Thursday, June 30, 2011

Enough with the navel-gazing; time to get back to work

Self-pity is better than none, but it don't pay the bills; and there isn't a damn thing I can do about Harlequin Enterprises and the slimy way they pay the people who produce their product.

What I can do is get back to my own writing.  The manuscript referred to as TSQ is waiting for my attention even as we speak, and I'll get back to it later this afternoon, along with revisions to the short mystery story I wrote some time ago.

One thing I'm not going to do -- and I certainly hope I never let myself be suckered into doing it again except under extenuating and extraordinary circumstances -- is help people with their writing unless they pay me for it.

What that means is I'm probably not going to be posting on other people's writing blogs with free advice on how to write.  I'm going to put all my expertise right here in this one blog post and then that's it.  In no particular order of importance or anything else:

1.  Learn to use the language you're writing in.  Grammar.  Punctuation.  Spelling.  Usage.  Vocabulary.  Learn the rules so you can break or bend them when needed for effect.  Do not rely on spell check.  Do not rely on editors.  Learn the damn language.  It is your ONLY tool.  The computer is a device; the language is a tool.  Guess which one is more important to a writer.

2.  Read.  Read everything.  Read in your genre and out of it.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Poetry.  Drama.  New stuff.  Old stuff.  Read for fun, and read analytically.  Never stop reading.  Never be afraid to read.  Never be intimidated by anyone else's writing.

3.  Write.  Write every day.  Write.  Write.

4.  If you want to write popular fiction -- which happens to be my field -- and you're not a natural-born novelist, pick up a few good books on plot construction.  Learn what the requirements of "a story" are, beyond the obvious beginning, middle, and end.  Understand the types of conflict and how they work in a story.  Understand the difference between internal and external conflict.  Learn to recognize internal consistency and logical cause and effect.

5.  If you want to write popular fiction -- which happens to be my field -- and you're not a natural-born wordsmith, find some way to learn the techniques of characterization, dynamic description, effective dialogue.  I can't tell you how to learn these techniques because I've just always known how to do them.  Is that bragging?  I guess so.  But then again, I've been reading voraciously ever since I learned how, so maybe I just absorbed all that stuff.  You can too, but you'd better start now.

6.  After you've written something, get opinions on it.  All kinds of opinions.  Friends and family, total strangers, editors and agents, published writers, teachers.  Listen to what they have to say about the good things, but especially listen to the bad things they say.  However, don't force anyone to read it.  Ask first, and don't get all pissy if they turn you down.  Some people really just don't have time for you.

7.  Get over yourself.  No matter what you've written, it isn't the greatest thing since Ulysses, The Lord of the Rings, The Ox-bow Incident, Dune, Murder on the Orient Express, From Here to Eternity, or The Far Pavilions.  Or anything else.

8.  Write.

Guess what I'm going to do now.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One thing that isn't in it for me is. . . .


I recently came to a very unpleasant parting of the ways with someone I had considered a friend.  The separation came not as a result of a disagreement over politics or anything normal like that.  The cause was our individual and very different concepts of what friendship itself entailed, what it meant to be a friend and what one should be able to expect from a friend.

We're not talking BFF here, nor someone who friended me on Facebook, since I'm not on Facebook anyway.  No, this was a face to face friendship, and the collapse of it has left me not only hurt but wary.  Some have said I expected too much of the friendship, but others have said I didn't and that my friend was wrong to have betrayed the friendship the way she did.

But however you slice it, the end result is the same:  a sense of irretrievable loss.

It's not like loss is anything new to me.  I am, after all, 62 years old and widowed.  My husband's death came after a short but devastating illness; my father passed away three years ago.  I still mourn many faithful canine companions, to some of whom I dedicated one of my novels.  And I don't mean to suggest that losing a friend or loved one to death is any easier to bear than just -- "just" -- the collapse of a friendship, because it's not.  But death is inevitable and ultimately unavoidable.   The destruction of a friendship is not.

The emotional distress comes at a particularly awkward time for me, as I'm trying to reassemble the scattered components of my authorly self-confidence.  In a way, however, it reinforces an awareness of the isolation that a writer often needs.

I never had a lot of friends as a child, and I most certainly was not popular in high school.  Guys always broke up with me, never the other way around, and I was invariably devastated.  My husband's job prevented us from socializing very much, and I never developed close relationships with other women via my jobs or through neighborhood contacts.  The one venue I had for establishing friendship was through my writing, especially through the auspices of RWA, which I joined in early 1984 just after signing my first contract.

Over the years, however, I learned that there was much more of a spirit of competition, and not always friendly competition, in RWA than any camaraderie.  There could be respect sometimes and admiration sometimes, but I found that too often the women I found myself in company with either didn't want me for a friend --- or I didn't want them.

Several specific instances come to mind, but I won't bore anyone with the details, at least not tonight.  One instance, however, is especially applicable to this post.

One of the RWA chapters to which I belonged in the early 90s was sponsoring an event for Valentine's Day.  A number of the published authors were going to be interviewed by a reporter from one of the suburban Phoenix newspapers and then we were all going out to lunch together.  I lived on the other side of Phoenix from where the lunch was going to be, so I took the entire day off work and drove across town.  I was looking forward to an afternoon with women who at least spoke the same language I did -- romance writing. 

As we were sitting at lunch after the interview, we began indulging in some friendly gossip, and someone mentioned one of the chapter members who happened not to be present.  This extremely successful woman had, on a couple of occasions, treated me just horribly at chapter meetings, to the point that I rarely spoke up at all on any subject.  And so, while we were enjoying our little gab-fest, I asked quite bluntly, "Okay, can someone tell me what I ever did to So-and-So to make her treat me so rudely?"

