Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Hiatus

We're all taking some time off to celebrate a successful year and gear up to start another. So we won't be posting much (if at all) until January 5, 2009. See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Do You Know Her One True Love?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Here's something to mull over while sipping the mulled wine, to keep your mind nimble for a while. Can you identify this once-famous romance book? Be the first with the title and author to win the prize! Extra points for knowing the "story" behind the story.

Front cover blurb:
More savage than Sweet Savage Love!
More wuthering than Wuthering Heights!
More windy than Gone With the Wind!

Back cover (names removed so that you can't get away with an easy Google search!):
Meet Lady V[...], whose heart-stopping beauty has caused more coronaries than saturated fats. Join her in a dizzying odyssey as she's transported from nineteenth-century England to old New Orleans (and back again).

Swooning at the drop of an eyelash, V is swept from rapture to reverie, reverie to romp, and romp back to rapture; she won't rest until she finds Real Romance--or loses her virginity--though she'd kind of prefer it if they happened close together.

Voluptuous V's virtue is nearly (darn it!) compromised by such luminaries as the filthy French explorer, [...], who wins her in a poker game aboard a Mississippi steamboat; Lord [...], who dresses like a bloodhound and has been known to lift his leg at masked balls; and most romantically, the dashing Duke of [...], V's One True Love.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winners - Holiday Book Contest!

Okay, we couldn't narrow it down to just two. So in the generous holiday spirit, we have four winners.

Angelia Sparrow - Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas by Russel Hoban
Vicky Burkholder - Silver Spurs, Santa Mouse
As one of our editors commented about the two above: "Both women chose books that were read to them as children (or they read to their children) and the legacy continues. I think it’s wonderful that they’ve managed (directly or indirectly) to foster a love of reading in their kids, who’ve then passed it on to their own kids, via a traditional holiday read. "

Liz - Dark Celebration by Christine Feehan
Yes, it's true that this book wouldn't make much sense or be meaningful unless you have been reading the whole Carpathians series. But it is a great example of the holiday spirit of families and old friends getting together, old and new love, celebration of children, hope for the future.

Amara - Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Mr. Pratchett's Discworld series is hilarious and often such a wonderfully ironic take-off on the real world. It's fun to see what can go wrong with holidays - because it makes us appreciate when things go right.

So, Angelia and Vicky and Liz and Amara - email Give us your mailing address and your pick of the prizes (see original contest post).

And a happy reading holiday to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reading for Comfort in Life

If you as a writer have ever questioned the value of what you write, go read this whole article. (And have the tissue box handy.)

"Somewhere, there is a woman, sitting in a ro0m, three days past a rape.
Write a story for her.
Somewhere, there is a man, sitting in a hospital room.
Write a story for him.
Story-telling has been around for millennia for a reason--we need to connect. We need to both transport somewhere other than our own daily circumstances and to connect to others, to know that someone out there understands us. Understands our fears, our desires. We need to escape, without physically abandoning our family and friends. Stories do that. We need the hope, the connection, the dream.
Write a story for us."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The News Isn't Getting Any Better...

Macmillan--which owns Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martin's Press, Holt, Picador--is laying off 46 people, about 4% of its staff. Various children's imprints will be consolidated into one company-wide children's division, to be called the Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.

"Book sales are markedly slower this Christmas than they were last Christmas," said Macmillan CEO John Sargent. He further predicted that the tough times will continue "at least through the first half of next year."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Book Contest!

We need some cheery news. The year-end holidays are upon us, we want warmth and light and happy thoughts.

So tell us what holiday themed novel is your favorite, gives you the best "holiday spirit" feeling! Share books we might want to read to lift our own spirits. Now, in order to avoid having everyone list the old classics, let's limit this to fiction published after 1970. The story can incorporate any of the year-end holidays: Christmas, New Year, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice...

Post a comment listing author and title and a paragraph or two about the story and why it is your holiday favorite. On Dec. 22, we'll select two winners. Prizes (of course there are prizes!) will be your choice of:
~ Forbidden Fantasies gift bag: Forbidden Fantasies hardcover book, tote bag, T-shirt, boa
~ four mystery/suspense trade paperbacks
~ four metaphysical/mind-body-spirit nonfiction trade paperbacks

Hmm, now I have to browse my shelves to find a good book to reread to put me in the holiday mood.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Publishing Economy Woes

Where would you be without knowing the continuing woes of the publishing industry? (Reflecting the overall woes of our economy.)

Macmillan has instituted a pay freeze for all employees earning over $50K/year. Employees earning less than that will be "modest" increases. In a staff memo, CEO John Sargent wrote, "We are now clearly in a recession and there is still no clarity on how long or deep it will be. What is clear is that retail book sales are down, advertising revenues are down, and even countercyclical businesses like education are struggling in many cases."

Chronicle Books is laying off close to 5% of their staff. While they say their children's book sales have grown, they are reducing the number of adult titles, and have seen a decline in backlist sales.

Added 12/11: Perseus Book Group has announced it is freezing salaries, suspending company contributions to retirement accounts, and not filling open positions.

Co-Authorship - Part 2 of 2

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Things your collaboration agreement should cover:

~ Copyright is joint and equal, unless the two of you agree beforehand otherwise. You must have this documented and signed!

~ Under the Copyright Act, either party can license the nonexclusive rights to the work, provided they fairly share the profits with the other; this can be altered by your written agreement. Do you want to state that neither party can sell, contract or dispose of the story without joint agreement? What happens if you disagree on where to sell it, or on the terms offered by a publisher?

~ What part of the "writing" will you each do? Is one of you plotting and outlining, and the other writing the actual story text? Are you doing alternating chapters, or are you doing characters X and Y and your partner is doing character Z? Who is doing the research?

~ Will the work be submitted to or through an agent? What if one of you has an agent and the other doesn’t, or you have two different agents?

~ How will your "byline" be shown on the book? Are you using a joint pen name? If you are listing two names, figure out now whose name will be listed first, if that matters to either of you.

~ Who pays what expenses? Research costs, mailing, photocopying, phone bills, possibly travel costs, etc, etc. Are these equally shared? Will you each incur your own expenses and then be "reimbursed" from royalties received?

~ Income: Who gets what percentage of the advance and royalties? An equitable division does not necessarily mean 50/50, if you've agreed up front that one person is taking on a significantly greater portion of the work or risk.

~ What if something prevents your partner from completing their part of the work, due to circumstances beyond your or their control? Are you allowed to finish it up on your own? In that case, who gets what credit and what portion of the income?

~ What if that unforeseen circumstance is the death or incapacitation of one of the writing partners? What control will that person's heirs have in the book, before or after completion or publishing?

~ What about future prequels or sequels to this book? Can either author write one individually, or are they also covered by this collaboration agreement and the work and profits must be shared?

~ What happens if something goes legally wrong? If you get charged with copyright infringement or defamation or any host of things for a section of the book that your partner wrote or researched, do you share equally in the legal liabilities, or is each of you responsible for your own pieces? If so, how do you identify and track who is in charge of each part?

~ Dispute resolution: It wouldn't hurt to have your agreement state what will happen if the two of you cannot come to agreement on some issue.

When you submit or sell a joint book:

Well, to start with, make sure your agent, editor and publisher know up front, before contract, that this is a co-authored book. Yes, we have actually had the circumstance of an author returning the contract and there are TWO signatures on it. Huh? Who's this other person and what do they have to do with this book? Or less terrible but still very bad and unprofessional, the author who waits until after the book is accepted to say, "Oh, by the way, I actually co-wrote this with Wanda Writer."

As mentioned previously, our standard contract contains a clause about co-authors and stating that everything is shared equally between them. If that is not how your arrangement with your co-author is set up, the contract must be revised.

All parties in a co-writing situation should sign the same version of the contract. You can't have varying terms. That would cause enormous confusion, plus the publisher would be stuck with the most restrictive version of each clause. For example, you and your co-author can't have different lengths for grant of publishing rights, can't exclude different subrights. If the payments are not equal—for example, one of you gets 75% of the royalties and the other 25%—that must be explicitly stated in the contract, and you both must sign the same version listing the split. Nor can either of you make unilateral changes to the contract—ALL parties must agree on and sign a future contract revision, were such to occur.

Questions? Horror stories about things that went wrong in a co-writing situation, or raves about how great it worked?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Co-Authorship – Part 1 of 2

By Raelene Gorlinsky

We seem to be seeing an increasing number of authors who co-write. Authors may be doing so under both names (Booktitle by Annie Author & Wanda Writer) or under a joint pen name (Booktitle by Patty Penname).

