Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

No post today, mes auteurs. Enjoy your long weekend!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The E-pocalypse Draws Ever Nearer

As Ms. Ombreviations is unavailable this fine morning, I'll be taking care of today's post. Laura will no doubt be back next Friday with some witty rejoinder and a basketful of strange and hilarious links.


I mentioned the other day that Barnes & Noble, via PubIt!, is getting in on the self-publishing act. It now appears that Apple is doing the same thing; all you need is an isbn, a US tax ID, and an iTunes account. Oh, yeah, and a new(ish) Mac: the Intel chip variety, running OS 10.5.

Because Apple's model places a relatively large number of restrictions on would-be self-publishers, I don't necessarily see the company as the proverbial "go-to guy" for most authors looking to self-publish their e-books. It's much easier to upload an e-book to the Kindle store via Amazon's Digital Text Platform, and the Kindle app on the iPad would automatically make those books available on Apple's device.

Amazon also grants you substantially more flexibility with format, the option of using their DRM (it seems to be automatically encoded into any books sold through the iBookstore), just as many (if not more) options regarding rights territories, and the benefit of knowing what you're getting into (royalty-wise) ahead of time. As far as I know, the details of Apple's royalty structure for self-published material still haven't been hammered out.

Again, I'm not encouraging you to self-publish because, frankly, I think it's still to your disadvantage. (I think it will be to your disadvantage for the foreseeable future, but there are many who disagree with me on that.) Think of it this way: if you're recommended to an agent, you have an implicit seal of approval that means you're going to get that agent's full attention much faster than if you were to appear in the endless query sea through which (s)he slogs so dutifully each day. Likewise, if you are published traditionally by a publishing house, you are going to get the attention of the reading public much more easily than if you self-publish your novel and throw it out into the infinitely larger sea of written material available for sale on the Internet.

I believe that the theory that e-books will utterly democratize publishing is a myth, as is the theory that agents and editors will be out of jobs once the market share for electronic books reaches a certain level. I'm not saying this out of some misguided sense of self-preservation, either; I mean, Christ, I'm in sales. If you can sell books in America today, you can sell anything. If publishing were to finally die tomorrow, I'd find a job selling something else.

In brief: I don't think you should self-publish, but if you're totally committed to the idea, make sure you do your research. Find a good product/platform, do as much as you possibly can with it, and sell yourself and your book as much as humanly possible. Without an agent, editor, marketing team, publicist, or sales rep, no one else is going to do it for you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Call for Guest Posts

You read that right, mes auteurs: I'll be on vacation the last week of June, so I'm going to need five—count 'em, five—guest posts to put up while I'm away. And one of them could be yours!

Who: You!

What: One (1) guest post per customer. Please try to keep them in the neighborhood of 300 to 1,000 words. Be creative! Feel free to include a brief bio (50 or so words) and a link to your blog/website, if you have one.

When: You have until 11:59 pm on Wednesday, June 16th. I'll announce the five winning posts on Wednesday, June 23rd, and they'll be posted Monday, June 28th through Friday, July 2nd.

Where: Right here, on PMN!

Why: I'll be on vacation, Dr. Leo Marvin style. Do not come looking for me with an air (bus) sickness bag and a goldfish in a jar around your neck.

How: Please paste your post into the body of an e-mail and send it along to pimpmynovel [åt] gmail [døt] com (see link at right).

Let the games begin!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Word on Literary Fiction

While looking back at my posts over the last several months, I realized I may have been inadvertently short-changing the literary fiction folks who read this blog. True, a lot of it has been general enough to pertain to authors of literary fiction, genre fiction, children's fiction, non-fiction, &c, but when my mind wanders (as it so often does) to the topic of salability, it often switches to genre fiction mode. Herewith, then, a few notes and pointers on the topic of writing (and selling) literary fiction.

You don't necessarily need an mfa. If it makes sense for you to earn the degree, by all means, go for it; if not, don't sweat the fact you don't have one, and certainly don't apologize for it in your query letter. While the degree is generally more pertinent to literary fiction folks than to most other authors, no one will fault you for not pursuing it. As I've mentioned before, you don't (thankfully!) need any kind of professional licensure to write.