To my shock, everyone started to laugh. 

Obviously I wasn't in on the joke, so I asked for an explanation.

And one of the other writers, someone far more successful than I, controlled her laughter long enough to say, "Oh, Linda, don't you know?  So-and-So is like that because she's intimidated by you."

"Intimidated by me?"  I was incredulous.  I had at that time I think sold three books, all to minor publishers, while the woman in question had at least a dozen novels in print, including single-title contemporary romances with Harlequin that were gaining her significant acclaim.  "What can there possibly be about me that would intimidate her?"

More laughter, until finally another woman said, "Linda, you intimidate just by walking in the room."

I am barely five feet tall.  I am overweight.  My fashion sense is non-existent, and even if I had one, I've never had the money to indulge it.  In other words, there is nothing intimidating about me at all.

But I guess there is.

It's true that I'm outspoken, and it's true that I don't play games very well.  If I think Harlequin is screwing over its authors, I will say so.  I said it often enough when I was in RWA, when I was PAN's "rabble rouser" and when I was founding and leading PASIC.

I've said a lot of things that have made a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Whether that's a cause of my not having friends or a result of never having very many, I don't know for sure.  Maybe it's both.

A couple days ago a post on another website quoted something I'd written many many years ago, something I'd completely forgotten about.  It got me in trouble the first time I wrote it, and it apparently has not endeared me to people now either.  I was calling Harlequin to task for treating their authors unfairly.  Yes, they were doing it back in 1995, just like they were doing it in 1985.  Harlequin is all about merchandising, quick turnover and quick profit.  What it's not about, and never has been about, is treating authors fairly.

Yes, yes, yes, I know.  There are authors right now over at singing the praises of Harlequin and defending their publisher with admirable loyalty.  After all, what else are they going to do?  Harlequin is the only game in town for category contemporary romance.  And they've been the only game in town since 1998 when Bantam's Loveswept ceased publication. 

And so the authors lament that Harlequin is the only game in town, but the fact that they settle for minuscule royalties is what allows Harlequin to dominate the market so completely and keep competition out!  Can you say catch-44 -- which is just like catch-22 only twice as bad?  BOHICA.

One good thing about not having any friends is there's no one left to piss off.  I can pretty much say what I like, and I still say Harlequin is bad for romance, bad for genre fiction, bad for fiction, and bad for publishing.  And RWA is bad for not standing up to them in 1992, in 1995, or in 2011.  Yes, I read on some blog or other that RWA is "looking into" the claims that Harlequin is screwing authors, but when has RWA ever bitten the hand that dangles the carrot to all those dues-paying desperate unpublished writers?

There, I said it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What's in it for you? And 13,138. . . .

For a while I didn't think I was going to meet yesterday's challenge.  I didn't quite meet Saturday's, but I came close.  Sunday's output wasn't all that great, but I did find enough determination and discipline to reach the objective.  That means today's challenge is to reach 13,138 words on that novel referred to as TSQ. . . .

And it's okay if it's not perfect, because at least I'm making progress and I can always go back and rewrite.  One step at a time, one day at a time, one word at a time.  It doesn't have to be perfect; it only has to be written.

If the writing were an end in itself, nothing need go any further than getting the book written.  Personal satisfaction and personal enjoyment can be sufficient motivation as well as sufficient goals.  There is no rule that says a writer has to write for publication, and there is certainly no rule that says a writer has to be published as the only justification to write.  Many writers write only for their own enjoyment or to share stories with friends and family. 

But let's set that aside and assume that you want to share the book you've written with the rest of the world and you think you ought to be paid for your investment of time and creative talent.  Short stories and poetry are an entire different species, so I'm only going to address a full-length book at this time, but the type of book doesn't matter.  Could be romance, could be horror, could be a non-fiction family history. 

It doesn't matter what kind of book, because up until a few years ago, the process of finding a publisher was pretty straight-forward: 

1.  You sent out the manuscript, either complete or partial, to prospective editors until one of them bought it.  This process could take as short as a couple of weeks or as long as several years.  Once the book was purchased by the publisher, it would be several months to a year or more before it was published.


2.  You sent out the manuscript, either complete or partial, to prospective agents until one of them agreed to represent you and took on the job of sending the manuscript to prospective editors.  Finding an agent could take as long as or longer than finding a publisher.  See #1.


3.  You self-published via a vanity or subsidy publisher who printed your books for you at your considerable expense and then you had a garage or basement loaded with 10,000 copies that you had to sell at retail yourself.

Then in the late 1990s came e-publishing and the whole picture started to change radically.  Some of those early e-publishers are still around and successful, and the field has certainly expanded.  And most of them operate very much like print publishers -- they have editors who select what they will publish.  They have submission guidelines, they edit the books, and they prepare the art that serves as the "cover" in terms of what the potential reader sees on the website or on the e-reader device. 

But even the e-publishing option has undergone another evolution.  With the advent of SmashWords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and others, that whole process of submitting your manuscript to someone else and letting them decide whether and how to publish your book has gone by the wayside.  Now anyone can publish anything -- pretty much.

For the author who is successful in getting their self-e-published work into the hands -- or at least the device -- of the e-book reader, the financial return can be significantly higher than for the print published.  As I detailed in Saturday's blog the self-publishing author takes on additional duties in terms of formatting and editing and artwork, but the potential rewards are substantially greater.

