Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Never Give In. Never Give In. Never, Never, Never Never . . .

As any reader of this blog knows, I enjoy Miss Snark (www.misssnark.blogspot.com). I religiously read her blog on the world of publishing. Hers is often the funniest blog in town.

Last night, a Snarkling asked a plaintive question: "At what point do I say to myself, 'Self, you're pretty much a no-talent writer and you should give this all up. Your view of the world is not what everyone else's is. Your writing style sucks grapefruit without sugar; and you're too dang short'?"

MS responded with a wonderfully kind and generous answer in which she encouraged the writer to write for the experience of writing itself and to never give up.

The comments that followed her blog (62 at last count) bounced all over the map--from heartfelt gratitude to snarky cynicism.

One of the comments jumped out at me. The writer was Melanie Lynne Hauser, and she said: "I think the questions 'When do I give up writing?' and 'When do I stop querying?' are completely different. As Miss Snark said - 'Never' is the answer to the first. But to the second, well, that's quite different. There is a point where you have to stop querying for one project and move on to the next. A lot of authors spend many years (not to mention tears) trying to have the same manuscript published. But the vast majority of published authors I know were able to let go of a project and move on to the next, and the next, and the next...until all the stars were in alignment and they finally got that agent/publishing contract."

Melanie's comment validates what Miss Snark was saying. You never stop writing; you just need to learn when to stop flogging the same manuscript/query letter, over and over and over.

I've wanted to be a novelist most of my adult life. I found early on that I could sell short fiction and non-fiction articles, but my goal was to write a novel. That prize kept eluding me. I'd get a hundred or a hundred fifty or two hundred pages finished and run out of steam.

Fortunately, before I abandoned my dream altogether, I realized I needed a new game plan. In order to complete a full-length novel, I was going to have to write something I really loved and believed in--whether it was salable or not. With that in mind, I wrote my dream novel.

I adore mythology--especially Greek mythology. The book of my heart was a fantasy with the premise that the gods of ancient Greece were alive and operating in the modern world. I made it a sort of sexy mystery, and I had a wonderful time writing it. I churned out four hundred and thirty pages in less than three months. When it was complete, because I didn't yet know better, I sent a partial to only one publisher (without any critiques) and was crushed when it was rejected.

After I picked myself up, I sent out another half dozen query letters. I was heartened when I received requests for two partials and one full. Although the one agent and two publishers who requested the additional pages didn't accept the project, two of them were kind enough to give me comments and suggestions. Mary-Theresa Hussey of Luna will forever live in my heart for her kind letter together with the suggestion that I try her again with another project.

Even though that manuscript didn't sell, it got me over the HUMP of completing a novel. Having once done it, I now knew I could do it again. Since that manuscript, I have completed three other novels, and the third one is now in the hands of my agent. I still write short fiction to give myself a periodic break, but I am now officially a novelist. A novelist with an agent who believes in me.

Despite the fact that I thought those first three novels were good, when I look at them now, I can see huge mistakes. Dialogue and plotting were my strengths as they are today. Passive language, too much narrative and being too wordy were my weaknesses. They still are, but now I (or my critique partners) spot them.

Melanie's comment said it all: Never give in, but know when to move the battle to a different venue. Put away the manuscript you've been trying to sell unsuccessfully and write another. And find some critique partners. And take some workshops or classes. And network. All of these things will better prepare you for the day when an editor or agent says, "I love this book."

Monday, January 30, 2006

If It's January, It Must be a Literary Hoax (J.T. LeRoy, James Frey and Nasdijj)

I've refrained from blogging on the James Frey debacle. Frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing about it--and about the unmasking of J.T. LeRoy, another novelist who perpetrated a hoax on his/her reading public. Over the weekend, a friend asked if I were going to blog about either scandal, and I laughingly said, "Not until God tells me to."

I opened this morning's Publishers Lunch and there was yet another item about yet another writer fraud. Okay, God, I hear you. I'm blogging.

Before we start, I'll admit up front: I'm a cynic. It probably started when I was a kid. One of our neighbors supplemented her income by writing for the "True" magazines. I was both fascinated and appalled. "How can you send them a story that's not true?" I asked in all my youthful naivete.

Her answer--echoed years later by a writing coach--was "Sweetie, in the entire history of the world, I'm sure this story happened to someone, somewhere, some time."

Thus began my career as a cynic. I'm the doubting Thomasina, always looking for the "big lie" in stories that sound too good to be true. I don't watch reality television--EVER. It's an oxymoron. Reality television. Give me a break. I'd rather watch an "honest" episode of CSI where they get DNA results back in a half hour. At least, CSI admits it's fiction up front.

When a friend tried to explain the premise of the show "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" to me, I spoiled her spiel by saying, "Okay, so she has to convince her family she's really in love with this guy and is gonna marry him in three days? How does she explain all the television cameras following them around?"

I tried to read the copy of "A Million Little Pieces" that a friend loaned me. Didn't make it all the way through. I guess I've spent too much time with druggies and alcoholics. For four years, I worked in a hospital emergency room and another three on a mobile crisis team. To quote House on the television show of the same name, "All patients lie." God knows, I've been lied to by experts: twelve-year-olds with angel faces and sixty-year-old grandmothers with tears in their eyes. I never asked, "Do you do drugs?" I asked, "What drugs do you do?" Invariably, the person I was interviewing admitted to doing a little weed. It wasn't until the tox screen came back that we'd hear about the coke, ecstasy and prescription pain pills.

Frey just wasn't believable. He sounded more antisocial than addict. Just a wee bit too gleeful, arrogant, prideful, whatever you want to call it.

We've had three big literary scandals this month:

**James Frey uncovered by The Smoking Gun on 1/8 here--

**J.T. LeRoy uncovered by the New York Times on 1/9 here--

**Nasdijj uncovered by the The Book Standard on 1/25 here--

I think this says more about the level of titillation we, the reading audience, demand from our books than it does about the general level of honesty in the world today. Everything has to be bigger than before; more exciting than previously; more dangerous than we've ever seen. Why should we be surprised to find that the media provides what we demand?

When I was a child, the only "reality television" we had were those awful wrestling shows that my three brothers adored. I'd argue until I was blue that those shows were phony, staged, not real--all to no avail. Today's reality television is the natural offshot of that earlier nonsense. When we accept as "real" the families that are swapping and the bachelors proposing to strangers, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. When we make these shows our preferred television watching, we get what we deserve.

Until we start rewarding the quiet heroes instead of the shallow Paris Hiltons of the world, we're going to get more books and more shows where "reality" is just another word for "entertainment."

Just musing . . .

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Good News and Congratulations

My critique partner and friend, Jeanne Laws, just signed a contract with Loose Id Publishing for her erotic paranormal novel, "Animal Dreams."

"Animal Dreams" is a very unusual take on the tried-and-worn shapeshifter theme and the first in a planned trilogy. It is sexy and humorous and very well-written.

I am as thrilled for Jeanne as if the contract had been mine (yes, really!).

Visit her website at www.jeannelaws.com.

Hugs, my friend.


Saturday, January 28, 2006


Today is Sunday and a day of rest. I'm going to do a movie review and get back to the new J.D. Robb book I'm reading.

On Thursday, a good friend and I went to lunch and a movie. We're trying to work our way through all the films that will probably be nominated for Academy Awards next Tuesday. That day, we saw "Munich."

My friend is married to a man from Israel, and she converted to Judaism when they wed. I was glad I saw the film with her because she was able to answer some of my questions about things I didn't understand. One of my questions was about the frequent use of a word that I "heard" as zabra. She was able to explain that sabra is the word used to describe a Jew born in Israel. The word's origins are an interesting commentary on how the people of Israel see themselves.

According to Wikipedia, sabra "is derived from the Hebrew word, tzabar, the name of the 'prickly pear' cactus (also known as the 'cactus pear'). . . The allusion is to a tenacious thorny desert plant with a thick hide that conceals a sweet softer interior."

"Munich," based on a true story, describes the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympic tragedy. A group of Palestinian terrorists calling themselves Black September had taken the Israeli Olympic team hostage. Eleven Israeli athletes were kidnapped and murdered.

In retaliation, the Israeli government under Golda Meir secretly recruited five Mossad agents to track down and kill the terrorist leaders "off the books" as it were. The film follows the small cell led by a young man named Avner as they go about their awful task of revenge.

This film reminded me of another movie I'd seen: David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence." I blogged on that movie on 10/9/05. Both films make the same two points: First, that violence has consequences that last long after the violence itself and, second, that violence should never be a choice, no matter how severe the provocation.

I will confess to some surprise. I suspect that--subconsciously--I was anticipating a much more "slanted" film from Steven Spielberg. I found the movie remarkably even-handed, and I admired Spielberg's determination to not produce an overtly pro-Israeli film.

I walked out of the theatre feeling a terrible sadness that we live in a world in which attack and counter-attack are frequently the options to which our leaders revert. Golda Meir even speaks the line, "To get peace, we must show them we're strong." I found it disconcerting to hear that line coming out of a woman who so strongly resembled my tiny Italian grandmother.

Much like "A History of Violence," "Munich" plays tricks on the viewer with respect to what makes a hero or a villain. Avner began the film as a gentle soul who obviously had questions about his mission, which he chose not to voice to his comrades or superiors. However, as the film progresses, he hardens until he is able to exact a terrible, graphic and sexually explicit revenge on a target not originally identified by his handlers.