You don't necessarily need any prior publications. By all means, if you've published short stories in literary magazines like Harper's, The New Yorker, or The Paris Review, I think you should mention it in your query, but again, don't apologize for what you don't have. If you don't have any short story credits, don't bring up the subject. Again, these are more helpful to the aspiring literary fiction writer than to most others (except, I think, poets), but don't think that you have no business querying agents with your novel simply because you don't have a sterling short story publishing track record.

Short story collections don't sell very well. You're much better off pitching a novel than a collection of short stories, although if you're a total literary badass you might be able to get an agent to take your collection on the condition that they also get your début novel. I wouldn't count on this, though, so if you've got a bunch of polished short stories lying around, you might want to send those out to literary journals and magazines while you prepare your novel for submission to agents.

It's all about the writing, but you still need a plot. Beautiful writing will attract an agent's attention, but without a coherent plot, your novel is little more than a series of character studies. Things have to happen. People have to want things. People have to lose things. You might not have vampires fleeing werewolves or master detectives tracking jewel thieves or starship captains trying to get home from the far side of the galaxy, but you need something that drives your characters forward, a series of events that will deeply engage your reader, something that your book can be about. I've seen a lot of manuscripts with great writing but in which, unfortunately, nothing happens. Don't fall into this trap.

That's all for now, gentle readers, but I encourage you to ask any questions or post any additional tips in the comments. I'll be at bea for the next couple of days, so I might not be responding to comments very regularly, but I'll do my best to answer any questions that crop up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Think I Learned About This in Health Class

Barnes & Noble has recently announced their self-publishing service—named, rather unfortunately, "PubIt!"—which is due to launch this summer, thereby making thousands of heretofore unread self-published novels available on the vast, increasingly terrifying state (world?) fair midway that is the Internet.

Digital rights will apparently be protected via Barnes & Noble's proprietary DRM, but no word yet on the "competitive" royalty structure that will draw market share away from other self-publishing operations, most notably Amazon's. According to B&N, PubIt! (no, I will not stop saying it) will make content available on the Nook, as well as PCs and the entire Mac Empire line (personal computers, the iPhone, the iPad, the iDon'tKnow, &c). Interesting times, meine Autoren!

With the proliferation of e-books, Internet platforms from which to launch them, and devices with which to read them, I think the next two to five years are going to be extraordinarily interesting. If you'd asked me a few months ago, I would have told you I expected the Kindle and the iPad to assume the majority of the market share and that they would squeeze the Nook out in a couple of years; with PubIt! (ha!) now on the scene, I'm not sure that's true anymore. It will really depend on how many people associate the brick-and-mortar brand of Barnes & Noble with 1.) book sales (relatively easy) and 2.) e-book sales (not as easy, especially with Amazon currently monopolizing that market). Given the choice, I think most people will still choose to self-publish their e-books with Amazon, since the Kindle for iPad app allows them to enjoy the best of both worlds, whereas PubIt! (okay, I'll stop now) only allows authors access to the iPad and the Nook.

What do you think, fair readers?

Monday, May 24, 2010

On the Importance of Storytelling


If you haven't yet seen the lost series finale, I suggest you put off reading the below post until you do. Anything after the break may contain significant spoilers.

Yes. lost.

Say what you will about the series finale—who died*, who lived, what was wrapped up, what was never addressed**, what questions were answered, sort of answered, left unanswered, &c—one of the major strengths behind the show is the establishment of an interesting, consistent mythology that is slowly revealed (I hesitate to say "explained") to viewers via effective storytelling.

When writing a short story, novel, screenplay, or television show, it's not enough to have interesting characters and a cool plot; you have to be able to advance the story and explore the psychologies and depths of the characters in an engaging way. Simply put: it's not enough to have a great story, but you need to tell that story well, too. The what is necessary, but the how is absolutely essential. It's character development, it's maintaining the relationship (often tension) between what the characters know versus what the reader/viewer knows (dramatic irony, anyone?), it's controlling pacing, it's telling your story in the best order, &c &c. If lost had been told from the point of view of the smoke monster (what the hell is his name, anyway?) from the very beginning, or if the show had unfolded in strict chronological order (starting with Jacob's birth and ending with the series finale), the show wouldn't have been nearly as effective as it was.

