Friday, January 30, 2009

A New Look at Self-Publishing

The New York Times had an article on self-publishing Tuesday titled "Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab."

For at least the last five years, the conventional wisdom, repeated again and again at writer talks and on writer loops, has been that most self-pubbed writers sell less than one hundred copies of their books. This article actually had a quote from the chief executive of Author Solutions (one of the larger self-publishing operations), estimating that the average number of copies sold by a self-pubbed author at one of their imprints is "just 150."

I was pleased to see such honesty from the profession. I think writers considering self-publication need to have that number nailed to their foreheads.

In addition to the stark reality of that 150 figure, the article points out:
For some authors, the appeal of self-publishing is that they can put their books on the market much faster than through traditional publishers. Of course, authors who take this route also give up a lot. Not only do they receive no advance payments, but they also often must pay out of their own pockets before seeing a dime. They do not have the benefit of the marketing acumen of traditional publishers, and have diminished access to the vast bookstore distribution pipeline that big publishers can provide.
I have said repeatedly on this blog that self-publishing is more likely to be successful for a non-fiction writer than for a fiction writer. The article seems to support that assessment.

I winced at a quote from Robert Young, chief executive of Lulu Enterprises, that: “We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind . . .” Ouch!

The article closes:
"Diamonds in the rough, though, remain the outliers. 'For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there's two that should have been published,' said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. 'People think that just because they've written something, there's a market for it. It's not true'."
Go here to read the entire article.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Revisiting the Barbara Bauer Lawsuit

Someone on one of my writer loops brought up the Barbara Bauer lawsuit against Preditors & Editors, which reminded me that it has been six months since I've revisited that issue. So tonight I thought we'd take a trip down memory lane.

First, a quick recap:

It started back in March, 2006 when Absolute Write, a website for writers, posted a list of what they called the 20 Worst Agents.

Complaints from the named agents caused the web server for Absolute Write to shut the site down. That was enough to cause all the prominent writer websites to begin publishing the list so that everywhere you looked online you could find it.

Absolute Write had to find another server. The Writer Beware website accepted the job of keeping the list of 20 Worst Agents updated. You can find it here.

Of course, the fabulous Miss Snark (MS) couldn't resist poking her stiletto heel into the controversy. She posted the list on 3/17/06.

Most of the people listed on the worst agent website had the good sense to keep their mouths shut or to change their agencies' names rather than prolong the publicity. However, there was one agent who decided to go after EVERYONE who called her "a worst agent." She threatened Absolute Write and, on 5/24/2006, Miss Snark went after her, saying:
"Barbara Bauer is not a literary agent. Barbara Bauer is a scam artist. And a very very stupid one. Here's the scoop:

"Barbara Bauer phoned the woman who runs the web hosting for Absolute Write wherein Barbara Bauer was listed as one of the 20 Worst Agents (a list I was happy to publish as well) and sounded scary enough that the site host panicked and pulled the plug.

"In the past Barbara Bauer, one of the 20 Worst Agents, tried to get Teresa Nielsen Hayden fired for 'libeling her on the Making Light website'.

"Like I said: stupid. It's not libel when you're telling the truth.

"Let me say this again in no uncertain terms: Barbara Bauer is not a reputable literary agent. She is a scam artist.

"Strong words? You bet. Wanna come get me Barb? Come on over. Let's compare sales."
Of course, from that moment on, every chance she got, Miss Snark would make a snarky comment about "Babs." It became a running thread on MS's blog. And it was hugely responsible for making MS well known in the writer community.

And even in the face of growing negative publicity, Bauer still would not back down. She sent threatening letters to everyone who made snarky comments about her on their blogs or websites. A lot of people backed down. A lot of people didn't.

On 9/20/07, Bauer filed a civil lawsuit against 17 defendants (with several joint names) in U.S. District Court (federal court) in New Jersey. The defendants included some of the best known bloggers in the writing community and Wikimedia, the non-profit that runs Wikipedia. The complaint also included as a defendant: "Miss Snark, The Literary Agent, ('Snark') is a fictitious name used on a blog."

Bauer and her attorneys were trying very hard to find Miss Snark's real name. The writer community shut down, protecting her name.

Bauer filed a Second Amended Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Monmouth County on 1/31/08, moving the case from federal to state court. There were other differences in the second lawsuit. Bauer added three additional defendants and changed her complaint against Miss Snark to list Brian Hill and Dee Power, claiming that they were behind the Miss Snark blog.

In my blog, I said:
There has been a huge amount of speculation as to the identity of Miss Snark. Many writers believe they know her true identity and have continued to protect that name more than a year after the blog ceased operations. None of the writers I know believes that Hill and Power were behind Miss Snark.

According to Bauer's original filing, Miss Snark's blog had a server address in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hill and Power live in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a suburb northeast of Scottsdale.

According to Wikipedia, Fountain Hills has a population of 24,669 and was the eighth fastest-growing city in Arizona between the 1990 and 2000 census.

I'm curious as to why Bauer zeroed in on Hill and Power. Because they were writers living within twenty miles of Scottsdale? Surely not!
Everyone knew they weren't MS. In July, 2008, the judge dismissed the cases against Hill and Power.

That same month, the judge also dismissed the case against Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that runs Wikipedia.

I did a pair of posts on my blog in July on the 8th here and on the 9th here, listing all defendants, who they are, and the lawsuit's status (17 original defendants, raised to 20--counting Hill and Power as one--reduced to 18).

Tonight, I spent some time trying to find the status of the remaining 18 defendants.

Let's start with one of the lesser known defendants: Shweta Narayan.

This is a direct quote from the transcript of the decision:
"Bauer’s complaint alleges that Ms. Narayan published statements in November 2006, that denigrated Bauer’s reputation as a literary agent . . .

"Ms. Narayan was a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley in November 2006. For health reasons, she has withdrawn from the university, and currently lives in San Diego . . . With help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, she located volunteer counsel in New Jersey, whom she retained in May 2008 . . . "
This is a quote from her attorney's brief:
"Two years ago, in May of 2006, as a linguistics graduate student at UC Berkeley, Ms. Narayan noticed interesting linguistic behavior in an Internet chat room sponsored by a writers’ community, The chatters complained that AbsoluteWrite’s website had been shut down, apparently in response to legal threats from Bauer. Unlike the website, the chat room was not shut down, and it became a hub for the writers who had been displaced from the AbsoluteWrite website.

