Friday, July 30, 2010

End-of-July Round Up

Friday round-up time, with Laura from Combreviations:

I've got a short one for you today, friends and foes, made up of only my favorites. I drew your attention to the Huxley/Orwell smack down yesterday, and I think that society is doomed—doomed, I tell you! Did you ever think we would live in an age where 1984 was the better of two evils? The evil-est of evils, I would say, is probably this not-so-great Gatsby video game. Gatsby was never lame, darlings. And when I read this article about the other evil of pastel book covers, all I could think of was a Mommy Dearest style, "No more pink covers!"

For those of you who don't lose your appetite over pink covers, you should check out this rundown of food magazines, and Mark Twain on southern food. Delicious. You can use these book recommendation services while you snack. Or decide if you prefer nameless protagonists or comic books based on real people.

That's all I've got today, reader types—but by way of apology, I've included Jane Austen fight club below, which you may have seen, but is just as enjoyable round two:

As always, see you next week here, or all week at Combreviations, where you can check out sweet videos about octopedes.

Ed: Speaking of video games, enjoy the below! — E

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Your WIP

It recently occurred to me, mes auteurs, that you are amazingly patient people. You work on your novels for months or years, then query agents for months or years, and then wait months after that for a deal with a publishing house, only to wait a year (or more!) for your book to be released to the hungry hungry public. And, of course, you read this blog day in and day out, which means you have a strong stomach (the publishing industry is a scary place) and a high tolerance for cheerful nonsense. So: thanks!

But I digress. Today, bros and she-bros, I invite you to tell me and other loyal readers like yourselves about your current work(s)-in-progress. What genre do you write? How long have you been writing? What's your protagonist (dare I say... brotagonist) like? How far along are you in your manuscript? The questions, like your patience, is endless.

Without any further ado: to the comments!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The eRights Fight

The time: the early 1990s.
The place: publishing.

About fifteen to twenty years ago, publishers began specifying the acquisition of electronic rights in their contracts. While I don't think anyone necessarily foresaw the impact e-books would have on the market and the speed with which they'd come to comprise a substantial percentage of sales, I do believe publishers were forward-thinking and wanted to keep as many avenues of revenue open as possible.

Before this switch, most contracts simply granted the publisher the right to publish "in all formats" (though this was not always true, e.g. in cases where audio rights were withheld and sold elsewhere). Ambiguous language like this is at the heart of the e-rights debacle currently consuming the industry, the most notable example being the battle between Random House and the Wylie Agency.

Wylie's questionable deal with Amazon aside, the argument looks something like this.

Wylie's Point of View

The Wylie Agency's contracts show no specific record of electronic rights sales for a number of backlist titles by Very Famous Authors. Since more recent contracts specifically mention the acquisition of electronic rights, Wylie concludes that those rights (legally speaking) were not included under the "all formats" umbrella of earlier contracts (believed only to cover formats that existed at the time the contracts were signed). The Wylie Agency, being very smart, recognizes that these rights are valuable, and so they sell them to make boatloads of extra cash for themselves and their Very Famous Authors (or rather, their Very Famous Authors' estates).

Random House's Point of View

Some of Wylie's Very Famous Authors have written bestselling books that Random House has published. Random House bought the rights to publish some of these books "in all formats," so Random House concludes that they (again, legally speaking) have the right to publish these books in an electronic (wait for it!) format.

More importantly, however: Random House's Tireless and Very Talented Editors worked on the manuscripts for these books, sometimes altering/improving them dramatically. Since Random House had substantial creative input on these manuscripts, they don't think it's fair for the Wylie Agency to turn around and sell them in e-format to Amazon. (They also don't like the exclusive deal with Amazon, but that's another post for another day.)

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but I think you get the gist of it. What do you think, mes auteurs?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Day Jobs

All this talk of professional writing has got me wondering, mes auteurs: how many of you have a "day job" that pays the bills, and how many of you are already (o joy!) writing professionally?

Thus: a poll!

(If you've got a tricky in-between answer, feel free to clarify in the comments.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Okay, So You're In It For The Money

Last week I discovered (via the endlessly witty and delightful Rejectionist) John Scalzi's "utterly useless" (read: super useful) advice on writing professionally.

So, yes: caveats.

It is absolutely possible, as John states, to make money (even a lot of money) writing professionally. Also, note that I have never said you can't make money writing (even though it sort of looks like I did, and I should have been more clear). What I should have said was: you're probably not going to make a lot of money writing fiction.

John makes his money writing a variety of articles on everything from entertainment to personal finance, and building such a repertoire—in addition to the requisite (and now probably figurative) Rolodex of contacts and clients—takes a lot of time and effort. John mentions his starting salary as a journalist was very low, and sadly, things haven't changed much in the business since then.

At one time you could make a lot of money writing for television, and to some extent that's still true, but with the preponderance of unscripted "reality" TV shows out there, it looks like there are far fewer well-paying jobs in Hollywood than there were ten or twenty years ago. You could try screenplays, but it's a tough market made tougher by the recession and California's relentless budget crises.