Granted, there were some pretty big questions that were left partially or wholly unresolved, and I don't necessarily recommend that M.O. when writing your novels—readers like loose ends tied up, even if it's not perfect. I also tend to think readers don't really like abstract church-afterlives vaguely reminiscent of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, either, so I'd also avoid that tack if possible. To each his/her own.

As for the ending of lost in particular: I think it was interesting and competent, but not totally mind-blowing. I didn't like that major questions weren't answered (e.g. what the island actually is, the fates of certain seemingly extraneous characters, the source of Eloise Hawking's apparent extra-temporal awareness, and so on), but I suppose those weren't really "the point." I'm not sure I could really tell you what "the point" was. I did, however, think the bookending of the eye opening/eye closing image, while predictable, was nice, and while I wasn't really a fan of Christian being there (though I suppose, being dead, he did belong), I did like the "reunion" feel of the church scene. It may grow on me as time goes on.

What do/did you think, fair readers?

[Edit: speaking of you, fair readers: there are now 1,000 of you following PMN! Thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and following!]

* Everyone? I think?
** Walt?

Friday, May 21, 2010

You Spin Me Right Round, Baby, Right Round... Up

Friday, once again, and time for a round up from Laura, visiting from Combreviations:

I learned something recently, friends and foes. I learned that old authors never die, they simply get romanticized and commercialized to the point of dissolving in their own mythology. Take, for example, the five upcoming reboots of the Wizard of Oz, or the BBC movie based on Dickens' affair. Perhaps you're interested in Emily Dickinson, outlaw, or want to see Mrs. Dalloway at 85. No matter how hard authors try, they get reinvented by their works, and are simultaneously creations of their environment, as shown by the footprints of the King James Bible in American literature.

Sometimes authors want to seem younger, and then you get Grisham putting together a YA book trailer or a children's adaptation of Obama's memoir. Writers try to go back to their roots, and then you get Meyer's grassroots Eclipse movement, or a ten year memo back to a younger author-self. Sometimes journalists have to brand themselves to keep doing what they do, while people like Neil Gaiman need to brand themselves by things they won't do. And sometimes you just need to be the pony, authors. Be the pony. (It makes sense if you read the whole article, I swear!)

Even the greatest of authors can feel imprisoned by their mythologies. Some other people just feel incarcerated. Who will step up to the plate to write great American war literature this century? Who will judge the best and worst fiction of the financial crisis? Who will judge the value of a New York Times book review for what it really is? Who will tell us what is up with nudity (in an academic sense, of course)? And how is James Frey everywhere?

This is what we have the Internet for, people. Sure, some might (justly) question the environmental friendliness of the e-reader, but writ large, the interwebs is (are?) infallible. Well, except for all of the questions about Facebook's privacy settings and the publishing pages it created (oh look, Cory Doctorow already abandoned that sinking ship, just in time for PMN to join. Privacy concerns be damned!) and the ethics of e-book information collection. And some worry that the Internet is going to ruin new authors. But publishers can surely learn from Farmville, and Garth Nix is for e-books—how can anyone be against Garth Nix?

These are the eternal questions, my friends (and foes!). Until next week, or later today at Combreviations.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Terms to Know: BEA

Great Zeus Almighty—250+ Twitter followers in just 24 hours! At this rate, I'll have the world's population in thrall in... uh, seventy thousand years, give or take a few thousand. Feel free to follow, if you're so inclined.

Moving on!

As many of you may know, next week is bea, or BookExpo America, one of the (if not the) largest and most important annual book fairs in the United States. This year it's May 25th to 27th, and industry insiders from hot-shot publishing executives to small town librarians will be milling around the Javits Center in New York City to meet other trade book folk, check out the big new titles coming out from a variety of publishers, and attend various seminars, talks, and panels. Authors (like you! or, like you one day!) will also be there, signing copies and often participating in the aforementioned talks and panels. And I'll be there, too.

