Friday, December 26, 2008

Dear Santa,

Thanks again for a great year in books. You really came through for us historical lovers with some really wonderful authors who are doing a fantastic job of rejuvenating the genre.
Please keep up the good work and add a couple of new authors, because it isn’t fair to ask Sherry Thomas, Elizabeth Hoyt and Joanna Bourne to write three amazing books a year.
One will do, if we have a couple more authors.

I’m going to second Molly’s wish for some great contemporary romances. Humour, no humour, I’ll take them any way I can get them.

And not to be too greedy, but a great last ten episodes to Battlestar would be fantastic and thanks for getting us a third season of Friday Night Lights. Is asking for a fourth being way too greedy?

More great movies would be also really nice. A third sequel to the Batman franchise that actually lives up the magic that is the Dark Knight would make my year. Another Wall E and Slumdog Millionaire perhaps?

And lastly, and this is me being really greedy. A burst of inspiration for the current WIP.. It can’t hurt to ask, and it would really help me out.

And that’s it. Hope you had a great Christmas and I know this letter is reaching you late but keep me in mind for Christmas 2009.

Drunk Writer Sinead

Monday, December 22, 2008

Drunk Letters to Santa

Over at All About Romance they're writing Santa letters. And I thought this was such a good idea and the letters that I read were so totally in sync with how I feel about the genre right now - that I am going to start Drunk Letters To Santa.

Hey Santa! I've got a great idea - this year let's get some really good books sold and out into the bookstores. You did a great job in 2008 - you really did, but lets keep the good thing going. Let's see some different books, exciting books. Russian mobsters and hungarian princesses would be fun. Let's stop glutting the market with books from authors who are barely even phoning it in - they're text messaging it in. Let's reward authors pushing the envelopes with fantastic covers that will draw readers in across genres. Marjorie M. Liu has suffered enough with her covers. Let's give Elizabeth Hoyt more time to write really good books, instead of rushing her into these so-so ones. Let's make Madeline Hunter go back to her brilliant unusual historicals. Let's make Laura Kinsale write again. And please Dear Santa - could you light a fire under Susan Elizabeth Phillips?

Also, please get editors and agents excited about contemporary romance again. The straight stuff. No vampires, no dead bodies. Characters working their crap out...with a great cover.

Oh! And lead me to those great new books - across all genres. Across category and ebooks - all of it. Get Rudolph to light those puppies up so we can all see them and buy them and love them.

And lastly, but not leastly - a million dollars. Thanks. Drunk Writer Molly

Friday, December 19, 2008

Doom and Gloom

It’s Friday and close to Christmas and everything in the media is gloomy. Right now, the economic outlook is anything but rosy, so in response, people have radically cut back in their spending, which again, makes the outlook even gloomier.

Publishers are cutting back - people, lines, authors, salary freezes, bookstores will buy less for 2009. Sales forecasts will be reduced, which means bookstores will buy safe, bestselling authors, known commodities.

It’s how I’m reacting in a different retail field.

I read a report in the paper today that over the next two years, the effect on business will be Darwinian. The strong will survive.

Depressed yet?

What will come of it? Recessions are cyclical. They last a couple of years, and then we see growth again. Out of that growth come changes to the way things have happened. It may result in changes to the way publishers operate. Whether the returns system changes, or adapts, how they buy new authors might change.

But the people who love to read will always love to read. And they’ll want new, exciting things, especially as the economy starts to improve. Perhaps this obsession with celebrities that has been such a fixture in our lives will reduce, as people go back to basics over the next two years. We might see a reduction in the number of Joe the Plumper stupid advances.

I know my retail strategy over the next year is a combination of core basics, the comfort buy and the new, exciting items that the customer might not have. So even in the next two years, there still might be room for new authors who bring to the table something new and exciting, something different.

I hope so.

But in the end, it’s impossible to predict.

But for Christmas, my friends and family are getting books as gifts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

To Return or not To Return

There have been many recent calls for reform in the publishing industry and one currently popular suggestion is to eliminate the consignment system. (The system where booksellers can return any unsold books back to the publishers for credit.) In fact Borders has agreed to a deal with one imprint (Harper Studio) to accept books with no right of return, but they are buying the books at a deep, deep discount. (And I'm quite sure this discount will be pushed down to the writers and decrease their royalties. In fact, my quick google search reminded me this is the same imprint that announced it was no longer paying advances to authors...)

