Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday 20

Just for something different, the latest of my quilt restoration projects. The first two are finished and the third is about to hit the rack:

Peaches:1940's Dresden Plate    Crayons:  1950's Dresden Plate Variation Quilt    NY Beauty:  Detail, 1903 Satin/Silk/Velvet Crazy Quilt

(If I did this right, you should be able to click on the thumbnails to see the larger images.)

The crazy quilt will likely be my last major job. I can only sew for a few minutes at a time now before my hands go on strike. Not a bad thing when you're restoring 103-year-old textile art, but still, mildly frustrating. I can go on and use what I've learned to consult with and help other quilters and collectors with their projects. I might even write a book about my adventures in quilt recovery and conservation, you never know.

If I haven't put you to sleep yet, any questions for me?

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Ten Things to Download or Do for Free

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Diary Book is an electronic journal with a bunch of built-in features like an event reminder, to-do list, alarm, photo manager and more.

2. Make little pics out of big ones with Easy Thumbnails.

3. All-in-one data management lovers should check out Get Control.

4. Acquire 384 fonts free from LarabieFonts.Com.

5. List Alphabetizer puts everything in order from A to Z for you.

6. Keep track of your stuff with My Things.

7. Serif DrawPlus 4 offers graphic creating, animating, editing and retouching and more.*

8. Desperately seeking task organization? Take a look at Simple TODO.

9. Reshape future Europe from the 14th century as you explore Spice Trade.

10. Create multiple versions of your documents in progress with Version It.

*Added: Serif has more freeware available here (thanks, BJ.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The mean people I live with finally brought my laptop downstairs and hooked me up to the outside world. All is well, and I'm going to be fine. Thanks for the many kind messages and prayers. They worked.

Good news is the doc didn't amputate anything. I made him give me a local and position an overhead mirror so I could be sure. As for the diagnosis, I was on the money, and he wasn't. Now, had we not gotten our boxers into a twist just because my foot vaguely resembled an Omorr's, and done an MRI like Yours Truly suggested . . . why, yes, I am a complete pain in the ass as a patient, especially when I'm in the right.

Bad news is no bad news, for once. I'll need some phys therapy, and I'm on so much Keflex at the moment that I could spit on wounded people and heal them instantaneously, but I'm getting around fine on crutches, and I should be walking again in another week or so.

The cats will just have to start their own blog.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I have to go under the knife in a couple of hours for a minor, non-life-threatening procedure that, if all goes well, will ruin my elegantly rolling gait and my best shot at getting a job at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

I would have told you all about this, but I never know how to bring up the topic. By the way, they're cutting me open next week seems so blunt, and Mommy's going to visit the place where the doctors work doesn't even work on my kids. Also, I was hoping to get out of it for a few more weeks, but my loved ones ganged up on me and started threatening me with things like wheelchairs and robotic limbs.

I'll check back in a day or two; whenever they let me out of bed or leave so I can sneak out. Don't worry, I'll be fine, and if by some astronomical chance I'm not, I'm leaving the weblog to my cats. Be nice to them.

Monday, March 27, 2006


The PBW award for Funniest New Author Website Debut of All Time goes to Kristopher Reisz, whose first novel is coming out this fall from Simon & Schuster. I wonder if he does SF cover art... (discovered while cruising around Scott Oden's blog.)

Search Me

I need to stomp on a meme before it grows another head and attacks one of my friends, so:

Ten Things I Haven't Learned About Writing

1. Backward: I don't know how to write in skips, jumps, batches, artful segues, out of sequence, minus sequence, dream sequence, or with any other trendy method. I start at the beginning of the story and keep writing until I reach the end.

2. E-mail Lost: How to tactfully respond to an e-mail from a colleague I don't know that starts with either Dearest Friend or Listen you bitch.

3. Future Nookie: The correct amount/position/quality/wild-monkey degree of sex, if any, that should be included in a science fiction story.

4. Grammar-challenged: That whole lay-lie thing. I know, a bunch of you explained it to me last time it came up, but I'm too lazy to look up the comments.

5. Harmony Bereft: That romance writer thing where you list 20 reasons (aside from being in love) as to why your lovers should live happily ever after. I can only ever come up with 20 reasons why they shouldn't.

6. Inorganic: How to write a book without a plot, a plan, or a clue. Need those.

7. Less Than Posture Perfect: I've never absorbed exactly how one properly kisses important industry ass. I can spot them from a mile away, though.

8. Questionable Worship: Understanding why a living writer would ripoff a dead writer and then call it homage. You want to pay me homage when I'm dead? Leave my damn books alone.

9. Total Confusion: How spending two grand, traveling in coach next to a single, obese marital aids salesman who just had garlic crabs for lunch, sleeping in a room with three strange women who hog the bathroom and hate each other, eating mysterious, bad luncheon chicken, acquiring five thousand homemade bookmarks, being exposed to various lung diseases, being tactfully ignored by a thousand of my peers and chatted up by the other thousand, having my three roommates load up my suitcase with freebie cowboy/runaway bride romances, and a spiral-bound telephone book filled with badly-copied advice on writing is going to make me a better, more successful writer.

10. Unspontaneous: Any amount of by-the-seat-of-my-pants writing. For some reason my seat always wants to do other things.

What ten things haven't you learned about writing?

Head Scratch Ten

Ten Things about Odd Self-Promo

1. Be Your Own Prez: -- "Whether you're trying to get a literary agent and need what agents and publishers call a national 'platform,' or you're self-publishing your books and just looking for increased sales, one of the most effective things you can do is to create a national association." -- Right, that'll fool everyone into thinking you're important.

2. Driven: "Make an oversized color copy of your cover, mount it with art glue (spray fixative) on foam core, and display it in your car's back or side windows as you drive around." -- Griffith Publishing. But what if you have to backup or make a turn? Do you cut out some peep holes, or use a periscope, or what?

3. Get Widgety: You mean you haven't ordered your promotional bookmarks from Acme yet? New product line: Promote Your Self-Made National Organization With Foam Beer Can Holders!!!

4. Hecklers at Workshops & Booksignings, Beware: offers a nice plastic water pistol which you can have custom imprinted and fill with the liquid of your choice. John, Stuart and James, stop thinking what you're thinking, right this minute.

5. Nail Them While They're Inebriated/Bloated: "Believe it or not, some of my consistent sales outlets are bars and supper clubs. Don't overlook those popular places of business." -- Leon "Buckshot" Anderson. Unless you write for Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers, in which case, kiss your sales goodbye.

6. Public Displays: Do you want to see an author naked? Evidently one lit-head thought so, as evidenced in this body part/cover art publicity stunt. If you're going to flash something, make sure it's worth my valuable time to look at it.

7. Rent-a-Reviewer: This dude only costs $295.00. At last, you can get those five star reviews your book deserves without having to post them yourself!

8. Squirting Bookmarks: Or getting other self-promotion ideas off sites like Thank you, Sick Person Who Sent Me This Link.

9. Who Needs Dignity, Anyway?: Send out e-mail invitations to have everyone in publishing to come and watch you perform on GoogleIdol. I need an aspirin.

10. Who Was That Masked Fan?: Just in case your book doesn't help your readers get some sleep, invest in some imprinted sleep masks, also from The real fun is having them made for another author's books...

Related link: On a more serious note, Debra Benton wrote a good article here about self-promotion without losing your self-respect. It's directed at the tech crowd but I thought her points were pretty universal.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What to Do

My editor kindly sent me a bunch of ARCs for Dark Need, my next dark fantasy novel due out in June. Usually I only get one or two copies, so this was nice. Problem is, I don't do anything with ARCs anymore but shelve them or give them to my Mom, who really prefers the final copies.

I don't know what to do with them. So far I've used one to bribe my doctor's receptionist, and sent another to a review site after asking them if they wanted one (yes, all that voluntarily, now pick up your jaw.) That still leaves ten. I'd like to get them into the hands of folks who really want to read the book, or do something else creative with them, but I can't decide on what.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Blog Shopping

Hit my local BAM today to get some reference books, caved in to my curiosity, walked the fiction racks, and snagged the following:

Alison Kent's Deep Breath, which arrived a few weeks early, very nice surprise. I love the cover art for this one, Ms. Kent.

Hot Spell, Berkley Sensation's latest anthology featuring Shiloh Walker. I have to put this away until I finish my weekend chores or I suspect the laundry will grow to landfill proportions.