This will be my third non-consecutive bea (I volunteered in 2007 and went as a representative of my house in 2009), and I'm excited to head back and use the event as a learning experience (read: find out what books are coming down the pike from other publishers) and as a chance to (re)connect with other industry professionals. And incidentally, gentle readers/authors, that's exactly what bea can be for you: a significant networking opportunity.

While I'm certainly not telling you to show up at the Javits Center with the shirt on your back and a carton of books, I am encouraging you to speak with your agent about whether or not it makes sense for you to attend. Space is substantial but limited, and badges are pretty expensive (they can cost up to $295 for a three-day pass); not everyone with an agent or publisher can or should or does go, so it helps to get perspective from your agent/editor. Of course, if they suggest you attend, I think you should go if at all possible. There aren't as many galleys as there used to be, but I think the information and connections you'll acquire by attending for even one of the three days will make the trip well worth your while.

While I don't have any particularly entertaining bea stories (at least, none that I can mention here), I'm certain that's not the case for all of you. If I'm right (and I usually am), feel free to share in the comments! (Ditto for any questions.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Empire Expands

A few months ago, I mentioned the possibility of expanding PMN to Facebook and Twitter. Well, meine Freunde, that day has come! You are now free to follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, and whatever else it is we kids are supposed to be doing on the Internet these days.

The blog will still be updating five days a week, and while some of that content will be duplicated on Twitter and Facebook, there will also be a fair amount of unique content on both (particularly Twitter, where I will probably rant in a much less coherent fashion than is the norm here). Not everything on the blog will be on Twitter/Facebook, and vice versa. There's also a distinct possibility that Twitter or FB content will appear on weekends, though I can guarantee that weekend posts won't be showing up on PMN proper (unless I get an intern or a butler or something).

Without further ado: the link to my Twitter account is here, and the Facebook page is here. Both are very much works in progress, so expect them to be streamlined and aesthetically improved with various widgets, &c over the coming days and weeks. Of course, all recommendations and advice are welcome in the comments.

To the Blogotwitterbookosphere!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Things I Might Know About Query Letters

As usual: caveat.

As you may have surmised by this point, I am not an agent! I have never been an agent, I'm not sure I'd ever want to be (or am cut out to be) an agent, and so there's no reason to think I ever will be an agent. Aside from having written a few dozen query letters in my day and reading many an agent blog, I have no direct experience with actual, paper-and-ink (or electron-and...more-electron) queries.

But! I have written pitch letters, and I do work in sales, so (to some extent) I'm very familiar with many of the basic components of query-writing and -reading, so I consider myself qualified to at least talk about the basics, which (as you may also have surmised) I now will.

Less is more. I'm led to believe that agents don't have a ton of free time. Your query, like a pitch letter or title presentation in a sales call, has to be short and sweet. Yes, there's more small talk and relationship-building between a sales rep and a buyer than between a potential client and an agent, but a good salesperson knows when to be social and when to be businesslike. I'm not saying not to have a little fun with your query; what I'm saying is, cut to the chase. Keep it under a page.

Be professional. This sort of ties into the above point, and it also kind of goes without saying, but it bears repeating. Besides being as brief as possible, you want to be polite and professional. Do not call your novel a "fiction novel," do not talk about how it's sure to be an instant bestseller, do not talk about your multiple academic degrees or your sunny disposition or your cat. Talk about your book, and if it's a non-fiction proposal, talk about yourself insofar as it pertains to the project you're pitching. That's it!

Personalize, personalize, personalize. Guess how many non-personalized pitch letters to editors, publicists, and other industry professionals go into the so-called circular file? Around 95 to 100 percent. It's the same deal with agents: don't be creepy and tell them how much you like the floral wallpaper in their living room and by the way could they please turn the TV toward the window so you can watch reruns of Get Smart with them, but at least do them the courtesy of addressing them by name (no "Dear Sir or Madam"s or "To Whom it May Concern"s) and demonstrating that you know something about them and their agency. Mention some titles they've represented that you liked! Tell them you thought their post on query letters was really helpful! Don't get carried away, but if you expect an agent to take the time to read your query (and hopefully, your partial and full), take the time to personalize your query.