I'm not enough of an industry insider to pretend I can predict what will happen if the consignment system is eliminated in publishing... But I do know business, and I do think it might not be as great for authors and agents and editors as many seem to think it will be. So, I'd like to present the contrarian case. Ahem. **Maureen clears her throat and braces for rotten tomatoes.**

Yes, the consignment system is antiquated. It's true that these days very few products are still sold on consignment. But the ones that are (music, books, art, designer fashion) are in areas where the items are not only discretionary (luxuries) they're in areas where it's more difficult to predict what consumers will buy and therefore the seller (publisher in this case) agrees to accept a lot of the risk along with the retailer (book store). (It might interest people to know that many high end items in department stores, e.g. designer clothes and bags and shoes, are also often on consignment or even further, the designer is actually renting a small space in the store and giving the store a cut of the sales price when/if items are sold. Seamless to the consumer, but the retailer is NOT taking all the risk that Dolce and Gabanna will be a big hit with their new line, or that all those pairs of thousand dollar Manolos will sell.)

Yes, consignment hurts publishers and authors. (Because they're taking most of the risk.) From the publishers' stand point, the consignment system makes cash flow planning tough, if not impossible, because they never know when books are going to come sailing back in the door for credit. From what I've read, this hit a record in October with returns far exceeding new orders and caused a huge panic.

And trickling down, the consignment system sucks for authors, because the publishers have all the power in that relationship, and to guard against paying authors royalties on books that then get returned, they maximize reserves on returns and make royalty statements difficult to understand to hide what they're doing. And take as long, as they possibly can justify, to pay authors their royalties.

But... I fear that bookstores will change A LOT if this system goes. Will it be better for authors? I'm not so sure.

If I were a bookseller, and I couldn't return the books I ordered to sit on my shelves, I'd be WAY more conservative about how many and which books I carried. I'd buy fewer titles and fewer copies of those fewer titles. And I'd stick mostly to the already proven best-selling authors, and cook books, and celebrity tell-alls, and picture books with kittens and puppies.

Bookstores, where one can browse and discover new authors, might become a thing of the past. (But maybe few readers do this anyway? Maybe most readers only ever buy books they find on the front tables?)

This conservatism will trickle down. If consignment goes, publishers will get way more conservative about the choices they make. (As if they weren't conservative enough already!) If aspiring authors are finding it hard to get a publisher to take a risk on them now, imagine if the publishers aren't sure whether ANY bookstores will stock a debut author's book once they've spent money on an advance, artwork,design, editing, printing, etc.. Right now, the big houses can be fairly assured that the big chains (at least) will take a few copies of every new title.

But even though I've been arguing the contrarian case here, clearly the current system's broken. Cash flow aside, it's a horrible environmental problem, with tons of books being published and shipped that are subsequently trashed.

I think until print-on-demand (printed and bound at the book stores) and/or digital books are more viable and popular formats than they are now... authors (especially debut and mid-list authors) might have a rude awakening if the industry gets rid of the consignment system. (And I really do worry about copyright infringement in the digital world. I think it will be worse for authors than musicians. We can't make money writing (or even reading) our books live at big stadium concerts or in bars, now can we? Many otherwise-honest people I know don't balk at illegal downloads of music and movies and TV shows. Why would books be any different? But that's veering off into a whole other topic. So I'll save that for another day.)

I know I'm going against the grain here... What do you think? Should the return system in publishing be dumped?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Everything Changes in Execution

So, we're trying this whole-work-stuff-out-ahead-of-time process. Sinead and Maureen have both had to do big rewrites and I'm sure I'm staring down a big rewrite in about three weeks time. Another member of our critique group is going to be starting her current WIP almost from scratch despite having already done a big synopsis. A synopsis we all read. A synopsis that sounded really good.

