Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy All Hallow's Eve

Because we're all too old to go trick or treating today, Cat Brown helped me to find a fun way to celebrate Halloween.

There's a website called Jigzone here. If you like jigsaw puzzles, you'll love the Jigzone where they post new puzzles every day. You get to select the photo and the level of difficulty--from 20 pieces to 247 pieces. The site provides a timer to keep track of your score and permits you to try the puzzle again and again if you're competitive with yourself.

For Halloween, Cat--who owns and operates the Romance Junkies website here--developed two Bad Girl puzzles for me--an easy one here and a more difficult one here.

To make it fun, I'm going to suggest that you choose one of the two Bad Girl puzzles to complete. You only get one try. When you've completed the puzzle of your choice, email me at Give me your name,
mailing address, tell which which puzzle you did and the time in which you completed it. There'll be prizes although I'm not going to tell you the nature of the prizes or the criteria on which they'll be awarded.

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why It Ain't The Library of Alexandria

Thanks to Publishers Marketplace for drawing my attention to a very interesting article dated November 5, 2007 in The New Yorker titled "Future Reading: Digitization and Its Discontents."

The article is written by Anthony Grafton, a historian at Princeton University. Wikipedia refers to his "preoccupation with the relations between scholarship and science," which is an excellent way to describe The New Yorker piece.

Grafton discusses the various digitization initiatives by Google, Microsoft, Amazon and the Open Content Alliance from the perspective of an historian whose world view encompasses far more than the five hundred years since books became widely available as the result of Gutenberg's press.

Almost two years ago, on November 23, 2005, I did a post here comparing Google and the Open Content Alliance's efforts to copy the world's books to the famous Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Legend has it that all of the world's knowledge--perhaps as many as 700,000 parchment scrolls--was stored within the Library's walls.

Grafton also makes reference to that fabled library when he says, "The greatest and most famous of the ancient collections, the Library of Alexandria, had, in its ambitions and its methods, a good deal in common with Google’s book projects."

But he sneers at that ambition, saying "In fact, the Internet will not bring us a universal library, much less an encyclopedic record of human experience. None of the firms now engaged in digitization projects claim that it will create anything of the kind."

Why? Because these copying initiatives cannot possibly touch all of the information stored around the world in archives and obscure libraries. As Grafton points out, "Google, for example, has no immediate plans to scan books from the first couple of centuries of printing. Rare books require expensive special conditions for copying, and most of those likely to generate a lot of use have already been made available by companies like Chadwyck-Healey and Gale, which sell their collections to libraries and universities for substantial fees."

The comment that Grafton made which had the most impact on me, however, was this:

Other sectors of the world’s book production are not even catalogued and accessible on site, much less available for digitization. The materials from the poorest societies may not attract companies that rely on subscriptions or on advertising for cash flow. This is unfortunate, because these very societies have the least access to printed books and thus to their own literature and history. . .Sixty million Britons have a hundred and sixteen million public-library books at their disposal, while more than 1.1 billion Indians have only thirty-six million. Poverty, in other words, is embodied in lack of print as well as in lack of food. The Internet will do much to redress this imbalance, by providing Western books for non-Western readers. What it will do for non-Western books is less clear.

That quote is a harsh reminder that we Westerners tend to think in terms of our own history and accomplishments, discounting the experience of much of the world's peoples.

It would be a mistake to forget that Google's scanning initiative is not a philanthropic quest. Just six days ago, I quoted The New York Times here, saying "Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services."

Google is, first and foremost, a commercial venture. While it is scanning books for free, it does so in order to increase the value of its own search engine. In exchange for providing free digital copies to libraries, it demands that those institutions not open their doors to Google's competitors in the search engine business.

While I understand Google's position from a business standpoint, it dulls the sheen on their company motto: "Don't be evil." It's also a reminder that no matter how friendly the huckster at the door is, we need to always read the small print in the contract he offers.

I highly recommend reading the Grafton article. He reminds us in great detail of the many obscure places where the world's information is stored.

He also has the historian's preference for working with the original document. I was amused by his reminder that "[o]riginal documents reward us for taking the trouble to find them by telling us things that no image can." He points to a story in which "a fellow-historian systematically sniff[ed] two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old letters in an archive. By detecting the smell of vinegar—which had been sprinkled, in the eighteenth century, on letters from towns struck by cholera, in the hope of disinfecting them—he could trace the history of disease outbreaks."

Read the entire article here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tribble Goes Home

This morning, I said my last goodbye to Tribble, my calico Manx.

I've been praying to know when the right moment arrived.

Tribble--as gracious in this as in the rest of her life--told me it was time. For the last six months, she has not slept in my bed. She has preferred to sleep where she could look out the French doors into the night. If I brought her into bed with me, she would wait until I fell asleep and then leave.

Last night, I woke up to find her beside me, purring. She stayed the entire night.

In the past, I have had cats who were not purring machines that began purring when their time drew near. I think it is a form of self-soothing. Tribble found a way to soothe both of us.

Friends and family had offered to go with me, but it felt right for Tribble and I to take that last drive together alone. Tim, my wonderful vet, spent thirty minutes talking with me and petting her. He didn't try to talk me out of euthanizing her, which, in itself, said a lot.

The two of us stood together stroking Tribble until long after she'd breathed her last. We shared our viewpoints on death. Not surprisingly, we both regard it as the Last Great Healer. We hugged, and--as always--he refused any payment. I know that he will send me a note that I'll receive in a day or so, and I'll send him my own note of gratitude.

I'm having trouble typing this because three-year-old Bob is draped across my arms. He leaped up when I sat down at the laptop and will not be denied.

Bob--a confirmed glutton--usually gobbles the food Tribble leaves in her dish the minute I turn my back. To my surprise, her dish was still sitting untouched when I got home from the vet. Maybe it was his own tribute to her.

Tribble and I had been together twenty-two years and eight months. They were good years, and I wouldn't change a thing--not even this last long, slow farewell.

Something New . . . And Something Old

I love trashy B movies. For every Oscar-nominated film I see, I probably watch two trashy movies.

I say this to explain what I was doing in the theater this weekend--watching 30 Days of Night.

I was intrigued by the plot. According to the script, Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, goes dark for one month every year when the sun goes below the horizon and the temperative stays below freezing. This lack of sunlight entices a band of vampires who knock out all power and communications and then settle in to nosh on the local residents.

I had a bit of a problem with the film. I happen to prefer my vampire movies scary but light. Fright Night and The Lost Boys are two of my favorites. To show you what I mean by scary and light, here's the trailer for 1987's The Lost Boys.

Unfortunately, 30 Days of Night had no sense of humor and was mostly a bloodbath, making it instantly forgettable for me.

But the afternoon wasn't a total loss. The previews included a trailer for an upcoming event that sent me right back to my childhood.

One of the first TV shows I became addicted to as a child was the original Star Trek. Most Trekkies know that the show, which ran from 1966 to 1969, was the second version. The original 1964 pilot starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. When NBC saw the first pilot titled "The Cage," studio executives were concerned that it moved too slowly and was "too cerebral."

NBC requested that Gene Roddenberry, the producer, film another pilot. Hunter, who was already making salary demands, refused to film a new pilot and asked to be released from the contract. Roddenberry filmed the new pilot with William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. The only actors who moved from the first pilot to the second were Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and Majel Barrett, who went from being the first officer to the ship's nurse. She was dating Roddenberry and later married him.

Since the original pilot had been very expensive, Roddenberry was asked to find a way to use it. He wrote a bookend story to wrap around "The Cage," using the original pilot as a flashback in time. The new two-part show was titled "The Menagerie" and ran as episodes #11 and #12 in 1966.

Why am I telling you all this now? Because while we were watching the previews at the theater today, they announced:

On Tuesday, November 13, and Thursday, November 15, the two-part Star Trek Remastered version of "The Menagerie” will beam onto the big screen in a special engagement with selected theatres. The screening. . .will be seen in more than 300 venues across the U.S. and Canada. This two-night-only event will also feature a special introduction by Eugene "Rod” Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, plus an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Remastered series.

Boy, I'll bet there'll be some wild looking Trekkies out those two nights. Here's the opening of the original pilot:

Note how white the entire cast is. When Roddenberry cast the second pilot, he focussed on the multi-racial mix that fans came to know.

In researching this post, I discovered a bit of a creepy coincidence. Jeffrey Hunter died of a stroke at age 42 on May 27, 1969, one week before the last episode of the original series was aired on June 3, 1969.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This I Believe

Texas is glorious in October. The days are brisk, but not shivery cold, and the daylight seems brighter than at any time during the rest of the year. I love to be outdoors and spend as much time as possible in the yard or just walking.

Since my neighborhood is dog-crazy, there is always someone's pooch happy to be borrowed by a dogless person for a walk. Today I took Penny, a big yellow Lab, who was overjoyed to see me approaching her fence with a leash. We circled the neigh-
borhood, and I was reminded of how much I miss by not having
a dog. But I won't upset Tribble's last days by forcing her to deal with a new puppy.

While we walked, I listened to NPR on my Sony Walkman.

