Wednesday, August 31, 2011


As you may have noticed, lords and ladies, I haven't quite been bringing my "A" game the past couple of months. Between increased responsibilities at work and a host of other demands on my time, I'm afraid I'm going to have to put Pimp My Novel on indefinite hiatus.

Not to worry—nothing terrible has happened/is happening. It's just that there are only so many hours in the day, and I know I'm not going to be able to do a consistent or good job with this blog once the Publishing Giant reawakens in September.

It pains me to write this, folks, since so many of you have been here since day one. You've encouraged me to write about the industry, shared with me (and your fellow writers) your tips, advice, stories, works in progress, successes, and setbacks, and I want to thank all of you for your time and generosity over the past two years. Seriously, y'all are the best.

So: thank you. Hopefully I'll be seeing (read: posting for) you again soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Day

No damage as a result of the hurricane, mes auteurs, but slow intracity transit and allaying the fears of many publishing folk is taking more time than I expected. We'll be back on Wednesday with more book-based bacchanalia!

Friday, August 26, 2011


No round-up today, mes auteurs—we New Yorkers are all preparing for Hurricane Irene. We'll (hopefully) be back on Monday, and for those of you in Irene's path, stay safe and stay dry!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book to the Future

Y'all might remember the grand entrance of the Vook in 2009. If not, in short: it's a form of enhanced e-book with movies and other media built into it. Video + book = Vook. Simple, cool, innovative, no?

Unfortunately, many readers found the videos and additional media distracting, particularly for works of fiction. (I could have told you that countless nonconsecutive video clips do not help a reader immerse him/herself in a fictional world.) Vook has since moved toward more nonfiction titles, however, and received a better response.

How a Vook differs from the Internet, I have no idea.

However! If you thought the Vook was the pinnacle of book/media mash-ups, you thought wrong. Enter Booktrack, a company that makes soundtracks for books.

Yes, soundtracks for books. Now while you're reading about a forest, you can hear THE SOUNDS OF A FOREST. Like, I don't know, birds and whatnot. When Bro McLadiesMan begins playing a mega sweet power ballad for his lady fair, you can listen along. When you get to a super intense part, you get to listen to super intense movie trailer-style music. &c, &c. (There are previews on the Booktrack website if you're interested.)

The Booktrack speed can be adjusted to your reading speed, as well, so the synchronization between sound effects and text should be reasonably good.

Be that as it may, I think I'll find Booktrack books similar to Vooks: over-hyped and distracting. I'm all for innovation in the field and I think it's necessary to the future success of print media, but I'm not sure rocking the audio equivalent of a movie trailer in the background is the best way to achieve this.

However! I'm curious, as always, to hear what you think. So, mes auteurs: yea or nay on the Booktrack experience?

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Terms to Know (Rerun)

Meetings abound, mes auteurs, so here's a quick rerun re: publishing terms to know! — E

Episode: "More Terms to Know"
Originally aired: Monday, February 28th, 2011

In the world of publishing, mes auteurs, there are a lot of terms to know. As our digital overlords begin to claim more and more of this territory for themselves, I think an e-update of sorts is in order.

Therefore! I've put together a list of indispensable e-book/Internet-related terms I think you should know. If you think of any more (and I'm sure you will), please don't hesitate to post them in the comments.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). A system for separating a web page's or e-book's style/formatting from its content. For example: rather than putting a tag around every block of text that specifies the font as Garamond, you can just have CSS declare that all text should be in Garamond from the outset.

Think of it as like giving directions from the passenger seat of the car: you can just tell the driver, "go straight until I say otherwise" from the outset, rather than saying, "keep going straight" at each intersection.

E-book (also ebook, eBook). An electronic book available in a wide variety of formats (e.g. AZW, EPUB, MOBI, PDF) on a variety of devices (e.g. Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook).

EPUB (also ePub, ePUB, EPub, epub). The industry standard e-book format. It's basically a zipped-up website.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language). The language used to write websites and e-books. It's currently on version five (HTML5).

PDF (also .pdf). Standing for "Portable Document Format," a .pdf is a file format readable by many (but not all) e-reading devices. Its primary selling point is that it represents documents independent of the machine it runs on, so a .pdf e-book looks the same no matter what devices is used to read it. For this reason, however, .pdf files are not reflowable (see below).

Reflowable content. Content (words, diagrams, illustrations, &c) that can change or "reflow" depending on the device designed to read it. Text "reflows" when you change the font size on your Kindle or when you switch back and forth between devices with different display sizes.

This is one reason e-versions of the same title look different on different devices; another is that different e-tailers do different things to the source files they receive from publishers before making the book available to the consumer.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Basically, this is the idea of improving your visibility via search engines on the Internet. For example: if you Google "[your name] author," you want your personal website to be one of the first few hits. Taking into account how search engines work and what search terms people use, it's possible to move up the list of results (often dramatically).

XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language). A family of XML languages (see below) that serves as an alternative to HTML (above).

XML (eXtensible Markup Language). Wikipedia says it best: "A set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form." If you're using Microsoft Office 2007 or later, you're already familiar with one of XML's many uses (it's the "x" in ".docx," ".xlsx," &c).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Keeping Your Butt in the Chair

This is, à mon avis, the most difficult part about writing, folks. I've been having some trouble with it lately myself, so I thought I'd dedicate a post to the subject.

Make a list of your usual distractions. It's helpful to recognize your weaknesses before they become an issue. Do you obsessively check e-mail? Go out for a coffee? Play Farmville? Whatever it is, write it down. Being aware of it will help you stop doing it (see below).

Block out time to write. Scheduling is half the battle, mes auteurs. Pick a time that works well for you and do your best to stick to it. If you're a morning person, 6:00 am is great; if not, maybe not so much. Be as regular in your commitment to writing as you can, even (especially) if you're not writing every day.

Get any distractions out of your system before you sit down to write. Trying to quit all your distractions cold turkey will probably result in your caving and going back to them to blow off steam, potentially during time you'd otherwise spend writing. Play your games, check your e-mail, tweet, update Facebook. Then write. And write when you're supposed to, not just in between rounds of StarCraft.

Take steps to prevent distractions while writing. If you can't stop checking Twitter, turn off your Internet connection. If you keep getting up to see whether the guy next door is still trimming his hedges into the shapes of Jersey Shore cast members, close your blinds. &c, &c.

Schedule regular breaks. You're not a machine; it's just as important to know when to stop writing as it is to set a time to start. I usually take ten minutes off for every hour I set aside. If you try to write through your break and you're not seriously on a roll, you'll probably end up more prone to your usual distractions anyway.

Reward yourself for sticking to your schedule. After you finish your hour of writing, go get that coffee. After a week of sticking to your schedule, buy yourself a new book. The more you reward yourself for a job well done, the more you'll start looking forward to that scheduled writing time you've set aside. Pavlov! He was perhaps on to something.

That's all I've got for you today, meine Autoren. How do you keep your butts in your chairs each day?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prithee, Inform Me: What Are You Writing?

It occurs to me, lords and ladies, that I have not asked you about what you're writing in over a year. A year! So, without further ado:

What are you writing? If you responded the last time I asked, have you finished that project? Have you secured representation, self-published, given up on that MS, started a new one? What genre, what's it about, what's going well, what are you struggling with? How many projects are you juggling at once?

To the comments!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rainy Day Round Up

Friday round up with Laura, totally late:

Happy weekend, friends and foes! I hope you're all sharing this post and books on Google+, and reading on your Amazon cloud reader, the cloudiest of readers. If not, eh, it's okay. The great books aren't so great, and this, honey, is not as great as that. I wasn't even distraction-free when I wrote it, because I can't choose which distraction-free writer to use.

Spoiler alert: the Kardashians are writing a novel. And don't sass me about spoilers, because I've read that people like spoilers, especially since we keep reading spoilered classics anyway. That said, I still won't be reading the Song of Ice and Fire food blog until I'm done with A Dance With Dragons. No, I'm still not done. Don't judge me.

