Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Digital Revolution Over At Harlequin

NOTE TO SELF: Remember that Mom is technologically challenged. When she complains that the phone cord is so twisted she can't move around her kitchen, DO NOT suggest that she unplug the cord to untwist it. She will do so while you are speaking to her, effectively ending the long distance call.

It will take twenty minutes for her to figure out how to plug it back in before you can reach her again. Twenty minutes during which you will be imagining what all three of your brothers will have to say if they keep getting a busy signal because Mom leaves the receiver off the hook when she can't get the cord back in. Images of two brothers driving fifty miles to check on her because the operator says the phone is off the hook. Eeekkkk!

New subject. Harlequin had a press release last Tuesday. My friend, Nancy C., brought it to my attention.

Harlequin announced the launch of "four digital entertainment ventures": Harlequin Mini eBooks, Harlequin Mini Round Robin eBooks, the eBook Boutique on eHarlequin.com, and www.writeharlequin.com, "a platform for gathering reader-generated content."

Harlequin is going digital in a big way.

The Mini eBook is a short series-type book for readers "who want a 'quick fix' but don't have time for a longer novel." I purchased one to see what it was like. Ninety-nine cents and sixty-nine pages; you can read one in about a half hour. Of course, the story line had yet another conflicted virgin trying to decide whether to offer up her treasure to a dark, brooding but masterful man. Yuck.

According to the press release, "Ten Harlequin Mini eBooks will be available during the August launch of the imprint. Four new Harlequin Mini eBooks will appear every month thereafter."

The Mini Round Robin eBook is the result of an experiment that has been ongoing at eHarlequin since 2000. An already published author starts the story and then subsequent chapters are written by aspiring writers in a sort of free-for-all competition. Harlequin selects the best ending to publish. The press release says, "Many of Harlequin's talented new voices have been discovered through this interactive round robin challenge."

This is the first time the Round Robin books will be available as eBooks. To encourage readers to purchase these, the initial Round Robin eBook will be available as a free download.

The third innovation is the new eBook Boutique in which all this new eBook content will be sold. Forty new titles will be released every month in eBook format. "[A]ll of these titles will be available in the new eBook Boutique at http://ebooks.eharlequin.com. The Boutique will be the exclusive eRetailer for the Harlequin Mini and Harlequin Mini Round Robin eBooks" according to the press release.

The fourth new feature will be www.writeharlequin.com. The Harlequin publicity department described it in this purple prose: "Harlequin is going beyond reader participation . . . to tap the creativity and wisdom of our global community via www.writeharlequin.com. We ask such burning questions as 'What is Love' [Note the capital "L" there] . . . and anyone and everyone can send in reponses. A collection of the most appealing answers will be published in a digital format early in 2007 and then later as a print version."

Gag me. The romance industry's version of Poetry.com.

Don't get me wrong. I'm impressed by Harlequin's first three innovations. Forget www.writeharlequin.com (unless they gear it to a teen audience).

First of all, these new features show Harlequin has been paying attention. Their book club revenues are down. Why should readers pay for unknown category romances selected by Harlequin (plus shipping) that arrive once a month when they can as easily go to the computer and select the specific book they're interested in reading WHEN they want to read it and download it in about two minutes.

I'm not saying that the famous book clubs will die tomorrow, but they're on their way out. And those clubs have been the backbone of Harlequin's revenue stream. The company needs to be ready to replace them with something else.

E-publishers have been releasing shorter stories for years. The Mini eBooks are a great idea. Especially at ninety-nine cents.

The Round Robin books are another great idea. Writers are among the biggest readers. Harlequin has an idea here that appeals to the reader and writer both.

The eBook Boutique is not an innovation per se, but it is the venue through which the digital content will be sold to online readers. A necessary evil.

I've already given my opinion on www.writeharlequin.com, and I'm not going to belabor the point. Coincidentally, another friend (thanks, Cat) sent me a survey by Harlequin today. It was beyond lame. "What does romance mean to you?" "What is the most romantic thing you or someone you know has ever done?" As I say, if the plan is to target teens, maybe the possibility of seeing your answer in print will carry some cachet. Anything is possible.

Despite these hopeful signs, I still think the biggest obstacle Harlequin has to overcome is its corporate insistence on formulaic guidelines. Cookie cutter romance is getting old. Readers want fresh material, not the same old stuff recycled every month in a different location with different eye colors and shades of hair. Break out, Harlequin! Be bold! Be different! Think about joining a twelve-step program for your addiction to formulas. Please.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Publisher-Dating Dictionary

A two-post day.

If today has been a long day for you, I have the perfect remedy: Kit Whitfield.

Kit is a former British editor whose debut novel was released this month. She began blogging last month and her website includes some fun features.

The one I am sending you to look at is her Publisher-Dating Dictionary. She gives examples of things NOT TO SAY in a query letter by comparing them with lines a guy might try on a woman in a bar.

For example:

You say: 'I've been turned down by all the agencies I've tried, so I've decided to approach publishers directly.'
Dating equivalent: 'All my ex-girlfriends/boyfriends have taken out restraining orders against me, so I thought I'd ask you instead.'

My favorite was:

You say: 'I self-publish/post on the internet, and I've had some good feedback.'
Dating equivalent: 'The prostitutes I sleep with tell me I'm good in bed.'

Take a break and go look at her website. Here's the link:

http://www.kitwhitfield.com/publisherdating.html

Thanks to Miss Snark for drawing attention to Kit's website.

Google Permits Printing on Google Search

This week has been an absolute disaster for me as far as writing goes. I can tell I'll be awake until 3:00 AM Sunday night, trying to catch up on my goal for pages for the week.

Passionate Ink, the online RWA chapter for which I am membership chair, is knee-deep in membership renewals. Actually, it's more like neck-deep at this point. We have nearly 400 members, and a quarter of them waited until the last minute to renew (deadline is tomorrow night). Since Monday morning, I've been besieged by people and questions: "My membership isn't up with everyone else's, is it?" (Answer: Ah, that would be a yes) "What if I can't get PayPal to work?" (Answer: You can try a carrier pigeon, but you'll need a fast one since you've waited until the last minute to renew and it's too late to send a check) "Are you going to charge ME a late fee?" (Answer: Uh-huh) "I haven't gotten the renewal messages (Answer: None of the SIX messages?)."

Anyway, this blog looks like a sea of tranquility by contrast. I have four possible subjects to talk about, and I suspect today will be a multi-blog day.

First up: Google's press release this morning.

Google announced that, starting today, readers can begin downloading works in the public domain through its Book Search program.

The press release said: "Working with our library partners, we're expanding access to books that are out of copyright and have become public domain material. Users can search and read these books on Google Book Search like always, but now they can also download and print them to enjoy them at their own pace."

Google will not enable downloading on any books still under copyright. The release states: "Unless we have the publisher's permission to show more, we display only basic bibliographic information, and, in many cases, small snippets of text--at most, a few lines of text surrounding a search term."

You will, of course, remember my post yesterday that talked about the companies now offering free audio downloads of books in the public domain. My point--as always--was that delivery systems are expanding to offer the reader more choices. This is a perfect example of what I was talking about.

Why go to the bookstore and spend $15 on a copy of Dante's Inferno when you can download and read it for free? (Less the cost of ink and paper).

Sidney Verba, director of the Harvard University Library (a partner with Google) said: "What has been tucked away in large research library collections and available only to a few, can now be discovered and read by people everywhere."

Technology marching on.

P.S. Since posting this, I read in Publishers Lunch that Google posted a notice, advising bloggers that they can now post a link to Google Book Search on their sites. Here's the link to the notice and instructions:

http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2006/08/now-you-can-add-google-book-search-to.html

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jeanne Laws' New Release

I'm a lucky woman. I have great critique partners, who are also good friends.

For the past eighteen months, Jeanne Laws has been one of those critique partners. Jeanne provides terrific, honest feedback and doesn't back down. Her sensitive ear immediately picks up on any inconsistencies in characters. I am extremely grateful to her for all the help she has given me.

Today is a day for celebration because Jeanne's second story is coming out over at Loose Id. Here are the details:

A Good Man is Hard to Find
Genre: western/erotic romance [m/m]
Length: short story
ISBN: 978-1-59632-325-4
Loose Id (http://www.loose-id.com)

Being at the receiving end of an outlaw's bullet changed bounty hunter Kade Black Eagle's life forever. He realizes that for a long time his solitary life in lawless gold country has been incomplete, and he sets out to remedy the situation. Now all he needs to do is convince his best friend that their friendship is just the beginning. What he wants is a partnership he can find with only one man.

Of course, I've already read the story. Like all Jeanne's work, it has terrific characters in a great romance. Rush on over to Loose Id and pick up your copy.

And if you haven't read her first book, Animal Dreams, here are the details on it, too:

Animal Dreams:
Book One in the Gateway Trilogy

Genre: paranormal/shapeshifter/erotic romance [m/f ]
Length: novel
ISBN: 978-1-59632-279-0

A woman in search of her future…

After spending the first 24 years of her life trying to be what her mother wanted her to be, Mandy has finally decided to follow her heart. After dropping out of law school and breaking off her engagement, she moves to her uncle’s ranch in the heart of the California redwoods. For years Mandy has had dreams of Lyndell Falls and the wild horse that she is sure lives there, but her mother’s deep-seated hatred of her birthplace had made visiting impossible until now. Mandy meets the strangely familiar Jacob Morgan, and sinking into his eyes seems the ultimate coming home. But when it becomes obvious that someone is trying to kill her, can she really trust a man with secrets?

A man who can’t forget the past…

It was almost a decade ago when Jacob, a horse-shifter, found his mate, a pooka, in Lyndell Falls. Complete happiness eluded him, however, when a prophecy was foretold, ripping his life apart. Now, the one girl he could never forget has moved back to his forest hideout, and he has to find a way to tell her the truth about the past. Because their attraction is too strong for either one of them to fight, and now that he has her again he knows he can never let her go.

