Thursday, April 30, 2009

And the Winner Is . . .

The copy of Bad Boy goes to Darley.

Thanks to everyone who participated.



Justice Dept Looking at Google Settlement

The New York Times had an article on Tuesday, reporting that the Justice Department is looking into the "antitrust implications" of the proposed Google settlement with authors over Google Book Search:
Lawyers for the Justice Department have been in conversations in recent weeks with various groups opposed to the settlement, including the Internet Archive and Consumer Watchdog. More recently, Justice Department lawyers notified the parties to the settlement, including Google, and representatives for the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild, that they were looking into various antitrust issues related to the far-reaching agreement.
No one from Google, the Justice Department, the Authors Guild or the Association of American Publishers was available to comment on the story.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Giving Away BAD BOY

To celebrate reaching my 500th Twitter follower (it took almost three months), I'm giving away a copy of Bad Boy.

Send me an email at

I'll pick the winner from the emails received. I'm doing it this way so guys don't have to "go public" asking for a romance. [Grin]

Warning: The book is very hot and very graphic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Google Deadline Postponed

From today's Publishers Weekly:
In a surprise move, New York Judge Denny Chin today granted a four-month extension to a group of authors, led by Gail Knight Steinbeck, delaying the May 5 deadline to opt out or object to the Google Book Search settlement to early September. Although the order had not yet been made public at press time, sources confirmed for PW that Chin had granted the extension.
From Publishers Lunch:
The authors' attorneys write that "even assuming perfect notice of the settlement--an assumption not well founded--the two months' notice afforded to authors is woefully inadequate to digest the extraordinarily complex settlement agreement, attempt to gauge its potential and long-term future implications in a vital marketplace, and make a reasoned judgment about whether to opt out, object, or appear at the fairness hearing."

Anatomy of a Royalty Statement

Popular author Lynn Viehl has posted her royalty statement from Penguin on her blog here. Agent Jenny Rappaport posted a companion blog, explaining Lynn's royalty statement here.

I strongly encourage all writers to read both posts.

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for the heads up.

Monday, April 27, 2009

B&N Announces Audiobook MP3 Store

Barnes & Noble issued a press release today:
Barnes & ( has launched its Audiobook MP3 Store, featuring audiobook MP3s available for instant download and transfer to iPods, iPhones, MP3 players and other portable devices. The Barnes & Audiobook MP3 Store offers easy downloads of more than 10,000 titles across all genres, from new releases and bestsellers to classics and timeless favorites. The average price per download will range between $10 and $20. . . Barnes & has partnered with OverDrive to manage the maintenance and distribution of titles in its Audiobook MP3 Store.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

State of Play

We went to see the film State of Play this evening. The movie is a political thriller starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren and Rachel McAdams.

Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, an old-time investigative journalist working for the Washington Globe. Mirren is his acerbic editor, and McAdams is the young upstart reporter who works on the paper's online blog.

The story has a strong opening: two deaths in Washington D.C. within hours of each other. McAffrey is assigned to cover the murder of a teenage thief who specialized in stealing briefcases and then ransoming them back to the owners. McAdams, as Della Frye, is assigned to the apparent suicide (by falling in front of a train) of a researcher named Sonia working on a probe into a Blackwater-type security company called PointCorp.

Ben Affleck is the up-and-coming congressman leading the investigation into PointCorp. He also happens to be McAffrey's college roommate and the dead researcher's lover.

When news of the affair leaks out, Congressman Collins and his probe lose credibility. He turns to his old friend McAffrey for help in proving that Sonia's death was a murder, not a suicide.

It doesn't take McAffrey long to tie both Sonia and the teenage thief's deaths together. He and Della, the young blogger, team up to figure out what really happened. When the clues seem to lead to the giant corporation PointCorp, both journalists face danger.

State of Play is based on a 2003 British miniseries by the same name. But this American adaptation has an updated subplot--a running commentary on the dying world of print newspapers. The Globe has recently been purchased by a giant media conglomerate, and Helen Mirren is struggling to churn out headlines in order to keep her readership up. When McAffrey complains about the inexperienced Della who seems more interested in gossip than hard news, Mirren snaps, "She's young, she's cheap, and she turns out copy every hour."

