Thursday, May 31, 2012

The magic of invisible words

As the subtitle of this blog notes, I am a "resurrected" romance novelist.  And throughout the course of this blog, I've been presenting some resurrected books and ideas.  For some time now, I've been trying without success to find an article I wrote for an RWA newsletter back in the days..  Although I remember parts of it, I had hoped to take the original and update it to reflect changes in the publishing scene.

Today, while looking for something else, I stumbled across one version of it, a fading hard copy that contained all the important points.

Writing has always been, for me, a very magical business.  We writers are able to create new worlds, where everything is exactly as we want it, where we are in complete control of everyone's lives and fortunes.  We can reward good and punish evil; we can dispense justice fairly; we can solve all the world's problems within the space of two or three or five hundred pages.  Love is always perfect, and everyone who deserves to will live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, once we decide to bring others into the world we've created, the magic doesn't always work.  In the old days when a writer was at the mercy of traditional publishers and editors and agents, she faced the very real possibility that her magic failed and she got rejected or didn't win the contest or her critique partners said, "Are you kidding me?"  The magic worked for her and she thought it would work for everyone, but it didn't, and that meant her book didn't get published.

Today, digital publishing is a magic all its own, and it makes possible the instant publication of virtually any book, no matter how well or poorly written.  Digital self-publishing has magically removed not only the time it takes to market, contract, and publish a book through traditional print channels; it has also removed the bad juju of rejection letters, of low contest scores, of critique group partners who say, "What the fuck?"  Digital self-publishing allows the writer to go directly to the reader without any intermediary.

But the magic of digital publishing is only half the magic.  It can bypass the traditional obstacles of agents and editors and publishers to take the created world directly to the reader, but it alone cannot bring her inside that world and make her enjoy her stay there.

Digital self-publishing has replaced the form letter rejection with the negative review, which wields the added weapon of public humiliation.  Whether it's "0 stars" or "DNF" or "F-" or "STA," the negative review is out there for all the world to read.

Many people used to say in the old days that there was no magical secret to prevent rejections.  But in fact there was.  And today that same magic works just as well to prevent negative reviews of digitally self-published books.

The magical spell for avoiding rejection slips and negative reviews is very simple:  Never let anyone see your manuscript.

The first spell was used frequently, often unconsciously, by those writers who were either too timid or too unsure of their work to put it into the hands of an editor, an agent, or even a friend.  These people wrote, sometimes churning out novel after novel, but they never showed their work to anyone else.  By never letting anyone see their manuscripts, they never suffered the pain, the disappointment, the disillusionment of rejection.

But by invoking that magic, they cut themselves off from any possibility of experiencing the joy of seeing their name on the cover a book, the sweet savoring of success as they scrawl their name across the back of a royalty check, the delicious delight of penning an autograph on the title page of their published novel.

Today, that type of writer does the same thing:  They don't put their stories online, don't share them with friends, don't enter contests.  They never let anyone see their books, and they never have to deal with negative reactions.  The magic works, every single time. 

If you never let anyone see your manuscript, you will never be rejected.

But wait, are you saying you want to share your story, want to sell your books?  You don't want just to avoid rejection and negative reviews, you want success?

Well, you're in luck, because there is a magic spell for that, too, and it works just as well in the digital publishing format as it did when print ruled:  Never let anyone see your manuscript.

You say it sounds the same as the other one?  Well, similar maybe, but not identical.  And they mean two very different things.

Those writers who enjoy the thrill of publishing success in the traditional print format (not self-published or POD) have always employed that second spell rather than the first:  They let other people -- editors, agents, critique partners, etc. -- see their manuscripts, but they never let them see the manuscript.


The first spell obviously requires no complex incantations in an arcane language, no special ingredients, no ensorcelled tools.  It is very easy to cast:  Simply keep your stories to yourself and you will never be rejected, never be criticized, never be told you have no talent, never be embarrassed in public.  You can entertain yourself and be perfectly content.  There is no law that says you have to share your writing.

The second spell, of course, has always been much more difficult to cast.  It is not, in fact, a simple phrase, a cantrip to be mouthed in fervent hope.  Instead, it is an elaborate enchantment that is woven not on yourself or on your book, but on your reader, whether that reader is an editor, an agent a fellow member of your critique group, the person who picks your book off the rack at the grocery store check-out lane or downloads it to their e-reader.

To understand how this second magic spell works, you must remember that your digital manuscript exists on two separate planes.  Its quasi-physical being is the electronic document that you upload to the publishing platform, whether that is Amazon's Kindle or Smashwords, or anyone else.  Its invisible being is the story those words convey to the reader.  The trick -- and it is tricky -- is to involve the reader so thoroughly in the story that she does not see the manuscript.

It ain't easy, but no one ever said it was.

Any little thing that reminds her she is only looking at words on an electronic device breaks the spell.  These are nasty little critters called Tokens of Visibility, and they are incredibly easy to conjure up, even without trying.  Whether it is faulty formatting for the digital platform or too many typos per page or wrong words or characters who can't stay in character (or historical period) or inaccurate research or vague descriptions that never let the reader see the scenes or grammatical errors that send her into gales of laughter or inappropriate dialogue or physically impossible sexual positions -- anything that takes the reader out of the story and back to the reality of letters on a digital screen is likely to result in the torment of negative reviews. 

The same problems that used to cause manuscripts to be rejected by editors and agents have not lost their power just because the books can now be self-published digitally.  The difference now is that their magic brings on the threat of public scorn.

The very first things the reader sees are your cover art and your listing on the digital bookseller's site.  If you are not a graphic designer yourself, get someone who is to do your cover art.  Excellent digital cover art can be purchased for $100 or less.  If you are expecting people to pay you for your book, you need to invest in the product, and that means providing an attractive display.

Your listing on the digital site should be exactly what the site calls for, and this is basically what would be found on the dust jack flap or back cover of a printed book.  You are not allowed to make any spelling or grammatical errors here -- it's too public.  You have to put your magic skills on prominent display here.

Once the reader has purchased or downloaded your book, the magic takes over.  If you have not cast a perfect spell or if you have left too many Tokens of Visibility in your text, the magic will not work.

Allow me to repeat that:

If you have left too many Tokens of Visibility in your text, the magic will not work.

If there are too many Tokens of Visibility, the reader will remember she's just reading, she will not be caught up in the story, she will not engage emotionally with the characters.  The more Tokens there are, the sooner she will give up on the story.  And she just may leave you a negative review.

