Thursday, September 30, 2010

The First Amendment Under Attack in Texas

Bear with me for a few minutes today. I promise I'll get to the reason writers should be interested in this post.

In the United States, the right of the state to seize a citizen's private property with compensation, but without the owner's consent, is called eminent domain. This same right is called expropriation in Canada and compulsory purchase in the U.K.

Wikipedia says:
[Under eminent domain] The property is taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties who will devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, economic development. The most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are for public utilities, highways, and railroads ...
In 2005, in the case of Kelo v. The City of New London, in a 5-to-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that New London, Connecticut, could take non-blighted private property via eminent domain, and then transfer that property for a dollar a year to a private developer for the sole purpose of increasing municipal revenues.

I can still remember my absolute horror and outrage when reading about that Supreme Court decision.

The Institute of Justice (a non-profit libertarian public interest law firm) produced a video about the Kelo decision titled Kelo: Five Years Later. You can watch it here. The video claims that, since the Kelo decision, four states' Supreme Courts have rejected Kelo, and 43 states have changed their laws with more than half the states prohibiting the kind of tactics used in Kelo to label an ordinary area as "blighted" and then take a citizen's property and turn it over to a third party.

Which brings us to today's story. Dallas developer Hiram Walker Royall wanted to develop a marina in Freeport, Texas on some land his family owned. According to Forbes:
In 2002 Freeport wooed Royall with a plan to turn his family's land into a private yacht basin. Royall kicked in $750,000 worth of land. The city, which shares a building with a bank owned by Royall's extended family, lent $6 million for 25 years at 4.84%. All very cozy--except that Royall also wanted a 300-foot ribbon of land owned by Western Seafood, a $30-million-a-year business [owned by Wright Gore III and his family]. Royall offered $270,000; the Gores figured they'd need $1.3 million to reconfigure operations. In 2004 the city moved to grab the land under eminent domain (and pay a court-approved price), then turn it over to Royall.
Wright Gore did not go down easily. He started a website and rented billboard space to protest the hijacking of his property and his company. "The City of Freeport and Mr. Royall ganged up on us in an attempt to deprive us of our way of life for over 50 years. We are fighting for survival, for the right to make a living," he told reporters. "If our property were being taken for a road or a bridge, we would understand that as a public use. But to take away our property and our livelihood for another person's enrichment is just un-American."

Gore's family sued the City of Freeport in federal court; the city returned the favor, suing the Gores in state court.

Royall sued Gore for defamation, complaining that Gore wanted to "make people think that I'm just a rich jerk." Hmmmmm.

The story attracted the interest of Carla Main. In 2007, she wrote a book about the case. George Will described Main in an op/ed piece in the Washington Post:
An experienced journalist (former associate editor of the National Law Journal, she has written for the Wall Street Journal, National Review and numerous other publications), Main has recounted the case in her book "Bulldozed: 'Kelo,' Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land." Her thesis is that many "takings" of property for economic development are taking a terrible toll on the rights of everyday Americans.
My mother used to say that some people have more money than sense. According to Forbes:
Royall also filed defamation suits against Main, her publisher, a legal prof who wrote a blurb for the book, a reviewer and two newspaper companies.
George Will says that Royall's suit against Carla Main "ignores long-established criteria of defamation law, which holds that a statement is not actionable as defamatory if the speaker obviously is expressing a subjective view or an interpretation, theory, conjecture or surmise."

The Gores won both the federal and state suits against the city. The city is appealing. The Gores settled the defamation suit against Royall with their insurance company paying Royall $300,000 in exchange for a promise to leave the Western Seafood property alone.

The defamation suit against the law professor, Richard Epstein, who wrote the jacket blurb for Carla Main's book, was dismissed six months ago. However, the suits against Main and her publisher are still very much alive. A Dallas trial court ruled that Royall's case could continue. Yesterday's Publishers Weekly said:
A Texas Appeals Court yesterday heard a key defamation case that will decide whether books will get the same First Amendment protections as other media, such as newspapers, in the state of Texas ... Main's brief to the appeals court [said], 'Royall does not dispute the facts, or, indeed, any factual descriptions of things he said or did. Instead, he claims to have been defamed by the way Main characterizes the project and Royall’s involvement, the conclusions she draws from disclosed facts, predictions about the future effects of the project, and her political views. The First Amendment fully protects such speech, and Royall’s attempt to ban it by way of this libel suit must be rejected'.”
Go here to read the Forbes article.