Crowe is overweight, scruffy and guilt-ridden (he once had an affair with Congressman Collins' wife played by Robin Penn Wright). It's hard to believe that Crowe and Affleck's characters were ever college roommates. In real life, Affleck is nine years younger. Crowe's poor physical condition only aggravates that difference, making it more obvious.

Affleck is his usual wooden self, which actually works for him in this role. McAdams does a serviceable job, but it is Mirren who steals every scene she is in.

The story is tight and moves fast . . . until the less-than-satisfying ending. I often tell newbie writers to keep throwing obstacles into the protagonist's path. However, I got the impression that, this time, the producers went a bit too far. IMHO, they threw one too many obstacles into McAffrey's way and spoiled an otherwise good film.

The clip that runs over the ending credits is an unashamed love song to the newspaper industry. This elegy shows the edited story working its way through setup, printing and distribution on the Globe's print floor. It is surprisingly effective.

The film was a dab of adhesive short of a "Honk if you love newspapers" bumper sticker, but I was glad to have seen it. It reminded me that the old-time journalists we saw at work in All the President's Men are a dying breed. During Earth Week while we worry about all the species going extinct, we should save some tears for those tough-minded men and women of print newspapers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Word Counts

Check out this old post from agent Colleen Lindsay's blog on word counts for various genres here.

Thanks to fellow writer Jeanne Lyet Gassman for the tip.

Update On Shortcovers

On January 16th, I posted here about a new e-book app called Shortcovers from Indigo Books, a Canadian company.

The Wall Street Journal described Shortcovers as:
. . . 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."
On Thursday, Indigo Books issued a press release:

Specifically, Shortcovers released the following information about its growth and global reach:

  • Users in 160 countries. Top global regions include the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India and China
  • More than 100,000 people have tried Shortcovers, and 10,000 registered with the service
  • The average purchase is just under $10 USD
  • The most popular purchases include the Twilight series and Outliers
  • Authors have contributed thousands of books, chapters, short stories and other works directly through

Indigo's executive VP reported that they'd expected most downloads to be on the iPhone, but the company had discovered Blackberry and Android users were also downloading Shortcovers' offerings.

Go here to read the entire press release.

Thanks to Publishers Lunch for pointing me to the story.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On The Nature of Conflict

I did a guest blog for Maria Zannini on Thursday on tips for writing suspense.

One of suggestions I made was to never ease up on your protagonists; to keep dogpiling them.

One of the people who commented complained that she was having a difficult time keeping her heroine and hero angry at each other.

That comment reminded me to say something about the nature of conflict.

Conflict does not equal angry spats between the hero and heroine. Manufacturing reasons to keep your protagonists angry at each other is not the same as having true conflict--obstacles that prevent the two from their "happily ever after."

If you start down that road, you'll find yourself creating misunderstandings that will feel artificial.

Conflict can be either external (events occurring in the plot) or internal (struggles within the protagonist: i.e. an endangered goal or an overwhelming anxiety).

When you're planning your novel, think about who your protagonist is--what are her goals and motivations? What is her greatest fear? What is the biggest obstacle she faces--both in her mind and in the world around her?

I tend to write two parallel storylines in my novels--what I think of as the relationship plot and the suspense plot. If the relationship is going smoothly, I create obstacles occur in the secondary plot. If the secondary plot is humming along, I look for conflict in the inner lives of my protagonists.

Throw genuine obstacles in your protagonists' paths; don't fall back on petty sniping between the hero and heroine. I promise, you won't regret it.

Seven Tips on Writing Suspense

I'll be posting today over at Maria Zannini's blog.

Maria asked me offer some tips on writing a suspense scene so I'm offering seven tips that work for me.

Go here to Maria's blog.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Ten Mistakes Writers Make

I recently discovered the blog of book editor and critic Pat Holt. Someone I trust mentioned the blog in passing.

I wandered around the site a bit and found a post that I think is worth reading. Titled "The Ten Mistakes," the post is about common errors that writers make.

Holt touches on the three most common pieces of advice for writers: (1) Show, don't tell; (2) Information dumps masquerading in the guise of "As you know, Bob" dialogue, and (3) Empty adverbs (ly) words. But she also has other recommendations writers should think about.

Go here to read the post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shatzkin's Observations on E-Books

Mike Shatzkin is one of the voices I pay attention to in the publishing world. He's been at the London Book Fair (April 20-22) this week.

