10 Questions for Nora Roberts

Time Magazine did an article wherein readers from around the world asked questions of best-selling author Nora Roberts.  Whether you read her or not, like her or not, she’s considered the spokesperson when it comes to romance novels.  It’s got to be a heavy load all the time at times, but she sure carries it well.

There were many questions that I liked her responses of, but I think this is my favorite:

Do you ever get sick of writing and want to try something else?Ian Kachemov, Highland, MD
I have no idea what I would do if I wasn’t a writer. It is the best job in the world. I never get sick of it. I think you can get tired—I know I do—of the business around the writing, but not of the actual process of sitting down at the keyboard and working. If you don’t love it, I don’t know why you would do it, because it is very hard work. It is also solitary work—your butt is in the chair for many hours a day. But, for me, that is exactly what I want to be doing.

Race in Romance: Affaire de Coeur

The Romance Slam Jam is roughly five months from now. I’m really looking forward to it, not the least because I get to return to Chicago for their hot dogs and pizza, but because I get to see the largest gathering of black romance readers and writers on the planet. If you want to join in the party, meet a bunch of romance writers, and take a bunch of workshops, register a group of 5 or more get a discount and pay just $175 per person, or individual for $200 until December 31st.

Isn’t that a bargain for a conference?

Anyway, author Dyanne Davis had an interview with Louise Snead, the owner of Affaire de Coeur. You can check it out on Dyanne’s website or the Romance Slam Jam’s newsletter.

In the I-told-you-I’m-not-crazy-department, Ms. Snead makes this observation:

If you poll the average romance reader, they don’t read African American romance. Why? Romance readers indulge passionately in this genre because they want escape and fantasy. They want to believe there is a partner out there for everyone. They want to fantasize about who this person is. If you can have a heroine with all her foibles be loved by the end of the book, then there is hope for the reader. Many readers accept and love romance with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches, faeries, elves, and the like, yet cannot accept a hero and heroine of color.

I know this is true. I’ve actually had a reader tell me so. Black people in any other genre, she can read about them and enjoy the story. A black heroine? Not so much. I think that’s sad, but then I also know some readers who only read black woman/other ethnicity male romances and won’t pick up one with a black hero.

Sigh. There are days when I think I’m only writing for myself. Then again, if I were writing for the market, all my heroines would be blonde.

Essence to Honor Writers, Help Libraries

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Essence Magazine will honor African-American writers and help public libraries by launching two overlapping initiatives this winter: the Essence Literary Awards and the Save Our Libraries campaign.

The nominees for the awards–in fiction, nonfiction, children’s, poetry, commentary/public affairs, memoir and photography–will be selected by the editors of Essence and will be announced on December 19th. The winners will receive their awards during Black History Month, on Feb. 7, 2008, at a ceremony in New York city that will also kick off the Save Our Libraries campaign. Emcees Hoda Kotb of the Today Show and Dr. Ian Smith will preside over the event, which will honor the winning writers, as well as a “Storyteller of the Year.”

Terry McMillan will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to contemporary African-American literature. McMillan, who is writing her eighth novel, Getting to Happy, added, “There are so few venues for African-American writers to get attention. This is a positive way to draw attention to African-American writers whose work is of high standards and merits attention.”

“We love books,” Bass said, describing editors at the magazine as committed to coverage of African-American authors and their work since Essence launched in 1970. Essence currently dedicates at least 3-1/2 pages to authors and books each month, second among women’s fashion/beauty/ lifestyle magazines only to O: the Oprah magazine.

You can still vote. Go to http://www.essence.com/essence/literaryawards/ and pick your choice, or nominate one.

When Your Characters are No Longer Yours

In an effort to answer the question of “When does a character stop being the property of its creator?” or “How popular does it have to be to become Fair Use?” Stanford’s Law school will defend the publisher of the Harry Potter Lexicon against Warner Brothers and author JK Rowling.

According to the press release:

RDR Books contends it has the right to publish the encyclopedic reference book under the fair use doctrine, which safeguards the use of copyrighted material so long as it is used transformatively and does not damage the market value of the original work.

“The Harry Potter Lexicon draws material and inspiration from the Harry Potter series but is an entirely new piece of work,” said David S. Hammer, co-counsel for RDR Books. “It is a companion to Rowling’s work, not a substitute for it. No one is going to buy the Lexicon instead of a Harry Potter book, or instead of seeing a Harry Potter film.”“This book is a reference work based on more than seven years of research by a distinguished volunteer team of librarians and academics,” explained co-counsel Julie Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project. “Fair use protects scholars’ rights to create such companion guides. It simply is not the case that authors can exploit copyright law to prevent analysis and commentary on their work.”

