Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Contracts No Author Should Sign

As PG has read book contracts for his clients (Thank You!) and contracts contributed to his Contract Collection (Thank You!), one message keeps coming through loud and strong.

Contempt.

Contempt for authors.

Contempt from publishers for authors.

Contempt from agents for authors.
Passive Guy (PG), from The Passive Voice blog, is the alter ego of David P. Vandagriff, an attorney who works with contracts and his superpower is making contracts understandable, even interesting!
Many publishers have their version of a clause designed to capture new book rights that will be invented one hundred years from now.

Publishers were blind-sided by ebooks and have had to simply claim their contracts included ebooks even when the contract never mentioned anything but hardcovers and paperbacks.

Publishers know that if an author takes them to court, a judge will ask a question something like, “Where does it talk about ebooks in this contract?” Publisher’s counsel will respond by talking about emanations and penumbras floating around paragraph 15 and subparagraph 21(d). The judge’s well-honed BS meter will quickly be pegged in the red zone.

A contract is supposed to reflect the intentions of the parties at the time it is signed. Copyright law includes a presumption that any right not expressly granted by an author is deemed reserved to the author. If an author requests a standard reservation of rights clause, even a publisher may feel embarrassed by refusing to include it.

So, in the tradition of fighting the last war, we see a Rights Clause whereby the author grants the publisher the sole and exclusive right to create or produce or cause to magically appear any book or book-like object or book idea and beam the result into the sky in any form which is now or may in the future be stumbled-upon or imagined or hallucinated by the mind of man and/or machine in any conceivable or inconceivable way and anywhere throughout the world and the universe, whether presently mapped or unmapped.

In the reality-based business world, if PG received a contract including a clause like this, he would call opposing counsel and ask, “Sally, what are you smoking?”

In the traditional publishing world, the author is supposed to sign at the bottom of the page.

Contempt.

Finally (for this post), there are all the smarmy little attempts to put one over on an author. PG can appreciate well-crafted deviousness just for the art of it, but these are stupid deviousness.

How to choose between so many candidates for discussion?

Passive Guy will return to last July for this one, an audit clause:
Author may, with sixty (60) days’ written notice but not more than once a year, assign and designate a certified and independent public accountant to examine Publisher’s records as they relate to the Work. Such examination shall be at Author’s expense unless errors are found in excess of ten percent (10%) of royalties in Author’s favor, then Publisher shall pay amounts owing for the Work and the reasonable cost of the audit.

As a condition precedent to the exercise by Author of his/her right to examine the books and records of Publisher, Author’s duly authorized certified and independent public accountant shall execute an agreement to the effect that any information obtained as a result of such examination shall be held strictly confidential and shall not be revealed to any third party other than Author or her representative without written permission by Publisher. Author also hereby agrees to hold all information and statements provided to Author or her accountant in strictest confidence.

Do you see the smarmy deviousness?

In order to perform an audit to determine if the publisher is stealing from the author, the accountant hired by the author will have to sign an agreement, an agreement the publisher will create.

How hard is it for the publisher to create an agreement no accountant will ever sign? Not very.

No signature, no audit. You’ll just have to be satisfied with the numbers we decide to put on your royalty report, dearie.
To read the rest of PGs marvelous rant about contracts, click here: How to Read a Book Contract – Contempt

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Do Ebook Buyers Discover Books?


1. Recommendations from fellow readers on online message forums, blogs and message boards.

2. New books from a reader's favorite authors.

3. Random browsing. Readers look at book covers, reviews, download free samples.

Mark Coker conducted a survey and the above is an abridged report of what he found. Interestingly, bestseller lists weren't a major factor in how readers discovered new ebooks. (The graphic, above, expands if you click it. It lists the various ways ebook buyers discover ebooks.)

Read Mark Coker's post here: How Ebook Buyers Discover Books

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazon's 79 Dollar eReader: Good for writers?


Heck yea! $79 dollars for an eReader? I have an iPad, am the cheapest person I know, and I'm tempted to get one. I think this will be the device that will knock a lot of people off the should-I-get-an-eReader fence. That means more people wanting ebooks, a lot more. Writers sold a lot of ebooks last year but I predict that this Christmas will make last year seem anemic by comparison.

Articles about Amazon's announcement are all over the web, but here's the news:
When Amazon gathered technology and publishing journalists for a press conference in New York on Wednesday, there was a buzz of excitement. The online bookseller was ready to debut its long-rumored tablet, the Kindle Fire.

The product itself wasn't all that exciting: it's a lot like the iPad, in that it can play movies and music. It retains its bookish roots by storing media on virtual shelves (pictured, right). The real news about the Kindle Fire is its bargain-basement price: $199.

That was the upshot of all the devices Amazon's Jeff Bezos presented: familiar, but cheaper.
$79 Kindle: Like the established and popular Kindle, but lighter and without the keyboard across the bottom (photo, at left).

$99 Kindle Touch: Like the Nook or Kobo, control of the Kindle touch is on the screen. It's an e-reader only, and, for a few dollars more, can be ad-free ($139) and connect with 3G ($159). See our Technology Blog for more info.

$199 Kindle Fire: A full-color multimedia tablet. Some say it's positioned to be an iPad killer; others say its low price will crash the rest of the tablet market. See our Technology Blog's report on the Kindle Fire.
The tactic Amazon seems to be taking is creating its own versions of established products and selling them for irresistibly low prices.
Read more here: Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, new e-readers target low-cost market

Book Blog: Good idea or bizarre miscalculation?


This blog started out being about book blogs and then it morphed into something slightly different. Is this post the better or the worse for it? I'll let you, kind reader, be the judge.

Book blogs. I've considered starting a book blog on and off for some time. As far as I understand it, a book blog contains bits of a work in progress. Not posts about a work in progress, the work itself.

I think I would name the blog, "The Naked Writer," after Jamie Oliver's show "The Naked Chef" where the idea was to "strip food down to its bare essentials"[1]. I guarantee you the blog would be PG, no nudity except the intellectual kind.

To test the waters, I've been thinking about writing a blog post containing the rough draft of a horror story I've been working on for the past few days. I know, I know, horror isn't my genre, I'm urban fantasy gal, but I wanted to challenge myself to do something different, something I've never tried before.

I've got the story more or less plotted out and have even started writing it but I feel like an extra little bit of motivation might be just what I need.


I want to skip out of the flow of this post for a moment (I told you about this!) to mention an incredible moment of ... what? synchronicity? Basically something happened that I think is pretty darn cool. Sneak peek: it involves Stephen King.

A few minutes ago I got up to get a cup of coffee and (it's a habit!) checked my email when I sat back down at my desk. One way I get content for my Twitter feed and this blog is though a bunch of Google Alters on a great many topics including Stephen King.

The latest Alert (I imagine them as spiders on a great web scuttling to and fro, juicy morsels of information grasped in their shiny chitinous jaws) contained a link to an interview. The article, "Stephen King: One of the best writers of all time?" was about King's collaboration on Scott Snyder's graphic novel series "American Vampire".

