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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another Awesome Announcement: Former Big Six Editor Ruth Harris Joins the Blog

I have another Awesome Announcement this week: I now have a blog partner! She’s NYT bestselling author and former editor at Bantam, Dell and Kensington, RUTH HARRIS.

I’ve had a lot of fabulous guest bloggers here in the last year, but Ruth is the only one whose post made it into my top ten most popular posts of all time. Her no-nonsense humor and vast experience seem to speak to readers here.

I’ve been bugging Ruth to start her own blog because she’s got so much insider information that new writers would love to hear. But she’s got a whole lot on her plate right now, as she reissues her old titles and launches a bunch of exciting new projects.

My own plate is starting to fill up too. (See last week’s Awesome Announcement below.)

I believe social media should be fun (and social) and I don’t think it should take time away from the real work of writing (see my advice on Slow Blogging) That’s why joining forces seems like a win/win situation for both Ruth and me.

Ruth will be writing once-a-month posts of her own, plus we’ll be posting dialogues and Q&A sessions as well as welcoming a great line-up of guest posters.

Guests in the next few months will include Samuel Park, author of the critically acclaimed This Burns My Heart, zombie-lit star Jonathan Maberry, Public Query Slushpile’s Rick Daly, debut romance writer and blogging superstar Roni Loren, and Kindle bestselling phenom, Mark Williams.

I’m still basking in the glow of finding a U.S. publisher who is brave enough to publish something as cross-genre, darkly satiric, and outside-the-box as Food of Love. Yes, I’ve signed the contract, and Food is going be re-published soon by the lovely people at Popcorn Press, in both ebook and print—available in the US and the UK at amazon. More on that soon.

So ta-dah! Here’s Ruth. She is going to be giving us insider information about what editors want, and also let us in on what happens behind the scenes in corporate publishing.

And now she’ll tell us something about herself—

From Ruth Harris: About Me

I started out in publishing right after I graduated from college. My first job was as secretary to a textbook editor, an unpromising start if there ever was one, but I was soon promoted to copyediting—much more interesting.

In the years that followed—the years when editors ran publishing—I worked at Dell and Bantam and at Lancer, a successful but now defunct (not because of me!) independent mass market paperback publisher where I wallowed in the joys of genre publishing in its heyday. 

I've been a copywriter, assistant editor, editor, editor-in-chief and, eventually, publisher (Kensington).

I've written more magazine articles than I can remember and a few paperback originals even I've forgotten.

My books have been published by Random House, Simon & Schuster, and St. Martin's. I’ve sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback editions, been translated into 19 languages, published in 25 countries and selected by the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club.

I live in New York City with my husband, writer Michael Harris,  author of Always on Sunday: An Inside View of Ed Sullivan, The Beatles, Elvis, Sinatra and Ed's Other Guests  and The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground . Both are available in Kindle editions.

Recently I’ve been acquiring the rights to my backlist and re-issuing them as ebooks. You can now buy The Last Romantics, Husbands and Lovers, Decades, Love And Money, and Modern Women for your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other e-reader—with more titles to follow. You can find them at my author page at Amazon.com. 

I’ve also got some hot new fiction in the works. Stay tuned. 


So Ruth’s in New York and Anne is in on the Central Coast of California. The blog has gone bi-coastal!

From Anne: Six More Things Writers Won't Miss About the Big Six "When They're Gone"

Two weeks ago I wrote about Eric Felten’s article in the Wall Street Journal: “Cherish the Book Publishers—You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone”  I responded with some suggestions about what readers won’t miss when/if those nice corporations get driven out of business by all the nasty little self-publishers.

But there’s even more stuff that WRITERS won’t miss—things Ruth will be telling us more about soon. Here are a few of them.

1) SHORT SHELF LIFE. People expressed surprise when I said that John Green’s hit book of last year, Will Grayson, Will Grayson was already remaindered in hardcover. But the truth is, the average Big Six book has a shelf life “somewhere between milk and yogurt,” as a former bestselling author once told me. Even if a book has steady sales, if they’re not in the millions, your book will be removed from bookstore shelves after a few months to make room for new fare. And this week the New York Times reported that the life cycle of books has been further shortened. Publishers are issuing paperbacks within a few months of the hardcover, thus giving a title an even shorter time to build an audience.

2) RETURNS: One of the insanely dysfunctional things about the publishing industry is “returns”. Bookstores are actually consignment shops. “Units” are only on loan. Books can be sent back at any time for a full refund. This is because of something that happened during the Great Depression, although I’m not exactly clear what. But nobody’s been able to change this insanity for 80 years. The returned books are remaindered or pulped. This means most books end up shredded like Steve Buscemi’s character in Fargo. Yeah. Kinda grosses me out, too.

3) PREMIUM BOOKSTORE SPACE RESERVED FOR SUPERSTARS. Even if you get a Big Six contract and your debut novel comes out in glorious hardcover, your book may not land on that “new releases” front table or the endcap of the Barnes and Noble shelves. Hot bookstore space is purchased by marketing departments, who decide what they think might be a blockbuster and what won’t.

If you’re a debut novelist, they’ll probably decide it won’t. This means your book will get buried spine-out on the back shelf, probably in the wrong section, because some data entry person put the wrong code on the sticker. (I used to have to fight to put Margaret Atwood in the literature section of my B. Dalton store, because she was coded as “romance.”)

4) BEING A MINION OF THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT. You’ll be expected to do 90% to 100% your own marketing—their way. The New Yorker published a hilarious comic essay by Ellis Weiner  that purported to be a memo from a publisher’s marketing department.

Some prize quotes: “we’d like to see you on morning talk shows like the “Today” show and “The View,” so please get yourself booked on them.” And “I’ve attached a list of celebrities we think would be great to blurb your book, so find out their numbers and call them up. Be sure to do all this by Monday…because all of editorial…go to the Frankfurt Book Fair for a week.”
5) BIG ADVANCES THAT ARE RESERVED FOR SNOOKI’S PILATES COACH (see last week’s post.) Your chances of getting one of those big advances you’re always reading about are close to zero. Royals, reality TV superstars, politicians, and unconvicted felons get the big money, not actual writers.