I think your best bets are article writing (à la John), technical writing (writing manuals and... well, technical things), translation (are you fluent in a foreign language?), or copywriting/copyediting (requires a lot of experience and contacts to get good rates). Fiction, memoir, and poetry command lower rates (in descending order), and most people who stick exclusively to creative writing are lucky to make more than a few thousand dollars a year doing it. Also remember that, as a full-time writer, you are self-employed, meaning you're subject to self-employment tax and will have to pay for your own health insurance, retirement planning, &c.

Questions/praise/vitriol? To the comments!

Friday, July 23, 2010

E-Round Up

Ladies and gents, Laura from Combreviations is here to round up the week:

Hello reader types, and welcome to your week. And what a weird week! Yesterday Eric talked about the Wylie/Amazon e-book deal, and Random House is super mad. Amazon is adding this to its e-book crown, along with the announcement that they've been selling more e-books than hard copies (although it's not quite clear what that means). Even Stieg Larsson is getting in on the action, selling more than a million e-books. Too bad he's dead and can't enjoy the royalties. But will the e-books become sentient and enslave us? Some say yes.

In this topsy-turvy world, anything can happen. Harlequin's non-fiction is doing very well, thank you very much. The Great Gatsby is now a video game. And hey, Hemmingway is a style icon—want to buy his shoes?

If his shoes aren't quite your style, you can always get these perfumes inspired by books. Or this book inspired by the Situation's abs (also conveniently named the Situation). What is up with celebrity memoirs anyway? Is the book about the Real Housewives really necessary? Do we need a Karl Rove book club? And now we're not even getting the non-celebrity husband version of Eat, Pray, Love. Oh well. You can always read Emily Gould's memoir recommendations, and hope your favorite memoir couples never break up.

Well that's it for me, reader types. Pine for me until next week, and try to stay out of prison—although there's some good prison lit out there, if you're interested. And in some places there's a reading alternative to prison. And books could even help you plot a prison murder... anyway. Until next week here, or all week at Combreviations.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

O Dear: Odyssey Editions

In an interesting move, Andrew Wylie has made a deal with the d... uh, Amazon to exclusively publish 20 of his titles as part of a new e-venture dubbed Odyssey Editions. Needless to say, the publishing world will not be pleased.

There's probably very little love lost on Andrew Wylie in the industry as it is. The man's a genius and tremendously well-respected, but he's unafraid to play hardball and his brashness is legendary (he apparently would have graduated summa cum laude from Harvard had he not belittled his own advisor in his thesis). Insiders are predisposed to regard Wylie's decisions warily (or sometimes with a mix of paranoia and disdain), so I imagine there's going to be quite a buzz over "the Amazon Affair" over the next few days and weeks.

That said: I wholeheartedly applaud the creation of an electronically native imprint, and I do think it's the way of the future. What concerns me (and probably everyone else besides Amazon), however, is the exclusive deal that 1.) renders the title only available for sale through Amazon, and 2.) circumvents the publishing house entirely.

While proprietary editions of titles have been around for decades, it's another thing entirely to sell a title exclusively to one vendor (especially a vendor well-known for its severe and relentless downward pressure on book pricing) without even offering it elsewhere. It's decidedly Wal*Mart-esque and I don't think it bodes well for the market, regardless of how many BlackBerry or iPad or Android devices are bought and used to consume Kindle material.

Is this the way of the future? Potentially. I do think publishing houses are going to get a lot smaller and may, in fact, merge with agencies into a Wylie-type model (acquisition, editing, art, and formatting being done by one agency/house, with a small marketing, publicity, and sales staff to handle sales to vendors). But as long as physical books are still being produced, current printing, warehousing, and shipping infrastructures used and maintained by publishing houses will ensure the houses' continued existence.

Now, does my job depend on my not understanding Wylie's cut-out-the-middle-man tactics? In a sense, yes. Am I an idiot? No. Sure, there are some people in this industry so entrenched in the way things are that they'll end up losing sales and going out of business as the industry moves on without them. But those of us that embrace digital sales and are good at projecting and securing them will have a place in the industry five, ten, or even twenty years from now. And so, dear authors, will you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Season's Meetings

Required reading and meetings abound, mes auteurs, so I'm going to once again borrow a page from the Bransford playbook and offer you your very own open thread! Anything and everything are fair game (within reason), and I'll try to stop by a few times during the day to answer any questions that may crop up.

Go nuts!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You Ain't In It For the Money

From this week's New Yorker:

[Rod Blagojevich's] wife, Patti, ate a tarantula in a contest with the actor Lou Diamond Phillips in Costa Rica for the reality show "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" The couple explained that they needed the money.

May you never need money so badly.

All joking aside, mes auteurs, it's important for you to realize that you're not likely to make a ton of money with your writing. It is, in fact, unlikely that you'll even be able to quit your day job; only a vanishingly small percentage of working authors earn enough from their writing alone to support themselves. While it's nice to dream of a six-figure advance and a house in the Hamptons, sadly, that's probably all it'll ever be: a dream.