A co-writing project could be the result of advance planning or may be sheer serendipity. Perhaps you and a fellow writer just happened to fall into a conversation where you kicked around story ideas—and before you knew it, had together developed a plot and characters, all the basics of a story. Or maybe you were lamenting that you develop great plots but your submissions get rejected with comments about the flat characters—and the writer next to you mentioned how she developed fantastic characters but then couldn’t think what to do with them. And voila, a partnership based on complementary skills is born. Or the idea could even have come from a third party, an editor or agent who put the two of you together.

But however it starts, it is important that both of you think through the relationship and how it’s going to work. And then put that in writing.

Co-writing has a number of contractual and legal ramifications. What you are creating is a "joint work"—a book prepared by two or more people with the intent, at the time of creation, that their contributions will "be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole." [U.S. Copyright Act]

Many publishing contracts state the default of how coauthoring is handled. Our ECPI contract has a standard clause regarding multiple authors:

"Whenever the term "Author" refers to more than one person, such persons will be jointly and severally responsible for all duties, obligations and covenants under this Agreement, and shall share equally in all royalties and other amounts to be paid under this Agreement, unless otherwise specified in writing signed by all parties."

That means not only that the royalties are split evenly between the co-authors, but also both of you are fully responsible for all contract terms, for all legal liabilities and commitments.

A publisher has the right to ask to see the collaboration agreement between co-authors when contracting a joint work, although it is my understanding that many do not actually request it. However, there are circumstances where the publisher may certainly want to see the agreement, such as if the royalties are not to be an even split or if you want to specify which name gets listed first when the individual co-author names (rather than a joint pen name) are to be shown. A document signed by all parties showing agreement to this arrangement, and dated before the contract is executed, is what the publisher needs to be sure their contract does not conflict.

It is extremely important that there be a written (signed and dated) collaboration agreement between two or more authors who are working together on any writing project. Do not say, "But we're best friends/sisters/spouses." Things change, life happens, attitudes can alter, external circumstances arise. What if your writing partner dies or becomes unable to write? Or decides to move to Tibet and live in a monastery halfway through the book? Or gets pregnant with sextuplets? Who's going to do what part of the work now, and who gets how much of the profits?

Your written agreement can be drafted by a lawyer, or you can draft something yourself and have a lawyer review it. There are sample author collaboration agreements and advice available online. Even if you don't use a lawyer, get everything down in writing and both of you sign it! (And if you are married, some states require spousal signature, since this relates to joint assets or income earned during the marriage.)

If you write more than one book together, you may need to modify the agreement for each book. Or you could have an agreement that covers several books or a series. The agreement needs to state the planned book title(s) or series.

Working out these details in advance will prevent a good deal of potential conflict and stress later. Lacking any legal document stating otherwise, everything will be considered an equal split between the two of you, and that may not be how you want it, and may not cover unexpected circumstances. Talking about all this up front—and then writing it down—is critical to the reasonable functioning of a team, whether two or more people.

(Part 2 will cover what should be in the collaboration agreement and issues related to submitting and selling a joint book.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Black Wednesday"

Update 12/4: Also being reported are a freeze on raises at Penguin, a delay of pay increases (until after 7/1/09) at HarperCollins, and the elimination of 13 U.S.-based positions at Bowker.

Yep, that's what today is now being labeled in the publishing industry.

As reported by Publishers Lunch and Publishers Weekly:

Simon & Schuster

Simon & Schuster has "enacted a reduction in staff in which 35 positions across the company were eliminated, from areas including our publishing divisions and international, operations and sales," according to a memo from ceo Carolyn Reidy.

Despite having "literally examined our budget line-by-line to find those areas large and small where we might further economize," Reidy says "today's action is an unavoidable acknowledgment of the current bookselling marketplace and what may very well be a prolonged period of economic instability. In light of this uncertainty, we must responsibly position ourselves for challenges both near term and long."

Separately, Simon & Schuster Children's president Rick Richter has resigned "to explore other opportunities in publishing," leaving December 5. Rubin Pfeffer, senior v-p and publisher of the children’s group is also departing.

Random House:

The first part of the Random House reorganization everyone has been expecting under new CEO Markus Dohle was announced this morning. President and publisher of the Bantam Dell group Irwyn Applebaum is leaving the company immediately after 25 years there. The publishing line itself is being absorbed by the Random House group, under Gina Centrello, along with the Spiegel & Grau unit that had been part of Doubleday. It puts the company's two big mass-market lines together in the same division, though Dohle says that they will "continue to have separate editorial departments."

The Doubleday Publishing Group has been disbanded. Knopf will absorb the Doubleday and Nan A. Talese lines, while the Crown group will incorporate Broadway, Doubleday Business, Doubleday Religion and WaterBrook Multnomah.

Thomas Nelson:

Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt announced that the Christian publishing house has laid off 54 employees, or 10% of its workforce. [...] the cuts, which take effect on Friday, affect almost all departments and were necessary because of the slumping economy.


Becky Saletan is leaving her post as publisher and VP of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; her last day is December 10.

Galley Cat ( is reporting: "The shock waves just keep coming out of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Executive editor Ann Patty informed us this morning that she has been "fired," along with an unspecified number ("a lot") of other employees. "

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Know Who You Are!

By Raelene Gorlinsky

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to our poll about our blog viewers. You can see the results in the right column. We found them quite interesting.

Writers who read our blog are about evenly split between published and unpublished authors—we’d truly had no idea how that would break down. There’s a nice sprinkling of “publishing professionals” (editors, agents, etc). And it’s great to see that people read a variety of genres; we don’t feel our ramblings are only applicable to the romance genre. Hey, we’ve even got some male participants (about 4%); we appreciate their perspective.

Of course, most interesting of all is that apparently 16 respondents had no sex. Uh, wait…that didn’t come out right. What I meant was, 7% of respondents did not select a gender. Now, this could be because you are shy, or perhaps didn’t feel it was a relevant question. But I lean more toward the explanation that we have some paranormal or alien participants (given the popularity of those genres right now) who just don’t comfortably fit into the “male” or “female” categories.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. Hopefully we all feel thankful on most days, we should frequently try to focus on what is going right instead of what's wrong. But we do allocate this one "official" day to give thanks for the good things in life.

So I say thank you to all the authors in the world. Thank you for entertaining me, enlightening me, making me laugh or cry or sigh. Thank you for showing me places I will never be able to visit myself, introducing me to people - real or imaginary - whom I wish I could really meet and know. Thank you for building fantastic worlds I sooo wish were real. Thank you for all the heroes to drool over, and their heroines I envy.

I cannot recall not being able to read, even by kindergarten I was reading "real" stories, not just Dick and Jane. And I am never without a story at hand; I wouldn't think of leaving the house without reading material in my purse. Any spare minute can be used to plunge into a book. As I deal with the physical effects of aging and poor health, my greatest fear is losing my eyesight, because of how it would impact my ability to read. Books are an integral and incredible part of my world.

So thank you to all you authors. And to all you not-yet-published authors - I look forward to your future books that will provide me with joy for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bad Sex in Fiction Award

The fourteenth annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Awards took place last week. Definitely go read the finalists!

Who could resist sex scenes with lines like these?

If Dawn Madden's breasts were a pair of Danishes, Debby Crombie's got two Space Hoppers. Each armed with a gribbly nipple. Tom Yew kissed them in turn and his saliva glistened in the April sun. (Black Swan Green by David Mitchell)

And it swept over her like surf sweeping over sand then falling back and sweeping up over the sand again and falling back. Images went off in her head like little fireworks. The smell of coconut. Brass firedogs. The starched bolster in her parents' bed. (A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon)

And then before her inner eye, a tide of words leaped high and free, a chaotic joy like frothing rapids: truncate, adjudicate, fornicate, frivolous, rivulet, violet, oriole, orifice, conifer, aquifer, allegiance, alacrity ... all the words this time not a crowding but a heavenly chain, an ostrich fan, a vision as much as an orgasm, (The Whole World Over by Julia Glass)

He slid a hand beneath her arse and guided the tip of his organ between the folds of her matrix. The first half-inch was cold, and moist only with brine, and he encountered stiff resistance which, while not without appeal, made him fear for a moment that he might do her an injury if he pressed on with excess zeal. (The Religion by Tim Willocks)

"Mouffette? She's a papillon ... a sort of French ladies' lapdog."
"A - You say," gears in his mind beginning to crank, " 'lap' - French ... lap-dog?" Somehow gathering that Ruperta had trained her toy spaniel to provide intimate "French" caresses of the tongue for the pleasure of its mistress.
"Well! you two are ... pretty close then, I guess?"
"I wuv my ickle woofwoof, ess I doo!" ...
His thoughts taking wing. The day alone with a French "lap" dog! who might be more than happy to do for Reef what she was obviously already doing for old 'Pert here! who in fact, m-maybe all this time's been just droolin' for one-them penises for a change, and will turn out to know plenty of tricks! A-and- ... (Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon)

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Getting Scary...