Regular readers of this blog know I love NPR. It provides much of the backdrop to my day. Whether I'm in my office at the university or in my car or at home, NPR is usually on the radio.

One of the programs I enjoy is This I Believe. The program is based on one hosted by broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (yes, the same Edward R. Murrow played by David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck) in 1951. Murrow said the reason
he started the program was because of "...the uncertainty of
the economic future, the shadow of war, the atom bomb, army service for one's self or loved ones, the frustration of young people facing the future."

Famous and not-so-famous people wrote short essays that could be read in three and a half minutes, sharing their core beliefs. Those essays were read on the air.

According to the program's website, "[f]ifty years ago, millions
of Americans sat by their radios and listened to This I Believe.
For five minutes each day, they heard from statesmen and secre-
taries, teachers and cab drivers, all of whom spoke about their most deeply held beliefs."

If you go to the website here, you can find essays by some of the most famous people of a generation ago, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman. The program ran on CBS Radio from 1951 to 1955.

This I Believe was revived in 2005 on NPR. You can read (or listen to) the modern essays here.

Since the program returned to radio, I've thought about writing an essay. This spring, NPR actively sought people in the D/FW area to contribute essays. I started one or two essays, but none felt "right." I had a lot of other things going on and finally decided to forget about the project.

Earlier this month, one of the writers' loops I belong to began discussing This I Believe. Two members shared their essays, reminding me that I had never completed one.

On my way home from work one evening last week, I had a brainstorm. I arrived home, went straight to my laptop and, in less than an hour, wrote an essay and submitted it to the program. I was surprised at how quickly they posted it on the website.

You can read my essay here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Largely Indispensable Nathan Bransford

Nathan Bransford may be the bravest, the most impulsive, or the most generous agent alive.

Back on September 10, he announced a contest to find "The Stupendously Ultimate First Line" here. He had over 450 entries.

The winning first line was: "That summer, the arsonist struck every home on the block but ours."

Just a month later, our Nathan announced "The Largely Indispensable First Paragraph Challenge" here.

This time, the man got more than 600 entries.

Nathan and his assistant judge, May Vanderbilt, selected six finalists here.

Two of the six finalists were also finalists in the first line contest.

Here are the winning paragraphs:

1) Oh no, it's some kind of infestation, Rosemary thought, prodding the ground with her boot. Next to the barn were several fist-sized holes, just big enough for rats, or worse, imps. She hated imps. They were always getting into the larder and causing a fuss.

2) There’s this girl I’ve never met that I know everything in the world about. Well, most everything. Not the big stuff, I guess. Like what she prayed about when she would cry at her bedside or whether she really believed those prayers might get answered. And I never knew all of the reasons for the crazy shit she did, but hey, who really does? I did know other stuff though. The real freaky-deaky shit. Like how she would crack open her father’s disposable razors with a pair of pliers she kept stashed behind her dresser and how she’d slice herself up. Sometimes I think she left her window blinds open that way just so somebody, anybody, me--a guy she never met--would know. Not that she was some kind of attention whore. Just about everybody is some kind of attention whore. Not Scissors, though. And I could testify in court to that, since, I’m like, some kind of authority on the girl.

3) Brooklyn didn't know very much about me. Actually, the girl knew surprisingly little, which was exactly what I needed in a friend. She didn't ask intrusive questions and I didn't have to lie or have my heart pound while I searched for acceptable answers. She wasn't into meaningful conversation and heartfelt talks. She was light, snappy, and never depressed. And most importantly, she wasn't my responsibility.

4) Life inside a piano isn’t all knitting cobweb sweaters and napping. It’s dangerous. Every time a clumsy student flings himself at the bench and bangs on the ivories, just to see his fingers walk across the black and whites, I face death. The action’s unpredictable. If I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could lose my head.

5) He was short and skinny, shorter than the others, and never wore a shirt when he ran. His thin arms flailed as he kept ahead of us and we all wondered how. He was so fast. But mostly we watched the bouncing scars on his back and thought about how he got them. We called him the Wizard. It was because of his hair, wild black mass with a white shock hanging in the front. That’s how I thought of him. The Wizard. I wish I knew what names they had given him but I never asked. Between us, there was an unspoken rule: everything would remain unspoken.

6) The great flaw in the system was that some of the Children remembered what it felt like when they were taken. It was impossible to tell who would remember--temperament, age, gender, none of them seemed to matter. The flaw persisted despite all of the technicians' attempts to eradicate it. In rare cases a Child, newly imprinted, would awaken at odd hours of the night, crying for reasons she couldn't explain or shaking with a nameless dread and a desperate feeling that something wasn't right.

Let's take a look at the six paragraphs Nathan and May chose and see what we can learn.

First, these choices reflect two judges who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi. Half of the winners are either fantasy (two) or sci-fi (1). Keep in mind that not all agents represent these genres. Always check the agent's website for the kind of books s/he represents.

Second, they've selected four first person POV (66%) and two third person POV (33%).

I think of first person as being more immediate and intimate. Along with that immediacy, notice that all of these paragraphs begin right away; there are no long lead-ups with lots of explanation. The writers just jump right into the story and expect (Nathan says "trust") the reader to catch up.

One of the biggest newbie errors is a tendency to start with a long narrative to provide the setting or establish the world they've built. Resist that tendency. Just start with your action. You can drop in clues along the way as to what's going on. For instance, #1's mention of a "barn" and "boot" suggest that the setting is a farm or a ranch while #4's use of the word "student" implies that the piano the narrator inhabits is in a school.

Most importantly, all of these entries made you want to read further. Why were the children taken? Where did the Wizard's scars come from? What lives inside that piano?

This was a terrific exercise in what one agent is looking for in new material.

Thanks, Nathan. Your blog is wonderful.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Time For Tribble?

This has been a tough week. My sinus/migraine problems paled against the possibility that it was time to put my almost-23-year-old calico Manx down.

Tribble and I have been together since she was six weeks old. She has mostly been a delight, a low-maintenance companion with a gentle disposition. In all our time together, she's had only one physical ailment--a little cancer on her chin, which my vet removed about six years ago.

The only difficulty has been her moodiness. She was already ten years old when Lucy, my border collie, came to live with us. In a fit of pique, Tribble jumped up on one of the chairs in my breakfast nook and didn't come back down for nearly a year. I never saw her on the floor although I noticed she cleaned her dishes each night and made periodic visits to her litter box.

When Lucy, an exuberant puppy, would approach Tribble's chair, she'd swipe the dog's snout. Lucy would come running to me, whimpering with outrage.

Then, one day, as suddenly as she'd jumped up on the chair, she jumped down. She made no effort to avoid Lucy--even occasionally walking over or under the border collie to get where she wanted to go.

By contrast, Lucy froze with terror whenever Tribble drew near.

Far more troublesome than her moodiness has been Tribble's tendency to periodic fits of depression. When Shadrach, our little disabled cat, died Tribble quit eating and grooming herself. I tried offering new flavors of cat food, Bumble Bee tuna and even my sure-fire method for getting an animal to eat: lamb-flavored Gerber baby food. Nothing would entice her to eat. My vet warned that we might have to put her on intravenous feeding.

I was desperate. One night about a week after Shadrach's death, I came home to find Tribble's long, silky hair unbelievably knotted and snarled. While I couldn't convince her to eat, I decided I could do something about her terrible coat. I drove to Petco and purchased a dog grooming kit. Returning home, I spread newspapers on the dining room table, plopped Tribble down and started shaving her.

Midway through the haircut, Tribble began to purr. I suspect that, without her heavy coat, she could feel my massaging fingers more easily.

I left her head and legs full, but trimmed everything else. Within two hours of my petting her smooth skin, she began eating Lucy's liver treats out of my hand. To this day, dog liver bites are her favorite treat. And, whenever she slips into one of her depressions (she did it again when I had to put down Shadow, my 20-year-old grey-and-white tabby), I shave her tiny body and give her deep skin massages.

Earlier this week, Tribble began to pee indiscriminately--outside of her litter box. She has NEVER exhibited inappropriate urinary behaviors.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Famous Anniversary

I love history, although I'm not a particular fan of military history--with two notable exceptions.

I've studied two battles with great interest and mark their anniversaries each year: March 6, 1836--the day the Alamo fell
(I am a Texan after all)--and October 25, 1415--the day the Battle of Agincourt was fought.

Today is the 592nd anniversary of Agincourt. This battle between the armies of England's King Henry V and France's Charles VI was a part of the Hundred Years' War.

Henry had invaded northern France in August, 1415. After two months of a long siege and many losses, he decided to travel northeast toward the port of Calais, which was held by the English, before winter set in.

The French army under the command of the Constable Charles d'Albret forced Henry due east toward Agincourt. According to Wikipedia, "[t]he English had very little food, had marched 260 miles in two-and-a-half weeks, were suffering from sickness such as dysentery, and faced large numbers of experienced, well equipped Frenchmen."

At Agincourt, the English army, which numbered about 7,000, found themselves facing a French army of at least 21,000 (some estimates are that there were as many as 36,000 Frenchmen).

