Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sweet Moment of Victory

This is a purely personal post, meant only to immortalize a sweet moment.

I come from an extraordinarily competitive family. My father encouraged this tendency in all four of his children with the result that we'll compete over anything. My three brothers were actively involved in sports. Although I didn't participate in an organized sport, I've never turned down a challenge in my life.

I can remember competing with my brother A to find the most eggs on Easter morning while both of us were still pre-schoolers.

Although I enjoy music, I am not the rock and roll aficionado that my brothers are. My tastes run more to James Galway, Jane Olivor and Norah Jones. I share a subscription to the Dallas Symphony with a group of friends.

My brother P called this afternoon to tell me he was taking his wife and daughter to Arizona next week to visit the Grand Canyon during fall break. I suggested he detour to ride along Route 66 and stop in Winslow, Arizona while he was at it. He laughed, remembering the Eagles' hit song, "Take It Easy."

I asked him if he knew who wrote the song. He guessed Rick Nelson (what's that about?) I replied Jackson Browne. He refused to believe me. We both hung up to find the answer.

I immediately called one of my other brothers, J, and asked the same question. Without hesitating, J responded, "Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey."

The story goes that Jackson Browne was driving across Arizona on his way home to L.A. His car broke down in Winslow, Arizona. While he was waiting for the repairs to be done, he started the song that would become "Take It Easy." He returned home where Glenn Frey was his neighbor. Glenn kept hearing Jackson playing the same song over and over and finally asked what the problem was. Jackson had a line, "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, I'm such a fine sight to see." Legend has it that, when Glenn came up with the next line, Jackson offered him the song. "Take It Easy" became the Eagles' first hit.

Triva: Cameron Crowe based the lead singer in his film Almost Famous on Glenn Frey. Crowe said that the line the singer says in the movie, "Just make us look cool," was a direct quote from Frey.

And in a true Six Degrees moment: Randy Meisner, another of the original members of the Eagles, played in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. Maybe that's the connection P was reaching for when he suggested Nelson wrote the song.

P was tickled enough by the story that he plans to stop by Winslow. Turns out they have a statue of Jackson Browne, standing on a corner there. I was so happy to have known a piece of rock and roll trivia P didn't know that I'm writing this post.

Well I'm a-runnin' down the road trying to loosen my load.
I've got seven women on my mind,
Four that want to own me, two that want to stone me,
One says she's a friend of mine.

Take it easy, take it easy
Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.
Lighten up while you still can,
Don't even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy.

Well I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
With such a fine sight to see.
It's a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me

Come on, baby, don't say maybe.
I've got to know if your sweet love is gonna save me.
We may lose, and we may win,
But we will never be here again.
Open up, I'm climbin' in to take it easy

Friday, September 29, 2006

Who Is Lulu?

This piece of news surprised me so much, I had to do a post on it.

Today's Publisher's Lunch included the following: " has worked out a deal with Bowker to give self-publishers who use their service individual ISBNs that are particular to the authors themselves (without having to buy numbers in blocks of ten)."

Lulu's press release had this to say: "ISBNs, or International Standard Book Numbers, are the 13-digit numbers, usually appearing in bar-code format, that publishers and retailers use to facilitate the sales and distribution of books . . . Paula Kurdi, managing editor of the U.S. ISBN Agency, a division of Bowker, notes that this will be the first time the agency has worked with a company to make individual ISBNs accessible to self-publishers:

"Bowker has been the sole distributor of ISBNs in the U.S. since 1968 when the standard was introduced. All participants in the book supply chain are able to communicate and trade electronically and efficiently using the system that officially distributes and manages ISBNs."

Lulu operates a little differently from most companies calling themselves "subsidy presses." I keep being told by their authors that Lulu is "free." This, of course, is ridiculous. Lulu is a for-profit company. Their fees are just structured differently. They exist in a gray area between traditional publishers and vanity presses.

Lulu is much cheaper than the vanity press companies. No matter what they advertise, Lulu is not free. However, they do not charge fees up front. They do charge production costs on all sales and they take a 20% royalty on any sales.

They also provide a list of recommended third party providers for other services that their authors can choose to purchase (and pay for up front), including editing, graphics, and marketing.

I just finished reading Lulu's Member Agreement, and I am absolutely willing to describe Lulu as a subsidy press. Lulu deserves the title "subsidy press." They are taking a risk on the writers who choose their POD services. If the writer does not buy any books, Lulu does not make any money.

At the same time, Lulu is NOT a traditional publishing company. They accept any author who requests their services, they make no warranties as to the quality of the works printed (not published) and they do not offer the returns policies that bookstores are accustomed to receiving from traditional publishers. All of these issues make it extremely unlikely that a bookstore or library will agree to carry a book printed by Lulu (unless, of course, they are accommodating a local writer).

That said, if an writer insists on self-publishing and does not have the money to pay a printing press up front, Lulu would be a reasonable option. You can pay for your copies as you go, buying just as many as you can afford to buy at a time.

Please understand. I am in no way recommending self-publishing at this point in publishing history. I do believe self-publishing is rapidly becoming a viable alternative. However, until the three obstacles I described in my post of September 15, 2006 can be overcome, I believe self-publishing should be limited to specific populations: those writing for sentimental purposes (not commercial purposes), those writing in a niche market for which an audience has already been established, and those writing in a truly new or cross genre that traditional publishers have not yet figured out how to market.

I now plan to differentiate among three groups when I blog: traditional publishers, Lulu as a subsidy press and the vanity presses. If you want to read more about vanity presses, check my posts for 3/23/06 and 3/24/06.

Chicago Manual of Style

Two announcements yesterday that deserve blogging attention.

The first was the announcement that the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) will become available as a subscription service effective tomorrow.

The CMOS is the bible of writers--the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong in grammar, formatting and writing style. Since its first edition was published in 1906 by the University of Chicago Press, the book has been a "steady seller" according to the New York Times (NYT).

Until I purchased my own copy a few years ago, I was a regular visitor to the CMOS online question/answer site at According to the NYT, that site will be incorporated into the new subscription service's site.

The new service will cost an individual subscriber $25 the first year and $30 per year thereafter (I know; I think it's weird, too). The list price for the print version is $55.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Sony Reader Finally Arrives

Since this spring, I've been nattering about the pending release of the Sony Reader, the long-awaited eBook reader that will reportedly dominate the market. Sony has delayed the Reader's release several times.

No more. Yesterday, I received an email from Sony that said:

"Introducing the Sony Reader. Now you can take all your books on vacation, not just the skinny ones. The new Sony Reader holds about 80 electronic books — and hundreds more with optional Memory Stick® media or SD Memory Card — but only weighs about 9 ounces. And thanks to electronic paper technology, it's easy to read. Shipping on or before October 31st."

Sony also launched its CONNECT bookstore, where a reader can purchase books to download on his/her new Reader. Sony says they will eventually have 10,000 titles available on their new site. The electronic bookstore can be found at:

The Reader will sell for $349 but, during the introductory release period, Sony will offer a $50 eBook credit at CONNECT for any Reader purchased and registered before 12/31/06.

I've said for months that the only thing holding the eBook business back was the lack of a viable reading device. According to today's Publishers Weekly, the Reader's "use of E-Ink delivers a sharp, clear reading experience on a six-inch screen and it measures 5 inches by 7 inches, is half an inch thick and weighs about 9 ounces. The player can hold approximately 80 books and has enough battery life to support 7,500 page turns."

While the Sony Reader promises to provide a better reading experience, I still see two major problems with it:

1) The price. Until readers embrace eBook technology, a $349 price is too high. An introductory price in the range of $199 would have a better chance of selling.

2) The proprietary nature of available books for the Reader. The new Reader can only read books downloaded from the CONNECT site. This is a major problem, IMHO. Sony's best market for the Reader are people who are already reading eBooks. That means readers who are now downloading from online publishers like Ellora's Cave or from retail sites like Fictionwise. To ask readers to fork over $349 and then insist that they buy their books from one site is a monumental issue. Shades of Microsoft's closed source approach.

The issue of e-text formats is still a problem plaguing these devices. There are a dozen proprietary formats out there, including eReader, Mobipocket, Adobe and Microsoft. A device that can read multiple formats is obviously more desirable than a device that can only read one format.

Amazon has its own eReader, which it is calling Kindle (using Amazon's proprietary format, Mobipocket). The release date is not yet known. See my post for September 13, 2006 for what we know about the Kindle.

Panasonic is talking about its upcoming eReader called Words Gear. Very little is known about it yet except that the price will be in the range of Sony's Reader and that it is expected to launch in Japan later this year.

I won't be buying a Sony Reader any time soon. I'm waiting for an affordable reader with a good display that can read multiple formats.

Writer Beware

On May 28th, I did a post entitled "Pitfalls Facing Newbie Writers." I warned against scams targeted at writers.

Fortunately, there are people out there who try to uncover these scams and educate writers: Preditors & Editors runs a site that specializes in outing scam artists. Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss have another such site, called Writers Beware. There are links to both sites in the right column of this blog under "Other Helpful Links."