How much greater?  I was shocked to read last night at Dear Author that Harlequin Books is paying only 8% royalty on some of its digital editions and may in fact be paying only 2% on some, due to a multinational corporate structure that allows the parent company to license a wholly-owned subsidiary of itself to "publish" the books but treat the transaction as if it were with an independent third party.

Yes, dear writer, 2 lousy percent. 

Back in the day -- the early 1990s -- Romance Writers of America made an effort (sort of) to get publishers to raise royalty rates on copies of books sold through direct-mail subscriptions.  According to the 1995 "Rate the Publishers" Survey compiled and published by the Published Authors Network of RWA, royalty rates on these "book club" sales were generally in the 2% to 3% range.  ("Standard" royalty rates, for comparison sake, ranged from 4% to 8%, with only a few outliers.)

Apparently nothing has changed.  According to attorney Elaine P. English, who was hired by Novelists, Inc. to examine a selection of Harlequin contracts, yeah, Harlequin is paying 2% - 3% royalties on those digital editions, and they have the right to do so on just about any book contracted over the past 30 years.  And the writer's have little to no recourse.  BOHICA.

WHY DID THEY DO THAT?  Oh, I know why Harlequin did it -- they're in the business of making money, and these contract terms allow them to make a whole lot of money.  The question in my mind is, Why do authors sign these contracts?  And why are authors still defending still defending the practice?

Worse yet, why is RWA still defending them?

I guess I should be glad no one is reading this blog except me, because I get to write things here I probably wouldn't write if a lot of people were reading it.  But here's a fact for you to chew on, dear writer:

On the evening of 13 October 1994 -- I remember because it was my birthday and because I have a print out of the post -- I proposed, via the GEnie internet discussion board for romance writers, the formation of an RWA "special interest chapter" for published authors only.  The immediate objective was to be able to hold a conference for published authors only, to which the unpublished/aspiring/fans would not be welcome.  And yes, that's pretty much the sentiment that was going around the published author discussions at that time:  the unpubs were NOT WELCOME.  We didn't want them around.  RWA had welcomed them, embraced them, catered to them for almost 15 years and we were tired of it.  We were tired of holding workshops that were essentially training the people who wanted to take our jobs.

Well, some of us were.  At its height during my tenure as president of what became PASIC, we had something over 300 members.  Now it's up to 400.  Not huge growth, but then again, PASIC stopped being much of a rogue organization when I left.  And RWA still caters to the unpublished (because that's where RWA the organization gets its money) and still fails to be an advocate for the writers.

Back in 1994 and 1995, when PASIC was in its formative stages, there were very few of us who would dare to say RWA should be an active advocate for writers.  I was one of those few, and even though I've been away from the business since I left RWA and PASIC and PAN in 1998, I've never stopped being an advocate for the writers. 

I don't intend to stop now either.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Some things aren't what they seem to be; and today's challenge -- 11,215

With the permission of the poster elaine mueller over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books I'm posting the information regarding the titles and dates of original publication for the books named as the "re-launch" titles for Random House's Loveswept line of romances.

elaine wrote --

regarding the “loveswept” titles listed at—not all were originally Loveswept. 

Remember the Time, by Annette Reynolds—Bantam Fanfare contemporary, June 1997.  no kindle version currently on amazon

Dream Lover, by Adrienne Staff—Bantam Loveswept, June 1994.  no kindle version currently on amazon

The Vow, by Julianna Garnett—Bantam Fanfare historical, February 1998.  no kindle version currently on amazon

This Fierce Splendor, by Iris Johansen—Bantam historical, January 1988.  no kindle version currently on amazon (iirc, this was the first of “The Delaneys” series co-written w/fayrene preston, kay hooper.)

The Baron, by Sally Goldenbaum—Loveswept #233, December 1987.  no kindle version currently on amazon.

Lightning that Lingers, by Tom and Sharon Curtis, aka Laura London—Loveswept #25 (listed for 1991 but has to ‘84 or so originally).  no kindle version currently on amazon.

Tall, Dark,and Lonesome, by Debra Dixon—Loveswept #655, November 1993.  no kindle version currently on amazon.

Legends, by Deborah Smith—Loveswept, March 1990, currently in print trade paperback $15.  no kindle version currently on amazon

As you can see, three of the eight were never Loveswepts to begin with, and one of the Loveswept titles is currently still in print.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this.  Random House is resurrecting the name of the line and publishing various titles under that imprint.  Some of the titles were originally published over 20 years ago, and most haven't been reprinted since the first printing.

Why now?  Why is Random House, which has owned the rights to these books for a very long time, suddenly going digital with them?

I think the answer is very simple -- because they believe they can make a lot of money from them.  Lightning that Lingers is probably the single most remembered title from the entire 900+ Loveswept backlist, and whatever paper copies remain out there are going to start disappearing.  It's still available from the used booksellers and the price isn't outrageous, but Random House isn't making any money on those copies.  And the new generations of readers aren't wedded to the paper-and-ink book any more.  (For whatever it's worth, I read Lightning that Lingers in the late 1980s and wasn't impressed, but then again, I'm one of the few people who was never able to get past about page 5 of The Windflower, the Curtises other iconic romance.)

Here's the thing:  It's incredibly lucrative to publish digitally.  IncrediblyPublishers know this -- they'd better know it, since it's their business to know it -- and they are sitting pretty to take advantage of it.  They have no major additional investment to make, and they can take their pick of the most successful titles in that backlist.

