Thursday, May 29, 2008

Preliminary 2007 Books Stats Are Out

Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the United States and publisher of Books In Print, has released its preliminary stats for 2007. Here are excerpts from its press release:
Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2007 increased slightly to 276,649 new titles and editions, up from the 274,416 that were published in 2006.

While traditional book publishing was basically flat last year, there was a staggering rise in the reported number of "On Demand" and short-run books to 134,773, pushing the grand total for projected 2007 U.S. book output to 411,422 books.

Bowker has decided to separate out the print-on-demand (POD) titles from its traditional stats.

Remember, we're talking about ISBN titles, not a traditional publisher that uses POD to print additional copies of an existing title. The numbers do not include audiobooks or e-books.
"The most startling development last year is the reporting of 'On Demand' titles, leading to a stunning five-fold increase of new titles in the unclassified category, which mostly consists of reprints of public domain titles and other short-run books," said Gallagher. "It will be interesting to monitor this category in 2008 in order to get a sense of whether this is a sustainable trend or a one-year spike" . . .

According to Gallagher, among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were once again Fiction and Literature. There were 50,071 new fiction titles introduced in the U.S. last year, up 17% from 2006 . . . Similarly, there was a 19% rise in new literature books last year to 9,796 . . .

"Adult fiction continues to be a reliable category in the U.S. book publishing industry and one of the niches that a number of publishers have counted on through the peaks and valleys of the past several years," said Gallagher. "On the other hand, it's noteworthy that juvenile title output, which makes up more than one out of every 10 new books introduced into the U.S. market, was down again slightly last year . . ."

Go here to read the entire press release.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Realtors Reach Settlement With Justice Department

I know. I know. I said I was taking a vacation from blogging.

But I keep reading these interesting articles.

Saw one in today's New York Times. The Justice Department and the National Association of Realtors settled an important lawsuit on Tuesday:
The deal frees Internet brokers and other real-estate agents offering heavily discounted commissions to operate on a level playing field with traditional brokers by using the multiple listing services that are the lifeblood of the industry, government officials said.

The Justice Department sued the National Association of Realtors in federal court in 2005 on antitrust grounds, charging that its policies were stifling competition and hurting consumers. That case was scheduled to go to trial in Chicago in July.

I have to admit, I didn't think the Bush administration had it in them to go to bat for the entrepreneur as opposed to the interests of Big Business.
“I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, which tracked the case. “Given the reluctance of anyone in Washington before the Justice Department to improve competition in the real-estate industry, this settlement represents a milestone.”

The decision gives me hope that the Justice Department might actually take a look at Amazon's new policies with respect to forcing smaller publishers to use their proprietary POD press.
The agreement between the Justice Department and the Realtors’ association must be approved by a federal judge, probably this summer. As now structured, the deal bans the Realtors’ association from treating online brokers as different from traditional brokers or discriminating against them, and it ensures that they will not be excluded from membership in the listing service based on their business model.

In one instance, the Justice Department said an unnamed online broker was forced to shut down its Web site because all the traditional brokers on the local listing service, in response to the national association’s policy, had withheld their listings from the online broker.

Read the whole story here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Borders Website

Be sure to visit the new website here today.

Among the changes Borders recently made was taking back their online selling presence from The revamped Borders site debuts today.

My favorite part of the site is the Magic Shelf, which operates like a quick look around the front of a bricks-and-mortar bookstore where you can see the bestsellers and new releases at a glance.

My only problem with the bookshelf is that I wish they wouldn't mix their media so much. I'd prefer to look at books, then audiobooks, then DVDs, etc. But that's just me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Laughs From the Animal World

I can't promise to do this every day, but I'm going to try and post some of my favorite videos while I'm on vacation from blogging.

This is an oldie, but goodie. The video is over five minutes long, including cats, penguins, a polar bear and a skateboarding dog.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Catch You Later

I need to take a ten-day break from blogging.

I'll be back June 4th.

In the meantime, here's a video of Kobe Bryant jumping over an Aston Martin speeding toward him.

Don't try this at home, kiddies.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Kindness

I stayed up past my bedtime last night, something I tend to do on Friday because I know that I can sleep late on Saturday. When I tumbled into bed around 1:30, I set my alarm for 8:30.

Apparently Bob the cat thought I'd forgotten to set the alarm because at precisely 6:15, the time my alarm usually goes off, he howled--one single, short howl. Not loud enough to scare me, just enough to wake me. He waited a few seconds and then leaned over and licked my nose.

The boy has learned from ugly experience that going straight to licking my nose creates a geyser of woman, sheets and noise, something to do with that caress of sandpaper between my eyes. So now he gives me a warning howl.

As I dragged myself out of bed, I thanked him for his kindness, which brings me to this post.

It's been fifteen years since the book Random Kindness & Senseless Acts of Beauty was published.

I think kindness is highly underrated.

The first act of kindness (outside of my own family) I can remember recognizing as such happened when I was about seven years old. Money was an issue in my household, and when my mother went grocery shopping, it was always with an eye to the amount of cash in her wallet. One of my early jobs was returning grocery items to the shelves when she started adding up the tab in her head as she put everything on the conveyor belt. I HATED the job and obeyed with a sullen attitude. (On the plus side--to save myself mortification--by the time I was nine, I could estimate the cost of a grocery cart full of items BEFORE we got to the checkout line. To this day, I can come within $.25 of the total when guesstimating the price of my groceries).

This particular day, I was already holding two other items to be returned when Mom handed me a bag of Oreos to take back.

I was old enough to understand the necessity, but my four-year-old brother wasn't having any. He pitched a fit as only he could do, screaming and banging his fists on the nearest surfaces. All three of us were redheads, and the sight of his angry red face under his orange hair and a bazillion freckles was pretty impressive.

Mom--who never appeared embarrassed by asking me to return items--WAS embarrassed by my brother's behavior. She leaned over and hissed, "If you want to cry, I'll give you something to really cry about."

All of a sudden, the elderly man behind us laid a $5 bill in front of my mother and said, "Allow me."

He refused to listen to her protestations and shook his head when she tried to hand it back.

Of course, that $5 was probably the equivalent of handing a $20 bill to someone today.

Mom finally accepted the money--the cashier was glaring at her to hurry up--and thanked the man for his kindness.

That act still resonates with me today.

I try very hard to be kind in my daily life and like to think I succeed more often than not--although occasionally my temper flares, putting kindness on the back burner. I blame my genes: Italian father and red-headed mother.

I also try to surround myself with kind people. I truly believe mean-spirited folk take years off your life.

I find kind men very, very sexy.

Be kind today.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Microsoft's Announcement

At 7:45 this morning, Microsoft posted an announcement on its blog that:

Today we informed our partners that we are ending the Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects and that both sites will be taken down next week. Books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our Search results, but not through separate indexes.

This also means that we are winding down our digitization initiatives, including our library scanning and our in-copyright book programs. We recognize that this decision comes as disappointing news to our partners, the publishing and academic communities, and Live Search users.

They explain:
With Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, we digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles. Based on our experience, we foresee that the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries.

This is a significant change in strategy for Microsoft, which has been attempting to catch up with Google in the search engine stakes.

In one of the earliest posts on this blog in November, 2005 here, I talked about Microsoft joining the Open Content Alliance whose goal, according to, is: "to digitize hundreds of thousands of books and technical papers and make them available on the Web for almost universal access."

I suspect the key to this new move is here:
We have learned a tremendous amount from our experience and believe this decision, while a hard one, can serve as a catalyst for more sustainable strategies. To that end, we intend to provide publishers with digital copies of their scanned books. We are also removing our contractual restrictions placed on the digitized library content and making the scanning equipment available to our digitization partners and libraries to continue digitization programs. We hope that our investments will help increase the discoverability of all the valuable content that resides in the world of books and scholarly publications.

Today's Wall Street Journal had an article about Microsoft's continuing "dance" with Yahoo over full or part acquisition:
For now, discussions remain focused on Yahoo's search business without any new negotiations on a full acquisition, people close to the matter say. Yahoo separately is close to a deal to carry search ads from Google Inc., say people familiar with the matter -- a pact that could further stir the waters.