Over the weekend, Victoria posted a four-part blog describing a very elaborate scam that has now shut down. The series is so detailed that it is virtually Anatomy of a Scam 101. I strongly suggest that you read it.

The easist way to avoid being scammed is to remember that the money should always flow TO the writer, not FROM the writer. If you are asked to pay fees, no matter what they're called: submission fees, reading fees, editing fees, whatever, something is wrong.

Read the series. Here's the link:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

To Contest Or Not To Contest

I received a question today that I don't think I've ever addressed on this blog: What about contests? Do they offer any value to an aspiring author?

I'm not talking about the large, prestigious literary contests; I'm talking about small, regional, genre-specific contests.

The question of contests probably applies mostly to romance writers, although there are contests for other genres such as mystery and sci-fi.

If you're not familiar with RWA, you should understand that almost every one of its 144 chapters has its own little contest. It's mostly a fund-raising event for the chapters. Each entry usually costs the entrant somewhere between $25 and $50, depending on whether s/he is a member of that chapter and depending upon the prestige of the specific contest.

I have a pretty cynical attitude toward these competitions, but I'm going to focus on the pluses and minuses for writers.

I can name four reasons why a writer might enter a contest:

1) Prestige
2) Feedback
3) Prizes
4) Networking Potential

Of the four reasons I've listed above, the only one that ever mattered to me was #4, the opportunity to get my work in front of an editor or agent who was judging the competition.

There are only a couple of contests that carry substantial prestige. Many agents and editors are not particularly impressed by contest wins. Some openly admit that, when they are judging contests, it's more a question of the least bad entry rather than the best one.

If you are looking for feedback, be sure to check who will be judging the entries. At a minimum you want a judge who writes in your genre. Obviously, it is helpful if the judge is a published writer in your genre. What I've found is that many contests make no guarantees of either. Some contests promise that one of the three judges that will read your entry will be published--not necessarily in your genre.

I entered my first RWA contest in the spring of 2005 with my first erotic romance. Not having any experience, I didn't check to be sure that the judges in my category would be writers in my genre. They weren't. As the result, I got a feedback sheet from one judge who said she was "offended" by my entry.

I was fortunate in that I had already gotten very supportive feedback on that story from my mentor, Jan Springer, and from the Brazen Hussies, a group of women who had all taken a class with Jan. Otherwise, I might have packed it in and never written another erotic romance. The experience taught me a lesson.

As far as prizes go, most contests do not offer substantial rewards. A few provide conference fees or a cash prize that covers the cost of your entry. Most award a certificate.

And that brings us to the real reason for entering a contest IMHO: the opportunity to network and to get your manuscript seen.

When I see a contest notice, I ignore everything but who the final judges are. If you believe you have a good manuscript, one worthy of publication, the entrance fee may be a small price if it gets you moved out of the slush pile.

In 2005, I entered five contests (two were not RWA-sponsored). Of those five, I won first place twice and second place twice (the fifth contest was the one in which I offended one of the early round judges).

Here are my suggestions if you are considering a contest:

1) MOST IMPORTANTLY, check the final round judge. Do not even consider entering unless the judge is an agent or editor whom you would like to have read your manuscript
2) Make sure your genre is represented and make sure the early round judges write in your genre
3) Get a copy of the scoring sheet that will be used to judge the contest. If it isn't included on the contest website, email the contest coordinator for your genre and request a copy. I never had any trouble in obtaining a scoring sheet
4) Make sure your manuscript fits the parameters of the scoring sheet. As an example, if the contest calls for submitting the first five pages of your manuscript and the scoring sheet includes an emphasis on the meeting between your hero and heroine, make sure your hero and heroine actually MEET in the first five pages
5) I always preferred contests that asked for more pages--fifteen to thirty were my favorites
6) Read and follow the rules. I know this sounds simplistic, but lots of entries are bounced for not following the rules. Things like removing your name from the manuscript pages (to insure anonymity), sending the correct number of copies, and signing any waivers requested are important. Follow the rules
7) Proofread and proofread again. These contests take points off for grammatical errors and misspellings. How will you feel if you learn later that you missed first place because you typed "there" when you meant to type "their"? Have a friend proofread your entry if you must, but proofread it

Good luck.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Texan Died Today

Texas is a strange place. You have to be a little crazy to live here.

When Smith Barney transferred me to Dallas years ago, I spent the first six months in a daze. I'd never seen anything like it. People brushed tarantulas aside the way I was accustomed to shooing flies away. Almost every homeowner I met owned a gun or at least knew how to handle a gun. The stores weren't open on Sundays because, of course, you needed to be in church on the Sabbath and not shopping.

The first time I was asked "are you saved?" I was offended that anyone would ask such a personal question. When I moved into the house where I now live, the first three neighbors who came over to introduce themselves wanted to know if I was a Christian.

The Texas State Fair (which opens this week) is a really big deal. Every year, there is a life-sized sculpture done in BUTTER at the Fair. Last year it was Elvis. This year it will be Marilyn Monroe.

Texans are serious about being Texans. A common sight is a bumper sticker that reads: "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."

Yes, Texans are different. They believe in God. They're intensely proud of their state. And they are some of the kindest, most generous people in the world.

I say all this because a Texan died today.

John Byron Nelson, Jr. was 94 when he passed away on a porch chair at his ranch in Roanoke. You may never have heard of him. He has been out of the spotlight for many, many years.

Byron Nelson was a golfer--one of the greatest in the world. In a relatively brief PGA career, from 1935 to 1946, he established a record that has not yet been broken. In 1945, he won 18 tournaments, including a record 11 in a row. He retired the following year at the age of 34 to become a rancher in Roanoke, Texas, where he remained until he died.

Mr. Nelson was married twice. His first marriage to Louise lasted fifty years until her death in 1985. He and his second wife, Peggy, were married for almost twenty years at the time of his death.

Mr. Nelson was a true Texas gentleman: a Christian who loved his God, his country and his state. People who knew him said he never had an unkind word for anyone. He once said, "I don't know a lot, but I know a little about golf, I can make a good stew and I know how to be a decent man." It was his reputation as the complete gentleman that earned him the nickname "Lord Byron."

From 1968 until the present, Lord Byron was active in raising money for the Salesmanship Club's children's charities, primarily through the Byron Nelson Championship, the only PGA tour stop named for a professional golfer. He helped to raise over $90 million dollars for children. The tournament is expected to hit $100 million dollars by next year.

A Texan died today. But, in the words of a song about some Texans at a mission in San Antonio, "There's no cause for tears. He will be remembered for a million Texas years."

Common Errors Found During Critiques

I've been lost in critique land for days.

Every time I over-commit myself on critiques, I swear I'll never do it again. Until the next time I do it again.

For the last four days, I haven't written a word because I've been trying to complete all the critiques I'd committed myself to doing. While several of them were for my own well-loved and long-suffering CPs, most of them weren't.

When you do a series of half a dozen critiques in a very short period, you're reminded of some of the DOs and DON'Ts of good writing. The reason I can recognize these problems is because I've had them called to my attention in my own manuscripts--more than once.

I thought I'd share a few of the more common errors. I'm using A-B-C-D to help make it easier to remember these problems.

A--ACTION: Always start your novel with action. Do not begin with descriptions of any kind. That includes describing the weather, the location or what your characters look like. Descriptions and other narrative generally make for weak openings.

Now I know there are famous novels and best-selling books that begin with lengthy descriptions. When you're famous and best-selling, you can break this rule, too. Until then, start your book with action.

By action, I don't mean a fight or a car chase. I mean, start the story with something happening, something out of the ordinary or something interesting. This is your "hook," the way you engage your reader in the story.

Included among problematic openings is backstory. Backstory is a specific kind of description that deserves its own paragraph.

B--BACKSTORY: Backstory is exactly what it says: it's the story behind the story, the history of what went on before the story gets going.

I'm the queen of backstory. When I start a new novel, I just regurgitate backstory. It's the way I warm up to beginning a novel. However, I've learned that, once I've gotten the backstory out of my system and am actually writing, I need to lop off all the backstory up to the point where the action begins. This usually requires that I cut out somewhere between ten and fifteen pages.

Writing that backstory serves a useful purpose. After writing it, I'm deep into the story, and I KNOW my characters' backgrounds. I will often drop bits and pieces of that backstory into the novel over the course of the book. However, most of it will never make it past the final edits. That's okay. By then, the backstory has served its purpose. I've learned who my characters are, and I've built the world in which they live. I have to know this information to write the book. My readers don't necessarily need to know this information.

C--CHARACTERS WHO ARE NOT CONSISTENT: This was the most common error I encountered this weekend. In at least four of the critiques I did, the characters' motivations were all over the map. One minute a character would be intelligent and professional; the next minute, s/he would be TSTL (too stupid to live). When a character does not have internal integrity, the reader loses empathy and interest.

By "integrity," I don't mean that the character has to be an upstanding citizen. I mean that the character should have a certain consistency and, after a few chapters, the reader should be able to predict how the character will respond to situations. Again, I'm not saying that the character can't surprise the reader. However, the surprise should be consistent with the personality that the author has established for the character.