Just how lucrative is it?  Let's look at it from the writer's point of view.

You've written a novel.  If you've written it at any time in the past 10 years (or maybe even the past 25) chances are you have the manuscript on your computer, and chances are the file is -- or can be easily converted into -- an MS Word document.  You've schlepped this manuscript to a couple of RWA conferences, submitted it to half a dozen publishers and a dozen agents.  Their polite rejection letters tell you it's good but not quite right for their line or they're swamped with books just like yours or the market is really tight and they wish you luck placing it elsewhere.  You've entered it in some contests and gotten good feedback from the judges and maybe even reached the finals, but no prizes.  Leaving out the cost of your computer and software, you probably have $2,500 hard cash invested in this manuscript: contest fees, postage, conference registration, hotel and airfare.  Maybe less, maybe more, but still a good chunk o' change.

In a matter of a few hours, and for no further cash investment, you can convert your MS Word manuscript file to html and have it ready for uploading to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program. 

With an inexpensive photo manipulation software package -- ArcSoft PhotoImpression is about $40 -- and a collection of free fonts and a stock photo, you can manufacture a digital cover for about $100.

I created this one in about 10 minutes.  The book title, description, and author's name are made up; the photo is available at for less than $20.



When you've finished all that to your satisfaction, you can upload the file to Amazon, slap a price on it, and wait for the money to come rolling in.  And yes, I'm being slightly facetious.  But only slightly.

Here's how it works:

If you price your book between $.99 and $2.98 on Amazon, you are eligible for a 35% royalty on every book paid for and downloaded via Amazon's Kindle, regardless whether that download is to a Kindle device or an iPhone app or Kindle for PC.  A writer with no previous publication credentials might want to keep the price down to attract customers.  A lot of people will pay 99 cents for a book by an unknown and even if they don't like it after they've read it, they're not likely to worry about getting their 99 cents back.

You will not get the full 35 cents on these sales, however, because Amazon does charge a download fee, which is based on the size of the file; the download fee is $.15/MB.  So let's say your file is 400kb, which includes the cover art; for each download, Amazon will deduct 6 cents from the sales price, leaving you with 35% of 93 cents, or a royalty of 33 cents per copy.

If you had sold that manuscript to a royalty publisher, your royalty rate might be 8% or even 10%, less reserves against returns.  You might get a small advance -- $3,000 maybe, or maybe less or maybe none -- and you probably won't see all of that until the book is actually published, which may be 12 to 18 months out in the future.  Royalties will come dribbling in a year or so after that, if there are any.  At a cover price of $6.99 your per book royalty is 56 cents, unless the publisher discounts for book club or other sales, which could lower your royalty considerably.

If your publisher offers a digital version of your book, your royalty rate may be considerably higher, as high as 25%, but that is usually based on the publisher's net, which in turn is generally 50% of the retail list.  So on that $6.99 Kindle download of your book, you will receive a net royalty of 12.5%.

You may have some input on the cover art, or you may not.  You may have some control over the editing, or you may not.  If the digital version appears with major formatting problems, you will have to go through your publisher to get them fixed, and there's no telling how long that will take.

But they are paying you some cash up front -- maybe -- and doing all the work of digitizing and getting cover art and so on. 

You will be able to monitor your sales of the book you put on Amazon Kindle by yourself, which you will not be able to do through a publisher.  If you notice that your sales are good and you're receiving favorable reviews, you can, if you choose, raise the price of the book.  If you now sell it at $1.99, your royalty per book jumps to $.67.  You are making more per digital copy sold than if you had sold to a "real" publisher.

You will have some promotion costs regardless which way you publish.  You'll want to have a blog (fancier than this one) and a website, as well as a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  If these promotional activities directly affect your sales, you will probably not know through your print publisher.  You will not be able to announce promotional discounts or coupons.  You will be stuck with their $6.99 price for a digital copy of your book that readers could be reading for $1.99 and from which you would make a higher royalty.

Suppose your book begins to sell really well, and suppose you have another book ready to publish.  You could go the same route with your second book, publishing it to Amazon's Kindle and selling it for $.99 while at the same time raising the price of your first book to $2.99.

When you raise the price to $2.99, it's eligible for 70% royalties.  Yes, gentle writer, seventy percent.

If you sell 10,000 copies of your print-published book, you will earn $5,600, or less, depending on discounts, and you will receive that money in payments spread out over at least a year, and maybe two or more.

If you sell 10,000 digital copies through your print publisher at $6.99, you will earn $8737.

If you sell 1,000 copies at $.99, 3,000 at 1.99, and 3,000 (that's a total of only 7,000) at 2.99 on Amazon Kindle, you will have earned $8,310.  If you sell 6,000 at 2.99, you will have earned $14,310.  You will have made roughly the same amount of money from those 10,000 digital copies as you would from a combination of 10,000 print and 10,000 digital from the publisher.

You will also have complete control over the appearance of your work (within the limits of the Kindle software, of course) and you will retain all subsidiary rights to your work.  You control the pricing, and you have direct feedback from your readers (which may or may not always be a good thing).

Is it any wonder the publishers don't want you to do that?

Friday, June 24, 2011

When the writer is collateral damage

A battle is raging out there in Romancelandia.  It's not one with good guys and bad guys per se, and that makes things a bit uncomfortable for those who like things neat and tidy, with the villains securely vanquished (unless they come back as the hero or heroine in the sequel) and the good guys and gals all live happily ever after.

For one thing, there aren't just two sides to this battle.  And I guess that's where the whole definition should begin.

