Reality Check: Reviews

A lot of bloffle is going around Romancelandia about reader’s reviews and review sites. Authors complaining about mean reviews, getting all sour grapes over some site I’ve never even heard of, how only professionals should write reviews, or “please go write glowing reviews to drown out the 2-star review I just got on Amazon.”

Ah, chickies, if only I could get half the review sites that you bitch complain about to even consider reading my books.

This is what I get for reading Monica Jackson’s blog before posting to my own.

Guess what? If anyone has a right to review a book, it’s the flippin’ reader. ESPECIALLY if s/he actually BOUGHT THE DAMN THING.

If someone didn’t like your book, GET OVER IT. Better yet, WRITE ANOTHER BOOK. Or, and this is a really novel concept, STOP READING THE FREAKIN’ REVIEWS.

Stop crying in your freakin’ cheerios. At least your book is getting reviewed. How ’bout those sour grapes?

Blog Me

So, read any good Romancelandia blogs lately?

I know you haven’t here, but then I was on vacation, but just in case you missed it, here are a few…

Tina Engler, AKA Jaid Black and founder of Ellora’s Cave, talks about her unconventional marriage. which was supposedly in response to being attacked by someone who took ofeense by what she wrote in her own blog on June 6th.

Then there is the whole Triskelion thing (December Quinn has a good take on this) and the whole Carol Lynne thing. Readers basing authors. Authors bashing readers. Authors of one genre bashing authors of another.

I’m sure there’s been more than that out there while I was on vacation–hey, RWA’s visiting Publisher Recognition, PAN eligibility AND it’s Rita/Golden Heart contest categories all at the same time!–but frankly, I’m way too mentally exhausted to go out and check. I do have a question though:

Is all of this fun?

I suppose it’s entertaining, but really, when do people have time to read–or more importantly, write–if they’re avidly following all this stuff?

I think I was much happier with my writing career before I joined writing groups, Yahoo lists, and other online forums. I enjoyed the bliss that thinking Romancelandia was a happy, frothy place with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. (I’ve since found out that that only applies to people without permanent tans, but that’s another story.)

Is the stuff I linked above really what readers want on authors’ blogs?

Ah, the Day Job

“Work is an essential part of being alive. Your work is your identity. It tells you who you are. It’s gotten so abstract. People don’t work for the sake of working. They’re working for a car, a new house, or a vacation. It’s not the work itself that’s important to them. There’s such a joy in doing work well.”

-Kay Stepkin, U.S. baker. As quoted in Working, book 8, by Studs Terkel

This week wasn’t a bad week at the day job. I actually really like my day job. This week, however, I resented the hell out of it.

Why? Because I was on a writing tear, I mean a good writing tear, and I kept having to interrupt it to GO TO WORK.

Ah, but what light through yon window breaks? (Or something like that) That word that causes schoolkids to squee and part-time writers to sigh?

VACATION.

The old Go-Go’s tune is running through my head this weekend, and I’m trying not to grin like an idiot.

After a brief stop in the office to make sure the burning embers do not becoming towering infernos, I will be on vacation. Tuesday morning, I hop a plane to go have some quality time in a cabin on a river where no cell phones work. Sheer bliss.
I suppose you’re curious to know what I’m taking with me besides No 99 sunblock. Three books actually:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) and Variable Star and

Creepin’: Payback Is A Bitch\The Heat Of The Night\Vamped\Balancing The Scales\Avenging Angel

I had the HP book for more than a year, forgot I had it, and bought the trade size too. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it before Book 7 hits the shelves. Variable Star I’m taking because a friend let me borrow it a few months ago and told me I would enjoy how Spider Robinson meshed his voice and style with Heinlein’s. I’m partially through both books and I’m enjoying both of them.

Creepin’ I’m taking because I know most of the authors in this book on sight–we’ve all breathed the same air in the same hotel at one point or another. Gotta support my sistahs. I’m also taking it because, even though it’s put out by Harlequin, it’s not a romance, and I’m quite curious about it. Third, I’ve read these women, and they can write their tails off.

