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So the old wisdom is no longer applicable.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. Clich├ęd 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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ebooks Cost WHAT?!?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I noticed this snippet in the Oct. 6 Publishers Lunch e-newsletter:

Vodafone UK is launching a program to provide books on cellphones starting today in association with [...] Titles are expected to cost between 5 pounds and 15 pounds each. [...] GoSpoken has "signed up every leading publisher in Britain, including Penguin, Random House and HarperCollins
That price roughly translated to about US$9 to US$26. Up to 26 dollars for an ebook?? Wait, I thought one of the benefits of ebooks is that they are often less expensive than mass market paperbacks, definitely cost less than trade paperbacks or hardcovers. Or at least, that's what we e-publishers say. Apparently major print publishers who are now offering their books in digital format don't follow the same philosophy. And neither do Kindle and Sony.

Fiction Print Prices:
From my frequent trips to bookstores, I know that in the U.S., mass market paperbacks now cost up to $7.99; trade paperbacks seem to average around $14 - $15, can go up to $18; hardcovers are getting more costly by the day, $25 to $28 is common.

Prices for Ebooks from E-publishers:
Ellora's Cave/Cerridwen Press/The Lotus Circle (yes, we have three imprints) ebooks are priced from $2.99 to 7.99, depending on length. Large anthologies cost up to $9.99.

A scan of six other e-publisher websites showed prices from $1.50 to $8.99. Most seemed to be basing price on book length. (Those $1.50 or $1.99 titles were very short stories, possibly as short as ten pages.)

Price of Ebooks from a Major Print Publisher:
Harlequin has all types and lengths and genres of books, so I spent considerable time browsing their site to check out the prices for their ebooks. Their ebook-only (no print version for sale) short stories cost $2.99, which is comparable to e-publishers. A lot of the Harlequin/Silhouette category lines were $4.25 - again, these short novels seem priced comparably to books of that length from e-publishers. But then look at their single titles: random selection of about 40 ebooks showed prices from $6.30 to $22.45!

Prices for Ebooks from Ereader Vendors:
I can't for the life of me figure out how Amazon Kindle and Sony price their ebooks. They have a gazillion prices, sometimes differing by only a few cents. And the prices were clearly not based on book length.

The most common price for a Kindle ebook on Amazon was $9.99, but the 50 random books I selected had 20 different prices, ranging from $4.00 to $17.81. In between are prices like $6.04, $6.39, $8.24, $8.37, $9.59, $9.60. I'm sure Amazon has some formula or philosophy for the prices, but I couldn't spot any rhyme or reason.

Sony Reader ebook prices ranged from $5.19 through $17.46, again a random selection of books.

Okay, I'm going to stop wishing I could afford a Kindle or a Sony Reader. Even if I had the device, I am not willing to pay those prices for ebooks. I will continue to buy ebooks from e-publishers, who are offering reasonable prices on ebooks that can be read on a wide variety of devices.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Best-Paid Authors

From Forbes Magazine, "The World's Best Paid Authors"

Based on advances, book sales, screen options, and other related income from their books for the period June 1, 2007 to June 1, 2008, the top five are:

1. J.K. Rowling ($300 million)
2. James Patterson ($50 million)
3. Stephen King ($45 million)
4. Tom Clancy ($35 million)
5. Danielle Steel ($30 million)

They are followed by Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Dean Koontz and Ken Follett.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Update on Sony Reader

Sony has announced the third generation of their Reader Digital Book (model PRS-700), releasing in November. The new version adds a touch screen, and allows readers to use fingertips or a stylus to search, create notes and highlight text. The touch screen also provides a pop-up virtual keyboard. This model has new note-taking capability and an improved search function. A built-in LED reading light has been added to help in low-light situations. Memory has been expanded, Sony says itwill accommodate about 350 average-size ebooks; there are also optional removable memory cards for even greater storage capacity.

It supports multiple file formats for eBooks, personal documents and music. With the included eBook Library 2.5 PC software, you can transfer Adobe PDF documents with reflow capability, Microsoft Word documents, and other text file formats.

However, the Sony Reader is still not compatible with Macintoshes, and still does not have wireless connection capability.

Physically: six-inch screen, weighs about ten ounces. Very sleek and handy. There are five preset text sizes, plus you can zoom in. E-paper display.

The price for the new model is $399, ouch.