The battle was fought on a narrow strip of open land between two woods. The French blocked Henry's way north to Calais. Heavy rains the night before had left the recently plowed ground muddy, making it difficult for the soldiers to move about.

Henry had his men drive pointed stakes into the ground on either side of the open area so that the points faced each other across the 750-foot field. He placed his archers behind these "palings" as the stakes were called. The intent was to prevent the French horsemen from trampling his archers, who carried the now well-known English longbows.

Both French and English accounts tell of the stirring speech Henry gave his badly outnumbered men the night before the battle. Shakespeare immortalized that speech in his play Henry V. In it, Henry uses the famous words, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

I'm going to stop here and share a video clip from the 1989 film Henry V, starring Kenneth Branagh. YouTube would not let me post it so you'll need to go here to see it. I suggest you watch the clip and then I'll tell you about the battle. Be sure to look behind the herald as he speaks to see the palings in the ground.

Remember that mud? The French were wearing heavy armor and found themselves weighed down by their full plate. The English were dressed in much lighter armor and were better able to manuever.

Accounts of the battle indicate that there were so many Frenchmen on the field that they couldn't move around or even wield their swords. Row after row crowded in on the men ahead of them. When the heavily armored French knights fell, they could not get up again. Reports from the battle indicate that a number of French nobles drowned in that sea of mud.

When the French cavalry charged at the archers, their horses were stabbed by the sharp points of the palings. The leaping horses simply churned up more mud. Wikipedia reports on one account that said "the panicking horses also galloped back through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight."

The French, bogged down by the mud, made easy targets for the English longbow archers. The French Constable was killed in battle and his undisciplined troops were in such turmoil that their commanders were forced to surrender.

I've located another clip from the same film, in which Henry asks for the lists of the dead French and English. See it here. Once again, note the lines of palings on the sides of the battlefield. Wikipedia describes the use of palings at Agincourt as a battle-
field innovation.

While it makes a good story, most historians agree that Shakespeare overstated the French casualties while understating the English. Even so, most accounts agree that the English were outnumbered by between three and four to one, making their victory truly amazing.

So, today, I salute the brave men who fought at Agincourt--both English and French--and the remarkable courage that drove Henry into battle despite such overwhelming odds.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Scanning of Libraries

The New York Times had an article on Monday about the various initiatives underway to copy books from the world's libraries.

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections. . . Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form. The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.

I first posted about the Open Content Alliance almost two years ago here.

The Times points out that, while Google doesn't benefit directly from making books available on the Internet, the additional pages on their website does make their search engine more useful and, thus, more profitable. Google plans to scan 15 million books in the next ten years.

The Boston Public Library and the Smithsonian have turned Google's invitation down . . . "some libraries and researchers worry that if any one company comes to dominate the digital conversion of these works, it could exploit that dominance for commercial gain."

The Library of Congress has a pilot program with Google to digitize some books. But in January, it announced a project with a more inclusive approach. With $2 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the library’s first mass digitization effort will make 136,000 books accessible to any search engine through the Open Content Alliance. The library declined to comment on its future digitization plans.

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How to Pitch

Sorry to be so late posting today, but I had a rare migraine headache.

I'm grateful not to suffer from migraines on a regular basis. Once or twice a year, I will have a headache so debilitating that I have difficulty lifting my head from my pillow.

I usually hop out of bed at 5:00 AM, ready to go. This morning, I had to drag myself out of bed at 8:00 in order to make it to the university by 9:00. I felt as though I were sloughing through waist-high Jello all day. About the best I could say for the day was that I stopped by the Health Office and got my free flu shot in less than five minutes.

Agent Kristin Nelson had a great post today titled "Pitching And All That Jazz." Read it here.

Newbie writers frequently make the mistake of trying to cram fifty pounds of synopsis into the ten-pound pitch sack. Kristin starts with the advice most agents give: Your pitch should sound exactly like the back cover copy for your book.

Mine certainly did. Here's the pitch I used for Bad Girl:

Shy teacher Sandy Davis has been spying on her neighbors across the street from her Uptown balcony. It seemed like harmless fun until the night she received a phone call from an anonymous stranger telling her, "You've been a bad girl." Now Sandy must decide whether to give in to his demands, or run the risk of being exposed as a voyeur.

Note: My editor convinced me to change Sandy's profession from teacher to social worker before the book went to print. The change worked because it allowed me to add a scene in which Sandy is threatened by two thugs. That scene grew out of one of my own experiences in the field as a social worker.

My pitch was sixty-two words. It described my hook and set up the central conflict of the story without revealing how the story ends.

Kristin promises to give examples of pitches on her blog "Pub Rants" this week. Be sure to pay attention.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What's Up At Google--Besides The Stock Price?

This will be a short, quick post. I'm doing a presentation Monday evening at 7:00 PM for the Irving Writers Connection, and I still have work to do to get ready.

I'll be presenting helpful information for writers on the publishing industry. It's a talk I've given before, and I enjoy doing it.

On Thursday Google reported their third quarter results and the announcement was an impressive one. Quarterly revenue for the period ending September 30, 2007 was $4.2 billion, up from $2.7 billion for the same period in 2006--an increase of 57%.

According to USA Today, "[n]et income of $1.1 billion, or
$3.38 a share, rose from $733 million, or $2.36 a share, a year ago."

Google's stock price closed at $644.71 on Thursday evening.

To put this in perspective, Google's stock price on the date of its initial offering (August 19, 2004) was $100.34. Two months later, on October 19th, the stock was at $150.50. A year later on October 19, 2005, it had risen to $303.96 (at which point I tried to convince the men in my life to purchase the stock--without success). Last year on October 19, 2006, the stock was at $426.06. So, it's risen more than $200 a share over the last year.

The Washington Post reported on Friday:

More than half of all U.S. search queries in August were conducted through Google, according to Nielsen Online. While users don't pay Google anything for its search service, the popularity of its search engine has helped make it the leader in online advertising, particularly through its text ads based on search terms. Google owns 28.9 percent of the Internet ad market, nearly twice the share of its next-biggest rival, Yahoo, according to estimates from market research firm eMarketer. Yahoo reported a year-over-year quarterly earnings decline of
5 percent on Tuesday.

Still...there are a lot of rumors flying around about Google. USA Today says "[t]here are signs that Google is up to something. The company hired 2,130 employees during the quarter, for a total workforce of 15,916. (Rival Yahoo has about 13,600 employees.) . . . 'They're continuing to hire like drunken sailors,' says equity analyst Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray. 'They have a bigger plan in play'."

USA Today wondered whether it could be a GPhone while the Washington Post speculated on new ways to make money from videos on YouTube.

Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Questions About Plagiarism

On Friday, I was working on a post about Jerry Seinfeld's wife being accused of plagiarism. I posted to the Dear Author website (under a thread titled "How To Fling About Legal Insults") at the same time Jane Litte of Dear Author posted this blog. When I saw Jane's post, I decided to save the Seinfeld story for a secondary post today instead of using it for my primary post Saturday morning.

Friday’s Wall Street Journal had a story about similarities between the cookbooks written by Seinfeld (released October 5) and by a relatively unknown author (released April 4).

Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook was titled Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food (HarperCollins). After Oprah invited Jessica to guest star on her show on October 8th, the book took off.

Then Running Press, an imprint owned by Perseus Books, contacted HarperCollins. The independent press was concerned about “similarities between Deceptively Delicious and RP’s The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine, published almost exactly six months earlier.

Jessica Seinfeld strenuously denies any plagiarism, and it appears that HarperCollins is accepting her at her word. They plan to sell as many as 1.5 million copies of the book between now and Chrismas.

According to today’s Publishers Lunch, Perseus CEO David Steinberger says Missy Lapine “first raised concerns about the Seinfeld book this spring after seeing promotional materials for the book. Steinberger says they were struck by what seemed to be uncanny similarities…. One of the most obvious was that their cover had the same image, a drawing of what looks like a mom hiding carrots behind her back’.”

Steinberger also says after his publishing house contacted Harper by letter in May, they were told some changes would be made, including alterations to the cover. The carrots were moved to a cutting board in the final cover for Seinfeld’s book. The mom hiding the carrots behind her back was the rear cover of Lapine's book.

It will be interesting to see how this situation resolves itself.

Jane became interested in the story from reading an article in The New York Times while I'd been piqued by articles in The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Marketplace.

Copyright Rules Agreed Upon By Coalition

The Associated Press (AP) reported on Friday: "A coalition of major media and Internet companies Thursday issued a set of guidelines for handling copyright-protected videos on large user-generated sites such as MySpace. Conspicuously absent was Google Inc., whose YouTube Web site this week rolled out its own technology to filter copyrighted videos once they've been posted."

The coalition included both Internet and media giants as well as some lesser known names: CBS Corporation, Dailymotion, Microsoft Corporation, MySpace, NBC Universal, News Corp., Veoh Networks, Viacom Inc., and the Walt Disney Company. They've agreed Internet sites will use filtering technology to block copyrighted material from being posted without permission.