No romances, which is deliberate, because I’m also taking pens and paper and plan to write when I’m not reading and relaxing. Don’t get me wrong, this will be a real vacation–the hardest choice I’ll be making will be whether to put on a bra or not. But not having to stress over the day job means my mind will be busy elsewhere, and that “elsewhere” is where the writing comes from.

My rule is to never read a romance while I’m writing one, unless it’s completely outside of the subgenre I’m working on or I’m not on a deadline. Since I’m working on three anthology-length stories in three subgenres , no romances can come with me. What are they, you ask? Well, I can’t tell you that yet. Let’s just say that I’d hoped to ramp up my writing production, and the Universe answered in spades.

So what are you planning to do on your summer vacation?

I'm in Wal-Mart!

Woo hoo! I’m happy to report that the mass market of No Commitment Required is in neighborhood Wal-Marts!

Why is this a big deal, you ask? For one, according to Romance Writers of America, the majority of readers who buy their purchases new, 31%, buy them at chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart. 22% buy from mall bookstores. So getting into Wal-Mart gets me in front of more readers.

Second, Wal-Mart sells at a discount. In my neighborhood store, NCR was going for $4.84 for Wal-Mart shoppers, less than what the B&N discount gets you, and is only matched at Borders if you use your weekly 25% off coupon.

Third, Wal-Mart buys a lot of books. I checked the other books, there were roughly 4-5 copies of other titles. I bought the last one of mine I could find on the rack (hey, I don’t have a copy of this version, and it counts as a sale, which it wouldn’t if I made an author purchase from the publisher) I think it’s safe to assume that they had at least as many copies of my book as they did the others in the line. Granted, they might not have copies of my books in less urban areas, but there are 2800+ Wal-Marts in the US. Even in urban markets, that’s some mighty fine exposure, and writers know exposure to readers is what you need.

Contrast this to my neighborhood Borders (in the same shopping center as the Wal-Mart), which only has two of my books in their system, both the IR ones. Granted, NCR is a mass market released this month, but Three Wishes came out in 2003. Why didn’t they have Through the Fire, the RT award winner that was released last year? They didn’t know and neither did I. Maybe only the interracial ones sell there. Who knows? But they do have a local author section and since I was definitely local (as in less than two miles away) I think I can get some shelf space and a signing event out of them. I’ll save it for the September release though.
So I had a feeling of “I have arrived” at least for a little while. I love being in trade size, but the reality is, I really wanted to get into mass market. People are more willing to take a chance on a $7 paperback than a $10 trade. I totally understand that–especially when the $7 mass market can be found discounted to $4.84. Remember, I was, am still am, a reader first. I have to invest my pennies just as wisely.

Since NCR was released at the beginning of May, I’ll only receive a month’s worth of sales information when royalty statements are compiled and sent later this year. But it will be interesting to compare the numbers of the mass market to the trade edition.

Until then, keep readin’ and writin’!

Today Was a Good Day

I deposited a royalty check for my first book this morning. Three years of totals are still missing, but hey–I will now be able to keep myself in Froot Loops for another week.

Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor on Tuesday rejected a mother’s plea to have the Harry Potter books removed from county school libraries. Harry Potter, 5 – Gwinnett woman who wants to be mom to the rest of the county, 0. (Forgive my snarkiness, but the woman could at least have read ONE of the books before mounting a campaign to remove them from schools because they are “harmful and promote witchcraft and the occult to young people.” ) Hey–even Nora Roberts got mentioned in the comments about the article!

Realized that despite the proposed changes to the super duper secret Published Author Network in Romance Writers of America, I will not be kicked out like I was in Thanksgiving 1999, because I can prove I meet the requirements. (I know it’s like getting back with an abusive lover, but I can change it, I really can, if I stay…)

Weighed in on comments to the proposed contest changes that RWA has even though they don’t effect me. (Come on, those of who who even know that RWA has a contest for its published members–what AA romance actually made the finals? Won? I think there may have been an inspirational one, once. Though I truly do have hope of one day being a finalist in the Paranormal category.) I mean, if erotic romance doesn’t have a chance to get a category–but Inspirational romances do–does a regular AA romance have a hope?