Linda Woods and Karen Dinino (Lee Goldberg's sisters) have a make-your-own journal/art book how-to, Visual Chronicles, which sounded interesting. I had to leave fiction and risk getting scrapbooking cooties from the Craft section to find a copy, but it appears to be quite user-friendly, with a focus on content that should pair up well with Alisa Golden's Unique Handmade Books for a personal book-making project I'm putting together.

What books by bloggers have you been finding out there in retail land?

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?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Author Survey

One thing I advocate is helping out students who are interested in writing whenever possible. The more openly we communicate with the next generation of writers, the better off the profession will be in the future. It's the best form of paying it forward.

A few days ago Jess asked me in comments if I'd answer a survey for a university project, and I liked her questions about communicating through fiction so much I asked her if she'd let me post them here and tempt some other published authors to respond:

1. Writing is often considered a solitary profession. Do you agree with that statement? How does that notion reconcile itself with the (somewhat ironic) fact that what you write is intended for an audience?

2. In what ways do you feel you are a communicator through your work? Do you try to communicate what you perceive as truth (for your characters, or universal)? If so, how?

3. How mindful are you of your audience? If you build a world with a particular flavor to it, ie Italian, are you careful not to be offensive to those who would notice the influence? Or, since fiction is often marketed to a particular audience or in a particular way, does the opposite hold true, wherein you feel free to use jargon and ideas from a particular culture in your work because it should be thus understood?

4. Similar to question two: How important is the idea of a fiction writer as a real communicator, or do you feel that with fiction writing, the author is more likely merely a story-teller out to entertain? What is your perception of fiction and writing in general as a communicative tool?

5. Do you have anything else to add, that I may not have covered in a question, about the idea of communicating through fiction?

Authors, if you'd also like to answer these, please send your responses (and note one of your published titles in the e-mail so she can cite it) to Jess at She needs them by Tuesday, March 28th to make her assignment deadline. Also, feel free to post your answers here in comments if you'd like to share them with us.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Past Life

Who were you in your past life?

Which one?

I don't know how you feel about it, but you were male in your last earthly incarnation.


You were born somewhere in the territory of modern Egypt around the year 1850. Your profession was that of a medic, surgeon or herbalist.

Sounds like non-stop glam.

Your brief psychological profile in your past life: Ruthless character, carefully weighing his decisions in critical situations, with excellent self-control and strong will. Such people are generally liked, but not always loved.

Why do I always get the ruthless, strong-willed, totally unloved profile on these internet tests? Every. Single. Time. Once, just once, I'd like to see a result like "100% fluffy, amusing airhead" or "so much fun at parties" or "good-natured nymphomaniac."

The lesson that your last past life brought to your present incarnation: Your lesson is to combat violence and disharmony in our world, to understand its roots and origins. All global problems have similar origins.

So I'm supposed to be, what, a U.N. Ambassador? Yeah, I'd be good at that. Put me on the Nuclear Weapons Council. Or maybe it means something more low-key, like being a sensitivity trainer for cell-phone abusers. "Now class, I want you all to imagine that you are a delicate flower petal, floating on a gentle breeze, tied to nothing, the world on mute . . . Ronald, put down that Nokia this minute or I'm going to beat you senseless with it."

Do you remember now?

No, but being an EMT in LA is about the same thing.

Find out who you were in your past life here (link shamelessly filched from Jon Hansen.)


I am having a conversation with an earnest young writer. I have no choice; I'm trapped in a doctor's waiting room; all the chairs are taken and he's in a leg cast sitting next to me. I'm pretty sure the receptionist, who has been reading my vampire novels and demands a new one everytime I have an appointment, has let it slip to Earnest that I am a real author (as opposed to a fake one? One who is only a figment? Ghost writer? I never get that label.)

After heaping me with praise for being the real deal, although he tempers the gush by admitting that he's never actually heard of me or any of my books, Earnest confides: "I have a fantasy novel that's ready for publication."

The standard published author response is to smile and congratulate him. Something vague, along the lines of "That's terrific." My watch tells me the doc is probably going to keep me waiting for another 30 minutes, so I might as well be nice. "That's great," I say, and think of Jesus weeping before I go on. "What's it about?"

"Well," says Earnest, before he launches into a description that tells me nine thousand things about his hero's backstory and absolutely nothing about the novel. It sounds like Lord of the Rings with only one guy being manly instead of twelve of them. While I listen, I amuse myself by inventing titles for this book of Earnest's heart: The Sauron and the Fury. Death of a Hobbit. Alas, Poor Gandalf.

From Earnest's lengthy description, his book is about as ready for publication as I am prepared to take the gold in Women's Olympic Skating. Just before I lapse into an irreversible coma, Earnest adds the final blow. "It's like Terry Brooks' Shanara novels, but not exactly." He gives me a hopeful look. "Do you know Terry?"

I am briefly tempted to claim Terry is one of my ex-husbands, just to enjoy myself in a small but evil way, but that kind of joke has a way of biting you on the ass in a small town. "No, I'm sorry, I don't."

"But you've read his books." Earnest is fan-anxious now.

I shake my head and invoke the Rule of Silence: Never explain to a fan why you don't read his idol's novels. Never. There Can Be No Adequate Excuse.

"I'm surprised." And he is. "You being a published author." Doubt, too, implying that maybe I'm not, you know, real. "You've read Lord of the Rings, though."

Bingo. Honest response: Not even if you drugged me. Polite lie: Many years ago. I make mine reasonably honest. "Nope."

Earnest is earnestly speechless for about two seconds. "What is it you write again?" Horror has given him temporary amnesia.

I could give him a run down of the backlist, but he's had enough jolts for one day. "Romance novels," I say, and observe the superior gleam appear in his eyes. He's about to explain to me that I write trash, in a polite, condescending way, and with the mood I'm in, I might break his other leg.

Before Earnest can patronize me, I say, "Excuse me" and wander up to the receptionist's window. To her, I say, "I will give you an ARC of Dark Need if you take me in right now."

I am on the exam table two minutes later. The doc's new tech comes in, puts up my x-rays on the light board and eyes me. "Ms. Kelly?" When I nod, he smiles. "Alyssa says you're a real author. I've been working on a novel myself."

I am sitting on a metal table in a large paper napkin that passes as a patient gown, so I can't make a break for it. "That's terrific," I say. "Have you met the other author out in the waiting room? Guy with the broken leg. Writes just like Terry Brooks." I think of a way I can make a break for it and get off the table. "Excuse me, I have to use the restroom."

I wash my hands nine times before I go back to the exam room, and it works. When I leave a half hour later, tech and Earnest are talking in the hallway. Both of them ignore me. It's okay. Not like I'm a real author.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I'm setting up my new novel's timeline tomorrow, starting with an event that happened 700 years ago. The novel won't begin with that event, or the others that occurred over the subsequent seven centuries, and there will be no flashbacks. Still, I need to impose order on one character's lengthy backstory, and chronicle it in major events before I wrestle with the present (this is all part of my practice of knowing a lot more about my characters than the reader does.)

If you think of a novel as simply a series of events, fortunate, unfortunate or otherwise, you can map out a basic structure that will help you create your scenes. Here's the first part of the original timeline for StarDoc.

1. Cherijo packs her things and leaves Earth for a new world.

2. En route to the new world, Cherijo broods over her situation.

3. Cherijo arrives at the new world and insults her new boss, Dr. Mayer.

4. At her new job, Cherijo makes mistakes and questions her decision.

5. Cherijo clashes with Reever, the colony's telepathic linguist.

6. A slaver forces Cherijo to deliver his mate's quintuplets.

This was my initial plan for the opening chapters, and when I wrote the book, the timeline gave me a story roadmap to follow. I decided to open the book a little differently, because the solitary packing-to-leave scene I had in mind provided too much info dumpage temptation, and that's the reason the novel opens with Cherijo in the shady part of town, hiring a pilot and ending up in the middle of a bar fight. This change in plans didn't alter things, and I find that if I timeline only off significant events that affect the protagonist in relation to the central plot, setting changes generally won't cause a problem.

Timelines allow you to move through the novel plan without a lot of unnecessary information or the cast of characters cluttering your view. I find the hardest thing about working off a synopsis is that it reads in story form. I'll break up a synopsis into one or two paragraph chunks when I use it for creating chapter sumarries, but even then it's too wordy or not orderly enough to really be useful.

What most helps you all when you're working out your novel plan?

