Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Politics, Pop Culture, Publishing

The Excellence You Swear You Cannot See

nicole's bookThe Romance Writers of America has released the names of the nominees for their yearly RITA Awards, and, you guessed it, they’re about as diverse as a glass of milk beside a plate of sugar cookies with white chocolate chips. So all of us writing and publishing types have taken to the Facebooks and beyond one more time to discuss the diversity problem. Even among those of us nice white cis straight folks who have stopped twitching every time we admit it exists, there’s a lot of panic, anger, and confusion when we start trying to decide what to do about it.

Like most of the RITA nominees, I’m a middle-aged straight cis white woman who writes books. In my current romance WIP, the heroine is Persian. In the Southern gothic I finished earlier this year, the protagonist is a Black woman. In the next book I’m scheduled to write, one of the main background characters is gay, and I’ve written multiple gay characters into books in the past, from medieval romances to urban fantasy. Having even this much diversity in my work does great stuff for me as an artist, assuming I do it right. It makes me step out of my comfort zone and enriches my narrative voice in everything I write; it broadens my market for the finished product.

For the cause of diversity in publishing, it does dickory do.

michael's bookEven if I do my research, get every detail as right as it’s possible to get it, my non-white, non-straight, non-cis characters are never going to be drawn with the same authority a writer who shares that identity could give them. And at the end of the day, my success with these books, artistic and otherwise, is success for yet another white straight cis writer. And don’t get me wrong; I am all about succeeding. Nobody is asking me or expecting me or wanting me or any other white straight cis writer to be otherwise, and I wouldn’t oblige them if they were. But if I honestly give a shit about creating a level playing field for all writers, I have to work beyond that, outside it. I have to get past my own fear of failure and focus that part of my energy on people who aren’t me and work that isn’t mine. I have to stop thinking like a writer and think like a reader instead. And as a reader, I have to actively seek out diverse voices. And when I find good reads from those voices, I have to make sure other readers know about them, too.

Every time an award-nominating body or a publisher or a whatever gets accused of lack of diversity in their choices, their first excuse is always, “We would have been diverse; we wanted to, really, really, but we just couldn’t find anything to read at the level we were looking for that wasn’t written by a white straight cis person!” That’s bullshit so blatant, it’s laughable on its face, but still, my purpose here is to be helpful. So in addition to the amazing work of already-famous people like N.K. Jemison, Michael Cunningham, and Colson Whitehead, let me recommend a kind of Whitman’s sampler of fiction from various genres written by amazing writers whose work I happen to know. As a reader, I would recommend any and all of them without reservation—this, my kittens, is the good stuff. If you want your own reading and publishing in general to be more diverse, this is a great way to start. Click on the links to buy. Read them, review them, tell your friends. Be part of the solution.

Sisters of the Wild Sage, a collection of weird western short stories by Nicole Kurtz, a Black woman. Nicole also writes horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy, and it’s all well worth your attention.

A Fall In Autumn, an amazing new science fiction novel by Michael Williams, a gay man. Futuristic noir, first in an on-going series.

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of horror short stories written by Black women. I have already gnawed the ears off everybody who will listen about how great these stories are, but if you haven’t read them yet, DO IT NOW.

Girl In the Gears: A truly fun steampunk adventure by E. Chris Garrison, a transgender woman. First in an on-going series.

And finally, dear ladies of the RWA RITA-nominating committee …

Passion and Ink: The latest bestselling contemporary romance by Naima Simone, a Black woman with multiple series on-going and a voracious readership of romance lovers of every ethnicity.

And so many others I could happily mention if I had the space. If you can’t find the best work in your favorite genre being written by writers who break the white, straight, cis mold, then I’m sorry; you’re just not trying. And if anybody has other recommendations for me, by all means, add them to the comments!

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Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Publishing, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Works-in-Progress, Writing process

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Comma

chasing the dragon coverAs a lot of people know, my sister, Alexandra Christian, and I are pretty much the entire standing staff of Little Red Hen Romance. We both write stories and novels for the press, and we edit one another. There are many advantages to having your beloved sister as your editor. But there are times, particularly for Lexie, when it’s a real pain in the ass.

