? MediaBistro held an e-book summit and rounded up some good quotes, including Steve Wasserman's "I suppose we could sum up this entire two-day conference under the headline 'too early to tell.'"

Things got shady in e-book-ville this week, when Random House asserted e-rights to old titles, which the Writer's Guild didn't appreciate, and hackers broke open B&N's Nook (and made it even cooler. I WANT). Not to leave Borders in the shade, the dinosaur has finally learned about the Internet and bought a stake in Kobo Books, which will be "device agnostic" and compatible with almost everyone. Also, Google Books is handing out free holiday e-books like candy canes from carolers.

That kind of hippie friendliness will not go over in the digital price wars and in a world in which authors skip publishing houses and go straight to Amazon. In this competitive time, you have to go for what's the best. Here we can find the best Gen X books of all time, the best (hilarious British) words this decade, the best author recommendations (and more), and the Christmas hits and misses.

Reality is a hard place to live, my friends, especially when magical realism is forced upon us and literary food seems fake. Writers try to cross borders and get the smackdown and some men don't like ladies who write memoirs. Reality has awful truths about publishing, which are depressing, and even unicorns can't save us. We are not pure!

There's a lot of hullabaloo because Kirkus is dead, and the other review standby, Publisher's Weekly, is getting a ton of flack for the Afro Picks cover, which PW tried to apologize for and explain. Maybe they could use a good dose of Thucydides, the original spin doctor. Hey, just because it's old doesn't mean it's not good.

On that note, shenanimen and women, I'm off to appreciate an old, old tradition I like to call "the weekend." Feel free to participate with me, or to celebrate in your own special way. And remember: if you have to light any fires, do not put me in charge.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And the Winners Are...

I received dozens of guest post submissions this week, and I'd like to thank everyone who decided to take a chance and submit. After reading through all of them, I'm pleased to announce the winning posts of the First Ever Pimp My Novel Guest Post Contest (or FEPMNGPC for short). They are:

"Books on Writing" by Randy Susan Meyers

"Ideas That Sell Are Not Always Groundbreaking" by Lydia Sharp

"A Writer's Space... Ideal vs. Reality" by Christi Corbett

"Books on Writing" will air on Monday, 12/21, "Ideas That Sell Are Not Always Groundbreaking" will air on Tuesday, 12/22, and "A Writer's Space... Ideal vs. Reality" will wrap things up on Wednesday, 12/23, after which PMN will be off the air until Monday, 1/4/10. ("10" looks really strange as a two-digit year date, by the way. I guess I've forgotten how weird "00" used to look.)

Congratulations to the winners! Tomorrow: Mom's Laura's feeling better back in town, so you'll have your usual delicious lunch round-up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

David Versus Goliath, Revisited

NB: the guest post submissions continue to roll in, and again, they look great. If you'd like to submit one, you've got two hours from now (the deadline being 12:00 PM ET) to do so. If in doubt—submit!

In the continued battle for The Future of Publishing™, Random House has apparently told its agents and authors that it owns the e-book rights to all backlist titles published before 1994 (apparently the Random House standard contract was altered in 1994 to explicitly include electronic rights). As you might imagine, this is a somewhat contentious issue.

In one corner, you've got the Authors Guild insisting that since authors never expressly granted Random House electronic rights, they are retained by those authors. The AG further claims that The Big House is aware of this, since they went ahead and altered the language of their contracts in 1994 to explicitly claim electronic rights, which the AG takes as an implicit admission by Random House that they do not control electronic rights for earlier titles.

In the other corner, you've got Random House insisting that they retain all U.S. rights to the books they acquire, which implicitly include electronic rights. They haven't said as much (at least, not to my knowledge), but I imagine their position regarding the change of language in their contracts is that it was merely a clarification of existing terms, and not the introduction of new terms of acquisition per se. So far, all we know is that they "respectfully disagree" with the AG's position.

I've always been of the opinion that any rights not specifically granted to one party by another are retained by the party granting the right(s), but I haven't seen the legalese in question and therefore am not really in a position to make a determination. I do think it sets a dangerous precedent for future rights battles, however, since if a company can buy the rights to something that doesn't even exist yet, there's theoretically no limit to the latitude they'll have with everything from book formats to international distribution. Scary times, cats and kittens. Scary times.

In lighter news: happy holidays, and I'll be posting the winners of the First Ever Guest Post Contest tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prithee, Inform Me: Is the E-pocalypse Already Here?

NB: your guest post submissions are coming in and I'm really impressed with the quality so far. You have twenty-six hours before the deadline, so if you'd like to send me a guest post for consideration, please do so at pimpmynovel (at) gmail (dot) com!

About an hour ago, PC World reported that author Stephen R. Covey (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) has signed an exclusive deal with our potential future overlord, Amazon, for several of his books. Now, proprietary titles are not a new idea—many of the major chains have sold proprietary versions of publishers' books for years—but this is (at least, to my knowledge) the first time a major author has cut the publishing house out of the equation entirely and signed directly with the vendor.