NBC's CEO Jeff Zucker was quoted by the AP saying: "Today's announcement marks a significant step in transforming the Internet from a Wild West to a popular medium that respects the rule of law...By recognizing the mutual benefits of a technology-based framework to control piracy, technology and content companies have laid the foundation for the lawful growth of video on the Internet."

There were some caveats mentioned. Attorney Andrew Bridges noted that these guidelines constitute more of a treaty than a contract and still permit companies to seek legal redress during a dispute. Further, the guidelines "do not apply to search engines, e-mail or browsers, are designed for sites that host user-generated clips--like YouTube."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Raisin Bran, Cheerios or . . . The Other Serial

Nathan Bransford had a post on Thursday that should be required reading for all newbie writers.

Agent Nathan, who is always entertaining, offers solid advice on whether or not to pitch a series with your first book here.

He doesn't think it's a good idea, and he gives a very good reason as to why he believes this.

I learned this lesson two years ago under the fabulous Miss Snark. To read her take on pitching a series, go here and scroll down to the post titled "There's More Where That Came From Too!"

Although these are words I never expected to write, Nathan expands and improves upon Miss Snark's answer when he says, "...this is a fairly good distinction between professional writers and for-fun writers."

I have harbored the same opinion for some time now.

I belong to several writers' loops. Every one of them has half a dozen unpublished fantasy writers who are in the middle of Book #4 or #7 or even #9. They keep churning this stuff out, all the while nurturing the belief that one day they'll find a publisher who will buy the entire series.

If you engage them in conversation, you'll invariably learn that the series began when they were told their first book was too long at 223,479 words.

Rather than do what a professional writer would do . . . go in and edit out 120,000 words . . . they opted to break the magnum opus into three novels--the beginning of the series.

Do you really need me to tell you what a staggeringly bad idea this is?

First of all, if there ever was a plot arc, the writer has disrupted it. Second, the books no longer stand alone. Anyone reading the first one is going to be denied a satisfying conclusion. Third . . . and I'm sorry, I can't help myself . . . it's just stupid.

Early on, I actually agreed to read one of these manuscripts only to discover the author had been almost horrifyingly self-indulgent. Under the guise of dialogue, he included pages of political rants as well as pointless scenes that served no purpose beyond showcasing what the author believed to be a particularly good description of a character or place.

Worst of all, like the Perils of Pauline films, the manuscript ended on what the writer believed was a cliffhanger. After reading a rambling, boring 70K words, there was no payoff. It took everything I had not to smash my laptop's screen.

So, go read Nathan's post and commit his words to memory.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Dark Horse Rears Its Head

About five months ago, on May 20th, when talking about the challenges the Internet offers publishing, I said:

The large houses face competition on two fronts: from the Internet giants and from the e-publishing industry.

When I say Internet giants, I'm talking about Google,, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft. Of the five, I suspect the biggest direct competition will come from either Google or My money is on Amazon. The biggest dark horse IMHO is eBay.

Quick! Who founded eBay?

Don't know?

You're not the only one. While the founders of Microsoft (Bill Gates and Paul Allen), Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), and Amazon (Jeff Bezos) are almost household names, no one knows Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had an article on Omidyar and his current passion.

Mr. Omidyar is no shouter. At age 40, he has been retired from day-to-day duties at eBay for years, though he remains chairman of the online auction company. He lives in Henderson, Nev., where taxes are lower...Mr. Omidyar may be a low-key engineer, but he likes to defy tradition...

Omidyar's new passion is what the WSJ calls "Participatory Media," which I'd describe as targeted social networking. To this end, he has invested in "a wide array of Web-based communities."

He "has backed Digg Inc., which lets ordinary users play editor and highlight the news stories they find most interesting...helped fund Linden Lab, creators of the wildly popular Second Life simulated world...[and] Federated Media Publishing Inc. [which] sells ads for bloggers, making thousands of them more economically viable."

His current plan is to make investments in other participatory media companies over the next year, "which would more than double that part of [his] portfolio."

Mr. Omidyar and I are on the same page philosophically. I've said on this blog and elsewhere that I think digitization and POD technology will democratize publishing in a way nothing has since the Gutenberg press. Mr. Omidyar tells The Journal: "At a very fundamental level, the Internet gives ordinary people a global voice."

His investment chief, Matt Bannick, offered a quote that I think should be posted in the boardroom of every publishing house: "It's really tough for the incumbents to make decisions that are as decisive as they need to be. They've got models that worked for 50 years. It's really hard to cannibalize yourself..."

Most of the big publishing houses are now digitizing their stock and taking what I would describe as baby steps toward changing their business models. I can think of only one CEO who is really thinking outside of the box: Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishing, the world's largest Christian publisher. Read my post on how he "cannibalized" his publishing house here.

IMHO, traditional publishing houses need to get used to the idea that their stranglehold on the industry will be broken when they no longer own the only means to publishing a book and when a viable e-reading device captures the public's fancy the way the iPod did for the music industry. Traditional publishers need to find ways to add more value to their services in order to retain their place in the food chain.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deborah Kerr Dead At 86

On Tuesday, Deborah Kerr (pronounced Carr) died.

I've mentioned before on this blog that I grew up watching old movies on television with my mother. It was the one thing we did together without my father or three brothers. Most of the time, the males ruled the household, but sitting together watching old black-and-white films was our girl thing.

Mom would tell me stories about the stars we were watching on film. I possess an absurd amount of trivia about movies made before I was even born.

Deborah Kerr was one of Mom's favorites. We saw her in An Affair to Remember, where she played a singer who falls in love with playboy Cary Grant; in From Here to Eternity, where she played a bored military wife who falls in love with sergeant Burt Lancaster; in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, where she played a nun who falls in love with Marine Corporal Robert Mitchum during a shipwreck; and in The King and I, where she played a governess who falls in love with the king of Siam played by Yul Brynner.

I was a scrawny little kid with orange-colored pigtails, freckles and knobby knees. Deborah Kerr was a cool redhead who inspired passion in the men around her.

I ate it up.

Last summer, a poll of three thousand movie fans voted Deborah Kerr's kiss with Burt Lancaster on a beach in Hawaii as THE most memorable screen kiss.

The New York Daily News reported today: "In a moment regarded as shockingly erotic by 1952 standards, Kerr's married Karen Holmes and Lancaster's conflicted Sgt. Warden give in to their forbidden desires by sharing an impassioned kiss in the surf as the waves roll over them."

Here it is:

May she rest in peace.

I Have No Excuse . . .

. . . except that it's late, and I'm tired, which is usually when I'm the silliest.

I was watching the late news when this commercial came on and made me laugh.

So, of course, I had to share.

I am SOOOO easily amused {grin}.

Needed: A Publishing Translator

I'm thinking about agents today and about my own agent in particular.

Periodically, I see posts on the Net by people complaining about the 15% fee most agents collect.

While there are some expenses in this world I begrudge, there are two costs to which I never give a second thought. One is the annual fee for my AAA motor club membership. The other is the 15% my agent, Jacky Sach of BookEnds, receives on the revenue from my work.

Jacky is a voice of calm in the hurly-burly world of publishing. She answers questions and smooths over rough spots. And she acts as translator.

Sometimes I feel like a tourist who planned a trip to Denmark. I did lots of research on Denmark, even learning to speak the language. When I arrived in Copenhagen, everyone welcomed me and exhibited great patience for my grammatical errors and slow speech.

Now, more than a year later, my tenses and speech have im-
proved. However, I'm still having difficulty with the col-
loquialisms of publishing although I may not always realize it.

I love my editor. A lot. But sometimes we don't speak the same language. I can be very concrete in my thinking. Occasionally--no matter how hard either of us tries--we just talk at cross purposes. That happened on Monday after I'd sent 13K words to my editor last week. Fortunately, she had the good sense to contact Jacky to ask her to translate for us.

Jacky emailed me Monday to set up a phone call. During the call, I explained that I simply didn't understand what my editor from me.

With the skill of a born teacher, Jacky promised to find examples of what was needed from the book I'd already written. After our call, she went through Bad Girl, identifying samples of what my editor was looking for in the sequel. I did tell you I was concrete, didn't I?

The bell finally rang for me, and I realized what was missing. Jacky asked if I needed another phone call. I said, "No, but let me send you a sample." I worked on it last night and sent her an excerpt this morning.

Just like that, I'm back on track after days of angst.

Do I begrudge Jacky her 15%?

Hell, no.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Chilling Reminder From the Past

Everywhere I turned on Wednesday--ABC, NPR, Yahoo--I heard reports of an opportunistic infection that had killed a teenage student in Virginia.

The infection--Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA--is a staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

The first time I heard the report this morning, I felt a cold chill across the back of my neck. You see, I had a MRSA three years ago this month.

I was hurt in an accident that broke open the skin on my left thumb. I didn't realize it at the time, but the accident also broke the bones in my thumb. I was distracted because my two dogs were also hurt. I was more concerned with getting them medical attention than I was with a wound to my hand. I wrapped some paper towels around my thumb and headed for the vet. Lucy, the border collie, spent a week at the vet while Molly, my red Heeler, was treated and returned home with me.