Okay, bla, bla, bla, here's what I've been leading up to. At one point in the interview Snyder is asked:
Q: Horror plays a big role in your books. Where did you get this wild imagination?
Synder's answer is great, and I'd encourage you folks to read it in its entirety, but here's the part of Snyder's answer that made me catch my breath:
... for me, really, really good horror is a character being challenged by their greatest fear as it manifests itself in the form of either a monster or just a challenge. It really cuts to the heart of what that character is afraid of. The story matters in that way, especially in comics, where you are taking these characters that are so heroic and have so many amazing qualities, and then going for something that you think is a great quality but also going for the weak side of that thing.
Q: Can you give us some examples from the superhero world?
For Superman, it’s almost like the fact that he’s a god, or almost a god, in terms of his limitless power can also be something that you could write a story about in a way that really frightens him about being completely alienated and lonely and turned upon by everyone. Or, for Batman, his knowledge of Gotham, his pathological and obsessive needs to not have connections to people and just be the best there is. You could easily do a story where that’s thrown in his face by somebody like the Joker who’s calling him crazy and saying, “You should live in the Asylum with us.” At that point the Bat-world is like Stephen King; it puts you in a situation where you face your fears, where there are terrible things you did … or the things that you don’t want to tell anyone about, but that you’re frightened of that are coming from life and coming for you in some way. In that way, I’ve always been a big fan of psychological horror. Or, it might just be that I watched too many of those slasher films in the ’80s.
Wow! The horror writer puts you, the reader, in a situation where you face your fears, where the terrible things things you did, the things you didn't want to tell anyone about, the things you're afraid will come to life, those things are coming for you.

As a writer, that's inspiring. I can see the ending for my short story. Gotta go write!

[1] From http://www.jamieoliver.com/tv-books/the-naked/chef

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Interview With Martin Lastrapes, Author of INSIDE THE OUTSIDE


This is my first interview and I am thrilled to be able to introduce Martin Lastrapes to you, author of Inside the Outisde. Before we get into the interview, here is a bit about Martin:
My name is Martin Lastrapes and I’m a novelist. I grew up in the Inland Empire, an eclectic region of Southern California with a rich history that nobody knows about, including most of the people who live there. Despite growing up in the region that birthed the Hell’s Angels, housed the first McDonald’s restaurant and is one of the foremost manufacturers and suppliers of crystal meth, I spent the great majority of my childhood watching professional wrestling and reading comic books, when I wasn’t busy avoiding homework or wondering when I should begin my evolution of becoming Batman.

In 2003 I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Creative Writing and in 2006 I earned a Master’s Degree in Composition, both from California State University, San Bernardino. While I loved the time I spent as an undergrad, I often reflect on graduate school as three years I will never get back. But, despite the hellish experience of graduate school, I have happily parlayed my academic résumé into a career as an English professor.

My writing has been published in various literary journals and websites, such as The Pacific Review and L.A. Voice. In 2004, I won awards for my short fiction from the Cal Poly Writer’s Conference, as well as the California Writer’s Club. I’m also a professional blogger. But, in the end, where it concerns writing, my primary focus and passion is on being a novelist. My debut novel, Inside the Outside, was published in July of 2011.

Q: After I wrote my book, UNTIL DEATH, I had to formulate what some people call an elevator pitch and describe it in 50 words or less. Give me yours for INSIDE THE OUTSIDE. Also, what is your favorite scene in the book?

Oh, right, the dreaded elevator pitch. Let's see...

Timber Marlow has lived her entire life within a cult of cannibals. After exploring the Outside—mainstream society—Timber sets into motion a series of events that culminate in her discovery of some unsettling truths about the world around her and the integral role she plays in it.

That was actually 46 words, so I suppose I have four to spare.  How about: She kills people, too.

As far as my favorite scene, there are quite a few that I like very much. But, if I had to pick one, it would probably be the first Sustenance Sacrifice in the story. Within the cult, the cannibals generally eat each other after a ritual they call the Sustenance Sacrifice, where one cult member is tied down and his (or her) head is chopped off by the cult leader. I remember finishing that scene and feeling like I'd done something really good, something that readers probably hadn't seen before.  I also remember feeling very uneasy as I imagined the scene and I wondered if I should tone it down.  But, ultimately, I decided that if I could imagine a scene that made me uneasy, then I should definitely keep it in the book.  And, so far, in my conversations with folks who've read the book, it's probably the scene that's gotten the most reactions.

Q: So, what first drew you to writing about cannibalism?

Well, I'm a vegetarian, so this certainly played a role. But I think also I was drawn to the idea of cannibalism from about the age of 6 or 7 after I saw the Wes Craven film The Hills Have Eyes: Part II. My godfather, Willard Pugh, is an actor and was one of the stars in the film. Upon watching it, I think it was my dad or my brother wo explained to me what a cannibal was. Later, when I was in college and studying creative writing, I read a book about farming, which, among other things, described the life of farms animals. I was pretty horrified by most of it. I got to wondering if other people would be equally horrified, but decided that they probably wouldn't be. Then the idea occurred to me of replacing the animals with people and writing a story about it. From that point on (which was about 10 years ago) I became obsessed with the idea of writing novel about cannibals. And the result of that obsession is my debut novel, Inside the Outside.

Q: In many quarters self-publishing is still viewed as an option of last resort and something that will forever besmirch a writer's name. I agree with Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and many others that this is not the case. That said, many writers of my acquaintance are steadfastly committed to traditional publishing and view with horror, and perhaps even some hostility, the attempts of their fellow writers to become independent authors. I spent some years in university and emerged with a degree in philosophy and psychology and it was my experience that my fellow academics tended to be conservative. Here is my question: why did you decide to self-publish and what has been the response of your colleagues or your writerly friends and acquaintances? 

Like many (if not most) writers, I first tried to get published through the traditional route of getting a literary agent to represent me and have them shop my writing around to editors and publishers. I spent at least a year or so shopping Inside the Outside around to literary agents and small publishing presses and while there was plenty of rejection, I also got the occasional bit of interest that almost always culminated into some version of the following: "This sounds good, but I don't think it's right for me." Because Inside the Outside touches on some controversial issues and presents graphic images, often of a violent or sexual nature, I knew that it might be a tough sell. But I also knew (or, at the very least, was very confident) that I had written a good book.  And, more than that, I knew, given a chance, there was an audience for my book. So the more rejections I collected, the more I realized I had two options: 1) I could keep playing the publishing lottery in the hopes of hitting the jackpot, or 2) I could take my fate into my own hands.  In the end, option #2 was more appealing, so I started Cannibal Press. The best part about being having my own publishing press is knowing that any book I decide to write will definitely get published. That's a very liberating feeling as an author, because it means all I have to worry about is writing the best book possible.  And, really, that's all any writer should have to worry about.

Q: Having self-published, how are you finding the experience and how is the reality of self-publishing different from your expectations?

The experience of self-publishing is extremely gratifying.  I expected it to be a lot of work and I suppose you can say I wasn't disappointed.  The publishing process itself was challenging, but, in the end I enjoyed it.  And even in post-publication, there is still work to be done everyday, primarily in the form of marketing and promoting.  From posting on my website (martinlastrapes.com), Facebook (facebook.com/MartinLastrapes), and Twitter (@MartinLastrapes), there is always something to do.  And, of course, trying to balance all of that, while also working on my second novel, as well as a screenplay adaptation of Inside the Outside, is pretty tricky at times.  But, even if I were a traditionally published author, I imagine I'd still be working just as hard doing most, if not all, of the same things. 

Q: Writing a novel is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?

For me, the most important part of a novel is the story, so I work out the story arc chapter by chapter.  I make sure all the primary characters have their own story arcs and that each of those story arcs coincides with the larger story.  Once all of that is worked out, then it's just a matter of writing the chapters I've outlined.  Of course, I did things a little differently with the novel I'm currently working on.  The only thing I knew when I started was I wanted to write a vampire novel.  I'd actually been itching to write a vampire story of any sort for about seven or eight years, I just didn't have any idea of what it would be about (plus I had my hands full writing Inside the Outside). Instead of waiting for an idea to come to me, I decided to just start writing. I began with the following sentence:

"Adam first sucked Olivia’s blood in the sandbox of Heritage Park, stopping briefly to yank the crucifix from her neck as it seared a red cross on the top of his hand."