Related links:

Holly Lisle's Scene-Creation Workshop -- Writing Scenes that Move Your Story Forward

How to Plot When You Can't

How to Make a Timeline

Monday, March 20, 2006

Now That It Can Be Told

How do you take a crazy idea to write a story with a good friend and turn it into a three book deal from a major publisher? Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler can tell you.

This goes in my files as the most unexpected and coolest writer sales story ever. (Thanks to Alison for spilling the beans.)

Guide Us Ten

Ten Things About Guidelines for Unagented Submissions

1. Wholesome romance, mystery and historical writers might want to check out Avalon Books guidelines.

2. Baen Books publish only science fiction and fantasy (I'm guessing alternate history falls under the fantasy flagship, since I sold them an AH story), and their manuscript guidelines are here.

3. How to Prepare a Proposal for Cambridge University Press.

4. Carolina Academic Press welcomes submissions for "titles in law and other academic subjects" and has an online submission consideration form.

5. Dorchester Publishing (Leisure, LoveSpell) have their guidelines here, along with a comprehensive list of what they're currently acquiring.

6. Harlequin has a bunch of imprints and guidelines for them here, two of their newest imprints Nocturne and Kimani Press, the latter of which is incorporating their Arabesque, Sepia and New Spirit imprints.

7. Guidelines for Kensington (Zebra, Pinnacle) Books as well as a list of editor names and what each handle.

8. Want to write a Star Trek Novel? Check out Simon & Schuster's ST novel guidelines.

9. The Tor Official Guidelines; not very informative, but they do accept unagented submissions and have a fairly decent response time. Submission guidelines for their paranormal line are here.

10. Another inspirational publisher, Zondervan Books, is looking for academic, reference, and ministry resource proposals and accepts electronic submissions.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Here are the next cover blurbs I'm handing out:

"Lynn Viehl writes dark fantasy the way I would." -- Jessica Hall

"Wow! I would write this romance exactly the way Jessica Hall has." -- S.L. Viehl

"S.L. Viehl writes science fiction the way I would, and the identical surnames are purely coincidence." -- Lynn Viehl

Blue Horses

The Blue Horse
A surreal literary story generated by Geoffrey Multimedia & PBW

One day there was a green dog. The green dog was quite content to live in a cat and eat books.

Suddenly, there was a happy knocking sound coming from the rebellion. The dog jumped in fright. It decided to run to the dragonfly, and got there just in time to see a blue horse standing there! The horse waved an angry doormat and the dog turned into a lost writer. One quite unable to walk!

The horse shimmered and disappeared, leaving a few agents in its place. The writer picked up the agents and popped one into her mouth. The gift of speech befell the writer, who exclaimed,

"What a confused day! I think I shall pick horses!"

Off went the lost writer, quickly running and skipping, finally tripping on a scintillating reviewer and toppling headlong into a green editor. Needless to say, it succumbed to a bewildered death.

The moral of this story?

If you are thinking of becoming a dog, never open a dragonfly until you are sure there is no blue horse lying in wait.

Above all, live hotly. The horses you eat may be your last!

Want your own surreal literary story? Visit Geoffrey Multimedia's Random Story Generator

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Anxiety Fairy

It's been a long, tough week, complicated by Blogger trying to drive me nuts, lightened by some wonderful news (about which I must keep mine lips sealed for the present) and spiced up by writing these posts. I appreciate all the kind words and nice comments.

Some of the best blog-related hate-mail I've gotten in ages came in response to some of the PTC posts, too. Really, you eavesdroppers and is-she-talking-about-me lurkers outdid yourselves this time. Highlights from hate-mail (paraphrased and posted without permission):

"You don't know anything. Just becuz your a loser your bitter and want to make everybody hate publishing. No one likes you."

Hey, I recognize that lousy spelling -- it's the No One Likes You chick!(she always ends all the e-mails with that line.) Aw, I've missed you, sweetie. It's been, what, at least a year since you last wrote. How are you? I mean, besides upset with me again.

Multiple variations on: "Were you talking about me in that post? Because if you were, I think you are being really unfair..."

No, I was not talking about you, you, you, you, you or you. But don't worry that people will think I was. Remember, I'm a loser, I'm bitter, and no one likes me.

"How did you sell 32 books with that attitude?"

37; five of them haven't hit the shelf yet. I did it while you were at all those conferences. Want to know what I did while you were sleeping last night?

Hostility is a fascinating thing. Dr. George Kelly defined it in his 1955 book The Psychology of Personal Constructs as the "continued effort to extort validational evidence in favor of a type of social prediction which has already proven itself a failure."

What Dr. George meant was that when your construct systems -- what you use to analyze and explain things that happen in your life -- fail to do their job, the Anxiety Fairy pays you a visit. We don't like the Anxiety Fairy, because that bitch has the power to make our collective construct systems collapse like a house of cards and throw us into the Deep Dark Pit of I Haven't a Fucking Clue, Do I? Also, rigid construct systems can't be modified; their owners build them to be inviolate. The combo of the two are why people get hostile, demand validation for their beliefs and otherwise try to enforce flawed construct systems, because they can't afford to be wrong.

What, you thought Dr. Sue was the only one into psychotherapy? You should hear my theory on Freud flashing his own parapraxes via his sexual motivation theories; it's a killer. I also did a riff on Dr. George's theories to shape future Terran attitudes in StarDoc, and while I don't completely agree with him -- I've observed hostility springing from sources other than fear of the Anxiety Fairy's bulldozer -- it's still interesting stuff.

In all things publishing, my final bit of advice is to keep those construct systems flexible, laugh at yourself and the biz, and enjoy learning new things. The Anxiety Fairy truly hates that. My thanks to everyone who picked up the PTC meme and gave out answers on their blogs. Keep writing and linking, the more opinions the merrier.

PTC #2, Part II

2. Staying Pro: I'd like to see more on how to KEEP selling, or how to organize my time (and) Once you start selling the plan is to keep selling and have a nice long career. Pointers?

Last night I talked about the popular propaganda about how to keep selling and have a nice long career. Let me emphasize again that the traditional play-it-safe-and-join-the-herd advice, which is handed out to nearly all of us when we join the pro ranks, is solid, blue-chip wisdom that you should seriously consider following. When in the herd, do as the herd does, and you'll be okay.

If you want more, you have to give up the herd, the guarantees and the tried-and-true methods, and go solo. Here are some of my ideas on how to do that, along with the amount of risk to the safety of your career:

1. Lose the herd mentality. Your writer organization's name isn't on your book, your name is. Publishing isn't a club or a bake sale or a night out with the girls. This is your job, and it's a very rare and much-desired job. At this moment there are a hundred thousand people competing with you for it, and those are just the professionals. We won't think about how many unpublished writers are wanting your spot. All the time you spent on your writer organization you can then use for doing some actual writing. Note: this doesn't mean you have to tell everyone in the herd to piss off; you can still be nice to your colleagues without blindly following in their footsteps. (low risk)

2. Be an entrepreneur, not an assembly line worker. Don't write in imitation of another author, no matter how much you admire him or her. Find out who you are as a writer, and capitalize on your individuality. Give your readers fresh, new, market-savvy novels that showcase your voice, your talent and your storytelling style. (moderate risk)

3. Break new ground. The writer who gets noticed is the writer who does something no one else is doing. Chances are best seized wisely, so before you try something daring with your writing or your career, think it through first. Be sure you're willing to accept any consequences, good or bad, that might result from it. (high risk)

4. Ditch the well-trodden road and take a different direction. Nearly every author takes the same approach to making a career in publishing: Sell the book, join the writer's group, do the promo, sell the next book, go to the con, do the promo, etc. It's like lather, rinse, repeat; I could do it in my sleep. Do you really want to sleepwalk through this gig? If you don't use your individuality, your strengths, and your creativity to navigate and enhance your career, how are you going to stand out from the rest of us and get noticed? (moderate to high risk)

5. Experiment, challenge yourself, and try new things with your work. Widen your range as a writer as often as you can. Write short stories, flash fiction, and promotional e-books. Take a writer for hire job. Write some magazine articles, or do a series of interviews with other folks in publishing on your weblog. Well-rounded writers are much more employable than single genre writers. (low risk)

5. When your career stalls, don't freeze. Don't lock yourself in a genre dungeon. If you can't sell a romantic suspense, pitch a paranormal. If you can't sell a cozy, pitch a thriller. If you can't sell a historical, pitch an alternate historical, etc. etc. Be flexible, inventive, and never give up. (low to moderate risk)

6. If after five years of trying you still can't sell that damn book of your heart, which you've rewritten three or four hundred times, for God's sake, bury it in the backyard and write something else. Better yet, burn it so you're not tempted to dig it up and rewrite it again. Make a vow never to write another one. (low risk)

