Posted in Publishing, Reading, Writing

I’m sure there’s a better way to do this

Someday, I am going to learn all about blogging. (Should have done that before I began, eh?) I know there are ways to link my blog to other people’s blogs, but I’m not only unsure how to do this, I suspect that there is some sort of protocol — a secret handshake or other ritual — required before one takes such a step. So, since I don’t know how else to do it, I’m going to paste links to a couple of blogs I have been featured on lately:

Romance Novel News (they interviewed me about self-publishing, but if you’re already reading this blog you’re probably heartily sick of the subject) and Heroes & Heartbreakers, who posted an absolutely lovely article about my work called “The Return of Diane Farr.”

Okay, I’m diving back into my writing cave now. For all of you who were expecting a sequel to Wicked Cool prior to Halloween, all I can say is … believe me, I’m disappointed too. Augh!!

Advertisements
Posted in Publishing, Writing

Wow. Just … wow.

I went through this blog tonight, assigning “categories” to my posts. (Because, let’s face it, there’s always some super-urgent chore like that demanding my attention and preventing me from writing.) And I came across one I’d titled “The Truth About E-Books.”

I couldn’t assign a category to it because I couldn’t remember what it said. So I read it.

And that was my “Wow. Just … wow.” moment.

My contention, in that blog post, was that e-books are for amateurs and hobbyists. That print publishing is the way to go, if you can. Which is why e-books are for amateurs and hobbyists — you know, the ones who can’t get published by a “real” publisher.

It’s hard to believe I wrote that less than a year ago.

How quickly things change in this business!

Posted in Writing

Dude, Where’s My Sequel?

I’m working on it, okay? Don’t rush me.

Seriously, I’d love to blame my on-again, off-again blogging efforts on the fact that I’m writing a sequel to Wicked Cool, but the truth is, I’m just a lazy blogger.

I’m also a painfully slow writer. And I really, REALLY want to have Scary Cool out in time for Halloween. So what little writing time I have, I am devoting to the book. Understandably, I hope.

I’ll check in when I can, though. I promise.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

The Truth About Amazon Reviews

It has come to my attention that savvy consumers view 5-star reviews on Amazon with suspicion. Not reviews of vacuum cleaners or cameras, mind you. But book reviews? Nowadays, a 5-star review of a book you’ve never heard of is (I am told) assumed to be a plant.

In a world where anyone can publish and anyone can review, it’s expected that authors are, naturally, bludgeoning their friends and relations into posting rave reviews on Amazon. And they do! The abuse of Amazon’s customer review system by hyperactive, anxious authors, desperate to compete in an ocean of content where most books sink without a ripple, is so well-known that the trick is no longer effective. (Is it fair to call it a “trick”-? Aw, heck. For purposes of this blog post, let’s call it a trick.)

The problem is, sometimes a 5-star review of a book you have otherwise never heard of is genuine. The reader not only read the book, but loved it. How is a would-be book buyer to discern the difference between puffery and honest enthusiasm?

Do you, Gentle Reader, have a system of weighing customer reviews that winnows the wheat from the chaff? If you do, please share it with us.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that WICKED COOL received a 1-star review last week. This is always painful to an author — but it doesn’t, you know, ruin your life or anything. Your voice is not going to connect with everyone. Some people can’t stand Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean Shakespeare sucks. I don’t care who you are, or how well you write, some readers are not going to “get” you. That’s just the way it is in this business. I am grateful that my 5-star reviews outnumber my 1-star reviews, but this was certainly not the first 1-star review I have received. Just the first for this book.

What gave me pause this time around was that a Facebook friend clued me in to The Awful Truth: ALL my other reviews were 5-star reviews. So when the 1-star review popped up, in a lot of people’s minds it instantly negated all seven of the other reviews. (And, apparently, the professionals quoted under “Editorial Reviews.”) The experienced Amazon consumer would, based on the picture currently presented, assume that all seven of the 5-star reviews were posted by my mother. And the 1-star review was the only “honest” review.

Wow. What a catastrophe.

I am hereby going on the record and coming clean about those eight WICKED COOL reviews. I am personally acquainted with one, but only one, of the people who posted a 5-star review. Three more, however, are very kind and interested internet friends. So four of the really good reviews you can, perhaps, dismiss. (If you must.) The other three? I have no idea who those people are.