From there I just started writing, stream-of-consciousness style. My hope was that I would create some characters and put them in interesting situations and, with any luck, a larger story would present itself. By the time I finished the fourth chapter, I figured out what the story was about.  I spent about a solid week outlining the whole rest of the novel. Of course, the outline isn't set in stone.  If, along the way, one character develops into something different than I imagined, then I simply go with it, while simultaneously making the necessary adjustments to my outline.  In this way, I give myself a structure to work within, without sacrificing any spontaneity or creative freedom.

Q: What is the best writing advice you ever received?

The best advice I ever received is to keep the writing simple.  Just tell the story. You never want to be so fancy or cute with your prose that you make it difficult for the reader to follow along. If you frustrate the reader, then you've defeated the purpose of writing your story at all. The other piece of advice that served me well was this: The only way to know if you're ready to write a novel is you have to write a novel.

Q: What do you most enjoy about writing?

Storytelling.  More than anything, I love trying to tell a good story. This, of course, comes from my love of being told a good story - be it in a book, a film, or simply in conversation.  If readers come to think of me as a storyteller, rather than a writer, I wouldn't complain.

Q: What advice would you give a new writer?

Read. Read, read, read. If you're going to be a writer, you have to read and you have to read a lot. If you want to be a filmmaker, you watch as many movies as you can.  So, if you want to be a writer (novelist or otherwise), you must read as many books as you can.   

Q: What is the most important thing that you have learned through writing? This could be something about the craft of writing, but it could also be something about yourself.

There are any number of things that I've learned from writing, but, in the interest of keeping this answer to a reasonable length, I'd say writing has taught me about the discipline needed to complete large, overwhelming projects.  Nobody writes a novel in one sitting. A novel is written in pieces, large and small, over a period of time.  And if you're not taking the time to produce those pieces, then it very simply won't get done. This is something that not only implies to my writing, but also my life in general.

Q: What was the most difficult challenge you faced when putting your book together?

The most difficult part was writing the second half of the book. The first draft of the book contained a second half that I would just as soon like to forget. Luckily, I got some good constructive feedback from other writers whose opinions I trust. Following that, I decided to blow up the second half of the book (about 40,000 words) and start writing it over again from scratch. This was challenging because I had to re-think the story, the characters, and the overall narrative arc. And, on top of all that, I had to make sure it stayed consistant with the first half of the book.

Martin, thank you for being my first interviewee! Best of luck to you. To read more of Martin's writing, drop by his website and blog at www.martinlastrapes.com.

Edit: I forgot to mention that Martin did an interview with me! You can read it here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

12 Must-Dos for the Serious Blogger


If you follow these steps will your blog be wildly popular? As Jay Baer, the author of, "12 Most Imperative Must-Dos for the Serious Blogger," says, there's no guarantee, but you'll have decent shot at it. Here are three of Jay's imperatives for a successful blog:
1. Be patient. Every blogger starts with the exact same audience… zero. Eventually, relatives will read your blog, followed by sympathetic friends and neighbors. And then you’ll be on your way. But this notion that you start a blog and it becomes “a big deal” overnight is as rare as Keanu Reeves nailing a Victorian British accent.
2. Be specific. You have to have a clear sense of what your blog is about, and for whom you’re writing. There are no shortage of blogs out there, and if you’re going to successfully compete with a site like 12 Most, you better have a sharp understanding of what role you play in the educational or entertainment panoply of your audience.
3. Be consistent. Imagine if you subscribed to a magazine and it showed up at your house only whenever they “felt like” publishing an issue? The surprise factor might add a sprinkle of delight for a time, but the unpredictability would become irksome. We prefer to consume content in a disciplined and patterned way. Your blog should not contradict that circumstance.

The hard truth is that not every blog post you craft will be your best work. Nor is every meal you create, sentence you utter, hug you lavish, or bed you make. Nobody is at their best at all times. So this notion that some bloggers cling to of only writing when they “have something important to say” wrongly values inspiration over predictability.

As long as your quality doesn’t suffer markedly, recognize that more = more. Seven posts a week are better for your business than five. Five is better than three. And if you can’t write two posts a week, you’re probably kidding yourself if you think you can drive real business results from your blog.
I encourage everyone interested in growing an audience for a blog to head on over to The 12 Most ... and read the rest of Jay Bear's article, 12 Most Imperative Must-Dos for the Serious Blogger.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Seth Godin: How to overcome writer's block


We've all heard of writer's block, so why not talker's block? Questions like these are why I love Seth Godin's blog.
No one ever gets talker's block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why then, is writer's block endemic?

The reason we don't get talker's block is that we're in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn't, and if we're insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker's block after all this practice?

Writer's block isn't hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly--you don't need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you're concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.
I didn't feel right copying and pasting Seth's entire blog post, but I wanted to because it was so good! I encourage you all to go to Seth's site and finish reading this most excellent article: Talker's Block.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How does a beginning writer build an audience?

Word-of-mouth advertising can only work if you have fans out there spreading the word. This then is presumed to be a chicken and egg dilemma. How can you have word-of-mouth if you don’t have fans, and how can you have fans without word-of-mouth? Therefore self-publishing can’t work.
Michael J. Sullivan writes:
What I find so fascinating about this argument is that it is like a magic trick. It appears real until you’re shown how the magic is done and then it is just so obvious. Until then however, the argument can be quite convincing.
....
It was about this time that I saw an episode of The West Wing. It was a rerun, but I hadn’t seen it before. This was one of the later episodes where Santos is running for President. It doesn’t matter if you know the show or not, the point is that this guy was running for President, and no one knew who he was. His successful and experienced campaign manager took him to New Hampshire to start his campaign. And Santos, like me, expected there would be this rally, or convention where he would address hundreds of people. And just like me that didn’t happen because hundreds of people didn’t know he existed. Instead he was driven to the city dump, where people were known to frequent, and he was instructed to walk up to folks as they dumped their garbage and introduce himself. Just as you might expect Santos looked at his manager incredulously. He was running for President of the United States, not city council of Concord. This was ridiculous! How can you get to be President if you can’t get people to come hear your speeches? If no one knows who you are, how can you gain a following, and without a following how can people know who you are? How can you get fans if you don’t have fans?

The answer is very simple, so simple it is hard to accept especially for those expecting more, and I’ve noticed people are always expecting more, expecting life to be easier than it is. There is this idea that when you are published, you’ve done the same as winning the lottery, and now all your troubles are over. You’ll be able to quit your day job, and spend your time basking in the adoration of your fans. This is the fantasy, but the reality is a bit different.

The truth is—the answer to the question of how you get fans without first having word-of-mouth is…one at a time.

This sounds insane, I know. When I finally realized that I was expected to build a beach one grain of sand at a time, I was stunned. Really? Do you know how long that will take? The sheer absurdity of the size of such a task is overwhelming. I just did the impossible! I wrote a novel, and I got it published! Do you know how hard that is? And my reward is that I have to build a beach grain of sand by grain of sand? Are you nuts?

I went to my first signing like Santos went to the dump. I introduced myself and felt foolish doing so.

“Excuse me, sir. Can I tell you about my book?”
“You wrote it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“So you’re an author?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Huh. I’m just here with my wife. She likes these romance books. Honey, you want to talk to this guy, he’s an author!”
“No! I’ve got what I came for, I just need to pay for it.” She had a copy of one of the Twilight books under her arm.

At this point I wanted to crawl under a desk somewhere.

“But he wrote this book—he’s a real author. Tell her what your book’s about.”

