Monday, April 30, 2007

It's Coming . . . It Gets Here Tuesday

This Tuesday, Michael Chabon's long-awaited fourth novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, will be released--his first full-length adult novel in seven years.

There's been tremendous buzz about the book. After all, his third novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize.

Chabon is used to blowing up our stereotypes. The Los Angeles Times (LAT) described his second book, Wonder Boys, as "the funniest and bleakest novel about the writing life ever set to paper . . . a deft examination of the rigors of expression." The LAT says Chabon's third book, Kavalier & Clay, "eclipses the line between literature and genre fiction, integrating elements of myth, history, pop culture and Jewish identity in a nearly seamless weave."

So how do you top that? According to Publishers Weekly, you write "a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller."

The new book depends on an historical factoid for its premise: Just before World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once suggested that the Jewish refugees from Europe be resettled in Alaska.

Chabon took that small item from history to create his alternate reality, a speculative history in which two million European Jews emigrated to the Alaskan Panhandle to settle in Sitka.

The tension of the novel depends on events large and small. The Jewish emigres have now been living in Alaska for sixty years, and their temporary federal sanctuary is about to revert back to the State of Alaska. Meanwhile homicide detective Meyer Landsman is having his own problems. His sexy ex-wife is now his boss, his cousin who is half Tlingit/half Jewish is his partner and one of the neighbors in his cheap hotel, a chess-obsessed heroin addict, has just been murdered.

Kirkus Reviews says: Imagine a mutant strain of Dashiell Hammett crossed with Isaac Bashevis Singer, as one of the most imaginative contemporary novelists extends his fascination with classic pulp."

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that HarperCollins won the novel "in a four-way, seven-figure auction in 2002, when it was little more than a one-and-a-half-page proposal. Now the company has again bet big, printing 200,000 copies of the finished product."

Chabon already has a movie deal--with Scott Rudin, the same producer who adapted Wonder Boys into the 2000 film starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and Frances McDormand.

Chabon told The New York Times that he needed a character who would have access to "many levels of society," and "That's why writers have been using detectives," drawing a parallel to Inspector Bucket in Dickens' Bleak House. According to Mr. Chabon, "the detective and the writer share a bond: 'a detective suffers about a case. Writers tend to be recriminators; they go back over the same turf'."

As a writer who has been going over and over the same turf in her next book proposal, I can empathize with Detective Landsman.

And I look forward to Chabon's latest novel.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saturday, Oh, Saturday

Busy day. The Animal Control (AC) truck was in our neighbor-
hood yesterday.

I probably should explain why that's a big deal.

My neighborhood is VERY animal-friendly. Everyone has pets, and we all look out for each other's animals. When Animal Control shows up, we hunker down and cover for each other. If someone else's animal is in your yard, you tell AC that, "Oh, yeah, that dog is mine. And that cat that's hissing at me is mine, too. Here, kitty, kitty."

I had run up to the dry cleaner's and grocery store and came back to find AC parked in front of my house. I resisted calling to my three cats who were ALL outside. I was confident that Tribble, my geriatric cat, was asleep on her pillow on the glider on the front porch. She never moves. But all bets were off for the other two. After AC left, I called and--praise the Lord--they both came running from different directions.

Went to see Fracture on Saturday evening. I figured out the plot twist pretty early on, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film. I adore Anthony Hopkins and have since his very early career. He played Richard the Lion-Hearted in one of my three favorite movies of all time--The Lion in Winter starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. For the record, my other two favorite movies are Aliens and Inherit the Wind.

Fracture is a legal thriller with Hopkins playing a wealthy industrialist who discovers his much younger wife is cheating on him. He shoots her and then admits the crime to the hostage negotiator he admits into the house. Since the case seems a slam dunk, the Assistant D.A. assigns it to a young hotshot prosecuting attorney who has already resigned and has only a week to go on the job. Ryan Gosling is the prosecutor who gets publicly humiliated by Anthony Hopkins and privately goaded. Their performances rise above a somewhat predictable script in my opinion.

But then I could enjoy Anthony Hopkins reading the ingredients off a cereal box. :)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The New Digital Economy, Part IV

This is the fourth and final in a series of posts.

Writers have always faced the challenge of juggling finances, not only to cover living expenses but also to permit the time for their art.

For centuries writers--like other artists--depended on the patronage system to provide them with a living. Nobles and wealthy people sponsored painters, writers and composers, giving them the time to practice their art--and also providing opportunities for the noblemen to enhance their prestige.

Midway through the 15th century, the printing press was invented, making possible the widespread availability of books and newspapers. Publishers made capital investments in printing presses, paper, ink and warehouses. They also subsidized writers by paying them to provide content for newspapers, books, and--by the mid-17th century--magazines.

For hundreds of years, publishers have invested in authors, expending large amounts of dollars to distribute their work. In exchange for that investment, the publisher takes the lion's share of the revenue generated--both to recoup the large cash outlays and to make a profit.

Digitization and the Internet are changing the publishing landscape. Economics and ecology will dictate this change. We're far from that point now, but eventually most reading will be done on electronic devices, and physical books will become collectors' items.

Although only a small percentage of the population is comfortable reading books on a computer or an e-reading device today, that will change once an e-reader captures the public's imagination and interest the way the iPod has done for the music industry.

On April 25, Shelf Awareness had an item indicating that 81 publishing houses had reported their net sales for February. Those numbers showed that e-book sales rose by 44.7% with sales of $2.5 million for the period. If we just annualize that $2.5 figure, we're now looking at a $30 million dollar industry. A mere drop in the bucket when compared to the $1.17 billion dollars projected for adult paperbacks whose growth was up 3.2%.

Knowing, at the moment, this is purely an intellectual exercise, on Thursday, I asked the question: In a digitized world, what value does the publisher bring to the table?

In a digitized world, expenses are far less in terms of printing and distribution. E-publishers don't have the heavy manufacturing, shipping and storage costs of a traditional print publisher. The higher royalty rates paid by e-publishers are recognition of this. Currently, e-publishers' royalty rates range from about a third to, in some cases, almost a half of the book's retail price.

The reason writers entered into compacts with publishers in the first place was because the capital outlay required to print books was so enormous. Writers simply couldn't afford to publish their own work. Digitization and the Internet has changed all that. Practically anyone can create an e-book. So how DOES a publishing house justify its existence in a digitized world?

The answer could be in the marketing and distribution chain. While anyone may be able to produce an e-book, the failure of most self-published books is evidence that merely having a book is not enough. I made the argument here that a system for vetting books is still needed. Bookstores and libraries trust traditional publishers to bring them quality written material.

What I suspect is going to happen is that the lines between publisher, distributor, bookstore and author are going to start blurring. Unusual contracts among the different parties are likely to emerge.

Two recent tidbits about Borders provoked my interest. First, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Borders will "provide such services as personal publishing" in their new digital centers. The WSJ article grew out of a Borders' press release in which they reported, "The company is also planning to publish exclusive and proprietary books to distinguish the Borders brand and drive high margin sales . . . books that will only be available at Borders."

There is no indication as to whether Borders will act as the publisher or outsource the job. However, the comment about "high margins" makes me suspect Borders is going to dip its toe into publishing. It's possible for a bookseller and a writer to sign a contract, leaving the traditional publisher out of the picture altogether.

E-publishers will continue to proliferate, but there will be more competition in the field. What's to stop a group of authors who already have name brand recognition from joining together to market their e-books?

For publishers to retain their place in the pecking order, they are going to have to either (1) Bring more value to the table, perhaps by setting up virtual bookstores in the social networking communities like MySpace, FaceBook and Second Life. Perhaps they will invest more dollars in young writers by financing book tours, advertisements and promotional opportunities; or (2) Raise the royalty percent paid to authors because, after all, the expense of bringing a book to market is much lower than in traditional printing operations.

I'm willing to bet that, by 2020, the industry will look very different. What do you think?

Friday, April 27, 2007

The New Digital Economy, Part III

This is the third in what turned out to be a series of posts.

We left off yesterday with me suggesting that publishers will soon face the same sort of decisions that the four major music labels (Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner) are confronting now.

The Internet has changed (and is still changing) the way consumers choose/experience entertainment and shop. Shifts in consumer patterns are forcing changes in service delivery and business models.

I said I thought two questions would decide the future of publishing houses:

1) How will the individual publishers resolve their ambivalence to Google and its Google Search program?
2) What value will publishing houses bring to the table in an age of increasing digitization?

I predict the first question will be answered fairly soon. The second question may not be answered for many years.

Once upon a time, there was an ambitious little company out in Mountain View, California. Among their many goals was a desire to see all the world's written knowledge scanned and made available to everyone with access to a computer. They wanted to create a virtual Library of Alexandria--that place of legend, supposedly housing all the knowledge of the ancient world.

The company, of course, was Google. The ambitious project I just described was their "Google Print Library." IMHO, they could have saved themselves a lot of grief if they had just named the project "Alexandria" to begin with.