I will judge our new Poet Laureate, who is awesome. This fact is not recognized by the "I hate reading" Facebook page. I don't know what those people are going to do when they find out Facebook bought an ebook publisher. These must be the literary geniuses I hear so much about. They must be the same people who banned Slaughterhouse Five in high schools. Luckily, the Vonnegut Library is giving free copies to students. Huzzah, sanity.

That's it from me folks—keep your malicious book thoughts out of reviews, stay out of price fixing class action lawsuits, and price your Vook carefully. Until next week!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Taking Stock of the Market

What with all the financial turmoil dominating the news these days, mes auteurs, I thought an extended financial analogy might be timely. So! The popularity of various genres, authors, and books: sort of like the stock market.

The performance of certain types of books, much like certain types of financial instruments, is cyclical. Vampires were cool in the middle of the last decade (and are still cool to some extent). Is this the first time this has happened? Absolutely not. (I mean, who doesn't remember the vampire riots of the 1720s/1730s?) Is this the last time this has happened? Also absolutely not.

We're probably at the tail end of all this vampire business. This means you can either 1.) focus on writing something else, or 2.) write your vampire novel(s) anyway and hope those angsty blood-chuggers become cool again sometime soon.

Note: a lot of nonfiction titles are dependent on the news cycle. As stories break, people want to learn more about the issues being discussed. Where do they go for that? Well, the Internet. But also books.

Inexperienced participants often make the mistake of buying high and selling low. I've said this before, but if you notice, say, paranormal Amish bromance* is suddenly huge and you want in on the action, you're probably already too late to the party. By the time you get your book written, sold, and published—roughly a year to eighteen months later at the very, very best—there's no guarantee that the genre will still be popular.

On the other hand, some people won't write in a particular genre or category because said genre or category hasn't sold in forever. That's fine, but you should always be aware that today's Huge Trend™ was under everyone's radar yesterday. (Not that I expect poetry sales to magically take off OH WAIT THAT IS SORT OF HAPPENING**.) Which leads me to my next point:

To succeed, you have to do your homework. This entails knowing the fundamentals as well as actively searching out information you don't think is widely disseminated or carefully scrutinized. To have a shot, you've got to have a good handle on the basics of this industry. To have a shot at outperforming everyone else, you've got to constantly keep an eye out and an ear to the ground. Find out what's selling, how the market is changing, what's historically worked (and what hasn't), &c, &c.

Remember, when it comes to book sales, you're competing for eyeballs and dollars. Why should someone pick up and purchase your book as opposed to someone else's? What knowledge or specialization do you have that might grant you an advantage? You can tell me you're authors and not businesspeople 'til, as my father says, the cows come home. That doesn't change the fact that by trying to make careers as writers you are, effectively, taking a shot at running a business. Do your research and do it well.

Both the stock market and the publishing industry react to new information. Neither system cares about old news. When doing your research, ensure that you're minimizing assumptions about what information hasn't yet been incorporated into the market. Chances are, you're not as ahead of the game as you might at first think. If you are ahead, however, you've got to be prepared to run with it.

Every event is an opportunity for someone. The stock of Company A is down? It's an opportunity for someone to buy at a discount. The stock of Company B is reaching new heights? It's an opportunity for someone to sell, make some cash, and reinvest it in another asset they find promising.

The same goes for publishing: the changes that have been rocking the industry for years are constantly producing opportunities. Borders went out of business; some independent stores are seeing growth as a result. The industry is transitioning over to a digital format for a substantial subset of its titles; some authors have found new audiences in the e-book format. And so on and so forth.

The point of all this is: as dissimilar as the worlds of the stock market and the publishing industry may at first seem, there are a lot of parallels. Publishing is a business. Research and a working understanding of the market are essential for success. Yes, your writing has to be good enough. Yes, you have to have a great story. But you also have to convince people to spend their hard-earned cash on that story.

Writing is half the battle; the other half is selling.***

*This isn't a real genre, but I really want it to be.

**This is more an example of the news cycle-related publishing hit, as mentioned in the previous example. But I just couldn't help myself.

***I lied about the other half being lasers. I'm sorry.

Monday, August 8, 2011

An Open Letter to the Industry

Dear everyone: please, please stop asking me to fax things.

The publishing industry gets made fun of enough for its technological prowess—or, really, lack thereof—as it is. Please let me scan documents and e-mail them to you rather than force me to rely on a fax machine that is, in all likelihood, older than I am.

While we're on the topic, please let me use e-mail, cloud-based services, and flash memory devices to move information from one place to another. There is no need for me to write a PowerPoint presentation to a DVD. There is no need for me to print something out so I can fax it to you (this is happening less frequently, but really, it shouldn't be happening at all). There is no need for me to print something out so I can mail it to you when I could scan and e-mail it instead.

I understand that you're used to paper. There are many purposes for which I prefer paper, too. But the transfer of time-sensitive information is not one of them.

Speaking of! What are we doing chasing news stories with physical books, folks? By the time we set up, print, and distribute the book in question (assuming it's already been written, which is a big assumption), the public interest—and therefore the opportunity to make a sale—has passed. E-books, I say, or nothing.

Not that I'm an unapologetic advocate for the e-book, but I think this particular realm of publishing is an area in which the Internet will almost always do better. Many topical books need to be electronic in order to get them out in a timely fashion.

All of this to say, then, that time is money, and the less we do things because it's the way we've always done them and the more we look toward more efficient ways to get our stories out there, the better off we'll all be.

P.S. It's been over two years since anyone asked me for anything on a floppy disk. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Prithee, Inform Me: What Are You Reading?

We've only got a month left of summer, mes auteurs, so prithee, inform me: what are you reading?

Books I'm currently reading:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Fall Higher by Dean Young

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne

Books I've recently finished reading:

The Iliad by Homer

Sum by David Eagleman

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

The Lifting Dress by Lauren Berry

Reviews of these books potentially to come in future posts!

Monday, August 1, 2011

More on the World of Tomorrow

With Borders no longer with us and digital sales comprising more and more of the market, I thought now would be a good time to revisit how these trends have evolved over time and where they might lead over the next few years.

First, while I don't think there's much of a physical future for magazines and newspapers, I do think there will always be a market for physical books. (I think magazines will go entirely digital over the next decade, with existing name brands already finding some success—the New Yorker has made a cool $1 million with their iPad app.)

The market for physical and used books five and ten years from now will certainly be smaller than it is today, and my expectation is that most physical media will eventually be found only in libraries. Independent and used book stores will, I believe, remain in business, but I think by the end of this decade almost all new books—almost certainly all new fiction—will be produced and consumed electronically.

Categories such as coffee table/art books and children's books will probably take longer to make this transition.

Second, I expect a continuation of a phenomenon which I predicted last November: the resurgence of the independent book store. Will indies control as much of the market as they did before the chains took up residence in the 1980s? I don't think so. But I do think there is a demand for physical books and that there are dollars to be had, and many areas that have lost Borders locations may well turn to independents to supply their books.

Also, as I've mentioned before, the independent book store is the go-to location for author readings, book signings, community events, open mic nights, and in-person browsing. Try as they might, online vendors can't replicate these advantages.

Finally, while I'm not sure how Amazon and Barnes & Noble are going to develop as competitors, I think that each will have to offer a spate of unique—perhaps proprietary—perks and technological advantages in order for them to coexist. Right now Barnes & Noble's primary advantage is its physical retail space, but I don't know how long that will continue to be the case. The further we trek into digital territory, the more important the Nook and e-book sales will be to B&N, and the less appealing it will be for the company to maintain its warehouse, shipping, and storefront infrastructures.

What do you think, mes auteurs?

Friday, July 29, 2011

July, July! (Round Up)

Friday round up with Laura:

Well, it's been a while. Mea culpa, readers—I've been reading A Dance with Dragons and neglecting important things like the round up, and showering. But other things are going on in the world too, I guess, that are just as important. ...Close to just as important. Bradley Cooper will play Lucifer in Paradise Lost, which should be hot as hell (ba dum chh). Devilishly good? Other puns? That plus this imprint dedicated to zombies are going to keep me busy for a while. Plus I can watch musical Bridget Jones, scored by Lily Allen. Elton John approves! All of these things are sweet like candy from kids' books, which you should not take from babies.

