Monday, October 31, 2005

Time, They are A-Changin'

Time, Inc., the world's largest magazine publisher, has been doing research on consumers' reading habits. In the November 7 issue of Business Week, Jon Fine talks to Time's CEO, Ann Moore.

Moore reports "a new, noticeable slide in men's magazine usage, while women's usage is holding steady." Women continue to read print magazines, but fewer men are doing so. Time's research came up with a possible reason. It seems that "men spend more time with new media than women" do. Men visit online magazines more frequently than women do. "In other words," Fine says, men aren't migrating so much from the content of magazines as from the format."

One of Moore's comments, in particular, struck me. It was reminiscent of the attitude displayed by Mark Cuban in my blog yesterday. She says, "I don't think we are constrained by the delivery system."

Ms. Moore's statement is something that all writers should keep in mind. In the future, writers' work will be less constrained by the delivery system. The change has already started. We have print, e-books, mobile readers and audio downloads. The variety of delivery mechanisms will become more convenient, more mobile, cheaper--and more popular.

Pay attention to the trends.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Cuban Revolution

I really enjoy Slate, the online magazine (www.slate.msn). They have interesting articles AND they re-run Doonesbury cartoons going back thirty years.

Last Monday, Slate ran an interesting story by Edward Jay Epstein about the delivery of films. Essentially, there are three modes of delivery for a first-run film: You can go to the theatre to see it, you can rent/buy the DVD or you can do pay-per-view at home. After that point, the film becomes available on subscription cable and, eventually, on television.

Epstein claims that there is a "video window," an artificial barrier "which prevents cable operators and TV stations from showing movies at the same time as their release on DVD." He says that the delay for pay-per-view is 45 days, and that the delay for subscription cable like HBO is at least four months.

Interestingly enough, Epstein says that this decision by Hollywood studios to delay access to films is not primarily an economic one. He claims that it would be to the studios' economic advantage to encourage viewers to switch to an electronic delivery system. In EXACTLY the same way that e-books eliminate much of the expense of hard copy print books, pay-per-view and cable are much cheaper means of product delivery for films (eliminating "the manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, sales and return costs" of the hard copy DVD). He adds that electronic delivery directly to the consumer's home would eliminate video stores which now get about 40 percent of the rental money.

So why are the studios essentially shooting themselves in the foot? In a single word, the answer is: Wal-Mart. In addition to being the biggest company in the world, Wal-Mart is the single biggest seller of DVDs. Epstein says that Wal-Mart "has made it clear that it does not want to compete with home delivery." Fearful of ticking off the mega-company which, by the way, provided studios with "more than one-third of their U.S. DVD revenue in 2004," Hollywood maintains the artificial barrier that protects Wal-Mart's DVD sales.

Along comes Mark Cuban. Cuban is well-known to Texans like me because he lives here and he owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. He is also very involved in the film/television business. Some TV watchers may remember his short-lived reality show, "The Benefactor." He also owns a chunk of Landmark Theatres and a film company, Magnolia Pictures. He was the executive producer of the current well-received film "Good Night, and Good Luck."

With his typical bravado, Cuban thinks that the video window should be eliminated so that consumers can purchase a film "how they want it, when they want it, [and] where they want it." As an aside, he was thrilled by the news that ABC would be making program content available on the new video iPod. In his 10/13 blog, he offered to show the hit TV progam "Lost" in Landmark Theatres as an experiment. He plans to make his own film releases available simultaneously in theaters and on his HDNet TV station.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Hollywood studios to follow suit.

If you've read my early blogs on this site, you will recall the 9/17 blog entitled "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" At the time, I was talking about the pressure put on bookstores by the deep discounts offered by chains such as Wal-Mart. I quoted a statistic as follows: during a three-week period in which WaldenBooks sold 4,888 copies of a best-selling thriller, Borders and B&N each sold about 4,000 copies. During that same period, Wal-Mart sold 47,671 copies. That's right, I said 47,671 copies.

If Wal-Mart has the retail clout to impact film studios, wonder how they use that influence in the publishing arena?

Just musing . . .

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Where Did Saturday Go?

Today was a beautiful fall day--and I spent most of it working on my manuscript. I was so anxious to be outdoors that I decided to carry my laptop out to the backyard to work. It was wonderful. I don't know if it was the gorgeous day, or if I was just hitting on all cylinders, but I got quite a bit done.

Went to see the new film, "North Country," this evening. Thought it was very powerful with terrific performances by Charlize Theron, Sissy Spacek and Frances McDormand. I will admit I was a tiny bit disappointed in the third act.

The director took plenty of time to lead up to what should have been a climatic courtroom scene. At the last minute, it turned into a cliche. Been there, done that.

The film was powerful enough that I came home to look up the true facts of the fictionalized story. Warning: Stop reading if you don't want to know the real story. I've relied heavily on two websites ( and for the following information.

In 1974, the federal government mandated that steel companies had to dedicate 20% of their jobs to women and minorities. The original workforce had strong negative feelings about the subsequent loss of jobs. Lois Jenson, a single mother, was one of the first new hires in the Eveleth iron mine in northern Minnesota in 1975. She endured horrendous abuse at the hands of her co-workers before finally filing a complaint in 1984. Jenson also experienced enormous difficulty in finding a lawyer to take her case. In 1991, the case became the first class action lawsuit for sexual harassment.

The defendant's counsel used a "nuts and sluts" approach--trying to prove that the plaintiffs were either crazy (made the whole thing up) or promiscuous (and therefore deserving of the treatment they received). The three plaintiffs endured nearly 80 days of cross-examination of both their personal lives and sexual history (Just typing that line gives me goosebumps and tears).

There were three trials in this case (more women eventually joined the plaintiffs) and Judge Donald Lay later wrote: "The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable."

CLASS ACTION, the book on which this film is loosely based (by Clara Bingham and L.L. Gansler), says: "litigation could have been avoided . . . if Eveleth [Mines] had been responsive to the women's complaints and taken corrective measures to rectify the situation and protect its employees."

In l998, the women settled with Eveleth for 3.5 million dollars. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. impacted all U.S. companies from that point forward and changed the legal landscape in America.

As a woman, I am grateful for the perseverance Lois Jenson and her co-plaintiffs exhibited in the face of tremendous pressure and prejudice.

Friday, October 28, 2005

God Save the Queen (of the Damned)

The October 31 edition of Newsweek includes an article on Anne Rice, the woman who has entertained readers for nearly thirty years with her dark and sensual novels. Rice's vampire series, which began in 1976 with "Interview with the Vampire", now includes ten books, the last of which was 2003's "Blood Canticle."

Over the last three years, rumors of hard times have swirled around Rice. Her husband of forty years died in 2002, and she had gastric bypass surgery in early 2003. Many will remember the incident last year following negative criticism of "Blood Canticle." On September 6, 2004, she posted an angry rebuttal on to those reviews. In part, it said, "Now, if it doesn't appeal to you, fine. You don't enjoy it? Read somebody else. But your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander . . . be assured of the utter contempt I feel for you, especially those of you who post anonymously."

Less than six months after the Amazon incident, Rice picked up and left New Orleans, where she had been born and spent most of her life. She moved to California, reportedly to be closer to her son, Christopher.

Rice is about to return to the public spotlight in a big way. Her first book since "Blood Canticle" is due out in November. It is neither vampire nor erotica. The new novel is entitled, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt."

For many years, Rice has been known as an atheist. However, according to David Gates of Newsweek, in 1998, she "returned to the Roman Catholic Church, which she'd left at 18." Gates claims Rice has said that "from now on, I will write only for the Lord."

"Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" is narrated by a seven-year-old Jesus. Rice reportedly planned the book to be the first of a trilogy on the life of Christ.

It will be interesting to see how readers react to the new Anne Rice. In the past, her books have often been described as "dense" and "turgid." Will that style serve her new subject matter? Wait and see.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Let's Look at What Google is Really Talking About

I just read another rant by a writer against the proposed Google Print Library Project. This soul spoke smugly of the injustice of Google making millions off the intellectual property of others.

Few things irritate me more than people who shoot their mouths off about something they don't understand. Does anyone really believe that the universities at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Michigan--not to mention the venerable New York Public Library--would have agreed to participate in any program that violates copyright laws?

Google has repeatedly promised that it will not violate copyrights. On their blog, they said, "Google doesn't show even a single page to users who find copyrighted books through this program (unless the copyright holder gives us permission to show more). At most, we show only a brief snippet of text where their search term appears, along with basic bibliographic information and several links to online booksellers and libraries."

Now, just think for a minute. Let's say you're a writer who wrote the definitive book on how to cook pork. However, your book has been out of print for years. Then comes next summer, when consumers are avoiding beef (because of high cholesterol and mad cow) and avoiding chicken (because of the avian flu) in favor of the other white meat. A Google search of "pork recipes" turns up your book along with four lines of text with mention of a great recipe. In addition, a link sends the searcher to the only cookbook store that still carries copies of your book. Would you be glad or mad?

Last month, the Authors Guild filed a class action suit against Google. Last week, five publishing houses filed another lawsuit against Google. Two days ago, Wired News ( printed an article in which individual writers finally started speaking out, "arguing that the benefits of inclusion in the online database outweigh the drawbacks."

The Wired article quotes Ben Vershbow, who writes for the Institute for the Future of the Book. Vershbow supports Google, but says he can understand why publishers feel so threatened. "It is a paradigmatic shift of moving everything to digital . . . It's not just the web and print. It's all beginning to merge."

If you've been reading my blog this month, you know I've been writing columns about the cultural differences between an open source approach and a closed source (or proprietary) approach. The publishers and authors who are filing suit are following a traditional closed source approach while Google is advocating an open source approach.

As you think about it, which approach would you favor in this instance?

Just musing . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Tribute to a Pioneer

One of Miss Snark's snarklings made an editorial comment this evening about "pod-publishing." Since I had NO idea what the man was talking about--and I'm not at all sure he did, either--I chose not to respond. However, he went on to say this:

"I could see quality writers going this route, but first they would have to overcome the sleazy reputation of pod-publishing as well as the failure of Steven (sic) King's web publishing."

Ignoring the fact that he didn't know how to spell the man's first name, I did respond to the snarkling's disparaging comment regarding "the failure" of King's experiment in e-publishing.

I was once a very big Stephen King fan. Early King. The King of "Salem's Lot" and "The Shining." I found his later works dense and incomprehensible, and think it's a shame that his editors stopped editing him. However, on one subject, I am very clear. Stephen King's experiment in e-publishing was bold, brave and inspired. I want to talk about that today.

King first burst onto the public consciousness in 1974-75 with the release of his books, "Carrie" and "Salem's Lot." He tapped into readers' desire to be scared out of their wits. I can still remember being a kid reading "Salem's Lot" under my mother's wall crucifix. By 1995, he had become an icon and e-publishing was still in its infancy.

In early 2000, King proposed selling his novella, "Riding the Bullet," online through his publisher, Simon & Schuster. No one was prepared for the onslaught of fans trying to download the new release. In no time at all, he'd sold 400,000 copies of the novella online. Even though e-publishing had been around for more than five years by then, one estimate claims King's sales figures were greater than all the e-books sold on line collectively to that point.

Emboldened by his success, King came back a few months later and tried a second experiment. This time he left Simon & Schuster out of the equation--and I'll bet they weren't happy about it. King decided to sell his novel, "The Plant," directly to readers via Amazon. In a quixotic gesture, he opted to sell the serialized novel on the honor system for $2.50 per installment. He was forced to pull the plug because readers were downloading the installments without paying. I am assuming it was this decision that the snarkling was referring to as a "failure."

King's entry, brief as it was, onto the e-publishing stage helped over 400,000 readers overcome any hesitancy they might have had to downloading books online. In addition, it made publishers sit up and take notice. Since that time, electronic publishing has made steady progress in growing the number of people who read e-books.

I'm still not convinced that we have yet seen the gold standard in an e-reader. I have deliberately not purchased one because I believe the model e-reader is yet to come. When that happens, I truly believe the market will explode. In the meantime, I'm waiting for the arrival of my new Mp3 player. I'm looking forward to downloading audio books.

Let's set the record straight on Stephen King and what was a landmark moment on the Internet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On Courage and Discipline

Thanks to Karen for her comment regarding my post last night about critique partners. She brought up an important point -- one that I'd like to talk about some more.

Writing is an odd business. Some people fall into it naturally; others, like me, take longer to settle down.

When I think about my journey as a writer, I think of two large milestones along the way. The first was when I finally developed the discipline to finish a manuscript. I'm not talking about short stories. I earned extra money by selling short stories to the confession magazines for years before I ever finished a full-length manuscript. My problem was in staying committed to the longer length project. For years, I'd start something, get bored and put it down. I had dozens of unfinished manuscripts. It took a long time for me to decide that I wouldn't start a new one until I finished the one I was working on. That was a huge turning point for me. Later, I had to reverse this strategy when it, too, began to work against me. However, that's another story.

The second big milestone was when I stepped away from my computer and began to interact with other writers. Looking back on this, I wish I had taken this step much sooner. I waited until I was nearly finished with my first full-length manuscript to join two groups: Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America. I joined SinC first and, some months later, joined RWA. I'd resisted joining RWA because writing romances wasn't what I wanted to do. However, those people are very serious about writing. I've never met a bunch of more committed folk. They energized me and moved my efforts to a much higher level.

Remember, I said the second milestone was stepping away from my computer and interacting with other writers. In addition to joining support groups like RWA that meant finding a critique group.

Writing is essentially a lonely business. It seems counter-intuitive to need to network in order to succeed. But, that's been my experience. It was much easier to join a writers group where we just talked about the process of writing. It was very difficult for me to join a critique group where I actually read my chapters out loud to other people for feedback. It's probably hard for a baby bird to jump out of the nest and flap its wings, too. However, it's a necessary part of the growth process.

The good news is that it didn't take me long to get comfortable with sharing my work. The other writers were flexible, supportive and very kind. They also could see things about my writing that had never occurred to me. I began to recognize my weaknesses and strengths. I'm very good at plotting and dialogue. I'm less strong at narrative and sentence structure. Fortunately, there are lots of good classes available in the community and online. I learned to identify my weaknesses and to work on them.

I've met lots of writers who complain bitterly about agents and publishers and the industry as a whole. I've observed that most of these people have managed to finish a work, but have never moved away from their computers. They have not learned to network and to grow through feedback. They write and then mail off their manuscripts. They become angry and defensive when their work is rejected. It's a sad, endless loop.

The first step is to learn to sit at your computer and write; the second step is to learn to move away from your computer. Both take discipline and courage, but they're worth it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Of Critique Groups

I missed my in-person critique group tonight. It wasn't intentional; I forgot all about it until the meeting was already over. I felt badly about it. I was so absorbed in the manuscript I was working on that I forgot all about the meeting, but that's no excuse.