"Later in 2006, Ms. Narayan received a call for submissions to the CSDL conference, a small, highly specialized bi-annual academic conference on cognitive linguistics. Recalling the discourse of the chat room in May 2006, she prepared an abstract and submitted it . . . as an example of how a community under threat creates interesting and complex conceptual structures to cope with threats -- the sort of topic that CSDL attendees study . . .

"Ms. Narayan presented her talk at the conference on November 4, 2006, to an audience of about 30 to 40 people. The abstract and talk focused on what the chatters were doing, not on Bauer herself, though Bauer was mentioned briefly to contextualize the situation for linguists . . . Bauer is referenced in quoted speech by the chatters whose language is being analyzed. The abstract cited the Science Fiction Writers of America; it made no direct statements about Bauer."
The judge dismissed the case against Ms. Narayan on 10/27/08 based on "the lack of personal jurisdiction." Ms. Narayan lives in California, and Ms. Bauer filed in state court in New Jersey.

Updated Status: 17 original defendants, raised to 20--now reduced to 17

Next up: defendant Gregory Ludwig, who has described himself as an editor and an occasional writer.

According to the decision:
"Mr. Ludwig is a writer who is trying to publish books, and the plaintiff is a literary agent who places authors for publication of books. According to Mr. Ludwig, he supplied Ms. Bauer with twelve book manuscripts, none of which actually were published, and he paid a fee for those actions.

"Movant began writing blog entries pertaining to Ms. Bauer beginning on September 5, 2006 which included discussions about their past business interactions. That's not alleged to be defamatory."
Ludwig argued that he was defending Bauer. Judge Perri agreed. In his decision on 10/27/08, he found that "There was clearly no actual malice and there was not a negligent defamation as the Court views the documents, and therefore summary judgment is granted in the defendant Ludwig's favor . . ."

Updated Status: 17 original defendants, raised to 20--now reduced to 16

I'll check in on the case status again in another few months.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sara Nelson To Leave Publishers Weekly

The New York Times reported on Monday that:
Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, the main trade magazine to the book industry, has been laid off in a restructuring by the publication’s parent company, Reed Business Information. . .
Like the industry it covers, Publishers Weekly has suffered from a downturn in the retail economy as publishers have stopped advertising their upcoming books in the magazine. In past years, publishers used the magazine as a way to inform booksellers of the buzz on upcoming titles, but now most publishers communicate directly with bookstores and executives at the biggest book chains.

Realms of Fantasy Closing Down

Realms of Fantasy, one of the best-known fantasy magazines, is closing down after the April publication, which is already in process.

SF Scope reported here that Laura Cleveland, Managing Editor of RoF, blamed "the economic downturn and [flagging] newsstand distribution for the closure."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Best Letter of Complaint

This is so delicious, I just had to share. This is a letter of complaint sent to Richard Branson's Virgin Airlines.

Thanks to my friend Lynne Connolly for the link here.

We're in the middle of an ice storm here in Dallas. I'm going to bed early so I can get up and out ahead of traffic in the morning.

Catch you tomorrow.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Latest on

I haven't taken a swipe at in a while.

Here's the latest from Publishers Weekly: has notified its publisher and author clients that it plans to cease offering e-books in the Microsoft Reader and Adobe e-book formats. In the future, the online retailer says it plans to offer only e-books in the Kindle format (for wireless download to its Kindle reading device) and the Mobipocket format, both of which are owned by Amazon . . .

Amazon did not specify how long the Adobe PDF and Microsoft formats will continue to be available. . . The company said it will now be urging customers to buy e-books through Mobipocket.
This is from a post of mine from last April:
Large publishers are at enormous risk in a digital world. They are no longer the sole owners of the means of production, which means they are no longer the only game in town. And Amazon is very cleverly moving to take over that game.

This whole thing is about Amazon positioning itself vertically, making it the dominant power in the publishing industry.

Vertical integration means owning pieces of all parts of the chain. Amazon started out as a retailer. Then it moved into wholesaling others' products. And finally into manufacturing (BookSurge). Not content to own a part of the manufacturing business, it is now using its retail clout to make its publishing arm more dominant. This is a case where the sum of all parts is worth far more than the individual parts alone.

Amazon now owns pieces of all parts of the chain leading to the consumer:

Manufacturer => Wholesaler => Retailer => Consumer

Vertical integration is about cost and control. Companies who vertically integrate are trying to assert greater control over their business. The obvious benefit is that they can capture the profit margins at each step along the chain. They can also make it harder for competitors if they can gain access to a scarce resource.
Over the weekend, I visited the International Movie Database or here.

I love IMDB. When I can't remember an actor's name or the movie he starred in, but can remember the actress who co-starred with him, I can look her up and back into his name by looking at the names of her movies. I probably visit that site at least once a week. When it was purchased by Amazon ten years ago, I wondered what the future held for the website.

On Saturday, I was looking for information on the original Underworld, which I never saw. To my surprise the entry was blocked by an ad inviting me to enroll in IMDB's new service . . . at only $12.95 per month.

Horrified, I backed out and googled Underworld instead. I found I could pull up the entry that way without encountering that intrusive "invitation" to join Amazon's latest service.

This is EXACTLY why I won't be buying a Kindle and why I haven't purchased a book from Amazon for nearly a year.

Sure, I'm tilting at windmills, but I'll be damned if I'm going to contribute money to a company that is doing its best to take over the publishing industry.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The New Publishing Industry

Over the three and a half years I've been blogging, I've made a lot of predictions about the future of publishing. I want to revisit one of those predictions in view of a new article in Wednesday's Time magazine.

Back on July 20, 2006 here, I said:

The latest POD technology makes it relatively easy [for publishers] to produce a quality, bound book at a reasonable rate.

Notice I am not including aspiring authors. The reason I am not is because, even if they now have a way to produce printed copies of their work, there is still no system by which they can successfully market those books. I personally do not believe in selling books by hand out of the trunk of your car--UNLESS you are doing so as a part of a publisher's marketing campaign during a book tour.

