Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts

29 May 2018

Are the Sensitivity Police Coming to Get You?

by Paul D. Marks, Jonathan Brown, Elaine Ash


Contents:

—Context and White Heat – Paul
—Dude? Why so Sensitive? – Jonathan Brown
—The Right to Write – Elaine Ash
—Paul’s original post
—In conclusion – Paul


“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.”

                                                       —President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Four Freedoms Speech

     Context:

It’s time to revisit a topic that’s very important to me, and I would think it should be to all writers. And though some of it may be repetitive, and it is long, I think it’s worth your time if you’re a writer, a reader, a sentient being.

In March, 2017, I did a piece here about the Sensitivity Police (find it at this link, but also “reprinted” near the end of this new post, http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/03/the-sensitivity-police.html ). I don’t get very political on social media. There’s only two things that I talk about in that regard and then not that much. The two things are animal issues and free speech issues. The latter is what this post is about. In a nutshell, I’m a free speech absolutist. There’s almost nothing I don’t think people should be allowed to say or put in print. It can be awful and hateful and offend you or me. But that’s what’s great about this country – you have the right to say what you want. I don’t have to agree, I don’t have to break bread with you, but I’ll fight for your right to say it.

I see things all the time that I agree or disagree with but I don’t see much point getting into verbal firefights about them. I’m not going to change any minds and no one is going to change mine. Mostly, I just scroll past political posts.

This revisit is prompted by an article I saw recently in the Guardian, the British paper. The article was “Lionel Shriver says 'politically correct censorship' is damaging fiction.”  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/22/lionel-shriver-says-politically-correct-censorship-is-damaging-fiction

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Lionel Shriver. And I still haven’t read her works. But I agree with that statement. Again, I am a total free speech advocate. I know the arguments about shouting fire in a crowded theatre or hurting people’s feelings, but I also remember when the ACLU defended the Nazis’ right to march in the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. (And for the simpletons out there, No, I’m not pro-Nazi!) And I remember when people would say “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” That seems to be a dying sentiment.

I understand that people get offended. I get offended, but I just grin and bear it and move on. Maybe you’d rather fight back, verbally. Fine. Just don’t stop the other from saying whatever it is. I’m against any form of censorship. And it scares the fucking hell out of me!!! Free speech is the foundation of our society. Without it totalitarianism reigns. Yet a recent Gallup poll shows college students aren’t totally behind the concept of free speech — See:

https://medium.com/informed-and-engaged/8-ways-college-student-views-on-free-speech-are-evolving-963334babe40 .

——Or——

  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/college-students-support-free-speech--unless-it-offends-them/2018/03/09/79f21c9e-23e4-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fcceb8833c43

As writers sensitivity police should scare the hell out of us. As citizens of a free society likewise. Maybe what we write is uncomfortable, maybe you’re offended. Maybe you should toughen up.

This time around I’m inviting two guests to join me and add their opinions, Jonathan Brown and Elaine Ash. I was originally going to intercut the things that Jonathan, Elaine and I have to say on the subject, but I’ve decided to run all the pieces as a whole. I asked a few people if they’d want to comment from the point of view of wanting censorship of one degree or another. Nobody wanted to go on record. I truly hope you’ll take a few minutes to read everything.

***


     White Heat:

My Shamus Award-winning novel White Heat is a noir-mystery-thriller. It’s about P.I.s trying to find a killer during the 1992 Rodney King riots – that makes it much more than a simple noir-mystery-thriller. While protagonist Duke Rogers tracks down the killer, he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother, who is a mirror image of Jack in that department. He must also confront his own possible latent racism – even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister.

The novel looks at race and racism from everyone involved, black and white, and no one gets off unscathed. These things can be a little uncomfortable. Believe me, I know. I was uncomfortable writing some of it. Ditto for Broken Windows, the sequel coming out in the fall, that deals with immigration via a mystery story. These are touchy issues, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk or write about them. And if we do so honestly we might unintentionally hurt some feelings.

To quote from my article a year ago, “It’s getting to the point where we have to constantly second guess ourselves as we worry who might be offended by this or that? In my novel, White Heat, I use the N word. And don’t think I didn’t spend a lot of deliberating about whether I should tone that down, because truly I did not want to hurt or offend anyone. But ultimately I thought it was important for the story I was trying to tell and people of all races seemed to like the book. I think context is important. But even without context, as a free speech absolutist, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. There used to be an argument that went around that the way to combat negative speech was with more speech, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, ‘Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly.’”

I did add an Author’s Note warning people: “Some of the language and attitudes in the novel may be offensive. But please consider them in the context of the time, place and characters.” Today we’d call it a Trigger Warning. And I don’t mind doing that, as long as no one stops me from saying what I want to say.

If you don’t defend free speech now because your ox isn’t currently being gored, to coin a phrase, then no one will be there to defend you when it is. And revolutions always come back to bite the head off. Look at what happened to Robespierre during the French Revolution. It’s like that quote from Martin Neimoller during World War II: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

My mind hasn’t changed in the last the year. And now here are Jonathan and Elaine to talk about the issue:

***

     Jonathan Brown: 

Jonathan was born and raised in Vancouver British Colombia. He works as a writer, fitness trainer and drum instructor. His Lou Crasher mysteries recently landed him a two book deal with Down and Out Books. The first novel: The Big Crescendo is slated to be released in early 2019 and the follow up: Don't Shoot the Drummer will be released in 2020. Brown has also written a fictional biography about the life of boxing trainer, Angelo Dundee. The book: Angelo Dundee, a Boxing Trainer's Journey is published by The Mentoris Group and will be released in December 2018. Jonathan and his lovely wife Sonia enjoy life in sunny south Los Angeles. jonathanbrownwriter.com

Dude? Why So Sensitive?

When Paul was gracious enough to offer me a chance to weigh in on the ‘sensitivity reader’ issue I said, “Sign me up, please.” For those new to this phenomenon a sensitivity reader is someone hired by a publisher to read manuscripts with an eye sensitive to one particular race, religion or gender and so on. While the publisher’s heart may be in the right place or if the publisher simply wants to avoid a lawsuit, I think the practice is not only superfluous but also dangerous. Dangerous might be a little extreme, let’s say asinine instead.

Here’s where this jazz is headed. The sensitivity reader(s) will essentially be the politically correct police. The potential to take what might be the next great American novel and water it down to Disney meets Hallmark on Mr. Roger’s front porch is huge. For example, Writer X has a vigilante ex-gangbanger as the anti-hero. He enters the warehouse and finds the banger that killed his family. He raises the Sig Sauer. He closes one eye and lines up the enemy down the gun sight. Finally, he shall have his revenge. As a parting phrase the avenger says, “You’re a dead person of color with ancestry dating back to ancient sub-Saharan Africa!” As opposed to: “You’re a dead nigga!” Pop, Pop, Pop.