In other news, you can learn from submitting writing, lessons other than "rejection is saddening." And if you learn enough lessons you could get on the Booker longlist with these ladies and gents, or be the next Maurice Sendak. If you're extra lucky you might be a top ten Rainn Wilson pick or make the cash money for your partial manuscript just like Jane Austen.

Well, I'm off to finish A Dance with Dragons. Have an excellent summer weekend, folks... because winter is coming.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

License to Thrill

First! PMN turns two years old this month, mes auteurs, so please leave any and all presents in the comments. Be warned: I already own every Transformers action figure and Kurt Vonnegut novel ever produced.

(I kid. At least with regard to Transformers action figures.)

Now then, ladies and gentlebros, I'd like to revisit a topic of yore: the mfa. As I've mentioned before, there's no such thing as a license to write: while the mfa is useful as a qualification to teach creative writing at the postsecondary level, there is no academic prerequisite for writing commercially successful novels. None whatsoever.

However! If you're writing literary fiction, the mfa might not be a bad idea. First, it provides you with a community of writers who can support and provide invaluable feedback for your work; it allows you access to a network of writers, editors, and educators to which you would never have otherwise been privy; and it makes you comfortable with revising and reading your work aloud on a regular basis. I don't think the degree is necessary in any sense, and I think getting it out of boredom or as a result of the misguided belief that it will make you more attractive to agents or editors are tremendously poor choices. It does have its uses, though.

So! If you're thinking of pursuing an mfa at some point, take the following into consideration (in more or less the following order):

Location, location, location. There's no sense in spending one to three years in an area you dislike—or potentially even hate. As great as the programs in Iowa and Michigan may be, seriously ask yourself whether you'd want to spend that much time there.

Funding. I firmly believe that there is no reason whatsoever to go into debt for an art degree. So, if you're choosing between the slightly more prestigious school with the $100,000 price tag and the less well-known school that'll pay your way, go with the latter.

• Time commitment. Do you want to attend a less intensive studio program? An academic program that requires 40+ hours per week of preparation? A full-time program, a half-time program, a low-residency program? Keep in mind that you'll have to balance your personal and perhaps professional life with your academic existence as you earn your degree.

Reputation. How successful are the alumni of the programs you're considering? As crass as it sounds, do the names of your schools serve as social currency in literary circles? The better known your school, the more likely you are to participate in social circles that will benefit your writing career.

Faculty. This sounds like it would be a top priority, but in reality, faculty move from program to program on a fairly regular basis. The danger of selecting a program based on its faculty is that the poet or writer you most want to work with may be on sabbatical or may have left the institution entirely by the time you begin your studies. If a single individual is your primary criterion for attending a program, you may want to rethink your decision to enroll in said program.

So! Those are my current thoughts on the mfa. Responses, thoughts, corrections, questions, and tangents welcome in the comments!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Notes from the Writing Life

Summer has always been a time for me to get a lot of writing done, so I suppose that's why it's also when I tend to learn the most about the writing process.

So! Here are some things I've (re)discovered about writing over the past few weeks:

1. There's a time and a place for everything, including writing. I like tables that are supposed to be for eating—cafeteria tables, my dining room table, diner booth tables—either early in the morning or early in the evening.

2. Editing can oppose as well as complement writing. I know a lot of people who can edit as they go along, but I can't. It kills my momentum.

3. Writing is mostly practice. Practice, patience, perseverance. You make mistakes. You learn from them. You write some more. It's more about discipline and introspection than talent, though talent certainly helps.

4. Being good at one type of writing doesn't automatically make you good at the others, but it means you can learn to be. I'm a decent poet. I used to be a lousy fiction writer. I think now I'm a mediocre fiction writer. The form you practice more, the one you read more, is the one you'll get better at.

5. Trying to publish keeps you honest. It keeps you writing, it keeps you rereading your work to understand why it wasn't accepted, it keeps you humble, it keeps you hungry. I think writers who don't attempt to publish their work can very easily become complacent and many cease to improve.

6. You can always be better. I'm skeptical that individual pieces of writing can never be improved, but flat out deny that individual writers can never improve.

7. Creative writing can be taught. This doesn't mean all students will be equally capable. Nuclear physics can be taught; are all students of nuclear physics equally capable?

8. Writing is a habit. Writing every day, even if the product is sometimes—even often—terrible, is useful. I think it produces stronger long-term results than waiting for the proverbial Muse to move you.

9. Writing well is a real skill. Although I believe that many, if not most, people could write reasonably well, very few actually do. Further, I believe that most people think they're good writers because they write every day—grocery lists, e-mails, birthday cards, &c. Literacy is not equal to writing ability. Good writers are rare and should be paid well for their work.

10. Writing is work. Writing is difficult, writing takes time, writing is not always fun. If it's what you want to do above all else, you'll find a way to do it. If you don't have the patience for revision or desire to succeed or the stomach for rejection, this line of work isn't for you.

What have you recently learned about writing, mes auteurs? And/or what are the best, worst, most and least helpful pieces of advice you've ever received with regard to writing?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

· I should not have broken my vow to never again fly United Airlines. You know they break guitars, right?

· The Iliad is phenomenal, though not nearly as good as The Odyssey. Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which I've been meaning to read for a long time, is fantastic so far. I'm reading Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad next.

· New York City is smellier and hotter than I remember.

· Rayne Summers has figured out how to save the book industry!

· I don't really "tan." I mostly just turn red and then white again. I may have known this already.

· It is possible to play Plants vs. Zombies for an entire six-hour flight. If you haven't yet played it and are looking for a distraction, you can play a free online demo here. Make sure you finish your writing first!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Last Chapter

I've returned from parts unknown, mes auteurs, and I trust y'all enjoyed last week's guest posts while I was gone. Many thanks to our five guest posters!

All is not sunshine and lollipops in Ye Olde Publishinge Lande, however. If you haven't yet heard the sad news, Borders is converting from Chapter 11 bankruptcy to Chapter 7, meaning they are liquidating their assets and going entirely out of business.

First, my sincere condolences and heartfelt thanks to all the Borders employees who have helped me so much over the years and to whom I wish the best in their pursuits and endeavors after Borders. BGP's liquidation will entail roughly 11,000 layoffs—not including potential job losses at ancillary corporations, such as publishing, shipping, and food services companies that may have departments dealing exclusively with Borders—and my best wishes are with those who will be seeking work in this economy in the next several months.

Second, this will impact the industry in many significant ways, not all of which will become immediately apparent.

• There is now only one major bricks-and-mortar physical book retailer in the country: Barnes & Noble. B&N no longer needs to contend with any other major player in terms of physical co-op, in-store couponing, &c &c. I expect they'll continue to compete heavily with Amazon, however—especially in the increasingly popular e-book arena—so I don't foresee any immediate or comprehensive shifts in the price of physical books.

• There is now a significant surplus of physical books in the market. I'm not completely clear on the returns policy for distressed retailers, but I believe they're entitled to return most—if not all—of their unsold stock to the appropriate publishers. While I imagine many publishers moved to minimize their exposure back when Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, I think a lot of them are going to get hit with big returns as Borders dissolves.

• Print runs are going to become smaller. When making final decisions in terms of binding books, publishers have taken two major chains into account; now they'll only account for one. While it's true that Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and (to a lesser extent) big-box retailers like Wal*Mart and small, independent book shops will absorb some of that business, a portion of it will be permanently lost.

• I think this will hasten physical/electronic equilibrium in the market. With fewer physical books being printed and more consumers going to Amazon and Barnes & Noble—many purchasing books electronically via the Kindle or Nook, respectively—I think the American market will be fully half e-books by the last quarter of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. Over time, areas traditionally resistant to electronic media (such as art books, children's books, and international editions) will increasingly move in that direction, as well.

Again: is the physical book dead? Absolutely not. But the loss of Borders will, I think, hasten its transition to a secondary format.