So, prithee, inform me: do you think this is the future of book publishing? Will houses fall by the wayside as the court of public opinion determines what should be published, and vendors sign with those authors accordingly? Where will agents and editors figure in all this? And, most importantly: what of the authors?

To the comments with you!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Mailbag: Guest Post Edition

That's right, mes auteurs, I'm looking for guest posts to cover three days before Christmas (12/21 - 12/23) during which I'll happen to be on vacation. The magic of the guest post is how this blog got started in the first place, so I figure the least I can do is pay it forward.

Who: You.
What: Three guest posts from three different authors (details below).
When: You'll need to submit before high noon (12:00 PM ET) on Wednesday, 12/16 in order for me to make decisions and announcements the following day.
Where: Right here on PMN.
Why: I'll be on vacation! Also, reruns are boring.
How: Submit your guest post via e-mail to pimpmynovel (at) gmail (dot) com (please put "Guest Post Submission" in the subject line). I'll let you know if I select your work on Wednesday evening, will announce the winners in Thursday's post, and will run the three guest posts consecutively on Monday, 12/21, Tuesday, 12/22, and Wednesday, 12/23, followed by complete holiday-induced radio silence from yours truly until Monday, 1/4/2010.

Let the games begin!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Dad Lunch Round-Up

Laura is out of town for the weekend, muchachos and muchachas, so I'll be handling this week's round-up. And, just like when your mom was sick and your dad packed your school lunch for you, it's going to be a little weird, vaguely unsatisfying, and possibly downright awkward ("you have to put the soup in something, Dad").


If you've recently been reading the newly fancified blog of one Nathan Bransford, you'll know that the question of publishers delaying e-book releases is on the mind of many a publishing professional this season. What do you think? Are publishers only doing themselves harm by releasing e-versions of books months after the hardcovers go on sale? (And speaking of fancification, both Nathan and The Rejectionist have given their blogs serious e-makeovers. Will PMN be next?)

But yes, back to e-book delays—with several of the large New York houses getting in on the act, it's sure to add fuel to the fire concerning the Kindle (pun intended) and Amazon's eventual takeover of planet Earth. Then again, some are speculating that Apple will be our new Cosmic Overlord, not Amazon or Google, so be on the lookout for that in 2010.

While we're on the subject of the death of print media, I've got some good news and bad news. First, the bad: Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews will be shutting down at the end of this year, which is kind of an ominous omen. The good: hardcover sales of Ted Kennedy's True Compass are so good that his publisher is delaying the release of the paperback. Thanks, Oprah!

The holiday season is all about buying, and for those of you who are curious, Bloomberg just bought a news company, more New York Times reporters are accepting buyouts, and nobody wants to buy Borders UK. Random House hasn't bought anyone new lately, but they have restructured the Crown Publishing Group, a continuation of the corporate shuffle initiated by CEO and Chairman Markus Dohle just about a year ago.

As I've mentioned before, books are great gifts, and now is the time to stock up on works (electronic or otherwise) by your favorite author(s). It's H.P. Lovecraft Month at, there's going to be a PBS biopic about Louisa May Alcott, Jonathan Safran Foer talks about the morality of vegetarianism, and the epic battle for Stieg Larsson's estate continues. Oh, the humanity!

Seriously, though, what are you still doing here? I said "now is the time!" Counting today, there are only fourteen more shopping days until Christmas (and only one until Hanukkah). Leave work early, grab a stiff cup of nog, and hit the stores.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prithee, Inform Me: Welcome to the North Poll

Because I love gathering information almost as much as disseminating it, I've got another fancy poll for you (and by "fancy" I mean "decidedly low-tech," as the question doesn't really lend itself to the choose-your-own answer format). Today's question:

What's on your Top Five/Ten/Twenty-Five/&c "Must-Have Gifts" list for the holiday season?

This includes books you want for the holidays, books you've got to get for that special someone, &c, &c.

If you're interested, my Top Ten (patent pending) are below:

1. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
2. Werewolves in Their Youth, Michael Chabon
3. Strike Anywhere, Dean Young
4. Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
5. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
6. Say You're One of Them, Uwem Akpan
7. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Feynman
8. The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins
9. Ein König für Deutschland, Andreas Eschbach
10. Shells, Craig Arnold

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Copyright, Schmopyright

Yes, copyright, that fancy set of U.S. laws (other countries have them, too) that protects you (and your publisher) from having all your (their) intellectual property stolen by some crazy hack. In case you haven't been keeping up with all the PubHubbub this week, the question of copyright has once again been raised in the mini-debacle over the third installment in the late Stieg Larsson's bestselling mystery series. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is already available in Ye Olde United Kingdome, but won't be released in the United States of Awesome until May of next year. In order to compete with on-line retailers like, independent retailers in the U.S. have begun importing and re-selling the U.K. versions. The problem is that the U.S. publisher (Alfred A. Knopf) has already paid for the right to do this, and so anyone who imports the U.K. edition and sells it here in the States is in violation of U.S. copyright law.