Under the sensitivity cop regime urban gang bangers won’t use authentic dialog; terrorists will be of a fictitious ethnicity (thus being limited to Science Fiction) and although books will still have steamy sex scenes the party engaging in coitus shall be genderless—out of fairness to the gendered. Can you imagine? Try this scene:

“Hey baby, want to get it on?”

“Sure, if you’ll just put your—”

“Don’t say it. I can’t wait to feel your—”

“No, don’t say it!”

And so the participants put their matching or perhaps mismatching parts together and…did it. 

The End

Can you feel the heat? No? Yeah, me either. I’m rarely the slippery-slope-guy and I’m truly weary of the expression but I must say the incline will become pretty slick here if we engage in this sensitivity reader censorship parade. And what, may I ask makes a sensitivity reader? How does one become one? Is there a questionnaire? The bigger question for me is why have we stopped trusting our own judgment? Don’t we all have some measure of built-in common sense about sensitivity? I say we do, if I may be so bold as to answer my own question.

If a manuscript becomes ‘green lit’ by a publisher that means an agent and possibly her assistant has read the manuscript. Then, let’s toss in two to four low-level readers at the publishing house and cap this off with one or two of the top brass readers.  Do you mean to tell me that from agent’s assistant to top Banana none of those cats know what is basically offensive and what’s not? I call bullshit. As members of society we all know what is basically offensive but now we’re too afraid to say it, so let’s put it on the sensitivity reader…yeah that guy. Phew, thank god we now have a scapegoat if this thing goes south, right? Grow up people.

If this castration of the arts by ‘sensitivity cop’ flies then Noir literature will become beige, Romance will have gender sensitive sex scenes (which I suppose means all genders will have an orgy all at once, what with inclusion and all…hmm) and Horror films will no longer have the ominous black cat, they will have to be Tabbys, Siamese or Ginger cats…which will be referred to as: orange hued. Imagine:

As I walked down the dark alley I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a six- month old tabby cross my path. It was then that I knew…I…was…doomed! (Insert wolf howl sound effect!)

Let art be art. It’s a good thing the sensitivity cops didn’t tell Picasso how to paint, and didn’t instruct Beethoven to avoid all minor keys and thank god they didn’t force Harper Lee to make the accused, Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mocking Bird a white-male primary school teacher with a sunny disposition.

***

     Elaine Ash:

Elaine Ash edits fiction writers—from established authors to emerging talent. She works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals.  www.bestsellermetrics.com

The Right to Write

When Paul asked me to throw my hat in the ring for a post on free speech and sensitivity readers, I gulped. Navigating these topics can be as delicate as tucking a hand grenade inside a wasp’s nest. But, admittedly, I’ve brought this on myself, since I take pride in freedom of speech and feel strongly about the right to write.

One way to look at sensitivity readers is simply as a new layer of vetting that writers must hurdle when they submit to Big 5 publishers. First, let’s refresh  on what some famed writers have had to say about protecting artistic integrity.

“Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.”
― Neil Gaiman

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”
― Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
― Oscar Wilde

Taken in context with these quotes, the picture of a sensitivity reader redlining a literary opus looks as clunky as jackboots on a ballerina. Add on that the average pay of a sensitivity reader is $250 per manuscript, and it seems impossible that anyone paid this low could influence a billion dollar-plus industry and force millionaire writers to change their work—but they are.

Do Sensitivity Readers Affect You?

First you have to look at your target publishers. There are sensitive and not-so-sensitive publishers. In general, sensitive would be Big 5 and their imprints; non-sensitive would be medium and small indie publishers. Big 5 science fiction and fantasy publishers trend “sensitive.” YA and children’s markets likewise.

Mystery and crime-related genres have strongly resisted sensitivity. In fact, noir and transgressive genres are expected to be offensive—that’s how they make a larger point. But agents have recently confided to me that it’s getting harder and harder to sell mystery fiction. Does this have to do with sensitivity bias? I suspect so, but have no figures to back up that claim other than the frontline reports of literary agents. In other words, publisher demand has constricted, and I suspect that it’s not for lack of the buying public—it’s because publishers fear backlash and boycotts. (More about this later.)

S-readers are not called in on 100% of manuscripts, but if a publisher sees that a writer of one ethnicity might be writing a character of another ethnicity, they will call on an S-reader to vet the manuscript. The problem with this is pretty obvious. Since the original writer isn’t reporting fact but creating art to make a larger point, the original intent of the art may become skewed. Want to check the rules to make sure you get them right? Err, that could be a problem. There is no sensitivity readers guild to consult, and no published compilation of guidelines.

A Case in Point

Science fiction/fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal has killed projects over negative feedback from sensitivity readers.  http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/sensitivity-readers/   The problem with this tactic is that the rules she’s trying so hard to abide by are not set in stone, they’re not law. They’re merely someone’s opinion, and opinions change. The court of public opinion can change with the day of the week. Is it even possible to write something that offends no one? I suppose so. The greater question is, Is it possible to write something that offends no one that is worth reading? Stories are supposed to disturb, instigate, provoke thought. That comes with the risk of offense.

What sensitivity readers are really all about comes down, in the end, to cold hard cash, as everything in business does. Looking at a hot topic through the cool lense of business is a way to bring practicality to the subject. If a publisher is afraid that they may become the target of an angry boycott, they’ll do everything possible to avoid it. Until recently, these boycotts had real power. But the recent trend is “boycott backlash” where the boycott-ee suffers a drop-off from advertisers, and then receives a sympathy bump from purchasers who disagree with the boycott. It reminds me of when banning books was all the rage. It only made them more popular. What people are told they can’t have, they make special efforts to get.

Sidestep the Time Wasters

My purview is not to make a case for S-readers or against them. I’m here to point out navigation tactics. As I write this, tens of thousands of manuscripts are waiting for Big 5 vetting when some of them could be sailing into medium-sized publishers and landing deals without added delay.

If you are a first-time author, my advice is to go for a smaller publisher to land your edgy material. If you are an established author looking to make the leap to Big 5, you’d have the best bet with a fairly controversy-free manuscript from the race or gender aspect. “White savior writing” is a thing, and sensitivity readers are rejecting it. Google the term and read about it for yourself.

Meanwhile, many mystery and crime readers are looking for gritty authenticity, using nomenclature that coincides with a hardboiled PI or criminal.  Already, you can see how S-readers may chill the edgy, provocative material that underscores much of the best mystery writing.

Express Yourself

As an editor, I’m about preserving the integrity of the writer’s vision, intent, art and freedom to write. I am not a censor for political correctness. For example, I’m horrified by third-wave feminist Andrea Dworkin’s contention that every act of sex is an act of rape. Would I edit a story with a character in it who held that belief? Most definitely. I’m not a censor, I’m an editor. My job is to preserve the writer’s vision, even if I disagree with it.

