Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Let's Take a Look at iUniverse

RWA's new definition of "vanity publishers" reminded me I've recently heard negative comments from a number of self-published writers about their experience with iUniverse.

I've been a bit surprised by this, given the company's great partners and terrific financial backing. In today's post, I thought we might take a closer look at the company.

According to its website, iUniverse started in October, 1999 as a print-on-demand press with "two facets: new title publishing . . . and back-in-print publishing."

In November, 1999, Barnes & Noble purchased a 49% stake in the company.

In 2001, venture capital firm Warburg Pincus invested $21 million in iUniverse. That capital infusion permitted iUniverse to aggressively pursue an expansion plan. The company built a digital platform that, according to its website, permitted "mass customization, personalization, and print-on-demand services." The following year, 2002, iUniverse began to focus its efforts on self-publishing.

In a press release dated January 14, 2003, iUniverse announced its Star Program, pledging "to invest in books that demonstrate promising initial sales." As iUniverse described it, the Star program would secure book reviews, direct marketing initiatives, advertising and media coverage. By investing in one of iUniverse's higher end printing packages, an author could qualify for Star services, including possible placement in Barnes & Noble.

There was some debate on the blogosphere as to how valuable the Star Program was. On 5/16/05, in an article titled "iUniverse By the Numbers," Publishers Weekly (PW) posted the following with respect to 2004, the first full year the Star Program was in operation.

18,108: Total number of titles published
14: Number of titles sold through B&N's bricks-and-mortar stores (nationally)
83: Number of titles that sold at least 500 copies
792,814: Number of copies printed
32,445: Number of copies sold of iUniverse's top seller, If I Knew Then by Amy Fisher

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that there were only 792,814 copies of iUniverse books printed in 2004. When divided by the 18,108 titles published, that comes out to an average of less than 44 copies per title.

Susan Driscoll, iUniverse's CEO, waited over a year until June 2, 2006, to post this on her blog here. The bolding is mine: "To set the record straight, those statistics are wrong, and we've notified PW of the error . . . At the time the article was published, iUniverse had accepted 83 titles into the Star Program. (We have since accepted additional titles.) . . . We have many titles that are stocked locally in Barnes & Noble. The 14 titles that PW quoted had been stocked nationally and purchased in significant quantity. And, with our new Publisher's Choice program, this number will increase dramatically in the coming months."

The only fact that Driscoll seems to contest is that 83 titles sold more than 500 copies. She says many more titles did that--although she fails to give actual numbers (and given that average of 44 copies per title, there have to be a LOT of people not printing any copies beyond the 21 free ones that come with their package). She claims only 83 of those writers who sold more than 500 copies were accepted into the Star Program. And, of those 83, only 14 got that highly desirable placement in Barnes & Noble nationally.

Every writer knows that their local bookstore will frequently accommodate them by stocking copies of their book. It's a courtesy, nothing more. PW recognized being carried by B&N nationally was what really mattered. That's why they focussed on that number. And Driscoll acknowledged that the 14 given as the number of titles carried nationally was correct.

Let's take a look at that new and improved Publisher's Choice program. To qualify for consideration in the program, the writer has to purchase the Premier Pro Publishing Package here for between $1,299 and $1,399 (for which the writer receives one free hardback copy of the book and twenty free paperback copies of the book. At 21 books for $1,399, that's essentially $67 per book).

If you plan to sell your book to the public, the Premier Pro program offers you the right to buy additional books at a volume discount. You get the first 30 books at a 45% discount. After that, the discount ranges from the next 1-5 books at a 30% discount to an order for 2,000 books at a 65% discount.

IF you qualify for the Publisher's Choice (and if you can afford the additional cost to print the number of books required for placement), your book will be featured in a local Barnes & Noble for eight weeks. If it sells during that time, it may be considered for placement in the national B&N chain.

So, bottom line, writers fork over a minimum of $1,300, hoping to get placement in Barnes & Noble nationally. However, the only thing they're guaranteed is that they'll receive 21 copies of their book (at $67 a copy, remember) with no assurances at all. If they're accepted for placement, they get to buy even more books, which they hope to sell.

To be fair to iUniverse, the majority of self-pubbed writers I've met are self-pubbed because no publisher wants their manuscripts. Most, but not all, self-pubbed writers simply haven't done the work needed to make their books saleable. The books are frequently badly written and/or badly edited.

I know one self-pubbed writer who routinely brags that his novel is over 1,200 pages (not manuscript pages, BOOK pages). The only novel that long I've ever attempted to read was the hardback version of Gone With the Wind (1,048 pages). I never finished it.

So, while I don't blame iUniverse for not pushing bad books forward, I have to wonder how honest they are with the writer up front. Do they give a forthright critique of the book, or are they non-committal, taking the writer's checks and making no promises? Obviously that $1,300 includes editorial input. The small number of Star Program books released nationally makes me wonder how much editorial help the books receive.

Interestingly enough, about two hours after I finished writing this post, I was sorting through all the free books I'd received at RWA National. I found a copy of a book called Get Published! The author was Susan Driscoll. In checking it, I discovered the book was an iUniverse book about getting published with iUniverse. Guess what is going on my TBR pile?

Monday, July 30, 2007

And Let's Not Forget Key West's Chickens {Grin}

Following my post about Hemingway's cats, I got a response from my brother P:

When I was in Key West there were 800 chickens walking around the streets. The chickens are currently protected, but are in danger of losing their free roaming status too. See here.

There are cat lovers and chicken haters. There are chicken lovers and cat haters. Can’t we all just get along?

The Plight of Hemingway's Cats

Mention Ernest Hemingway to a cat lover and you will invariably elicit the response, "Oh, have you visited his home in Key West?"

Hemingway was not yet thirty the first time he visited Key West. He'd been living in Paris with his wife Hadley when he met Pauline Pfeiffer, who worked for Vogue. Hemingway and Pfeiffer had an affair, he divorced Hadley and shortly thereafter married Pfeiffer in 1927.

Hemingway and Pauline moved to Key West on the recommenda-
tion of the writer John Dos Passos. Hemingway fell in love with the place. The couple rented for a while and then purchased a limestone house at 907 Whitehead Street with help from Pauline's uncle. According to Wikipedia, Hemingway did some of his best work in that house, "including the final draft to A Farewell to Arms, and the short story classics 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' and 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'."

Hemingway used the house on Key West as his base of operations until 1940 when he and Pauline divorced. As in his first marriage, he'd been having an affair, this time with war correspondent Martha Gellhorn whom he married right after the divorce. Pauline claimed the house in the divorce, but he remained the owner. After her death in 1951, he rented it out. After his death, the house became a U.S. National Historic Landmark and museum.

There are various legends as to how Hemingway came to own his first polydactyl cat, Snowball. Some stories claim he brought the six-toed cat with him from Cuba. Others say he was given her as a gift in 1935. Wherever Snowball came from, the cat's descendants now populate the one-acre property in Key West. The curators of the house cum museum keep the population of cats at around fifty and say that about half of them have either six or seven toes. Most are spayed or neutered, but a couple are permitted to breed each generation to replace the elderly cats that die off.

The cats are named for actors, artists and famed literary characters.

This post is prompted by an article in Sunday's LA Times. According to the article, "the languid lifestyle of the Hemingway Home cats is threatened by proposals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they be treated like performers in a zoo or circus. The feds want the museum to obtain an animal exhibition license, which would require staff to 'protect' the felines from contact with spectators and cage them after their daily 'performance' ends when the front gate closes at 5 p.m."

The trouble started eight years ago when a woman named Debra Schultz established a feeding station for feral cats half a block away. The Hemingway cats, which had rarely left the property, began going over the fence to visit. The museum staff believe that Schultz is the person who lodged a complaint, citing the Animal Welfare Act.

The Hemingway cats were not being abused. They are visited weekly by a vet, fed organic food and spoiled by the tourists who visit the site daily.

The government's demands have ranged from wanting an electrified fence installed to prevent the cats from leaving to penning the cats in enclosures. The LA Times says, "The museum has challenged the USDA designation in district court, which has sent the case back to the parties to seek a negotiated solution."

If you'd like to sign the online petition to "Save the Hemingway Cats," go here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

RWA Publishes a New Definition

My friend and critique partner Marie Tuhart just directed me to the RWA website where they have posted a new definition of "Subsidy" and "Vanity Publisher." Here it is exactly as shown:

New RWA Publisher Definition Issued on July 25, 2007

At the request of members, the Board has re-visited the definitions of "Subsidy Publisher" and "Vanity Publisher." After considering the advice of legal and industry professionals, along with suggestions by our Publisher Recognition Task Force, the board met in a telephonic board meeting on July 25th and redefined the terms "Subsidy Publisher" and "Vanity Publisher" as follows:

"Subsidy Publisher" means any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the costs of production in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution. This definition includes publishers who withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs.

"Vanity Publisher" means any publisher whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing and distribution are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and/or associates.

RWA’s mission is to promote the professional interests of career-focused romance authors through networking and advocacy. Advocacy is one of the main reasons RWA exists, and since advocacy is included in RWA's core purpose, mandated by the Bylaws, the Board cannot simply decide to stop advocating for the fair treatment of RWA's members.