Go here to read George Will's column in the Washington Post.

Go here to read the Publishers Weekly article.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happenings During Banned Book Week

Responding to an attack by an associate professor in Missouri who called Speak "soft pornography," the Penguin Young Readers Group took out a full page ad in today’s New York Times to defend the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson.

In an op-ed piece earlier this month in the Missouri News-Leader, Wesley Scroggins, associate professor of management at Missouri State University, wrote that Speak was not appropriate for students of the Republic School District and also challenged Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer. “That such a decorated book could be challenged is disturbing,” said Penguin’s Shanta Newlin about the decision to run an ad.

With Banned Books Week now in full swing (Sept. 25-Oct. 2), Penguin believes the ad points to the larger issue of books still being challenged in large numbers across the country, Newlin added. The ad, in fact, notes that "every day in this country, people are being told what they can and can't read," and it asks Times readers to "read the book. Decide for yourself."

First released in 1999, Speak was a National Book Award finalist, and is a staple backlist title for Penguin. Scroggins’s op-ed touched off a heated debate in the bookselling and library communities, and Anderson’s response and blog posts have received thousands of hits.

An editor's note at the end of Scroggins’s original piece from the Republic School District superintendent Vern Minor stated that Slaughterhouse-Five had already been removed and Twenty Boy Summer was under review, and while Scroggins is working to get Speak removed from classrooms there was no word if he has been successful.

Books don't harm people. Ignorance harms people.

I'm proud that Penguin's my publisher.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's a Duck!!!!!

Friday's Publishers Lunch pointed me to an article in Bookselling This Week titled "Booksellers Meet with CT Attorney General on e-Book Agency Model."
On Friday, September 17, indie booksellers met with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and members of his staff to discuss the digital content agency model and the dangers posed by below-cost pricing ... The booksellers stressed ... that they strongly support the agency model for the sale of digital content because it prevents predatory pricing practices by online superstores [read here: Amazon] and allows for a wide diversity of retailers in the marketplace.
The article goes on to say that, "According to published reports, the Texas attorney general is also making inquiries about the e-book market."

John Godfrey Saxe wrote a very famous poem here about six blind men who went to "see" an elephant. Each of them grabbed a different part of the beast's body and, therefore, described the elephant differently.

I'm not going to retrace my steps. Go here to read my June 2 post on the Texas AG's investigation.

Go here to read the entire article on Bookselling This Week.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Best Worst Lines

Thanks to Galley Cat again for reminding me of the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton's Fiction Contest for the worst opening line of the year.

The contest began in 1982 at San Jose State University to honor the memory of Earl Bulwer-Lytton who penned those well-known words "It was a dark and stormy night." Each year the contest looks for the worst opening sentence possible.

This year's grand winner:
For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.
The runner-up:
Through the verdant plains of North Umbria walked Waylon Ogglethorpe and, as he walked, the clouds whispered his name, the birds of the air sang his praises, and the beasts of the fields from smallest to greatest said, "There goes the most noble among men" -- in other words, a typical stroll for a schizophrenic ventriloquist with delusions of grandeur.
But my favorites were:
As Holmes, who had a nose for danger, quietly fingered the bloody knife and eyed the various body parts strewn along the dark, deserted highway, he placed his ear to the ground and, with his heart in his throat, silently mouthed to his companion, “Arm yourself, Watson, there is an evil hand afoot ahead.
The band of pre-humans departed the cave in search of solace from the omnipresent dangers found there knowing that it meant survival of their kind, though they probably didn't understand it intellectually since their brains were so small and undeveloped but fundamentally they understood that they didn't like big animals that ate them.
The dark, drafty old house was lopsided and decrepit, leaning in on itself, the way an aging possum carrying a very heavy, overcooked drumstick in his mouth might list to one side if he were also favoring a torn Achilles tendon, assuming possums have them.
Wearing his new slacks from L.L. Bean, and entering the pen to feed his three big dogs their usual three cans of dog food, some of which ended up on his new pants, Kevin then left the house to attend a revival screening of ‘Serpico’ with Alpo chinos.
Go here to find your own favorites.

