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.