This is not the reader's fault.  It is the writer's fault -- and only the writer's fault -- if the magic doesn't work.  The writer is the magician, and if she fails to cast the spell properly, she has no one to blame but herself.

It is not the reader's fault that the formatting is screwed up.

It is not the reader's fault that there are spelling errors.

It is not the reader's fault the story is internally inconsistent.

It is not the reader's fault the historical or geographical or technological facts are inaccurate.

Now, it is very true that many writers whose magic fails end up resorting to devious and nefarious means to erase the negative reviews, the low star rankings.  As has been amply documented on the "Badly Behaving Authors" thread on the Amazon discussion boards, authors will go to great lengths to either erase negative reviews or post fake positive ones.  Such chicanery not only does not make the magic work; it is in and of itself the strongest evidence possible that the magic did not work.  And if the magic doesn't work, all the lies and all the sock puppet reviews and all the excuses will not make it work.

If the magic works, it works.  If it doesn't, it doesn't.  It's as simple as that.

Shenanigating authors may increase their sales, but shenanigans do not create magic.  Good grammar and clean formatting are not the only things that conjure the magic.  Engaging characters, fascinating plots, all of these combine, of course, with the more mundane mechanics of writing to create the magic of invisible words.  And while it is of course true that not every book will appeal to every reader, and there will always be readers who leave unkind (and even inaccurate) assessments of digital books, authors who understand the magic and how to use it will also recognize that there is nothing they can do to work the magic on these readers.  Authors who understand the magic and how to weave it will not attack the negative reviews; they will ignore them.  Authors who understand the magic and how to invoke it will not send out their minions to post shill reviews or denigrate the negative ones.

Authors who understand the magic and are able to create invisible words. . . . . . .are authors.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The words as I wrote them, or more shameless hussiness



Yeah, I still have a hard time doing it.  But there it is.  And this time it's a cover that matches the book.

If I am a resurrected romance novelist, Shadows by Starlight is a resurrected romance novel in more ways than one.  And in honor of Kim Killion's wonderful cover, I think it's only fair to give some of the book's history.

Shadows by Starlight was the original title when my agent sent the partial to Zebra Books as the option book on my contract for Secrets to SurrenderOn the strength of that partial, Zebra offered a two-book contract, but the acquiring editor wanted one rather major change.  Because the book wasn't written yet, I didn't have any real difficulty incorporating the requested change; although I didn't follow the editor's suggestion exactly, I revised the element that he found unacceptable to something he could live with.  It all worked out fine, and in fact the revision actually made my concept for the book stronger.

Sometime between then and the time I completed the book, Zebra assigned me a new editor, my fourth in three books.  During the phone call she made to introduce herself, I became increasingly uneasy.  Her comments seemed not to make a whole lot of sense.  I was aware that this was her first job as an editor, though she had been in the book business for a number of years.  Friends told me not to rock the boat, play along, be a "good" author and don't be "difficult."

All of this happened 20 years ago, when there were no viable options.  If you wanted to be published, you worked with your editor.  You did what your editor told you to do.  You did not know better than your editor, even when you did.  And I was pretty sure I did.

The writer is always too close to her work.  Always.  Every book needs an extra set of qualified eyes, and every book needs improvement.  No book is ever finished; it just gets closer and closer and closer.  I never had any problem with that kind of thinking.

But -- the suggestions this editor was making made no sense.  She seemed almost not to have read the proposal.  After the completed manuscript was delivered, she began making nitpicking changes that did even worse than make no sense: they created internal inconsistencies and outright errors.  I knew that as the author I would be blamed for those inconsistencies and errors if they made it into the printed edition, so I fought to get them reversed.  Almost all of them were.  Almost.

In the interest of my "career," however, I didn't push for corrections on the rest of them.  I just plain gave up.  And that's not something I do easily or often.

I might have continued the fight if she had not changed the title. 

Fellow Zebra authors Evelyn Rogers and Martha Hix and I had laughed ourselves silly at the RWA conference in New Orleans, making up "typical" titles for Zebra Heartfire books, especially the Indian romances that were then so popular:  Arapahoe Auditor, Paiute Podiatrist,  Dakota Dentist, etc.  There was never any question that Zebra -- and to a lesser extent, all the paperback romance publishers at that time -- had a system to titling.  But when my editor called to tell me my book would be published as Starlight Seduction, I gagged.  Tacky, tacky, tacky.  But there was nothing I could do.

She did, however, promise me a spectacular cover.  I struggled to keep a positive attitude but was never able to make myself like that title.  As the time got closer to publication, I asked her more about the cover and received the exciting news that it would be a step-back, with a foiled old-fashioned gaslight on the outside and on the inside the lovers standing under the gaslight.  She told me it was gorgeous.

Huh?  There were no gaslights in the story.  It's set in a small Kansas town in the 1870s.  Even the title she had given it had no connection to gaslights.

But there was no sense arguing.  My concerns about her editing competence had to be set aside and I needed to have confidence in her marketing ability because that's the area she had come from.  The cover would be wonderful and it would sell gazillions of copies.  I had to believe that, or I'd go nuts.

I remember the day the sample cover flat arrived.  I had been at a local RWA chapter committee meeting and my husband called to let me know the cover had come in the mail.  I asked him to describe it to me. . . and he wouldn't.  He just said I'd have to see it.

When I did, I almost cried.  It was horrible.  And when I called the editor to ask why there were no people anywhere on the cover, she insisted, "Oh, there are people on it, on the back."  There weren't.  I have my guesses as to why she said there were, but this is a blog and it's going to be in print, so I'll keep my speculations to myself.

The background color was midnight blue, with gaslamps and big pink roses all over the place, neither of which were in the book at all.  No people on the cover, no starlight.  Foil lettering outlined with pink and yellow that made it difficult to read.



I wouldn't even let my husband make a frame for it, and it's never been hung on the wall.  I was more than disappointed; I was ashamed.

Fast forward almost 20 years.  Shadows by Starlight, with the original title restored, has been published on Smashwords for everyone else and Kindle Direct Publishing for the Amazon shoppers.  The rest of the little errors have been fixed, and the missing backstory has been supplied.

And Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs took my long-winded description of what I saw in my twisted little brain as the cover and turned into the real thing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Words, words, and more words

This is a post just for me, tallying my progress on various projects.