Google is far and away the #1 search engine in use today. According to comScore, Inc. these were the March, 2008 statistics for percentage of the search engine market each holds:

1) Google 59.8% (up from 59.2% in February)
2) Yahoo! 21.3%
3) Microsoft 9.4%
4) AOL LLC 4.8%
5) Ask Network 4.7%

Combining #2 and #3 isn't going to be enough. Even if Microsoft buys Yahoo, that only gives them 30.7% of the search engine market with Google still nearly 30 percentage points ahead of them.

My guess is that cooler heads at Microsoft are taking a good, hard look at the chances of Microsoft's beating Google out as the top search engine. Digitizing the world's books is a very BIG, very expensive project.

Read the announcement here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Concepts, B&N, Time Warner

More On New Concepts Publishing
My good friend Cat Brown aka Samantha Storm is the owner and operator of the Romance Junkies website.

Check out a post she did on the RJ blog on Tuesday here about online publisher New Concepts.

Barnes & Noble Eyes Borders
The Wall Street Journal had an article about Barnes & Noble studying the possibility of acquiring Borders:
Barnes & Noble Inc., the nation's largest book chain by sales, has assembled a team of executives and advisers to study the possibility of acquiring No. 2 chain Borders Group Inc., according to a person familiar with the situation.

Whether such a deal would pass antitrust hurdles is unclear. Barnes & Noble has about 20% to 22% of the retail book market, while Borders controls 10% to 12%, estimates Albert Greco, a professor at the Fordham Graduate School of Business.

Time Warner Spins Off Cable Division
Two years ago, in February 2006, corporate raider Carl Icahn proposed breaking up the Time Warner Company into four separate companies: AOL, television and film, publishing and cable.

In an effort to appease Icahn, Time Warner agreed to a deal that included reducing costs by a $1 billion. A month later in March 2006, Time Warner sold the Time Warner Book Group to French publisher Hachette Livre, of the Lagardere Group. A year later, the new owners changed the name of the Time Warner Book Group to Grand Central Books.

The Associated Press reported yesterday:
Media conglomerate Time Warner and Time Warner Cable say their boards have approved the companies' legal separation, with Time Warner Cable expected to pay a hefty $10.9 billion one-time dividend to shareholders. New York-based parent Time Warner Inc. will receive $9.25 billion of the dividend payout.

"Separating the two companies will help their management teams focus on realizing the full potential of the respective businesses and will provide investors with greater choice in how they own this portfolio of assets," said Time Warner President and Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes.

The new deal leaves Time Warner with two of the four divisions: AOL and the television and film unit.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random House Is Forward-Thinking

The publishing world was agog yesterday at the news that Markus Dohle has been crowned the new Random House king (and chief executive). The CEO of Bertelsmann, Random House's parent company, issued a statement.

According to Yahoo:
Dohle, head of a printing unit at Bertelsmann's Arvato division, replaces Peter W. Olson, who has had the job since 1998, but was hampered by losses at the unit amid a wider slowdown in sales of books . . .

"Random House plays an important role in Bertelsmann's growth strategy," Bertelsmann CEO Hartmut Ostrowski said in a statement. "Markus Dohle will continue to advance the development of (the) world's market-leading trade book publishing group through new ideas and by opening up new lines of business" . . .

"With his proven talent for innovation he [Dohle] will enhance Random House's long-term value and keep it strong even in a mature book marketplace," Ostrowski said.

The company said Olson, 58, was leaving at his own wish. He had been grappling with declining profits at the publishing house.
The thing that stirred the most comment was the fact that Dohle comes to his new job from the printing side of the business, not the publishing side.

Publishers Weekly had this to say:

The choice of Dohle to lead Random, rather than a publishing veteran, is meant to inject a new entrepreneurial spirit at the company. Ostrowski praised Dohle for his work at Bertelsmann’s Arvato printing group and was confident he could turn another mature business into a growth business . . . Dohle "will bring his innovative energy to tapping new lines of business for the company, such as the digital realm, and to lengthening its value chain.” Asked what lengthening the value chain means, Ostrowski said that publishing needs to take advantage of new marketing channels and get books to customers in new ways. One way to do that, Ostrowski said, is to create brands around popular books, much the way Random’s children’s group has done with Eragon.

According to Ostrowski, he "is not expecting a quick change in direction at Random, saying that Dohle 'should take his time to come up with a program,' adding that the new chairman has no mandate to downsize the company. The financial target for RH, as it is for all Bertelsmann companies, is an average of 4% annual internal growth . . ."

"Olson will move to Cambridge where he is close to landing a senior faculty position at a nearby university.”

I'm reminded of a post I did way back in November, 2005 here. At that time, I said this:
"Unwilling to let a Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft dictate terms in cyberspace, Random House, Inc., the world's largest trade publisher, is taking the industry lead. In early November it outlined ways it would begin to offer its books directly to consumers on a page-per-view basis. Random House will get at least 4 cents a page and split that roughly in half with authors for fiction and narrative non-fiction titles."

Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House's corporate development unit, was remarkably frank in his interview with BusinessWeek. "'We acknowledge that a generation is growing up that may not have the same visceral connection with the book format,'" he said. "'They have read as much on screens as they have on paper. We need vehicles to translate our books in different ways.'"
Finally, Publishers Marketplace had a link to an interview with Ostrowski. It wasn't hard to read between the lines:

Markus Dohle is the right executive at the right time in the right company. He is one of the outstanding young [39 to Olson's 58] entrepreneurs who will shape the future of Bertelsmann. Frankly, he’s been helping shape it for some time. Ever since he was appointed to head Mohn Media Group six years ago, he has demonstrated repeatedly his innovative power to bring businesses in mature markets to new heights. He is very capable of mastering turnarounds large and small and motivating and working collaboratively with the management and staff. Markus gets his colleagues excited about their shared goals and stimulated by fresh ideas for their company. I’m sure he’ll be inspiring the Random House staff with his entrepreneurial spirit before too long. Because as successful as Random House already is, the book business urgently needs new impetus for the future, to be able to grow again in view of challenges such as technological advances . . .

[H]e contributes his outstanding entrepreneurial skills, his love of innovation, and his purposeful, problem-solving approach to entrepreneurial challenges. These are precisely the traits needed at this time to make Random House – and Bertelsmann – ready for the publishing business of the near- and more distant future. Or put differently, to turn stability into growth.

Nathan Bransford Has A New Contest

Run, don't walk, to Nathan Bransford's blog.

He of the indomitable spirit (and some would say, the poor memory, having forgotten the pain of his previous contests), has announced a NEW CONTEST here.

The new contest--appropriately named The Preposterously Magnificent Dialogue Contest--seeks to identify 250 words of superb dialogue (and supporting description).

You only have until 5:00 PM Pacific time today (7:00 PM CST) to enter the contest.

So, what are you waiting for??? Get moving.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's Here! Touch of Fire is Here!

I'm so fortunate in my critique partners . . . who are also my friends. They are an enormously talented and creative group of people. I'd like to introduce you to one of them today: Maria Zannini.

Maria and I met on a writers' loop a couple of years ago. We then discovered we both live in the greater Dallas area. For the past two years, we've met for lunch or dinner a couple of times a month and also critique each other's work online.

In addition to being a writer, Maria is an enormously talented painter and graphic artist. And, today, her first novel--a futuristic fantasy titled Touch of Fire--is being published by Samhain. Here is the gorgeous cover:

I've asked her to come talk to us today about the new novel.

Maria, tell us about Touch of Fire.
1200 years from now, technology on Earth has been replaced by elemental magic. Society is divided between the plainfolk and the fae, mages who can wield one of the four great elements: air, water, earth, and fire.

An ancient alchemist's bible has surfaced, a book that threatens to bring back the technology of the last age. Leda, a fire mage, has been charged with locating the book. The trail leads her to Greyhawke Tams, an ex-soldier turned scavenger who'd rather rot in jail than help one of the Elementals.

But they need each other more than they know. A powerful warlord is hunting them both. Grey has been marked for death, but the warlord needs Leda as a breeder in his quest to create a fifth Elemental.