But this is what I realized - everything changes in execution. Conflict that fills up a synopsis, might not fill up a manuscript. Characters holding down plot in a synopsis aren't weighty enough in the pages. They need to change and grow and that starts to effect more than what was planned. Fantastic lightening bolts hit us in the shower and we tweak something while writing that has a gigantic butterfly effect in chapter 20 that we don't see until we get to chapter 20.

The problem with writing these big opus synopsis is that we think all the blood, sweat and tears we put into them are all the blood sweat and tears we're going to need. But writing is like my dog -- she never gets tired of pats and scratches and playing catch. The more I pat and scratch and throw a ball -- the more she needs. Which is why I hate my dog. And it's sort of why I hate writing - those days that I hate it -- it's so damn hard.

But I think what these big mighty synopsis do is they allow us to make changes that make the book not simply better - but bigger. Broader. It allows us to execute more fully our design for the book. It does a better job of matching what's on the page to the kind of book we want to write. So, this is my new change -- my new plan -- I'm going to gleefully accept these changes. I am going to expect them and then embrace them, like our critique group member did tonight -- because it makes the books better and it makes us better as writers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Clue

How do I keep missing Wednesday? The sad thing is that Wed is also garbage day for me, so there are worse implications than missing my DWT blog day -- well smellier implications, anyway.

The NYT opinion piece, "Typing Without a Clue", by Timothy Egan has generated a lot of discussion on writers' loops and forums this week.

I've been reading these discussions with interest, but have stayed out of them. Partly because I was trying to decide how I really felt about it, and partly because I'm finally learning to keep my mouth shut occasionally. But clearly I haven't really learned, since I've decided to blog about it here.

First, I loved, loved, loved Timothy Egan's rant. But that's what it was. A rant.

Mr. Egan's ire was directed at publishers giving huge advances to the likes of "Joe the Plumber", especially at a time when publishing houses are cutting back on acquisitions and/or advances to actual writers.

I feel Mr. Egan's pain. (And that of the many writers who've agreed with his piece.) But celebrity book deals have never really bothered me. To me, they don't have anything to do with what I'm doing, so why should I care? Yes, they are produced and distributed by the same companies as I'm targeting with my work, but they are such a different product I don't see what they have to do with what I do.

The line blurs when celebrities write fiction... but even then, those celebrities have something I simply can't offer a publisher -- fame and a ready-made audience. So I can't really blame a publisher for choosing a celebrity's book over mine, even if I think my book is better. (And I'm someone who got rejections citing a celebrity's wife's book with a similar premise to mine... One that's now a TV series... I could be bitter about that. But I'm not. It's just a bummer. Bad luck/timing on my part. And I'd have needed a crystal ball to know that this woman was writing her book at the same time I was.)

I also don't buy the argument that the money the publishers are throwing at these deals is necessarily eating into the available pot of money they have to offer fiction (or non-celebrity non-fiction) writers.

I don't buy this for a couple of reasons. First, publishing houses are businesses and aren't run by stupid people. Their motive is to make money, not ensure as many struggling writers as possible get published.

Any time they pay a big advance, or throw a lot of marketing dollars behind a book, they're taking a risk, making a bet that enough consumers will buy the book to more than cover the money they've laid down. Would I love them to make a big bet on me? You betcha. But clearly someone thought that the chance that they'd make money on a Joe the Plumber book was worth the risk of tossing a big advance at the guy. Yes, I find it a little hard to believe many people will buy such a book. But since I'm not a top decision maker at a publisher, it wasn't my call, and clearly someone else thinks this book has potential as a money maker.

The second reason I don't buy into (or like) the argument that the publishers should be holding back on celebrity contracts and allocating advances and marketing dollars to "worthy" books and "real writers"... is that I think it's a slippery slope from that kind of argument to saying that publishers shouldn't be paying advances or giving contracts to writers of genre or commercial fiction, but should be saving their money only for the "serious literature."

To that point, here's what Mr. Egan said:

"For the others — you friends of celebrities penning cookbooks, you train wrecks just out of rehab, you politicians with an agent but no talent — stop soaking up precious advance money.

"I know: publishers say they print garbage so that real literature, which seldom makes any money, can find its way into print. True, to a point. But some of them print garbage so they can buy more garbage."
My issue is: who gets to define what's garbage? I have a sneaking feeling Mr. Egan would include romance and chick lit and thrillers and sci fi (etc.) in his garbage pail, too...