In the middle of castigating myself, I started thinking about the differences between an in-person critique group and an online critique group. Also the differences between a known critique group and an unknown critique group. I've had experiences with all of the above in the last two years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the best thing a writer can do for herself is to find critique partners as soon as she can. Asking family and friends to read your material is worse than useless because, more than likely, they'll lie to protect your feelings. You need impartial reviewers with no stake in the outcome to give you an unbiased opinion.

Benefits of an in-person group: You'll get used to listening to your material read out loud (whether you read it or another group member reads it); you'll get used to listening to others make painful comments about your work; and you'll learn to develop a tough hide, which you'll need down the road. If your critique group has a decent structure, you'll learn not to argue or to defend yourself against what are essentially opinions; you'll develop camaraderie with fellow writers; and you'll learn to network.

Benefits of an online group: There is more flexibility in when and how you will critique and be critiqued (you can critique an excerpt at 2 AM in your jammies). You'll learn to be more precise in your comments because you won't have the benefit of facial expressions and voice tone to help you convey your meaning to your CPs. You can develop strong personal relationships (seems counter-intuitive, but I've found it to be true). Networking opportunities are sometimes better.

Additional note here: I've been the Critique Coordinator for the Sisters in Crime Guppies group for nearly a year. I've watched critique groups fall apart and have worked to put groups back together. I've developed some strong opinions on the subject. In my mind, an ideal group is four or five members. I don't think it's as important that they be writing in the same genre as it is that they be in the same place in their careers and their manuscripts. A writer who is just starting a manuscript and who is struggling to establish her characters and story is going to be in a very different place than a writer who has a finished manuscript she is anxious to get edited before sending it off. Exchanging chapters twice a month seems to work well. Once a week can be a little overwhelming.

For a short while, I submitted chapters to the Critters Writers Workshop ( This is primarily a SciFi/Horror loop with hundreds of other writers. You don't establish relationships with individuals, and the skill level of your CPs is very diverse. I was also uncomfortable posting my work on a public loop where anyone could access it. After a couple of months, I dropped out. I'd learned that I preferred CPs who knew me and knew my foibles as a writer ("Maya, you've used passive language again").

At any rate, missing my group tonight just reminded me of how important they are in my life. I need to say that when I see them next.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fare Thee Well

It's almost 11 PM on Sunday night and I'm just now sitting down to my computer again.

Today was my third visit to the Texas State Fair this year. The fair closed tonight after 24 days. Organizers' preliminary gate figures indicate that 3 million people visited this year. The fair generates $350 million dollars for north Texas every year. You can add my $7 for a turkey leg to that figure.

Organizers claim that the Texas State Fair is the most popular state fair in the U.S. The first state fair was held in Texas in 1886. The corny dog was invented at the 1942 fair by the Fletcher brothers. And the Texas Star is still the tallest Ferris wheel in North America at 212 feet.

Fair Park in Dallas is 277 acres. The way my feet feel tonight, I think I walked every one of those acres.

Every year, I whine that I don't want to go. I remind family and friends of the crowds, the heat, the noise and the over-stimulation. Every year, I allow myself to be dragged back. And every year, after about 30 minutes, I revert to a ten-year-old gaping at the life size statue of Elvis and two hound dogs done in BUTTER (last year the butter sculpture was the Snoopy gang). I oh-and-ah at the birds of prey exhibit (the eagle soars from the top of the Ferris wheel to his handler's outstretched arm). Every year, I sit in the new cars and pet the goats in the livestock barn and watch the border collies herd the sheep. I sit next to five-year-olds with wide eyes and enjoy the moment just as much as they do.

Oh, well. Only another 341 more days until next year's fair.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Of Horses and Boys

It's Saturday so I took the day off.

Didn't accomplish a darn thing, although I did go to see the movie "Dreamer" with a friend. If you're not familiar with it, the film is based on a true story about a filly that broke a leg, but went on to win the prestigious Breeders Cup race. Dakota Fanning stars as a little girl who loves the horse.

Made me think about little girls and horses. It's almost a rite of passage; pre-teen girls fall in love with horses right before they fall in love with boys.

I don't want to get all Freudian here but, by now, most people know that Freud considered guns and horses phallic symbols, especially when they appeared in dreams. In a recent article, Today's Parent says, "Sigmund Freud's theory was that girls' love of horses was related to sex." Gosh, ya think?

Trying for balance, Today's Parent also states that, "equestrian sports are one of the few areas where girls compete equally with boys."

I can remember filling my notebooks in seventh grade with sketches of horses. My junior high library had all the Walter Farley "Black Stallion" books, which I eagerly devoured. Two of my friends collected the Breyer horse models. I remember envying them; the expense of the models was beyond my family's reach.

The horse-crazy stage didn't last long, maybe a year or two. By eighth grade, we'd all outgrown it; our attention was firmly fixed on boys.

Most of the young people in the audience today were pre-teen or early teen girls. Tonight I heard that Kurt Russell bought Dakota Fanning a palomino at the close of the filming of "Dreamer." That's about right. She's eleven years old. I'd say nothing has changed.

Just musing . . .

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why Eroromance?

I've mentioned before that I'm the membership chair for Passionate Ink (PI), the RWA chapter for erotic romance.

Last month, best-selling author and PI board member Angela Knight agreed to teach a month-long class on writing erotic romance for chapter members. The minute the announcement was made, all hell broke loose. In less than a week, I had over sixty new applications for membership. It got so bad, I was afraid to check my email for fear of what I'd find. Clearly a lot of writers wanted to listen to Angela talking about how she crafts her best sellers.

I haven't spent a lot of time analyzing why I'm drawn to eroromance. However, something Angela talked about in one of her lessons caught my attention. She said, in traditional romance, the tension is all about when, or even if, the heroine and hero will get together. The sexual tension between them is usually--although not always--very high.

That same sexual tension doesn't exist in eroromance since, presumably, the hero and heroine are making like bunny rabbits from early on in the story. Therefore, in eroromance, plotting becomes especially important because, instead of sexual tension, the writer must rely on romantic tension--whether the hero and heroine will overcome the impediments to their living happily ever after.

A lightbulb went off in my tiny brain. Before I discovered erotic romance, I'd been bored by traditional romance novels. Been there, done that. When I encountered my first eroromance, I was so distracted by the explicit and graphic detail that I didn't immediately register the change in the plot arc.

As counter-intuitive as it seems, sexual tension is more prevalent in the typical romance novel, while romantic tension is the more dominant theme in an erotic romance novel. And that's what intrigues me about eroromance. The sexual scenes (when done well) are all about romance and relationship. In my stories, I strive to have the characters learn important facts about each other during their sexual encounters. Think about it. When are you more open than during an intimate encounter with your lover? I enjoy reading and writing about the exploration of relationship that the hero and heroine undertake while, at the same time, exploring each other's body.

Nearly every imprint already has or is getting ready to launch an erotic romance line. It's an exciting time to be writing eroromance.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

AOL Announces Layoffs

Yesterday AOL announced the layoff of 700 employees.

This suggests that AOL may be trying to make themselves more attractive as a buy-out candidate. Up until now, most of the talk has been of AOL "partnering" with another company. Perhaps what Time Warner (AOL's parent) really wants to do is to unload the company altogether.

An article in today's USA Today says that none of AOL's suitors is "interested in AOL's Internet service business, which is large and highly profitable but also in decline as consumers shift to faster broadband access services."

If we're talking buyout, giant Microsoft is probably in the best position to win a bidding war.

Stay tuned . . .

Google is Being Sued . . . Again

Another group has filed suit against Google, demanding a court order to stop the search engine company from scanning copyrighted books as a part of their library project.

You'll remember that, last month, the Authors Guild filed suit over the book scanning project.

