Monday, July 28, 2008

On Writing by Stephen King

Book review by Nathalie Gray (

Commas and Chainsaws

One of the few hardcovers I own except for R.A. Salvatore (and let’s not talk about that addiction, m’kay) is Stephen King’s On Writing. Other reviewers in the past have lauded its gently acerbic and thoughtful autobiographical first half. Just read the hundreds of reviews on Amazon alone. That first half? It’s genius on paper. King takes you back in time to his youth, where maggots crawled out of washing machines, old school horror movies still played in theaters and babysitters yelled “pow!” when they passed gas. As anyone who read this book will tell you, this babysitter will live in your head for a long time. Longer than Nurse Annie Wilkes in Misery. Thanks for that, Mr. King...

But what made my inner Chihuahua chase her tail with savage glee is the second half of the book. Namely, The Toolbox. Like any other trade, writing requires tools. I’m not talking about publishing, which requires celestial alignment. Alliance with dark powers is a nice edge, too. But seriously, dude, On Writing has everything a writer could ever want. King also suggests a method for arranging your own writer toolbox.

Top drawer
The most common tools, like vocabulary, go on top. We’re not talking about consciously looking for big fancy words when short ones would do. Reading builds vocabulary. Reading a lot and diversely.

Grammar and elements of style. This section can pretty much be summed up in a short sentence; get thee a Strunk and White Elements of Style. ’Nuff said.

Middle drawer tools
Hard work and dedication. Burn the midnight oil, write and write some more. Revise your toolbox, read books and, without spiraling into nervous breakdown over minutiae, try to see what works and how. King also mentions that bad books often teach more than good ones. My brain agrees even if my wallet doesn’t.

Bottom drawer
All these nifty little tools that make you own inner Chihuahua chase her tail with savage glee.

That’s it. No secret handshake, no Seventeen Steps to Instant Publishdom or Ninety-two Ways to Tickle Your Muse. What I enjoy the most about On Writing is the no bullshit approach. King advises writers to write, to not only talk the talk, but to also walk the walk. Shut that door to your writing space if you have one, draw the curtains, unhook the phone or ignore it. Do everything you can to make sure you write. Advice like this is too rare in this age of overindulgence and instant gratification. And this method, just like its author, is full of win and awesomeness. In King’s word, writing is like “lifting off in an airplane: you’re on the ground, on the ground, on the ground...and then you’re up, riding on a magical cushion of air”.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Do E-Authors Make Money?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This topic came up in our discussions of E-Myths and in a recent request for information in an article on the topic for RWR magazine.

The quick answer: Yes, e-authors in certain genres can make a lot of money.

But be aware of this reality: Only e-authors in the hot trends sell enough to be making any sort of decent income in e-publishing. Erotic romance authors can easily make enough to support themselves, a few make into six figures annually. I’ve heard that some science fiction books do extremely well in digital format. Books for smaller or niche markets that wouldn’t be picked up by traditional print publishers can succeed in digital format. These are genres where readers couldn’t find what they wanted on bookstore shelves, and so went to ebooks where it was available. And even now that erotic romance is plentiful in print, many readers are already committed to the ebook format so it continues to sell well. But most fiction does not, at least yet, git high sales numbers in digital format. However, ebook usage is growing, and with the Kindle and Sony and other new devices coming, will continue to grow even faster.

So where does the income come from for e-authors?

~ Few e-publishers provide advances, but royalty payments are immediate (monthly at most e-pubs, quarterly at a few) and reflect actual number of copies sold. With print books, many authors never earn out the advance or see any additional royalties. And they have to wait a year or more to get any royalties.

~ Ebook royalty rates are typically 35-40%. (Traditional print publishers who also hold the e-rights and are now making their print books available digitally are often paying only 15% or less for the ebook royalties.) Versus mass market print royalty rates of average 8% for new or low midlist romance authors.

~ E-books continue for sale for the life of the contract, they don’t go “out of print”. Therefore the e-author continues to accrue royalties from backlist. Every time the author releases a new book, we see sales go up on their backlist titles. For print books, the book is gone from store shelves within a few months. A reader can special-order it or get it at an online vendor (like Amazon), but that accounts for a lesser percentage of sales. And except for the big-name authors, once the print run is sold out, most books (especially genre fiction like romance) seldom get a new print run –- the print demand just isn’t there to make it worthwhile. So the author ceases to earn income on the older titles, and doesn’t get sales from them when a new book comes out.
It is the backlist sales that account for a lot of income of e-published authors, once they’ve got a bunch of books out.