Now, I'm all for independent book stores and applaud virtually any means by which they can stick it to The Man (whoever that actually is). However, I am also a fan of the law, and while I sympathize with the situation independents like Murder by the Book are in given the encroachment of Corporate America onto their turf, I can't condone illegal actions. If we bend the copyright rules to level the playing field for indies just this once, what's to stop us from doing so in the future? It's the slipperiest of slopes, bros and she-bros, and I think the eventual solution will have to be a greater international awareness in copyright (and other) law as The E-pocalypse draws ever nearer. Questions on everything from first print rights to electronic distribution will have to be re-thought in the coming decade, and I think cases like this one are an indication of how complex the issues involved will be. What do you think? Will we need some kind of international copyright law to police international sales/Teh Internets? Will e-books make this easier or harder? (I tend to think harder, but then again, I'm afraid of pirates.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stealing a Page From the Bransford Playbook

The holiday season is upon me in full force, friends and fans, so today is an open thread. I'll be back tomorrow, but in the meantime: have at it!

Monday, December 7, 2009

You Can't Spell "MWA HA HAAA" Without "MWA"

We all know how I feel about self-publishing, so it likely comes as no surprise to you that my reaction to Dellarte Press (originally known as "Harlequin Horizons") is largely negative. I'm not the only one crying foul, though, mes auteurs: the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America have objected to the project, with the latter two de-listing Harlequin as an acceptable publisher due to their violation of both organizations' "no vanity press"-type rules. (These reactions, as well as others like them, are what lead to Harlequin Horizon's changing its name in the first place.) Edit: I've been informed that the SFWA has also de-listed Harlequin as an eligible publisher for the same reasons as the MWA and RWA, but books published by Harlequin are still eligible for the Nebula award because no prohibition exists against granting it to self-published works.

The source of the brouhaha (at least, as near as I can tell) was that Harlequin was talking out of both sides of their collective mouth: on the one hand, they were saying that your manuscript wasn't good enough to be published by Harlequin Harlequin, but—but!—for the low, low price of $599.00 (packages run from $599.00 to $1,599.00), Harlequin Horizons would make you into a Real Live Author™! (Tragic character flaw not included.) The solution to this contradiction? Change "Harlequin Horizons" to "Dellarte Press." Et voilà! You no longer have a traditional book publisher playing a weird joke on you by asking you to pay them to publish your book because they didn't think it was good enough for them to pay you.

So yes, I applaud you, MWA (to whom I ascribed the mysterious laugh in this post's title), as well as the RWA, SFWA, and the countless other members of the industry who voiced concerns over this less-than-honest move by Harlequin. Yes, I think self-publishing produces absolute bilge 99.999% of the time. Yes, I think authors who self-publish are more often than not shooting themselves in the foot (feet?) if they want to ever make money doing what they do. BUT. I also think that those self-publishing companies have the right to do what they do so long as they're being honest about it, and most of them are: they're not offering book deals or literary stardom, they're offering to bind your book for you. When a traditional trade book publisher, however—you know, the fancy advance-and-royalty kind—starts getting in on the game, it's no longer clear where traditional publishing ends and self-publishing—dare I say "vanity publishing"—begins.

Sure, Harlequin can take their name off the press to prevent confusion, but if they've got to take their brand off a product in order to sell it, what is that really saying about them and their enterprise?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Wrap Up (That Was a Gift Pun)

Friday round-up and Laura time (I know you're excited):

Happy entire month of American holiday! First, a gift to me--the winner of the waffle iron usage contest is Rick Daley, with his braille printing press iron. Genius, sir. I know Eric has already given you a list of presents you can give to others, but in case you need even more gifts, I'm here to help. Do you need 105 ways to give a book? Or the 10 best cookbooks of 2009? I know, I know, the book of the year can be such a boring construct,but, you know, deal. Or at least buy this book on how to regift.

Now, are you worried about age appropriateness of books? Taken care of. Are you worried that it's unethnical for the Washington Post to shunt you to Amazon with all of their book links? Well, yea, that's kind of worrisome. And you might have to buy books at the library. And maybe Cornel West isn't the golden god we all take him to be.

While we're busting up dreams, try this on for size: the Brontes are only getting their due because of your friend and mine, Twilight (I know, I know, deep breaths). It turns out their lives are Twilight. Also check out this great video review of New Moon, from a dude who liked the books, and then figure out: what's next?