In my mind I was imagining stabbing myself in the eye with an ice pick. Can I leave now? But I grudgingly went through the motions of explaining, knowing it is pointless and humiliating at the same time. I’d never sell any books like this. This isn’t what I thought being an author would be like. I might as well give up and keep whatever shred of dignity I have left.

“Will you sign it for me?” she asks.

“Huh?” I ask. “You want to buy it?”

“Sure.”

“Really?”

Afterwards I turned to my wife with a huge grin on my face and she smiled back then whispered in my ear. “Next time try not to look so shocked.”
Read the rest of Michael Sullivan's article here: A Sandy Beach is No Vacation

Friday, September 23, 2011

Robertson Davies: Asking an author if their work is autobiographical is like ...

To ask an author who hopes to be a serious writer if his work is autobiographical is like asking a spider where he buys his thread. The spider gets his thread right out of his own guts, and that is where the author gets his writing.
--Robertson Davies
Thanks to Veronika Corvine for the quotation.

Dan Wells On Writing A Short Story


I love advice on how to structure stories and I like Dan Well's system. Here's a talk Dan Wells gave at Life, The Universe, and Everything in early 2010.

Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 1 of 5


Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 2 of 5


Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 3 of 5


Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 4 of 5


Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 5 of 5

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Writers Stand Up: A Writer's Bill Of Rights

On Thursday, the Writers’ Union of Canada released “A Writer’s Bill of Rights for the Digital Age.” ... Demands include that
“the publisher shall split the net proceeds of ebook sales equally with the author”
and that
“when a book is out of print in print form, continuing sales in electronic form shall not prevent a rights reversion to the author.”
Author Greg Hollingshead, chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, answered some questions about the bill of rights.
Read the article here: Writers’ Union of Canada issues digital “Bill of Rights”

Kris Rusch: Why Traditional Publishing Is Going To Do Just Fine

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes:
Traditional publishing is going to do just fine. Traditional publishing is going to find writer after writer unwilling to learn the business, writer after writer lining up for the “honor” of being published in lieu of actual money, and, if the traditional publisher is lucky, a few of those writers will become bestsellers.

The rest of those writers will become disillusioned. They’ll go to writers conferences and sit in the bar and kvetch about how impossible it is to make money at writing these days. They’ll talk about the way their publisher screwed them, and they’ll never ever ever take responsibility for the fact that they signed the boneheaded contract in the first place without a single attempt at negotiation.

They’ll give all of us professionals a bad name.

But it won’t matter. Because most of us professionals will only take traditional publishing deals when the deals are advantageous to our business. And the rest of the time, we’ll publish our own books.

We’ll have careers because we are responsible. And we’ve taken the time to learn the business of publishing as well as the craft of writing.

We’re professional writers—emphasis on the word “professional.” And these other published writers? The ones who take the crap deals and do a ridiculous amount of work for no pay?

Those people might be writers, but that’s all they are. They’re certainly not professionals.
Kris Rusch let loose this Thursday and wrote one of her best blog posts ever. She explains that she "had started with some namby-pamby crap that had nothing to do with the topic at hand" and then her frustration got the better of her.

Kris writes:
You see, I’m really getting frustrated. I’ve been doing these blogs for months now, pointing out the various problems with traditional publishing, talking about the changes and the opportunities presented by the e-book and POD revolution, and warning writers to watch their backs on contracts, on their work time, on compromising too much for too little return.

And then what happens? From the World Science Fiction Convention in late August until now, people who should know better have been telling me about their business decisions. That “should know better” refers not just to the decision, but to telling me about it. Because in every single case but one, they’ve contacted me after the decision was made, and wanted me to validate it or to pat them on the head and tell them they did a good thing.

One person even admitted they had “probably made a mistake, but it’s not that bad, right?” Well, it was bad. On the scale of business decisions in the last 20 years, it wasn’t Enron or even what’s going on with Netflix right now, but it was most certainly boneheaded and it certainly made me glad that my career wasn’t tied to that person’s.
Here's what happened to occasion the ire that inspired Kris' post:
Since the beginning of August, six different authors have talked to me, emailed me, or called me, asking my advice about a new “deal” that someone in their traditional publishing company offered them. (By traditional publishing company, I mean one of the misnamed Big Six [it’s not six, that’s wrong, but I’ve railed about it elsewhere to no avail]. i mean one of those publishing houses we’ve all heard of, whose books we all have on our shelves.)

These companies are telling their authors to write a short story or a novella (or short novel) that will be e-book only. The short piece doesn’t have to stand alone. It should be part of an ongoing series of books that the publishing house has under contract from the author. It’s a “loss leader” to get readers into the book series.

The publishing company plans to offer the e-book at a very cheap price or for free to establish interest in the series, and because that e-book will be cheap, the company says, it wants to keep its up-front costs low. So it really can’t afford an advance, but it will pay 25% of net on royalties when/if the e-book sells.

Now realize that these are the deals offered by major publishers to bestselling writers on bestselling series. No advance, and a crappy 25% of net on royalties—of a book that will probably be selling for free for only a short time.

Six writers that I know of have taken this deal, three from companies that are having troubles accurately reporting their e-book sales. Two of those writers told me they knew that, but it “didn’t bother them much.” Um…what?
I think that one of the key points here is that the authors didn't get an advance from companies (these are all Big Six comapanies) who are known to underreport ebook sales. Kris continues:
But chances are, if you are truly a bestseller—and both contracts said in the book description, a story/novella/short piece “in the Author’s bestselling series”, so I’m not making any assumptions here—then your editor will sigh a little when you ask for an advance, and then pony up the money.

Because editors are smart and they know business and they were simply trying to do what their boss wanted, which was to get as many rights from you for as little money as possible.

And in the case of five of the six authors (I still don’t know what the sixth did), those publishers made out like bandits. These writers might see a few measly pennies on this deal, but I’ll wager you that the writers will not get the money they’re owed. After all, at least three of these deals were offered by companies who are being investigated for underreporting royalties on e-books. One of these deals comes from a company being sued for underreporting royalties on paper books.

These authors all knew that. And they still made a royalty-only deal with these companies.

See why I want to scream? Really and truly scream? Because it doesn’t make sense—not in any business world, not in any way. These writers gave their work away to a company that doesn’t deserve their trust. And at least four of these writers are slow writers. They can’t afford to give away anything, because it’s a goodly portion of their yearly output.
To read the rest of Kris' article, click here: The Business Rusch: Professional Writers

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Should A Writer Blog?


Do you want to write a book or even an article or essay, but feel stressed out and self-conscious when you think about the fact that your writing will be read by others? Does this reduce your creativity and leave you feeling blocked and unable to write? Try blogging.
. . . .
Blogging provides a format that actually can reduce the amount of writer’s block produced by fear of exposing your work to the world. In the process, your productivity will increase.
- Improve Writing Creativity and Productivity by Blogging
This is exactly what I was trying to express yesterday, in an email to a fellow writer. I find that I'm less nervous about sharing my writing since I've been blogging and I hope that will help me write more since I'll spend less time wringing my hands, wondering what other folks will think of my prose.
Yes, when you blog you do show your work to the whole Internet community, but, in truth, for most newbie bloggers this really is not something to fear.
When you begin blogging—or even blogging a book, you typically don’t have any readers. If you don’t tell anyone about your blog, surely no one will find it right away. This allows you to get your cyberspace legs. You can test out your blog voice and your idea before anyone even shows up to read your first post in most cases. You can even delete the first posts if you don’t like them and start over and in many cases no one will have read them yet.
When I read this I got excited, because this is exactly what I did! (Yes, a few of my early blog posts have gone to the great blog in the sky.) But, more, it's how I thought of it. I wasn't using Google Analytics in the beginning so I had no idea whether anyone was reading what I wrote -- and I suspect no one was. But it gave me a platform for my writing, it got me writing to a schedule and it helped me build up a few articles so that when folks did eventually come by and take a peek, there was something for them to look at.
Blogging ... helps you move through fear (writer’s block), thus freeing up your creative flow so you  can write more easily, produce a manuscript more quickly and get your work read at the same time.
The quotations I've used are all from this post: Improve Writing Creativity and Productivity by Blogging

Edit: Almost forgot! I came across this link when I read The Passive Voice blog. I read PG's blog every day and I highly recommend it! :-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Could Newspapers Become Ebook Publishers?