If It Walks Like a Duck

My laptop overheated Friday morning. I took it into the shop and learned it needs a new fan. So my posting is likely to be a bit sketchy until the part comes in and is installed.

Here's Friday's post that I am belatedly posting today:

Yesterday's Galleycat had a post here about an interview author Danielle Steel did on CBS News. Steel was emphatic that she is not a "romance writer," saying:
[My books] are not really about romance; it's an element in life, but I think of romance novels as more of a category, and I write about the situations we all deal with: loss and war and illness and jobs and careers. Good things, bad things. I really write more about the human condition.
When the interviewer responded, "Love gets us through," Steel corrected her: "Hope even more than love helps us to get through."

Although I'm certain there are a lot of people who will scoff at Steel's description of her books, she's actually right. The clue is when she says "I think of romance novels as more of a category."

Steel is writing what the trade calls single title women's fiction.

Back in 2007 here, I quoted agent Jonathan Lyon's definition for women's fiction:
My own opinion is that [women's fiction] can be written by either a man or a woman. It needs to have a female protagonist. A relationship has to be one of the central themes (this could be a romance, mother-daughter, friends, sisters, etc.).
I still agree with Jonathan. A category romance is all about the protagonist's relationship with a man (or in a gay romance, with a member of the same sex). All other relationships are secondary to the romance between the H/h. And romance MUST have a HEA or happily ever after ending.

Women's fiction paints on a broader canvas. It places a woman at the center of a network of relationships and explores each with the same care that a romance gives to the hero and heroine's relationship.

Women's fiction explores the wider world around the protagonist. In many cases, the environment is almost a character. A romance novel meanwhile treats the world only as a backdrop to the all-important love story.

Having said all that, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Steel has sold 590 million copies of her 113 books.

So ... romance or women's fiction ... there's a market out there for her books.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Harris Poll of e-Reader Owners

The Harris Poll folk did a new survey about electronic reading devices.

The poll was taken from 8/9 to 8/15/2010 online of 2,77American adults (over age 18).

Extrapolating the results, Harris Interactive says that 8% of American use an electronic reading device.

Not surprisingly, owners of e-Readers read more than the average American. Only 19% of average Americans read 21 or more books a year compared to 26% of e-Reader owners.

Trying to nail down changes in habits, Harris asked whether the respondents read more now than six months ago. Fifty-three percent (53%) of e-Reader owners say they read more now compared to 18% of the non e-Reader population.

To read the entire survey results, please go here.

Of the respondents, 12% said they were likely to get an e-Reader over the next six months. Another 21% said they were not very likely to do so.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Speak Loudly

I came from an alcoholic and abusive family. I'm not ashamed to say it because I had no more say in the matter than I had over the color of my skin or the shape of my ears.

I'm proud of the fact that my father spent the last twenty years of his life sober, and that--through the grace of God--he and I repaired the very bitter divide that separated us for half my life. We had nearly two decades of a loving and supportive relationship before he died.

Having said all that, my childhood was the stuff of nightmares. I knew very early on that I was all alone. My mother had her hands full with paying the bills, raising four kids and keeping the family secrets.

The only safe place I knew was between the two covers of a book. I found peace in reading. Many years later, a therapist told me my real parents were on my bookshelf.

By age nine, I'd built a little library in my bedroom at the rate of two books a month (the limits set by my allowance). After my father destroyed my books, three librarians saved my sanity by recognizing the needs of the spooky little kid slipping in and out of their doors. They made two libraries--one at school and the other in town--my refuge.