Whatever's next, I hope it's not by a ghostwriter, because that shiz gets complicated. And I'm tired of complicated. Let's move on to the less complicated: this history of romance covers (which I would love to visit but have to ask, why do we still use the clinch?). And my gym believes in my ability to write a novel and get ripped--at the same time. Well, I'm off to buff up and simultaneously be the next Dan Brown. Until next week (or until later this afternoon at Combreviations)!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

(Novel) Pimpin' Ain't Easy: Part 2 of 2

Continuing from yesterday

6. The author. This kind of ties into #4 from yesterday's post, but it deserves its own treatment. If the author of the title in question is a celebrity—even D-list (or lower, if such a thing exists)—that will generally translate to a larger buy than would be the case if the author were not already famous. I mean, come on, do you think Jodie Sweetin could have even gotten a book deal at all had she never been on Full House?

7. House enthusiasm. This is sort of an extension of #2 from yesterday. Simply put, certain titles generate more excitement in-house than others, meaning they are higher priority and are more likely to receive advertising dollars, co-op, a stronger marketing push, and so on. Not all titles are created equal, and those that receive more support from editors, publishers, &c will more often than not see bigger buys than those that don't.

8. Comp titles. As I've said before, your book is going to be compared to similar titles that have already been published. If you've published a book in the same genre before, you'll likely be compared to yourself; otherwise, a book similar in genre, seasonality, and format will be chosen. While comparative titles are only one factor among many, they do have an effect on the size of the buy for your book.

9. Awards. If your book won a major award in hardcover, the buy for the trade paperback will be significantly higher than it otherwise would be. The same goes for any of your new hardcover or trade paper titles that go on-sale shortly after you win a major award for any of your previous books. (NB: by "major award" I mean National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, and so on.)

10. Rep and/or buyer preference. Maybe the buyer is a huge fan of this particular book and wants to put it in special promotion (e.g. Barnes & Noble's "Discover Great New Writers" program or Borders' "Original Voices"). Maybe the rep feels so strongly about the title that his/her enthusiasm convinces the buyer to take more stock. Either way, significant interest on either party's part can drive the buy up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

(Novel) Pimpin' Ain't Easy: Part 1 of 2

Over the past few months, several of you have asked about the kinds of factors that affect the size of an account's buy of a given title during a sales call. Having relatively little experience with actual sales calls (but a lot of experience preparing materials for them and analyzing their results), I can tell you it's not exactly a straightforward process (which is why this post is going to be a two-parter). Said factors include, but are not limited to:

1. Time. Buyers, especially buyers at national accounts, are extraordinarily busy people who can't afford to spend more time than necessary on any given task. This means that if a sales rep has 100 titles to sell in and the the buyer only has 90 minutes free to meet with said rep, a few titles will get a minute or two of attention and the rest will get less. Sad, but true.

2. The publisher's goals. When your book is first run through the amazing P&L machine, a rough print run is figured out. This number is further refined in launch meetings, print meetings, and sales meetings, after which the sales reps make their estimates based on these numbers, previous experience, comp titles, and so on. Long story short, though: unless you get phenomenally lucky, a lot of the information necessary to figure out the buy at any given account is sort of baked into the infamous P&L.

3. The American people. If you were offering a teenage vampire romance two years ago and you managed to score representation and a deal with a publisher, chances are your print run and account buys were larger than someone offering male ennui. If The People want what you're selling—or if the rep and the buyer think The People want what you're selling—it'll obviously factor into the sales call.

4. Media attention. Will the book be featured on NPR? Was it a hit at ComicCon? Does the author have a crazy-famous blog? The list is endless. Some things (like the oft-cited and impossibly nebulous "national media attention") aren't going to be of great help in the sales call, but if the book's going to be on Good Morning America or the author is an Internet celebrity, that can change the game entirely.

5. Co-op program cycles and minimums. Many co-op programs run on weekly or monthly cycles, which may not jibe with the scheduled on-sale date of the title in question. (Occasionally on-sale dates are altered to accomodate co-op promotions.) Additionally, some placement (especially those coveted front-of-store tables) require a minimum buy, and if the sales rep can't justify a buy for the account at a promotable quantity, the account won't promote the title and will lower their buy accordingly.

Tomorrow: part two!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NaNoWriMOh, Fine

Not quite a month ago, I wrote a post about NaNoWriMo. Or, rather, I lamented its very existence, noting that it is often used as an excuse for people who really have no business writing to produce not-quite-novel length pieces of... fiction and then proceed to harass other people with them. Based on my hard-won experience in publishing, I fear I must stand by my remarks, which were something to the effect that NaNoWriMo incites a lot of terrible querying and overall madness for the industry and most writers shouldn't need the "kick in the pants" that the event supposedly offers in order to get their writing lives in order.