What made you write a futuristic fantasy?
I love all sorts of fantasy, but I have a soft spot for futuristics, especially if they're set on Earth. There's a little bit of the social scientist in me. I like speculating how society will evolve and grow. For me, the most enjoyable part of writing Touch of Fire was the world building.

I had a blast extrapolating the perception of everyday objects and beliefs and giving them logical extensions at how they would appear in a world that's been stripped of technology and 21st century mores.

Talk about how Touch of Fire came to be published.
It's all your fault, Maya! LOL! Last year, Samhain Publishing had a First Line Contest. At the time I didn't have a manuscript, but I had a vague concept for a fantasy. I remember you goading me. "Go on," you said. "All you need are five lines."

I entered the contest and was one of the winners. I was shocked—and then horrified because now I needed to turn in a full manuscript. It was a rocky few weeks but when I finished, I absolutely fell in love with the story, the characters, and the world. It was a place I wanted to revisit. Now I'm planning the sequel.

Any hints about the sequel?
Two words. Time travel. Our heroes will be wreaking havoc at an office building near you.

What's been the most surprising aspect about this journey to publication?
I think the thing that sticks out in my mind is that you're never quite ready for the curtain to rise. Suddenly, that simple little story you concocted in the recesses of your brain is part of a much larger domain. The journey takes an author's closeted idea and throws it out on an open field. What grows--or doesn't is up to the seed and the elements.

My deepest wish is that this will be a book that people will love as much as I do. I hope it touches them and strikes a sense of wonder and surprise. At its core, Touch of Fire is a story about marvel and magic, and discovering what you're made of when it counts.

It's about the future, but it's also about the present. It's about us, how we change, yet how we stay the same.

How can people find you and your book?
The link to read an excerpt and buy the e-book is here. You'll also be able to buy the print copy in a few months.

I hope people read the book and are excited enough by the story to drop me a line. I love meeting new people! I know a lot of folks say that writing is a lonely and solitary profession, but that hasn't been true for me. Quite the opposite. It's been a whirlwind of interaction and strong friendships. I hope it never stops.

Please visit me on my blog or my website: And if you're the friending type, feel free to friend me over at MySpace: .

I'm looking forward to buying the e-book. Any last words?
Maya, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to have a contest on your blog. Let's call it, "The Day After Contest". One winner will be chosen from anyone who posts a comment here and makes a prediction about the future.

Here are the details:
On December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar abruptly ends. Tell me what happens the day AFTER, on December 22, 2012. The best and/or funniest prediction (imho) will win a free download for Touch of Fire. Contest ends: 24 hours after the time/date of this post.

Thanks for having me over, Maya! If people are judged by the friends they keep, I am in wonderful company.

Thanks for visiting, Maria. I'm really excited about Touch of Fire. Congratulations, again.

Remembering Miss Snark

American Heritage Dictionary - Anniversary (ān'ə-vûr'sə-rē) n. pl. an·ni·ver·sa·ries
The annually recurring date of a past event, especially one of historical, national, or personal importance . . . A celebration commemorating such a date.

Today is an anniversary. The first annually recurring date of an event of personal importance to me.

A year ago today Miss Snark retired.

I wasn't the first Snarkling or even the twenty-first Snarkling, although I'd hazard a guess that I was among the first hundred Snarklings.

It was the summer of 2005, and I'd decided it was time to establish a web presence. I'd selected three different blog hosts and was posting anonymously on them while I decided which to use and how to approach this thing called blogging.

I'd visited a lot of writer and publishing blogs when I first came across Miss Snark's. The link to the first of her posts that I can recall reading is here. I remember this post because I was a huge fan of Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar mysteries, and she mentioned Coben.

For a couple of months, I stopped by her site several times a week
--just to see what she was up to. It was the fifth post on this page here titled "Who's on First? No, That's on Second? What? no..That's at 1745 Broadway" that converted me into a diehard Snarkling. Her description of Random House "and all its villages" just did me in.

I began this blog at this location on September 14, 2005, and my third post here directed readers to Miss Snark's blog.

Imagine my surprise when--within hours--she had posted a comment to my post. It had never occurred to me to Google my name to see who was linking to my blog. She taught me to do that.

Over the next eighteen months, Miss Snark taught me lots of things: to overcome my natural tendency to offer up backstory, to do my research on agents, and that everything is negotiable. When I got my first contract and panicked because of language I'd never heard of before, I emailed her offline and she responded with great kindness and patience.

Although I've moved other agents and bloggers from the current list to the "Gone, But Not Forgotten" section of this blog, I could not bring myself to do the same thing to Miss Snark when she retired. Although she and her snarky voice have moved on to greener pastures, I still regularly refer newbie writers to the Miss Snark archives.

Celebrating Miss Snark and all her great advice today. Go here to post a comment to her.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yahoo/Microsoft Update

Early this morning, Microsoft announced they are back in talks with Yahoo.

Go here to read the story.

Teens Read?, Yahoo Beware!, User-Created Mag

Teens Reading More
Newsweek had an interesting article about the resurgence of reading in teens. The article cites a couple of reasons for this "perfect storm for teen lit":
the most obvious two being the increasing sophistication and emotional maturity of teenagers and the accompanying new freedom for writers in the genre to explore virtually any subject. Another is that bookstores and libraries are finally recognizing this niche and separating teen books from children's books.

Read the article here.

Icahn Issues Ultimatum to Yahoo
Regular readers of this blog will remember that I wrote extensively about billionaire investor Carl Icahn and the pressure he brought to bear on Time Warner a a few years ago after buying a 3.3% stake in the company. He demanded that the board of directors break up Time Warner into four pieces. He and the company finally reached a settlement in February, 2006. The New York Times reported:
. . . a deal was struck: two independent directors would be added to Time Warner's roster . . . Time Warner also agreed to increase its planned buyback of shares to $20 billion, from $12.5 billion, and to commit to reduce costs by $1 billion.

Icahn has now turned his gaze upon Yahoo. He has purchased 4.3% of the company's stock in shares and option. On Friday, the Associated Press reported:
Spurred on by outraged shareholders, Icahn notified Yahoo Thursday that he will lead a revolt to oust Yang and the rest of the Internet company's board unless they renew negotiations with Microsoft that fell apart May 3 when the two sides couldn't agree on a price.

Yahoo hasn't even had time to relax after fending off Microsoft's advances. Read the whole story here.

A User-Generated Magazine
In an interesting twist, the June issue of Budget Travel is being published with almost 100% reader-generated material:
. . . Budget Travel has allowed its readers to generate all of the text and photography—only the “40 Best Deals” section was written by staffers.

Read about it here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

No, I Don't Want To Touch Down, Thank You

This has been a pretty busy time for me. I may have mentioned once or twice [grin] that I'm on a deadline for my next book, I also had a workshop I'd signed up to do this month (before I knew the deadline, of course), and I've got another workshop in St. Louis next month. Things are hopping at the university; I'm trying to bring a Chinese neuroscientist over on an H-1B visa and dealing with our International Department is teaching me a whole new definition of the word "patience."

So I've been a bit more distracted than usual.

However, even I couldn't help but notice when Bob the cat decided to forego the floors of my house. He started working on his Tarzan impersonation: jumping from the backdoor to the recliner to the coffee table to the couch to the end table; then swinging to the breakfast room chair and to the kitchen counter and finally to his dishes.

I wouldn't have thought it was possible to navigate my house without setting foot on the floor, but he's been doing a hell of a job. The only thing that has defeated him are the two halls--one from the den to the front door and the other from the front hall to my study (the two halls form an "L" through the middle of my house). When he wants to make those trips, he sits on the couch and howls for a ride, much like a New Yorker waving down a cab.

Because I've been busy (see Paragraph #1), I haven't bothered to try and psychoanalyze his newest quirk. I've just offered ferry services when required. I pick him up and carry him to wherever he wants to go; if I make a wrong turn, he hisses, and I make the appropriate course correction.

Bob's favorite stop on the Maya Transit System is the empty place next to my laptop created by my calico Manx Tribble's death seven months ago. Both Bob and I take comfort from his lying in the same spot where Tribble used to lay. Of course, being Bob, he's a lot more demanding than Tribble ever thought to be. He flings a paw across my wrist when he feels neglected, or stands up to bump my face with his head as a reminder he needs some lovin'. But there's no question; my writing goes better when he's beside me.