Meet the Editors: Helen

Helen is one of our Aussie editors. No, I don't know why she sometimes writes about herself in third person - must be reading too many books.

Helen Woodall

What is your background and experience in editing?
Helen spent more years than she cares to count as assistant editor and then editor for a company with a stable of newspapers, magazines and books. She then worked for an Australia-wide newspaper as Managing Editor before realizing that if she worked for ECPI she could actually get paid for doing what she loves most – reading fiction.

How would you describe your editing style?
Australians are characterized as laid back, relaxed, easy going. Helen considers she reflects her nationality in her editing style – giving authors the freedom to use their own voice and follow their own desires about what they write and how they write it, as long as they obey the EC style guide. Her authors write for every ECPI line – Cotillion, Cerridwen Press, Elloras Cave, Exotika, and The Lotus Circle – and in every length from 10K Quickies to 120K Super Plus Novels and Helen thinks this is A Good Thing because it gives her great variety in what she edits.

What is your favorite thing about editing?
I get to paid to read fiction. And between EC, CP, and TLC there is something for every taste.

What are your pet peeves in books or submissions?
Authors who don't read the submission guidelines. No, we don't accept books of 400,000 words!
Authors who get geography and history hopelessly wrong – Google is your friend – use it.
Would-be authors who submit the same book four times with four different titles and without fixing any of the errors in it.

For personal reading, what are your favorite genres and all-time favorite books?
Historicals and mysteries/crime.
Georgette Heyer, Jean M Auel, Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme books, Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books, Lilian Jackson Braun's Cat Who books But I will read just about anything at all.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Why We Love Stories

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The September issue of Scientific American magazine has an article I highly recommend you read: The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn (by Jeremy Hsu).

It discusses how storytelling is a universal and timeless part of every culture, and what storytelling reveals about how our minds evolved and function.

Some interesting quotes:

Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. [...] People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism--recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters.

As our ancestors evolved to live in groups, the hypothesis goes, they had to make sense of increasingly complex social relationships. Living in a community requires keeping tabs on who the group members are and what they are doing. What better way to spread such information than through storytelling?

There's an interesting discussion of how common romance story themes reveal basic human needs and wants!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Plausible Police

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Do you write mysteries or suspense or romantic suspense? Anything with police in it? So, how do you research your police officer characters or police procedures? Uh, you DO research that, right? And NOT by watching CSI and such on TV! You do know the difference between reality and TV (even supposed reality shows), I hope.

One of the biggest - and completely unacceptable - flaws we see in mystery and romantic suspense submissions is incorrect and unbelievable behavior by law enforcement. It's also an all-too-common error in published books, indicating poor quality work by author and editor. Such problems really jar a lot of readers. If you are writing about real professions or agencies, then you MUST make every effort to get it right.

Yes, there are many sources of information, you should be using a lot of them. But one of the best to help you get a real "feel" for what your police characters should be doing and not doing is the hands-on approach. Contact your local police department. Many will arrange tours of their facility, complete with talkative officer who will tell you funny and touching and informative stories about cop actions and attitudes. (And you'll end up amazed that every cop doesn't burn out in less than a year.) My local RWA chapter did such a tour a few weeks ago, and it was fantastic. You know, I always assumed bullet-proof vests were stiff and hard -- nope, now I've actually held one, put it on, and know what it's really like. And I've seen the intake area (fingerprinting, photo, etc) of the jail, the massive file cabinets of information, the juvenile detention office, the firing range, the property room... I've learned about the different types of backseats in police cars, the requirements for prisoner meals, the ways to restrain a violent drunk. All sorts of tidbits that can help an author make a character or scene come alive with believable detail. Or at least keep you from getting it all wrong.

Some police departments offer ride-along programs. You can go on patrol with real on-duty cops, see what it is actually like, feel the emotions and the stress. The police may also offer citizen-education classes about law enforcement and laws. The local cops are often the teachers at firearm classes - and if you have characters in your book using guns, you have actually shot a gun, right? You do know how the recoil feels, what it takes to hit a target, before you have your character do it, right?

Keep in mind that police departments vary a great deal. One in a wealthy suburb is not going to have the same pattern or staffing or attitude as the inner-city department. Not that one is better or "nicer" than the other - but consider what type of police department you are depicting in your book and try to learn about the inner workings of a similar real one.

So if you are going to write about cops, get out there and find out what it is like to be one!