I'm dredging all of this up today because of a post I read on the fabulous Janet Reid's blog. Janet said:
I think it's incredibly important that books for teenagers about horrible subjects--rape, incest, school shootings, death-- get published. And even more important that those books are available in libraries so kids can read them even if they can't afford to buy them, or don't want anyone to know they are reading them.
I'm here to say that is not an academic statement to me. It's where I lived.

I understand the desire of Christian parents to protect their children. But there are children out there whom child advocate Andrew Vachss calls "Children of the Secret" who don't have anyone to protect them. Those kids need to be able to find the books that help them work through their pain.

It can be unbearably lonely to think that you are the only person going through what you are experiencing. Books can introduce you to others, books can allow you to vent your fear and anger, BOOKS CAN HELP YOU FEEL NORMAL.

Even if what you are experiencing is far from the norm.

Saturday begins Banned Book Week. Please read the following posts. After you do so, I hope you'll decide to do what you can to help the Children of the Secret:

Start with Janet Reid here.

Let her take you to Myra McEntire here.

Myra will lead you to Veronica Roth here.

And don't forget C.J. Redwine here.

If you want to speak loudly, write a blog post.

If you don't have a blog, go to the Twitter thread at #SpeakLoudly.

If you don't have a Twitter account, add your voice to the comments here.

Never forget what Edmund Burke said: "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

And make no mistake. Good, well-meaning Christians can do evil in the name of the Lord.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Operation Dark Heart

Every week I listen to one of the funniest shows on public radio: Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me! Using a game show format, the one-hour broadcast does topical humor on the week's news.

This week I listened to the podcast on Sunday afternoon. Host Peter Sagal began a segment this way:
"Anthony Shaffer's new war memoir, OPERATION DARK HEART, promises to be a damning expose of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Well, the Pentagon is upset about all this information that's about to come out and have decided to do what?"
Celebrity contestant Luke Burbank first guessed that the Pentagon decided to crash the Amazon Kindle website and later suggested that perhaps the Pentagon decided to "disappear" the author.

Peter offered the hint that the Pentagon decided to take advantage of Amazon's free shipping for more than ten thousand copies. Luke then correctly guessed the Pentagon decided to buy up all the copies. Peter explained:
"The book alleges that the U.S. military had the chance to defeat the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but they screwed it up. The Pentagon--rather than allow the book to hit shelves--is negotiating with St. Martin's Press to buy the entire ten thousand first print run in order, they say, to protect classified information. This means that OPERATION DARK HEART will be an instant, if inexplicable, best-seller."
Peter also suggested other Department of Defense employees were rushing to release their own exposes. My favorite was WHERE THE WILD THINGS (AND OUR TROOPS) ARE.

I was so tickled by the news story, which I had not heard previously, that I googled OPERATION DARK HEART.

The Washington Post carried the story on September 10 here:
"Operation Dark Heart," which was scheduled to be published this month by St. Martin's Press, recounts the adventures and frustrations of an Army reservist, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served in Afghanistan in 2003, a moment when the attention of Washington and the military had shifted to Iraq ... A new print run, without the disputed passages, is being prepared by the publisher. Meanwhile, the first printing is sitting in a warehouse in Virginia.
Macmillan, parent company of St. Martin's, had this to say here:
On Friday, August 13, 2010, just as St. Martin’s Press was readying its initial shipment of this book, the Department of Defense contacted us to express its concern that our publication ofOperation Dark Heart could cause damage to U.S. national security. After consulting with our author, we agreed to incorporate some of the government’s changes into a revised edition of his book while redacting other text he was told was classified. The newly revised book keeps our national interests secure, but this highly qualified warrior's story is still intact.
If the Department of Defense paid retail, taxpayers are out $260,000. I'm hoping they negotiated for at least a 60% discount considering that SMP saved on shipping costs and got some great publicity out of the deal.

If you want to hear the entire Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me! podcast, go here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Whither Goes Value?

I'm back to address the question of value in publishing. As I begin, I'd like to point out a post on that subject by Kassia Krozser at Booksquare here.

