A Letter to Amazon

librarianDear Mr. Bezos,

I was very excited to receive your Email request this morning, asking for my help in your battle against Hachette. Not since Carrie White got invited to the prom has a girl been more pleasantly shocked to be included. And you’re right; those big publisher types are just fuckers. I was a mid-list romance author for Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster all through the 2000s, and let me tell you—

Oh, right, sorry, you want to talk about your thing. No, yeah, of course; it’s totally fine. So anyway, okay, Hachette and its other big nasty “media conglomerate” friends have been being all hateful to you at Amazon about your e-books. I heard about the whole collusion thing – those bastards! You and the Supreme Court are so right; I don’t blame you one bit for being upset. I mean, I know in my heart that if you hadn’t already put every other bookselling outlet that could possibly affect the market at your level out of business, you and those peers you don’t have would never, ever sit down in a New York City restaurant to try to come to some sort of price fixing agreement. I can just see them all in there, smoking their big cigars, drinking their martinis – they probably pinched the pert derriere of the cigarette girl as she passed. Kudos to you and your lawyers for bringing them to justice. So now they’re coming after you one by one, starting with Hachette, and you’ve come to me for my help as a writer to fight back. I’m flattered; I really am.

But let’s talk about the pig’s blood before I put on the tiara. (Sadly, unlike Carrie, I don’t have evil superpowers, but this also ain’t my first prom.) You talk in your email about the “invention” of the paperback “just ahead of World War II” and how some writers like George Orwell didn’t like it and how they were wrong and how the current debate about e-book pricing is just like that. Leaving aside the nagging knowledge I have of yellowback novels being published way back in the 1870s and magazine serials blazing the trail for pulp fiction decades before that, let’s talk about Orwell’s fears about what paperbacks would do to what you call “literary culture.” At that time, there was no such thing as “literary fiction” or “genre fiction;” there was just “fiction,” and Orwell, who wrote dystopian sci fi with straightforward political commentary, was part of it. So were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. So were the Bronte sisters, who wrote romance, and Sir Walter Scott, who wrote historicals, and Mark Twain, who wrote YA and comic satire, and Mary Shelley, who wrote horror. And all those books from Orwell’s era that we now consider classics too dense, boring, and “literary” for anybody but aging academics and film directors to read, like The Great Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury and Moby Dick and Ulysses, those weren’t considered “literary novels,” they were considered “novels,” and everybody who read novels read them right alongside the lighter stuff.

Paperbacks are awesome; I’ve built my life as a reader and my career as a writer on paperbacks. And they did “rejuvenat[e] the book industry and mak[e] it stronger,” in that a lot more books got published and read because they were so much cheaper, and ultimately publishers and booksellers made a lot more money. (Authors maybe not so much, but maybe so. Bigger business meant bigger demand which meant bigger paychecks for the bigger names, and more people probably got published, too.) But those bigger numbers created the need for some kind of genre categorization, at least in the minds of those publishers and booksellers, which led to the big divide between so-called “literary” fiction and “genre” fiction that plagues every author alive today and threatens to destroy any notion of a “literary culture” in English completely.

So maybe old George was on to something after all.

You (or to be fair, your spambot) also talk about how paperbacks, because of these snooty objections from the literary establishment, were first sold in drugstores and newsstands, casting Amazon as the humble newsstand/drugstore of today’s e-book world. Well . . . maybe. If we’re talking about a drugstore that first puts all the other drugstores out of business. Then sells their paperbacks at somewhat less than cost so they can sell more candy bars and condoms by luring in more customers. Then decides to just give the paperbacks away to special customers who have credit accounts with them to buy their much more expensive prescriptions, explaining to the people who make their living off the paperbacks that they’ll pay them a percentage of the nothing they’re charging, they promise. And when those people who make their living off the paperbacks object, accuses them of wanting readers to die because they’re being denied access to cheap medicine. Then, yeah, the comparison is probably pretty apt.

So in response to your request, I would like to suggest a new marketing model to you and Facebook and Google and all the other companies who hire marketing copy writers (most of whom probably wrote at least the first couple of chapters of a novel at some point) to write this kind of mass communication to me and the rest of us content providers and customers and such; sort of a new mission statement. It’s not a new concept; my grandfather was fond of it, but it has the kind of folksy charm I think you were going for here.

Stop pissing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.

Love and kisses,

Lucy Blue

(Credit for the groovy writer girl graphic to the brilliant Isabel Samaras)

Rise Up, Kittens! Or at least stop lying down . . . .

Without writers, publishing as an industry would not exist.  Well, duh, you may well say; how obvious; how trite; how could any sane person not know that?  And I would agree.  But I begin to suspect that this truth we declare self-evident is in fact the greatest of mysteries to the rest of the monstrous machine.

One of the great traditions of traditional publishing is treating the people who write the product they sell like galley slaves, a necessary inconvenience that whines too much and smells kind of funny.  Myself, I’ve spent immense slabs of my professional life waiting around on some agent or editor to give me an answer on something even when they called me first.  Hurry up and wait and don’t ask for anything has always been the order of the day, and writers have had the choice to either take it on the chin or head on back to grad school.

The brave new world of independent and self-publishing is supposed to give us another choice.  Small presses can be more responsive, more enthusiastic, more nimble in their protocols, and for the most part, from what I’ve seen, they are.  As for self-pubbing, who could care more about getting your book out in the world and collecting golden lucre for it than you do yourself?