You see, Google already had another initiative called "Google Print." THAT program is just like Amazon's "Search Inside." You can go to the website and enter the title of a book you're interested in. If the publisher or rightsholder has given permission, Google will permit you to read several full pages to help you decide whether to buy the book. Google also provides links to retailers selling that book. Go here to see an example of what happened when I searched for The Great Gatsby . The neat thing about this is that you can comparison shop by checking the price of that edition at Amazon, B&N and BookSense.

Google has gotten smart in the years since they began this program. They now call it Google Books Partner Program to make it clear that publishers, authors or rightsholders have to opt in.

Unfortunately, in the beginning, Google staff weren't quite as clear in their language when describing the two different initiatives that both had "Google Print" in their names as they are here today. Their enthusiasm for their "Alexandria" project (remember they called it Google Print Library) had them talking about scanning all the books in the world without bothering to get the rightsholders' permission first. Listeners confused the Google Print Library with Google Print.

Google NEVER intended to make whole pages of the Alexandria books available for preview (unless, of course, the book is now in the public domain, in which case they'll make the entire book available). Their plan was to make the text searchable and then only offer a snippet (a few lines) around the search term to put it in context. Along with up to three snippets, Google offers the card catalog information and a list of retailers selling the book. See an example here.

Historically, when a book went out-of-print, the only way to buy it was to locate a used copy. As all writers know, used book sales don't generate profit for publishers or authors. Now, however, Google was making it possible to put both in-print AND out-of-print books on a virtual bookshelf where they could be seen and purchased for an indefinite period of time.

Once a book is digitized, publishers using POD technology can afford to fulfill small orders on an out-of-print book (assuming, of course, they still have the license to do so).

Instead of celebrating, the publishing world was up at arms. Misinformation and rumors had most writers thinking Google was blatantly disregarding copyright laws and posting "their" books online for people to read for free. No one was interested in hearing that they were mixing the details of two separate programs. Writers got busy circulating petitions to stop Google. To read my early emails on the subject, go here.

The confusion in the public's mind over Google Print (think Partner Program) and Google Print Library (think Alexandria) led to groups of authors and publishers filing two lawsuits in late 2005 in the state of New York. The author lawsuit was filed by three writers and the Authors Guild, which according to The New York Times is "a trade group that says it represents more than 8,000 published authors." The plaintiffs in the second lawsuit were publishers: McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, the Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons.

Fast forward to today. How do publishers feel about Google and its initiatives now? I did a series of searches on the Google Books Partner Program. Less than eighteen months after filing suit, all five of the publishers listed in the second lawsuit have given permission for books to be listed on the site.

I also checked on others of the Big Seven publishers: Both Random House and HarperCollins have announced their own versions of the "Search Inside" program. You can go to their websites and view the books for sale. While I applaud the effort, I wonder how much traffic they get. It probably doesn't occur to many people to go to a publisher's website to shop for books. HarperCollins appears to be hedging their bets by participating in the Google Partner Program in addition to setting up their own "Search Inside" lookalike plan. Random House has not signed up for the Google Partner Program. Their executives have been quoted as saying they do not want Google to control their digital access.

In my post of April 13, I reported that Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster have all signed up with ICUE, a British initiative to download books to mobile phones.

The reason I originally specified the publishers' attitudes toward Google as an indicator of the future is because the Partner Program embodies some of the principles publishing needs to internalize in a digital age: (1) Digitize your stock; (2) Get it online where readers can find it; (3) Provide links so that readers can buy it RIGHT THEN without having to go wandering around.

I'd add a couple of other principles, too: (4) Provide your stock in as many mediums as possible (print, e-pub, audio, and in formats that permit download to cell phones), (5) Invest in POD technology, and (6) Explore social networking options.

From what I can gather in the news, while the majority of the Big Seven publishing houses are moving forward very aggressively to position themselves for the future, a couple appear to be lagging behind.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the second question: What value does a publishing house add in a digital world?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The New Digital Economy, Part II

The New York Times was accommodating enough to print an article on Monday titled "New Model For Sharing: Free Music With Ads." I say "accommodating" because that article ties nicely with my post from yesterday.

Over the past seven months, I've posted multiple columns about the extreme short-sightedness on the part of the music industry. Instead of embracing the digital world, the four largest music labels have, until very recently, been standing on the beaches spitting at the incoming tides. On September 16, I lambasted Doug Morris, chief executive of the Universal Music Group, here.

Morris was threatening to prosecute social networking sites like and for copyright infringement instead of recognizing that these websites permit young people to discover new musical acts and hype favorite songs. Laura Vivanco made much the same point in a comment to my post yesterday when she said that sample chapters are advertising tools for publishers.

Lately there have been some encouraging signs that the music industry is coming around. First, Warner Music Group announced an agreement to distribute on YouTube the library of music videos from WMG’s roster of artists as well as "behind-the-scenes footage, artist interviews, original programming and other special content." Shortly afterward, USA Today reported that YouTube made "deals with CBS and two major music labels . . . Universal Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment."

The music labels are beginning to realize that there are other viable business models beside that of a straight royalty-paying one. Advertising-supported music is one of those new models.

According to the Times' article, Qtrax "plans to open for business in September, [and] already has deals to sell music from Warner Music Group and EMI Group, and it plans to announce a similar deal with Sony BMG Music Entertainment . . . Allan Klepfisz, the company's president and chief executive, said Qtrax was in negotiations with the fourth major label, University Music Group, and Merlin, an agency that represents many independent labels."

This is not a brand new concept. Commercial advertising has been supporting network television since the Bulova Watch Company paid $9 for a 20-second spot in 1941. As social networking sites grow in popularity, it makes sense for advertisers to want to buy space where potential buyers aggregate. It also makes sense for the social networking sites to share that advertising revenue with the providers of the content being used to attract new users. And, since the content providers are getting free publicity by having their material appear on popular sites, perhaps they accept a percentage of that advertising revenue in lieu of royalties.

Although the music industry has resisted moving away from a royalty-paying model (are you listening, publishing?), they need new business models. "Sales of compact discs are down sharply so far this year after previous declines, and revenue from online music stores, such as Apple's iTunes, is not growing fast enough to compensate." (NYT)

I was particularly interested in one industry insider's comment: "[D]on't try to get people to consume the way you want them to, . . . Figure out how they're consuming . . . market to that and monetize their behavior." While simple, it's brilliant in terms of watching consumer behavior and then adapting the retail market around that behavior. This echoes another comment made by Laura to my post for last night: "Advertising works best if it goes to where the consumer is, rather than expecting the consumer to go to the point of sale to find out if they even want to buy something."

Under an ad-supported peer-to-peer model, Qtrax displays files for which it has permission and then, when a user selects music to listen to, Qtrax provides associated advertising. There will be a limit to the number of times a listener can play a song before needing to purchase it. Revenue will be generated both from the purchase of the music and from the advertising displayed.

Qtrax's deal is structured so that it starts by revenue-sharing with the music labels. Over time (and hopefully as business grows), it will morph into a royalty-paying model.

I'm delighted to see the music industry exploring other income-producing models. It's my belief that publishers are moving rapidly toward a similar point-of-crisis. I actually think the publishing situation will break down into two questions:

1) How will individual publishing houses resolve their ambivalence to Google and its Google Book Search program?
2) With the increasing digitization of books, what value will the publisher bring to the table?

The first question will be answered over the next year as we approach the court dates for the two lawsuits against Google.

The second question may not be answered for many years although I suspect one or two publishing houses are already thinking ahead to the potential consequences.

What do you think will happen? I'll make my own predictions in tomorrow night's post.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The New Digital Economy, Part I

I scan a number of newspapers daily. Sometimes I print a story that catches my attention, intending to follow up on it later. I keep a small stack of such articles beside my desk. Then, when I'm looking for a blog subject, I dip into the pile of paper and pull out something that interests me.

Quite frequently, before I get around to pulling an article, I'll see something else on the subject, which reminds me to find the first story and do the necessary research for a post.

I saw a short article titled "Webcasters Are Denied Rehearing on Royalties" in the Los Angeles Times last Tuesday. It didn't tell me much so I just printed it off and put it in the "pending" stack.

On Friday evening, just before bedtime, I was listening to the news and scanning the blogs I routinely read. To my surprise, the HarperCollins UK blog, Fifth Estate, had an article about the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) hearing in Washington, D.C. This sharpened my attention on the subject and led to this post today.

First things first: According to Wikipedia, the "Copyright Royalty Board is a U.S. system of three Copyright Royalty Judges . . . appointed by the Librarian of Congress." According to the CRB's own website, the three judges "oversee the copyright law’s statutory licenses, which permit qualified parties to use multiple copyrighted works without obtaining separate licenses from each copyright owner."

On March 2, the CRB hiked the royalty rates that Internet radio broadcasters must pay to record companies and artists. A coalition of Internet webcasters, including National Public Radio (NPR), Yahoo and AOL, joined together to request a re-hearing on the rate increase. That LA Times article I saw on Tuesday was reporting that the three judges threw out their request.