7. Make the work the first priority. I know I keep harping on this, but the writing has to come first. When you're not writing, someone else is. When you're not pitching, someone else is. When you're off getting drunk in the Tiki bar at Paradise Con, someone else is at home mailing out a submission to your editor, or querying your agent. P.S. Some of them are better writers than you. (low risk)

8. Be frugal, pay off your debts and credit cards, and save your money and/or invest in yourself. Rather than financing your writing org's next big con luncheon, save your money or spend it on your writing needs. That $1000.00 you waste on airline tickets, con fees, widgets to hand out to other writers and your hotel room at the national conference could be spent on a better web site, or new computer and printer, or postage for the next year of submissions. If you've got all you need, put that money in the bank and save it for a dry spell. (moderate risk)

9. Find a healthy outlet for your negative emotions that has nothing to do with publishing, and use it as needed. Cooking, working out at a gym, gardening, going on power walks, sewing, playing raquetball, or anything like these things can help channel your frustrations so you're not tempted to get online and post something imprudent, like Ten Things I Totally Despise About My Editor, the Bitch, or worse, call her and tell her over the phone. (low risk)

10. Employ your sense of humor. Someone very wise once told me that if you can laugh at something, it has no power over you. That little saying has saved my ass as a writer more times than I can count. (moderate risk)

Related Links (including some on organizing yourself):

Chip Scalan's Organizing the Writing Life

Courage and Good Decision Makers are Successful People by S. Manikandan

Ten Things for Marketing & Planning

Find More Time by Organizing Your Writing Space by Michelle Jean Hoppe's The Business End of Writing

Finally: PTC #2, Part I

The last of the questions, brought to you by the engineers at Blogger, always in the process of being informed, notified, and assigned to fix mysterious server glitches....

I saved this one for last because it's a tough one, and we're all hit with the same propaganda about it.

2. Staying Pro: I'd like to see more on how to KEEP selling, or how to organize my time (and) Once you start selling the plan is to keep selling and have a nice long career. Pointers?

To keep selling and have a nice long career, this is what I was told to do: write politically-correct, acceptable books that cross no lines or boundaries, praise all things publishing, be supernice to everyone, never speak out against your publisher, or better yet never refer to your publisher at all unless with glowing groupie enthusiasm, do exactly what your editor says and never argue about anything, same goes for your agent, spend your entire advance on self-promotion, hover around and attend bestselling authors and/or constantly pay homage to dead bestselling authors, join your genre writer's association and suck up to the players in it, speak only in gushes and then apologize for gushing, never get involved in a controversy, stay far, far away from scandals and scandal-magnets, put your book in for every single award out there, be a wonderful loser and congratulate every winner, adding that they are much better writers than you and deserve it, praise all reviews and reviewers, have them use the Zero Visibility Fog lens for your author photo, wear something pink and cute if you're a girl and something conservative and blue if you're a boy, refer to your first book as the book of your heart, use afterdinner mints as the color scheme for your web site and weblog, better yet don't keep a weblog because they're dangerous, stick with your writer org pals and only do favors for/make award nominations for/hang with them, and moonlight at one or two jobs outside of publishing 'cause you probably won't make a lot of money as a writer (but if you are bounced out of print after four or five books I was assured that you still have the option to do the Con Workshop Queen or Guest Speaker Dude thing while you take freelance copy-editing jobs, climb the well-comped ranks of your writer org so you can go to all the cons for free, and dole out hefty how-tos to aspiring writers/fans on some hasbeen/neverwas newsgroup.)

I didn't listen, but I don't like being told what to do, and I'm allergic to pink.

Anyway, minus the sarcastic bits, it's actually pretty good advice. If you're very careful to hang onto your pom poms, speak politely when spoken to, make the right friends, and avoid the pariahs and lepers, you'll probably stay in some kind of print for the rest of your writing life. It's the safe, sound, well-trodden path, and it's what works the majority of the time for the herd. Out of such well-behaved stock always sprouts a handful of major bestsellers. One of them might even be you.

Want more than that? Stop in tomorrow for PTC #2, Part II.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday 20

Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone who celebrates. We will be nibbling on corned beef and cabbage and soda bread tonight here at Casa PBW.

Just FYI, Blogger is giving me fits with posting my answer to the last of the PTC questions, so until I get this technosnarl untangled, any lingering questions out there?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

PTC #6

6. What's Selling, and What's Not: I'd like to know what novels publishers are wanting now and the best way to keep up with the markets. How can someone check their idea with what is coming out on PW or the other publishing trades? What is the science behind it?

Forecasting publishing is actually a business in its own. Publishers Weekly, Simba and other trade entities offer various types of publications which cover the book biz, what's selling, what will be, and what's not. Many writers spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on these publications every year to get an inside track on the publishing world, in the same way stock brokers religiously subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.

I don't subscribe to any of them; I think they're overpriced, hype-controlled and often too vague to help me personally. I'm more into gathering my own info, and I get it all for free. I talk to my contacts in the industry and note which authors are selling and which aren't. I watch the bestseller lists to see what genres are moving and which are stagnating. I talk to book buyers I've gotten to know to see what they're buying and what they'd most like to buy.

I watch the industry itself. I hit the stores at least twice a month and look at what the chains are pushing and what's not getting shelf space. I do the same at the big outlet stores, grocery stores and drug stores. I monitor the rise and fall of genres, trends, imprints, etc. in the news, and keep an eye on what's happening business-wise with the major houses. I search the internet for articles, leads, discussions, editor interviews, and look for anything else that helps to indicate upcoming publishing trends, trend-makers and trend-breakers.

It's not an exact science, and I don't think it ever will be, but the more facts you gather about the momentum of our industry, the better you can forecast what publishers want.

Let's say you have a proposal for a paranormal romance (safe bet that a lot of you do.) Paranormal romance is a very hot trend at the moment, and based on the sales other authors are making you're reasonably sure that it's not fizzling out, so you think it's a possibility for you.

You've researched which publishers are actively publishing paranormal romance and have looked through their guidelines, and you decide Tor looks promising. Tor has their guidelines on the web here and they're fairly specific about what they want, and they accept unagented submissions, but you'd still like more info before you submit something.

At the bottom of the guidelines you notice the editor's name, Anna Genoese. Anna also blogs over on Live Journal, so if you want to get an inside line on what she likes, dislikes and often what she's buying and editing, you go over and read through the entries.

Run Tor through your favorite search engine and you can pull up articles and press releases about their paranormal line. See which authors they've bought and what those authors are writing.

You'll find information everywhere. Hell, I was just talking about Tor the other day in response to Doug Hoffman's question about splitting a 300K novel into a trilogy. Gather up all your Tor tidbits of data, analyze them, and make your decision based on what they tell you.

Related Links:'s Industry Links

Publishing News from

Look up specific Technorati Tags, such as publishing industry

For our European writer friends, the EU Publishing Market Watch Project overview and book trends report.

PTC #1

1. How to Go Pro: What happens after you get The Call? What are the stages the book in process goes through? What you can do as an author to help it happen and be as painless as possible, etc.?

I described most of the business end of going pro and how the book process works in PTC #9, but I split this out as a separate question to talk about other things that happen when you become a published writer.

As a pro, you have the opportunity to meet and hang with other pros, former pros, and lots of aspiring pros. Most of your colleagues will be friendly (a few will treat you like paramecium, but they do that to everyone except their cronies.) You'll get tons of solicited and unsolicited advice. Some of this is good; some of it is garbage. Now and then you will get a tip that can change your whole career. The rest will be a mixed bag. Take from it what makes sense and helps you. If you're not sure about the info, verify things with your agent, your editor, or a pro you know well and trust.

Your personal life isn't unaffected by going pro. Friendships are most often destroyed by envy, especially between writers. If your marriage or relationship at home is rocky, this may finish it off. If it's solid, new problems can crop up if you have to travel or you start making more money than your spouse or partner. Family members, business associates and other non-writer folks in your life can withhold support or actively interfere in your new career. Then there are complete strangers who for reasons of their own decide they hate your guts and go after you, or who will mess with you hoping to attract attention to themselves (the flip side of the fame leeches, which I'll get to below.) Only you can decide how to handle these issues, but try to communicate with those you love, compromise, and salvage what you can. As for the hate mongers, the worst thing you can do to them is ignore them.