HMH Places "Temporary" Halt on Acquisitions
By Rachel Deahl -- Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008 12:54:00 PM

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” he said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.” The action by the highly leveraged HMH may also be as much about the company's need to cut costs in a tight credit about the current economic slowdown.

While Blumenfeld dismissed the severity of the policy, a number of agents said they have never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. “I’ve been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back,” said agent Jonathon Lazear. “But I’ve never heard of anything so public.” Lazear added that, in the past two weeks, business has been more “sluggish” than it had been all year.

Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it's indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.

Thus far one agent has confirmed that at least one of his manuscripts has been declined at HMH per the policy. But perhaps an editor at the house put it best; in an e-mail, the editor mentioned the policy and added, “Who knows what’s next.”

More ebooks from Random House

From Publishers Lunch online newsletter:

Random House's US division announced its "intention to make an additional 6,000-plus of its backlist titles available as e-books in the coming months," adding to the current list of 8,200 electronic titles. They are also further embracing the epub standard, "for the first time...offering its entire current electronic catalogue, as well as future titles" in that format. CEO Markus Dohle says "more people everyday are enjoying reading in the electronic format and Random House wants to extend our reach to them with more of our books." Random House tells the AP their tiny e-book sales have tripled this year.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Really Radical RITA Suggestion

By Raelene Gorlinsky

The RWA RITA contest is again rousing controversy amongst romance authors. In case you are not an RWA member and are unfamiliar with the RITA, it is the organization’s annual vanity contest for best published romance books (in a number of romance subgenres) of the year.

The RWA administration, in its ongoing fear of change and the future, last year made an unannounced alteration to the contest rules. Without any input from or advance notice to their own general members, they added the words “in print” to the rules, in order to officially eliminate all ebooks. This year, the unadvertised change is the addition of the words “be mass-produced”, in order to eliminate almost all small-press and POD-produced books, including the print books from e-publishers.

This rule now reads: “Be mass-produced by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher in print book format.”

There is no definition of “mass-produced” in the rules. A number of authors have been reporting online that they’ve contacted RWA to ask what size print run qualifies, and they’ve received answers of 500, 1000, or 5000. Depends on whom you ask and when you ask them.

At a time when even the CEOs of big NY traditional print publishers are proclaiming that the future includes ebooks and POD, RWA’s attitude is clearly out of date and a detriment to the organization and its members.

Which leads me to my radical suggestion for what books should qualify for the RITA contest. It’s simple—just stick to the stated purpose of the contest.

From the RWA website: RITA Awards: Contest Rules

“The purpose of the RWA contests—RITA and Golden Heart—is to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding romance novels, novellas, and manuscripts.”

That seems straightforward and admirable. Please notice—the “purpose” of the contest has nothing to do with how or by whom or in what format the book is published. It’s just to recognize what the RWA judges rank as the best romance books.

So it seems simple to me. Any published romance book can be entered. “Published” just means available for sale to readers, it doesn’t have anything to do with how many copies in what format are out there.
(Note that I am not disputing the requirement that the book cannot be self-published or through a vanity or subsidy publisher. In other words, the author does not pay to produce the book.)

And make the contest fair by making it “blind”—all entries must be simply the text of the story, with NO identification of author, title, publisher or production format. Because of course that information influences the scoring—every time, every judge, every entry. It may be a negative or positive influence, but don’t be so naïve as to think it isn’t a factor. So no printed books sent to judges. Entries could be submitted as the electronic text file, or 8.5”x11” plain paper printed copies.

Oh, and for those who claim RWA has to cut out certain types of books in order to keep the number of qualified entries to within a limit, because they don’t have enough judges… Anything like that would always be unfair. Plus the contest exceeds the entry number even now with the qualification limitations. So the need is more judges, and the solution to that is simple. If you enter a book, you must sign up to be a judge. And if you do not fulfill your judging responsibilities by deadline, your entered book is automatically disqualified from the contest. After all, if the RITA contest is important to you as recognition from your peers, then you should be willing to participate in making the contest work.

It seems simple to me. Anyone see any problems with doing it this way? What are your thoughts, your suggestions (especially if you’re an RWA member)?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reader Groups

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Last week we discussed critique groups as a way for an author to get feedback on her/his writing. There is another source of information that I also recommend - reader discussion groups. Now, this isn't for feedback or support for your specific book or you as a writer - this is for learning about your audience and your genre. You are producing a product, you must understand the expectations and desires of those people you are trying to sell to.

Reader discussion groups are typically run by a library or bookstore, are organized by genre (for example, the mystery readers group or the romance readers group), and meet monthly to discuss books. The most common scenario is that the group picks a specific book that they will read during the next month and will discuss at the next meeting. They may also have time for the participants to mention other books in the genre they've just read. A group may have a goal with their reading selection - perhaps they focus on new authors, or they may rotate through subgenres. Some groups have occasional author visits.

When I lived in Oregon, I belonged to a quite large and active romance reader group run by a woman at the local chain bookstore. When I moved to Ohio, I discovered that there are fewer such groups here, but I did find a small romance reader discussion group at a local library. We try to alternate type of romance - historical one month, paranormal the next, then contemporary. Some months we just can't agree on a new release we are all willing to read, and so we declare it "free read month", and at the next meeting we will each describe several romance books we just read. Oh, and when selecting the monthly book, being practical and poor, we do generally pick only mass market paperbacks. Yes, we have an author visit a time or two a year, and read that author's new release the previous month. But we meet a half hour before the time the author is given, so that we can openly discuss the book! We are demanding readers and don't hesitate to talk about what we didn't like, but we don't want to wound an author in person with our opinions.

When you as an author join such a group, you must firmly put aside your public writer hat and be strictly a reader participant. You will not be popular or welcome if you talk about your books, or want the group to read them. But your author self should be lurking, absorbing everything you hear. Really listen to what these readers are saying about what they liked or didn't like in the book being discussed, what worked in the book and why, what threw them out of the story. This is your audience, the people you are writing for, and you should consider their comments and take a hard look at your own work from their perspective. And of course, since you will have read and analyzed the monthly book yourself, you will be studying your competition and what is currently being published.

It's called market research.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Without strong editors"

From Shelf Awareness e-newsletter, Nov. 17, 2008:

"Without strong editors, writers are like cars with accelerators but no brakes. While reading many of [the] long passages [in Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole], I pictured him at his computer (or typewriter), entertaining himself with his own wit and wisdom. That's as it should be. Then an editor should tell him, "Steve, you're a great writer (always start with the praise), but let's do some judicious whittling and make this fabulous book (more praise) even better." It's hard work for both author and editor, but it's only fair to those of us who still invest in books."--Cynthia Crossen in the Wall Street Journal's Book Lover column.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An "Either/And" World

by Raelene Gorlinsky

There are some dang smart people in the publishing industry. I've already expressed my appreciation for the broad vision of Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster. Let me add John Ingram of Ingram Book Group to my list of people who understand what the future can be.

Speaking at the Publishers Association of the West annual conference last week, Mr. Ingram "emphasized that we live in an "Either/And" world, not an "Either/Or" world. Instead of choosing between printed books or e-books, publishers can and should focus on both, especially since, as Ingram pointed out, consumers' expectations are rising. In this new "Either/And" world, Ingram urged the audience to make the most out of all the resources available, from traditional printed books to digitized files and print demand to downloadable e-books."

(From the article in Publishers Weekly: )

Meet the Editor - Shannon

Shannon Combs

What is your background and experience in editing?

I have worked at Ellora’s Cave for almost four years. Years ago, I was managing editor for a sports paper. Aside from doing all final editing and proofing, I also focused on layout and ad design. I enjoyed the complete hands-on process from the planning of an issue to watching the end result roll off the press. Up until last summer, I worked in the IT department of a large company. I was responsible for the weekly updating of their ever-changing website content. I was also in charge of writing and updating new personnel training manuals, covering everything from detailed software instruction to daily procedures. Finally, I was able to focus all my time on my true love—books. I went full-time at Ellora’s Cave last June.

How would you describe your editing style?

Just as Pamela mentioned last week, I, too am strict about grammar, except in dialogue. Grammar has to fit both the character and story. This is the only time I will let the word sneaked be used as snuck! That one will always be like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Other than that, I am open to discussion and don’t rule with an iron fist. ;-)

I am bad about being so focused on the story, looking for flaws and problems. I pick it apart and am quick to point those out, but I totally forget to add positive comments within my edits. I am working on trying to remember to stop and say when something was funny, great visual, love this scene, etc. Most of my authors know by now this is simply how I work and don’t take it personally, but I am sure it’s harder for new authors who may feel as if I am beating up on them.