And the voices in my head are still talking to me. They’re talking about the wrong story, of course, but at least they’re talking! After a quick dinner, I am going to stretch out on my bed with a Woodchuck cider and the Pure Moods cd and get my writin’ on.

All in all, a very good day.

Simon & Schuster and Stuff

Science Fiction Writers of America agree with Author’s Guild re: S&S new contract.

Author’s Guild gives permission to post and forward, and S&S gives permission to post their response as well.

If you don’t know about this, you really should…

**************************************************************

Simon & Schuster is irked that we went public with our information about their unannounced new contract language. They’ve sent a release (you can read it below) accusing us of “perpetrat[ing] serious misinformation.”

That’s a heavy charge, so we went back and double-checked. We stand by every word of our statement.

Simon & Schuster’s release pretends that the argument concerns “print on demand.” That isn’t the issue. We like print on demand: we encourage publishers to sell books in every permissible way. You wouldn’t know it from reading its release, but Simon & Schuster already has the rights – as they have for years in their standard contract – to take advantage of print on demand and e-book technologies.

The issue is what happens when a book goes out of print, when the publisher is no longer selling it in meaningful numbers. Traditionally, rights then revert at the request of the author, who often is able to give the book a new life elsewhere. Simon & Schuster is trying to change the rules of the industry so that they never have to admit that a book is out of print.

We meant what we said in our press release and our alert to members:

1. Simon & Schuster’s new contract would indeed allow it to retain exclusive rights to a book even if it were no longer in print. Simon & Schuster’s contract says, “The Work shall not be deemed out of print as long as it is available in any U.S. trade edition, including electronic editions.” Having a book available for sale in some database – without the obligation to sell a single copy – is not keeping a book “in print” as common sense and the industry have defined that term.

2. Simon & Schuster would, under its new contract, be empowered to exclusively control your rights even if your books aren’t available for sale through traditional bookstores. E-book availability (read any good e-books lately?) would be enough to fulfill Simon & Schuster’s contractual commitments under its interpretation of “in print.” Roy Blount is plainly right, this contract would allow Simon & Schuster to squirrel away rights.

3. Simon & Schuster’s press release avowals about its promotional efforts as it pursues “incremental income” for backlist titles are not legally binding. Simon & Schuster goes on at some length about efforts to market backlist titles including “regularly review[ing] inventory opportunities with all our accounts” and engaging in the “distribution of online assets (cover, bios, synopses, chapters) and data feeds about basic information” on backlist titles to retailers. Whatever the merit of these efforts, Simon & Schuster carefully avoids committing to them on behalf of authors with books relegated to the backlist.

4. Simon & Schuster’s efforts to alter the true core deal of a trade book contract – that a publisher controls the right to sell an author’s book only so long as the publisher effectively exploits that right – demanded exposure. Agents reported to us that Simon & Schuster had slipped the change into its contracts without alerting agents to the alteration, which was quite subtle and easily missed. Agents also reported that when they discovered the change and questioned the publisher about it, Simon & Schuster played hardball, saying the clause was non-negotiable and wouldn’t be discussed. In its release, Simon & Schuster seems miffed that we didn’t discuss their new contractual language with them before exposing it to sunlight. Engaging in discussions with a conglomerate playing hardball while authors may have been unwittingly signing rights away would, in our view, have been irresponsible.

We welcome and will take Simon & Schuster up on its offer to discuss this matter. We hope to report soon that it has rejoined the ranks of publishers who behave as responsible stewards of their authors’ copyrights.

In the meantime, if you have an offer from Simon & Schuster, remember that the publisher has now said it will negotiate this clause on a book-by-book basis. If you’re fortunate, Simon & Schuster will offer you a reasonable out-of-print clause. (Feel free to discuss this with us or talk to your agent about the adequacy of the clause.) If not, it’s in your interest to explore your options – other publishers have reaffirmed that they’re not following Simon & Schuster’s example. If you have a manuscript that may be auctioned, it’s in your strong interest to ask your agent to exclude Simon & Schuster imprints unless they agree before the auction to use industry standard terms.

Here’s Simon & Schuster’s release in its entirety, which we forward to you at the publisher’s request.