I explained in my October blog that "A History of Violence" stayed with me until I went back alone to see it for a second time three days after my first viewing. I suspect that I will return to see "Munich" again as well. Maybe it's Catholic guilt motivating me. Maybe it's wishful thinking--longing for a world in which we move beyond the need for revenge when confronted with evil--and, yes, I do equate violence against another with evil.

Even with the best intentions, when we choose violence, we change the nature of our mission/goal/principles.

More on Simultaneous Release and Bubble

Tonight we'll finish what we were talking about yesterday--an experiment with the simultaneous release of films in theatres, on DVD and on cable television.

To recap: Director Steven Soderbergh's latest film, "Bubble," opened yesterday in thirty-four theatres around the country at the same time it was released on HD Net television. Next Tuesday, the DVD will also be released.

This simultaneous release--also called day-and-date release--is making theatre owners crazy. With box office receipts already down, they are terrified of any initiatives that will encourage theatre-goers to stay home and watch the DVD or cable television.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, "[a]lthough Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger and Time Warner's Dick Parsons have publicly suggested that the simultaneous release of films across multiple formats is inevitable, their own movie studio chiefs are cautioning that preserving the communal moviegoing experience is vital not just to the culture but to the bottom line."

The traditional business model has a film being released in a chronological string with several months between each step: 1) in domestic theatres, 2) in overseas theatres, 3) on DVD, 4) on cable television and 5) on network television.

The LA Times article says, "[t]those who argue to toss out this traditional approach believe it may be more lucrative to give consumers the choice of seeing movies however, whenever and wherever they want. Because at least half a film's revenue today comes from DVD sales, executives ask, why not make discs available at a premium price right away? I saw Mark Cuban (co-owner of the Landmark Theatres where "Bubble" is currently playing) on television last night chortling about what will happen when a group of small children walk out of a blockbuster kid's film (think "Lion King") and see the DVD on sale in the lobby. How many of those DVDs at premium prices do you think the theatre could sell? In ways like this, he sees the theatres earning back some of the dollars they will lose on lower ticket sales.

M. Night Shyamalan (director of "The Sixth Sense" and "The Village") recently announced he would rather give up filmmaking rather than see his films debut on television screens. Mark Cuban shot back, "He should stop making movies then." (LA Times)

Theatre owners are not going to go down without a fight. John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said that simultaneous release is "the biggest threat to the viability of the cinema industry today. (USA Today)

"Bubble" is the first of six films to be released as a part of a deal between Steven Soderbergh, Mark Cuban and his partner, Todd Wagner. All six will be released simultaneously in theatres and on HD Net television, followed by the DVD release a few days later.

Stay tuned. There is sure to be more on this subject in the near future.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mark Cuban, Steven Soderbergh and Bubble

Today is the BIG day. And not just because I have two blogs today.

Today is the day Hollywood has been waiting for. The day when the film "Bubble" is released.

What's the big deal? Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" will be released to movie theatres, HD Net television and DVD--all within four days.

It's called a day-and-date release, and I've blogged about it before (see 10/30, 1/2 and 1/6). In the past week, there have been interviews on NPR and reports on television about it. Last night even Nightline did a segment on it.

So, why are so many people interested in the release of one little film? Because it is going against the business model by which Hollywood has been operating for years.

The model currently in place has a fixed order: Film is released, film is later released overseas, several months later the DVD is released and, a couple of months after that, the film goes to cable television.

In recent years, the "window" between each step has been shrinking. Theatre revenues were down 5% last year. Movie studios' worries about pirating have led to them releasing films at home and abroad at almost the same time. DVDs are coming out more rapidly as well. However, the basic business model has remained stable.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, is overturning that business model starting today. In addition to his sports franchise, Cuban is also very involved in the film/television business. He is co-owner of the Landmark Theatre chain; a film production company, Magnolia Pictures; and HD Net television. He was the executive producer of the film "Good Night, and Good Luck." TV watchers may remember his short-lived reality show, "The Benefactor."

Of course, since Cuban owns the production company/theatres/cable station, he will benefit no matter how the money shifts along his revenue chain. If his theatres lose money on the release, his DVD company and cable station stand to gain money. This would not be be case for most studios and theatre chains.

Everyone toward the top of the food chain is screaming. Theatre owners everywhere are beside themselves, envisioning lower ticket sales (and, more importantly, lower concession stand sales). Regal, the country's largest theatre chain, has made it clear they will NOT carry the film because of the day-and-date model for the DVD release. Why should a consumer go to the theatre if they can stay at home and watch it from the comfort of their home theatre?

Stores selling DVDs are not happy with the day-and-date release to cable television. Why should a consumer buy the DVD when they can see and copy it off their television?

Cuban believes that the theatres should share in the profits of the DVD and cable stations. For him, that's easy. He owns all the parts of the chain. That might not be so easy for other companies.

Meanwhile, another company--IFC--is also planning to experiment with day-and-date release.

Remember what I've been preaching. It's the consumer who matters. Consumer choice is the ultimate goal. Service delivery models need to change to accommodate that goal. Whether we are talking films or books, the same theory applies.

More to come . . .

Passing Along the Torch

This is going to be a two-blog day. I want to explain why today is a red-letter day, but--first--have a personal story to tell.

Today, when I opened my blog, I had a comment from Karen, passing along a charge to do a Random Act of Kindness. Little did I know how soon the opportunity would arise.

We have been in the middle of a drought here in Texas, and it's been serious enough that fire has been a big concern over the last six weeks. For the past five days, the weatherman has been promising heavy storms. Anticipating the rain and winds, I've been readying my lawn and garden.

I was out at daylight again this morning to continue working. I'd already put in an hour when a large white pit bull came barreling toward me.

Fortunately, I recognized the dog. His name is Astro, and he belongs to a neighbor about three lots from mine. The dog is deaf, which makes communicating with him difficult.

I keep dog treats on hand for my next-door dog, Penny. Using the treats, I lured Astro down the street to his home. The front door of his house was wide open and the storm door was open an inch or two. I figured Astro must have hit the storm door, knocked it open and escaped.

Don, the dog's owner, didn't answer despite my energetic efforts to rouse him. I soon realized he wasn't at home; he'd obviously left for work through the garage and forgot to secure the front door. And, unfortunately for me, the pit bull wasn't in the mood to be locked up again.

Historical note: I experienced a severe dog bite two years ago that put me in the hospital for a week. I am a little gun-shy and, when Astro refused to obey, I decided to call in reinforcements.

I headed straight for Linda, my long-suffering next door neighbor. She was even less inclined than I was to "force" a full-grown deaf pit bull to do something he didn't want to do. She knows Don's sister and promised to see if she could round up some help for us.

While we were talking, Astro disappeared. I turned around and he was GONE. Of course, there was no point in calling to him--he's deaf.

Linda and I agreed she would continue trying to reach Don, and I would go looking for the dog. I got into my car and started to search.

A note about my neighborhood: While urban, it is very, very heavily wooded and hilly. The lots are enormous, and the result is that it feels rural. The hills are so steep that some of my neighbors' houses are completely below street level. Standing on the street, you are even with their rooftops. Other homes are thirty or forty feet above street level. I mention this to point out how difficult it was to find one roaming dog.

Astro's being deaf was weighing heavily on me. I was concerned that he'd get hit by a car or wander onto the freeway (about three-quarters of a mile away). I'd driven around for twenty minutes before it occurred to me to listen for barking. Sure enough, there was a cacophony of barking off to the east. I headed in that direction and soon found Astro trying to make friends with a pair of barking dogs behind a fence.

Astro would NOT get in my car. He didn't threaten me; he just wouldn't obey me. I still have a leash in my door pouch that belonged to my border collie before her death last year. It turned out that Astro was very willing to be put on a leash. He would walk toward home, but not ride.

Accepting the dog's decision, I parked my car on the road and, together, Astro and I set out for home--half a mile away. Astro pulled and dragged me so that we made the trip in record time. By then, I was in NO mood to take any guff off a dog, even if he was a large pit bull. I marched up to the house, opened the door and walked in. Astro came along like a peaceful pug.

My relief was enormous. I waved goodbye to Astro and started out to walk back to my car. About halfway there, I came across an elderly woman sitting on a fence. She had obviously fallen, her pants were torn and she was tearful. I stopped to ask if I could help and discovered she didn't speak English.

Fortunately, I have a little Spanish and a little Italian. Turned out she was from El Salvador. She takes a long walk every morning and had slipped on some wet leaves. I was able to explain that, if she'd wait, I'd get my car and drive her home. I picked up my pace, retrieved the Explorer and brought her to where she lives with her daughter's family.

All this to say that I think I've fulfilled my Random Acts of Kindness charge for today and am ready to pass the torch along to anyone reading this blog. Your turn.

Later . . . We still need to talk about why today is so important.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Part 3 -- Top Ten Things Editors Want

This is the last in a series of hints offered by Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher of Ellora's Cave, regarding the ten things her editors look for in a submitted manuscript.

We start tonight with #8. The bolded copy is Raelene's material. The rest is mine.

8. Intriguing and believable plot, no major holes, no "and a miracle occurred" resolutions.
"Believable" is subjective. I think it was Stephen King who once said that readers will suspend their disbelief ONE time in a single book. It can be a really big suspension of disbelief, but you can only get away with it once. Don't keep asking your readers to accept the unbelievable over and over.