Though we know some RWA members disagree, when determining whether a publisher is a Vanity Publisher, RWA believes it is important to look at distribution of books. When a publisher does not pay an advance and does not become involved with marketing and distribution, it is, in reality, acting as nothing more than a consignment dealer for the book. Providing this kind of service requires little or nothing of the publisher, and the responsibility to market the product and drive traffic to single distribution point falls upon the author. There is nothing two-sided about this kind of arrangement, no give and take where both sides involved incur risk and both stand to gain. In this situation the author incurs all of the financial risk in attempting to market a product.

On the other hand, if a publisher doesn't pay an advance, but is investing time, energy, and money to provide alternate means of distribution, the publisher is at least somewhat invested in the product. This investment moves this relationship away from a consignment arrangement and closer to a two sided publishing agreement where the author and publisher are crucial to one another. Some of the methods of national distribution that benefit an author are: Advertising in national trade or consumer magazines, wholesaler agreements, Amazon.com-type internet bookstore agreements, or national chain bookstore agreements to carry a publisher's titles. Also included are exhibiting at national and/or regional tradeshows and book fairs as well as advertising to readers.

Right now, publishing is changing daily. Companies are rising and falling with alarming speed, but it is the writers who are being hurt when a company goes under or fails to live up to promises. There are, of course, many stable and viable publishing companies who have become established in the past few years, but even with those companies RWA must continue to advocate for the fair and ethical treatment of its authors, as it has always done with long established publishers. RWA welcomes the addition of strong, viable publishers because any increase in reliable, reputable avenues of publishing is good for writers in general.

There will never come a time, however, when a writer can afford to assume any contract is good. It will always be the author's responsibility to read all the clauses, question the ones he/she doesn't understand, find out what the industry standard is, and only then, with full knowledge, make the decision to sign or not to sign. The hard truth is that a Vanity Publisher or Subsidy Publisher is not, in general, as favorable to the writer as an advance-paying non-Vanity Publisher or non-Subsidy Publisher. RWA is not here to determine who should sign or not sign any specific contract. That decision remains solely with the author. But in its role as advocate for its members, RWA must take a stand.

For anyone who missed the hoopla, please go here to my post of July 12 for details.

I think this is a much more reasonable definition than the one distributed to the membership during the RWA National meeting in Dallas. Gone is any mention of "publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site."

With respect to the line that reads: "Though we know some RWA members disagree, when determining whether a publisher is a Vanity Publisher, RWA believes it is important to look at distribution of books," frankly, I think this is a face-saving device, and I don't begrudge it to the RWA Board at all. In fact, I admire them for taking action so quickly after the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Learning to Fly in Formation

Tom Cruise's 1986 movie Top Gun is credited with introducing a military aviation term into the popular vernacular: wingman.

Wikipedia describes wingman this way:

A wingman . . . is a pilot who supports another in a potentially dangerous flying environment.

"Wingman" was originally a term referring to the plane flying beside and slightly behind the lead plane in an aircraft formation.

The idea behind the wingman is to add the element of mutual support to aerial combat. A wingman makes the flight both offensively and defensively more capable by increasing fire power, situational awareness (hopefully), attacking an enemy threatening a comrade, and most importantly the ability to employ more dynamic tactics.

The term migrated into our social vocabulary and came to mean a friend who supports a man (or woman) in a bar or club. The wingman helps the pilot select a target and may back up the pilot by talking him (or her) up to potential targets.

I was reminded of the wingman jargon today when my good friend Carleen forwarded me a link to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article titled "My Left Tackle" was written by Rachel Toor, an assistant professor of creative writing at the MFA program of Eastern Washington University.

Toor's title refers to the left tackles who protect the quarterback in football: "Someone who allows you to do what you do best. Someone who protects you while you take risks. Someone who guards you from dangers you can't see."

Whether you call that protective force your left tackle or your wingman, every writer should have one . . . or two or three.

I'm talking about critique partners.

A good critique partner is someone you can trust, someone who has your best interests at heart, someone who watches your back and who will warn you when you're getting off course.

It's not easy to find good critique partners. In order for the relationship to work, there must be a high level of mutual trust. Each partner must be willing to make him/herself vulnerable to the other.

In a way, the relationship is akin to that of very close friends--with a crucial difference. Very close friends usually develop that closeness over many years of shared experiences. Critique partners develop their closeness during the shared (and often frightening) experience of exchanging chapters.

Can a stranger provide a good critique? Of course s/he can. I've had great one-time critiques from generous writers, and I've provided a critique or two to strangers myself. But to explain the difference, I'm going to compare the experience to another time we make ourselves very vulnerable--when we're having sex.

Can you have great sex without opening up to your partner? Of course you can. But when is the experience the most satisfying? When is your climax the most fulfilling? When each partner is as committed to giving pleasure as s/he is to receiving pleasure; when each partner cares for and is cared about by the other.

I've been thinking about this subject because I've interacted with my critique partners in a variety of different venues recently--outside of merely exchanging critiques. The social awkwardness of interacting with critique partners BEYOND exchanging critiques reminded me that the closeness we've developed is an artificial one, not the result of many years of intimate friendship.

Does that matter? Does it make a difference?

It takes work. It means making an effort to understand each other and to cut each other slack while you learn to close the gap between critique partner and close friend.

Is it worth it?

Anyone can correct misspellings and punctuation. But these are some of the things critique partners offer:

  • Talking through the plotline of a new, planned manuscript. This is one of those times when it's helpful to have a three-way, four-way or even a five-way conversation. Someone will have an idea, which sparks someone else to add to that idea, or to point out obvious plot holes. This is especially helpful when the writer has a hook, but no idea where to go with the story.
  • Developing the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). If you aren't familiar with GMC, take a look at my blog for June 25, 2006 here. This is one of the ways my critique partners are invaluable to me. While I'm not a plotter, I am more plot-driven than character-driven. My CPs keep me on the straight and narrow. They force me to develop the GMC for my main characters--and they can't be put off by a facile explanation either.
  • Watching for your bad habits. Every writer has tics and quirks: a tendency to overuse one word or to repeat the same sentence construction again and again. CPs who know you also know your habits and can point out that you're DOING IT AGAIN.
  • Providing support when you're in a slump. Giving you space when you need it, but knowing when you've had enough time and pushing you to get back to work again.

Key to the this process is building a sense of trust. Every writer has experienced bad critique partners. Like the one who, after working on a manuscript, suddenly copies a scene practically verbatim into his/her own work-in-progress. Or the one who is not working to improve your manuscript, but to prove how brilliant s/he is to the rest of the group. Or Toor's example: "I've been in groups where people show up only when their own work is being discussed. That is called mooching."

Toor also says this:

I am perplexed by those who do not seek trusted readers. One friend, a professor who thinks of himself as a writer rather than an academic, seems proud that he never asks anyone to read unpublished work. How much better would his books be, I wonder, if he did? If someone asked him to move along more briskly, or suggested cutting self-indulgent passages?

My own version of the critique-partner-from-hell is the one who only wants praise, whose feathers are immediately ruffled by the slightest suggestion or who bullishly resists changing anything--even when the rest of the group unanimously agrees there's a problem.

Writing is a lonely profession. To succeed, you need a professional support network. Your critique partners will prepare you for the experience of dealing with agents and editors.

Do yourself and your manuscript a favor. Seek out new critique partners. And watch closely. Does the CP return your manuscript as promptly as you returned his/hers? Do you have the sense that s/he took as much effort with your manuscript as you did with his/hers? Is your manuscript better after the experience? Does your CP help you feel good about yourself and your writing? If so, develop the relationship and cherish the person. I promise; it's worth the effort.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Calling All Serious Bloggers

I recently discovered Joe Wikert's blog here, thanks to Kristen Nelson.

He had a post on July 10th referring readers to the "55 Essential Articles Every Serious Blogger Should Read" here.

I'm looking forward to reading all 55 articles. Hope you'll find some of them of interest, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Life Is Too Short For . . .

I used to say, "Life is too short to stuff a mushroom."

I learned that lesson after I decided in a moment of insanity to serve hors d'oeuvres that included crab-stuffed mushrooms one night. My recipe called for mixing up a crab paste and then adding in the chopped-up stems from the mushrooms before filling the mushrooms. Never again. What I gained in hostess points, I lost in patience.

I've just expanded my definition to read, "Life is too short to stuff a mushroom OR to medicate a cat."

I ended up taking Bobbin to the vet Saturday morning where he received an antibiotic shot, and I received a fourteen-day supply of oral meds for his burgeoning case of bordetella.

It's freaking amazing how powerful a twenty-pound cat can be when he doesn't want to do something. IF YOU CAN EVEN FIND HIM.

My old-standby method has always been to wrap the cat in a heavy bathtowel (strait jacket style). With the feline legs (and claws) restrained, dealing with the fangs is not such a big deal. You simply pull the head directly backward, and the mouth pops open. Works every time.

Bob quickly sussed out my medication schedule (7:00 AM and 7:00 PM). Since I served cat breakfast and dinner at 6:30 AM and 6:30 PM, he'd eat and run. For several days, I spent thirty minutes morning and night searching for him under beds and inside bathroom cabinets (he stands on his hind legs, hooks his claws into the top of the cabinet door seam and pops the cabinet open. Fortunately he hasn't yet figured out that he needs to close the cabinet door behind him).