I've said in the past that, when I'm having trouble with one of my characters, I fall back on two books: Debra Dixon's GMC and Tami Cowden's Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines. My blog of 10/14/05 gives more information about these books if you're interested in learning more about them.

Essentially, it boils down to knowing your characters' goals, motivations and conflicts; and being able to recognize your characters' archetypes. If you have a character's GMC and archetype firmly fixed in your mind, you'll know how s/he will respond. Inconsistent characters irritate a reader. Characters who are TSTL make them throw the book across the room.

D--Plot DEVICES: The best way for me to explain this problem is to describe an experience I often had while reading Gothic novels or watching the movies made from those novels. A bright young woman (often a governess) would move into a house reputed to be haunted. Noises would occur during the night. The governess would hop out of bed and head bravely off to check on the noises; going into deserted wings, lonely moors or fallen-down ruins all by herself. All the while, I'd be shouting, "Don't do it!!!"

This is an example of a plot device that makes NO sense, but exists only to further the story. Other examples of such devices are unbelievable coincidences and completely contrived situations.

This problem often goes hand-in-hand with inconsistent characters. In the critiques I did over the weekend, I questioned an action a policeman took, which seemed not to be in line with procedures for rules of evidence. The writer in question responded, "Well, she has to do that in order for XYZ to happen in the next chapter." That's a perfect example of twisting the plot to suit the writer's need instead of letting the plot develop organically, true to the world the writer has built.

When you are self-editing your manuscripts, look for these errors. You'll be surprised how often you'll find them. And--be assured--if you don't find them, your critique partners will.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Judging A Book By Its Imprint

How do you select a new book?

I'm not talking about an author you know. I'm talking about walking into a bookstore and surveying the choices among available novels. How do you choose?

Are you drawn to a title? To a book cover? To a publisher?

I've asked this question of readers several times recently. Only once has a reader answered, "I choose a book because of the publisher." In that case, the reader went straight to where the Harlequin category romances were shelved.

Other readers usually described heading toward a specific genre: mystery, romance, or sci-fi. From that point, their answers varied. Most noticed a cover first and then either the title or the author. If the title was intriguing, or if they remembered hearing something good about the author, they'd pick the book up to look at it.

I became interested in this subject after reading an article in the New York Times on August 29th. The story explored the possibility of publishers developing specific imprints intended to help readers find a novel they will enjoy.

"Hyperion is planning to start an imprint aimed at women. Called Voice, the imprint, which will publish its first title in April . . . will be just one of a number of new imprints aimed at female readers: Warner Books already has a women's imprint called 5 Spot and in the fall is starting the Springboard Press, for baby boomers, with a large portion of its titles catering to female readers."

My first reaction was "ho-hum." The romance industry has been doing this for years, with imprints designed to appeal to specific markets like chick lit, fantasy and romantic suspense. I continued to read the article with a high degree of skepticism.

Booksellers sounded skeptical about the idea, too. The president of one independent bookseller expressed her doubts that readers will notice a particular imprint over another. She believes, for readers, "it's much more author-driven."

Pamela G. Dorman, one of the innovators behind Voice, Hyperion's new imprint, said she considered the imprint "as being 'kind of like a book group giving an imprimatur' to new titles."

"'People are overwhelmed by choice, and what they want is someone who is self-selecting for them,' she said."

An interesting concept. Of course, for it to work, the reader will have to have tried one or two titles under the imprint and found that she liked them. Then, she probably will be more inclined to look for another title.

It might help if Voice designed their advertising to appeal to actual book clubs. I have multiple friends who belong to book clubs or discussion groups. They're always on the lookout for new books to read and dissect.

As I think more about this, Voice could prepare handouts (or online) study questions for real book clubs to use in discussing their books. They could also arrange for their authors to do chats with book clubs, either in person or online.

"Authors said that the new imprint, with its smaller list, would give them more distinctive marketing than they might get at a general-interest publisher . . . 'The great appeal of going with Voice was that it was a highly targeted list with a very specific audience,'" according to one writer.

Voice has established a panel of ten professional women to help them stay in touch with their projected audience. The panel is scheduled to meet twice a year.

It will be interesting to see where this initiative goes. And whether it's expanded to other demographic groups: African Americans, men under the age of forty, single mothers . . . the list is endless.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Delivery System Is Evolving

On Tuesday, Times Warner announced plans to premiere movie producer Adam Shapiro's new horror film, Incubus, in a new format: direct to download.

The film stars Tara Reid as a medical student who runs afoul of a deranged killer. It was filmed in Romania with a budget of five million dollars. Beginning on Halloween, Time Warner is going to sell the movie on its site for teens, AOL Red, for $7.99 (rentals available for $3.49 for five days with no burning to a DVD). AOL will have an exclusive for one month before the DVDs go on sale.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, "Shapiro and his partner decided to go direct to download after they were unable to find an attractive deal for theatrical release."

A senior VP at AOL was blunt about Time Warner's motives in doing the direct-to-download release of Incubus. AOL wants to promote its Red site, which will be relaunched as an open Internet site ( starting October 17. At present, AOL Red is part of AOL's subscription service and attracts about four million teens a month.

This is not the first direct-to-download release. Google Video premiered the independent film Waterborne earlier this year. The movie only sold three hundred copies at $3.99 per download. The director of Waterborne, Ben Rekhi, complained that Google didn't provide the promotion it had promised for the film and that Google's video service was difficult to use.

Google refused to comment on Waterborne or Rekhi's complaints beyond saying "it believes that Google Video is an effective way for video creators to distribute and promote their films and shows."

I've blogged extensively about Mark Cuban's experiments with "simultaneous release," another speculative venture into service delivery systems. In January, 2006, Cuban released the Steven Soderbergh film Bubble in his Landmark Theatres, on his cable station and on DVD at approximately the same time (the DVD was released on the following Tuesday, the traditional DVD release date). According to Wired News, Bubble did just $70,664 at the box office during its opening weekend, with an anemic $2,208 per-screen average.

Soderbergh and Cuban have an agreement through which they plan five more films which will be given the simultaneous release treatment.

Cuban encountered a lot of resistance to his idea. Leading the pack were theatre owners who see simultaneous release as a huge threat to their box office profits. However, there was strong resistance from another quarter as well.

Hollywood has established an artificial delay that slows the release of first-run films onto cable television. Called the "video window," it ensures a 45-day delay between the date the film's DVD is released for sale and the date the film is made available for pay-for-view cable television. The delay before the film is made available for subscription cable (like HBO) is four months from the date the DVD is released.

In an October article in Slate magazine, Edward Jay Epstein claimed the video window was forced on Hollywood by Wal-Mart, which did not want any competition for its DVD sales. Since Wal-Mart provides studios with more than one third of their DVD revenue, no one has wanted to challenge Wal-Mart (see my blog on The Cuban Revolution 10/30/05).

I reported last Saturday that Wal-Mart "appears to be preparing an online movie download service to compete with the services just announced by Apple Computer Inc. and, Inc." (Investrend).

If Wal-Mart, the largest retailer of DVDs, is prepared to shift their business to online downloads, it's just a matter of time before the entire film industry moves in this direction.

Can books and the publishing industry be far behind?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Finding An Agent--Questions & Answers

In this edition, I'm going to address a couple of questions I got about the four posts on finding an agent.

More than one person wanted to know the significance of dividing my agent list into an A, B, and C list.

The answer is simple. I didn't want to query all my "A" list agents right at the start in case my query/manuscript needed work.

I started out querying mostly "B" and "C" list people with the occasional "A" list one. That way, I still had "A" list agents to query as my query letter improved. This is another reason why I believe it's a mistake to send out thirty query letters at a time. If you query all your top agents at the beginning, you end up moving down the list to the agents you are less interested in having represent you later when you refine your query.

I know. It takes longer when you only send out six or eight letters at a time. That's also the reason why I violated the agents' guidelines and always included a couple of pages of manuscript with the query. By doing that, I eliminated the "get request for partial--send partial" part of the loop and went straight from query to either rejection or request for full. The key is in not sending too many manuscript pages when the agent said they only wanted the query letter.

I received several emails from people who disagreed with my advice about not following up if you don't hear from an agent. Let's talk about that some more.

I said from the beginning that I was giving information that I gleaned or my opinion of this process. You may not agree with me. That's okay. I'm not trying to say there's only one path.

I will say that I didn't see the point in contacting an agent to say, "You didn't answer my query." If they read my query and didn't answer, it was probably because they didn't feel strongly enough about it. If they were so disorganized that they didn't respond, did I really want them for my agent?

And, yes, sometimes the mail does not go through. But, let's face it, how often does that really happen? Of all my queries, I think I didn't hear back from about three agents in total. And--from talking to other writers--at least two of the agents who didn't respond to me are known for being unreliable about responding. So, what would I have gained by contacting them to say, "You didn't answer my query"?

There's a link to the right of my blog called "Agent Turnaround." It's under "Other Helpful Links." It's a site where you can enter the time it took to hear back from an agent and can check on others' experiences with the agents you're querying. If every writer would add to that site, the datebase could become a powerful tool for writers.

