Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday 20

Ten Things about being a Writer for Hire:

1. You finally get a starred review from a rag that has done nothing but trash the other books you write under your public name, but you can't tell anyone.

2. A former client will have another WFH use one of your pitches, altered just enough to prevent paying you a kill free.

3. Your fan mail is opened, read, and occasionally tossed out by your publisher.

4. Your contract reads like the NSA wrote it, with a little help from the CIA.

5. Your e-mail answers to an interview have to be approved by your editor/publicist. Your answers are edited or rewritten in such a way that you now sound like a beaming moron.

6. Your public-name readers beg for your WFH titles. A lot.

7. You audition over and over and over and over and over and OVER...

8. After a week of working together, you suddenly discover that your client should be in therapy, a detox program, or The Lunatics Hall of Fame.

9. You are passionate about your WFH work, and give it everything you've got, but at best you are sneered at as a sell-out.

10. You fall in love with a character from your WFH project, but when the job is over, you can never write about him or her again.

It's that time again: any questions out there?

53 comments:

  1. I have a question. If my publisher approached me with a WFH project, is it okay to tell them NO without damaging our 'real' relationship? Or do these things usually come in from third parties, thus not involving your regular publisher at all?

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  2. I take it the only reason to do something like this is the money? In which case, thank heavens I have a day job. You make it sound so awful!

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  3. Is there any way we can 'inadvertantly' find out what your WFH books are? Genre? Initials? Book blurb? Something?

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  4. Your wordage per day caused much consternation and discussion amongst my writer friends, pro and pre-pro.

    Does this allow you to take risks, since you can afford the odd failure?

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  5. I had to turn down a WFH gig this week. Came from out of the blue and from a publisher I haven't worked with, via my website. But the timescales were WAY too aggressive to even consider. For me anyway. Given your daily word count you could have produced about three of the things.

    I now retreat to seethe with envy... or something ;}#

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  6. Simon Haynes wrote: If my publisher approached me with a WFH project, is it okay to tell them NO without damaging our 'real' relationship? Or do these things usually come in from third parties, thus not involving your regular publisher at all?

    WFH offers generally come from the publisher. A few will come in from big name writers and clients whose businesses are not involved in the publishing industry. A courteous refusal should do you no harm, but one thing I always do when I say no is to recommend another WFH who may be interesting in the project (always checking with that WFH first before I throw his or her name into the hat.)

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  7. Anonymous7:00 AM

    Thank you for answering our questions.

    Please, could you tell us what media are you using for writing in a typical day?
    I mean how much do you use DragonNaturally Speaking, and how much do you use typing in Word for Windows, or jotting in a notebook (or anything else)? (including outlining/brainstorming with oneself etc.)

    How many hours do you spend writing in an average day?

    Many Thanks,
    Pencilone

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  8. Doug Hoffman wrote: I take it the only reason to do something like this is the money? In which case, thank heavens I have a day job. You make it sound so awful!

    It's a different type of writing, and everyone has their own reasons for doing it. Primarily WFHs do it for the money, which is usually pretty good. Another reason is to stay in print while your career is in a dry spell; you can list WFH jobs on your publishing resume. Some of us like the challenge. There is nothing tougher than writing according to someone else's spec. :)

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  9. Jaye Patrick wrote: Is there any way we can 'inadvertantly' find out what your WFH books are? Genre? Initials? Book blurb? Something?

    #6 kicking in, lol.

    Our contracts (see #4) really are very tightly-written, and in my case I'm as public with my WFH work as I'm contractually permitted to be. Which is a roundabout way of saying sorry, no.

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  10. Zornhau wrote: Your wordage per day caused much consternation and discussion amongst my writer friends, pro and pre-pro.

    It's made me a popular girl in many places. I should start pretending I grow the books in a cabbage patch or something.

    Does this allow you to take risks, since you can afford the odd failure?