Being flexible, I reworked the eating schedule to medicate first, eat later.

Of course, that change in schedule upset Tribble and Dinah, who are now maintaining a Greek chorus of complaint while I'm trying to medicate Bob. Sensing their support, he began howling like a banshee each time I carried him toward the table on which I usually medicate him.

What makes it worse is that Bob really does adore me. He follows me around like a dog and, when I sit at my laptop, he worships at my altar by licking my bare toes or my fingers when I reach down to pet him.

I'll get the antibiotic into him, give him a dog liver treat (don't ask), feed everyone and head for my computer. Half the time, he ignores his food to follow me to my computer and try his own version of the rite for reconciliation. He starts by rubbing against my bare legs, then stands on his hind legs and bats my elbow with his head and, finally, jumps up into my lap. He stands on his back legs and rubs my cheek with his face as if to say, "I don't know why you're so angry with me, but I love you anyway."

Makes me feel like a heel.

Only eight more days to go.

Read on. This is a two-post day.

Defining Women's Fiction

This post is prompted by agent Jonathan Lyons' blog for yesterday.

Jonathan has begun a weekly feature he calls "Word of the Week," in which he defines a publishing term. It's a great idea, and I look forward to it.

Today he tackled "women's fiction," and he did a much better job than Wikipedia, which has this lame definition: Women's fiction is a wide-ranging genre that includes various types of novels one expects would appeal more to women than men. (Note that this stereotype doesn't always hold true. There are exceptions to the rule.) It is an umbrella term that covers mainstream novels, romantic fiction, Chick lit and other subgenres.

Gosh. That's like saying the definition of a woman is anyone who isn't a man. It's useless.

Jonathan's definition was much more specific:

My own opinion is that [women's fiction] can be written by either a man or a woman. It needs to have a female protagonist. A relationship has to be one of the central themes (this could be a romance, mother-daughter, friends, sisters, etc.).

I completely agree that the essence of women's fiction is that it about relationship--and not necessarily a romance.

When I think of women's fiction, I think of Jodi Picoult. I've posted about her before. My first post was almost exactly a year ago here.

At its core, Jodi's work is always about relationship. She doesn't always hit a homerun, but when she does, she knocks the ball out of the park.

What's makes her work different from Jonathan's definition is that her protagonist is not always a woman. Increasingly, she uses multiple POVs--sometimes as many as five or six of both sexes. However, she's done at least two books I can think of that had a male protagonist.

In The Tenth Circle, Picoult's protagonist is Daniel Stone, a comic book artist, whose fourteen-year-old daughter is date raped. In Salem Falls, Jack St. Bride is a dedicated teacher whose life was shattered by a false accusation of sexual abuse by one of his students.

Jonathan's blog made me think. Are those two books just exceptions to a rule, or is women's fiction evolving?

I want to digress for a second to say I have had a terrible time convincing the men in my life to try reading Jodi's books. The only guy I have been able to browbeat . . . I mean, convince . . . is my youngest brother, the other writer in the family. He's a sports columnist who travels frequently, spending a lot of time on planes reading. He absolutely refused to travel with a bunch of sports jocks carrying a book of women's fiction. It took me years to get him to read a Picoult novel. Now he reads them regularly--although I don't know if he reads them on planes :)

In June, 2006, the Wall Street Journal had an article speculating on the changes in women's reading tastes. Columnist Jeffrey Trachtenberg (I really do like that man) talked about Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.

For those of you not familiar with Jack Reacher, he's a modern day Shane, the loner who rides into a troubled situation, utilizes his special skills to bring about resolution and leaves. Jack Reacher has replaced the spot in my heart once held by Robert Parker's Spenser. The series reminds me of Westerns in other ways, too. The stories are very much white hat/black hat, and rife with sudden violence.

Trachtenberg said: "despite his brutish ways, Reacher is doing something surprising: winning the hearts of many women readers. Of the 20,000 fans world-wide that have joined the Reacher Creatures fan club, an estimated 65% are female."

And the Child books are all from Reacher's POV.

I'm wondering if the walls of what constitutes women's fiction are more permeable than they once were? Are women's tastes changing? Becoming more expansive? What do you think?

Jonathan's blog is here. Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"It's Great to be Here. It's Great to be Anywhere."

When I think of Keith Richards, I think of how quotable the guy is. Even when he's completely zoned out, he's quotable.

"I've never had a problem with drugs. I've had problems with the police." Keith Richards

Yesterday's NewYorkBusiness.com (NYB) reported the following:

The battle for Keith Richards’ autobiography has turned into the hottest auction of the summer. Bidding for a book by the Rolling Stones’ famed founding member, co-song writer and rhythm guitarist has reached $7.1 million, according to publishing industry sources.

“You've got the sun, you've got the moon, and you've got the Rolling Stones.” Keith Richards.

British literary agent Ed Victor brought the auction to New York, inviting three houses to bid on the forthcoming autobiography. Harper Collins and Little, Brown are still in the bidding for the world English language rights. The translation rights will be sold separately.

"Rock and Roll: Music For the Neck Downwards." Keith Richards.

Some publishing executives doubt the wisdom of the $7 million figure. "All the Stones books have covered him,” an executive who is not a part of the bidding said in NewYorkBusiness.com.

Others wonder if Richards can remember enough of his past to write the book.

"I never thought I was wasted, but I probably was." Keith Richards.

Perhaps sensitive to the issue, "Mr. Victor told the New York Post that memory wouldn’t be an issue since Mr. Richards would collaborate with his friend of 30 years, the noted non-fiction author James Fox." (NYB)

“Passing the vodka bottle. And playing the guitar.” Keith Richards.

Read on. Today's a two-post day.

What's Up With Borders???

For the past month it seems that every time I open my daily Publishers Lunch or Shelf Awareness, I find a mention of something happening at Borders Group Inc.

Here are some of the items:

July 9: Spencer Capital Management reported buying a 6.8% stake in Borders Group, making them the fourth largest shareholder

July 11: Susan Yeager, who'd been with Borders for fifteen years left to join Harpers Children.

July 17: Susan Harwood was hired as Chief Information Officer at Borders at the same time Rick Vanzura resigned as Chief Strategy Officer and Executive VP of Emerging Business.

July 18: Bill Nasshan, Senior VP of Trade Books, resigned.

July 19: Myles Romero joined Borders as VP of Strategic Marketing and Entertainment Alliances. Teresa Wright joined Borders as VP of Merchandising for their Paperchase Division

I decided to do a little research. I came across a video of Shelf Awareness interviewing Borders CEO George L. Jones at the 2007 Book Expo at the end of May. I also found a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) interview dated July 16 by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, one of my favorite WSJ columnists.

Jones started at Borders last July 17 so he has just celebrated his first anniversary at the second largest U.S. bookchain. In the Shelf Awareness interview, he talked about the five initiatives he is championing:

1) Taking back the Borders website from Amazon.com. I reported on this back in November here. In April 2001, discouraged by the capital costs of setting up an online website, the former CEO made the decision to turn the Internet business over to Amazon.

Within four months of Jones' arrival last year, he made the decision to take the online business back. In the WSJ interview, he said, "First, I don't like turning our customers over to a major competitor. When somebody goes to borders.com and ends up at Amazon, Amazon gets the data and forms the relationship with the customer. Also, and this is a big point, we need connectivity with our stores. Our relationship with Amazon limits that connectivity. Also, our rewards program can't be part of it."

2) Selling off foreign stores. In March here, I reported that Borders had retained Merrill Lynch to help them unload the majority of their 73 superstores overseas. In the Shelf Awareness interview, Jones explained that Borders needs to focus its attention and capital on its U.S. superstores.

In April, 2005, Borders opened a franchise in Malaysia. In October, 2006, they opened another one in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Jones says Borders will probably use the franchise model for overseas rather than the proprietary model.

3) Developing prototype stores. Jones told Shelf Awareness that the amount of the average transaction at Borders is up, but the number of transactions are down. In other words, there are fewer customers in the stores.

He wants to take advantage of natural traffic to bring more customers in.

When asked by the WSJ what the problem was, he said, "The Internet is clearly a factor. The other major factor is the mass retailers. There are a lot of books sold at Wal-Mart and Costco. Even though there is a limited assortment, customers see best sellers and other books, and that represents a lost visit for us, and that affects traffic."

He also told the WSJ: "We will have e-commerce offerings in our store that will let us do things to drive more traffic into our stores. It will also mean new opportunities for outside partnerships that can work online and in our stores. And it will let us take orders for books not in stock."

When asked to explain what he meant by "partnerships," Jones said, "Well, we have great travel and cooking departments. Say you are in those businesses. You know that the customers who are buying our cookbooks or travel books like to cook or travel. Some companies will want to reach them, both online and in our stores." He explained that Borders could put kiosks into their stores to show films of potential travel sites and connect with travel agencies so customers could learn about possible trips.