It will be interesting to see how the ruling goes on this. I think it’s one thing if this was a literary criticism of the body of work. That sort of thing has been done to authors and their work for decades. But if courts rule in RDRs favor, any group of people could beat an author to publishing a concordance of their work, as long as one of them is an academic. That might not be good news for authors of popular series, such as J. D. Robb’s or even J R Ward.

Are Paper Books Dead?

Newsweek has a story featuring the guy many consider equal parts literary pioneer and devil, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and his new ebook reader, the Kindle. It’s worth a glance-through (but if you want an in-depth review of Amazon’s Kindle, I point you to Dear Author’s detailed opinion/review of the device.) There were a few things in the Newsweek article that stood out to me.

Jeff Bezos’ wife is a novelist. You’d think she’d influence him somewhat about those used book sales, but maybe she makes enough money to not care.

This also caught my eye:

Amazon has worked hard to get publishers to step up efforts to release digital versions of new books and backlists, and more than 88,000 will be on sale at the Kindle store on launch. (Though Bezos won’t get terribly specific, Amazon itself is also involved in scanning books, many of which it captured as part of its groundbreaking Search Inside the Book program. But most are done by the publishers themselves, at a cost of about $200 for each book converted to digital. New titles routinely go through the process, but many backlist titles are still waiting. “It’s a real chokepoint,” says Penguin CEO David Shanks.) Amazon prices Kindle editions of New York Times best sellers and new releases in hardback at $9.99.

This is important news to writers with backlists, especially if they have books out of print. Especially when you consider that Amazon’s goal is to make every book ever created available for it’s reader, even books out of print. Any writer who knows the struggle of trying to get their rights reverted back when their books go out of print should be concerned about this and check their contracts. When you hit a certain level in your career, your backlist becomes. Bottom line: check your contract for electronic format “and any format hereinafter invented” clauses and get them to be at least mutually beneficial, even if your publisher doesn’t do ebooks. Because you don’t know what will happen five years from now.

This is also important to readers. Who pays $10 for an ebook? Why would I, when I can get a hardcover through my bookclub for the same price? The majority of my fiction books, particularly new writers I’m trying, I buy in mass market or trade. I also don’t follow authors into hardcover–if I started a series in MM, I’m gonna wait for that book to be released in MM. In my pinion, an ebook should be comparable in price to a mass market.

One of the things they talked about was trying to figure out how to get advertising into electronic books. I have issues with this on multiple levels. One, would the author get a cut of that advertising dollar? It’s her story after all. Would she be able to approve who gets to advertise in her book? Two, as a consumer, I don’t like getting advertised to in something that I own, which is why I rarely buy DVDs, especially since you can’t skip through the ads to get to the start of the movie. Same with seeing movies in theaters. I pay my $9.50, show me previews, but don’t advertise golden arches.

The article wraps up with the future of ebooks, and it doesn’t sound all that beneficial to writers. One of the future visions is that the author becomes more of a “superuser” directing the creative process but no longer the sole progenitor of the work. I can see this in non-fiction, but fiction by its very nature, is the product of a person with the ability to visualize a concept and translate it into words for others to consume. I could imagine doing a “fan fest” book as a one-time event, especially if I had a beloved series with hundreds of thousands of fans. (Hey, I could dream.)

Finally, Newsweek’s Steven Levy had a live discussion on the state of the book on Tuesday. You can read the transcript here.

Readin’, Writin’, Racism, Romance ~ pt 1

A comment-laden post on Dear Author that started as a dissertation on opinion vs. actual defamation quickly became a discussion on race, veered closely to defamation on someone else’s blog (no, I’m not going to link to the blog, but saying that an author is breaking the law by exchanging sexual favors for money sounds a lot like defamation to me) then finally became a somewhat ordered discussion on racism in romance and racism in general.

So, I’d like to continue that discussion. And I’d like to thank Monica, because if she hadn’t come out guns blazing, and throwing herself on the grenade so to speak we wouldn’t even be having this discussion (and really, I can’t blame her for reacting/responding to the post, especially when a commenter called her out). And thanks to Dear Author for letting the post be hijacked and not closing the comments or moderating them. I learned a lot about a lot of people because of it, and not what many of them wanted to share, I’m sure.

Please note: I’m specifically dealing with romance. I may veer off from time to time, but I do want the focus to be on romance in general and blacks in romance in particular.