    Everything I write is sold beforehand, so I probably have a lot less room than the average writers to mess up. My schedule makes spandex look billowy.

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  11. Now this is something I don't think I could ever do.

    I have enough trouble sometimes getting my own characters to speak to me. Much less somebody else's.

    Exactly how common are these kind of requests?

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  12. I know you outline, then visualize, then write the book. How much do you "see" when you are outlining?

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  13. MacBride wrote: I had to turn down a WFH gig this week. Came from out of the blue and from a publisher I haven't worked with, via my website.

    One bit of unsolicited advice, in case a private offer comes in and tempts you -- filter them through your agent. Sometimes those gigs that sound too good to be true are.

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  14. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve mentioned in this blog in the past that a writer should sell 4-5 titles in the same genre to establish him-/herself before attempting to branch off into different genres. Does this same strategy apply for sub-genres as well, i.e. if one started off writing high fantasy but then later wanted to move into urban fantasy? (My instinctive answer to this is yes, since not all readers of one sub-genre necessarily enjoy other ones, thus the author would risk losing an already precarious fan base if s/he jumped sub-genres too soon.)

    Also, could you comment on the trend of new fantasy authors beginning their professional careers with either a trilogy or what was meant to be a long, standalone novel divided in two? In your opinion, is it possible for a first-timer to establish him-/herself with a number of unrelated (but still within the same sub-genre), standalone titles?

    Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to answer mine and everyone else’s questions.

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  15. 11. But it pays so well that you wonder why you bothered establishing your public name(s) in the first place.

    (My WFH work is non-fiction, which is different, but it pays about triple my public name rate. OTOH, it doesn't pay royalties or reprint fees.)

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  16. I'm ashamed to admit I've never heard of the term "writer for hire" before. I assume it's the same thing as a ghost-writer.

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  17. This may be a stupid question, but is there any way to break into work for hire writing without being an established pro first? Any way at all? I've been struggling with my fiction for about a year now -- I can either think of good beginnings, middles, or ends, but never all for the same story, and I stall out no matter what I try -- but I've always been good at writing to other people's specs. Actually the thought of having a full story outline and characters all finished and handed to me sounds pretty good at the moment.

    I don't hold out much hope that publishers would entertain auditions from an unknown like me, but the silly old part of me that is hoping anyway won't let me NOT ask this question. Thanks PBW. =)

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  18. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Hello,

    This is tied in to the previous comments -- what types of things are generally sold as WFH? I've hear of "autobiographies" but what other fiction and non-fiction things are handled this way?

    Thanks again for a great blog -- it's my favorite.

    JulieB

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  19. Pencilone wrote: Please, could you tell us what media are you using for writing in a typical day?

    My typical routine for the day:

    Morning-afternoon: 4 to 5 hours writing new material with Dragon Naturally Speaking. When my RA allows it, I'll spend another hour typing miscellaneous things (letters, critiques, blog entries, etc.) on Microsoft Word, otherwise I use the Dragon. After that I shut down Mrs. Peel to let her cool off and spend another hour or so reading, hand writing or dictating notes into a recorder, composing letters, outlines, and so forth.

    In the evening: a half-hour of reading through the new material from the morning/afternoon, then 5 to 7 hours to tag and edit the new material, backup files, and then on to answering e-mail, posting blog entries, reading and tagging e-mails to answer the next morning, etc.

    I brainstorm all the time, most frequently in the car, the shower, while I'm cleaning or cooking, or some other non-writing activity.

    How many hours do you spend writing in an average day?

    Actually writing and writing to edit, about 10 to 12 hours. On deadline weeks, or when production decides to move one of my books up on the schedule, 12 to 16 hours.

    Note: I do not recommend my work schedule for other writers. You'll burn out faster than a cheap sparkler on 4th of July.

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  20. Shiloh Walker wrote: Exactly how common are these kind of requests?