His Monday post centers around e-books. I found one of the things he said very interesting:
The branding of ebooks is a mess. The publisher brand is being obliterated. You are buying a Kindle ebook or a Stanza ebook or an Iceberg ebook or an eReader ebook and not Random House, HarperCollins, or Hachette. Publishers are apparently just allowing this to happen. This is pretty ironic because most of the same publishers are mistakenly trying to imbue their brands with consumer significance.
I am one of those persons who pays virtually no attention to the publisher brand. The author, the genre, the title, the first page . . . I care about all of them. The publisher, no.

Read Mike's post here.

Interview With Radio Free Bliss

I did my first international interview with Kaz Augustin of Radio Free Bliss.

Go here to listen.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Los Versos del Capitan

In an extremely odd turn, I was drawn into discussions on poetry three times today.

Since I don't believe in coincidence, I'm yielding to the demands of the cosmos.

My shelves are filled with poetry. I love everything from Ogden Nash to Edna St. Vincent Millay. But my favorite poems are by the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. He was a diplomat and a leftist politician who supported the Communists. He also wrote passionate love poetry and won the Nobel Prize in 1971, two years before his death.

Here is one of my favorites called Night on the Island:
All night I have slept with you
next to the sea, on the island.
Wild and sweet you were between pleasure and sleep,
between fire and water.

Perhaps very late
our dreams joined
at the top or at the bottom,
up above like branches moved by a common wind,
down below like red roots that touch.

Perhaps your dream
drifted from mine
and through the dark sea
was seeking me
as before,
when you did not yet exist,
when without sighting you
I sailed by your side,
and your eyes sought
what now--bread, wine, love, and anger--
I heap upon you
because you are the cup
that was waiting for the gifts of my life.
I have slept with you
all night long while
the dark earth spins
with the living and the dead,
and on waking suddenly
in the midst of the shadow
my arm encircled your waist.
Neither night nor sleep
could separate us.

I have slept with you
and on waking, your mouth,
come from your dream,
gave me the taste of earth,
of sea water, of seaweed,
of the depths of your life,
and I received your kiss
moistened by the dawn
as if it came to me
from the sea that surrounds us.
That poem and this one--Absence--come from a book titled The Captain's Verses. My copy was translated by Donald D. Walsh and published in 1972:
I have scarcely left you
when you go in me, crystalline,
or trembling,
or uneasy, wounded by me
or overwhelmed with love, as when your eyes
close upon the gift of life
that without cease I give you.

My love,
we have found each other
thirsty and we have
drunk up all the water and the blood,
we found each other
and we bit each other
as fire bites,
leaving wounds in us.

But wait for me,
keep for me your sweetness,
I will give you too
a rose.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An Interview With Four Agents

Back on February 20 here, I directed readers to an article in Poets & Writers where Jofie Ferrari-Adler interviewed four young editors.

Now in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers, Ferrari-Adler does the same thing again--this time with agents. My friend, Jeanne Lyet Gassman posted about it on a writers' loop on Wednesday. Publishers Lunch mentioned it yesterday.

Here's an exerpt in which agent Maria Massie talks about when she reads a manuscript that grabs her:
MASSIE: . . . It's like you have this moment of clarity and you recognize something that you're so absorbed with. I read a lot of things that are beautifully written where I say to myself, "Oh, this is good," but I'm not bowled over or sucked right in. It's so subjective. I can read something and pass on it and I hear, two days later, that there was a bidding war and it sold for a ton of money, but it just wasn't the thing that I was going to fall in love with.

STEINBERG: And you're okay with that.

MASSIE: You have to be okay with it because it's so subjective. I'm not necessarily going to see what somebody else sees, or read a book the way somebody else reads it. That's one thing that writers who are looking for an agent should always remember: All agents are different. Everyone has different tastes. What I like to read might be different than Anna or Peter or Jim. That's a great thing about what we do--there's so much to choose from. And what you fall in love with is a very personal choice.
Go here to read the interview online.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Britain's Got Talent

Almost two years ago, I posted a video here from Britain's Got Talent, the UK show on which American Idol was based.

That video was Paul Potts' first performance on Britain's Got Talent. Unless you were in outer space or hibernating in a cave, you've probably seen Paul sing on television. His voice could convince an atheist that God was in His heaven.

This morning, I saw the first performance of another unlikely contestant for Britain's Got Talent. Susan Boyle is a 47-year-old unmarried, unemployed church volunteer living in the small town of Blackburn in Scotland. Her first performance on Britain's Got Talent was Saturday night.