Follow directions. Yes, it can be frustrating when one agent asks for a 300-word double-spaced query and another asks for a 500-word single-spaced query. Occasionally you will find that different agents want totally different—perhaps contradictory—things. But if you believe that agent is right for you, take the time to tailor your letter to their guidelines, which (one must assume) they have established for a reason. If they ask you to include the first ten pages, include the first ten pages, and don't send a writing sample (no matter how sorely tempted you may be to do so) if they specifically ask that you don't. You want to put your best foot forward from the get-go, and following an agent's guidelines is a very big and generally necessary component of achieving that.

Do your research. This ties into the above point, but in a more general sense. If an agent doesn't usually represent science fiction, your grand space opera spanning 10,000 years and a half-dozen galaxies probably won't interest him or her, and you'll likely waste both your and the agent's time by querying. If it's not clear from an agent's guidelines or title list whether they represent your genre, by all means, go ahead and query anyway; however, 90% of the time, you should be able to figure out whether an agent will be interested in your type of project based on his/her (agency's) website. You're not looking for just any agent, after all—you're looking for a business partner, one who's genuinely interested in your work and willing to champion it to an editor. In short, you're looking for a good match.

Know how to sell your product. Sure, you know your product; after all, you wrote your book, so you know it better than anyone. Your knowledge of your book isn't being tested, though, but rather, your knowledge of how to present it. If I'm writing a pitch letter, it's not enough that I know everything about the title I'm trying to push—I have to know the best way to position it and anticipate what will catch the reader's eye and hold his or her attention. You need to know that about your product—your book—as well. Where's your hook? What sets your paranormal romance apart from all the other paranormal romances currently on the market? Don't start crunching BookScan numbers or hypothesizing about your target audience, but grab and hold the agent's attention with a great opening line and a well-paced, concise description that leaves him or her wanting to know more by the letter's end.

That's all I've got for you, gentle readers, and I hope it's not a total rehash of all the query advice you've gotten before. As always, if you have any questions or comments—or even rebuttals, calls of shenanigans, or plain old-fashioned vitriol—fire away!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Fall 2010 Wish Lists

As we somehow near the middle of 2010 (how did that happen?), I've begun to wonder: what upcoming books are you most excited about?

I generally only think a season or so ahead when it comes to my own book-buying, so I've mostly been looking at fall 2010 (though if you're the plan-ahead type, Roger Ebert's memoir is due out in fall 2011). Personally, I'm most interested in the new Stephen King, the upcoming lost encyclopedia, former President Bush's memoir, and the paperback edition of Jack Spicer's My Vocabulary Did This to Me (which is, incidentally, one of my favorite titles of all time).

To a lesser extent, I'm also kind of curious about Sarah Palin's new book, but since I haven't yet bought or read the last one, I figure it'll be awhile before I get around to it.

What about you, gentle readers?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Round Round Get Around I Get A Round... Up

Friday round up, brought to you by Combreviations and Laura, suspiciously the same source:

Settle yourself in for some bad writing, reader types. Why? Because bad writing can be good for something, I hear. But first, true or false: today is the day Amazon bends to my will. The answer is false, because that day was yesterday. I complained my little heart out about Amazon conflating bestselling and most downloaded (often free) e-books, and the man has capitulated, and will separate out the lists. It only makes sense, because you don't mix up mass market and hardcover sales in bestseller lists, because the price points are so different it skews the data. But mostly, they're doing it because I said so. Victory!

Everyone is winning and losing all over the place. For example, the anti-smoking lobby wins, for getting cigarette machines in Germany turned into book dispensers, filled with material written by local authors. Poets lose, for not being more politically active. Slow readers win, because now they can call reading slowly a movement (to which I say question mark, but hey, to each his and/or her own). Illiterate New Yorkers super lose, as illiteracy program funding gets slashed.

Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell what's a win and what's a loss. A mom refused to return a Gossip Girl book to the library because of its content. The library loses, but does the mom win? Maybe Borders will help the library replace the book. Everyone's favorite, Sarah Palin is "writing" another "book," which could be considered a win and a loss for America. But what will be in the content? And Tyra Banks is writing a YA trilogy, which is a massive win and loss and is amazing, all at once. Such conflicted emotions!