I am not above admitting when I (may, if only once) have been wrong, and I do admit that the majority of the crazies (none of whom are here, Thank Google) would probably find a way to deluge agents and editors with their nonsense even without the vehicle of NaNoWriMo. I further admit that it's nice to have someone or something besides your own guilt/personal demons/spouse to help you make your writing a priority, which is far easier said than done. Therefore, I hereby join The Rejectionist in giving those of you who completed NaNoWriMo—or even attempted it—a round of applause.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Book is the New Gift

Turkeys and cornucopias are coming down, twinkly trees and fat dudes in red suits are going up, and they're piping Christmas music into every elevator in the country. This can only mean one thing, gentle readers: the holiday season is coming! And you've only got twenty-five more shopping days before Christmas. What on earth can you get your family, friends, enemies, co-workers, bookies, &c that says "hey, I didn't spend a ton of money on you, but that's okay because I clearly put a lot of thought into this gift and, check it out, I didn't make it myself"?

The answer: books!

Yes, books. It's no secret that books are great gifts: you can get a lot of hardcovers (as well as most trade paperbacks and any mass market paperback) for under $20, you can get something for pretty much everyone you know all in the same store/on the same website, and you indirectly finance the existence of great industry blogs like this one! Everyone wins. Especially you, when you see your five-year-old nephew's face light up on Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa eve upon opening a copy of Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire. You can't put a price tag on moments like that.

NPR has put together a list of the best gift books of 2009, Laura over at Combreviations has posted on Penguin's list of books to give and get, and Big Brother Fearless Leader Amazon has some ideas for you as well.

So Friends, Roman (-à-clef reader)s, (No) Country (For Old) Men (fans), lend me your ears: write, write, write! And, once you're done writing, go buy some more books—your friends/family need you, your economy needs you, and dang it, I need you, too. At the end of the day, you're the ones paying my salary, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a vested interest in your continuing to buy books. That said, I'm off to my favorite independent book store—I've got a long list this year and, somehow, less time to complete it in.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Rerun Week: Part 5 of 5

Episode: "No! Yes! No!: The Schizophrenia of Sell-Through"
Originally aired: Monday, July 13th, 2009

In another post, I mentioned the concept of sell-through. Simply put, sell-through is a percentage representing the number of books an account sells relative to how many it bought (books sold/books bought from the publisher x 100). Logically, low sell-through is bad, decent sell-through is good, and perfect (100%) sell-through is great, right?


It's a little more complicated than that. For the national chains, 70% sell-through is generally regarded as the floor for "good sales." Much less than that and it's clear the publisher, rep, and buyer agreed on too high an initial order, and the publisher will then suffer substantial returns (more on those in a future post). 80% sell-through is very good. Once you get toward 90% and higher, however, the tide turns; as sell-through approaches 100%, it becomes clear that demand is outstripping supply, and it's likely that a lot of sales are lost to other retailers (other chains, independents, Amazon, &c) because the account is out of stock. In this case, the publisher, rep, and buyer agreed on too low an initial order.

(Keep in mind that for most debut authors, the majority of stores at a given account rarely have more than one or two copies on-hand at any time. There are about 500 Borders stores and about 700 B&N stores nationwide.)

Someone recently asked me why it's such a disaster for a book to have too low an initial. (Having too high an initial is clearly a problem—the publisher will have to take the books back.) Too low can be worse, however, due to missed sales; it takes a significant amount of time for frontlist reorders to be processed, shipped to an account's warehouses, distributed from the warehouses to the stores, unpacked at the stores, and displayed. Without a high enough initial, stores and warehouses will often be out of stock during this time, and while some customers will order the book for future pick-up, the vast majority will simply buy it elsewhere.

The sell-through game is a little different for on-line retailers like Amazon, for two main reasons:

1. Amazon doesn't need to order more copies than it plans to sell. The chains have to do this in order to have enough copies in-store to attract consumers' attention, especially if the book is in promotion. Have you ever noticed how those front-of-store tables always have thirty copies of the new Janet Evanovich, no matter how many copies the store sells?

2. Amazon's search function is designed to guide you to the hardcover edition of a book even if the mass market or trade paper is already on sale. Whereas the national chains will return any hardcover copies of a given title to the publisher by about a week before the trade paper or mass market edition goes on sale, Amazon hangs onto them because they know they can continue to sell them. (They also have great discounting, so even if consumers find both the hardcover and the trade paper/mass market, the price difference may be so insignificant that they opt for the hardcover anyway.)

For these reasons, Amazon's sell-through is terrifically efficient: over 90%.

So there you have it: sell-through needs to be good (hopefully at least 70%) but not too good (90%+, Amazon being an exception). There's no such thing as having sales that are too high, but it's very possible to have sell-through that is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rerun Week: Part 4 of 5

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Episode: "Terms to Know"
Originally aired: Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Lo, a brief glossary of terms I think you need to know to understand book sales (or at least, to understand what I'm talking about at any given time). It's necessarily incomplete, so if you need a definition I haven't listed here, please ask in the comments!

Account—A book retailer (e.g. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Costco, &c). While "store" can mean "account" or refer to an individual store (e.g. the Borders on Park Avenue in New York City), "account" always means "group of all stores with a given name." Roughly synonymous with "company."

Buyer—A person who works for a given account and is charged with buying books (or a select subdivision of books, e.g. science fiction, biographies, &c) from publishers for the account.