~ Writing income is tied to frequency of release, number of books out. In e-publishing, an author can get releases out more quickly, and can have more releases –- thereby starting to earn money faster and on more books.

And here's something very important to keep in mind: For many authors of ebooks, the choice was not between “how much could you make with an ebook” versus “how much could you make with a print book” –- it is between the ebook sales or zero sales. This is most certainly NOT because e-publishers will take books not “good enough” for NY print pubs –- the better e-pubs have quality standards even higher than NY. But an e-pub can make a profit on a much smaller number of sales per title, so can take a chance on genres or story types, on niche markets, or on new authors, that NY is not interested in because the traditional print pubs don’t feel the books have big enough market potential. An author like this could sell that great book to an e-pub, or not sell it at all.

That is, after all, the history of erotic romance. NY did not believe readers wanted this type of book, so wouldn’t publish it; e-pubs proved it sells fantastically, and then NY jumped on the bandwagon. We’re seeing the same thing now with certain subgenres of erotic romance, like ménages and male/male -- it's been very hot in ebooks for quite a while, the NY print publishers are just recently venturing into it. Paranormal romance was highly popular with ebook readers when NY was contracting very little of it, now it’s hot. Authors in those genres could not sell to NY, even though the stories were fantastic, so sold to e-publishers. NY print publishers of romance have now learned to follow ebook trends to see what the next hot fad will be, and who the best authors are.

Thursday, July 17, 2008



We did a poll, asking for the most common "myths" you hear from readers or from other authors about e-publishing. Some of these are completely false. Some may have been true once, but no longer. A few have a kernel of fact, but have been misconstrued or misinterpreted or blown way up beyond reality.

1. E-publishers only put out books that NY has rejected. / E-pubs will publish anything submitted to them.
Hah, tell that to the 95% of submissions we rejected. E-pubs are able to accept and take a chance on books with a smaller audience, a niche market, a less popular setting or time period or theme--so a great book could be rejected by NY because it wasn't considered marketable (wouldn't make enough sales) but may be something an e-publisher can do.

2. Anyone can start an e-publishing company, all it takes is a computer and website.
And anyone who does it like that will fail. Like any new, small business, you need a business plan, marketing plan, start-up money, talented people, and a strong understanding of the market and the business.

3. All e-publishers are shady businesses, hovering on the brink of failure.
See above. An e-pub is a small business like any other, and has the same needs and risks. As an author, research the e-pubs you are considering submitting to.

4. E-publishing is vanity or self-publishing.
Legitimate e-pubs work just like print publishers--all money flows from publisher to author. Vanity/subsidy publishers charge fees to the author for publishing their book, sometimes for services like editing or cover art.

5. Authors can't make any money in e-publishing.
Tell that to all the e-pubbed authors making enough to support themselves (and their families). A few make over six figures in royalty income annually.
The kernel of truth in this is that only authors in the hot genres in e-books make a lot of money. Or megaselling NY print authors whose books are also available in digital (but that's not true e-publishing, just a secondary market format for them). If the genre of book is readily available in great quantity and variety on bookstore shelves, then readers aren't driven to the e-book versions.

6. The only successful e-books are erotica or erotic romance.
See above. I've heard that some types of sci-fi also do very well in digital. But the digital book market is slowly growing, especially with the advent of new popular e-reading devices like the Kindle and Sony e-Reader.

7. E-books aren't "real" books. / Everybody prefers holding a "real" print book.
Err, what do you mean by "real"? A "book" is a story, no matter what format (including audio books). And more and more people are seeing the benefits of e-books and choosing them over print books in some cases.

8. E-pubs don't promote their authors or books. / E-pubs aren't "invested" in their authors.
Smack you upside the head, RWA National, for such a stupid and wrong attitude. E-pubs spend a lot of time (which means dollars) grooming newbie authors. E-pubs promote their books in total and promote the format overall, which benefits all their authors. And face it, nowadays only a tiny portion of NY print pubbed authors get advertised by their publishers. The marketing budgets no longer exist. Primary responsibility for promotion is in 99% of cases up to the author, regardless of publisher or book format.