Yes, it's like a slap in the face to hear that someone, who will undoubtedly require a ghost writer and is unlikely to have anything meaningful to say in any case, has received a multi-million dollar publishing contract, while so many of us are toiling away, working really hard to learn and perfect our craft, but I think griping about it is like complaining that apples are more popular than oranges. It just so happens that the same company produces both apples and oranges. And it's for the people running these companies to decide whether their resources are better spent promoting apples or oranges this year. (Even if it's clear to many of us that the apples are rotten.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Kid Movies and Wall-E

My son is finally off Toopie and Binoo -- hooray! Not that it wasn't cute or charming, but I've watched more hours of that little rat and his whatever it is friend than anyone needs to.

And joy of joys - Mick has moved on to movies. (Not that we don't encourage playing and exercise but there is a time and a place for some chilling out in front of the television.)

I have been excited about these movie watching days since getting pregnant with him. I can not wait to sit down and watch ET with him, and Star Wars. I am as excited about this as I am about him learning to read and wanting to read.

I love kid movies. And they've gotten so sophisticated and smart recently with those brainiacs at Pixar upping the bar for everyone involved in the industry.

We just recently watched Wall-E.

Best movie of the year by far. No question. Not that I've seen any other ones, but you'd have to go a long way to get better than this movie. It's visually stunning. Artful. There is no dialogue for almost forty minutes or something crazy - and yet my ADHD kid is totally riveted by this little robots earnest squeaks. And they are earnest and funny and sincere - there's more character revealed in the mechanical noises than in anything on television these days.

The story is fabulous with great twists and reversals of expectation. Seriously, I loved this movie and since it's the end of the year and about time I start thinking about those kinds of things - I will say it - best movie, for me, of the year.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The magic of mystery

It’s been a really good two weeks for inspiration for me. I’ve just finished the first season of Mad Men, which deserves all the acclaim. It’s so good, and in a really subtle way.
It introduces several characters in the first show and proceeds to show us them interacting with each other, but aside from the main character, tells us nothing about their back story throughout the entire season.

We know their actions, and can only guess at their motivations, which might annoy some people, but for me I found it fascinating and I cannot wait to learn more about these people. Had the writers told me everything about them in the first few episodes, the show would have lost its appeal for me. Instead they trusted in their plot and dialogue and how they showed the characters to do the work for them.

Same with the last couple of romances I’ve read. Another Marjorie M. Liu, that Molly loaned to me. She does mystery really well. She gives us very little backstory, and explanation, just feeds it into the story in little bits. She lets us see the characters for themselves, good and bad, form our opinions, basically shows us who they are while they are dealing with life and death crises.

Basically she is showing, not telling.

For me, the mystery is why I get pulled through a book. It can be character mystery, my need to know why a character acts the way they do. The mystery of when the hero and heroine get together, and how. Or the more obvious mystery of who is the villain.

The key to this is giving the reader the answer in a way they did not predict. Because if the reader predicts how things are going to happen, then where is the mystery?

The real challenge in writing a romance is not bringing the hero and heroine together, but doing it in a way that surprises and delights the reader.

Sounds so easy… doesn’t it?

Monday, December 01, 2008

What I Think About While Writing

Food, mostly.

I am home from Thanksgiving and while this year we did not deep fat fry the bird, my cousin, the devious Alyssa made two desserts - a dump cake (as good as it sounds) and that Hello Dolly bar, but she made a whole pie of it. Damn her! oh Damn her!

But Sinead's post made me think - of all the stuff we are supposed to remember to do and all the incredible things we've learned - what is the one thing I've managed to keep front and center in my head?

This is me every day:

Did I just kill the conflict? I did, didn't I? Let me...yep. Killed it. STOP KILLING THE CONFLICT!

Sadly, the other thing I obsess about while writing is the number of sentences I start with pronouns. That's it. All the gems and gold and keys to the kingdom I've been given I think about how many sentences start with 'he.'

Sad. But the conflict thing - that's helped. It's taken me a lot of books to make that number one and I think it's made my writing and my process more interesting. Of course, some dump cake would do that too...
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