I think that day is coming. Sooner or later a viable system will evolve by which authors can self-publish AND market their work. That day is not now, but it is probably not too far in the future.
Now the new Time article, titled "Books Unbound," talks about the success of three self-published writers:
Giga-selling fantasist Christopher Paolini started as a self-published author. After Brunonia Barry self-published her novel The Lace Reader in 2007, William Morrow picked it up and gave her a two-book deal worth $2 million. The fact that William P. Young's The Shack was initially self-published hasn't stopped it from spending 34 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
While I am not denigrating these novelists' success in any way, I do believe Time did not do an adequate job in analyzing those successes. There were very specific reasons for the success of both The Lace Reader (an investment of $50,000 by the author in marketing) and The Shack (a niche Christian market together with help from influential people in that market).

The case of Christopher Paolini was a "once in a lifetime" stroke of luck. Listen to his 2004 interview in the UK's Guardian:
The Paolinis led a simple life, earning a living from small publishing projects. After seeing the finished manuscript, they agreed to throw the whole family business behind their son's book. It was a huge risk . . .

The bookshops were hard. No one had heard of him. 'I would stand behind a table in my costume talking all day without a break - and would sell maybe 40 books in eight hours if I did really well,' he recalls. It got to the point where, if the book did not start to turn a profit, the Paolinis would have had to sell their house and take regular jobs in the city.

'It was a very stressful experience,' he says. 'I was fried. I couldn't have gone on for very much longer.' Then chance came to his rescue. Novelist Carl Hiaasen was on a fishing holiday in the area; his stepson saw the book in a shop, read it, loved it and showed it to Hiaasen who immediately contacted his publishers. Paolini's feet have barely touched the ground since.
In my opinion, the Time article has an overly optimistic tone with respect to a novelist's chances for success in self-publishing. While I firmly believe self-publishing is a viable route for a non-fiction writer with a niche market, I think fiction writers have still not overcome the three biggest hurdles in self-publishing. I described these hurdles here in October of 2006:
(1) The need to develop a system to vet books for bookstores and libraries to ensure a quality product;
(2) The need to develop a system for marketing (just slapping a book on Amazon or eBay will not drive traffic to it); and
(3) The need to overcome a justly deserved reputation for publishing crap.
While I don't agree with Time's implicit recommendation to self-publish a novel, I DO agree with the article's assessment of the changing publishing market. This passage particularly caught my attention:
Old Publishing is stately, quality-controlled and relatively expensive. New Publishing is cheap, promiscuous and unconstrained by paper, money or institutional taste. If Old Publishing is, say, a tidy, well-maintained orchard, New Publishing is a riotous jungle: vast and trackless and chaotic, full of exquisite orchids and undiscovered treasures and a hell of a lot of noxious weeds.
Go here to read the entire article.

Go here to read my decision tree for deciding whether to self-publish.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Read on Yahoo:

LAGOS, Nigeria – One of Nigeria's biggest daily newspapers reported that police implicated a goat in an attempted automobile theft. In a front-page article on Friday, the Vanguard newspaper said that two men tried to steal a Mazda car two days earlier in Kwara State, with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.

The paper quoted police spokesman Tunde Mohammed as saying that while one suspect escaped, the other transformed into a goat as he was about to be apprehended.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscars Nominations Announced

The Oscar nominations were announced today. Here they are:

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams for Doubt
Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis for Doubt
Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin for Milk
Robert Downey, Jr. for Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie for Changeling
Melissa Leo for Frozen River
Meryl Streep for Doubt
Kate Winslet for The Reader

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins for The Visitor
Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn for Milk
Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

The winner of the nomination race was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which garnered thirteen nods. Second place went to Slumdog Millionaire with ten nominations. Milk came in at third with eight nods.

Bringing up the rear was a tie--five nominations each for Frost/Nixon and The Reader.

I was pleased with the nominations for Frost/Nixon because of my fondness for Frank Langella.

The awards show will take place on Sunday, February 22nd.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Outlaw Burke Takes His Last Bow

During the mid-'80s, my reading tastes ran mostly to thrillers and crime fiction. In 1988, after seeing a glowing newspaper review of a book titled Blue Belle, I purchased the third novel by Andrew Vachss in hard cover. I still own that book along with the other seventeen in the series.

Blue Belle blew me away. It was pure noir--hard, gritty, unrelenting. The protagonist, a career criminal named Burke, works as an unlicensed private investigator in New York City. He and his "family of choice" run scams, hijack illegal cargo and exact their own brand of justice whenever they run across anyone abusing children.

Burke narrates the books in first person in a terse, uncompromising voice. His eccentric characters and blunt prose captivated me. He describes the dark underbelly of New York, where two-legged sharks stalk, seeking the young, the foolish and the unwary.

In Blue Belle, a group of pimps approach Burke and offer him $50,000 to eliminate a threat to their businesses: a "ghost van" that has been prowling the dark streets, kidnapping and killing teenage prostitutes.

Vachss describes Burke's family: a master criminal who goes by the name of Prof--whether for Prophet or Professor--no one knows; a mute Mongolian warrior known as Max the Silent; a tranny named Michelle who is saving her earnings to pay for her "operation"; the Mole, a mad scientist who does work for the Jewish cause; and Pansy, Burke's partner. Here is the first description I ever read of Pansy:
I turned the key, listening to the bolts snap back. Three dead bolts; one into the steel frame on the side, another at the top, the final one directly into the floor. The hall's too narrow for a battering ram. By the time anyone broke in, I'd have long enough to do anything I needed to do.

Another key for the doorknob. I turned it twice to the right and once to the left, and stepped inside.

"It's me, Pansy," I said to the monster sitting in the middle of the dark room.

The monster made a noise somewhere between a snarl and a growl. A Neapolitan mastiff, maybe 140 pounds of muscle and bone, topped with a head the size of a cannonball and just about as thick. So dark she was almost black, Pansy blended into the room like a malevolent shadow, teeth shielded, cold-water eyes unflickering. Pansy can't handle complex thoughts. She wasn't sure if she was glad to see me or sorry she wasn't going to get to tear into some flesh. Then she smelled the Chinese food and the issue was settled. The snarl changed to a whine, and slobber poured from her jaws. I threw her the hand signal for "Stay!" and hit the light switch.
When I finished Blue Belle, I went looking for the two earlier books: Flood and Strega.