I also have no idea who the 1-star reviewer is, unfortunately.

I’ll tell you why I care: 9 times out of 10, I choose the books I buy based on customer reviews. So the idea that people are going to dismiss ALL the good reviews of  WICKED COOL and only believe the bad is turning me pale.

Posted in book promotion, Books, Publishing, Writing

What to Expect when you E-Pub

I have never understood how books find readers.

If you are a reader, you probably pictured it the other way round: readers finding books. But as an author, I’m here to tell you, books find readers. They reach out to you with their attention-grabbing cover art, their carefully-chosen titles, even (eventually) the author’s name — once the author has sold enough books. In the world of print publishing, sometimes the author’s name is, itself, chosen to attract you. Julia Quinn, for example, invented her pen name to place her books on the shelf next to Amanda Quick, an already-established author writing in her sub-genre. It worked so well that newer authors now vie for the honor of being shelved next to Julia Quinn. And so on.

It helped, of course, that Julia Quinn’s books were terrific. But I digress.

More thought, preparation and money goes into crafting the look and feel of a book than readers can possibly imagine. Cover artists are routinely paid more than authors. Marketing people argue and brainstorm for hours, I am told, figuring out how to ensure that this particular book reaches its audience — the people who, all unwittingly, are destined to enjoy it most. However true the adage may be that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you do. We all do. And it is an important part of a publisher’s job to design and market each book in such a way that it efficiently telegraphs its essence at a glance. How do they do this?

I don’t know.

Publishers do not hawk books the same way other businesses hawk toothpaste, beer, or automobiles. Because you, Gentle Reader, would not buy a book based on an advertisement you saw on TV or in a magazine. You buy the books your friends urge you to read, or — better yet — you wander the aisles of a bookstore or library until some lucky book catches your eye and your interest. You pause. Pick it up. Turn it over and read the back cover copy (over which many people have sweated, unseen and unsung). Based on what you see there, perhaps you open the book and glance at the first paragraph. And then you either return the book to the shelf or … and this is the moment for which so many, from the author to the clerk behind the counter, have labored and longed … kismet. You fall in love.

It’s a mysterious, and oddly intimate, process. We have a relationship with the books we read. Reading them requires a commitment — first of money, then of time, an even more precious commodity. Buying a book is a very big deal.

So now we come to the brave new world of e-publishing. No wonder traditional publishers are flummoxed. And authors even more so! In the old days — you know, two or three years ago — all an author had to do was write a book and hand it over, then get out of the way. Now the last thing they want you to do is get out of the way. Quite the contrary. Your publisher now wants you to help market the book. Probably because (I suspect) they no longer know how. The old tricks don’t work in e-publishing. There are no shelves of carefully-grouped, alphabetized authors labeled ROMANCE, WESTERNS, CLASSICS, GENL FICTION. There is a website.

Oh, dear. Better have the author pitch in.

Market the book! What a disaster. I am among the majority of authors, I think, who not only have no clue how to market a book, but actually shudder at the prospect. My circle of family and friends is numerically limited, after all. If each and every one of them bought a copy — or even two — I’d still have no hope of hitting the NYT list. So what’s the point of badgering them? For heaven’s sake, let me leave them alone. And if you don’t mean for me to hawk the darn thing to my friends and family, what on earth are you asking me to do? Go door to door? Rent a sound truck? Hand out flyers in airports? And if I did, why would total strangers listen or care??

No, indeed, the entire prospect is repulsive. Please do not ask me to market my books. I’d rather not sell any books at all. In fact, I’m going to hide under my desk and refuse to answer the phone. Somebody else go out and market my books, please. Not me.

But a funny thing happened while I was cowering beneath the desk. People started buying Wicked Cool.

Quick recap: Cerridwen Press released Wicked Cool in May of last year as an e-book. The rights reverted to me at the end of December, and I brought it out through CreateSpace in a nice, glossy print-on-demand version. I forget what Cerridwen Press charged, but it was more than I wished they would. And CreateSpace has rules to guarantee that they don’t lose money when they print and ship books (and pay the author a royalty). So, basically, my friends and family (and a few others, I admit) have been shelling out $8 to $12 for Wicked Cool.