Feeling a little stranded in your feelings? These 10 books about being stranded might make you feel less alone. You know what else might help? Knowing these 20 best sites for book collectors. And knowing why we love copy-editors. And hey, if you're still feeling down, write a letter to your favorite literary character. Just be careful who you go to for romantic advice.

So rock out to Springsteen or Pinsky, use Wikipedia like Borges would (er, if he had lived), and send your spare $13 million this way so I can buy Truman Capote's old house. See you next week, or earlier (if you miss me) at Combreviations.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Wonderful Game Called "What's My Department and What Does It Do?"

In the comments on yesterday's post, the question came up about the various departments (and their functions) that make up a publishing house. As I'm always happy to oblige, a more-or-less complete breakdown follows.

Aside from the departments that are found in all large companies (e.g. human resources, IT, legal, payroll, &c), the major divisions of a publishing house are:

The Publisher: Within the house itself is the publisher's office, from which every book's entire creation—from acquisition to finished product—is overseen. Every other department reports to the publisher in one way or another. All major decisions are made here.

Editorial: Responsible for acquiring, editing, and effectively shepherding books through the production process, the editorial department buys books from authors via their agents, negotiates contracts, maintains relationships within the house/between the house and authors/agents, and works with production and art to organize and facilitate the creation of the final product.

Production: As you might expect, the production department is responsible for the physical creation of each book. They work closely with the editorial and art departments (as well as the publisher) to negotiate with third parties/vendors and coordinate the creation and distribution of finished books.

Marketing: In brief, marketing is responsible for any promotions that the house pays for, e.g. advertisements in various media and the creation of sales materials. They create and implement strategies to maximize a book's exposure to the marketplace, generate buzz, and identify strong markets/audiences for individual titles. They work very closely with the sales department (below).

Publicity: In contrast to the marketing department, publicity is responsible for any promotions that the house does not pay for: author appearances on TV talk shows, reviews in newspapers and magazines, and author tours/book signings/release parties. They communicate constantly with the media, writing press releases, preparing and sending press kits, maintaining databases of contacts/publications/media outlets, and mailing galleys/ARCs to critics and (increasingly) bloggers for review.

Sales: This is my department. Sales is responsible for selling books to individual accounts, be they large chains like Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, or "special markets" that don't traditionally specialize in books (e.g. home shopping networks, home goods stores, or museums). We manage co-op (the system by which we pay retailers for premium in-store placement), maintain relationships with buyers, and mediate conversations between retailers and the publisher.

Art: Primarily responsible for the creation of book jackets, the art department works closely with the publisher, the marketing department, and the sales department to create eye-catching packaging for books. Responsibilities include securing permissions for artwork, managing any necessary freelance work, going through art morgues and stock photos for appropriate graphics, and designing and creating covers.

There are a few departments I'm leaving out for simplicity's sake, but for questions and comments, you know where to go.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Open Thread!

This week is replete with meetings and various other forms of doom, mes auteurs, so I'll once again be borrowing from the Noble and Most Ancient Playbook of Bransford. That is to say: open thread!

Ask me a question, ask each other questions, rant about the industry, post a list of your favorite existential philosophers, tell us about your cat, tell us about the cat you wish you had, make a whole bunch of really cool ASCII art. You know, the usual.

Have at it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Google Me This, Google Me That

In the ongoing battle for the Future of Publishing, it seems there's another player vying for the crown of Evil Book Overlord™: Google. Yes, yes, I know we've been hearing about them for years with regard to copyright infringement, but now that it seems like the G-Unit has made deals with several (read: 25,000+) publishers and authors to sell their works via Google Editions, I think Amazon and Apple have good reason to be worried.

Between books it will legally sell through publisher/author contracts and books with expired copyrights, Google Editions will have nearly four million e-book titles available (compared to the iBookstore's 46,000 or so and Amazon's 500,000). If you tried to read one Google Editions book per day (assuming they didn't add more over time), it would take you almost eleven thousand years to read them all. To which I say: that is pretty awesome.

Some interesting caveats, however: apparently, your Google books will live in the cloud, which is a fancy way of saying "on the Internet." They won't live on your computer and you'll either need to be connected to the Internet or download the books into an off-line cache to read them. No word yet on which device formats the books will be available in, but I'm guessing that since Google is competing with Amazon, their proprietary e-book format won't be one of them.