Swiftly and at little cost, newspapers, magazines and sites like The Huffington Post are hunting for revenue by publishing their own version of e-books, either using brand-new content or repurposing material that they may have given away free in the past.

And by making e-books that are usually shorter, cheaper to buy and more quickly produced than the typical book, they are redefining what an e-book is — and who gets to publish it.

On Tuesday, The Huffington Post will release its second e-book, “How We Won,” by Aaron Belkin, the story of the campaign to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It joins e-books recently published by The New Yorker, ABC News, The Boston Globe, Politico and Vanity Fair.

The books occasionally snap up valuable spots on best-seller lists — “Open Secrets,” an e-book published by The New York Times, landed in the No. 19 spot on The Times e-book nonfiction best-seller list in February.
- The New York Times, In E-Books, Publishers Have Rivals: News Sites
I hadn't considered this possibility, that newspapers could bundle content into ebooks, but it makes sense.
When the phone-hacking scandal erupted at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in early July, Vanity Fair collected 20 articles on Mr. Murdoch, his family and their businesses and put them in a $3.99 e-book that went on sale July 29. Graydon Carter, the magazine’s editor, wrote an introduction. The articles were then grouped into six chapters, each with a theme that reflected various aspects of Mr. Murdoch’s life.
“It’s like having a loose-leaf binder and shoving new pages into it,” Mr. Carter said. “E-books are a wonderful way to do a book and do it quickly. They don’t need to be fact-checked again. They do go through copy-editing. But you’re not reinventing the wheel each time.”
The New Yorker created a similar e-book about Sept. 11 using content from the magazine’s writing on the attacks and their aftermath — everything from poetry to reported pieces on Al Qaeda. It sells for $7.99.

So far, sales for the handful of digital special editions that The New Yorker has released remain relatively small. Pamela McCarthy, the deputy editor, put the number in the thousands. “The question of what constitutes well in this new world is one that seems to be up for grabs,” Ms. McCarthy said of the success so far.
Read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dean Wesley Smith: Book Cards Work!


Here's the idea: You have an electronic book to sell but how can you show it to potential customers at, say, a convention? How can a bookstore sell your electronic book? It is stating the obvious, but ebooks aren't like paper books, you can't just hand the book to someone.

Sure, you can direct them to Amazon.com and say, "Well, just search on 'Until Death' ... and maybe add 'Karen Woodward' so you're sure to get the right 'Until Death' ... I mean, who knew certain titles would be so popular! You'll remember all that? Right?"

No. They won't. The solution? Book cards! This is Dean Wesley Smith's idea and I think it's brilliant. I'll let him describe it:

Each “book card” had two parts.

Part one was the plastic gift card the size of a credit card and the same thickness. The cover of the book is printed on one side, the code and instructions on the back. We used these cards alone for a sort of business card as well, since the cards had our web site addresses as well as WMG Publishing website address.

As you can tell from the image up to the left, these credit-card-sized book covers were way cool.
Dean cautions that,
For the next few years, until book cards become more accepted by bookstores, I do not see them being economically viable for an indie publisher to produce for every book for sale. It would take too long to return the printing investment.

But WOW are they great promotion. Worth every penny.

Let me say that again. On special books and for events, book cards are worth every penny.
He closes by saying ...
Honestly, I see book cards becoming a major way for bookstores to sell electronic books in four or five years. It’s going to take traditional publishers to jump onto the idea to make it easier for indie publishers to get book cards into bookstores.

And book cards, packaged like gift cards, have a huge market in major supermarkets and other major retail stores besides bookstores, placed right beside all the other gift cards that have already gotten into those stores.

Electronic books are clearly going to be over 50% of all books sold within five years. This is a way to get those books into reader’s hands and thousands of new markets that paper books are too expensive and large to get into.

And from the author perspective, all I can say is that they are great fun. These are fantastic promotion.

Now it is up to traditional publishers to get this going. Cindie and I gave copies of these to many New York editors and a couple major New York publishers who really, really loved the idea.

First publishers have to train bookstores.

And then bookstores have to train readers that they can buy their electronic books in a regular bookstore.

It will happen.
Read Dean Wesley Smith's entire article here: Book Cards Work.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Harlan Ellison: Writers Need To Be Paid


When I read this blog post -- Un-Screwing The Writer -- I immediately thought of Dean Wesley Smith. Those of you who follow Dean's blog know why.

The video is short (3 mins or so) and eye-opening. It is of sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison ranting about the assumption that writers don't need to be paid for their work. I read what I've just written and think: Of course writers need to get paid for their work, it seems glaringly obvious, but as Harlan Ellison notes, all too often it doesn't happen.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kristine Rusch: Playing to Win

Imagine me as the couch who wants to teach you how to play effectively. The first thing you have to do is learn how to win.
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business Rusch: Playing To Win
Kris Rusch hit a home run with her blog post this Thursday. It feels like each week I say: This blog post by Kris is a must read! And they are, but this one especially. She writes:
You won't succeed at writing and business every single day. You will fail. But no one wins without losing. Failures teach you how to be a success. In fact, the biggest successes always have a slew of failures behind them. Failing is how we learn.
We shouldn't feel like a failure if we haven't written a bestseller (yet!). Success comes over the long term. The key is to write fast and well and get a lot of work published, so it can sell consistently over time.

Playing To Win is a wonderful, inspiring, article. I'm going to go and write now.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An indie author publishes her sales figures for August 2011


I can’t force everybody to jump on the ebook party bus, but I will say that if you’re looking for a business that can insulate you during life’s hard times, you might find it’s a very nice place to be.
- Dahlia, My ebook sales figures for August 2011
Dahlia writes:
Everybody’s got a song-and-dance they’re using to get to the top of the financial food chain. But the big question you should be asking yourself today is that if life were to toss you a bag a moldy lemons and you can’t make lemonade, could your online business still support you?

If you were (God forbid) to become terribly ill and could only spend a maximum of 90 minutes a day online, could you still put a roasted chicken (or some veggie tofu) on the dinner table without straining?

A lot of online businesses are dependent on steady and active participation. I’m thinking in particular about my freelance writing friends. They stop grinding and the revenue stops flowing. That’s a little scary for me, even with a savings to pad the fall.

That’s part of the reason why I really began to pursue ebooks as my primary revenue source. I needed to know that I had something to support me should I suddenly need surgery, or if there’s a death in the family, or even if I fall in love with some awesome muchacho. (Love? Yes… I make breathing room for everything!)
Dahlia reports that she made $4,210 dollars in August! And her sales are down a thousand dollars from July. Way to go, Dahlia! To read her entire article click here.

4 Ways To Get Reviews For Your Book


Someone tweeted me today asking me how authors could go about getting their book reviewed and it got me to thinking: Hey! That's a great idea for a blog post.

1. BookRooster.com
Earlier this year Joe Konrath interviewed Catherine MacDonald of BookRooster.com (Interview with Catherine MacDonald from BookRooster.com). Joe's interview is well worth the read and many writers left a comment in which they talked about their experience with BookRooster.