It's another terrific romance and the first in a trilogy. Jeanne is working on the second in the series, Spellbound, right now.

Well, actually, right now Jeanne is getting ready to take a long train journey with her children, but you know what I mean.

You can visit Jeanne's website at http://www.jeannelaws.com. She has a great article about shapeshifters and does terrific reviews as well.

Congratulations, Jeanne!!!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Free Audio Books And The Price Writers Pay

I know I've been nattering on about delivery systems for months, but my last post on the subject was actually 31 days ago (The Subscription Revolution 7/28/05) so I feel entitled to bring it up again today.

The New York Times (NYT) gives me a reason. On August 25, they had an article entitled "Public Domain Books, Ready For Your iPod" by Craig Silverman. The article is about LibriVox, "a project that produces audiobooks of works in the public domain." The website can be found at: http://www.librivox.org.

According to the NYT, "LibriVox is the largest of several emerging collectives that offer free or inexpensive audiobooks of works whose copyrights have expired, from Plato to "The Wind in the Willows."

LibriVox celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month. It now has over 100 books plus more than 200 recordings of "short stories, plays, speeches, poems and documents like the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence."

The founder of LibriVox is a Canadian software developer named Hugh McGuire. He says, "The principles of the project are to be totally noncommercial, totally ad free, totally volunteer and totally public domain."

The article also mentions two similar services: Telltale Weekly (telltaleweekly.org) and Literal Systems (literalsystems.org).

When I talk about delivery systems, I’m really referring to the range of options now available for the delivery of entertainment and news to consumers. Consumer choice has never been so wide open, as the introduction of a service like LibriVox demonstrates.

For 550 years, since Gutenberg, the book has remained essentially the same. Oh, it might have been larger or smaller sized or printed on different type paper with a different type cover, but the concept of the printed book is pretty much the same as it has been since it was first introduced. It has been the accepted medium for the delivery of the written word.

However, the field of delivery systems is growing more crowded. Today, the printed volume is just one of the mediums available to readers.

Now, when you buy a book, you can buy it new or used in a retail store or online. But you might also buy it as an audio download to your iPod or as a print download to your laptop or cell phone.

Why does this growing range of options matter to the writer?

Because we are bystanders to the reinvention of the book and, by default, the reinvention of our roles. The digital revolution is changing the role of the writer as much as it is the book itself.

Most popular authors (and even newbie authors) now have websites, blogs and accounts on MySpace. Maintenance of these accounts takes time and thought.

The world is shrinking, and so is the space between the writer and the reader. The digital world has brought our readers ever closer to us. And, those readers are expecting more from the writer. They want to be able to ask questions, interact, get a free gift or enter a contest.

Experiments are ongoing where writers share their working process with readers DURING the actual writing of books. Young people who are accustomed to playing video games and watching movies together online will be the first in line to sign up for opportunities to read and discuss a work-in-progress with the author in an online group. It's already begun as writers visit online chat groups to discuss upcoming releases. I predict this is just the beginning.

The time was when a writer’s life was somewhat ordered. Write the current book, edit the book, review the galleys while touring for last year's book, start the next book while editing the book just finished, etc. Now digital printing has shortened that timeline, and next books are expected to be delivered to the publisher much sooner. In addition, now the writer must attend to the care and feeding of a website and blog.

It’s a tighter world, requiring a better balancing act. And it’s not likely to get any easier.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ignore This Post--Technical Gremlins at Work

Technorati Profile

A Nice Way To Start The Day

I've been experiencing even more traffic to my blog. Finally realized this morning that my blog was listed on Squidoo as one of the "Best Writing Blogs."

Here's the link:

http://www.squidoo.com/bestwritingblogs/

Thanks to Kimberly Dawn Wells for the article and the compliment.

Energized by that tip of the hat and three slices of bacon for breakfast (protein, ya know), I decided to take on a task I've been avoiding: the links on this blog.

I have a confession. I'm three steps removed from being a Luddite. While I'm absolutely in favor of technological change, it's like that quote about sausage: I like the result, but don't want to see how it's made.

Last year, when I started the blog, I figured out how to set up the blog and to add links and was happy just to be able to do those things. For some months, I've wanted to separate the links into categories, but was reluctant to actually take the time to work out how to do it.

This morning, I decided to give it a shot. It seemed churlish that others are linking to my blog, and I'm not returning the favor. But I wanted to break those links into the appropriate categories.

You'll see the results to the right. As you can tell, I figured out the process, but I have a lot of work yet to do. Haven't got the font and size thing down either. My brain can only handle so much at one sitting.

One of these days, I'll work up the energy to address the aesthetics.

Have a nice Sunday.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

One More Helpful Blog

My earlier post about blogs for writers provoked an email from writer friend, Jeanne L.G., with yet another writer's blog.

Jeanne suggested I take a look at George's English's blog, which he calls Pooper's Scoops.

I've added his blog to the links on the right. The address is:
http://poopersscoops.typepad.com/.

I liked the scope and variety of the items he posted.

Thanks, Jeanne.

Blogs for Writers

Thanks to Rachel Vater, who blogs as Lit Agent X, for today's post.

Rachel posted a link to another blog by Jack Oceano on the top ten blogs for writers.

The blogs listed were:

1) Miss Snark (anonymous agent)
2) Evil Editor (anonymous editor who specializes in critiquing submissions)
3) Kristen Nelson (Agent out of Denver)
4) The Knight Agency (Agents located in Atlanta)
5) Jennifer Jackson (Agent with Donald Maass in NY)
6) Jason Pinter (Editor with brand new first book out)
7) Anna Genoese (Editor at Tor)
8) Agent 007 (anonymous agent)
9) Bookends (my own agent)
10) A Gent's Outlook (obscene jerk)

I was familiar with all but the 10th one, and I frankly think it was added to the list just to round it out to ten.

You'll find links to seven of the ten on my blog. I do sometimes read Jason Pinter's blog. Of course, I don't link to #10 because he's an obscene jerk.

I've already sung the praises of Miss Snark. By the way, Agent 007 hasn't blogged since March. She took some potshots at Miss Snark and the Snarklings descended upon her blog en masse. There were so many angry posts that she shut down (after deleting most of the angry comments, which is a shame because they were a lot of fun).

There was one serious omission to the list in my view: Rachel Vater from whom I got this subject. She is with the Lowenstein-Yost Literary Agency and has a superior blog in my opinion. Her address is: http://raleva31.livejournal.com/ and is included in the links on my blog.

The blog that started this subject can be found at Jack's blog:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/52495/top_ten_blogs_
about_writing_and_publishing.html

Friday, August 25, 2006

Wake Up, America!!

I had a plan for another blog for today, but something happened to change my mind.

This evening I was working on the membership rolls for Passionate Ink, an RWA online chapter, which is in the middle of its membership renewal drive. I had the television on, but wasn't really paying attention to it.

Primetime was doing a special on AIDS in America. Within minutes, I found myself getting up and moving to where I could watch it.

The statistics were almost unbelievable:

***African-Americans make up 13% of the American population, but account for 50% of the new HIV cases in this country

***The HIV infection rate is eight times higher in the black population than in the white population

***Black women are twenty-three times more likely than white women to be diagnosed with AIDS

***AIDS has been the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 25 and 44 for the past eleven years

***Sixty-eight percent of all new AIDS cases in the U.S. are black women

If you don't believe me, go to www.abc.com and check. That's where I got these statistics. Coincidentally, this was the last story Peter Jennings worked on before announcing his lung cancer diagnosis. In an eerie interview during the program, Peter met with a group of HIV-infected black men about ten days before telling the world of his own illness. You can already see the ravages of the disease on him.

I was outraged by this documentary. I cannot believe that this issue could have been going on in this country without anyone talking about it. Frankly, I've been under the impression that we were on top of the HIV epidemic in this country. We keep hearing about AIDS now being a chronic disease as opposed to a death sentence. The press focuses its attention on the AIDS crisis in Africa. No one is talking about this issue's impact on American citizens.

Terry Moran finished the report that Peter had started. The ABC website sets it up this way: "'In America today, AIDS is virtually a black disease, by any measure,' says Phill Wilson, executive director of The Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. Wilson also points out that while many black American leaders and celebrities have embraced the cause of the epidemic's toll in Africa, few have devoted similar energy to the crisis here at home."

The documentary listed five reasons for this crisis in the black community:

1) Ignorance of the problem: I can buy that. No one even knows there IS a problem.

2) The War on Drugs: According to Moran, since 1980, the War on Drugs has quadrupled the prison population in America. The infection rate is five times higher inside prison than outside. Men who go into prison HIV negative come out HIV positive. Although the state and federal governments are aware that sexual activity is taking place in prison, they refuse to provide condoms to the prisoners.

3) Sexual practices in the black community: It turns out that there are 85 African American men of marriageable age for every 100 African American women. This imbalance leads to the fact that "Black men are more than twice as likely as white men to have multiple female partners at the same time," according to studies by the Universities of Chicago and North Carolina. The study in North Carolina concluded that black women in that state were fourteen times more likely to contract AIDS than white women. One of the results of the increased number of sexual partners is that blacks have a higher rate of STDs, which facilitates HIV transmission by making it easier for the disease to attack the host.

4) The stigma of homosexuality in the black community: Homosexuality is so frowned upon in the black community that blacks are much less likely than whites to come out of the closet. This leads to men being "on the down low" (DL). Bisexual black men or married homosexual black men do not share their sexual histories with their female partners. The result is that many black women contract HIV from a male partner who is also engaging in homosexual sex on the down low.