A caveat here. This doesn't mean you can't "world build." You can create an entire world based on vampires, werewolves and ghosts and count that as one suspension of disbelief. As long as you create rules for that world and remain consistent to your rules, you're fine. On my website under "Links," I have a link to Patricia Wrede's questions to ask when you are world-building.

For heaven's sake, make sure you address all your loose ends. Don't leave one hanging so that the reader is going, "What the devil!" Of course, if you're planning a series, you can have small questions remain, but not something that will aggravate the reader.

If you're a reader of Miss Snark, you know that she talks about hating to find aliens suddenly arriving in Chapter Fourteen. If you have not done the "set-up" for aliens, you're going to tick your readers off when the aliens suddenly arrive in Chapter Fourteen. You can foreshadow and set the stage and then have them arrive, but you can't simply trot them out in Chapter Fourteen.

9. Originality: not the same plot elements and character types I can
find in a hundred books on the store shelves right now.

We all know that once a certain book becomes wildly popular, dozens of new books on the same theme quickly follow. Remember Harry Potter was followed by Artemis Fowl, His Dark Materials, etc. And, of course, the DaVinci Code was followed by dozens of knock-offs based on religious conspiracies.

If you're going to use a tried-and-true theme (vampires, werewolves, etc.), make sure you put a new spin on it. Do something different. Editors get tired of reading the-same-old-same-old over and over again.

10. Clear POV, no head hopping.
Nothing will mark you as inexperienced faster than head hopping. Point-of-View (POV) refers to how the reader "sees" the scene. Whose point-of-view does the reader take? Is the reader inside the detective's head or inside the heroine's head or is the reader seeing the scene through the villain's eyes?

The rule of thumb is that you should have only one POV in a scene. Whose POV you choose should depend on who has the most to gain or lose in that scene. Once you select a point of view, don't head hop. Don't describe what is happening from one person's POV and suddenly move into another character's POV. It is jarring for the reader.

If you are in a character's POV, you can ONLY know what that character knew at that point in the manuscript. The detective can't know it's raining outside unless he just came in from the rain, can see out a window or hear the rain on the roof.

Some writers violate this rule, but they do it so skillfully, the reader doesn't notice and isn't jarred by it. The name that comes immediately to my mind is romance author, Nora Roberts. Keep in mind she is famous and has written over 150 novels. She can get away with head hopping--you can't.

Well, there you have it, Raelene's top ten things editors are looking for.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Part 2 -- Top Ten Things Editors Want

This is the second in a series of hints offered by Raelene Gorlinsky of the ten things her editors at Ellora's Cave (EC) look for in a submitted manuscript.

We start tonight with #4. The bolded copy is Raelene' material. The rest is mine.

4. Is this something I would buy to read for myself?
Obviously this is a very subjective statement. How can an author hope to know what an editor likes to read? Well, think about it. What do YOU like to read?

Probably something that opens with a hook--action or dialogue--not pages and pages of narrative (the famous "Show, don't tell" rule; more about this later). Something well-paced. Only an insomniac wants a novel that will put him to sleep. Keep things hopping. Throw obstacles in your hero/ine's path. Conflict helps a book move.

5. Believable and likeable characters.
Hello?? Who wants to read about characters you don't like. When I think about this item, I think of Lawrence Block's Hitman. Block has a character who KILLS people for a living, but I still love the Hitman series. The killer loves dogs, is curious about the contracts he takes and even saves the life of a contract's grandchild. Your readers have to care about your characters and what is happening to them. Otherwise, why finish the book?

Your characters have to ring true. Don't have someone do something that doesn't make sense just to tie up your loose ends. This is probably the thing that drives me the most crazy in critiquing others' work. I'll ask, "Why is this character doing this?" The answer will be, "Well, he has to do that in order to make the next scene work." Makes me just nuts. Characters are doing things that make no sense just to help the author out.

Think about who your characters are and what motivates them. When I first started writing, Tami Cowden's archetypes helped me enormously. You can go to her website (www.tamicowden.com) and click on "archetypes." To the left of the next page, you can click on heroes, heroines or villains to see the archetypes. They are a quick and easy way to think of your characters. Obviously, as your writing improves, you will develop deeper characterizations and motivations, but those archetypes helped me get started and stay on the straight and narrow.

6. An emotional connection between the characters, and the sensuality worked into the development of the romantic relationship.
Remember Ellora's Cave is a publisher that releases erotic romance novels although they are getting into other areas with their new imprints. Sensuality and romance are integral to their plots.

But note: Raelene says the characters need "an emotional connection." This is not porn. If you don't know the difference, go to www.jeannelaws.com. Jeanne wrote a great article on the differences in the various levels of sensual fiction for the L.A. RWA. She describes romance, erotic romance, erotica and porn. All are very different and all have their own criteria. Erotic romance still has a romance. The main difference is that eroromance writers do not use the euphemisms that are rife in traditional romances. You won't find "his throbbing member" anywhere in an erotic romance.

7. Good blend of dialogue and action.
Writers have tools with which to work their magic. Long, lyrical descriptions (narrative) are less interesting than short active sentences. Dialogue is better than both.

Writers are often urged to "show, don't tell," meaning use active language that shows what is going on as it is happening. Don't write long, endless descriptions. I am frequently guilty of this in my first draft. While my dialogue is sharp and crisp, my descriptions always need to be reworked to avoid gerunds (ing words) and passive language. If you have the same tendency, it's critical that you find good critique partners. Even when I think I've caught all the passive stuff, my CPs will identify dozens more (Thanks, Lauren).

Tomorrow night, we'll finish up with the last three tips from Raelene.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Top Ten Things Editors Look For in Submissions

Raelene Gorlinsky--Publisher at Ellora's Cave (EC) and very user-friendly toward writers--does a presentation at seminars on what editors look for in submissions. She and Anne Sowards, a Berkley Editor, will be doing a joint workshop at the upcoming Heart of the West conference sponsored by the Utah RWA in Salt Lake City next month (February 3 and 4).

Since Raelene has given permission to share, I am only including her portion of the workshop material which she offered to the authors at EC and invited them to distribute. She also asked that anyone interested in this material consider submitting their best stories to Ellora's Cave.

There are ten items in Raelene's list. I'm going to cover them over a couple of days, adding my own thoughts along the way. Raelene's material will be bolded so that you can keep her suggestions forefront in your mind.

This presentation represents our personal experiences and opinions. But it also includes information from other editors, including those at other publishers. Editors DO talk to each other and share stories, we're in the same profession even if we work for competing companies. (Which is why you should not antagonize an editor at any publisher, even if you are not planning to submit to them.)

***Poll of Ellora's Cave Editors: Top 10 Things We Look for in Submissions***

1. Professional cover letter. "This is the first impression. If the cover letter is riddled with errors or sounds very immature, I assume the story is the same way."

This is a BUSINESS letter. It is not the time to be cute or show off. It is also not the time to compare your work to famous or best-selling authors. Your work will speak for itself.

There are numerous books available that describe a good query letter. My advice: Keep it to one-page. State your purpose, introduce your book, introduce yourself and get out of Dodge. I used the one-line pitch that I had developed to describe my novel to introduce the book.

The ONLY rule I broke in my query letter was that I always sent fifty pages and a synopsis with my queries. The whole--(1) mail a letter; (2) then mail chapters; (3) then mail a full--drove me crazy. I shortcut the process by combining steps #1 and #2. Obviously, this was a more expensive approach, but since I did not blanket agents with letters, it was cost-effective. I spent a fair amount of time building a list of agents that I thought would work for me and my manuscripts. So it was "targeted" querying, not blanket querying.

2. Clear synopsis. "I want to know before spending the time reading the submission whether the story meets our guidelines, is appropriate for our market."

Please note there are two parts to Raelene's advice. The first is to know your market. Before you submit to a publisher, take the time to read their books and guidelines. If the publisher releases spicy books, don't send an inspirational UNLESS it is a spicy inspirational (high concept idea).

The second part of Raelene's advice is to write a clear synopsis. I have to admit, I hate the synopsis. I would rather write fifty pages of manuscript than one four-page synopsis. However, I did get a good piece of advice from author Karen Whiddon. Focus on the story lines, not every detail. In my case, I need to focus on the romance first and then the suspense second, giving the story arc for both.

If you need help with your synopsis, go over to Miss Snark's blog. She reviewed one hundred synopses for people and gave really good feedback at the same time. Check the week of 12/25 to 12/31 (approximately). You'll learn a lot. I did.

3. Correct grammar and word usage, no typos.

Okay, this one is self-evident. No one should have to tell you this. If you don't have good grammar and good word usage, you shouldn't be trying to sell yourself as a writer. LEARN. Proof your letter and get someone you trust to proof it again. When I had my letter as tight as I thought it could be, I gave it to my critique partner and she sliced and diced some more. She was right.

More tomorrow . . .

Monday, January 23, 2006

Miss Snark, the Wall Street Journal and e-Books

There was a really interesting conversational thread yesterday on Miss Snark's blog (www.misssnark.blogspot.com).

For those of you who don't know who Miss Snark is, she claims to be an anonymous literary agent working solo in New York. I believe she is an agent, although I have my suspicions as to whether she is really a "she" or a solo practitioner. At any rate, she is bright, funny and generally on target with her comments about the industry in which she operates. She is also popular. According to her blog counter, she's had a quarter of a million visitors in the last six months. The blog I'm talking about was entitled "e-books." In it, a Snarkling asked the publishing maven to comment on (what else?) e-books.