Along about  March of this year, I released a Kindle version — you know, in the spirit of “why not?” It was absurdly easy. Since Amazon and CreateSpace are linked, I was able to use the cover art from the print edition. The most difficult part of the experience was deciding what to charge. A very kind friend on Facebook urged me to sell it for the lowest possible price. The lowest price Amazon would let me set was 99 cents.

I thought long and hard about that. Did I really want to sell a book — a work that took years of my life — for 99 cents?! My friend assured me that yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. (During this conversation, I believe the name “Amanda Hocking” was bandied about.) Apparently 99 cents is what people nowadays expect to pay for things. And (my friend explained) it is such a low price that readers who have never heard of you will roll the dice and buy your book. Because, after all, it’s only 99 cents. That’s throwaway money.

My objections to this ridiculously-low price were twofold. One was the obvious — it hurt my pride to sell one of my darlings for throwaway money. The other was, all the people I really cared about on Planet Earth who were going to buy my book had already bought it, and they had paid a heckuva lot more than 99 cents. So I cringed at the thought of insulting them by suddenly offering Wicked Cool to the masses for so much less than they had paid.

My compromise? I decided to wait until the anniversary of the book’s initial release. Once the book has been out for a year (I reasoned), it wouldn’t be so bad to drop the price. Since I’m working on a sequel, I thought it might even be good marketing strategy. Not that I actually have a marketing strategy, or know beans about marketing, but hey, any strategy is better than none. Maybe.

So there the book sat: Available, but unheralded. It was March. I let it lie there, quietly, in the corner of Amazon’s Kindle store, thinking it could gather dust while I waited for May. Not that I had a plan for May, really, apart from finally confessing to my near and dear that I had done this. Maybe adding it to my email signature. Announcing it to a few folks on Facebook. That’s about the extent of my marketing muscle.

The first week it was available, six people bought it. I figured the few people I had mentioned it to had sought it out. Although six seemed a little high.

The next week, three more copies were sold. Then four, then three again, then six. By this time, I felt puzzled. Gratified, you know, but puzzled. How on earth were these people finding it?? I supposed there must be a coterie of people who noodle around Amazon the way people used to noodle around bookstores. I found this amusing, but heartening. Sure, this particular bookstore had over ten million books on the shelves, but with so many customers, apparently even my humble offering was sparking a certain amount of interest. I pictured my sales like background radiation on a Geiger counter: sput. Sput-sput. Sput.

When six people bought it the next week, it still seemed random to me — it didn’t occur to me that my numbers had, you know, suddenly doubled. But the next week, fifteen copies sold. And that caught my attention. Fifteen?! I was flabbergasted. This must be how Amanda Hocking felt, I realized, dazed. There was no earthly reason why fifteen people should have suddenly purchased my book.

Oh, wait a minute. Now it was May, the anniversary month I’d been waiting for. Time to “launch.” (Insert hollow laughter.) So I mentioned it on Facebook. That’s all I’ve done so far; no Twitter campaign, no blogathon (whatever that is), no change to my email signature yet — just a single Facebook mention. And I think — though I can’t be sure — that two people from Facebook bought it. Just two.

Then I checked my sales figures for this week. They have quadrupled. Oh, wait — I just checked them again. More than quadrupled. People are buying Wicked Cool at an unsustainable rate, surely, but good heavens — I am going to receive actual royalties from this thing.

Is it a fluke? Or worse, a joke? Has Amazon made an accounting error? What on earth is going on?? I rushed to Google, as I always do when I need answers. Nope, no new reviews. No discernible buzz. No overnight outpouring on any Googleable message boards.

So what should you expect when you e-pub? I thought I knew the answer to that one: Nothing. I still think it’s best to expect nothing. Anything you get is gravy — that’s Rule No. 1 when writing a book, and always has been. They used to tell you to write for the love of it, expecting nothing, because there was no guarantee that it would get published. Now you have the power to guarantee that much all by yourself. It’s the sales you can’t control.

How do books find readers? How do readers find books? I still don’t know. I may never know. It remains as mysterious, and as fascinating, as True Love. People manage to find books the way they manage to find marriage partners. We stumble through life toward Destiny, until Destiny overtakes us. We wander through the bookstore, or click idly through Amazon, or whatever the heck we do, and then … suddenly … ahh. There it is. Our next read.

It’s just weird.