9. E-books are not edited, the quality is poor.
May have been true ten years ago, but not now. New publishers, whether print or digital, are likely to start with less experience in and funds for editing. But the established e-pubs have quality to rival anyone. E-pubs do as much if not more substantive editing and copy editing as the big NY print houses. If you as an author feel you are not getting good editing at an e-pub, you need to discuss this with your editor or the publisher.

10. All e-books are short stories, the authors can't write full-length novels.
Huh? At ECPI and many other e-pubs, we do the full range of story lengths--short stories through books longer than a typical print novel. Kernel of truth: e-publishing does allow for shorter stories to be more easily and frequently published. One isn't contrained by needing a page count long enough to print, or having to batch novellas into anthologies to be big enough to throw on a printing press.

11. E-book covers are all poor quality, computer-generated "pod people".
Again, for a new publisher, that is the fastest and least expensive cover art to generate. But established, experienced e-publishers have moved away from that, now are using photos, illustrations, or CGI that is so good you can't tell it's not real.

12. If you publish an e-book, you'll never be able to get a NY publisher or agent to take you seriously.
This had some validity four or more years ago, but no longer! NY editors and agents regularly "raid" the e-pubs to acquire authors. NY publishers buy up the rights to previously e-pubbed books in order to issue the books themselves in print. Look at all the newer popular romance authors who started in e-publishing and used it as a springboard to NY - Lora Leigh, Cheyenne McCray, Angela Knight, Diane Whiteside to name but a few.

13. All e-book authors aspire to leave e-publishing and become NY print published.
Many e-book authors picked up by NY houses continue to also produce e-books. And some authors are not interested in making the change--the benefits of e-publishing better fit their lifestyle or priorities. Benefits: A monthly royalty check (regular income, rather than few-and-far-between advances); less stress due to fewer deadlines and being able to work at your own pace; submission process is easier, faster, less expensive, doesn't require an agent; can publish more frequent books; can write a broader type of story for smaller markets; more flexibility in story length; very loyal and active readership. Plus the wonderful income benefit of always having your whole e-book backlist available for sale, rather than having your print book disappear off the store shelves within a few months.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Expanding E-book Acceptance and Use?

Two interesting recent articles in Publishers Weekly about e-books:

E-book University: Digital books thrive on campus and at university presses

E-Reads Shifts Gears: E-book pioneer ready as industry, consumers embrace new formats

Friday, July 11, 2008

Advice for the Aspiring Author

by Helen Woodall

I asked a chat loop of published authors what was the one piece of advice they would give an aspiring /beginning author. Interestingly, almost all of them said “Keep writing. Believe in yourself”. But they added other pieces of wisdom as well.

~ Don’t rewrite the first chapter a bazillion times. Finish your book and don’t give up. ~ Brynn Paulin

~Persevere, develop a thick skin, get a blog and invest in your greatest vice as it will get you through the hard times. ~ Amarinda Jones

~Just write! Anything. And keep writing. ~ Terri Beckett

~A writer goes through three phases when putting together a book. First time around he writes for himself. The second time, he writes for his audience. The third time, he writes for his friends - meaning that the writer is finally comfortable with the story. ~ Cara Lyle

~Write the book of your heart. The one that means something to you. It will show. And then revise, edit and polish. Listen to CPs, contest judges and editors, and edit again. Develop your voice. It’s what grabs a reader and makes her come back to an author. ~ Mona Risk

~Vince Flynn, NY Times best selling author of political thrillers and a good friend said, “Give yourself permission to write a crummy first draft. The goal is to get the story down on paper, then work with it.”

~ The author John Lescroart said: “Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t filling pages. If you write just one page a day, at the end of the year you have a book.”

