Very fun interview about digital-first publishing with Australian Em Craven.
Medium vs. Message
I love when the fog is in the valley. It seems so metaphorical. Doesn’t hurt that I’m above it all and still have a clear view.
Last night I watched Practical Magic. For maybe the one-billionth time. Yeah, it’s one of my all-time favorites, for so many reasons. Some of them are definable and some aren’t. I love it for the LOOKS the women exchange, which seem to be impossible to capture in writing. A glance full of meaning in a movie becomes a cliche of crossed arms and raised eyebrows in a book. Sometimes I envy the filmmakers. I can see the scene between my characters play out in my head, but how to describe it so someone else can see it?
One of the great challenges of writing, I suppose.
Ironically, however, if there are two versions of a story, both a book and a movie, it’s rare for anyone to say the movie was better. In most of these cases, the book came first. I think the last time I read a book that came after a movie was back in the late 70s, after the first Star Wars movie (Episode IV, for the purists) came out. I read one of those tie-in books that they generated to keep the story going. I was getting big into sci fi then and loved the movie. SO disappointing. I was bewildered by the liberties taken with the story and characters. The book itself was poorly written. And gross. Seems like a light saber got jabbed in someone’s eyeball with associated flying goop. At any rate, I never read another. This might explain why I never got into fanfic of any kind. Traumatized at an early age.
Still, the point is that both books and movies tell a story, just in different ways. And books – well they pretty much read like books, no matter how the words are displayed. Jonathan Franzen, who I’m starting to think is worried no one will pay attention to his writing if he’s not being an ass waffle (thank you DYAC!), has now famously declared ebooks a threat to society. He also claims that “serious readers” – whoever those people may be – will continue to read on paper because that has a permanence that ebooks lack.
His justification is beyond bizarre. He says he can spill water on a book and it still works, which you can’t do with an ereader. Yeah, but enough water does ruin a paper book and oh, say, setting it on fire kinda ruins that permanence. But this is the kind of nut job you can’t really reason with.
What gets to me with the ensuing conversations is all the people saying things like the author of this article says:
Franzen doesn’t even take into consideration the countless self-published authors who wouldn’t have a chance of seeing their books actualized because of the old guards at the gates of publishing companies. Most of them won’t win a Pulitzer Prize, but they’ve achieved a dream of sharing their stories with the world.
I’d say it’s more to the point that Franzen would think those people shouldn’t be published if the can’t get through the gates. (Not my opinion – speculating on his.) But that’s neither here nor there. People continue to conflate self-publishing with digital publishing. It’s bizarre to me, because this is demonstrably not the case. I can purchase Franzen’s Freedom from Amazon as a hardcover ($14.44 as of this posting), paperback ($10.88), ebook ($9.99) or audiobook ($37.79). If I read it on paper, will my experience be more serious than on my Kindle?
It’s absurd to think so.
As for permanence, if I leave my hardcover or paperback out in the rain, I’d have to buy a new copy. If I leave my Kindle in the rain, I still have my entire library of books backed up in the data cloud. Which is more permanent?
And what about the audiobooks? Are they evil, bad and a threat to society, too? I can’t recall seeing attacks on audiobooks like we’ve seen on ebooks.
It’s all the same hysteria over change. Which is fine. I understand. We all hit a point where we simply can’t adapt to yet more more technology. But don’t dress up your mental inflexibility as wisdom.
And leave my ebooks alone.
Craving the Pain
We bought rain barrels. Plastic ones that won’t, oh, fall over and shatter. Not as pretty, but far better for the long term.
We’ve realized that last year, our first year in Santa Fe, spoiled us terribly, with all the snow and rain. This year is far more dry and we fell behind on watering. We’re catching up now, and the flowers are coming along. Fortunately, as children of the West, David and I are both habitual water-savers. We just need to adjust our thinking, take it a bit further.
I am thinking longer-term in many ways.
I mentioned yesterday that I’m not willing to take The Body Gift to self-pubbing, or even digital publishing yet. See, I have a Plan. This is a Plan suggested to me by a lovely agent-friend who can’t take me on as a client right not, but offered me unlimited advice. (I’m not sure if that’s just her very gracious way of saying no while remaining friendly and supportive, but I don’t care. She also told me I seem to be doing just fine on my own and you know where flattery will get you with me. Hey, I’m a Leo – I can’t help it!)
At any rate, she suggested that with each new novel, I shoot as high as I can, walk it through all the Big Show venues and then, if no one bites, offer it to digital. I like this plan. I know many scoff, because it’s still clinging to the traditional route, which so many are forsaking. Why put myself through the pain of the Big Filter when I could just skip all the rejection and waiting, go straight to Smashwords or one of the innumerable start-up epresses that seem to snap up all and sundry.
I want the filter.
I want the writing I put out in the world to be the very best it can be. Even though I hate the pain, I want my work to receive ruthless editing and the stern eye of marketing. I know NYC can have a narrow view. I also know traditional publishing has been putting out incredible books for my entire life.
I want that to be my books.