Note: Wicked Cool sold thousands of copies that summer and made me a believer. I apologize to anyone I called an “amateur” in The Truth About E-books.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

The Seven Habits of Has-Beens

(First published January 2011 in the ROMANCE WRITERS’ REPORT)

Please forgive the rather sensational title. We all know that, in this business, there’s no such thing as a “Has-Been.” Anyone who has rung the bell is perfectly capable of ringing it again.

That being said, a few of us have been swinging mightily on the rope for some time now, with no corresponding carillon breaking out overhead. And amid the deafening silence, doubts creep in. It’s impossible not to wonder: Am I a Has-Been?

I hope this question is not keeping you awake at night. If your career is humming along quite nicely, thank you, you have my permission to skim this article. I will not even take it amiss if you pat yourself on the back and move on. But if you are still climbing the path to publication, or have newly arrived, you may find it useful. In a cautionary way.

I am addressing RWA members who fall into neither of those categories. They are neither newbies, nor are they “humming along.” They form a lonely, neglected subset of RWA’s membership: the “Once-Successful Authors.”

These authors are not unsuccessful. They are PAN members. Some were RITA nominees in the not-so-distant past. Some may have even won that coveted statuette and doubtless polish it daily to remind themselves of their glory days.

But the glory days have come and gone.

Once-Successful Authors attend conferences with a rather forced air of nonchalance, greeting their successful friends with strained smiles. They look … hungry. Some of them seem bewildered and depressed. Others are raucous, defiant and devil-may-care. None of them are fooling anybody. They once were in, and now, for whatever reason, they’re out. And everybody knows it.

Do not blame these authors if they seem to be in a state of denial. It’s difficult to gauge whether you are, in fact, a Has-Been. You may be experiencing a mere bump in the road. Perhaps you will quickly resume your meteoric rise. Everyone knows that if a Once-Successful Author is brilliant—and lucky—the glory days return. Many of the Once-Successful Authors you saw smiling through gritted teeth at the last RWA will recover their aplomb by the next conference. But some of them won’t.

Because some of them are Has-Beens. And, absent a miracle, they will never get published again.

If you suspect that you may be a Has-Been—or if you wish to avoid becoming one—check yourself for these seven habits. It only takes one or two of them to derail your career. If you have all seven habits, congratulations! You must be a terrific writer. Otherwise, no one would have published you in the first place.

GREED

Are your advances inadequate? Are they so low, in fact, that they are practically insulting? Patience, grasshopper.  If you have been underpaid for your masterpieces, your books will quickly earn out and bring you mucho dinero down the road. You will also get another contract, because your numbers will look really, really good.

And if this doesn’t happen—if your books do not earn out quickly, or at all— alas, grasshopper, you were wrong about the value of your work, and your stingy publisher was right.

This is a bitter pill to swallow, so you will still (probably) blame your publisher. And you may be justified in doing so, for any number of reasons. The Powers That Be may have given you a print run so tiny that it was mathematically impossible for your book to earn out. They may have given you a hideous cover, and/or priced the book wrong, and/or misinformed the market about the nature of your book, thus ensuring that it was inadequately ordered and improperly shelved. And if your publisher has, in fact, underpaid you, stupidly shot itself in the foot, robbed itself—and you—of a surefire bestseller, and sabotaged your career? Still I caution you: patience.

Your author friends will tell you that a big advance would have forced the publisher to support your book. Under this theory, your wonderful book went down in flames because your advance was small. Well, maybe. But a big advance can also be a career-killer. We all know authors who received enviable advances for books that were respectably received—good books, books that sold well—but “respectable” and “well” won’t get you another contract if your advance was “enviable.” So beware.

I know you feel restless and resentful. You would dearly love to jump ship and write for that publisher your author friends rave about, the one with the clear career path and the fabulous, supportive editors and the terrific marketing. Nevertheless, don’t abandon the ship you are on unless you actually see that other ship off the starboard bow, signaling you. And even then, wear a life jacket.

And a wet suit. Because it’s mighty cold down in those waters, if you jump off one ship and fail to land in the other.

LAZINESS

Do you wait for inspiration to strike … and wait and wait and wait? Has-Beens (and authors on their way to becoming Has-Beens) often tell themselves that they work better under pressure. They play “chicken” with deadlines, never rolling up their sleeves until it’s all-but-impossible to finish the work on time. They fritter their lives away on Facebook and twitter them away on, well, Twitter. They make excuses. They read instead of write, and call it research. Watch TV instead of write, and call it research. Garden instead of write, and call it recharging their batteries. Blog instead of write, and call it building a platform. They do anything, anything, other than write. And in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what they call these various distractions, because they have no product to sell.