Women who are in committed--and they think--monogamous relationships are being infected by partners who are having--or once had--sex with other men. The first time many of these women learn of this is when they receive the diagnosis.

When AIDS first emerged as an issue in this country, it was a disease of gay men. However, the gay community was all over it. They mobilized and worked hard to get information out on safe sexual practices. The result was that they slowed down the rate of new cases of the disease--even though it devastated their ranks for many years. The black community has not rallied in the same way. The documentary postulates that this is largely because of the stigma associated with homosexuality.

"'I know of few communities as conservative as the African American community, especially about sex,' says Debra Fraser-Howze, CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS in New York. 'And when it comes to homosexuality, it's a real problem. Nobody wants to talk about it.'"

5) A failure of leadership in this country: According to ABC, "Moran also reports on the role of the churches, traditionally the most powerful source of political and social activism in black America. Black churches have been silent on AIDS, says The Rev. Calvin Butts Jr., Rector of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. 'When you see the numbers going up, you know you have not done enough,' he says."

The Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston says, "too many young people are dying because black leaders have failed their children."

A lack of support on the part of the federal government for needle exchange programs for drug users, which have proven effective in reducing HIV transmission, was also cited as an example of a failure of leadership.

Fixing this problem begins with making Americans aware that there even is a problem in our own country. If everyone who saw that program or reads this blog will just tell three other people about it and those people will tell three more, we can begin to lift the veil of secrecy that has been hiding this problem for far too long. We should all be offended by the lack of action on the part of our leadership to address this serious health issue.

I feel a particular kinship with my black sisters who are being infected, often without their knowledge. This is not right. It has to stop.

P.S. Sloane Taylor has asked whether she could cut and paste this message. Please feel free to do so. I offer permission to copy today's post and email it. Whatever. Just get the word out, please. We need to get enough people angry that our leadership will have no choice but to respond.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

HarperCollins Offering Browse-Inside

Publishers Weekly (PW) has had two articles this month about HarperCollins' (HC) new "Browse-Inside" initiative, which went live August 3rd.

The feature, similar to Amazon's "search inside" initiative, permits readers to search the HC titles at http://harpercollins.com. HarperCollins started with their better-known authors, but has plans to expand the service to include all its titles.

I tested the feature by visiting the website. There's a "Browse" button in the upper left hand corner, which takes you to the genre page. From there you can Browse-Inside several selected books by clicking on "text excerpt."

PW said, "HarperCollins is also looking to offer the option on author sites, in newsletters and on booksellers' Web sites."

Readers with good memories will recall my blog of November 4, announcing Random House's (RH) intent "to work with online booksellers, search engines, entertainment portals and other appropriate vendors to offer the contents of its books to consumers for online viewing on a pay-per-page-view basis."

RH went on to say in their announcement that, while readers are demanding more digital access, publishers and authors must be compensated appropriately. Free sample excerpts will be permitted with a 4 cents per page charge for every page after the free sample.

PW obviously remembered that announcement because Rachel Deahl, their reporter, posed the question to Erin Crum, the HC Director of Corporate Communications, asking if HC's new Browse-Inside program would also offer pay-by-page options.

Ms. Crum responded that, "at this point, it's all for marketing purposes."

Following that initial story, PW did a second story on Tuesday. The new article described a much more aggressive initiative, saying, "the developer of the technology behind HarperCollins' newly launched Browse-Inside is now offering the service broadly to all book publishers."

The company, LibreDigital announced a service called the LibreDigital Warehouse "that allows publishers to offer their catalogs and titles to online consumers for browsing while maintaining control over the display and access to content."

Does this sound like a company poised to take advantage of publishers' mistrust of Google's book scanning program? PW thought so, and Craig Miller, the general manager of LibreDigital, freely admitted it. "We saw the discussion going on between Google and publishers." Miller implied that his company will give publishers greater control and better quality than Google.

Publishers' options are expanding . . . don't forget the Open Content Alliance, that consortium of businesses, non-profits and universities, including Microsoft, who want to scan the world's libraries. See my blog of November 6th for details.

Things are heating up, and (to mix my metaphors) the landscape is filling with initiatives geared toward digitizing the contents of books.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Heads Up, Writers!!!

If you need some feedback on your query letter and your first couple of pages, Miss Snark is offering free critiques.

Just in case you don't know who Miss Snark is, she's an agent who blogs anonymously over at: http://www.misssnark.blogspot.com.

I've been reading her blog since early last summer. Her advice is the most spot-on about the publishing industry that I've encountered on the Internet. She is funny, irreverent and kind (except to nitwits).

The last week of August, 2005, Miss Snark invented The Crap-O-Meter. For about three days, she offered a free critique of the first 300 words of any novel submitted to her. She did 57 critiques. Reading those critiques was like taking a writing seminar. You can still read them by going to the Snarkives at: www.snarkives.blogspot.com.

Last winter, she brought the Crap-O-Meter back to do cover letters. Since I was already in discussions with my agent, I didn't participate in that exercise, but still benefited from reading the letters and her responses.

Miss Snark has announced the Crap-O-Meter is forthcoming again. If you go to her blog and read the entry for August 21st, you'll see the rules. Miss Snark will be critiquing both query letters and first pages (maximum of 750 words for both).

WARNING: The Crap-O-Meter is not yet open. You'll have to keep an eye on her blog to see when the opening is announced. Last August, she gave Snarklings about twelve hours starting one Sunday morning. I barely made it under the wire at midnight. Mine was one of the eleven she selected as those she would have continued reading.

SECOND WARNING: Read her rules and follow them. She has already expressed displeasure at the nitwits who are submitting now. Last August, the maximum word count was 300. She disqualified me for having something like 304. I emailed her back that my entry was under 300 words. She actually counted the words to verify my count. She let me in, saying her software was miscounting hyphenated words. I think that's why she said that she won't hold submissions to a strict 750 word count this year. If it were me, I wouldn't push my luck by more than ten words over the max. Remember she is likely to get hundreds of submissions. If you want yours selected, make it as attractive as possible.

This is truly a great exercise. Even if your entry is not selected, you'll learn a lot.

Best wishes.

Hail to the Queen!!

Today's New York Times has a remarkable article. I was so stunned by the numbers that I had to verify them for myself. It turned out that the figures were even more amazing than I first thought.

The article entitled "A Romance Novelist's Heroines Prefer Love Over Money" was written by Gina Bellafante about Nora Roberts, uber romance novelist.

To understand the reverence that the romance industry has for Nora, all you need to know is her nickname: Queen Nora. In a twenty-five year writing career, the Queen has had thirty-one novels DEBUT on the New York Times best-seller list. That, in and of itself, is remarkable. However, I haven't gotten to the really amazing numbers yet.

Queen Nora's first book was published in 1981 by Silhouette Romance, which at the time was owned by Simon & Schuster. Now comes the remarkable part. The figures I am giving you come from Nora's own booklist, which you can find on her website (www.noraroberts.com). Here are the numbers I compiled based on that list:

Books Published as Nora Roberts: 156
Books Published as J.D. Robb: 23
Novellas Under Both Names: 11
Reprints/Reissues: 34

If you ignore the novellas and the reprints and only look at the novels, Nora Roberts has produced an average of more than seven books a year for twenty-five years. The Times article said that next Tuesday she will publish her 166th book. I couldn't reconcile her booklist to that number. However, it doesn't matter. The woman is unbelievably prolific.

For the purists in our reading audience, I need to say that a great number of those books were published by Silhouette (now owned by Harlequin) and were category romances. Silhouette's current guidelines indicate they are looking for books between 60,000 and 65,000 words so many of those novels were on the thin side. Still, I don't think that takes ANYTHING away from the woman's work ethic. This is one disciplined writer.

Let's ignore her first two years as a writer, when conceivably she was getting her sea legs in her new profession, and only look at the twenty-three years since. You find that, from 1983 to 1994, she produced 84 novels, exactly seven a year on average.

In 1995, she started her J.D. Robb series, which the Times described as a police procedural. While that's a fair description, I would describe the novels as hard-edged futuristics. Personal admission: I like my novels much edgier than the standard Nora Roberts' romance. However, I am a huge fan of the J.D. Robb novels, which feature Eve Dallas, a homicide lieutenant in the New York of fifty years in the future.

Since Eve Dallas debuted, Nora has published two J.D. Robb novels a year. In the years from 1995 to 2005, she produced a total of 85 novels, almost eight a year. In other words, in the second half of her career, she has gotten more prolific, not less.

You have to admire the woman.

In addition to her discipline, Nora presents a remarkably stable and sensible face to the world. Over the last few years, I've read a number of her posts on blogs and a couple of letters by her concerning RWA. I have not seen any indication of a prima donna. Rather, she seems to care deeply about her profession and her fellow writers.

I salute you, Nora. You're one hell of a dame.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Budgeting Your Time

I was reading the blog of my friend, Yasmine Phoenix, this morning. You can find it at http://www.yasminephoenix.com/blog.

Yasmine was talking about the demands on a writer's time. She said something that I think is worth quoting: "You must work on writing every day if you want to be published. How many of us have the stamina, the determination to learn the craft and write every day, regardless of whether we feel like it or not?"

Yasmine's blog hit me at a time when I'd been thinking about this very subject. It started on Saturday when Shelley Bradley talked about the demands on her time made by a job, a husband and a child. She doesn't have the luxury of sitting around for three or four hours waiting for the muse to strike. She writes in very small segments--thirty minutes to an hour at a sitting. She also has eleven published novels.

I know another writer who doesn't sit down to work until her husband and children are asleep. She writes from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM. EVERY NIGHT. That hasn't stopped her from publishing several books.

It's about priorities. In thinking about it, I've decided that the issue has two parts: budgeting your time AND focussing your efforts.