I cleaned my hand and bandaged it. For a couple of days, I soaked it every night in Epsom salts. The thumb was so swollen that I had no idea I'd suffered a compound fracture.

On the third day, it looked very bad and I decided to go to a local outpatient clinic. The doctor reamed me out for not coming in sooner, telling me the bone was broken and I had an infection. He gave me an antibiotic shot and oral meds and told me to come back the next morning.

The following day, we repeated the process. I was actually feeling better because I was now under a doctor's care. I took a nap that afternoon. When I woke up, there were red streaks going from my wrist to my elbow. I jumped in the car and headed for the hospital.

The ER physicians admitted me immediately (in quarantine) and started IV antibiotics. They watched my arm like hawks, fearful the infection would continue up my arm. They also wanted to call a hand surgeon for a consult. I insisted they call the general surgeon who had operated on my broken leg two years earlier. I'd slipped on ice and broke my left leg in four places (both bones in two places each). The surgeon had been so skilled, my leg had healed beautifully. Even though the ER doc tried to convince me to bring in a hand specialist, I told them to call Dr. T. Late that night, one of the nurses told me I'd made the right decision. She said Dr. T was the best surgeon in Dallas. She said he was the surgeon the nurses used.

The next morning, Dr. T came to see me. He was very upset and explained I had a MRSA. His concern was that the infection might have metastasized into my bones. If so, I was in deep, deep trouble. Frankly, I didn't hear anything past his opening statement, "If you had waited another twelve hours to come to the hospital, you'd be dead."

I was rolled down to the MRI room where I spent an hour inside that metal tube. I was frightened to my core.

The infection WAS in my bones. An infectious diseases doc was brought in.

I'm not going to go through everything that happened over the next eight weeks. I spent more than a week in the hospital where they put an open IV port into my left arm and taught me to give intravenous antibiotics to myself. For seven weeks after my discharge, I had to hang two bags of antibiotics on a pole every morning AND night and give myself two different drugs and saline. The meds were delivered by messenger every week, a nurse came to redo my IV line every week, I had to see the infectious diseases doc twice a month and see a general doc on alternate weeks. It's not a time I like to remember.

Six months after my ordeal was over, a handyman who had done some work for me hurt himself on a job up in Dallas. Although it was a small wound, he was dead four days later from a MRSA. I only learned of his death when I called to schedule him to do some work for me.

I thank God every day for the additional time in this world He's given to me.

Postscript: I forgot to say: The day Dr. T showed up, he operated on my hand to clean out as much of the infection as he could. The anesthesiologist came to talk to me beforehand. One of the things HE told me was that there was a 50/50 chance I'd lose the thumb. When I saw Dr. T before surgery, I asked him. He nodded grimly, but said, "You know I'll do everything I can to save it."

The second I woke up after surgery, I asked, "Do I still have the thumb?"

The OR nurse (whom I'd never seen before) said, "Of course, you do. You had Dr. T."

A Nice Way to Jumpstart Hump Day

Stephen brought my attention to a story from the September 23rd Chicago Tribune. It was such a positive article that I shelved my plans for today's post to write about it.

Regular readers of this blog will remember a post from January about the writing contest sponsored by Simon & Schuster and, the social networking site. You can read about it here.

The Tribune article explains that more than 2,600 writers posted chapters of their work on The visitors to the site voted on the entries, submitting more than 90,000 votes. Five finalists were selected, and their first three chapters were given to a panel of expert judges from the publishing and bookstore world.

First place was awarded to a mystery by Terry Shaw titled The Way Life Should Be. However, the judges were so impressed by 31-year-old Geoffrey S. Edwards second-place entry, Fire Bell in the Night, that he was told his manuscript would be published as well and he'd receive a $5,000 advance against royalties.

"The novel is set in Charleston, S.C., in 1850, and follows a newspaper reporter from New York as he uncovers a conspiracy whose origins will lead to the Civil War. The title comes from Thomas Jefferson's description of the Missouri Compromise as a 'fire bell in the night,' which 'awakened and filled me with terror'."

The book was released last month, and Edwards sounds as though he still cannot believe his luck, describing himself as "horribly unsuccessful" at finding an agent or publisher prior to the contest.

Edwards was born in Guam, raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and moved to Chicago when he was a high school student. He's a textbook editor with a history degree and is now working on a second novel about the Revolutionary War.

Gather is currently sponsoring two more writing contests. The five finalists have been selected for the "First Chapters Romance Contest," and you can vote on their entries here.

And, ten days ago, I posted about the "Next Great Crime Writer Contest" here. You can read the details about that contest here.

If you'd like to read the entire Chicago Tribune article on Edwards' book, go here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

August Booksales Up

The numbers for August bookstore sales are out. And, for the second month in a row, bookstore sales were up versus 2006.

August sales totaled $2.29 billion, up 9.3% from $2.09 billion in sales for the same period in 2006.

Year-to-date, bookstore sales are $10.80 billion, down 0.7% from $10.88 billion in the same eight-month period in 2006.

Publishers Weekly (PW) reported: "For the entire retail segment, sales were up 4.0% both for August as well as the first eight months of 2007."

Amazon Doesn't Step Up To The Plate...Again

I'm so disappointed. I stayed up until midnight last night waiting for the rumored release of the Amazon Kindle e-reading device.

Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zilch. Bumpkis.

If Amazon doesn't hurry up and get off its butt, the Kindle release is going to be the most anti-climatic event in the history of the world.

Amazon, are you listening?

Looking at Microtrends

On Friday night, I purchased a new hardcover book: Microtrends by Mark J. Penn.

Penn is the pollster who identified and named the group he called "soccer moms." He suggested to Bill Clinton that his 1996 presidential campaign focus on capturing those votes, and he claims that decision put Clinton in the White House. Penn is now serving as a consultant for Hillary Clinton.

Penn argues that "the most powerful forces in our society are the emerging, counter-intuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow..."

I've often quoted Chris Anderson's The Long Tail in which he talked about the fact that the Internet permits widely diverse small pockets of people to unite into niches. Penn takes that one step farther by identifying seventy-five such niches (or microtrends) and talking about the influence they may have on the world.

Over the next ten days, as I read the book, I'm going to share some of Penn's thoughts. I hope you'll find it as interesting as I do.

The book is organized into fifteen chapters with headings like "Work Life," "Race and Religion," and "Health and Wellness."

I'm going to use the first microtrend that Penn identifies: Sex-Ratio Singles. He explains the trend this way: "In the Wild West 150 years ago, there were too few women, so they had to import brides. Today, we have the opposite problem. There are too few straight men for all the straight women..."

Penn says that there are 90,000 more boys than girls born every year. However, the numbers shift during puberty because more boys die during that period than girls do. "Researchers call it a 'testosterone storm,' which causes more deaths among boys from car accidents, homicides, suicides, and drownings." And don't forget that men die on average about four years earlier than women do.

The "Gay Factor" also makes things tough for single women. Penn suggests there are 7.5 million gay men and 3.5 lesbians in the U.S. This makes the dating equation even more lopsided for heterosexual women; "you get something like 109 million straight women to 98 million straight men--for a straight sex ratio of 53 to 47.

And the picture is even more grim for black women. The high rate of death among black teenage boys coupled with the high rate of incarceration for black men "(4,700 for every 100,000 back men, compared to only 347 for every 100,000 black women)" leaves blacks facing a straight sex ratio of 57 to 43.

While this is great for single straight men, it means that an awful lot of women will go through life without a partner. There are consequences to this. You can figure out some of them pretty easily: "In 2005, single women were the second-largest group of home buyers, just behind married couples . . .[buying] more than twice as many as single men."

Penn says: "Historians have well documented that a society with too many unattached men leads to war. Will a society with too many unattached women lead to peace?"

Monday, October 15, 2007

Breaking News On Triskelion Bankruptcy

Treva Harte, co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of e-publisher Loose Id (pronounced "lucid") posted the following on the Loose Id blog here last evening:

Headline: Loose Id Bids on Triskelion's Contractual Assets
Dateline: 11 October 2007, Las Vegas, Nevada

Earlier this week, a representative of Loose Id, LLC entered a bid in the bankruptcy proceedings of Triskelion Publishing for the contractual assets of the company. If successful in their bid, Loose Id, LLC will release the majority of contracts at no cost to the authors who entered into them.

In a few cases, new contracts will be extended to the author from Loose Id in lieu of the Triskelion contracts. If an author chooses to reject the offer made them, their contract will be released by Loose Id, at no cost to the author.

Loose Id's intentions in bidding on the contracts are fourfold: (1) to facilitate the unencumbered acquisition of works offered to the company by former Triskelion authors; (2) to assist authors in securing release or reversion of rights to their work; (3) to potentially acquire and re-publish top flight manuscripts that match Loose Id's publishing guidelines; and (4) to reassure authors pursuing e-publishing careers of the sound business practices and corporate ethics of reputable e-publishers.

At this time, it is unknown whether Loose Id will succeed in its bid to acquire the Triskelion contracts. If the company is awarded the contracts, Editor in Chief Treva Harte indicates that all contracts to be released will be processed within 30 days of closing the deal and any offers of publication to be made shall be made within 60 days of close. No contract acquired by Loose Id will be held by the company against the will of the author.