And I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been reading a lot of less-than-stellar stuff lately. Digital publishing is coming up in the world and some of the digital imprints seem to have pretty high standards. Others…. erm. Not so much. As much as I would love someone to embrace my book and publish it, I don’t want it at the price of quality. I’d rather revise.
I know it’s hard to know these days, what a press’s standards are. But if you look around, you can figure it out. Read their books and you’ll know. The ones who haven’t put out any books yet are a bigger gamble. Every publisher has some lemons, or books that you hate. More than once I’ve wondered what Ace was thinking, or who is reading some of what Kensington puts out. I also know they have exhaustive acquisitions processes, so I figure I’m not their reader.
So, I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t want to belong to any club that would stoop to admitting the likes of me, but I do want to make the grade.
I want to be part of the Big Show.
And I won’t stop until I get there.
My Big News
If you’re bored today, or simply need a little Mardis Gras fix, without the smells and lack of restroom facilities, NOLA.com runs the parade cams and Bourbon Street Cams. They can be pretty entertaining, but also a time-suck.
So, a week ago today, I received a phone call, which I alluded to here. It seems appropriate to have excessive partying going on today while I tell you all:
I am signing a contract with Carina Press!!!
~cue happy dancing and jazz band~
The sun comes up over the mountains, shedding light on the happy valley below. Angels swoop through the sky and unicorns perform intricate jigs.
Yes, my new editor, Deb Nemeth, is acquiring Sapphire and Angela James is the one who called me last week. They want to see my other work, too, so I’ll be sending that along. I’m very much excited to be part of the Carina Press family. If you don’t know, Carina is Harlequin’s digital imprint. I truly believe they’re at the forefront of digital publishing. They have all the sterling foundation of the Harlequin empire, along with greater flexibility to step out of the mold. All those funny stories that are kind of fantasy, kind of sci fi, kind of sexy? They want to publish them!
So thank you all, for the love, support and excitement while I was being cagey.
Laissez les bon temps et romans rouler!
Kind of a quiet sunset last night, slowly shading into salmon and violet. Quite lovely.
Something not quite so lovely occurred on Twitter the other day. But it was also kind of quiet. Once of those things where people get into conversations with certain expectations that lead them into assumptions. Let me explain. It might be convoluted because I don’t want to name names.
(Though if you know me and want to email to ask, I’ll tell you who it is.)
So there’s this agent who’s been on Twitter for a while. We’ll call him Tom. He seemed pleasant, said interesting things, didn’t seem to rep what I write. I didn’t follow him all that closely, but we exchanged comments a couple of times. About e-publishing, now that I think of it.
Well, then he turns up the other day – same avatar, which is the little picture that appears next to the words, in this case a headshot – but a different “handle. Where he used to be AgentTom, now he’s eTom. My friend, Kerry, pointed out to me what was going on. He was holding forth on Twitter bashing traditional publishing and even agenting.
He said a lot of stuff. How agents and traditional publishers only want authors with huge platforms – like celebrities and that chick from Jersey Shore. Thousands and thousand of Twitter followers, he says. A couple of writer-friends of ours had engaged him in conversation at this point. What caught Kerry’s attention was when he said:
Don Maass is not going to take anyone on unless he can make a buck from their work. No platform, no Don.
When several people mentioned that Donald Maass, who is a very well respected agent, has recently offered representation to friends, he said:
He might be taking them on but that doesn’t mean they will be published or if they are, it won’t be big time.
Jen Jackson runs Don Maass Literary. I don’t think Don is that active anymore. Don’t know for sure tho.
So, Kerry mentioned that we have a good friend who is recently represented by the very active Don, she has fewer than 200 followers on Twitter and is doing quite well with her series. This is a warning flag, when someone in the industry is saying things you know aren’t true. Doesn’t matter who he is.
Which he pretty much ignored. Because by this point, after he’d painted this very grim picture, he got to his actual point: the beauty, the glamor, the sheer profitability of E-PUBLISHING.
Now, I have nothing against e-publishing. I’ve published a book with an e-press and I’ve been pleased with the results. (I showed some yesterday.) That’s not the problem.
The issue is that he’s become “eTom” because he’s left agenting and become an acquiring editor for an e-press. You can see this on his profile. If you go to this e-press website, you can see it’s totally new, with lots of references to “us” and that it’s an imprint of another press. Which sounds fairly reputable – okay, new e-imprint of an established press, there’s a lot of that going around these days – until you look at the press and notice it has the same last name as Tom.
This is, in fact, entirely eTom’s business. His new publishing venture and he’s recruiting authors by playing on their fears, saying a traditionally published book takes three years, pays nothing and they’d never take you if you don’t have a huge platform anyway.
This makes me mad because IT IS NOT TRUE.
Allison, for example. She’s told her story in other places, but to recap: it was just over a year ago that the editor who read Allison’s full manuscript for a contest offered her a contract. Allison was able to pick from three agents, one of whom landed her a better contract with another publisher and the book is coming out in January. That is a true story. This is her first book, she has no platform, practically no name recognition and less than a thousand twitter followers.