I've said before in this blog that, in the beginning, I had to write at the same time every day and in the same place. It wasn't just about establishing a work pattern. It was about training my mind and body to focus on that computer screen to the exclusion of all else. It meant not permitting myself to get distracted.

It wasn't easy. There were times that I was tempted to cruise the Internet, play a computer game or just turn on the television. That's when I developed the strategy of establishing a daily goal of pages to be written. After a while, I amended that to a weekly goal so that I could have some flexibility. I can still remember lots of times when I stayed up until 3:00 AM on Sunday night to reach my goal for the previous week.

It's not easy. And it's not for the faint-of-heart.

Part of the reason that I'm thinking about this now is because I'm entering a new phase of my writing life. I still have work to be done on the novel that's sold, but I don't want to lose focus on the writing still to be done.

I'm working on an urban fantasy right now. I have about 8,500 words (maybe 10%) of the novel finished. I'll admit I'm cheating a bit. I'm using characters I had already developed for another novel. This gives me several advantages: I know the characters already so it's easy to slip into their POVs. Additionally, I love these characters, and I'm really excited to be writing about them again. The words are flying off my fingers. I sent the first three chapters to my agent on Monday morning. She's going out-of-town so I don't expect to hear from her before the end of the month.

As excited as I am about the new project, I still need to figure out how to balance working on the story that's not quite finished with the story that's dying to be told.

I guess what I'm saying is that everyone expects that one day they'll arrive. They'll reach their destination, the milestone they've been working toward.

I've discovered that--as in any journey--you reach a destination, only to find your next destination is still waiting up ahead. For every milestone you achieve, you have another waiting. Success is a moving target.

But, like any dream, it starts by establishing your goals and breaking them down into component pieces of viable size to be worked on EVERY DAY.

Good luck.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Do-It-Yourself -- A Story to Inspire

The Detroit Free Press (DFP) did a lengthy article on Sunday entitled "Romance Novels Turn Up The Heat." The article was mostly about the trend toward erotic romance.

For the record, romance novels (not just erotic romance) now account for 39% of all fiction sold and 55% of all mass market paperbacks sold. That's a huge number. $1.2 billion in sales for 2004.

I know some people like to sneer at romance, but it's hard to argue with $1.2 billion in sales.

One of the interesting things about the article was that it gave the history of the e-publisher that started the trend in erotic romance. I've referred to this story in the past, but it bears repeating in terms of providing inspiration.

Back in the late '90s, Tina Engler was a single mom of two daughters living in Tampa, Florida and trying to get a contract for her romance novels. Unfortunately, she couldn't find a traditional publisher to buy her work because it was so explicit. Traditional publishers were convinced that women would not want to read such detailed sexual descriptions.

After beating her head against dozens of agents' and publishers' doors, Tina decided to publish her own work. In 2000, she started a website called Ellora's Cave and began publishing e-books under the pseudonym Jaid Black.

Ellora's Cave refers to a place in India known for . . . what else? Its caves. Tina had an Indian friend who told her about the place and, when she was looking for a name for her website, the name popped into her head. She thought it sounded exotic and erotic.

Tina did no advertising in the beginning. News of her site spread by word of mouth. Soon she had other authors wanting to join her. Her mother, Patty Marks, came aboard to handle the business end of it.

In 2002, a group of EC authors took out an ad in Romantic Times, the first advertisement for Ellora's Cave. According to Crescent Blues, "In 2003, the company grossed over $1.2 million and paid over $500,000 in royalties." That's also the year that EC began producing paperback versions of their bestsellers.

The following year, 2004, Borders began carrying the EC paperbacks. Today, according to DFP, "Ellora's Cave has more than 200 authors with more than 1,100 titles. In the first quarter of 2006, they sold more than 67,000 e-books and more than 13,000 paperbacks."

In trying to understand the appeal of erotic romance, DFP interviewed Roberta Brown, an agent known as "the Queen of Erotica." Brown says, "Erotica reflects the freshness of today . . . The books are very bold, very sexually explicit and very empowering."

I think the reason Tina Engler's story appeals to me is that it's about being bold and empowered . . . and explicit. It's the female version of the American success story. I like that.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Storyboarding

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of my local RWA chapter where our guest speaker was Shelley Bradley, author of eleven novels. Her latest book, Strip Search, an erotic romance, came out last month and is currently available in bookstores. Shelley is also one of the founding members of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA.

Shelley talked about storyboarding, a concept I had heard in connection with film, but not fiction writing. I arrived, expecting to see a poster board covered with photographs and magazine pictures. There was a poster board, but it was covered in colored post-it notes. I later learned that working with photos is often called collaging.

Shelley began by explaining that the foam poster board we were looking at represented a 100,000-word novel. She had divided it into 20 equal squares, symbolizing the 20 chapters she anticipated the novel would have. Those 20 chapters will be further broken down into between 54 and 62 scenes.

She uses the four colors of post-it notes to represent different things. Yellow for the heroine's POV, blue for the hero's POV, orange for one other major character's POV, and green for a subplot. Each post-it represents ONE scene. Each post-it contains the date/time and place of the scene, giving her a visual timeline. The post-it also includes the major action and the change represented by the scene. Every scene needs an outcome.

This system gives her logistical continuity for the plot. Shelley does not attempt to use the board for emotional elements (ie motivation). The narrative in her synopsis follows the emotional arc. She said she goes back and forth between the board and the synopsis, weaving the character growth and plot development together.

What I really liked about her board was that you could see at a glance the mix of POV. I counted, and the board we were using had 16 scenes from the heroine's POV and 15 scenes from the hero's POV with the rest of the scenes relating to either the third POV or the subplot. It was a great visual for the mix and the flow of scenes.

The storyboard also helps with continuity. If Shelley needs a gun in Scene 34, she can place the arrival of the gun on the post-in for Scene 12. The storyboard also keeps track of the day and time and place so you don't suddenly discover you've skipped three days by accident (something I've done on occasion).

She also said that, when she's tempted to move to more than 20 chapters, she's usually screwing up her pacing. She goes in and collapses scenes together to get them into the 20-chapter novel. This speeds up her action and makes the novel more exciting. Combining post-it notes automatically makes for a tighter novel.

Shelley said she began this system because she has limited time to write, and it usually occurs in small (30 minute to one hour) segments. When she is taking her daughter to gymnastics, she can pull a post-it off the board and take it with her. She works on writing just that scene. She doesn't need to bring pages of manuscript with her, and she knows exactly what she needs to write. She just got back from a week's vacation. She took her Alphasmart and a baggie of post-it notes with her and was able to finish the appropriate chapters without the mess of manuscript pages or a laptop to manage.

Shelley admitted that creating the storyboard takes time and thought. However, she mentioned one benefit I would not have considered. If you know how your novel ends, you can work backward toward the beginning. She described it like driving from Dallas to Baltimore. If you know how many days you have, you can draw your map from Dallas to Baltimore OR from Baltimore to Dallas.

I've often blogged about being an absolute "pantser," as in writing by the seat of my pants. However, right now, I'm faced with revising and expanding a manuscript. I think that even a pantser like me can benefit from this method in doing a revision and expansion.

And, who knows . . . maybe I'll try writing a novel using this method.

My thanks to Shelley for her generosity in allowing me to write about her presentation. You can find her website at www.shelleybradley.com.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

SOAP Suds

Okay, I know you're dying to hear a review of "Snakes on a Plane" (SOAP).

First, if you're thinking about seeing this movie, make sure you go with a crowd. Like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," this film benefits from a full house and audience participation. Half the fun is the group reaction to the campy, over-the-top scenes, cheesy dialogue and cheap CG effects.

Second, don't go expecting great art. Please re-read the last sentence in the previous paragraph. This is a bad movie, but a good-bad movie.

If you've been living on a mountaintop without Internet access for the last year, you probably haven't heard about SOAP. This movie got enormous pre-release PR in the blogosphere with several changes later made that were precipitated by consumer feedback. The studio responsible for the film wanted to call it "Pacific Air Flight 121." Bloggers and the filmmakers voted for the far more descriptive "Snakes on a Plane." Then the filmmakers went back and inserted a bunch of salacious/vicious scenes that raised the movie's rating from PG to R. Those scenes are easy to identify, ESPECIALLY the famous quote from Samuel Jackson: "I've had it with these mutha-f***ing snakes on this mutha-f***ing plane." That scene isn't even inserted smoothly, but the audience at our showing went nuts when he finally spoke the words.

There isn't much of a plot. Why do you need a plot when you have SNAKES ON A PLANE? Samuel Jackson, who did an enormous number of promotional appearances for this film was blunt, essentially saying: "What are the two things people fear the most? Snakes and flying. We put them together."

The plot, such as it is, has a young Kurt Russell lookalike who accidentally witnesses the particularly nasty murder of a D.A. by a gangster kingpin. (Note: I'm not giving the actor's or actresses' names. Samuel L. Jackson is the only star that matters). Jackson plays a FBI agent who, with his partner, is charged with getting the reluctant witness from Hawaii to L.A. on a red-eye flight.

There is the obligatory airport waiting room scene (first immortalized on film in the 1963 Liz Taylor/Richard Burton movie "The V.I.P.s"--I know my potboilers). There are the stereotypical characters: the Sean P-Diddy lookalike with his bodyguards (one of whom is Kenan Thompson from SNL), the Paris Hilton lookalike with a chihuahua in her purse and a cell phone at her ear, the honeymooning couple, a pair of adorable little boys traveling alone, the fat lady, the obnoxious businessman and an earth mother with her child in a sling. There are also two pilots and four cabin staff: an older woman, an overtly gay male, a sexy blonde and a woman working her last flight before going to law school. Hint: Don't bother getting attached to any of the characters. You'll regret it later.