    Not very. I think most pros are approached by someone looking for WFH work at least once or twice during their careers, but usually publishers have a list of WFHs they call upon. WFHs generally start out as media tie-in writers or established authors who have their agents put the word out that they're available for hire. Sometimes we're referred to clients by other writers who know we do the work.

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  21. Last night I attended an online chat with a fiction series writer who was discussing with other writers how to get into print, etc. Yes, one of those dirty writer things you do to pay forward.

    One of the questions that came up the most was of course how to break into print in the first place. I guess everyone assumes it is some trick or secret handshake and once you learn it, you are in the club. Could you share the secret handshake? ;)

    But really, if there was a trick to breaking into writing fiction books, what would you tell new writers? (Why, it's the answer to life, the universe and everything... of course. ;))

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  22. Hi PBW!

    I was reading an article in the NYT this week about “paperback originals.” The article describes how the challenge to sell hardcover copies of new books has fostered a trend to create “paperback originals” for improved sales.

    What, if anything, do you care about hardcover versus paperback versus “paperback originals” in your writing career? Is it just a difference of cost/earnings per book, or does it matter to you personally as to the format with which your works are produced?

    Many thanks for your time and consideration PBW, as always!

    JLB

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  23. Mrs. Peel...I love it. Do you have anything named John Steed? ;-)

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  24. Anonymous12:41 PM

    ..."Note: I do not recommend my work schedule for other writers. You'll burn out faster than a cheap sparkler on 4th of July."...
    ;o)Thank you, PBW.

    How is it possible to have such a busy writing schedule, and not burn out? What's the secret of not burning out?

    My guess is that it's a writing habit built up over several years. If this is true, how many years did it take you to achieve this proficiency?

    Thank you,
    Pencilone

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  25. 1 l loyd wrote: I know you outline, then visualize, then write the book. How much do you "see" when you are outlining?

    Not much. Outlining for me is like drawing a blue print or building the shell of a house; I'm more interested in establishing the logic and balance than getting into the more creative/visual aspects. Occasionally an idea for a protagonist is so strong that I form an instant visual that hangs with me through the entire process, but that doesn't happen with every book.

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  26. Which of the above (if any) could a good agent rpotect you from?

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  27. Janna of Canada wrote: If I’m not mistaken, you’ve mentioned in this blog in the past that a writer should sell 4-5 titles in the same genre to establish him-/herself before attempting to branch off into different genres.

    You're mistaken. Margaret posed that theory in this post, and I disagreed with it.

    Does this same strategy apply for sub-genres as well, i.e. if one started off writing high fantasy but then later wanted to move into urban fantasy?

    To quote myself from another post, I think getting heavily established in one genre (say putting out more than two books) makes it harder to jump into something different, especially if the established genre is working. The publishers and your agent are probably going to try to keep you where you're successful. They may not be as sticky with sub-genres, but you're still labeling yourself as a writer if you stick with one too long.

    (My instinctive answer to this is yes, since not all readers of one sub-genre necessarily enjoy other ones, thus the author would risk losing an already precarious fan base if s/he jumped sub-genres too soon.)

    You can establish new reader bases. I have, lots of times.

    Also, could you comment on the trend of new fantasy authors beginning their professional careers with either a trilogy or what was meant to be a long, standalone novel divided in two?

    I'm against it personally, as in I will not sell a novel that I'd have to split (luckily, I don't write great big fat books so this is not something that will likely crop up in my case.) I don't pass judgment on what other writers decide to do to get into print.

    In your opinion, is it possible for a first-timer to establish him-/herself with a number of unrelated (but still within the same sub-genre), standalone titles?

    That's a tough question. I'm seeing a lot of three-book contracts being offered around, and most publishers like these trios to be interconnected in some way. I have no other evidence, though, so that's what makes the answer tough. Here's my opinion, for what it's worth. I think three standalones might be a hard sell for a first-timer, but potentially doable if you find an editor willing to back you on it.