4) Proprietary publications. On June 11, Borders released its first "exclusive and proprietary" title, Slip and Fall by Nick Santora. Jones believes that Borders, by handselling the book, can make it a bestseller. [On June 25, Borders issued a press release saying that the book "debuted at #15 on today's The Wall Street Journal bestseller list in the fiction category."] If readers can only locate the book at Borders, this will drive traffic to Borders. He has plans to do additional proprietary books in future months.

5) Expanding the loyalty program: Jones told Shelf Awareness that Borders had made a mistake by not immediately responding when Barnes & Noble instituted its rewards program in 2000. Borders waited until February, 2006 to follow suit. To make up time, they did not charge for their loyalty program. They now have 18 million members in the new program. They took a huge hit during the Christmas season last year when customers cashed in their rewards all at once. Borders Group Inc. lost a record $151.3 million last year.

Now their rewards program has been revamped to offer smaller rewards more frequently throughout the year instead of once-a-year during the holidays.

One question that Jeffrey Trachtenberg asked that I found interesting was: "Borders now has some very large investors. What are the chances that the company will remain independent?"

Jones responded, "I can't comment. It's a matter of policy."

Keep an eye on Borders.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Final Word on the Swan Hat

A good friend, sent this URL here to me. Thanks, Cat.

I was ambivalent about the swan hat Sherrilyn Kenyon wore at the RWA conference. My independent streak insisted that everyone should have the right to look as foolish as they choose to look. At the same time, my sense of fair play could understand other writers being annoyed that SK (or her hat) became the image of RWA publicized to the world in general.

But this has won me over. Rather than getting defensive, Sherrilyn displayed a sense of humor and a flair that I admire.

You go, girl.

Read on. This is a two-post day.

Dexter's On His Way

Oh, frabjous day! I just checked Amazon and found that Jeff Lindsay's next book is being released on September 18th.

Last October, I did a post here on Jeff's first book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Tip: I strongly suggest you read that post before running out to buy the book. It's not for everyone.

Miss Snark loved that first book. Because of her repeated recommendation, I picked it up in a bookstore. I also put it down again. The cutesy title, the overdone alliteration and Dexter's habit of talking about himself in the third person were all too much for me.

It was only when the series (if you can call two books a series) debuted on cable that I finally made a serious effort to read Lindsay's first book. And I was hooked (not immediately--it took me all the way to page 15 to get hooked). The black humor was right up my alley (I also love Quentin Tarantino's films). I checked the second book out of my library within days of reading the first.

Here's the Amazon book description of the upcoming book Dexter in the Dark :

“One of the most likable vigilante serial killers” (The New Yorker) faces his ultimate adversary…an evil so terrifying it scares away Dexter’s inner monster—and nearly dries up his sense of humor—in this wickedly witty, darkly suspenseful novel.

In his work as a Miami crime scene investigator, Dexter Morgan is accustomed to seeing evil deeds…particularly because, on occasion, he rather enjoys committing them himself. Guided by his Dark Passenger (the reptilian voice inside him), he lives his outwardly normal life adhering to one simple rule: he kills only very bad people. Dexter slides through life undetected, working as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department, helping his fiancé raise her two adorable (if somewhat…unique) children, and always planning his next jaunt as Dexter the Dark Avenger under the light of the full moon.

But then everything changes. Dexter is called to a crime scene that seems routine: a gruesome double homicide at the university campus, which Dexter would normally investigate with gusto, before enjoying a savory lunch. And yet this scene feels terribly wrong. Dexter’s Dark Passenger senses something it recognizes, something utterly chilling, and the Passenger—mastermind of Dexter’s homicidal prowess—promptly goes into hiding.

With his Passenger on the run, Dexter is left to face this case all alone—not to mention his demanding sister (Sergeant Deborah), his frantic fiancée (Rita), and the most frightening wedding caterer ever to plan a menu. Equally unsettling, Dexter begins to realize that something very dark and very powerful has its sights set on him. Dexter is left in the dark, but he must summon his sharpest investigative instincts not only to pursue his enemy, but to locate and truly understand his Dark Passenger. To find him, Dexter has to research the questions he’s never dared ask: Who is the Dark Passenger, and where does he come from? It is nothing less than a search for Dexter’s own dark soul…fueled by a steady supply of fresh doughnuts.

Macabre, ironic, and wonderfully entertaining, Dexter in the Dark goes deeper into the psyche of one of the freshest protagonists in recent fiction. Jeff Lindsay’s glorious creativity is on full display in his most accomplished novel yet.

I can't wait.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another Take On the Eligible Publisher Issue

I joined RWA only three years ago. That means I don't have much of a history or understanding of a lot of the political ins and outs of the organization.

History? I don't need no stinking history.*** I have a secret weapon: my critique partner Marie Tuhart.

Marie has been a RWA member for many years and is blessed with a looonnnnggggg memory. She had a post on her blog for July 17th here that I thought was very interesting. Since she stores her posts by week, you'll need to scroll down to the one titled "RWA's New Rules," but it's worth a read.

Marie Of the Long Memory says that, some years ago, RWA tried to charge publishing houses a $3,000 flat fee to send as many editors to RWA National as they wanted.

I don't know what the conference fees were at that time, but let's say $300 for a round number (so I don't have to actually do math). That flat fee would have required a publisher to send TEN editors to break even.

I'm sure Harlequin and the bigger houses probably do send ten people to RWA National. But it's unlikely smaller houses would send that many staff to RWA National. And, as far as e-publishers go, some e-publishers probably don't even have ten employees in total.

I'm not surprised that this initiative didn't fly. Complaints from publishers and RWA members stopped the RWA Board from pursuing it.

Marie speculates that RWA may be revisiting this flat fee issue via the backdoor by making e-publishers non-eligible through the new definition and requiring them to pay for admittance to National.

If so, that's pretty diabolical.

Trust me, if you have a question about RWA, Marie Tuhart is your man . . . um . . . lady . . . um . . . the person you want to ask.

*** Apologies to Humphrey Bogart and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I like the Blazing Saddles version of the line better.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Revisiting Jane Eyre

How many of you had a crazy aunt or uncle who gave you totally inappropriate gifts for Christmas or your birthday?

I had more than my share of whacked relatives. Coming from a large Irish/Italian family, I had sixteen aunts and uncles.

By the time I was four, I'd been well-schooled in the etiquette of receiving awful gifts. "Oh, thank you, Uncle Q. It's just what I wanted." Of course, the gracious effect was completely spoiled when I turned to ask my mother, "What is it?"

One of those inappropriate gifts arrived on my ninth birthday: a copy of Jane Eyre. My Aunt C, who usually knew better, told me, "This was my favorite love story when I was a girl. Because you're a reader, I just know you'll like it, too."

Since I really WAS a reader, I accepted the book and headed to the backyard to start reading it.

I was reminded of this experience recently while reading the Book Cannibal's blog here. She was trying to read Jane Eyre for her bookclub and finding the going a bit hard.

I can empathize. Here's the first paragraph of the novel:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

Deadly, isn't it? Starts out with a bunch of narrative describing the weather and employs a "telling" style. Not to mention I had to look the word "sombre" up. Ugh.

The book was VERY SLOW GOING for me. On the first page alone, I had to look up the definitions for "chidings," "sprightly," "cavillers," and "moreen." I think I averaged six look-ups per page that first reading before I gave the project up when confronted by this sentence:

He gorged himself habitually at table, which made him bilious, and gave him a dim and bleared eye and flabby cheeks.

I simply couldn't face the prospect of looking up four words in one sentence.

My edition of Jane Eyre came with an introduction by Clifton Fadiman, a well-known critic. Every year, from the time I was nine until I turned fourteen, I re-read that introduction (and re-tried the book).

You see, Fadiman offered me hope. He said that when he first read the book as a youth, he'd been turned off by all the "love stuff."

That introduction provided optimism on two fronts: First, at some point, Fadiman had obviously changed his mind about the book because he was now flacking it. At nine, the possibility that someone might promote a product for money simply never occurred to me.

The second incentive was more base: Both my aunt and Fadiman had referred to the book as a love story. I'd never read a love story before. In my pre-teen mind, this was tangible evidence of my maturity and, by God, I was going to read that damn book--even if I had to sit with the family dictionary at my side to do it.

As the Book Cannibal points out, the love story doesn't really get going for a hundred pages. It took five years for me to get past those hundred pages. By then, I was fourteen and had a fair amount of experience reading love stories. Of course, they were thin category romances from Harlequin. Still, I never gave up my determination to finish Jane Eyre.

And like the Book Cannibal here, once Mr. Rochester made his appearance, I was HOOKED. I lived every moment of Jane's romance with her--the longing, the joy, the shock and the devastation.

I'm embarrassed to admit that, a few years later, I actually hand-copied and sent an excerpt--the line about feeling as though there was a string tied under my left rib knotted to a similar string tied to his rib--to a completely bewildered male who didn't get the point. It was probably the most witless thing I've ever done. Well, no, there was that time I found a copy of the Starland Vocal Band's single "Afternoon Delight" and sent it to my boyfriend, sug-
gesting we meet for lunch. Ick! And then there was the time--no, forget that.

I still have that copy of Jane Eyre. Maybe I'll send it to one of my nieces.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

One More Take On That Black Swan

Okay, I told myself I wasn't going to get into this debate, and I've kept my word for five whole days. But I can't stand it any more. I just need to say something.