One person wrote to ask what I thought about an agent saying a manuscript needed professional editing before the agent would consider taking it on.

I may not be the right person to answer this question. To be honest, I have never heard of a legitimate agent saying this. I suppose it's possible but, in the only cases I've heard, the "agent" (note the quotes) always directed the writer to either an in-house editor or to a specifically named editor. In those cases, it was a scam, intended to defraud the writer out of as much money as s/he would part with.

Now, in the event this was a legitimate agent giving this advice, I'd believe it only if the agent refused to recommend a specific editor. That way, it would be an entirely arms-length transaction with the agent giving the advice and the writer finding his/her own editor.

Other people might tell you something different. That's just my take on the question.

Hope this helps to clear up the remaining questions about my posts.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part IV

This is the final post in a series of four about how to find an agent. It's based on the information I've gleaned over the last few years--both in my own search and in talking to other writers. I've been represented by Jacky Sach since the beginning of this year, and she recently sold one of my manuscripts.

Here are the steps I listed in this process:

1) Know Your Manuscript
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

We left off on Step 6: Develop Your Query Letter. I'm going to start today with some Do's and Don't's.


** Do personalize the letter. By this, I mean don't address it "Dear Agent." If you've done your work on developing your agent list, you already know whether the names Tracy, Leslie or Kit refer to men or women. Address the letter Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Jones.

** Do mention why you chose that agent. "I am writing you because you represent Author ABC, and my manuscript is also an historical romance." This demonstrates that you are not just mailing queries to a hundred random agents.

** Do check the agents' websites and see if they have guidelines for submission. Follow those guidelines.


** Do not bind or staple pages together. Use a large paperclip.

** Do not use glitter, colored ink or cutesy colored paper. This is a business letter; be professional.

** Do not send candy, cookies or cupcakes. Remember good writing is all you need.

** Do not use packing popcorn when sending a full. Agents hate the stuff.

** Do not send your letter certified or signature required. Agents get really annoyed if you force them to go to the post office to pick up your letter. I've known some writers who include a card for return when the agent opens the package so they'll know the letter was received. I personally believe this makes you look too anxious, and I never did it. In all the queries I sent, there were only two or three for which I never received any response. In one case, it was nearly a year before I heard back, but I usually heard back within four months on most of them.

** Do not call to find how if your query has been received or read yet. Some agents suggest waiting at least three months. I personally never followed up on a query. I took the approach that when the answer arrived, it arrived. I continued sending out more batches of letters after the majority of the last batch had responded.

The following was my own approach to queries. I divided my list into the "A" list, the "B" list, and the "C" list, depending on how highly I ranked them. The "A" list was reserved for top-of-the-line agents who made lots of deals in my genre. The "B" list were the agents who had good reputations and had at least a few deals in my genre. The "C" list claimed to represent my genre, but did not have any deals that I could find in that genre. I did not send out thirty or forty queries at a time. I sent about a half dozen, picking people from each of the three lists. I waited for most of them to respond before deciding whether to make changes with the next batch.

The first few query letters were met with form rejections and an occasional scribbled note on the form. I revised my query and sent out the next batch. Over time, I experimented with different letters. Some got better responses than others.

Another thing that I did was to always include a few pages of my manuscript. I was eager and ambitious and trying to cut the timeline as much as possible. If the agent's guidelines said to only send the query, I would include only a couple of pages, but I always sent pages. This was the only time I violated agents' guidelines. This was also the reason I chose not to do email queries. If I were to query now, I might be more inclined to do email queries.

I began getting written letters which included suggestions for changes in the manuscript. Some suggestions made immediate sense, and I changed my manuscript. On other suggestions, I waited to see if other agents gave the same feedback. Then I changed the manuscript. Over time, my submissions got stronger and I got better responses.

I began getting requests for full manuscripts. Agents also began giving me more detailed feedback. One or two even telephoned and requested exclusives.

I once heard a definition of "crazy" that went something like: Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. If you are getting only form rejections--and I'm not talking only five or six form rejections--I'm talking twenty or thirty, you need to consider that something needs to change. Talk to people you trust, share your manuscript and query letter with others, and ask for feedback.

If your genre's word count is typically 90,000 to 100,000 words, don't assume that your 125,000-word manuscript is so wonderful that the word count doesn't matter. You NEED to be willing to make the necessary changes, including cuts. Some agents openly admit that they ask for changes to see how flexible the client will be to work with. Keep that in mind.

I'm on multiple writers' loops where people make vicious comments about agents being money-grubbing, soulless vampires. I just shake my head. Agents are in business. They have to carry you without any return until they can sell your manuscript. They want flexible, professional clients who will do what is necessary to be a success. Obsessive clients who refuse to listen, or to make changes, or who believe they "know" everything are unlikely to get offers.

Once you are getting requests for full manuscripts, you are getting close. Listen carefully to the feedback. Also, start thinking about the questions you will ask if the agent offers you representation. Start making a list of the things you need to know. You want to be ready when that contract offer is extended.

Good luck.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part III

This is the third in a series of posts about how to find an agent.

As before, I am going to start by listing the steps I gave during the first post:

1) Know Your Manuscript
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

We left off yesterday talking about the need to network. This is a part of Step #4: Stay aware of industry trends and news.

Agents who are looking for clients frequently make appearances at conferences where they are invited to talk about the type of manuscripts they are seeking. Even if you don't attend, by networking with other writers (either in person or online), you can frequently learn what happened at conferences just by staying in the loop with fellow writers. It's a great way to learn which agents are actively soliciting clients and what they're looking for.

Make sure your writer friends know that you are actively searching for an agent so that they will think of you when listening to agents talking.

On the first day of this series, I suggested writing a fifty-word summary of your novel. This is an important step for every writer because that summary becomes the heart of your pitch, your presentation of your product.

Don't sweat whether your pitch is forty-eight or fifty-four words. The important thing is that you must be able to describe your novel in two or three quick sentences. Obviously, you cannot describe every event in two or three sentences. Focus on the protagonist's goals, motivations and conflict--especially the conflict.

Conflict is the basis for any novel. I read a forty-five word pitch today that told me nothing about the story beyond the protagonist's name. It used vague words like "turmoil," "change," and "emotional," but didn't give me a clue about the plot.

When you're pitching, make sure you give the following bits of information:

1) Genre
2) Word count
3) That you have a completed manuscript (or very near to completion).
4) Essential conflict of your story, and how and why the protagonist responds as s/he does

If you've succeed in piquing the agent's interest, s/he is likely to ask how the story ends.

Again, be sure you are prepared to answer questions about the protagonist's goals and motivations. I have a friend who did a great pitch at a conference. The agent began asking questions about the protagonist's "internal conflicts." My friend wasn't expecting it, and she froze. Know what motivates your protagonist.

You can also use your pitch as the basis of your query letter. It is NOT necessary that you give a blow-by-blow summary of the novel in your query. That's what the synopsis is for.

Your query letter should be a one-page letter giving your genre, your word count, your pitch and a short description of your qualifications as a writer.

Rather than trying to do an exhaustive explanation of the query letter, I'm going to refer you to two blogs:
Rachel Vater ( and
Miss Snark (
Both agents have recently done numerous posts on what constitutes a good query letter.

Tomorrow we'll talk about mailing your query and what to do with the feedback you get.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

For All You Hannibal Lector Fans

Yesterday's Publishers' Weekly contained this little nugget of information:

"Thomas Harris’ next book featuring Hannibal Lecter will be released Dec. 5, according to an announcement from Bantam Dell Publishing Group. Hannibal Rising will have a first printing of 1.5 million copies and will be published simultanesouly (sic) as a Random House Audiobook and in a large print edition."

The funny thing is, a few weeks ago, I was in a Border's bookstore waiting for a friend to find the book she was looking for. I came across a shelf of Harris' books and found myself thinking it had been a long time since his last release. I opened up each of his four books and checked the copyright date. Here's the list of his books and the year they were copyrighted:

1975 Black Sunday
1981 Red Dragon (six years later)
1988 The Silence of the Lambs (seven years later)
1999 Hannibal (eleven years later)

I remember thinking that The Silence of the Lambs had been such a huge success, Harris had been able to take a leisurely approach to his next novel. My follow-up thought was, "Well, I don't think Hannibal did quite as well. I wonder if he's back to the six/seven year schedule."

Hannibal was savaged by the critics and by many readers who didn't care for it (including me). The over-the-top tone gave me the unsettling feeling he was mocking the fans of Hannibal Lector. Maybe Harris felt trapped by the success of his character. Maybe, he felt a love/hate relationship with Hannibal. I don't know. I just remember feeling let down by a book I'd eagerly awaited.

If the book is published in December, Harris will be right back on schedule with seven years since his last book.

Harris is a terrific writer, and I am looking forward to the new book . . . and the inevitable movie. All four of Harris' books have been made into films.

Finding An Agent, Part II

This is the second in a series of posts on finding an agent. I'm sharing the things I've learned about the publishing industry over the last few years in the hope that it will be helpful to you.