6) BOOKS ON THE BESTSELLER LIST THAT AREN’T BESTSELLERS. In the comment thread last week, bookseller Christine Ahern explained it to us, “‘bestseller’ is not about how many books are actually bought by consumers. It is the number ordered by retailers—and these days, many of that number are returned. In that sense: being a bestseller on Kindle is more meaningful” than being on the NYT bestseller list!  

Ruth and I aren’t going to tell you not to go for that big brass ring of the Big Six contract. The industry is changing by the minute, but getting an agent and a name publisher is still the most likely path to major publishing success for a debut author. Small and self-pubbers don’t get reviews in the New York Times or People magazine or Kirkus. We’re not likely to get into libraries or chain stores—which represent a rapidly shrinking, but still significant share of the market.

But it’s good to be aware of how dysfunctional the current system really is before you sign up—or start mourning it. Some things about this business really need to change. And that’s why this is such a fantastic time to be a writer.

Ruth has gone from the corporate big time to running her own indie business—and she loves it.

I’ll be traveling the middle ground with a small independent press.

So this blog will now be able to give you the skinny on publishing in all its aspects. Thanks for joining us, Ruth!

Scriveners, what subjects would you like Ruth to address? Do you have burning questions about the editorial and acquisitions process at the big publishing houses? Do you have any writing issues you'd like to discuss with a seasoned editor? Do you wonder what it's like to go indie after being a big-deal corporate honcho? 

Next week, we’ll have a guest post by the incomparable Samuel Park, whose literary novel, This Burns My Heart  has been getting rave reviews from all the most prestigious literati--and is one of Amazon’s top picks for this month. Samuel will be giving his secrets of self-editing--and tell us why you shouldn't always obey those publishing rules: read DON'T KILL YOUR DARLINGS!! by Samuel Park on August 7th.

And if you’re going to be in California in September, there’s still time to sign up for the Central Coast Writers' Conference, where I’ll be teaching Social Media for the Anti-Social.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Will Publishing Look Like in 2021?

In the comment thread of my post on What Readers Won’t Miss from Corporate Publishers When They’re Gone, “Ghostly Girl” asked the above question. It sure is a hot topic..

What will happen in the next ten years? Will corporate publishers stumble along into dodoland? Will bookstores become a faded memory? Will all writers become entrepreneurial self-publishers? Will everybody who’s got a novel in him/her get fifteen Warhol fame-minutes on a bloated, crap-laden Amazon.com?

Things do look dire for corporate book publishing and brick-and-mortar retail sales at the moment. Early in the week we heard the Borders chain has finally shuffled off its mortal coil, and on Thursday, Publisher’s Lunch reported book sales suffered another huge monthly drop—especially for adult hardcover and mass market paperbacks.

This has made the future of publishing a hot topic of discussion everywhere I go. On Wednesday night, a friend in my critique group asked what the Barnes and Noble of the future might look like. Most said “Barnes and Who?” or “What’s a bookstore?”

But I disagreed. I predicted Barnes and Noble will survive—in a rather different configuration—maybe a combination of a much-expanded Starbucks café and an Apple-like outlet, displaying a variety of Nookish products, X-boxy things, coffee-related paraphernalia—and one book.

Written by Snooki.

Turns out I might be something of a clairvoyant. In that same Thursday issue of Publisher’s Lunch there was also news of a big-money auction of a hot new literary property, shorthanded as, “Pippa Middleton’s Pilates Coach.”

So. Maybe publishing isn’t so moribund after all. At least some Big Six guys are still partying like it’s 2009.

I had to look into it. Pippa Middleton’s Pilates Coach sounded like a brilliant satire of our shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture—maybe some uproarious comedy about fictional idiots spending millions to learn Pilates from the coach, “who’s coaching the girl, who’s related to the girl, who danced with the son of the Prince of Wales.” (Paraphrasing the classic song from 1927.

But a quick Google showed the celebrity-crazed idiots aren’t fictional. And the book is not meant to be funny. And it’s coming soon to a Barnes and Noble near you.

To further confirm the accuracy of my crystal ball, Kris Rusch reported the same day that Barnes and Noble is drastically reducing its book inventory in order to put in more toys and electronics. She’d heard from friends at Barnes and Noble who said they “were notified at our B&N location this week that in the next couple of weeks we will be receiving a ‘massive returns download.’ To coincide with this outflux of books we will be adding 3 more of the massive toys and games displays, as well as expanding gift and the digital presence.”

Toys, games, Nooks, and—an “outflux” of books. 

The books left will no doubt be written by the girl who danced with the boy who danced with the Pilates coach of the chauffeur of the Prince of Wales. Or whoever is current incarnation of Snooki.

This is how corporate publishing/bookselling will survive. As long as there are royals, vulgar bimbos, and aging rock stars with debauched tales to tell, people will buy their stories.

Thing is, people who buy Snookibooks aren’t big on other types of books, so they probably won’t invest in e-readers.

They will be kind of like the people who watch broadcast TV—the ones who don’t need to buy cable, because it’s stupid to pay money for some high-falutent Mad Men or Game of Thrones when you can watch America’s Got Broads who can Crush Beer Cans with their Boobs…for free.

So Snookibooks will have to be in paper. In bookstores. On that one shelf between the Xboxes, Nook carrying cases and Starbucks coffee mugs.

In fact, I see publishing following in the footsteps of television in many ways. The Big Six will be like the broadcast networks. Paper books will be the So You Think You Can Dance with the Biggest Loser/Big Brother fare. Plus there will be a few token Jonathan Franzen/Safran Foer tomes standing in for the Good Wife/Glee win-a-few-arty-awards broadcast offerings.

I think a few other very popular books will probably still be produced in paper as well.

In an article in the July 17th Boston Globe, Amanda Katz wrote about people who buy books in paper after they read the e-book. She reported a conversation with the general manager of the Harvard Book Store, who observed, “People come in and say, ‘I read this on my iPad, and now I want to own it’…as if somehow having it on their e-reading device is not really owning it.” (Italics are mine.)