What is your favorite thing about editing?

Other than the obvious “I get paid to read!”? Life doesn’t get much better than that! I love to see a story evolve. When you get a really great submission from an author so passionate about their story and their characters, and then together you take it to a higher level, you tweak it and tighten it and make the characters even more likeable. It’s so thrilling to see the end result and then read the reviews from readers who fell in love with the story and now must go read everything this author has written.

Another thing I love is when you work with an author who just “gets” what you are trying to explain is missing. I can tell the author I need more to a scene and why, and then to read what the author sends back still just amazes me. It’s that “YES!” moment.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?

I think by this point, most of us editors are sounding like a broken record because my biggest peeve is a poorly proofed submission. I am still amazed when I come across a manuscript that an author has attached their name to that is full of typos, grammar and punctuation problems. If they take no pride in their craft, how can I take them seriously as a writer? Why would I keep reading?

Another thing that makes me crazy is seeing the same mistakes over and over, book after book, with the same author. I would like to think that an author is using edits to learn and improve their writing. And I must mention TSTL heroines and goofy, eye-rolling dialogue.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
Goodness, how can I answer that? I will read anything! I think my genre choices are fueled more by my mood than by preference.

When I was very young, I devoured the entire Nancy Drew series. The Trixie Belden series was another favorite, along with Beverly Cleary’s books. And, like Pamela, all of Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” books. When I started getting a bit older, my first romance books were the Sweet Valley High series.

As a teenager, I remember seeing my mother with a book in her hand at all times and constantly asking when I could read some of her romance novels. She finally gave in and started me on LaVyrle Spencer. Separate Beds was the first, and from that moment on, I was hooked and worked my way through everything Ms. Spencer had written.

Since discovering the romance genre, some of my other favorite authors are Julie Garwood, Johanna Lindsey, Jude Deveraux and Amanda Quick. I still remember the first time I read Susan Johnson—someone was finally pushing the envelope! When I found EC, I had everything I had been looking for in a story—the romance along with the hot sex.

Outside the romance genre, one of my all-time favorite authors is Dean Koontz. I also enjoy James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell and Stephen King. And when I was at Virginia Tech, I had a professor who assigned a book that to this day I remember the impact of—Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tell Us Who You Are!

Hey, we want to know about our audience for this blog! I know many of you are shy. You email me directly, or come up to me at conferences or RWA meetings and tell me you read this blog, talk about things we've posted. But most of you don't comment - which is fine, except that then we don't quite know whom we are talking to.

So we'll make this really easy. See over there at the top of the right side? A poll! Yep, just check whichever boxes apply to you and click [Vote]. The poll will be active for two weeks. Please participate.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Doom and Gloom - And Some Hope

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I know, I know. You're stuffing your fingers in your ears, trying not to hear any more predictions about how poor the holiday season is going to be for booksellers, any more reports of publishing company lack of profits and planned cutbacks and layoffs, any more mention of backlist sales drying up and only the mega-authors selling high in frontlist.

But such is the current reality of the publishing/bookselling industry.

New York Times article: Booksellers and Publishers Nervous as Holiday Season Approaches

Now, most everyone in publishing is bracing for a difficult holiday season while trying to remain optimistic about the enduring allure of books.

And the trend that I, as a reader, do not like at all:
most publishers said they were still aggressively pursuing deals for celebrity books and others with natural best-seller prospects.

[Personal diatribe: In other words, poorly written and rush-edited books from people who have no qualifications for what they write and are of no interest to me. But our celebrity-crazed culture will buy anything from a person who's appeared in People magazine. And so many publishers—this is a business, after all—go with what will bring a big profit, no matter what's between the covers. "Platform" is everything now.]

But then there is acknowledgement that challenging times are also exciting times with opportunity for positive change.
Publishers Weekly article: Reidy: Worse Publishing Environment May Be On the Way

This actually is a positive and encouraging article. I'd like to work for this woman, she understands the realities of the publishing business and sees what the future can be.

Simon & Schuster president/CEO Carolyn Reidy listed critical issues facing publishers:
significant decrease in retail traffic, less consumer purchasing, a gloomy economic forecast, declining backlist sales, brand name authors continuing to sell but everything else is far off normal levels,” and retail partners who demand more favorable terms and concessions “as if we are the answer to their problems”

But she also expressed how crisis can be opportunity for positive change, reminding publishers that industry-changing practices came out of the Great Depression and encouraging them to look for such possibilities now. And yet another voice of sense speaking out about the ridiculous and industry-destructive returns system!
What might evolve, in her opinion is publishers “taking a good hard look at returns causes, effects and practices, and coming up with ways to diminish or eliminate them”

Reidy told Publishers Weekly:
“now we have the chance to actually find the reader where they are spending their time—in front of a screen—and cement a relationship with them through e-mail newsletters, viral marketing, mobile delivery and other tools.” Publishing survives, she noted, because readers have a fundamental need for information, inspiration, and entertainment, “and they get that in a book, directly from an author, in an unfiltered way that they cannot get from any other medium.”

Saying she sees these challenges as opportunities, rather than threats, Reidy urged publishers to do the hard work of making entire catalogues available as e-books for electronic reading devices, to create possibilities for print-on-demand when a title becomes slow selling, to design new work flow and supply chain practice systems, and to delineate new policies to address complicated issues such as international territories, pricing, the security of copyrights and royalty rates for those formats.
Yay, support for ebooks and for POD, which I think are the only way backlist—and possibly debut authors—have a chance to survive. So I'm with Ms. Reidy on this. Yes, the economy is terrible right now and publishing (all parties: publishers, booksellers, authors) is taking a big hit. But that really is temporary; there are more important and long-term changes that must be dealt with for the industry to survive and prosper.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meet the Editor: Pamela

Pamela Campbell

What is your background and experience in editing?
I have worked at Ellora’s Cave for almost six years. March 2009 will make it six years. Wow, doesn’t seem as if it has been that long. Before that, I did edits and layouts for a sports paper. Oh…and LOTS of academic editing while I was still in school. I continued editing college papers until EC gobbled up my time. My degree is in another field, but the rules for writing and speaking were always easy for me. Probably because I have been a voracious reader since I could hold a book.

How would you describe your editing style?
Well, one of my authors told me that I am very tough, and I know that I have caused a couple of my authors to hyperventilate and almost pass out after opening an edit. I am tough, but not inflexible. I am always open to discussion, if it is a valid point. But something that is absolutely wrong is not going through. Ever.

I am very blunt. I don’t have an ounce of diplomacy. I just can’t remember to work those little smiley faces into my comments and emails. I get so involved when I’m working, totally concentrating on all aspects of the book, that I forget to do the chatty thing. Sorry, guys.

I guess I’m pretty tough about all rules of grammar, except in dialogue. I do keep in mind that this is informal fiction. Even grammar rules have to fit the character and story. Sometimes, “less than perfect” works better—a few more “likes” and a few less “whoms”.

The plot must be workable and sensible, believable. Every tiny thing has to work.

My goal is to make the book as correct as possible while making the characters come to life in the readers’ minds (I’m always asking my authors to add lots of graphic visual detail), to make the story flow smoothly, and to never, ever cause the reader to stumble.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
Reading something in a new submission—a passage or scene—and being so amazed by the sheer creative talent that I have to read it again, sometimes several times. And, my job is reading. How perfect is that?

I like being able to help an author make a book better—find and correct the flaws, strengthen or perfect the plot, and polish the story to perfection. I have gone back a few times, looked at a first edit, and compared it to a finished book. It can be very satisfying to realize how much improvement evolved over the course of the edits. It is something that I am very proud of, and don’t think I’ll ever tire of. I really, really enjoy my job and the people I work with. I always give every book my best effort because I love every step of the process.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
Poorly proofed submissions are the worst. Umm…I’m not a proofreader. If an author does not feel a book is worth the effort, why should I? Almost as bad—making the same mistakes over and over. Not checking the EC Style Guide. I really dislike mixed verb tenses within sentences and paragraphs. Misused words make me crazy. I strongly dislike cardboard characters, talking heads. Graphic visual detail is a must for our books. In any book, really. I want to see the action and feel the love story.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
I’m not limited by genre. Fiction, biography, political satire—as long as something catches my interest, I’ll give it a try.

When I was very young, I loved David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, The Prince and the Pauper. I even liked The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Most of Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” books. Later, I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, Pride and Prejudice and Edgar Allen Poe’s poems—especially Annabelle Lee and The Raven. I read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond books, and loved James Patterson’s Alex Cross series and Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series. I’ve read some Steven King and a lot of Dean Koontz. On my nightstand: Edgar Cayce’s Egypt, The Nag Hammadi Library, Through the Veil, Holy Blood, Holy Grail and Funny Cide. I don’t have time to finish any of them.