I have nothing but respect for Miss Snark's good sense and the practical advice that she dispenses to wannabe authors about the world of publishing. I have learned a lot from regularly reading her blog. However, even Miss Snark has her limits. This subject apparently is one of them. Here is part of what she said:

"Basically e-books are gimmicks. Yes people have them, yes, you can buy readers. Yes those people claim they are the wave of the future. No, no one I know actually reads books like this."

To do her justice, Miss Snark also said, "Once the e-book reader devices become more user friendly I think they'll take off. I don't think that's now, but I think it's coming. Maybe ten years, but that's just a wild ass guess."

I think she is right about the need for the devices to become more user friendly. Up until now, e-book readers have had problems: batteries that don't last long enough, not being compatible with all formats and--most of all--not having a screen which can be easily read in all kinds of lighting.

However, I think she is way off the mark on her prediction of when e-book reader devices will become an accepted medium. I'm thinking we are talking months, not years--maybe eighteen months, but nowhere near ten years.

As an aside, Miss Snark has frequently said that she does not represent romance or sci-fi. Her aversion to fantasy/sci-fi is one of her trademarks. And, as most genre buffs know, those two categories of fiction are the most popular in the e-book universe. So we need to cut her some slack here.

By coincidence, I read her blog this morning right after reading an article that appeared in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) entitled "A Hundred Books in Your Pocket." Terry Teachout, the columnist, wrote about the new Sony Reader, which I've already blogged on (see January 5). He made an excellent point. "If the Sony Reader (which goes on sale this spring) takes off where previous ventures fell flat, it will be because Sony is offering what marketers call an 'end to end' solution to the problem of the e-book. That kind of one-stop shopping is what made Apple's iPod so successful: You don't just buy the iPod itself, but an easy-to-use system that allows you to download any one of tens of thousands of popular songs within minutes of taking your iPod out of the box."

The WSJ article speculates on how e-books will affect the way we read and write. And ends acknowledging that while "[t]he printed book is a beautiful object . . . it is also a technology -- a means, not an end. Like all technologies, it has a finite life span, and its time is almost up."

If you visit this thread on Miss Snark's blog be sure to read the 49 (at last count) comments attached to it. They are a fascinating cross section of readers and writers. The judgmental comments that assume that e-books are either inferior or porn are truly interesting.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Alberto, Google & the Right to Privacy, Act III (Google's Position)

This is the third in a series of blogs.

To recap: In 1996, during the Clinton administration, Congress passed a law (CDA) intended to prevent children from being exposed to harmful material. The Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Congress came back in 1998 and passed a new law (COPA) with narrower parameters. The ACLU immediately asked for and received an injunction. The Supreme Court upheld the appeals court's injunction against COPA in 2004, again on First Amendment grounds. This time the Court suggested that the Bush administration either come up with another law or prove that COPA would be more effective than filtering software in preventing material that could be harmful for children.

Instead of shepherding a new law through Congress, the Bush administra- tion chose to take the latter route of proving that COPA is the only viable way to combat harmful material. According to CNET News, the Department of Justice plans to argue in court "that filtering software is not a realistic alternative to a federal criminal law because the concept of filtering is flawed and unworkable in practice." In other words, the Bush administration believes that even an innocuous search can inadvertently turn up material inappropriate for children.

And, instead of doing the work to prove their contention themselves--by doing searches children might do on the Internet--in August, 2005, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Alberto Gonzales subpoenaed four search engine companies for all their URLs and a month's worth of the searches done on their engines.

The recent DOJ motion indicated that there was significant negotiating before the government agreed to narrow its request for information on the grounds that a simple list of all the URLs would be untenable and a list of all searches done would be tainted by the web-crawlers doing searches in order to rank websites. Privacy issues were also raised. Therefore, the government narrowed its request to a million random URLs and the search string (text only) requested by users for one week without identifying the users. At that point, it appears that AOL, MSN and Yahoo turned over the requested material.

According to a government motion filed last week, Google listed the following as their reasons for not complying (included are my comments):

1) Relevancy: Google objects to the implication that their "search-engine database is reflective of the entire world-wide web." More relevant information could be obtained by the DOJ by simply doing their own searches on the Internet.
2) Privacy: "Google next objects that its compliance with the request would require it to produce information identifying the users of its search engines."
What's to stop Gonzales' crew from coming back and saying, "You've already given us the searches, now give us the users"?
3) Redundancy: MSN, Yahoo and AOL have already turned over their information. What's the point in having data from Google as well?
4) Privilege: Google does not want to share trade secrets. Google is apparently afraid that, with a large sample of data, competitors could reverse engineer their way back to the algorithms Google uses in its search engines. Those algorithms are a closely guarded secret.
5) Undue burden: The request would require too much effort on the part of Google

Remember--this is not national security. The government is not trying to find terrorists and has not yet proven that this information is its one viable means to protect children from harmful material online.

CNET News has been conducting an online poll. Of the 1,700 respondents, 83% believe Google was right in refusing to hand over the requested information while 14% are uncertain. Only 3% believe the data should have been given to the government.

What happens next? Google must answer the DOJ's motion. Usually that would take about two weeks although the deadline might be extended. Some legal experts believe that the Bush administration is going to have an uphill battle in proving their urgent need for this data.

Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Alberto, Google & the Right to Privacy, Act II (The Government's Request)

This is Part II of a series looking at the events that led to the Bush administration's filing of a motion this week to force Google to comply with an earlier subpoena for information.

Let's start where we left off last night. The Bush administration had been thwarted in their attempts to use COPA to prevent children from viewing inappropriate material on the Internet. The Supreme Court had struck down the law on First Amendment grounds (you can't limit adults to speech considered suitable for children). Remember what the Supreme Court said to the Bush administration when it did so: either come up with a less drastic version of the law or prove that the statute does not violate the First Amendment and is the best way to combat Internet websites with material that could be harmful to children.

Rather than amend COPA, the Department of Justice focused on proving that the statute is the only viable way to combat this material. How to do that? Data!!

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch (SEW) postulates "[t]o prove a need for the law, the US government wants to show how much porn children might encounter through searches." And, instead of taking the direct route of doing searches similar to those a child might do on the Internet, the government tried to obtain the data from the four largest search engines. SEW: "[i]t's important to note this case is not about stopping child porn. It's about trying to get a law passed that would help the government shut down sites that allow children themselves to access porn."

The Mercury News quoted the government: "The production of those materials would be of significant assistance to the government's preparation of its defense of the constitutionality of this important statute."

In the summer of 2005, the Department of Justice served Google, MSN, AOL and Yahoo with subpoenas demanding ALL the URLs stored in their search engines and a month's worth of the searches requested by users.

The government said: "Reviewing URLs available through search engines will help us understand what sites users can find using search engines, to estimate the prevalence of harmful-to-minors (HTM) materials among such sites, to characterize those sites, and to measure the effectiveness of content filters in screening HTM materials from those sites."

The government's motion continued: "Reviewing user queries to search engines will help us understand the search behavior of current web users, to estimate how often web users encounter HTM materials through searches, and to measure the effectiveness of filters in screening those materials."

Sullivan called HTM (harmful to minors) the new WMD (weapons of mass destruction). And remember how THAT government initiative turned out.

Sullivan also pointed out on ABC's Nightline that the government's request showed a lack of understanding of how the Internet operates and how search engines function. If the Department of Justice (DOJ) had a better understanding, they would realize that they needed to "filter out all the automated queries coming in from rank checking tools." In essence, the spiders crawling the system would have skewed the data. However, the DOJ's subpoena did not take this into account; it was a remarkably unsophisticated request. And, remember, all the DOJ had to do in the first place was to sit down and do searches that a child might be expected to do in order to find the material that a child might find.

While MSN, AOL and Yahoo aren't saying much, the assumption is that all four search engine companies pointed out their privacy concerns as well as the fact that the amount of information being requested was enormous. With respect to the request for all URLs, the government documents say that, "after 'lengthy negotiation' with Google, the government changed and 'narrowed' their request. Sullivan says the new request was for "a list of one million web addresses. Not who went to the web pages and when, just a list of URLs picked randomly."

With respect to the demand for a month's worth of searches made by users, Sullivan says, "Again, after lengthy negotiations the government . . . changed their request and asked for an electronic file 'containing the text of any search string entered into . . . [the] search engine for a one-week period (absent any personal information identifying the person who entered the query.)'"

At this point in the negotiations, MSN, AOL and Yahoo all complied with the request and produced the material demanded. Google, however, has continued to refuse to cooperate.

The government and the other three search engines have all stressed that the material turned over was stripped of any identifying information. They conveniently neglect to mention that the government's original request was much broader, but was negotiated downward to remove that data. As Americans review the government's actions in this matter, they should not forget that initial request. Had their request gone unchallenged, the government could today be in possession of an enormous amount of personal information on Internet users.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the reasons Google listed for not complying with the government's request.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Alberto, Google & the Right to Privacy, Act I (Background)

Yesterday morning, one of my critique partners sent me an article from the San Jose Mercury News entitled "Feds After Google Data." The opening sentence said, "The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases."