Here are the new per-play rates that have been approved to stream one song to one listener over the next three years:

2006: $0.0008
2007: $0.0011
2008: $0.0014
2009: $0.0018
2010: $0.0019

While the amounts seem miniscule, by 2009, the rates will have doubled over last year's rates. In addition, every webcaster will need to pay an upfront $500 "per channel" minimum fee. It's unclear whether that minimum fee applies to each stream.

Interactive services, which essentially permit users to create their own personalized radio stations, will be severely hurt by this decision.

Why do we care? According to Mark Johnson of Fifth Estate, the decision "raises some fascinating questions for the book business, for whom the new digital music world is an uncomfortable sign of challenges still to come."

Johnson makes this claim because among the group challenging the rate hike was a London-based website,, which is a music recommendation engine. is a social networking site like MySpace or FaceBook. However, it is devoted to music. Listeners indicate who their favorite recording artists are and recommends new artists, offering them sample tracks. The site makes its money off the advertisements it carries. A doubling of the royalties it must pay threatens its future.

Johnson points out that there are parallels in the book world--those social networking sites like Library Thing and Shelfari, which allow members to list their favorite books, review books and recommend books. He says:

The sites generate revenue by a range of models: by advertising; by subscription; or by affiliate schemes with online retailers. For the first time, companies that are neither producers, publishers or retailers are making cash from readers online--and the most incredible thing is that, for now, they're doing it with bibliographic data alone.

This simple fact--that new companies are now carving leisure activities out of content as simple as covers and ISBNs--proves that in the new digital economy everything has value. And these new kinds of businesses force the book industry to consider what other assets, currently made freely available, ought to be monetised. In short, what about the sample chapter?

To read Johnson's entire blog, please go here and scroll down to the post titled "The New Text Radio."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Creative Writing Doesn't Include Sales

In early February, I did a post on a lawsuit that began in Los Angeles on February 2. The lawsuit pits a best-selling novelist against the production company that brought one of his books to the big screen.

The novelist--Clive Cussler--claims that the production company--Crusader Entertainment--destroyed his hope of ever getting another film deal because of the terrible adaption they did of his novel Sahara.

For their part--Crusader Entertainment--owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz, claims that Cussler lied about the number of books he sold in order to lure them into a two-book $20 million deal.

Crusader executives say that Cussler repeatedly told them he'd sold 100 million books when the real number was less than half that.

In an article dated Monday, The Los Angeles Times (LAT) reported on testimony during which Cussler was forced to talk about his actual sales.

[W]hen pressed Friday on the witness stand, Cussler acknowledged he had been warned in the late 1990s that the 100 million number was unreliable. In fact, an extensive audit presented as evidence . . . revealed that the actual number of Cussler books sold through 2000 was at most 42 million.

The disclosure appears to bolster allegations by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz that Cussler and his literary agent deliberately inflated the novelist's book sales.

The 77-year-old Cussler has already testified for three days and was expected to take the stand for a fourth day on Monday.

When he was asked if he pulled the 100-million figure out of thin air, Cussler replied, "Pretty much."

Cussler admitted that his agent had warned him against talking about the number of books "sold." The agent told him to talk about the number of books "in print" instead. Claiming he forgot, Cussler ignored this advice in letters, on his website and in a promotional video.

Anschutz was so determined to prove Cussler wrong that he paid approximately $200,000 for a forensics audit of the writer's royalty statements from three publishing houses.

Anschutz estimates his losses on the Sahara project to be $105 million.

Sahara is almost a textbook example of what can go wrong in the making of a film. In a February article, The LA Times said that Anschutz "not only agreed to pay $10 million per book for rights to the . . . adventure novels, he gave author Clive Cussler extraordinary creative control over Sahara . . . Cussler had final say over the director and lead actors . . . as well as wide discretion over the script . . . By ceding so much authority to a novelist, Anschutz broke a fundamental rule in the film business: Keep the author out of the screenwriting process."

According to Anschutz, Cussler used his veto power to turn down multiple versions of the script, demanding that the production company use the script Cussler himself had written.

When the film finally made it to screen (after no fewer than seven re-write attempts costing a total of $4 million), Cussler "blasted" the movie. He predicted that the film would be a 'disaster' and warned fans that the screenplay was 'awful.'" (LAT)

Cussler's attorney is expected to try to rehabilitate his client on the stand this week.

Stay tuned for more on the trial . . .

Monday, April 23, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

This weekend, I had reason to go back through last year's blogs looking for a series I did on three questions. At the end of today's post, I'll offer them to you in case you're interested in the questions and answers.

In searching for those columns, I came across another post I'd done in August, 2006, and it stopped me in my tracks.

You might want to read that column here before continuing below.
In that post last August, I described my interaction with two writers whose manuscript openings I'd read last year. As gently as I could, I told both they were not ready to query and suggested they find critique groups or writing classes to hone their skills.

Both were obviously annoyed at my advice. One went so far as to say she didn't have the time to waste attending classes. The other said that people who'd read his work didn't agree with me and that I was focussing on details when the story was the important thing.

I mentally shrugged and made the prediction that both would end up self-publishing.

In the seven months since, my prediction came true. Both got involved in self-publishing. While one admits it was a disaster, the other is still in a state of denial.

The first writer continues to post bewildered messages on the loop, asking for advice. Although she told me she didn't have time to take classes, it's now almost a year later and she's no further down the road toward publication than she was last summer.

For most of my career, I've been a manager--in a variety of companies and settings ranging from a stock brokerage house to a public mental health agency. Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons that helped me in my writing career. I'm going to list a few of them below:

1) When things aren't going well, try another approach. Learn to be flexible and to adapt. There's a quote often attributed to Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

When I finished my first manuscript in 2003, I was so confident that a particular editor would love the story I sent it to only her. I'm torn between wincing and grinning at that naiveity today.

I was staggered to receive a rejection. After submitting the same manuscript to a half dozen other publishers, it was clear I needed to do something different. I did. I joined critique groups and professional writing organizations. That decision was the single most important one I made since becoming a writer.

2) Never take professional advice personally. The feedback I got from critiques--while kind--was often brutal. I can remember feeling as though someone was hacking the limbs off my child. There were times during critiques when it seemed the pages bled red ink. More than once, I had to put the manuscript aside for a week while I recovered from the pain. It was hard, but it was about the writing, not about me personally. If I was going to succeed, I needed to develop a thick skin and learn.

3) Everything always takes longer than you expect. I finished my first full-length manuscript in the fall of 2003. It was two years before I found an agent. It was another eight months before she sold the manuscript. From contract to publication, it will be another thirteen months. You MUST keep writing in order to remain sane. Be patient. Do not pester agents or editors to whom you've submitted work. Redirect that energy into your writing.

4) Never give up. Never give up. NEVER GIVE UP. Remember: Joe Konrath's advice: "What do we call a writer who never gives up?

Here are the links to the posts I was looking for:

1) Are people reading less? See here.
2) Are the number of titles being published up or down? See here.
3) Are book sales down? See here.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Big Brother Is Keeping Tabs

Just in case you thought I was over-reacting in my rant on Friday morning about privacy rights, here's a practical example.

Google announced the launch of its new Web History feature on Thursday. After you sign in with your Google account, you can view every search YOU have done under that account. All you need to do is click here.

Sign in on the right-hand side of the page, and they'll offer you a new toolbar or just a look at your searches. I opted to look at my searches.

After clicking through a few pages, you can easily see how Google or DoubleClick or some other advertiser could customize the ads they offer you. My searches are mostly confined to subject matter related to this blog, research for my current novel, mapquest searches (I hate getting lost), and online shopping forays. The thing that surprised me the most was how often I check Google for the spelling of a word. I had no idea I was that poor a speller!

There's something creepy about knowing that a mega-conglom-
erate now knows that I'm a crummy speller, that I love Cuban food but can't find a restaurant without a map, and that I recently checked out a sex device for dogs (see here).

Can't you almost hear Homeland Security drooling? And what about local law enforcement? What about angry spouses and their divorce lawyers?

NOW do you understand why I think we need to elevate the discussion on privacy rights?

Reuters had a story on Friday morning that said:

Consumer privacy groups on Friday sought to derail Google Inc.'s $3.1 billion deal to buy online ad supplier DoubleClick Inc., filing a complaint with U.S. regulators to block the merger on privacy grounds.

Groups led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center have filed the complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission arguing the merger would violate agreed limits on how much data advertisers collect on consumers and seeking an injunction.

Stay tuned . . . This is a two-post day. Read on.

This Is So Cool

I need your indulgence for a few minutes because I just gotta share this.

The Penguin fall catalogs are out and Bad Girl is listed under the NAL releases. The link to the catalog is here, and my book is on page 36 of the pdf.

How cool is that?

The catalogs are what booksellers and libraries use to order their fall stock.