~ Find a good critique group where you can learn to polish your craft. And never, ever give up. ~ Desiree Holt

~ A professor at the University of Iowa told me, “Write what you know.”
Let the characters tell the story, at their own pace and in their own way. ~ Julia Barrett

~ If five people tell you the same thing that’s wrong with a manuscript then it’s a good chance you should change it. Sometimes we are married to our own thought patterns and it makes us stubborn. ~ Patt Mihailoff

~ Don’t quit. It’s really just that simple. Keep writing, revising, submitting, and sooner or later, the right book will land in the right hands. ~ Cindy Spencer Pape

~ Learn to accept rejection gracefully and don’t be discouraged. Keep sending out that manuscript and search out a good critique group, either in your community or on-line. ~ Regina Carlysle

~ Develop your own voice. Write the story you’re really burning to write. Write every day, even if it’s only your name. Read, read, read... read every day. ~ Anny Cook

~ Never give up, never surrender! Persistence! ~ Kathy Kulig

~ Don’t let anyone, whether family or friends, steal your dream of writing. ~ Charlene Leatherman

~ There will be those around you who share in your happiness and those who you thought were your closest friends or even mentors who will do everything they can to cut you down, to fill you full of self-doubts. Those people are toxic. Learn who they are quickly and surround yourself with other friends who will share your joys and sorrows and support you and your words. ~ Taylor Tryst

~ Listen to those who love you over those who don’t. Send that manuscript out one more time. ~ Jacqueline Roth

~ Read the latest releases in the specific genre in which you’re trying to write and from the publisher you want to go with. Pay attention to how the most compelling writers show their characters, how much plot vs. how much romance, how much narrative vs. how much dialogue. Find critiquers who are better writers than you and who will be willing to teach you the tricks of the trade. Attend workshops, then use what makes sense to you and try to learn more about the things you didn’t quite understand. ~ Janice Bennett

~ Write to please yourself; write what you love. Don’t try to write to a specific market because industry gossip says it’s hot. Trends are cyclical. If you wait long enough, the reading public will come back to the genre you love. But be open to a fresh approach. ~ Joanna Waugh

~ If you write one page a day, you’ll have a 100,000 word novel in just one year. Participate in a critique group that has people you can learn from. Readers read books to experience emotion - be sure you show the emotions of your characters. ~ Mary Ann Chulick

~ Don’t expect to come into the industry and make immediate sales. It requires fostering your image and promotion. Get out there and promote yourself with the tenacity of a bulldog and then hope for the best. ~ Kelly Kirch

~ Don’t change your voice to suit anyone. Your voice will find a home somewhere it’s understood and appreciated. ~ Marianne Stephens

~ Write it and move on to the next one. When finished with your second, go back to the first novel and read it with a discerning eye once it’s cold. ~ Rena Marks

~ Write every day if you can, even if it’s just a few sentences. Also, don’t write trends, write what’s in your heart. ~ Katie Reus

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ask the Editors - Answer Day

Question #1:
Is an agent necessary or recommended when an author signs with a Small Press or ePublisher?

That varies by publisher--always check the publisher's guidelines and follow them. If they say "agented submissions only", they mean it. Yes, it is true that most small presses and e-publishers do not require agented submissions, and most big NY presses do. But there are variations.

If you do not have an agent and you receive an offer from a publisher, decide quickly if you want to use that offer to try to secure an agent. This assumes you've already done all your research on agents and have determined a few who would be a good match for you and you'd be interested in working with. You could now query them stating that you have an offer in hand.

Most authors at e-publishers do not have agents. Contracts at e-pubs are generally pretty standard for all authors, with fewer areas open to negotiation, so there is less need for an agent to handle the contract process. For example, it is typical for all authors at a given e-pub to receive the same royalty rate, no variation. However, be aware that you can hire a literary attorney or agent (at an hourly rate) to review a contract offer for you; if you have any concerns about your contract, you should seriously consider this option. (Just be sure you use someone experienced in the publishing industry - advice from your brother-in-law the divorce attorney is worse than no advice, because it will be inappropriate if not downright wrong, and will make you look unprofessional and unknowledgeable to your prospective publisher.)

Question #2:
I'm curious to know how important it is for an author making a query to state which line of the publisher's products her submission would best fit? After all, several publishers these days have significant numbers of different product lines where the only real difference in the published works are varying levels of sexual explicitness or length of the finished work.