Waaay back, when I read my first romance novel, Sweet Savage Love, I was hooked. I fell in love with the genre. My favorite romance authors are LaVyrle Spencer, Johanna Lindsey, Jude Deveraux, Lisa Gregory, Judith McNaught, and Susan Johnson, to name a few. Too many to list them all here. The only flaw in this new genre was that the sex just never went far enough. Until I found Ellora’s Cave. EC brought my love of romance novels full circle. I finally got the sex scenes as well as the love story. And I’ve been here ever since.

I love many of our EC authors’ books. Another long list that would take too much room. And it really wouldn’t be fair to list them here. I will say that some of my authors are on my all-time-favorite-books list.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

AAP September Sales Stats

From the American Association of Publishers, some sales statistics for September:

Net sales decreased 2% to $1.062 billion for 80 publishers that reported to AAP. Net sales for the year through September have fallen 1.5% to $7.718 billion.

Sales in selected categories:

E-books up 77.8% to $5.1 million.
Children's/YA hardcover up 41.9% to $119.8 million.
Professional and scholarly up 6.8% to $60.5 million.

Adult hardcover fell 29.8% to $173.3 million.
Children's/YA paperback fell19.1% to $51.5 million.
Audiobooks fell 12.3% to $18.7 million.
Religious books fell 11.8% to $76.8 million.
Adult paperback fell 8.6% to $134.7 million.
Adult mass market fell 8.3% to $67.4 million.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Critique Groups - Useful or Not-so?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

One of the things our editors very frequently recommend to authors (aspiring or published) is that they participate in a critique group to get feedback on their work. Now, critique groups come in all shapes and sizes, and finding one that matches your needs is not necessarily easy. Nor does everyone agree with the concept - I have heard one very wellknown NY top editor express that she does not feel they are of value to many writers. I disagree. While it is true that some writers don't have the right temperament or needs to fit in a group like this, I think most writers can benefit from them. Not just from the advice on your writing - but by helping you develop a thick skin and learn to deal with criticism. (Nothing is more unprofessional and immature than an author who whines over every bad review - or worse, lashes back with anger.)

Below are some things to consider about being part of a critique group. None of the different options are inherently better or worse, it all depends on what you need at this stage of your writing. The important thing is to understand up front what you are getting into, if you will fit, and if it will benefit you.

~ Do you have the time? In exchange for having people review your WIP, you are making a commitment to read, spend time analyzing, and intelligently comment upon the work of other writers.

~ Is the group online (exchanging files and comments via email) or "live" - getting together in person on a regular basis?

~ Can you offer reasoned, careful, well-explained, unemotional opinions on someone's writing? Just "I don't like it" or "This is wrong" is of no help.

~ Can you gracefully and calmly accept constructive criticism, even if it tears your work apart?

~ Is there a stated mission, or guidelines about how the group functions - how much time must you put in, what types of comments are acceptable, etc? How formal and organized is it? How are difficult or obstructive or unpleasant group members dealt with?

~ Is it a mixed-genre group, or is everyone writing in the same genre?

~ Is the group mainly for socializing and support, or is it firmly no-nonsense professional criticism? Or a bit of both?

~ Is the group just for critiquing WIP, or is it also an opportunity to exchange industry news and tips, share conference experiences, maybe have presentations or workshops?

~ What is the balance of published versus not-yet-published participants? Do you get any feeling that there is resentment or discord between the two types?

I belong to a critique group. We meet in person once a month, generally about five or six people make it each time. It's a mixed group - romance, children's literature, non-fiction. We do a good bit of chatting and socializing - and go out to lunch together after each meeting. But we keep in mind that our main purpose is to read and get feedback on the latest bit of our WIP. The first meeting I attended demonstrated to me the benefit of such a group. I read part of my WIP (a children's picture book), and there were lots of suggestions. I was stunned: "Everything you are telling me are things I as an editor say to authors all the time!" Yep, there's so much you can see in other people's work and just don't recognize in your own.

Some authors prefer a critique "partner" - just one other person with whom they exchange work in progress, whose opinion they value and trust.

So please tell us and your fellow authors reading this blog: Do you belong to a critique group? Is this the first one for you, or do you have prior experience with this? Do you think it is valuable to your writing? How did you find the group? What, for you, are the best and worst aspects of belonging to a critique group?

More Signs of the Bad Book Economy

Wall Street Journal article: Barnes & Noble Braces for 'Terrible' Season
(Comparable store sales decline for first time in company's history)

Barnes & Noble is "bracing for a terrible holiday season" and expects "the trend to continue well into 2009, and perhaps beyond," B&N's chairman wrote in an internal memo to employees.

"Never in all of the years I've been in business have I seen a worse outlook for the economy," Leonard Riggio continued. "And never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in. Nothing even close."

He said, too, that B&N has suffered from this financial and credit crisis, "albeit not as severely as most retailers, and certainly not as much as other booksellers." Sales at stores open at least a year had fallen recently for the first time in B&N's history.Riggio predicted that "the decline in retail traffic will affect our business as less people will pass our doors, and competition for the remaining business will become more intense. The result will be a 'Darwinian' environment (only the fittest will survive), and the retail species will have to adapt or face extinction."

Book and magazine publisher Rodale announced it is eliminating 111 positons, about 10% of its workforce. Most of the cuts are in the IT, operations and customer service departments, although some are being made in the publishing units. About 8 positions will be cut from the book group.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Meet the Editors: Nick

Nick Conrad

What is your background and experience in editing?
I've been an editor for Ellora's Cave for three years. My experience editing fiction began in college, though. I majored in English with a concentration in creative writing, so a large part of that involved participating in and eventually leading critique workshops. Obviously there are some differences between a college student's short story project and a novel being submitted for publication, but some things carry over regardless of who's writing and what's being written.

How would you describe your editing style?
Draconian! I'm not happy until the authors' fingers are showing bone. No, that's not true. I'm certainly fairly unbending when it comes to following basic rules of grammar and mechanics, as they are in place for a reason. Most instances have room to be subjective, as long as common sense is being used. But every aspect of editing has basic rules about plot and character development and logistics, continuity…every brain child needs a skeleton, or else it'll never learn to walk. I strive to work with my authors to make the story make sense and, above all, to make it an interesting read. There's not a one-size-fits all for that, which is why it takes time to do it right.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
Most authors I have worked with seem genuinely invested in doing whatever it takes to make their story the best it can be. And I think my favorite thing about editing is feeling that cohesion, knowing that the author and I are working together to put something out there that will represent her, and EC too, as positively as possible.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
Poor editing in either of those will make me grind my teeth. So will sloppy presentations. I have seen huge, long-successful publishers put out some real messes, and even if I liked the story overall I resent that the editing wasn't better. And for submissions, it's the same. I understand that an author can't always avoid a few typos—you're human, after all, not machine. But for heaven's sake, consider your audience! We want to read something that tells us you are interested not only in writing a quality book, but in packaging it in a quality manner. Otherwise, how easy are you going to be to work with?

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time
favorite books?

My favorite genres are mystery (especially Golden Age and a good old-fashioned, gritty hard-boiled noir), soul-wrenching space opera (space westerns are nice too), quirky steampunk, line-blurring urban fantasy (Give me vampires who age! Give me a setting that reads like alternative history and then—zing—it's near future Earth!), and tortured, neo-Victorian Lovecraftian horror. I'm also a sucker for a good twentieth-century historical, up to and including World War II.

My current nightstand book pile includes Uglies by Scott Westerfield and an anthology of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels.

As for my all-time favorite books? That's like picking favorite children. But if I must:
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (or, really, almost any Atwood)
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Sula by Toni Morrison
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
How To Save Your Own Life by Erica Jong
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The Young And Evil by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King
Also endless stacks of children's literature, with Roald Dahl, Louis Sachar, Beverly Cleary, and Lauren Child at the top.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Publishing's Economy Woes

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The news was not cheery this week in Bookland:

Reader’s Digest is eliminating a third of the positions in its Books Are Fun subsidiary.
McGraw-Hill Companies saw a third-quarter drop in profits of 14%, and cut another 270 jobs.
Random House Doubleday just laid off 16 positions across the board (including several editors).

David Drake of Doubleday Publishing Group: “we, like others in our industry and beyond, face a particularly challenging economic environment."

Amazon sales are still booming, but their growth has slowed a bit, and they’ve lowered their projections for sales increase in fourth quarter 2008.

Last quarter’s revenues at Indigo, Canada’s largest bookseller, fell 1.9%.

Simon&Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said their major accounts [bookstores] report that in-store traffic is down, and that sales of backlist titles have dropped. She is further quoted, “we remain optimistic that books will remain recession-proof, as everyone wants to believe, yet we are very much preparing ourselves for having to face an extremely difficult market."