To start, here are the steps I listed last night:

1) Know Your Manuscript
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

Last night, I suggested that you begin by identifying the genre of your manuscript. You MUST be able to tell any potential agent a single specific genre. DO NOT cross genres with a description like, "My manuscript is a fantasy sci-fi romantic suspense." Pick a genre and stick with it.

The next step is to begin identifying potential agents. I strongly suggest that you start this process at least six months before you are ready to submit your manuscript. That way you'll have developed a list of potential agents by the time you're ready to query.

There are several ways to build your list. I'm giving some of these below, starting with the least expensive and working up to the most expensive:

1) Go to the bookstore and check the dedication pages of books in your genre. Many writers will thank their agent by name in these dedications. You can make a list of potential agents representing your genre that way. You'll then need to track the agencies and addresses down.

2) Go to They have a free searchable database in which you can look up an agent by name or by the genre they represent. The database has expanded enormously over the last eighteen months. It includes mailing addresses. It does not include names of clients represented by the agents.

3) Buy a copy of Writers' Market or Guide to Literary Agents. There is a problem in that there is a long lag between the time when the data for the book is collected and the time when the book is released. Data becomes outdated very quickly.

Alternatively you can subscribe to for a year ($29.99) or month-by-month ($3.99/mo). The site has a searchable database. You can query agents in a genre, or agents by name. The database is more current than the hard copy of the book. The database also gives you info on the clients represented, whether the agents are currently accepting queries and the way they like to receive the queries (snail mail, email).

4) I mentioned Publishers Marketplace last night. They operate two lists. One is the Free Lunch, which arrives once a week. The other is the paid Daily Lunch which arrives every weekday. The paid Daily Lunch is a $20/month subscription. When I originally subscribed to the Free Lunch, they included some of the deals being made in the publishing industry. I talked with a writer friend today who is currently getting the Free Lunch, and she advised they no longer list the deals being made. You now have to pay to get access to that information.

I subscribe to the Daily Lunch because I find it a valuable resource for a writer interested in keeping track of the industry. Their Daily Lunch lists all the news in the publishing industry. In addition, the Daily Lunch provides a once-a-week-list of the deals agents are making (including the author, genre, publishing house and approximate size of the deal) and a searchable database. I can look up a specific agent and see any deal they've reported for the past several years.

When I was searching for an agent, I made index cards for any agent who'd made a deal in my genre. An option might be to subscribe to the paid Daily Lunch for a couple of months or a quarter while you're building your list.

Just developing your list is NOT enough. You need to check out the agents whose names you have collected. There are four ways you can do that:

1) Google each agent's name. Start with a search that just includes the agent's name. Do a separate search for the agency. Find out everything you can. Pay particular attention to complaints.

2) Check the agent's name out on Preditors & Editors. This is a database originally compiled by the sci-fi writers. It is now widely used by writers to check out agents and publishers. While not foolproof, it usually identifies the obvious scammers in the industry. Site:

3) Check Writer Beware for any recent alerts on the agents on your list. Website:

4) Network. Join writers' groups and loops where you can ask questions about agents and read about other writers' positive and negative experiences with agents. You'll find most writers are supportive of each other and willing to share important information, if sometimes only in private.

Networking will also help you keep aware of the trends in your genre and the industry. Don't underestimate the value of gossip. I waited too long to join writers' organizations. I've gotten a huge amount of help from both RWA and Sisters-in-Crime.

RWA has online groups for various genres as well as geographically-placed groups around the country. As an example of the kind of information you can obtain, the RWA loops and chapters were talking about the over-saturation of the chick lit market long before the market actually slowed.

Sisters-in-Crime operates several online groups for new writers (called Guppies for the great unpublished), including one called AgentQuest. Such groups can keep you informed about agents moving from one agency to another, agents who are slow to respond to queries and agents who are retiring from the business.

We'll stop here for today and pick it up again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part I

I attended a meeting of the Dallas Area Writers' Group last week. I talked briefly with one of their board members. She told me their writers' most frequently voiced need was help with finding an agent.

Not two days later, one of the writer loops I belonged to had a lively discussion about how to find an agent.

Therefore, for the next couple of days, this blog is going to focus on steps to take and things to do when looking for an agent. I've probably referred to most of these things in the past, but this will be the first time I've tried to organize them into an actual process. My thanks to everyone who shared their wisdom with me while I was searching for an agent.

Okay, to start, here are the steps:

1) Know Your Manuscript (Sounds simple, doesn't it?)
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

I've listed them in the rough order I think (at least now) that we'll cover them, but be aware that we'll be going back and forth between them because part of looking for an agent is constantly refining what you've already done--based on feedback that you trust ("that you trust" is very important in this equation--don't change "just because." Be sure you have a legitimate reason for the changes you make. Otherwise you're just flopping around in desperation. And desperation never looks good in a query letter or during a pitch).

As I said, it starts with knowing your manuscript. And I'm dead serious about this step.

Over the last six months, I've probably talked to a hundred writers who've describe problems in finding an agent. I have consistently asked the same question, "So, tell me, what genre are you writing in?"

Invariably, I get a lengthy, messy, incomprehensible answer. Variations on the following:

**"I don't really know. You see, I think I'm not really a genre writer."
**"Oh, gosh, this manuscript is so rich. It's a little mystery, a little romance, and might even need to be called literary fiction."
**"I think this may be a new genre."
**"It's a paranormal time travel sci-fi."

If you don't know what's wrong with those responses, after you finish this post, go read my blog for September 3rd. For now, I'm only going to copy two paragraphs from that blog:

"This is pretty important--and pretty basic. Agents and publishers are in business. This means they know their market and how to place a manuscript in that market. They need to know how YOUR novel will fit. When they pick up a query letter, it's with the expectation that you, the writer, can identify the genre of your own manuscript.

Think back on your last visit to your local bookstore. Remember how the books were shelved by category or genre? When you are trying to interest an agent or a publisher in your novel, you need to be able to tell them where it will be shelved in the bookstore. Most agents and publishers specialize in certain types of fiction. When they read a query, they want to know if what you're offering is what they're looking for."

When a writer flops around and is unable to clearly define his/her novel, agents get irritated. YOU know your manuscript better than anyone else. If you can't classify your novel, agents tend to assume that your manuscript is going to be all over the map, too. Their kneejerk response is to quickly reject the query.

So--first homework assignment: Figure out your genre. If you can't identify it, take a look at my blogs from 9/4 to 9/6.

If you still can't identify your genre after that, try summarizing your plot in fifty words. That exercise should focus your thinking to the point that you can identify the genre.

If you still can't decide on the manuscript's genre after reading the definitions and writing a fifty-word summary, email me at and tell me what's tripping you up. I'll try to help. Be sure to include the fifty-word summary.

Second homework assignment: if you aren't already receiving Publishers' Marketplace's free lunch, go to: and sign up.

Once a week (on either Sunday or Monday), you'll receive an email listing some of the industry news and some of the deals reported to Publishers' Marketplace in the past week.

Publishers' Marketplace also provides a paid daily letter in additional to the free weekly lunch. The paid subscription costs $20/month. I'll talk about this some more tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm quoting one deal from this week's Lunch as an example:

"Julie Buxbaum's debut novel THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, about a 29-year-old attorney who lost her mother as a teenager and finds her well-constructed life falling apart when she can't commit to the man who loves her, to Susan Kamil at Dial Press, in a major deal, for publication in winter 2008, in a two-book deal, by Elaine Koster of the Elaine Koster Agency (US)."

Sign up today for the free lunch, and we'll talk about what to do with this information tomorrow.



Somebody Smelled the Bacon After All

On Saturday, I went on a rant about the music industry.

I awarded the Judge Judy "Dumb Is Forever" Award to Doug Morris, Chief Executive of the Universal Music Group. On Thursday, Mr. Morris took a swipe at the Internet's social networking sites like and

Instead of recognizing that these websites permit young people to discover new musical acts and hype favorite songs, Mr. Morris was quoted as saying, "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars . . . How we deal with these companies will be revealed shortly."

I railed about how short-sighted the music industry was for not embracing social networking as a trend of the future.

Imagine my joy this morning when reading Kevin Maney's column in USA Today to read the following announcement:

"YouTube, Inc., a consumer media company for people to watch and share original videos through a Web experience, and Warner Music Group Corp., one of the world’s leading global music companies, today announced an agreement to distribute on YouTube the library of music videos from WMG’s world-renowned roster of artists as well as behind-the-scenes footage, artist interviews, original programming and other special content. In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, YouTube users will be able to incorporate music from WMG’s recorded music catalog into the videos they create and upload onto YouTube."

Now that's what I've been talking about. Embrace the technology. Stop trying to hold back the tide. Otherwise you'll be swept out to sea.

Three cheers for Warner Music Group!!

Amended Post

Yesterday, I mentioned in my post on FanFic that my friend Eileen and I had written our own version of fan fiction way back in seventh grade.

Eileen was quick to send an email, reminding me that there were two other girls who also participated in our juvenile literary endeavors: Sharon and Lynda.