My best advice is to avoid writing to trends and never write to satisfy sensitivity readers. Take my client Chrome Oxide, winner of two coveted Writers of the Future awards. He’s a humorist making fun of big government and bureaucracy—using the sci-fi and fantasy genres as a backdrop. He came to me thinking there was zero chance of getting a publisher—self-publishing would be his only option. But there are so many alternative publishers now for everything from comic books to novels, that a good agent, or an editor wearing many hats like me, can find a market.

If your agent says there’s no market for what you’ve written, it’s time to get another agent. For Chrome Oxide I had to go to Superversive Press out of Australia, but the terms were the best I’d seen anywhere. The terms almost made me cry, they were so beautiful. This publisher really, really wanted Chrome’s material.

Only you can assess where your manuscript and platform as a writer stand in terms of attractiveness to publishers who assess writers through sensitivity vetting. It’s a big world with many markets. Ultimately, what does not sell will take a diminished place in the market and readers will find what they’re looking for.

Bottom line, you must write who you are and what makes you tick, not what you guess sensitivity readers will approve. Express yourself freely and then find the market that matches your angle. It’s out there waiting if you look.

***

      Thank you Jonathan and Elaine. And here's my/Paul's previous post:

Here’s the pertinent part from my earlier article (see link above):

And now to the subject at hand: I recently came across an article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Publishers are hiring 'sensitivity readers' to flag potentially offensive content.” That, of course, piqued my interest. And I will say at the outset that I’m a free speech absolutist. If you don’t like something don’t read it, but don’t stop others from saying it or reading it.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-publishers-hiring-book-readers-to-flag-sensitivity-20170215-story.html

After all, who’s to say what’s offensive? What’s offensive to me might not be to you and vice versa. That said, I see things every day that I disagree with. I don’t like to say that I find them offensive because I think that word is overused and I also think people tend to get offended too easily and by too many things.

As writers I think this is something we should be concerned about. Because, even if you agree with something that’s blue-penciled today tomorrow there might be something you write where you disagree with the blue-pencil. Where does it end? Also, as a writer, I want to be able to say what I want. If people don’t like it they don’t have to read it. I don’t want to be offensive, though perhaps something may hit someone that way. But we can’t worry about every little “offense” because there are so many things to be offended about.

It’s getting to the point where we have to constantly second guess ourselves as we worry who might be offended by this or that? In my novel, White Heat, I use the N word. And don’t think I didn’t spend a lot of deliberating about whether I should tone that down, because truly I did not want to hurt or offend anyone. But ultimately I thought it was important for the story I was trying to tell and people of all races seemed to like the book. I think context is important. But even without context, as a free speech absolutist, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. There used to be an argument that went around that the way to combat negative speech was with more speech, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly.”

And, of course, publishers have the right to publish what they want. But limiting things doesn’t change much. It just goes underground.

The Tribune article says, “More recently, author Veronica Roth - of ‘Divergent’ fame - came under fire for her new novel, ‘Carve the Mark.’ In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.” So now we have to worry about how we portray people with chronic pain. Again, where does it end?

I’ve dealt with chronic pain. Should I be offended every time someone says something about those things that I don’t like. Get over it, as the Eagles say in their eponymous song. The piece also talks about writers hiring people to vet their stories for various things, in one case transgender issues. If it’s part of one’s research I don’t have a problem with that. Or if it’s to make something more authentic. But if it’s to censor a writer or sanitize or change the writer’s voice, that’s another story.

There’s also talk about a database of readers who will go over your story to look for various issues. But again, who’s to say what issues offend what people? Do you need a reader for this issue and another for that? If we try to please everyone we end up pleasing no one and having a book of nearly blank or redacted pages. Or if not literally that then a book that might have some of its heart gutted.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for authenticity but I think this kind of thing often goes beyond that. When we put out “sanitized” versions of Huck Finn or banning books like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which has also been banned and of which Wikipedia says, “Commonly cited justifications for banning the book include sexual explicitness, explicit language, violence, and homosexuality.”


The Wall Street Journal also talks about this issue, saying in part, “One such firm, Writing in the Margins, says that it will review ‘a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language,’ helping to ensure that an author writing ‘outside of their own culture and experience” doesn’t accidentally say something hurtful.’ I’m not saying one should be hurtful, but I am saying one should write what they want to write. And if taken to the ultimate extreme then we would only be “allowed” to write about our own little group. And that would make our writing much poorer.

I’m not trying to hurt anyone. But I do believe in free speech, even if it is sometimes hurtful.

We should think about the consequences of not allowing writers to write about certain things, or things outside of their experience. Think of the many great books that wouldn’t have been written, think of your own work that would have to be trashed because you aren’t “qualified” to write about it. There are many things in the world that hurt and offend and that aren’t fair. And let’s remember what Justice Brandeis said.

In closing one more quote from the Journal article: “Even the Bard could have benefited. Back when Shakespeare was writing ‘Macbeth,’ it was still OK to use phrases like, ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ But that is no longer so. The word ‘idiot’ is now considered cruelly judgmental, demeaning those who, through no fault of their own, are idiots. A sensitivity reader could propose something less abusive, such as, ‘It is a tale told by a well-meaning screw-up, signifying very little but still signifying something. I mean, the poor little ding-dong was trying.’”

***
     In conclusion:

So there you have it, three arguments for freedom of speech.


~.~.~

I’m thrilled – I’m Doubly Thrilled – to announce that my short story “Windward,” from the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes fromSea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer and me) is nominated for a Best Short Story Shamus Award – and that the anthology as a whole is nominated for a Best Anthology Anthony Award. Thank you to everyone involved!



~.~.~

My Shamus Award-Winning novel White Heat was re-released on May 21st by Down & Out Books. It’s available now on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a "...taut crime yarn."



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com



07 April 2018

Options and Preferences


by John M. Floyd



Some quick background, here: Two weeks ago today, my wife and I drove down to Gulfport, Mississippi, where I'd been invited to speak to a meeting of the Gulf Coast Writers Association. The crowd included folks who'd written novels, memoirs, short stories, poetry, and songs (one of the attendees, Patti Ryan, wrote "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places"), and more than an hour of our allotted time was spent, as I'd hoped it would be, in a question/answer session. It was a gracious and enthusiastic group, and I had a great time. Afterward Carolyn and I looked for seafood in all the right places and then headed back home.

Why tell you about all that? Well, some of the things we talked about in the Q&A that day made me start thinking about certain issues that always seem to come up when writers get together. Here are half a dozen of those:


1. Question: Should I outline, or not?

Answer: Do whichever makes you comfortable. Outlining (a.k.a. in-depth pre-thinking) can provide a structure and a sense of security that can be helpful and time-saving when the actual writing starts--even if the writer chooses later to change direction. On the other hand, some writers feel that planning too many things out beforehand would stifle their creativity and make the process boring. To me, outlining or not is like squeezing the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube or from the top, or always being early for meetings or always being late, or unrolling the toilet paper from over or from under. I think it all depends on the way our minds are wired.