On one side are the Publishers, which are generally represented to be in New York but which can be considered to include the Canadian behemoth Harlequin and all the European conglomerates that operate in New York -- so I'll call them NYP.  This faction does NOT include, however, the small, relatively independent e-publishers who do some print on demand or short runs of paper books, outfits like Samhain or Ellora's Cave.  This is just the big guys.

On the next side are the Booksellers, which include the remaining big chain Barnes & Noble, the online behemoth Amazon, all the other sellers and distributors of paper-and-ink hard copy books, plus the sellers of e-books, which include Barnes & Noble and Amazon and several other large players as well as all the little independent guys.  Most of them don't care what they sell, whether it's DTB (dead tree books) or e-books, as long as they make a profit. 

But this group gets a little muddy because most of the small independent sellers of e-books are also the publishers, and now Amazon is getting directly into the publishing business, too.

On the third side are the readers.  They want books.  Lots of books.  ALL the books.  And they want them cheap.  If there are conflicts within the Publisher or Bookseller ranks, there's even more conflict among the Reader ranks, primarily between those who have embraced the e-technology and those who loathe it.

This bizarre guerre de trois tends to have a whole lot of permutations in which one part of one group allies with another against the other faction in their own group as well as against the common enemy at least part of the time. 

For example, the DTB readers side with the DTB booksellers because:
a.  They like the feel of a "real" book in their hands.
b.  They can get "real" books for free at the library but can't get free e-books.
c.  They can buy "real" books used at Used Book Stores for half price, or at the thrift store or garage sales for a quarter.
d.  They can swap "real" books with their friends.
e.  The "real" booksellers have a vested financial interest in selling "real" books because often these "real" booksellers are in the NAUBS (new and used book store) business and they need new DTBs to keep circulating through the cycle.

There are a couple dozen other weird alliances, but I won't bore you with a litany of those.  Suffice to say that ultimately, the bottom line is the bottom line for the publishers, and getting cheap reading material is the bottom line for the readers.

Wait a minute.  What about the writers?  Don't they have any say in this?

Actually, no.  Or very little.

There are authors, some of them quite successful, who have cut out the publisher and bookseller middlepeople and gone independent.  They are writing their books (also novellas and short stories), publishing those works digitally via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and other similar venues, and collecting most of the money themselves.

This can be quite lucrative.

The Publishers used to have a monstrous dislike for the e-publishing format because they couldn't make as much money from it.  And for Publishers, it is always about their profit.  They are corporations, they are not purveyors of entertainment and wisdom.  They are solely concerned with how much money they can pay out in salaries to their CEOs and dividends to their stockholders.  That's what they're supposed to do; it's the purpose of being a corporation: making money for the stockholders.

And the fans of e-books don't like the publishers who are slapping "Agency" prices on them -- a scheme that allows the publishers to set prices artificially (whatever that means) high and stiff both the readers and the booksellers in the name of profits.  Oh, yeah, like that's a big surprise.

Of course once it becomes known that the publishers are going to release e-versions of long out-of-print beloved books then the readers fall all over themselves in happy happy joy joy.

And what do the authors get out of it?  Well, some lucky few may get a pittance.  There's a rumor going around, according to Jane at Dear Author, that the authors of the Loveswept contemporary romance novels which are being digitally republished by Random House never had reversion rights.  In other words, when they signed their contracts, they gave up all rights forever, non-negotiable, sorry Charley, BOHICA.

Why did I never hear about this during my 15 or so years as a member of RWA?

Because the authors are the cannon fodder, and they become the collateral damage.  Always.  And they are made to feel ungrateful if they complain, because after all, they got published, didn't they?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A history lesson, and today's challenge -- 9,310

There was a discussion the other day at Dear Author about the impact that the late Kathleen E. Woodiwiss had on the genre of historical romance.  That discussion covers the facts about the publication of Woodiwiss's first two novels, The Flame and the Flower (1972) and The Wolf and the Dove (1974) in sufficient detail that they need not be repeated here.

But once again I'm somewhat surprised at the way this one author and one book are treated as if they were without precedent, either in the publishing and literary world or in the wider popular culture, that they just popped up like fairy mushrooms after a rain.

The genre of "historical romance" -- defined as a love story set in an era prior to the author's -- had been around for a good long time.  Shakespeare wrote of Romeo and Juliet, Dumas pere of Edmond Dantes and Mercedes, Dickens of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette.  Rafael Sabatini gave us Captain Blood and Scaramouche.  Through the 20th Century we had movies and radio programs and television programs set in the lavishly costumed past.  Nothing was more popular on American television than westerns, and even if Matt Dillon and Wyatt Earp and Paladin didn't have their own HEA endings each week, there was usually someone else in the episode who did.

Writers tend also to be readers, and there was plenty of popular historical fiction out there for writers like Woodiwiss and her early colleagues to read.

While most of the historical fiction was written by men and featured male main protagonists, there were some very notable exceptions.  Two of the most popular historical novels of the first half of the twentieth century were written by women and featured unconventional female protagonists:  Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1938) and Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber (1944).

GWTW became a beloved classic, both the book and the movie, but the lusty Restoration wench Amber raised controversy.  She was "banned in Boston" and the movie version had to be tamed down to mollify the Catholic Church.  I read both books as a teen-ager and never again since, but the enduring popularity of GWTW the movie, as well as its inclusion in so many "most romantic" lists, has kept it fresher in my mind than Forever Amber.  Even though the latter was enormously popular in its day, it did not receive quite the cult status Mitchell's nostalgic look at the Civil War did.  (How much Mitchell's perspective influenced 20th Century popular attitudes toward the South, the War, and even slavery will have to be left for another time.)