Time and money management are two of the most vital tasks you'll have after writing during your rookie year. I recommend making writing your first priority and everything else secondary to it. You can't spend all 365 days going to cons and doing booksignings and handing out bookmarks; remember that you still have to write the next book. Avoid overspending on self-promotion and make sure you set some money aside to invest in your writing needs (i.e. a new printer, new computer, FAX machine, internet bills, etc.)

Your rookie pro year out will have its disappointments. You and your book may be ignored. You'll likely get hatchet-jobbed, passed over for awards and otherwise dissed. People whom you hoped would like your work will yawn over it. Industry folks will patronize you, exclude you, and in some cases, make fun of you. Don't incessantly Google yourself and hunt down everyone who says something about you so you can defend yourself; that shrieks I have no life and my ego is a great big pile of wet tissue paper. And that red hot sportscar with the big bow tied around it? Will not magically appear in your driveway, any more than it did when you turned sixteen. My advice is to keep smiling and let it go.

If you're one of those rare overnight success stories, certain pros will want to latch on to you and "guide" your career, suck you into some clique, or simply use you to attract attention to themselves. They are dazzling, enthusiastic, and mostly useless. The minute your career goes into a dry spell, they have no more time for you. The best way to handle this is to stick with those who cared about you and supported you before you became flavor of the month (assuming they're still speaking to you.) As for the fame leeches, use them if you must, but don't let them suck you dry.

Getting your first contract is wonderfully exciting, and to hold your first novel in your hands is a moment unlike any other in your writing life. You should enjoy this glittery time in your career, too, because baby, that gilt wears off real fast. Insecurities and self-doubt will also settle in, and you may want to keep your head down and stay out of the spotlight. That's okay, and most of us need time away from this gig, but don't talk yourself out of a job simply because you're afraid.

After signing that first contract, there are always those special little rookies who begin issuing gems o' wisdom from the depths of their weighty experience. When they're not telling you how to write because of course They Know Everything About Publishing Now That They've Signed a Contract, you'll often see them attacking established, successful writers or trying to worm their way into certain cliques. I understand where it comes from, and I don't respond to it or retaliate, but there are other pros who will verbally eviscerate a rookie like this in less than a minute. I would try very hard not to be this sort of new author. Besides courting disaster, it's unattractive and serves no purpose except to display a shaky ego. Until you have a decent backlist, and prove you're not a one-book wonder, you have no clout in this industry. Accept this and avoid strutting around and picking fights until you get some.

I've said that for me working in publishing is like being Betty Crocker in the court of Caligula, and that hasn't changed since I went pro. Hopefully it will be different for you, but no one serves this empire and comes away unscathed. Best you can do is roll with the punches.

There is one last thing: whenever possible, have fun. Oh, yeah, this writing gig is supposed to be fun, remember?

Related Links:

Michelle Monkou's Tough Love for Authors articles Being A Full Time Writer and Negative Energy Sucks

Word Smitten's interview with literary agent Katherine Sands has some good tips for rookies, and more can be found in Brenda Townsend Hall's Writing the Second Novel interviews.

Mark Wakely's post on That Bloated First Novel.

Jane Austen Doe's Confessions of a Useless Complainer with a link to her original, much-dissed article about the biz in Salon (you have to register or something to read that one.)

My blog entry Pride & Publishing

PTC #9

9. Real Deal and Not Blowing It: What do you do when you actually hear from an agent/editor who wants to represent/publish you? What kinds of documents are you going to be required to complete, what knowledge do you need, is it inappropriate to fly out just to hug the person, what are pitfalls that will make sure your book never sees daylight...what happens when you get past the hard part?

All of the following information is based on my experience with major publishers and a very reputable, experienced agent from a large LLC. Remember that small presses, POD presses, new agents, agents who don't work for agencies and other publishing entities may operate differently.


When you begin querying agents, make a list of the information you need. If an agent calls to offer representation, run down the list and ask questions, i.e.:

1. What is the agent's fee? (industry standard is presently 15% of the author's advance and royalties)

2. Are there any additional fees (reading, office/overhead, etc.) involved beyond the 15%?

3. Will the agent represent all your work? (important for multi-genre authors)

4. What is the procedure for agent payment? (most reputable agents work for literary agencies, which collect author payments from publishers, deduct the agent's fee and send the balance to the author.)

5. Will you be required to sign a contract with the agent, and if yes, what are the terms?

Not jumping at an agent the minute they call and offer to represent you is probably wise. My advice is to take at least 24 hours to think things through before you agree to anything. If you're required to sign a contract with the agent, you must read every single word of it. If you don't understand the contract or any of the terminology used in it, get an attorney and have him explain it to you.

It's also not unusual for an agent to want to see more than a query letter or partial before taking you on as a client. A very famous writer recommended me to my agent, and I had a two-book offer from a major publisher in hand when I contacted her, and still my agent asked me to send her some manuscripts so she could evaluate my potential as a writer.

Once you and an agent have come to a working agreement, the agent becomes your representative.

This is basically how the writer/agent relationship works (all agents are not identical and some will do things a bit differently): Whatever you'd like to sell goes in submission form to your agent. Some agents critique their writers, others don't. The agent either sends out or takes your submission to an editor or editors for consideration. Usually the agent decides which publisher is most appropriate, but if you have a specific imprint or editor in mind you should let your agent know this. Editors interested in publishing you then contact your agent and make an offer. The agent gives you the offer along with advice on whether to take it, ask for more money, try your luck with another publisher or any other options. When you decide to accept an offer, your agent negotiates the terms of the contract, receives the contract, reviews it, makes any necessary corrections, forwards it to you for your review and signature, retains a copy in your client file and mails it back to your publisher.

This is not a speedy process. Contract negotiations can often take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Also important: your agent is your business representative, contract negotiator and occasionally your past-due payment collector. Your agent is generally not willing to be your loan officer, best friend, therapist, parent, crying rag, critique partner, priest etc. Your agent does work for you, but your agent also likely works for a whole bunch of other writers, so you do not own your agent. Give your agent a lot of shit and you won't have an agent for very long. Treat your agent the way you expect to be treated and you should get along fine.


As with agents, when you're querying editors, make a list of the information you need. Ideally you want your agent to ask these questions, so if an editor calls you may want to put off accepting their offer until you can obtain an agent (that's what I did, and the agent I got before I accepted the offer helped negotiate better terms for me.)

Some of the things you need to know:

1. What is the exact offer? (is the contract for one or multiple books, what is the advance amount, how will the advance be paid, what is the author's percentage, will there be joint or separate accounting for multiple books?)*

2. When will the book come out? Will the release be in mass market, trade or hardcover? For a major house, which imprint will be releasing the book?

3. Who will edit the book? (Don't assume the editor who calls you will be your editor.)

4. Are there any major changes to the book required? (most of you won't need to ask this one, but it can be a deal breaker for some writers.)

5. When is the outline/synopsis and the finished manuscript due? (very important if you've subbed a partial, if there are sequels involved and you don't have manuscripts fully outlined or written.)

*Note: if you are taking on this contract without an agent, this would be the time to negotiate the amount of your advance.

Once the editor and you and possibly your agent have negotiated the deal, and finalized and signed the contract, you work with your editor on the book. You will be given deadlines to turn in your outline/synopsis and finished manuscript. Once you've turned in your book, your editor will read it, edit it, and return it to you with requested revisions and another deadline. You revise your book, send it back to the editor by deadline, and the editor sends it to copy-edit. The copy editor edits your book. You receive the copy-edited manuscript with yet another deadline and have to approve any changes and answer any queries from the copy-editor before you return it. The book goes into production, and a set of proofs or galleys are made. The proofs are sent to you for one last check with a final deadline; you correct them and return them. At this point advance reading copies are bound and distributed to buyers, booksellers and the media. A few months later the final edition of your book is released.

The process from negotiating a contract to the finished book can take anywhere from a year to three years; the average is about two years for a first-timer. The book production itself usually takes eight months to a year.

Your editor is your immediate supervisor at your publishing house. Your editor also decides whether to recommend buying more of your work, requests your payments from accounting, places your release on the schedule, works on cover art and copy with production and is the primary force at the publisher for getting you support. Aka the last person in publishing that you want to piss off, so by all means possible, don't.

The editor/writer relationship can be more involved than the agent/writer relationship. Working on your book together can be like a partnership made in heaven, or a showdown at the OK Corral. Some famous dude once said that no writer is a genius to their editor, and he was right. Your editor sees you, warts and all. If you're lucky, your editor helps you get rid of some of those warts and makes you a better writer. If you're very lucky, you will make your editor look good to his or her boss. If you're blessed, you will find an editor who is so good that you want him or her to edit everything you write.

