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.