Contact information:

What a great strategic move for Loose Id, which has seemed to be operating in the shadow of Ellora's Cave and Samhain in recent months. It builds good will and is a terrific publicity device.

Way to go, Treva and company!

Questions on Eroromance

I feel so blessed. Friends who don't buy or read erotic romance have purchased Bad Girl--and written public reviews--just to support me. I'm very grateful.

Interestingly enough, there's been an unexpected side effect of this willingness to be helpful. Friends who have purchased Bad Girl have been amazed that this genre even exists. Since the novel's release, I've had numerous people call or email, asking questions. Some are writers considering writing an erotic romance. Up until now I've been answering those questions on an individual basis.

Yesterday, however, a fellow writer wrote me with a list of questions. Her list was more comprehensive than the previous ones I'd been asked, and I decided to respond here, adding some of the other questions I've been asked over the last six weeks.

1) I've never seen anything like this. When did these books start appearing?
Erotic romance began appearing in the late nineties. Kensington, an independent print publisher, released The Lady's Tutor, a historical erotic romance by Robin Schone (and my introduction to the genre), in 1999. Ellora's Cave (EC), an e-publisher, opened in 2000.

e-Publishers offering erotic romance popped up everywhere: Amber Quill, Freya's Bower, Liquid Silver, Loose Id, New Concepts, Samhain . . . the list goes on and on. Then New York realized erotic romance was selling and jumped on the bandwagon. Almost every major publishing house now has a eroromance imprint.

2) Must there necessarily be romance (apart from sex) between the main characters? And must the endings be happy?
It depends on what you are writing--erotic romance or erotica. Erotic romance DOES demand a romance. Erotica may or may not.

Erotic romance focuses on the protagonist's romance. Erotica focuses on the protagonist's sexual journey.

Erotic romance MUST have a happily-ever-after (HEA). Erotica may or may not have a HEA.

If you're thinking about writing either erotic romance or erotica, I'd suggest buying a variety of books in both sub-genres. When I was thinking about writing one, there were very limited eroromance books in hard print. I went to the anthology section on EC here. I bought the Ellora's Cavemen series. There are six short stories in each volume, and they offer a good range of what is selling today.

Fictionwise has an erotica section here.

A note of caution: Fictionwise does not appear to distinguish erotic romance from erotica from porn. Some time ago, I bought a book listed as erotica. It was straight porn where the female character was treated by the male characters as an object, nothing more. The protagonist was used and abused in a very creepy way. I found it offensive and have not purchased from Fictionwise since.

3. Must the protagonist always be female? Can the viewpoints alternate between female and male perspectives?
Initially, the audience for erotic romance and erotica was female (and still is the primary audience). These women shared the books with their partners, and some authors now have a heterosexual male audience, too. In addition, Ellora's Cave says they have a loyal gay audience.

Interestingly enough, heterosexual women are increasingly buying gay male erotic romance. It is very hot on the market right now.

I just checked the Ellora's Cave gay/lesbian releases. Of the fifty-five books listed here, only two include lesbian relationships--and one of those includes a menage a trois with a male. That means there are fifty-three m/m books although a number included a female as a third.

Remember erotic romance is primarily about women's fantasies. Menage a trois--and I have to admit I think of it as menagerie [grin]--or m/m stories are written to appeal mostly to women. A gay guy I know said the m/m erotic romances he's read are nothing like reality. He described the men as women with penises. When I said that gay guys are buying them, he told me, "Then THEY'RE fantasizing; it doesn't represent reality at all."

It's helpful to remember that bit of advice. I suspect the reason m/m erotic romance is selling so well is that women like to imagine sensitive, thoughtful, articulate males willing to discuss their feelings, insecurities and issues.

4. Must the sex be entirely heterosexual? Does even a little homosexual sex push the book into the gay/lesbian category?
I've already addressed the first part of this question. Male homosexual relationships sell; lesbian relationships don't--unless you are marketing to a lesbian publishing house.

I wouldn't worry about how the book will be classified. That's the publisher's job.

5. What behavior is out-of-bounds? Frowned upon? Unlikely to get published?
Almost all publishers observe the same guidelines. No pedophilia, no incest, no bestiality (unless between shapeshifters).

6. Just how hot can it get?
At this point, I'd say the sky's the limit. But keep in mind the "ick" factor. People read erotic romance to feel a certain way (aroused but warm and fuzzy). If you knock them out of the mood, they're not going to be happy with your book.

Hope this helps anyone with questions.

Of the State Fair, Skidboot and Godliness

I was born in Queens, New York, but from age twelve, lived in Florida. Within a few years of my college graduation, I moved to Texas where I've made my home ever since.

Texas embraced me and, in return, I love this place. I recognize it's not for everyone. Many of the people are conservative and deeply religious. They are also the kindest, most generous folk I've ever known.

Two things happened today that put me in mind of the Texas spirit and a very special animal I'd like to introduce to you. I think the video I found will give you an understanding of why I love this state and its residents so much. The video is unashamedly over-the-top, in much the way the state itself is. But it works for me.

My good friend, Marilyn, depairs of my dogless state. She truly believes dogliness is next to godliness and considers my cats a poor substitute. Since my dog died two years ago, she has tried again and again to get me to adopt another. The first incident that happened today was her trying to persuade me to take a three-year-old German Shepherd/Pit Bull mix.

I explained for at least the thirtieth time that it wouldn't be fair to bring a dog into the house with a twenty-plus-year-old cat. Besides, when Tribble finally goes toward the light, I'm determined to get another Australian Cattle Dog.

Following that conversation with Marilyn, I talked this evening to a friend about going to the State Fair of Texas before it closes in six days.

I LOVE the State Fair of Texas--the biggest in the nation. I love the gaudiness, the noisiness, the crowds, the midway, the smells, the rides, the exhibits and the foods. Everything about it is simply wonderful.

Even so, going to the Fair just hasn't been the same for me since Skidboot stopped performing there every year.

Watch this video first for an introduction to Skidboot who appeared on Oprah, Leno, Letterman and Animal Planet. David's ranch in Quinlan is less than fifty miles from my home.

Supposedly, the Australian Cattle Dog was the result of cross-breeding experiments with at least two other dog breeds. While you're watching the video, look at Skidboot and try to identify those breeds.

Like Skidboot, my Molly was an Australian Cattle Dog. The dogs are prized here in Texas because they are such great herders. They're called Heelers because they nip at the heels of the cattle. They are generally one of two colors: red or blue.

Molly came into my life when she ran up to me on the street one day and announced she was moving in. I tried to explain that I already had a border collie and one herding dog was enough for anyone, but she wouldn't take no for an answer.

Molly was so bright and willful that managing her was a full-time job. I did some investigation into the breed trying to get a handle on her. The stories were fascinating although I suspect there's some question as to their validity.

The breed was supposedly started by Australian rustlers who were trying to steal cattle and needed a good herder. Border collies had the herding instinct, but two major drawbacks: They'd been bred to herd sheep, not cattle. Their jaws weren't strong enough for the larger ruminants. Moreover, border collies bark--a lot. Not a helpful trait in a thief.

In an effort to get a better dog for their purposes, the rustlers bred the border collies to pit bulls to get stronger jaws. Then they bred the new animals to the Australian dingo, which hunts silently.

The resulting breed was indeed quiet and had stronger jaws. Unfortunately, they were so vicious, they took down the calves instead of herding them.

Trying to improve the dogs' disposition and agility (and to encourage the herding genes instead of the killing genes), the rustlers bred their dogs to another herding dog, the dalmatian. This gave the new breed an undercoat with odd spots. Molly was red with white spots while Skidboot was blue with white spots.

Yes, I said Skidboot "was." The dog with the big heart and willing spirit died this past March. He is buried under a sprawling tree on David's ranch.

I guess now you can see why thoughts of a dog and the State Fair brought me to Skidboot, the amazing cattle dog.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My First Banner

You'll note a change to the blog today. My friend, Cat Brown, of Romance Junkies designed the gorgeous banner above. I've just spent my first advertising dollars to put this banner into rotation on Romance Junkies, one of the top romance review sites on line.

The lovely purple background is part of a design by Maria Zannini, another good friend and very talented graphic design artist. My next project is to put Maria's designs onto my website, which I've sadly neglected.

I tried printing the banner in this post, but it shrunk it too much to see it. I'll leave it at the top of the blog for a couple of days.

Doris Lessing Reacts to Nobel Win

On Thursday it was announced that British author Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature, making her the oldest person to ever win the literature prize.

I first saw Ms. Lessing's response to learning the news on Galleycat here Friday morning. I was so tickled by the eighty-seven-year-old's response of "Christ!" that I went looking to see if I could find more.

Of course, YouTube had a Reuters' clip, which I'm attaching here.

Lessing took a lot of critical heat when she began writing sci-fi in the seventies. I wonder if that's what she's alluding to in this clip with her repeated references to "It's been thirty years."