The Winsor book, of course, featured the sexual exploits of the heroine as much as the history, and that's what gave it a notoriety that GWTW never achieved; Scarlett kept her bedroom exploits safely and discreetly within the bounds of reasonably conventional marriages.

What I think a lot of analysts forget, however, is that between Forever Amber  of 1944 and The Flame and the Flower of 1972, there had been a sea change in American attitudes toward sex and toward women.  Woodiwiss lived through that change and could not have failed to be influenced by it, regardless which way she went.  Did the relaxing of restrictions on women's sexuality offend her and make her long for a time when good girls didn't unless bad (but not too bad) boys made them?  Or was she looking to celebrate, through her novel, women's growing freedom of sexual expression?

Her personal position on the changing sexual environment is less important than the fact that she engaged in the discussion.  But it was not a discussion that she herself started.  The years between 1944 and 1972 had seen the establishment of acceptable mainstream male pornography in the form of Playboy magazine.  Grace Metalious's novel Peyton Place hit the best-seller list with its tale of sex and incest and small town nastiness, then was made into a movie and even a television evening soap opera, bringing if not sexual acts at least their consequences into the American living room in prime time.  The 1950s and 1960s saw high-profile mainstream movies such as From Here to Eternity and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice and Last Tango in Paris and dozens more bring sexuality into the popular culture.  The Beatles and and Woodstock all predated The Flame and the Flower.

So did another book, and it might have been more of an influence on how and why Avon editor Nancy Coffey put the power of her marketing department behind Woodiwiss's book. 

In 1969, Joan Garity wrote The Sensuous WomanThe Kinsey Reports (1948 and 1953) and Masters and Johnson's Human Sexual Response  (1966) took sex out of the bedroom (or the back seat) and into the arena of public discussion, but these were clinical studies of anonymous individuals or groups of individuals.  They were not descriptions of techniques for sexual pleasure.  Garity, known only as "J" on the book, detailed how a woman could learn to enjoy physical sexual fulfillment.

That was the cultural background in which Woodiwiss wrote, but it was also the cultural background in which Coffey edited.  And because that cultural environment had changed since 1944 when Forever Amber was published, The Flame and the Flower began a trend rather than being a lone success, not because it was something altogether new and different, but because it was the natural evolution of a literary form that developed within a social -- and sexual -- context.

The Flame and the Flower was not a test-tube baby.   We'll never know how many other sexy historical romances were in Nancy Coffey's slush pile.  We'll never know how many others she rejected before that happy day when she picked up that particular manuscript and couldn't put it down.  We'll probably never know what other editors thought when they rejected Woodiwiss's book or others like it.

Woodiwiss, as some have said, just happened to be extraordinarily lucky.  And for many of the rest of us who followed in her footsteps, we're glad she was.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Today's challenge -- and remembering Errol Flynn

Since one of this blog's purposes is to chart my progress on my current novel, I'll start off this Monday morning by posting my 1,000-word goal for today is 8,821.  And before you ask, no, I don't know how many words the book will have when it's finished, which is why I'm just working on 1,000 words a day.  If I write more, that's all to the good, and if not, well, there's always tomorrow.

Today, however, is 20 June, the date on which Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was born in 1909 in Hobart, Tasmania.

I do not remember exactly when I first saw the film Captain Blood.  I know that I was younger than 11.  Whether I saw it after school on "The Early Show" which played movies from 4:30 to 6:00 each afternoon, or on a week-end evening when I was allowed to stay up a bit later than my usual bedtime of 10:00, I just don't know.  But Captain Blood and Flynn made enough of an impression on me that when I heard the news of his death, I remarked on it to my mother.  It was the morning of 15 October 1959, and we heard it on the radio news as I was getting ready for school that morning.  Flynn had died of an apparent heart attack in Vancouver the day before, which had been the day after my 11th birthday.

He was old enough (barely) to have been my grandfather, and I never had one of those pre-adolescent crushes the way we all did at that age and in that era on the likes of Elvis or Rick Nelson or Fabian or Frankie Avalon.  What fascinated me was the adventure, the excitement of the stories.  I couldn't get enough of them.  My suburban life was so boring, so ordinary, and I could lose myself in all the action.

There were no VCRs or DVDs in those days; there were only old movies on TV.  The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The Sea-Hawk.  The Master of Ballantrae.  Tyrone Power in Prince of Foxes.  Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in The Corsican Brothers.  Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda.  Burt Lancaster in The Flame and the Arrow.  Stewart Granger in Scaramouche.  I found an illustrated edition of The Count of Monte Cristo in my South Junior High School library and read it over and over and over and over.

When I reached high school, I also achieved access to two other libraries -- the adult section of the public library and my dad's collection of popular novels from the Dollar Book Club.  Between the two I discovered Frank Yerby and Samuel Shellabarger, Jan Westcott and Lawrence Schoonover, Leslie Turner White and Edison Marshall and F. van Wyck Mason among others.

I got older but I never grew up and I never outgrew my love for vicarious adventure.  What had come to be called "costume dramas" kind of fell out of fashion in the 60s and 70s -- except for those biblical and similar epics that made Charlton Heston a star -- in both movies and books, until Kathleen E. Woodiwiss broke onto the paperback scene with The Flame and the Flower.  And the adventure hasn't stopped.