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  28. Katherine wrote: 11. But it pays so well that you wonder why you bothered establishing your public name(s) in the first place.

    Amen, sister. My first WFH job paid three times more than my first pubbed novel under my own name.

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  29. Rebecca wrote: I'm ashamed to admit I've never heard of the term "writer for hire" before. I assume it's the same thing as a ghost-writer.

    Almost. Most of us prefer the term writer-for-hire versus ghost writer. A ghost writer traditionally writes the book while the famous or notorious client puts their name on the cover and takes credit for it. A writer-for-hire will do the same thing, but today we're more like a copy writer with a really, really long assignment. :)

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  30. hsc wrote: This may be a stupid question, but is there any way to break into work for hire writing without being an established pro first? Any way at all? I've been struggling with my fiction for about a year now -- I can either think of good beginnings, middles, or ends, but never all for the same story, and I stall out no matter what I try -- but I've always been good at writing to other people's specs.

    Without publishing credits or an agent, you're probably locked out of most of the WFH novel-length jobs. But you should audition for an open-submission job that comes along. You never know; your writing style might be the one that best suits the client.

    Another thing you might do is try writing some short nonfiction pieces for magazines. They're not as big a time committment, there are literally thousands of jobs in the freelance short category, and editors who like your work will call upon you to do assignment pieces -- which could then be used as credits to go after a WFH book project.

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  31. Julie B wrote: This is tied in to the previous comments -- what types of things are generally sold as WFH? I've hear of "autobiographies" but what other fiction and non-fiction things are handled this way?

    Anything can be WFH work. Most typical situation:

    An author dies. If the publisher owns or obtains the rights to the author's pseudonym, another writer can be brought in to write under the name and keep the books rolling out, as is the case with V.C. Andrews and I believe Gary Jennings as well.

    WFH are regularly brought in to ghost for big name authors who for whatever reason don't have the time or inclination to write their books. Sometimes the BN is gracious and allows the WFH to share the byline.

    A publisher wants a certain type of book for their imprint to take advantage of some momentum in the market, but don't have time to find an author writing it, or simply want more control over the work because it may prove to be a big moneymaker. In this case a WFH is contracted to write the books for a flat fee, but the publisher retains the copyright and collects the royalties.

    A writer has turned in a manuscript that is FUBAR and can't be put into production. The publisher for whatever reason still needs a book in that slot, so they hire a WFH for a rush job.

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  32. I'll jump in here and do a public service. FUBAR is ancronym for _____ Up Beyond All Repair. It's commonly used in the military, and sometimes civilians aren't familiar with it.

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  33. Pixel Faerie wrote: One of the questions that came up the most was of course how to break into print in the first place. I guess everyone assumes it is some trick or secret handshake and once you learn it, you are in the club. Could you share the secret handshake? ;)

    Pix, I hate to disappoint you, but there is no secret handshake. The only thing I've seen that remotely resembles a SH is having a famous author as a parent, and I still the big name's kid has to prove he or she can write a decent book.

    But really, if there was a trick to breaking into writing fiction books, what would you tell new writers?

    Keep writing. Don't stall, don't freeze, don't give up. Try new things. And no matter how nasty it is, don't take rejection personally. That's basically what I did.

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  34. Anonymous wrote: ink

    This wins as the most enigmatic comment of the year, lol.

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  35. JLB wrote: What, if anything, do you care about hardcover versus paperback versus “paperback originals” in your writing career?

    I'm not a big fan of hardcover novels. They're nice and impressive and all, but my readers are paperback buyers. Also at my level on the market they're just not very profitable for me.

    Is it just a difference of cost/earnings per book, or does it matter to you personally as to the format with which your works are produced?

    I'm not a format snob, so I don't get a "I'm legit" thrill from being in hardcover. Every time I am released in hardcover I think of the readers who can't afford to buy the book and have to wait six months to a year for it to come out in paperback before they can read it. That makes me feel guilty, as I remember the frustration of doing the same myself -- or having to wait to get it from the library -- back when I was younger and poorer.