Since yesterday, I've spent a fair amount of time trying to understand the issues and what is involved in the subpoena that Attorney General Gonzales first handed Google last summer. I’m not going to be able to cover the entire subject in one blog so be prepared for a multi-part series.

This all began, as so many messes do, with Congress, good intentions and a bad law.

Once upon a time . . . Congess was trying to protect children from the harmful effects of exposure to inappropriate material. To this end, it passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in 1996. The law was challenged and Attorney General Janet Reno found herself squaring off with the ACLU. In 1997, the CDA was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision which held that the law was far too broad (And doesn't that unanimous vote tell you just what a fine piece of legislation the CDA must have been?)

Congress gamely regrouped and came back with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in October, 1998 to replace the first law. Unlike the CDA, the new law limited itself to the Internet and also to commercial enterprises. "COPA prohibits the transmission of any material over the Internet deemed 'harmful to minors,' if the communication was made for a commercial purpose." The law sought to impose a $50,000 fine and six months in prison for deliberately posting such material on the Internet. It was scheduled to go into effect April 21, 2000.

As I'm sure you expected, the ACLU challenged Attorney General John Ashcroft and COPA and sought injunctive relief. A "trial court found the law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. An appeals court agreed COPA was unconstitutional, but not on the First Amendment grounds. In 2002, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court, limiting their decision to a very narrow scope. The Supreme Court did not address the constitutionality of COPA. Instead the Court left the injunction against FTC enforcement of COPA in place and suggested (hint, hint) that the appeals court take a look at the First Amendment issue. (data courtesy of the American Library Association)

The second time around on COPA, the appeals court (obviously composed of faster learners than Congress was) listened to what the Supreme Court had said and struck the law down for First Amendment reasons.

Once more, COPA made its way back up to the Supreme Court and, this time in 2004, the Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court saying (according to yesterday's SJMN) the law "was too broad and could prevent adults from accessing legal porn sites . . . However, the Supreme Court invited the government to either come up with a less drastic version of the law (hint, hint) or go to trial to prove that the statute does not violate the First Amendment and is the only viable way to combat child porn." Once again, the injunction against enforcing the law was left in place.

Okay, so now we come to last summer and it’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ turn up at bat. Ignoring the Supreme Court’s invitation to develop a less draconian version of the law, the Bush administration decided that COPA was “more effective than filtering software in protecting from harmful exposure to harmful material on the Internet.” (Search Engine Watch quoting the court documents)

In August, 2005, AG Gonzales’ crew delivered subpoenas to Google, MSN, AOL and Yahoo demanding that the search engine companies “produce an electronic file contain(ing), ‘[a]ll URL’s that are available to be located on your companys’ search engine as of July 31, 2005.’"

In addition, the search engine companies were “asked to ‘produce an electronic file containing [a]ll queries entered into the . . . engine between July 1 and July 31 inclusive.’” (data and quotes provided by Search Engine Watch)

Okay, let’s stop here for a moment and look at what the government was asking for in these subpoenas. First, they wanted all websites available on the search engine, presumably so they could identify pornographic or inappropriate ones.

Now to begin with, doesn’t that strike you as being a wee bit large a request? Reminds me of my grandmother saying that my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I asked for a second dessert. Sort of makes me wonder if the government had a clue as to what they were asking for.

Second, they wanted all queries into the search engine for a month’s period of time. With the full range of data available to the search engines, the government would have sufficient information to identify the users who were looking at information deemed harmful to children on the websites the government identified as fitting their criteria. And, I'm also wondering here who was going to be responsible for deciding which sites contained porn? Laura Bush sitting up late at night with her laptop?

This blog is getting overly long so I’m going to stop here for tonight. Tune in tomorrow for the continuing saga of Alberto and his hunt for the porn treasure.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Day at the Movies

I took the day off today to play hooky with an old friend. Stores and theatres are just less crowded during the week than they are on weekends. We went shopping and out to eat and to see the new film The Matador.

It's a strange little movie. The tagline is "a hitman and a salesman walk into a bar." Pierce Brosnan plays the hitman, Julian Noble, in a role that both mocks and pays homage to his James Bond role. Greg Kinnear plays the salesman, Danny Wright, and Hope Davis is Kinnear's wife.

Brosnan announced in February, 2005 that he would no longer play Bond in the long-running movie series. The Matador is his first post-Bond role. In its review of the film, Newsday said, "Eventually, you forget Brosnan's ongoing effort to set fire to his trademark creased-and-polished image and begin to share his apparent glee in traipsing through this seriocomic farrago of crime melodrama, buddy movie and sob story."

The hitman and saleman meet in a hotel bar in Mexico City. Noble is an overworked assassin-for-hire who strikes up a conversation with the down-on-his-luck salesman, Wright. The two attend a bullfight the following day where Noble describes himself as a "facilitator of fatalities" to Wright. My favorite line was when Noble says something like, "Hey, just because I'm a sociopath doesn't mean I'm a psychopath." Six months later when Noble has a melt-down, he shows up on Wright's front door, looking for help from the only friend he has.

It was incredibly unnerving to see Pierce Brosnan dressed like euro-trash with a nasty moustache and haircut and a fish-white aging body. As Julian himself says, "I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy's left town." Brosnan's courage and audacity in taking on the role is worth the price of the ticket alone. The character has an appalling lack of social skills and a penchant for young girls that is as anti-Bond as one could imagine.

The film is quirky, funny, implausible, and we both enjoyed it enormously. It was only playing in one theatre that we could find so I'm not sure how long it will be in release. Catch it if you can.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kensington's New Imprint

There's a new imprint in town. Kensington Publishing Corporation began releasing erotic romances under its new Aphrodisia line January 1st, 2006.

Kensington, which describes itself on its website as "the last remaining independent U.S. publisher of hardcover, trade and mass market paperback books" is now celebrating its 32nd year in business. Aphrodisia is Kensington's second foray into the erotic romance business following the July 1, 2001 launch of Brava. Talking about Aphrodisia, Laurie Parkin, a Kensington VP, was quoted as saying, "our Brava imprint broke new ground for romance readers, creating an entirely new read with its level of sensuality and mix of new and bestselling authors. Since its inception, it has been one of our most visible, profitable and reader responsive imprints. We're planning to mirror that success with Aphrodisia, as we respond to the readers who are clamoring for titles bringing together traditional erotica and a touch of romance, both in print and as e-books."

Each Aphrodisia title will be released as both a trade paperback and e-book. You can see the first four books at www.kensingtonbooks.com. Wolf Tales, The Hard Stuff, Three and Gotta Have It were all released January 1st in both formats.

If you're new to erotic romance and are shy about purchasing the books, go to the Kensington website where you can "purchase Aphrodisia titles discreetly" according to Publisher Weekly. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Publishers Weekly Bestsellers for 2005

Last week, Publishers Weekly (PW) reported on their national bestseller lists for 2005.

Before describing the results, PW defined the population. "The number of books published in 2005 is estimated to be close to 200,000, and that includes everything--adult and children's books, professional books and textbooks, paperbacks and hardcovers."

PW maintains four weekly lists: hardcover fiction, hardcover nonfiction, mass market and trade paperback. In 2005, 442 new adult trade titles managed to make it onto those lists and represent only .2% of the 200,000 books published that year.

Seven first-time novelists (and two from the previous year) took 10% of the 260 available slots on the 2005 weekly hardcover fiction lists. The most impressive debut showing was by Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian." The search for Vlad the Impaler satisfied lovers of vampire fiction and stayed on the hardover charts for 18 weeks.

Of the veterans, James Patterson had five books on the hardcover adult charts while Danielle Steel and Dean Koontz each had three and Nicholas Sparks had two hardcover winners.

In 2005, Kevin Trudeau (yes, the guy from the late night television infomercials) was the big winner on the nonfiction hardcover list. His self-published book, "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" was on the charts for 13 weeks. He had four million copies in print by year's end.

In mass market (the home of romance, mystery and science fiction), Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons" landed the #1 slot 11 times in 2005 (after being #1 for 34 weeks in 2004). John Grisham came in second. His "The Last Juror" landed the #1 slot 9 times.

According to PW, "[i]n trade paper, nonfiction takes up a little more than 50% of the available weekly spots. The sudoku craze landed four titles on the trade charts--about 7% of that list's bestselling real estate." If you're not familiar with sudoku, read my blog for 12/17/05 and get on board.

The five largest publishing conglomerates--Random House, HarperCollins, Time Warner, Penguin and Simon & Schuster--controlled about 82% of the hardcover bestseller lists and 78% of the paperback lists. Adding Holtzbrinck, Hyperion, Rodale, Houghton Mifflin and Harlequin to the mix, those ten conglomerates controlled 97% of all hardcover bestsellers.

PW ended their report by saying "[d]espite the dominance of a handful of large corporate entities, we have to keep in mind that we are still talking about less than 1% of overall book title output."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Do We Need Our Broadband Service Tiered?

Okay, it's late enough that Craig Ferguson is nattering on the television. I haven't the faintest idea what the man is saying, but he does say it nicely :)

This is going to be a short blog. I've been a diligent writer today. Spent three hours this morning working on a manuscript (a contemporary eroromance novella without a name as yet). I'd like to finish it this week so that I can turn my attention back to the full-length romantic suspense I had been working on.

This afternoon and evening, I was a critiquing fool. I owe lots of critique time to the generous critique partners who recently worked on my full-length novel. So, I kept my nose to the grindstone today and critiqued a wonderful eroromance for a CP who is on a deadline.