Questions/comments/vitriol/praise: you know what to do.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Question of Goals

As a follow-up to last Thursday's post, I'd like to offer the below poll, prefaced by (what else?) my thoughts and opinions.

It seems to me that a lot of people (some of you, fair readers, included) are hoping that they'll earn the attention of agents, editors, and Big Publishing in general via self-publishing success. While this isn't intrinsically a bad idea, I ask you to consider the number of people who you think are self-publishing with this goal in mind, followed by the number of people who are successful in that pursuit. To be honest, I have no idea what those figures are (if they even exist). But it seems to me that the number of people who land traditional book contracts through attention gained by self-published work is vanishingly small, and (to my mind, at least) likely smaller than the number of people who get those kinds of contracts by referrals and queries to literary agents.

So, cats & kittens, if you're thinking of self-publishing (or even if you aren't, consider it as a hypothetical): is your goal to get a traditional contract? If not, would you take one if the price were right, or would you stick to your DIY guns and continue to self-publish? Is it a question of principles, or a question of practicality?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Round Up, Post-Cinco de Mayo

Round up time, with Laura from Combreviations:

Guys. I was going to write a real, adult round up today, I swear, with all sorts of facts. But then I watched this week's Community and can't tell if I want to make out with the show or cry because they aren't hiring random people named Laura to be staff writers (hello, I would do a super job! Maybe!). So, as per usual, you can enjoy "stuff Laura thought was cool," which, actually, is pretty standard. So... onward!

I hope everyone got their free comic book on Free Comic Book Day, and also dressed up as Spider Man to foil a thief. If so, Bill Murray will read you a poem, you can get a book dedication from Molly Ringwald, and you can cry at all of your favorite childhood stories. If you didn't, however, you just have to hope that you'll survive the zombie renaissance, all authors will survive the Internet, and people will make good choices about book promotion. Hopefully this library custodian will clean up afterward, either way.

A mess that the library custodians can't clean up seems to be the craziness around Yann Martel's latest book. Although he has responded to the bad reviews, his publishers are pulling for support from indie bookstores (even though indie bookstore sometimes put their own interests before authors). You know, these things don't happen to Ian McEwan—even scientists are behind his books. On the flip side of the coin, Jodi Picoult wants people to admit that she's a good writer and not just popular. Is it so hard people? Is it?* Maybe she should drink more, because there is a correlation between drinking alcohol and vocabulary. Or maybe she could get a Google map of readers, like Kathryn Stockett, which would make her feel better, maybe. Or a stay at Nora Roberts' romantic inn! In fact, we should all go. You can read these 10 best love stories while we're there.

And after those 10 best love stories, you can read these 10 most objectionable books, which, for once, have parental explanations for why they're so questionable. Fatima Bhutto's new memoir is objectionable to some, while others find the lack of good political fiction questionable. I find the sharp rise in supermarket book sale depressing, myself. And stop blaming Betty Friedan for everything!

And, on that charming note, I'm off to write another love letter to Community. Besos to you, sirs and madams, until next week or this afternoon at Combreviations.

*Ok, I've never read anything by JP, so I can't really speak to this.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Prithee, Convince Me: Self-Publishing

I've written more posts than I can count on the tragical comedie of ye olde self-publishinge, and some of you have not been afraid to tell me what's what when it comes to printing and selling your own books.

So, prithee, convince me, dear self-pubbers: why are you so sold (pun intended) on self-publishing, and why (or in what specific cases) do you think it should be considered a viable alternative to traditional (Big Six, indie, or otherwise) publishing?

Have at it!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Laws & Sausages

I once had a professor of legal philosophy tell me that there were two things I'd never want to see made: laws and sausages. I can think of a third thing: bestseller lists.

A couple of caveats.

First, there are some bestseller lists, like that published by the New York Times, whose formulation are considered trade secrets. In the cases in which I'm privy to how these lists are created, I can't divulge that information; in the cases in which I'm not, I can't tell you because I simply don't know.