So, in the interests of truthful reporting, consider this a correction.

I'm fortunate in my friends. I have a notoriously unreliable memory. However, my friends are always ready to help me fill in the blanks.

Six years after those early efforts, Eileen and I went on to room together at the University of South Florida. We remain friends to this day. She was the first person to read my first novel, and she was incredibly supportive along my journey to finding an agent and a publisher.

Eileen has a birthday coming up at the end of this month so I'm taking this opportunity to wish her a very happy birthday. I love you, 'Leen.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Anna Quindlen

I'm procrastinating this morning. Diane Rehm is interviewing Anna Quindlen on NPR, and I'm listening to their discussion as I write this.

I love Anna Quindlen. I first encountered her as the result of her op/ed column in the New York Times (NYT) for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

I have a special affinity for Anna. We share the same ethnic hodgepodge: Italian and Irish, a somewhat unusual combination. And the same religion (with those ethnicities, need you ask?) although Anna is better at it than I am. And we both lived in New Jersey as children.

I have long admired her courage. In 1995, wanting to spend more time with her three children, she quit her job at the New York Times to devote her efforts to being an at-home writer.

Since that time, Anna has published several books containing copies of her NYT columns as well as several novels. The interview with Diane Rehm is part of the tour for her latest novel, Rise and Shine, about a morning anchor who utters an obscenity on the air when she doesn't realize her mike is still on. The book follows the protagonist's (Megan) journey, along with that of her sister, Bridget, a social worker in the Bronx. The book hit the top of the NYT best-seller list for fiction yesterday.

In talking about Rise and Shine, Anna said, "Success is internal while fame is external." She went on to explain that fame refers to the external trappings of one's life, while success is the way one feels internally about that life.

One of my favorite books remains Anna's One True Thing, a powerful novel about families, illness and death. The book was published in 1997, shortly before my own father died. I read and reread that book many times in the two years that followed.

If you are not familiar with Anna, you can take one of several routes to get acquainted: Your first choice is to pick up a copy of one of her non-fiction collections of the NYT columns. She did a wonderful job of weaving her public life and opinions with her private life (Her husband once asked her if she could get up and get him a beer without writing about it). The second choice is to pick up one of her six novels. Alternatively, you could find a copy of one of her two children's stories. Or, you can read her online columns in Newsweek.

Trust me. You won't regret it.

FanFic Comes of Age

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had an article on Saturday about fan fiction titled "Rewriting the Rules of Fiction."

"Fan fiction, stories by amateur writers about characters from their favorite books, movies and television shoes, was once mainly a fringe pursuit. Now, it's changing the world of fiction, as Internet exposure helps unknown authors find mainstream success. Some Web sites are attracting unprecedented numbers of readers and, in some cases, leading to book deals."

Fan fiction has been around for a long time in one form or another. I can still remember being in seventh grade exchanging fanfic about our favorite rock group with my best friend Eileen (of course, we both figured prominently in the stories we wrote).

The first formalized fanfic I remember hearing about related to the Star Trek television series. Fans devastated by the show's cancellation fell back on fanfic to keep the series alive. Back then, writers were constantly reminding each other that they could face legal consequences for expropriating characters that were copyrighted.

The advent of the Internet has spurred the growth of the fanfic industry.

According to the WSJ, "one sign of the growing influence of these authors and stories is that media companies, usually quick to go after people who use their copyrighted material, are increasingly leaving fan fiction writers alone. Mindful of the large, loyal audience the writers represent, many companies are adopting an attitude . . . [of] 'benign neglect."

Not all parties regard fanfic with such a friendly eye. The article talks about the aggressive efforts writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has taken to protect her vampire characters from being used by fanfic writers. Her attorney sends out letters of warning to websites using Ms. Yarbro's copyrighted material, demanding removal of the material from the sites.

Star Trek also features prominently in what is called "slash" fanfic (as in the slash between m/m) in which fanfic writers create gay relationships between heterosexual characters like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The WSJ article says that media companies are looking for ways to capitalize on the large audience these stories have attracted. "A company called FanLib is working with networks and publishers to create fan-fiction promotions and contests for books and TV shows."

On September 7, 2005, I wrote about HarperCollins' new Avon FanLit website where the publisher is running a series of contests for writer/readers. While not strictly fanfic, this initiative demonstrates the interest the imprint has in their fans. The WSJ article quotes an Avon senior vice president as saying, "We're looking for ways to reach the real core readers."

Simon & Schuster paid a librarian a $150,000 advance to publish her online writings about a Jane Austen character from Pride and Prejudice as a three-novel trilogy (she'd been posting her stories online for ten years by then).

Fanfic writers have attracted the notice of agents as well as publishers. The article cites more than one fanfic writer who ended up with an agent contract as the result of stories posted online.

Until I read this article, I didn't realize there was fanfic on the television show House. I'm off to go read it.

Resource for Writers

There is a database started for writers who are seeking an agent to enter the turnaround time on queries, both by snail mail and eQuery. I first heard about the site in May but, at that time, there weren't very many entries. I wasn't sure it would take off.

The site is now coming up on six months of operation and, while there are still not a lot of entries, I did a random check of four agents and found at least one entry for each. Therefore, I thought I would share it with my readers. The more people who are aware of it and contribute entries, the more reliable the info will become.

Here's the link:

Good luck.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Downside of Immediacy

I'm waiting for a friend to arrive and don't want to start anything in the interim so I'm surfing the Net to kill time.

There was a mini-storm among writers in the blogosphere this weekend. It started on one writer's individual blog but migrated to Miss Snark's yesterday (, and then rapidly picked up speed as the Snarklings descended.

In a nutshell for anyone who hasn't heard the story, a newbie writer hit upon what she thought was a great promotional idea. She had seen in Anna Genoese's blog ( that Anna was interested in reading a manuscript for an "inspirational Jewish paranormal." Anna is an editor for TOR, an imprint of Holtzbrinck that specializes in paranormals. The writer, SRY, wrote a manuscript that she believed fit the bill. She mailed off her query and first three chapters on Friday. All very well and good.

Here's where SRY went awry. She'd started a blog last month. After mailing the manuscript off, she posted a message to her blog, suggesting that Internet users read her first chapter and then send Anna an email asking, "Have you bought SRY's manuscript yet?" I suspect she was so excited about her manuscript that her need to distinguish it from the rest of the slush pile overrode her good judgment. She failed to recognize that most people would see this as an invitation to spam Anna. Of course, someone saw her message and sent it to Miss Snark. The rest is history.

And that's the REAL point of this blog. The Internet has brought us so many benefits that we sometimes forget the downside. Yes, we can now communicate with people across the globe. Yes, we can now instantly access information that would have previously required hours of research. Yes, we can now locate products and services much more quickly.

But there is a price to be paid for all this immediacy, and you see it every day while surfing the Net. Pre-Internet, when someone was angry and wanted to express it, s/he had to pick up the phone or sit down and write a letter. Fortunately, most people using the phone called a friend or family member to vent about the offense before actually contacting the person who had angered them. And, for others, sitting down to write a letter meant having to cool off enough to string together a coherent communique.

That "cooling off" period also applied to spur-of-the-moment "great" ideas. A person who thought he had a wonderful idea would call a friend to talk about how it could be implemented. Frequently, what first seemed like a terrific plan collapsed under scrutiny.

Today, the cooling off period imposed by the old systems of communication has been shortcut. While some people undoubtedly still use the phone to vent, many are far more likely to run and post online. The very informality of communication styles on the worldwide web encourages this dynamic.

There's already been a lot of press about how text messaging and IMs are destroying proper grammar and spelling. I'm not among the people who are especially disturbed by this. I have, however, winced when I've seen a impulsive person post an offensive rant about a person, ethnicity, gender, city or country.

It's not enough to focus on your own needs. You need to be aware of how your message will be received by your audience.

In face-to-face interactions with people, we get immediate feedback when others respond verbally or when we observe their body language following something we've said. On the Internet, we don't have the benefit of that feedback. Instead, we experience a need--to vent, to share or just for attention--and we can discharge that need by sitting down and firing off an email or posting to a blog. The seeming anonymity of the Internet only encourages this.

How many times have you read a blog in which the writer is clearly hoping to attract sympathy or support? Alternatively, how often have you seen a blog in which the writer posts an especially outrageous statement or photo just to attract attention? Or posts a rant with the clear intention of embarrassing others?

The ironic thing is that, when we communicate via the Internet, unlike in one-on-one interactions, there's a timelag before people notice our post and react. So, unlike the immediacy of personal interaction, we don't always get the feedback we need on how our communication sounded until too late. That was the trap that SRY fell into in conceiving and posting her "promotional" scheme to capture Anna Genoese's attention. By the time she got feedback, it was too late.

The lesson to be learned: Before you post on the Internet, stop to think about whether you would be willing to walk up to strangers and tell or show them what you are about to transmit via email/blog. If you wouldn't do it in person, DON'T do it online.

UPDATE (Sunday evening, 11:30 PM CST) SRY has taken down her entire blog, and Anna Genoese has deleted all comments referring to the matter from her blog. The only place where the story remains alive now is on Miss Snark's blog.