Anyway, I don't know if you pay much attention to the legislation being proposed in the U.S. Congress. Occasionally, I'll cruise the Congressional website (a wonderful site, BTW) just to see what our lawmakers are up to. Recently, I realized that the telecom companies are trying to convince our legislature to create "tiers" of broadband service. Of course, the telecoms would own the "premium" service while everyone else would access the less choice tiers. I've been trying to learn more about this initiative.

So, imagine my delight in checking the blogs I like to read last night when I found that Mark Cuban had blogged on this subject yesterday (http://www.blogmaverick.com/). Interesting stuff. You ought to go over and read the blog entitled "Hey, Baby Bells and Cable, We Need Multiple Tiers of Service."

Because, you know, I'm interested in service delivery, I'll blog more on this subject in the coming days. For tonight, I'm going to crawl into my bed and continue reading Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat." Good stuff.

One last thought: I hope you enjoyed MLK Day today. And perhaps gave a minute or two to appreciate Dr. King's philosophy of non-violence. If everyone shared his philosophy, the world would be a better place.

Sleep tight.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pruning for the Good

This weekend was traumatic for me. I go through it every year. Pruning my rosebushes.

I have six red rosebushes that line the walk in front of my house. I planted the bushes myself three years ago. Each year they produce red roses the size of dessert plates. People knock on the door to ask what variety they are and, last year, I had people stopping to take photos of them.

So what's the big problem, you ask? I HATE to prune them.

I had to prune them today because, with the warm winter we're having, they are already beginning to bud out. There are already a dozen tiny little roses at a time of year when the bushes should be dormant. It kills me to have to cut branches with buds and little roses. I know I have to do it. I just hate it. It usually takes me two days. The first day I work up to it by just trimming the deadwood and the badly placed canes. The second day I get down to business and take them down to eighteen inches from the ground.

This afternoon, I was standing there staring at one of the bushes, thinking how much I hated to "hurt" the bush. An elderly neighbor hobbled up. "I've been watching you for thirty minutes. Give me the damn clippers."

While I watched, Richard chopped and hacked and generally murdered my poor bushes. When he was through, they looked the way I knew they should--and he had just saved me three hours of work--by doing in twenty minutes what would have taken me all afternoon.

Silly, I know. But it's one of my quirks. The same quirk makes it difficult for me to cut my manuscripts. I hate to cut the deadwood. Fortunately, I've found a way to trick myself. I create an "overflow" folder on the computer. When I think something needs to be cut, I move the offending passage to that overflow folder. That way, I tell myself I can always put it back later. Of course, I quickly realize the manuscript reads better without it and rarely reinstate the excess verbiage.

The lesson to be learned is that roses and manuscripts both benefit from healthy pruning. Cut out the purple prose, the deadwood, the things that slow your action. Even if you have to "fool" yourself the way I do, make your prose lean and spare. Don't use fifty words when fifteen will do as well. Don't over-explain. Have respect for your readers. Trust them to make the leaps and to understand what you're trying to say.

Check your manuscript pages. There should be a healthy amount of white space (like the ventilation around the rose canes). If you're doing a lot of narration, there won't be much white space. You need to go back to cut most of the narration out.

Remember -- think spare and lean. Like my roses, your manuscripts will thank you later by producing beautiful results.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part V

This is the last in a series of five blogs about developing your own business plan as a writer.

A disclaimer here. I have sold numerous short stories to the "True" magazines over the years, which is one of the reasons I chose not to publish with the smaller e-pubs. The money is comparable. However, I have not as yet signed a contract with a large print publisher.

That does not mean that I shouldn't develop a business plan which includes future events. A good business plan will go three to five years out.

So, what do you do after your book sells? Remember Joe Konrath's statement that eighty percent of his time was spent marketing, not writing? How do you market yourself?

It's all about name recognition. So make your name recognizable. Attend conferences, offer to sit on panels, teach short courses, do book signings. Volunteer at your local chapters to donate critiques of unpublished authors. Karen Kelley, a chick lit author (http://www.authorkarenkelley.com/home.html), and Catherine Spangler, a paranormal author (http://www.catherinespangler.com/), did free critiques for me last year. Their advice was invaluable. I own every one of their books and will continue to buy everything they publish.

I am one of those persons who loves to get up in front of a room. I wasn't always that way, but I started out as a high school teacher. You get better with experience, and I've done all kinds of classes since that time. I even taught crisis intervention techniques to the Dallas SWAT team once upon a time.

I have already done two programs for my Sisters-in-Crime group and I'll do more, whenever they ask me. I plan to do online courses, in-person courses and panel discussions whenever I get the chance.

One of the dilemmas new authors face is to maintain the level of quality of their early work. You apply intense scrutiny to your first few manuscripts; you polish them within an inch of their lives because you're trying to break into a new business. Once you get in the door, remember to maintain that early quality.

How often have you, the reader, loved a new writer, only to be disappointed at their second and third books? Some of this is inevitable; the later books no longer have the benefit of novelty and surprise. Some of this is the result of the pressure to publish. Publishing houses begin to push for the next book before the first one is even out.

It's up to you, the writer, to monitor the quality of your books. You never want to hear a reader say, "Oh, I quit buying her books. I got tired of the same-old-same-old all the time." Make sure you continue to get critiques on your work, and that you pay attention to what your reviewers are saying.

One last word: this is your business. Treat it as such, with respect. If you don't act like a serious professional, don't be surprised when professionals don't take you seriously.

Don't get drunk at conferences, or throw yourself at members of the opposite (or same) sex and joke about it later. This is a small industry, and people have long memories. Sure they'll laugh with you about it, but they'll laugh with others about it, too. Respect your name. Don't allow cr*p to become attached to it. It takes a long time to shake it off. Find the few people you can trust and let your hair down with them. To the rest of the industry, remember your brand and present that image in public.

Do not respond to snarky reviews or complaining fans. Remember the lesson that Anne Rice taught about this. You cannot win. Ever. No matter what people say to you, do not respond in kind. You CANNOT win.

This has been a fun couple of days. I've enjoyed writing these blogs and hope that you've enjoyed reading them. Good luck with your writing career. I'll be pulling for you.



Friday, January 13, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on a sample business plan for a writer.

In my first blog on the subject, I pointed out that you, the writer, will be wearing a lot of hats in your quest to establish a successful business. Among these is publicist. Don't kid yourself; your publisher is not going to be spending big bucks on marketing your first efforts. Think ahead about how you will publicize your book and yourself.

J.A. Konrath, mystery writer, is one of the persons who takes his job as a publicist seriously. He is also someone who has been remarkably successful in creating a name for himself. One of his early moves was to create a blog he called "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing"
(http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/) in which he shared information about his journey as a writer. In an interview with Mark Terry, Konrath was asked about promotion. He responded, "Twenty percent of my time is spent writing. Eighty percent of my time is spent marketing. At least a third of my income goes toward self-promotion . . . I visit a dozen conventions every year. I travel all over the place. I travel locally. Web site, of course (www.jakonrath.com). And advertising and simple promotion like flyers or printing up chapbooks, which I give out for free. … I spend a great deal of my income on self-promotion, but that's an investment. I'm investing in myself."

Invest in yourself. Be thinking ahead to what kinds of things you can do to promote your books. How do you want to "brand" yourself? The big brands are easiest to identify. Stephen King is almost synonymous with horror, Nora Roberts with romance. And Roberts is a great example of protecting her brand. When she decided she wanted to experiment with harder-edged romantic mysteries, she didn't publish them under the Nora Roberts label. She understood that doing so might confuse her readers. Instead, she published them under the name of J.D. Robb and began developing a new brand. As the Robb name became more popular, Nora became more comfortable in acknowledging that those books were actually hers. Now she has one website on which she lists both brands, but readers are very clear about what to expect from each.

On a writers' loop, I recently mentioned an unpleasant experience I'd had with a brand. I had been buying mysteries by James Patterson for some years when he came out with a new book entitled "Where the Wind Blows." I plunked down my $25 for the hardback, expecting to curl up with a solid mystery. Instead I found myself reading a sci-fi/paranormal. I was seriously torqued. And I LIKE paranormals. My problem was that I felt I'd been a victim of bait and switch. I returned that book to B&N and haven't bought a Patterson book since. THAT'S an example of what violating your brand can do.

Give some thought to the brand you want to develop. Do you have a hook with a particular market? Is your heroine a gardener, a cook, a nun? If so, you can market to gardening groups, cooking classes or religious organizations. You can give lectures that combine your speciality with promoting your book.

There are publicists-for-hire available. They don't come cheap. There are also lots of companies that create advertising tools like bookmarks and chapbooks for you to mail or give away at conferences. Conferences are another good marketing opportunity. Think about conferences where readers will attend instead of only conferences populated by writers (although most writers are readers, too).

Consider taking out ads in the magazines that your target audience reads. Or a banner on a website like Romance Junkies (if you're a romance writer). Remember to push reviews of your books with the websites that do reviews. A good review is worth its weight in diamonds in attracting a new audience.

Are you shy? Get over yourself. You need to learn to put yourself forward, talk to strangers and not be embarrassed to mention your book's title as well as your name. Offer to do a talk at your local writing group or library group (of course, it helps if you have a subject in mind to talk about ).