Kassia describes her annoyance with a favorite author whose books are still being published in hardcover although the quality has noticeably slipped:

Very recently, the author confessed in a public forum that she’d been off her game with her recent releases. Health issues ...

[Her] publisher sold readers a book they knew was not very good ... So much for the gatekeeping function of publishers ... How are we supposed to discern value when we cannot trust publishers to perform the most basic duty of vetting books for quality?

Kassia makes an excellent point. Whether we pay $25 for a hardcover or $15 for a trade paper or $8 for a paperback, we want to know that we're going to get our money's worth.

And that leads me to the point of this post. The publishing industry has painted itself into a corner at exactly the worst time to do so. They've been heading this way for forty years, and now they're facing the perfect storm. Let me recap recent publishing history:

  • Deregulation of major industries began in the '70s, leading to the creation of giant conglomerates, which in turn led to concentration of the media industry. Along with radio and television stations and newspapers and magazines, independent publishing houses got snapped up by mega-corporations. The Big Six of publishing grew out of this movement.

  • Corporations must answer to their shareholders, who expect rising profits and fat dividends. Taking chances is dangerous when you must answer to your stockholders once a quarter. This reluctance to take chances led to publishers' increasing reliance on already proven entities like best-selling authors ... and led to bidding wars and huge advances for those mega-stars.

  • The need to earn out those advances explains the publishing rat race where an author is expected to produce a new book every year. This means that authors are put into the position of writing a new book while editing the last book and at the same time doing publicity for the book that was just released. Is it any wonder that quality begins to slip?

  • Meanwhile publishers and editors are on their own version of the never-ending treadmill. Under pressure to produce higher profits, they seek to cut costs while continuing to release best-sellers. The fear of making a mistake only increases the tendency to formula because everyone wants to sell what has already proven to sell before.
Over the last week, I've read two novels by authors whose earlier books simply delighted me. I was really looking forward to reading the new book from each, and both proved to be enormous disappointments.

I'd read multiple books by the first author and loved his characters, his world-building and his unique take on urban fantasy. This time around, he developed a complicated plot twist that reminded me of Laurell K. Hamilton's ardeur, a deus ex machina that came out of nowhere to solve the author's problems. The big clue that it wasn't working was that he spent more time explaining it than he did on moving the plot forward or on developing his characters. Because I'd wanted to support the writer's career, I'd bought the paperback new. [Shrug] I don't begrudge the eight bucks, and I'll probably try the next book, but my expectations won't be as high.

The other author was obviously trying to continue the momentum of a terrific first novel. He threw everything but the kitchen sink into the second outing. His villains were so bizarre, they kept me at a distance from the story. To make matters worse, the author's mode of delivery was simply too choppy. He used the device of skipping to a different subplot in each chapter so that, as a reader, I was keeping track of six different ongoing subplots. That, in and of itself, wouldn't usually have been an issue. However, his chapters were very short and the subplots very complex. I got tired of working so hard and of skipping all over the place.

The novel ripped the sheets with me over a continuity error. In Chapter 69 (a two-page chapter only halfway through the book), began with the protagonist talking to a woman through his earpiece. On the next page, she shook his hand -- through the earpiece??? I put the book down, and I don't expect to pick it up again. In my effort to support the author, I'd paid $15 for the trade paper. I feel ripped off and doubt I'll buy another of his books without an endorsement from someone I trust.

In both cases, the p-books had been released exactly a year after the previous outing in the two series.

It comes as a shock to some new authors. They've spent years honing and polishing their first novel. Then--all of a sudden--they have nine months to write a second novel while promoting that first book. And it gets tougher from there.

Think about it. As the industry moves to e-book releases, that annual timetable is probably going to shrink because e-books don't require the same amount of prep time to release that p-books do.

Add to that, the new agency model and arguments over book prices, and then throw in publishers trying to build their own brands, and you have the making of a perfect storm.

[Shakes head sadly]

Batten down the hatches.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

S&S To Launch Interactive Kids' Books

I'm sorry. My planned post for today will have to wait.

I've had word that my maternal aunt has died.