Andrew Vachss is a lawyer and child advocate who has devoted his life to representing and protecting children. He began writing fiction to reach a wider audience and to educate his readers on the evil of child abuse and the way it perpetuates itself through generations. Long before I saw the first news story on the subject, Vachss was writing about cyber porn and the perverts who exploit kids online. Back when I was still getting a daily newspaper, he did an article on child abuse about once a year in the Parade Sunday supplement.

For ten years, I eagerly awaited each new Burke outing. Sometime in the mid-90's, the tone of the novels shifted, sacrificing story for sermon, replacing plot with preaching. Even so, I continued buying the books to follow the ongoing exploits of characters for whom I hold enormous fondness.

Earlier this month, Vachss brought the series to a close with the release of Another Life, the last of the Burke novels. Here's the opening:
Revenge is like any other religion. There's always a lot more preaching than there is practicing. And most of that preaching is about what not to practice.

"Vengeance is mine" translates to: "It's not yours." The karma-peddlers will tell you how doing nothing is doing the right thing, reciting, "What goes around comes around" in that heavy-gravity tone reserved for the kind of ancient wisdom you always find in comic books.

Every TV "counselor," every self-help expert, every latte-slurping guru. . . they all chant some verson of the same mantra: "Revenge never solves anything."

Their favorite psalm is Forgiveness. And their hymn books are always open to the same page.

Get it? When you crawl away, you're not being a punk; you're just letting the cosmos handle your business. Whoever hurt you, they'll get theirs, don't worry. Just have a little faith.

Down here, we see it different. We don't count on karma. But you can count on this: hurt one of us, we're all coming for you.

If you haven't read a Burke novel, try one of the first nine. Once you're hooked, you will read even the sermons with pleasure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Cried

I cry easily. I cry when I'm happy and when I'm sad; I cry when I'm touched or when I'm mad. Just about the only time I don't cry is when I'm frightened. Then, I wait until after the fear evaporates to shed the tears.

This morning at 11:30, I sat in my car and cried as I listened to President Obama's inaugural speech. I'd left our central office to drive across campus just as he finished taking the oath of office.

I arrived at my destination about midway through the speech and, unwilling to leave my car, sat there for another twenty minutes to listen. I began to cry at this point:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
The past eight years have been painful for me as a Texan, as a Republican, and as an American. I did not vote for GWB for governor of Texas and did not vote for him for president of the United States. Repeatedly during his presidency, I was reminded of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who used the letter of the law to justify what they did or did not do. As we learned of Abu Ghraib, of Guantanemo, of the wiretapping of U.S. citizens and of the rendition--outsourcing--of non-citizens to torture overseas, I found myself--for the first time in my life--ashamed to be an American.

This past November, my pride in my fellow citizen for renouncing the policies of the past eight years knew no bounds.

And today--listening to our new president--I cried. In the words of Gerald Ford following another scandal, I thought "our long national nightmare is over."

Listen again to President Obama's words:
Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less . . . As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.
May it ever be so.

An Autopsy of the Book Business

A little over eighteen months ago, I did the second of two posts on the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) here.

I explained that the EBM was a product of On Demand Books, the brainchild of former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein, former Dean & DeLuca president Dane Neller, and technology expert Thor Sigvaldason.

According to The Daily Beast, in 1952, Jason Epstein "introduced the trade paperback format and later co-founded the New York Review of Books."

Earlier this month, Epstein wrote an article for The Daily Beast titled "An Autopsy of the Book Business."

Over the past three years, I have repeatedly written about the centralization of the book publishing industry, which began in the 70s. I linked that centralization to the deregulation of various industries, including the radio/television, which permitted the growth of the giant media corporation. Over twenty years, sixty publishing houses shrank to less than a dozen as the mammoth corporations bought up radio and television stations, newspapers and publishing houses.

I also pointed out that, during that same period, the bookselling industry underwent the same centralization as large bookchains sprang up. The small, independent bookstores could not compete with the buying power (and ability to discount) of chains like B&N and Borders.

Interestingly enough, Epstein's article points to a different view of history:

By the mid 1970s the great downtown bookstores had begun to disappear as their customers migrated from city to suburb where population density was too thin to support major backlist retailers. Soon people shopped in deconstructed department stores, their former departments now individual specialty shops, where bookstores paid the same rent for the same limited space as the shoe store next door and needed the same quick turnover of inventories that sold themselves: books by celebrities and branded bestselling authors. By the eighties, publishers’ backlists were in steep decline as thousands of titles disappeared . . .

The steep decline in publishers’ backlists turned the industry upside down. Now publishers were obliged to pursue seasonal ephemera . . . Publishers having lost control of their industry to commercially attractive authors and their agents . . . an absurd and untenable situation.

It was this growing absurdity that forced the fifty or so independent publishers of the 1960s to merge, and for the merged firms eventually to be swept together into today’s overmanaged conglomerates.
Epstein--as would be expected of the Chairman of the company that produces the Espresso Book Machine--points to a "shining future" for the publishing industry. He says: "The effect of this post-Gutenberg Revolution will be to radically decentralize the marketplace for books and greatly reduce the cost of entry for would-be publishers."

Epstein pointed to the decentralization of the book market eighteen months ago, too. I quoted both him and Sara Nelson in that post of mine and went on to give my own opinion:
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.
Now, a year and a half later, we see the large publishers scrambling to get on the digital bandwagon, B&N and Borders struggling to stay alive and Amazon positioning itself to be vertically integrated in the publishing and selling of books.

If you don't understand "vertical integration," read my post from fourteen months ago here.

May you live in interesting times.

You can read Epstein's article here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

All Agents Are Not Created Equal

Sorry for posting late. I just arrived home after three days and nights in Florida visiting my mom.

The bound proofs for Bad Boy arrived Thursday night before I had to catch my flight so I was able to take a copy to review along on the plane to Florida. My seatmate on the flight and I struck up a conversation. It turned out that--like many other people--he is also a writer, one who has been looking for an agent. We talked for probably thirty minutes about agents, which prompts this post.

In 2005, when I began my agent search, my initial goal was to find an agent...any agent. While I was searching, I continued taking online writing classes and entering contests. Toward the fall of that year, I started getting offers of representation. THAT's when I realized for the first time that all agents were not created equal.