Several more indie bookstores announced they would close, due to the balance sheet showing more red ink than black.

Yes, it's the economy.

Despite experiences from past economic recessions, despite what the "old timers" in the industry always believed, publishing and bookselling are no longer immune to a bad economy, to consumers who have far less discretionary income to spend. Books have not remained recession-proof.

The old wisdom was that people turned to reading as an inexpensive entertainment and escape from depressing reality, when they could no longer afford pricier pursuits. So book sales continued to do well when the economy was doing the opposite.

Ah, but that was before the present reality of "entertainment" - just pay your monthly cable and internet bills, and you'll have access to a gazillion TV shows and mindboggling worldwide information, entertainment, and social networking on the internet. So if money's tight, people now decide to just stay home with the TV and computer. No need to pull out your wallet to buy books to distract you from the depressing real world news.

So the old wisdom is no longer applicable. Publishing and bookselling are taking a hit just like everything else in this worldwide economic depression. Things are gloomy right now. I hear editors from many publishers sounding depressed, being worried about their jobs, wondering how they can possibly pump up slumping sales, worried about what books to acquire and what to pass on. And this means that publishing companies are focusing even more on needing explosive bestsellers, not wanting to expend much on chancy new authors or midlist - unless that new author seems like they can be the next megahit. Of course, that involves convincing the company to expend massive marketing money to turn that unknown into a chart-topping phenomenon. Which means less marketing budget available to other books. So even solid midlist authors are now worrying about what type of promotional support they'll get from their publisher - or even if they'll get another contract.

Book sales are showing a small decline for almost everyone - although few companies release specific figures. But many authors are commenting on decreased sales royalties, whether they are with the big 5 NY publishers, epublishers, or small print presses. And it seems to affect all genres in the trade, unless you are one of those megasellers (an infinitesimally small percentage of the total of new books released each year). It isn't a big drop yet, but no one's predicting a turnaround anytime soon.

So, in the face of all that doom and gloom, what can you as an author do? Well, authors and publishing industry professionals cannot singlehandedly save the economy. We have to do our best to keep things going and ride it out. What you can do for your career is persevere. Promote yourself and your books as much as you can afford to do. Keep writing, keep submitting. Even if a book doesn't get picked up, hold onto it - eventually the economy will improve, publishers will be contracting more books and filling more release spots, you can try it again. And mainly recognize that it is not your or your publisher's fault, the book business is seeing the same impacts as every other retail business in these hard times.

And maybe go buy of few books yourself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kiss of Death Conference

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Several weeks ago I had the honor and pleasure of attending "Things That Go Bump In the Night", the annual Kiss of Death retreat, held in Portland, Maine. KOD is the RWA special interest online chapter devoted to mystery and romantic suspense writers.

There were fabulous speakers and workshops. Danny Agan, a retired police detective from Atlanta, Georgia, and now a private investigator was a very popular speaker. His presentations are lively and interactive - he had the group act out the discovery of a murder victim, which resulted in quite true-to-life chaos and confusion. He focused on the reality of police work - as in, CSI shows it all wrong. And like all cops, he loves to tell stories about funny or bizarre cases.

By seeming serendipity, agent Meg Ruley and I gave presentations that dovetailed nicely. I talked about the editor-author relationship. Meg, who has been with the Jane Rotrosen Agency for well over twenty years, talked about how she became a literary agent and what that job entails. Meg is a delightful person with impressive knowledge of the publishing industry; she and I discovered a lot of similarities in our work and lives.

As always, I thoroughly enjoy these smaller events. Oh, maybe forty people at this one? It was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk one-on-one to so many of the attendees. Especially in the bar in the evening! Now, mind you, I don't drink and I'm an early-to-bed person, but a hotel bar that serves lobster bisque definitely will draw me in! Seems like I get to hear a lot more pitches in that casual environment than in the official - scary to some authors - pitch appointments.

And Portland was a lovely, historic little city, definitely a place I would like to visit again. Incredible food (all that lobster!) and scads of interesting little shops.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Marvelous MARA

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Last weekend I was at Mid-America Romance Writers in Kansas City. What a great group of writers, so friendly and supportive. I was impressed by their interactions, by their encouragement of critique groups (which I think are vital to aspiring authors).

I enjoy these smaller groups (this was about 30 people) because my presentation can be much more interactive and conversational than "presenting" in front of a large group. We had a wonderful several-hour chat about Ellora's Cave and about e-publishing in general. We talked about the genres that do best in digital, the new e-book readers and potential future ones, the realities of selling ebooks from publisher sites or through third party vendors, megalithic Amazon, and that many processes in publishing (like acquiring, editing, cover art) really don't differ much whether the final product is print or digital.

Then there were editor/author pitches. I like doing these, especially in a situation like this where they can be more casual. Yes, in most cases an editor or agent wants to have appointments with authors who have completed, ready-to-submit stories. After all, the point of these appointments for us is to find potential authors/books. But when there is time, I always volunteer to talk to writers who don't yet have something ready to submit but would just like some advice or just want to ask questions - or want to practice pitching, to help overcome their nervousness. So at MARA I had the opportunity to give what I hope was useful advice and suggestions to authors, and encourage them to keep working on that story and get it done and submitted.

On a lighter note, there was food and fun. These people understand that food is critical to the creative process - brunch before the meeting, several snack breaks during the afternoon, dinner afterwards. (And need I mention that the snacks included the all-important 'C' word in the form of brownies and chocolate chip cookies?) In many cases, when I attend conferences or writer meetings, I go between airport and hotel and never see anything else of the location. My very kind driver this weekend gave me a tour of the area. Kansas City has a stunningly impressive Morrish section - incredible building architecture and trims.

The group gave me one of their chapter tee-shirts, which I love: "Reading is subversive...Join the revolution!".

All in all, a successful weekend in my book!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Meet the Editors: Meghan

Meghan Conrad

What is your background and experience in editing?
I've been at Ellora's Cave for about a year and a half, and I'm quite happy here. Prior to that, I did a lot of academic and freelance editing, and supplemented that income working as a pre-reader for Tor Books.

How would you describe your editing style?
It varies from person to person, honestly. My standards for what's acceptable remain the same, but some authors respond better to velvet gloves patting them on the head than they do to steel-toed boots kicking them in the ass. (I have to say, however, that I feel like I look better in boots than I do in gloves.)

Motivational techniques aside, I can be quite harsh if I feel that a character isn't behaving realistically, or it seems to me that an aspect of the plot is improbable. I really want good, believable stories, and don't hesitate to point it out if people are missing the mark. I also try to point out the things that really work about a story, even if it's in something that I ultimately pass on.

I can also be difficult to please--if you're making the same mistake over and over, you need to know that you'll get your manuscript back over and over until it's fixed. I expect people to learn from their mistakes, and get frustrated when authors feel that they should prioritize quantity over quality.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
Well, I do pretty much get paid to read all day, which I think we can all agree is fantastic.

More seriously, I find it very satisfying to help an author hone their skills, to write the very best book that they can.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
The easiest way to irritate me is by sending in something that's poorly punctuated, full of word choice errors (homophones are especially problematic), and populated with misspellings. There's no excuse for it. Every author should have, at the very least, a friend who's good with grammar going over their submissions before they send them in. If you don't have that friend, or if you're really abysmal with spelling, hire a proofreader. They're a dime a dozen on Craigslist and on university message boards, and using them ensures that you’re not rejected out of hand.

There are, of course, other little things that get me. Using male and man interchangeably will always drive me crazy--there's no reason that a human woman would be looking across the room at "the male by the punch bowl". (If she's a werewolf, it makes a lot more sense.) I also hate backstories of the sort where the hero's parents were killed when he was little and he grew up a homeless orphan, then he watched his wife and child get killed at the hands of terrorists who then tortured him for three years, he finally comes home and finds out that his company has gone bankrupt... I feel like they're an attempt at making a character sympathetic, but the author was too lazy to actually write a sympathetic character.

Also, I hate coincidence-based plots. You know what I mean: the ones where the gardener is also her uncle, and she just happened to be in the same bar as the murderers, and the DNA tests happened to come back the one day that she called in sick to work and picked up the mail herself instead of letting the help get it, and... It drives me crazy. I can buy one major coincidence in a story, and I feel like even that is being pretty generous.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
Like others, possibly it would be more appropriate to list what I don't read. If I'm desperate, I'll happily read the back of a cereal box or the care labels on clothing.

I'm especially fond of science fiction, noir, dystopias of any sort, YA literature, and urban fantasies. I also read a fair amount of nonfiction.

On my nightstand right now, I have The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson.