Name Change for Holtzbrinck

I just realized that this will be the 1,000th post to this blog. Sweet mercy!

Back on March 7th, I did a post here on the seven large mega-corporations that dominate publishing.

They were:

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

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

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

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

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

6) Groupe Lagardere (France): Hachette Livre, which bought the former Time Warner Book Group, including Warner Books, the Mysterious Press, and Little, Brown and Company in addition to many other titles.

7) CBS (United States): Simon and Schuster

Since that post, Hachette Livre changed the name of Warner Books to Grand Central Publishing. And Bertelsmann bought out Time Inc., its partner in a joint venture that included the Book-of-the-Month Club.

On Tuesday of this week, Holtzbrinck announced it is changing its name to Macmillan, effective immediately.

Shelf Awareness reported that: "The only imprint to change its name is Audio Renaissance, the audiobook imprint, which is now Macmillan Audio. Otherwise, all divisions, imprints and publishers, including Henry Holt, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martin's, Tor, Picador, Scientific American and W.H. Freeman, retain their names."

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Redux

If you're considering entering the Amazon contest I posted about recently here, hie thee over to agent Janet Reid's blog here to see her thoughts on the matter.

Refining My Booksigning Technique

I did another booksigning Friday night at a Barnes & Noble in Lewisville, Texas. It's getting easier. I sold as many books as I had previously in half the time.

Here's my revised list of things to do for a booksigning.

1) Get there early and learn the store. Look to see where the various genres are shelved. Pay particular attention to the bestsellers and new releases. Locate the restroom and customer service. Introduce yourself to all the staff, shake their hands and memorize their names.

2) Be sure your table is set close to the door. This Barnes & Noble had advertised and had a sign with my bookcover on it.

3) Bring your tools: I had a table model cover of my book, a large decorative bowl from Party City ($1.99), and a tablecloth from Party City ($.99). I spread my tablecloth, put my model cover on top of it, lined my books up in three stacks so they faced all directions and filled my plastic bowl with the various kinds of candy I'd purchased.

4) I asked the store for "autograph stickers" and immediately autographed ten books and placed them prominently on the table.

5) Don't bring a friend to keep you company during the booksigning. If you do, you won't focus on the customers. It's a little scary starting out, but being alone will force you to be more outgoing. A friend of mine who has been acting as my publicist has come to each signing and purchased a book each time to get me started. It is HUGELY helpful to have someone do that and then leave. It gives you a psychological boost (At least I sold one). I was enormously grateful to her.

6) Set modest goals. I gave myself a goal of one book every thirty minutes. Let's be realistic. I'm selling erotic romance. One third of everyone who came through the front door was looking for inspirational or Christian literature. It's not likely I'm going to sell to them [grin] although I talked to everyone.

7) Look for the writers. You'll spot them because they'll linger nearby to listen. Ask if they write. Offer helpful advice. I hand out business cards with my blog address on it. Writers are inclined to buy to support other writers.

The most important thing, I think, is to OWN THE STORE. I treated the place as though it were Wal-Mart and I was the greeter. I spent as much time as I could on my feet--which got harder and harder the further I got from my 5:00 AM wake-up time. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I stood beside my table and welcomed everyone who came through the door. I asked if I could help them. If they had a child, I asked if the child could have a piece of candy. When kids are confronted with a variety of candy, they hesitate, wanting to make the best decision. It gives you a chance to chat with the parents. Yes, I admit it. I am completely without shame, but let's face it. You knew that already.

I did not use hard pressure tactics. If they didn't ask about the book, I didn't push. But I was so freaking friendly, almost everyone asked. A common occurrence was that I would point out the direction they needed, they'd head there and then on their way to the cash register, I'd say, "Oh, good, you found it." At that point, it would have been churlish not to slow down to thank me. Almost everyone did.

Like everything, it takes time to get into the groove. You warm up to the job. I got better the longer I stayed.

I'm also turned on by meeting neat people. I met a woman who wants to be a writer whom I liked a great deal and a man who bought my book to read on a plane and then had his wife take it from him, saying she'd read it first.

When anyone asked about the book, I immediately handed them a copy. It's hard to put the book down and just walk away from someone being nice to you. If they said they didn't read erotic romance, I said, "Oh, you haven't heard how popular this genre is?" Everyone wants to show how knowledgeable they are so they say, "Oh, yeah, my friend/wife/neighbor loves those sexy books." I'd say, "An autographed book makes a great gift." That worked three times.

I sold quite a few books to men. When they'd wince at the mention of romance, I'd say, "Forty percent of my sales are to guys." They were always so surprised they'd keep talking, and a lot bought. My percentage of sales to men went up from 40% to 50% Friday night.

The assistant manager came over to me about two hours into the signing and said, "You've had a lot of traffic." He was delighted because I'd almost doubled my goal of two books an hour. He told me he hadn't expected me to sell as many as many books as I did.

I left the plastic bowl with all the candy and "Bad Girl" stickers in it for the staff. They were thrilled, and the small gesture cost less than $6.

Re signing the stock. Each time before I leave a signing, I sign ten books. Then I tell the manager how many I've signed. I leave it to them to ask me to sign the rest. It just seems more courteous to me than signing twenty or thirty copies.

8) Give yourself a reward to look forward to. I took a five-minute break every hour or so to walk around and look at books. I'd promised myself a new book when I was through for the night. I purchased Microtrends, the new book by forecaster Mark Penn. It's a non-fiction about the seventy or so small trends that will impact our lives in the future.

Hope this helps someone else facing a booksigning. And I'm open to any suggestions anyone may offer to improve my list.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Using CTRL-V and CTRL-H as Writing Tools

On Thursday, a very weird case of plagiarism came to light. One using Ctrl-V and Ctrl-H (cut and paste) to write a novel.

I first read about it on the Dear Author website here.

Jane posted the "Top Ten Tips for Plagiarists," pointing out that self-published author Lanaia Lee's new book Of Atlantis had blatantly plagiarized David Gemmell's novel Dark Prince. The first page of Of Atlantis is here. The first page of Dark Prince can be read here by clicking on the "See Inside" icon and then clicking on "Chapter One."

The really amusing thing is that Lee neglected to change Gemmell's character's name Alexander to her character's name Archimedes in the third paragraph. If you're going to plagiarize, you should at least get it right.

Lee shares her bio with readers here with what I will characterize as a heavy emphasis on pathos . . . no, let me amend that . . . a heavy emphasis on bathos.

A commenter on the Dear Author website quoted Lee's response to the charges of plagiarism:

Of Atlantis is totally mine. I have the original manuscript, and witnesses to my work. I put two years of my life in this book, the copy right, I own. I am appalled some one would think I am that dishonesy!

By 2:10 PM Thursday afternoon, Jane of Dear Author posted this:

I’ve been asked to stop harassing the “author” and forbidden to post about it. whoops.

Then it moved from merely weird to very weird. Lee posted a second message on her site (before pulling down the message board altogether). All of the typos and misspelling are hers:

When I first started Of Atlantis, I hire a ghost writer Christopher Hill. I see what he did now and for that I aplogize. I was scammed. I apologize to Mr. Hemmel's memory and his family.

Let's ignore for the moment why anyone would hire a ghostwriter for a self-published book and just try to follow the story.

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware had a very interesting contribution to make to this bizarre tale. On the Writer Beware blogsite here, she defends Lee, saying that the woman had been in touch with her four months ago about having been scammed by Christopher Hill. Lee told Strauss she had been a "client" of Hill's for over two years and had paid him $400 per month for at least six months to be her ghostwriter.

Regular readers of this blog will remember Christopher Hill. I wrote a post titled "Red Flags for Writers" almost a year ago here in which I talked about that lying scumbucket who preyed on naive wannabe writers.

So, Lanaia Lee has been metaphorically raped twice by Hill. Once when she paid more than $2,400 for his ghostwriting services and again when he blatantly plagiarized another writer for the FIRST PAGE of her book--almost guaranteeing that, if she ever published the work, she'd be publicly labeled a plagiarist or a fool.

Do I feel sorry for Lee? Of course, I do. And not because she's in a wheelchair or has six dead children. I hate seeing someone's dreams trampled upon and crushed.

At the same time, I'm irritated with her. It took two years and a lot of money before she finally realized that Hill was scamming her. That's some serious denial.

No one can victimize you without your active participation. We all make mistakes; I've made some doozies in my time. But if we scrutinize those mistakes in order to figure out how we went wrong (for me, it's usually impulsiveness or arrogance) and take responsibility for our actions, we can learn and grow. There is grace to be earned in a humble self-examination of our behavior.

I don't know if Lanaia Lee will ever read this post. If so, I hope she realizes that her example may prevent another wannabe writer from getting caught in the same or a similar trap set by a predator. I hope she can take some comfort from that.

I wish her well.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Political Humor From The Capitol Steps

You are getting two posts today. I'd already done my post for this morning, but I have a booksigning tonight. I suspect that I will be too tired to post to this blog when I get home.

So, I'm posting this video from The Capitol Steps to hold you over until I can do a post for Saturday.