If you're a serious writer, you're not in it for the money. You're in it because you love writing, because you believe you're good at it, and because you believe your story deserves to be told and read. Sure, it's nice to be paid for something you love and are good at, but you'll probably have to do at least one other thing (something you may not love, or possibly even be good at) to make ends meet.

No one ever said it was easy being a writer. Paying work isn't guaranteed; you may end up being paid for writing you don't particularly want to do; you probably won't get paid a lot to do it. Them's the breaks.


If you're at least comfortable with said day job, you can view your writing not only as a hobby, but as a potential (though relatively small) source of income. Extra money for something you love doing is a pretty nice bonus, even if it's only a few thousand dollars. Sure, it's hard work to finish a manuscript, send out a million queries, secure an agent, get a deal at a house, and help shepherd your book through the publication process, but if you truly love writing and publishing novels, you'll see it through. If not, you're not cut out for this business and should probably hang up your pen/keyboard.

The point, meine Autoren, is this: do this because you won't be happy doing anything else, not because you want to be the next James Patterson or J.K. Rowling (as nice as that'd be).

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Taxing Profession

A question came up in Thursday's comments regarding the tax situation for authors. This is sort of a tricky question, and the answers will differ from writer to writer, but I'm happy to try to demistify the basics here.

First: if you are an author, you are effectively self-employed (assuming you have no day job, which is, to be honest, a bit of a stretch). This means you may have to report your earnings to the IRS on a quarterly basis and will certainly have to pay self-employment (SE) tax (15.30%) via Schedule SE of the IRS Form 1040. (You can learn more about the tax forms you'll need here.)

Second: you're eligible for a lot of deductions as an author, particularly those that pertain directly to your writing career. Office supplies, use of your car for travel (e.g. author tours), books, magazine subscriptions, writing workshops/conferences, and dues to professional organizations (such as MWA or RWA) are all deductions you can make. You may want to look into getting an accountant to help make sure you get the greatest number of deductions possible.

Third: some authors are under the impression that royalty payments fall under the capital gains tax (rather than income tax) and are subject to the lower capital gains rate (15%). This isn't the case. (Even if it were, the capital gains tax is set to revert to pre-2003 levels—around 28%—next year, so you wouldn't be saving all that much regardless.)

Finally: speaking of royalties/payment, you need to budget effectively. Publishers take several months to calculate royalty payments, meaning you'll probably only get a handful of "big" paychecks per year. If you've got a day job, it might make sense to keep your writing income in a separate savings/checking account and rely primarily on your day job's salary to budget, pay rent, and so on. If not, you'll have to be careful to budget your money so as to live comfortably year-round, pay your taxes, and (hopefully) set some aside in savings. Again, hiring an accountant to help you go through your finances and construct a budget might make sense.

Questions? To the comments!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Round Up: The End of Times

Friday round up time, with Laura from Combreviations:

Hello, friends and future friends. It's been a long week out here in the universe, and hey, some things happened. The apocalypse is not one of those things, even though we do so love it. But wait, there may be signs of it forthcoming. MacMillan replaced a book bought second hand! Authors are admitting book trailers are awkward and stupid! It seems that alchemy is making a comeback! And Batman is getting a pop-up book!

Okay, so maybe these aren't signs of end times, but of just awesomeness. Also awesome is this history of the slush pile and these favorite food books of chefs. My favorite is when Junot Diaz lists his influences, including "The Breakfast Club," although his detention "did not fucking look like the detention in the fucking Breakfast Club." Awesome. Plus check out the preview for James Franco as Alan Ginsberg, and the Old Spice guy on libraries (and some people wonder if libraries are worth the money. Thou shalt not gainsay the Old Spice guy!). So much awesome, the end of times must be nigh. No? Too much apocalypse fixation?

Well, okay, I guess some things aren't so great. Authors struggle over where to do readings, and Alan Moore is over heroes. And even if the apocalypse isn't coming, it would behoove you to find out what kind of dystopia is best for you. Also, Billy Collins is over e-books, because they ruin poetry or something like that. And what is up with fiction authors inserting themselves in their work? They might just turn out to be literary one hit wonders.

I think that's enough me time for all of you (although if it's not, visit me at Combreviations, where I have been slacking hardcore and have almost no new content). Besos and bisoux, and see you all next week!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Which I Pause to Gauge Interest

A busy day, reader-types, so I thought I'd take a quick time-out to ask: how's the review going so far? Is there anything I haven't yet touched on that would interest you, or anything I've already mentioned that you could use more info on?

While you think of a thought-provoking and insightful comment or question, feel free to watch this endlessly entertaining (and utterly unrelated) piece of 2010 FIFA World Cup memorabilia:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Year in Review: Part 5

The! World! of! Tomorrow!