I will admit to a bit of anxiety about Bob's avoidance of the floor. I live in a pier-and-beam house. I wondered whether a possum or raccoon was beneath the floorboards. I started having nightmares during which a rabid raccoon burst through the floor, foaming at the mouth. (No, my deadline isn't creating any anxiety, but thank you very much for asking). Despite my listening carefully, I heard nothing coming from below the house. I'm taking the last week of May off (to finish the book) and was planning to call an exterminator at that time.

The mystery of Bob's floor phobia was solved ahead of schedule when I started scratching my ankles: WE HAD FLEAS.

Back when I had more than one animal, I was religious about flea control. Every April, I purchased Frontline topical treatment for the animals and continued the monthly applications until November.

This year with only one cat in the house, I just forgot. And Bob showed no signs of scratching--of course, he was practicing his own version of self-help for fleas by staying off the carpet.

Just one more thing to worry about this month. Did I mention my sleep cycle is off, too?

After I'd treated Bob and the house and ascertained the flea problem was a thing of the past, I declared the Maya Transit System was shutting down service. Of course, Bob did not agree with this abrupt labor strike. He continued to wait at the usual stops along the Maya line, howling for service. I ignored him.

The situation between transport and client came to a head the other night as I whizzed past a regular stop. Like a true commuter, Bob launched himself into the air, intending to jump aboard the passing trolley.

He hit my back roughly below my shoulder blades, hooking his claws into a gorgeous purple knit blouse. The weight of his body tore the lightweight fabric all the way to my waist.

Hell hath no fury like a woman whose favorite blouse has just been shredded off her body. Fortunately for Bob, he hadn't even scratched me once in the process. I swung around and captured the one paw still hooked in my blouse. I lifted him by the leg, unhooked him and dumped him back on the couch.

Recognizing this was a good time to make himself scarce, Bob hit the floor in a blur of motion. He didn't even re-surface at bedtime--a wise decision I might add.

There have been no more requests for mass transit from the feline front.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tribute To A Great Writer

For the last few weeks while I'm on a deadline, I've been re-posting old blogs on the weekend. I'll return to that tomorrow, but for today I had to write this post.

Before I start, I will confess to a weird quirk of mine. When I find a series I like, I'm loyal to it. I will not read other series by the same author. This habit of mine drives my brother J crazy.

I read Robert Parker's Spenser series, but not his Sunny Randall or Jesse Stone books. I read Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books, but none of her other series. When I started reading LKH's Merry Gentry books, I walked away from Anita Blake (not a big sacrifice, I might add).

J and I argue about this at least twice a year. I have no explanation; it's just the way I roll. I'm monogamous . . . in a serial kind of way [grin].

I've been reading John Sandford's "Prey" books since the first one, Rules of Prey, came out in 1989. I read Sandford's "Prey" books, but not his Kidd series.

Sandford is the pseudonym for Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist John Camp.

The "Prey" books star Lucas Davenport, a detective with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Phantom Prey is Lucas' 18th outing so he's like an old friend by now. He used to be a Minneapolis cop, but when his chief of police got promoted to the director of the state cops, he went along with her. I've followed both Lucas' career and his sometimes turbulent love life with interest. Now he's happily married with a little boy and a teenage ward.

Sandford's mysteries are always competently crafted, but it's the little vignettes from the sub-plots that I love so much. I'm going to share two of my favorites from the latest book.

In Phantom Prey, Lucas is trying to track down the person who is killing Goths in Minneapolis. In his spare time, he's also running a stakeout. The "Twin Cities's largest-volume cocaine dealer," a guy named Siggy Toms has jumped bail, disappearing from the bed-and-bath department of a local Target store. The Minnesota cops were embarrassed and annoyed that they lost the guy so Lucas and his men have been running a loose surveillance of Toms' pregnant wife from an apartment across the street from hers using binoculars. They figure Toms will eventually show up to visit her.

Heather Toms is a very attractive "brown-haired girl, of the brown-eyed tribe, with a long supple back that showed every vertebrae down to the notch of her butt. She'd kept herself in shape."

One night, about eleven o'clock, Lucas is feeling restless. "He thought about calling Del. No chance he'd be asleep; the guy was like a bat."

Lucas does calls Del, one of his subordinates, and the two agree to meet at the stakeout apartment. They arrive, sip coffee and listen to Clarence Carter on the boom box.
. . . then Del took the glasses from Lucas's hand and looked across the street and said, "She's got her shirt on."

"Yup. Took it off last time, though."

"She still looking healthy?"

"Starting to bulk up with the new baby," Lucas said.

"Nipples still point up?"

"So far."

"Wonder if she knows whether it's a boy or a girl?"

"You could call and ask . . ."

The men talk about the serial killer case for a few minutes. Then comes my favorite part:
Across the street, Heather got up, stretched, loafed into the kitchen, got something out of a cupboard--black corn chips, Lucas thought, and a bottle of salsa. They watched her carefully fixing the snack. "Is salt okay at this point? In the pregnancy?" Del asked. "Those chips have got a lot of sodium."

In another of these small, beautifully painted vignettes, Lucas goes to talk to a female witness named Leigh Price. Here's Sandford's description in which he tells you a lot about the woman by a small comparison to his wife, Weather:
Price gave off a certain wavelength of fuck-me vibrations. Many women did that, Lucas believed, but they were only received by men who were tuned to the right wavelength, which was determined by birth or accident, perhaps, but not by choice.

Weather was one of them, and she broadcast on Lucas's frequency, and he'd begun picking them up before he could even see her face (she'd been wrapped in a parka when they met). Price broadcast on the same frequency; and she knew that Lucas was a receiver.

It's these great small details that keep me coming back to Sandford. I always figure out who the killer is or how the mystery will end long before the end, but I LOVE going along on the journey with Sandford.

Give him a try. You won't regret it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

On June 1st, I'll be going to Cincinnati for a week on business. As usual, I've been thinking ahead to the books I would bring with me to read on the plane. I need a minimum of two books to get me through the trip. I ALWAYS bring favorite authors so I can tune out the journey.

A week ago, I purchased Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse and John Sandford's Phantom Prey, planning to save them for my trip. Well, I had a dental appointment a week ago. As I ran out the door that morning, I picked up the Harris book so I could have something to read in the dentist's waiting room.

You know what happened. I finished the book in two sittings that day.

But I thought, I still have the Sandford book and something new will come out between now and when I leave town. To make sure I didn't start reading it while I was at home, I put it in the car.

Yesterday was a really ugly day. I spent the whole day playing Solomon with the baby. By 4:30 I was drained. I left work early and decided to stop at the Chinese restaurant down the block from my house and have a bowl of won ton soup and an egg roll for dinner. Feeling entitled because I was so tired and cranky, I took the Sandford book into the restaurant with me.

I read half of the damn book before bedtime last night. Grrrr.

So, in fifteen days, I leave for Cincinnati. And not a book set aside for the trip. I'd welcome suggestions.

Shatzkin's Speech to the London Book Fair

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my heroes is Mike Shatzkin. Mike is the CEO and founder of Idea Logical, a consulting company. He is a frequently sought speaker, especially on the impact of digitization.

I frequently stop by his company's website here to see what he's been up to.

Last month on April 16th, he delivered a speech at the London Book Fair on the "state of digital change in the U.S."

He spent a good part of the speech talking about horizontal and vertical integration. If you're not familiar with the concepts (or want to brush up on them), go to my post of October 21, 2006 here.

Shatzkin said:
In the 20th century, successful consumer media enterprises almost always shared two characteristics: they were horizontal in their content coverage and format-specific. In the US, that means companies like Random House, CBS, and The New York Times. They all embraced a very wide span of subject interest, but very seldom strayed from books, broadcast, or newspapers, respectively.

But in the 21st century, the net is flipping this on us. The net tends to self-organize us by subject niche, so the eyeballs and human bandwidth are linked to the niches, which are vertical, not horizontal. And because web interaction is about file exchanges, format specificity is meaningless . . . So we’d expect the successful 21st century consumer media entity will be vertical in subject interest and format-agnostic.