Lex has just finished a truly amazing Sherlock Holmes novella that should be coming out in the next few weeks, and I’ve been working on the copy edit. Lex is one of the most amazing, original, intelligent writers I know, and her grammar and punctuation are almost perfect. But that girl will party hearty with a comma; she gets it drunk and lets it sprawl naked in the most ungodly places or forgets it entirely and leaves it dead in a ditch. As a former composition instructor, I tend to lose my mind about this on a regular basis. And since this is apparently becoming a hot topic issue (see here: Daniel McMahon for Business Insider 5-2-16), we thought it might instructive or at least entertaining to see our latest exchange on the subject:

THE SAME STUPID COMMA MISTAKE THREE TIMES, ALL FROM THE SAME PARAGRAPH!!!!!!!

Okay, you’re gonna learn how to do this if it kills us both.

Example Number One:

As written by the brilliant Lexie Christian:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

This sentence is two independent clauses joined by the conjunction “and.” As are all of these examples. And it’s the EASIEST FREAKIN THING IN THE WORLD TO IDENTIFY!!!!

So, what are our two clauses? How do I know we have two? We start with the verbs. What are the verbs?

1) offered

2) managed

Okay, so who or what offered? The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat – so there we have the spine of clause number one, “coat and hat offered.” Everything that tells us information about the coat and hat (whose it was [the doorman] and what he was like [unfortunate]) and what they offered and how [an easy disguise]) are part and parcel of that clause. So Clause Number One is:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise.

So our next verb is managed. Who or what managed? He, Sherlock, our intrepid hero. Everything about him and what he managed is Clause Number Two:

This time [when he managed] he managed [there’s that spine] to pass through the doors [what he managed to do] without incident [how he did it].

Because neither of these clauses begins with an adverb like when or as or because or anything else that would turn it into a dependent clause/super-adverb supporting the other that can’t stand alone, these are two independent clauses joined with nothing more than the most common and beloved of all conjunctions, and. So you put a FUCKING COMMA IN FRONT OF THE AND!!! And thus after edits it becomes:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

SIDE NOTE ON DEPENDENT CLAUSES WHICH YOU ALMOST NEVER USE AND USUALLY GET RIGHT WHEN YOU DO: To make these the joining of a dependent clause to an independent clause, one of these clauses has to become a super-adverb. If it comes at the beginning, you need a comma:

Because the unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

But if it comes at the end, you don’t:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise when this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

Your way, the two independent clauses is MUCH BETTER; it’s stronger and gives the reader chunks of easily visualized information. It was Mark Twain’s favorite sentence construction. AND HE ALWAYS PUT THE DAMNED COMMA IN IT!!!

So on to Example Number Two. As written, thus:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What are the verbs:

1)had been set up

2)had been moved (accommodate is also a verb, but by adding the “to” to it, you’re using it as part of an adverb modifying had been moved; it tells why the moving was done. Lesser minds would be confused by this; I know you can see it.)

What had been set up? Stage

What had been moved? Chaises

So our two clauses are:

1) A small stage had been set up along the back wall.

2) The cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What is joining them? There’s our lil buddy and again.

So our edited sentence becomes:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall, and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

And finally, coming to you live from the exact same descriptive paragraph, I bring you Example Number Three:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Verbs?

1) was swathed

2) hung

What was swathed? Room

What hung? Musk

Two clauses then?

1) The entire room was swathed in red and gold.

2) The heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Add our friend and and the comma it should have rode in on:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold, and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

If you could ever just absorb that this is WHY this comma needs to be there, I promise, you’ll just put it there naturally without having to go through this half-assed diagraming of the sentence. But just saying, “Fuck it, I can’t do commas; sue me,” looks like a consistent, habitual amateur mistake, the kind of thing that can make less imaginative editors who don’t love you and your writing like I do dismiss you as a lightweight. And that just is not acceptable. Every one of these sentences is brilliant; you’ve compacted massive amounts of vibrant information into just a few words and created a whole scene. So just get the commas right!

Posted in Backlist, Books, Lucy Blue Short Story, Publishing, Short Story, Writing process

The Shocking Truth About What Writing Fiction Pays (a personal comparison)

librarianEarlier this week, I got my royalty statement for Little Red Hen Romance for September 2015 from Amazon and went into a full-blown fidget. In spite of the fact that we had outsold our previous best-selling month, June 2015, by more than two to one, moving more than twice as many books to paying customers (excluding promotional freebies from both months’ sales figure, of course), we made less than one-quarter as much money. How the fuck does THAT happen? I shrieked, racing figuratively around the internet squawking for most of the afternoon.