But over the past couple of months, I’ve seen more and more evidence that writers are still getting slapped around by the very people who live off their art.  A major independent press founded on the premise that women’s fiction could be erotic without being skeevy recently paid a huge advance for and spent big wads of cash promoting the memoir of an amateur porno princess who can’t even spell just because she’s a “reality star.”  And when some of the authors on their roster, many of whom have made them a great deal of money and very few of whom have ever received any advance at all dared to protest, they were basically told to suck it up, buttercup.  And by the way, where’s your registration fee check for the conference?

Speaking of conferences . . .  just this week, I saw a posting from a delicate flower who makes most of her book-related money from other writers who pay her to promote their work.  In this very public address, she employed the f-bomb with wild abandon to bully and castigate the writers WHO ARE PAYING HER for a conference for daring to book rooms outside the conference hotel.  Putting together a conference is a lot of work and very expensive, no question.  Organizers are certainly within their rights to encourage guests to help with costs by booking rooms on site whenever possible.  And from what I understand, the conference in question is “kind of a big deal” in the genre it promotes.  But NOBODY has the right to use that kind of abusive language toward the writers who, for lack of a better word, are their customers.  No product is that good.  I love chocolate, but if the lady from Godiva calls me an effin bitch on a public forum, be it me individually or in toto with all chocolate lovers everywhere, I’m going to make do with Hershey’s kisses from then on.  And I would strongly advise all other chocolate lovers—or conference attendees—to do the same.

Which brings me to my point.  Things are tough all over; making a living as a writer is harder right now than it’s been in more than a century, I suspect.  With traditional houses going corporate crazy and Amazon wanting to give it all away for free, anybody who says they can help can seem like a haven in the wilderness, your only hope for any kind of success, even if they’re treating you like crap.  But I’m here to tell you, it ain’t so.  You will have to be patient.  You will have to compromise.  You will have to get outside your comfort zone to promote your work.  But nobody, and I mean nobody, has the right to treat you like their bitch.  No publisher.  No agent.  No editor.  No promoter.  Because what you do is magic.

And I promise you, I absolutely swear, there are people in every one of those fields who, if you’re talented and willing to work for it, are ready to help you, not out of the kindness of their hearts but because they believe in good writing and they believe in you.  I’ve sold my last two books to Purple Sword Publications, Strange as Angels which is out now, and Alpha Romeo which is coming soon, and everybody there has been smart and professional and kind.  And Seventh Star Press has just announced a new imprint called Seventh Starlight that is going to publish truly amazing speculative romance.  I know this because under my real name, Jessica Glanville, I’ll be their editor-in-chief.  I’ve talked to a lot of writers who have written for them; I’ve seen the great books they publish, and I’ve seen the way they operate, how they acquire work, how they package it, how they promote it.  I never thought I’d ever work in the publishing side of the process; I love just writing too much.  But I’m proud to be part of their team.

In short, my kittens, there are good people out there in the dark, scary jungle of the marketplace.  Respect yourself enough to hold out until you find them.

Everybody’s got their sexy . . . .

When I first heard that the Bound in Darkness series was being translated and released by foreign publishers, I just assumed they would use the same covers as the original American version from Pocket.  Boy howdy, was I wrong.

Here’s what the first book, My Demon’s Kiss, looked like at your local American Barnes & Noble store (or similar outlet in the U.K. or Australia or wherever English-language paperbacks were sold):

The story takes place in medieval England, but this is very much an American romance cover – it’s all about the torso, baby, all about that chest.  (A straight male friend, who is understandably immune to the charms of such an image, dubbed this gorgeous hunk of man flesh a member of the Medieval Village People.)  Subsequent installments featured the same model with even more flesh showing – not a bad thing at all.

The Germans went for a much more understated look, I think – much more like what we Americans would think of as women’s fiction.  It’s beautiful; I love it; but I’d never peg this as a romance.  (And yes, it’s exactly the same book.)

 

I love the castle, and the model is gorgeous, but would you think this was a medieval romance?  To me, it looks more like a ‘woman’s thriller’ – she looks like a beautiful American tourist whose just been swept up in an international intrigue by a dashing Eurotrash dude who may or may not be a spy.

But far and away the most striking for me is the Italian version.  Remember those dudes on the covers of Johanna Lindsey and Bertrice Small books in the 1970s?  Amateurs – understated banker types by comparison to this guy.

It’s the Pagani Zonda F super car of romance novel covers – the chest hair!  The lace!  I just adore it -and I just know he can’t believe it’s not butter.  (Stupid in joke – sorry, Fabio.) 

There’s also a Japanese version from a publisher best known for anime – I can’t find it, but if anybody else can, pleeeease send me the link. 

So tell me this, kittens – if all three of these books were in a language you were comfortable reading, sitting side by side on a shelf, and you had to buy one, which one would you pick? 

Lucy Blue on Author Central!

My Author Central page on Amazon is now officially up and running and ready to serve the full menu of my vampy goodness. Plus a bio, links, and other goodies to help you find something to read. Writers, if you haven’t gone to Amazon and done one of these, you’re missing a great opportunity, even if you have less-than-warm-and-fuzzy feelings about Amazon – it’s your own little website within the website, and it’s tied in to their huge stream of reader traffic.
Here’s the link to mine: http://www.amazon.com/Lucy-Blue/e/B001IXQ7TQ