He also refers to DADs or Digital Asset Distributors--distributors of digital content in the same way that Ingram is a distributor of physical books. In this speech, Shatzkin says "it looks like Ingram Digital and LibreDigital are the market leaders on our side of the Atlantic" in digital asset distribution.

Shatzkin also says:
There is ebook growth that even the most hardened skeptics and defenders of the primacy of paper books must admit is real. The Kindle was introduced by Amazon and is apparently a great success; the Sony reader is rapidly becoming a ubiquitous professional working tool. The new epub standard is going to make it easier and easier for books to find their way into any conforming ebook format.

You'll recall I mentioned the new epub standard in yesterday's post under the sub-heading "Association of American Publishers Posts Open Letter." In talking about the new epub standard, Shatzkin also says:
Ebook retailers we checked with say that only Harlequin puts all their new releases into all ebook formats as a routine matter. Now that other publishers seem about to join instant adaptor Hachette Book Group USA in embracing the new epub format for ebooks, which should make conversion to different formats just about free, we’d expect to see more titles in more formats in the future.

I bored some of my readers silly in late March and early April nattering on and on about Amazon's new policy intended to force small publishers to use the Amazon proprietary POD press, BookSurge. Shatzkin has something to say about this, too:
About three weeks ago, Amazon declared a new policy that they would no longer ship as Amazon-sold product books printed on demand by another supplier . . . The legality of this approach is not yet clear, but many of the marketplace implications certainly are. Amazon has a commanding position among online book purchasers and they can use that as leverage to compel publishers to conform to their desires . . . This latest policy is a shot across Ingram’s bow -- at the very least; maybe it is a missile into the wheelhouse -- but it is also a sober reminder to publishers that their now second-largest vendor has a whip hand and will use it.

One of the more interesting comments Shatzkin made was this:
I’d add a word here about libraries. They “lend” ebooks and digital audio already. Since ebooks and audiobooks tend to be read once, as opposed to music that might be listened to many times over many years, “borrowing” an ebook or audiobook is about as good as buying one. This has already led some publishers to think about some sort of per-use charging in this marketplace, which would certainly be a challenge to implement. On the other hand, as the download customers become savvier, one would expect more and more of this business to shift from “buy” to “borrow” with a dampening effect on sales..

Read Shatzkin's entire speech here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Another Fake, e-Catalogs and ePub

Questions Raised About a New Book
Tuesday's Tennessean had a story about a book released yesterday. The new book, a collection of stories by "Country Music's Greatest Songwriters," included a story titled "He Always Knew Who He Was" supposedly written by "music business veteran Hazel Smith."

"'I did not write that,' said Smith, the woman who famously gave country music's "outlaw" movement its name in the early '70s."

Read the whole story here.

More On Paperless Book Sales Catalogs
Yesterday I reported that HarperCollins has announced they are moving toward an e-catalog. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that:
Cecile Fehsenfeld, who co-owns the Michigan-based Schuler Books, said HarperCollins and other publishers had met with booksellers in March and discussed e-catalogs. She said the response was mixed.

"The general consensus among booksellers was that they are very wedded to a paper catalog," said Fehsenfeld, who likens the paper catalog to reading a traditional book.

"Booksellers like to sit around the table with the catalogs. They thumb through them and make notes. It's a real interactive kind of experience, so there is an emotional attachment to the current kind of catalog."

Fehsenfeld said her greatest concerns were that the transition be made slowly — [Jane] Friedman says it will — and that rival publishers use similar formats.

Friedman [HarperCollins President] said HarperCollins will be meeting with booksellers at the industry's annual convention, BookExpo America, in Los Angeles at the end of the month.

Read the whole story here.

Association of American Publishers Posts Open Letter
According to their website, "the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) is a trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing."

In September, 2007, the IDPF announced it was adopting the OEBPS (Open e-Book Publication Structure) and its “.epub” file format standard. Publishers Weekly said "The new standard is expected to cut costs and increase the number of e-books because it allows publishers to create one digital book file instead of the six to 10 file formats previously required."

In October, 2007, the Hachette Book Group announced it would be the first publisher to adopt the new file format standard.

Yesterday's Publishers Lunch reported:
In advance of today's IDPF conference in New York, the AAP's [Association of American Publisher's] digital issues working group has posted a letter "to express our support for the use of ePub as an e-book file type for reflowable texts from which any e-book delivery format can be rendered. Many publishers already want to begin a transition process toward this use of the ePub file format and hope such a transition can be completed by October."

Read the letter here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

March Sales, Publisher Initiative, e-Catalog

Yesterday's Publishers Weekly reported:

Bookstore sales rose 1.3% in March, to $1.03 billion, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales have increased every month so far in 2008 and finished the first quarter up 5.1%, to $4.46 billion. The 1.3% March increase was the smallest gain in 2008. The sales increase in the bookstore segment was higher than for the entire retail segment, which rose 3.9% in the quarter. March retail sales inched up 0.5%, to $379 billion.

Yesterday's Shelf Awareness reported:
Gibbs Smith has launched the Gibbs Smith Books Blog. The Salt Lake City, Utah, publisher suggested that on the site "chefs, for instance, will post excerpted recipes from their upcoming books. Interior design authors will offer up tips for creating your own Country French-style kitchen. Environmentally conscious authors can share their philosophy on how to live in an Earth-friendly manner. Children's authors will be able to interact with the blog-reading audience, challenging them to a virtual game of checkers or tetherball with the help of entertaining videos."

On Monday, HarperCollins issued a press release:
HarperCollins Publishers today announced the development of an interactive, electronic sales catalog, the most advanced catalog available from a major publisher. The catalog will offer booksellers an up-to-the minute online tool enabling them to order books . . . HarperCollins will preview the catalog at Book Expo America, May 29-June 1, 2008, and will launch a beta version in six to twelve months.

Working with the latest in Content Management System technology, the catalog will use a dynamic application linked to all HarperCollins' publishing data systems. Book covers, prices, on-sale dates, reviews, quotes and important media alerts will be updated in real time as soon as they have been entered. Booksellers will be able to create lists and place orders online as they review front list book pages, and an author's entire backlist will be visible as well.

The catalog pages will feature links to rich media content including author interviews, promotional videos and audio samples for many titles. With HarperCollins' 15,000 title Digital Warehouse and Browse Inside application, booksellers will be able to read a portion of a large selection of galleys and complete Advance Reader Editions for certain titles.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Revisiting The Espresso Book Machine

Last June I wrote two posts on the Espresso Book Machine here and here.

In the second of my two posts, I disagreed with Sara Nelson's lukewarm response to the Espresso Book Machine in Publishers Weekly as follows:
Nelson quoted the executives from On Demand Books saying "the Espresso machine is, ultimately, a delivery system, and they expect to license, not sell, the medium-size-closet devices to retailers, libraries and even hotels. Consumers could go to one of these machines and download a book . . ."

Then she says, "But how realistic is this plan? When can we expect it to catch on? Certainly not until copyright issues are addressed . . ."

I think Nelson is short-sighted and that Epstein's comment to the effect that "the market will be radically decentralized" is on target. I just think that this decentralization will start from the ground up, not from the top down.

Friday's Publishers Weekly had another mention of the Espresso in an article that talked about "how experimentation in the digital age has indeed paid off."
Todd Anderson, director of the University of Alberta Bookstore, gave his unqualified support to the Espresso Book Machine, which the bookstore installed last November 1. The $144,000 machine allows the bookstore to print individual books from a variety of different files . . . Through the early part of February, UAB had printed 2,364 books, totaling 537,754 pages, Anderson said. Since that time, the bookstore has printed another 1,500 books with the Espresso. While Anderson had expected to focus on printing customized coursepacks and anthologies as well as public domain titles, he said UAB has done a wider range of books, including printing six titles for publishers of books that had gone out-of-stock.

Going back to my article from last June, I also said:
I've repeatedly said that digitization and print-on-demand technology will break the stranglehold the large publishers have on the system. They no longer are the only ones in possession of the technology to produce a printed book.