And, if that weren't enough, the foreign edition placeholders are beginning to pop up on You can see the French translation here, the German one here, and the Japanese one here.

Back when my agent Jacky was marketing the manuscript, she told me that Penguin has the best foreign rights department of all the publishing houses. If you'll go to page 82 of the catalog pdf, you'll see a list of the subrights agents they use around the world.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Interview With Karen Kelley

Welcome to Karen Kelley, author of the recently released “Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind.”

Tell us the storyline of your new novel, Karen.

"Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind" is a romantic comedy. Mala lives on the perfect planet, Nerak, but she longs for something more. After watching a documentary from her grandmother's travels, Debbie Does The Sheriff, she knows she has to find a sheriff of her own. Beam Me Up, Hottie! She finds exactly what she's looking for in Sheriff Mason McKinley, and probably a whole lot more than she expected!

This was such a fun book to write with the pesky tabloid reporters, The Elders and of course, Barton. I fell in love with Barton who is Mala's robot companion unit.

You’re well known for your contemporary romances. Isn’t a fantasy a bit of a departure for you? What made you write one?
I love writing contemporary romances but I guess I just wanted something more. I’ve always been a big fan of paranormal/fantasy. I decided to send a proposal to my editor that had a lot more comedy and the heroine was an alien. Kate absolutely loved it.

Describe Mala. What was it about her that made you want to tell her story?
Mala is searching for something more. I think I can relate to her a lot and hope other women will, too. I used to work as a nurse. It was a good job. I absolutely loved my co-workers. I should’ve been satisfied—right? I wasn’t. I wanted more. I realized the only way I was going to have more was to pursue my dream. No one could do it for me. Mala felt the same way. She went in search of something more.

Mason sounds very, very sexy. Why is he drawn to Mala?
What can I say—I love a sexy hero. I write for myself as much as I do for the reader and I want my sexy hero! LOL Mason is intrigued and fascinated by Mala. She’s different, she’s exasperating and oh, no! he’s falling in love with her!

Your books are always such a fun read. Do you enjoy writing them?
I have a blast writing my books! Sometimes they can give me a bit of a headache when a scene just isn’t working, but for the most part, yes, I do have a lot of fun. Kate once asked if I sit in front of my computer laughing most of the time. I’d never really thought about it but you know, I do. I love writing romantic comedy.

I’ve read and enjoyed your previous books. Is “Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind” as light-hearted as your other books?
It has a lot more comedy in it. Friends and other writers have always said comedy was my strength so with "Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind" I decided I wouldn’t hold back and just see what happens. So far, the reviews have been fantastic---"Romantic Times" gave it a 4 1/2 Top Pick! I couldn’t be more pleased.

Do you think you’ll write more paranormal romances?
Definitely! I have Kia’s story (Mala’s cousin) coming out in February of 2008. She’s a warrior who’s determined to bring her cousin home. I also have "The Morgue The Merrier" out in September of this year. This is an anthology with Rosemary Laurey and Dianne Castell. I’ll have two stories in that one.

Also in September of this year I’ll have "Double Dating with the Dead" about a skeptic, a psychic and two sex–starved ghosts stuck in a vacant hotel. In October of this year, I’ll revisit a character from "Southern Comfort," Bailey—the hero’s sister---in an anthology with Lori Foster and Dianne Castell, "I’m Your Santa." That’s a straight contemporary comedy.

What are you working on now?
Another romantic comedy, single title, with a ghost. I just signed another contract with Kensington for three more Bravas so for the next year I’m going to be busy.

How long does it usually take you to write a novel?
It depends on how tight my deadline is. Usually four months works best for me.

A lot of my readers are writers, too. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t let anyone take away your dream. Early on, I told my mother I wanted to be a writer. She said I wasn’t smart enough to be a writer. I believed her. I didn’t write for ten years. Oh, the dream was still there but I pushed it way back. One day my son found the beginning of that first story that I just couldn’t throw away. He said it was really good and asked why I had stopped writing. I didn’t have a good answer.

I started writing that day and I never let anyone take away my dream again. It still took six years before I sold, but when I did, my mother told me the reason she’d told me I wasn’t smart enough was so that I wouldn’t be hurt. She passed away two months before my first book came out.

I now have six books and two anthologies in print, three books and two anthologies coming out soon, and I just contracted for three more single titles.

So as far as advice goes—if you have a dream, keep working toward it, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

Great advice, Karen. I hope you'll come back again in September to talk about "Double Dating."

Thanks for giving us your time.

I read "Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind" in less than 24 hours. It's a fun, fun read. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy this weekend. You won't regret it. Visit Karen's website here or buy "Close Encounters" here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Google, DoubleClick and New Privacy Issues

On April 13th, Google announced it would acquire DoubleClick Inc. for $3.1 billion. DoubleClick is a developer and provider of digital marketing services.

There was an article in the Los Angeles Times four days later saying, "Google Inc.'s purchase of DoubleClick Inc. would create the world's single largest repository of details about people's behavior online, an unnerving prospect for some privacy experts."

Google's associate general counsel admitted that the integration of the two companies' "non-personally identifiable data" was exactly why the company wanted to purchase DoubleClick.

The story explained that "Google dominates the market for selling text ads that appear next to search results, while DoubleClick has the largest independent system for placing banner ads." DoubleClick is also the largest profiler of users' Internet habits. Its customer base includes Microsoft, General Motors, Coca-Cola and Motorola.

Google has already admitted that it keeps all search results.

DoubleClick uses cookies to track users as they travel from website to website and records what advertisements users view and select while browsing. The information is employed to make certain that the same person doesn't see the same ad again and again while surfing the web. DoubleClick keeps the user's surfing history for two years.

Beginning in 2000, DoubleClick faced multiple lawsuits around the country alleging privacy violations. According to C/Net News in January, 2000, a "California woman filed a suit . . . against DoubleClick, accusing the Web advertising firm of unlawfully obtaining and selling consumers' private information."

An article in InformationWeek in August, 2002 said:

The agreement struck between DoubleClick and 10 states requires the company to explain on Web sites how it tracks and profiles Web surfers' usage data. DoubleClick leaves "cookie" files on computers that visit a Web site using its services. That lets DoubleClick track users' Web travels, create profiles based on that activity, and deliver online ads that match the profiles.

DoubleClick, which has a business relationship with InformationWeek, didn't admit wrongdoing in the agreement, but it must pay $450,000 to the states to cover their investigative costs and consumer education. States joining New York in the settlement are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington. In May [2002], DoubleClick paid $1.8 million and enacted new disclosure rules to settle an action brought by the Federal Trade Commission.

Microsoft and AT&T have asked the Federal Trade Commission to review the proposed purchase of DoubleClick by Google, saying there may be antitrust issues because the buy would reduce competition in online advertising.

I suspect privacy issues are going to be hot topics over the next few years.

Like every other American, I want to feel safe in my home and outside of it. I've applauded the apprehension of criminals as the result of the proliferation of cameras on our streets and in public places.

At the same time, I am concerned that commercial corporations are building giant databases of consumers' information.

The current administration has already demonstrated a blithe disregard for both privacy issues and the Constitution in its war against terror.

However, they haven't stopped there. I did a series of three posts in January, 2006, starting here, titled "Alberto, Google and the Right to Privacy" about the lawsuit that the Gonzales Justice Department pursued in its attempt to access data from Google's database. Their intentions were pure--to stop child pornography--but the way they went about it was almost criminally stupid. It's instructive that every other search engine the Justice Department approached--Yahoo, MSN and AOL--turned over the requested information without a fight. That does NOT bode well for consumers' privacy rights. Google was the only search engine that fought the request. And Google won (see here).

In this case, Google was on the side of the angels, and I applaud them for fighting encroachment by the Justice Department.

However, the fact remains that Google will soon have an even larger, richer database by virtue of the DoubleClick purchase.

While I appreciate Google's motto of "Don't Be Evil," I'm not comfortable depending on corporate goodwill to protect my privacy rights. We need a public forum in which to address these concerns on an ongoing basis.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Two Notes Of Interest

Earlier this month, I promised an interview with Karen Kelley, the very successful, award-winning author of contemporary, sexy, funny novels.

Karen will be here Saturday talking about her latest book, Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind. Don't miss it.

Also, for our UK readers, a comment in Nathan Bransford's blog reminds me to point to a link on the right side of this site. The link is to Fifth Estate, the HarperCollins UK blog. I've been reading it since October of last year when I wrote a blog that mentioned it here.

You can find Fifth Estate here.

Today's a two-post day. Keep reading below.

An E-Reader Whose Time Has Come? Maybe

Tuesday night was ugly, but I finished proofing my proofs yesterday morning around 6:30. As I write this, they're in a FedEx box on their way to 375 Hudson Street in New York.
Over the last two years, I've periodically talked about my belief that all that's needed for the e-book market to explode is the appearance of a viable e-reader that users will embrace the way music lovers did the iPod.