Once again exhibiting his uncanny ability to read my mind (or simply read the same news sources), Nathan posted yesterday about Mike Shatzkin's post on the future of book stores. I largely agree with Shatzkin (his original article can be found here), and Nathan's assessment (though bleak) is pretty spot-on. To quote:

These last few years have been incredibly tumultuous for the industry. The recession and the Great Digital Transition combined forces to wallop the industry, and the effects are everywhere: shrinking lists, closing imprints, shuttering indie stores, a vanishing mid-list, and belt-tightening across the board.

However, whereas Shatzkin seems to have relatively little hope that publishers will be able to adapt to the massive transformation entailed by the "Great Digital Transition," I think Nathan and I are in the same, slightly more optimistic boat. People will still buy (possibly even more) books. The paper side won't disappear completely. A lot of things (writers writing, agents agenting, editors editing) will remain the same.

Thus, in the one, the only, Bullet-o-Vision™:

· In my opinion, e-books will comprise 50% of the market by 2015. I wouldn't be surprised if it were more (up to 70%).

· In my experience, e-book consumers are never "between books"; that is, unlike with physical books, they don't finish a book and take any sort of break. Even if they take a month to read the next one, they generally start it as soon as the previous book is finished. I think this behavior, along with the lower cost and greater convenience of e-books, is behind the booming sales numbers we're seeing.

· As the cost of e-readers decreases (read: falls to around the $100 mark across the board), e-book sales will sharply increase.

· The vast majority of e-book readers also buy physical books (and more of those who are "physical books only" are making the transition every day), so I think publishers would be wise to bundle the two products together at a discounted rate, at least for now.

· I don't think the transition to e-books will democratize publishing any more than Gutenberg's press did 560 years ago.

What do you think, mes auteurs?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Year in Review: Part 4

I'll admit it: I've been hard on self-publishing. And not, I don't think, without good reason: the average self-published book is of significantly lower quality and sells far fewer copies than the average traditionally published book. There's a reason (many reasons, actually) you want an agent and an editor and a marketing/publicity/sales team on your side.

That said, with the rising popularity of e-books (which I think will comprise 50% of the market by 2015), my theories and reasoning regarding self-publishing will change somewhat.

First, my words of caution re: unscrupulous self-publishing companies (read: vanity publishers) don't necessarily apply to the world of e-books, since nothing really stops you from just typing up a novel, converting it to the appropriate format, getting an ISBN, and uploading Ye Olde Lyfe's Worke all by yourself to any of the major e-book stores popping up on this swiftly tilting planet of ours. Easier yet, you could just convert the file to a .pdf and sell it through your personal website.

Second, since everyone in the industry is still getting their e-legs, they tend to scrutinize sales of electronic books a lot less severely than those of physical books. This means that if sales of your self-published e-book don't exactly blow up, it probably won't really hurt you (whereas a poor track record with a self-published physical book could definitely harm your prospects). This will probably change as e-book sales become the norm. (Trust me, while they may be the norm for you, they're not the norm for the industry.)

Third, self-publishing electronically is not (unlike physical self-publishing) a colossal waste of your time and money, since it can be done relatively quickly and cheaply (or even for free). The margin can also be very high, so you won't need to sell a huge number of copies to break even or turn a profit. In fact, if you don't count your writing time as time (and therefore money) spent, you can turn a profit after selling only one copy.

Now, the new caveats:

First, concerning uploading your book to Amazon/the iBookstore/&c or selling it yourself on your website: don't be shocked if nobody buys it. One of the major reasons authors develop into brand names is because a traditional publisher with good editorial, marketing, publicity, sales, and art teams has vetted the novel, gotten it into the public consciousness, possibly put it right at the front of the (e-)store, and slapped an eye-catching cover on it. You, as a début author whom know one knows and whose work hasn't been—in a word—legitimized by a traditional press, can't expect to see fantastic (or even decent) sales until and unless viral word-of-mouth sets in. (Hint: this is rare.)

Second, self-publishing electronically is easy—in fact, almost too easy. Don't be tempted to send your dear novel out into the e-ther early. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Have beta readers. Maybe even hire an editor. The good news: you're the boss! (The bad news: you're the boss.)

Finally, don't get your hopes up that electronically self-publishing will lead to your next book being picked up by a traditional house (complete with five- or six-figure advance), a movie deal, fame, glory, riches, or anything of the sort. Not that I expect you to—I just want to be sure we're all firmly grounded in reality.

Tomorrow: the (publishing) World of... Tomorrow!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Year in Review: Part 3

I've previously posted a couple of times about comp titles, those previously published books that are used to predict the sales of titles about to hit the market. At risk of self-plagiarism:

A comp title—short for "comparative title," sometimes just called a "comp"—is a title used as a predictive tool to help ballpark expected sales on a new title. Publishing houses invariably try to pick their own titles as comp titles, since they generally solicit POS (point-of-sale, i.e. through the register) data from their accounts that are more accurate than BookScan's. If the title is by an author who's previously published with the house, the author's previous title is often used; if not, a title similar in format, publishing season (fall, spring, or summer) and content is used. Houses also want to pick comps that are relatively recent, as it's unlikely POS data will be available for a book that was published in, say, 1989 (or even as recently as 2000).