Now the Association of American Publishers has also filed a lawsuit against Google.

Google halted the project two months ago, saying that they would resume on November 1. It will be interesting to see if they keep to that schedule.

Google has repeatedly said that they do not intend to allow public access to any more than the excerpts which would be permitted under U.S. copyright law for book reviews. They have argued that their project is likely to provoke interest in books long out of print or the public eye.

An open source company, Google seeks the broadest possible access to the world's knowledge. They already have agreements with five of the world's libraries (including Harvard and Oxford) to scan their collections.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More on Harlequin e-Books

Lots of chatter on the romance loops yesterday with authors expressing concern over rumors that Harlequin is only offering 6% royalties for their new e-books. People are outraged that Harlequin is not offering the 35%-plus royalties that e-publishers such as Ellora's Cave and Loose ID offer.

Look at it from Harlequin's perspective for a moment. A new author approaches them with a manuscript. They say to her, "Okay, we'll offer you a contract. We'll publish your book in both print and e-book versions. You'll get a $4K advance and 6% royalties on both. Do you want the deal?"

How many authors do you think will turn them down? I'm betting not many.

Let's say Allie Author replies, "Well, I don't like the deal you're offering me on the e-book. I'll sell you the print version, but not the e-book."

It's going to take Harlequin a year to get the print version to market. Do you think they're going to be willing to have Allie Author peddling the e-book elsewhere in the meantime? An e-book that can go to market in just a couple of months, way ahead of their print version? There's no way Harlequin will agree to that deal.

So, Harlequin says, "Sell us the rights to both or the deal's off." If Allie Author does walk, in today's world, she'll probably end up at a print house that doesn't offer e-books, or at an e-publisher that won't guarantee a print version. Harlequin's deal starts looking better all the time. I'm betting a bunch of writers will accept it.

There is an upside for unknown or little-known writers, as a group, in this scenario. We all know the per-unit cost of a print book is more expensive than the per-unit cost of an e-book. It's not just the process of physically printing a book that makes the hard copy per-unit cost so expensive. Harlequin has warehouse costs, and then they have to handle all the returns on the print copies. For argument's sake, let's say the sell-through rate on the print copies is 50% (half the books printed are returned by the bookstores for credit). Meanwhile, the sell-through rate on e-books is 100% (no virtual books are returned). The additional margin they make on those e-books will bring down Harlequin's total expense-per-unit for Allie Author's manuscript, making it easier to reach profitability. Yes, bottom line, I'm saying that Harlequin will make more money than before. Perhaps that dynamic will also make them more willing to take chances on newer, unknown authors.

As a writer, I'd be trying to structure my deal with Harlequin to build in incentives on both sides of the deal. Instead of trying to force them to give me a higher e-book rate, I'd be negotiating for a sliding scale rate on BOTH the print and e-book version. I'd say, "Okay, I'll take the 6% on the first 100K books sold (print and e-books total sales). But I want 7% on the second 100K books sold and 8% on the third 100K, etc. up to a 10% max." That deal doesn't cost Harlequin anything up front, but allows for a better payout for me, the writer, if my book sells well. On subsequent books, it could be very lucrative.

It's a cold, hard world out there. We need to be businesspeople as well as writers.

Just musing . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Harlequin Takes the Plunge

I've reported previously that Harlequin has been wanting to get into electronic publishing for quite some time. A month ago, they reported that they would be making books available for an e-reader by the end of this year.

Well, the time has arrived. Go to You'll be able to download samples or purchase the books directly from e-Reader. There are nine selections listed, including authors such as Diana Palmer, Debbie Macomber and Brenda Joyce.

The times, they are a-changin'.


AOL is suddenly the most popular girl on the dance floor.

After being a wallflower for years (Times Warner took them over in 2002), America Online has blossomed into the trophy date everyone wants to take to the dance.

"It's been no secret that Time Warner has wanted to dump this thing [AOL] since they took control," Rob Enderle, an analyst, was quoted as saying in Friday's CNET News.

Recent moves by AOL have changed that dynamic. As subscribers to its very expensive dial-up service deserted AOL for faster broadband connections, AOL realized it needed to change its strategy. In a creative move, AOL began making its programming available for free, counting on advertising revenue on the free pages to make up for the lost subscriber income.

Now, Yahoo has jumped onto the dance floor. On Friday, reported that Yahoo "has joined the whirlwind Internet industry courtship of AOL."

The question is: Will Microsoft--clearly the 900 lb. gorilla in a tuxedo--flex its muscles and drive away all the other suitors: Google, Comcast and now Yahoo?

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Nice Way to Start the Day

Just had a phone call from the RWA "Where the Magic Begins" contest. Chris Keeslar of Dorchester Publishing named my manuscript, "Witch Vampire?" the winner.

This was the second contest into which I entered "Witch Vampire?" this summer. It won both contests and the full mss has now been requested by Berkley.

Doing the happy dance!

An Introduction To This Blog

Hi, if you've never stopped by this blog before, let me welcome you and tell you a bit about it.

I'm an erotic romance writer who is very interested in the world of publishing. I try to do a couple of articles a week on publishing trends, another couple on hints to writers and I usually take the weekends easy with short reviews or personal observations.

I moved my blog to this site about six weeks ago. You might want to check the following dates if these subjects are of interest to you:

10/14 The Books on My Reference Shelf
10/8 Are You Targeting Your Efforts?
10/4 What Do You Do After the Book is Written?
9/30 Podcasting
9/27 Manga
9/20 What the Hell is POD?
9/17 The Future of Independent Bookstores
9/15 What are All Those Japanese Doing With Their Cell Phones?

In addition, in October, I began a series on cultural change on the Internet. The series focuses on the differences between an open source approach and a closed source approach by looking at two companies where the cultures are radically different: Google and Microsoft. These are the blogs thus far in the series:

10/1 The Coming Cultural Clash
10/5 The Cathedral and the Bazaar
10/6 Google vs. Microsoft
10/13 Everyone Wants to Take AOL to the Dance

Enjoy! Feel free to email me with comments at



Sunday, October 16, 2005


I am not the only occupant of my study. I have two roommates--my cats, Tribble and Bob.

Tribble is a long-haired calico Manx whose mission in life is to imitate a paperweight. I found her during a rainstorm twenty years ago. She was barely eight weeks old at the time and looked so much like the tribbles from Star Trek that naming her was no problem.

I found Bob at my local SPCA last year. A friend called to tell me that the shelter had taken in a calico Manx. That combination is so unusual that I hightailed it down to the facility, intending to bring the kitten home.

When I arrived at the shelter, it was to discover that the Manx either suffered from a personality disorder or an intense dislike for me. I could not hold that cat's attention. In the meantime, a tiny black kitten was hellbent on engaging me. He crawled up my pants leg, leaped from a shelf to my shoulder and generally made it known that he WAS leaving with me. The SPCA had called him Bob; I gave him the more formal name of Bobbin when I brought him home.

Bob is now thirteen months old and the terror of the neighborhood. I'm assuming the uncertainty of my writing career worries him because, every day, he brings home something to eat. When he returns, he howls for me to come open the door and admire his prize. He takes it badly that I will not let him bring his trophies indoors. Thus far, I've been greeted with the sight of multiple dead field mice, one very large dead rat, a few cockroaches (this was early in his hunting career), a dead crow, a half dozen lizards, the rear end (including tail) of a squirrel and one two-foot-long LIVE snake.

Bob's goal in life is to nail a tarantula (after all, we do live in Texas). One morning I looked out the French doors to see him flat on the ground with his front paw up to the armpit in a tarantula hole, fishing.