The villain who had stolen from me, I soon determined, was that damned Jeff Bezos with his double-damned Kindle Unlimited – specifically, the new rules for Kindle Unlimited that went into effect July 1, 2015 (you know, the day after our big month). Under the new system, publishers and self-pubbed writers get paid by the page read instead of by the copy downloaded. In June, the Hens were paid $1.25 per KU download, quite a trick since our books average about 25 standard pages and only cost 99 cents each. We were, to be perfectly bald-faced frank about the thing, one of the short works publishers who were unintentionally scamming the KU payment system, collecting as much payment on our short stories as novelists at comparable sales rank were getting for full-length books. Even in mid-squawk, I had to admit that wasn’t fair and that some sort of correction had been required. But I still felt screwed by the steepness of the sudden drop.

After a little arithmetic, I figured out that for KU downloads, we were now being paid about 12 cents a book or $0.005 per page. Since the royalty on those books when sold outright is about 35 cents, Kindle Unlimited still seemed like a really bad idea for us, money-wise, and I met with my fellow Hen, Alexandra Christian, to discuss how much we wanted to continue to help Amazon sell free shipping and baby diapers with our books.  We’re still working on that, and to that end, I sat down this morning with my calculator and contracts (including the stone tablets on which my traditional publishing contracts were carved back in the 2000s) to do a little comparing. I also took into account good points made by friends on both sides of the issue about what something like KU takes away from authors and publishers versus what it offers in exposure and promotion. My findings surprised me, and since I know a lot of other people are trying to make the same kinds of decisions at the moment, I thought it might be helpful if I shared them here.

I have published just about every way there is except Xeroxing my fan fiction and selling it out of the back of a van in the parking lot at Comic Con. For my purposes here, I’ll compare traditional publishing (contracts under Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster for full-length romances under the old template, about 400 pages/100,000 words), independent small press publishing (contracts under Purple Sword Publications, a fairly typical, better-than-average small press for full-length romances under the new template, about 250 pages/60,000 words), Little Red Hen Romance (a sort of self-pubbing co-op my sister and I started for short story romances, about 25 pages/7500 words), and Kindle Unlimited downloads of those same shorts. (None of the other stuff is available from Kindle Unlimited; the people making those decisions have already voted no.) All of these figures are for e-books; the Pocket contracts were primarily negotiated for print sales, but they do establish an e-book royalty that I’m still collecting on e-book editions of those books today.

Traditional Publishing: My cheapest e-books from Pocket retail for $8.99 (yeah, I know, no kidding), and I get paid a 15 percent royalty or $1.34. The books are about 400 pages long, so that works out to be about $0.003 per page. My two most successful books with them retail in e-book for $15.99 for 400 pages, with the same 15 percent royalty. So if anybody is desperate enough for medieval vampire romance in e-book to pay that, I make $2.39 or 0.005 per page (which, incidentally, is the same rate KU downloads pay–probably a coincidence, but I don’t know). The obvious advantage for Pocket in print is scope and reach–those books in print sold in the tens of thousands, not the tens, because Pocket was able to ship and place multiple copies all over the world at once and did; you could buy my books in any mall in the US and most of the world. But them days are over, for chain bookstores and for me, and these e-books are competing on the same digital playing field as stuff that’s much, much cheaper. I suppose there are probably readers who are more likely to buy a book from a traditional publisher (assuming they happen upon it in their keyword search), but at those prices? And by this royalty scale, if the sales figures aren’t hugely better, I’m not making any more money; my share comes out to be about the same in spite of the inflated price tag.

Small Press:  Most of my e-books from Purple Sword cost $6.99, run about 250 pages, and pay me a more-than-fair royalty of 50 percent. This works out to be about $3.49 or $0.01 per page paid to me, which for me is as good as it gets. (Writers who self-publish AND self-distribute are working in a different office.) Problem is, I don’t sell any books through Purple Sword. It’s not their fault; other PS writers are doing much better through them than I am. I’m pretty sure the problem here is me and my books–not enough active promotion on my part of those titles and books that don’t really fit the brand of the press as a whole.