Co-op—Advertising/promotional space in book stores (front-of-store tables, in-section face-outs, endcaps, &c) that the publisher pays the account for, often on a monthly basis.

Hardcover—Also called "hardback" or "cloth," a book with a rigid cover (generally cardboard covered in cloth). Comes with a fancy dust jacket and a price in the $20.00 - $40.00 range (USD).

Mass market—Also called "paperback" or "rack-size," these are the "pocket-sized," extra-thick paperbacks printed on lower quality paper and at a smaller trim size. The price is generally in the $4.00 - $8.00 range (USD). Rather than being returned or remaindered, mass market editions are often stripped (see below).

Nielsen BookScan—A service provided by the Nielsen Company since 2001 that tracks book sales. It is estimated that BookScan captures about 70% of total sales, as not all retailers report to BookScan.

Remainder—Remaindered books are books that are no longer selling in sufficient quantities and are being liquidated by the publisher (i.e. sold to a third party at significantly reduced, often near-unit, cost). Oftentimes authors are given the option of buying their remaindered stock at unit cost before the title is offered up to other parties.

Retailer—Book store.

Returns—Often expressed as a percentage, returns are the books sent back to the publisher by the account(s). The return rate is described by (# of books returned by the account)/(# of books shipped to the account).

Sales call—A meeting during which a publisher's rep(s) meet(s) with an account's buyer(s) to sell books to the account.

Sales rep—A person employed in the sales division of a publishing house whose job it is to sell books to an account or accounts.

Sell-through—Also often expressed as a percentage, sell-through is the number of books sold by an account compared to how many it bought. It is described by (# of books sold by the account)/(# of books shipped to the account).

Stripped book—A book without a cover, almost always a mass market edition. Because it is not cost-effective to return or remainder mass market editions, their covers are torn off by the retailer and shipped back to the publisher as proof the books have been destroyed. The retailer then destroys the books. This is the reason for the "If you purchased this book without a cover..." note on the first pages of many mass market editions. Strippable books are marked with an "S" inside a triangle, often on the inside of the front cover.

Trade paperback—Also called "quality paperback," this is a paperback edition of a book with a trim size roughly comparable to the hardcover edition (if there was one) and larger than that of a mass market edition. The price range is generally $10.00 - $20.00 (USD).

Trim size—The dimensions of a book (generally in inches).


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rerun Week: Part 3 of 5

Rerun week continues with the ten commandments of blogging. Enjoy!

Episode: "The Ten Commandments of Blogging"
Originally aired: Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

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.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rerun Week: Part 2 of 5

Today, self-publishing. Enjoy!

Episode: "Self-Publishing: Great Idea... or Worst Idea Ever?"
Originally aired: Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

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.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rerun Week

Dear Readers,

Since I'm on vacation this week, I've set the blog to re-run some of my more informative posts. Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll be back again on Monday, 11/30!

Yours in print,


Episode: "What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps"
Originally aired: Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

So, caveat: this isn't meant to be a complete list. I'm sure I'll revisit this post and add to it as time goes on, but I've been thinking about it for awhile now and would rather share it with you sooner than later.

So, without further ado: what can you do to sell you book, and more importantly, when should you do what?

1. Completion of your novel. Congratulations! You've written an entire novel (~60,000 – 100,000 words)! Now go edit it. No, don't tweet about how awesome your book is (yet). Edit.

2. Six months later... congratulations again! Between your critique group, your trusted first-readers, and your biggest editor/critic (i.e. you, at least at this point), you've polished your novel to a high lustre. Such a high lustre, fact, that you've begun using British spelling and grammar without even realising it. Ace! (Apparently you are also stuck in the 1980s.)

Have you written a truly smashing query letter yet? You have? Ace again. All mod cons, as they say. (British slang, incidentally, is weird.) Anyway—time to start querying Nathan, Janet, Kristin, Jessica, and all the rest. Cast a wide net, and remember: no exclusives!

3. Three months later... you're still querying? Of course you are, unless you're luckier than Malachi Constant. What, did you think this was going to be easy? Keep at it.

4. Three months after that... Hooray! After several form rejections, a few polite refusals on partials, and one or two fulls, you've gotten an offer of representation. (To make this as simple a scenario as possible, let's say this is one of your dream agents and you accept the offer immediately.) Don't start the party just yet, though. Now you've got real work to do.

If you've got representation, you're that much closer to getting published, and so at this point you need to start expanding (or straight-up building) your platform. If you've already got a blog, ramp it up; if you've already got a Twitter account, tweet it up; if you're on Facebook, start making connections like crazy. If not, get going right now. Start playing the networking game. Check Go Daddy to see if your name has already been registered as a domain name. If not, consider buying it. If so, try and figure out a good alternate name. (Hint: is not a good name.)