My preference: Outlining.


2. Question: Should I self-publish or seek a traditional publisher?

Answer: There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Self-publishing allows the writer to keep everything he/she earns from the sale of his stories/novels, but it also means handling and financing all aspects of the project: cover design, layout, production, marketing, publicity, distribution, storage, and a dozen other tasks. Taking the traditional approach means the writer earns a much smaller piece of the pie, but is responsible only for the writing (and, to a smaller degree, marketing and promoting). Self-pubbing can also allow the author to publish sooner, and on his/her own schedule.

My preference: The traditional route.


3. Question: Should I use first-person POV or third?

Answer: It depends on the story. First person is a more intimate but also a more limited viewpoint; the writer can get "closer" to the reader (I did this, I did that) but a story told in first person can't reveal anything to the reader that the POV character doesn't see or otherwise experience firsthand. Third person creates more distance between the writer and reader, but it's less restrictive. If the story or novel needs a large scope, third person can allow the reader to know things that the character(s) don't, which can help generate suspense. I've heard that whodunits are usually told in first person because the hero (detective?) needs to find things out at the same time the reader does, while thrillers are usually third person because the reader sometimes needs to know things before the hero does (Don't go around that corner; they're waiting for you there!).

My preference: Third person. But I like both.


4. Question: Should I use past tense or present?

Answer: Again, there's no right or wrong answer. Suit yourself. Past tense is the traditional, safe, once-upon-a-time way to tell a story, while present tense can create a sense of immediacy (it's happening NOW) that some writers feel is more interesting. It seems that female writers and literary fiction tend to use present tense more than male writers and genre fiction, but I could be wrong about that. I've also heard that present tense can be distracting and false-sounding to some readers, although it doesn't bother me. I think I've gotten used to it.

My preference (for my own stories): Past tense.


5. Question: Should I submit my work simultaneously or one-at-a-time?

Answer: How cautious are you? Simultaneous subs, especially of short stories, can be a little risky. If it backfires, and two markets want the same story, that can damage a relationship with an editor or publisher--especially if the guidelines say "no simultaneous submissions." On the other hand, submitting simultaneously can certainly help you get published sooner, considering the extremely long response times of some publications. Editors would obviously rather have an exclusive look at your submission. This can be a tough decision for the writer.

My preference: One-at-a-time.


6. Question: Should I edit as I go, or finish my draft and then edit?

Answer: There are pluses and minuses to both approaches. If you do edit as you go, and try to make every page as perfect as it can be before you go on to the next, you might not have to do much rewriting later--but you run the risk of having to do double work if your story takes a different direction and forces you to go back and change things you've already polished. Also, if you choose to wait until you finish a rough draft before going back and editing, that can give you a real sense of satisfaction--Hey, I've already got the story down on paper!--but you'll then of course have a LOT of editing to do. I sometimes think outliners are more apt to go ahead and finish the draft first before editing anything, and that pantsers are more likely to edit as they go. But I could be wrong about that (I'm wrong about many things).

My preference: Write the draft in one swoop (whether it's 100 words or 10,000 words), and only then worry about editing.

One question that never seems to come up is this: Should I write a literary story or a genre story? I think the reason it's rarely discussed is that most writers know already which kind of fiction they want to write, because they know what kind of fiction they most enjoy reading. I'm just odd enough to have done some of both, but (because mystery is my first love) I've written a lot more genre stories than literary. Also, as one genre writer said, I'm not smart enough to write a story that's hard to read.


What are your takes, on these issues? Are you an outliner? Do you prefer self-publishing over the hassle of finding a good "business partner"? Do you prefer past tense or present? First-person or third? Do you send your work out to more than one market at the same time? Do you edit as you go? What are some of the other do-or-don't-do questions you get asked, at signings or speaking events?

Vive la difference.



25 March 2017

Advances and Royalties and Agents, oh my! A Primer on Traditional Publishing

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl, who is being especially good today)

Many here know I teach Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Toronto.  In weeks 13 and 14 of the course, we talk about the business of publishing.  I’ve prepared the following primer on traditional publishing to bring new authors up to speed on the basics, and thought it might be of interest to readers here.  (Insert caveat here: this is a general primer. Your deal or experience may be different.)

Advance:

…is just that.  It is an advance against the royalties the publisher expects you to earn.

If your book cover price is $10, and your royalties are 10%, then you can expect to make $1 per book sold at that cover price.  (Often, your publisher may sell for less when in bulk. And when that happens, you make 10% of the amount the book sold for, so a lot less.)

So…if you receive an advance of $5000 (which would be considered a nice advance in Canada from a traditional publisher) then you would have to sell 5001 books before you would start seeing royalties.  (At least.  It may be more like 7500, if they’ve sold some of your books below cover.)
In Canada, royalties are supposed to be distributed quarterly, according to standards set by TWUC (The Writers’ Union of Canada).  But this standard is not law; often, publishers ignore these guidelines and pay royalties semi-annually. 

Royalty Example:  Melodie sells 1200 copies of Rowena Through the Wall from Oct. 2015 to Dec. 2015.  She has already ‘sold through’ her advance in previous quarters (see below for an explanation of sell through.) The royalties on these sales will appear on the March 15 royalty statement.  So in fact, for a book sold Oct. 1, she won’t see her $1.50 until March 15, nearly 6 months later.  And that’s with the best kind of publisher.

Sell Through:

This is the term to describe if you have ‘made up’ your advance.  If, in the top example (advance of $5000,) your book has sold 5001 copies, you have ‘sold through’ your advance.

This is a key event in the life of your book, and a critical thing for your book to achieve.  If your book doesn’t sell through, then you are unlikely to get a new book contract from that publisher.

You can see why a large advance comes with stress.  The smaller your advance, the easier it is to sell through. 

(Even if you don’t sell through, you keep the full amount of the advance.)

Agents:

An agent handles the business side of your writing (contracts, etc.)  Agents typically take 15% of your income. 

So, if you got an advance of $1000 (a not unusual advance for a first book in Canada) an agent would take $150 of your advance.  Now you can see why it is so hard to get an agent.  They don’t want $150 for all their work – they want $1500 or more!  So until you are getting advances of $10,000, it is hard to get an agent.

Why you would want an agent:

Agents get you in the door at the big 5 publishing houses.  Most of the big publishers will only take query letters from agents.  If you are a published author already with a house, the main reason you would want an agent is to ‘trade up.’  i.e. – move from a smaller publisher to Penguin. 

Time from sale to bookstore with a traditional publisher:   
Usually 12 months to 18 months.  15 months is typical.

Deadlines: 

Miss your deadline with a traditional publisher, and you are toast.  This means deadlines for getting back on publisher edits too.  Production time in factories is booked long in advance.  If your book isn’t ready to go on the line in its slotted time, then your publisher loses money.  Say goodbye to your next sale.