If you recognize yourself in this pattern, what’s really paralyzing you may not be laziness, per se. You may be blocked with fear—fear of success or fear of failure; it really doesn’t matter. Fear is fear. Or you may be suffering depression. It would be cruel to chide you if your palms sweat at the thought of writing. That’s not laziness. But if the behavior is the same, the result will be the same: no product.

The bottom line: If you don’t find a way through whatever is standing between you and that keyboard, your career will founder.

RUDENESS

This habit really shines at RWA’s national conference. The other rude things you’ve done this year—the snarky phone messages to your editor, the snarkier emails to your agent, that time you stood up your writer friend because you had a better invitation from a more famous writer friend—that’s small potatoes. Put you in a hotel with two thousand compatriots and you can really go to town. You can cut ahead of people in line. “Save” the elevator. Monopolize conversations. Complain about all the walking. Complain about the schedule. Complain about the food. Complain, complain, complain. Wear perfume, because since nobody else is wearing perfume, your little ol’ perfume can’t possibly hurt. When the stack of free books has dwindled to a handful, take two anyway, because if other people wanted one they should have shown up earlier. Then choose a moment to look around a huge room teeming with writers and wonder (aloud): “Why are there so many fat people here?” (Because writing is a sedentary occupation, you nasty little …!! – But I digress.)

You’ll be the talk of the conference. And isn’t that really what RWA is for?

No, seriously, you need to get a handle on this career-killing habit. Don’t alienate people who can make or break you in this business, or your star will fizzle out, and fizzle fast.

BLABBING

Gosh, it’s fun to be “in the know.” Once-Successful Authors know a lot of things. Even if you are on the very fringes of publishing, you can easily find writer friends who are farther out of the loop than you are. Sometimes you can actually be useful to these other writers, act as a mentor and so forth—but isn’t it more fun to just, well, gossip? They’ll hang on your every syllable as you relate the juicy details of your editor’s messy divorce or your agent’s gall bladder disease. Be sure to tell them who just got fired, and why, over at Publisher X. Remember, you’re talking to nobodies. It’ll never get back to your editor, or your agent, or the poor soul who just got fired at Publisher X (but is about to become a mover and shaker over at Publisher Y). They’ll never know that you spread tales about them or laughed at their misfortune. Right?

Riiiiight.

UNRELIABILITY

Has-Beens make promises they do not keep. They are late for appointments. They are slow to respond to emails. They forget to call back. They miss deadlines.

They let people down.

If you are new to the world of publishing, your agent and editor may chalk it up to inexperience and help you find your feet. But once your unreliability becomes identified as a habit, watch out. Your agent probably has other clients, clients who do not embarrass him. Clients for whom she does not have to apologize or make excuses. Your agent has a career of his/her own, and a reputation to maintain in the industry, and your bad habit may be dragging your agent down. Meanwhile, your editor will quickly weary of the chaos that follows in your wake as your unreliability forces other projects to be juggled and rejuggled.

Don’t embarrass your agent. Don’t inconvenience your editor. Each time you do, you will be pushed farther and farther outside their circle of trust.

PRIDE

Everybody knows how hard it is to get published. When you reach that pinnacle, it may go to your head. This is a delightful sensation, and at first people will tolerate your giddy boasting because it’s kind of cute. Also because they hope to be there someday (or have been there themselves) and trust that others will tolerate it when it’s their turn.

Just don’t let it become a habit.

Yes, you rock. Yes, your work is fabulous and you are receiving fan mail and your family is proud of you and your friends throw parties for you and on and on and on. Some of the fan mail is gratifyingly gushy. You have touched the hearts of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of readers. You have comforted the grieving, lifted deep depressions, ministered to the dying and the sad and the anxious and the bored. But you’d better get over yourself, because a lot of other romance writers have stood where you’re standing. The ones who got right back to work are still standing there. The ones who rested on their laurels? Well, they’re probably Has-Beens.

INGRATITUDE

It’s no secret that an attitude of gratitude is key to earthly happiness. Yet somehow, in our careers, we fail to perceive its importance. In fact, we are suspicious of it. Nobody wants to be a pushover. If you are thankful for whatever you receive, won’t you receive less?

