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?