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it can't be put back. If the big seven media companies fail to embrace this new reality, the change will come despite them.

Sara Nelson's comment about copyright issues neglects the fact that copyright belongs to the writer. The writer is the one who leases that copyright to the publisher.

Publishing houses need to recognize and understand the implications of digitization, POD technology and Internet social networking. These innovations are already shifting the power base of publishing. Unless big media moves quickly to share more of their profits or provide more services (like advertising) to their authors, the change will begin from the ground up. Authors will find other publishing partners--maybe new, smaller boutique houses, maybe bookstores like Borders or B&N, maybe online publishers.

I stand by that statement, too.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Of Google, Memoirs, Lessing and the Nobel

Google/Yahoo Deal: Antitrust or Not?
Friday's New York Times had a story that opened this way:
Will Google and Yahoo come together on a search advertising partnership? The two companies have been discussing an agreement under which Google would deliver some ads alongside Yahoo’s search results. Since Google on average earns much more than Yahoo for every search, the deal, at least in theory, would boost Yahoo’s revenue. The two companies conducted a two-week experiment to make sure that was indeed true and both companies have called the test a success.

Read the entire story here.

Should Memoirs Tell the Truth?
Also on Friday, the Christian Science Monitor had a story about the recent rash of "fake" memoirs. Here's an excerpt:
"Fiction has lost its allure because of this primitive belief that memoir is more worthy, more authentic," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia University, and author of the memoir "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage." At the same time, he says, "The bubble of a wholly reliable reminiscence has burst."

That paradox is central to the future of the memoir, say authors, booksellers, and publishers. Though the form has undoubtedly lost some of its luster, memoir sales will likely continue to rise over the next few years, spurred by what Mr. Gitlin calls a search for "authenticity." Since 1999, sales in the biography-and-memoir category have grown from $170 million to $270 million, according to the annual Bowker Industry Report.

Read the article here.

Doris Lessing Calls the Nobel "A Bloody Disaster"
Back on October 14, I posted the video clip here of Doris Lessing reacting to the news that she'd won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

On Sunday, the BBC printed a report of a radio interview she'd given in which she describes the Nobel win as "a bloody disaster."

Read the story here.

And, among the video clips on YouTube, I found a brief excerpt of an interview Lessing did on writing. I've posted it below:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Do It Yourself -- A Story to Inspire

Today's post comes from August 21, 2006:

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

For the record, romance novels (not just erotic romance) now account for 39% of all fiction sold and 55% of all mass market paperbacks sold. That's a huge number. $1.2 billion in sales for 2004 [Note: $1.37 billion in sales in 2006].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 10, 2008

This Thing Called Conflict

It's the weekend, and I'm off writing. Here's a post from June 25, 2006:

Among the blogs this site links to is Kristin Nelson's Pub Rants here.

Kristin is a literary agent working out of Denver, Colorado. She has a straightforward style that I appreciate enormously.

Kristin's posting on Friday here was entitled "Conflict Is Not a Lifetime Movie."

After I picked myself off the floor and stopped laughing, I read the rest of her blog. The essence of her post can be summarized in the following quote:

"I have a lot of recent queries lately...where the writer has confused conflict with dramatic plot elements. I just want to clarify here that these two things are not the same. Conflict is what motivates and drives your character (and can be internal and well as external). Dramatic plot elements are simply events that occur in the story."

I absolutely agree with Kristin that conflict is not the same as dramatic plot elements. But I want to discuss the issue in greater detail.

My introduction to "conflict" as an element of writing came via Debra Dixon and her book Goal, Motivation and Conflict. On October 14, 2005, I posted a blog entitled "My Reference Shelf." I explained at that time that Dixon's book is one of my essential reference books.

Dixon maintains that you must know the goal, motivation and conflict (GMC) for every character you write. GMC covers those questions that are the building blocks of any story: "Who? What? Why? And Why Not?"

"Who" is your character. "What" is your character's goal. "Why" is the character's motivation. "Why not" are the conflicts the character faces.

As Kristin says, conflict does include both internal and external issues. So do goal and motivation.

To explain internal and external issues, Dixon uses the example of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's external goal is to return home to Kansas. Her internal goal is to find her heart's desire. Her external motivation (why she wants to go home) is that Auntie Em is sick. Her internal motivation is that she is desperately unhappy. Her external conflict (preventing her return to Kansas) is the witch. Her internal conflict (preventing her from finding her heart's desire) is that she doesn't know what she wants. By the end of the story, she has accomplished both goals--returned home and realized what she really wants in life.

Obviously all of these elements have sub-elements. Before Dorothy can get home, she must first get to Emerald City and see the Wizard. Then she has to obtain the ruby slippers. Finally she must confront the witch.

I found Dixon's formula so useful that I initially began each manuscript by drawing up a chart with boxes for internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts for all my main characers. I no longer have to draw the chart; I can now work out the GMC in my head.

Invariably, when I am having a problem with a story, it's because either I have not established a valid GMC for the character, or my manuscript does not reflect the GMC I established.

When you look at your manuscript this way, you can easily see that the dramatic plot elements Kristin talks about are simply events occurring in the story that either work toward the character's goals or against the character's goals. You can also see that the dramatic elements do not have to be enormous in order to create tension. They simply have to provide conflict, preventing the protagonist from reaching his/her goals.

One last note: I tried to purchase a used copy of Dixon's book for several months online. I had three different used book services alert me whenever a copy came available. Unfortunately someone always beat me to the book. I finally broke down and bought a new copy through Gryphon Books for Writers here.

Happy writing!

In re-reading this post, I wanted to add one more thing. In far too many romances and romantic suspense novels today, silly bickering between the hero and heroine substitutes for true conflict.

I was reminded of this issue as I drove home from the university this afternoon. During the drive, I spoke with my critique partner, Linda, who lives in South Carolina. Linda had just finished reading a romantic suspense novel, and she said, "I just wanted to say to the two protagonists 'Oh, grow up'."

It's short-sighted (and a little lazy) to substitute silly arguments, intended to do no more than keep the hero and heroine apart for three hundred pages, for "real" conflict.

Friday, May 09, 2008

J.K. Rowling, James Bond and a Wake-Up Call

J.K. Rowling Wins Privacy Case
J.K. Rowling won her court case.

No, not the case against the publisher of the Harry Potter Lexicon. This is a case filed by Rowling and her husband after a photographer used a long-lens camera to take photos of Rowling's toddler son.

Read the entire story here.

James Bond is Back On the 100th Anniversary of Ian Fleming's Birth
Later this month--on May 28th--a new James Bond adventure written by one of Britain's most acclaimed English novelists will be released.

Read about it here and about a special limited edition of the book with a secret compartment here.

A New Marketing Tool for Publishers
Publishing News has an article that sings my song:
Like it or not, digital technology is beginning to transform existing business models, just as it has in the music industry.

With appropriate advice and the right strategies, publishers won't fall victim to the denial that afflicted the music industry. Yet they will have to move fast - particularly on piracy, product and pricing - if they are not to suffer the same fate that befell the record labels. By not immediately embracing the opportunities presented by new technologies, record labels only harmed the businesses they were trying to protect.

Read the entire story here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Agent Move

Today's Publishers Lunch reports:
Agent Lucienne Diver has joined The Knight Agency after fifteen years at Spectrum Literary Agency, where she specialized in fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery and suspense.

Another Look at Frey, Yahoo and the iLiad

Accuse James Frey of Lying? How Dare They!
Last week, I did a post here on the fact that James Frey had resurfaced. His debut "novel," Bright Shiny Morning is due out next Tuesday, and the knives are already out. MSNBC has retracted a story they published in which they accused him of lying in his recent Vanity Fair interview. Read the story here.

The Fallout for Yahoo and Microsoft
Microsoft withdrew its offer for Yahoo, and things are not great at either company this week. The Wall Street Journal had a story on Tuesday that said:
Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Jerry Yang faced backlash from shareholders who were displeased that he didn't reach a deal to sell his company to Microsoft Corp. and sent shares plummeting 15% Monday.