Last week, in my post of April 12 here, I declared myself vindicated when Dr. Mark Nelson, PhD and MBA, from the National Association of College Stores said: "Once an effective e-reader is invented and interface problems are solved, "e-readers will take off as fast as iPods did."

As new e-reading devices have been launched, I've reported on each.

On September 28, 2006, Sony announced the release of its long-awaited Reader (see it here). At that time, I pointed out that the proprietary nature of the Reader's format was a serious problem. The Reader could only read books downloaded from the CONNECT site. I said I thought Sony's best market for the Reader would be people who were already reading e-books--customers who are now downloading from online publishers like Ellora's Cave or from retail sites like Fictionwise. To my mind, asking customers to fork over $349 and then insist that they buy their books from one site was terribly short-sighted. Shades of Microsoft's closed source approach.

A few weeks earlier, on September 13, 2006, I'd talked about Amazon's planned e-reader, the Kindle. offered readers their first view of the Kindle here.

Engadget reported the Kindle was 4.9" by 7.5" by .7", making it slightly larger than Sony's Reader. Its weight was 10.2 ounces, making it slightly heavier than the eReader.

In 2005, Amazon purchased a French company called Mobipocket that produces a universal reader, which permits the downloading of all formats. Reports were that the Kindle would contain this cross-platform technology, making it capable of working on all devices (PCs, laptops, PDAs and cell phones) and in all formats.

Wednesday's Publishers Weekly (PW) reported on the buzz at the London Book Fair over the forthcoming release of the Amazon reading device.

The PW article didn't call the new Amazon reader by the name Kindle. Instead they reported Amazon has been giving U.S. and U.K. publishers a preview of its new reader. Victoria Barnsley, the HarperCollins UK CEO, mentioned the reader at Tuesday's seminar on green publishing.

According to publishers who have seen the player, the reader is a step up from the Sony Reader . . . The screen quality is reportedly as sharp as Sony, but the Amazon device has better functionality, and, as should be expected from the e-tailer, a first rate e-commerce option. Amazon is expected to release the reader this spring, although the exact timing may depend on how fast it can develop a critical mass of titles. (PW)

PW also reported the price is "expected to be above $400."

Wednesday's edition of Publishers Lunch also mentioned the buzz about the Amazon reader. Michael Cader reported that:

[P]ublishers are working away on creating files for Amazon's Mobipocket format, as Penguin CEO John Makinson noted the Amazon demand is 'part of what is driving' the company's current digitization efforts . . . Makinson says the short-term goal for Amazon is that 'something close to ninety percent of NYT bestsellers should be in e-book format' the day of the release of the print book.

Perhaps the Amazon reader is the one the market has been waiting for.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Destination: Procrastination

This is going to be a very short post because I've backed myself into a corner.

I received my proofs for Bad Girl on my birthday, April 7, with a request that they be returned by April 19th.

Dirty little secret: I ALWAYS do things at the last minute. Not because I procrastinate, but because I always have a stack of things needing to be done, and I work on the thing needing my attention right now.

Oh, that's the definition of "procrastinate," isn't it? [grin]

Anyway, I wasn't worried about the proofs because--by now--my editor and I had done a round, and the copyeditor and I had done another round. I figured there wouldn't be that much to address.

Boy, was I wrong.

I sat down last night and managed to complete half the job (in seven hours). I still have to finish the other half tonight so I can drop the pages off at FedEx in the morning.

So, I'm going to leave you all with an item from Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales tumbled 6.5% in February . . . according to estimates released this morning [April 16] from the U.S. Census Bureau. With the 1.4% decline in January, bookstore sales for the two first months of 2007 were down 3.1% . . . Sales for all of retail were up only 1.5% in February and up 3.9% in the two-month period.

I'll be back in business tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another Take On The Future Of Books

Michael, a British reader of this blog, sent me an email yesterday morning, directing me to the BBC "Start the Week" program that ran at 9:00 AM Monday. He said guest Margaret Atwood had been asked about the future of the book.

I have enormous respect for Margaret Atwood, her talent, her courage, and her honesty. I was grateful for Michael's email and happy to tune in to the program while I ate my lunch.

Ms. Atwood directed her attention to the question of why computers would not replace books. She had a list of reasons: You can't comfortably take a computer into the bathtub or bed, it's neurologically harder on your brain to absorb material presented on a screen than it is on paper (the definition isn't as crisp), computers don't lend themselves to contemplation, and it's hard to manuever from page to page on a screen.

She did acknowledge computers are "very, very useful to students doing research," and admitted that mankind loves to play with new toys, but pointed out that you can burn books if you're cold.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the program and would never have the temerity to challenge Ms. Atwood's position.

Instead, if I could, I would change the way we look at the question. I don't think it's an issue of either/or. Rather, I think we are lucky to be in a period when our choices are greatly expanded.

We can choose to see a movie in the theater, on Pay-for-View, on DVD, or on our computers. Even though I don't subscribe to cable television, I download cable programs all the time--some for free and some for $1.99. And I read books in print, through library downloads or via online purchases.

No method of service delivery has innate superiority over another. The important thing is that people READ. How they read doesn't matter a whit; it's silly and a bit pretentious to pretend otherwise.

Ms. Atwood's age (67) and distinguished career explain her affinity for the printed book. Let's face it, anyone who grew up loving to read is happiest with a book in hand. But I can think of a few good reasons why we might welcome e-books in the future:

• Convenience—It’s easier to carry an e-book reading device with a dozen books uploaded to it when traveling on business or vacation than to carry the actual hard copies of the same books.
• Storage—A memory stick can contain hundreds of books—books that don’t take up space and that don’t require dusting, or boxing and a strong back to move.
• Ecology—Electronic books don’t require cutting down forests of trees or using enormous energy to process and manufacture printed material.
• Ease of updates—Electronic textbooks and encyclopedias can be updated quickly and easily.
• Economics—Electronic books are cheaper to publish and don’t require warehousing or shipping expenses.
• Freedom of expression—Electronic transfer of books or physical transfer of memory sticks makes it easier to smuggle banned material past repressive regimes to those anxious to read it.

Instead of taking an either/or approach, let's celebrate the fact that we have choices and put our energy into helping literacy programs expand reading to people and places who don't have our privileges.

Thanks again to Michael for a very interesting program.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Literary Criticism On Such A Starlit Night

In recent years, the two genres that have interested me the most have been erotic romance and urban fantasy. It was Laurell K. Hamilton who bridged the gap between the two genres for me. I began reading her Anita Blake novels back in 1995. I followed gamely along as LKH gradually moved from straight urban fantasy into erotic romance and then from erotic romance to erotica. By now, she's published the fourteenth in her Anita Blake saga and, IMHO, the stories are little more than a series of sex scenes strung together without any visible plot.

Over the weekend, I finished Jim Butcher's White Night, the ninth in the Dresden Files.

White Night was such a satisfying read that it started me thinking about the contrast between the two long-running series.

I had a busy weekend. On Sunday, I met friends for brunch at Hattie's, one of my favorite restaurants (I love their pecan-crusted catfish), got my hair cut, visited the garden nursery and worked in the yard. All the while, in the back of my brain, I was trying to decide what it was about White Night that made it such a good book. While I was pulling weeds, it finally dawned on me.

With many authors who have a successful series, they write as though their jobs are halfway done before they even start a new episode in the series. They use a few often-repeated adjectives to describe long-running characters and then simply dream up new adventures for those characters. The writer makes the assumption that the reader knows the characters and that nothing more is left to be said about them. So the books become increasingly plot-driven rather than character-driven.

Jim Butcher is not doing that; he's not just phoning his manu-
scripts in. Every new book builds upon the last and explores new territory in his fantasy world. He gives equal attention to plot and character.

To quickly summarize the plot of White Night, here's Publishers Weekly's description:

At the start of Butcher's superlative ninth Dresden Files novel, . . . hardboiled wizard detective Harry Dresden learns that someone is killing Chicago's minor wizards. Joined by his police friend, Sergeant Murphy, and his Amazonian apprentice, Molly Carpenter, Harry discovers that his brother, Thomas, is a prime suspect.

Two things I noted: (1) The action is absolutely nonstop, and (2) Even while creating more and more fantastic creatures and enlarging an already huge cast, Butcher continues to peel back layers of each character. He reveals more of their history, writing them in shades of gray rather than simply in black or white, as good or evil. He constantly creates difficult choices and new moral challenges for his characters. He does an absolutely masterful job.

Interestingly enough, his skimpiest character sketch remains one of the most important players--a character introduced in the very first novel--Sergeant Karrin Murphy of the Special Investigations Department of the Chicago Police. In my eyes, Murphy is little more than a place-holder reading "Dresden's sidekick." I know, I know. Butcher introduced her ex-husband and family in a previous book. But compared to the self-awareness of other more richly developed Butcher characters, Murphy is a stick figure.