    Paperbacks are extremely portable. From reader mail I know that my paperback novels have been carried overseas by some of our soldiers in Iraq and the Middle East. They've also been smuggled into countries where my books are banned. To my knowledge that's never happened with my hardcover releases.

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  36. Bridget Medora wrote: Mrs. Peel...I love it. Do you have anything named John Steed? ;-)

    The autonomous backup drive that I occasionally plug into Mrs. Peel is called Steed. :)

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  37. Pencilone wrote: How is it possible to have such a busy writing schedule, and not burn out? What's the secret of not burning out?

    My formula: A quiet life + loving your work + insomnia + ambition - self-doubt = my schedule.

    My guess is that it's a writing habit built up over several years. If this is true, how many years did it take you to achieve this proficiency?

    I want to say a life time, because everything I've done with writing has helped me become the writer I am now. I became interested in increasing my productivity and self-discipline during the very brief times I could write between the full-time day job and caring for my family about 15 years ago. I gradually built up the my current schedule over that time frame, which is why I don't recommend it for other writers.

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  38. A comment on the hardcover/paperback issue: As I reader, I agree with PBW in that I generally prefer paperbacks. They're cheaper, they take up less space on my shelves, and they're easier to carry around (plus, they don't have those annoying dust jackets that keep sliding partway off the book :)). Sometimes I'll buy hardcover releases, but in general I'll wait for the paperback (which can be frustrating).

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  39. You've mentioned that you use Dragon Naturally Speaking. What version do you have? How easy is it to get to grips with? At the moment I work in an office and use the keyboard eight hours a day. I know I should write more if I ever want to improve but the fact I use a computer so much already makes me worry about getting RSI. And I'm kind of lazy and like to procrastinate.

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  40. PBW and Zoe - thank you both for your thoughts!

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  41. Mapletree 7 wrote: Which of the above (if any) could a good agent rpotect you from?

    Your agent can go after any publisher on a WFH job that violates the terms of your contract. Otherwise, your agent's hands are pretty much tied. The best way to use your agent is to gather as much information about a WFH job and the client offering it before you sign a contract.

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  42. JPatrick wrote: I'll jump in here and do a public service. FUBAR is ancronym for _____ Up Beyond All Repair. It's commonly used in the military, and sometimes civilians aren't familiar with it.

    Thanks, J. In the AF we used "recognition" for the R. :) Sometimes I forget only Jean and a few other people are going to get what I mean when I regress into military-speak.

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  43. Zoe wrote about the advantages of paperbacks: They're cheaper, they take up less space on my shelves, and they're easier to carry around (plus, they don't have those annoying dust jackets that keep sliding partway off the book :)).

    More good points -- I always take off the dust jacket before I read a hardcover because it annoys the hell out of me, too. Thanks, Zoe.

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  44. Madukwriter wrote: What version do you have? How easy is it to get to grips with? At the moment I work in an office and use the keyboard eight hours a day. I know I should write more if I ever want to improve but the fact I use a computer so much already makes me worry about getting RSI. And I'm kind of lazy and like to procrastinate.

    I'm going to be lazy and direct you to a post I wrote back in December here that should answer all your questions.

    Using your voice to write instead of your hands sounds like an easier alternative, but it has its own challenges. You have to train your voice to dictate in the same way you had to train your hands to type.

    For physically limited or handicapped writers, it's an absolute blessing and I do recommend it as an alternative to explore for anyone who is dealing with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive movement injuries.

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  45. I will say that big name authors luuuuv hardcover because - this is what I've been told anyway - the royalties are greater if - note the if - you sell out your advance. Not always guaranteed. A given book could flop, after all. Also, if I remember correctly, a publisher also makes more profit per book with hardcover.