Rather than shooting the witness, blowing up the plane, or poisoning the food, the gangster kingpin hits upon the perfect solution for eliminating his troublesome witness: expose several hundred poisonous snakes to pheromones to make them more aggressive, put them in a time-released crate in the plane's cargo hold and wave bye-bye to the flight.

The filmmakers don't miss any opportunity to have the snakes bite passengers/crew in creative ways. Women get bit on the breast, men get bit in an equally suggestive place, both sexes get bit in the eye, on the lip, on the ass, wherever.

There is the added attraction of Snake-O-Vision. You get to see the victims from the viewpoint of the eyes of the snakes (green, blurry CG).

The film is exactly what you would expect of a movie entitled "Snakes on a Plane." If you go with the right attitude, expecting horrible dialogue ("Time is tissue"), silly plot twists (You won't believe Jackson's solution for getting rid of the snakes) and obviously computer-generated snakes, you'll have a great time. I did.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hey, Google, Lighten Up!

I'm posting early today because my day's true goal is to go see "Snakes On a Plane."

Yes, I admit it. I'm a Bad movie junkie. And that's "Bad" with a capital B: movies so bad that they're good. I'm also a serious Samuel L. Jackson fan. His 1996 film with Geena Davis, "The Long Kiss Goodnight," remains on my list of favorite action movies of all time.

It took three phone calls before I found a friend willing to skip work this afternoon to join me. Some people just don't have their priorities straight.

Back to business.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has referred to her refrigerator as the frigidaire, even though her current model is a GE. My family talks about xeroxing when we need a photocopy. And, when we need to do an Internet search, we google.

On Wednesday, I read on CNET News that Google says "it intends to crack down on the use of its name as a generic verb, in phrases such as 'to google someone.'" Apparently the company is concerned that such phrases are "potentially damaging to its brand."

While, intellectually, I can understand Google's desire to control use of its name, I have a completely different emotional reaction: Hey, Google, get over yourself!

Up until this time, Google has done a remarkable job of presenting an image to the world of a scrappy little upstart company with the corporate mission of "do no evil." That's no small accomplishment when you consider that, in eight years, the company has grown to become an Internet giant, its name synonymous with "search engine."

The company has certainly expanded beyond a mere search engine. The CNET article quotes a linguistics professor saying that, "maybe they're reluctant for their brand name to be restricted in this way."

That may very well be. However, I believe that what Google will gain in recognition of the true scope of its endeavors will be far outweighed by the negative response to its behaving like a Name Nazi by going after unapproved uses of the corporate brand. One blogger called it "one of the worst PR moves in history." (CNET) While that may be a bit over-the-top, I agree that Eric Schmidt (CEO), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders) need to have a serious talk with the fools heralding this public relations move. Surely--somewhere in that big Mountain View complex--there are more important matters that need attention.

Off to play. Have fun while I'm gone.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Of Apples, Oranges and Eggs

I've probably mentioned it's hot. In Texas in August, the heat is all we talk about. It was 106 yesterday.

Last night, I was moving sprinklers around the yard, trying to hit all the spots that don't get enough water. I went prancing out at 10:30 PM in the dark and took a header--landing facedown on my driveway. Today I look like a six-year-old: bandages on my knees and elbows and on what I think might be a broken toe. That'll teach me.

This afternoon, I read a post on a loop I belong to that was extremely frustrating. The writer, who seemed to be trying to defend self-publishing (I couldn't actually tell because his post was all over the map), compared "traditional publishing" to "POD" by pointing to Lightning Source, a division of the Ingram Book Group.

Talk about comparing apples to oranges to eggs. The only thing apples, oranges and eggs have in common is that all three can be eaten. The only thing traditional publishing, POD and Lightning Source have in common is that all are linked in some way to the publishing industry.

Let's start with traditional (print) publishing. To make things easier, think about it in terms of a business model for being published whereby a writer sells her work to a publisher. Now, you CAN compare traditional publishing to subsidy publishing, which is a different business model. In subsidy publishing, the "publisher" sells its services to the writer. The difference between the two is the direction in which the money flows. In one, the money flows to the writer and, in the other, money flows from the writer. But you cannot compare either business model to POD (print-on-demand).

POD is a digital technology used to print books in the same way that offset printing is a technology to print books. POD is more akin to a dictionary as a tool that publishers might choose to use than it is a business model. Any publisher (traditional, electronic or subsidy) might choose to use POD technology. For print publishers, it saves having to do large old-style print runs that require warehousing thousands of books. For e-publishers, it allows the printing of an especially popular e-book. For subsidy publishers, it permits doing a small run of fifty books for an author who will describe himself as self-published.

POD is not a business model. Are there companies that specialize in using POD technology? Absolutely. Lightning Source, BookSurge and Lulu are three of them. Let's look at Lightning Source next.

Lightning Source Inc. is a subsidiary of Ingram Industries Inc.

Ingram, as most people familiar with the publishing business know, is the world's largest wholesale distributor of books. Ingram is so large that, when Barnes & Noble proposed to buy it back in 1998, the Federal Trade Commission threatened an antitrust suit and forced B&N to withdraw its offer. The FTC reportedly had concerns because Ingram was responsible for as much as two-thirds of books shipped by wholesalers. Ingram also served B&N's competitors (Borders and especially Amazon.com). The FTC had concerns that the merger might impact growth of Internet book sales if Amazon's "main competitor also owned their primary supplier." (New York Times)

According to Lightning Sources's own site, the division "provides a comprehensive suite of demand-driven publishing solutions for publishers . . . Lightning Source stores books and other information electronically and delivers them 'on demand' in either traditional printed format or as e-Books in response to orders from booksellers, librarians, and publishers."

In other words, Lightning Source is a digital distributor in the same way that Ingram--its parent company--is a print book, audio book, DVD and CD distributor. Both Ingram and Lightning Source are part of the chain of distribution between the publisher and the bookstore/retail outlet. Neither is a business model. Neither is a publisher. Lightning Source DOES use POD technology.

Like I said: apples, oranges and eggs.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It's a Business, After All

Following my post about Harlequin yesterday, I received an email that read: "Some . . . have commented that publishing houses have become too focused on numbers, less focused on readers, and doesn't this [post] support that statement? 'cause it sounds like Harlequin totally missed the reader with a marketing fumble."

The questioner was repeating a statement I've heard many times before. "Publishers are more interested in the bottom line than in the quality of their product." "Why aren't publishers looking for quality manuscripts?"

I think those questions miss the real point: Publishing IS and ALWAYS has been a business. Publishers who don't treat it like a business don't stay in business long.

Having said that, it does make a difference whether the business in question is a privately-owned enterprise or a publicly-held one. Publicly-held companies must answer to their shareholders. And unhappy stockholders can be very vocal. Look at the problems Time Warner has had with its stockholders about AOL over the last few years. A single dissident stockholder (Carl Icahn who, with partners, owns 3% of the company's stock) caused Time Warner enormous problems. I wrote extensively about this last winter (see my blogs for December 12th and 13th).

A private company (of which there are fewer and fewer publishers these days--Kensington leaps to mind) can make decisions that are more long-term in nature. They can take more chances and stick with a plan-of-action despite initial failures. As an example, Kensington was the first of the print publishers to begin producing erotic romance under its Brava label. They've now expanded into a second erotic romance label, Aphrodisia. I'm not sure that this could have happened in a publicly-held company BEFORE it became a trend.

Earlier this week, I wrote about "Who Owns What" on my blog. The vast majority of publishing houses are now owned by big media companies. The tendency of such publishers is to go with a sure thing: big name authors or the trend of the day (read here: the currently popular genre). It takes courage and insight to steer a different path.

Back to Harlequin and my questioner. One caveat: The following is opinion only, and I could be wrong. Take what I say as you find it and discard what doesn't make sense.

Harlequin is a special case. It built its fortune on two things: formulaic romances and the convenience of its massive book clubs. The romance industry is moving away from both those things. Women (and increasingly men) are interested in off-beat, heroines/heroes with attitude and quirks. In addition, electronic publishing now gives readers the convenience and immediacy that the book clubs once did PLUS the additional benefit of more choice.

Harlequin is trying to change. Unfortunately, it is very hard to break out of a mold that has historically been successful. The company's knee-jerk reaction of shutting down Bombshell followed predictably on the heels of a bad financial quarter. Stockholders want to see changes and so, the company makes changes.

I actually think Bombshell was a remarkable innovation for Harlequin. Unfortunately, Harlequin's lack of experience with something that new and different led to a failure in seeing it all the way through from conception to execution. They created something that could have been a success, but either they didn't understand what that meant or they didn't explain their plan to the people (right down to the booksellers) who would be responsible for implementing their new strategy. Therein lies the failure. You can't introduce a new product without a complete vision of how it will fit into your overall continuum.

Was Bombshell new and innovative? Yes. Was it marketed poorly? Yes. Will Harlequin learn anything from this experience or fall back on the tried and true? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shuffling the Deck Chairs

Right on schedule. A mere two weeks after Torstar, Harlequin's parent company, reported less-than-spectacular second quarter results, the publisher is moving the deck chairs around.

Robert Prichard, Torstar's president and CEO, said of the quarter ending June 30, 2006, "This was a difficult quarter for Torstar." Duh.

Torstar's net income per share was down 13 cents from the same quarter last year. About Harlequin, Prichard said: "a supplier's bankruptcy disrupted the direct-to-consumer business's spring mailing and reduced earnings by an estimated $2 million."

Late yesterday afternoon, Silhouette posted this message on the eHarlequin.com community board:

Below is an excerpt from a letter sent to Silhouette Bombshell authors in regards to changes to our publishing program.
---
As a company, Harlequin is committed to the success of our series publishing business. We believe it is our responsibility to develop, evolve and enrich our various programs in order to bring new opportunities to our authors and fresh and relevant reading experiences to our readers.