Susan was an unlikely contestant. Here's a portion of the entry on her on Wikipedia:
Boyle is the youngest of nine children and lives in Blackburn with her ten-year-old cat, Pebbles. Boyle suffered oxygen deprivation during birth, resulting in learning disabilities. Her classmates teased her because of this and because of her appearance. She stopped her pursuit of singing to look after her sick mother who died in 2007, at the age of 91. Her performance on Britain’s Got Talent was the first time Boyle had sung after her mother's death.
Before she went out on the stage, Susan announced she wanted to rock the audience. Even though I'd been told her performance was amazing, the early mocking laughter from the audience made me feel anxious for her.

And then she opened her mouth to sing.

There's not much else for me to say. You just need to watch and listen. I've watched this video more than a dozen times, and it never fails to move me. The selection of the song "I Dreamed a Dream" was simply inspired.

Go here to observe Susan on YouTube.

Do Re Mi

I might as well post another video that delighted me. This event occurred at 8 AM on March 23 in the Central Station of Antwerp in Belgium.

According to the video's notes, the stunt included 200 dancers and was "a promotion stunt for a Belgian television program, where they are looking for someone to play the leading role in the musical of The Sound of Music."

Go here to watch it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Atta Girl!

Well, color me happy. Now that Amazon restored its book rankings, my first novel, Bad Girl, is #8 in the Best-Sellers for Single Women's Fiction. And this is nineteen months after its release.

Now it's Bad Boy's turn to show if he has legs.

February Bookstore Sales

From today's Shelf Awareness:
During February, bookstore sales fell 10.8% to $1,021 billion compared to the same period in 2008--down for the first month this year--according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the year to date, bookstore sales dropped 3.2% to $3,318 billion.

By comparison, total retail sales in February dropped 12.8% to $273.006 billion compared to the same period a year ago. For the year to date, total retail sales were down 11.2% to $555.083 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Amazon Source Talks

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had several articles over the past two days on the Amazon glitch that resulted in more than 50,000 books losing their ranking on the retail site. Here's an excerpt from one:
On Sunday afternoon . . . had upgraded the problem to Sev-1. ( breaks down its operational issues in terms of severity levels. Sev-3 means a problem affects a single user. Sev-2 is a problem that affects a company, or a lot of people. Sev-1 is reserved for the most critical operational issues and often are sent up the management chain to the senior vice president
level.). . . employees are on call 24/7, and many began working on the problem from home. It didn't take much digging to realize that there was a data error.

Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as "adult," the source said. (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from 'false' to 'true.')

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Closer Look at Amazon

My Amazon rankings are back up on Bad Girl and Bad Boy tonight. Apparently their "glitch" is fixed.

I promised to talk more about Amazon today. We're going to quickly trace Amazon's strategy for growth in the publishing world and then talk about its growing willingness to throw its weight around.

Amazon has moved to position itself vertically in the publishing market. 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 clout to gain further advantages. This is a case where the sum of all parts is worth far more than the individual parts alone.

Amazon 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.

  • In 2001, Amazon launched its Marketplace, a service that let customers sell used books, CDs, and DVDs alongside new items.
  • In March, 2005, Amazon purchased BookSurge, a print-on-demand company along with Mobipocket, an e-book software company
  • In July, 2005, Amazon purchased CreateSpace, a distributor of on-demand DVDs. CreateSpace has since expanded its service to include on-demand books
  • In May, 2007, Amazon acquired Brilliance Audio, an independent producer of audiobooks based in Grand Haven, Michigan
  • In November, 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle, e-book reader with wireless capacity
  • In February, 2008, Amazon announced it would purchase, another producer of audiobooks
  • In August, 2008, Amazon announced it would purchase AbeBooks, a used bookseller, which also gave it a piece of LibraryThing, a social networking website for books. AbeBooks also gave Amazon ownership of, a new and used bookseller;, a rare and out-of-print bookseller; and FillZ, a listing management service.
  • Also in August, 2008, Amazon announced it would acquire Shelfari, another social networking site for readers
  • In March, 2009, Amazon began offering a free Kindle application for the iPhone and iTouch.