Butcher, Baker . . . Magic-Maker

I have early plans for today, Sunday, so this will be a quick post.

Like most writers, I've always been a voracious reader. The bookshelves in my house are so heavy with volumes that I worry the subfloor of my pier-and-beam home will one day give way under the weight.

As my energies became more and more focussed on writing, my reading tastes changed. My time is far more precious these days, and I tend to read shorter, non-fiction articles instead of lengthy novels. I still read fiction, but now confine myself to my favorite authors' new releases. I'm less likely to experiment with an unknown-to-me writer.

I say all this to explain that it sometimes takes me years to discover an author that others have been raving about for a long time. Such was the case with Jim Butcher, whose first novel was published in 2000.

I had actually purchased a Butcher novel three or four years ago, but never got around to reading it. I became interested in Butcher again when I started to think about writing an urban fantasy. I already had a plot line in mind when I began, but wanted more grounding in the urban fantasy sub-genre. I was familiar with female fantasy writers like Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison, but hadn't read any male fantasy writers since reading Dune and Lord of the Rings years ago.

After compiling a list of urban fantasy writers, I started looking for books by authors like Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint and Jim Butcher. During one afternoon recently, I bought Jim Butcher's entire paperback collection. I'm now about to start my fourth Butcher novel.

For those of you who aren't familiar with urban fantasy, it is a novel that takes the fantasy tradition of magic and places it into a familiar urban setting. The contrast between the urban streets and the fantasy premise is what defines the sub-genre. LKH uses St. Louis; Kim Harrison, Cincinnati; and Jim Butcher, Chicago.

Butcher's protagonist is a wizard named Harry Dresden--hence, the "Dresden Files" subtitle on his books. Dresden is a professional wizard who lives in the basement of a boarding house in Chicago. He has a thirty-pound cat named Mister and a talking skull named Bob (Actually Bob is a spirit that inhabits the skull in Dresden's lab much the way a hermit crab moves into an unoccupied shell).

In each book of the series, Butcher confronts creatures out of fantasy. In Storm Front, it's a wizard killing people with magic; in Fool Moon, it's werewolves; in Grave Peril, it's ghosts.

The books are non-stop action played out on the bad streets of Chicago with lots of great imagery. I'm not going to tell you what Butcher does to Sue, the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Field Museum.

If you enjoy fantasy, you've probably already discovered Butcher. If you don't usually read fantasy, he's a good place to start. His books are imaginative, funny and great reads.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Judge Judy And The Music Industry

It's Saturday morning, and I'm not planning on hanging around on this blog all weekend. However, I couldn't resist this next story even if it means two posts in one day.

To understand where I'm coming from on this item, I need to make a confession.

I'm not a big television person. I don't have cable, and I never watch situation comedies or reality shows. Except for House, NCIS and Boston Legal, I don't even keep track of the prime time lineup. And I never watch daytime television . . . with two exceptions: Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Judge Judy.

Every weekday afternoon, I stop what I'm doing around 3:30 and settle in for ninety minutes of daytime viewing (Judge Judy is an hour).

I adore Judge Judy. She is arrogant and funny and extremely practical in her approach to justice. Like the irritating (and far more arrogant) Dr. Phil, she has a bunch of axioms that she repeats over and over to the poor slobs who come into her courtroom. One is, "This is some great America" when talking about the U.S. welfare system. Another is, "Beauty fades, but dumb is forever."

I was reminded of the "dumb is forever" comment when reading this next story.

First, you need to understand the upheaval that has occurred in the music industry over the last five years. In my most recent "Industry Matters" column (go to and click on "Articles" to read it), I quoted Nielsen SoundScan: "Total album sales are down 19 percent since 2001, while CD sales have dropped 16 percent during the same period . . . Sales of single digital music tracks have jumped more than 1,700 percent in just two years."

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what this is saying about the music industry. All you need is a grammar school knowledge of arithmetic. The industry's delivery system has shifted (not "is shifting"--the move has already occurred) from the purchase of CD hard copies to digital downloads.

So, who wins my prize in the "dumb is forever" sweepstakes?

A leading contender has to be Doug Morris, the head of the world's largest music company according to the Los Angeles Times. On Thursday, Mr. Morris, Chief Executive of the Universal Music Group, went after the Internet's social networking sites like and

Instead of recognizing that these websites permit young people to discover new musical acts and hype favorite songs, Mr. Morris was quoted as saying, "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars . . . How we deal with these companies will be revealed shortly."

It just makes my head hurt.

It's been eighteen months since the Supreme Court ruled against Grokster in the lawsuit for copyright infringement brought by MGM Studios, and the music industry hasn't learned a damn thing since then.

Even though MGM prevailed in the highest court of the country, they should have realized that Grokster was only the beginning. Mark Cuban did. In the same way he challenged Wal-Mart's hegemony in the DVD world with his simultaneous release philosophy (read my blog of October 30 and the three posts I did in January on Mark Cuban for more information), Cuban offered to finance Grokster's lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

Now, compare Doug Morris to Mark Cuban. Hell, compare Doug Morris to my previous post this morning about Wal-Mart. Here's the biggest retailer in the world, which accounts for one-third of all DVD sales in the U.S., and they're prepared to walk away from that business because they can see the handwriting on the wall with respect to the digital revolution.

An entertainment analyst suggested that Morris' statement was a negotiating ploy. Let's be kind and agree that it was. Even so, it indicates that the industry is not forward-thinking. Instead of moving ahead and embracing the new technology, the industry is still using old tactics and fighting old battles over and over.

I gotta believe that at least one member of the Supreme Court has a Mp3 player by now. If I'm wrong, I'm willing to bet that all of them (Okay, maybe not Justice Souter) have grandchildren who do.

The Supreme Court is NOT going to buttress the music industry against the barbarians at the gate forever. Like everything else, copyright law changes with the culture. Unless Morris and his peers wake up and smell the bacon burning, their house is going to go up in a ball of flame.

What's Wal-Mart Up To Next?

I found a small story in Investrend this week that has huge connotations.

"Wal-Mart, which sells about one-third of all DVDs sold in the United States, appears to be preparing an online movie download service to compete with the services just announced by Apple Computer Inc. and, Inc."

Why is this story so big?

To understand, you'd have to have read my post for October 30, 2005 titled "The Cuban Revolution." I discussed an article by Edward Jay Epstein in which he described the "video window," an artificial barrier "which prevents cable operators and TV stations from showing movies at the same time as their release on DVD." Epstein said the delay for pay-per-view is 45 days, and the delay for subscription cable (like HBO) is at least four months.

Epstein claimed that it would be to Hollywood's advantage to eliminate the video window and encourage viewers to switch to an electronic delivery system. In the same way that e-books eliminate much of the expense of hard copy print books, pay-per-view and cable are much cheaper means of product delivery for films (eliminating "the manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, sales and return costs" of the hard copy DVD). He said that electronic delivery directly to the consumer's home would eliminate video stores which (at that time) were getting about 40 percent of the rental money.

Why then were the studios not moving more rapidly toward electronic delivery? Epstein said the reason was . . . Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart. In addition to being the biggest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart is the single biggest seller of DVDs. Epstein said Wal-Mart "has made it clear that it does not want to compete with home delivery."

Fearful of ticking off the mega-company which provided studios with "more than one-third of their U.S. DVD revenue in 2004," Hollywood maintains the artificial barrier that protects Wal-Mart's DVD sales.

We're left with two questions: How do we know Wal-Mart is changing its stance on the video window and, if their DVD retail business is so successful, why would they do so?

The "how" is in Wal-Mart's recent job postings. According to Investrend, they're "seeking a business manager for a new digital video venture at" Investrend said there were no clues as to when this new venture might be launched.

As to the "why," by now, most people have heard the hype about the new downloadable services being offered by Apple and Amazon. In addition, as the fall preview for the new television season gets underway, several stations have offered free video downloads of their upcoming shows. Electronic delivery is fast becoming a staple of consumers' lives.

Everything we know about Wal-Mart says they have their gaze firmly fixed on the bottom line. That means if they want to retain their position at the top of the food chain for delivering movies to the American public, they're going to have to adapt to that public's changing tastes.

Stay tuned . . .

Friday, September 15, 2006

Neener-Neener. I Told You So

Over this past year, I have nattered on and on about the risks of self-publishing and the dangers of getting scammed by the so-called subsidy presses (the new PC term for what used to be called vanity presses).

At the same time, I have repeatedly said I thought self-publishing was the wave of the future--once the significant hurdles were overcome. IMHO, the three largest hurdles are:

1) Vetting for Quality. Bookstores and libraries trust that "real" publishers that make their profit from reader income (as opposed to subsidy presses that make their profit off payments made by the author) will vet the manuscripts. A large part of the reason why libraries don't accept self-published books is that they trust in the quality of the books they order from publishers' catalogs. There is no system in place to guarantee quality in self-pubbed books.