As for showing your gratitude, everyone has their opinion on this one. I know writers who have instantly flown up to New York and hugged everyone involved in their first sale, and no one seems to mind. There are writers who go to NY every couple of months to visit. I've never gone to NY on publishing business; I've had a dozen editors and have met only one of them in person at a con, and I've seen my agent exactly twice, also at cons, over the last seven years. No one has complained about me staying home. You'll probably fall somewhere in between those extremes.

There are a few things that will make sure your book never sees print. I think the three most common among first-time writers are: 1) Not finishing writing your book; 2) Plagiarizing another writer and getting caught doing so; and 3) Violating the terms of your contract.

Then there are the personal scandals, as we've seen most recently happen to James Frey. Getting drunk at a con and punching out Stephen King will not make you popular around New York. Dancing naked in Times Square with your publisher's name tattooed on your ass is also probably not a good idea. Being caught in bed with your editor's husband . . . anyway, you get the idea. Basically, don't go crazy or behave like an idiot.

In all of your dealings with agents and editors, take your time, think things through carefully, and conduct yourself professionally, and you should avoid most of the serious problems that can occur.

Related Links:

The Association of Authors' Representatives

The Complete Reviews' Links to Publishers's Sample Publishing Contract

Tad Crawford's Author/Agent Contract (Excerpt) -- Legal primer and checklist's Literary Agents -- A Four Part Series

Lloyd L. Rich's Publishing Contract: Warranties, Representations & Indemnities Clauses

Midwest Book Reviews' What to Expect from Major Publishing Houses

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

PTC #4

4. Trouble-Free Marketing: Can the writer do anything to avoid looking like a newbie dork (about marketing)? How does the little guy get some attention without attracting trouble?

#1 on the Marketing Faux Pas List: SPAMming readers with unsolicited mass-mailed promo.
#2 on the Marketing Faux Pas List: #1, in which you also claim that your penis appears on your cover art.

I am serious. Don't SPAM people. It annoys us. Using your genitals as promo is tacky. Have some dignity.

Blending in with the herd is the easiest way to avoid looking like a dork. Do what every other author in your writer organization does and I guarantee you'll have lots of support and you may even win a shiny trophy or two. This won't do a damn thing for your career, but you'll have plenty of nice friends who like you, and we all know how important it is to be accepted by our peers, right?

On the other hand, if you think that's bullshit, then I recommend you ditch the herd mentality, if not the herd itself, and think for yourself.

Observe successful authors and how they promo their books. In the process, you'll pick up a lot of pointers. Douglas Clegg, Monica Jackson, and Alison Kent are three authors to watch; all of them have distinctive styles and are quite creative in their approaches to self-promotion. Keep an eye on the authors out there whose marketing efforts annoy you, too. Often the worst self-promoters provide a minor public service by showing us what NOT to do.

Once you've got an idea of what works and what doesn't, write up a marketing plan tailored to you. Don't do what the herd does, or copy-cat another author's marketing; focus on your strengths: Are you a charismatic speaker? You might consider making some public appearances and guest speaking to some groups (pick appearance opportunities and groups that other authors aren't doing.) Are you more witty on the page than in person? Start a weblog or write some articles that are original instead of a clone of another author's work. Can you manage a big group of people and answer a lot of questions very quickly while keeping them entertained? Give some interactive workshops or schedule some online chats, but make your topic something other than the standard how-to.

You don't have to be controversial to get attention, and you don't have to resort to desperate measures like the Cover Art Flasher, either. Be yourself, and have fun with what you do, and you'll never hate handling the marketing.

Related Links:

Virtual Press Release Faux Pas

Terry Dean's 7 Internet Marketing Mistakes Which are Destroying Your Business.

Amelia Kassel's How to Write A Marketing Plan and's tutorial on how to write a marketing plan.

PTC #3

3. Budget Marketing: What can be done about marketing for writers with a $2k advance?.

1. Get as much marketing and marketing support as you can (politely) wrangle out of your publisher. Ask your editor and your agent for marketing ideas and advice. Find out if you've been assigned a publicist, make contact if you have and ask their advice. Ask your editor if there is a more established author at your imprint who would be willing to place an excerpt of your novel in the back of their next book. Talk to pros you know at your publisher or who write in your genre and ask them for ideas and advice. Contact your local booksellers, meet store managers in person and see what they're willing to do to help hand-sell your book.

2. Think outside the bookmark/widget/con circuit box. Example: Last week I met author Ed West at a local quilt show. At these shows you usually find quilts, quilters, quilt shop booths and quilting demos by the local guild, but never authors, so it was a nice surprise to meet him.

Mr. West set up a table with his books and talked to ladies as they made the rounds. He had a reproduction quilt from his novel set up as a backdrop behind the table, and he and his wife (I assume that nice lady was your wife, Ed) were dressed in period costumes. He happens to be a warm, marvelous speaker and an expert on period quilts and quilting, and sold three books in the five minutes I stood there listening to him.

3. Use the Internet; it's free. Set up a weblog, they're free. Become active in the author blogging community. Jump in discussions (like this one) about budget marketing and brain storm. Do the same at writer communities with discussion boards. Add a link to your web site/weblog to your signature block. Put up excerpts from your book on your web site. Have interesting contests to giveaway galleys, ARCs or final editions of your book. Answer author surveys (the one I answered for Mad Max Perkins led to a featured interview on his blog.) Don't SPAM anyone, but make yourself available for interviews to bloggers and other publishing-related web sites.

4. Use the media. Send out a press release to local, state and national media. If you do this, read up on press releases and how to write them (also see PR Web link below) effectively. Write articles for trade web sites and magazines about your author experience and submit them for consideration (free promotion which you get paid for, and most allow you to put a web site link in your end-of-article bio.)

5. Invest only in promotion that a) you can afford and b) is proven to boost book sales. I wish I could give you a list, but most book advertising services promise a lot and don't deliver much in the way of statistics. As with suggestion #2, look for something unique that makes you stand out from the pack.

Related Links:'s article Low-Budget High-Impact Marketing Plan.

PR Web's How to Write a Press Release that Gets Noticed by the Media.

Voices of Hope's .pdf format article Self-promotion on a Shoestring.

PTC #7

7. Author Abuse: What exactly constitutes Bad/Poor treatment from a publisher (excluding poor sales, thin to no marketing, or normal business-related problems)?

Writers generally don't talk openly about this (which is why you asked, I imagine.) Our income depends on publisher good will, and we have absolutely zero job security, so we're not in any position to be whistle-blowers. Most of us do privately share information with other pros whom we trust, so abusive publishers don't get away with much. I don't blame any writer who remains silent, though; you do what you have to in order to protect your income.

Bad matches between editors and writers are what I think creates the ideal environment for bad/poor treatment. An editor who doesn't like you can make your writing life hell, trash your books, ruin potential contract sales and, in extreme cases, may cost you your career. It goes both ways, though; writers who dislike their editors can create almost as much trouble for them.

Other common problems that constitute bad/poor treatment of a writer: not getting paid properly, broken promises, being passed around from editor to editor like you're a canape, having reasonable requests/phone messages/e-mails ignored, and not being given support and/or the data you need for self-promotion projects.

Most pros have a list of things we will not tolerate. Mine's rather short:

1. Lying to me. If you can't tell me the truth, then don't tell me anything.
2. Not paying me. My agent and accountant are very keen on me getting my money. So am I.
3. Violating our contract terms. See my attorney, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
4. Verbal or physical abuse, or sexual harassment. Very rare, but it does happen.
5. Racism, ageism or any other prejudice in the workplace. I won't work with bigots.

I have a few friends who are editors and who share their problems with me (which are always in confidence and therefore I can't share with you.) The common denominator is that writers tend to blame publishers for too many things that are completely beyond their control. If a book doesn't do well, the publisher, editor, marketing, and anyone else connected to the production of the book is to blame, not the writer. A writer can't write a bad book, of course. We're perfect.

Now, would you like to buy a bridge, or go hunt some snipe with me?

Related Links:

Katherine Sutcliffe's article Write Byte, or Pray You Don't Get the "Editor From Hell" Cuz If You Do You Can
Slam Dunk Your Career in the Toilet. . . & Flush

Northwest Independent Editors Guild's article What Writers Want from Editors.

William L. Collins and Susan M.J. Lester's .pdf format article Writer-Editor Interactions: What Works?