Ever since RWA National ended, there has been a running argument in the romance blogosphere about--of all things--the miniskirts and thigh-high stockings worn by two authors promoting their books for Dorchester's new Shomi imprint.

You can see a photo of Marianne Mancusi and Liz Maverick wearing their costumes and posing with their books here.

I first became aware of the discussion on Kate Rothwell's blog here on Monday. Believe me, when I say the debate has been lively. By Tuesday, the action had shifted to The Smart Bitches, who have racked up 566 comments on their blog here. Dear Author racked up another 81 comments here.

The debate has been mostly civil although there's been a tendency to reduce the discussion into two camps: The first described as more traditional and concerned with maintaining the respect of the publishing industry.

Members of the second camp are perhaps a wee bit less concerned about image and more comfortable being associated with the frontiers of the romance genre, including sci-fi, manga and cosplay.

For those of you not familiar with cosplay, the term is a contraction for "costume play." Wikipedia says the word originated at the 1984 L.A. Worldcon to describe the Japanese trend for dressing up as characters from anime and manga. In the sci-fi world, it is very common for fans to wear costumes depicting their favorite characters or series.

Mancusi and Maverick (henceforth called M&M) wanted to attract attention and came up with their own cosplay. It certainly succeeded. Their picture was featured in the July 11 edition of Publishers Weekly.

Before venturing an opinion, let me make a disclaimer. I am not one of the writers who has been laboring in the romance trenches for twenty years. Far from it. Although I was an avid reader of romances in my early teens, by the time I graduated from college, I'd abandoned the genre completely.

I'd had it with that uneven power distribution between the heroine and hero. I was tired of all those virgins who had to be seduced/coerced/made drunk/tricked into sex. I was fed up with all the "pulsing, throbbing" euphemisms. I can remember thinking, "I wish--just once--one of these women would approach her lover without all the freaking angst."

So I wasn't among the writers who worked so hard to gain professional recognition both for themselves and for their genre. But I do remember all the jokes and sneers about romances. I know how difficult it must have been to be a "real" writer and yet not be respected as such.

What brought me back into the fold? Robin Schone's The Lady's Tutor. I read it while stuck in a hotel overnight. The newstand's book choices were very limited and Tutor's historical setting won out over yet another serial killer novel. I stayed up all night to read that book.

Okay, enough beating around the bush. I'm just going to come out and say it:

A miniskirt and a pair of thigh-highs are not going to pull down the walls of the romance temple.

What has attracted me to the romance industry in recent years is how much bigger the tent has become. I have writer friends who write inspirationals. They don't slam me for writing erotic romance, and I don't mock their choices. We each have a perspective and, more importantly, the right to hold that perspective.

I have been awed and inspired by how helpful the published authors I've met have been. They offered me free critiques, advice and lots of encouragement. I'm quite proud to call myself a romance writer.

When I first saw the photo, I'll confess, I laughed at all the fuss. I spend a lot of time on a university campus, and I see young people dressed like this all the time. It's not a look I'd recommend for women over forty but, if you have the hips and thighs to carry it off, more power to you. It's a little edgy, and while I wouldn't choose to dress that way, I certainly don't denigrate another woman for doing so.

On impulse, I showed the M&M thigh-high photo to a certain man I know, who looked, shrugged and said, "So?"

Frankly, I suspect most men would have the same reaction as my friend.

Why is it that so many women were exercised by this? I think a writer calling herself Poison Ivy may have come closest to expressing the concern I heard on Smart Bitches Tuesday:

How many of you attended the RT convention around 25 years ago . . . Nora was around at the time, and we would show up at conferences and find writers dressed as southern belles and worse. It was demeaning and depressing, and it made for patronizing, scathing commentary in the newspapers. [Barbara] Cartland was a genius at self-promotion, no doubt about it, but she also was shamelessly vulgar. Some people in the romance world do not want anybody to get the idea that romance writers are just girls being silly, or worse, tarts. This is a profession, and it’s not the oldest one.

Jennifer Crusie had something to say, too:

There’s a difference between having a great time at a costume party and showing up for a professional booksigning dressed as one of your characters . . . I believe I’m also part of a multi-billion dollar business, that I respect what I do and what I am, and I choose to present myself as a professional. Since the reason for dressing like that is to call attention to oneself, it’s pretty much making yourself a marketing ploy and it’s very low-rent marketing . . .

I have to admit that my first reaction to Sherrilyn Kenyon's swan hat was exactly the same as Jenny's. Gimmee a break. See it here courtesy of Dear Author.

If Kenyon wants to wear a big black bird on her head, that's her Constitutional right. Of course, since that picture ended up on the cover of the Dallas Morning News the next day, I can understand other writers' annoyance. It's a more obvious case of promoting yourself at the expense of your peers--many of whom were aggravated by the crazy-looking woman with bad makeup suddenly serving as a representative for THEM. While it certainly got SK the attention she wanted, I wonder at what expense.

The one good thing that came out of this for me is a better understanding of the RWA Board's seeming hypervigilance about maintaining the (admittedly hard won) respect for the organization's professionalism. I think I have a bit better understanding of what a long way they've come and how hard they are trying to keep from backsliding.

When women can finally relax and stop being apologetic or defensive of our choices, then we'll know we have reached full equality with our male brethren. There's lots of room in that big tent called romance for everyone who wants a place.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lyons Literary Agency

We have a total of three posts today.

First, I was thrilled last night to see that Jonathan Lyons of the Lyons Literary Agency had linked to this blog. Thank you, Jonathan. It's always an upper when someone I respect gives me a nod.

I first mentioned Jonathan's blog on June 10th. I read it religiously. Earlier this week, he started a Word of the Week feature that I know is going to be very useful to writers everywhere. Check him out here.

Read on for the day's other posts.

RWA Board Re-Thinking Its Position

A little bird emailed me yesterday to say that the RWA Board has decided to revisit its proposed definition of a subsidy or vanity publisher.

I talked about the problems with the proposed definition here.

I really applaud RWA for taking another look at this issue. I suspect it will be some time before we see the revision. That's okay. Just knowing they are willing to reconsider it is enough for now.

Read on for today's third post. Yes, I was having trouble sleeping last night. I kept thinking of plot twists for Blair's story and, of course, I had to work them through to their logical conclusions.

Revisiting Second Life

Eight months ago, I did a five-part series on the world of Second Life, the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).

As I explained in my first post on the subject here, Second Life (SL) is a metaverse, or a universe within the universe of the Internet. I became interested in it because of the implications this virtual world, operating since 2003, has for copyright.

Unlike most online games, Second Life did not set up many rules for its players, called "residents." Linden Lab, its creator, provided the world and gave its residents tools to manipulate that world along with a virtual economy to provide a skeletal structure.

Residents can drift through the game, or they can make a commitment to lease or purchase their own little piece of Second Life. They can use this property for any legal purpose--to set up a store in which to sell goods, to set up a nightclub in order to attract other players or to merely build a home to decorate and inhabit.

Unlike many online games, Second Life is not set up for gamers to "win." There are no progressively difficult levels of achievement. Instead, SL is intended to mimic the real world. And, as in the real world, the way to show your superiority is in subjective ways: the clothes you wear, the house you live in, the vehicles you drive, the job you possess and the number of friends you have.

At the time I posted my series, the corporate world had discovered Second Life and had begun moving into the virtual world. Companies as diverse as American Apparel, Dell Computers, Nissan and Starwood Hotels had purchased land inside the metaverse in order to get customer feedback and sell their wares. In Part II here, I described the economy of Second Life. And in Part III here, I offered details of some of the scams and cons that threatened residents.

In the last two parts of my series, I discussed the new legal ground being explored by Second Life. In Part IV here, I started the conversation on copyright while in Part V here, I discussed how the real world was beginning to take notice of the virtual world. Reuters had set up a news bureau inside SL, and the U.S. Congress was becoming interested in taxable implications.

So, why am I revisiting Second Life today?

Because of a small item in Tuesday's Shelf Awareness:

The literati of Second Life's role-playing world are taking virtual classes, discussing Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and even creating buildings based on the novels of Gloria Naylor. In addition, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the "American Library Association has joined Second Life too, in an area called Cybrary City . . . to disseminate ALA news, and also to hold events and interact with the public."

While everyone is aware of the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook, there has been less attention paid to the social networking power of Second Life. In the second post in my series, I talked about the terrific potential SL offered as an educational site:

Tim Allen, head of technology at Crompco Corp., an underground gas tank testing firm . . . built a virtual gas station, graphically showing all the tanks and gas lines under the asphalt. He says it's much easier to grasp the station's workings this way than it is on paper. "It's great for training new hires and showing changing regulations to existing employees," says Allen.

In the April 16th edition of BusinessWeek Online, there was a story titled "I Was a Second Life B-School Student." The writer pointed out that a number of undergraduate programs already have a presence in Second Life, but that INSEAD, "an international business school with real-world classes in France and Singapore," is one of the first management programs to purchase an island there.