Maybe most of you reading this are nodding your heads and saying yeah, yeah, yeah – we know. But it alarmed both me and Kerry to see so many earnest authors engaging with eTom and swallowing his lies.
If you want to do e-publishing, great – do it! But don’t sign with just anyone. Don’t let them make you feel desperate. Do your research. Pay attention to their motives.
Never sell yourself short. Especially to the guy who says it’s your only chance.
Let Me Count the Ways
“Do you love it?” they ask me.
Total strangers walk up to me in airports, at Starbucks, when they see me reading my Kindle. “Do you love it?” they all ask and I let them play with it.
Yeah, I do love it. My mom gave me a Kindle for Christmas, then was devastated that they couldn’t ship it until February 24. But it turns out that they were waiting to complete production and ship the Kindle 2, so it was fine by me. David gave me a Blackberry Storm for Christmas (this was my techno-Christmas, apparently) and I was still trying to learn that. The lament of my age group — we played Pong as kids; we used computers in high school, so it should NOT be this hard to keep up with technology. Everyone is fretting about twitter now. I tried to read a twitter page and nearly clawed my eyes out. One thing at a time, I figure.
Except the Kindle 2 was super-duper easy to get going. I had to read the user guide for a few things, but I found what I was looking for. I love that I can slip it in my purse, that I can pull it out, hit the slider and it opens to my page. Child of my era and my culture, I just love the instant gratification. I finished a book that left me craving more and instantly downloaded the next in the series. It’s light, easy to read, easy to turn the pages.
I found I had to adjust my page-turn timing. As a long-time reader, I have a rhythm of starting to turn the page while finishing the last couple of lines at the bottom. If I hit the next page button on the Kindle at the same rhythm, the page replaces before I finish the last line. But I adjusted pretty quickly to that. I do miss the feel of “having” the book, of seeing the cover image as a prelude to settling in. I read a book on the Kindle that I ended up really loving: Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. (It was her One Foot in the Grave that I immediately downloaded.) Reading her was like having paranormal romance steak after six months of nothing but Ho-Ho’s. (A side note for those interested in such things: they classify her as urban fantasy, see? that means there’s no happily ever after at the end.) Anyway, now that I feel all warm and fuzzy about Jeaniene’s books, I want to HAVE them. Even though I already do. But I don’t have the sexy cover and I didn’t know this was the “Night Huntress” series until I recommended it to someone else. That part I miss. Is it important? We’ll see. It looks like I’ll get to meet Jeaniene at the RT convention — I can hardly have her sign my Kindle. Something for Jeff Bezos to ponder.
So, if you see me in the airport or at Starbucks — Yes, I love it. And of course you can play with it.
To E-Pub or Not to Be?
I didn’t post yesterday because I was on short time. After the workout, I grabbed breakfast, cleaned-up and headed down to Brighton, Colorado for the monthly meeting of the Colorado Romance Writers (CRW). I met up with Liz Pelletier in Ft. Collins and we drove the rest of the way together. Meeting Liz in person was great fun, since we’d only ever talked online, via the FFP loop (the Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal interest group of RWA).
The CRW folks welcomed me graciously and with great enthusiasm. Renee Hagar, who writes as Renee Knowles, and both writes and is an editor for Wild Rose Press, gave a workshop. Wild Rose Press is interesting because it’s an e-publisher. I confirmed with Renee that they have no bricks and mortar offices. The editors work out of their homes, books are published either electronically or via a print-on-demand service, probably through Amazon.
Wild Rose Press is an up and coming publisher for romance, which continues to be the hottest selling genre. And they have my full manuscript right now. It makes a writer like me feel torn. If Wild Rose Press will have me, how could I turn them down? Yet, electronic publishing still carries a stigma. RWA will not allow ebooks for consideration in the industry’s most prestigous award, the Rita — the romance equivalent of the Hugo or the Nebula. RWA’s stance is that the writer is not valued enough in e-publishing. When few writers make more than $1,000 on an e-book, RWA has a point. Those are hardly professional wages. To provide a contrast, ten years ago Redbook magazine paid me $3,000 for one essay, which was right about the “industry standard rate” of $1 per word.
E-publishing is clearly the future. As the big publishing houses tighten their belts — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editors were recently told not to acquire new books — as printing materials grow more expensive and less acceptable in the Green Era, shipping and distribution grow more problematic, e-publishing is the answer to so many problems. E-book readers are becoming popular and affordable. And a younger generation is coming up without the resistance so many of us feel to reading electrons on a screen. I think there’s no denying that e-books will eventually lose their stigma and will be the primary, if not exclusive medium, for reading in the future.
And yet, the advent of the internet has clearly devalued the written word. Blogs such as this one, where I write for free, abound. Anyone can pay to have a book published. E-publishers can take risks on new authors because it costs them little investment — a double-edge sword for the writing world as it’s easier for a new author to get published and yet, it implies that the standards have lowered.
And the writing itself? Is inarguably cheaper. Never mind a writer being paid $1/word. From an e-publisher, she may be getting less than 50 cents per book. Which, of course, is better than no book at all.
What a brave new world, and what shall we make of it?