Nothing I do seems to discourage Bob's hunting efforts and, since we live in a forest, prey is readily available. My neighbors are convinced Bob will one day drag home a coyote.

Through some strange feline pact, Tribble and Bob have agreed that only one will keep me company in the study at a time. I have cleared a space (unwillingly) on my desk. In the mornings when it's cold outside, Tribble sleeps beside me while Bob patrols the property. In the afternoons, they exchange places. Tribble goes outside to sleep in the warm sun on a pillow on the glider while Bob takes a well-earned rest beside my computer.

The funny thing is that, although I resisted giving them space on my desk, I now have difficulty writing if one of them isn't beside me. I frequently read passages to them, ask their opinions and just stroke their fur while thinking.

They probably deserve a writing credit, but I'll bet they'll settle for a can of Fancy Feast.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Taking Time Out

I took a mini-vacation over the last two days. On Friday, I shopped until I dropped and saw the new film, "Good Night, and Good Luck." Today, my brother and I took my niece to the Texas State Fair and to see the musical "Wicked" for her fourteenth birthday.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" was a terrific film. It's probably inevitable that moviegoers and critics will draw parallels to the political situation today. I happened to see the film in the same theatre in which I had seen Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." I found GNAGL to be much more effective than F9/11. Moore irritated the hell out of me with his grandstanding and silly stunts. GNAGL is far more subtle and far more devastating with its warnings not to confuse dissent with disloyalty. It is not likely to improve President Bush's approval ratings.

Since I seem to be doing reviews, if you like mystery/thrillers, try Lee Child's latest book, "One Shot." I've been following Child's career since I read his first novel, "The Killing Floor," back in 1998. I think this is his best book yet.

Child's hero, Jack Reacher, is a modern day Shane, the loner who rides into a troubled situation, utilizes his special skills to bring about resolution and leaves. Jack Reacher has replaced the spot in my heart once held by Robert Parker's Spenser.

Here is an excerpt from Publishers Weekly on "One Shot": The final sentence of Child's ninth suspenser . . . -"Then he could buy a pair of shoes and be just about anywhere before the sun went down"-is quintessential Jack Reacher, the rugged ex-army cop who practically defines the word "loner" and kicks ass with the best of 'em. In the book's gripping opening, five people are killed when a shooter opens fire in a small unnamed Indiana city. But when ex-infantry specialist James Barr is apprehended, he refuses to talk, saying only, "Get Jack Reacher for me." But Reacher's already en route; having seen a news story on the shooting, he heads to the scene with disturbing news of his own: "[Barr's] done this before. And once was enough."

I'd offer to loan you my copy, but I've already given it to another friend.

Friday, October 14, 2005

My Reference Shelf

A writer friend asked me recently what reference books I use. I had to laugh. I have three serious addictions: (1) My love of the television show House; (2) My love of Mexican flan; and (3) My love of books on the craft of writing.

I have shelves and shelves of reference books on writing. However, there are only seven that I depend on to live (and to write). Here they are in the order of their importance to me:

1) Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language -- my father gave me this book as a birthday present when I was fourteen. Although it would have been cheaper to replace it, I spent a small fortune a few years ago to have it rebound. This book has moved with me from state to state, from undergraduate school to graduate school and from career to career.

2) The Chicago Manual of Style -- At $55, this book is a serious investment. I got mine via a gift certificate to B&N, a coupon and my B&N membership. Until I purchased it a few years ago, one of the websites I visited most frequently was the CMOS website: Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq/cmosfaq.html.

3) Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon -- If you don't know your characters' GMC, you don't know your characters. I go through the exercises to develop GMC every time I start a new tale. For several months after learning of the book, I tried to buy a used copy. I had three different used book services alert me whenever a copy came available. Unfortunately someone always beat me to the purchase. I finally broke down and ordered the book new from Gryphon Books for Writers.

4) The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever & Sue Viders -- Tami Cowden came to speak to my RWA chapter last fall. She has developed sixteen master archetypes. If I get into trouble with a character, I go back to the archetypes and try to decide which one fits my character best. I usually find that I have one type in mind, but am writing about a different type's GMC. If you want to get a feel for the book, Tami Cowden has been generous enough to list all the archetypes on her website:

5) The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale -- I recommend using this book with extreme caution. You NEVER want to use esoteric terms that scream "thesaurus" to your readers. I rely on this book when I cannot remember the word I want. I think of a similar word and look that one up to back into the word I'm trying to remember.

6) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King -- This remains the best overall book on writing that I have found. I re-read it every couple of years (except when I'm on one of my adverb binges; then I re-read the section on adverbs over and over). King's lack of personal boundaries (he even talks about his bouts of impotence) makes me wince, but the book itself is a little gem.

7) Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach by Pam McCutcheon -- This is really a companion book to Debra Dixon's GMC. McCutheon refers back to Dixon again and again in her explanations. This book is also available from Gryphon Books for Writers.

With these seven books, I can manage my writing career.

What books are most important to you?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Everyone Wants to Take AOL to the Dance

Earlier today, it was reported that Time Warner is in talks with Google and Comcast. The suggestion was that Google and Comcast would buy a stake in Time Warner's America Online (AOL).

This would be a very interesting partnership with each of the three bringing a lot to the table. CNET News describes it this way: "The combination would marry Time Warner's trove of programming and Google's popular search and e-mail services with Comcast's high-speed Internet portal and experience in cable video distribution and telecommunications."

The thing is--though--that, less than a week ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Time Warner was resuming talks with Microsoft (MSN) about linking AOL with MSN. The two giants had tried to come to agreement previously without success.

So, what's the deal? Why's everyone so interested in taking AOL to the dance?

First of all, it's important to realize that the bulk of Google's revenue comes from its advertising program. And, according to the Associated Press, "AOL accounted for 11% of Google's $2.6 billion in revenue during the first half of this year."

Do ya think an AOL/MSN alliance might threaten Google's income stream? Apparently Google thought so because they contacted Comcast to suggest the joint venture with AOL.

Maybe Google was afraid that, this time around, Microsoft would be able to seal the deal with AOL.

We've been talking over the last few weeks about the different cultures of Microsoft and Google. Remember: Microsoft is a proprietary (closed source) company that benefits from the fact that the vast majority of PCs are using its Windows platform. Google is an open source company that believes that the web itself can serve as the platform of the future--a very ugly prospect if you're MSN. (And, if you don't understand what open and closed source mean, go back and read my blogs of October 5 and 6)

Kevin Werbach, a professor at Wharton, had an interesting take on the situation. He said, "At some level, any successful Internet and software company is a threat to Microsoft. Microsoft is in a uniquely dominant position in the computing ecosystem. Anything that attracts a significant amount of use or activity is potentially a threat to them. Microsoft is a threat to, in some ways, virtually everyone in the industry and likewise everyone is a threat to Microsoft."

So, here we are. Both Microsoft and Google have come a'courtin' AOL with Comcast as Google's wingman. Stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On-Line Support

I've found three kinds of on-line support--each very different, but still very necessary:

1) Research websites and loops
2) Supportive loops
3) Critique Partners

RESEARCH WEBSITES AND LOOPS: These websites are places to go when you have a technical question or problem relating to your manuscript. There are hundreds of good sites, specializing in all kinds of subjects. As an example, if I have a forensics question, I can ask at
If I'm trying to create a futuristic world, I go to Patricia Wrede's website at

When someone recommends a good site, I check it out and make an index card. It's amazing how often those cards come in handy. Recently, I had a gun-related question. Googling did not produce the answer I needed. As a last ditch effort, I flipped through my index cards and, when I pulled up the website I'd found, discovered exactly the answer I needed. To confirm the data, I checked with a veteran friend of mine. He verified the validity of what I'd written.