So what books will people really want to “own”? 

Here’s what I predict—

Top-Selling Superstar Books in Hardcover, Suitable for Gift-Giving: An awful lot of people give books for holiday, graduation, and birthday gifts. You can’t give somebody a Kindle download and wrap it with a bow. So the biggest bestsellers will probably still be available in paper for quite a while.

Humor Books: You can’t leave your Kindle in the bathroom for your guests to chuckle at the latest Garfield offering, so it’s gotta be in paper.

Coffee Table Books: The paintings of Gustav Klimt in Kindle black-and-white are not going to have the same impact. High-ticket art books will stick around.

Impress-the-Guests/Keepsake Literary Books: That lovely leather-bound copy of Leaves of Grass can’t be replaced by electrons.

Bibles and other Iconic Religious Books. Thumping a Kindle is unlikely to give the same satisfaction.

Decorator Books: Books make a room feel cozy without being cutsie. I suppose people will start making faux-book 3-D wallpaper, but it won’t be the same. So books will become a premium decorator item. I predict used bookstores will become much more upscale as hardcover books become rare collectibles.

Books for Small Children: Patting the e-Bunny probably won’t amuse your 2-year old in quite the same way. And until they get holographic, an e-book is not going to replace the pop-up book.

And of course, Snookibooks: I include those big-advance political books published to be bought up by PACs in this category. Schlock never dies.

And as for everything else—that will of course be in ebooks.

But I can picture us reading our Kindles and Nooks while sitting in the Starbucks inside the Barnes and Noble, because, let’s face it, people like the feeling of a bookstore.

So when I look in my crystal ball, I’m seeing a few bookstores sticking around. There will be the Barnes-and-Noble one-Snookibook model, and the upscale collectible bookstore. 

I also see the survivor-indies still hanging on. Those are the ones that have weathered the last century’s bookshop assaults: first from Costco/Walmart, then the Big and Nasty chains, and then from Amazon.com. These are the tough little guys who survive partly on greeting cards, crystals, games, and/or coffee—and mostly on damned good service.

And what about the corporate publishers? Will they be part of the vast non-Snookibook market? 

Mark Williams of Mark Williams International (the quiet half of bestselling author “Saffi Desforges”) sees things going this way: “It cannot be long now before the Big Six start taking on authors on an e-book only basis. Offering all the traditional editorial services, translations and access to the full range of e-markets, but without the cost of paper production. If they get realistic about royalties they could yet survive the Transition and emerge stronger.”

He’s probably right. If the corporate guys finally figure out they can make more money without their heads crammed into their derrières, they’ll probably figure out how to cash in and take control of the e-books.

But while the corporations try to make their creaky way out of the 19th century, I see a huge growth in small presses. There are hundreds of small publishers mushrooming up everywhere on the Interwebz. (Just Google “small presses”.)

I also see the emergence of the collective small press—groups of writers in the same genre banding together to form their own brand.

Like independent cable TV companies, small and collective publishers can each address a different niche. With e-books, their overhead will be almost non-existent, so they can afford to put time and energy into building brands and promoting writers.

We already have Ellora’s Cave for Playboy channel-type erotica, and I’m sure there will be another for “characters welcome” caper stories, another for FX-style noir and dark thrillers, women’s fiction presses for the Lifetime TV crowd, etc.

Some will come and go, but the small publishers who become established will be the new "gatekeepers” for readers who want professionals to sort through the vast number of books on offer.

Literary agencies who have become facilitators for self-publishing may expand to become this kind of branded-niche wholesaler.

Midsized and University presses might play the part of the premium cable networks as literary stars and Pulitzer prize-winners are dropped by their corporate publishers and/or seek homes outside of the déclassé corporate Snookibook-world. As Pulitzer-winner Alice Walker said when she moved to a small press, “As water is to flowers, independent publishing is to democracy.” 

Smaller publishers aren’t just smarter, they’re cooler. 

And of course some superstars will create their own franchises/networks. Joe Konrath’s indie superstar turn might be compared to Keith Olberman’s TV network. Konrath Inc. is certainly a brand that needs no gatekeeper or umbrella (My crystal ball isn’t quite so sure about Olberman, since my satellite company doesn’t carry his network.)

Other branches of the industry will jump in and fill the void as well. Amazon-the-bookstore becoming Amazon-the-publisher is rather like Direct Satellite TV becoming the producer of Glenn Close’s Damages. Both in TV and publishing I see the retailer controlling the product in a much bigger way. (If that is good or bad, I don’t know.)

The innovation and creative spark that fuels all this will originate with the indies. Yes, there will be tens of thousands of us—all doing our thing on Amazon like amateur filmmakers on YouTube. Some will become breakout superstars who get their books on that hardcover gift shelf at B & N; some will find a steady income with small e-publishers or collectives; some will establish their own brands, and most will fade into obscurity. But at least we’ll all have a shot at our Warhol minutes. A way better shot than we had in 2009.

So I think we will still have corporate publishers, bookstores, and paper books in the next decade—all quite different from the ones we have now, but traditions will be preserved, at least in appearance. People hate change.

So what about you, scriveners? What do you see in your crystal ball? Do you think bookstores will dodo off to extinction before 2021? Do you think publishing will reconfigure but not really be all that different, like the TV industry?

BTW, if you scroll down, you will see I made an Awesome Announcement on Friday. Yes! I’m going to be back in print. And yes, I love small publishers. <3

And next week, I’ll have yet another Awesome Announcement! This one is concerning an exciting addition  to this blog. I’m totally jazzed about it.

In two weeks, we will have a guest post by the incomparable Samuel Parkwhose literary novel, This Burns My Heart  has been getting rave reviews from all the most prestigious literati--and is one of Amazon’s top picks for this month. Come read Samuel's words of wisdom on August 7th.

And if you’re going to be in California in September, there’s still time to get the early bird discount for the Central Coast Writers' Conference. Deadline: July 31! 

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Friday, July 22, 2011

An Awesome Announcement

This is the stuff a writer’s dreams are made of.