26 May 2012
StBr -- 32,289

7 June 2012
GyCo -- 4,431
8 June 2012
GyCo  --  4,718
13 June 2012
GyCo -- 7,603 - 7,653
14 June 2012
GyCo -- 7,756 - 8,146
16 June 2012
GyCo -- 8187
19 June 2012
GyCo -- 8677

24 June 2012
SaCa01 -- 920
25 June 2012
SaCa01 -- 1,740
30 June 2012
SaCa01 -- 1921 - 2887

Friday, May 25, 2012

Missing those very special words

A conversation with a friend this morning got me to thinking about why it is that so many authors who enjoy the benefits of digital self-publishing are so seemingly unable to accept criticism.  The accounts of major author meltdowns are too numerous to list here and are easily found with your favorite search engine.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized these reactions aren't a new phenomenon.  One of my very first writing pen-pals, back in the early 1980s, was so furious over a rejection letter from a publisher who had held her manuscript for  several months, that she threatened to throw her typewriter out a second floor window and never write again.  How dare they!

About ten years later, another acquaintance of mine was so furious about requested revisions to her contracted manuscript that she threw temper tantrums on the phone to her editor.  Her refusal to change a single word resulted in the publisher taking virtually unheard of action:  Not only did the editor make all the changes herself, but the publisher cancelled the second book on the contract before the first had gone to press.

Neither of these writers was unfamiliar with the pain of rejection, the sting of criticism.  For some reason or other, however, they reacted excessively to any negative comments.

But their actions were not the norm; most of the writers I knew, whether published or unpublished, knew that their artistic vision sometimes had to be compromised.  They also knew that their prose might or might not be deathless; it might need the deft hand of an editor.  More important, we knew our work would be edited whether we wanted it to be or not.  Dealing with an editor was part of the process.

We also understood that once published, our words were cast in stone.  Or at least in wood pulp, which was almost as permanent.  If the back cover copy listed the heroine's name as Amber and the text had her as Allison, well, too bad.  If the hero was clean-shaven on the cover painting but he is noted for his luxurious mustache throughout the story, oh well, them's the breaks.  When we got our page proofs for final corrections, we may have pointed out the typesetting error on page 220 where Queen Victoria's husband is identified as Prince Alfred, but if no one actually made the correction, it's going to be on page 220 in every single copy printed.  Tough luck.

All of that has changed.  The whole process of writing, for many people, has changed.  Instead of write, rewrite, revise, polish, share with critique partners, enter contests, revise, rewrite, polish, send to agents, send to editors, lather, rinse, repeat; it's now just write and upload.  Oh, maybe some authors hint that if they get enough complaints about the bad grammar and dozens of typos per page, they might go back and revise.  Many, however, just don't care.  Some might decide to pay a professional editor AFTER they've sold enough copies to justify it.  And the real-time nature of digital publishing allows them to do that.  Nothing is carved in stone any more.  So the first digital "edition" is full of typos and grammatical mistakes; the second has been professionally proofread and most of the errors are cleaned up.

But another thing that has changed is that digital self-publishing offers no visible mark of quality assurance.  The reader who goes to a bookstore and sees shelf after shelf after shelf of paper and ink books knows that most of them have been through sufficient selection and editing to be halfway decent.  Oh, the occasional clinker slips through, and virtually no book is without at least a couple of typos, but if the story was good enough to be accepted by a publisher, then it was good enough for the publisher to make sure the final product was clean.  In many cases, the manuscript had to be reasonably clean just to get the editor to read it, but in all cases, the expectation of a clean final product was the norm.

Another thing that has changed is that the author can't carry around a copy of the book -- or even the contract or letter of acceptance -- as evidence of quality.  I'm a romance novelist, and throughout my tenure in RWA, there was a strict division between the published and the unpublished, even though RWA admitted the unpublished writer -- even the person who thought maybe she might someday want to write a romance novel but hadn't yet actually done so! -- to full membership.  That began to change in 1989 with the formation of PAN (Published Authors' Network) and in 1994 when I started PASIC (Published Authors' Special Interest Chapter).  And believe me, there were a whole lot of unpublished members of RWA who absolutely hated that the published members had something extra.  (Never mind, as I pointed out routinely, that a published author was FOREVER excluded from the Golden Heart contest.)

RWA still maintains strict requirements that an applicant must meet to claim that "published author" status, and the sad truth is that most of the current crop of write-it-and-upload-it self-published authors are not going to meet those requirements.  Digital self-publishing does not carry the same weight as the message from an established publisher, whether it comes as email, phone call, or letter, "We'd like to publish your book"



Saturday, May 19, 2012

A word or two (thousand) in defense of defending

Maybe I'm completely wrong, but I think I have a pretty honest assessment of myself.  In other words, I know I can be a real bitch.  And not just in a generally bitchy way but in a persistent, American Staffordshire Pit Bull Terrier way.  When I get into that "I know damn well I'm right and you're going to know it too before I'm done with you" mode, I can be a pain in the ass.

Acknowledging that is not the same as apologizing for it, and it certainly is not the same as promising I won't do it again.

I don't think there's anything wrong with defending a stance on a controversial issue.  Whether that issue is nuclear energy, reproductive rights, immigration, voter fraud, plagiarism/copyright infringement, or publishers' illegal collusion to fix prices, I firmly believe that passionate defense is not only right but almost obligatory.

If someone tells me "It's not worth getting riled up about" or "Don't piss people off" or "Everyone's entitled to their opinion even if they're wrong," I can come mildly unglued.

And here's why.

Everyone is entitled to her own opinion, but not to her own facts.

If, for instance, you wish to believe that the Agency pricing agreement between the Big 6 publishers and Apple is illegal but morally defensible because Amazon is becoming a monopoly, you are entitled to believe that, because it's an opinion based on facts.

1.  There was such an Agency pricing agreement
2.  Such collusion to fix prices is illegal.
3.  Amazon may (or may not) be becoming a monopoly.

You are entitled to base your opinion on fact.  And if you say that is your opinion, that's fine.

What arouses my passion and my pit bullishness is those who base their opinions on non-factual "facts" and/or faulty logic such as this:

1.  The implementation of Agency pricing actually lowered the price of ebooks.
2.  If Amazon becomes a monopoly, they will immediately abolish printed books.
3.  It's legal for publishers and Apple to fix prices because other industries like cosmetics do the same thing.
4.  It's okay for publishers and Apple to break laws to fix prices because Amazon breaks laws, too.