Little Red Hen:  My sister and I started Little Red Hen as a way to try to give the people what they want – good, cheap romances short enough we could afford to sell them for only 99 cents each. (Because it takes us a couple of weeks to write each one versus the six months to a year we’d put into a full-length novel.) Currently, we distribute them only through Amazon, and our royalty for each one sold is 35 cents. This works out to be $0.01 per page, the same as the small press books, except that I’m actually selling quite a few. So while I’m still not pricing summer homes in Tuscany, I am able to call the experiment a success; the co-op is self-sustaining. But obviously I’d prefer to do more.

Little Red Hen – Kindle Unlimited: And here’s where we get to the problem of today. Little Red Hen shorts downloaded through KU pay us $0.005 per page or about 12 cents per full book, less than half what non-KU sales pay. We also tend to have 3 KU downloads for every 1 outright sale. (This is not an exact statistic – some books do better in KU; some books do better in regular sales. But it’s a fair generalization for the press as a whole.) Amazon is obviously committed to promoting KU; consequently books listed through KU are treated more kindly by their sales ranking algorithms. We’ve also been doing a free book promotion for every new release, something that’s only available through Amazon for KU books. Like a writer friend who is listing his on-going serial with KU pointed out, we are almost certainly reaching readers through KU that we would never reach without it, and that can’t be easily dismissed. But are we losing royalties to Amazon on readers who would want the book enough to buy it if they had to but are downloading it through KU instead? The many KU haters would say of course; Amazon would say certainly not. Me, I just don’t know.

I’m still mad at Amazon for the snake oil salesman approach they’ve taken with writers about KU. I get emails from KDP every month congratulating me on my brilliance for signing up and promising the moon when in fact, best case scenario, it’s paying me at exactly the same page rate as the fat cat traditional publishing model Amazon keeps saying it means to vanquish forever. (As I wrote more than a year ago in an open letter to Jeff Bezos, stop pissing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.) But KU’s sins aren’t nearly as black as I wanted to paint them when compared to the alternative. My guess is Lexie and I will end up compromising, listing some books through KU for the sake of the promotional push and withholding others; in any case, we will have to take a hard look at every step in our current protocol. And I would advise any other author who isn’t James Patterson to do the same.

Posted in Books, Current events, Free Reads, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Paranormal romance, Publishing, Short Story, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Writing process

Because life is too short to read crap

the king's tutor coverLike more than 20 million other people, I read e-books on a Kindle, and my favorite genre is romance. A quick search on Amazon for romance titles this morning yielded me 365,065 options to choose from. I know from experience that there are treasures to be found all the way up and down the charts. But the vast majority of these 365,065 e-books calling themselves romances are total, unmitigated, stinky, slimy, sloppy crap. The Wild West world of e-publishing combined with a media that continually broadcasts romance as that world’s most popular and therefore most potentially profitable genre have shaken stuff out of the bushes that would make Grace Livingston Hill say “Fuck this noise” and switch to thrillers. Well-meaning amateurs who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with a box cutter and a blowtorch have unwittingly conspired with cynical assholes who say flat out they hate romance as they write the dumbass porno to prove it. Together they’ve created a digital Bog of Eternal Stench where readers who actually love the genre can only cling to the few writers they already know they can trust and pray for daylight—and better pricing.

Life is too short to read crap. That’s the idea that inspired Little Red Hen Romance, a smallest-of-the-small-time e-book publisher that I hope will give me and readers like me a better option. The plan is to publish at least four new romance short story titles every month starting on May 1. The stories will be absolutely free for their first week of release (and only available through Amazon) then 99 cents forever thereafter (and available from B&N and iTunes, too). If things go well, we’ll do longer anthologies and maybe even full-length books, but for now, we’re trying it out with the shorties, 3000-8000 words each. But short as they are, every story will be an actual romance by a criteria that might be entirely subjective to me but that I really think a lot of readers have been missing. When I started thinking about what I wanted and wasn’t getting from new romance, I came up with a list of three things:

1 – Sparkling dialogue: Nothing kills a love connection for me faster than dull, flat, lifeless talk, and what passes for romance these days even on the bestest of bestseller lists is full of it. Before I can care about people falling in love, I have to like them; I have to want to listen to them; I have to see the sparks fly between them. Not every story has to be a laugh-a-minute romantic rollick (though there will definitely be some of that, too), but I promise, the characters in the stories from Little Red Hen will be able to carry on a conversation before they start stripping off their clothes—and after.