When I got the first offer, I called my attorney (and friend) to review the proposed contract. As we were discussing the clauses, she asked a lot of questions about the agent. I found myself answering a lot of her questions with, "Well, no, but I need an agent."

By about the third question, she said, "Sweetie, I know you need an agent, but do you need THIS agent? If one agent wants to sign you, I'm betting others will, too. Don't sell yourself short."

Among the really hard things I have done in my life, I rank telling that first agent, "Thank you for the compliment, but I think I'm going to keep looking," pretty high on the list. To my surprise, the agent took it very well. She was courteous and said, "You really need to feel good about this decision."

I made a list of the things I was looking for:

1) I needed an agent I could feel comfortable talking with
2) I needed an agent who would listen to me and take the time to understand my concerns (and fears)
3) I needed an agent who was interested not only in selling books, but in the direction of my career and who could address questions I asked about my career
4) I needed an agent who could identify problems in my manuscript and help me to work through them
5) I needed an agent who was knowledgeable about the industry and who stayed on top of trends
Just before Christmas in 2005, Jacky Sach of BookEnds Literary Agency offered me representation. She and her co-founder--Jessica Faust--had both been editors at Berkley before they decided to open a book packaging operation and a literary agency back in 1999.

From the get-go, Jacky and I hit it off. She was funny and blunt, a combination that never fails to attract me. When I told her my plans for my writing career, she told me the pluses and minuses of what I was suggesting. She had already told me changes she thought I needed to make in the manuscript she'd read, and I had agreed with all of them.

I've learned since that agents generally fall somewhere along a continuum of being editors or not being interested in editing at all. While Jacky is way to one end of that continuum, other agents are far to the other end. Give some thought to which you need before signing.

In the three years since I signed with Jacky, I have never regretted the decision. Jacky and Jessica work as a team. It was Jessica who came up with the name Bad Girl for my first novel.

Jacky has alternately been a cheerleader and a cattle prod. It took six months to sell Bad Girl. I was a nervous wreck. She just said, "Keep doing your job. You write. Let me worry about sales." When I was having difficulties with the start of Bad Boy, she made a bunch of suggestions. When I started another manuscript and expressed concern that my editor might not like the dark tone, she said, "So, if she doesn't, I'll sell it somewhere else. Just write the thing and let me worry about selling it."

I say all this because the conversation with the guy on the plane reminded me of the angst and terror of an agent search. If one agent makes you an offer, another one will surely do the same. Don't sign with someone unless you are really, really comfortable with him/her. It's like a marriage of sorts. And divorce can be very, very painful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Have You Ever Been Shortcovered?

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had an article on electronic books.

The story started out discussing the success of Amazon's Kindle, but talked about the size of the e-reader being a disadvantage. It doesn't fit in a pocket and takes up room in a purse.

The article suggests the solution may be to read books on cellphones or other pocket devices. The number of titles available in electronic format continues to grow along with applications to make accessing them possible. The WSJ points to the Stanza and eReader appls in particular.
But, as with past cellphone or PDA e-book systems, most of those on the iPhone and Touch focus primarily on older, classic, or out-of-copyright titles, rather than on the sort of current, in-demand titles available on the Kindle. Some fresher titles are available, but the selection of popular books is relatively thin.

Now, two companies are launching new e-book apps that aim to bring current and popular titles from major publishers to the iPhone and Touch . . ..

One, called Shortcovers, is from the large Canadian bookseller Indigo Books & Music. Due to show up in the App Store in the next few weeks, Shortcovers is a portal to sampling, buying and reading books, and will have a companion Web site. It will allow readers to get free samples of blogs, magazines and books -- say, the first chapter -- and then buy either the entire work or other individual chapters or sections, which the company calls "shortcovers."
Shortcovers anticipates having 200,000 chapters or other free excerpts available at the time they launch with 50,000 full titles available for purchase (the rest will need to be ordered as physical books). You can buy a shortcover (example: a chapter of a non-fiction book you are interested in) for $.99.

The second new company is called Iceberg and comes from a company called ScrollMotion. Iceberg is already on the market and provides individual e-books for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Go here to read the whole WSJ article.

I am flying to Florida this afternoon to visit my mother. I don't anticipate blogging again until Tuesday. Have a good MLK Day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

B&N Layoffs at Corporate Headquarters

A two-post day:

From today's Shelf Awareness:

For the first time in company history, Barnes & Noble has made major layoffs at its corporate headquarters, eliminating nearly 100 positions. Most of the cuts were "due to the reduction in store openings and consolidation of functional areas within its retail and online operations," the company said.

B&N has about 40,000 employees and 800 stores overall. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the 100 people laid off constitute 4% of corporate staff of about 2,500.

Life With Brothers

Monday is MLK Day, and I have it off. So, I am flying to Florida Friday afternoon to see my mother before my scheduled surgery next month--just in case.

Yesterday I was talking to my youngest brother, who is a sports columnist in Florida. Obviously, he's very busy right now with the football playoffs.

He'll pick me up at the airport on Friday evening, I'll spend the night with his family, and then drive him back to the airport on Saturday morning because he has to fly out to cover a game on Sunday. I'll use his car to drive to my mother's where I'll spend the weekend, and then return the car to the airport on Monday when I leave. My brother will pick it up when he comes home that evening.

During our conversation, he was describing his travails with keeping an eye on my mother. He and his five-year-old son stopped by her house last Friday to check on Mom before he flew out for whatever playoff he covered last week (Can you tell that I know NOTHING about sports?).

J told me that my nephew said he'd found a beehive the size of a football (note the metaphor; he is his father's son) in the orange tree in my mother's backyard.

I immediately said, "Tell me you didn't spray the hive and kill the bees. They are endangered these days."

He responded, "No, I didn't have time to deal with it. I needed to get the kid home and make it to the airport."

Me: "Please say you didn't tell Mom, and she went out there and killed the bees."

Him: "My son showed her the hive, not me."

Me: "Damn it. Was the hive there when you got home?"

Him: "Nope. I asked Mom what had happened and, of course, she didn't remember anything. I looked in her checkbook, and she had paid an exterminator $100 to remove it."

Me: "You know, a beekeeper would have come and taken a hive that size away for free . . ."

Him: "So I'm trying to figure out how she got it together to call an exterminator . . ."

Me (talking at the same time): ". . . Of course, maybe the exterminator took her money and then sold the hive to a beekeeper."