The following is from BookRooster.com:
BookRooster.com is a community of over 3,000 passionate readers/reviewers drawn from BookLending.com and other Kindle reader communities. We organize the distribution of review copies of your book (in MOBI format for Kindle) to reviewers in exchange for their unbiased Amazon customer review.

How BookRooster.com Works:

1. Reviewers sign up to receive review copies of books in their favorite genres. BookRooster.com reviewers are expected to review a reasonable proportion of the books they receive, and we read every Amazon customer review they submit to keep an eye on review quality and objectivity.

2. When you request distribution of review copies of your book, we extend invitations to a select group of reviewers drawn from hundreds who have indicated a desire to review books in your genre. The invitations describe your book and provide a link for reviewers to request your book if they’d like to read and review it.

3. We send out review copies of your book (in MOBI format) to these reviewers on a first-come, first-served basis until at least ten reviewers post their reviews of your book.

We charge an administrative fee of $67 per book to invite suitable reviewers to review your book, to distribute your book to those who have agreed to review it and to track to make sure at least ten reviews are submitted by BookRooster.com reviewers.

Please note: BookRooster.com is not a pay-for-review service. Our reviewers love to read in their favorite genres and they will write unbiased, sincere reviews that reflect their real opinions about your book. For more information, you can read our Reviewer Guidelines.

2. Book Bloggers
Amanda Hocking, among others, attributes much of her financial success to book bloggers. Alan Rinzler writes that
When she rolled out the first of nine books in March of last year, Hocking had no idea what to expect. Over the next couple of months, her Kindle sales amounted to around 600 eBooks. Not bad for a newbie, but not enough for the 26-year-old to quit her day job.

Whoosh! Into the fast lane

Then she discovered and tapped into the world of book bloggers. Her sales took a gigantic swerve into the fast lane, tallying 164,000 books sold by the end of 2010.

“I had no idea such people existed,” Hocking wrote on her own website. “They just read books and write about them. And I don’t mean “just.” They take time out of their busy lives to talk about books and have contests and connect with followers and writers and other readers. These guys are honestly my heroes. I’m a little in love with all of them.”

USA Today this week reported the jaw-dropping news that last month alone, Hocking sold 450,000 of her nine titles, breaking into their top 50 bestsellers list. Taking her cue from iTunes, she had priced her self-published eBooks at $2.99 (she keeps 70 percent) and .99 cents (keeping 30 percent.) Do the math. That day job is history.
Here is a link to A Tale of Many Reviews, a book review site. I have never used this site (although I might!), I came across it as I was doing research for this blog post. It looked good, so I thought I'd share. :-)

Also, I have a list of book blogs on the left side of this page. You may have to scroll down the page to see it.

3. Author/Writer Bloggers
I think of book bloggers as folks who primarily do reviews and who are attached to a book review website, but there are other kinds of bloggers.

Bloggers like me! Writers who blog about the world of writing. Sure, the blogger might say, "No!" to your request for a review, but the negative response doesn't cost you anything and you'll never know if you don't try.

If you decide to go this route, it helps if you do your research. Read a few of the blogger's posts so that when you contact them you'll be knowledgeable about their work. I would suggest that you offer the blogger a free copy of your book.

4. Ask your readers for reviews
Amanda Hocking did this, and I thought she did it well. I don't think readers mind being asked, politely, without any pressure being applied, to share their opinion of your book by writing a review.

What to do after the review:

Blog about it! Let as many folks know about the review as you can. Blog about it and then tweet the link to your followers.

Also, IMHO, there's only one appropriate response to a book review, good or bad, insightful or all-kinds-of-wrong: Thank you for taking the time to review my book.

If anyone can add to my suggestions for how to solicit book reviews, I would appreciate your feedback.

By the way, if anyone would like to review my book, Until Death, please do! :-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Can Be a Successful Writer Without a Bestseller


To make a living at indie publishing, you must have a decent number of books and stories for sale.
This is the point Dean drives home in his latest blog post: The Money is All in the Numbers. Dean acknowledges that there are people like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking who have made a huge amount of money off of one or a few books in a relatively short period of time, but these good folks are the exception not the rule. Dean's point: you don't need to write a bestseller to earn a comfortable living as an indie writer.

Dean writes that
I have, at my last count, just over nine million copies of my books in print, yet I have never had any big splash. Just a book here, a book there, and a lot of books selling over decades. And none of that counts any ghost-written novel or indie-published title. (The number would be a ton higher if I counted those.) Just traditional novels through traditional publishers under one of my own names.
Traditional publishers, Dean says, make their money "not so much on sales-per-book ... but on numbers of different titles that are for sale". It is all about control. A publisher can't control whether one of their books will become a best-seller, but they can control how many titles they have for sale. The more titles they have for sale, the more money they will make month after month, year after year.
Some books lose money, some make more than expected. But the hope and goal is that the average over a line of books over a period of time will be around the 4% figure, give or take. If the book line loses money regularly, the editor is eventually fired or the imprint or publishing company is killed. Just business.
If these big publishers were only publishing one book (or even only one hundred books) per month, they sure couldn’t afford the big buildings.

Quantity in numbers of titles is everything.
Here's how all of this applies to indie writers:
Indie-published writers got all the money that publishers used to get for building those huge buildings in New York.  Instead of getting 14.8% on electronic sales (25% of 70% – 15%), that publishers were offering, we got 65-70%. Period. And we could put books on our own web sites for sale and maybe even make 100%.

And even more importantly to us midlist writers: All our backlist suddenly had value again. (This is huge!!!)
On top of that, indie writers have more freedom. Not only can we write what we want but we can also write to the length that's right for the story.
Even if you are a novelist. Remember the one-hundred-thousand word novel was an artificial creation of the publishing industry over the last forty years to justify price increases. Let your stories go natural lengths. You will discover that most novels are fine around fifty-to-seventy-thousand words. Sometimes shorter. Just write the story you want to write.
I have only discussed a few of Dean's points, I would highly recommend that anyone interested in writing or publishing go over to his blog and read his article, The Money is All in the Numbers.

Then, write, and build up that backlist! :-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Indie Success Story Bella Andre: Two pennames are better than one


In the past 18 months Bella Andre has self-published 12 books in two genres: spicy contemporary romance and sweet teen romance. Further, she has published under two different pen names: Bella Andre (erotic romance) and Lucy Kevin (sweet young adult romance).

Her key to success?
Diversification across genres and author brands.
Thanks to Joe Konrath, here is her incredible story:
In April 2010, I began e-publishing with two sexy, contemporary, backlist Bella Andre romances. After having a bit of unexpected success in those early months, I knew my chance had come to finally write the book my readers had been sending me emails about for five years. When LOVE ME did better than I ever imagined--Joe and I spoke on the phone last summer and I remember telling him I was shocked to have sold 1000+ copies of that book. He cheered!--I realized there was something to this whole e-reading business.

Of course I quickly went out and bought a Kindle and then a Nook later that fall and most recently an iPad. I released a couple more backlist books in October 2010 and then an original sequel to my Bad Boys of Football series that had been released through Pocket a few years back.

Amazingly, GAME FOR LOVE went to #28 at BN.com and was one of the top 5 erotic novels on Amazon for months at $5.99. This June 20th I launched a 8 book contemporary romance series about the Sullivan family with THE LOOK OF LOVE. It hit #19 on BN.com right out of the gate and has been a consistent Top 30 romance bestseller at Apple. Frankly, the whole thing continues to blow my mind.