Those of us who operate in a reality-based environment know that empirical facts contradict all of those four assertions, and a lot more.  Agency pricing immediately raised the price of ebooks.  Amazon still distributes printed books published by print publishers and Amazon can't make them stop printing.  The specific kind of price fixing involved with ebooks has absolutely no parallel in the cosmetics industry, none whatsoever, so the comparison is ludicrous.  Two wrongs don't make a right.

I think it's morally wrong to allow such assertions to go unchallenged.  Even at the risk of alienating friends and supporters who don't want the boat rocked, who want everyone to get along, blah blah blah, I will continue to defend myself and the facts.  The truth may be the truth, but it still needs to be defended, and sometimes with passion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Words for sale -- at inflated prices

As I've made quite clear on previous posts, I pretty much have no respect or liking for traditional publishers.  And by traditional I mean those outfits -- corporate or otherwise -- who contract with an author to take her story from its manuscript condition and make it available to the reading public.  This includes the small-time digital publishers going back to Hard Shell Word Factory and New Concepts and up to Samhain and Ellora's Cave and Carina and so on.  As for the even more traditional paper-and-ink publishers, I have pretty much nothing but absolute and deep contempt for them.

When I came back to the writing business a little over a year ago, one of the big issues in the digital publishing world was the recently implemented "Agency" model for pricing digital books published by the major print publishers.  Very very briefly, this amounted to the publishers, who saw their cash cow of hardcover books going the way of the Aurochs, colluding (allegedly) with Apple to inflate the price of digital books and (allegedly) squeeze out Amazon.  A few people thought this was pure and simple price fixing, restraint of trade, and other things nefarious and illegal, but all done under the guise of preventing an Amazon monopoly.  So good (allegedly) intentions but bad (allegedly) tactics.  The Department of Justice brought suit, and things started to happen.  Jane Litte at DearAuthor.com gives a great overview of the latest development (as of 16 May 2012) in the Department of Justice's lawsuit, with a link back to her earlier explanation of the basics behind it.

If you are a non-writing reader, this alleged conspiracy has harmed you, in the form of taking more of your money for books than the publishers or Apple could justify.  And only their collusion to control the market -- in other words, to eliminate competition and eliminate anything resembling a "free" market even though they claimed they were doing all this to protect a free market and foster competition -- allowed them to do it.

If you are a writer trying to be published, this alleged conspiracy has harmed you, not only in the same way it has harmed the non-writing reader, but by forcing readers to pay more for the books they want to read and leaving them less money to try "new to me" authors and books.

If you are a writer who has been published by one of the Agency 5 (or sometimes 6) publishers, this alleged conspiracy has harmed you by raising the price of your print books AND your digital books in a way that discourages buying, and even though you may say your net royalty per copy sold go up, if the number of copies sold drops below a break even point, you're the loser.  Because the agreement was designed to limit digital sales and protect paper sales, it encourages the purchase of tradeable and/or resalable copies that can limit your sales as well.

If you are a writer who has digitally self-published, this restraint of trade may actually have helped you because it allowed you to sell your books at a much lower, i.e. more competitive, price than the best-selling books.

The only people this alleged conspiracy has benefited are Apple (who pays as little taxes as possible while maximizing profits), Steve Jobs' heirs (who pay no tax on their windfall inheritance), and the Big Six publishers (many of whom are not based in the U.S. where the bulk of their sales come from).  This has not been about helping readers or writers, and they're the ones it should be all about.

My contempt for publishers increased.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The words haven't changed, and neither has the attitude

Somewhere around 1991 or 1992, I got together with a few local romance writers and formed what eventually became the Valley of the Sun Chapter of Romance Writers of America.  I served as president for a couple of years, and devised their annual "Hot Prospects" contest.  Yes, it's still running, too.  (Pats self on back.)

One of the greatest things about being a chapter president was the opportunity -- in those days before blogs -- to write a monthly column for the newsletter.  While looking for some other "old words" this afternoon, I stumbled upon this.  Nineteen years and counting. . . .


President's Column for April 1993
 
The Almighty Dollar

As most of you who write romances are aware, our brand of popular fiction accounts for close to one-half of all mass-market paperback books sold in this country. Whether we receive fifty percent of the advances and royalties paid for these books is debatable. What is not debatable is that we do not receive nearly the respect such numbers should generate.

Andy Rooney (who writes most of his own material, or so he says) and Johnny Carson (who claims to be a "victim" of his staff of writers) have made considerable fun of romance writers. Romances are routinely trashed in newspapers and other print media, and when they aren't denigrated, they are frequently just ignored.

The "bashing" of romances seemed to reach a new low on Mozark Productions' HEARTS AFIRE, a television sitcom that pokes fun at the U.S. government as symbolized by the bumbling fictitious Senator Smithers. In the episode aired March 15, the Senator's speechwriter, a former investigative reporter, confesses with immense shame and embarrassment that she moonlights as a writer of "sleazy" historical romances, under a pseudonym, of course, and also of course only for the money. She has a manuscript due in the morning and 100 pages remain unwritten. Her husband and cronies complete the manuscript for her (with no apparent research for historical accuracy but with liberal use of the word "throb") and deliver the completed product on time. Two days later, the editor produces a check for $25,000. Laughs abound.

Fantasy, right? And good clean fun, right? And we occupy 46% of the paperback market, so why should we care?

We should care because it is the perpetuation of this attitude that keeps us from taking an even greater share of the market. It is this attitude that prevents the reviewers from Newsweek and Time from reviewing romantic fiction with the same respect as mystery or science fiction. It is this attitude that allows publishers to withhold advertising and promotion money from profitable romance authors while lavishing those same funds on first-time mainstream authors, and then using the profits from romance lines to compensate for others that habitually run in the red.

It is even this attitude that allows a reputable agent, who represents romance authors, to negotiate six-figure contracts for her non-romance clients and admit publicly that romance novelists, whose books routinely show profits, support the "serious" writers.

If we are supporting them, by what definition are they "serious?" Does "serious" then mean "unpopular" and/or "unprofitable?" Do we then take it one step further and say that publishing cannot therefore be a "serious" business, since most publishers are in the business to make money, and this is not, by definition, "serious."