Him: ". . . I checked with the next-door neighbor, and she called the exterminator for Mom."

Me: ". . . I'll bet that's it. The bees ended up with a keeper."

Him: "Will you shut the freak up about the frigging bees! The bees are living on the farm with the dog Dad sent away when you were five."

Me: "Hey, I just needed to get my mythology about the bees in place so I could move on. Okay?"

Him: "Jesus. No wonder you're not married."

Me: (ignoring him because of long experience with three brothers) "Okay, I'm ready to talk about Mom now."

Him: "Ten minutes on the phone with you, and my head is throbbing and my eye is twitching."

Me: "I'll bet a spoonful of honey would help."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Win For Bookstores

Yesterday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten released her order to dismiss the lawsuit filed by asking for relief from the state law that requires online retailers to collect sales tax on their sales made in New York.

Shelf Awareness reported this morning on Judge Bransten's opinion:
Amazon failed to make a case and 'there is no basis upon which Amazon can prevail,' . . . The neutral statute simply obligates out-of-state sellers to shoulder their fair share of the tax-collection burden when using New Yorkers to earn profit from other New Yorkers.'
Bookstores everywhere are celebrating this ruling, which would have given an edge in New York if they were permitted not to collect the sales tax while the bookstores are obligated to collect that same sales tax.

Hurray for Judge Bransten!

More on this ruling once I get my hands on today's Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Memory Devices

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how much I love National Public Radio.

One of the reasons I like NPR is that it reports on such quirky little things.

Of course, you know this is the lead-in to an NPR story.

The other day I heard an interview about a book by a UK author, Christopher Stevens, titled Thirty Days Has September. The volume's subtitle is "Cool Ways to Remember Stuff." The thin book contains all kinds of mnemonics. Before the interview was complete, I had gone online and ordered the book, which was waiting for me when I got home from work tonight.

So I'm going to share some of my favorites.

Henry VIII of England had six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr. You've probably already heard the memory device to remember them. I had:

Divorced, beheaded, died;
Divorced, beheaded, survived.
Since we're doing English history, I loved this mnemonic to remember the various houses that have ruled the country:
No Point Letting Your Trousers Slip HalfWay.
The houses, of course, are:


Note that "Half Way" is spelled "HalfWay." That's because King George V changed his family name from the German Hanover to Windsor.

I especially liked the short words to help remember the three tallest mountains in the world in order of size, the three longest rivers in order and the three largest deserts in order:

Everest 29,035 feet high
K2 28,251 feet high
Kangchenjunga 28,169 feet high

Here's the mnemonic for the mountains:

Ever Kayaked twice (2) with a Kangaroo?

And the rivers:

The Nile 4,130 miles long
The Amazon 4,000 miles long
The Yangtze 3,915 miles long

Just say NAY

And the deserts:

The Sahara 3,500,000 square miles
The Arabian 1,000,000 square miles
The Gobi 500,000 square miles

Their initials spell out SAG

I am soooo easily amused.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading on the Rise?

Yesterday's New York Times had an article about a report being released today from the National Endowment for the Arts that says "it now believes a quarter-century of precipitous decline in fiction reading has reversed" in the U.S.

The article alternately amused and annoyed me.

I've blogged about the National Endowment for the Arts before. On August 4, 2006, in a post titled "Are People Reading Less," here I reported that:
According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts (a public agency established by Congress), "literary reading [novels, short stories, poetry and plays] is in dramatic decline with fewer than half of American adults now reading literature . . . Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reports drops in all groups studied, with the steepest rate of decline--28%--occurring in the youngest age groups."
According to yesterday's Times:
The report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” being released Monday, is based on data from “The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” conducted by the United States Census Bureau in 2008. Among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982, when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.

The news comes as the publishing industry struggles with declining sales amid a generally difficult economy.
The Times also offered this chart to show the trend since 1982:

The part of the article that amused me was everyone wondering what caused the change.

Duh! For the first time since the Endowment has been releasing stats, they included reading on the Internet in their numbers. That's where a lot of the reading among young people is occurring.

But then the chairman for the Endowment, Dana Gioia, said he didn't think that "more reading online" was the primary reason for the increase. He cited factors like community-based reading programs and the popularity of books like Harry Potter.

Well, I guess I can understand his position. He's stepping down after six years running the Endowment and would prefer to cite programs begun under his watch.

As far as Harry Potter goes, the first book was released in 1997. Five years later, the Endowment's stats reported on the "precipitous decline" in reading from 54% to 46.7%.

The part of the article that annoyed me most was Patricia Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, saying that "some people might not count the reading they do online or even on electronic readers like the Kindle as 'book' reading."

Grrr. Last April, I explained that I lost respect for Pat Schroeder when she failed to understand the differences between two of Google's programs in the controversy over Google's copying books:
What was originally called Google Print is now called Google Book Partners. What was originally called Google Print Library is now called Google Book Search.

Pat Schroeder repeatedly confused and mixed elements of the two programs in her public statements. If little ole me could sort out the details while sitting in my house in north Texas, why couldn't the prez of the Association of American Publishers do the same thing before knee-jerking a response?
And now she's doing the same thing; only this time, she's confusing the medium with the message.

Pat, let me be sure I understand. Are you saying that if I read A Tale of Two Cities online or on an ereader, I have not read the book? Please, tell me you are not serious.

Publishers need to be moving forward into the digital age, not dragging their feet. And the AAP needs to get over their sour grapes and shift into the twenty-first century so that they can help their members, not hinder them.

Mediums change. Yes, you will need to adapt to a changing landscape. That's what life is about: change and adaptation. So quit yer whining and get on board.

Rant over.

Read the Times' article here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Popular Culture and Copyrights

I've been blogging for over three years now and, during that time, I've addressed the issue of copyright more than once. Dating back to 2005, I've quoted Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor and columnist for Wired. I most recently mentioned him in a post here.

Lessig has now written a non-fiction book called Remix which promises to show "how we harm our children--and almost anyone else who creates, enjoys or sell any art form--with a restrictive copyright system driven by corporate interests" as well as offering solutions through what he calls a "hybrid economy."

I'm about a quarter of the way through the book and thought I'd do a post on it.