But for me, it all began with Errol Flynn and Captain Blood, and I won't let my adventure stop either.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Turning down the role of Batholomew Cubbins

Although I grew up in a house filled with books, I didn't have many children's books of my own.  There were the usual Little Golden Books -- I remember "Mr. Dog" was a favorite -- and I had another titled "The Magic Key" plus the original "Gerald McBoing Boing" by Dr. Seuss.

Most of my early reading material, therefore, came from the library at my K-5 school, Ridge School, in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  And one of my favorites was "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,"  another classic Dr. Seuss.  Bartholomew's problem was that each time he removed a hat, another, more lavish, appeared on his head in its place, until finally he had pulled off 500 of them and only his own plain little cap was left.

My problem is that I tend to take off one hat and immediately put on another.  Bartholomew had no choice; the hats just appeared there on his head.  I have a choice.  And I need to choose to stop wearing so many hats.

After lurking at a number of the reader/review websites -- some mentioned previously -- I considered doing a few reviews here, just to break the monotony of talking about myself.  The good goddess knows I have enough books in my own collection, and it's easy enough to pick up more either through inexpensive/free downloads via the Kindle or paper copies at yard sales and thrift stores and the free exchange at the coffee shop.

But "reviewer" is a hat I'm not currently wearing, and I already have enough.

The only role I need right now is that of writer.  Although I should have got more accomplished this quiet week-end than I did, I managed to complete today's required 1,000 words, and it's only 2:00 in the afternoon. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Maintaining momentum

One of the things that has often kept me from making the kind of progress I would like to make -- regardless what kind of project I'm working on -- is the setting of unrealistic goals. 

Rather than burden myself with trying to make up for lost time, I will leave my daily challenge at 1,000 words, regardless what I've done or not done the day before.

The past two days have been miserable in terms of production on the current novel, fewer than 500 words total, but my goal today remains 1,000 net new words -- 6,455.  I'd better get started.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I won't call it failure, and a new challenge -

Life happens.  It happened to me yesterday in the form of a day job assignment that took more time and mental energy that they usually do.  So I ended up not making my minimum writing output.

Sadly, the same may happen today.

But I will still issue the challenge to myself.

Today it is 6,388.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Putting myself to the test: A daily challenge

The technicalities of returning to a writing career after a long hiatus are a challenge with many facets.  There are the legal issues surrounding rights and copyrights and contracts.  There are the new technologies of digital publication via various platforms, each with its own quirks and requirements.  There is the non-writing creative aspect of cover art and style.  And there is the support and promotion system of advertising and networking.

All of these are crucial to the successful re-establishment of my career, but they have very little to do with my resurrection as a novelist.

What I must do, above all else, is obey the writer's ultimate rule.

from Writer’s Digest, Nov. 1983, pp 39.

The Ultimate Rule
by John Ashmead, Darrell Schweitzer and George Scithers

. . . Robert A. Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land, once put down a set of steps that say the same thing in a more organized way:
     1. You must write.
     2. You must finish what you write.
     3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
     4. You must put it on the market.
     5. You must keep it in on the market until it is sold.

I generally have no difficulty with #1.  I write and I write a lot and I write almost every day.  Where I have the most difficulty is with finishing what I've started.

My daily writing is not always fiction.  In fact most of my output is email or comments on discussion boards and blogs.  For the major part of approximately 13 years, I have taken only the most tentative stabs at writing fiction.  All those tentative stabs, however, have been beginnings.  A great idea would pop into my head and I'd jot down an opening scene or a quick synopsis.  The interventions of life and the lingering demoralization from the edits from hell stymied me.  After a while, of course, the second of those two excuses became a self-fulfilling prophecy and a chronic disability.

Before I can work on parts 3, 4, and 5 of the Ultimate Rule, I have to deal with parts 1 and 2.  Especially 2.

And therein arises my self-imposed daily challenge: 1,000 words on the current novel, which I will refer to hereinafter at TSQ.  One thousand words, every day, seven days a week, no holidays, no week-ends off.  Sometimes life may intervene -- I do have a day job after all and sometimes it sucks up an enormous amount of time and mental energy -- but the goal has to be those thousand words.  Occasionally I've gone a bit past that, and that's good, too. 

They don't have to be the perfect words.  They don't have to be all the words.  Sometimes a scene comes to me as just the dialogue between two characters, and if that's all I write, without the tags and stage directions and reactions and thoughts, that's good too.  I can fill those in later.  It doesn't have to be perfect; it only has to be finished.

Today's goal is 5,967

Monday, June 6, 2011

As I was saying. . . . .

So there I was, cyberly plopped in the middle of a revolution.

Popular romance author Connie Brockway was announcing that she was branching out from traditional print publishing and venturing into the world of e-publishing.  Her reasons made perfect sense to me:  better royalty rates and more control over what she wrote.  Instead of writing only those stories her publishers felt would sell best, she was going to be able to write the stories she felt she could write best.

And seeing as how those were the two main issues that had driven me away from romance writing in the first place, I was intrigued.  Fascinated.  Captivated.  Hooked.

The first thing I needed to do was get myself current on the various discussions, so I began lurking at some of the blogs that seemed to address issues I was interested in.  I became a regular reader at, at, at and a few others.  Much as I wanted to, I didn't post, because things -- strange things -- were starting to go through my head.

In part it was a matter of finances.  I'm at an age where retirement should be in the immediate future, but financially that's not going to happen.  Suddenly widowed in 2005, I've had to support myself in a job market that has not been overly welcoming to older workers.  I went on enough interviews to know that when the interviewer is 22, she's going to be hiring people around her own age.  I could be her grandmother, for crying out loud. 