Please note an article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg here in yesterday's Wall Street Journal titled "Kids' e-Books Take the App Route."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Publisher as a Brand

I'm still trying to catch up after a week away from both my day job and my blogging life. I read two posts last night that I want to talk about. We'll discuss one today and the other tomorrow.

I've often mentioned Mike Shatzkin on this blog. Mike is a publishing consultant and a very smart man. Last week, he had a post here titled "Publishers, Brands and the Change to B2C" that I think well worth reading.

For years the publishing industry has operated under a B2B (business-to-business) model wherein they sold books to retailers who--in turn--sold books to consumers. But, as we've seen, the Internet is driving a stake through the bricks-and-mortar retail book business' heart. B&N and Borders are scrambling to stay alive.

Back in March, I talked here about a panel titled "The e-Book Tipping Point" held at the Digital Book World Conference. During the discussion, literary agent Larry Kirschbaum (formerly head of Time Warner's Publishing Group) said something that seriously caught my attention:
"Publishers have never really had to deal ... with their ultimate consumer. They've gone through intermediaries--whether it's retailers or distributors. Now they're in the game of dealing with their ultimate consumer ..."
Larry's comment brings me back to Mike's blog where he talks about moving from a B2B model to a B2C (business-to-consumer) model in which the publishers focus on selling directly to readers.

The problem with that plan is that readers don't usually go to a publisher's website when looking for a new book. Mike tidily summarizes the issue this way:
Authors are brands for consumer marketing purposes, but publishers don’t own those brands: the authors do.
Publishers are trying to get around this problem by building "communities" or "niches" of readers.

Back on June 1 here, I said:
I find it ironic that publishers are suddenly hot to build communities of niches. I can think of only three publishers who made the effort to build niche communities before it became recently fashionable:

1) Harlequin: romance
2) Thomas Nelson: Christian
3) Tor: sci fi and fantasy
Since then I've remembered one other: Kensington's Brava line, the first print imprint devoted to erotic romance in the U.S. Brava's first release was Intrigued by Bertrice Small in February, 2001. Along with many other women, I can remember snapping up every book Brava turned out--without regard to the author or plotline.

For years I have extolled Harlequin and Thomas Nelson for thinking outside the box while adapting to the changing publishing landscape. I'm still thoroughly disillusioned by their forays into vanity publishing. However, both have proven to be creative and ruthless in reworking (transforming) their businesses.

The Big Six could do worse than to copy Thomas Nelson. I wrote a lengthy post titled "Publishing 3.0" here in mid-2007 about Nelson dismantling the functional silos represented by their imprints. The company reorganized into divisions according to customer needs and with a focus on the Nelson brand. "If it doesn't add value, it disappears."

Tomorrow we'll talk about value. In the meantime, let me know if you think of any other publisher that deliberately or inadvertently built a niche market before the phrase became a buzz term.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Five Years Later

Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog, and this is my 2,015th post.

It seems like an eons ago when I wrote that first post. And, boy howdy, did my world change over the intervening years. Back on 9/14/2005, I didn't have a viable manuscript, didn't have an agent, and--although I prayed that one day I'd have a publishing contract--I wasn't really sure it would ever happen.

I felt like a lonely sailor, pushing a leaky little vessel away from the dock to begin a sea journey without a compass or map, just trusting in the Good Lord and the stars above to point the way.

Here are a few things I learned during that journey:

1) Write every day. Yeah, yeah, I know everyone says that, but there's a really solid reason why you need to do it: If you are constantly producing new material, it's easier to let go of the old stuff.

Everyone who's ever attended a conference knows a writer who's written one manuscript, which is more precious to him than gold. He's so invested in that one manuscript, he can't let go. He CANNOT move on. And let's face it. It's rare that an author produces Gone With the Wind or To Kill a Mockingbird right out of the starting blocks.

Keep writing. Your writing won't get worse, and--if you're serious about your craft--it will probably improve.

2) Read at least one thing about writing or publishing every day. I don't care if it's a review, a blog or an article in The New York Times. Don't expect to successfully navigate the publishing industry without learning to understand it.