Amazon owns a print-on-demand operation, a distributor, an online retail operation for both p-books and e-books, several important retail sites for used or rare books, two audio book operations, produces a wireless e-book reader, and operates several important social networking sites for books.

In late March of last year, Amazon first began to show its willingness to throw its weight around. The Wall Street Journal reported: Inc., flexing its muscles as a major book retailer, notified publishers who print books on demand that they will have to use its on-demand printing facilities if they want their books directly sold on Amazon's Web site.

The move signals that Amazon is intent on using its position as the premier online bookseller to strengthen its presence in other phases of bookselling and manufacturing.
Two months after Amazon began pushing small U.S. POD publishers around, a battle erupted in the U.K. when Amazon began removing the sell buttons for publishers from its website if the publisher refused to give more favorable terms to the online retailer. Hachette Livre UK, Britain's largest publisher, went public with the fight.The Bookseller reported on it here:
Amazon conducts yearly negotiations with publishers over the discounts it receives. The Hachette tussle comes in the wake of a similar dispute in January, when a number of Bloomsbury titles were temporarily removed from sale through Amazon's main channel.
The negotiations went back into the closet, and Hachette's sell buttons re-appeared.

Three months ago, I posted this 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.
And then, of course, two months ago, the release of the Kindle 2 raised that fuss about the text-to-speech feature. Amazon backed down from that fight.

Last month, Amazon made the news in the UK again. Publishers Weekly reported: is offering publishers participating in its Advantage scheme an "early payment" option of 15 days, in exchange for an extra 2% on top of the current discount given by publishers.

The catch is that publishers who do not offer the extra discount will see their payments made on Amazon's "standard terms"--effectively 60 days. This means a publisher who sells a book through Amazon in April would not be paid until the end of June. Under the revised terms, a publisher would be paid on 15th May--a full 45 days earlier . . .
Then we come to Easter Week.

Like most bloggers, I don't buy the computer glitch story. And here's why. There's a writer named Craig Seymour who is journalism professor with a PhD. His book on Amazon is All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Washington, D.C.
His blog is here.

Craig says his sales rankings disappeared back in early February and, when he did a search on Amazon's site, it failed to pull up his book. The only way a reader could locate it was by having URL link. When he pressed Amazon for an explanation, he received the following email message:
"the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons: The ISBN #1416542051 was classified as an Adult product."
Seymour complained about this on the Internet throughout March without attracting much attention.

My fantasy theory suggests that some fool at Amazon made the individual decision to implement a censorship policy. The idiot first practiced with a few cases like Seymour and then decided to celebrate Holy Week by going hogwild on all kinds of books s/he deemed inappropriate.

I'll admit I'm much more comfortable picturing an individual censor than an entire company focused on corporate comstockery. It frightens me to imagine a corporation with as much power as Amazon attempting to shape the reading habits of its customers.

As I post this, the petition has over 21,000 signatures. Collected in 48 hours. That's a powerful message to a company like Amazon. You may be moving to dominate the publishing industry, but never forget who pays the bills.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Amazon Says They Had a "Glitch"

From tonight's Publishers Weekly:
A groundswell of outrage, concern and confusion sprang up over the weekend, largely via Twitter, in response to what authors and others believed was a decision by Amazon to remove adult titles from its sales ranking. On Sunday evening, however, an Amazon spokesperson said that a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy.
The LA Times also reported on this "glitch":
Responding to our initial post, Amazon Director of Corporate Communications Patty Smith e-mailed Jacket Copy. "There was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed," she wrote. "We're working to correct the problem as quickly as possible."

We wanted to know more. We asked for further explanation of the glitch . . .

The reply: Unfortunately, I'm not able to comment further. We're working to resolve the issue, but I don't have any further information.
Read the LA Times article here.

Update On The Amazon Fiasco

I just spoke to someone at the Amazon Customer Service site (800--201-7575) who said that he apologized and a request had been submitted to reverse this new policy. He just kept repeating, "We've heard from other people who feel as you do, and we sincerely apologize."

Of course, they didn't apologize when I called them a year ago to complain about their shoddy treatment of independent and small publishers. They were--and still are--requiring small publishers to use Amazon's proprietary book printer BookSurge to get favorable placement on their website.

Unless we as consumers respond with our wallets to big business' bad behavior, they take no notice.

I'm glad to see readers everywhere uniting to oppose this very sneaky form of censorship.