The answer, fellow romance writers, is to make a concerted effort to stop this nonsense, to take ourselves seriously, to stand up for ourselves when bashed, whether by ill-informed individuals at cocktail parties or by dollar-wielding media moguls who ought to know better. And to demand the respect, in the form of dollars, that we have earned.
Yeah, right.  That's really happened, hasn't it. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The dollars and sense of the words and numbers, Part 1

One thing always leads to another.  Always.

And everything is connected.  Everything.

Some months ago, I blogged about an analysis I had done almost 20 years ago regarding how much it costs to produce a mass market paperback romance novel.  That analysis was a response to the numbers the publishers -- and most notably Steve Zacharius of Kensington/Zebra -- had been giving to RWA in justification of their low royalty rates and outrageous contract terms.

I have always contended that publishers were shafting the writers, but writers didn't have any valid options, and in the absence of any real advocacy from RWA on behalf of the writers, nothing would change.  Individual authors might achieve sufficient status that they'd have clout to get their own contract terms made more favorable, but the majority of romance writers were getting shafted left and right especially on discounted bulk sales and subscription sales for print books.  And it's worse today on digital sales.

The figures Courtney Milan is reporting from her royalty statements bear that out.

Now, allow me to qualify that, as indeed I believe Courtney does herself:  There are significant differences between the costs to manufacture a paper-and-ink book and the costs to upload a digital edition.  Those overhead costs -- editing, artwork, etc. -- are incurred simply to produce the product, regardless how many are produced or how many are sold and are going to be more or less the same for print as for digital.

Additional expenses involved in promotion, marketing, etc., are optional and separate.

So let's keep in mind that there are basically three types of expenditures to take into consideration when determining the total "cost" of a book:

1.  Pre-production overhead for editing, artwork, etc., and this includes all the stuff associated with office space and receptionist's salary and conference attendance.
2.  Manufacturing cost: the paper and ink and foil and embossing dies plus transportation and warehousing.
3.  Post-production advertising and promotion.

Remember -- keep those in mind at all times when examining any claims by anyone regarding the profitability of any given romance novel.

Now, read this statement from Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books imprint from last week, courtesy of Romantic Times online, in which the most important line is this:

Pocket’s executive vice president and publisher Louise Burke had this to say about the variety of authors that will be included in the line when these digital books land on e-shelves:
“Similar to how mass market has served as a platform to develop future hardcover authors, it is our mission to use Pocket Star’s new digital-only format to establish new voices in the marketplace. An eBook imprint is flexible, cost-effective, cutting-edge and makes sense in today’s marketplace.
Yes, dear readers of my little blog, a publisher's representative, in this case an executive vice president, is acknowledging that ebooks are cost-effective.  That's executive speak for "We make more money off these things than on our other products."





Saturday, May 12, 2012

Words in unexpected places

A few days ago I blogged about the ethics of asking for reviews and I mentioned some of the reviews I had received in the past.  My intention was to scan some of them and add to the blog.  But a funny thing happened.

I found one of the original reviews for Firefly but then forgot to scan it.  I'll remedy that later.  It was, of course, unsolicited, because authors didn't do that.  Publishers did.

But then I went looking for the letter and certificate I had received from Barbara Keenan of Affaire de Coeur informing me that Firefly had been selected Best Historical Romance of the Year.  I couldn't find them.

Now, one of the things I hate about moving is that things end up in different places.  Before I moved from Buckeye to Apache Junction six years ago, I knew exactly where that certificate and letter were.  This afternoon when I tried to find them, I had no clue.  There was nothing to do when faced with this kind of dilemma but dig into all the logical places.

Somewhat to my surprise the letter from Barbara Keenan turned up in the folder with most of the rest of the documents for Firefly such as correspondence with my agent, with my editor, and so on.  The letter, but not the certificate.  To my knowledge I had always kept them together.




So there's the letter.  Where was the certificate?

In the process of searching I found a few other bits of paper that weren't where I expected them to be, such as the certificate for my Illinois State Scholarship Commission scholarship from 1966, which was reasonably important, and an essay I wrote about reincarnation in the early 1970s, which was totally unimportant.

The Affaire de Coeur certificate eluded me.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were other things missing as well, items that would have been in the same place in the old house but now had been put somewhere else in the new house.  But where?

One of those other missing items was the certificate I'd received for participating in the Chicago Daily News Spelling Bee when I was in junior high.  I knew that if I could recall where it was, the Firefly certificate would very likely be in the same place.

I'm not quite sure what finally prompted me to look in the bookcase drawer.  The certificates had never been there, but there were other similar items in that drawer, so I thought I might as well look.

Not only was I surprised to find them there, but they were on the very top of everything else. 


So there it is.  Nothing fancy, no monetary award, just a little bit of honest recognition for a story I loved.

There are lots and lots and lots of review sites now.  Authors send out their digital ARCs to dozens of reviewers, dozens of websites, always hoping for a good review.  At what point does this reach the level of begging?  And at what point does a requested review lose its integrity?

At any rate, that's the award that allows me to call myself an "award-winning" author. 


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Making the words behave, part one of a "how-to-write" series

I get a lot of delightful amusement from the Amazon Kindle Romance forum (whatever it's called) discussing Badly Behaving Authors.  It seems there's a never-ending stream of authors, most of the self-epublished variety, who don't understand some of the etiquette of being An Author.

Sadly, many of those BBAs don't understand the basics of skillful writing either, and many of the negative reviews the books receive are due to poor writing.

I've already blogged about the difference between proofreading and editing.  Hiring a professional proofreader is a relatively inexpensive service any serious writer should consider.  It's not just a matter of being a writer and knowing what should be on the page; it's also a matter that after you've written and revised and edited and formatted and rewritten and revised and proofread the darn thing sixteen dozen times, the words tend not to register when they're wrong

Yes, you can have your writer friends or your aunt or daughter-in-law who's a teacher proofread it, but unless they are professional proofreaders, they will very likely still miss things.  I happen to be a very good, but not professional, proofreader,  I still miss typos.  And while an occasional htis or htat isn't going to get your book panned by readers, if you have more than half a dozen such bloopers in your book, those bloopers will jump out and make the book more difficult to read.  That's right:  Anything over six typos per book is way too many.

Now, if you like, you can dismiss that harsh standard.  No one can make you adhere to any standards at all.  But if you're being honest with yourself, you'll know that typos are not good.  The fewer the better.  None is best, and that's what you should strive for.