I got an email from an acquisitions editor last night that said:

“I started reading Food of Love tonight… And I love it…the characters are so real and the situations so fascinating...

Bravo. Wow, even. I’ll get a contract in the mail to you tomorrow.

I will definitely be proud to publish and promote it. Speaking of which, would you mind if I begin mentioning it on Twitter, on Facebook, and perhaps in my blog? Those could help to build excitement about its release.

Please let me know as soon as possible.”

And, um, I did say yes. He hopes to publish it by early fall. Then hopefully, my other backlist book, the Best Revenge—and then he’ll look at my current work.

I’m going to be back in print! I have a career again.

I’ve been knocking on agents doors for five years since my old publishing company went under, and I’ve gone through the waiting game of agents sitting on partials and fulls for years at a time, only to send a curt form letter, letting me know they’re the windshield and I’m the bug.

But Popcorn Press contacted ME. Yes. The editor liked my blog and my writing style and said he might be interested in my backlist. I didn’t respond right away. I was so sure the agent who had my full was going to take me on and want my whole list.

But…of course…in the end, my road to corporate publishing went the same old/same old route.

So I sent the two books off to Popcorn Press at the end of June.

I was going to go indie if this didn’t work, but indie scares me—I’m not good at being there in the jungle all by myself.

So this is perfect for me. No agent/boss. No marketing department undermining my editor. No waiting three years for the launch. Just an honest partnership with a real person.

Oh, and did I forget to mention, “squeeeeeeee!” ?

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Indie, Big Six, or Small Press Publishing: Why Not Try All Three?

Today’s guest post is from Kim Wright, a versatile author who is taking all three publishing routes: Big Six, small press and indie. She’s blessed with a smart, supportive agent who is encouraging her in all the paths she’s choosing. The paperback edition of her literary novel, Love in Mid Air debuts this month.

Hedging Bets: Three Paths to Publication
by Kim Wright

In an eighteen month time frame I will have brought three books to market, all via totally different routes.

  • My novel, Love in Mid Air, was represented by an agent and sold to Grand Central, a division of Hachette and a major house.
  • My nonfiction how-to book for writers, The Path to Publication, will be published by a small press, Press 53, in September.
  • During that same month a friend and I will be self-publishing a chick-lit fantasy genre book called The Wish Granters on Amazon.
I assure you I’m not schizophrenic, or even indecisive. But, in this wacky world of modern publishing, I am trying to hedge my bets. In fact, I’m laying roulette chips all over the table.

You know the old saw about the Chinese symbol for crisis being the same one for opportunity? It seems to me that publishing right now, in the Year of our Lord 2011, is in so much flux that it’s almost impossible to tell where the market is going—and that this uncertainty is actually opening up venues for writers.

It used to be that the only route to publication was to get an agent and to have that agent in turn sell your book to a major publisher. If you couldn’t get an agent or the agent couldn’t sell the book, then sorry, you’d missed your chance.

Small presses existed but didn’t have access to wide distribution and if you wanted to self-publish you had to pay a vanity press a hefty up-front fee to print hundreds of copies of your book, money you were unlikely to recoup in sales.

We tend to romanticize the days when publishing was a gentleman’s game and writers were only required to attend a three-martini lunch, sign their contracts, and then skedaddle back to their snowy cabins in Maine to begin their next book. 

But in truth those were the bad old days. All the power was in the hands of the few.

Enter the Internet and online book sales: suddenly small presses have a completely viable way to reach a national audience. Enter print on demand and ebooks: suddenly self-publishing no longer requires a large up-front investment from the writer and he too can use the Internet to reach potential readers. And where there was once only one way to sell your book, now you have three.

Each of the routes has its own set of advantages and pitfalls. I’m happy to have brought Love in Mid Air out via a big house. I got a nice advance. They sold foreign rights to eight different countries. It got reviewed in places like Publisher’s Weekly and People Magazine, and—I’d be lying if I didn’t count this as an advantage—it feels good to sit at the popular kid’s table. Even in an age where few people read at all, much less literary fiction, publishing a book with a major house buys you a sort of cachet which never entirely disappears.

But, that said, publishing with a big house is hardly a utopian experience. First of all, it’s not that easy to get past the rows of gatekeepers and even sell the book. The rejections, which go on for years for many writers, take an emotional toll. Once you do manage to sell the book you lose control over the process, from the cover to the marketing to even, in some cases, the edits.

If you’re an unknown, first time writer, they probably won’t pay that much attention to you - what’s a life-changing event for you is only a blip on the screen to your publisher, who’s bringing out dozens of books each year. You only pocket about 15% of the profits from your book and it will take years for you to see your royalties, if indeed they ever come at all.

Your publisher isn’t particularly loyal to you or committed to your long-term career: you’re constantly reminded that your book only has a three-month window to establish itself in the bookstores before it’s shipped back and the focus of your publicist switches to the next season’s list.

If you don’t earn out your advance, don’t receive good reviews, and don’t find your audience, you’re toast. Selling the second book will be twice as hard as the first.

All of this kind of takes the shine off of sitting at the cool kids’ table.

Okay, so then there’s the small press method. Since I already have an agent and a publisher, why did I opt to go small press with my nonfiction book? The biggest reason is that I didn’t want to be pressured to soften my message. As you can probably gather from the paragraph above, my book is often critical of conventional publishing, and, as Audre Lorde so wisely said “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Besides, there are a lot of advantages to a small press. They’ll look at unagented material. They also often run contests specifically designed to bring new writers to their attention. Where the big houses won’t touch a book they don’t believe will see at least 40,000 copies—they’re looking for blockbusters and best sellers—you can be a rock star at a small press if you sell 5000 copies. For this reason, small presses will look at more experimental fiction, and are more open to poetry, short stories, and graphic novels. And if they take you on, it’s far more of a partnership. I was consulted about covers, titles, edits, and publicity plans. Small presses also keep books in print far longer than big presses and in general maintain a more sustained relationship with their writers. It’s not the “one strike and you’re out” mentality of some big presses, it’s more of “here’s your chance to publish several books and build an audience over time.”