Maybe so. Maybe not. Niceness can get you pretty far in life. Publishing houses may be faceless monoliths, but they are run by people. Your manuscripts will be read by individuals. Decisions on whether to buy your manuscript—or not—will be made by individuals. Don’t these people deserve your thanks? They are investing their time and effort and a lot of careful thought. Even if they say no, don’t you want them to feel a sense of regret as they turn you down? Thank them. Show a little appreciation.

This is not rocket science, folks. Be somebody that other people want to work with. Be an author that editors wish they could buy. Yes, this is largely dependent on the work you submit, but people are only human. All things being equal—and remember, judgments about art are subjective, so all things are never equal—they will want to choose a manuscript written by a nice person instead of a manuscript written by a person who is a pain in the neck. Which is why, if you are habitually a pain in the neck, you may be already be a Has-Been.

So there you have it. The Seven Habits: Greed, Laziness, Rudeness, Blabbing, Unreliability, Pride and Ingratitude. Everyone probably exhibits these unpleasant traits from time to time, but if you do a little soul-searching and discover that one or two (or more) are becoming habits of yours, I urge you to take a few deep, calming breaths and reassess your priorities.

How badly do you want this writing career? You’ve put an awful lot into it. Why sabotage it with your own careless habits?

Some of the seven habits run in packs. Rudeness, for example, is often paired with Blabbing. Laziness and Unreliability go hand-in-hand. The trick is to ferret out these nasty little career-killers and nip them in the bud.

The first step in curing any bad habit is to recognize that it is a habit. Once you are on the look-out for it, you’ll catch yourself in the act—repeatedly, much to your chagrin. Do not despair. An awareness of what you are doing is an irritating, but necessary, part of the cure. Now that you are aware of the pattern in yourself, you will consciously begin to correct it as it occurs. Eventually you will correct it before it occurs. And finally, it will stop occurring—or at least will stop habitually occurring. (Remember, these are human traits that everyone exhibits occasionally.)

Good luck, and get going! And one final word: if you never find yourself at the top again, you should still hold your head high and smile. Because it’s still better to be a Has-Been than a Never-Was.

Posted in Reading, Writing

New Year’s Resolutions for Procrastinators

Yes, it is January 3rd and I’m writing a New Year’s post. Such is the life of a procrastinator.

Today is the last day of my 5-day vacation. My kitchen is still full of the clutter I intended to clear two days ago, the writing that I did over the past few days improved a book I’m pretty sure I’m going to ditch (instead of the book I should actually be working on), and I’m sitting here in my jammies at 11:00 a.m. I think I am uniquely qualified to write this particular blog post.

In my defense — and notwithstanding the fact that I missed the New Year by a couple of days on this one — I will say that I rarely miss deadlines. I do, however, spend a portion of every day stressing over the fact that I am not writing. I could easily alleviate my suffering by, um, writing. And yet I dread the task so much that I would rather feel guilty and depressed than write. Writers call this lamentable state of affairs “block.” (Non-writers, I am told, call it “nuts.”)

I received a book for Christmas that made me feel ever so much better: THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. Evidently the sinking sensation I experience whenever I contemplate sitting down at my keyboard to write is not only common, it’s well-nigh universal. He says anyone who ever bought a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic is up against the same thing: resistance. Resistance rises up to thwart us whenever we attempt to do something really worthwhile. Alcoholics fall off the wagon, dieters gain the weight back, and writers stop writing — all encountering much the same thing: a mysterious force of negative energy that fills our souls with reluctance and our brains with excuses.

So is writers’ block (and all the rest of it) really a matter of insufficient willpower? Is it sloth, one of the Seven Deadly Sins? Are we under attack by evil spirits? Or what? Why can’t people DO the things they want so badly to do? Why will most of those New Year’s Resolutions people made a couple of days ago be just a bad joke in another few weeks, if they aren’t already?

It’s uncanny.

While you are contemplating all the excellent things you planned to do and somehow never did, here’s a tip from my playbook: Procrastinate. Put off your New Year’s Resolution(s) until everybody else has already made theirs. By the time you take your personal bull by the horns, everyone else will have left the field. You can resolve in private and fail in private, skipping the humiliation. Because nobody is going to ask you: “Hey, what’s your Lincoln’s Birthday resolution?” And, later: “So, did you KEEP your Lincoln’s Birthday resolution?”