While there is clearly sexual tension between Murphy and Dresden, I *almost* get the impression that Butcher is afraid to bring the two together for fear of where he would go after that. It's to the point that Dresden comments in this novel that he's been celibate for four years. Eeek!

Each Dresden File character has its own Goal/Motivation/
Conflict. And just about the time you think you understand him/her, Butcher throws a curve ball at you. In this novel, he did it with the Fallen Angel Lasciel, the gangster Johnny Marcone, the West Coast Warden Carlos Ramirez, and Dresden's brother Thomas. He even added dimensions to Dresden's dog, Mouse.

As I've said before, while I still look forward to LKH's Merry Gentry series, I've lost interest in the Anita Blake series. My epiphany on Sunday helped me to understand why.

I believe that LKH wrote herself into a corner with two aspects of the Anita Blake character: (1) Early on in the series, LKH emphasized Anita's strong moral code, which prevented the character from hopping into bed with the sexy vampires and werewolves surrounding her, and (2) LKH got caught in a trap of giving more and more power to Anita in each new book in order for her to overcome her enemies. Eventually, that upward spiral had nowhere else to go. Anita became more powerful than the supernatural creatures around her.

LKH was stuck. How to explain a sudden reversal in Anita's moral code? It was so out of character for her to sleep around. Remember that tiresome inner dialogue Anita held with herself about sleeping with both Richard and Jean Claude? It went on for several novels.

At the same time, how to create new villains with more power than Anita, who now had her necromancer skills, vampire strength and shape-shifter abilities?

That's when LKH came up with the plot device she called the "ardeur," the paranormal passion that demanded Anita have daily sex. In one fell swoop, Anita is now helpless in the face of this sexual need and also free to have sex with whomever she likes whenever she likes--because, of course, the girl can't help it. The ardeur offered a window out of the corner LKH had painted herself into: allowing Anita to sleep around and giving her a weakness she cannot overcome.

The ardeur felt like a cheat to me when it was introduced, and now, endless novels later, the contrivance has become boring and repetitive. I never finished the last couple of Anita Blake novels. For me, that's huge. Once I'm a quarter of a way into a novel, I will generally read even a bad book to the end, figuring I can learn something from where the writer went wrong. But I was so irritated with the last few Anita Blake novels, I couldn't even continue.

Sex without feeling is little more than masturbation, both on the page and in real life. I expect more from a relationship than that, whether the relationship is fictional or real. Anita's bed-hopping has no feeling attached to it and has long since ceased to be either a novelty or . . . provocative.

In contrast, LKH's Merry Gentry series established sexual freedom as a characteristic of her faeries from the very first novel. If you could not accept the casual sex, this was not the series for you. The faeries' sexuality was part of their "other-ness," and was at the same time both alien and integral to their characters. And it freed LKH to explore the emotional lives of her characters apart from their sexuality--which was a novelty. Merry's vulnerabilities, both physically and emotionally, are very much a part of who she is. The next book in the series is due out around Halloween, and I look forward to it.

Just some things to think about when you are plotting a series.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Cautionary Tale

I had lunch this week with a fellow writer. We were comparing notes and gossip when she brought up a name I hadn't heard in a while: Dara Joy. And it occurred to me that although most romance readers and writers recognize the name, others may not be as familiar with her story.

Dara Joy exploded on the romance scene in mid-1996 with a story that appeared in an anthology titled Lovescape. She quickly followed that debut with another story in an anthology called The Night Before Christmas and with her first novel, Knight of a Trillion Stars, a futuristic. Readers loved her very hot romances, and Dara took pride in the fact that she wrote in multiple genres. Rejar was a time travel, High Energy was a contemporary and Tonight or Never was an historical. She rapidly built a strong fan base of devoted readers, won a number of awards and began appearing on best-seller lists.

All of Dara's books were released by Dorchester, an independent mass market publisher, through their Leisure and Love Spell imprints. By 2000, Dara Joy had released two anthologies and six full-length romances. That's when things began to go wrong.

According to Dorchester, which actually posted their side of the story on their website here, "In 1996, Dara signed the contract, promising us three books in 1998 and 1999. But we never got them. The deadlines were extended to 2000, 2001, and 2002; but we still never received her books."

Dara's contract also had a options clause requiring her to submit her next romance to Dorchester. According to Dorchester, she sold her next book to William Morris where it was published in 2001 as the hardback Ritual of Proof. Dara claimed it was a sci-fi novel.

At this point, let me add a personal note. By 2000, erotic romance had revived my interest in the romance genre, and I was actively searching for any erotic romances I could find. I had read Knight of a Trillion Stars and judged it to be an okay romance. But I really liked the second novel in her "Matrix of Destiny" series, Rejar. Because of Rejar, I was willing to spring for the full-priced hardback of Ritual of Proof.

Ritual of Proof was actually very risky for a romance writer. It turns the male/female stereotypes on their ear. On the moon Forus, women are the dominant sex. Marquelle Green Tamryn is a noblewoman who offers a marriage price for virgin Jorland Reynard, whom she wishes to make her name-bearer. Green is the sexual aggressor while Jorland tries to show his independence from a system that represses (and coddles) males, who are relegated to breeding or to giving pleasure.

I liked the book a lot, if just for the quirky premise and satirical tone. However, I loaned it to half of dozen friends who were completely turned off by a woman as the dominant partner. As an aside, Ellora's Cave editors often say that they are not interested in novels featuring dominant women.

Aside from all that, I think Dara was kidding herself if she thought she was going to pass this book off as a sci-fi novel. Sci-fi is generally thought to be an Earth-based genre. Even when the protagonists never set foot on planet Earth, the science and culture of Earth are the foundation upon which a sci-fi is built.

Ritual of Proof gives lip service to Earth. There are a number of references to indicate that the colonists on Forus originally came from Earth. However, the novel is pure fantasy. There is no Earth-based science.

Of course, Dorchester noticed. And then sued.

In the explanation posted on the Dorchester website on 2/10/05, the publishing house said:

We know this has been going on for a long time, and we don't like litigation. It is expensive, time-consuming and in the end, no one really wins. So why are we doing this? Because the fact remains that Dara still has not given us the three books she agreed to write when she first signed her contract and misled us in categorizing Ritual of Proof as a science-fiction novel, solely to avoid submitting it to Dorchester and to gain more advance money from another publisher.

Naturally, Dara did not agree. She posted her side of the story on her website. Tellingly, her version was titled "Dara vs. Goliath." She referred to the contretemps over Ritual of Proof only in an oblique way. She said:

I must make perfectly clear that I did not initiate this lawsuit. It was my inquiries into unreported editions and unreported royalties that impelled Dorchester to file a lawsuit against me as a means to bleed yet more work out of me without having to account for their misdeeds.

Initially, Dara's fans were sympathetic and supportive. They mostly wanted to see the Dorchester lawsuit settled so that Dara could get back to turning out her novels. Harper Torch released the paperback version of Ritual of Proof in June, 2001. There was a long dry spell in which fans only heard sporadic mention of the lawsuit. In the summer of 2004, an American attorney by the name of Keith Halpern posted an ad on a public forum in Australia, looking for proof that her books were or were not available in that country.

Then, in 2004, Dara surfaced again, this time to announce that she was self-publishing the novel That Familiar Touch. Loyal fans flocked to buy the book; its cover had been designed by Dara herself. You can see the cover and read an excerpt here.

Fans were divided on That Familiar Touch. Although many disliked the cover, some loved the book while others hated it. Its reviews averaged out to a 3 1/2 with half the reviews giving it a 5 and the other half giving it a 1 or a 2. My reading of the excerpt left me with the impression it was very poorly edited and its tone and structure seemed to be written for a YA audience.

The real problem came last year with Dara's second self-pubbed title: The Amazing Tales of Wildcat Arrows. You can see the cover and read an excerpt here.

While you could order the book from, Dara's webmaster Cory was responsible for fulfilling all the orders. And, in some cases, it took over a year for fans to receive their copies. Cory gave Hurricane Katrina as an excuse and then a death in the family. There were so many angry readers who believed they were being gypped out of their money, that a website grew up here for them to share their anger and their complaints.

To make matters worse, when the books were finally received, there was almost universal agreement that both the cover and the writing were sub-standard. Here are a couple of comments from

The hero looks like . . . some other trailer park trash and he has some photo shopped goofy looking head gear that is quite retarded looking.

What has happened to Dara Joy - she disappears forever and then resurfaces with a slew of extraordinarily over priced and POORLY, POORLY (just sucks) books!!!!

The average of the 17 reviews on Amazon for Wildcat Arrows is one star--a remarkable drop from her first full-length book where 152 reviews averaged out to 4 1/2 stars.

There have been rumors that Dara's home in Massachusetts has gone into foreclosure.

I don't know who's right and who's wrong in the lawsuits. What I do know is that an author MUST know what she is agreeing to when she signs a contract with a publisher and MUST be prepared to live up to that agreement.

Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Friday Night Lights

Okay, I know I haven't finished the thread I started Thursday night, and I promise to do so . . . just not today.