The Village Voice has an old but interesting article about what editors and writers in journalism wanted from each other here.

Laura Wright's article Positive Rejections?.

PTC #8

8. Ambient Wisdom or Myth: I wish if I knew if I were doing the right thing, rewriting my 300K novel into a trilogy, because the ambient wisdom is a first-timer can't sell a 300K book.

Some publishers such as Tor have been splitting authors' books into two volumes, which I think might have been the blip that ignited this questionable wisdom. Peter Watts was the first author whom I heard had this done to his book, but I've also seen other authors, such as Holly Lisle, successfully fight the split and keep their longer books intact. Rick Kleffel wrote an excellent column about the practice, btw, which you can read here.

In publishing, the hard and fast rule is that there is no hard and fast rule. Two recent first-timers' hefty debut novels: Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (800 pages) and Elizabeth Kostava's The Historian (642 pages.) Other authors who routinely write big fat novels and do quite well that I can think of: Neal Stephenson, Tad Williams, Diana Galbaldon, J.K. Rowling and Laurell K. Hamilton.

Practically speaking, shrinking shelf space, the new trend for the oversized paperback, and rising production and shipping costs would seem to indicate that the future will demand shorter novels. I acknowledge this, but I also believe that if your book is dazzling, it will sell no matter what length it is.

In the end, you have to go with your instincts as a writer. What are they telling you to do?

Oscar-Nom Authors Behaving Badly

I wouldn't call Annie Proulx's tantrum in the Guardian sour grapes, as she suggests. Sour grapes is when you get nothing, and the movie based on Proulx's novel snagged three Oscars (best director, best adapted screenplay, and achievement in musical score.) They weren't for best film, though, so out came the claws.

Having your book made into a movie, isn't that every writer's wet dream? Being nominated for multiple Oscars is beyond the realm of imagination. Winning three of them, God Almighty, there aren't even words. Who in their right mind would think that's not good enough?

Anyway, into the ABB file you go, Ms. Proulx. You might want to consider asking yourself some hard questions, too. Like "Is Jupiter still larger than my ego?" (thanks to Bill Peschel for the heads-up.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

PTC #5

5. Real Sales Numbers: How many books really did sell last week? How many copies of each book on the best sellers lists (and the midlist as well)? Which venues are selling (online vs main stores vs independents).

If I were a publisher, I could tell you this. Unfortunately I'm not, and I have no access to reliable information to answer these questions.

It's frustrating. As we all know, bestseller lists can be artificially manipulated and therefore are not dependable. Online bookseller sales often represent only a very small fraction of an author's sales (in my case, less than 1%), so their rankings are essentially useless. Publishers aren't volunteering a lot of information and I doubt they're going to start. If you want to know how well one of your books (or anyone else's) is selling, you have to wait six months to two years for a royalty statement.

Or maybe not. Guess what. I got a bit of decent info by doing some digging. :)

I contacted Susan Pavliscak, Sales Manager for Nielsen BookScan, and asked her if her company could offer any services to authors and other independent publishing professionals. I whined all over the poor woman while I explained how for example there is no source of information for authors to access to even verify their sales figures as reported by publishers.

Here is her response:

"Nielsen BookScan collects data from a panel of reporting retailers...This data is combined with some weighted figures and made available through a proprietary website and by subscription to the book industry. Please note that Nielsen BookScan does not capture sales from Wal*Mart, Sam's Club, food and drug outlets or specialty stores. Because of this, the data is not appropriate for calculating royalties.

At present we have no product suitable for individual use. However, our sister company The Book Standard began offering a service to individuals."

So I wandered over to The Book Standard and checked out the services they offer. For $85.00, TBS will look up and provide weekly and year-to-date sales figures for any edition of any book from January 2004 to present (the more title reports you buy, the cheaper it gets, up to ten books for $600.00.)

TBS further describes their reports: "Each separate look-up contains the total sales for the given week, which are broken down into: units sold in retail stores and discount/other stores; sales in eight different geographic regions; and a city/suburb breakdown. Each look-up also has the current year-to-date sales of the book." and offers a sample report in .pdf format here.

I know it's not a complete solution to the numbers problem, but it's not a bad deal for the author looking to track sales on their most recent novels (like other veterans out there, I'm SOL on all my books published before 2004, which is about one third of my backlist.)

Question for you guys: if I buy one of these for one of my books, would you all be interested in seeing it?

Related links:

Marina Krakovsky's article Making Books explains how "totting up book sales is not as simple as one, two, three."

2 Blowhards' post on Bestseller Lists (written before BookScan.)

Nielsen BookScan sites for the USA, UK, and Australia.

PTC #10

10. Any Age Discrimination: Are agents and publishers scared of first time authors over the age of 50?

Not in my experience, but I've probably heard some of the same rumors you have, and I can see where it might happen.

First off, age discrimination is illegal in the United States. That said, we all know that it is practiced widely throughout the entertainment industries. We've watched it happen to writer friends who are also performers, like Beth Ciotta (who after getting hit with age discrimination on the stage turned around and sold three books, if I remember correctly.)

Our society places great value on youth and beauty, and almost none on age and wisdom. Young workers are almost always going to get preferential treatment over older workers. We may see that change as America's age demographics change, although that's not always going to be a good thing.

Because writers are not personally in the public spotlight nearly as often as actors and musicians, we're probably least affected by this type of discrimination, but you hear enough stories to make it reasonable to assume that it's still out there. Some agents and editors may, like society, gravitate toward younger writers and in the process actively discriminate against older writers. I was 37 years old when I sold my first novel, and I haven't personally encountered any age discrimination since then, but I'm in my mid-forties now, so that may also change.

Age and wisdom apparently does get you on the bestseller lists more often than youth and beauty. Last May created a bit of a stir when they put out a press release stating that literary life begins at 50, evidently the best age to write a bestseller.

Related links:

Ronni Bennett's post on Advantages of Older Workers.

James Challenger's article Barriers to Hiring Older Workers Falling.

Dave Simanoff's article Gray Matters.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging Forum on the Older Workforce met on September 3, 2003 to discuss the needs of older workers. You can download a .pdf file of "Older Workers" by Debra J. Cohen, Ph.D., who appeared before the Senate Committee, here.

Professional authors, editors and writers, find out about the PTC meme here.

PBW's Ten

Day before yesterday I asked about publishing industry information that you'd like to have but that the various author/editor/agent blogs out there aren't covering. I've closed comments now because I think we've got an interesting selection, and you know how fond I am of the number 10.

Here's what you said that you'd like to know (paraphrased):

1. How to Go Pro: What happens after you get The Call? What are the stages the book in process goes through? What you can do as an author to help it happen and be as painless as possible, etc.?

2. Staying Pro: I'd like to see more on how to KEEP selling, or how to organize my time (and) Once you start selling the plan is to keep selling and have a nice long career. Pointers?

3. Budget Marketing: What can be done about marketing for writers with a $2k advance?

4. Trouble-Free Marketing: Can the writer do anything to avoid looking like a newbie dork (about marketing)? How does the little guy get some attention without attracting trouble?

5. Real Sales Numbers: How many books really did sell last week? How many copies of each book on the best sellers lists (and the midlist as well)? Which venues are selling (online vs main stores vs independents).

6. What's Selling, and What's Not: I'd like to know what novels publishers are wanting now and the best way to keep up with the markets. How can someone check their idea with what is coming out on PW or the other publishing trades? What is the science behind it?

7. Author Abuse: What exactly constitutes Bad/Poor treatment from a publisher (excluding poor sales, thin to no marketing, or normal business-related problems)?

8. Ambient Wisdom or Myth: I wish if I knew if I were doing the right thing, rewriting my 300K novel into a trilogy, because the ambient wisdom is a first-timer can't sell a 300K book.

9. Real Deal and Not Blowing It: What do you do when you actually hear from an agent/editor who wants to represent/publish you? What kinds of documents are you going to be required to complete, what knowledge do you need, is it inappropriate to fly out just to hug the person, what are pitfalls that will make sure your book never sees daylight...what happens when you get past the hard part?

10. Any Age Discrimination: Are agents and publishers scared of first time authors over the age of 50?

The whole point of weblogging is to share information, so from here I'm going to do a series of blog posts on all the above until I nail all ten with answers or, where I don't have answers, my ideas and/or opinions.

I'm also challenging every other professional writer, editor and agent with a blog who reads this post to answer and/or discuss as many as you can at your place. Yep, you've been memed.