But all of that is related to proofreading, and proofreading is not editing.  A proofreader may charge $300 to go over your book-length manuscript and that may be reasonably affordable for many writers. 

Editing, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal and hiring a professional editor can be very very expensive.  Worse still, if you aren't sufficiently knowledgeable yourself, you may have difficulty determining whether the editor you hire is capable of doing a competent job and making your book better than it was when you finished it.  There are, unfortunately, a lot of scam artists out there posing as editors who will rip you off.

It behooves you, as a writer, to know exactly how to write, so you can look at the suggestions your editor makes and be sure that they are improvements and not just changes.

The compulsive teacher in me is going to try to post one of these how-to blogs each week, if I can remember.  Don't ask for a syllabus; I have no idea what subject will strike my fancy at any given time, so you'll have to be content with surprises.  It might be something as basic as how to punctuate dialogue or as big-picture as plotting.  Come visit again and we'll both find out "And then what happened?"

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Getting the word(s) out, or "But I'm so not a shameless hussy!"


Self-promotion is not my strong point.  I could no more build a blog or a website with half a dozen copies of my book cover shoved in the reader's face than I could audition for American Idol.  It's just not me.  I even had doubts about posting the cover for Firefly at the opening to this post.  But I did it.

What prodded me into today's brief and mild shameless hussiness was discovering that I and my blog had been mentioned on author Courtney Milan's blog a couple of months ago wherein she asks about the ethics behind authors' requesting reviews:

What do you think of authors asking for reviews? I don’t mean asking for reviews in exchange for money or a prize.  I don’t mean asking friends and family for reviews. But I have seen a handful of self-published books, where at the end of the book, there is a brief note that says something like this:
If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com
Disclaimer:  I don't know Courtney and to the best of my knowledge she doesn't know me.  We post independently and occasionally at DearAuthor.com and maybe a few other places as well, but there's nothing orchestrated or coordinated about that.  So when I saw she had linked to this blog, I was both surprised and flattered.

I had an initial response to her query, but as I read through the other comments, I began to modify my opinion.

When I originally blogged about negative reviews and later linked to the Amazon Kindle forum thread on "Badly Behaving Authors" the main concern was authors and their friends and their sock puppets posting scads of favorable reviews of their own books or paying strangers to write favorable reviews regardless whether they had liked or even read the book.

But Courtney Milan was asking about another issue entirely, which was the soliciting of reviews in general, either by the author or by Amazon -- or, one would suppose, by the publisher.

I worked through the issue this way:

1.  Most businesses will ask for feedback, and they often couch their request in terms that encourage positive feedback.  Today, for example, I bought a new phone.  I knew what I wanted when I went into the store, I expressed my preference to the salesperson, and I walked out 45 minutes later with exactly the kind of device I wanted.  There was no pressure to buy more phone than I wanted, though he did just kind of assume I wanted a charger for in the car.  I rarely use the one I have, but figured it would be nice to have just in case.  When the whole operation was completed, I was asked for my feedback.  No one said, "If everything is okay, how did we do?" 

2.  Sometimes the solicitation for a review, such as the Amazon request, is to leave a comment if the reader enjoyed the book, with the implication being that only favorable reviews are requested.  Well, is that necessarily in and of itself a bad thing?  Some businesses will post a cute little sign that says something along the lines of "If you're pleased with our service, tell your friends; if you're not pleased, tell us so we can make it right."  Of course, this also implies that they don't want you spreading negative comments that will hurt their business, but there's also the sense that sometimes a bit of communication may be all that's needed to turn a no-stars review to a five-star.  In other words, give the business a second chance.

But that's a one-on-one situation, and that's not what a book review is all about.  There's no suggestion that if you didn't like the book, the author will rewrite it to your satisfaction.  You're not, after all, buying a personal service but a finished product that someone has put out there for you to buy, or not. 

Points #1 and #2 pretty much contradicted each other, in the sense that #1 makes a solicitation for feedback good or ill, but #2 rejects a negative comment made publicly but does not offer any kind of satisfaction in exchange for no negative comment.  If that makes sense.

However,

3.  Books have always been sent out for review.  In the old days of print only, copies were sent to the major review magazines like Romantic Times and Affaire de Coeur.  Each of them had their stable of reviewers, and even though there were always rumors that buying advertising would help an author's review be more positive, there was at least a sense that the reviewers themselves had some integrity when it came to their opinions.

Again, however, I have to add a bit of personal observation.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when Firefly received Affaire de Coeur's award for Best Historical Romance of 1988.  (I should scan the certificate and post it here.  Maybe tomorrow?)  I had heard rumors that sometimes those awards were withdrawn if the winning author couldn't attend the banquet, but my award came with a letter that said I didn't need to attend.  I had an out, however, because my daughter was competing in the Arizona State Spelling Bee that same week-end.  (She hates to be reminded of it, so I'm taking yet another opportunity to embarrass her.)  But I had never taken out an ad in Affaire de Coeur and as far as I knew, neither had the publisher, Pageant Books.  Firefly won on its own merits, as far as I knew.  I certainly had nothing to do with it.

Several years later, when Moonsilver was published by Pocket Books, it was sent to Affaire de Coeur for review.  Again, this was at the direction of Pocket Books, not me.  It was given a very, very nice review, which I have a copy of somewhere or other.  And what I'm going to write next is something virtually no one by myself knows.

That glowing review in Affaire de Coeur was not unbiased.  Although I had nothing to do with choosing the reviewer and knew nothing about it at all until my editor sent me a copy after the review was written and the magazine published, I was disappointed not to have had an unbiased reviewer say all those nice things about the story -- and about me.  But the reviewer, Ann Douglas, was also a writer, and my local RWA chapter had selected her as one of the winners of our inaugural "Hot Prospects" writing contest just a couple years before.  Her book, a Regency romance, was ultimately published along with one or two more, before Ann passed away.  I had the delightful task of calling her to inform her she had won, and I also got to meet her at that year's RWA national conference.    Is it possible she really liked Moonsilver as much as she let on in her review?  Well, I'd like to think so.  But I'll never know for sure.

Considering that points #1 and #2 had pretty much cancelled each other out, #3 was the deciding factor.  I was firmly in the "no solicitation whatsoever" camp.  And that means authors should not even send advance copies to review sites.  Publishers, yes, and I say that even knowing that gives the traditional publishers (whom I hate with a passion) an advantage.  But publishers, publicists, and even agents act as buffers between the reviewer and the author.  Reviews need to be honest and unbiased.