The times, they are a-changin', ladies and gents, and I don't pretend to know what's going to happen over the next several months. I can tell you, however, that I'm not surprised by this turn of events—in fact, Borders managed to hang on much longer than I expected—and I was by no means alone in the industry in that expectation. Though the methods by which customers purchase books will undoubtedly continue to change, people will still need great stories. Books, whatever their form, are here to stay, and it's my sincere hope that Borders' demise will engender more opportunities than it dissolves.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest Post: Rotten Rejections

I stumbled upon the following gems while attempting to gather statistics (via the Internet) on what percentage of books get picked up by agents, but are never sold to publishers. I have a novel currently on submission (via my agent Weronika Janczuk), and I was (somewhat morbidly) curious about just how bad my odds of finding a publisher might be.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guest Post: Writing Without a Net(Work)

by Lorna Graham, author of The Ghost of Greenwich Village (Ballantine/Random House, 6/28/11)

My debut novel is about to come out and, and, like so many writers before me, I’m uneasy. Okay, anxious. In just a few weeks, my work, for better or for worse, will be out there in the world to be enjoyed (hopefully) and judged (certainly).

The ironic thing is, I should be used to it.

I’ve been writing professionally for years and my work has always been for public consumption. You might even be familiar with some of it. Maybe you enjoyed an interview with Stephen King or Ellen Degeneres. Maybe you followed a “film noir” true crime story about cheating husbands and lethal wives through every delicious twist and turn. Or maybe you learned the dirty truth about the health code violations of a restaurant near you, or how a new kind of designer drug stays one step ahead of the law.

I've been a writer for both a morning news program and a primetime news magazine and have written for at least a dozen household name anchors.

But you’d never know it. Because in this kind of writing, the writer is for all intents and purposes, invisible. My name is well below the radar and I betray almost zero of my self, my sensibility, or my psyche in my work.

Why? Mainly because I make very few choices in the stories I help tell. And the ones I do make, which are creative ones that relate to style and rarely substance, are subject to extraordinary constraints.

In news, first of all, we start with the story. Facts. You do not get to mess with these; we play them as they lay. (Contrary to the low opinion some people have today of journalists, there is an extraordinary effort to discover the truth and tell it.)

All we can do is decide the way we’re going to tell it. As a writer, it’s my job to make you want to watch what we’re about to show you. I try to think about what makes each story unique, and how best to highlight that to intrigue you. But between my typing fingers and your ears is a long, bumpy road.

Before you hear anything I’ve written for a correspondent or anchor to say, I must obtain written approval of every syllable from at least five people: our executive producer, a lawyer with our legal department, a representative from standards & practices, the producer of the story, and the show’s anchor.

This chain of command is vitally important. It’s how we ensure what gets on the air is of the highest quality and accuracy. Each of these people is a seasoned professional who wants the best for the show, but they don’t always agree on how to get there. For my words to run the gauntlet from my computer to your television screen unscathed is pretty much unheard of.

I always start with my best shot, something I believe that’s going to grab the viewer while also being scrupulously fair. I spend the rest of the day accommodating the wishes of everyone else, hoping to preserve what I like best about my original version. Very often, because of time constraints – if my intro to a piece is supposed to run twenty seconds, that’s all I can write – the thing I like best, the little flourish that made it fresh and, well, mine, is what goes.

The best thing about writing for television is that it’s collaborative. You work with so many smart, caring, funny people. I adore my colleagues.

The worst thing about writing for television?

Same answer: it’s collaborative.

When I first started writing fiction, I felt like I was throwing off heavy chains. There were no facts to adhere to, no legal department fretting that anything I wrote was libelous. Within my novel, I could create my own world, my own rules, from the inside out.

I felt like writing about a ghost? I did. (Try that in TV news.) I wanted to write an extra chapter to fill out a character’s back story? Fine, we’re not cutting to commercial break. I wanted a rude character to say something off-color? Totally cool, there’s no F.C.C. to worry about.

Another thing about TV news? Credits rarely run; there usually just isn’t time. Executives, producers and editors may see their names on screen but writers, almost never.

Now my name is on the front of a book. It looks odd to me, and loud: like a trumpet’s blare, demanding everyone look in my direction.

This time, there’s no one to hide behind. Though I’ve had a dream team of fabulous people help me with this book, including my agent, editor and fiction workshop, the choices in my novel are all mine. For the first time in my professional life, I stand alone.



Lorna Graham was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from Barnard College. She has written for Good Morning America and currently writes for Dateline NBC. She also wrote a short film, “A Timeless Call,” honoring America’s military veterans, that was directed by Steven Spielberg. She lives in Greenwich Village. The Ghost of Greenwich Village is her first novel.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest Post: The Glamour Life on a Book Tour

by Wayne Arthurson

I’m riding the bus through downtown Los Angeles. It’s packed, it’s hot, I’m wearing a suit and I’ve been standing since I got on 30 minutes ago. I will stand for the entire 90 minute trip.

Why am I riding LA Transit on a book tour for my big American novel release? Because I’m paying for everything, flights, hotels, food, beer, cabs, all of it is on me. I may be one of the few Edmonton/Alberta writers with a major US book deal, but in the US, I’m unknown and untested. My publisher is paying for nothing.

Well, not really. They are paying for my LA hotel. And it’s nice. Located in posh area of Westwood, the Palomar is a funky boutique hotel with free wine in the lobby everyday from 5-7 pm.

Unfortunately, the Palomar is 20 miles from the University of Southern California, the site for the LA Times Festival of Books. To get there I took a cab. $45 dollars before tip. Which explains the bus ride back.

The festival was great. It’s more of a book fair really, with hundreds of booths selling anything related to publishing. There are some great panels featuring great writers, poets and celebrities, all of it free. But I have no time for that. I must get a book signed by Mo Willems for my daughter. It’s hot, sunny and I’m wearing a dark suit. After 75 minutes in line, I get Mo’s signature on Knuffle Bunny, Too. My pits are sticky; my pale Canadian skin is sizzling.

Fortunately, my event is in a shaded tent. It’s an hour-long signing at the Mysterious Galaxy, a San Diego Bookstore. I’m signing with Michael Koryta, 28, with seven published books already. Nice guy, but I want to kill him because of his youth and talent. I sell about 10 books, which is good, and I later meet up with LA writer/filmmaker Stephen Jay Schwartz. We met at a mystery convention in March and bonded because our main characters have addictions. He’s an actual book festival panelist and sneaks me into the green room where there is free food and soda. Nice, but a Canadian book festival would at least have free beer. Since Stephen’s from LA, I ask him about taking the bus back to my hotel.

“No one who’s anyone in LA takes the bus,” he says. “But if you have to, don’t make eye contact and watch your back because you’ll be going through some sketchy neighbourhoods.”

But the LA bus in LA is no different than an Edmonton bus, except that it’s only $1.50. Nothing weird happens.

The weird stuff comes later. After showering, eating and phoning the family, I head to the hotel bar for a beer. I missed the free wine.

News breaks on the TV. Osama bin Laden is dead. No one leaves, we wait for Obama to speak. When he does, the patrons get up from their seats and gather around the TV. The bartender turns off the Muzak. A few take cell phone photos of the TV. It’s like the first moonwalk or some other awe-inspiring historical event. No one speaks, no one cheers. There’s just a hushed silence. The bartender does not turn the music back on. I finish my beer and go back to my room, setting the alarm an hour earlier than planned because I know airport security is going to be tight tomorrow. I’m heading to Vancouver.

Wayne Arthurson’s latest detective novel, Fall From Grace, is available on Amazon and various other online locations—plus, at good old fashioned book stores. His recent book tour in Canada and the U.S. is recounted in an exclusive four-part series for GigCity. Part 1 starts in in Los Angeles. (Read: Part II, Part III, Part IV)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest Post: Four Elements of a Great Book Signing

by Corrie Garrett

A couple Saturdays ago I spent the afternoon in downtown Los Angeles at a book signing for John Scalzi. He’s a NYT best-selling author for Old Man’s War and several other fantastic scifi novels, including his latest one, Fuzzy Nation. Basically, he’s an experienced guy who ran an excellent book signing. I’ve been to a few other book signing/reading events—and they are, sadly, not always a blazing success.

So, let’s say you’ve done your promotion and your marketing and you’ve managed to gather a respectable crowd at your local Barnes and Noble. What do you do with them?