 2 – Tender sensuality: I love me some smut. Explicit sexuality has been a hallmark (and some would say the major selling point) for romance since the 1970s, and as a reader, I want and expect it. And I’m not squeamish about the mechanics—twosomes, threesomes, up, down and sideways, with handcuffs or without; I’ve read books that rocked my world from all of these, books that I would definitely call romance. What set them apart was the attitude of the characters getting it on toward one another, their reasons for hopping in the sack (or the haystack or the space bunk or that big ol’ hot tub full of banana puddin’) in the first place. Not every character who has sex in a Little Red Hen book will be madly in love when they start, but they’ll at least be considering it by the time they finish. The person or persons they’re sexing will have value to them as people, and their physical actions toward them will reflect that. Nobody is going to get genuinely humiliated in a LRH book (and no monster will ever “turn anybody gay” because that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of in my life, and I work at a law firm). We in the Hen House want to turn our readers on and make their toes curl but let them still feel clean and able to look their preacher in the eye afterwards.

 3 – Heart-melting romance: This one is the most important. It’s what’s most often missing from the books I hate, and I think it’s what embarrasses the haters most about romance, far more than any kind of sexual content ever could. If a story is going to be a romance by the genre definition (not the literary, which is a whole different thing involving a much wider range of happy endings), it has to be a love story; it has to be the series of events which leads the characters into (or deeper into) love. It doesn’t have to end in marriage or a marriage proposal or a declaration of eternal devotion. But it’s got to mean more than an orgasm, a contract, or the acquisition of a business partner to pay the household expenses. It’s about people touching soul to soul, something I believe in very strongly. Otherwise, for me, it’s not a romance. Every Little Red Hen story, whether it’s historical, contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, straight, LGBT, funny, dramatic, or just plain weird will be a love story by this definition.

For more information about the press or the individual titles coming up at our launch on May 1, please drop by the website at http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance or come like us on Facebook. And by all means, come hang out at our Facebook launch party on Wednesday, April 29, at 8 pm EDT—yes, we’ll mention the books, and yes, there will be preview giveaway swag, but mostly it’ll be a bunch of romance lovers chatting and snarking and having fun, and we’d love to see you there: https://www.facebook.com/events/807514879343283/

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing process

And ladies of the club . . .

librarianMy mama was always my first reader and main support system as a writer. And whenever I would get discouraged and start complaining that this whole becoming a New York Times bestselling author thing was taking too damned long, she would remind me that Helen Hooven Santmyer was 89 years old when her third novel, And Ladies of the Club, finally hit it big. “And she wrote that book for fifty years!” she would finish with an air of triumph suggesting she had solved my problem entirely. God rest her soul and seat her next to Patrick Swayze, she couldn’t understand why she hadn’t helped.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I heard that a talented writer and publisher of my acquaintance was desperately discouraged. She’s been at this thing for a long time, too, and major success still eludes her. She writes great books, but she doesn’t have great sales, and her stack of rejections keeps on piling higher. She’s starting to worry that maybe she won’t ever hit it big, that maybe she’s been wasting her time. A mutual friend (my baby sister, who has more in common with Mama than she’d ever want to admit) told her it could be worse; she could be me, and if I can keep soldiering on, she certainly can.

Ahem.

As I told her, I still have those thoughts all the time. And even though Mama is gone, I have a wonderful support system that encourages me and talks me off the ledge, and I appreciate them all more than I can say. But sometimes what really gives me the kick I need is a much-less-loving little voice inside my own head.

“If you want to quit, honey, quit,” she says. “Who’s stopping you? Who’s gonna care besides you? Writing is hard work, and publishing is a pain in the ass, and if you’re not making any money at it, what are you suffering for? You can cross-stitch, crochet, play piano, and make biscuits, all perfectly nice hobbies that don’t take nearly as much energy or require nearly as thick a skin–when was the last time somebody handed you back a biscuit and said it was nice enough, they supposed, but not what they were looking for right now? No law says you have to be a writer.

“And it’s  not like you’ve ever actually published a book . . . well, all right, yes, you’ve published ten. But nobody’s ever read them except for those few tens of thousands of people who bought them, and what do they know? What have  they done for you lately? And all this time you spend working on your so-called craft, has it made you any better?”