But don’t start singing kum-ba-yah just yet. The disadvantages of a small press are that you probably won’t be offered an advance at all, and if you do, it will be miniscule. (Sometimes they compensate by offering a writer a bigger percentage of the royalties than they’d get at a big press.)

A lot of small presses don’t bother with the hassles of bookstore distribution, so you may be selling your book entirely on the internet. You probably won’t have a publicist at a small press, you’ll be doing a lot of the publicity work yourself. And while you sometimes hear of small press breakouts like Tinkers, which came out of nowhere to win the Pulitzer Prize, the truth of the matter is that small press publishing is unlikely to make your either rich or famous.

And then there’s self-publishing. Laura (L.B Gschwandtner) and I are bringing out our genre book on Amazon because it’s the first of a series and we believe that if we can entice readers to try the first one at a low 99-cent price point, they may go on to read others and this will develop into an income stream. A stream that can go on as long as ebooks continue to gain market share and a stream that we only have to split with each other. 

Compared to my other books, The Wish Granters was a snap to write. Laura and I bandied it back and forth, making the writing fun and ensuring we didn’t get bogged down in the story. We plan to finish the entire thing, complete with revisions, within three months. Another month for line edits and the cover design and then the book can be uploaded to Amazon where we will begin seeing royalty statements within two months. In the world of publishing, that’s a nanosecond.

The downside?

Everything, but everything, has to be done by Laura and me and it can be hard to find a market for an unknown genre series online. Publicity won’t be a three or four month push but an ongoing task and we know from past experience—this will be the fourth book Laura’s self-pubbed—that the minute you stop pushing, the sales and Amazon ranking plummet. Being an indie author is like starting your own business; the work never stops.

The whole thing is sometimes enough to make you want to curl into a fetal position and whimper, but there’s something exciting about this market too. You not only have three routes to choose from, but you can even take all three at once.

I have this pathetic little joke I tell my workshop students. I say they don’t call the process by which writers get published “submission” for nothing. Yeah, like I said, the joke isn’t that funny, and it’s also not nearly as accurate as it used to be. Because with three options to chose from, writers can take more control over their publishing process than ever before. 

What about you, scriveners? Instead of engaging in the either/or battle that’s waging in the bookish areas of Cyberia, have you considered taking a multiple route approach?  

Kim Wright has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing. There’s a great interview with her at the Chick Lit is Not Dead Blog. She's just finishing up her latest book--a historical mystery set in Victorian London.

Next week I'll be exploring some more of the realities of "sitting at the cool kid's table" and landing that Big-Six Holy-Grail book contract.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Reviewers: the Good, the Bad, and Katie the Book-Eating Dog

Today we have a special mid-week guest post from international bestselling writer Jeff Carlson, author of the Plague Year trilogy (Ace) as well as the self-published bestselling Kindle novella “The Frozen Sky,” which is also on Nook and will soon be available on iBooks. 

Amazon reviews and book bloggers strongly influence any writer’s sales, so writers are usually grateful to anybody who takes the time to write an honest review. Even if they hate it, any honest, reasoned reaction is helpful. Trouble is, not everybody out there in Cyberia is honest...or reasonable. Here Jeff is going to talk about the nasties, wannabes and raving lunatic reviewers who can ruin your day…and your ratings.  

Remember: when you see a favorite writer under cyberattack, give the attack reviews “unhelpful” ratings and report the Nazi-crazies for inappropriate content. As Jeff says, "sometimes the smallest minds make the biggest noise."

by Jeff Carlson

For me and many writers, one of the most eye-opening changes since the e-revolution has been the rise and importance of book reviews on personal blogs and corporate sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N.

To writers, strong word-of-mouth is catnip. Even bad reviews can be useful in honing your craft.

As a full-time author, I spend a lot of time alone in a room with a laptop listening to the voices in my head. That sounds like a joke, but it’s a large part of my job description. There’s no one to hang out with at the water cooler in my office. Heck, there’s no water cooler! That’s why it’s especially cool to get fan mail or to have my Google minions find reviews such as: “This novella was so fast paced and action packed from the very first line that I was sucked in like a two by four in a F5 twister!”

Reading that, I thought, Fantastic. She gets it.

Capturing the reader is exactly what I want — to connect, to entertain, to make you a 2x4 in my tornado.

When eight people say the ending is abrupt, that’s useful, too. My brain says to me, Okay, you thought you had every element in place, but you’d better add at least another paragraph to wrap things up. Readers want to walk away with a feeling of completion. Sometimes I move too fast, so I’m learning to take it down a notch.

Even the people who hate a story are right. No writer reaches everybody, and it’s perfectly fair for someone to leave a low-starred review if he doesn’t feel like he got his money’s worth. That’s expected.

But in today's brave new world of e-media, my inbox is also peppered with a steady dose of diehard political outrage, accusations, and messages from weird alternate realities.

When I swap emails with my writer friends or when we meet up at cons, the new game is Who’s Been Burned The Worst. It’s almost funny.

We all view the world through the lenses of our personal life experiences. Sometimes the world is rose-colored. Sometimes we're not even aware of how thoroughly our own demons shape our perceptions, so let me share some of the over-the-top experiences I’ve had with folks from the fringe.

The Illinois Nazi.

More than once I’ve received hate mail or nasty Amazon reviews for Plague Year because two of the main heroes are a Latino and a genius Jew. Worse, two of the villains are white guys. Obviously I’ve either turned on my own kind (I’m a white guy) or I’ve been so indoctrinated by the sinister liberal media that I don’t even realize what I’m doing...

Here’s the thing. The opening chapters of Plague Year are set in post-apocalyptic California. I don’t know where our white supremacist friends live, but the West Coast is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on the planet. If everyone was forced into the mountains to escape a runaway nanotech plague, there’s zero chance it would be only sparkly blond Caucasians who survived. More to the point, among my best friends growing up were Hispanic and Jewish families. I knew I could pull off those backgrounds competently, and a diverse cast added a bit of texture to what’s ultimately just a rock-‘em sock-‘em sci fi thriller.