Is it beginning to dawn on you why so many writers have set up websites and blogs? For the money, websites and/or blogs are a very inexpensive marketing tool that gives you the widest audience possible. But make sure your readers will remember YOUR name. If you give your website another name, make sure your own name is prominently featured as well. Don't confuse your target audience with too many names, too much to remember. You want them to remember YOUR name so that when they walk into a bookstore and see your book, they'll connect the two and buy it. Marketing 101.

More tomorrow . . .

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part III

This is the third in a series of blogs about the "business" of being a writer.

One of the things that you, the professional writer, need to do very early is set up a system for keeping track of your expenses. Which expenses, you ask? For starters: computer ink cartridges; paper; magazine subscriptions; online professional subscriptions (i.e. Publishers Marketplace); dues; conference fees; travel expenses (hotel, airfare, car, food); and mileage (to and from chapter meetings, critique meetings and the post office). Also, office supplies, postage, research expenses (books or magazines purchased), and photocopies. You can see where I'm going with this.

I keep a little book in my car. Whenever I drive to and from the post office to mail a manuscript or drive to and from my critique meetings, I note down the date and the mileage and the title of the work involved. All of these expenses are tax deductible while you are pursuing your career as a writer so long as you ALSO keep track of your query letters and the responses (either a rejection or an acceptance). You must be able to document that you were actively trying to earn money at your craft.

I've been talking about things to be done in addition to writing your manuscript. You'll also need to develop a calendar that will work for you. One on which you can note not only deadlines but other dates: conferences you want to attend or did attend, things you are expecting to receive from publishers or agents (galleys, returned contracts, royalty statements). I have two calendars (my PDA and a large wall calendar on which I can see things at a glance). Your calendar will be invaluable to you, both as a reminder of things to come and as a record of the year for tax purposes.

Merline Lovelace, best-selling Harlequin author, keeps a bar calendar to keep track of all her books in progress. Because she works for more than one publishing line, keeping track of her deadlines is vital. Each line on the graph represents one manuscript. She shows the date the contract was signed and then each future deadline for that manuscript. That way, she can see at one glance what she needs to be working on.

As you approach the last chapters of your manuscript, you should already have a list of places that you think might be interested in it. Are you planning to submit to e-publishers or print publishers? If you are targeting e-publishers, you can submit without an agent. If you are targeting print publishers, you probably want to consider an agent. While many print publishers accept unagented submissions, the wait for an unsolicited manuscript can be very long.

Many writers have chosen to start out with e-publishers because the submission process is much faster and easier. Also, e-publishers are much more open to accepting work by newer writers as well as shorter-length works. Many e-publishers will welcome manuscripts from 20K to 60k words. Print publishers are generally looking for longer-length manuscripts.

In recent months, the lines of demarcation between e-publishers and print publishers have begun to blur. E-pubs are beginning to produce hard copy books for their better selling authors. Print pubs are beginning to show an interest in online publishing. I fully expect that, in the future, you can expect your works to appear in both venues at one time.

A viable plan might be to submit your earlier, shorter works to e-publishers. As you become more comfortable in your new career, you can then consider writing longer length works (70K to 100K words). That might be the time to begin looking for an agent.

Another consideration is to know when you have a good manuscript on your hands. If you've got what you truly believe will be an easy manuscript to sell, don't sell it short. Hold out for the publisher you want rather than settling for the first one that offers. I've had two stories that had excerpts printed online as the result of contests. In both cases, I received numerous offers from small e-publishers wanting to contract the stories. I took a deep breath, thanked the publisher and held out. It was really, really hard to do. A bird in the hand, you know. But I was right. Those manuscripts were what snagged my agent's interest. By sticking to my business plan instead of going for short-term gratification, I'm a little closer to my goal.

More tomorrow . . .

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part II

On Sunday, I blogged about developing plans for your career as a writer. I received multiple email requests to explain what I was talking about. So, yesterday I began this series on developing a business plan.

Last night, we talked about the different hats you must wear as a small business owner. You are responsible for the product, the marketing of your product, customer satisfaction and staying in touch with your market, just to name a few tasks.

Most wannabe writers are so focused on simply finishing a manuscript that they don't think ahead to what happens after it's finished. If you can create a plan and a calendar in which you identify the various tasks on a timeline, you will be better prepared and better equipped to become a success. When you are only working with one manuscript, things are simpler. But think ahead. What happens when you are writing one manuscript, editing another and marketing a third? You have to get organized early.

In March, 2005, when I was about halfway through the manuscript for my story "You've Been a Good Girl," I entered it into an online contest. I did this for three reasons: (1) to get feedback; (2) because the final judge was an editor with an online publishing house that I hoped would have an interest in buying it; and (3) hoping to place in the contest and give my manuscript additional credibility. The contest was "Just Erotic Romance Reviews" and the manuscript won second place in July, 2005. Entering that contest had done what I had hoped. I got positive feedback from published authors, the judge requested the manuscript and I now had something I could say about the story when I pitched it.

Along with writing your novel, you need to be thinking ahead to the next step: How will you market it and where will you market it? All the work you have been doing in learning about your niche will help you here. You need to set up a system to keep track of both agents and publishers who might find your work interesting. I bought a small index card box and a stack of white index cards. I also subscribed to "Publishers Lunch" (www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/free/). They publish a listing of all the new publishing deals. You can subscribe to the free lunch or subscribe to the paid lunch. I started out with the free lunch and then upgraded after three months. Whenever I saw an agent or a publisher who was interested in work like mine, I created an index card for them. I googled them and investigated them on "Preditors and Editors," an online warning list of scam artists to avoid (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/). Before long, I had a list of qualified agents and editors at publishing houses who could be interested in my work.

More tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sample Business Plan for a Writer--Part 1

In the last couple of days, I've had several email requests to talk more about the long- and short-term plans I blogged about on Sunday. I responded to a couple of those emails individually. Each time I sent an email on the subject, I added more detail. I've now decided to simply blog on developing a business plan. It will probably take a couple of days to cover the whole subject.

As a writer, you are a small business. Think about a small business; what are its needs? We could probably make a list of twenty tasks, but I'm going to focus on the following: selecting your market, producing a product, providing for pre-production quality control, selling the product, providing post-production quality assurance, providing customer service, developing a brand, maintaining the physical plant, and staying in touch with industry trends.

For a writer these tasks would translate to: 1) decide on a genre and likely publishers, 2) write the book, 3) critique the book, 4) find an agent or publisher for the book, 4) do pre-publish edits, 5) target your advertising and develop a reader base, 6) develop a peer network, 7) maintain your office, and 8) keep on top of trends in the publishing industry. As a one-person business, you'll have to wear all the departmental hats. Try to be clear about which hat you are wearing at any one time; it will help define your behavior and prevent careless mistakes and messy situations.

From this point forward, I will be talking about the varying roles and sample goals you might have for them.

Let's assume you've already reviewed your market and thought about your personal preferences. You've decided you want to write romances. You've now established your industry niche. You need to develop mechanisms for networking in your niche and learning about your industry because you will gradually refine your niche to a more specific one, like inspirational romance or erotic romance.

To start, you might decide to join the local chapter of RWA, enroll on a Yahoo writers' group and subscribe to Romantic Times magazine. Specific job tasks would include attending the meetings and reading the articles on a regular basis. Don't skip meetings and don't let the magazines pile up.

You need to develop expectations for your role as product-producing writer. Decide what you can reasonably write in a day/week/month. I prefer to have a weekly goal; then I can decide how much or how little to write on any individual day. I started with a very small goal a couple of years ago, and now expect to do 12K words a week. That's 1,700 words every day or 2,400 words on weekdays with the weekends off. Sometimes, I will play hooky for several days and then stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning to catch up on the week's goal. At the point at which my manuscript sells, I will lower my word goal to 10K words a week to accommodate other tasks (copyedits and galleys and more aggressive marketing).

Once I had enough material that I was ready to switch to my quality control hat, I joined several critique groups--both in-person and online. An urgent task is to find quality critique partners that you can trust. It took me about a year and multiple groups to find those persons. A CP must have good writing skills, good interpersonal skills (be able to communicate well) and personal integrity. A CP who repeatedly asks for help, but who does not return the favor is no good. A CP who is only interested in her own success, and not equally interested in yours should be avoided. A CP who becomes competitive with you is defeating the purpose. A quality CP will work for your success and be as concerned about your manuscript as she is about her own. She will tell you the hard messages ("this manuscript needs work") because she wants you to succeed. She will celebrate your successes as she does her own. Treasure your CPs.

Remembering your other hats, you need to be thinking ahead even before you have a finished manuscript. To this end, about six months ago, I began to develop a website and began to practice blogging. I also established a discipline of writing in this blog every day. Right now, I've combined my "learning about the industry" goal with my "develop reader base goal" and mostly blog about the publishing industry, trends and related matters. When I'm published, I will move away from industry trends to issues of interest to readers. What I'm doing now is establishing the routine and the discipline.

More tomorrow . . .

Monday, January 09, 2006

Red Letter Day

This is a red-letter day for me. I just signed a contract with agent Jacky Sach of BookEnds Literary Agency.

I'm especially excited to be working with Jacky because she represents a number of authors I know and like. She also represents all the genres in which I'm interested in writing. She is very enthusiastic, upbeat and outgoing. I really look forward to the collaboration.

She has already contacted one publisher regarding "You've Been a Bad Girl" and has been told to send the full manuscript over.