It's Saturday, and I have places to go and things to do. Plus I had a hairy experience last night that postponed the blog I'd been working on.

It was about 8:30 PM, and I was taking a break from the computer. I'd gone into my bedroom, spread out on the bed and switched on the bedside lamp. A huge thunderstorm had blown in from the west, and there were tornado warnings everywhere. All local television programming had been pre-empted for news of the storm. Bobbin was locked in the guest bedroom, in time-out for some misdeed, and Dinah was hiding from the storm under my poster bed. I'd left Tribble asleep in my study, stretched out alongside my laptop.

It was cozy lying in a room in a small pool of light with all the thunder and lightning going on outside. I was tucked under the comforter, happy as a butterfly safe in her cocoon. I was midway through a book I was enjoying (White Nights by Jim Butcher). Short of hot and cold running men, what more could a girl want? I drifted off to into a contented sleep.

Somewhere in my dreams, I distinctly heard a loud popping sound, but since it wasn't a threatening noise, I didn't rouse.

The first thing I remember is Tribble dancing along my chest, trilling at me to wake up. This was so unusual that I snapped awake, thinking I had a burglar. Instead I smelled burning.

I leaped out of bed and went running for the front of the house, thinking I must have left something on the stove. While I was still trying to decide whether to look for the fire or the fire extinguisher first, my sleep-fogged brain cleared, and I realized there wasn't anything on the stove cooking. Also, I could tell the burning smell was decreasing the farther I went from the bedroom. I swung around and ran back into the bedroom.

Nothing looked out of place except Tribble who was standing on my pillow staring at the table lamp on my nightstand. I approached the lamp and ducked my head to look under the shade.

The black hard plastic light switch that operates the three-way lamp was bent parallel to the lampstand. I realized it had MELTED.

Checking the impulse to feel the lamp, I bent over instead and touched the wall above the wall socket. It was cool to the touch. I touched the plastic part of the socket. It was cool, too. I grabbed the lamp's cord and yanked it out of the wall.

Once the lamp was unplugged, I reached up to touch the metal socket on the lamp where the light bulb screws in and burned my fingers. The freaking lamp was on fire from the inside.

Now I need to tell you that I slept or joked through most of my science classes in school. I roused for genetics, ecology and zoology, but physical science and chemistry bored me to tears. The result of this spotty education was that I wasn't sure what had caused the fire, or whether there was still any danger.

The ceramic base of the lamp was still cool, so I picked it up and carried it out to my patio.

When I returned, my bedroom smelled awful, with that terrible, frighteningly acrid, burnt odor. I couldn't tell if there was a fire inside my house walls, but I had an ugly memory to scare me. About five years ago, a neighbor on my block who'd done his own electrical remodeling woke up to a fire inside his walls. He caught it before it spread too far, but the firemen hacked two of his walls to bits with axes in order to put the blaze out.

My bedroom walls still felt cool to the touch. Could lightning have done this? I phoned a neighbor to ask if he'd heard a lightning strike. He said it was more likely that my lamp had a short in it. He told me a story of a friend whose house burned down from a short in a ceiling fan. I have no doubt he was trying to comfort me, but I gotta say, it didn't work.

I was too wired (no pun) to write or go to bed. I spent the next three hours talking to family and friends and making a fuss over Tribble, who may have saved my life and my house.

It was a friend who reminded me that Bobbin had awakened me last spring with another disaster. I checked my blogs (as good as a diary) and realized that on Wednesday, April 19, 2006, Bobbin had awakened me when my water heater broke during another thunderstorm, and my house flooded.

Watchcats. What a concept. I wonder if they have a division of labor: Bobbin watches water, Tribble fields fire, maybe Dinah busts burglars.

I'll tell you one thing: I'm going to be damn careful in the two weeks immediately following my birthday next year.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Who's Your Book Daddy?

A two-post day.

Jerome Weeks was the long-time book critic for the Dallas Morning News. He now has a blog called Book/Daddy on which he still provides terrific book reviews. You can read his blog here.

The following came from his post for Wednesday:

Lesson in map reading

1. Go to Google.
2. Click on "Maps."
3. Click on "Get directions."
4. Type "New York" in the "start address" box (the one on the left).
5. Type "London" in the "end address" box (the one on the right).
6. Scroll down to step #23.
7. Then check out step #24. After all that effort in #23, you wouldn't want to miss the EO5.

I'm offering you a smile as a talisman against Friday, the 13th .

And, while you're over there at Book/Daddy, check out Weeks' review of Jon Clinch's first novel, Finn here. I was on my way to a class yesterday morning, wearing my trusty Sony S2 walkman, when I heard Weeks giving that review on NPR.

Finn takes Twain's Huck Finn and expands on the novel, telling the story of Huck's father Pap.

One of the most interesting things about Finn is that Clinch postulates Huck was a child of mixed race, the son of a racist and an escaped slave.

There have been academics who have argued for this interpretation of Huck's racial make-up for years based on his speech patterns in Twain's books. However, this is the first fictional exploration of the subject.

Weeks' on-air review also makes the argument that all of our finest arts, including jazz and rock, began as blended, mixed race efforts.

Have a good day.

The Digitization of Britain

Okay, I know I promised a follow-up to yesterday's post, but I lied. We'll have to save that post for this weekend.

Why? Because I left the notes I made over lunch at the University, and I'm too lazy to recreate them from scratch. AND because I have the latest release in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. Only my great love for you has me posting to this blog instead of curling up with White Night. If you're not familiar with Jim Butcher, go here. The Dresden Files are now a television series on the Sci-Fi Channel.

So, at the last minute, I'm punting with another story.

About a month ago, Publishers Weekly (PW) had a lengthy article titled "The Road to the Digital Future," focussing on Britain's response to the digital marketplace. The article said:

Legal and academic publishing is thoroughly digitized
. . . and e-books have been appearing since 2001. But while the digital audio market is showing distinct signs of life, there is no serious market for e-books and won't be until a decent reader comes along.

More and more British are signing up for broadband service and Internet shopping. Internet purchases in 2006 rose by more than 50%, accounting for 10% of all U.K. retail sales. (PW)

And now we come to the part of the story that interested me. The UK has more than 60 million mobile phones--approximately one per person. And the Brits are using those mobile phones to link to the Internet. In December, almost 16 million people connected to the Internet using their mobile phones. (PW)

My second ever post to this blog dated September 15, 2005, here, asked the question "Can 70 Million Japanese Be Wrong?" I explained that the Japanese were very comfortable reading novels on their cell phones.

Taking a cue from the Japanese, British publishers are moving toward digital downloads of books on mobile phones.

According to the London Times Online (LTO), a British company, ICUE, now offers "the capability to transfer books into mobile phone-friendly content."

The Times said, "Electronic books (eBooks) have been more popular in the US than in Britain but demand has been stifled by the lack of an eBook equivalent to the iPod."

Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins and Mills & Boon have all signed up with ICUE.

The UK publishing director for Harlequin Mills & Boon Ltd. said ". . . it's women who like reading on phones, and romantic fiction that's rising to the top." She also said, "When you are using your mobile phone, nobody knows what you are doing, whether you are texting a friend or playing a game." (LTO)

The Wikipedia entry for ICUE says:

The technology takes the form of a Java application which is downloaded to the user handset via cellular wireless networks. Once downloaded, the user can acess all books on their mobile phone at any time, with or without wireless network coverage. The program can be accessed for free by texting ICUE to 64888 from a mobile phone on a United Kingdom network (other country networks will follow).

The first Mills & Boon novels will be available for download next month. M&B is expected to release 8 Modern Romance titles and 20 MIRA titles. The Modern Romances will cost L1.99 each while the MIRA novels will cost L4.99.

One of the most interesting things in The London Times article was a statement by the ICUE co-founder: "Teenagers prefer reading one word at a time, but most adults prefer the horizontal scrolling style." ICUE books can be read in four different ways: with autocue-style text moving from right to left, a scrollable text block moving up and down, single words in quick succession or a full page of text.

The world, it is a-changin'.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The NACS Looks To The Future

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm not shy about expressing my opinions.

As near as I can tell, the first time I made a prediction about electronic books was last year in a post dated April 6, 2006 here:

I've been exchanging emails with another writer. She questioned me on the future of e-books. I said that, while e-books have been gradually gaining in acceptance, I thought the tipping point would occur when a viable e-book reading device came on the market.

In the year since I wrote that comment, I have repeated it multiple times. I've taken flack for it from members of EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) who claim there are already many decent e-reading devices on the market. I've pointed out that I'd said I was waiting for a "viable" e-reader. By viable, I mean easy to read, easy to use AND affordable.

Last month, on March 7, 2007, here, I said:

While I have not yet e-published, it's not because I don't believe or respect the industry. I think e-publishing and a form of self-publishing (not the vanity press industry that exists at present) will be the wave of the future. I continue to believe that, once an e-reader seizes the reading public's fascination the way the iPod did for music lovers, e-publishing will explode.