The One-Winger and The Classic Old Knee.

As a writer, it's both frustrating and intriguing to have the same novel condemned as a subversive socialist pinko screed and as a right-wing manifesto. Yeah, it's nice to strike such a chord. Every writer wants their work to resonate. But reading is a subjective experience. People bring a lot of themselves to the experience... sometimes too much.

The One-Wingers are careful not to mention race like the Illinois Nazis, but they don’t appreciate how the conservative remnants of the government are perceived by the heroes. By the same token, The Classic Old Knees are certain I must be a big fat Republican because the government is enforcing martial law and the tough Special Forces guys keep pushing the scientists around. It’s crude symbolism, isn’t it!?!?

Uh, no. In Plague Year, the new U.S. capital is a Colorado town that originally had a population of 3,000 people. Now it’s been swamped by 600,000 refugees. There’s no food, no shelter, and if I was in charge I’d darn well have the few remaining supplies surrounded by Army units. That doesn’t mean I’m a liberal or a fascist or a purple polka dot Martian.

I think it’s a very human phenomenon that individuals on far, opposite ends of the political spectrum are able to interpret the same story in different ways, seeing exactly what they want to see in order to support their beliefs.

Sometimes the smallest minds make the biggest noise. That's because feeling angry is pleasant. It makes you feel important. Condemning a book as dangerous and shouting your warnings from the rooftops... let's call that the Revere Complex. Each of our archetypes the Nazi, the Winger and the Knee fall into this same category, a truth which might outrage them all over again if they realized it.

The Nutcake

Alas, these folks are even easier to explain. They’re nutty. Three times I’ve received emails or comments insisting that Plague Year was penned by someone else, namely the person contacting me, and that I stole the book before he or she could publish it. Unfortunately, other writers tell me such accusations aren’t uncommon, nor are personal threats. Welcome to my FBI file.

Slightly less bizarre but more fun, let me introduce you to the Owner Of Katie The Dog. Not long after my sequel Plague War hit stores, I received an email with two .jpg attachments. Hmmm. All right. Let’s read it...

A woman had felt compelled to say she liked the concept behind Plague Year, but (insert sneer), “it was written in a grocery-store thriller style.”

Aha HA ha ha! First of all, the cover has an ominous red tagline that shouts The Next Breath You Take Will Kill You. Plus the title letters are on fire. If you’re looking for a cozy literary novel, this ain’t it. Second, having my books racked in grocery stores and big box outlets like Wal-Mart and Costco is my goal! That’s what I’m striving for!

Yet she was so offended she’d spent $7.99 on this trash, she added that she’d fed Plague Year to her dog and snapped pictures of Katie eating it.

Wow. That’s wrong, isn’t it? I mean, that takes effort.

I had no intention of opening her .jpgs. Remember, I’d barely published my second novel. Being in stores still felt new and daunting. But my writer friends insisted I see what Katie had done. One accomplished old vet said, “You know you’ve arrived when you’re making people that crazy.”

Um... Thanks?

Conventional wisdom holds that authors and editors should remain above the fray. You’re supposed to ignore bad reviews, especially those that are off-topic or smell like fruit. I know writers who engage their haters in the comment fields on Amazon, but the reason to avoid such arguments was best put to me like this: Never wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, and you get covered in sh*t.

Which leads us to the most craven of them all.

The Dread Saboteur

Since February, my novella “The Frozen Sky” has sold 20,000 copies on Kindle and Nook. That’s not a huge number, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s also gotten a lot of nice reviews, which is gratifying.

Unfortunately, “Sky” has also seen some attacks.

As the e-revolution evolves, the pages of successful books are experiencing not-so-subtle assaults by bitter would-be successes who post scathing low-starred reviews with as many dummy accounts as possible, then use the same dummy accounts to post five-star raves of their own novels in an attempt to draw traffic from the high-selling books.

Can the system be gamed so easily? My guess is no, not in the long run. Ultimately the Dread Saboteur’s work needs to stand on its own. If it's garbage, it's garbage. Cardboard plots, wet dream characters, bad dialogue, and the inability to spell or use punctuation are common pitfalls.

Horse puckey reviews won't carry a flawed story beyond a few extra sales — and if those readers feel duped, well, let the bad karma begin! The fake five-star raves will be overwhelmed by genuinely unhappy reviews.

There are more archetypes and goofy anecdotes I could share, but we’re out of time.

Here’s a final thought. Things are changing fast in publishing, but I hope it will always be true that it's the fans who carry the day.

The loonies and the saboteurs want everyone to wear their demon-colored lenses. Don't let it happen. If you like a book, bang out a quick ranking-and-review. That positive feedback may be enough to see your favorite author through his next encounter with a Nutcake From The Eighth Dimension.

Readers can find free excerpts, advance news, contests, and more on Jeff’s web site at http://www.jverse.co
What about you, scriveners? Have you got any review horror stories to add to Jeff’s list?  

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Readers WON’T Miss about Corporate Book Publishers When They’re Gone.

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article by Eric Felten called “Cherish the Book Publishers—You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone” .

A lot of self-published writers responded with suitable outrage and derision. You can read Konrath’s “Tsunami of Crap” rebuttal here. But what offended me was not only Mr. Felten’s condescending attitude toward self-publishers, but his scorn for readers.

His argument was that, although some indie publishers may be making “earnest efforts,” the rest are unscrupulous scammers who are “creating books by the ream merely by grabbing a few pages of text from websites and dumping them into ultraquickie e-books.” 

He’s sure the readers of the world will rush en masse to Amazon to buy scores of un-previewed copies of  non-books without noticing they have no content.

Without our ever-watchful Big-Six Brothers, Mr. Felten fears, we’ll become brainless book-scarfing zombies, consuming everything on offer in the moldering pile of dreck that is Amazon.com.

Yup. I’d sure miss having a bunch of corporate guys in New York telling me what to read. How would I know I love zombipocalypses and dystopian steampunk this year if nice Mr. Simon and Mr. Schuster hadn’t told me?