The complex side of keeping our publishing programs healthy is that every so often, we must evaluate a series that has not consistently been a strong performer and make difficult decisions about its future. Unfortunately, Silhouette Bombshell has not been able find a broad-based readership, and after reviewing the past, present and projected performance of the series, we're sorry to announce that January 2007 will be the final publication month for Bombshell.
---
There are also rumors that Silhouette Intimate Moments is about to be renamed "Silhouette Suspense" and be moved in the direction of romantic suspense. What that move will mean to Harlequin Intrigue, the current romantic suspense line, is anyone's guess. Are they going to start cannibalizing their young?

In his comments, Prichard said, "some of the current underlying trends in . . . unit sales at Harlequin remain challenging, leading to constrained expectations for the remainder of the year in these businesses. At the same time, we are continuing to invest in future growth for both our book publishing and newspaper businesses. Harlequin launched its new book business in Brazil during the second quarter and has introduced several new products in the North American market during July."

I got an email this afternoon from a writer I respect and trust. She said that the problem with Bombshell was not with the line. She believes the problem is in how Harlequin/Silhouette marketed that line.

The guidelines for writing a Bombshell described the stories in terms of Jennifer Garner on "Alias." That's a single title mentality, not a category romance approach. Yet the books were shelved along with the category romances. That meant that the readers looking for the run-of-the-mill romance were disappointed when they bought a Bombshell, and the readers wanting a single title adventure overlooked the Bombshell offerings because they didn't want a category. Meanwhile, the books were removed from the shelves after the standard month allotted to category romances.

It's no surprise that the Bombshell line tanked. It would have been a surprise if it survived.

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who Owns What Revisited

Most days, I know what I'm going to blog about long before I sit down to actually write my post for the day. However, today was one of those days when I just couldn't summon the enthusiasm to write about the two or three subjects I'd scribbled down as possibilities.

Then I read Miss Snark's blog for tonight. Someone had written in, wanting to know how two imprints (St. Martin's and Tor) were related.

Now, THAT's something I can sink my teeth into. I LOVE looking at who owns what. In fact, I did a lengthy post on "Who Owns What" over the Thanksgiving holiday (11/27/05). It's about time we revisited the subject.

First an endorsement. Thanks to the Columbia Journalism Review, which has a fabulous website, appropriately titled "Who Owns What." You can find their website at: http://www.cjr.org/tools/owners/. It's a wonderful resource for writers.

I'm going to confine my attention to the seven biggest New York publishers and their media owners. I'm listing them alphabetically along with some of the more well-known imprints they own:

1) Bertelsmann AG (Germany): Random House (Ballantine, Del Rey, Bantam Dell, Crown Publishing, Doubleday, and Knopf)

2) Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (Germany): Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, Pan and Tom Doherty Associates (which owns Tor and Forge).

3) News Corporation (United States): HarperMorrow Publishers (Avon, HarperCollins, and William Morrow.

4) Pearson PLC (United Kingdom): Berkley, Penguin, Putnam, Viking and Prentice Hall.

5) Reed Elsevier (United Kingdom): Harcourt and Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

6) Time Warner (United States): Time Warner Book Group (Warner Books, the Mysterious Press, and Little, Brown and Company).

7) Viacom (United States): Simon and Schuster

Writers should make the effort to learn who owns what in the publishing industry.

UPDATE: Viacom and CBS have split into two companies. CBS now owns Simon and Schuster.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Otto Projection

Years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I got into a disagreement with my roommate. While we were exchanging "points of view," I told him that the world just wasn't as black and white as he saw it. He immediately responded, "But it is. Your problem is that you only see the grays."

As it turned out, he was right. I am not a very good black-and-white thinker. In fact, I've been known to sabotage my own best arguments by seeing the other guy's counter-argument and acknowledging it instead of marshalling my own talking points.

That's why, when I read Otto Penzler's article in the August 9th edition of the New York Sun, I teetered between being offended and amused.

If you don't know him, Penzler is the owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. He also started The Mysterious Press, which he later sold to Time/Warner. He's edited some mysteries and picked up some awards along the way [grin]. Nowadays he writes for the Sun.

In the last few years, Penzler has begun showing his age--like that dyspeptic old man who lived next door when you were a kid. You know the one: the old fart who yelled that you were making too much noise or trampling on his grass or who screamed at the delivery boy for throwing his newspaper in the bushes. And, like that old man, he demands respect from the younger generation although it never occurs to him to return the favor.

Earlier this month, in an article (http://www.nysun.com/article/37163), Penzler groused about graphic novels, complaining that they couldn't hold his interest. Galleycat responded, "Which must mean he really finds them boring, because, let's face it, most graphic novels are pretty short."

Then, last Wednesday, Otto took off after "The Cynical Art of Chick Lit" (http://www.nysun.com/article/37590?page_no=1). In a biting article that did not even have the virtue of humor, he railed against chick lit, saying, "what I don't like is that it's cynical. I don't like cynicism, never have, partly because, like its cousin, pessimism, it's too easy. There's always reason to doubt, there's always reason to fear the worst, but to what end? Negativism of all kinds is plentiful and, frankly, it's getting really irritating."

This from a man who, in the same article, applauded the honesty of Mickey Spillane and other writers of that generation.

Makes me wonder if Otto is losing his memory along with his sense of humor. The writers of Spillane's generation were known for their cynicism and their sexism and their unabashed focus on the dollar.

Lee Goldberg took after Penzler with both feet in his blog, A Writer's Life, calling the old man, "a sexist, narrowminded neanderthal...who embarrasses himself and, even worse, our profession every time he spews his offensive, sexist crap." (http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/)

I couldn't help but remember what my mother said when, as a child, I complained bitterly about the old man next door. "He's getting old, honey, and he doesn't like that the parade is passing him by. This is his way of getting attention. Be polite and ignore him."

If I were inclined to get all psychological about it, I'd mention the defense mechanism known as projection; attributing one's thoughts or impulses to another. Let's see what it was Otto said again: "What I don't like is that it's cynical. I don't like cynicism, never have, partly because, like its cousin, pessimism, it's too easy. There's always reason to doubt, there's always reason to fear the worst, but to what end? Negativism of all kinds is plentiful and, frankly, it's getting really irritating."

Thoreau may have said it best: "None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Do Yourself a Favor

Three facts about the new movie Little Miss Sunshine:

1) The film got a standing ovation at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
2) During the first 17 days of its release, the film had the highest per theater average of any movie in the United States.
3) The Dallas multiplex where I saw the film today was running it every thirty minutes. Each showing was packed.

Little Miss Sunshine joined two special films on my personal list: Raising Arizona and A Fish Called Wanda. Until this afternoon, those two films were the only ones I'd seen that made me laugh until I cried.

The film is about the dysfunctional Hoover family living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Father Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker slash loser. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) is trying to hold the family together in the face of some pretty ugly odds. Grandpa (Alan Arkin), her father-in-law, was kicked out of his nursing home for snorting heroin. She's just picked up her gay brother Frank (Steve Carrell) from a psych hospital after an attempted suicide. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) wants to be a test pilot and has taken a vow of silence until he reaches his goal. Dwayne greets his Uncle Frank with a hastily written note: "Welcome to Hell."

The only happy member of the Hoover family is seven-year-old Olive, who has just received news that she is one of twelve finalists in the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty contest (the real finalist had to drop out). The contest will be held that weekend in Redondo Beach, California.

Since they can't afford plane fare, the Hoovers pull together to drive Olive to California in the decrepit family VW van. They need to arrive before 3 PM on Sunday in order to qualify for the judging.

The cast is superb. During the five years it took to make the film, Steve Carrell went from a no-name unknown to a star as the result of the success of The 40-Year Old Virgin. His comic timing is impeccable.

Greg Kinnear mouths inane slogans intended to motivate his loser family to new heights of success. Everyone--including his own father--alternately ignore him or roll their eyes whenever he speaks.

Little Abigail Breslin is heartbreakingly optimistic as the bespectacled plump, plain and plucky Olive who greets each setback with a crooked smile. She seems totally unaware of the odds against her as she practices the dance routine her grandfather developed for the "talent" portion of the beauty show. She is so natural that you ache when you see her up against the miniature hookers in the beauty pageant.

Do yourself a favor. RUN, don't walk, to see this movie. You won't regret it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Finding A Niche

I just finished a tough 24 hours. About 8:00 PM last night, I realized my house was heating up. The air conditioner was running, but not cooling.

Believe me--Texas in the summer is not the place to be without AC. By 3:00 AM this morning, my thermostat was sitting at 90 degrees--the maximum reading. I slept less than an hour overnight.

I have a whole new appreciation for the pioneers of yore. Also for my air conditioning repairman, Heath, who arrived just after 10:00 AM. He took a reading inside my house of 99 degrees (It got to 105 degrees today outside). One hour and $30 later, I was back in business. Thank you, Lord. I tumbled into bed this afternoon and slept the rest of the day away on blessedly cool sheets.

There was an interesting article by Andrew Hampp in The Columbus Dispatch about two weeks ago. On the surface, it seemed to be contradictory of current trends about people reading less. However, it's actually an excellent example of the long tail in operation again.

"Despite the popularity of the Internet, magazines are enjoying a heyday. About 20 are launched each week in the United States, serving everyone from hopeful mothers (Fertility Today) to the owners of obscure pets (Modern Ferret)."

According to the American Society of Magazine Editors, more than 21,000 consumer and trade magazines are in circulation--an increase of about 5,000 since 1990. Advertising revenues for magazines reached an all-time high in 2005 of $23 billion, up from $17 billion in 2002.

Hampp says, while general interest magazines are dying, niche magazines are driving the industry.