Print on demand publishers: 

Some smaller traditional publishers have let go of production runs and are now using print on demand technology via Createspace.  Usually this means shorter time from sale to bookstore.  (i.e. a book sold to a publisher in March might be for sale by June.)

How bookstores work:

Bookstores typically buy books from the publisher or distributor at 60% of cover.  So the bookstore makes 40% (less shipping costs).  Usually the shipping costs are born by the retailer, but sometimes publishers will have specials.

BUT – if a book doesn’t sell, the retailer can rip off the cover, send the cover back to the publisher and get a full refund for the book.  The coverless books are then destroyed.  (Yes, it’s appalling.  It all has to do with shipping costs.  Not worth it to ship books back.)

Problem – this doesn’t work with print on demand books.  You can’t return anything to Createspace.  So retailers are reluctant to stock books that are not from traditional publishers using the traditional print-run method, because they can't return books that don't sell.

How long is your book on a shelf:

In a store like Chapters (the Canadian big-box equivalent of Barnes & Noble), if your book doesn’t sell in 45 days, they usually remove it.  Gone forever from the shelves, unless you become a NYT bestseller in the future, and they bring back your backlist.  Yes, this is unbelievably short.  It used to be 6 months.  The book business is brutal. 

I think the third word in that last line is the key.  The book business is a business.  It’s there to make a profit for shareholders.  We are in love with our products, so we find that hard to face.  I saw a study that said approximately 40% of writers are manic-depressive.

The rest of us just drink.

Melodie Campbell does her drinking in the Toronto area, where she writes funny books about a crime family.  Is it any wonder?  www.melodiecampbell.com

31 January 2017

Editing from Sea to Shining Sea

by Paul D. Marks

Anton Graff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, an anthology of private eye stories (bet you couldn’t figure that out from the title) that I co-edited with Andy McAleer was released yesterday. And while I think it’s a great book with a terrific variety of writers and PI stories—and I hope you’ll all pick up a copy—that’s not exactly what I’m going to talk about here. But it is the jumping off point. And while this might be a little on the BSP side, it’s really meant to talk about the editing process for an anthology.

This is the second volume in the Coast to Coast series, so my second at bat wearing the editor’s green eyeshade.

The process is interesting, at least to me. Maybe once I’ve edited twenty books the novelty will have worn off. But right now everything about it is new and exciting. One of the most unusual aspects of the Coast to Coast editing process is that Andy and I have worked together on two volumes now, and we’ve been friends for many years, and yet we’ve never met in person. We’ve done all of our editing via email, snail mail, phone, etc… So I thought it might be fun to include Andy in this blog and get some of his thoughts on the editing process.

The first step in the process is coming up with a subject or theme for the book. The first volume was Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, which is pretty much what the title says, murders across the country, from coast to coast.

Private Eyes is the topic for the second volume. And we’re currently thinking up something for the third, though I think we know what it’s going to be….

Next you have to figure out who would be right for the topic. And in our case, since one of the themes is “coast to coast” we have to try to find people from across the country who would be good for that topic and who could set their stories dotted across the map. So even though there might be ten people in L.A. who would be great for the subject matter, we can’t use them all. And the absolute hardest part of the process for me is not being able to use all the great writers out there and having to whittle it down. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and don’t feel bad if you haven’t been asked. There’s a lot of different criteria that goes into choosing authors and one of them with these volumes in particular is trying to get people from various parts of the country, that coast to coast thing you know. Still it pains me when I can’t ask certain people or when people ask me if they can be in it, but for one reason or another we have to say no.

Since these volumes are not done via an open submissions process, we ask people to contribute. Some say yes, others have other commitments. And you have to try again—until you get the right mix—which is fine because there’s a lot of great writers out there. But with our series, as I said, we have the added dimension of having to be spread out from coast to coast so that does make it a little more difficult. But eventually you get your batting lineup. One major hurdle crossed.

Andy McAleer
According to Andy the hardest part of editing was: “…the fear of rejection from authors. I set my heights rather high for the authors I wanted. I wanted authors who knew the PI genre backwards and forwards and knew how to use that knowledge to tell a great story. Everyone I asked very generously agreed to contribute a story. Then I’m like, what was I worried about!”

While waiting for the stories to come in and since we’re both writers as well as editors, Andy and I are working on our own stories for the volume. We’re also in touch with the publisher and his people about cover art, contracts, and all the various other minutia that goes into getting it all together.

Andy said this about his experience writing his story for the anthology: “It was very difficult for me. In this case my story ‘King’s Quarter’ was the first piece of fiction I’d written since I’d returned home from Afghanistan three years prior. I just couldn’t create. So I boxed myself in by making promises I had to keep, having little faith I could make it happen. But like all the other contributors I made a promise to do something and to do it on time. I wasn't about to let my partners in crime—especially Paul—down. This forced me to write and complete what I started.”

As the deadline approaches the stories start to come in and we have to set about reading them. Usually a quick-ish first read just to get the gist and make sure most of the nuts and bolts are in place. Then deeper reads. And as the deadline for getting the stories in gets closer and some still haven’t come in you start panicking. So you begin to nudge people. On one of the volumes one person had to drop out, but we had enough stories to cover.

As Andy says, “Paul and I were committed to getting the manuscript into the hands of our publisher, Down & Out Books, on their schedule not ours. We already knew we had professional authors working with us, so we knew we were going to get great stories in manuscript form—and get them on time!”

Then the editing process begins in earnest, assisted by my wife Amy, who is a pretty darn good editor. As a writer, I know I don’t like it when editors change my words or voice or other things in too big a way. Or when they get captious on me. Or, when they’ve heard some “rule” from on high and now everything/everyone has to follow that rule. One of the reasons I wanted to move out of screenwriting was to have less chefs spoiling the stew, so to speak. So I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for authors and their words. And I hate to change those words ’cause I know how much I hate to be changed. I want to keep the authors’ voices and visions intact. I think that’s important. I will suggest changes if I see problems. I just don’t want to stomp on the voice of the author. And Down & Out was great in respecting our request to be able to do that.

Andy’s best advice for would-be editors: “PLAN. Respect the authors’ and publisher’s time. Paul and I were good about having a definitive game plan before we approached Down & Out with the idea of a second volume of Coast to Coast. We made sure we had realistic deadlines for the contributors and hoped they would find Coast to Coast a worthy project. After the publisher found this acceptable we approached the authors and they seemed okay with the specs. We also created story guidelines so the authors would not have to guess what we wanted. Word limit, what locations in the country were available since we didn’t want multiple stories from the same city—and of course, a private eye had to be the central figure. Last advice, once you have the authors aboard—if they’re professionals—just leave ’em alone. They’ll get the job done.”