And even worse, when those poor corporate publishing conglomerates get driven out of business by the evil Kindle-insurgents (not that I’m sure that’s going to happen) the mindless reading public might start buying some of those genres the Big Six have pronounced “dead.”

In fact—I hope this doesn’t shock youthere is evidence this kind of literary necrophilia is already happening in the dark corners of Cyberia as we speak.

Yes, it's true: customers who are forced to vet their own books are allowing these zombie genres to attack their brains. Here are a few:

Westerns: Westerns are as defunct as Buffalo Bill—everybody knows that. The last bookstore where I worked insisted we shelve the small collection of westerns on the bottom shelf of the darkest corner in the back, because “nobody buys them.”

So every time an adult male would come in, looking a bit lost, I’d ask if he was looking for the westerns. His face would light up and he’d go forage in the darkness and emerge with three or four titles (usually saying he’d have bought more if squatting to look at that low shelf weren’t so hard on his knees.) We could never keep the inventory stocked. So eventually, there were no more westerns in the store. So our western sales numbers plummeted. Which proved they don’t sell, right?

But, um, remember that John Locke guy—the one who just sold a million self-pubbed titles? Guess what he writes.

Yup. Westerns.

Chick Lit: It’s axiomatic that everybody hates Chick Lit. Except, well…chicks. Women love romantic comedies. But because the Big Six overbought a bunch of inferior Bridget Jones-wannabes in the middle of the last decade, the genre has been deemed as out-of-date as a pair of 70’s platform shoes.

But oh, gee: one of the first self e-pubbed books the idiot readers made #1 on Amazon was Elisa Lorello’s romantic comedy, Faking It. Amazon Encore has since launched Faking It as well as many other Lorello comedies in paper and she now has a very nice career.

And with the indie revolution, scores of websites like Chick Lit is Not Dead, Chick Lit Central the Blog  review great romantic comedies weekly. Most of the books are self-published. That’s where I found the fantastic books of indie superstar, Sibel Hodge who has re-invented the 1930’s style screwball comedy/mystery—proving chicks can be funny and smart, too.

Sexy Commercial Fiction: Remember big, sexy, guilty-pleasure beach books? They were pulpy, fun fiction for grown-ups that didn’t involve either the high school prom or gruesome child-rape-murders as a central plot device. From Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place, to Jacqueline Susann and Judith Kranz, then Ruth Harris, Olivia Goldsmith and Terry McMillan, the 20th century provided big, yummy books to shock a little and entertain a lot. They were favorite companions for beach and travel or escape from almost anything. There were no vampires, werewolves or Halloween creatures of any kind. The only man-eaters were busty blondes with dark pasts. The books appealed to women of all ages. Even some men.

When was the last time you found a book remotely like them offered by a Big Six publisher? But guess what? Ruth Harris has re-released her 80s and 90s titles on Kindle and they’ve been consistently top sellers ever since. I sure hope we get more.

Unsentimental Women’s Fiction: Oprah’s book club did much to promote women’s fiction of a particular heartfelt, victimized-woman variety. But the scramble for the magic Oprah stamp-of-approval meant that tougher, funnier, more ironic women’s fiction fell by the wayside. Oprah’s club is gone now, but I don't see the return of the books it pushed aside. Will indie publishing provide us with our next Dorothy Parker, Muriel Spark, Fay Weldon, or Erica Jong?

I sure hope so. Erica Jong herself friended me on Twitter last week. Kind of made my day. She has a sexy new book out called Sugar in my Bowl. OK, it's nonfiction, and it's a collection of essays by 26 women writers. But I’m going to take that as a sign that her tough, sexy attitude may return to the mainstream of women’s fiction. As she said, “The trick is not how much pain you feel—but how much joy you feel. Any idiot can feel pain. Life is full of excuses to feel pain, excuses not to live.”

Crime Novels that skip the torture-porn: Anybody who’s ever worked in a bookstore knows that most book buyers are women over fifty. They’re always asking for something new and exciting. But they usually ask that it not be gruesome. For some reason, a lot of women don’t find rape and torture of other women that entertaining. But they still enjoy an exciting mystery or thriller.

Self-publishers can now provide an alternative to the books churned out by the writing stable that is known as James Patterson. (Although Patterson-brand fans will be happy to know that he sold his next 13 books this week—all of which will debut before 2014.)

Reality-based romance: Older romance fans are not as likely to fantasize about having sex with characters in children’s fairy tales as the younger set. They tend to prefer romance novels with a little more plotting and a little less boinking, but they don’t necessarily want preachy religious fiction.

So what? Nobody cares if Grandma buys books, do they? Well, um, maybe somebody does. I’ve heard a new ebook company is going to re-release the “sweet” romances of the 80s and 90s. Big sales predicted to new retirees, who are going to be in the market for a lot of reading material.

So—sorry Mr. Felden—I’m not going to miss having the marketing departments of a handful of New York companies telling me what I’m allowed to read.

I don’t mean to say that the Big Six don’t publish fantastic books in the approved genres. Their authors worked very, very hard to get those great book deals.

Thing is: these days, the writers getting the great book deals are increasingly starting out as those “earnest” self-pubbed authors Mr. Felten showers with condescension.

Like Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, who have had phenomenal success in the UK in the last few months with their self-pubbed thrillers Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death. This week they have signed a big deal with Harper Collins. There’s an inspiring write-up on their success from fellow Kindle bestseller Mark Williams at his blog this week.

As Mark says, “funny thing about the gatekeepers.  They claim to be protecting us from the drivel that self-publishers stick on Amazon. Yet the moment that ‘drivel’ starts to sell it suddenly acquires some hitherto non-existent star quality that the gatekeepers are desperate to get the rights to.”

In other good publishing news: literary Author Samuel Park—a regular visitor to this blog—has had his new novel This Burns My Heart (Simon and Schuster, debuts July 12, 2011) selected as one of the Best Books of July by Amazon. 