Lessig approaches the subject from the perspective of culture. He talks about two types of culture. The first is a RO (read only) culture in which members simply consume culture. Examples of this would be listening to music, watching a movie or reading a book. "With each, we're not expected to do much more than simply consume."

The second type of culture is a RW (read/write) culture where the members "add to the culture they read by creating and re-creating the culture around them. They do this re-creating using the same tools the professional uses..."

An analog technology lends itself to a RO culture.
In analog technology, "...first, any (consumer-generated) copy was inferior to the original; and second, the technologies to enable a consumer to copy an RO token were extremely rare. No doubt there were recording studios aplenty in Nashville and Motown. But for the ordinary consumer, RO tokens were to be played, not manipulated. And while they might legally be shared, every lending meant at least a temporary loss for the lender. If you borrowed my LPs, I didn't have them. If you used my record player to play Bach, I couldn't listen to Mozart.
Lessig points out that the producers of the content being marketed did not regard the limitations of analog technology as flaws. "For this nature limited the opportunity for consumers to compete with producers (by "sharing").

Of course, digital technology turned the RO culture on its ear. Consumers could now manipulate content.
" technology removed the constraints that had bound culture to particular analog tokens of RO culture ... When the content industry recognized this change, it was terrified. Digital tokens of RO culture would no longer conspire with the content industry to protect that industry's business model."
One of the things that digital technology has created is an expectation that we should have access on demand.
More and more, even to old folks like me, it seems astonishing to remember a time when to watch a television show, you had to synchronize your schedule to the schedule of the broadcaster. Absurd that if you missed an episode, that was it."

The expectation of access on demand builds slowly, and it builds differently across generations. But at a certain point, perfect access (meaning the ability to get whatever you want whenever you want it) will seem obvious. And when it seems obvious, anything that resists that expectation will seem ridiculous.

Ridiculous, in turn, makes many of us willing to break the rules that restrict access. Even the good become pirates in a world where the rules seem absurd.
Lessig sees the demand for universal access growing and suggests that there will be three possible models: (1) devices that simply provide access; (2) devices that meter access like a jukebox does, "deducting a fee for every download or play"; or (3) devices that police the access like a guard at the gate, monitoring the content being accessed and blocking access without the proper credentials.

Lessig suspects that much more content will be offered for free (the first model) while "digital technologies will continue to resist models that depend upon the heavy policing" (the third model).

Stay tuned for more as I continue to read this excellent book.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

B&N Reports On Holiday Sales

A two-post morning.

From today's Shelf Awareness:
Sales at Barnes & Noble fell 5.2% to $1.1 billion in the nine weeks ended January 3 and sales at stores open at least a year fell 7.7%. At Barnes& sales fell 11% during the period.."
From the press release:
Barnes & Noble experienced diminished traffic, and as a result, diminished sales, due to the unprecedented fall-off of retail shopping during the last quarter of the year. After a slow start to the holiday season, our store performance improved and we were able to post comparable store sales increases during the last two weeks of the season, enabling us to meet our sales guidance for the period to date. As a result, if sales trends continue, we expect full-year earnings per share to be in a range of $1.30 to $1.60, in-line with previously issued guidance.

The company currently has approximately $275 million of cash on hand and no borrowings under its $850 million Revolving Credit facility. The company’s inventory levels are appropriate given the current sales environment and, as a result, the company expects to end the year with no debt and a strong balance sheet.

My Relative Importance in the Family

Okay, I'm just going to say it.

Every once in a while, you need to be humbled . . . reminded of your place in the universe relative to others.

For the past two years, I have been telling my three brothers that it was time to move Mom out of her Florida home to a safer place. Initially, I suggested she come live with me. As she has gotten much worse, I began talking about a nursing home.

My brothers have been united in their agreement that they did not want to take her out of familiar surroundings. Mom would never agree to a stranger entering her home so that choice was out. My concerns that she might burn the house down or fall and break a hip fell on deaf ears.

By default, her dog Dancer has become her caretaker. He is fiercely loyal and has run the house for several years. He wakes her and tells her when it is time to eat or to go to bed. Caring for him has kept her in a routine. She has to take a shower and dress in order to walk him (actually he walked her).

Recently, Dancer refused to go for walks with Mom any longer. It was as though he was saying, "Uh, no. No more. I'm not taking this responsibility any longer. You guys need to do something because I ain't taking her outside this house any more."

And my brothers listened. Now because the DOG says she needs to be moved, they're taking action. Everything I said for the last couple of years was completely ignored, but they listened to the DOG!!!

Grrrrr . . .

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What's in Store for Borders

Another author asked me today if I thought Borders would survive.

Here is what I told her:
Borders is in an awkward place. They lost a lot of time and ground to B&N. Here is a list of just some of the mistakes they made:

1) They missed their early chance to go digital by ceding their online presence to in April, 2001 because they didn't want to pay the freight required to set up their own online presence. When they finally woke up and took the website back from Amazon two years ago, they had a lot of catching up to do. B&N already had a well-established online presence.

2) They didn't get into a loyalty program when B&N did. B&N started their "rewards" program in 2000. Borders waited until 2/2006. To make up time, they didn't charge for their loyalty program like B&N does. They took a huge hit during the Christmas season in 2006 when customers cashed in their rewards all at once.

3) Borders has made a decision to reduce the amount of stock on its shelves. The typical B&N has 125K to 150K books. Borders is downgrading to around 85K. Say you could travel in one direction to Borders and in the other direction to B&N. B&N has more inventory than Borders. Borders only discounts the best-sellers. B&N's loyalty program discounts all books in the store. Which direction are you going to drive?

4) B&N has a viable public domain printing operation. In most of their stores, the first couple of aisles of books are reprints of public domain books printed by B&N. No royalty expenses; just printing costs. Borders is choosing to go in a different direction. They are releasing exclusive and proprietary books to which they've obtained the rights.

Borders has a long road ahead of them. B&N is bigger, stronger, better funded, and more established. Borders can't hope to compete with either B&N or Amazon on the same turf.

Borders' only hope, IMHO, is to reinvent itself in a unique way so that they are not playing someone else's game. I've said for some time that I thought one of the changes we would see in publishing was unusual agreements and arrangements.

Last month, Borders was the first retailer to agree to a "no returns" contract with HarperStudio. In exchange for a deeper discount on initial orders of books published by HarperStudio--58% to 63% off the cover price, instead of the usual 48%--Borders won’t return any unsold books to HarperStudio.