This is so exciting. I'm having trouble settling down to work.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Writer's Discipline

One of the real advantages writers have today is the Internet. Doing research is so easy. You can find information about writing trends, publishers and the details you need to flesh out your novel without even moving from your chair.

In addition to speedy data access, the Internet provides a community. I belong to numerous online groups for different genres and purposes. The support and encouragement is hugely important in what is essentially a solitary profession.

The very strength of the Internet is also its chief weakness. If permitted, the Internet can become a tremendous distraction and drain on your resources. You can while away the hours chatting online, visiting interesting websites and playing games. When I am looking to procrastinate, I can find fifty ways to do it.

Therein is the dilemma of the writer. Without a boss or a job structure, we can shoot ourselves in the foot and no one is there to stop us (unless you have really good CPs who hold those feet to the fire--thank you, Jeanne and Linda).

When I finally decided to get serious about writing as a profession, I tried to recreate the structure of the workplace for myself. What does that mean? Essentially, responsibility and accountability, which are not the same thing. Responsibility is the job description. Accountability is the performance.

My last paying job had me responsible for one of two divisions of my company. I had nearly 30 departments and over 200 employees in my chain of command. My job description required that I submit a long-term plan (five years) in addition to a short-term plan (annual with quarterly goals). I had to meet with the CEO every quarter to justify my performance versus my goals (translation: I had to justify my existence every three months. When your job is on the line, it focuses your attention on the exercise, I guarantee).

I set up the same dynamic for my writing career. I have a long-term plan and a short-term plan that includes daily and quarterly goals. I DO NOT DEVIATE FROM MY PLAN. (Note: I can adust the plan as new information presents, but I write out the pros and cons to justify the decision before I make any change)

As my friends and partners began to sell, I've been tempted to go for short-term gratification, but my plan demands that I stay steadfast. What does this mean? I set up my world to avoid temptations. Think of it like a diet. In the same way that a dieter doesn't linger in the bakery aisle, I don't surround myself with distractions. I eat my Lean Cuisine (blog every day) and don't snack between meals (blog in a lot of other places). I don't weigh myself every morning nor do I check my Stat Counter every day. I weigh myself once a week and I check my Stat Counter once a week. Checking status over months instead of days, you can see the incremental progress. I disregard comments about, "I thought you were on a diet. Haven't you lost any weight yet?" as well as comments that ask, "Haven't you sold yet? What's wrong?"

This is my profession. I behave professionally in public. I save my games and my fun for private loops and personal emails. That way, I don't feel nervous when offering agents or publishers my website or blog address. This is my third, no, fourth blog address. I practiced blogging anonymously for quite some time before deciding where to draw the lines around personal disclosures.

The hardest thing for me has been to keep my focus and to stay motivated. More than in any profession (other than sales), I've found that writers must be self-nurturers and self-starters. Without the discipline that a boss or a structured environment can provide, writers need to find that within themselves.

Sure, I have my ups and downs. I have dark moments of doubt. I also have trusted CPs with whom I can vent. And I have my plan. There's room in that plan for vacations so that I can cut myself slack when needed (I've been on an extended vacation recently).

Don't know if this approach can work for others; it works for me. And, the nice thing about a new year is that you can always start over again.

Life is full of new opportunities and new starts. Begin this year the way you mean to continue. Develop a SPECIFIC plan; don't just decide to sell a manuscript. What do you want to sell, and where do you want to sell it? Once you have your plan, share it with people you trust. Then stick to it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Another New Audio Book Device

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had an article on a new audio option for readers.

The new digital audio book device is called the Playaway. If you visit the Playaway website (www.playawaydigital.com), you'll find they describe it as the first self-playing digital audio book.

The Playaway is targeted to technophobes who don't know how to download and transfer content from their computer to a Mp3 player, and who don't want to learn. It is an audio book and player in one. All the reader needs to do is plug in the ear buds, pull the tab to activate the battery and press the power button twice (once to turn it on and once to play).

The device is about three inches by two inches and can be worn around the neck or tucked in a pocket. It can also be plugged into your home or car stereo so that more than one person can listen at once.

"You can't connect a Playaway to a computer, or erase books from it, or add books or music to it. In effect, each Playaway is a book, which happens to come with a cheap player." (WSJ)

Of course, ease and mobility don't come cheap. Each Playaway book costs between $35 and $55. They can be purchased at Borders, Barnes & Noble and OfficeMax. Since the product was only introduced in November, there are just 32 titles listed on the website. They include foreign language tapes, non-fiction and fictional bestsellers.

Think of it as another waystation on the road to consumer choice.

Friday, January 06, 2006

More on Delivery Systems

On Monday, I blogged about our changing delivery systems and, more specifically, about pending changes in the distribution of films. Two days later, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) addressed the subject in an article entitled "Movies May Hit DVD, Cable Simultaneously."

The WSJ addressed the subject I first raised in this blog on 10/30: Mark Cuban's experiment in releasing a film in his theatres, on DVD and through television at the same time.

Hollywood studios are also considering the idea. The WSJ names Walt Disney Co., Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers as the three studios most aggressively pursing the subject.

The studios face an uphill battle on both sides of the proposition. "[T]heater owners are furiously opposed to releasing films in any form earlier, arguing that such moves will hurt box office sales." Additionally, the studios face opposition from retailers. "Any test of the strategy would likely raise an outcry from retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that sell vast numbers of DVDs."

Despite the opposition, the studios "clearly feel a sense of urgency." As more and more opportunities become available for consumers to access entertainment quickly, no one wants to be left behind. Apple's recent move to provide television shows on their video-capable iPod didn't go unnoticed. At the Consumer Electronics Show, Google announced an initiative to provide CBS's programming on their website.

It's becoming a consumer's market--where the consumer is offered the option of seeing what they want where they want and how they want. As I've said before, writers need to keep this in mind as they consider the markets in which they want their material to be offered.

Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sony's Electronic Reader Unveiled Today

The Consumer Gadget Show (CES) continues in Las Vegas, and there's some excitement about today.

According to USA Today (UST), Sony is scheduled to open "a new chapter in the electronic-book saga by unveiling its handheld Reader Thursday" at the CES.

To date, there really hasn't been an e-book reader that consumers have jumped on. Because these devices have been hard to read or large and bulky, they haven't caught on. Most people who download e-books are still reading them on laptops and PDAs. But Sony hopes to change that this spring.

"Around the size of a paperback but only a half-inch thick, the Reader has a 6-inch gray-scale screen and is easy to hold at less than 9 ounces." Its expected retail price will be between $300 and $400.

"'This new display technology allows for long immersive reading, the type of which you wouldn't want to do on a computer screen,'" according to a Sony spokesman. "'It's very close to looking at the printed page.'" (UST)

The Reader's internal memory can store approximately 80 books, and extra memory cards can expand that storage to hundreds of books. USA Today indicates that a single battery charge will permit the users to read up to 7,500 pages.

As part of their marketing strategy, Sony plans to make 1,000 e-books available at its Connect Music store (http://musicstore.connect.com/) at the same time the Reader is launched. Engadget.com says that "industry heavyweights Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins are already signed up to provide content, with the latter two promising to digitize their entire back catalogs for inclusion on Sony's Connect . . . for a combined total of up to 50,000 titles."

Engadget points out that iRex (www.irextechnologies.com) is also scheduled to launch an e-book device. According to iRex's website, the iLiad device will be available as of April, 2006.

Engadget has also been watching a little-known Chinese electronics company called Jinke. "Jinke Electronics has been quietly toiling away at perfecting its Hanlin line for some time now, and they have recently introduced a model that may be able to compete with Sony . . . on features and performance."

If any or all of these devices can catch on with consumers, 2006 may very well be the year of the e-book.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Google & Yahoo Speak at Consumer Gadget Show

This week, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is being held in Las Vegas. The CES is where makers of consumer gadgets and home electronics showcase their latest products. So what are the heads of Google and Yahoo doing there?

CNET News reports that Larry Page (co-founder of Google) and Terry Semel (Yahoo CEO) will offer separate keynote addresses at the CES this week.

Google is still ahead of the pack when it comes to the search engine market with about a third of all searches. Yahoo follows at #2 with just under a quarter of all searches. MSN is #3 and Ask Jeeves is #4. AOL is in fifth place with a little more than 12% of all searches. Of course, the new agreement between Google and AOL may change this dynamic in the coming year.

CNET News speculates about the reason why Page and Semel are interested in the CES. "[A]s consumers increasingly access the Internet through devices other than the PC, it makes sense that the two companies should follow their customers onto those devices. The question, of course, is just how they plan to do it. They're already working on search technologies for video, television and music. It wouldn't be a stretch to drop that technology into some sort of device."

The article suggests that "it's highly unlikely that two companies that have found high-growth and big profits in Internet search will stray into the low-margin hardware business."

Instead of Google and Yahoo wandering into the hardware business, CNET postulates that it would make more sense for the Internet giants to partner with hardware companies to provide search engine functions. At a minimum, Page and Semel are expected to present arguments that their respective companies are best suited to provide search technology for televisions, PDAs and cell phones. It is not beyond the realm of reason that one or the other will announce such a partnership during the keynote address.

This line from CNET is worth repeating: "Make no doubt, the high-tech and consumer electronics industries are converging, and Semel and Page's presence at CES underscores that point."