REFILLING THE CREATIVE WELL

Every now and then, the muse needs to take a rest. Over the holidays is as good a time as any, especially with the frenzy of out-of-town visitors, parties, and gift exchanges. Rather than figuring what your characters are going to do next, think about what shows to attend, which exhibits to check out, and what friends to call. Come January, it’ll be time to get down to business again, but for the next few weeks, try to relax and have fun. New experiences will add to the creative well so that when 2010 rolls around, you’ll be ready to sit down at the computer for some intense work. Periodically it pays to step back, enjoy life, and push aside the worry about what to write next. In other words, try not to feel guilty that you’re away from the office. Sometimes ideas have to stew in the subconscious before they’re ready to bubble forth, and too much concentration can cloud the mixture. It’s also a good time for reorganizing your office, reviewing your new idea files, and catching up on writing-related articles. So relax and savor the season. It’s only once a year.

PAGE PROOFS

I received my galleys via email this morning for SILVER SERENADE. It’s so exciting to work on this project through each stage in the publishing process. I can’t wait until the book is available for you to read. Meanwhile, I’m going through the story again, looking for last minute mistakes as this is my final chance at corrections. So far I’ve found two spacing errors that should be easy for the typesetter to fix. A reader at the publisher’s house plus my editor will also check through it one more time. We try to get it as perfect as possible before printing.

Often when an author gets the page proofs, we’re already writing another story. We have to take our mind from that world and put it back into the one we created before. Soon the story absorbs us and we are turning pages like our readers. I’ll be just as sorry to reach the end and say goodbye to my characters. As a reader, it’s sad when we finish reading a good book. As a writer, it’s sad but it’s also a relief when a project is complete. Then we can move on to the next story, while anticipating reader response from the upcoming book’s release.

A WRITER’S THANKS

What does a writer have to be thankful for in these days of shrinking lists, cut print runs, lower advances, and fewer markets? If we stop to think about it, I’m sure we can come up with several items. So here’s my list. I am grateful for:

  • My fans, first and foremost. I write stories to please you, to sweep you into my worlds, to offer you an escape from daily toil. Your feedback gives me the encouragement to keep writing despite the highs and lows of the publishing business. Your feedback shows me what you respond to in my writing and my blogs. Your feedback lifts my spirits.
  • My writing talent. I am grateful that I have been gifted with storytelling ability, that I can lose myself in imaginary worlds, and envision scenes in my head with people I’ve created. The drive to write cannot be taught. Writing craft can be learned, but the urge that makes a writer pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard comes from the heart.
  • A love of reading fiction. I can look at printed words on the page and soar into the zone where a story unfolds. It’s such a glorious feeling that I feel bad for people who read non-fiction and don’t understand what they’re missing. Not everyone has this ability. Consider it a gift, too.
  • The publishers who have accepted my work so that I could share my stories with you. So thanks to Dorchester, Kensington, and The Wild Rose Press. SILVER SERENADE will be my fifteenth published book.
  • My husband whose support has allowed me to pursue this career. He helps with the errands, often with the cooking, and this frees my time to write. He drives me to signings and other events. He listens to me whine. I realize not all spouses are this supportive or generous, and I am grateful for our 33 years together.
  • My kids who give out my bookmarks to their co-workers.

What are you, my fellow writers, grateful for today?

THE E-BOOK CRAZE

The rise of the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and the iPhone have fueled a revolution in publishing. More and more readers want to download their books in electronic formats. This brings up several issues for writers. First is the fear that ebooks will replace print books, and brick-and-mortar stores will become a thing of the past. How many people buy music CDs these days? Even libraries are involved in digital lending. About 5400 public libraries today offer e-books and digitally downloaded audio books. NetLibrary, a provider of e-books to libraries, has seen circulation rise 21% this year. I’m not saying books will disappear altogether; they’ll just change format. This affects income for writers since ebooks may sell at a lower price point than print editions. It involves issues of piracy as well as reversion of rights clauses.

E-rights are very important in publishing contracts these days, even for traditionally published authors. Many regular publishers are jumping on the bandwagon and putting out electronic versions of their print published works. Then there are ebook only publishers. Harlequin started Carina Press, a purely e-book venture. Those of us in the writing community have known about Samhain, The Wild Rose Press, Loose ID, and many other ebook pubs, for several years. But herein lies another problem: publisher recognition.

According to the standards of professional writing organizations, some of these publishers do not meet their criteria and are therefore not approved, meaning their authors are not eligible for published author status. This has been a growing point of contention among authors and a thorny issue. The well known ebook pubs have a selective policy and editors scour through manuscripts just like a traditional pub. Editing services are included so an author goes through a similar process as for a print pub. But certain qualifications demanded by professional organizations render these authors little better than self-pubs in status. For example, one writing org requires for recognition that a publisher pays an advance of at least $1000. This lets out many of the ebook pubs who offer no advance, just a royalty rate. Others may offer a small token advance . Some e-book publishers will offer the book as a POD (print-on-demand) as well, either simultaneously with electronic publication or later after certain sales quotas are met. But the profession organizations also demand that an approved publisher must have a print run and distribution of 1000 copies or more of each title they produce. This model doesn’t work for POD presses. How this will play out in the industry remains to be seen. Eventually, the professional writing organizations may have to rethink their definitions of acceptable publishers in lieu of the e-book explosion.