Those of you who take up PBW's Ten Challenge, please link to this post, or drop a link to your blog here in comments so we can head over to read and discuss your take on things.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Past Ten

Ten Things for Fantasy & Historical Writers

1. Got Castle? Check out Castles of Britain, Castle Builder, Castles of the Middle Ages, Castle Terminology, and the utterly fascinating Guedelon Project.

2. Stephen Francis Wyley defines fortification and fieldworks from the Iron Age to the Eighteenth Century over at the Dictionary of Military Architecture.

3. Figure out what noble, ghastly or tedious comeuppance Fate has in store for your characters (or you) with's Free Tarot Readings.

4. Fun with Generators: The Forge offers an online fantasy name generstor, spell name generator, creature name generator, and setting name generator; Manon's Magician Generator; Philip Riley's staggering collection of international name generators; Demonweb's Random Dungeon Generator; and The Swami's War Name Generator.

5. Ian McFadyen had me rolling on the floor with his article How to write a bestselling fantasy novel.

6. Not sure which lance to take to the big joust? Stop over at the Knighthood, Chivalry and Tournaments Resource Library.

7. Two mammoth internet hub sites for medieval resources: The Labyrinth and

8. Brandon Blackmoor crunches the numbers for you with Medieval Demographics Made Easy.

9. The Online Medieval and Classical Library has a modest but fascinating collection of period literature.

10. World Building: much wisdom and inspiration can be gleaned from Holly Lisle's article Questions about Worldbuilding and Seventh Sanctum's archive from A Way with Worlds.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sew Not

I have a secret fondness for hideous quilts. Most quilters these days are too savvy to make an ugly quilt, so they're very rare. I've only found two or three over the years that I would consider really hideous, and yet they're perfectly functional and keep you as warm as a prize-winning masterpiece does.

Quilting on Acid

It's only that a hideous quilt is like the sun: look at it too long and you'll go blind.

Similar horror stories:

"Because every girl needs a purse that looks like the lining of a stomach."

What to do with an ugly quilt and The Ugly Quilt Contest.

Hideous crochet at the Dishcloth Queen's Ooo la la post (I think I actually made that chicken once.)

Classic link: A "Titanic" Wedding Disaster.

Someone isn't taking care of their equipment: World's Worst Featherweight.

Uber-Classic link: Bridemaids Dresses from Hell.

Your Turn

Got a question for you guys: What information about the publishing industry (book sales, contract deals, the pro life, etc.) would you like to have but the various author/editor/agent blogs out there aren't covering?

Saturday, March 11, 2006


The Gorgeous Gals Group Blog

A collection of witty and enlightening gems o'wisdom about the biz from three of your favorite Big Name Authors, Delilah Lotsabucks, Snookie Putz Von Swissaccount, and Muffykins Rollindough!


Today I was talking on the phone with my super good buddy Muffykins Rollindough and she so kindly offered me feedback on my latest #9 NYT bestseller The Non-Brokeback Mountain Cowboy and the Amnesiac Virgin Bride with a Twisted Ankle ( link.) Without friends like Muffykins I surely don't know what I'd do. I admire her so much, especially now as she's a little depressed over her last book only reaching #18 on the latest Times list. Such pressure, and yet she's right there, giving me encouragement when I need it, even if she didn't quite understand my hero's motivation. I can't thank her enough for making the time to read my novel, hugs, kisses to Muffykins!!!!!!!!!! posted by Delilah Lotsabucks


Oh, Delilah, you're making me blush again! You're such a sweetheart for saying all those nice things about me. Where would I be without you in my life? I mean, other than a little higher up on the Times list. I think it's amazing how popular your novels are with southern American romance fans. My readers tend to be a little more intellectual, of course, so they don't run out every weekend to buy up whatever's being hyped to death, or my novel The Notorious Misunderstood Rake and the Amnesiac Virgin Debutante with a Wrenched Wrist ( link) would have made the top ten. But I couldn't have written the book without your constant friendship and support, and my learning from your little mistakes. Kisses, hugs to Delilah!!!!!!!!!!posted by Muffykins Rollindough

Wednesday AM

I must need some new reading glasses, Muffykins sugar pumpkin, because in that last post I could almost swear you just pooh-poohed on me and my dear sweet readers! Which of course you wouldn't do, I know, as so many of them subscribe to my newsletter and buy your rather overcomplicated stories that I always recommend, even the ones I don't particularly care for, like that last one with the heroine who I swear to God wasn't even heterosexual. I know it does hurt, not making the top ten on the Times, but there's always the next book, honeybunch. Unless you've stopped going to your 12 step program, in which case you should call me, sweetie, immediately, so we can talk things out...posted by Delilah Lotsabucks

Wednesday PM

Delilah, you're such a kidder! You know your little fans don't buy my wonderful novels because you recommend them; they buy them to take a much-needed break from your stories, which are nothing but collections of repetitious, cut-n-pasted purple prose luuuuurve scenes. I will make it back into the top ten of the Times, and I certainly don't need your assistance, dear. As for my little problem, I'm doing fine, and I really don't see why it was necessary for you to mention it. Just as it isn't necessary for me to mention your DH, the man who can't go to a national convention and stay out of the bar or keep his fly zipped...posted by Muffykins Rollindough

Thursday AM

Muff, cuppycakes, if I didn't know better I'd think you were angry with me. Or maybe just a tiny bit jealous? I hate to be the reminder of bad tidings and all, honey, but I am #9 on the list, and you're not. I'm sure that more therapy will help, along with accepting the fact that MY darling husband will never find you attractive no matter how much Chanel you spray on that waddled neck of yours. So let's put this behind us and talk about Snookie's newest novel, which is coming out on Friday!!!!!!!!!posted by Delilah Lotsabucks

I don't want to talk about Snookie's novel coming out on Friday. Maybe we should instead talk about Snookie coming out herself....posted by Muffykins Rollindough

Hey. HEY. Not funny, girls!!!!!!!posted by Snookie Putz Von Swissaccount

Why, Snook, you think no one knows what you and that "secretary" of yours do on those long, private writer retreat weekends in Las Vegas, just the two of you booked into one room? As for you, Del, I'll talk to your husband the next time we get together for a night of passion at the Hilton and see if he wants a referral to a marriage crisis counselor before you put him in a 12 step program.....posted by Muffykins Rollindough

She IS my secretary, and all we do is work on the next book!!!!!!!!posted by Snookie Putz Von Swissaccount

Really? Who plays the hero?.....posted by Muffykins Rollindough

I don't know what you're talking about, M., but it's obvious to me that the booze isn't helping. Call your sponsor right now, hon, please....posted by Delilah Lotsabucks

I'm calling my publicist. And my lawyer...posted by Snookie Putz Von Swissaccount

Oh, shut up, Snook. I don't need to call anyone, D. Not like I've been plagiarizing other writers' love scenes because it's been fifteen years since I saw my feet. posted by Muffykins Rollindough

You take that back, you skanky bitch. posted by Delilah Lotsabucks

Make me, you oversized toad. posted by Muffykins Rollindough

Friday AM

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday 20

Before we get into the Friday 20, I've got a question for you: what happens to copyrighted work if someone who wants to use it can't locate the copyright owner to obtain permission for that use?

If this legislation is pushed through, it can be freely used, and the person using it will also enjoy preferential protection against any legal action taken against them by the copyright owner.

What concerns me is the potential this legislation has to affect everyone whose work is protected by copyright law. As it stands right now, it's particularly worrisome for independent photographers and other visual image artists. To quote ASMP's general counsel Victor Perlman: "We are different from all other copyright owners because, unlike other creators, it is the exception rather than the rule that our images are published with any kind of credit line, copyright notice or other form of attribution."

Copyright opponents (aka the folks who want to give it all away for free) are hailing this legislation as a step forward rather than backward, but it helps support their position, so that's a given. As an author I depend on the integrity of copyright law, and I think this legislation is yet another badly-disguised effort to undermine it. I'm going to write to my senators and congressmen tonight and urge them to vote against it. I hope you'll give this some thought and do the same (and my thanks to Kristin for e-mailing me with a heads-up on this.)

Related links:

The full text of the Copyright Office proposal is in .pdf format here

The U.S. Copyright Office's Report on "Orphaned Works"

Recording artists from the Future of Music Coalition responded with a statement here.

The National Press Photographers Association weighs in with their objections.

To find out who your state representatives are, check out the search engines at the web sites for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

On to the Q&A -- what would you like to talk about this week?