Moi
After we do our edit, it goes to the publisher for their edits. Then back to us. And sometimes the publisher wants changes and we try to work with them so everyone is happy. Or we or they will question some colloquialism or other thing and we’ll have to go back to the author to make sure it’s what they want to say. Eventually, the editing gets done. Then it goes back to the publisher for the final touches, putting it all together, marketing and all that good stuff until release day. And after that it’s nothing but glory, right? Right… Awards, fame, riches, groupies. Ah, the glamorous life of the writer.

Andy summed up what he liked most about working on this anthology: “The stories cover so many interesting areas of the country, so I know I had a lot of fun learning about local customs and local word usage. That’s the great thing about crime fiction—you have fun while learning. Seeing the finished project. Something that represents eighteen months of work—satisfying—but best of all is seeing your fellow authors in print, knowing that they created something original for this volume with the intent of pleasing their readers.”

And then it’s on to the next volume before we even have time to hit the Left Bank for a quick absinthe and rest on our laurels.

###

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at Amazon.com and Down & Out Books.


14 August 2016

Pricing Your Book

by Leigh Lundin

Shareware and Bookware

You’ve heard or tried or even purchased shareware, programs that independent or amateur developers offer to try before you buy. Prices vary wildly, from a dollar or two on up, sometimes way up. An acquaintance who wrote an application complained he wasn’t making money from his shareware program. Setting aside that no one gets rich writing shareware, he was asked why he charged $45.

“Because it’s worth it,” he said. “I deserve to get $45. If I charge less, it will take longer to make money. Besides, Macrosoft Blotto costs $49 and I undercut them.”

Face Palm

For the hundredth time, I lamented that we aren’t educated in economics. To be sure, it’s not an exciting subject, but it’s essential to living in a modern age. Just as judges should have law degrees, politicians should be required to pass an economics exam. Without an understanding of economics, their decisions about budgets and taxes, fiscal and monetary policy are nothing but guesswork.

Unlike some of our shareware friends, merchants in the Apple and Android stores price much more sensibly, usually charging no more than a dollar or two. Why is charging $1 better than charging $45?

Because the guy with a $1 program is likely to sell thousands, perhaps tens of thousands or more, while the fellow with a $40 application will sell only a few. The lower the price, the more an item will sell.

book sales based on price
price sold made
$9 1 $09
$8 2 $16
$7 4 $28
$6 6 $36
$5 10 $50
$4 15 $60
$3 21 $63
$2 32 $64
$1 72 $72
Making Book

Let’s turn our attention to publishing, particularly ebooks since we won’t have to factor in printing costs. You write a brilliant 200 000 word opus, Gone with the Wind in the Willows. Sadly, traditional publishers, those dastardly gatekeepers, don’t appreciate your Cinderella superheroine and the Trotskyite plot in an 1880s Wild West space setting.

Curse those professionals! What can you do? You publish electronically. And because it’s that good, you price it at $9. Your dismayed financial advisor asks how you arrived at that price. Obviously yours has many pages and $9 seems a lot less than $10, which all the really, really good books cost.

So you go to market and sell… exactly one.

After thanking mom, you wonder what went wrong? Disgusted, you slash a dollar off the price now set at $8. You check back the next month in case one or two sold. And… two it is. You thank your sisters and price the damn thing at $5.

That month, you sell ten for a total of $50. Not great, but better than previous months. Still, you made more money selling those velvet Star Wars paintings at roadside rest stops.

units sold as a function of price
Reality Bites

Realization dawns that a Lamborghini will remain out of reach a while longer. Obviously your financial advisor was right about overpricing, but maybe you can still make a little beer money, the cheap stuff, nothing imported.

In disgust, you price your novel at $1. Looking at the numbers sold in previous months, you should sell a lot if you slash the price to just one American greenback, one Canadian loonie, one New Zealand kiwi, one aussie, one euro, one quid… You don’t care anymore. At a dollar a copy, you won’t see a profit until next Tisha B’Av.

Weeks later, you glumly look into the ebook site and a funny thing has happened. Your sales report says your book sold 72 copies. Wow, that’s great. You’ll never grow rich, but you’re excelling and you just finished your second book, Salomé versus Godzilla. If you can get a hundred novels on-line, you might be able to retire from the garden gnome insurance industry you’ve been slaving in.

You become curious about pricing models and wonder what sales might be at different price points. In the following months, you methodically adjust the price and graph the results. You discover that the lower the price, the more money you make.

You’re no John Floyd, but you write hundreds of stories, giving you an opportunity to test market price sensitivity. You carefully map price versus sales of your latest works. In the process, you learn a few surprises. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred and one, the lower the price, the more you make. Except…

units sold increased but revenue dropped
price sold made
$9 1 $09
$8 2 $16
$7 4 $28
$6 6 $36
$5 10 $50
$4 15 $60
$3 21 $63
$2 32 $64
$1 60 $60
Thrown Curve

For the initial eight months of Conan the Badass, sales figures match those of the first. Although projections suggest month nine should return sales of $70-75, that doesn’t happen although the graph still looks positive. For month nine, sales nearly doubled, but you made only $60. What happened?

You need a different graph, one that reflects not just sales, but revenue, the total dollar amount taken in each month.

You’ve learned lowering the price increased demand, increased it so much that customers started buying. To recap, in your first month, you sold one copy at $9 for a total of $9. The second month, you sold 2 at $8 each and made $16. When you lowered the price to $5, you made $50.

But your fickle customers didn’t meet expectations when prices hit the $1 mark. Although consumers bought fewer copies at $2, you made more money. Most interesting, you’ve discovered this without doing any math. Sure, a market professional could derive a y-intercept equation, but you don’t need it. All you require are revenue numbers and a sheet of graph paper.

lowering price increases sales, but…
Sweet Spots

Economics textbooks usually graph in nice, straight lines, but occasionally consumers behave in less predictable ways. This can happen with fads and booms, anti-cyclical products, and a concept called inelasticity.

Coffee tends to be inelastic… consumers will pay almost any price. A parent with a baby must buy milk and diapers; they have no choice. Once identified, patterns can be mathematically followed and foreseen.

Occasionally luxury goods prove inelastic. Packard was a premier motorcar favored by the very rich and desired by ordinary hoi polloi. When Packard priced an automobile like a Chevrolet, sales collapsed. The company had inadvertently devalued their brand. Once anyone could own one, nobody wanted one.

Your model might turn out to be a flat line or inelastic. That can happen in two ways. The bad way is that not even your mom buys your brilliant biography, the one titled Karl, the Sixth Marx Brother. The good way is that your Harry Potter and the 50 Shades of Godawful Grey flies off the shelf no matter how much you charge. One can always hope.

Soft Spots

Contrarily, the volatile nature of fads makes trends difficult to anticipate. In the latter 1990s, Ty Warner’s Beanie Babies mania became an incredible craze, retailing in limited editions for $5 and reselling as much as $5000 on-line with a few going for six figures. At one time Beanie Babies comprised 10% of eBay sales. Like other fads, the bubble burst. Ty Inc. no longer lists Beanie Babies among their toys. Most Beanie collections now sell in bulk for 50¢ apiece.