Some points of reference:

  • Karen Scott’s Great Racism in Romance Survey in which a number of non-white authors participated with varying opinions.
  • Gwynne Forster’s commentary on AA romance for Affaire de Coeur
  • Monica has had several blogs on the subject, but she made this one came after the Dear Author one, and she references great links you should click through
  • Even Romancing the Blog had a post on it back in May

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think books should be shelved by genre. In some chains, this is not the case. In some chains, if the author is black and writing fiction, that book will be mixed in with all the other books written by black people. Romance, scifi, fantasy, horror, mystery, poetry, street lit, it’s all jumbled in there together. Sometimes AA romance isn’t represented at all, or it’s represented by one or two “name” authors.

The problem with this is many-fold. First of all, it assumes that black people only read books written by other black people. Second, it assumes that black people will pick up any book, no matter the genre, just because it’s written by a black person. Third, it assumes that only black people want to read books by black authors.

Note that I said authors, not characters. Because the segregation isn’t based on the race of the characters, but instead is determined by the race of the authors. Therefore, lots of fiction featuring black characters written by non black authors or even romances by non-black authors that feature a black heroine are not shelved in the AA section. (I think this kinda put holes in the niche marketing theory some mention.)
I’m sure there will be some people who will say, “See, she’s only doing this because she wants more readers.” Yes I want more readers. I want to be able to be a full-time fiction writer like so many of my counterparts. What is wrong with that? Woo in this business doesn’t want that? But more than that, I completely believe that shelving books based on the race of the author is not only wrong, but a disservice to the author.
Inspired by the comments in the Dear Author post and from other blogs, I’m going to make several other posts on this subject. Among other things I want to discuss/address are:

  • African-American imprints
  • Is black romance different?
  • Is niche marketing nice?
  • Next steps

I don’t know if I can do this, or even should. Maybe I’m killing my New York career as Seressia Glass before it can even start. Still, the important things aren’t easy, are they?
Now I’d like to hear from others. I truly think it is important to talk about this, to build awareness. But more than that, I think we need to reach consensus on what we should do next. If you know anyone, regardless of their color or affiliation, who is a reader or writer of romance, please ask them to stop by and give their two cents.

Finally

Dream of Shadows is FINALLY out!

This book has gone through more obstacles than B-Listers on those old <em>Battle of the Network Stars</em> programs.  But yeah for it finally being available on Amazon–with the right cover!

If youre curious, I will be signing copies at Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight and Magnolias conference THIS SATURDAY at 3 PM.  We’ll be at the <a href=”http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/ATLHPHF-Hilton-Atlanta-Northeast-Georgia/directions.do”>Hilton Atlanta Northeast</a>, 5993 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.  Come check us out!

Writing is Like a Symphony

Tonight, I am going to the symphony. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will be presenting Holst’s The Planets. They’re including shots from various NASA missions and the Hubble telescope.

They’re also going to do excerpts from Star Wars, including the title theme and the Imperial March, which will be really cool to “feel” in Symphony Hall!

I love the symphony. Back in the day, I played viola in high school, then later in a church orchestra. It always amazed me how so many disparate instruments could be brought together by a composer’s imagination and a conductor’s will. It mimics the writing process in a way.

In writing, you take disparate concepts and words and arrange them into a work, the same way a composer (or arranger) puts notes to sheet music. You know the story setup, the first movement, in which you introduce your setting, giving us a sense of time and place and emotion.

The second movement is the introduction of your characters, who they are, what they want, and what they’re going to do to get it. We are caught up in them, in their action, swept along as the excitement and tension builds layer by layer (instrument by instrument).

The third movement is the black moment. Everything comes to a head in this section. Everything in the piece has been leading up to this moment, and we are hanging on the edge of our seats, rapt. We have run up that literary or musical hill to stand breathless, only to be knocked from our firm footing.

Then comes the four movement. Everything is coming to resolution, and we are presented with an ending that satisfies and delivers.

And through it all has been the conductor who, much like an editor, takes the creative work and directs it into the most impactful piece it can be.

Just a little something to ponder on this Saturday morning. Think about listening to a symphonic piece as your write your words today.

Happy creating!

RWA Changes, Pt 2

Okay, there’s very little good in this post today. let’s just get right to it, shall we?

Some of your favorite publishers are now Vanity presses, according to RWA.

Here’s RWA’s new definition of vanity and subsidy presses:

The Board updated the definition of Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher to: “any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the cost of production or distribution in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution.” This definition includes publishers who withhold or seek full or partial payment of reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs; publishers whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site; publishers whose list is comprised of 50% or more of its books written by authors who are principals in the publishing company; and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and associates.

That’s right, dear readers. Thanks to that sneaky little clause (that most people probably skipped over because hey, we all know what a vanity/subsidy publisher is) houses like Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, LooseID, and other epublishers are all now considered vanity/subsidy presses. Why? Because their primary means of distribution is through their websites.