To be honest, there's no such thing as "too early," but the offer of representation is, in my mind, when things get serious. If you haven't given thought to blogging/Twittering/website-ing/Facebooking/&c, start now.

5. Another three months after that... O frabjous day! Your book has been sold to an editor! You must now do the following:

Party. Nothing major: you're a working author now. Live it up a little, but do not get outrageously drunk or stab your wife with a penknife. You are not Truman Capote or Norman Mailer (respectively).

Hit the ground running. Discuss everything with your agent and newfound editor. Ask as many questions as you can think of. If you are, like me, unmarried, childless, and have relatively few obligations outside of your day job, I highly recommend you make promoting yourself and your book your new, all-consuming hobby. Figure out what you're willing to commit to (I recommend as much as you think you can safely handle) and let your agent and editor know you're willing to work hard. If you've got substantial commitments (e.g. sextuplets, reality TV show), find a balance.

Ramp it up. If you haven't bought that mega sweet domain name yet, do it. Blog about yourself and your book. Tweet about it. Change your latest Facebook employment to "author" and announce your good fortune in your status. Network, network, network.

Let your critique group know. Go to literary events. If you don't already know the booksellers at your local stores (national chains and indies) by their first names, now's the time to start. Aside from the fact that they're most likely wonderful people who will turn out to be excellent friends, they're going to be very helpful later on (see below).

An aside: definitely talk this over with your editor, but if you feel like it's a good idea and your advance is big enough, consider hiring your own publicist. He or she may be able to work wonders for you.

Oh, and yes—if you're not too up on all this computer mumbo-jumbo (although you should be), see if you can get your computer science major nephew (or some similarly inclined relative or friend) to help you out for a nominal fee (or, better yet, for free). If you happen to know a web designer who can make you an awesome website, so much the better. At this point, it's all about who you know. Keep asking yourself that: who do you know who is able and willing to help you?

Now, in case you weren't keeping track, in this oh-so-magical best-case scenario, it's been fifteen months since you finished your novel. You now have representation. Is this unrealistic? Yes, I think, slightly, but don't assume that novel you finished fifteen months ago was your first one, and do assume that you're a talented writer with a good story, and suddenly it's not so far-fetched after all.

Oh—and order business cards. You're an author now.

Now then—

6. Nine months before on-sale: You might have comp titles already. Ask your agent to check on them for you. If you're neurotic and wealthy enough, pay to track the sales of your comps on BookScan. Discuss potential sales numbers with your agent. Be as realistic as possible. Do not drive your agent insane.

7. Six months before on-sale: You signed your contract long ago and the book has already been through launch meetings over at your publisher's house, meaning that everyone who's going to be involved in selling your book to retailers (marketing, publicity, sales, &c) has known about your book for a few months now. You've got your very own ISBN, retail price, descriptive copy, sell sheets, title information sheets—the works. What's happening now? Well, sales calls. And, if you're lucky, co-op. That means book stores are about to find out all about you.

Remember those friends you made at your local book stores 6+ months ago? Call them. If you haven't already told them about your book, tell them now. Ask if you can do author events, readings, signings, everything, anything. (Discuss this with your agent first.) If you have friends who are established authors, talk to them. See if they'll blurb or promote your book, allow you to guest-blog for them, read with them at area book stores, and so on. You can't do too much of this. You really can't.

Continue to blog, update your website, tweet, guest-blog, &c. The more people hear about you, the better. (Assuming you're always polite and professional—and you are, aren't you? Good.)

8. Three months before on-sale: Keep up your relentless self-promotion, but keep it classy. Follow through on everything. Keep the lines of communication between you, your agent, and your editor open. If you've committed to readings, tours, podcasts, blog posts, e-mail blasts, local radio shows, infomercials, impromptu subway performances, &c—make good on those commitments. If you got your own publicist (see Step #5), he or she will be helping to organize all of these things. Oh, and speaking of organizing, have you scheduled yourself a release party yet?

9. On-sale date: Breathe. Do not check the sales figures yet, they won't be up. Relax. You feel good, you feel great, you feel wonderful. Have that release party you planned three months ago, publish one more blog entry or tweet, and call it a week. You've earned it.

10. One week after on-sale: Your publisher will have your week one sales available. Ask your agent/editor if they can forward them to you. If you're sufficiently neurotic and wealthy (see Step #6), compare these numbers to your BookScan numbers and to the first-week sales of your comp titles. Celebrate or panic accordingly.

11. One month after on-sale: You might have some reviews. If they're positive, blog, tweet, podcast, &c about them. If they're negative, say nothing. Do not try to explain away a bad review in your blog—you're only creating more links to negative press. And for the love of God, do not pull an Alice Hoffman.