"I'm extremely disappointed in Jerry Yang," said Gordon Crawford, a portfolio manager at Capital Research Global Investors, which owns more than 6% of Yahoo's shares. "I think he overplayed a weak hand. And I'm even more disappointed in the independent directors who were not responsive to the needs of independent shareholders."

Things are unsettled over at Microsoft, too. Read about it in USA Today here.

Another Look at the iLiad
I first mentioned the iLiad e-book reader back in January, 2006 when I said:
Engadget points out that iRex here is also scheduled to launch an e-book device. According to iRex's website, the iLiad device will be available as of April, 2006.

In July, 2006, I compared the iLiad to the Sony Reader here.

Since then, the price has come down. The newest version of the iLiad is *only* $699. More importantly, however, The Bookseller had an article on Monday about the iLiad:
Borders is to become the first seller of e-book readers in the United Kingdom with seven stores stocking the iLiad reader from Saturday.

Read the story here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Today We Look To the Future

B&N Announces New Digital Initiative
Yesterday, Barnes & Noble issued a press release in which they announced:
". . . they will be selling magazine subscriptions in both digital and print formats. will sell subscriptions to over 1,000 magazine titles, available in both digital and print formats, at prices up to ninety percent off newsstand cover prices. Digital subscriptions will be available within minutes of purchase for viewing on desktops and laptops. In addition, more than 12,000 back issues of hundreds of magazine titles will be available digitally for purchase as single copies."
Go here to read the release.

Time to Redefine the Role of Print?
Coincidentally, on Monday, Frank Anton, the outgoing chair of American Business Media (a trade association for business information companies) had this to say about magazines:
“If the magazines published two or three years from now aren’t different, we’re in trouble. “The current magazine model won’t take us into the next five years, let alone the next 100 years.”
Go here to read the story in Folio.

Freeconomics: The Dawn of a New Consumer Era??
I recently re-posted an article from June of last year about Chris Anderson here.

Yesterday's Guardian had an interview with Anderson talking about his new economic model:
"The traditional model is of giving 1% of goods away as samples in order to sell 99% of the product; on the web, you can give 99% away as free samples to sell 1%."
Go here to read the Guardian article.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Three Stories About Amazon

Washington State AG Refuses Amazon Case
Publishers Lunch directed readers to the Writers' Weekly website yesterday where Angela Hoy posted the statement from the Washington State Attorney General. The AG indicated that, as a result of the numerous complaints they'd received regarding Amazon's demand that clients use BookSurge, Amazon's proprietary POD company, they'd contacted the company.

Read the entire statement here.

Amazon in a Price War
The London Times Online had a story about Amazon crying foul:
Amazon is angry that Penguin, Bloomsbury and others are discounting titles on their websites, encouraging customers to buy direct instead of using the online retailer.

Read the entire story here.

New York State About to Collect Sales Tax From Internet Retailers
I will admit to a perverse pleasure in the fact that Amazon is threatening to sue the State of New York for charging it sales tax on online sales.

Jane over at Dear Author wrote last Thursday supporting Amazon's position. You can read her post here.

I disagree with Jane. Bookstores located in New York are paying the sales tax. Amazon is not, giving Amazon an unfair competitive advantage. If the bookstores are forced to close due to lagging sales, staff will be laid off, money will be lost to the local economy. The law says if Amazon uses local websites for click-throughs, they need to pay the tax. I think it's right.

Congress let Internet retailers off the hook on sales tax while they were growing. Now those businesses are mature, and Internet sales are well-established. If they're using local representatives in a state to help their business via click-throughs, the retailers should pay the state tax.

Read the story here.

Gotta say: this feels like a case of what goes around, comes around. New York is offering Amazon the same choice Amazon offered the small publishers: "If you don't like it, go elsewhere."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Yahoo, More Writers, and the Pulitzer Board

I'm going to be pretty busy for the next four weeks and super-busy for the next two.

I thought about taking a break from blogging, but I've decided instead to direct you to interesting stories to read for yourself. We'll try this for a couple of days and see how it goes.

Microsoft and Yahoo
A lot happened with Yahoo and Microsoft in the last three days. The Wall Street Journal had a story on Friday anticipating Microsoft was going to go hostile. Instead, later that same day, they raised their offer for Yahoo in a effort to do a kinder, gentler takeover.

Then on Saturday, Microsoft issued a press release here indicating that they were withdrawing their offer.

The ball is back in Yahoo's court. Speculation is that the Yahoo stockholders--anticipating a deal--are going to be very, very unhappy with their CEO and Board of Directors.

Fewer Readers, More Books
Last Sunday, the New York Times had an article about the growing number of writers in today's world. Here's a paragraph:
In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and “workshop” their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day (with a lucky few bloggers getting book deals). And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly “for personal fulfillment.”

To read the whole article, go here.

How Do They Fill The Pulitzer Board Vacancies?
Editor & Publisher had an article on Thursday explaining how the Pulitzer Board fills its vacancies. Read it here.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Dirty Little Secret Revisited

It's the weekend, and here's a post I did October 10, 2005:
Okay, I'm going to admit a secret about my writing life. One that almost ended my budding career before it even got underway.

I have trouble ending a story. There; it's out.

For years, although I wanted to write and tried to write, I could not finish any project I started. I had piles of partial manuscripts sitting in folders in my study. And I'm not talking about writing thirty pages and then stopping. I had several manuscripts that were three hundred pages long when I walked away from them. It KILLED me to see these manuscripts just sitting there gathering dust.

Then, a couple of years ago, I took the first step toward overcoming my problem. I told someone about it. The friend I confided in asked a logical question. "Why do you stop?" I was forced to admit that I didn't know.

She asked, "Is it because you don't know how the story ends?" I shook my head. "No, I always know what happens next."

"Then, what's the problem?" Once again, I insisted that I had no idea what the problem was.

This conversation prompted me to do what I should have done in the first place. I began the necessary self-examination to figure out what was wrong. It took several months before I realized that, in the process of writing a novel, I fall in love with my characters. I don't want to write "the end" on their story.

Silly, isn't it? I am generally pretty goal-oriented and pragmatic. This emotional reaction surprised me because it came from out of the blue. However, once I identified the problem, I was able to craft a solution.

Now, when I near the middle of any manuscript, I start something new. For a period of time, I work on both the last half of one novel and the first half of another. Initially, I don't want to leave my nearly finished novel to mess with the new one, but--before long--I become anxious to concentrate all my attention on the new one and am, therefore, willing to wrap up the old one.

I know it sounds goofy, but it works.

The point here is that you need to identify the things you are doing to sabotage your own writing career. It's probably not the same problem as mine. In fact, it's almost assuredly something different. What is it? Are you afraid to send your finished manuscript to an agent/editor? Do you fall apart when your work is critiqued? Do you refuse to accept feedback? Are you unwilling to realize that your early work may just be part of the learning curve and not actually saleable?

Once you identify the obstructions, you can begin to overcome them. Good luck.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Looking to the Future

It's the weekend. I'm off writing, but I've left you a post from September 15, 2006:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having said all that, I see signs that self-publishing is making real progress. Yahoo had an article on August 31 [2006] titled, "Book Publishing Turns the Page, Thanks to Technology."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Edgars Are Announced

The Mystery Writers of America announced their Edgar Allan Poe Awards last night. Here are a few of the awards:

Best Novel: Down River by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Best First Novel by an American Author: In the Woods by Tana French (Viking)
Best Paperback Original: Queenpin by Megan Abbott (S&S)
Best Critical/Biographical: Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley (Penguin Press)
Best Short Story: "The Golden Gopher" in Los Angeles Noir by Susan Straight (Akashic Books)
Best Motion Picture Screenplay: Michael Clayton, screenplay by Tony Gilroy (Warner Bros. Pictures)

James Frey Resurfaces

What with all the fuss about Miley Cyrus' provocative photos in the June edition of Vanity Fair, it may go unnoticed that the magazine also has a lengthy interview with James Frey.

You remember James Frey, don't you? If Jonathan Franzen's diss of Oprah was the literary scandal of 2001, James Frey's actual appearance on Oprah in early 2006 was far more dramatic.