Posted in Publishing, Writing

What’s the deal with WICKED COOL?

Ah, ’tis a long, sad story … but may have a happy ending. Or at least what RWA calls “an emotionally-satisfying, optimistic ending.”

As most of you know, I used to write historical romances set in the English Regency. A few years ago, the market shifted — editors wanted hot sex in their historical romances. I had to decide whether to alter my books or write something else. It seemed to me that shoehorning hot sex into my books was no easy feat, and would actually damage the character of the work. I have nothing against hot sex, mind you. But in my books? No. Didn’t work. Or at least, I couldn’t make it work. I made one half-hearted attempt and was roundly reprimanded by Publishers Weekly. My fans, bless ’em, were indignant on my behalf — but I thought Publishers Weekly totally had my number. (“Farr’s sure-footed prose falters when she tiptoes into the erotic realm …”)

I decided to loosen up my writing muscles by writing something completely different. I had always written historicals, so I started something contemporary. I had always written in third person, so I tried first person. And so on. Along about page three, I realized my heroine was a teenager. Lo and behold, I was writing what the industry calls “YA.” And Wicked Cool was the result.

My agent loved it, and sent it out to make the rounds. It seemed to take forever. Editors passed it around, had meetings, argued about it, and eventually “regretfully” rejected it, usually for reasons that did not diminish our confidence that it was going to sell somewhere, sometime. Finally I had an offer — from an editor who assured me he was “in love with this book!” We had a couple of terrific editorial teleconferences. I received the contract, signed it, sent it back. And never heard anything again.

That remains the strangest episode of my writing career. The editor claims my agent never returned his calls. My agent swears he never returned hers.

After a publisher-who-shall-remain-nameless (okay, it was Puffin) sat on it, and sat on it, and sat on it, passing it from reader to reader and promising every week that we would have an answer “next week,” I finally lost patience and pulled the plug on the project. It had eaten up several years of my life and I thought it was high time I moved on. But I couldn’t quite let go, so on a lark — more or less — I submitted it to an e-publisher, Cerridwen Press. Cerridwen was the non-erotic imprint of Ellora’s Cave, the 800-lb gorilla in the e-pub world. They snapped it up with lightning speed.

It felt good.

Now, however, Cerridwen Press — apparently a money-loser, at least compared to their “romantica” sales — is getting a new name and repositioning itself in the marketplace. Henceforth, they will not carry non-romance titles. And that includes Wicked Cool. So the rights revert to me on December 31.

One of my biggest frustrations with e-publishing has been the fact that most of my readers want a book they can hold in their hands, and Cerridwen — despite designing a wicked cool cover for Wicked Cool — never made that available. So I am PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE that I am readying Wicked Cool for publication through CreateSpace, affiliated with Amazon.com. A print version will finally be available, for those who are interested, starting at the end of 2010.

I will never get rich off this book! But I will feel better knowing that the title will be, at the very least, available for purchase.

Posted in Publishing, Reading, Writing

The Truth About E-books

Note: This blog entry was written in October of 2010. In 2011, everything changed. Please enjoy, for its historical interest, this “blast from the past.”  – Diane

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a bad experience in the brave new world of e-publishing. “Bad” would be too strong a word. My editor was easy to work with, I was pleased with the cover art, and it’s always better to have a book out than to not have a book out. On the other hand, would I recommend e-publishing to my fellow authors?

No. I recommend it wholeheartedly if you are a hobbyist, because the overall experience was much more pleasant than print publishing. But if you’re a professional? No.

And I hate to say that, especially since there exists a certain sensitivity (dare I say touchiness?) on the part of e-book authors who feel that their work is too often dismissed as second-class. Their work may well be first-class. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read it.

And this, gentle reader, is what I am writing this blog entry to confess. I am an e-book author. And even I do not read e-books.

It’s not that I don’t have an e-reader, because I do. I have a Kindle. But so far the only books I have downloaded to it (with the exception of my own) are books that first appeared in print. E-versions, therefore, of “real” books.

“Real” books! Ouch.

I’m afraid my fellow e-authors are going to have to grit their teeth and live with the stigma. Not forever, one hopes, but certainly for now.  Because the truth is, as of 2010, e-books are still for amateurs.