As I've said before (and I'll say again): you're going to have astoundingly little, if any, say over which title(s) are picked as comps for your book. While you can certainly mention a comparative title or two in your query letter (hint: your book is not Harry Potter meets Twilight meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), the decision is ultimately up to the house, and it's pretty unlikely that your suggestions (which may or may not be informed by appropriate sales figures) will survive from your query letter through your agent's pitch to your editor and your editor's pitch to the publisher.

You can, however, ask your agent to find out what your comp title(s) is/are, then drive yourself moderately insane looking up sales figures and Amazon rankings for that/those title(s). (Remember that BookScan is 1.) expensive and 2.) only reports about 75% of the marketplace, and actual POS information from the publisher won't be shared with you.)

Und jetzt, meine Autoren, an update regarding e-books!

I think comp titles will still be necessary in THE FUTURE (the future... the future...), but not as means by which initial buys are determined. (After all, it's not like Amazon needs to buy 3,000 electronic files of a book in order to sell 3,000 e-books.) I think they'll generally be used as guides to determine target markets and advertising based on historical results, e.g. "We did this with Book X and it worked really well, and since that title's a good comp for Book Y, let's do something similar."

Comp titles will, I think, also be somewhat useful in terms of extrapolating sales figures for budgets and the like, but I imagine more accurate and nuanced predictive tools/methods will be developed as the shift to e-books continues.

Tomorrow's topic: self-publishing, redux!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Return of the Round-Up

From Combreviations, today we have Laura to round it up:

It has been forever, reader types. Weeks. Months. A super long time since a round up. So forgive me for the stuff that's now old hat, and thus, no longer interesting. So chin up, noses up, in we go.

I figure we should start with the literary end of things, because we're intellectuals, darlings. It will please you to know, no doubt, that there were literary vampires long before Twilight came around (although LolCat Eclipse, courtesy of one Janet Reid, is faboosh). Some indie bookstores are holding their own in the end times of publishing and also the economy and potentially the universe, and readers have weighed in on their favorite indie books. Literary magazine Tin House is embroiled in a "scandal," there are lots of new literary magazines in the underground, and...wait, is that James Franco in Gary Shteyngart's new book trailer? That seems as unlikely as having seven editors at four houses...oh. Hmm.

Well, sometimes things are awkward like that, like when fiction dies (again), and letter writing dies, and there are no great novelists, and challenging books may just be too hard. Gosh darn, and sometimes good writing gets in the way of a good story. Is this the apocalypse? No? Well, you can pretend it is with this list of great apocalypse summer reading. Or just read the best books of the year so far. Maybe you can buy some books from Harlan Ellison, and maybe you're already one of the buyers of the million e-books James Patterson has sold. Don't forget to wear your Dr. Seuss Converse while you read—it adds to the magic.

Sometimes its hard to tell what an author was thinking when you read his/her work. Like The Overton Window—what's going on there, Glenn Beck? I hear it wasn't that good, although it doesn't have the worst first line. While some authors are too reclusive to get comments from, sometimes you can figure out the real people behind fictional characters. Or the fictional characters behind real people...wait...

That's all for now, reader types—I hope you realize you would have read this faster if you printed it out (and then put it in a binder with all of the other round ups, that you lovingly keep and reread for the writing, of course, since the links are just an added bonus). Until next week!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Year in Review: Part 2

Today: covers!

As I've mentioned before (and once or twice or thrice since), cover art is important for your book. Yes, we've all heard that age-old adage about judging a book by its cover, but really, who doesn't do that? I don't know about you, but I go for that foil-stamped hardcover at the front of the store every time, and I'm inundated with the marketing back-and-forth that got it there on a daily basis.

To briefly rehash my initial post on the subject, a good cover should do at least three things:

1. Tell us what the book is called and who wrote it;
2. Give us an idea of the book's genre (thereby already telling us whether we're likely to enjoy it);
3. Provide an iconic, interesting image, so as to—as Seth Godin puts it—"tee up the reader so the book has maximum impact."

Occasionally you can break a rule or two; for example, it's not always a cardinal sin to omit the author's name from the cover of the book (assuming the cover image is sufficiently arresting). But a major misstep here (such as broadcasting the wrong genre or creating an easily forgettable cover) can tank a book's sales.

I'd like to add two more items to the List of Three (rendering it now, I suppose, the List of Five):

4. The cover should "pop" on a large display table;
5. Don't forget about the spine.

In yesterday's comments, Adam wondered whether thicker, fancier spines might be good investments for publishers. While thicker could be a problem (shelf dimensions are pretty standard, meaning the book would either become too tall or too wide for regular bookstore shelves; additionally, thicker books tend to warp more easily), I'm all for more eye-catching spines. It's tricky work, but if you're stuck without co-op, a unique spine design can get you off the shelf and into readers' hands.