Meanwhile, my husband had been watching my e-numbers rise for these self-published Bella Andre books and he kept saying, “Put out those fun chick lit books you wrote that no publisher ever bought!” Because I’d written them several years earlier, they needed significant rewrites, but I had always believed in the novels...and I like my husband to feel like I listen to him now and again. :) But since those books were very sweet (and snarky all at the same time), I knew they couldn’t be published as Bella Andre books.

Lucy Kevin came into being on a cold January morning in the Northern California wine country. Honestly, I figured 6 people would buy her books. To say that I was shocked when more than 25,000 people had downloaded SEATTLE GIRL and FALLING FAST by the end of February is a huge understatement. I released a third Lucy Kevin book in March titled SPARKS FLY.

The thing people are surprised to hear is that I didn’t draw from my existing Bella Andre readership for the Lucy Kevin books. In fact, until the Washington Post article came out, no one knew that Lucy and Bella were the same person, because I wasn’t sure the readerships would overlap between my teen-friendly books and my super-sexy romances. With the Lucy books I got to experience launching a new digital author--and building that readership--entirely from the ground up. It's been a lot of work, but I've loved trying to figure out what made people want to take a chance on a book. Heck, I’m still trying to figure that out :) and then find enough hours in the day to actually make it all happen!

Amazingly, here’s what happened--in some cases retailers were more excited to feature Lucy Kevin because the chick lit/sweet romance novels could reach a bigger mainstream audience. It simply didn’t seem to matter that no one had heard of Lucy Kevin. The fun, flirty covers (Oh, hello new graphic design skills I never thought I'd need!) seemed to draw people to the books and I’m guessing the $.99 to $2.99 price points helped, as well. Once I’d developed relationships with retailers via my Lucy books (I’m a “PubIt! Pro” for Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing wing), my recent launch of the more mainstream Bella Andre THE LOOK OF LOVE became even bigger and better.

But wait, that wasn't all Bella did. Besides being a writer and graphic artist she is a singer-songwriter. She writes:
I took things another step further in April when I decided to incorporate multimedia in my latest Lucy Kevin young-adult romance, GABRIELLE. In my previous career I was a singer-songwriter, so I wrote five original songs (rather, my songwriting heroine, Gabrielle, wrote them during the course of the story) and linked to them via Youtube and iTunes as an ebook package to create not only added value and excitement for my readers, but also another potential revenue stream.

Here's Bella's analysis of her success so far:
I really like not having to depend on one author name to maintain--and build--sales. Having two brands means I can build sales with new books while offsetting risks. We all know that diversifying our financial portfolios is a good money strategy. I’ve found that diversifying my e-book portfolio has not only been a good financial strategy, but as importantly, it had been a really lovely creative strategy, too.

So if you have a new idea or platform – if you want to try something completely different from what you’re doing now – I say go for it! Even if you think no one will be interested, the truth is that until you put your book out there, you'll never know.
Bella is an inspiration; a very talented inspiration! What she says about writing under more than one pen-name, or at least in more than one genre, rings true to me. As independent writers we aren't strangers to risk, why not try and reduce it?

Joe's comments are, as always, one of the best parts of his guest posts. To read the rest of his great blog post, click here.

Cheers!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The book is dead. Long live the book!


Bookstores are closing.

Even though I knew this was coming it's sad. I love paper books.

When I was a child, I spent most of my spare time at the library. There was an atmosphere there, a love of learning. I wanted to take all the books home with me. I wanted to create my own library. The books weren't just books, they were ... please don't laugh! ... my friends.

When I was a bit older, and able to peer over the counter, I discovered bookstores. They became my new love. My library, wonderful as it was, didn't believe in interlibrary loans. At the bookstore they had a boggling number of books and, if they didn't have it, they could order it. I was in love.

Yesterday, I read Joe Konrath's blog post: Over. I'm a big fan of Joe's writing. I think his books are great, but my favorite are his blog posts. Pick any one at random, give a read, and you'll see what I mean. Before I read Joe's post I knew that bookstores were going to close; with the growth of ebooks it was inevitable. After I read Joe's post, and the comments folks shared, I had an overwhelming sense of loss. It wasn't going to happen one day. It was happening now.

An image popped into my mind: popcorn. I'm old school, I still make my own popcorn over the stove with a big old pot and lots of canola oil. After the oil is brought up to temperature and the popcorn kernels are dumped into the pot one or two or three kernels will pop, but those are outliers, heralds of what is to come. Suddenly, just as I'm wondering if nothing is going to happen, a wave of popping begins. Then, just as suddenly, everything is quiet. The kernels have all popped, except for a few burnt, incredibly thick-skinned ones.

In terms of bookstores closing, we're at the start of the wave. And then, just like that, they'll be gone.

The good news is that books are healthier than ever. Sure, electronic books don't have that deliciously dusty scent that some library books had. Sure, there won't be as many used book stores that look like the last scene of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. There will be new traditions, new loves. We're at the moment that things are changing, and that, in itself, is kinda exciting.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Big 6 publisher drops author Kiana Davenport for self-publishing


I first heard of Kiana Davenport on March 25, 2011. I can be specific because that was the day Joe Konrath published an email she had sent him. She wrote:
My last three novels were pretty good sellers. Scribners, Ballantine, you know the drill. A few years ago, sales dropped drastically, no more royalties, the recession hit and I started living on my meager savings. Other than that all I own are 3 acres of land here, which in this market no one wants to buy. I don't even own a house.

I studied Creative Writing at university, but for years I was a fashion model in NYC, lived it up and never saved a dime. Then I went back to writing, prepared to scale down and live modestly. But as you know, things got even worse with the economy. It took me four years to write the most recent novel for which a NY publisher offered me less than HALF my previous advance. A depressing figure, to be paid out in fourths through 2013! By then I could be dead, and it won't even pay my bills. I was so desperate I accepted. Now I have to wait another year for the book to be published.

Agents and editors were admitting we're in a 'dying industry.' With dwindling publishers, rock-bottom advances, I didn't see any reason to write anymore, which is what I LIVE for.
Somewhere around this time she heard of Joe Konrath and his blog, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing, and she made the decision to self-publish. Joe helped her out with some publicity and her book, House of Skin made it into the top 300 on Amazon.com.

From what I can tell, House of Skin was published before Kiana signed her contract with her publisher. After she signed the contract she published another book, also a collection of short stories, Cannibal Nights. Kiana's publisher didn't like this. She writes:
So, here is what the publisher demanded. That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that's about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback. In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer, in a state of acquiescence and, consequently, utter self-loathing.
....
Last week, I received from their lawyers an official letter terminating my contract with them, "...for permitting Amazon to publish CANNIBAL NIGHTS, etc...." and demanding back the $20,000 they had paid me as part of their advance. Until then, this publishing giant is holding my novel as hostage, a work that took me five years to write. My agent assures me I am now an 'anathema' to them.

You can read Kiana's entire blog post here: SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: A CAUTIONARY TALE

Here is what Passive Guy, a lawyer who specializes in contract law, has to say about Kiana's dilemma:
If you had any doubts about any of Kris Rusch’s descriptions of publisher misbehavior in the post that appeared about an hour ago, Kiana’s story should lay those to rest.

Many agents will tell authors they don’t need an attorney. Passive Guy was very pleased to see Kiana has one advising her about her contract. From Kiana’s description, it doesn’t look like her agent would do her much good.

Since Passive Guy does not have all or even most of the information about this matter and hasn’t examined Kiana’s contract, he will not try to do a long-distance analysis in detail.

Speaking generally, as publishers view this sort of thing, it does appear somebody from the publisher really screwed up. Kiana is careful not to mention her publisher’s name, but a little internet research reveals that it was Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin.