You’re damned right it has. Every story I’ve ever written, published or not, finished or not, has taught me how to write cleaner, clearer, smarter, sharper than I did before I wrote it. More to the point, the very act of putting words on paper keeps me sane. It’s what makes me the person I am in all those other things I do. Writing is my talent, my best thing, my thing I do better than I do anything else. It siphons off the voices in my head into something useful and meaningful that connects me to other people. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

And I don’t. So when that voice pipes up, I know exactly what to tell her. I have applied my many years’ experience writing dialogue to honing the perfect response.

Fuck you.

There are writers who do it for money, but most of us do it for love. Bless our pitiful hearts. And ladies–and gentlemen–of the club, if we have to wait until we’re two years out from dying of old age for the rest of the world to notice, I promise you, it will still be worth it.

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing process

For the Love of Writing

librarianAs a writer, I’ve only made one New Year’s resolution for 2015: To enjoy the process more and worry about the product as a product less.

Publishing right now is batshit crazy, and it’s changing so quickly, I seriously doubt anybody can really keep up. When I started writing seriously with the intention of profit, the process was cruel but simple. You wrote the best book you possibly could. Then you sent it out into the world to be brutalized by strangers until you wanted to kill yourself. If you were blessed in talent, timing, and/or acquaintance, you eventually found an agent to champion your poor battered baby and hopefully get you published. By and large, you took the agent you could get who found you the publisher they could get, and you considered yourself lucky and kept your whining to yourself. The actual marketplace was considered to be a mystery beyond your ken in which you were invited to participate in only the most peripheral way. (Though if your book didn’t succeed there, it was always your fault.) I published 6.5 books in this system, and it still exists. Too many people depend on it to let it die any time soon. Even Amazon, the big giant head that’s been threatening to vanquish it for years, doesn’t really want to kill it. They don’t want to slay the dragon; they want to keep it as a pet.

When e-books became a thing for the masses instead of a novelty for geeks, a whole new world opened up for writers. Sort of. Now you could publish your own stuff without that clunky apparatus that took so long and treated you so mean. For a while, it looked like writers would take over the publishing world. If we were willing to do all the work of packaging and promotion (a viable option when it all happened in The Cloud), we didn’t have to answer to anybody but our readers. Best of all, we got to keep all the profits. This system still exists, too, of course; the mainstream media is still touting it as the brave new world. The problem is, without those profit-skimming, soul-sucking gatekeepers of mainstream publishing standing in the way, the marketplace got flooded with anything anybody could type and slap up. And prowess in packaging and marketing doesn’t necessarily equal writing talent. A whole lot of “writers” are skipping that step where you write the best book you can. Either that, or the best book they can write is a big, old, stinky turd. And in this brave new world of indie publishing, that turd carries just as much cachet and earning potential as a good writer’s polished diamond–more if the turd maker is better at marketing. And turds, by and large, sell cheap. And readers just loooove cheap. And they love to bitch about turds in reviews, too. They bitch, but they buy–if they don’t have to pay more than a dollar.

So right now, everybody–writers, agents, publishers, bloggers, marketing gurus, and Jeff Bezos–are scrambling to stabilize the process, to find a compromise that provides readers with books they actually want to read at a price they want to pay, keeps the great machine of traditional publishing adequately fed, sends Amazon’s profits up, up, up, and oh yeah, makes writing books a viable occupation for grown-ups who aren’t necessarily on anti-psychotic medication. And believe me when I tell you, that last item is last on way more lists than mine. Believe me also when I say this is the stuff that keeps me up nights wondering if it’s too late to go to law school.

Luckily while I do write to be read and I do want to make money at it, I also write because I have to. My mental health demands it. My soul is nourished by it. The construction of story is my favorite pastime and has been since I was a child. I can’t control the marketplace. I can’t predict it. Most days I barely understand it.

But I can write great books. I can pour my heart out in a story and touch a reader’s heart in turn. So while I know I have to keep trying to market and make good choices and be smarter about my work as a widget to be sold, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to lose my mind over it. I can revel in the joy of making stuff up. I can write the book I really want to write because why not? Writing to the market, for me at least, for now at least, makes no sense. In 2015, I just want to write a great book.

 

Posted in Art & Artists, Books, Current events, Pop Culture, Pop Culture I Can Live Without, Publishing

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)