1. Audience participation

Get involved. Scalzi was chatting with all the early arrivals when I got there, funny stories about his travel or whatever. When he started the "real" bit, he asked us a lot of questions. Did we hear about this from his blog? Did we want to hear him read from his new novel, or his next, unpublished one? He let the audience vote on it, and he then he had us all swear secrecy for the excerpt from his new book.

Take away: Talk to the audience before you start; this is the best way to assuage nerves if you’re uncomfortable. Ask questions. Maybe do a poll on favorite genre, how they know you, favorite character (particularly if you have an Edward/Jacob setting), or maybe how far they drove to come. The people coming to a book signing want to feel known even if it’s only a small way.

2. Elite status

Make the audience feel privileged. Signing books is only part of it. By coming to your book signing, they’ve formed a tenuous relationship with you, and inside information is a great way to cement the feeling of that relationship. Scalzi read from his novel that will be released in 2012.

You might not have another book contract, but you can still give inside information. If you might (possibly) be doing a sequel, give some clues about it. If you have nothing in the future (hopefully not!), give some insight into how this story came about. If the main character is based on your dog, or started as a ghost and turned into a vampire—talk about that.

3. Question control

A Q&A session is great for audience involvement, but you have to be on top of it. Scalzi told us up front that some questions he couldn’t answer (for legal reasons), and he didn’t hesitate to say, “Nope, that’s all I have to say about that,” on a couple questions that were off topic.

Some questions will be off the wall—only glancingly related to you or your book, or even inappropriate. A short answer is good, but don’t let them hijack the session with questions of no interest to anyone else. The rest of your audience will appreciate it.

4. Humor

Do funny. Okay, so a lot of us don’t have great comedic timing or fantastic impersonations or anything like that. But you don’t have to. Scalzi read the first few sentences from a prologue he spoofed on April Fool’s Day; the writing was hysterically awful and over the top.

Maybe you’re not into spoofs, but most of us authors have some pretty hysterical rough drafts and drawer manuscripts. Dig one out (an old one that doesn’t grieve you anymore), and find a section to give your audience. If you read from your current book, don’t be afraid to spice it up. Dramatic pauses, voices, gasps—whatever fits. They’re ready to be entertained, so be brave. Collect some anecdotes from your travel or tour and have them ready. Self-deprecating humor is always a safe bet, too.

Getting people to your book signing is fantastic, making them tell all their friends about it is even better. Have fun!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guest Post: To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?

Apologies for not getting a round-up to you last week, mes auteurs. However! You've now got a full week of guest posts to look forward to, starting with this one by Chevonese Fender. Sit back, relax, and enjoy! — E

"Self-publishing used to have a real stigma attached to it. To be self-published meant your work was SO BAD that not one publisher would take you seriously. But that’s just not true anymore. Readers just want a great book to read." — Kaia Van Zandt, from Alan Rinzler’s post, "Advice for Amanda Hocking from authors and agents"

It is true that I, too, fell victim to this stigma. When I spent some time in New York, I would always see street vendors alongside 34th Street hustling to sell books that I would never take one second to peruse, let alone purchase. The approach is a turn off and the quality of the books, i.e. the print and cover quality, are a no-no in my standards.

Two years ago I was on the 2 train to the Bronx and noticed a Caucasian girl reading an urban novel, which I decided must have been self-published based on the distasteful cover and book quality. I was not surprised when I got a glimpse of the content and how less than classy it was. That was my impression of self-publishing. So when my friends and family have the gall to suggest the idea, I literally cringe and regard them with utmost disdain. Me, self-publish? Oh heck no! The goal is to be seen and known as a respected author, not the other way around.

I always agreed with Van Zandt's description of how self-publishing used to be [1]: that to self-publish meant my work was not good enough for a literary agent or publisher to give it the time of day. So, for a while I continued with my upturned nose, bent on having representation. It was not until I realized how the self-publishing industry had transformed and how beneficial it had proven to be for countless struggling and aggravated authors that I began seeing self-publishing for what it was.

Granted, there are those self-published authors who, out of anticipation, eagerly publish their work without serious editing and consulting. These authors partly contribute to the negative connotation that self-publishing carries. But it seems as if the tables have been drastically turning. Now, self-publishing appears to be the second best approach, if not the first, for getting your unpublished work out there.

So with two stories completed—one short story and one full length novel with its sequel on the way—would self-publishing be my best bet? Well, I would no longer have to hopelessly wait, after submitting my query letters for representation, for months to know if I’ve been given a "yes" or "no." I would no longer be limited to sharing my stories with my ten friends and family members and accept their praises as mission accomplished. And most importantly, no longer would I have to WAIT!

So many tools, websites, and literary agent blogs offer advice and tips, weighing the pros and cons of publishing on your own or taking the traditional route. It doesn’t hurt becoming your own agent, marketing and representing your own product, and reaping total benefits from book sales, as opposed to splitting it three ways if you were represented by an agent who found you a publisher. Most importantly, you are in full control of your content! Sounds like hard work and it most certainly is.

Is there respect for self-published authors today? Absolutely! Exhibit A: Amanda Hocking, after being told "no" numerous times, went on an ambitious whim and published on her own, only to find that her audience did exist and that her work is now worth a two million dollar contract with St. Martin’s Press. The publishers simply got on the bandwagon because they saw that there was money to be made; a foundation that was already set had been set through self-publishing. Even traditionally published authors like thriller and suspense writers Stephen King and Barry Eisler have self-published. Eisler [2] consciously opted out of a major contract simply because he wanted full control of his work and his money. Certainly these authors have an upper hand, as they have years of experience with the market—but the fact is, self-publishing is becoming more appealing than it was five or six years ago. Now, many services offer print-on-demand, which cuts out unnecessary printing costs.

We Jamaicans have a saying: "Puss and dog don’t have the same luck," which simply means that one man’s success story may not be the same for another. There are a lot of factors to consider if you desire the same success story as Hocking. The genre, writing style, content, target audience, cover images, and marketing and promotional strategies are all vital things to consider. But who’s to say how successful you will be unless you actually try it? In my book, not trying is failing.

Based on the numerous dialogues that I’ve come across, I’ve deduced one main thing: go off your gut instincts and your pocket. So should you venture beyond the traditional and daringly choose self-publishing? I’m certainly not against taking the bull by the horns, and there are many reputable authors, agents and editors who aren’t either. However, at the end of the day a decision has to be made.

Here’s what I advise: create your checklists of short term and long term goals for your books and your literary career; weigh your options, do your research, understand the benefits and pitfalls of choosing either publishing option; and be patient.

So, you tell me. Where do you stand?

Chevonese Fender is from Jamaica. She modeled for five years, the latter part spent working in New York. She was represented last by Boss Models in New York, and a little over a year and half ago she made a life-changing decision to actually put her God-given skill to use and write. She writes edgy, inspirational romance and has not yet been published, but her first novel is recently completed and she finds herself at the crossroads, so to speak: publishing traditionally or just say, the heck with it—publish the darn thing yourself!



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guest Posts: Redux

When I last asked for guest posts back in May, I received so many quality submissions that I couldn't take just five. So! I accepted an additional five guest posts for next week, as I shall be out of town on Ye Olde Holidaye Times.

Where will I be? Well, somewhere significantly less stressful (and smelly) than New York City. I suppose that's not much of a hint, though, since that's pretty much everywhere else on the planet. At least you know I won't be in Beijing or L.A.

Without futher ado!

Monday, July 11th: "To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish? That is a Darn Good Question!" by Chevonese Fender

Tuesday, July 12th: "Four Elements of a Great Book Signing" by Corrie Garrett

Wednesday, July 13th: "The Glamour Life on a Book Tour" by Wayne Arthurson

Thursday, July 14th: "Writing Without a Net(Work)" by Lorna Graham

Friday, July 15th: "Rotten Rejections" by D.L. Orton

I'll return on Monday, July 18th with more gems, pearls of wisdom, and other assorted literary treasures for you. Until then, enjoy Friday's round-up and next week's guest posts!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Due to the Fourth of July weekend, mes auteurs, there'll be no round-up from Laura today and no new post on Monday, July 4th. Check back on Wednesday, and have fun blowing things up in the meantime!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Summer Slowdown

Your queries have been met with silence. Your agent has inexplicably vanished. Your editor has departed for parts unknown. What gives?