As for "popping" on a display table—well, I look for our front-of-store titles on a pretty regular basis, and there have been a few that I've missed that were right in plain sight. If I can't find them when I'm looking for them, how are you, the consumer, supposed to find them when you're just casually browsing? Successful books stand out from the crowd, and the only way many books will get into browsers' hands in the first place is for them to distinguish themselves through eye-catching, unique cover art.

What can you do if your cover doesn't blow your mind? Again, rehashing an earlier post:

Tell your agent as soon as possible. (Preferably during business hours.) He or she will be able to discern whether your concern is 1.) appropriate and 2.) something that can be addressed/fixed by the publishing house, and will then do everything he/she can to communicate the problem to the editor/publisher and get it fixed.

If your agent is temporarily unreachable, write an e-mail to your editor. Please calm yourself down before you do this. Don't send an e-mail or make a phone call in anger or panic. This is never a good idea.

Look on the bright side. Best case scenario: the publisher eats the cost of a cover adjustment and all is well. Worst case scenario: nothing changes and your sales may suffer as a result, but it's very unlikely your career will be seriously damaged. Most likely, some in-between scenario will occur, and you're likely to emerge from it relatively unscathed. And if your book is coming out in hardcover, remember—there's always the paperback.

I'll also add:

There's always the e-book. The cover counts here, too, but not as much as in the world of physical books. It's far from optimal, but you can still see good digital sales numbers with a bad cover.

Monday: comp titles, revisited!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me! Or, The Year in Review: Part 1

No, it's not my personal anniversaire, mes auteurs (I'm a Pisces), but today marks the anniversay of a monumental moment in publishing history—perhaps the most game-changing since Johannes "Johnny" Gutenberg came out with his crazy moveable-type Bible over five hundred year ago.

Yes, friends: today, PMN turns one year old. Please forward inquiries regarding where to send your presents to the Pimp My Novel inbox.

In celebration, I'll be running a multi-part series (re)covering the most popular topics on the blog over the past year. This includes (but is not limited to): book covers, comp titles, co-op, e-books, genre-specific sales, returns, and self-publishing. As always, if you have any questions, requests, praise, vitriol, or delightful non-sequiturs, feel free to post them in the comments.

Today's segment: co-op!

I've discussed and/or referenced traditional co-op (and, to some extent, electronic co-op) before, but I think it bears revisiting.

Basically, co-op is the system by which vendors (a.k.a. publishers) pay retailers to place their titles in various eye-catching locations throughout stores. The main octagon table at the front of Barnes & Noble, the new release table at the front of Borders, the ends of bookstore aisles (called "endcaps," featuring face-out rather than spine-out copies) are all examples of co-op placement. Sometimes publishers pay a lump sum for a promotion or set of promotions; other times, they'll allocate co-op dollars based on how many copies of the title the store or chain takes.

Needless to say, if you can get such placement for your book, you'll have a significant leg up in the market. Also needless to say, with the bajillions of titles that drop into stores every Tuesday, only a tiny fraction receive co-op placement (front-of-store, such as the aforementioned "new title" tables, or in-section, such as endcaps or face-out copies on section shelves). Oh yeah, speaking of: that's why book store staff will turn your book spine-out if you wander through the store and turn it face-out. No co-op dollars, no co-op placement.*

If you're curious about getting co-op attention for your book, the first thing you'll want to do is talk to your agent. Promotions are generally figured out about five or six months ahead of publication, so if your book is coming out this holiday season, now is the time to ask your agent if he or she has heard anything in terms of co-op and marketing planning. It's not the end of the world if you can't secure major placement, but even a face-out in-section promotion can help. You can't get what you don't ask for!

Speaking of asking for things, if you don't already know the folks at your local independent book stores, now is the time to make their acquaintance. While being bros with the local Barnes & Noble or Borders folks is also good, they don't always have a ton of control over what goes on in the store; even managers (especially managers) are subject to corporate direction. But if you make friends with the owner of a local indie and then mention you've got a book coming out, not only is there huge potential for in-store events and good word-of-mouth, but you can also try to get a little piece of prime real estate (front-of-store is best, but any co-op is tremendously helpful) in return. Remember: your publisher is selling you and your book, but so are you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Tomorrow: another look at book covers!

*This isn't 100% true; some co-op is engineered at the store's discretion. As mentioned above, independent stores generally have a lot more leeway than chain stores, whose co-op is determined at the corporate level.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Reading

As our mutual friend the inimitable Rejectionist has said, New York in the summer gives off a distinct and truly heinous "boiled poop" smell that will sicken and infuriate you (assuming the general sound and the fury of the city haven't already done so).

You'd think that if you're out early—say, Fifth Avenue, 5 am—you'd avoid it, but that's not the case. (It was approximately Fahrenheit 451 here before 9:00 in the morning.) You can try and hang out in the passages between subway stations, but the breeze is hot and putrid and there are a lot of homeless people.

I'm not sure what causes the 100+ degree heat and 80%+ humidity—honestly, it feels like you're trapped under some kind of dome—but it's exceptionally unpleasant. As I lay dying in my un-air conditioned and decidedly un-imperial bedroom this morning, not wanting to return to work after a week-long vacation, I considered running off to the lake again, or at the very least, taking the day off and going to the Bronx Zoo to hang out in that delightful inner-city animal farm, or maybe watch them inseminating the elephant.

