Monday, November 23, 2009

Harlequin, You're Brilliant!

“We need to be more controversial.”

This is what Robert says to me at dinner tonight. My response? Sure. Just post the following sentence:

______________________________is the greatest president we’ve ever had.

Yep. Post it once a week and fill in random names of presidents. That ought to generate enough controversy to fill a thousand blogs. That’s what I responded, but would that satisfy him? Nooo. Seems our blog is supposed to be about publishing, not politics. About the wonderful world in which we ensconce ourselves 23, maybe 24, hours a day…

Yippee.

Most agent blogs that get linked to over and over include information aggregated, disseminated, and a bunch of other kinds of –ateds from other publishing entities and self-proclaimed professionals worked into a posts that offer readers incredible and fascinating insights into the world of writing for publication at large. There are people in publishing, and those who pretend to be in publishing, who take their valuable time to coordinate all these ideas and put the effort into making them into sometimes remotely understandable blog posts. What do they get for it? Hits? Writer love? The intrinsic reward of knowing they’ve contributed to the cause of empowering writers and making the world of publishing a better place?

Poodle piddle.

I don’t know what they get from it. I know I get a headache. I get a headache because we constantly get people e-mailing us about why we don’t blog more like those other agents, editors, and publishing professional posers. What they really mean is “Give us some more free information about how to get published.” Blah.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Our blog’s purpose is so that writers can get a sense of who we are and maybe get some publishing tips along the way, not to provide insider information to fledgling authors looking for a shortcut to success. If we do offer information, we’re not being altruistic. We’re selfish, because we’re hoping writers will learn enough so that we’ll stop getting queries like the four I got today that made me wonder if, by ridiculous query #4, there was someone out there writing fake queries just to see what I would do. That’s how extremely low level they were.


So-and-so just bought such-and-such! Mr. Fake Agent has his fingers on the pulse of NYC publishing! Ms. Bookbritches, editor extraordinaire, just bought three books from a new author after meeting her in a coffee shop.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Whatever.

Looking for insider information? Become an insider. I did. I fought hard for it, too.

Looking for controversy? There’s this new-fangled contraption called the Internet. Lots of controversy on there.

But Robert wanted me to come up with some controversial stuff, so I said I’d do my best. As it turns out, Harlequin Enterprises and a bunch of other agents, editors, and writers did most of the work for me, which supports the claim in publishing circles that if you wait long enough, SOMEONE will do it.

If you want the scoop, click here or here or here. Or just take my word for it that Harlequin has decided to start a subsidy publishing endeavor called Harlequin Horizons, or, by the time you read this, it will be something else as they’ve decided to drop the Harlequin name from the company to distinguish it from the parent company. To read more about that, click here.

Have you sensed the irony yet? Click, click, click. lol

A number of people have weighed in on this, not the least of which is the RWA, who revoked Harlequin’s status as an eligible publisher. People have speculated on Harlequin’s bold move, and most who are for it state so, but with qualifiers. Personally, I think Harlequin is freaking brilliant…with no qualifiers. First Carina Press is unveiled, and now this. Someone at the company has realized that status quo is dead and gone. Society has officially entered into “Jetson,” and it’s never turning back. It couldn’t if it wanted to.

Publishing is going forward, with or without the consent of those who would deem themselves the decision-makers. Readers are the REAL decision-makers, and I think too many of us in publishing have forgotten that little vital piece of information or choose to dismiss it because we know how fickle readers can be, and it is too scary to contemplate that our livelihoods might be based on the fancies of the population at large.OMG.

Let’s face it. Publishing is a money-making endeavor, but those we make money from, because it’s a creative enterprise, are notoriously unpredictable. ADMIT IT! I’m a reader; you’re a reader. Haven’t you ever had a literary itch to scratch? For example, one time I was desperate to read a Nancy Drew mystery from my childhood. Is a publisher supposed to make a living off people like me wanting a bit o’ the mystery now and then? Multiply my whim by a zillion and you’ve got yourself a dry skin condition the Hecatonchires can’t scratch (it’s a mythology reference…look it up).

So publishing aims for the middle of the Bell curve, that group that it can identify readily because there are always certain concepts that sell in entertainment (which is why you see them over and over and OVER again). Occasionally, publishers will get crazy and follow a book off the charts because it’s taking them somewhere they can make money. Eventually, however, everyone comes back to the curve and settles there until someone drags them off it again because it’s familiar. It’s the Way It’s Always Been. Because of this, along with misguided efforts of writer advocates and organizations, the industry hasn’t really been able to innovate until now, and that’s only because it had to. This method doesn’t work really well in education, and it certainly doesn’t work well in publishing, or the whole framework wouldn’t be ready to fold.