Well, if you are submitting to Harlequin, you must address your query/submission to a specific line. However, things are a little more flexible for most other publishers. Of course, you should make sure you are addressing the right area of the publisher--and the appropriate publisher--to start with. You're not going to send your mystery novel to the science fiction editor at Simon & Schuster, right? Nor send your erotica to a publisher who only does inspirational books. Check the publisher's website to determine where to send queries and submissions. Sometimes there will be a list of editors acquiring for specific genres. For some publishers, which includes most e-publishers, there may be just a generic Submissions address.

Your query letter should clearly and briefly state the genre of your story. For romances, it is also a good idea to indicate sensuality level. But keep it high level--label it as "contemporary cozy mystery" or "paranormal romance" or "historical fiction set in post-Civil War England" or "futuristic erotic romance with BDSM elements". The editor will determine where this story would fit in the publisher's lines. Especially if the story is cross-genre, you don't want to get yourself ruled out by indicating a line for which the publisher is already full, or that is perhaps not selling as well. If the editor falls in love with your story, she or he will figure out how to present it.

Ask the Editors is a semi-regular (meaning, whenever we feel like it or we've gotten some good questions) column. Send your questions about editing or publishing to

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Real Meaning of Romance Novels

From the Arizona Daily Star obituary for aspiring romance author Barbara Lantz ( This says some very important things that most of the non-romance-reading public does not understand.

"Barbara Lantz was a romance writer.

Not the bodice-ripping, Fabio-loving, heroine-in-need-of-rescue type of romance writer. Turns out the slender pulp paperbacks with swooning women and muscular men on their covers were more the fantasy of the men who published them than the women who wrote them.
Lantz wrote sweet, believable American tales about capable women who, in the course of their lives' adventures, met honorable men worthy of their love.
"She was such a romance fan," Reed said. "The stories are designed these days to be empowering to women. The basic tenet of a romance (novel) is, you have a happily-ever-after ending."
It was Lantz's love for her husband and sons that motivated her to write about romance.
"I think she believed very strongly that romance is the literature of the family. Love within families and among families is really what ties our society together at a very fundamental level, and I think she recognized that," Caudill said.

Members of the Saguaro Romance Writers agree the genre has gotten a bad rap over the years, mostly due to silly marketing ploys and cheesy book covers. In reality, they say, romance is a respected, well-read and lucrative genre.
"It's the most feminist of all literature because it's the only form of literature where women are guaranteed to win and come out with an emotionally satisfying finish," Caudill said. "

More Bible Thumping

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Yep, we all know how important worldbuilding is. Whether your story is contemporary, historical, futuristic/scifi or paranormal, you need to envision all the details about the characters, timeline, geography, setting. But as discussed in our previous post, it's not enough to build the world -- it's just as important to document the world you build. Don't depend on remembering it all. And if the details are written down, you can help your editor by sharing the information with her or him.

A little tip: You may also be able to turn some of the information in your bible into interesting Author Notes to go in your book, or articles for your newsletter or website. See, multiple uses -- if you just make sure to write it all down to start with.

So what do you put in your story or series bible? You can find many online classes or worksheet examples. We have a sample Worldbuilding Worksheet at ECPI. It gives authors a place to start, and can be modified to fit their world. Here are the basics you need:

Characters: List every single character, no matter how minor. Include name and physical description and everything else you know about them -- job, education, hobbies, personality traits, behavioral quirks, how they are related to everyone else in the book. One of the most common errors editors see is varying spelling of a character's name.

Setting/geography: Where does the story take place? Both the big picture (planet, country, city) and the specifics (the house, the street it's on). Also include information about the culture and society, if this is not a common contemporary "real" setting.

Timeline: Everything from what year it is down to what day and time each scene of the story happens. Include historical or current events and dates, if they relate to the story. (I read a novel once that had the French Revolution off by twenty years!) Make sure everything fits and is logical. Was there time for the character to get from point A to point B? Did things happen in the right sequence? Did events take a realistic amount of time? Several years ago, we had a story where a secondary character was pregnant. During revisions the author inserted some new action and an additional six months in the timeline - resulting in Ms. Mommy-to-Be having a year-long pregnancy. Luckily the copy editor caught the problem before publication.