Miklos Sarvary, associate professor of marketing and manager of the International Centre for Learning Innovation at INSEAD, told BusinessWeek that this experiment will put "the INSEAD community at the forefront of new technology, . . . [and] help the school cut back on travel and physical building expenses. It also enables the program to make good on its commitment to diversity by bringing together students and professors from across the globe . . ."

If INSEAD doesn't impress you, how about Harvard Law School? During the fall semester of 2006, the course Law in the Court of Public Opinion was offered jointly by the Harvard Law School and the Harvard Extension School. The website for the class included this:

Enrollment to the Harvard Extension School is open to the public. Extension students will experience portions of the class through a virtual world, known as Second Life. Videos, discussions, lectures, and office hours will all take place on Berkman Island. Students from anywhere in the world will be able to interact with one another, in real time.

Beyond formal educational purposes, Second Life offers a terrific opportunity for informal networking. I've often talked about the future of the Internet. Back on November 17, I posted this:

We repeatedly see references to Web 2.0. Everyone "knows" that it refers to the next generation of the Internet, but what does it really mean? I checked Wikipedia and found the following definition:

"a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a supposed second generation of Internet-based services--such as social networking sites . . . that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users."

I belong to more Yahoo Groups than I care to admit here. I probably receive one or two invitations to join a new group every week. The sheer numbers have forced me to be a lot more selective in which groups I join.

Those Yahoo Groups are a two-dimensional form of social networking. Second Life is the three-dimensional version. Think of it as a Yahoo Group on steroids. Then think about the awesome potential it offers for making connection--around the world.

I'm just going to leave you with a couple of statistics. Back when I wrote that series on SL eight months ago, I said, "Second Life now has 1.6 million residents. Linden Lab claims Second Life's population is increasing by 38% every month. There were 14,192 residents logged on when I looked."

I just went over to Second Life here to check the current stats. The bad news is that SL has not been able to sustain the 38% growth per month. However, they did grow by 500% in the past eight months.

Second Life now has 8.2 million residents.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Power of Serendipity

Today's a two-post day.

The first post is about serendipity--those rare moments when everything just seems to come together.

I keep an "ideas" folder. Whenever I hear an interesting story or read an article that piques my interest, I cut the story out or note the details on an index card and stick it in my ideas folder.

A couple of months ago, I had to have physical therapy on my right knee, which I'd injured in an electricity outage in a thunderstorm.

During a rehab session, while my right leg was in a massaging boot, I read an article about a police department scandal. I was intrigued enough to stop by my local Half Price Books and pick up the magazine the story had appeared in. I cut the article out and filed it in my folder.

For the past six months, I've been struggling with the concept of my "brand." While I've been extremely disciplined about learning to understand the publishing industry, I have not been as disciplined when it came to the type of manuscript I write and developing recognition as a writer who is known for that particular type of manuscript.

The problem is that I love to try my hand at writing various genres according to my mood and whim. The push/pull for me has been to develop a focus that I can then begin branding for a potential readership.

No matter what I've played at writing over the past half year, I keep returning to thrillers. My passion is to write contemporary suspense novels (with a lot of sexy romance along the way).

So, at RWA National, I made a point of attending the workshops devoted to romantic suspense. I sat in on classes given by Karen Rose, Robin Perini, Madeline Hunter and Brenda Novak. I left RWA feeling energized and ready to write a new contemporary suspense novel.

Since Sunday afternoon when I got home, I've written 5,000 words on what I'm temporarily calling "Blair's Story."

My critique partner, Jeanne Laws, read the first few pages and emailed me the comment: "I don’t know where you’re going with it, but this is gold so far."

Yesterday, while I was eating lunch and editing the first twenty pages, I listened to a NPR radio interview. KERA, my local station, was interviewing women police officers. The program caught my attention, and I stopped editing to listen. Krys Boyd, a local commentator, mentioned that there would be a lecture on "Women in Law Enforcement" last night at 7:00 PM at the Sixth Floor Museum (the spot from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy).

I immediately changed my plans for the evening to permit me to attend.

The program focused on three current and past Dallas policewomen: a Hispanic woman who was the first to ride in a two-woman patrol car and who was the only woman to ever head up the Dallas Police Association; an African-American woman who was one of the first six women officers to go into the field in Dallas (Dallas and Washington, D.C. were the first major cities to put women on patrol in 1972); and an Anglo woman lieutenant who now is in charge of the night shift in the Dallas Central Business District. I sat in the audience beside a woman who was formerly an ATF agent in Dallas.

The material these women offered was FABULOUS. I took notes until my right hand cramped. I also got the business cards of the lieutenant and the ATF agent, who agreed to let me call them.

I can't wait to get back to writing Blair's Story. I have a sense of purpose, a sense of excitement and the happiness that comes from knowing I'm on the right track.

I'm bringing a yellow legal pad with me to jury duty today in case I spend time waiting in a pool. I'm ready to write this sucker.

Always be on the lookout for your next novel. Sometimes serendipity will pop up to help you.

Read on for today's second post below.

What Fresh Hell Is This?

An interesting trial opened in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan on Tuesday. It is a case involving copyright, but neither side in the lawsuit owns the copyright.

The case involves the poetry of Dorothy Parker, an American writer and poet best known for her caustic wit. She was often called the wittiest woman in America.

Parker once worked for Vogue magazine and later wrote for The New Yorker. She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York playwrights, editors, critics and journalists who met for lunch every day between 1919 and 1929 at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan.

She is best known for her short poems and pithy comments. Samples are:

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses

She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B (when speaking of Katharine Hepburn)

You can lead a horticulture
But you can't make her think

She reportedly once responded to the ringing of her phone with the exclamation, "What fresh hell is this?" Thereafter, she used the phrase in place of "Hello" whenever answering the telephone or front door.

During her lifetime, Parker published seven volumes of short stories and verse. According to TheStreet.com, "she let nearly a third of her early works essentially vanish because, according to literary critics, she considered them inferior."

When Parker died at the age of 73 in 1967, she left her estate to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. When he died ten months later, her estate then went to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Penguin, her publisher, pays royalties to the NAACP.

Thirteen years ago, a L.A. attorney named Stuart Y. Silverstein discovered the unpublished poems while doing research on the Algonquin Round Table. He edited 122 poems and queried Penguin about doing an additional volume of poetry. Penguin offered to pay Silverstein $2,000 for his work. According to TheStreet.com, they "wanted the collection for a complete compilation of Parker's poetry and to have someone other than Silverstein write the introduction."

Silverstein turned down the Penguin offer, went to Scribner (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) and made the deal. He wrote his own introduction and was credited as the compilation editor. The poems were released as Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker in 1996.

In 1999, Penguin published the anthology they had planned and titled it Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems. They used Silverstein's book in a chapter called "Poems Uncollected by Parker." The editor Penguin selected to work on the compilation, Colleen Breese, admitted in depositions that she purchased Silverstein's book, cut the pages out, photocopied the poems and put them into the Penguin manuscript in chronological order. Penguin did not credit Silverstein as their source or pay him any royalties.

Understandably miffed, Silverstein sued Penguin in 2001 for copyright infringement. According to TheStreet.com, "An editor of a compilation can assert a copyright on the underlying intellectual property if he contributes creativity and material beyond the original work. Sweat-of-the-brow research isn't copyrightable; neither is organizing the list in a typical way, such as chronological or alphabetical."

In April, 2003, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan found Penguin guilty of copyright infringement and ruled in favor of Silverstein. According to The New York Times (NYT), Keenan said Penguin's "failure to credit him 'was deliberate and not inadvertent'." Keenan ordered Penguin to recall their anthology, run an ad about the recall in Publishers Weekly and to provide reimbursement for the books returned.

Penguin obeyed the ruling, but appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In May, 2004, that court decided that "the selection reflected in Not Much Fun was actually Parker's--inasmuch as she decided not to collect these poems in the three volumes [of poetry] she published in her lifetime." (NYT)

The appeals court sent the case back to the original court to decide if Silverstein's decision not to include some of Parker's poems warranted his being "entitled to royalties and other damages." (NYT) The appeals court's opinion was that "material questions of fact exist as to whether Silverstein exercised creativity in selecting the works for his compilation. Those questions must be answered before the creativity, if any, in his selection process can be assessed." (TheStreet.com)

Silverstein appealed to the Supreme Court with a Petition for Writ of Certiorari. According to the Tech Law Journal, this is a "document which a losing party files with the Supreme Court asking the Supreme Court to review the decision of a lower court. It includes a list of the parties, a statement of the facts of the case, the legal questions presented for review, and arguments as to why the Court should grant the writ."

On December 13, 2004, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, without opinion. (Tech Law Journal)

So this week, Judge Keenan will hear the case again. It will be a bench trial, meaning Keenan will serve as both judge and jury. If Penguin loses, the financial damages could be significant--perhaps millions of dollars. But some experts believe the damage to Penguin's reputation could be even more expensive.

Peter Jaszi, a law professor, was quoted in TheStreet.com as saying, "Publishers and other enterprises in the creative sector want to be, and need to be, respectful of the talent and creativity of authors . . . if Penguin is found to have ridden over someone who was a creative person, and disregarded their rights, that would be a black eye for its reputation."

Stay tuned for more on this case . . .