So all of us who thought this opened the door to epubbed authors finally getting their due, I’m sorry to report that as it stands now, the door has been once again firmly shut in your faces. The only way to get around this is for epublishers to not sell any of their books on their websites, but have everything link to FictionWise, eBooks.com, or other places.

This is stupid because: publishers have to pay those distributors, which means less money coming to the publishers. Less money coming to the publishers mean lowered royalty rates because they have to recoup their monies somehow. Or they’ll just sign less authors to contracts. Or they’ll just not give a rat’s patootie because they obviously aren’t hurting for submissions so not being able to take editor appointments at National will not faze them. It just means that the author is, once again, shut out–not being able to compete in the Ritas, not being able to be in PAN.

Oh, and some publishers whose owners are also authors might want to look at their author stable. If more than 50% of your books are from the owners, you are a vanity press.

I find it ironic that based on these definitions, EC, Samhain and LooseID are out, and Genesis Press is back in.

Of course, I could be wrong, and the RWA board didn’t mean for it to include legitimate epublishers. After all, they’ve told us again and again that they aren’t against epublishers or epubbed authors. I sincerely hope that the scuttlebutt from National is that this is just a misprint/miscommunication and will be corrected shortly. I also hope the houses impacted have already cornered board members and the Executive Director and asked for clarification.

For the curious, here’s how Science Fiction Writers of America defines vanity and subsidy publishers. Somehow they forgot to include that whole selling from a website thing.

Black Women Write Differently

“…black women write differently from white women. This is the most marked difference of all those combinations of black and white, male and female. It’s not so much that women write differently from men, but that black women write differently from white women. Black men don’t write very differently from white men.”

Toni Morrison, Black Women Writers at Work, ch. 9, by Claudia Tate (1983).

So I was doing my usual search for a quote by a famous writer to use as my weekly writing quote, and I came across this one. Of course, I want to deny, and deny loudly, what Ms. Morrison stated. We are women. We’re the same, with the same needs, the same desires, the same writing ability.

Or are we?

I think that there must be some differences in the way I write romance versus the way others write romance. This is the only explanation I have for being repeatedly bypassed by readers during the Romantic Times booksigning.

Yes, I know it was crowded. Yes, I know Mary Janice Davidson, Charlaine Harris, and Jim Butcher were there. I was sitting next to Rebecca York and across the aisle from Kate Douglas. Both women write werewolves. Guess what? I have a werewolf story too. Truth of the matter is, that one did sell the best, though at one point someone looked at me and said, “You’re not L. A. Banks!” as if I was somehow trying to impersonate her to get a sale. So I pointed out my name on the book. The reader still walked away. No Leslie, no sale, I guess.

Perhaps the readers were looking for the award-winning authors. Guess what? I had my RT award right next to the very book that I’d won it for. Very nice emotional story with a Rainbow Coalition of characters including a bi-racial hero.

Readers prefer white heroes, you say? Guess what? I had copies of No Commitment Required right there, an obviously not-black hero embracing the heroine.

If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t see a large contingent of black authors at RT or RWA, this signing experience is part of the reason. A big part.

I know this will sound like sour grapes, and for that I apologize. But it was a slightly disheartening weekend to be a black romance writer who doesn’t write erotic or paranormal romance. To sit in on a panel discussing AA romance, and to hear that Kathy Baker no longer buys AA romance for Borders, a guy named Sean (whose last name escapes me) buys all the black books for Borders Group instead. He sees absolutely no problem with AA romance being shelved right alongside street lit alongside pure literature alongside poetry, in which the only commonality is the race of the author (because hey, James Patterson’s Alex Cross books aren’t sitting there, but Walter Moseley’s Easy Rawlins books sure are.)

God bless Kate Duffy of Kensington, who says she just wants to sell a good book and she could care less who wrote it.

It does make me curious to see where Borders will stack the reissue of NCR. While it’s written by yours truly and published by the company-that-shall-not-be-named, Kensington distributes it, and it features an obviously white male torso on the cover. Of course, after this post, it might not be stocked in Borders at all. 🙂

Hopefully no one will feel tricked if they accidentally pick NCR up. Well, actually they shouldn’t, should they? Because black women obviously write differently, and that will be evident from the opening line.

To all of you who have read my books, stopped by my table, grabbed some promo, and told a few friends, thanks so much. Word of mouth is important in this business, and I appreciate every one of you. I promise a fully frothy recap of RT later in the week. I really did have an awesome time, and I will be going to Pittsbrugh next year.