Language/special terms: Make a glossary! This is obvious if you are writing a futuristic or paranormal with a fictional alien language. But even for a contemporary that may be set in another country or have ESL characters, it's important to keep track of the foreign phrases you use. Make sure you've got them right in meaning and spelling, and that you use them consistently. Is that term of endearment ma cherie or ma cheri?

Naming conventions: As in, the background or meaning for character names, titles, and location names, if there is some logic behind them. It's simpler for contemporary stories, but you may want to note that your fictional family always gives the first child the maternal grandmother's maiden name, or that they name their kids in alphabetical sequence. Naming can become far more complex and important to track in a futuristic or an alien setting. Do your characters necessarily use the Earth custom of a personal name plus a family name? How do the characters' names illustrate the relationship between them? Several years ago I had to explain to the copy editor about the names in a story I edited set on another planet. This is an example of the type of information you would want to document in your bible:

Males are named "clanname don al' personalname. Females are "clanname dem al' personalname". How the character is addressed depends on the situation and the relationship of the speaker to the character. In formal or business settings, the full name or a title are used; family and close friends may use the personal name or a nickname in private or in social situations.

For example, the hero is Alalakan don al' Chardadon. (Meaning, he is a male of clan Alalakan, his personal name is Chardadon.) His family and close friends call him Char. In a social situation, a person who is not closely acquainted enough to call him Char would address him as Alalakan or possibly Chardadon. In his role of running the family's starships, he is addressed as Captain Alalakan. In a formal setting, his full name is used. In other business conversation but not formal enough for the full name, he may be called Alalakan. In his role as head of his clan, he would be referred to as the Alalakan.

Got all that? If it weren't written down, could you keep it straight every time someone addresses one of the twenty characters, to be sure the appropriate and consistent name was used?

Remember that many a time the story starts out right, but then errors get introduced during revisions. The timeline gets screwed up, the characters repeat or skip important actions, the clothing is no longer what they should be wearing at that point, and so forth. So always refer back to your bible when you do a final read-through of the story.

See why a bible is important for author and editor? You don't really want readers pointing out all your errors and inconsistencies, do you?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Repetitive Redundancies


Redundancy: needless repetition; being superfluous and unneeded
Writers, here's a prime area for self-editing! Chop out those superfluous words clogging up your prose and annoying readers.

1. swallowed visibly/shook visibly - Uh huh, I always go invisible when I do these things.

2. shrugged his shoulders - What else would you have shrugged?

3. "the reason is because" - Leave off the "because", or better yet delete the whole phrase and just state the reason.

4. PIN number - What do you think the N in PIN stands for?

5. thought to herself - You can think to your pet fish or the dust bunnies, maybe?

6. blinked/squinted her eyes - see #2

7. nodded his head - see #2

8. "the fact is that" - Just say the fact, don't say that you are going to say it

9. pursed her lips together - You can't purse 'em apart, you know.

10. she waved her hand at them - Try just "She waved at them", unless she is waving something else.

11. bald-headed man - I think we'll all assume a bald man is lacking hair on his head.

12. breathing in and out - Can you breathe up and down? Forward and backward? It's enough to just breathe.

13. "he fucked her with his penis" when the description already makes it clear they are having penetrative sex - If he's using his fingers or a sex toy, say so. Otherwise, we know what part he's using.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Contest Winners! - Pen Names

In our blog article on pen names, we challenged you to come up with "your ideas for the wrong pen name for an author of a specific genre", and said we'd award free books to the ones we thought most creative and entertaining.

Wow, what twisted minds some of you have! We got about 80 entries, it was very difficult to choose the wrongest of the wrong, but we did our best. You can see all the entries in the Comments section of the original post (

So {drum roll} here are the winners:

Galaxy Jones - Sci-fi (from Anny Cook)
Cass Trait - erotica you don't want to read (from Laurel Lyon)
Sharon Guys - erotica (one assumes menage) (from arkansas cyndi)
Jolie Rodgers - pirate romance (from Debra Glass)
Travis Goodrider - Western (from Christine Carey)
Chuck Stake - splatterpunk (from Pierre Roustan)

Okay, guys, email me at with your postal address and I'll send you one of the Pocket/EC erotic romance anthologies. (If you prefer something non-erotic, please tell me.)