Please understand, I'm not saying there are no quality self-pubbed books. I'm saying there is no CONSISTENCY in the quality of self-pubbed books. This makes them suspect in the eyes of booksellers and libraries.

2) Establishing a Marketing System. The vast majority of self-pubbed books sell less than 100 copies. This is because there has been no viable system set up for selling self-pubbed books. Yeah, you can list them on eBay and Amazon, but that doesn't guarantee that anyone will see them there. You need something to drive traffic in your direction. Merely having a bound book is not enough.

3) Overcoming a Negative Reputation. The subsidy presses have peed in their own pool. Greed led to their accepting any manuscript--no matter how bad the quality--and has given their industry a reputation for poor quality. At this point in time, only the most naive and impatient authors do not realize that claiming to be a "published" author and then saying, "My publisher is PublishAmerica," (or any of another dozen subsidy presses) will result in derision and eye-rolling.

Having said all that, I see signs that self-publishing is making real progress. Yahoo had an article on August 31 titled, "Book Publishing Turns the Page, Thanks to Technology."

It's important to note that the article was geared toward non-fiction, not fiction. By its very nature, non-fiction has some advantages, especially when it comes to the marketing issue.

Most people who purchase a non-fiction book are predisposed to be interested in the subject matter. Those of you who remember my June 20th blog will know that I said authors writing for a niche market may be one of three groups that would do well to self-pub.

A niche market is a small segment of the publishing industry. Large publishers may be reluctant to take on a manuscript for a tiny and very specific area of the market because the anticipated return on investment is not high enough. However, an author who takes advantage of print-on-demand technology is able to economically do a small print run of books. If the author is well connected to his niche market and has a pool of readers ready and willing to buy his book, he can overcome obstacle #2 above.

Allen Noren, director of online marketing for O'Reilly Media (a company that helps writers self-pub technical books) says, "Other publishers aren't our biggest competitors. Our biggest competitor is what people are able to find for free via the search engines." Noren validates my point re a niche market. Readers will go looking for a book on a subject in which they are interested.

The Yahoo article describes O'Reilly's, which "caters to professors who want to build their own custom textbooks by combining selected chapters from other texts, course notes and article handouts." O'Reilly will manage the copyright issues, create an index, design the cover and oversee the printing.

Of course, when you're talking about a college professor who dictates what book his students must buy, you're talking about a captive niche market. Even so, the technology has now improved to the point that O'Reilly estimates the cost of a 200-page text at $32 as opposed to the cost estimate for a standard college text, estimated to be $125 by Pearson Education. If the price for that self-pubbed text is set at $75 (a bargain for a new textbook these days), you can see why the professor might be interested in self pubbing. And, using print-on-demand technology, the non-fiction author can order just the number of books he needs when he needs them. Far be it from cynical me to suggest that the professor could issue a new edition of the book every couple of years, ensuring continued new purchases and to defeat any secondary market in used books growing up around the college in question. :)

According to the Yahoo article, "The falling cost of owning a press is key to the growth of print on demand. Hewlett-Packard's Indigo line of digital presses has been called the Cadillac of on-demand printing technology. The presses cost $150,000 to $750,000--chump change compared with the $1 million-plus cost of a full-size offset press . . . this kind of economy is making small markets much more attractive for booksellers."

As more legitimate operations like O'Reilly Media's come available, hopefully the rapacious subsidy presses will be driven out of business. The new print-on-demand operations need to focus on developing a decent reputation, instead of allowing greed to encourage them to print any manuscript offered to them.

Non-fiction is already making headway in the self-publishing arena. It's only a matter of time before the fiction genre develops some viable marketing methods, and self-pubbing starts making headway over there, too.

Then I really will say neener-neener, I told you so.

A One-Year Milestone

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary for this site. Today starts my second year of blogging.

I started blogging with a great deal of trepidation as to whether I could find something to write about every single day. I've been pleased to find this was not as big a challenge as I'd anticipated.

In some ways, this year has flown by. In other ways, it has been filled with anxiety and lots of "Hurry up and wait." I've met tons of wonderful people who have sent interesting and encouraging emails. I've made some good Internet friends, too.

Thanks to all who read this blog on a regular basis. I appreciate you and NEVER take you for granted. I understand you make a conscious choice to visit this site, and I don't want you to feel that you wasted a trip when you arrive.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A New Book By Janet Evanovich

I read in this morning's USA Today that Janet Evanovich has a new book on writing coming out on September 29th. Titled How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, it describes the mechanics of writing and the publishing process.

The article brought back memories. A little more than two and a half years ago, I had just received my sixth rejection on my first manuscript. Not knowing anything about publishing, I was feeling as low as a earthworm in a hole. In the same weekend, I attended my first meetings of RWA and Sisters in Crime, hoping to find some direction.

The RWA meeting was a little overwhelming. Those ladies were intent on being published. They were organized, very much into networking and extremely supportive of each other. I was impressed and a little intimidated.

The Sisters in Crime meeting was much lower key with as many readers as writers in the group. It so happened that they were handing out free tickets to a talk Janet Evanovich was giving in Fort Worth the following week. I ended up with one of the tickets.

The next week, I schlepped over to Texas Christian University without much hope or interest. I'd never read an Evanovich novel. I like my mysteries hard-edged and suspenseful. Her brightly colored book covers screamed "light" and "chick lit" to me. The only reason I attended was that I felt so needful of direction on what I hoped would be the road to publication.

I'd left home early because I was unsure of where I was going and where I would park. In retrospect, that was a lucky decision. When I arrived at 7:00 PM for an 8:00 PM lecture, I got one of the few single seats left at the front of the auditorium. The place was jammed with hardcore Evanovich fans. I was startled to see that the audience was almost equally divided between men and women. I'd expected a heavily distaff group.

Evanovich was a delight. Blunt, humorous and a little profane, she told of her ten-year battle to get published. She described dozens of rejections on multiple manuscripts, making my six letters for one manuscript seem paltry by comparison.

She explained that, after a decade of rejecting her submissions, Harlequin at last purchased one of her romances. Following her initial success, she wrote a dozen category romances for Harlequin (and those twelve books are now collectors' items). In a moment that shocked some listeners, she said she finally got tired of writing about "the male member pulsing with need." She decided to abandon category romance just so she could "call a dick a dick."

In a hilarious recounting, she described deciding to make her new heroine, Stephanie Plum, a bail bondswoman after watching a late night rerun of Midnight Run on television. To the accompaniment of laughter, she recounted tales of her "research" forays into the world of bail bonds in New Jersey.

Evanovich was exactly what I needed that night. She was upbeat, encouraging and--above all--matter of fact about the need to never give up on your dream of being published. I left that lecture, drove to a nearby bookstore and purchased her novel Hard Eight in paperback. Her lecture had been part of the book tour for To The Nines, which was then just out in hardback.

She gave me a needed boost at just the right moment. For the first time, I realized that there was more to getting published than just writing a good book. I would need to learn a lot more about word count, the industry and the process of getting published. I made the decision that I was willing to do the hard work she described.

Because of that kick in the pants, I stuck to it and set out to learn everything I could about the publishing industry. I networked and got critiques and took workshops.

I owe Evanovich one. Without her lecture, I might have put my first manuscript under the bed and forgot all about my dreams of being published. Instead, today I have a contract from NAL and am working on my next novel.

I'll buy Evanovich's new book when it comes out later this month. It's the least I can do.

On Recovery

I've been having a rough time in the mornings lately, and it's all Charles Gibson's fault.

For nearly twenty years, at 7:00 AM, I switched on Good Morning, America in the bedroom and den and got ready to face the day. Charles Gibson's voice provided counterpoint to the morning rituals of breakfast and shower. I liked Joan Lunden, Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, but my heart belonged to Charlie. I trusted him to give me the straight scoop in a no-nonsense, caring fashion.

When Gibson abandoned GMA in late June, I didn't realize how much his departure would affect me. It started in sneaky little ways. I'd sleep fifteen minutes later--then thirty minutes--and finally an hour. I starting going straight to my study, turning on the computer and beginning to work without taking my shower and dressing. Before I knew it, it was 10:00 AM, and I was still in my nightgown. I started staying up much later at night, too, going to bed at 2:00 AM instead of midnight.

I was suffering from Charlie Gibson withdrawal.

I am now in recovery. Yesterday morning, after twenty years of loyalty to ABC, I switched the station to NBC--a move that I would have scorned while Katie Couric was on board. Her cute perkiness early in the morning irritated the hell out of me. Now that she is safely tucked away on CBS, I'm willing to take a gamble on Meredith Viera. Matt Lauer is the Joan Lunden of morning news for me. I'm there for Meredith and, as long as he isn't too obnoxious, we'll get along fine.

But it was really hard to get out of bed at 6:55 yesterday morning and today. I have to keep reminding myself to take it one day at a time.

Both mornings I've had to switch the television off at 8:15 when the hard news focus abruptly ended, and the saccharine level threatened to swamp me. That's okay. As I write this, NPR is playing in the background, a safety line I can cling to in emergencies.

It remains to be seen whether I can make the transition from Gibson addiction to Viera recovery.

Stay tuned . . .