Reviewers need to be unbiased.  Certainly that's not going to be an absolute, and in this age of social media, many reviewers are going to have some personal acquaintance with many authors.  I've had some email exchanges with Jane Litte over on Dear Author, and some of our exchanges have even been a bit contentious!  Do I think that would make her biased either for or against me and my books?  I don't know.  I think she would be able to be reasonably honest, but how would readers perceive it?  And that's the big issue.

Readers no doubt believed Ann Douglas' review of Moonsilver was her honest and unbiased opinion.  I alone knew otherwise.  Honest, perhaps, but if anyone knew the full story behind it, how could anyone have believed there was absolutely no bias?  Who could have completely trusted that review?

Certainly I have no solicited reviews -- good or bad -- on the items I've put on Amazon or Smashwords.  I don't solicit reviews on the jewelry and other items I sell at art shows, so why should I do so with my books?  You buy it, or you don't, and if you want to tell your friends about it, that's fine. I hope you'll say something nice, but if you don't, well, you don't. 

You know you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

I'm not a very good self-promoter.  I'm embarrassed often to even tell people I write, and it was okay for a long time because I actually didn't write.  The books that had been published were my own personal little triumphs, with or without best-seller status, with or without five-star reviews from anyone.  I was the socially-inept geek in high school who said she was writing a book, so seeing seven novels in print was my vindication to all the much more popular kids who acted as if they didn't know I even existed.  (Some of them did know, and that's a story for another sleepless night.)

I never expected to be a best-seller.  Oh, sure, there was the faint hope in the back of my mind, but realistically, no, I didn't see that in my future at any point.  I had written the books, I had been published.  My name was on the cover in raised foil letters.  I was vindicated.

But in some ways, I remained that geeky little nerd, because I had neither the hustler mentality nor the money to go along with it that was needed to promote my books.  When other authors were sending out fancy bookmarks and taking out ads in Romantic Times, I was working a full-time job to help pay the household bills.  I went to the RWA National Conference and a few small local conferences, but I couldn't afford to do any kind of tour.  I won't even tell you about some of the disastrous book-signings I was involved in; the memories are too painful even now.

I had thought, or perhaps just hoped, it would be different with digital publishing. 

It's not.

Oh, I'm slightly envious of those who have the time and the money and the chutzpah to self promote, but certainly not to the point of being vindictive.  Would I like to take out an ad on Dear Author or Smart Bitches Trashy Books or All About Romance?  Sure, if I could afford it.  But I can't.  Would I like to hear the cyber-squees of fans who see a post from me on a website and just have to let me know how much they loved my latest book?  Sure.  But it's not going to happen, and I'm okay with that.

What I'm not okay with are the authors whose digitally self-published books I've been watching on Amazon, authors who have gamed the system to promote their books not with paid ads but with phony reviews.  And the reason I'm not okay with it is because I have no defense against it.  No author with any integrity does. 

I had no idea when I selected five titles for my original little study two months ago that I would uncover the most discouraging thing I've seen since the form-letter rejection slip.  Over the past eight weeks, I expanded my sample of five titles to more than 30.  I watched the daily listings of free Kindle books at ereaderIQ.com and selected a mix of original digital works and republished print titles.  I did not leave any reviews -- that's in violation of Amazon's terms anyway -- and I will not list the titles, authors, or any identifying details, in part because I don't want to give them any free publicity.

Again, they are all historical romances, since that's my area of expertise.  They all have at least one five-star and one one-star review.  Most of the digital originals had way more five-star reviews than one-star, and far too many of the five-star reviewers had few or no other reviews on file.  Many of the negative reviews -- what few there were -- were challenged by either the author herself or other persons who I could only assume were the author in sock puppet mode or her friends.  I realized then that the authors were gaming the system in a way I couldn't. 

My only selling tool is my writing.  In my books, of course, but also this little blog and my posts on various discussion boards.  I believe in my writing as much as any author, but I know it's not perfect.  And even if it were without flaw, I know my story lines and my characters and my settings and time periods aren't going to appeal to every reader.  But I still think my writing is solid.  It was, after all, good enough to be published by New York publishers.  That counts for something, doesn't it?

But good writing isn't enough.  Coherent stories and likable characters aren't enough.  In fact, none of that is even important any more.  Now the only thing that matters is having the nerve to go out there and get people to brag about you.  Friends, relatives, strangers, it doesn't make any difference.  Buy them if you have to.  Set up fake Amazon accounts, if you have enough credit cards.  The reviewers don't have to be telling the truth, they just have to do it.  And then you have to have the nerve to deny anyone else a critical voice.  You have to be willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to push your product. 

I wrote in my follow-up to the first long post about suspect reviews that I had acquired the original five titles.  And as I wrote above, I've acquired a whole lot more.  By Amazon's guidelines for reviewing, I can't review my own work, nor can I review works that directly compete with me.  So I can't post my comments on Amazon, where readers might actually see them.

Nor will I post reviews here, since that was never my intention with this blog.  This was to be about my journey as a writer -- yes, it's all about me here! -- and not an examination of other writing.

But so much of the stuff is bad, really bad, and that's what's so discouraging.  The works that are adamantly defended by the authors (in violation of Amazon's Terms of Service, no less) and their friends are among the worst.  The writing is bad.  The characters are unlikable and inconsistent.  The plots have more holes than Swiss cheese.  (I couldn't think of an original simile that wasn't either obscene or too graphic, so you'll have to live with the cheesy one.)  Some of them are very badly formatted for the Kindle.  Spelling and grammar are atrocious; historical accuracy is virtually non-existent.  It's as if the ease of research with the Internet means it's no longer necessary.  No one cares.

(And if my lone reviewer ever finds her way to this blog, or anyone who has read her review finds this, the courier font was corrected as soon as it was discovered, which was before her review was posted, even though the "ugly" font didn't show up on any of the test runs before uploading.  And yes, ice cream was certainly available in Arizona in the 1880s.  Tombstone had an ice house in 1881 and even telephones!  Ice cream wasn't the error that I let stay in place; in fact that was one item I had verified for the 1988 print edition!)

Clearly, however, none of this matters.  All that matters, as it always has, is how many people can say something and make other people believe it.  The truth is no longer a provable fact; it's only an opinion, and the more people who hold that opinion, the more truthful a fact becomes.