The only time I encountered an interviewer even close to my age was when I applied for a records management position at a social services agency.  Unfortunately, the job I was applying for and being interviewed for was not the job they wanted to hire me for, which was to provide home health care and parent respite services for special needs children.  Stunned, I looked at the woman when she told me this and I said, "I'm not even remotely qualified for that kind of job.  I thought this was an office job, for which I am qualified."  Her response was, "Well, we can't get people to apply for the home health jobs so we advertise the office job.  But we do provide you with some training."  I told her I thought that was deceptive and grossly unfair to the agency's clients.  She shrugged, then asked me if I wanted the job or not.

Well, eventually I did find a work-at-home job that supplements my (reduced, early) Social Security benefits.  My arts & crafts hobbies bring in some spending money, and my housemate contributes to the monthly expenses.  When I don't have extraordinary major expenses like new tires, vet bills when one of the dogs tangles with a rattlesnake, or a termite infestation, I live comfortably if not lavishly and can even set aside a little each month. 

But I'm not going to be able to do the day job forever, and I was just at the point of looking for other options when this whole business of e-publishing hit me in the face.  Was this possibly a viable option for me?  Between 1985 and 1996 I'd published seven novels, which were now long out of print; could I get the rights to them back from the publishers and put them online via Amazon's Kindle and other ebook formats, and maybe make a little money?  Could I finish some of the other books I've started over the years and publish them online myself, cutting out the print publishers entirely, and earn enough to give up the day job?

Could I?  Can I?

I'm in the process of finding out. . . . . .

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is there a reader in the house?

I'm new to this whole blogging thing, at least on anything resembling a regular basis, and I mean that in the sense of both reading and writing.  Although I've read occasional blog entries as the result of searches for specific information, none have been regular destinations for me.  Until recently, that is.

And rather than let the history get away from me, which it can do because it has this sometimes annoying tendency to just keep growing, I figure it's time to start documenting the why and the wherefore of this particular blog, which is pretty generic looking because I haven't had time to play with it and make it really cool.  But after all, it's the words that count, not the flourishes.  Don't worry; they'll arrive in due time.

So here's what happened --

A few months ago, an acquaintance brought me an obituary he had clipped from his New York Times.  He knows I used to write so he occasionally brings me news items about the publishing industry.  That's how I found out Kate Duffy had passed away, and, more recently, Walter Zacharius, founder and former president of Kensington Publishers/Zebra Books.

Walter and I didn't really know each other, but I published three historical romances with Zebra's Heartfire line in the early '90s, so we at least had a tangential connection.  I attended a couple of the lavish dinners Zebra put on for its authors at RWA national conferences, and I sparred a couple times with Walter's son Stephen over accounting practices when he addressed some PAN-only workshops.  In 1993 I left Zebra for Pocket Books and that was the end of my involvement with Walter Zacharius.

Eventually, my brief tenure with Pocket Books resulted in 1996 in my leaving Romancelandia almost** entirely for about 15 years.

But the news of Walter's passing put me in a kind of nostalgic mood.  Not one of those epiphanic moods -- is that a word? -- that prompt an instant and significant change in the direction of one's life.  No, it just got me to thinking about, well, y'know, what was going on and who was publishing what and that sort of thing.  For a couple of weeks I ruminated on this during my spare time, between the day job and taking care of the dogs and so on.  Finally, the nostalgia and curiosity reached a flash point.  I got on the ol' Internet and started looking for just generic info on the romance publishing industry. 

I had occasionally dropped into All About Romance over the years, and I think I had even visited Mrs. Giggles once or twice, but beyond that, I knew almost nothing about Romance's current presence on the web.  I had no idea what I'd find.

Now, let me back up a bit.  There are a few things I want to make clear at the outset, since this is my history.

I've been online since at least early 1992, maybe 1991.  (I'll look it up later and let you know for sure.)  I started with Prodigy, moved to GEnie and AOL.  It was in a GEnie romance writers' discussion forum on 13 October 1994 that I proposed the formation of what became RWA's Published Authors' Special Interest Chapter, or PASIC.  I royally screwed up in 1995 when, as Workshop Chair for RWA's national conference in Hawaii that summer, I got a call from some weird guy who wanted to do a workshop on something called "the World Wide Web."  He said it was gonna be bigger than the Internet and people who got in on the beginning were gonna be damn glad they did.  Maybe if he'd been a little less weird on the phone or done a better pitch, I might have invited him to do a presentation, but he was weird and I didn't.  So it's not like I'm totally new to this whole online 'Net Web thing.

But I'm also not up on all the current gizmos and doodads.  I don't have a smart phone or anything with an i in front of its name.  I don't Twitter and I don't Facebook.  (I occasionally text on my basic dinosaur cell phone but I'd rather just talk.)  I have a big ol' desktop PC and a newer laptop.

So with this background, and my curiosity piqued by news of Walter's death, I got on the 'Net and started looking for items of interest.

Now, some might call it fate or karma or just blind luck, but one of the very first places I landed was AAR's blog about Connie Brockway's venture into self-publishing.  And I thought HOT FUCKING DAMN!

To be continued. . . . .

**I want to add this footnote that when I went back to college in 1998, I frequently used my background in the romance novel industry as a jumping off point for research and research papers.  More on that later.  I just didn't want anyone to think I had completely exiled myself from Romancelandia.  Not at all.