More on e-Publishing

After my post last night defending e-publishing, I opened my copy of Shelf Awareness this morning to find a report on a panel held at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Titled "The Quest for Global Digital Sales," the panel included HarperCollins president Brian Murray, Holtzbrinck board member Dr. Ruediger Salat, Penguin CEO John Makinson and Random House CEO Peter Olson. Moderators included Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and Andrew Wilkins, publisher of Bookseller and Publisher magazine.

I said last night that publishing mega-corporations were racing to digitize their stock. Murray indicated "HarperCollins has invested heavily in infrastructure--one measure is that it now has 12,000 titles digitally stored." He said "'the two pieces to the puzzle' for publishers are making a transition from the tradition of 'printing on paper and selling that' and creating value in the digital world."

Dr. Salat praised "Libreka . . . a site sponsored by . . . the German publishers, wholesalers and booksellers association, that offers digital versions of German books online. Libreka is still very small but aims to offer e-versions of all books in the German equivalent of Books in Print." Libreka offers a centralized place for readers to find what they're looking for, rather than having to go from one publisher's site to another.

Dr. Salat said the biggest challenge facing the industry was to "speed up ways to create a business model."

I absolutely agree with him. However, I suspect these large publishing houses are still trying to cobble together a model that will preserve the old system of royalties, offering authors an 8% to 15% share despite the much lower cost of digital publishing.

The reason I've been so interested in Radiohead's offering their album as a pay-what-you-want download is NOT because of the honor system. It's because they took the step of cutting out the musical "publisher," the record label.

Penguin's CEO, at least, was willing to admit, "The upheavals of the music industry have made publishers cautious and wary. . . Makinson said that 'if I'm awake at night, it's because of the music industry and the speed at which it changed'."

As I said last night, when the means of publishing are available to all, traditional publishing houses are going to have to offer added value to justify their existence.

"Peter Olson said that his house's sales online of books are 10% and growing at 20%-25% a year and 'we are just at the beginning of becoming more proficient at taking advantage of the Internet in marketing'."

The schizophrenic mindset of these publishers was evident in Olson's conflicting statements. On the one hand, he said "that there are 'fundamental differences between the music and publishing industries.' For one, the music industry has sold compilations for years and consumers have long wanted to listen to single songs."

Then the SAME man said, "Random is very interested in selling parts of its books, particularly nonfiction, online, for example, a recipe from a cookbook or a few chapters from a title."

Let me think about that for a moment. I'm having flashbacks to the GRE entrance exam to graduate school. Let's see: A chapter is to a book like a . . . hmmmm . . . oh, yes . . . like a single song is to an album!

I HATE business cliches, but in this case, I'm going for it. These guys need to start "thinking outside the box."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Revisiting Radiohead's Experiment

Yesterday Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, became available for download.

You'll recall that I posted last week here about Radiohead's marketing strategy of offering the album for free download, permitting listeners to pay what they wanted for it.

This morning, ABC News reports that listeners appear to be paying $8 on average for the download. This is down $2 from the $10 reported by the Wall Street Journal last week.

That sounds about right. Diehard Radiohead fans probably jumped on the bandwagon early, pre-ordering and paying more on average, while ordinary listeners signing on now that the album is available will probably bring the average price down.

Even so, because Radiohead is not distributing In Rainbows through a record label and has minimal promotional costs, the band may still come out ahead of the usual economic equation for a CD.

Royalty Percentages

If you're curious about the "industry standard" royalty percentages, be sure to check out agent Jonathan Lyons' blog for yesterday here.

Jonathan mentioned paperback royalties in his "Word of the Week" feature, and then very graciously responded to my question regarding hardcover percentages in the comment stream.

Woo-Hoo! A Photo Op

I am a huge admirer of agent Janet Reid for a lot of reasons, including her no-nonsense blog and her wonderful sense of humor. I've learned a lot from her.

I was, therefore, tickled this morning to find a picture of her and author S.J. Rozan on her blog here.

Janet represents crime fiction and quirky literary fiction. She is now affiliated with Fine Print Literary Management here.

Among my favorite things that she does is respond to her own comment stream under a pseudonym. This week, her client Sean Ferrell made a comment as follows: "My next book is a cross between Lost Dog and Electric Church (books by two of Janet's other clients). I just can't decide whether to call it Lost Church, or Electric Dog."

Without missing a beat, Janet, writing as "Sean Ferrell's Agent Said": "Your next book is a cross between NUMB and NUTS: The Story of Southwest Airlines," a teasing reference to Sean's review site, Numbmonkey, here.

And, yes, I admit it. I'm easily amused.

Romance and e-Publishing Take Hits

This evening, while taking a break from writing, I cruised the blogosphere for twenty minutes. I stopped by The Rejecter's website, a place that I enjoy visiting despite the frequent gaps in posting. Her site says she's an assistant to a literary agent in New York.

Tuesday's blog here was about e-books. The Rejecter had a specific point of view, but it was the comment trail that really caught my attention. In addition to slamming e-publishing, the commenters decided to take a detour to denigrate romance.

Of course, I can't resist responding.

Since I'm a romance writer, let me start there (stats courtesy of RWA).

Did you know that:

  • In 2006, romance outsold every market category with the exception of religion/inspirational?
  • Romance represents 26.4% of all books sold?
  • In 2006, romance generated $1.37 billion in sales? Compare that to sci-fi/fantasy ($495 million), literary fiction ($448 million), and mysteries ($422 million)? You did note the difference between billions and millions, didn't you?

Romance spawned some of the best-selling authors on the market today. I've attended several talks by Janet Evanovich, who was very upfront in talking about her first twelve books, which were sold to Harlequin. She says, when she couldn't stand to write the phrase "pulsing male member" one more time, she created Stephanie Plum.

Nora Roberts, who is famous as a romance writer, also started with Harlequin/Silhouette category romances. She wrote more than eighty of them. Today, in addition to her sweeping romantic sagas, she writes a very popular futuristic mystery series as J.D. Robb.

Before you knock category romance, just try writing one. It ain't easy. I know. I attempted to write a Harlequin years ago, thinking I could knock it off in no time at all. I retired defeated. Like haiku, the format is strictly defined and very restrictive.

The two highest selling fiction genres (romance and sci-fi) were the first two genres to sell online. I suspect part of the reason is that readers in both genres read many, many books in a year. The convenience and (generally) shorter lengths of e-books made them popular with readers.

Erotic romance began online with e-publishers like Ellora's Cave and Loose Id. Once traditional New York publishers realized how popular the sub-genre was becoming, they came calling. Many erotic romance writers who started out online now write for both traditional publishers like Berkley, NAL, Kensington, Avon, Ballentine, Pocket and Signet AND for their former e-publishers. I also know several writers who were FIRST published in print and who then sought out e-book contracts, too.

I've said this so often on this blog that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. The publishing industry is waiting for a viable e-reading device that will capture the public's attention the way the iPod did for the music industry. I don't know if the Kindle will be that device. I certainly hope so.

For those of you not familiar with the Amazon Kindle, it is a wireless e-reader that uses Mobipocket to permit it to utilize multiple formats. It's rumored that Amazon will release it later this month. The Kindle will be able to download magazines and newspapers in addition to books.

I've already reported on the survey at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which indicated the e-book was selected by respondents as the #1 choice for the area of major growth in the future.

On Monday, September 24th, Harlequin issued a press release, announcing they have become "the first major publisher to make their complete front-list catalog available in the eBook format."

The major publishing conglomerates are racing to digitize their stock. While one of the major reasons for this is POD technology, it will be interesting to see how many titles are available as a "Kindle edition" when the e-reading device finally comes to market.

I want to specifically address two comments--one made by The Rejecter herself and the other made by one of her commenters.

To The Rejecter who said: As with any new thing that comes along unexpectedly and alternately revolutionizes/threatens your entire industry, it takes time to figure out how it's going to work. With the internet it's especially hard because things are constantly changing . . . What publishers have discovered, for the most part, is that e-Books are unprofitable.

I couldn't agree more with the first part of your statement. Digitization and POD technology ARE changing the face of publishing.

However, I take exception to your last sentence. I suspect you're so used to thinking of "publishers" as the six or seven mega-conglomerates which own the major houses that your view is colored by that filter. It's hard to envision a world in which these corporations won't dominate.

My contention is, among the needed adjustments, our definition of "publisher" will change, too. Digitization and POD technology will democratize publishing in a way that nothing has since the Gutenberg press.

Prior to Gutenberg, only the educated wealthy owned books. That changed.

Prior to digitization and POD technology, only wealthy corporations owned the means to publish. That, too, will change.

Booksellers and libraries--two industries in desperate need of an overhaul--are scrambling right now to find their places in the digital world. I'm guessing, in their quest for survival, they are going to move across the dividing line into publishing themselves. And I suspect that will only be the first wave of definition change.

A commenter posted the following on The Rejecter's site: No one is denying that there is a market for them [e-books]. It's just not a big one, nor will it likely ever be a major portion of the industry.

To her, I say: Let's see what the next fourteen months brings. Come back, and let's talk again in December, 2008.