Frey was the writer whose 2003 "memoir," A Million Little Pieces, became a runaway best-seller in the fall of 2005 after Oprah chose it for her bookclub. Then in January of 2006, The Smoking Gun website did an expose here, charging that the book was a fictional fabrication of Frey's rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol.

Oprah initially defended Frey--during a phone-in call on the Larry King show, she essentially said the spirit of the book was more important than the facts of the book. Her stance was not a popular one and, on January 26, 2006, she had Frey on her show again where she confronted him. You can see video of that event on YouTube or here on Oprah's own site. Oprah did all but eviscerate the man on air.

Frey admitted to multiple lies in his "memoir," including the fact that he'd only spent hours in jail after being arrested, not the 87 days he'd vividly described in the book.

After that show aired, Frey was persona non grata in the literary world. His agent resigned, his editor claimed to have been hoodwinked and his publisher (Random House) pulled the book off the shelves. Frey and Random House faced multiple lawsuits.

After avoiding the scandal, I finally wrote about it here in late January of 2006, and then again here in September of that same year explaining the settlement Frey and Random House reached with reader lawsuits.

Fast forward eighteen months. Frey has a new novel coming out this summer. The title is Bright Shiny Morning and his publisher is HarperCollins. I suspect that forthcoming book is the main reason he agreed to the Vanity Fair interview.

Even so, there are some interesting items in the article. Frey claims that Norman Mailer invited him to lunch at his Brooklyn Heights townhouse after the scandal broke. He says Mailer told him, "For 40 years they stomped on me. Now you have the privilege of being stomped on for the next 40 years."

Then there's this:

It now turns out that it was something of an open secret in the publishing world that the industry had been complicit in the scandal, and that Frey, though he was not an innocent, had become a whipping boy. HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham, who ultimately bought Bright Shiny Morning, for an estimated $1.5 million, says today, "There was a gap between what people were saying in public and in print, and what they were saying to each other privately. Whatever the complicated issues were in the case of A Million Little Pieces, there were feelings of concern and surprise that such fury was being visited on this one particular case, where we all know that the genre of memoir is a uniquely strange one, where many writers have played with the truth or reshaped the truth or have their own vision of the truth which can never be judged in any final court" . . . Judith Clain, who has edited numerous memoirs at Little, Brown, says, "I could see how he got swept away. I also thought that he had a big ego and he did get swept up in himself. But on every level I thought that it got distorted." Where were such voices at the time, when so many articles were being written about Frey? Editors as a general rule, keep their heads down, Clain says. She concedes, however, that "it's probably true that no one wants to alienate Oprah."

Frey's ego does not appear to be significantly diminished by the experience:

"The enduring myth of the American memoir as a precise form is bullshit and needed to go away . . . Although the experience was a nightmare, if I started the process of ending that myth, I'm perfectly fine with it. I've said all along that I never wanted my books published as memoirs."

You can read the entire Vanity Fair article here.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Musing On A Painful Event

According to

Beltane kicks off the merry month of May, and has a long history. This fire festival is celebrated on May 1 with bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy. The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings, sometimes including animal or human sacrifice. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.
I celebrated Beltane and the first of May by breaking the little toe on my right leg.

My roses are in bloom so every morning, I traipse around the yard cutting new roses for my friends. I found a supply of cheap vases in a nearby thrift store so it costs virtually nothing to give away roses each day.

On one such foray, I stepped on a damp paving stone, my foot slid and my small toe didn't. I was wearing zories, which offered no protection at all. Bye-bye little toe.

It hasn't even been six months since I broke my left hand during a disagreement with an 18-wheeler on my way to the university one morning last November. I had to have surgery to put the hand back together and wore a cast for more than ten weeks.

I put a positive spin on that event because it moved me from my beloved Explorer to a Toyota at the very moment gas prices spiked upward.

I'm trying to find a positive spin for my little toe. If I'm looking for balance in my life, this is the first break on my right side in five years. In addition to the broken left hand, I shattered my left leg five years ago (my garden is on a hillside and I slid down the hill one icy February while cleaning out the beds). Then four years ago, I tried to break up a dog fight. Spraying mace didn't work (the dogs didn't even acknowledge it; I could barely see through the tears). Hosing them didn't work and hitting the attacking dog with a large branch didn't help. I was finally reduced to prying his jaws apart with a piece of wood during which he chomped down on my left thumb breaking it to bits.

Actually, now that I think of it, a small toe is nothing. So maybe the upside is that it gave me a chance to count my blessings this morning. Instead of griping because of my upcoming deadline, I need to give thanks for the opportunity. Instead of worrying about the upcoming workshop, I need to look forward to meeting new and interesting people. Instead of whining about that toe, I need to be glad I have two healthy legs.

Yeah, that small toe is a reminder that I'm alive and healthy and still going strong.

Technical Difficulties

On Wednesday afternoon, I accidentally posted one half of the blog for Thursday. It was some hours before I noticed it. The full post now appears below. Sorry.

How NOT To Do A Panel Discussion

NOTE TO SELF: Do not pull a Jonathan Franzen.

Yesterday's "Media Mob" in the New York Observer reported that writer Jonathan Franzen (author of The Corrections) spoke at Harvard on Monday. His fellow speaker was James Wood, a fellow writer at The New Yorker and a critic of Franzen.

Before discussing that Harvard face-off, let's take a walk through the annals of 2001's worst literary faux pas.

You may remember Franzen won the National Book Award for Fiction that year for The Corrections, his third book.

Mr. Franzen also made the news for dissing Oprah's Book Club. After The Corrections was chosen to be an Oprah "pick," he expressed ambivalence about the selection.

The 10/29/01 edition of Publishers Weekly reported:
The Corrections author admitted to the Oregonian that he had originally considered declining Oprah's offer . . . He also was quoted in the Oregonian as saying that he and FSG [his publisher] feel the selection "does as much for her as it does for us" and insinuated that Oprah might not help sales that much. "Well, it was already on the bestseller list and the reviews were pretty much all in," Franzen told the newspaper. (He did conclude that the selection "means a lot more money for me and my publisher.")

Oprah suffered from no such ambivalence. The New York Times reported:
. . . this week Mr. Franzen earned an even rarer distinction as the first author to be formally uninvited to appear on her television show.

Ms. Winfrey's decision stemmed from occasional public comments by Mr. Franzen that she felt disparaged her literary selections as middlebrow or unsophisticated. Her reaction quickly became the talk of the literary world because of Mr. Franzen's status as its author-of-the-moment. Yesterday, he apologized, suggesting some of his comments were taken out of context . . .

After learning of his statements, Ms. Winfrey reconsidered her selection. In a statement to Publishers Weekly that appeared in an e-mail newsletter Monday night, Ms. Winfrey said: ''Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection. It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict.''

You'd a-thunk Mr. Franzen would have emerged from that baptism with a more sophisticated understanding of the paths and pitfalls of speaking in public.

You'd a-thunk.

On Monday at Harvard, Mr. Franzen dissed Michiko Kakutani, saying "the stupidest person in New York City is currently the lead reviewer of fiction for the New York Times.”

Apparently Mr. Franzen is still holding a grudge over Ms. Kakutani's 2006 review of his memoir, The Discomfort Zone, in the New York Times. You can read that review here. Among the things she said:
In his new memoir, “The Discomfort Zone,” Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed . . . While some readers will want to give Mr. Franzen points for being so revealing about himself, there is something oddly preening about his self-inventory of sins, as though he actually reveled in being so disagreeable.

In October, about six weeks after that review, the Times took a second pass at the memoir here. Daniel Mendelsohn said:
Like the hero of some Greek play, Jonathan Franzen — apparently motivated, as so many tragic characters are, by an excessively lofty sense of himself — caused his moment of greatest triumph to disintegrate into public humiliation. The triumph, of course, was his National Book Award-winning novel, “The Corrections”. . . The public humiliation (of course) was the fracas that ensued after Franzen expressed disdain for Oprah Winfrey’s choice of his novel for her book club . . .

Unlike Oedipus or Hippolytus, however, Franzen seems to have learned nothing from his fall.

It appears that, nearly eighteen months after that book review, nothing much has changed for Mr. Franzen.