Second, it's not the case that all bestseller lists are concocted by publishers'/booksellers' resident mad scientists bent on establishing the literary equivalent of world domination by listing and discounting titles by megabestselling authors—they do try their best to list the titles that are showing the strongest sales figures in the marketplace. However, not all lists are created equal, and some are truer to the numbers than others.

For example: let's say Barrel O' Books maintains a store-wide "Top Ten" bestseller list, and they're overstocked on a particular title that isn't quite making that list. They may swap out the #10 title for the overstocked title, or may grant individual stores limited discretion when displaying the list, meaning it may differ slightly from location to location. (Book sales are surprisingly regionally varied in nature.) It's not exactly underhanded, since the action of adding the title to the list (and applying the appropriate discount, if applicable) will probably bump that title onto the list numbers-wise in short order. It is, however, something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some bestseller lists also factor projected sales into the process, or will base the lists (at least initially) off how many copies are acquired by retailers from the publisher, and not how many copies are actually moved through the register. This is why some lists will reflect the bestseller-dom of titles that have gone on sale only that day, or a day or two prior. Granted, daily and even hourly sales figures can be and are available in our increasingly digital world, but it's not always the case that bestseller lists are produced with these numbers in hand.

In short: bestseller lists are good indications of how well a book is doing in the market, but it's not always the case that a book that makes the list is selling better than a book that doesn't, or even that #9 is necessarily outselling #10 across the board. It's not an exact science, mes auteurs, and so I wouldn't treat it as one if I were you—neither as a consumer nor a producer of the written word.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

Based on yesterday's (entirely unscientific) poll, mes auteurs, it seems that while the majority of you read some combination of the various genres I listed, the most popular categories seem to be fantasy, literary fiction, mystery, and science fiction. I also strongly suspect that YA/children's would have had a strong showing had I set up the poll properly.

Back in the depths of the recession, I theorized that fantasy (read: escapism), YA/children's (read: people will continue to spend money on their kids, even if they don't spend money on themselves), and romance (read: happy endings) would continue to do well, and based on my own research, that seems to have been the case. What I find interesting, however, is that book sales are down year-on-year across the board (with the possible exception of Amazon, who insists on reporting "media sales" without explaining how those data break down among books, movies, music, &c).

There are a lot of theories as to why this is the case, and a correspondingly large number of questions that need to be answered before any of those theories can be backed up (I hesitate to say "confirmed"), altered, or discarded. Among my questions: while dollars are down, are units necessarily also down? (If fewer hardcovers are being sold, it's possible that overall sales dollars can decrease while the number of units sold can stay the same or increase.) Are e-books being taken into account? (I have a feeling they aren't.) Are all retailers being taken into account? (Chains like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club don't report to sales aggregators like Nielsen BookScan.) And so on.

What are your theories, gentle readers? I'm not necessarily calling for hard data, but I'm curious to know what you think is going on. My hunches are as follows:

· A lot of these sales figures are based on reports by BookScan, which (as mentioned above) does not capture the entire market. (Estimates currently range from 70 to 75%.)

· Dollar figures from 10-K reports for individual businesses are helpful, but don't generally (as far as I know) break down sales by product; Amazon (and, to a lesser extent, Borders and Barnes & Noble) sells a huge number of non-book products. To anyone with greater knowledge in this area: definitely post a comment.

· Units and dollars are probably both down, but I think these reports are only for physical books; e-book sales are up year-on-year, and are almost certainly going to continue this upward trend over the next several years. This is why the debate over e-book pricing (and, by extension, e-book profit margin) is so heated.

To the comments!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: What Genre Do You Read Most?

NB: Mea culpa, dear readers. The second science fiction button is, indeed, supposed to be YA/Children's; unfortunately, I can't fix the poll without erasing the voting up to this point. I know it's lame, but if we could treat Sci-Fi #2 as Children's/YA, we might be able to get (mostly) correct numbers anyway. Sorry for the confusion! — E

Happy Monday (and happy May), gentle readers! It's been awhile since I've visited genre/category sales (see Genre Sales, Parts 1 – 8 under "The Essential PMN"), so I thought I'd gather some preliminary info with an info(rmal) poll.