As PG has discussed, it has become common for publishers to truss authors like a turkey with contract provisions that prevent the author from writing anything — sometimes until the book is published and sometimes forever — without the consent of the publisher.

It seems clear somebody at Kiana’s publisher forgot about inserting that clause or it would have been the first thing Kiana heard about.

One of the recurring themes of traditional publishers, the agents who live in their ecosystem and authors who have a deep emotional investment in the way things have always been done is that by signing with a big publisher, an author is assured that his/her book will be handled by experienced professionals who will guarantee a quality product.

What is professional about an editor repeatedly shouting at an author over the phone?

What is professional about a paranoid rant accusing an author of “betraying them to Amazon”?

What is professional about screwing up a contract, then trying to make the author pay for the screw-up?

What is professional about hauling out the lawyers to intimidate an author?
You can read the rest of PG's blog post here: Indie Author Goes Traditional -- A Cautionary Tale

Liebster Awards

Michael Haynes gave me a Liebster Award! I'm so excited. I actually did a silly little Scooby-dance.



It was just like this without the cool clothes and music. Honest!

Okay, maybe not.

After I finished my dance I wondered what the Liebster Award was. It was an award, yes, and therefore intrinsically good and something worthy of great excitement, but what was this Liebster bit about?

Apparently "liebster" is derived from a German term meaning, "a close friend." As I understand it, the award is given to a writer with a blog that has fewer than 200 followers.

Here are the rules of acceptance for the award:
1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog or sending them a tweet.
3. Post the award on your blog. (Right-click the image, above, and select "save image as").
4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the internet—other writers.
5. And best of all – have fun and spread the karma.

Without further ado, here are my picks:
- Kim Neville and her blog, Kim Neville: Faith, trust, pixie dust
- Kim Aippersbach and her blog, Dead Houseplants
- Martin Lastrapes and his blog, My Musings
- Jamie Sedgwick and his blog, Chronicles
- Shawn Hansen and his blog, Scribbled Stories

It was super hard picking just five. I ended up writing names on index cards, tacking them up on my wall, blindfolding myself and throwing darts randomly. I broke a window and gave my favorite top some ventilation, but it was worth it! Okay, maybe it didn't go quite like that but, still, picking the recipients was difficult.

Thanks Michael, this was fun!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Harlan Coben: Three steps to becoming a great writer


The title of Coben's article was even more catchy: Want to Be a Great Writer? Follow These Three Steps. Of course I had to read more! Just three (hopefully easy!) steps and I, too, could join the ranks of Hemingway, Joyce and Vonnegut.

Coben writes:
There are three things that make up a writer. The first two are fairly obvious – the third, the key one, not so much so.

The first is inspiration – that is, you have to be inspired to write. See what I mean by obvious?

The second is perspiration. You have to sit your butt in the chair and write. You have to do that every day. That doesn’t mean you lie on your couch and play with your navel. That doesn’t mean you go shopping when the words don’t flow the way you think they should. That never works. It means you sit your butt in the chair and get to work. No excuses. And just so we’re clear: Outlining is not writing. Coming up with ideas is not writing. Researching is not writing. Creating characters is not writing. Only writing is writing (yes, that’s deep). So cut it out with the writer’s block and the waiting for the muse to arrive and the artistic pretenses. That’s all nonsense.

Again this is pretty obvious — and yet I’m shocked at how many people who want to write don’t get this.

But the third and most surprising thing you need to be a writer is desperation – pure, naked panic-inducing desperation. If I didn’t write, what would I do with myself? How would I make a living and feed my family? Am I any good? Was I good before and now I’ve lost it? My last book was so much better than the one I’m working on now — no, wait, the last book reeked and so no one will give this wonderful work a chance. I hate this sentence. I love this paragraph.

The panic was even pronounced this time around because suddenly I was writing for a whole new “YA” audience. I’ve written 20 some-odd novels for adults. Now with “Shelter,” I was taking on teens for the first time. Would I be able to sound like one of them, or would they roll their eyes at my every utterance the way my own children do? Would I be, uh, totally cool or ultra lame? Would I be able to handle that balance of writing FOR teens and not DOWN to them?

On and on.

Most writers are motivated by this heady and suffocating blend of fear, insecurity and self-loathing. If I don’t write, I hate myself. Simple as that. My life is out of balance. The muse is not an angelic voice that sits on your shoulder and sings sweetly. The muse is the most annoying whine. The muse isn’t hard to find, just hard to like — she follows you everywhere, tapping you on the shoulder, demanding that you stop doing whatever else you might be doing and pay attention to her.

This voice – this fear – reminds us in a surprisingly healthy way that we have no choice, can make no excuse. What else would a writer do if he doesn’t write? What would I, for example, a forgetful, disorganized man with no real-world marketable skills, do if suddenly I couldn’t do the one job that I truly love?
So there we have it, the secret:
1) Inspiration
2) Perspiration
3) Desperation.
Sounds about right to me.

Okay, I'm taking my tongue out of my cheek now. I agree 100% with Coben's three steps if he is talking about becoming a professional writer, someone who gets paid for what they write. I also agree with Stephen King when he says that there is a big difference between being a good writer and being a great one. Hemingway was great, his prose beat with a heart of its own; I think great writers have figured out how to break off a piece of their soul and weave it into their stories.

Personally I would be happy, extremely happy, with being a good writer; one who is able to pay rent, clothe themselves and defer starvation for at least a month.

Heh. I think I've got point three down. ;)

I would encourage folks to read Harlan Coben's entire article: Want to Be a Great Writer? Follow These Three Steps.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers


Since good book covers help sell books, wouldn't it be great if a professional gave us newbies some tips? Joel Friedlander has done just that in his article, Top 8 Cover Design Tips for Self-Publishers.

He writes:
1. Establish a principal focus for the cover—Nothing is more important. Your book is about something, and the cover ought to reflect that one idea clearly.

One element that takes control, that commands the overwhelming majority of attention, of space, of emphasis on the cover. Don’t fall into the trap of loading up your cover with too many elements, 3 or 4 photos, illustrations, maps, “floating” ticket stubs.

You could think of your book cover like a billboard, trying to catch the attention of browsers as they speed by. Billboards usually have 6 words or less. You have to “get it” at 60 miles per hour, in 3 to 5 seconds.

A book cover ought to do the same thing. At a glance your prospect ought to know;

- the genre of your book,
- the general subject matter or focus, and
- some idea of the tone or “ambiance” of the book.

Is it a thriller? A software manual? A memoir of your time in Fiji? Your ideas on reform of the monetary system? Each of these books needs a cover that tells at a glance what the book is about.

2. Make everything count—If you are going to introduce a graphic element, make sure it helps you communicate with the reader.

3. Use the background—Avoid white backgrounds, which will disappear on retailer’s white screens. Use a color, a texture, or a background illustration instead.

4. Make your title large—Reduce your cover design on screen to the size of a thumbnail on Amazon and see if you can read it. Can you make out what it’s about? If not, simplify.

5. Use a font that’s easy to read—See above. There’s no sense using a font that’s unreadable when it’s radically reduced. Particularly watch out for script typefaces, the kind that look lacy and elegant at full size. They often disappear when small.

6. Find images that clarify—Try not to be too literal. Look for something that expresses the mood, historical period, or overall tone of the book; provide a context.

7. Stay with a few colors—If you don’t feel comfortable picking colors, look at some of the color palettes available online to get a selection of colors that will work well together.

8. Look at lots of great book covers—You may not be able to mimic all their techniques, but the best book covers are tremendous sources of inspiration and fresh ideas.
Excellent points! Read Joel's entire blog post here.

Also check out his more recent article, How to Reinvent a Book with a New Book Cover.

Good luck with those covers!