Each of us has to decide whether we want to jump on the bandwagon or let it run over us. Me? I want to drive it. Why? Traditional publishing is like traditional education—it only serves a few. Granted, they may be a brilliant few, but look at all the others who are left behind. Look at the talent left by the side of the road because it doesn’t fit some paradigm that has no logical connection to the real world and the technology-enriched society that humankind has evolved into.We can do better. And imagine the possibilities if we did.

And by the way, Thomas Jefferson is the greatest president we’ve ever had.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What's Your Name? Is It Peggy or Sue. . .

Let’s be truthful. The real reason most everyone wants write is because it’s one of the cheapest start-up businesses on the planet. Isn’t this also the reason why literally millions want to write for publication? After all, most everyone has a computer and virtually anyone can write. Writing requires little space, little money and little knowledge of the process to begin producing a product, and it’s a stay-at-home job.

This isn’t bad in and of itself; however, a bigger problem comes about when those who dabble at writing begin believing that if they can just get an agent, they’ll be published and soon after become rich and famous. After all didn’t whatshername do it? Now she has homes all over the United States, and takes trips to Europe every year!
Is it or is it is not true that most feel the road to publication goes something like this?

1. Begin writing a novel and finish it as quickly as possible.
2. Find an agent to unload said work upon and get back to the real work—that of writing.
3. Get published because what other purpose does writing serve?
4. Begin the next project.

Four/four rhythm is captivating and many dance to its beat. Some dancers feel nothing beyond this, nothing about who might be in their way on the dance floor even. Writers get caught up in a singular beat and struggle to finish their book project, never thinking about writing skill , their competition, where their book might fit in bookstores or, if it does fit, what are the odds of anyone finding it in those intimidating stacks? Marketing is assumed to be the responsibility of publishers, not something about which writers should be concerned. After all, aren’t contractual rights granted to publishers, permitting them to print, sell, distribute and license other to print, sell and distribute? So isn’t it the publisher’s job to worry about producing and selling books (big sigh of relief)?

It’s true that if you just want to produce writing you must put ink to paper. It’s also true that you tie yourself to your keyboard and you pound out a certain number of words a day. BUT, and this is a big but, if you want to write to be published, you must first think quality and how you’re going to sell what you write.

A book, after all, is just an entertainment device and, as such, is actually a product. So if writers can at least get their heads around that concept, doesn’t it also make sense to think of test marketing said product before, not after, it’s produced? Authors, to be successful, must think of themselves first as businessmen and women who produce a high quality product for the entertainment industry and after that all the other ramifications of the industry in which they want to become a player. Yes, Toto, we are no longer in Kansas.

No matter by whom one is published, he or she must think about those stacks; those silent bookstore shelves filed with books standing shoulder to shoulder, one inch apart. A few wise authors wonder how Joe or Josephine reader could possibly find their simple title when no one knows what to look for. Isn’t it a fact that readers need a name, not just a book title to find a book? But that consideration is swept aside by most in the daily toil of getting that damned book written and out there.

Very few consider that it’s just luck of the draw that an unknown author’s title gets pulled from the stacks, read and bought. Those stacks are the new writer’s enemy, a place where an author’s future lives or dies. It’s a book graveyard, where tomes standing so bravely are allowed to stay only a few short months before being returned to the publisher and turned into book soup.

Even when the Golden Fleece is within reach, little or no understanding or thought is given to returns until months later when that first royalty statement arrives and the author sees that his or her book didn’t fare well; that returns far outnumber sales. Of course, because an advance had to be paid back, there is little worry that a check didn’t arrive with the statement. Possibly a note fired off to his or her agent and this disappointment is quickly forgotten, left to agents and publishers to figure out. Along about four statements later, however, the truth finally sinks in that there probably will never be a royalty check coming with any statement. But that’s okay, right? Most writers never receive royalties beyond their advances, right?

Wrong.

So what happens if an author decides to let the publisher carry the marketing load? In many cases an author won’t get another publishing opportunity. If your first book fails, you fail as a businessperson, as not many publishers are going want to waste more money on your product. You’ve now been tested and your product hasn’t proven itself. After publication, if a novel has high returns it won’t pay out its advance, and novels that don’t pay out their advances are looked upon with disdain.

Put yourself for a moment in the publisher’s (also a businessperson's) position. Would you want to risk more money on a unsuccessful product? Even worse, would you risk more on an author who put forth little or no effort to keep his or her failure from happening? If you are among the more fortunate and your book does get published, work very hard to make sure your novel or book is a great success. Build yourself a name before you’re published (more on this later).

Knowledgeable authors learn that name recognition-- their name first and a title or titles later--are what readers look for in bookstores or on Amazon.com. Readers know that nothing else matters because it’s a daunting task to find anything to read without those two identifiers.

Therefore, if you want to be a successful novelist, you must get beyond just writing. Something must be done to let lots of readers know who you are and that you have one hell of a tale to tell.