Feel free to forward and post this alert. The Authors Guild is the oldest and largest organization of published book authors in the U.S.

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TO OUR COLLEAGUES IN THE AUTHOR AND AGENT COMMUNITY

The Authors Guild has recently perpetrated serious misinformation regarding Simon & Schuster, our author contracts and our commitment to making our authors’ books available for sale. Unfortunately, these distortions were released by the Authors Guild without their having undertaken any effort to have a dialogue with Simon & Schuster on this topic.

In recent years, Simon & Schuster has accepted, at the request of some agencies, contract language that specifies a minimum level of activity for print on demand titles. Our experience with the current high quality and accessibility of print on demand titles indicates to us that such minimums are no longer necessary. Our position on reversions for active titles remains unchanged. As always, we are willing to have an open and forthright dialogue on this or any other topic.

When considering this issue, we ask you to please keep in mind these important points:

• Through print on demand technology, publishers now have the ability, for the first time in history, to actually fulfill the promise which is at the core of their contracts with authors – to keep the author’s book available for sale over the term of the license.

• We view this progress as a great opportunity to maximize the sales potential for slow moving titles, and some of the best news for authors and publishers in a long time. The potential benefit for all concerned in incremental income for the publishing partnership far outweighs any imaginary negatives purported by the Authors Guild.

• We and others are investing heavily in digitization so that authors and publishers can reap the maximum benefit of publication over the long term. New technologies including print on demand will extend the life of a book far beyond what has been possible in the past.

• Contrary to the Authors Guild assertion, using technologies like print on demand is not about “squirreling away” rights, nor does it mean that “no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores.” Print on demand is simply a means of manufacturing a book, making it widely available to retailers and consumers.

• Publishers must and will continue to invest in sales and marketing organizations that work on behalf of its books regardless of how they are manufactured. Among the activities that publishers regularly undertake for backlist tit
le

s:

— Keeping them available for sale everywhere books are sold, through brick and mortar and online stores.

— Our Sales team regularly reviews inventory opportunities with all our accounts.

— Distribution of online assets (covers, bios, synopses, chapters) and data feeds about basic information to both online and traditional retailers.

— Books are cataloged and regularly featured and solicited in category promotions.

— Re-promotion of books to tie in with seasonal and current events.

— Re-promotion of an author’s backlist titles together with new frontlist releases.

• Print on demand, digital archives, and virtual warehouses support greater flexibility and effectiveness in making books available. Simon & Schuster has already had instances where a high level of sales activity of print on demand titles has led us to go back to press for larger quantities.

Most importantly, we hope you know that we view authors and agents as our partners in the publishing process. We have always been open to discussion and negotiated in good faith at every point in the life of a book.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

May 21, 2007

Author Katherine D. Jones

“I don’t think I am the same person emotionally as when I wrote Love Worth Fighting For five additional books down the line. I’m still confused about where to put the darned commas, but I hope I’ve given readers characters that are three-dimensional that you can root for, situations that are funny, or exciting, or dangerous, and used words that are thought-provoking. My goal in 1997 when I first started to write is the same now in 2007–to entertain from the moment in time that you first pick up my book until you get to the last word. Simple. I’m not here to save the world, but just to give ya a little spice, a little drama, and a little excitement in your day.”

Katherine D. Jones, author of six romance novels, wrote those words on April 4th of this year. She died last week.

Thank you for your stories, Katherine. You will be missed.


Writing Quote of the Week: Continency

“Life, as the most ancient of all metaphors insists, is a journey; and the travel book, in its deceptive simulation of the journey’s fits and starts, rehearses life’s own fragmentation. More even than the novel, it embraces the contingency of things.”

Jonathan Raban, British author, critic

“Life’s a bitch. And it’s about to have puppies.”

Seressia Glass

Sometimes life likes to open up sinkholes on the road you’re traveling. For instance, I have an anthology that needs to be written by the end of this month. So what does Life do to me?

Decides to crack the screen on my laptop, that’s what.