SUPPORTIVE LOOPS: These are on-line groups of writers in a particular genre who provide support and information to each other. I belong to a lot of these loops. To manage the traffic flow, I've set my "preferences" to send the emails to me in a daily digest. That way, I can quickly scan the subject matter and either respond or delete the digest. Among the most helpful loops I belong to are the RWA special interest groups for Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal; Kiss of Death (Mystery); and Passionate Ink (erotic romance) as well as the Brazen Hussies loop. The Hussies all took the same on-line class in erotic romance from Jan Springer back in February of this year. We had so much fun as a group that we formed our own support loop when the class ended.

CRITIQUE PARTNERS: As I've posted in the past, good critique partners are more precious than--and sometimes as rare as--rubies. I have a half dozen on-line partners whose critiques I trust. They don't all write in the same genre, but I've found that a good critique partner will transcend genre. I have a friend who writes cozy mysteries, but who is perfectly at ease reading my erotic romances. I'm always on the lookout for new partners--ones who will give me suggestions without insisting on imposing their "voice" on MY manuscripts.

Writing is a very solitary pursuit. The Internet has done a lot to provide a working environment for writers. Now, although I'm alone in my study, I have a whole group of people with whom I interact every day. I regard my Internet writer friends as co-workers with whom I can celebrate successes and lament failures. They help keep me sane, focused and on target.

Apple's Big Day

Today is the day that Apple held its press conference regarding their new video iPod.

The newest iPod has a 2 1/2 inch screen and can play music (15K-song storage capacity), music videos AND television shows. Steve Jobs announced a plan where consumers could purchase hit ABC television shows (like Desperate Housewives) the day after they air.

The iPod will sell for between $299 and $399.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Just Showing Up

In Friday's on-line magazine Slate, senior editor Andy Bowers makes an important point.

Bowers starts by quoting Woody Allen's famous line that, "80 percent of success is just showing up." He then goes on to complain that several of the podcasters he recommended in a previous column "have posted little or nothing new since then."

Since I had just finished checking the website of an author I admired only to find that she had not updated her site since March of this year, Bowers' words resonated with me.

If you the writer have established a website (or a blog), you need to examine your relationship to it and to your readers.

Did you start your website in the hope of attracting new readers to your books?

Did you begin your blog as a mechanism to get closer to your readers?

If you answered "yes" to either question, you need to realize that, by doing so, you entered into an implicit contract with your readers. For their part, the readers agreed to keep coming back to check your website or blog. For your part, you agreed to keep updating said website or blog. If either of you abrogates your responsibility, the deal is off.

I promise you, it will be even longer before I go back to check on that author's website again. Why should I? Nothing changes.

If, on the other hand, you started your website or blog for your own personal satisfaction--as a public diary, if you will--and you don't care if anyone ever actually reads your material, carry on. You've made no promises and have none to keep.

Just musing . . .

Monday, October 10, 2005

My Dirty Little Secret

Okay, I'm going to admit a secret about my writing life. One that almost ended my budding career before it even got underway.

I have trouble ending a story. There; it's out.

For years, although I wanted to write and tried to write, I could not finish any project I started. I had piles of partial manuscripts sitting in folders in my study. And I'm not talking about writing thirty pages and then stopping. I had several manuscripts that were three hundred pages long when I walked away from them. It KILLED me to see these manuscripts just sitting there gathering dust.

Then, a couple of years ago, I took the first step toward overcoming my problem. I told someone about it. The friend I confided in asked a logical question. "Why do you stop?" I was forced to admit that I didn't know.

She asked, "Is it because you don't know how the story ends?" I shook my head. "No, I always know what happens next."

"Then, what's the problem?" Once again, I insisted that I had no idea what the problem was.

This conversation prompted me to do what I should have done in the first place. I began the necessary self-examination to figure out what was wrong. It took several months before I realized that, in the process of writing a novel, I fall in love with my characters. I don't want to write "the end" on their story.

Silly, isn't it? I am generally pretty goal-oriented and pragmatic. This emotional reaction surprised me because it came from out of the blue. However, once I identified the problem, I was able to craft a solution.

Now, when I near the middle of any manuscript, I start something new. For a period of time, I work on both the last half of one novel and the first half of another. Initially, I don't want to leave my nearly finished novel to mess with the new one, but--before long--I become anxious to concentrate all my attention on the new one and am, therefore, willing to wrap up the old one.

I know it sounds goofy, but it works.

The point here is that you need to identify the things you are doing to sabotage your own writing career. It's probably not the same problem as mine. In fact, it's almost assuredly something different. What is it? Are you afraid to send your finished manuscript to an agent/editor? Do you fall apart when your work is critiqued? Do you refuse to accept feedback? Are you unwilling to realize that your early work may just be part of the learning curve and not actually saleable?

Once you identify the obstructions, you can begin to overcome them. Good luck.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A History of Violence

I grew up in a male-dominated household. I had three brothers and no sisters. Since my mother was not especially assertive, all our cultural and social activities were dictated by the males of the house. We watched westerns and cop shows on television and attended shoot-em-up movies. The games we played were "cops and robbers," "cowboys and Indians," and "GI Joe." My oldest brother would occasionally advise me I was acting "like a girl," a clear warning to knock off such asinine behavior.

I mention this to preface what I am about to say.

Even as an adult, my choices are not the typical female fare. Among my favorite authors are Lee Child, Andrew Vachss and Carol O'Connell--all of whom tend to walk on the dark side of the sidewalk. I loved Kill Bill (both volumes), Pulp Fiction and Con Air.

The MPAA rating of "R" for brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity and language didn't faze me when it came to deciding to go see "A History of Violence," David Cronenberg's latest film.

What did interest me was my very strong reaction to the movie. After seeing it with a friend over the weekend, I went back alone three days later, to see it again. There was something about the film that disturbed me in a way that the other films I mentioned did not.

When I'd seen the movie the first time, I thought the main theme was redemption and the question of whether a person could be redeemed. It took two viewings before I realized that it also makes a strong statement about violence. All the violence--whether "justified" or not--is ugly, brutal and very up close and personal. Unlike most films, in which the hero's violence is presented in a positive light that allows audiences to cheer him, this movie argues that all violence is wrong. In fact, in one scene, the most violent character says, "We don't solve our problems with our fists."

I have friends who refuse to allow their children to see violent movies or television shows. I've always rolled my eyes and muttered, "Whatever," when they've gotten on their soapbox about the subject. My attitude was the typical "It didn't hurt me when I was growing up."

I have to admit my attitude is changing. As I see the vicious computer games both boys and girls now play, and as I listen to rap lyrics celebrating rape and cop-killing, I cringe. And I realize something: if it takes me, an adult, two viewings of a film to realize its true message, what about the teenagers who were in the audience? Are they going to be repulsed or excited by the viciousness of the attacks in that movie?

My nephew just turned two. Maybe he'd benefit from playing with his sister's toys and watching her videos.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Paying Attention

Okay, you've started to think of yourself as a writer. You've begun setting writing goals--and more importantly, keeping them. You aren't as terrified of the blank page or blinking cursor as you once were. You actually look forward to sitting down in front of your computer or with a pen and yellow writing pad.

You're a writer.

Looking ahead to when you finish your manuscript, do you have a plan? Do you know where you want to be in five years? In five months?

Almost exactly two years ago, I decided to get serious about having a career as a writer. To that end, I joined Sisters in Crime and a local critique group. About six months later, I decided to invest in joining Romance Writers of America (and it is an investment; $100 the first year plus $25 dues for my local chapter). I started talking to other writers, both published and unpublished.