Some products can be labeled anti-cyclical. The Great Depression brought about textbook examples of movie attendance, ice cream, and women’s hosiery. Grand movie palaces were built and, for the price of a nickel, gave people sanctuary for a few hours and a chance to forget their troubles. A three-penny sundae might be the highlight of a dreadful day standing in unemployment lines. At a time when many things were going wrong, silk hose could make a woman feel more positive about herself. In a down market, sales of these products rose.

revenue as a function of price…
sometimes things go wrong
Meanwhile…

In setting your price point, plotting units sold (books in our case) versus price tells only part of the story. The real key is plotting revenue (price x units) against price. Consider the graph above and then this one.

According to the trend line, the book should have sold 70 or 75 copies, but thanks to quirks of buyers or a softening of the market, the audience didn’t behave as expected.

If you meticulously plotted your sales revenue on a graph, you see the ideal price point isn’t $1, but $2. This isn’t typical, but public tastes and trends can develop quirks. A popular author might publish novels in her mainstream series at $2 a copy and her lesser offshoots and novellas at $1 each. In this case, pricing aids in ‘product differentiation’, helping the customer distinguish merchandise.

The Bottom Line

Your mileage may vary. Generally, the lower the price, the more books you will sell and the more money you will likely make. Graphs help explain what happens behind the scenes. E-publishing provides a huge advantage in that your manufacturing costs are practically nil. If you’re going to take your novel to market, seize that advantage and give your book its best possible chance.

What is your experience?



“Until next Tisha B’Av” (pronounced “tish-above”) is an expression meaning an indefinite time, like saying “second Tuesday of next week” or the “twelfth of Never”.

12 October 2015

Changes Are A Coming--Part 2

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

As most of you already know, changes have come and things keep changing almost daily. Is publishing as we know it dead or dying? Are we heading for a world of "No real books?" Maybe, and seriously I hope not. E-readers are the future but for a little time longer I hope we continue with books made with paper.

Some words from my friend and fellow writer, Noreen Ayres regarding changes in the publishing landscape. She wrote this to the American Crime Writers League but, agreed to let me share it with all of you.
Advice proliferates in carefully thought-out newsletter pieces which a writer has stolen time to offer, the same for author blogs, and as topics in panels at writers' conferences. For instance, intricate advice is available in the July/August MWA newsletter as to how to go about self-publishing, an effort that formerly carried a stigma that has largely since vanished.

What I see in either traditional or self-publishing is an exhausting list of marketing and publicity demands requiring an author to have the vitality of a twenty-year-old, the available time of an unemployed person with no family demands, or the madness of an obsessive/compulsive idealist with ironclad armor. Bleak as it goes, some of us will simply say thanks for the wonderful party as long as it lasted and now it's time to move on to other endeavors and pleasures-if we can tear loose.

But I do want to offer this thought. When I heard Walter Mosley in the middle of his career answer the question about how to get published, I was (sadly) amused. He said he didn't know anything about anything, nothing at all. And let's not forget screenwriter William Goldman, in his "Adventures in the Screen Trade", offering his famous statement about the movie industry: "Nobody knows anything." What it means for any of us is that doors open for seemingly no reason and shut for the same. If we keep on and don't publish again, there's a bunch of trash for relatives to figure out what to do with. If we keep on and do publish, we make new friends, and friends are the second-best gift of love after family, wouldn't you say?

Just one more thing while I'm rattling on. The article I learned the most from as editor of our ACWL newsletter contained responses to my interviews with our true-crime author members. I will always admire the extra hard work of those whose research includes interviews of crime investigators, victims, or even perpetrators. If you're still "out there," authors, thanks again.

It is easy to get discouraged nowadays about publishing Yet I know people who are writing books like crazy and getting contracts from publishing houses. I think it still is true that you have to be read by the right editor at the right time. And the right time can be crucial. An editor admitted to me once that she bought a manuscript simply because she had set a coffee cup down on the top page, leaving coffee rings, so many times she was too embarrassed to send it back to the author and it just so happened she had an open slot. She immediately sent a contract. Okay, the book was good, not great and the editor hadn't totally decided to accept or reject but she did accept to keep from sending it back. I remember a writer years ago saying, getting published it like playing that arcade game where the Big Claw hovers over a pile of plush toys and occasionally the claw reaches down and grabs a winner. That's just about how it works.

However, many writers are turning to publishing books online as E-books. Some are putting their back list online as E-books and are making fairly good money doing so. Some publishers are publishing a book in hard copy and in their own imprint form of E-books. I know some authors who are doing both. Publishing with an established publishing house and also publishing new books as E-books. And many writers are using online publishing totally, having given up on being published by a brick and mortar publisher. Either way you go has to be what you think is the best thing for you. Where you can make enough money to continue this fond habit we have of wanting to tell a story.

My best advice is to Keep On Writing.

Now: A funny, frustrating cautionary true tale. Two weeks ago I went to Round Rock Kia, a car dealership in a northern suburb of Austin, to consider purchasing a newer pre-owned vehicle. It was late afternoon when I arrived around 6 p.m. I soon was test-driving and deciding on a brand new Kia Soul. I like the car a lot and since it was the last of the month and the 2015 line was closing out I was able to get a reasonable deal. Something I could afford. By the time I had signed reams and reams of paper, promising a pint of blood and the next male child born into my family I was ready to leave the dealer. I was the proud owner of what the company called an Alien Green 2015 Kia Soul. I called my sister a few minutes before I left as she lived nearby and I wanted to go by and show-off. It was 10 p.m. when I left the car place. I drove around the block and onto Interstate 35. Approximately a mile from the car dealer, I was sideswiped. My brand new car went...Kerruunnch. I wasn't hurt. My airbags didn't even deploy. My side view mirror was destroyed.

I couldn't believe it, there was a white car that passed right in front of me and there was an off ramp. I saw the car go off and I followed, thinking they were going to pull over and we'd exchange insurance information. Nope, they weren't into that. Stopping, I mean. I had slowed down looking for a place to pull over while the white car, way up ahead now, sped up and hopped back on the freeway. For a minute I thought I should follow and get their license number but then I realized it was foolish to do that. I pulled over and called my sister and told her what had happened. She reminded me that the police wouldn't come out they'd just have you fill out an accident report.

I drove to my sister's house and started to get out. That's when I discovered my door wouldn't open any more than a couple of inches. My brother-in-law said he could bang that binding metal out for me but I was afraid the insurance company might consider that tampering with the car so we left it alone and I drove the 65 mile trip to my house. Now picture a 76 year old woman with bursitis in the left hip and two knees that aren't the best, trying to climb over the console to get out the passenger door. Took several long minutes before I noticed the hand hold above the passenger door and lifted my "large bootie" out. I had been a little afraid I'd have to spend the night in my new damaged car.