Amazon Strikes Again

As I've mentioned before, my newest erotic romance, Bad Boy, was released on Tuesday.

One of the addictive things about a book release is checking your sales rankings. When Bad Girl was released, I checked compulsively every hour or two. This time around, I've been limiting myself to a daily check.

On Friday morning, I noticed there were no sales rankings for Bad Boy. Thinking it was a computer blip, I checked Bad Girl, too. Nothing there either.

I figured--it being Good Friday--maybe Amazon was understaffed. My university considers Good Friday (which we call "Spring Break" to be politically correct) a holiday. I decided to wait until Monday when things got back to normal to check again.

Imagine my surprise to learn via Twitter that Amazon has a new policy relating to "adult" books. Mark R. Probst was the first person who had any solid information to offer on his blog:
As I am a publisher and have an Amazon Advantage account through which I supply Amazon with my books, I had a special way to contact them. 24 hours later I had a response:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature . . .

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage
You can read Mark's entire post here.

By now, the #amazonfail thread on Twitter is over one hundred pages long. You can find it by doing a search for #amazonfail here.

Initially, people thought it was gay and lesbian literature being excluded. Then erotic literature was added to the list. Now classic works of fiction and non-fiction are on the list, including works by James Baldwin, E.M. Forster and Annie Proulx. And a how-to manual on sex for the disabled.

I wonder if Ray Bradbury expected to live to see Fahrenheit 451 in real life.

I'll admit it. It's an effort not to say "I told you so."

There . . . Now that I said it, I can relax.

This initiative should come as no surprise. Amazon has been sending signals of their determination to dominate publishing for a long time now. They have been moving to integrate vertically through their purchases of Abe Books, Audible, BookFinder, BookSurge, Brilliance Audio, FillZ, GoJaba, Library Thing, Mobipocket and Shelfari as well as their development of the Kindle e-reader.

I did a pair of posts last June 7th and 8th here and here, predicting the future. In the second one, I said: "Eventually Amazon will have so much power, they will be able to decide WHAT is worthy of being published."

While Amazon is jumping the schedule I predicted, I have no doubt that their intent is to be the dominant player in the book industry.

In my next post, I'll talk about this some more.

If you want to take a stand now, you can go sign a new petition here. In the time it has taken me to write this post, the number of signatures has doubled.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

My Take On Agents

On Sunday, I did a post on query faux pas, mistakes writers make when submitting a query letter. I included the statement:
. . . it's not a great idea to offer your own review of your unsold manuscript. Don't make grandiose promises that "every reader will love this novel" or "my manuscript is a guaranteed best-seller."
On Thursday, Nathan Bransford directed readers of his blog to a post by Rachelle Gardner here, "Your Queries Say a Lot About You."

Among the things Rachelle says is:
Once they've [the writer] over-sold themselves in the query, I'm less likely to want to work with them. Why?

When a writer oversells themselves in the letter, it gives me an idea of their expectations . . . If their expectations aren't met, it's somehow going to be my fault. If they're thinking "blockbuster bestseller" and their book does anything less than #1 on the NYT list, they're going to be unhappy.
In reading Rachelle's post, I was reminded yet again of the very tough job that agents have.

Don't believe me? Think about taking a job where:
  • You don't eat until you make a sale. Oh, yeah, I can already hear the salespeople in the audience saying, "Hey, I live on commissions, too." But . . . do you have to first identify the product that you will be selling, and then do you have to bear all the up-front costs of selling that product without knowing whether it will ever bring in a dime?
  • Let's remember that agent Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants reported in 2008 she read on average 673 queries a week, looking for the 21 books she actually sold that year (remembering that some of those books probably included second or third books from clients) . Think of the enormous amount of time spent in reading 96 queries each and every day . . . before you can even go out and try to sell it.
  • Rachelle's post reminds us that agents have to be amateur psychologists, able to assess the potential client. Is this going to be a demanding prima donna, or an obsessive "I won't change a word of my magnum opus" type?
  • Writers sometimes forget that agents face rejection, too. An agent falls in love with a manuscript, takes on the writer as a client and then begins querying publishers. While beginning writers are devastated by rejection, that rejection does not usually mean they might not be able to pay the light bill for the month. This is because most writers have another career that they are working at while they wait to sell their books. Agents--on the other hand--have only their career as agents. For them, rejection means no dollars coming in. And at the same time, they have to move on to the next publisher and try to sell that same manuscript that was just rejected. They cannot allow themselves to wallow in self-pity.