    S-lady will correct me if any of the above is wrong, I'm sure. :)

    On the flip side some readers are hardcover snobs also, meaning they get some weird thrill out of saying "I bought it in hardcover." Kind of a subtle way of saying they had the $25 to spend on one book, I guess. That never floated my boat, but I know some people like that.

    Regarding WFH - under the category of "wants more control because it may be a big moneymaker" - I'm sure most of you have seen the very end of the Sci-fi/Fantasy shelves at Borders/Barnesandnoble/Waldenbooks/otherchainstore. You know, the place where you see all the Forgotten Realms and Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars, etc. books? These are WFH also unless your name is R.A. Salvatore or Ed Greenwood or Timothy Zahn. True, they'll put your name on the cover, but it's WFH just the same.

    Also, under the category of "author died and publisher wants more" - just where do you think all those Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books keep coming from?

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  46. I can afford hardcover (but I try to find them at the best discount possible), but for many things, I prefer to spend as little as possible. For my known authors, I'll buy in hardcover, but for most, I prefer to wait until the paperback release.

    As for FUBAR, I've heard both repair and recognition--I believe it depends upon the community you're working in. If it's maintenance, it's repair. If it's a non-equipment community, it's recognition. If you're in a politically correct environment, it's Fouled up Beyond All Repair/ Recognition.

    Tango-Uniform is a fun one. Granted, very sexist, but still fun. Sadly, I've become isolated from the environment where the really good phrases are used. But at least I can afford a hardcover book if I want one. The price one pays...

    Lucky Mrs. Peel, but I hope Mr. Peel doesn't get jealous--or is Mrs. Peel a widow?

    Fascinating discussion.

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  47. Steven wrote: will say that big name authors luuuuv hardcover because - this is what I've been told anyway - the royalties are greater if - note the if - you sell out your advance. Not always guaranteed. A given book could flop, after all. Also, if I remember correctly, a publisher also makes more profit per book with hardcover.

    I've heard the same thing, Steven, but have yet to find reliable statistics on it. I have made a nice amount of royalties on my hardcovers in the short term, but paperbacks are more profitable in the long term as they have a much longer shelf life, and are not taken out of print as hardcovers are almost always the minute the paperback reprint hits the shelves.

    Would be interesting to do an analysis of hardcover/paperback sales for a range of authors, from rookies to the rockstars.

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  48. Jean wrote: Tango-Uniform is a fun one. Granted, very sexist, but still fun. Sadly, I've become isolated from the environment where the really good phrases are used.

    Before anyone asks, tango-uniform means tits-up. We used the common slang, like check your six (watch your back) and GOMER (get out of my emergency room), but we had our own inappropriate patient tags, like Hotels (hypochondriacs) Romeos (retired patients who want to talk your ear off) and Juliets (junkies angling for pain meds.) When I went TDY to another hospital for the first time, I discovered their ER staff had their own unique set of patient tags, some of which were never explained to me. :)

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  49. Jules8:18 AM

    More military slang can be found over at wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_slang

    Very useful for those of us who have no military experience but whose characters do. :)

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  50. There are very few books that I enjoy enough to read more than once. Those I'll buy in hardcover. Maybe. But I've got better things to do with my $25 than give it to the library in a few days. Paperbacks for me.

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  51. I realize this comment is rather late (I've had to take some time off of reading blogs because of health issues), but what books have been banned and where? I thought midlist authors, even ones as firmly established as you, weren't high-profile enough to get officially banned.

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  52. fledchen wrote: ...what books have been banned and where? I thought midlist authors, even ones as firmly established as you, weren't high-profile enough to get officially banned.

    I didn't either, until a reader from Jordan wrote to let me know that my StarDoc books were being smuggled in because booksellers were prohibited from legally importing them. I've since heard similar stories from readers in Iran and Turkey. High profile authors like Rushdie may get death threats, but in reality anyone whose writing offends Islamic religious authorities may find their books bounced out of that country.

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