The answer: it's summer.

The publishing industry doesn't exactly go into hibernation during the summer months, but it's fair to say that business slows down substantially between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Aside from physical production, everything winds down a bit: offers from agents, acquisitions from editors, &c, &c. It's sort of the calm before the storm of the holiday season (October through December).

If you're currently submitting a manuscript, don't be surprised if it takes longer than usual to hear back. Not only is there an industry-wide downtrend in acquiring new work, but the majority of publishing professionals take vacation during the summer months, meaning that at any given time a large percentage of available staff are out of the office. Even if your agent is around, if (s)he depends on his/her assistant to filter submissions and that assistant is in Cancún for the week, you probably won't be hearing back about your novel for at least that long.

My advice? Spend the summer writing. As I've mentioned before, I waste spend my non-publishing, non-blogging time as a poet, and since most literary journals and magazines are affiliated with universities, they either close submissions or are much slower in responding during June, July, and August. I take this time to recharge my batteries, burn a little well-deserved vacation, and write/rewrite in preparation for the autumn submission period.

What about you, mes auteurs? Are you submitting now? If not, how are you spending your writing-related time?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Vanishing Advance

You may have been hearing about this from other publishing professionals or from fellow writers, mes auteurs, but in case you haven't heard, the average advance has declined a bit over the past couple of years. Much of my evidence for this is either proprietary or anecdotal, so hopefully there are a few literary agents or editors in the house to confirm the trend.

In case you're curious, though, there are a few reasons I think lower advances have been—and continue to be—the norm.

Belt-tightening. With forbidding economic indicators such as unemployment still high and talk of a double-dip recession floating around, editors and publishers have become much more frugal in terms of the advances they offer. Many have modified their P&Ls to reflect current sell-through and consumer habits, and decreased demand for physical books has resulted in decreased up-front cash for authors.

Publishing is a business, and we've got to try to make money on as many books as possible in order to stay in business. Speaking of physical media, another reason (à mon avis) for lower advances is:

The shift to electronic media. Because e-books don't face the same kind of supply chain/distribution challenges as physical books and are not returnable, it's easier for publishers to run P&Ls for e-books and to simply offer higher royalties than to stick with the advance model.

True, the vast majority of titles currently acquired are eventually released as concurrent physical and electronic books, but I don't think the day is long off in which a substantial section of the market will comprise e-only titles. Once that occurs, I think the idea of the advance will become even more antiquated; it's much easier to pay an author a fixed percentage of dollars earned in the more or less real-time environment of e-book sales than to bother with advances.

In fact, much (though certainly not all) of the work done by advances is obviated by the fact that:

Advertising and marketing budgets for e-books are often lower than for physical books. While a publishing house—particularly a large one—will pay the advertising and marketing costs for their lead titles, there are many midlist titles and titles published by smaller publishers for which the burden of lining up media and marketing falls squarely on the author. The advance is a way of mitigating this hardship; authors can use the money given to them by publishers to pay to promote their books (e.g. conduct book tours, create book trailers, and so on).

As advertising and marketing have become easier and cheaper—predominantly by way of social networking services like Facebook and Twitter—the cost of promoting books through these channels has necessarily also fallen. If publishers feel they can pay less money for the same commercial success from any given title, they absolutely will. Wouldn't you?

So that, dear readers, is my take on why average advances seem to be declining in this industry. It may be a relatively short-term reaction to the continuing economic uncertainty inherent in the recession, or (as I believe) a long-term reaction to the drastic changes that are occuring in the publishing industry as it transitions from physical to electronic media. Regardless of which, I think it signals an industry-wide recognition of the challenges the business is facing.

What do you think, gentle readers?

Friday, June 24, 2011

It Came From the Round Up

Friday round up, with Laura:

Welcome to Friday, friends and foes. Although Game of Thrones ended last week (boo), we only have until Sunday until True Blood starts (yay!). Some might go so far as to say that True Blood the show is better than the books. Having never read the books, I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. In other books-on-film news, J.K. Rowling launched Pottermore on Thursday. There were many oohs and aahs (and it may be that Rowling is a marketing genius), but I fall in the camp of, "WTF is Pottermore? This launch didn't explain anything about it, except that the HPotts will be e-books now. Hurray?

Listen. I don't like things that are confusing. I like to be told what YA is essential, how much I have to pay for events at indie bookstores, and where I can buy my newsprint scented candles. I don't want to have to use my own brain to find out that the new version of The Rules has perhaps the worst advice I've ever heard, or that there is irony when 50 Cent writes a book on bullying. How do I know if e-books come out too quickly? What are the different routes for selling a million copies of a self-pubbed e-book? I'm stumped, and kind of sleepy, and don't plan on thinking thoughts anytime soon.

Not wanting to think thoughts is, coincidentally, why so many celebrities put out kid's books. It's much quicker to write than a for-adults book (unless like Snooki, you have your ghost writer do the heavy lifting). On the flip side is the new Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly memoir. Collectively they are a Congresswoman, an astronaut, and survived a gunshot to the head. They are invited to my house in memoir form (or real form!) any time. Also invited to my house are more stills from The Hobbit, and my new favorite thing ever, a poetry book by Keanu Reeves. Bring it on, world.

That's it for this week—have a good weekend, and see you next time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Long and Short of It

Caveat: this post pertains more to those of you writing literary fiction than genre fiction, mes auteurs, but I do think there are aspects that writers of genre fiction may find enlightening.


I'll be the first to tell you that short story collections don't sell well—it doesn't matter whether you've had short fiction in The New Yorker, it doesn't matter whether you earned your mfa at Iowa, it doesn't matter whether you're drinking buddies with the ghost of Flannery O'Connor—they uniformly don't sell very well. Often an agent will only take a short story collection from a promising new author on the condition that they also get his or her first novel.

However! The short story itself can be a way of grabbing an agent's attention, and getting yourself represented is half the battle. For example:

Publishing short stories lends you street cred. True, the agent is more interested in your writing than in your biography, but a biographical note that includes "Chester A. Author has recently published fiction in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker" will almost certainly catch an agent's eye. That doesn't mean (s)he will immediately sign you, but (s)he might decide to send a request for a partial rather than a polite rejection.

Literary agents read literary journals. I know a few (and know of several more) agents who regularly read literary magazines in search of new talent. The more you publish, the higher your profile.

Literary agents recommend writing and writers to each other. Even if your dream agent hasn't read anything in which you've been published, (s)he still has plenty of friends, colleagues, and friends of colleagues who may have. Remember: a huge number of new authors are signed based on recommendations rather than via queries culled from the slush.

Publishing short stories entails writing short stories, and writing short stories entails a ton of practice. It goes without saying, but if you've written enough to publish several short stories in reputable magazines and journals, you've put a fair amount of time and effort into your writing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: patience and discipline are worth more in this business than talent and luck (though you'll need some of the former and a lot of the latter).

There you have it, amigos and -as. So now, prithee, inform me: which magazines/journals do you regularly read or subscribe to? Where do you find new authors? Which authors or stories have you read recently that you loved, were excited about, or recommended to others?

Monday, June 20, 2011

In Fact, I'll Commend It Again

Television for Children Ages 8 – 10

Raunchy Late Night Comedies

Science Fiction/Fantasy with a Strong Female Lead

If any of this looks familiar, we'd probably be bros in real life: these are a few of the category recommendations Netflix has recently made for me. Whether it's via Netflix, Amazon, or our friends and families, recommendation is an undeniable and potent factor in our media consumption decision-making.

Now for the book-related part of today's segment! Some books I've recently been told I absolutely must read:

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Bossypants by Tina Fey

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

What's been recently recommended to you, gentle readers?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Great Late Night Round Up

Friday round up with Laura:

Happy belated round up, friends and foes! It's late, but hopefully soon you'll hear Samuel L. Jackson reading you the sweet, sweet words: Go the Fuck to Sleep. If that's not your jam, you can preorder your copy of Pawnee by Leslie Knope, which I super want. Or you can grumble about the whole Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher thing. People are grumbling. (I am one of them. — E)

I've brought you a list of the top 100 nonfiction books, so you have something to read until the big Pottermore reveal next week. And you can read about Amanda Hocking before you can read her new books. Fun? Paper or ebook, she'll still need an editor. Let's hope one of her novels isn't a (gasp) fake memoir. The shock would send me off the edge, and make me in dire need of extreme survival books for my extreme sadness.