All-time favorites--and the list is frequently changing--include The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund, Sacred Country by Rose Tremain, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, Stardust and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Successful Adoption

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Good Writer = Like. Good Writer + Chocolate = Love.

Editorial Anonymous is a children's book editor, but much of her advice is applicable to authors in any genre. This article is about the all-too-common reality that editors leave their jobs (for many reasons), and their "orphaned" authors must be adopted by other editors at the house. So now the person editing your book is not the one who initially fell in love with and acquired it. What can you as author do to get this new relationship off to a good start, and be successfully adopted? (And yes, chocolate - or some other tasty edible - helps.)

Please go read the full article, but here's the core of it:

"The first and most important step is to send good chocolates. This will get her attention, even on a hellishly busy day. With the chocolates send a very friendly letter that conveys:
1. your enthusiasm at working with her
2. your interest in developing a good working relationship with her
3. the development history of the book with the other editor
4. all of your contact information"

Yes, the editor should certainly reach out and make contact with you. But your book is just one of many on her plate, she has to spread her time and attention around. Whereas you as author want to get her to focus on your book - so you definitely should have incentive to help your new editor realize you are a wonderful person to work with and that editing your book will be a joyful experience.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Amazon Sales Stats

Amazon reports that net sales for third fiscal quarter (ending Sept. 30) rose 31% to $4.26 billion; net income rose 48% to $118 million.

Their prediction of net sales for the full year is $18.46 to $19.46 billion. They estimate net sales in fourth quarter of $6 to $7 billion.

Amazon is still not divulging any sales figures on the Kindle e-reader, but is continuing to state that Kindle titles account for more than 10% of sales for books that are available in both print and Kindle formats.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Business of Bookstores

by Raelene Gorlinsky
by Andrew Wheeler (Marketing Manager, John Wiley & Sons)

This lengthy article has some excellent information about how bookchains select the books they stock, what the typical order numbers are like. Reassuring for normal authors to see that a couple thousand to a chain can be good sales for certain genres, when we are overwhelmed with the hundreds of thousands or million-plus estimates for the huge blockbusters. The main focus is on Barnes&Noble and Borders, with some info on Amazon. A must-read for authors, to help understand the bookselling business. Be sure to read down through the comments, too.

Some quotes from the article:

"But bookstores are businesses, not public conveniences. No store has the responsibility to carry every book published"

"Wal*Mart takes only a handful of books for their stores -- and is taking fewer for their website recently, as well. Starbucks carries two or three books a year. (Though you know that publishers are pitching them many, many more than that.) The warehouse clubs are very selective."

"Barnes & Noble has the most: over 700 superstores, less than a hundred B. Dalton mall stores, and about 700 college stores. (Most of those can be ignored by everyone but textbook authors; less than a hundred of those carry "real" books.) Borders has about a thousand stores, almost evenly divided between Borders superstores (slightly more of these) and mall stores (Walden and the rebranded Borders Express chain), plus a couple of dozen airport stores."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Art of Romance

The Art of Romance: Mills & Boon and Harlequin Cover Designs

Total entertainment for devoted romance readers!

The book starts with a 10-page history of these two romance publishing giants, and then the rest is filled with cover art, 1908 through 2008. Looking at those old cover styles is hysterical! Let alone the story titles!

Mills & Boon started in 1908, and originally published a wide variety of genres. Jack London was one of their early authors. The company began to focus on romances for women in the WWI era. Harlequin started in Canada in 1949; in the late 1950s they began to publish M&B hospital romances in paperback in North America. Mills&Boon merged with Harlequin in 1971.

Oh, lawdy, the covers of The Girl Who Saved His Honour (1913) and Footlights (1920) by Arthur Applin! One of my favorite titles is Romance Goes Tenting (1956) - it appears to be a circus romance. The poorly drawn couple on the cover of The Good and the Bad (1955) seem to be suffering from bad hangovers after a night of dissipation and who knows what - makes me wonder what the story plot was. It's clear that even through the 1990s, the M&B covers were much tamer and "old-fashioned" than the Harlequin covers.

The last section has a few covers of foreign editions, including several Japanese Manga editions of Harlequin romances. Definitely a different look.

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Monday, October 20, 2008

Meet the Editors: Gwen

Gwen is one of our final copy editors. The final copy editor is not involved in the book content editing done between author and editor. After the author and book editor think the book is "done", it goes to the final copy editor, who is a fresh set of eyes, and the final eyes on the book. She checks sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling, conformance to our Style Guide - but it's a lot more than just proofreading. The copy editor also checks the content - factual accuracy, consistency, timelines, and a lot more.

Gwen Peake
What is your background and experience in editing?
I started editing my first year of college. I always received high marks in English and friends of mine began asking me to proofread their papers for them before handing them in to their professors. After a few of them started getting better grades, I became inundated with editing requests. After doing this pro bono for a semester, I started charging people and using the money I earned to support my shoe addiction. Not the best investment, but my closet looks nice!

How would you describe your editing style?
I read each book at least twice. The first time, I focus on continuity, punctuation and grammar errors, etc. The second time I focus more on the content of the story itself.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
Honestly, it makes me feel smart. :-) I also enjoy using the talent I have to help make an already good manuscript even better.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
I really loathe excessive use of semicolons. It irks me to no end.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
I love reading contemporary fiction and autobiographies. My favorite book of all time is Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman. It was the first book I remember owning. It’s such a cute little story. Other favorites are Cheaters by Eric Jerome Dickey and Dreamlovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee by Dodd Darin.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Shoutout to Utah RWA

by Nick Conrad

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Heart of the West conference, hosted by the Utah chapter of the Romance Writers of America. The conference was held high in the Rocky Mountains, and it wasn't just the thin air that took my breath away.

The members of the Utah Chapter worked hard to put that conference together, and it really seemed to pay off. There were at least sixty attendees and a number of workshops—there were discussions about suspense, conflict, dialogue, the power of emotion, and more. I gave a presentation on e-books and e-publishing, and I got lots of excellent questions and lively discussion from the audience, who seemed excited and enthusiastic about e-publishing. The three keynote speakers were authors Julia Quinn and Lynn Kurland, as well as author and RWA president Sherry Lewis. I also sat on the editor/agent panel with editor Megan McKeever from Pocket Books and agent Cori Deyoe from 3 Seas Literary Agency. We had an open Q and A session that felt more like a friendly discussion—everyone seemed rather knowledgable on the subject matter and interested in what we had to say, and I thought the information we gave on the panel was very cohesive and thorough.

I also took a number of pitch appointments, and I have to say, these authors could have been textbook examples of how to pitch perfectly. They knew their material and were professional and thorough, all while managing to keep it within the allotted ten-minute slots.

Oh, and did I mention the chocolate? There was chocolate in delicious fondue form. Use caution with these Utah romance writers. Their chocolate will suck you right in and might never let you go.

This conference and others like it illustrate a very relevant point for authors or anyone even beginning to consider writing professionally. One of an aspiring author's most important tools is a solid writers' organization. I've attended multiple conferences hosted by different RWA chapters, and I have to say, I've never seen an RWA chapter who didn't pour their hearts into the work they did together. And that work isn't always romance-specific, as evidenced by the presentations at the Put Your Heart in a Book conference. So whether you write science fiction, erotic horror, inspirational romance, children's books, political psychothrillers, or traditional Regencies, check out your local writers' groups. You'll find support and solidarity there to help you build your career, and you'll find kinship with authors who line shelves around the world as well as authors who are just starting out.

Thanks again, Utah RWA! Special thanks to Lisa MacDonald/KyAnn Waters, who initially extended the invite, and to Lesli Muir Lytle (w/a Ainsley MacQueen) for all her hard work and generous hospitality. I had an excellent time, and we hope you keep us in mind for the future.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holiday Book Buying?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

An article in the October 14 Publishers Weekly e-newsletter quoted an NPD Group consumer survey that people plan to spend a lot less this holiday season. (Duh, our money will be absorbed by the increasing costs of gas and groceries, not gifts.) But a ray of sunshine for publishers and authors: "books ranked fourth on the list of top 10 items consumers plan to buy as gifts, with 27% of consumers saying they will purchase books to give this holiday season." (The top three items were apparel, toys and movies.)

Count me into that percentage. My mother, father and niece are all getting books from me for Christmas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chained in the Basement

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Readers/fans believe the funniest things. Most readers don't know anything about the publishing industry and how it works, or what the "job" of author really entails. And readers shouldn't have to understand all that - they just want to enjoy the products (that is, books) that the industry produces. But some reader misconceptions can startle us. Which is how we developed our "We keep them chained in the basement" response.