As I sat at my desk with the realization that I am the proud owner of a $1200 paperweight, I realized that I had two choices: one, freak out; or two, do something. Honestly though, option one would inevitably lead to option two, it would just take longer and leave me more exhausted.

So I opted for the second choice. I called my sister up and begged for the desktop that I’d given to her kids. I was hoping at the very least that the monitor would hook up to my laptop and I’d be able to copy my files off, if not use it as a hybrid laptop/desktop. Luckily for me, the kids weren’t using the desktop, and the monitor works great.

The whole experience got me to thinking about contingency plans. As a writer, I think they are paramount. You never know when the editor that championed you is going to leave, your agent doesn’t like the direction you want to go, the house you started with begins to get flaky, so on and so on.

Stuff happens. That is another fact of life. And while it’s difficult to be prepared for everything, you can prepare for some things.

~ Diversify your portfolio. This is something I’ve recently come to terms with, and I realize now that more than a few writers do this. Paranormal and contemporary romance. Sweet and erotica. Fiction and non-fiction. Just as diversifying your stock portfolio lessens your chance of losing your drawers when a sector goes under, diversifying your writing career will leave your options open when one genre grows cold. If you do not believe me, ask someone who used to write Western romances.

~ Always have an iron in the fire. Never rest on your laurels. You should always be thinking about the next project after the one you’re working on after the one you’re finishing up. If you have to tack a dry erase board to the wall or at least a calendar or sheet of paper, always keep in mind that it’s always about the next sale.

~ Have an exit strategy.
Also known as the Check your Parachute rule. Make sure there is an out clause clearly stated in your agent agreement. Make sure you clearly understand how and when your rights revert back to you. Know when to leave a publishing house and how. Never burn bridges–your mama taught you better than that. That being said, sometimes you’ve got to know when to exhale.
Do you have any contingency plans? What works for you?

Progress Report 05/07

So I thought I’d do something else, for you and me, and start tracking my projects. I have three contracted projects and two spec projects (as in want to sell) that I’ve scheduled for this year. No, I’m not really sure how I’m going to get them done and do my day job too, but I’m making an effort, right? At the minimum of weekly or maximum when I have a good writing jag, I’ll post my progress here.

Project One: Channeling Moonlight, for the Vegas Bites Back anthology:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
29,053 / 25,000
(116.2%)

I enjoyed writing this story, which features Guy, who had a serious thing for Laurel in L.A. Banks’ story in the anthology. When I get the go-ahead, I’ll post an excerpt from it in the Books section.

Project Two: Sex on South Beach, for the What White Boyz Want anthology

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
491 / 25,000
(2.0%)

This is a light and sexy IR novella that is inspired by true events. Some of the Slam Jam ’06 ladies know what I’m talking about. 🙂

Project Three: Touch of Darkness, urban fantasy with romantic elements:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
7,665 / 95,000
(8.1%)

This project currently has no home, but I’m loving this story. I’m trying to get it to the point where I can send it around and/or garner agent interest before I write the entire thing. Reality is, I have to work on the projects that are paying first, so this one will have to be the stepchild of the bunch unless the muse bitch-slaps me.

Who knows? Maybe cyber humiliation will motivate me to write faster.

RT pictures

Not as many as I could have, and not as many as I do have (some just need to be mailed to the parties involved with instructions on where to leave the money…)

me with cover model fred

Me with Cover Model, Fred. He writes poetry, ladies!

Me with Kathryn Falk

Me with Kathryn Falk. Somehow the second apple martini convinced me it was a good idea to squeeze the girls into a leather corset…

Vixenne, Julian, and me

Believe it or not, ladies, the first thing you notice are his amazing…eyes.

cleavage anyone?

All I can say is that it must have been a lack of oxygen that made me take another picture…

Vix and Ryan

He’s single, South African, and looking for a special someone, and he has nice…hair.

Some of my other highlights of RT? Talking to Kate Duffy. Talking to Beverly Jenkins. Sitting next to Rebecca York and chatting with her husband wearing his “Ask me about my wife’s books!” button. Hanging in the bar. Having the entire bar know why I yelled out, “Where’s my pie?!” Kissing Rodney on the head. Yes, the one above his shirt!