Frankly, I did not buy into the whole angst thing over #queryfail recently. When I was looking for an agent, I was lucky enough to find Miss Snark's blog. Every time she reported on what was wrong with a query, I learned something. She was tough, but fair. She taught me to "man up" and "quityerbellyachin."

Publishing is not a business for wimps--either agents or writers. If you can't stand the heat, go into a less tough business. Maybe competitive race car driving or wrestling.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Romance Bullish In a Bear Market

Yesterday's New York Times had an article titled "Recession Fuels Readers’ Escapist Urges."
At a time when booksellers are struggling to lure readers, sales of romance novels are outstripping most other categories of books and giving some buoyancy to an otherwise sluggish market . . .

While sales of adult fiction overall were basically flat last year, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, the romance category was up 7 percent after holding fairly steady for the previous four years.
The article quotes Jane Litte from Dear Author saying that, in bad times, a happy ending is "really kind of a relief."

Libraries are seeing an upsurge in readers as the economy limits readers' discretionary dollars.
At Fictionwise, the e-book seller recently acquired by Barnes & Noble, about 50 percent of sales are romance books, said Steve Pendergrast, chief technology officer. “Romance readers tend to be voracious readers,” Mr. Pendergrast said. “The ability to instantly download and start reading is potentially more important to that audience than any other audience.”
To read the entire article, go here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

January Book Sales

Shelf Awareness had an article on Monday about January book sales reported each month by the Association of American Publishers.

Book sales rose 3.6% while e-book sales rose 173.6%.

Of course, the e-book sales of $8.8 million are a drop in the bucket compared to book sales of $785 million.

Other interesting stats indicate adult books are suffering while children's books are doing well:

Adult mass markets fell 12% to $56.4 million.
Adult paperbacks dropped 24.7% to $102 million.
Adult hardcovers fell 33.9% to $60.5 million.

Children's/YA hardcovers rose 60% to $54.4 million.
Children's/YA paperbacks climbed 9.3% to $37.4 million.

Audiobooks fell 45.9% to $7.7 million

Monday, April 06, 2009

Helping a Bad Boy Out

Tomorrow is the official release date of Bad Boy. I'd like to help the little guy make his way in the world.

If you're looking for someone to interview or to do a guest blog, email me at

Thanks and regards,


Author Solutions Gobbles Up Another Rival

Author Solutions, the Mother of Self-Publishing, has just purchased yet another of its rivals.

According to this morning's Publishers Lunch, Author Solutions has purchased Canadian self-publisher Trafford Publishing: "CEO Kevin Weiss tells the WSJ his company will have close to $100 million in sales in 2009."

In addition to Trafford, Author Solutions now owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris and Wordclay. Wikipedia claims AuthorHouse and iUniverse are the #1 and #2 self-publishing operations in the United States. Entrepreneur interviewed Keith Ogorek, Author Solutions' director of marketing here in April last year:
"As a company, Author House will publish about one of every 17 titles in the United States this coming year," Ogorek says. That's about 20,000 titles.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Query Letter Faux Pas

A couple of times a week on one of my writer loops, newbie writers will ask for feedback on query letters, or else I'll get an email, asking me to vet a query letter.

This week I saw several letters with the same errors in common. I thought I'd mention them here:

1) Using vague language to describe a manuscript. Three of the letters I read this week used generalized terms to describe a novel. Each barely mentioned the actual plot or protagonist.

While the following lines weren't in the queries I read, you'll get the idea: "My manuscript is about the ultimate triumph of mankind." "This is a novel of redemption and loss."

The phrase "The ultimate triumph of mankind" could apply to War of Worlds, Schindler's List, Clash of the Titans or Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio. It tells the agent or editor nothing about the story.

Cluestick: If I'm trying to sell a novel, I need to describe specifically what the story is about.

You could describe To Kill a Mockingbird as a tale of racial oppression and injustice in the South. However, if I were writing the query, I'd probably talk about the two parallel threads: Scout describing her challenges in growing up in the 1930s at the same time she is observing the adults of Maycomb County, Alabama during a politically explosive trial.

Remember the journalist's "who, what, when, where, why and how." Resist the urge to use nebulous adjectives more suited to a book review.