12. Three months after on-sale: You're hard at work on your next novel, mate. (This British slang thing is seriously addictive.) Publishing is a business and you're a professional now; celebrate your victories, be gracious about any pitfalls or shortcomings, learn from your mistakes, and keep writing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Waffling On the Issues

And on the fifth day of the workweek, Eric rested and forgot to edit Laura's round up. Sucker. (Vicious lies! —E)

Buenos dias, amigos and -as. I thought I'd start with the bad, and just rip the Band-Aid off the day. Yes, I'm afraid it's true: Google does own your life. Well, it owns your orphaned books, at any rate. Google says it'll open "new avenues" for writers with out-of-print titles, but can you really trust the Goog? Especially when you know that they hosted the after-party for the National Book Awards and didn't invite you? To round out this section, which I have mentally titled "confusion and hypocrisy," I thought you should know that WalMart is denying any predatory pricing, and Barnes & Nobles won't let you buy e-books with their gift cards. But it's not all bad! Turn your frowns upside down, and check out the contest below.

B&N says they'll fix the e-book gift card problem soon, but Amazon has no intention of fixing its gift card problem: you can't use a gift card to buy anything bundled with a gift card. Womp womp. This no-e-book-for-gift-card thing is going to be a problem for romance readers, who are notoriously promiscuous with their formats. Harlequin is intent on cashing in on this promiscuity with its new imprints, Carina Press (for e-books) and Harlequin Horizons (for self-pubbers). A number of people have weighed in on the latter, most people being unhappy, unhappy, more, more, and more.

A problem these imprints won't come up against is being nominated for the worst sex (because romances are sexy). But some people have been nominated! This of course begs the question: where is the good sex in literature?

The good sex is (duh) in the last Twilight book, because it is sanctioned by the holy bonds of matrimony and vampire effing. The movie comes out today, as your scream-induced eardrum punctures should attest. See some sweet Twilight tats and products here, and see what National Book Award nominees say about the series. Spoiler: everyone tries to be nice, but kind of fails, because authors are awkward.

Speaking of awkward, those who have been reading Combreviations may have noticed that I am in lurve with things you can make with a waffle iron. So far we've seen waffle cookies, waffle cake, waffle bacon, and waffle brownies (that last one is courtesy of Alicia, my hero). In honor of my slight obsession, and, perhaps, as justification for buying a waffle iron, I'm bringing back Ye Olde Weekly Contest (please, contain yourselves). My challenge to you: come up with a use for a waffle iron other than waffles and the deliciousness above. Ground rules include nothing oddly sexual or distressingly violent. But other than that, I need excuses to buy a waffle iron.

So that's it from me, see you here next week, or all week at Combreviations.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Got 99 Blog Posts (Plus A Bonus One)

It's time to bust out the champagne and tiny hors d'œuvres, mes amis, because today marks our 100th post here on PMN. That's right: if I had a nickel for every blog post here on Pimp My Novel, I would have five whole dollars. That's lunch at Subway, assuming I don't want chips or a drink or have to pay any kind of tax. And to think that it feels like it all started only yesterday.

Laura and I have posted on a variety of topics over the past few months, covering everything from co-op to remaindered titles to the perils of self-publishing. So, while I crack open the bubbly in celebration of my blogging achievements/anticipation of the upcoming, unavoidable, annual Thanksgiving Day fiasco that is bearing down on me with terrifying speed, let me know: what have been your favorite PMN moments? Least favorite? Most interesting posts, least interesting posts, theories on expansion to Twitter, Facebook, &c? Suggestions for the addition of a new semi-regular feature (e.g. "Prithee, Inform Me," "Monday Mailbag")?

To the comments with you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Are You... Going Rogue?

A little over a month ago, I posted on the then-upcoming (now recently released) memoir of one Sarah Palin. I also mentioned that I didn't know of anyone who would read it and was skeptical as to how well it would sell.

Well, apparently, it's selling. And while I did admit that I expected significant sales outside of so-called liberal bastions like New York City, apparently it's also selling well in cities like New York. And, as usual, I have a couple of theories as to why.

• I massively underestimated the number of curious independents—and even liberals—willing to shell out to read about Sarah Palin. Whether they're just angling for her side of the story or looking for a (relatively) inexpensive way to feel better about themselves, people are picking up her memoir.
• There's more controversy surrounding the book than even I expected, and I expected a fair amount. I figured, however, that Mrs. Palin wouldn't want to write anything that might endanger a potential presidential bid in 2012, so the book itself would be fairly boring and drama-free. Not so! Palin takes shots at McCain staffers, apparently stretches the truth, and may well still be gunning for the presidency. Quel fromage.
• Both Amazon and are selling the book for just $14.50. Sure, it's not the low, low price of $9.99 we've been hearing about, but it's still relatively inexpensive, especially if it's being bought as a gift. Books are the new gift, people! Write that down.

So, yes, I did ask this in my last Palin Post™, but it bears asking again (especially since I get the feeling opinions may have changed): are you going to buy Going Rogue? If you answered last time and are changing your mind this time around, why? Have you been surprised by friends' or family members' requests for the book for Christmas? Hanukkah? Kwanzaa? Festivus?