There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. Amateur, remember, comes from the Latin root “amat-,” which means that an amateur pursues a passion. Does something for the pure love of it. Would do it whether s/he were paid or not. It’s not a judgment on whether or not the person does it well. Often — I would even say usually — an amateur does it well. When I say “e-books are for amateurs,” trust me, I’m only referring to that “for the love of it” thing — because an amateur does not get paid.

Which is why e-books are for amateurs.

E-publishers pay no advance against royalties. This is supposedly “made up for” by the generous royalty percentage you will earn when the book comes out. And the books are published at least twice as quickly as they are in the print world. Plus, you get your royalty checks promptly — even monthly, in the case of my publisher. No years-long wait for your book to arrive in stores, sell or not sell, etc. The book is out, spit-spot, sold, done, here’s your check. No warehousing, no shipping, nothing whatsoever to wait for.

Except for the fact that your book never shows up in a store.

Oh. That.

Well, as it turns out, “that” carves a pretty big hole in the e-publisher’s business model. You lose the browsers. Most people, when they wander into a bookstore, have only a vague idea of what they are looking for. They go to an interesting section and browse until they see something that grabs them. Even if they go with an actual title in mind, they tend to browse the books around that title. People who go to bookstores love books. They love the way they look, and feel, and smell. A sense of pleasurable anticipation fills them as they step into the shop. They will leave with a book — or two, or more — that promise hours of enjoyment. And if yours is an e-book, it isn’t there.

Not only is it not in the stores, it’s not being reviewed by the usual suspects, or talked about, or passed from friend to friend, or advertised. None of the normal channels to generate “buzz” are open to it. I couldn’t even get the library that had awarded Wicked Cool first place in its statewide competition for YA novels to carry Wicked Cool.

So who buys an e-book? People who know you, or are related to you, or who are die-hard fans who buy anything you write. And even some of them won’t buy it. Even people who appeared on the Acknowledgments page of  Wicked Cool didn’t buy it. Some of my own sisters didn’t buy it. People who have read my books for years didn’t buy it.

Because — let’s not kid ourselves — it wasn’t a real book.

There are exceptions, I am told (indignantly). There are authors of e-books — those who write erotic romance, for example — who claim to make a living at it. All I’m saying is, don’t count on becoming one of these possibly-mythical beings. Because the cruel truth is, the best way for an e-book author to make a living at writing e-books is … have your e-book series picked up by a real publisher. (Oh, dear! Did I say “real” again?)

God bless Romance Writers of America. They have drawn a line in the sand and stubbornly stand behind it. They let their e-book authors storm and rail and claim discrimination because their publishers are not admitted to the elite ranks of RWA recognition — and still they stand firm. (Or at least they did the last time I checked.) You cannot hold yourself out as a trade organization interested in promoting the careers of authors unless you insist that authors get paid. RWA says, in essence: If you can’t even pay a utility bill with your royalty check, I’m sorry, nothing against you, no judgment on whether your work is good or bad — but your publisher is not on our list. Not yet. We cordially and sincerely hope it may get there, and the sooner the better, but it isn’t there yet. Please let us know when you receive a royalty check that enables you to quit your day job.

The day is not far off, I’m sure, when e-books pay real money and authors submit their work to e-publishers in actual preference to working with a print publisher. I am personally acquainted with at least one author who grew so sick of the hassles inherent in print publishing (and it is, truly, a maddening industry) that she has written nothing but e-books for several years. But even she, writing prolifically and working with several e-publishers at once, has struggled to keep the wolf from the door. She is now submitting to print publishers again.

And why do I bring all this up now? (I hear you ask.)

Because Wicked Cool will no longer be sold by Cerridwen Press after the first of the year. Cerridwen Press is in the process of re-naming itself and re-positioning itself in the marketplace. As part of this process, it has decided that its new incarnation will only offer romance titles. Wicked Cool is not a romance. So the rights to it revert to me on December 31st.

And I’m smiling as I type that. Not with unalloyed joy, mind you — I had hoped that my relationship with this publisher would be terrific and that we’d both make money off Wicked Cool. But since we didn’t, I will now go out on a limb and GUARANTEE you, faithful readers, that a print version of Wicked Cool will one day be obtainable. Even if only seven people buy the darn thing. That’s right — my sisters, and the people on the Acknowledgments page.

So stay tuned.

Next: What to Expect when you E-Pub