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back To The Present

I'm still trying to settle back into my ordinary life after nearly two weeks away. And everything seems to be conspiring against a peaceful return into the atmosphere.

Of the three cats, Tribble and Dinah (oldest and youngest) handled my being gone in stride. Typical of my spoiled Bobbin, he did not do as well. Whether he picked it up at the kennel or because he felt stressed, Bob seems to be trying to fight off bordetella (kennel cough).

When I first adopted him three years ago, we spent nearly four months and almost a thousand dollars fighting off a bad case of bordetella. My vet warned me Bob would always have a tendency to regress--especially when he was stressed.

I'm going to wait until this weekend to see if he can shake it. If not, instead of sleeping in Saturday, I'll be dragging him off to see Doctor Tim.

I also have jury duty on Thursday, and my dermatologist wants me back next Wednesday.

All I want to do is write. Since I arrived home on Sunday afternoon, I've written 4,500 words on a new erotic thriller. My goal is to have it finished before Bad Girl is released on September 4 because then I'll have to focus on publicity.

Finding a publicist has been a challenge. I found one I really liked, but she promotes mostly mysteries. I found a couple who felt like scam artists. Very expensive scam artists. Like Goldilocks, I couldn't seem to find just the right fit.

I decided the answer was to think outside the box. I made a list of the qualities I needed in a publicist. When I reviewed the list, I had a brainstorm as to the person whom I thought would be perfect for the job. When I approached her, she told me she had to do some research before she would agree to work for me. After doing the research, she signed on, and my anxiety level plummeted.

On the positive side, I've been tagged twice. By Stephen Parrish for a Blogger Reflection award here on July 18th.

Before that, on July 6 (while I was trying out for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in Florida) by Beth Sanderson as a Rocking Girl Blogger here.

Thanks, guys. I really appreciate your kindness.

Postal Service Raises Magazine Rates

Last Saturday, the U.S. Postal Service raised its rates an average of twelve percent for mailing magazines--"a move many feel favors larger magazines at the expense of smaller ones" according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PP-G).

The Postal Service claims these new standards will encourage publishers to combine multiple magazine brands into a single mailing. The director of the Postal Regulatory Commission's office on Rates, Analysis and Planning argues that, "It cost a little, but if they get a significant reduction in rates, they come out a winner because the overall costs have come down."

A English professor from the University of Pittsburgh says smaller magazines have two choices: either make their publications lighter or shift to publishing online.

"While the average increase is about 12 percent, the postal service said, publishers claim that postal rates for smaller publications could increase by as much as 30 percent while the increases for larger-circulation magazines could be less than 10 percent because they take advantage of the discount incentives." (PP-G)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Defining Erotic Romance

There has been so much on the Internet about RWA and the Board's decisions to:

1) Define subsidy/vanity presses
2) Limit the access of e-publishers to RWA's functions
3) Exclude erotic romance from the Rita/Golden Heart competitions (RWA annual awards)

I've already addressed the issue of #1 on this blog. Today I'd like to look at the issue of erotic romance.

I was one of the founding members of Passionate Ink (PI), the erotic romance chapter of RWA. I am committed to wanting to see erotic romance novels made available to the women who wish to read them (or to write them )

During the RWA Annual General Meeting, members were told that the reason RWA was excluding erotic romance as a category was because there was no "single" definition of the genre. I'm going to refrain from commenting on that statement and merely say that I think Passionate Ink needs to respond to RWA with a letter giving that requested definition.

On one of the writing loops I belong to, I got into a discussion with Brenna Lyons, president of EPIC--the Electronically Published Internet Connection. Brenna expressed dissatisfaction with the Passionate Ink definitions, and I invited her to share her thoughts.

She did, in a very interesting post, which she has given me permission to reprint here.

In order to invite other thoughts on the subject of defining the sub-genres of erotic romance, I'm reprinting that post below (slightly edited). Feel free to add your two cents to the dialogue:

Brenna: Thanks for posting your definitions.

For any readers who might be interested, I've added the Passionate Ink definitions under each of Brenna's definitions. The PI ones are bolded. My added comments are in italics.

"Brenna Lyons" wrote:

As you wish. I've noted some of the differences.

So, what is the difference between sensual, erotic, erotica and porn? FOCUS is the important thing...and content to a lesser extent.

Brenna's Definition of Sensual Romance--Take a traditional romance that doesn't fade to black. There is sexual tension between the characters, who definitely DO consummate the relationship, at some point in the book (unlike traditional romance, which may leave the characters, before that step occurs). In a sensual romance BOOK, it is expected that consummation will occur. In a sensual romance short story, it may not. Just thought I'd make that distinction clear.

Sensual books, by definition, engage the senses of the reader. You have a moderate amount of detail in the sex scene and not amorphous emotional responses to unknown stimuli, as you find in some romances. In addition, such books may contain a bit of mild BDSM/bondage play, toys, etc.

Sensual romance may also include more than one sexual interest for the main character, sometimes both realized sexual partners at some point in the book, usually not consecutively in sensual books. (Think of the woman who leaves a bad relationship and enters a new relationship during the book. Or...a woman who has two sexual interests and settles on one, but usually not sleeping with both, if it's sensual.) As stated before, the development of the romance is the central (or in the case of cross-genre, co-central) plotline.

I disagree with the RWA (as per the Passionate Ink definitions) that the scenes can necessarily be removed and still have a strong book.

Since all sex scenes should advance characterization and/or plot, deleting sex scenes should (theoretically) make the book weaker. HOWEVER, I do agree that the scenes in a sensual romance can often be toned down. I've recently done this, and I don't think I lost much of anything, in the bargain, because I lost detail...not
emotion, not characterization, not plot. Sensual romance MUST include a HEA, unless you are writing a sensual dark romance.

PI's Definition of Sexy Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship that just happen to have more explicit sex. The sex is not an inherent part of the story, character growth, or relationship development, and it could easily be removed or "toned down" without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After [HEA] is a REQUIREMENT as this is basically a standard romance with hotter sex.

Maya's Comment on Sensual/Sexy Romance: First of all, I prefer your word "sensual" to "sexy." I also agree that EVERY SCENE in a book should further the plot or characterization so that removal of the scene should not be an option. However, toning it down should be possible.

However, I think you are being way too prescriptive on the book versus short story business and would not support that change in any of the definitions.

Brenna's Definition of Erotic Romance--Erotic romance MAY include (but does not necessarily include in any given book): more frequent sex scenes than a sensual romance, more detailed sex scenes, multiple sexual partners (in the book or even at the same time...in fact, poly relationships are perfectly fine in erotic romance), harsher language/coarser language, extreme sexual play/BDSM...as long as it's consensual (it MUST be safe, sane and consensual), a more intense sexual/sensual experience. In an erotic romance BOOK, it is expected that consummation will occur. In an erotic romance short story, it may not.

Just thought I'd make that distinction clear. An erotic romance MUST include a HEA, unless you are writing erotic dark romance. Contrary to what the RWA says, an erotic romance certainly CAN explore the sexual journey/discoveries of the individual and how that affects the individual, which they reserve for erotica. It may also explore the sexual mores and how they affect sexuality or how sexuality challenges them. This is one of the MANY reasons I think the RWA definition falls short of the reality of the offerings out there already. They are too narrow, by my estimate.

PI's Definition of Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn't be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After [HEA] is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance.

Maya's Comment on Erotic Romance: At the very beginning of your definitions, you said it was about "focus." I absolutely agree. For this reason, I agree that the sexual journey of the individual may be explored. However, I also agree with PI that the FOCUS is on the relationship--whether that relationship be between a m/f, m/m or m/m/f. I do think that the PI definition could be improved upon by adding a line to include that point.

Brenna's Definition of Erotica--Erotica does not have the requirement of a HEA. It does not have the requirement of a romantic relationship. In fact, many erotica stories are about f**k-buddies, mistresses, BDSM trainers, one-night-stands...even complete strangers. Erotica is sex for the sake of sex and what the individuals learn/experience, not always with a mind to the repercussions of said acts. It might be about the sexual discovery, the sexual journey, the challenge of sexual mores and expectations... It might simply be someone with a need to experience, to break out, etc. It depends on the needs of the plot and characters. Again, the sex scenes should serve a purpose. They should advance characterization and/or plot. They should be safe, sane and consensual. A modicum of respect between the characters is my personal rule, but some "erotica publishers" don't expect it. I do.

Now, let me go back a moment. Erotica doesn't require a romance, but if it had one, some people would assume that would make it erotic romance. Wrong.

Why? The proof is in the focus. Is the focus ON the relationship, as explored through sexuality? You have erotic romance. Is the focus on the sexual discovery, from which a romantic involvement evolves? You have erotica.

PI's Definition of Erotica: stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship, although it's not prohibited if the author chooses to explore romance. Happily Ever Afters are NOT an intrinsic part of erotica, though they can be included.

Maya's Comment on Erotica: We're in complete agreement here. I think your definition and PI's are essentially the same, and you've made the point I just made under erotic romance. If the focus is on the relationship and there's a HEA, it is erotic romance. If the focus is on the sexual journey, it may or may not have a HEA but it is erotica.