If they are creative and innovative, they may survive--but not as a smaller version of B&N. They will need to become something completely different.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More on Borders and B&N

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal has an article on the change in management at Borders Group here.

Jeffrey Trachtenberg reported that Ron Marshall, the new CEO, started by making reassuring phone calls to publishers:
The shake-up at Borders, the nation's second-largest national bookstore chain, comes as book publishing and retailing are undergoing major changes, driven by readers who are buying more books online and, in some cases, switching to digital e-books.
Even so, the change in management at Borders helped the stock price while a major investment in Barnes and Noble, the #1 bookstore chain, helped to stabilize that stock. Publishers Lunch had this to say on Tuesday:
The stock of both Borders and Barnes & Noble rose significantly in yesterday's trading. BN was boosted by the disclosure of the big stake taken in the company's stock by activist investor Ron Burkle, after which genius Goldman Sachs Matthew Fassler upgraded his rating from sell to neutral. Borders rose following the news of the management shakeup, and has continued to climb this morning.
Burkle has purchased a 8.3% chunk of B&N.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Monday, January 05, 2009

Borders Changes Management

A little over two years ago, I reported here on George Jones, the new CEO at Borders Group.

Today, Borders issued a press release announcing it is replacing Jones with Ron Marshall, founder of the private equity firm, Wildridge Capital Management.

The press released points out that, unlike Jones, Marshall has a "specific bookstore background." He held a "senior management position . . ." with the "Dart Group Corporation's Crown Books division and Barnes & Noble college bookstores."

Larry Pollock, chairman of the Borders Group Board of Directors, had this to say:
"Progress has been made by Borders Group over recent quarters within the challenging economy to reduce debt, improve cash flow, cut expenses, enhance inventory productivity and improve margins, but it is imperative that the company more aggressively attack these initiatives to address its long-term future . . ."
Publishers Lunch reported:
In the same announcement, Borders reports sales for the nine-week holiday period of $869 million, down 11.7 percent from a year ago . . . Same-store sales at the company's superstores declined 14.4 percent (and 13.6 percent overall . . .
Publishers Weekly reported:
One focus of Marshall's will be avoiding a delisting from the New York Stock Exchange. Last week, the company was notified that because its stock has been trading at below $1 over the last 30 days, it may be delisted from the NYSE. Borders has about six months to improve its stock price or face delisting.
Read the press release here.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Publishers Cinching Their Belts

A belated Friday post. My final proofs for Bad Boy need to be FedEx'd back to NAL by Monday.

There was a lengthy article in Sunday's New York Times on the "New Austerity" in publishing.

The story details staff cuts and a move to holding sales conferences by Webcam instead of at glitzy resorts. The famed long lunches are being moved from expensive restaurants to more modest venues.
Book sales have deteriorated since the beginning of October, falling about 7 percent compared with the same period the previous year, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of sales. That slide is driving much of the immediate cutbacks, but the publishing industry is also being convulsed by longer-term trends, including a shift toward digital reading and competition from an array of entertainment options like video games and online social networking.
What does this mean for writers?

According to the article, "smaller advances and fewer books being acquired.'

Read the article here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Process of Writing

I hope you had a good first day of 2009. I did. I made sure to eat black-eyed peas, an old Southern tradition that insures good luck throughout the coming year.

Wishing all of you the best of luck in the new year.

I have a friend who is a talented painter. We had dinner recently and, after eating, we sat with glasses of liqueur and talked about our respective processes. To my surprise, I found that we shared a number of similarities.

When M gets ready to do a landscape, she begins by blocking out the prominent features--like mountains and buildings--to insure that she gets the perspective right. Once she has the larger attributes distributed across the canvas, she goes back to begin filling in the detail. Her final step is to add the light and shade. She contends that it is this step that separates the amateurs from the professionals, and that lighting and shade can make or break a landscape.

I was interested because I essentially follow the same process in my writing; only I do it chapter by chapter. This is largely because I am a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants. I get an idea for a story, sit down and begin writing without knowing much more than how the plot will begin and how it will end.

My usual process is to begin the story, but not to curb my tendency to wander off into backstory. I allow each of the characters to natter on as much as they like about their pasts. I don't try to curb them for two reasons: (1) It's how I warm up to a story, and (2) This is how I learn who the characters are.

Plus I plan to lop all this backstory off when I get to that first moment of action so I can afford to be indulgent.

Once I get to the moment of action, the real novel begins. I start by describing the action in the old journalistic tradition: who, what, when, where and why. I do this primarily through dialogue, which is probably my strongest skill as a writer.

When I have finished "blocking" out the prominent features of my chapter, I go back and begin filling in the detail. This usually means some narrative (often taken from that backstory--but only a line or two at a time) and some description. When I am writing that first run through above, I don't stop to describe the setting. During my second pass, I fill in a bit of detail to help anchor the reader as to time and place.

One of my critique partners, Linda, does such a great job with descriptions that I have learned an enormous amount from her. She uses wonderful metaphors and odd word pairings to describe her settings and her characters. This is usually where I add a touch of light humor.

My last pass on a chapter will be to fill in the emotional color. What are the characters thinking and feeling? This is the hardest part of the job for me. I do it mostly through internal dialogue to keep from drifting from "showing" into "telling." Without emotional color, your readers fail to connect to your characters. Too much and the story becomes soppy. Another of my critique partners does it so naturally that I envy her skill. When she critiques my chapters, she puts her finger right on the places where I need to flesh out the emotional story more.

I find that many newbie writers get so busy with their narrative and description of action and settings that they completely ignore the emotional side of the story. In my romances, I try to include both the hero and heroine's POV (in different scenes, of course). If you can get inside your characters' heads, you can listen to their reactions and express them on the page for your reader. Like my painter friend said about lighting and shading, emotional color can make or break your novel.

During each of my three passes over each chapter, I re-read and clean up the language and grammar. The result is, when I reach the end of the novel, I have very little more to do in terms of editing. That is, of course, until my editor and copy editor get their hands on the manuscript.

I am not suggesting that every writer needs to do three passes on a chapter. Every writer needs to find his/her way through their story. But ignore action, dialogue, narrative or emotional color at your own risk.

Happy writing in 2009.