The thing that struck me was how haphazardly most writers approached their chosen profession. Many spend more time selecting a health club than they do in deciding who and where to submit their manuscripts. I've met or talked on-line to dozens of writers who've taken a shotgun approach to finding an agent or a publisher. They blithely describe a mass mailing of twenty or forty or sixty query letters to agents. More than one writer has gone astray, being lured by a return letter inviting "shared risk" or "additional editing" into sending a check to an agent or publisher. Not a good move. No reputable agent or publisher will ask you for money.

If you haven't already, buy a package of one hundred ruled index cards on which you can make notes regarding publishers, editors and agents. Start paying attention. Subscribe to the free Publishers Lunch which will send you lists of recent deals. When you read about an agent or editor or publisher who is interested in manuscripts like yours, write it down.

When you're ready to start submitting, pick your top two or three agents or alternatively your top publisher. Then investigate them. Check "editors and preditors" to see if they are recommended or not recommended. Google them. Ask other writers about them on the loops to which you belong or at the meetings that you attend.

When you go hunting, you don't walk into a field and blindly shoot a gun off in all directions, hoping to hit something. You don't aim at a raccoon when you're looking to bring home venison. A good hunter carefully selects a target, aims and only shoots at what he wants to hit. Be a careful hunter. Pay attention.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Gift From Me To You

If you haven't yet discovered Backspace--The Writer's Place--you're missing out on a valuable resource.

You can find it at The website features articles, guest speakers and forums. A lot of the material is available for free or you can join for $30. They'll even give you a five-day trial membership.

In my opinion, the most useful thing on the website is the series of three articles by New York agent, Richard Curtis. The series is entitled "Publishing in the Twenty-First Century," and there is a link to it on the Backspace home page. I first read the articles in March, 2005 and was blown away by them. They should be required reading for any beginning writer.

Just consider them Christmas in October.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Google vs. Microsoft

I wasn't planning to follow up my blog on "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" quite so soon. However, a couple of articles in the Search Engine Journal (SEJ) changed my mind.

This morning's SEJ talked about the newly announced distribution partnership between Google and Sun Microsystems. Google's Toolbar will be distributed with Sun's Java. This deal brings Google into direct competition with Microsoft.

What it also does is bring open source software in direct competition with proprietary software (see yesterday's blog).

Bill Gates' Microsoft is the prototype for a proprietary (closed source) company. We all know that Microsoft's programs only run on Microsoft's operating system. However, "an application built on Sun's Java can be run on any platform regardless of the architecture." (SEJ 10/4/05) Java's operating system fits Google's open source philosophy to a tee.

Remember my blog of 9/23 (Keep an Eye on Google)?

Rob Sullivan is quoted in the Search Engine Journal as saying: "Google could become a viable alternative to Microsoft. And not just Microsoft applications, but Microsoft as a whole . . . This is the true power of the deal today . . . I do expect to see them [Google] taking aim at Microsoft and what it has accomplished. Because this is all in line with Google's mission of making the world's information universally accessible. All I can say is I hope Bill Gates has a big enough war chest because he's going to need it."

I bring this to your attention because it promises to be a huge battle in the Internet cultural war. Google is pitting its open source philosophy against Microsoft's proprietary culture.

Start placing your bets.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Last Saturday, my blog was about anticipation of a coming cultural clash between the Internet and the "real" world. Over the next few weeks, I'd like to devote periodic blogs to exploring this subject in greater detail.

To begin, let's talk about open source software.

Wikipedia puts it simply by saying that the open source movement "advocates unrestricted access to the source code of software." In other words, programmers working on a particular project under an open source license publish their work online where other programmers can review it and make additions, corrections or changes. Essentially, the project becomes a massive group effort of unrelated people who work on it because they either have an intellectual interest in the subject or a personal interest in the outcome.

The philosophic opposite of open source software is closed source--or proprietary--software. Under closed source development, programmers closely guard their secrets, permitting few people to see what they have developed for fear someone will steal their work. This is obviously the traditional method used by inventors for centuries and to which we are all accustomed.

One of the strongest advocates of open source development is Eric S. Raymond, a computer programmer and libertarian. In 1997, he presented an essay entitled "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" (TCATB) at a meeting to discuss open source. In true open source spirit, that essay (with updates) is still available online by simply googling it.

In TCATB, Raymond contrasts the two development methods. He describes proprietary development (closed source) as "the Cathedral." All roles are distinct and clearly defined within a hierarchy in which employees are privy to information on a need-to-know basis. It is very centralized with responsibilities assigned and managers in place to ensure that implementation occurs.

The flip side of closed source is, of course, open source. In TCATB, Raymond describes open source development as "the Bazaar." He paints open source as "a babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches." Roles are NOT defined and the users of the code are treated as co-developers. He recommends frequent releases of the source code so that others may review it, test it and look for bugs. In his abstract on the essay he says, "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." What he means here is that, when the source code is made available for examination and testing, the bugs are quickly discovered and corrected.

Does this sound familiar? It should. This is the theory on which Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is based. Anyone can post to Wikipedia. The entire system depends upon many users and volunteers who make corrections to erroneous entries. Wikipedia is an enormous experiment in open source theory.

Why am I bringing this up? Because, at its heart, many of the legal challenges relating to the Internet over the past five years have been clashes between open source and proprietary thinking. Think of Google's effort to copy library material or William Bright's recent legal woes over downloading subway maps onto iPods.

As more and more information/material becomes available online, more and more legal battles arise between those with legitimate proprietary claims and those seeking to make even more information/material available to the public.

We'll talk about this more in another blog. In the meantime,

I'm just musing . . .

Watch for Apple's Big Event Next Week

Apple sent out invitations yesterday for a media event in San Jose next week. Although the company refused to answer any questions about the invitation, USA Today speculated that they might be introducing a portable unit--similar to their iPod--that will play video as well as audio.

USA Today quotes securities analyst Charles Wolf, indicating that "a video iPod will be a tougher sell than a pure audio device." He says, "This will be far less popular."

Maybe so . . . initially. However, this also opens the door to allowing written material to be downloaded on the device--echoing the wildly popular trend in Japan where people are accustomed to reading novels on their cell phones.

Just musing . . .

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Doing the Happy Dance!!

Just got word that my novel, "Witch Vampire?" was picked by Tova Sacks of Berkley as the Grand Prize winner of the Romance Junkies contest.

"Witch Vampire?" was previously picked as the #1 choice out of 235 entries by the Romance Junkies' readers. It was then sent to Berkley along with the other two top entries for finalist judging by Tova Sacks.

As grand prize winner, I get a Mp3 player, but--more importantly--Berkley has asked for the full manuscript. Thus far, they've seen 25 pages out of a 375-page manuscript.

It was a very good day.

Other Duties As Required

A friend recently said to me, "Your novel STILL isn't published? I know someone who wrote his first book in half a year and it only took him a couple of months to get it published. He gave me an autographed copy. I have it right here."

I waited while she dug up the book in question and handed it to me. One look at the cover and I knew what I was going to find, but I flipped it open anyway. Sure enough. I handed the volume back to my friend. "This book was self-published."

"No, it's not," she said. "We asked him. He told us he gets royalties and everything."

I tried to explain that the author of her autographed "first edition" had to front the editing and publishing costs in order to produce the book she was holding. I could tell I hadn't convinced her and, after a few minutes, dropped the subject.

There is so much about the writing field that people don't understand. In the two years I've actually been calling myself a writer, I've found that most folks think you sit down, turn out a novel, send it off and then wait for the checks to pour in. To be honest, I probably thought the same thing when I first started to dream of writing as a career. The reality is a lot different.