Brenna's Definition of Porn--When you leave SSC behind...or respect...or sex scenes that serve a purpose and advance plot/characterization...When you sacrifice plot and characterization to "stroke fiction"...At that point, you delve into my personal definition of porn. You don't have to do all of them to accomplish that switch. But, since lines like this are in the eye of the beholder, defining porn is much more difficult than defining anything else out there.

PI's Definition of Porn: stories written for the express purpose of causing sexual titillation. Plot, character development, and romance are NOT primary to these stories. They are designed to sexually arouse the reader and nothing else.

Maya's Comment on Porn: I absolutely agree with you. Last year, I went on Fictionwise and saw that their best-selling e-book was a work listed as "erotica." I purchased it. I was appalled by the lack of respect and the "nastiness" of the story, which essentially turned the protagonist into an object to be used in any way her "owners" wished. It was porn, pure and simple. After that experience, I would never purchase another work by that author and, in fact, I've never purchased another "erotic" book from Fictionwise since I do not trust their ratings.

Brenna, thanks for taking the time to post your definitions. I think you have several good points, which I will discuss with the PI Board and, with your permission, maybe post on my website.

To my readers: You can visit Brenna's blog here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another Drop in Bookstore Sales

Publishers Weekly (PW) reported this morning:

"Bookstore sales continued their perfect record in 2007 in May, falling for the fifth consecutive month. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, sales in May were down 4.3%, to $1.10 billion, and were off by the same percentage for the first five months of the year. Bookstore sales totalled $6.20 billion in the January through May period. For the entire retail segment, sales were up 5.6% in May and were ahead 4.1% for the first five months of 2007."

Shelf Awareness also reported on the Census Bureau numbers, but they added an important piece that PW didn't mention: "Under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include 'electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale' or used book sales."

Thrillerfest Announces The 2007 Best Thriller

Although the romance world was focussed on RWA National this past week, another important genre conference was held from July 12-15. The Second Annual Thrillerfest for thriller writers, readers and booksellers took place at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan.

Thrillermaster James Patterson announced the winners of the Thriller awards for 2007. I've listed the nominees for each category below. The winner's name is bolded:

Best Novel
False Impression, Jeffrey Archer (St. Martin's Press)
Killer Instinct, Joseph Finder (St. Martin's Press)
Cold Kill, Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Messenger, Daniel Silva (Putnam)
Beautiful Lies, Lisa Unger (Shaye Areheart Books/Bantam)

Best First Novel
Shadow of Death, Patricia Gussin (Oceanview Publishing)
Switchback, Matthew Klein (Orion)
A Thousand Suns, Alex Scarrow (Orion)
18 Seconds, George D. Shuman (Simon & Schuster)
Mr. Clarinet, Nick Stone (Michael Joseph Ltd/Penguin)

Best Paperback Original
Skeleton Coast, Clive Cussler with Jack DuBrul (Berkley Trade)
The Deep Blue Alibi, Paul Levine (Bantam)
An Unquiet Grave, P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle)
Headstone City, Tom Piccirilli (Spectra Books/Crown)
Mortal Faults, Michael Prescott (Onyx Books)

Best Screenplay
Inside Man: Russell Gewirtz
The Departed: William Monahan
The Good Shepherd: Eric Roth
Children of Men: Alfonse Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Casino Royale: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis

You can visit the International Thriller Writer website and choose among a number of audio interviews with great writers like Joseph Finder, this year's winner; Lee Child; and Lisa Gardner here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Notes (For Real) From the Front

Okay, you all have been so patient while I've been off playing for the last two weeks.

So, I'm going to reward you.

I'm typing up my notes for the 2007 RWA Conference for my critique partners. You can email me at mayareynoldswriter@sbcglobal.net and I will send you the notes I took on one subject.

Send me an email with a reference line telling me the subject you want. Here are the choices:

E-Publishers and erotic romance
Compelling characters
Hints for Young Adult writers
Plotting and Structure

I will not burn any speaker by offering up his/her workshop or send any handouts that came with a workshop, but I will send my notes, which may combine info garnered from several different workshops on a particular subject.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

It's Back To Work Time

Okay, folks, thanks for tolerating all "My Favorite Movies" while I was on vacation.

Although I still have four other movies, I'll save them for my next vacation from blogging.

Effective tomorrow, we're back in business here.

More Notes From the Front

Today was the last day of the 2007 RWA Convention. Another loonnnng day.

I spent three hours in Michael Hauge's workshops. He is a script consultant, producer and screenwriter who has done classes in conjunction with Christopher Vogler (If you are not familiar with Vogler's The Writer's Journey, you can't call yourself a writer).

Since I have always found Vogler's plotting structure helpful, I was delighted to sit in on Hauge's seminars. This was his encore presentation at RWA National. His workshops were so popular last year, they asked him back. If you visit his website here, you can see some of what he covered today.

The workshops I took included pieces from his following seminars:

The Ten Essential Elements of Story
Writing Romantic Comedies and Love Stories
The Hero's Two Journeys: Uniting Plot Structure & Character Arc

It was terrific. He pulled together concepts that I'd encountered before from other source material in a very user-friendly manner. Interestingly enough, he made exactly the same point that Blake Snyder made about needing to provide a shortcut way for your audience to immediately like your protagonist (the "save the cat" scene). It's part of Hauge's "Stage One" in his six-step structure (which mirrors the three-act play).

Hauge's seminar together with the following three books will probably make my future writing efforts much easier:

Syd Field's Screenplay (the bible of the screenwriting industry)
Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey (mythic structure)
Blake Snyder's Save The Cat

I also attended the Loose Id (pronounced "lucid") spotlight. They seemed to be in agreement with what I had heard at the Ellora's Cave spotlight yesterday. Acquiring editors from both publications said that the vampire market is close to saturated, the werewolf market is rapidly becoming overdone, demons are very in and m/m erotic romance is super-hot. While EC seemed to think the trend in m/m romance would die out in a year, L-Id thinks that it hasn't even peaked yet. L-Id is looking for all the m/m they can get.

Paranormal continues to be very hot, but the editors seemed to be saying that they want something different, not the same old/same old that's already been done a million times.

Loose Id said they'd only take historical if it included something special like multi-cultural or m/m. EC said that they are seeing a lot more submissions using Christian mythology.

I didn't attend the Samhain spotlight, but a writer who did told me that the imprint has decided to stop insisting on the Celtic pronunciation of their name. Instead of saying "sah-vin," they've decided it's more important for the client to be able to ask for their books in a bookstore. So, effective immediately, they're going to "sam-hane," the phonetic pronunciation of the name.

I could go home tonight, but will be staying at the hotel so I can drive my roommate back to the airport in the morning. It will feel good to get home again.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Notes From the Front

A full day of workshops and spotlights (opportunities for publishers to describe the type of manuscripts they are seeking) at the 2007 RWA National.

I attended excellent workshops by Robin Perini (Crafting Your Story's Backbone Using Turning Points); a panel by Young Adult writers and an agent (It's Not Cheating If You Do It With a Younger Guy); the Spotlight by Ellora's Cave publisher Raelene Gorlinsky; the Spotlight on Harlequin's paranormal lines by Mary Theresa Hussey; and Chilling Villains by Karen Rose and Madeline Hunter. Each was an hour long.

I also attended the Passionate Ink luncheon where I won a Kama Sutra basket in a raffle--can't wait to try out all the goodies in there :)

I've probably been given $500 in free books by RWA, publishers and authors. My roommate, Maria Tuhart, has already spent nearly $50 mailing her books home to San Francisco.

One of my FAVORITE things has been the discovery of a book called Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. Its blurb says it is "The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need."

I have lots of writer reference books, but LOVE this one. I purchased it in the book fair($19.95) and have nearly finished it. It's terrific. The title comes from this excerpt in the Introduction:

Which brings us to the title of this book: Save the Cat!

Save the what?

I call it the "Save the Cat" scene . . . It's the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something--like saving a cat--that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.

In the thriller, Sea of Love, Al Pacino is a cop. Scene One finds him in the middle of a sting operation. Parole violators have been lured by the promise of meeting the N.Y. Yankees, but when they arrive it's Al and his cop buddies waiting to bust them. So Al's "cool" . . . But on his way out he also does something nice. Al spots another lawbreaker, who's brought his son, coming late to the sting. Seeing the dad with his kid, Al flashes his badge at the man who nods in understanding and exits quick. Al lets this guy off the hook because he has his young son with him. And just so you know Al hasn't gone totally soft, he also gets to say a cool line to the crook: "Catch you later . . ." Well, I don't know about you, but I like Al. I'll go anywhere he takes me now and you know what else? I'll be rooting to see him win. All based on a two-second interaction between Al and a dad with his baseball-fan kid.

That film was released in 1989--18 years ago. I saw it in the theatre and haven't watched it since. I don't remember a lot about the film, but I clearly remember that scene. I loved it.

This small book is filled with little gems like that. It includes chapters on writing your pitch, defining the ten genres, and a 15-step plot analysis that is very similar to the "W" plotting arc or Chris Vogler's "The Writer's Journey." I can highly recommend it.

One more day of the 2007 RWA National Convention. While I'm thoroughly enjoying myself, I'll be glad when it's over.