Early casualties of the new Internet environment were news magazines. "Since 2002, Time and Newsweek have laid off employees throughout the world, having seen circulation and readership slowly evaporate."

Industry experts were quoted, saying that readers expect to get their news faster than print media can provide it. Instead, those news magazines are making "the switch from print to all-Web formats."

Meanwhile, Chris Anderson's The Long Tail is surfacing in print media as well. Remember Anderson's central thesis: "Technology is bringing an end to the blockbuster and replacing it with a proliferation of specific products."

"'Culture has always been diverse; we just didn't have the vehicles to get it out there,' said Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine." He describes monthly magazines as filling "the sweet spot" between the Web and a book. "It has the relevance of the moment of the Web, but the depth . . . of a book."

Nina Link, president of the Magazine Publishers of America, said that the industry is reflecting the American search for identity. People form communities, and the niche magazines are perfect examples of these specialized communities--"whether you're a bass fisherman or a scrapbooker."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

DaVinci Code Redux

On April 7th of this year, in a London courtroom, Judge Peter Smith ruled against Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who had claimed that Dan Brown stole the "architecture" of their non-fiction book to write his novel The DaVinci Code.

At the time of the judgment, I wrote that the judge was scathing in his ruling. He said, "It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (DaVinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright."

If you thought that was the end of the matter, you thought wrong.

Baigent and Leigh are appealing the case.

During a preliminary hearing at London's Law Courts this week, Lord Justice Jacob ruled that the two will have three days to appeal the case and that the Court of Appeal judges will have two days of "pre-reading" time.

According to the BBC News, no date has been set for the appeal, but it's expected to be in January.

This is starting to look like the case that just won't die.

Sold! One Contemporary Romance

Okay, the deal is done. My contemporary erotic romance, You've Been A Bad Girl, has just sold to NAL Heat, which is a division of Penguin (along with Berkley and Jove).

I'm grateful beyond words to my agent, Jacky Sach, of BookEnds Literary Agency.

Jacky and I had developed two additional ideas for a second novel, which she also presented. NAL has indicated interest in one of the two so, as soon as we deliver You've Been a Bad Girl, it's back to the drawing board for Possession, Leah and Kadeem's story.

Thanks to everyone who sent me emails and message of support. I appreciate the kind words enormously.

Regards,

Maya

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Writing

I'm not sure how this happened, but--in the last two weeks--I've received four emails from newbie writers, asking for referrals to an editor to "fix" their manuscripts.

Maybe there's a blog or website out there that's recommending new writers hire personal editors. I don't know. Whatever it is, I'd like to address the issue.

In all four of the cases that came to me, I advised that I don't "do" recommendations of the sort they were requesting. In two of the cases, I suggested that the writers send me half a dozen pages from the manuscripts in question: the first because she told me that an editor had given her a quote of $10,000 to doctor her manuscript and the second because he was a friend of a friend.

Both of the writers who sent excerpts to me said they were almost ready to submit to agents/publishers, but wanted to increase their chances for success by using a professional editor to "polish" their work.

My reading of their material led me to a completely different conclusion. The two excerpts I read were riddled with common newbie errors: wild shifts in point-of-view, author intrusions, gaps in logic, grammatical errors, endless monologues and heavy dependence on adverbs. These manuscripts were far from ready to be seen by an agent or editor.

As kindly as I could, I suggested that what both writers needed was a critique group, not an editor.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I'm a big believer in critique groups. I think the best thing a writer can do for his/her craft is to join a group and get feedback from peers.

Writing is essentially a lonely business. You sit down with your laptop or notebook, and you work alone. There is no boss or co-worker to give you regular feedback. It's easy to get off track and not even realize it.

It's also true that neutral third parties can more easily pick up on the mistakes that you miss.

I belong to two different critique groups: one online and one in-person. I get different things from the two groups. The online group is tougher--it does line-by-line edits of my manuscripts. The in-person group is made up of generalists who give broader feedback. However, the in-person group requires that I read my material out loud in a public venue. Talk about toughening your hide. Once you've learned to read your manuscript aloud in a bookstore and accept the subsequent feedback, you can handle anything an editor or agent can sling at you.

I could tell from the responses of the two writers who sent me their pages that neither was prepared to listen. The one who had been quoted $10,000 said she was going to look for a "more reasonable" price.

The thing is--the price she was quoted was right. Any editor would have to essentially re-write her entire book before it will be ready for publication.

The second writer just blew me off. He was so convinced that his "plot" was the important thing. The rest were just "details."

If I had to make a prediction, I'd guess that--after being rejected by whatever agents and publishers these two writers eventually submit to--both will go the self-publishing route. It's a shame, but some people just need to learn the hard way.

Until they realize that things like grammar and sentence structure are more than just details, their writing careers aren't going anywhere.

In the meantime, thanks to my own critique partners. I'd be lost without you. Thank you for all the hard work you do to make my own prose shine.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Doing the Happy Dance

My agent called this afternoon. We have a contract offer on the table from a New York publisher for one of my manuscripts. She wanted to discuss the details.

Yippppeeeee.

The Other Shoe Falls

Back on May 16th, I posted about the lawsuit that romance writer Rebecca Brandewyne had brought against AuthorHouse. Brandewyne had sued her ex-husband's subsidy press for defamation after they published his book Paperback Poison: The Romance Writer and the Hitman.

AuthorHouse's defense was that they could not be held responsible since their contract states they assume no responsibility or liability for claims arising from publication. Brandewyne's attorney argued that, since Gary Brock (the ex-husband) had informed Authorhouse that iUniverse had turned the manuscript down due to concerns about libel, AuthorHouse should have vetted this manuscript more carefully.

The jury sided with Brandewyne and awarded her $230,000 in actual damages. It was left to the judge to determine whether punitive damages should also be awarded.

On Friday, in a fourteen-page decision, Judge Jeff Goering asserted that AuthorHouse “acted towards the plaintiffs with wanton conduct" according to this morning's Publishers Weekly. The judged ordered ordered "the POD subsidy publisher pay Brandewyne $200,000 in punitive damages. Brandewyne’s co-plaintiffs in the suit, her parents, also were awarded punitive damages of $20,000 each."

There were lots of amusing things about this case, not the least of which was that Brock had planted a fake bomb on his carport and then reported to the police that Brandewyne was trying to kill him. However, the most ironic thing to me was a comment by the judge. Judge Goering "acknowledged that, based on its business model of dealing in volume, AuthorHouse 'cannot read every book cover to cover,' and that the company, to a certain extent, is entitled to hold authors responsible for the content of their work." (PW)

What a concept. A "publisher" that cannot read every book it "publishes" from cover to cover. Sweet Mercy!

The judge still maintained that AuthorHouse failed to act when it had information that "would have placed a prudent publisher on notice that the content of Brock’s book was harmful to the plaintiffs.” (PW)

AuthorHouse has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Hey, I can't make this stuff up.

Monday, August 07, 2006

When Paradigms Collide

A puzzle solved.

Yesterday, StatCounter indicated that my blog had suddenly exploded in readership. I couldn't figure out why. My readership has been pretty steady for months.

Today I solved the mystery. Bookseller Chick had been kind enough to link to one of my blogs yesterday. Since I read her posts religiously, I was thrilled. See the link to her blog to the right of this column.

I've been stewing about this next post for nearly a week. It's about an article by Rachel Donadio that appeared in the New York Times on July 30, 2006. I've posted on other articles by Rachel in the past.

Rachel's latest story was entitled "Backlist to the Future." It talked about the struggle publishers are having trying to reconcile Chris Anderson's concept of the long tail to their industry (see posts on July 13-15 for more about The Long Tail).

The long tail theory refers to the two long, tapering tails of a bell curve. Anderson argues that, while industry focuses on the small number of blockbusters (the hump in the bell curve), there is enormous sales potential in the long tail--those products that sell relatively small, but steady numbers over time.

Rachel says: "So far publishers remain wary of the long tail theory, largely because they haven't figured out how to make money off it. Books require storage, and it quickly becomes impractical for publishers to keep low numbers of thousands of titles in their warehouses."

Rachel's article appeared two days after my July 28th blog on "The Subscription Revolution." In that blog, I wrote about how POD technology makes it possible for books from the backlist to remain available for purchase indefinitely. Rachel does give lip service to the subject, saying, "Although Anderson and some others believe print-on-demand will change publishing history, the technology is still imperfect and costly."

I smiled as I read that "Yes, but" comment. I imagined a factory owner in 1930 being advised by his accountant to try Henry Ford's new-styled assembly line. I could just hear the factory owner saying, "Yes, but Ford hasn't perfected it, and it will cost me a fortune to convert my operation over."

The interesting thing is that Rachel did quote a Barnes & Noble VP talking about the fact that "Most publishers . . . rely on backlist sales for a significant part of their business. Titles more than one year old--including best sellers with staying power like 'The DaVinci Code'--account for 62 to 68 percent of annual sales . . . 'It's what the business is built on.'"

Okay, now let's think about this. More than half their business is built on backlist sales, and there is a technology that will allow them to eliminate warehousing of thousands of titles while still making it possible to keep the backlist alive and vital. What's the problem? Even so, Terry Adams, director of trade paperbacks at Little, Brown, is quoted saying, "The costs associated with printing small quantities of many different titles and of warehousing those many different titles and of fulfilling single-copy orders . . . are so onerous that it's not a model that I feel works for publishing today."

Hello??? Can you see the problem now? Adams recognizes the need to keep the backlist alive, but cannot reconcile that need with an old-style worldview. We're no longer talking about warehousing all those titles. We're talking about virtual books kept on a computer, ready to be printed when an order for a book arrives. POD technology permits operations to provide for customer needs while eliminating costly warehousing, shipping and returns.