I'm full of information now, so mourn the death of first print, be jealous of the top Amazon reviewers who get swag, and see you next week!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Publishing Time

I was reading an article in The New Yorker awhile back by a foreign correspondent in West Africa who introduced to me the phenomenon of "African time." This consists of a much more relaxed attitude toward scheduling, punctuality, and time in general across many African countries than is traditionally found in the United States.

In case you're curious, there is such a thing as "publishing time," and it's similar in some respects. An editor might sit on an e-mail for two weeks even though it could be answered in five minutes; an assistant might take a week to read a partial even if (s)he could reasonably get to it in an afternoon; a marketing or sales manager might take several days to post materials to an internal website even though it could probably have been done much sooner.

A lot of this is the result of the kind of prioritization and reprioritization that is endemic not only to publishing, but to any major corporate enterprise—some projects just keep getting pushed back. Some of it, however, is due to the nature of the business.

Publishing—at least in general, and at least below the very top echelons of management—is not a fast-paced business, and the sense of urgency and desire for efficiency you might find in the offices of an investment bank or law firm don't generally exist, simply because publishing doesn't generally attract the sorts of people you often find in those fields. Couple that with the overworked staff of smaller publishers and the bureaucratic red tape of the Big Six, and it's no wonder you haven't heard back about that royalty check question you posed a month ago.

Publishing professionals are not inefficient or lazy, but a combination of multitasking/prioritizing and the culture of the industry means that it may take awhile for your e-mails to be returned, your manuscript to be read, your questions to be answered. Be patient, but don't be afraid to send reminders or request something a second time if your initial query is met with a protracted silence. We're not ignoring you, I promise! We're just busy. And a little strange.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Prithee, Inform Me: Summer Releases

'Tis the season for new releases, mes auteurs, and I was curious as to which you're most excited about!

While there are a number of books I'm dying to read, I'm most looking forward to A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (July 12th, fiction), Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems by Marvin Bell (July 1st, poetry), and In My Time by Dick Cheney (August 30th, memoir). That last one should be pretty interesting.

In music (in which I have really eclectic taste), I'm pretty excited for Alpocalypse by "Weird Al" Yankovic (June 21st). Why? Because it's his first studio release in five years and the album contains a track called "Polka Face." Done and done.

Finally, in movies, I am super amped for the Green Lantern film this week (June 17th)! I've been waiting for this movie since I was about six, folks. If it disappoints me, I may never recover.

What about you, cats & kittens? What are you looking forward to in books, music, movies, and more over the next three months?

Friday, June 10, 2011

V.S. Naipaul, Videos, Vampires: Round Up

Friday round up with Laura:

It's been a while, friends and foes, but I'm back—with tons of important book news. Most important: have you seen the Breaking Dawn trailer? It's... well, I dunno, it's fine? I know Mitt Romney is excited, even if we're not all in agreement about whether or not lit professors should read Twilight. If you're looking for book-to-movie trailers, I can also provide I Don't Know How She Does It, the trailer, the trailer for Mr. Popper's Penguins, a True Blood sneak peek, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, trailer edition. I've also got the best and worst book trailers.

For those who'd rather not waste half an hour on videos (although why not? It's Friday!), I've got a cup full of controversy for you. First was the case of V.S. Naipaul v. women, where Naipaul holds that women can't write. And it must be true, because a man said it. QED, society. Heck, I'm not even writing this, I'm dictating to a typing chimp who edits for me. A male chimp, of course. Then again, the chimp bombed this quiz of guess what gender wrote this, so what does he know?

The other shenanigan wagon was the whole "is YA too dark?" article. To which I say: as long as Jaycee Duggard's abduction, captivity, and innumerable rapes are on the 6 o'clock news, no, it isn't. Problem solved. Or, if you'd prefer more arguments, here you go. If you need a little more direction, here's what Toni Morrison has to say about life, what Junot Diaz has to say about the apocalypse, and what his editor had to say to Roald Dahl. Also, a bonus: what text punctuation says about you.

So check our your periodic table of storytelling, get your Angry Birds cookbook, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Market Update

It's been awhile since I've talked about what seems to be selling, mes auteurs, so below are the five categories I've noticed particular growth in over the past few months.

Keep in mind that (1) these are based on a healthy mix of data and anecdotal evidence, and (2) these are my thoughts on what seems to be selling now, not what will necessarily be popular in a year (the earliest your book would come out, assuming it's acquired in short order).

Graphic novels. It's likely these are seeing a bump because summer is superhero movie season, but it's pretty clear that this category is up from earlier this year. And (according to BookScan) it's not just properties with movies out/forthcoming, such as Thor or Green Lantern, so if you happen to be a graphic novel type of guy or gal, this is good news for you.

YA apocalyptic fiction. This (to my mind, anyway) was probably touched off by Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games in the same way vampire mania was touched off by Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, but I feel like I'm seeing an awful lot of end-of-the-world scenarios (Harold Camping's failed Rapture prediction and the New Age folks' Mayan 2012 nonsense notwithstanding).

Weird diet books. I've seen everything from "only eat raw foods and if you eat a cooked vegetable you will die" to "feel free to eat your weight in bacon." Some of this is probably seasonal—while a ton of diet books come out in January, I figure there's always a beach season bump—but I feel like I've been getting an earful about Paleolithic diets, raw food diets, Mediterranean diets, and no- or low-carb diets for months.

Thrillers/horror novels. While I still firmly believe the mass market paperback is on its way out, sales appear to be holding steady in this format for thrillers and horror novels (not so much straight mysteries, for some reason). Again, it's beach season, and I imagine anyone without a Kindle is buying a stack of inexpensive paperbacks for the beach or pool.

Romance. A perennial favorite, romance is probably doing well for the same reasons as the aforementioned thrillers—it's generally inexpensive and great for beach or poolside reading. Romance readers also tend to buy repeatedly and generally buy more books per purchase than other readers, so the effect may be amplified by those kinds of consumer habits.

That's all I've got for today, cats & kittens. What books have you been hearing about/reading about/seeing everywhere lately?

Monday, June 6, 2011

It Came From The Cloud

First, many thanks to our five guest posters from last week! The activity in the comments section and on Twitter seem to indicate that all were fun, informative, and well-received, and I tip my digital hat to the five of you.

I'm still unpacking and settling in from my vacation, so today's post will be about you. Prithee, inform me, ladies and gents: how do you feel about Apple's iCloud?

Personally, I fear that Apple will use my information for iNiquity™, but that could just be my own paranoia talking. While I initially balked at the idea—Apple has made its name principally as a hardware, rather than software, manufacturer—I've since realized that this is a pretty smart move for the company. Most of the people I know who own Apple machines own multiple devices (laptop, desktop, iPhone, iPod, iPad, &c), and being able to link them together via the magic of the iNterwebz™ makes a lot of sense.

So, while I'm not sure I'll be partaking in Apple's newest venture—what about you?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Guest Post: My Novel Cracked 10 Amazon Top-100 Lists—YOURS Can Too!

by Phoenix Sullivan

That headline is true. But is it truth?

We're jaded, right? Bombarded by marketing every day, we turn a blind eye to all the "Look At Me, Me, ME" headlines. Until one pops up that hits our hot button. That promises to help us write better, attract an agent, get published or gain a huge audience. Deep in our hearts, we know better than to be reeled in by such claims.

Tenet One of good marketing is to not make false claims. There are laws against that, even if you're happy to ignore ethics. But what's the definition of "false?" As Cyrano so aptly put it: "...a lie is a sort of myth, and a myth is a sort of truth." Marketing spins its gold in shades of myth.