Okay, that last one was weird, and I'm out of books/puns/ideas. Post yours in the comments!

Monday, July 5, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Real publishing-related news tomorrow. Today, a recap of my past week. I:

• Ate so much pie I thought I would have a heart attack—and not, as you might imagine, as a result of the sugar and butter endemic to said pie, but because I ate so much my stomach was physically pushing on my heart.

• Got a state boating permit and learned how to operate a jet ski. Fun fact: hanging on for dear life is substantially more exhausting than you might at first expect.

• Saw Toy Story 3. It was really good. You should go see it, regardless of whether you have any kids to take with you.

• Ate a lot of barbecue. Animals are delicious.

• Read. A lot. And not for work.

• Went kayaking. Fun in its own way, but somehow less intense after the jet ski experience.

• Did not get sunburned, which I think is a life record.

• Blew things up. Hooray, America!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guest Post: The Literature on Literature

Full public disclaimer: I am a lightweight in the world of scientific reading. Science can be fun, though—the Periodic Table and the Krebs Cycle notwithstanding. And I especially like science when it reinforces what I want to believe anyway (see disclaimer above).

For example—I have a co-worker who posts all the scientific studies showing the health benefits of coffee, just above the coffee maker at work. While I stand there waiting for my cuppa to brew, I read about how I am keeping Parkinson's disease at bay (here, from JAMA), reducing my chances of developing diabetes (here from The Lancet), and generally waking up (you don't need a medical reference on this).

So as a lifelong fiction lover, it is not surprising that I am also interested in the neuroscience that continues to grow around reading—why it feels good and why it’s good for you. Below are the highlights, based on my science-lite review of the literature.

Reading literature makes you smarter.

Here's one thing those wild and crazy scientists did: They took a group of unsuspecting people and had them read Kafka’s “The Country Doctor”—“a disturbing and surreal tale in which a doctor travels by 'unearthly horses' to an ill patient, only to climb into bed naked with him and then escape through the window ‘naked, exposed to the frost of this most unhappy of ages.'" They took another similarly innocent group and gave them “The Country Doctor” rewritten in a way such that the plot made more sense. THEN they made both groups take a test to assess their pattern recognition. Guess who did better?

“People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings—clearly they were motivated to find structure," said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB and co-author of the research. "But what's more important is that they were actually more accurate than those who read the more normal version of the story. They really did learn the pattern better than the other participants did.

Proulx said that the thinking behind the research was that when we are exposed to something which "fundamentally does not make sense," our brains will respond by "looking for some other kind of structure" within our environment."

Reading literature makes you more socially savvy.

Okay, next experiment. Readers were randomly assigned either a fiction story OR a non-fiction article from The New Yorker. Both groups were then given an analytical reasoning task in a multiple choice format (derived from a law school entrance exam) and a social reasoning test in the same format, with questions focused on the emotions, beliefs and intentions of characters in social scenarios. The result: The two sets of readers did just as well on the general reasoning questions, but the short-story readers showed a stronger understanding of social situations than the essay readers.

Why? Here’s the opinion of Keith Oatley, a professor at the University of Toronto who has done a lot of work in this field:

“My colleagues and I think it’s a matter of expertise. Fiction is principally about the difficulties of selves navigating the social world. Non-fiction is about, well, whatever it is about: selfish genes, or how to make Mediterranean food, or whether climate changes will harm our planet. So with fiction we tend to become more expert at empathizing and socializing.”

Reading gets your kids into college.

I’m not dumping on Stanley Kaplan or Saturday lessons with Dmitri, the Russian math genius, but independent reading seems to be the best way to boost those SAT scores. Here's what the American Library Association says (not that they have a dog in this fight or anything): “The amount of free reading done outside of school has consistently been found to relate to growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and general information. Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”

Reading Relaxes.

Maybe you think you need a masseuse and a steam room, or a martini and a sunset, but it turns out that the key to relaxation is RIGHT THERE ON YOUR BEDSTAND! Yet another group of cash-hungry underemployed individuals was recruited. These unfortunate people were deliberately stressed—forced to fill out 1040s in iambic pentameter or had their iPhones extracted and buried in an undisclosed location or... something. (If you're a mouse, they drop you in a pail of water and make you swim, because it turns out mice hate to swim.) THEN, having thoroughly stressed everyone out, the researchers randomized the subjects to some form of relatively relaxing activity. Like sipping a cup of tea. Or going for a walk. Or listening to music. Or reading a book.

And which activity worked the best and fastest according to those super-smart cognitive neuropsychologists? Reading.

It works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea...

Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.

Their stress levels and heart rate were increased through a range of tests and exercises before they were then tested with a variety of traditional methods of relaxation.

Reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent, said cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis.

Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.

Listening to music reduced the levels by 61 per cent, having a cup of tea or coffee lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 per cent.