The winners of publishing tomorrow will be the ones who can see the value of changing their paradigm today and retooling their system to accommodate the necessary changes. We're not even talking about thinking outside of the box. The box has already expanded to include these options. Amazon is already doing what traditional publishers should be doing.

I'm wondering how many factories went out of business or were gobbled up by competitors due to a failure of vision on the part of their owners in the years immediately before and after the second World War.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Question #3: What About Book Sales?

I've just completed the task I hate most: carcass retrieval.

Every evening, I circle my house with a black plastic trashbag and a shovel scooping up bodies, one of the drawbacks to sharing a home with Bob the Hunter.

Over the two years Bob has lived with me, the young cat has established himself as an unbelievably adept hunter. In our family division of labor, he has assumed the job of bringing home the bacon. Of course, his definition of "bacon" is somewhat loose. As near as I can tell, it includes anything that moves, be it cockroach or snake.

Bob has a strong work ethic. Every day, he leaves "a gift" at each entrance to my house. I'm assuming he wants me to see evidence of his affection every time I set foot outdoors. He won't return home for the day until he's completed his self-appointed task. Today's offerings included a lizard on the front welcome mat, a mouse on the back deck and a rat by the garage entrance. Ugh!

Now that I've got that job out of the way, I'm free to move on to more pleasant subjects. Today we ask the third of our three questions: What about book sales?

To answer that question, we'll visit another publishing industry stalwart: the BISG (Book Industry Study Group).

According to their website, "The Book Industry Study Group, Inc. is the industry’s leading trade association for policy, standards and research. Membership consists of publishers, manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, librarians and others engaged in the business of print and electronic media."

The BISG is the place to get information about annual sales in the publishing industry.

Last night I asked: When we say we want to know about book sales, what information are we looking for? Do we want the number of units (individual books sold), the dollar amount of sales or whether publisher profits are up?

I've opted to look at the number of units for a reason that makes sense to me. Dollars and profits are slippery things. A publisher can actually sell fewer books than it did the previous year and still log an increased profit because of other factors. Factors such as currency fluctuations (i.e. from Canada to the U.S.) or because they have cut their expenses (i.e. laying off employees or closing satellite offices) or because they raised prices, which permitted them to sell fewer units but make more money.

Once again, we'll start in 2004, the same year the NEA study was released.

About the time that study came out (mid-2004), the publishing industry was awaiting the results of 2003 sales from the BISG. The outlook was gloomy. In fact, Hyperion President Bob Miller told journalists to expect that "flat is the new up."

When the results were released, it turned out that the sales for 2003 were neither flat nor up. Although the industry made slightly more money in 2003, it sold 23 million fewer books (unit book sales had been decreasing for a number of years).

Then something interesting happened. In 2005, the BISG began to realize that there was a lot of activity taking place below their radar. They summarized it this way last May: "Despite the size and surging numbers of the small and midsize publisher market segment, these publishers have proved difficult to track and have been all but invisible in the aggregate. This is primarily because they are scattered across the country; because many don't belong to book-industry trade associations; and because they tend to sell not only through book-trade channels . . . but also . . .through sales channels designed mainly to serve other industries, which the book industry does not study."

The number of books sold in 2004 dropped by another 44 million to 2.29 billion.

Then we come to May of this year when BISG reported on 2005 sales. Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch said:

The big change is that the 'under the radar' survey data they collected last year . . . has now been integrated into the basic Trends data. The effect, if you find it credible, is to magically expand the conventionally measured $28 billion book industry into a $36 billion industry. Don't you feel better now?

But the new data stream is clearly mixing apples and oranges. Traditionally BISG has not created any data -- they have analyzed . . . But the extra $8 billion comes from survey data commissioned by the BISG through InfoTrends -- taking a small number of responses from the vast body of some 87,000 or so "active" publishers per the Bowker database, and multiplying them based on the assumption that the actual respondents match the whole population.

In other words, they didn't "find" another $8 billion of undiscovered publisher revenues -- they found a small fraction of that, and multiplied like mad to acount for the tens of thousands of companies that never respond to these data surveys . . .

Even . . . traditional measures depict 2005 as a year of growth . . .Unit sales also rebounded after multiple years of decline.


As it turned out, unit sales for 2005 were actually up 3.8%.

For the record, dollar sales were up slightly in each of the three years in question.

So, we've come to the end of our three questions. People are reading less, and--until 2005--a fewer number of books were selling, but the number of titles released each year was increasing.

Those answers tie with something I mentioned in my blog of July 13th: "The average number of weeks that a new No. 1 bestseller stayed top of the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List has fallen from 5.5 in the 1990s, 14 in the 1970s and 22 in the 1960s to barely a fortnight [two weeks] last year."

On average, more book titles are competing for attention with a smaller population of readers. That explains the rapid turnover of the bestseller list titles. Competition is more fierce.

Something for all writers to think about.

Happy writing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Question #2: Are We Publishing More Titles?

Ain't coincidence a wonderful thing?

When I wrote my post yesterday, I had never heard the name "Dana Gioia" before.

In looking up the NEA, I noted in passing that its chairman was Dana Gioia. I noticed it mostly because I pay attention to Italian surnames (my father was Italian). Didn't give it another thought after that.

This afternoon while I was responding to my emails, I was listening to National Public Radio. Damned if they weren't interviewing Dana Gioia about his experience as chairman of the NEA.

It's a small, strange world.

Back to the questions I posed yesterday. We've dealt with the first question: Are people reading less? The answer was a resounding, "Yes!" Now I'd like to look at the second question: Are we (the U.S.) publishing more titles? Apologies to any foreign readers, but I'm trying to limit my universe to keep this post at a reasonable length.

To answer the second question, I visited www.Bowker.com.

If you're a writer, you should already be familiar with R.R. Bowker. The company is the official U.S. ISBN agency, meaning they assign the International Standard Book Numbers (pronounced the is-ben). The ISBN is the unique identifier assigned to each book title.

Pick up a book--any book published in the last forty years--and you'll probably see a 10- or 13-digit ISBN number somewhere on it (starting in January, all ISBNs will be 13 digits). While there is no requirement that the book display this number, most bookstores will not accept a book without an ISBN number. The number makes it easier to track the book. Publishers purchase blocks of these numbers and assign them to books being released.

Bowker's site says, "As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker receives the most authoritative title and publisher information available." That's why I went there to answer the second question. Bowker publishes Books in Print, providing information to the publishing industry on the U.S. book market. Each May, Bowker also issues a press release, giving statistics on U.S. book publishing for the previous year, compiled from its database.

Since we started in 2004 with the NEA study, I'm going to begin in 2004 here with Bowker's stats for the year ending 2003. Quotes come directly from their press releases:

YEAR ENDING 2003 (May 27,2004)
"Based on preliminary figures, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2003 increased a staggering 19% to 175,000 new titles and editions, the highest total ever recorded."

"General adult fiction was one of only three categories to show a decline in 2003, dipping 1.6% to 17,021 new titles and editions. This was the first year since 1991 that fiction did not register an increase. Output of new juvenile titles continued its upward trend, increasing a stunning 45.3% to 16,283, while the adult categories of biography, history and religion also recorded double-digit increases."

YEAR ENDING 2004 (May 24, 2005)
"Based on preliminary figures, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2004 increased by 14% to 195,000 (See update at the end of this post; the figure was revised to 295,523) new titles and editions, reaching another all-time high."

"The catalyst for growth in 2004 was adult fiction, which reversed a three-year plateau and increased a staggering 43.1% to 25,184 new titles and editions, the highest total ever recorded for that category. Adult fiction now accounts for 14% of all titles published in the U.S., the highest proportion since 1961. New poetry and drama titles increased 40.5% . . . New juvenile titles continued to rise in 2004, increasing 6.6% to 21,516, a new high for that category."

YEAR ENDING 2005 (May 9, 2006)
"Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2005 decreased by more than 18,000 to 172,000 (See the Update at the end of this post; the figure was revised to 282,500) new titles and editions. This is the first decline in U.S. title output since 1999, and only the 10th downturn recorded in the last 50 years. It follows the record increase of more than 19,000 new books in 2004."

"Great Britain, long the world's per capita leader in the publication of new books in any language, now replaced the United States as the publisher of the most new books in English. 206,000 new books were published in the U.K. in 2005, representing an increase of some 45,000 (28%) over 2004."

"General adult fiction and children's books, two of the bellwether categories in U.S. book publishing, showed double-digit decreases in new titles and editions. Virtually every broad publishing category tracked by Bowker except legal showed significant decreases. Among adult non-fiction categories released by all U.S. publishers in 2005, religion, biography, history, and technology suffered the steepest declines."

So, we have an answer to our second question. After several years of increases in the numbers of titles being released, 2005 suffered a 10.6% loss to 172,000.

Up until now, our questions have been fairly straight-forward and easily answered. Tomorrow, we will tackle the third question: Are book sales down? That will be the most difficult question of all to answer for several reasons. First, we'll need to define our terms. Are we talking about the number of units of books sold? Or are we talking about the profit made by the publishers? Think about it. What do we want to know?

Until tomorrow . . .

Update (6/1/07)
YEAR ENDING 2006
"Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2006 increased by more than 3% to 291,920 new titles and editions, up from the 282,500 published in 2005.

"This rise reverses the title output drop experienced in 2005, which came after seven years of increases and a peak of 295,523 new titles issued in 2004 . . .

"{Editor’s Note: Due to a change in methodology this year to more accurately track and report on these figures, the statistics cited in this news release differ from the statistics cited in previous years. However, all 2005 data has been adjusted to reflect this new methodology and create accurate year-over-year comparisons. The new methodology employed represents a collaborative approach with multiple industry data aggregators to verify the numbers. This approach will become the benchmark for all of Bowker’s book publishing industry data reports effective immediately.}"