A digitized industry doesn't really rely on the publisher any more, does it? It would be very easy for a group of writers and artists to band together to produce their own works (United Artists, anyone?). In the future, there is the very real possibility that publishers will find themselves being edged out of the equation, once writers figure a way to insure a consistency of quality that readers can trust.

While this blog is mostly concerned with commercial fiction and non-fiction, I've occasionally posted on another very important segment of the publishing industry: textbooks.

Last month, from March 23rd to 27th, booksellers from over a thousand college stores and more than 700 exhibitors met in Orlando for the collegiate retailing industry's largest trade show. The event is sponsored by the National Association of College Stores (NACS), the trade association for the industry.

Dr. Mark Nelson, PhD and MBA, works for the NACS (pronounced "knacks") as their "digital content strategist."

Tuesday's Shelf Awareness reported on comments Nelson made in Orlando during an overview of digital content issues. Here is an excerpt:

Once an effective e-reader is invented and interface problems are solved, "e-readers will take off as fast as iPods did," . . . the iPod model is "very relevant. In three years, iPod penetration of college freshmen has gone from 0% to 50%". [Incidentally Apple announced yesterday that it has sold 100 million iPods since the product's introduction in November 2001.]

Another excerpt from Shelf Awareness:

Although many college booksellers fear being bypassed by publishers selling digital texts to students, in some ways "publishers are the group most at risk," Nelson said. In the digital world, there is no certainty about who will own content or who will handle distribution, he continued. For example, faculty may self-publish, he said.

Oh, the sweet taste of vindication.

I listened to comments that Nelson made in a podcast. He talked about the way technology is changing education. More and more states, 80% of them now, are investing in online learning environments--often based on the model of video gaming. Michigan is the first state to require all students be exposed to virtual learning prior to graduation. Substitutes to traditional textbooks and printed course material are emerging.

Tomorrow we'll talk about some of these forward-looking initiatives.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Media Conglomerates Take Different Paths

On March 7, 2007, I did a post here in which I listed the seven mega media companies that are responsible for the majority of book releases each year. First on the list was Bertelsmann AG, which owns Random House, the largest book publisher in the world. Random House owns Ballantine, Del Rey, Bantam Dell, Crown Publishing, Doubleday, and Knopf.

Reuters reported yesterday that Bertelsmann had bought out Time Inc., its partner in Bookspan, their joint-venture that included Book-of-the-Month Club. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Bertelsmann will pay $150 million for Time's fifty percent share.

In a story on Tuesday morning, the WSJ reported the deal "would leave Bertelsmann as the only major operator of book, music and DVD clubs in the U.S. . . . The acquisition follows Bertelsmann's 2005 purchase of the Columbia House music and DVD clubs for about $400 million. The company bought Random House . . . in 1998."

The interesting thing to me about the WSJ article was the differing paths that the two media companies are taking. Time Warner, the parent of Time Inc., has been divesting itself of its book assets. In February, 2006, Time Warner sold its Time Warner Book Group to the French publisher Hachette Livre (last month the new owner changed the name of the Warner Book Group to Grand Central Publishing). In January, 2007, Time sold eighteen magazines, including Field & Stream and Popular Science to Sweden's Bonnier. The sale of Bookspan "all but ends the world's largest media company's presence in the book business." (WSJ)

On the flip side, Bertelsmann is putting its money on a very old-fashioned business model--the traditional bookclub--at a time when Internet book sales continue to grow.

I was fascinated by the following comment in the WSJ article:

Book and record clubs have shown surprising resilience in the digital age. More than 20 million people in the U.S.--members are typically women in their 40s--continue to subscribe to the clubs despite the popularity of, iTunes and other online platforms For consumers overwhelmed by the sometimes bewildering array of choices on the Internet, the clubs offer simplicity and value.

Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace had his own take on the WSJ: "In exchange for a head's up on the release, the Journal offers up naive praise of the book club business that would make you think it's actually robust."

My mother used to say, "For every lock, there is a key." Consumer choice remains the largest trend in retail today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bringing Civility To The Blogosphere

Okay, I'll admit it. After reading yesterday morning's New York Times (NYT), I'm feeling blessed.

I've been blogging for almost twenty months now, and I've been remarkably lucky. Ninety-nine percent of the individuals who read and comment on my blog or who've emailed me are lovely people. People like B.E. and Lainey who drop by to leave friendly, encouraging messages. People like Laura who always gives me something to think about. And friends like Marie, Maria and Sherrill with whom I have frequent off-blog conversations. I look forward to getting to know new visitors like Peter, David and Rob better.

I've had the occasional unpleasant experience. Bloggers who try to improve their search engine numbers by driving traffic to their own websites. And the rare troll who posts a lengthy, bombastic rant. My informal policy has been to simply delete such comments.

The NYT article described the terrible experience of one technology blogger last month:

In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra . . . reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone's personal Web site.

Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites--including one that depicted her head next to a noose--Ms. Sierra cancelled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether.

Two Internet legends, Tim O'Reilly and Jimmy Wales, were moved enough by Ms. Sierra's plight that they joined forces to address the problem.

I've mentioned Tim O'Reilly on this blog multiple times. He is the founder of O'Reilly Media and is credited with coining the term "Web 2.0." You can read about him on my post for November 7, 2005 here.

I've also mentioned Jimmy Wales on this blog a number of times. Wales is the genius behind the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. You can read about him here.

Both O'Reilly and Wales are champions of the open source approach.

The two propose "a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse . . . Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos."

They've talked about setting up a website where bloggers could choose among an array of guidelines for Internet conduct and then post the matching logo to warn visitors to the site of the rules in place. "For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about."

The idea has already provoked criticism with some people describing this initiative as an effort to destroy free speech. In my opinion, those arguments are specious; in other words, a crock.

Free speech means your right to post your opinion on YOUR blog. Your freedom to speak ends at the tip of MY nose.

You should not be permitted to make terrorist threats against another person or against a group of people. Examples of the first are what happened to Ms. Sierra. Examples of the latter are racist groups or someone who shouts "fire" in a crowded theater.

If you come into my house, I expect a certain code of civility. Otherwise, I'll ask you to leave. The same theory applies to my blog. I wouldn't permit you to nail a political rant to my mailbox or fence; why should I permit you to post one on my blog?

For more, read Tim O'Reilly's post for Sunday here. Check the Most Active box on the right side of the screen.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Peeps For Passover

Okay, I'm getting ready to leave for my writers' group. I was just killing a couple of minutes before I have to depart when I came across this.

I'll admit it. I giggled myself silly. So, of course, I wanted to share.

Here it is: Peeps for Passover! Click on this link.

Be sure to take the time to notice all the little details. The goldfish in the river of blood, the peep with clenched teeth and, of course, the peep chewed by the locusts.

I'll be back later to post tonight's blog.

Tackling Writer's Block

Yesterday broke the record for the coldest Easter in north Texas history. It was colder on Sunday in Dallas than it had been on Christmas Day. The Easter Bunny froze his butkus off.


Recently, a writer asked for help on an online writer's group. He said he was suffering from severe writer's block. Despite having the time to write, he found himself putting it off out of some kind of deep fear.

I wrote him a note and wanted to share the essence of what I said.

I suspect your expectations of yourself are so high that you fear you'll never be "good enough."

Most of us become writers for the sheer joy of telling a story, for the pleasure of manipulating words into the shapes of our choosing. I can't design or sew, I can't play an instrument, and I can't build a house, but I CAN tell a story. It's one of the things in life that makes me happiest.

Somehow you have to regain the feeling that made you want to be a writer in the first place. One suggestion might be to write something completely different from the genre in which you plan to write. If you think of yourself as an adult writer, tell a child's fairy tale. If you think of yourself as writing thrillers, do an
inspirational short story. Do something for which you have no expectations. Do it just for fun.

This may be blasphemy, but I don't believe in writer's block. I refuse to allow myself to believe in it the way I refuse to believe in the boogey man under the bed. I don't want to give it form and substance.

When I can't write on my current project, I start a new one. If I hit a roadblock on that one, I start another. I think of it as exercising my writer's muscles, in the same way an athlete develops strength and stamina by exercising every day. If he can't run because of a pulled leg muscle, he lifts weights or does stretches.

The athletes I know don't let a day go by without exercising. It's like brushing their teeth; they can't imagine skipping the task. So, I believe, it must be with writers. Write SOMETHING every day. One page, two pages; it doesn't matter. Keep your muscles moving; don't let them tighten up.

Yesterday morning, it was colder than a witch's heart here in north Texas. It freaking snowed on Saturday. I really, really thought about skipping my walk. But I didn't. I walked for three miles in a biting wind. By the time I got home, I couldn't feel my toes.

Today my skin is peeling as if I'd been sunburned. But I got up and walked again, and I sat down and wrote again. Not a lot, but a little.

Let us know how you do. I'm pulling for you.