2) While I'm on the subject of book reviews, it's not a great idea to offer your own review of your unsold manuscript. Don't make grandiose promises that "every reader will love this novel" or "my manuscript is a guaranteed best-seller." Don't describe the reactions of your beta readers or critique partners.

Let the agent/editor make his/her own judgment of the worth of the manuscript.

3) And, finally, resist the temptation to describe your entire family, your job or your educational achievements . . . unless they have specific application to your manuscript. If your five adorable children, Schnauzer and goldfish have no bearing on your manuscript, don't mention them.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Sorry for being "missing in action." I'm getting ready for the release of BAD BOY. I'll catch up on posts tonight or tomorrow morning early.



Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More Thoughts On Google

Yesterday I posted here about two agents with very different attitudes toward the Google settlement and whether it is a positive move for authors. I promised to offer my view today.

I've been posting about Google Book Search for almost four years and--for most of that time--pointing out the benefits it would offer writers. Back in 2005, I said this:
Now, just think for a minute. Let's say you're a writer who wrote the definitive book on how to cook pork. However, your book has been out of print for years. Then comes next summer, when consumers are avoiding beef (because of high cholesterol and mad cow) and avoiding chicken (because of the avian flu) in favor of the other white meat. A Google search of "pork recipes" turns up your book along with four lines of text with mention of a great recipe. In addition, a link sends the searcher to the only cookbook store that still carries copies of your book. Would you be glad or mad?
About two weeks after I wrote that, Kevin Maney, the technology columnist for USA Today said here:
Publishers and authors had better get on this bandwagon, because the drive toward putting books online is not going away. Yahoo and Microsoft have jumped into book scanning. The book industry needs to get out in front of this and be a part of it — and benefit from it.
I cheered for Google Book Search until October 24, 2007 when I quoted a line from an article in the New York Times:
Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services.
Even though I understood Google's desire to block its largest competitor--Microsoft--I was seriously disturbed by this contract clause. I didn't like Google's obviously anti-competitive effort.

In February, 2007, Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst for CNN and The New Yorker, wrote a long article here about Google's quest for the universal library. Remember, this was almost two years ago . . . long before the actual announcement of the settlement. Here's a quote from Toobin's article:
. . . a settlement that serves the parties’ interests does not necessarily benefit the public. “It’s clearly in both sides’ interest to settle,” Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, said . . . Google wants to be able to get this done, and get permission to resume scanning copyrighted material at all the libraries. For the publishers, if Google gives them anything at all, it creates a practical precedent, if not a legal precedent, that no one has the right to scan this material without their consent. That’s a win for them. The problem is that even though a settlement would be good for Google and good for the publishers, it would be bad for everyone else.”
Google was happy to settle. By settling, they got to go back to scanning books and, at the same time, created a precedent that will help prevent competitors from muscling into their territory.
"If Google says to the publishers, ‘We’ll pay,’ that means that everyone else who wants to get into this business will have to say, ‘We’ll pay,’ ” Lessig said. “The publishers will get more than the law entitles them to, because Google needs to get this case behind it. And the settlement will create a huge barrier for any new entrants in this field.”
So, now, any future competitor to Google Book Search will not only have to take on the enormous expense of scanning the world's books, but also agree to pay the publishers for a listing in what amounts to a giant card catalog. A giant card catalog that benefits those publishers (and their authors) by drawing attention to their books . . . even those books that are long out of print.

Writers have traditionally had a very small window in which to sell books before they were removed from the shelves of retailers. After that, an authors' only hope for attracting new readers was through remainder sales or used book sales. And, remember, authors don't earn royalties on used book sales and very little, if any, on remainder sales.

Google's initiative offered authors and publishers an opportunity to breathe new life into out-of-print books. Leave it to the Authors Guild--with its usual retro stance on anything innovative
--to decide to sue Google.

Great move, guys. I haven't seen business acumen like that since GM decided to kill the electric car. And how'd that work out for them?

Sure, in the short term, Google will pay authors for the right to list their books on the search engine, and the publishing industry will sell books that might otherwise never have earned another penny in sales.

But those idiots who sued Google have helped to build a tall wall protecting the search engine from its competitors. It's unlikely that any contender will be able to scale that wall now that they will not only have to pay the cost of scanning books but also have to pay publishers a licensing fee.

IMHO, the public is not served by Amazon and Google's monolithic control over large parts of the publishing industry.