Playing video games brought them down by 21 per cent from their highest level but still left the volunteers with heart rates above their starting point.

Dr Lewis, who conducted the test, said: "Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation."

So, grab yourself a book. And a cup of coffee. And some chocolate. (Did we talk about the chocolate literature yet?)

Kathy Crowley's short stories have appeared in a handful of (VERY discriminating) literary magazines and even an anthology or two. She practices medicine on the side and has just completed her first novel. She is a member of the writing blog Beyond the Margins (

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Guest Post: A Day in the Writing Life

"Be creative." Bea frowned at the computer screen. "Idiot. You're a writer. Of course you're creative."

I eyed her warily. Bea is one of my more outspoken heroines. "Maybe what he really means is to be entertaining," I said.

"If he means that, why didn't he say it?" This came from Molly. She was munching M&Ms, which she sorted by color to achieve the right psychic balance of energy from the candy. When I created her I had no idea people actually did that. The email I got when her book came out told me otherwise. Who knew?

"Let's talk about publishing," I suggested. "After all, his blog is about publishing."

"It's about being an agent, isn't it?" Dr. Jane Renard said. She had been chatting with my other 13 heroines and now turned to us.

"Nope. This isn't one of those. This is some guy in marketing or sales at a publisher."

Bea leaned back in the chair and shot me an incredulous look. "Marketing? How can a publishing house market themselves out of the mess the industry is in?"

I was starting to wonder if getting them all together was a good idea. After all, 3 of them are time travelers, 2 of them live on another planet, and the other ladies are 'people of strong opinions'. Just because I created them, that didn't mean their opinions all meshed. Au contraire. "Don't all industries evolve over time?"

Molly took a green M&M (harmony, stability) and popped it in her mouth. "Publishing isn't evolving. It's collapsing, isn't it? Look at Joe Konrath and the monkey wrench he threw into the works."

Jane laughed. "He did that, indeed." She said something in a guttural yet fluid tongue. My other characters and I stared at her blankly. "It's Rom. 'The kettle that lies face down cannot get much sunlight.' Publishers need to wake up and see what's happening in the world around them. They've been turning a blind eye to the change in their customer base."

"We're competing with movies, DVDs, downloads, and porn," Bea said, pushing away from the computer. Her long braid swung behind her as she swiveled to face us all. "When small publishers came out with 'hot' romance lines, people got accustomed to downloading their books. Then Amazon came along with the Kindle and it really hit the fan." Her eyes went to me. "What are you going to do? Are you going to stick with small publishers? Are you going to make a stab at a 'real publisher'?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

I answered, thinking carefully as I spoke. "I'm not sure. There's a part of me that wants to see my books on a shelf in a bookstore, so anybody can just walk in and buy one."

"The Browse Factor," someone murmured. "That's how most books are sold."

"But I've had a good run with smaller publishers." I ticked off points on my fingers. "I have a lot of input into cover art. Most of my covers are great with just a few clunkers." Hannah made a face and I sympathized with her. The cover for her book was lousy but despite that, it still sold well. "I get several release slots a year. I have great reviews. My backlist sells well."

"Thank God," Jessie muttered. "I was feeling lonely for a while."

"My editors are great," I continued, still thinking out loud. "I've had a couple who were a pain, but mainly they're excellent. Promotion is relatively simple. Most of it is done online, so it all fits in with my Paycheck Job."

"How much money are you making with your writing?" Molly asked as she chose a blue M&M (honesty, fidelity). "Is it worth it? We know you're not making enough as an author to live on." She downed the M&M. "Are you?"

"I never expected to. Most authors don't. How many authors do you know who don't have a regular full-time job, or a spouse who can cover the retirement benefits and medical expenses?" I looked around the room.

Bea laughed. "A handful. I'm one of them but only because I got a grant that let me quit my job. Without that, I would still be writing software documentation while I write mysteries at night." She grinned at me. "Like someone else I know. Well? Are you going to follow Konrath's example and give self-publishing a try? Do you believe what he says about making a bundle on the Kindle?"

I looked at my heroines, my creations, my imagination given life. "I may try it with some of my lesser-selling books." I glanced at Penelope, Lucinda, and Dora. They were watching me attentively. It was their books that didn't sell despite the awards they had won. Perhaps the public wasn't ready for time travel and reincarnation love stories. I wasn't ready to give up on them, though. "I think I'll give it a shot."

Jane shook her head. "You and everybody else."

Molly washed down her last M&M with a quick sip of bourbon-laced coffee. "If you do well, you should come back and report to this guy on his blog about your success."

I turned back to the computer and clicked the Close icon on my blog draft. "What if I don't do well?"


I looked over my shoulder at my heroines.

Hmm. Gone. All but one, sitting near the fireplace. Genny raised her wine glass in salute as I opened a new Word document on my screen.

I had a book to write.

J L Wilson is a Midwestern author who writes 'mysteries with a touch of romance … and romance with a touch of gray.’ She also writes time travel books and has a paranormal series set on another planet. You can find her here.