Readers see a headline about a book being on a list and, while they might not be persuaded to buy, it makes a favorable eyes-on impression. Being "on a list" legitimizes not just the book but the buyer's purchase of that book. It makes buying less-risky behavior. What the casual reader will never ask is: Which list? They're happy just to register the statement at face value.

But you're not a casual reader. You're reading beyond the headline. Not because you give a rat's patooty about which lists, but because you want to know how YOUR book can get on those lists, too—am I right?

You've probably read about the importance of metatagging everything you do online for better SEO—search engine optimization. Amazon in no different. When you upload your book, Amazon lets you choose two categories (genres/subgenres) out of a set of predefined tags. So even if, like mine, your novel set in the Dark Ages is a cross between women’s fiction and historical fiction and features strong romantic elements as well as war, you can only choose two pre-set categories for it. The good news is Amazon lets you input more key subject tags—these of your own making—limited only by a ceiling on the total number of characters you can use.

Input your subject tags wisely! They serve two purposes. The first is to help buyers find your book. That means a couple of the tags may just be a word that people might input into the search field when they're looking for a book like yours. I included "knights" and "Camelot."

Category tags are predefined by Amazon.
Subject tags are defined by whoever uploads the book.
They can be anything, limited only
by a predefined total character count.

The second purpose is one you can use to your marketing advantage: subgenre lists. My novel, Spoil of War, is part of the King Arthur canon. People reading historical fiction will likely use "Arthurian" as a search word, so I created these related tags: Arthurian romance, Arthurian fiction, historical fiction Arthurian. Romance readers, though, would likely refer to the time period as medieval, so I included a "medieval" tag. Include multiple ways of phrasing your subgenres if you can. Because here's a secret: Your rankings on the bestseller lists depend on EXACT phrasing of these tags—"99 cent" and "99 cents" may well return different results.

By creating areas of smaller markets for your book using subject tags, your book is no longer competing with the entire Amazon catalog but just its designated genres. That could mean anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand books.

Now, Amazon has a nifty little filter for its book searches. The default filter for whatever term you enter is "relevance." I have no idea how relevance is determined; part of it is based on words in the title and description, of course, but it also somehow changes with number of sales. It’s good to be relevant, because few readers will ever filter the first results they get. It can only help your relevancy rankings if the title you input contains the search words. For example, I deliberately included the tagline "An Arthurian Saga" in my title.

By changing the "relevance" filter to "bestselling," the search engine will rank the books returned in your results by whatever calculations Amazon uses to determine bestselling rankings. You can also produce lists that include all books in the Amazon store or just those in the Kindle store. (Barnes and Noble has a similar search, only they use the term "top matches" instead of "relevance.")

So that’s how I manipulated Spoil's way onto 10 of Amazon's bestselling lists. And since anyone can go out and reproduce these lists for themselves, my conscience is clear in touting the book's status on them, with the caveat that these lists change hourly.

With a little planning on the front side and scrolling through search results on the hind end, no reason why you can't also spin the rankings in your favor, as well.

But this only works for books selling hundreds of copies daily, right? YOUR book that's selling only a couple of copies per day doesn't have a snowball's chance of appearing in any impressive-sounding category. *Snort* Smoke and mirrors, folks. Amazon rankings are calculated using historical and current sales. I launched Spoil of War on March 31 and sold 37 copies on the US site, 13 copies on the UK site, and 11 copies through B&N in April. For May, as of May 20, I’d sold 32 copies on Amazon US, just 3 on Amazon UK, and 10 at B&N.

I tracked my rankings from May 18 to 20, and you can see the shift in rankings that only 1 or 2 purchases per day can produce.

Now that I've got the numbers to brag with, I just need to figure out how to reach more readers to let them know that buying Spoil of War is a non-risky, community-sanctioned purchase. Everyone must be buying it. It wouldn't be in those top-100 lists otherwise, right?

True or truth? You decide.

In the corporate world, Phoenix Sullivan was a professional writer and editor for 23 years. She blogs at, a site to help writers hone their queries and synopses, and a place to show off the beasties on her small farm in North Texas.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Post: Eating the Elephant

by Lexi George

As a mom with a full-time job, I’ve always had to squeeze time out of my busy schedule for writing. I’ve been writing steadily for more than fifteen years, but for the first few years it was hit and miss, a little writing here, a little writing there. No pressure or time constraints and no real goals, other than to finish the manuscript I was working on... at some point.

In my forties, with the ugly Five-O looming on the horizon like Godzilla with a bad case of hammer toe, I got serious about writing. If I was going to do this, I’d better get cracking, I told myself. I was going to finish the darn book and get published before my fiftieth birthday.

Good grief, fifty! Where did all the time go? If I didn’t do this thing by then, it was all over but the crying. Of course, I knew my odds of getting published were slim—my husband is a numbers guy—but I didn’t dwell on them. I had a goal.

With Doomsday looming ahead, most days I managed to carve out some writing time. I had a self-imposed deadline to meet, with dead being the operative word. Fifty, sheesh. D-Day crept closer and closer, and Godzilla eschewed orthotics.

As writing became a more regular habit, I began to get anxious if I didn’t get my daily dose of prose. There were still plenty of times when life intruded upon my creative efforts, so I cut myself a little slack. I set a goal of writing a chapter a week, which for me averages anywhere from 2500 to 3700 words. That way, if I missed a day because of work or the kids, I could make it up the next day without feeling guilty or anxious.

Did I mention that guilt is a motivating factor for me? Guilt is my friend and my enemy. It keeps me on the straight and narrow, but it also makes me crazy as a June bug.

I finished the manuscript I was working on before Doomsday, but I didn’t get published. I have the pile of rejection letters to prove it. A quite impressive pile of rejection letters, I must say. Enough to wallpaper several bathrooms.

Fifty came and went and I kept writing. I decided to try my hand at something else, a romance about Addy, a small town Southern florist and a hunky immortal demon slayer named Brand. Lo and behold, thanks to luck, prayer and a lot of help from friends, Demon Hunting in Dixie sold to Kensington in a three-book deal! Holy smokes! Great jumping Jehoshaphat, I’m a published writer. Whoo hoo!

Then I got a reality check. I was given my first deadline, a deadline set by the publisher and not my inner nag. I had to complete a 30,000 word novella in three months. Having learned a little about time management and goal setting over the years, I gave myself a goal of 10,000 words a month, highly doable, given the fact I haven’t quit my day job or turned in my mom card. I am happy to say I met my first deadline. The novella, The Bride Wore Demon Dust, comes out this August as part of a Halloween anthology from Kensington entitled So I Married A Demon Slayer. The icing on my cake of happiness is the fact that I’m in the anthology with paranormal romance writers extraordinaire Angie Fox and Kathy Love. Somebody pinch me!

Then my second reality check came: the deadline for book two of the demon hunter series. I’m hard at work on it, but I will admit it has been challenging. I am a slow writer (I revise as I go) and I haven’t given up my day job or put up my teenager for adoption. But I will get there!

So, my advice is to set goals, whether they be daily, weekly, or month. Whatever it takes to get your butt in the chair.

When you set out to eat an elephant, take small bites. That’s my philosophy and it works for me.

Oh, and by the way, I’m fifty-four. Life didn’t end at fifty and neither did my passion for writing.

Or my ability to dream and reach for that big, brass ring.

Hmm, wonder what I should shoot for next?

Lexi George is an appellate lawyer by day and a romance writer by night. She started her writing career in the third grade penning bad poetry about hydrangea bushes and Erik the Red. Ironically, she ended up marrying a Viking, a Northern boy who came to Alabama with the Air Force and stayed. She wrote poetry all through high school and college. And then she decided to go to law school and the muse left in a huff. The muse hated law school.

The muse returned when Lexi’s oldest child was a toddler and Lexi has been writing ever since. After piling up an impressive number of rejections on her first book, a fantasy romance that she worked on for more than ten years, Lexi decided to try her hand at something else. The result was
Demon Hunting in Dixie, a paranormal romance about demon hunters in the Deep South. The muse is very happy, and so is Lexi.

Visit Lexi on Facebook and Twitter (lexigeorge12) and check out her website at

Demon Hunting in Dixie is available from:,,,,, or your favorite retailer.