Posted in Other Stuff

Happy New Year!

It’s still January, right? I’m not too late? :whew: Squeaked that one under the wire.

I love this time of year. The daffodils are ready to pop, the sun is lighting up all the fresh-rinsed green of winter, and even the trees are stretching, yawning, and getting to work on flower buds and leaves. It’s a good time to be mapping out a book. Like the world outside my sun room, I’m bursting with secrets about to unfurl. Even I don’t know what they are yet. I just know they’re gathering, swelling, and jostling for position … the same process I imagine happening in the plum tree in my front yard.

Meanwhile, I received a package of books to judge for the RITA contest. So while my next book is pushing itself to the surface of my brain, I get to nibble the fruit of other author brains.

Which is a lot less icky than I just made it sound.

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Posted in Books, Publishing, rwa, Writing

More than Shoes

I wanted so badly to come back from RWA and confirm for you that yes, it was all about the shoes.

But no. Incredibly, it was about far more than shoes. And if I show you some of the shoes I’m talking about, you will understand how awesome this conference truly must have been:

publisher party pumps

Pretty freaking awesome.

I am still reeling from sensory overload, so forgive me if I’m a bit incoherent. I learned so much that I’m still struggling to process it all. Two of the biggest takeaways: (1) Publishing is changing – radically, and rapidly. (2) Storytelling is not.

It’s a great time to be a writer. It’s not such a great time to be a publisher. Nobody wants publishers to die, but they are thrashing and gasping like fish in a basket. It’s gruesome to behold. Kinda tugs at the old heartstrings, too. They are still the best at what they do, and everybody loves what they do. But they are no longer essential. They are “extra.” They are the frosting on your career’s cake, but they are no longer the cake.

So while we are all chewing on that mouthful, let me tell you what else I learned.

Blogging: I’m doing it wrong. Very few people care what happened at the Romance Writers of America 2012 National Conference. Those who care, care intensely, but never mind that. I simply must stop jabbering on and on about writerly stuff. :gasp!: :sob!: This is going to be a hard habit to break, so only time will tell how far I get with this one-!

Facebook: I’m doing it wrong. Okay, this really hurts. I thought I knew Facebook. But my knowledge extends only to being a person, not being a page. I gotta tackle that page from a new angle. (In my spare time.) This could get ugly. I bet it takes me a while to hit my stride, because I have no clue how to accomplish this — but it sounds like a really good idea: “Make your page a fun place to hang out.” Ohhhh-kaaaay.

I learned a lot of other stuff too, but it’s all writerly stuff. So I can feel my workshop leaders tugging on my sleeve and whispering, “Wrap it up! Quick!”

I’d better take their advice. Wouldn’t want to spend all that time & money at RWA for nothing.

One last thought: Every time I plan to go to this conference, I fret about the expense. I think, “Do I really want to go?? How badly do I want to go? Is it really worth all that @#^%$!! money?”

So far, when I have decided to go, I have never regretted it. Never. It’s just SO much more than shoes.

Posted in Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

How to Jinx a Writers’ Conference

I am really looking forward to the Romance Writers of America conference in Anaheim. I mean, I am REALLY looking forward to it. Is that a Bad Sign? Should I temper my excitement by reminding myself of, say, that Mexican Riviera cruise — which I was confident would be a dream vacation … until Day Two, when the Norovirus hit?

Maybe there’s no such thing as a jinx, but I am typing this with my fingers crossed. Just in case. Because if I manage not to jinx it, this RWA conference is going to be fantastic. FANTASTIC! There; I’ve said it.

I’ve attended quite a few, over the years, and they have all been great. But I’ve never been in quite this position before: making money from my books without being beholden to a publisher. I have no editor. I have no agent. I am not up for any awards. In other words, I am feeling no performance anxiety of any kind. I have no meetings set up. No conversations to anticipate, fret about, and mentally rehearse. No acceptance speech to write. No “graceful loser” smile to practice. No tricky etiquette questions to mull (“Which of us is supposed to pay for this lunch? After all, she invited me – but I chose the restaurant. And she’s my editor/agent/reviewer/chapter president …so does that tip the balance? And if so, in which direction?”). For the first time in my career, I will be free as the proverbial bird.

And, as if my enviable position above the fray weren’t blissful enough, I also have a book contract with NAL (or Signet, or Intermix, or whatever it is calling itself these days) — a bona fide subsidiary of Penguin Putnam. An actual “Big Six” New York publisher. Ha! Yes, I am hugging myself. Forgive me. It’s just too, too perfect. Because the contract is just for an e-release of one of my old titles — so it’s really no big deal, right? But a contract is a contract is a contract — so I am officially a Contracted Author. With a book coming out in August. Which means that, unlike most of the other self-pubbing authors, I get to attend the Signet/Berkley/NAL party on Friday night.

If you’ve never been to an RWA conference, you are going to have to trust me on this. Friday night is the night when all the publishing houses host parties for their authors. And you do not want to be left in the lobby with the wannabes, pressing your nose against the glass and watching as all the published authors are swept off in limos to glamorous destinations that you can only dream of. (Okay, there aren’t always limos and it’s not usually that thrilling of a destination — in fact, often the parties are just receptions held on the conference hotel premises — but that doesn’t matter; being in with the in crowd feels great, and being left out hurts. That’s just human.)

So. I go to the conference needing nothing from anyone, expecting nothing, able to enjoy every minute to the full without the usual high-adrenaline plague of nerves. And yet I get to attend the party. How perfect is this?!

Too perfect. Excuse me while I go throw some salt over my left shoulder.

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 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