I was chatting with another writer recently at a meeting. I mentioned that I was trying to get my website up and running.

She sighed heavily and said, "I can remember when all writers had to do was write. Now they have to be computer programmers and marketing experts, too. I got into this business to write. That's all I want to do."

I didn't say anything, but found myself wondering if a pilot would ever say, "All I want to do is fly. I didn't get into this business to learn about weather patterns." Or perhaps a chef: "I got into this business to cook. I don't want to learn about nutrition."

The truth is that producing your first novel is only part of the process. Admittedly, it's a very big part of the process. Dan Poynter's website quotes a statistic that 81% of the population believe they have a book inside them. The vast majority of these people will never write "the end" on anything.

But, once you've done that, you begin the second part of the gauntlet: getting your work published. To do this, you need to completely change gears. Instead of focusing on the solitary activity of writing, you need to move in larger, more social circles (actually, it helps if you start this process BEFORE you finish your novel).

At a minimum, you need to find a critique group to help you edit and to provide support when the rejection letters start to arrive, and a professional group that specializes in your genre (Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, etc.) to help you network within your corner of the industry. Additionally, you need to make the effort to learn the basics of publishing and to discover who the players are in your world. My recommendation is Publishers Marketplace. I began by subscribing to their free Publishers Lunch, but quickly switched to the paid subscription. After about eight months with them, I have an index box listing agents and publishers. I have a list of my "dream agents" in numeric order. I've checked these agents against the Writers Market, Google and the "Editors and Preditors" website.

I chose to enter five contests that I selected very carefully. I did well in those contests and used that success to approach the first agent on my list. I mailed my package off last month and she and I have been in contact via email since. I'm not sitting around in the meantime. I've got the next three letters to agents ready to go. I'm also preparing for what I hope will be the next stage in the process: post-published marketing. I've been blogging for about four months now. I started out anonymously on another site and switched to this site a couple of weeks ago. I'm also building a website--bit by bit.

Bottom line, you can be a writer. However, in order to become a successful writer, you need to be prepared to do whatever is necessary (professionally, of course) to further your career dreams. There are no shortcuts (subsidy publishing, self-publishing or vanity press notwithstanding).

Think of it like that last line on most job descriptions: "And other duties as required."

Monday, October 03, 2005

M. Scott Peck Died Last Sunday

Dr. M. Scott Peck died eight days ago of pancreatic and liver duct cancer.

In case the name is not familiar to you, Peck was a psychiatrist and the author of "The Road Less Traveled," a self-help book that sold over 6 million copies. When I learned of his death, I checked my bookshelves and found two of his books--"The Road Less Traveled" and "People of the Lie."

I remember "The Road Less Traveled" and, in particular, one passage that has been helpful to me at various times in my life. Peck described most of the patients he saw in his practice as falling into one of two camps: they either suffered from a neurosis or a character disorder. He described both conditions as disorders of responsibility. To put it simply, neurotic people think everything is their fault and character-disordered people believe nothing is their fault.

Obviously, treating the neurotic is much easier than treating the character-disordered. The neurotic patient already believes he caused his own problems while the character-disordered patient blames her problems on everyone else.

Over the years since I first read Peck's definition, I've had multiple opportunities to employ it. In dealing with others, it's a handy thing to remember. When I encounter a person who displays a pattern of refusal to take responsibility for the things going on in his world, I accept that the person is not going to change, and I move on as quickly as possible. Life is too short to waste it listening to excuses and complaints.

I'm grateful for that bit of wisdom and sorry Dr. Peck is no longer among us.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Eroromance Has Arrived

I'm the membership chair of a RWA Chapter--#207 Passionate Ink.

Passionate Ink began amid some controversy. It's the first RWA chapter devoted to writers of erotic romance. Please note I said "erotic romance," not "erotica" or "porn." There is a very large difference.

In May, 2005, I joined a group of writers looking for a place to discuss erotic romance. After much conversation and thought, we agreed to create a formal organization and to apply for membership as a chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA).

RWA began twenty-five years ago when thirty-seven romance writers, tired of getting "no respect" from their peers, decided to unite. The RWA founders wanted to have a voice in an industry which, up to that point, had largely ignored the romance genre. From that inauspicious beginning, a juggernaut was born.

If you're not a romance writer, it's hard to imagine the size and clout of RWA today. The organization has almost 9,500 members around the world with nearly one in every five a published author. The RWA website reports that 65 million Americans read romances last year and that the genre accounted for 55% of ALL paperbacks published. That's ALL paperbacks published (including non-fiction, mysteries, sci fi, etc.)

One of RWA's goals has been to develop a reputation as an organization of serious professionals. They want to move away from the image of writing "bodice rippers." For this reason, the trend toward erotic romance has been a troubling one for them. Many long-time RWA members see eroromance as inappropriate and as a threat to the new respect the romance industry has earned.

As a writer, I find erotic romance a logical step forward--away from blushing virgins and action that stops at the bedroom door.

Passionate Ink organized in May, 2005 and made application to become a chapter in June, 2005. By that time, we had almost 250 members. The RWA National office was shocked by the large group of women knocking on their door. It took a month but, since we had dotted our i's and crossed our t's, there really was no good reason to deny our application. In July, 2005, we became a chapter.

I'm excited about our prospects. All of the major publishers now have or have planned erotic romance lines. I'm looking forward to the possibilities and potentials out there. I'm happy to be associated with a group of hard-working, hard-playing professionals who really enjoy what they do. It's a nice place to be.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Coming Culture Clash

There was an interesting dialogue on Miss Snark's blog yesterday.

The discussion centered around the case of William Bright, a web designer who lives in New York. Bright digitally shrunk the maps of the New York and San Francisco subway systems, along with a number of other subway maps, and made them available online ( so that commuters could download them for free onto their iPods. Both BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) demanded that he remove their maps from the Internet, claiming copyright infringement.

The Snarklings were divided on the issue--with some championing Bright while others supported the notion of protecting copyrights.

This is yet another skirmish in the ongoing war between the cultures of the virtual world and the "real" world. One of the first battles in this war occurred in 1999 when Napster introduced a service that permitted a form of peer-to-peer file sharing of music. Major recording companies hit back immediately, filing suit to prevent Napster from facilitating what the industry saw as piracy of their copyrighted music. An injunction followed in early 2001 and Napster eventually went bankrupt.

Apple Computer stepped in, making deals with the recording companies to permit legal downloads of their music, and introduced the iTunes Music Store in the spring of 2003. Now there are many services through which music lovers can purchase single tunes or entire albums for download. Still, there are legal issues relating to users who continue to exchange material without paying for it.

Earlier this summer, Google stepped right into the copyright wars; this time, with respect to written matter. The company, best known as a search engine, announced a massive effort to digitize millions of books and make them available through online searches. Following the initial outcry of copyright infringement, Google explained that they will only offer excerpts--not the entire text--of copyrighted material during any search. Google contends that this will actually encourage purchase of books that might otherwise go unnoticed. However, this did not satisfy many writers and publishers and, less than two weeks ago, the Authors Guild filed suit against Google's proposed library scanning program.

And, now, we have Mr. Bright with his little subway map copying program.

All three of these examples--music, books, subway maps--represent places where the new and free-wheeling Internet culture has collided with a proprietary culture that has been in place for centuries. Over the next few weeks, I propose discussing this subject in more depth in this blog. As a writer, I am very interested in what challenges and opportunities the Internet offers and want to more fully understand the subject.

Just musing . . .