3) There are many generous people in the industry. When one of them is kind enough to answer a question for you, the proper response is "Thank you very much." Do not abuse their generosity by continuing to pepper them with more questions or--worse yet--by arguing with them.

4) Begin early to develop a list of agents and editors who work in your genre. You'll see them thanked in dedications in books or read about them in articles about the industry. A number of agents now blog (see the panel to the right of this blog).

I invested $3.99 a month for several months to subscribe to (a subscription is now $5.99 a month). I later upgraded to Publishers Marketplace here at $20 a month, intending to drop the subscription in a couple of months. Five years later, and I'm still subscribing because I find the current information about the industry worth the expense.

5) Join writers' groups in person and online. Network. Find critique partners. Do NOT depend on relatives and friends for feedback. They love you. Get more objective criticism.

6) Don't ever give up. Remember Joe Konrath's motto: What do you call a writer who never gives up?


Patient Zero

I returned home from Florida on the day Hurricane Hermine visited the Gulf Coast. I spent most of the day in the Tampa Airport surrounded by American Airlines staff who kept promising my flight would take off as soon as the weather in Texas improved.

Although I got home nearly five hours later than planned to a city battling floods, I almost didn't notice. You see, I was reading a book by a new author. I'll tell you more about it and him in a minute.

The weekend before I left for Florida, I did my semi-annual "clear out some of the books" purge. I brought six bags of books to Paperbacks Plus in East Dallas where they gave me $39 in cash and $119 in store credit.

While I was waiting for the clerk to assess my trade-ins, I checked out the "Recently Published" shelves. I'd already been to B&N to pick up the fourth Connor Grey book by Mark Del Franco, Unperfect Souls, to read on the way TO Florida and was looking for something for the flight home.

I wasn't having much luck finding anything when I noticed a trade paperback by Jonathan Maberry titled Patient Zero. It was published in 2009 by St. Martin's Press. Here's the cover that caught my attention:

I opened the book to this first paragraph:
When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there's either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

And there's nothing wrong with my skills.
That's a seriously terrific opening. I carried the book up to the counter to buy it. The clerk exclaimed, "Oh, I've heard fabulous things about that book. I wish I'd seen it first."

Here's the cover copy:
Joe Ledger, a Baltimore detective assigned to a counterterrorism task force, is recruited by the government to lead a new ultrasecret rapid-response group called the Department of Military Science (DMS) to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bioweapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies.
The novel is fast and furious. A pharmaceutical company owner has joined forces with a Middle Eastern terrorist and the terrorist's scientist wife to develop a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). TSE diseases are fatal neurodegenerative diseases caused by a kind of misfolded protein called a prion. The best-known TSE is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, also known as Mad-Cow Disease. Another lesser-known TSE is Fatal Familial Insomnia. If you want to lose some sleep yourself, check out the Wikipedia entry on FFI here.

Maberry does a marvelous job of spinning his novel's premise from the factual details of TSE diseases and prions. In his world, the custom-made disease is spread by bites from infected subjects who become mindless enraged creatures after being bitten themselves. The terrorists plan to release infected subjects into the U.S. to destroy the country. Joe Ledger and his team are frantically trying to prevent that from happening.

The book is simply dynamite. I was on the edge of my plastic molded seat in the Tampa Airport, utterly riveted by the story. While I won't tell you any more about the novel, I will tell you something about the writer, Joe Maberry.

Maberry won the Bram Stoker Award for the Best First Horror Novel in 2006. In 2007, he won another Bram Stoker Award for the Best Horror Non-Fiction of the year. In 2008, he was nominated again for a Bram Stoker Award for the Best Horror Non-Fiction, although he didn't win. And in 2009 Patient Zero was nominated for a Bram Stoker for the Best Fiction Novel of the year. It lost out to Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan, a book I am determined to find because I can't imagine any awards committee picking another novel over this one.

If you think you might be interested in Patient Zero, Maberry's website offers this as a "prequel" to the novel. I suspect it's a draft of one of the early chapters. It will give you a taste of the book.

Glad to be home and looking forward to talking again about writing and publishing.