How about you, fellow bookpersons? Are there book genres you remember fondly that have disappeared from the shelves? What genre would you like to see brought back from the dead?
Next Sunday, we’ll have a guest post from a writer who is hedging her bets and taking all three publishing paths: Big Six, small press, AND indie. Kim Wright is the author of Love in Mid Air   (Grand Central: paperback release July 14, 2011), and she’s got a nonfiction book coming out in September, as well as a self-pubbed chick lit series (I can’t wait!) She’s going to give us the skinny about all three experiences in her post next Sunday.

And mid-week, on July 13th, we’re going to have a Very Special Return Engagement by bestselling thriller writer Jeff Carlson  Jeff is going to talk about Amazon reviews. Especially the snarky ones. You know—those people who look at the world through “demon-colored glasses.” It’s a must-read. So do stop by on Wednesday.

Also: tomorrow, Monday the 11th, I'll be guest blogging for Fois in the City on her blog Ramblings from the Left. I'll be talking about how blogging improved my life.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

John Green: A Social Media Marketing Success Story

This blog got a mention from Nathan Bransford in his “This Week in Books” post on Friday. Of course I’m basking in his überblogger glow. Thanks Nathan! 

He also pointed out a blogpost I’d missed from Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, in which Mr. Coker bestows his blessing on agents-turned-epublishers. As I mentioned last week, some agents-turned-epubbers were getting some literary panties in a serious bunch, so I’m glad to have that smoothed out.

But the most interesting thing in Nathan’s Friday post can be found the comments thread (which is often the case in the blogosphere. Comments are where the fun happens. Here, too.)

The commenter who calls herself Sidekick—a teacher from L.A.—posted a link to an amazing article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about YA writer John Green, who has hit #1 on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble lists—for a book he hasn’t even finished writing.

That’s right. His newest book, The Fault in Our Stars (isn’t that a great title?) is not coming out until May 2012. But his pre-orders have already put him at #1. And his publisher has not done one bit of publicity. Green doesn’t even co-ordinate his efforts with their marketing department.

“I don’t take direction from Penguin,” he says in the WSJ.

He’s done this all by himself. Well, with the help of his brother Hank.

I’m going to take this as good news to counteract what we’re hearing about the scores of established, even bestselling authors who are being dropped by their publishers and told to toddle off and find careers as aluminum salvagers or Walmart greeters. Their agents and editors can’t do a thing because the almighty marketing departments—and the wildly inaccurate trolls at Bookscan—say their numbers are down.

Yeah. It’s pretty grim. You can read an in-depth, depressing post on that on Kris Rusch’s blog this week.

But now-superstar John Green is an “established” author too. He gets rave reviews in the New York Times and other high-toned journals and his books even have a whiff of the “literary” about them. (“The fault is…in our stars” is from Hamlet, after all.)

Green has been a steady midlist author with Dutton Children’s Books (Penguin) since 2006 (and they’re still charging $8.99 and $9.99 for his Kindle books, so he doesn’t have the “bargain” chip to play like last week’s book marketing superstar, John Locke.)

Green’s recent Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-authored with David Levithan, got some very nice reviews when it came out in April of 2010. But the hardcover is already remaindered, and the 2011 paperback has the dreaded “only 1 left-order soon” thing on its Amazon buy page.  

But his unwritten book is #1.

And how did this miracle happen?

Social Media.

The guy has over a million followers on Twitter, and 26 thousand on Tumblr.

Plus he and his musician brother Hank have their own YouTube channel—established for their Vlogbrothers videolog—and together they founded the online community, nerdfighters.com. They’re also about to launch VidCon, a conference for vloggers later this month in Los Angeles. (Sorry, it’s already sold out.)

Plus they have their own charity, Project for Awesome.

Green admits to using Facebook, but not that much. (See, I told you it has peaked.) 

This is what he did: last Tuesday, he posted the title of the new book on Twitter, Tumblr and his community forum. An hour later, he tweeted that he’d personally sign all pre-orders. Then he went on YouTube and read a section of the book. He also mentioned it didn’t have a cover design yet.

Within hours, fans began to make and post hundreds of potential covers. They also buzzed about the pre-ordering on Twitter.

And by 9 P.M. that evening, the cover-less, half-written book hit #1 on Amazon (and on Barnes and Noble an hour later.) Mr. Green hadn’t spent a penny on contests or gimmicks, or greased the palm of a single CEO of a bookstore conglomerate.

Does this mean we should all do the same thing? Start Tweeting and Tumblring promises for signings, and go read our half-written masterpieces on YouTube? Should we form online nerd herds, launch a vlog conference in, say, Fresno, and start a charity called Project for Not-Too-Sucky?

There are no doubt marketers who are making plans to do just that as we speak.

But it won’t work. Most marketers can only think in copy-cat terms (If one zombie mashup book was a success, let’s eliminate all other forms of literature and flood the world with zombielit! When it fails, we’ll blame the authors and nobody who writes about zombies will ever work again!!)

Also, marketers don’t get social media. They think it means they can annoy people into buying stuff.

The reason John Green has had so much success is that on the Internet, he follows his bliss—and doesn’t “take direction” from a marketing department. In their vlogs, he and his brother are perfectly and totally themselves: goofy, raunchy, brilliant young men who really care about the world they live in.

Also, the Greens interact with their Tweeple and hold interactive discussions in the forums and vlogs. They treat fans as individuals.

John knows how to relate to his YA audience: his approach is not one-size-fits-all. (I guarantee it wouldn’t work for Boomers, romance readers, or the inspirational market.)

What’s important is that he’s never selling. He’s having fun.

Copying him won’t make you a success any more than copying Lady Gaga’s outfits will make you a singing superstar.

But what we can learn from the John Green phenomenon is that great reviews in the New York Times do not sell books any more.

Social Media sells books.

Interacting with other people and being friendly sells books.

Being real sells books.

Being funny sells books.

Being creative sells books.

And whatever those marketing people tell you…is probably wrong.

Author Shelly Thacker had a great blogpost on Friday about what we can learn from John Green and she gives some great tips for social networking success. 

What about you, fellow scriveners? Are you finding new ways to reach out and be friendly on the Internet? Are you still having fantasies about that rave review in the NYT? (Yeah, me too.) Wish you could go to VidCon?

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