We don't offer tours of our office to readers, but occasionally a fan will contact us and say they are going to be in the area and really, really want to come see our offices. We'll try to be accommodating, although I warn them up front that it mainly just looks like any office building, any type of company. So the reader comes, we walk through the various departments and explain what people do, we introduce them to Manaconda and Peter and whatever other animals are gracing the office that day (we're a very pet-friendly company), we give them some promo items. And then, about half the time, comes the question, "But where are the authors?" Beg pardon? "You know, where are the desks the authors work at?" Yep, some readers think that authors are actual employees of publishing companies, that you do your writing on site at the company, that you are somehow involved in running the company. Since we don't display you to visitors, we must keep you chained in the basement, only giving you food and water when you complete a chapter.

If only we did have you chained to us as indentured servants, maybe then you'd be a little more obedient. Because something that comes up not infrequently from reader emails is why we don't "make" authors write specific books. "She said there would be a sequel to this! Why haven't you made her write that book? What do you have her writing instead?" Make you? Tell you what to write? Again, it's the mistaken concept that an author is an employee of the publisher and does assigned tasks. Today you will write a story about...or I will chain you in the basement until you do.

I've tried explaining it with analogies. I've likened authors to freelance artists, who create a painting and then try to get it handled by whatever gallery has the type of clientele who would appreciate the artist's style and finished masterpiece. This explanation doesn't help much, because most people don't know any more about how the business aspects of the art world work than they know about how the publishing industry works.

Another common misperception of readers: "Why isn't my favorite author's next book out yet? Don't you give them a deadline? Can't you refuse to pay them until they finish the book?" Um, yes, it's called royalties - our author doesn't get paid until the book is done and for sale. But readers don't realize that most authors have another "day job", they don't (well, except for Nora Roberts) work 9 to 5 writing at their computer, an hour off for lunch. They don't assemble a specific number of widgets (err, words written) each day. I guess we're going to have to chain you in the basement until you meet your production quota.

So, authors, be sure you punch the timeclock on your way to the basement. Slip that chain around your ankle before you sit down to pound out your daily quota of words for the novel you've been assigned to write. And don't think you're getting paid sick leave or vacation - that doesn't come until you've reached 10-book seniority.

Yes indeed, if only authors could crank out stories on demand, publishers would have a much easier job. Alas, in reality authors are imaginative, creative people who want to write the story they are being inspired about and at the pace and place that works for them. And no other method would produce the great stories we get to publish. Chaining them in a dank, dark basement just won't work.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meet the Editors: Suz

And here's our other Aussie editor.

Sue-Ellen Gower

What is your background and experience in editing?
It took two retrenchments within a year and a midlife crisis a few years back to get me to open my eyes and look at what other skills I had that I could market. A love of English and a lifelong love of reading turned me to editing. I went back to college and gained a Diploma in Professional Editing and Proofreading, then started searching for the perfect venue for my “talents”. A short stint doing academic editing made me realize I needed something a bit more stimulating to keep me awake at my “job” . I pitched my talents to Raelene five years ago, and haven’t looked back. I’ve found my niche and I love it.

How would you describe your editing style?
All editors have their strength, and I think mine is the emotional and motivational arcs in the story. And while I can pick a story to death with punctuation and grammar as well as the next editor, I tend to nail my authors if they’re short-changing on the emotional goodies. I want to fall in love with their characters. I want the readers to feel the same. So if you aren’t giving me that connection, trust me, you’ll hear about it. I’m honest with my authors—if a scene isn’t working, I can be a bit blunt, although I’m working on that . I’m quite sure they’d rather hear it from me than a slew of readers or reviewers. By the same token, I like to share my laughs if you’ve raised a chuckle, and my tears if you’ve made me cry (crying is good!! It means you hit the emotional bullseye!). Bottom line, I want that book to be the best it can be. So if I’m tough in helping my authors achieve it, I hope they forgive me for some of the “bruises” acquired along the way. I follow my gut a lot on what I think works (or doesn’t) in stories, but at the end of the day it’s your story. An editor can only advise—I guess that’s where the “trust” element comes in.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
What, I can only pick one? Obviously reading. And I get first peek at the books of some of the best authors in the genre! Lucky me :-) But I really love the whole editor/author relationship. There’s a level of trust that builds along the way—and it’s a two-way street. I absolutely want their story to be the best, and if I have to needle, motivate, bully, cosset—heavens, send hugs if necessary—to help make that happen, then I’m there for them. There’s incredible satisfaction in seeing them achieve their dreams on a career level. That’s the payoff for me—seeing them grow into the author they dream of being and knowing I’ve helped them achieve that in some small way.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
TSTL heroines. Trust me, you don’t want to go there. Clichéd storylines or phrases (do NOT give me that “dance as old as time” phrase or I’ll spit rubber bullets at you. ;-) Sloppy punctuation and grammar. For new authors, that submission is your one big chance to impress me. If I have to wade through a messy manuscript to find the story, that says to me that you’re not serious and you really don’t care, so why should I? For that first submission, if you want it to stand a chance, you owe it to yourself to pay for a professional proofreader. Just do it.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
I’m very eclectic in my reading tastes. Mystery, romance, historicals, bios... Anything, really, except for horror. I’m easily scared and I like to sleep easy at night.

Favorite authors (I generally read their whole backlist once I’m hooked):
Wilbur Smith
Ken Follet
Karen Marie Moning
Sherrilyn Kenyon
Clive Cussler
Jean M. Auel
Sandra Hill
LaVyrle Spencer
Lisa Marie Rice...

The list really is endless. And lastly my authors. I have what I consider some of the best talent in the erotic romance genre overall—not just at Ellora’s Cave. And they’d be auto-buys for me even if I weren’t their editor. So how lucky am I? ;-)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

AAP Sales Stats for August

The Association of American Publishers gets sales figures from 79 publishers (out of the many thousand publishing companies in this country), including the major pubs. The AAP reports that net sales by publishers fell 1.4% in August, to a total of $6.65 billion.

Quoting from an article in Shelf Awareness, an e-newsletter of the book trade:

  • E-books leapt 82.9%, to $4.3 million.
  • Children's/YA paperback jumped 18.4% to $69.4 million.
  • Adult hardcover rose 9.2% to $100.9 million.
  • Professional and scholarly rose 3% to $99.8 million.
  • Adult paperback edged up 1.8% to $147.4 million.
  • Adult mass market fell 4.5% to $70.1 million.
  • Audiobooks wound back 6.9% to $11.9 million.
  • Children's/YA hardcover fell 9.3% to $96.4 million.
  • Religious books dropped 10.8% to $61.1 million.
  • University press paperback slid 13.9% to $9.8 million.
  • University press hardcover fell 17.8% to $6.4 million.

(I personally think that a good part of that leap in the ebook numbers is in the reporting of them - few print publishers bothered reporting those numbers before, and the AAP does not solicit sales figures from e-publishers.)

The article further discusses the decline in sales everywhere, as reflected in sales figures from general retail stores. Only warehouse clubs and some big box stores (BJ's, Sam's, Wal-Mart) had noticeable sales increases. But Target was down 3%, luxury stores and department stores were down significantly. So the drop in book sales is part of a general consumer cutback in spending.

From Wall Street Journal:
"The September numbers show a nation paring back in the face of economic uncertainty, fleeing extravagance in favor of low-priced basics. Discretionary spending is drying up as Americans grapple with higher food and energy prices, depressed home values and diminished retirement accounts."

The Last Lecture

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This is not the post I had planned for today. But I think it is relevant for the mission of this blog, because it is about the power of words - the way they can move us and inspire us.

I had, of course, seen many mentions of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He is now the "late" professor, although he was still alive when the book first came out this year. I kept meaning to buy it, but never quite did - it's a bit pricey. But I was in the bookstore today and the book was on sale. And I figured if I didn't like it, it would make a good Christmas gift for someone.

You know, people look at you oddly when you cry in public. I was waiting in a slow line at the pharmacy, so I opened the book I'd just bought and started to read. And to cry. I can't describe all the emotions in this book, although the transcendent one is the courage of the author. So I will let him tell you about the book in his own words, part of the Introduction:

I have an engineering problem.

While for the most part I'm in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.

I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams. While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn't do them, or me, any good.

So, how to spend my very limited time?

The obvious part is being with, and taking care of, my family. While I still can, I embrace every moment with them, and do the logistical things necessary to ease their path into a life without me.

The less obvious part is how to teach my children what I would have taught them over the next twenty years. They are too young now to have those conversations. All parents want to teach their children right from wrong, what we think is important, and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. We also want them to know some stories from our own lives, often as a way to teach them how to lead theirs. My desire to do that led me to give a "last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University.

These lectures are routinely videotaped. I knew what I was doing that day. Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.

I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.

This computer science professor has an eloquence and emotional commitment that every author should admire. It would be fantastic if every fiction book (especially the romances) I read affected me as much. So, go read this book.