Royalty rates are another problem. For books that don’t have to be printed and stockpiled in warehouses, authors should be able to earn a higher royalty rate. For this reason, authors should carefully compare ebook publishing houses and e-rights clauses to know their options.

Some of these books may appear on bookstore shelves, but for the most part, readers have to order them online. Writers have to step up their Internet promotion and learn how to deal with booksellers who won’t work with ebooks or POD. But one thing is sure: writers who want to get their work in front of as many readers as possible will want their novel available in as a downloadable ebook.

Read more about this topic here:

E-Reads

Libraries article

NY Times articles

* Subscribe to my blog before November 30th to enter a drawing for a free signed book!

SELF-PUBLISHING

Self-publishing is rising in popularity these days. It used to be that books vetted by agents and accepted by editors went through quality control measures. In other words, the writing was up to professional standards and the story had a special zing to it that made an editor take notice. But if any Joe can publish, how is a reader to distinguish between what’s classy and what’s crap?

I have no problem with self-publishing under certain circumstances. For example, someone wants to publish their memoirs to share with her family. Or perhaps an expert in a subject wants to publish a nonfiction book to sell on the speaking circuit. I’ve considered going this route for a book my father wrote concerning his hitchhiking adventures in 1939. Thus in some circles, self-publishing is acceptable. Even legitimately published fiction authors may find themselves suddenly orphaned without an editor, or their line closes, or their option book isn’t renewed. They may view self-publishing as a viable option after a series of rejections by the major pub houses. In this case, their writing will be polished enough that quality won’t be lost.

In fact, why not bypass a publisher altogether when you can convert your own files and submit them electronically for publication as an e-book or POD (print-on-demand)? Maybe this will be the wave of the future, especially if print books go the way of the music CD. Then who needs a publishing house or an agent? Well, I’ll tell you. Authors who want the distribution and support of a royalty-paying publisher. Readers who want quality control so they don’t pick up a book by Joe Schmoe who has no clue how to write. Booksellers who need to be able to return unsold books to the publisher. Change is in the wind, but writers still need traditional publishers if they want to make some money at this career. They still need agents to help them find a publisher for their work. And publishers still need authors, for who else will write the stories of tomorrow?

These publishers may produce ebook or POD formats, but their editors still scour through manuscripts looking for polished work and a unique voice. In other words, they are selective. Self-publishing skirts this process, dissolves the barriers, and lets anyone have a voice. For experienced writers, this isn’t a problem. Their work will still be up to professional standards. But how is a reader to tell the difference between their book and the enthusiastic aspiring author who has no clue about pacing, characterization, and plot? Herein lies the danger of self-publishing, that bad books will flood the marketplace and turn off readers. And if it’s one thing all writers want, it is for readership to increase, not diminish.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

Writers loops are abuzz with discussion over the bomb dropped by Harlequin, the renowned romance publisher, that they are starting a vanity press originally called Harlequin Horizons. Due to protests in the professional writing community, they’ve issued a notice saying they will change the name to one that does not mention Harlequin at all.

Vanity presses are unscrupulous publishing houses that make profits from aspiring writers instead of profits from book sales. Why is this wrong? Because writers have to pay vanity presses to publish their work, not the other way around as with a traditional publisher who pays an advance against royalties. Writers who pay to have their work published are denied recognition in professional writing organizations.

Both RWA and MWA have already taken measures to challenge Harlequin’s status on their approved publisher list. This would make their legitimately published authors ineligible for the RITA or EDGAR Awards. Now SFWA has stepped up to the plate and issued a statement as well: http://tinyurl.com/yj4x8eu

Adding fuel to the fire is the paid editorial service Harlequin offers. Publishers who make referrals to editing services also prey on unpublished writers, who may become so frustrated with the submission process that they hire book editors to improve their work and make it more saleable. They believe they’ll become rich and famous once a book editor fixes their work and it sells. But having someone else edit your work doesn’t teach you the principles of writing. It doesn’t train you for a long term career. It’s the easy way out. Nor does it guarantee a sale.

Either venture is a way to take advantage of naive writers. Newbies may feel that acceptance into Harlequin’s vanity press program gives them a chance to have their book picked up for the traditional route. It’s unlikely, seeing how the slush pile for the regular Harlequin lines are huge enough. Are those editors really going to be looking for more manuscripts?

Harlequin has been a highly respected name in publishing forever. We’ll have to see how this plays out. Publishing is in a flux and change is inevitable, but this one doesn’t help writers. It helps the big corporation that will make money off inexperienced writers desperate to see their books in print.

More discussion online:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Writer Beware

Ashley Grayson Blog

Jackie Kessler Blog

Pub Rants

LIVING WILL

My daughter sent me this joke. It’s very appropriate for a writer.

MY LIVING WILL

 Living Will

Last Sunday evening, my kids stopped over for a visit, and while we were all sitting together in the living room, I told them, “I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle……and if that ever happens, just pull the plug.”

They got up, unplugged my computer, and threw out my wine.

They’re such asses!