I can't compete with that.  And I won't even try.  I may not sell 100,000 copies, or even 10,000, or even 1,000.  But however many I sell, they will be sold on the basis of what the books themselves are, not on the basis of any phony reviews I've had put on Amazon to pump up sales.

As a Chicago native and White Sox fan, I grew up with Chicago Daily News sports reporter Bill Furlong.  For years and years and years I've attributed this quote to him, and maybe I've got it wrong considering that I only saw it once and I was maybe 12 years old at the most at the time.  But I like to think Bill Furlong said it, and it's one of those little lines stuck with me and I've tried to live by:
'Tis better to be honest and hated than corrupt and despised
In this age of millionaires and billionaires as the moral standard, I guess it's understandable that writers will do anything to sell, anything short of producing a worthwhile product.  Maybe that's all they care about.  Maybe that's all that means anything to them.

And maybe, in true Dunning-Kruger fashion, these writers sincerely believe they have written well.  Perhaps they are simply incapable of seeing the flaws in their books, flaws that are the result of their own incompetence.  Or perhaps they are psychologically incapable of accepting criticism.  I don't know.  I don't know any of these people (and I really don't want to know any of them!); I have only read their books.  I know bad writing when I see it. 

I think my books and my writing and even my proofreading can successfully compete against them, but I don't have the shameless PR hussiness to compete with the sock puppet reviews and the nasty responses to negative reviews.  I won't even try.

The other little aphorism I learned in high school and which has stuck with me as determinedly as Bill Furlong's is from Spanish poet Antonio Machado:
El ojo que ves no es ojo porque tĂș lo veas; es ojo porque te ve.





Monday, May 7, 2012

Because words are as necessary as air

At the arts and crafts shows I do several times a year, I'm frequently asked "How did you get started?" Part of my answer is that I've always been a rockhound, literally as far back as I can remember. And of course there's a story to go with that.

When I was born, my parents lived in the upstairs apartment at my grandparents' house in Park Ridge, Illinois. My grandfather loved to putter around in the yard; he had rock gardens and flowers and a wonderful pond with goldfish (probably koi, but I don't know) that would come up and eat out of my fingers. My parents moved into their own home when I was three, and shortly after that my grandparents sold the house in Park Ridge and moved to Florida for a couple of years. My memories of the Park Ridge house, therefore, are very limited, but I do remember certain things very clearly.

One of the clearest memories is of the back porch, which was built of wood with one concrete step at the bottom. That bottom step fascinated me because of all the little tiny stones in the concrete. I loved looking at those stones.
 
While my grandparents were in Florida, my mother and I visited them for a month, when I was three and a half. We went to the beach nearly every day, and one of my favorite pastimes was to sift the sand with a little wire mesh bottomed sifter and then look through all the wonderful little stones.

Over the years I collected various stones here and there and also collected a portfolio of anecdotes about myself and stones, so that when my mother asked me not too many years ago how I got interested in making gemstone jewelry, I told her, "Because I loved all those little stones in the bottom step of Mom and Pop's back porch in Park Ridge."

To which my mother responded, somewhat miffed, "That porch had no concrete step. I grew up in that house and that porch was all wood."

Well, I trusted my memory but I didn't argue.

A few years ago, as my parents were preparing a slight downsizing move, my mother found some old photos of me as a very young child and gave them to me. Among them was this:




Yes, that's me playing with the grass trimmings in the late summer or early fall of 1949.  My grandmother is standing behind me, and that's my grandfather off to the right.  And clearly visible behind my grandmother is that concrete bottom step.

I immediately showed the picture to my mother and said, "See?  That's the concrete step that turned me into a rockhound!"

She looked at it, could not deny the veracity of my memory, and just said, "I don't remember that step being there."

But I did remember it, and I now take an enlargement of that little snapshot with me to art shows.  I tell the story because just as the rocks have been a part so much of my life, so have stories.

When did I start writing? I don't know for sure. In grade school, I know that I sometimes wrote much longer assignments than were required. I must have been about ten years old when I began -- but never finished -- a book not unlike Walter Farley's The Black Stallion but featuring a teen-aged girl as the main human character. And I was in the sixth grade when I began -- but never finished -- a pirate adventure novel inspired by the swashbuckler movies I saw on TV after school. By the summer before I entered high school, I was concocting a variety of romantic pseudo-historical stories that never seemed to reach more than 15 or 20 pages. Virtually all of those are lost now.

The one that remains of those early efforts is that first completed book, finished in early 1964 when I was 15. Dozens more followed over the decades, some now lost but most stored either as hard copies in the file cabinet or digital files on the computer. Even though I "quit writing" at various times, I always went back to it. (In contrast, I only gave up smoking twice, and after the second I never took up that habit again.)

When my disastrous experience with Pocket Books dashed my hopes of a serious career as a romance novelist, I ended up going back to college (at age 50!), but the writing seemed to follow me there. I watched as fellow students, most of them much younger than I and more versed in academic procedures, received assignments back with critical comments written all over them. Many of those students bewailed papers that had "bled red ink" in the margins, on the back, sometimes even over the original text. And more than one wondered why mine came back with a few lines written at the end.

Why? Because writing was -- and is -- what I do best. It's what I love to do and so I know how to use the tools. When I turned in a 20-page essay for what was supposed to be a 3-page paper, I apologized profusely to the professor, who then told me, "Don't worry! It's easier to read 20 of your pages than two of anyone else's!"
 
I know that I know how to write. I know that I know how to write well. I know that I can concoct stories with coherent plots and logical motivations and consistent characters and believable history. So why am I not doing it?

In a way, one of the things that holds me back now is lack of feedback on my fiction-in-progress. A regular critique group, whether in person or online, provided discipline that I rarely have any more. I try to fit the writing in between the day job and all the other responsibilities and I don't have anyone encouraging me to let other things slide and get on with the writing.

On the other hand, that's mostly an excuse. If I were really the obsessive writer that I try to portray myself as, I'd be writing. I wouldn't be blogging and whining about the reasons why I'm not working on the latest book. If I were really the obsessive writer I want to believe I am, I'd be writing and not digging up more and more and more research on Victorian social customs and London architecture and frontier medicine. If I really wanted to make writing a career, I'd shut down the Internet connection and head over to the current work-in-progr