Next morning I call my insurance agent at State Farm and verified that I was indeed covered and that my insurance covered a rental car. I had two things scheduled that I needed to go to so I made arrangements for the repair shop to get my door open for me. They did and the next day I took my new damaged car to be repaired. I got my car back yesterday and it is fixed good as new.
Thank goodness I wasn't hurt. Thank goodness I had good insurance. And now I don't have to worry about getting a ding in my new car. It's already been dinged.

However, I'm hoping karma has already bitten the driver of the white car and keeps on biting.

Until next time, drive safely.

03 June 2015

There's a contract out on me

by Robert Lopresti

I did something unusual this week.  I signed a publisher's contract.

Well, technically I have signed a lot of such agreements over the years.  Mostly for short stories, a few times for books.  But this one feels different.

First of all, it's for nonfiction, a book related to my day job, not to the world of mysteries.  But that's not the important difference.

You see, every contract I have signed in the past has been an agreement that a publisher would put out something I had written.  This time I am agreeing to write something.  In other words, I am committing myself to have a book that meets certain specification finished by a certain date.

That's right.  I have a deadline.

I wrote a rather cranky piece many years ago about fellow authors who complain about the tyranny of deadlines.  My point was that some of us would be thrilled if an editor was waiting for us
to write THE END.  When you are having a bad day at what Rex Stout called the alphabet piano it is depressing to realize that no one but you gives a damn whether you keep pounding away or go outside and fly a kite.

Be careful what you wish for, because there is now a big publishing house at the other end of the country where, I like to imagine, an editor is standing with his arms folded, one foot tapping, watching the calendar pages slowly turn, and waiting for my masterpiece to arrive.

So, excuse me if I keep today's missive short.  I have fifteen months to crank out 110,000 words.  Wish me luck.

30 August 2014

Why Writers Drink

By Melodie Campbell

“Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive. The rest of us just drink.” (I sold this to a comedian during my comedy writing years.)

THE ARTFUL GODDAUGHTER launches this Monday on Amazon, Kobo and in bookstores.
This is the third book in the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Award-winning comedy series about a reluctant mob Goddaughter who can’t seem to leave the family business.

As it happens, I also finished writing the 4th book of the trilogy <sic> this week.  I am now in that stage of euphoria mixed with abject fear.  Here’s why:

Below are the 8 stages of birthing a novel, and why fiction writers drink.

THE STAGE OF:
1.  JOY – You are finished your manuscript.  Damn, it’s good!  The best thing you’ve written, and it’s ALL DONE and on deadline!  Time to open the Glenlivet.

2.  ANGST -  You submit manuscript to your publisher.  Yes, even though they’ve already published 5 of your novels, you still don’t know if they will publish this one.  Will they like it?  Is it as funny as you think it is?  Is it garbage?  Glenlivet is required to get through the next few days/weeks.

3.  RELIEF - They send you a contract – YAY!  You are not a has-been!  Your baby, which was a year in the making (not merely 9 months) will have a life!
Glenlivet is required to celebrate.

4.  ASTONISHMENT – The first round of edits come back.  What do they mean you have substantive changes to make?  That story was PERFECT, dammit!  They got the 15th draft, not the 1st.  Commiserate with other writers over Glenlivet in the bar at The Drake. 

5.  CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT – The changes they require are impossible.  You’ll never be able to keep it funny/full of high tension, by taking out or changing that scene.  What about the integrity?  Motivation? And what’s so darn bad about being ‘too slapstick,’ anyway?  This is comedy! 
Can’t sleep.  Look for Glenlivet.

6.  ACCEPTANCE – Okay, you’re rewriting, and somehow it’s working.  Figured out how to write around their concerns.  New scene is not bad.  Not as good as the original, of course (why couldn’t they see that) but still a good scene.  Phew.  You’re still a professional. 
Professionals drink Glenlivet, right?

7.  JOY – They accept all your changes!  YAY!  All systems go. This baby will have a life. 
Celebrate the pending birth with a wee dram of Glenlivet.

8.  ANGST -  Are they kidding?  THAT’S the cover? 

Melodie Campbell drinks Glenlivet just south of Toronto, and lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com.  To be clear, she loves the cover of The Artful Goddaughter (Orca Books).  




16 November 2011

Shhhh!

by Robert Lopresti

I just read a very good mystery novel, which I don't  recommend you read.  This is not because of my natural perversity, but because I want to save you from the unnatural perversity of starting a series at the end.  Farewell, Miss Zukas is the  last volume in a series, and the reason for that is one reason I am bringing up the book at all.  It gives us a chance to discuss some of the trends in the publishing world.  I do hope I convince you to look up the early books in the series, which are available at least electronically.

First of all, full disclosure.  The author, Jo  Dereske, is a friend of mine and a fellow librarian. (In fact, this book contains a brief mention of "Rob, the mystery writer."  He sounds like a fascinating character and I wish we had heard more about him.)

The heroine of these books is Wilhelmina Zukas, a librarian who works at the public library in Bellehaven, Washington.  And here we get into an endless series of inside jokes;  Jo and I both live in Bellingham, Washington, which Bellehaven resembles to a remarkable degree.  (She has pointed out the many benefits of fictionalizing her setting; for example, eliminating a mall she doesn't like.)

So what is Helma Zukas like?  Smart, introverted, private, small, neat...the word repressed comes to mind.  Clearly Dereske was playing with the stereotype of the librarian. (Most people in the field love Miss Zukas.)   
You see, Helma is far too complex and interesting to see as a mere stereotype.  Quiet and introverted, yes.  But meek?  Never.  In almost every book she stuns quarrelers into silence with her “silver dime voice.”  In one novel she destroys library records so that the police can’t violate the privacy of a book borrower.  (And if that seems a far-fetched series of events consider this  which happened in the same county that contains Bellingham.)  

So Helma is a force to be reckoned with.  Now, consider her best friend since fifth grade, Ruth Winthrop.  Ruth is an artist.  She is tall (and wears heels to emphasize it).  She is also loud, brassy, dresses in wild colors and is as easy with men as Helma is not.  Although these two opposites would gladly take a bullet for each other, they can't stand to be iin the same room for more than an hour.  Dereske has received many emails from women asking "How do you know about me and my best friend?"

The author’s ability to connect to her audience is relevant to my point and we will get back to it, but here is an example: I once heard Dereske read a portion in which Miss Zukas filing some cards in alphabetical order and Dereske got quite rapturous about the meditation-like peace that comes with  alphabetizing.  I don’t know how many of the audience were librarians but I heard any number of guilty giggles from people who had experienced that same pleasure.

Helma is supported (or more usually, hindered) by a large collection of associates, like the  young children’s librarian Glory Shandy,  who is always ready with constructive criticism  about Helma’s appearance.  (When someone gives Helma an unwanted  free visit to a beauty consultant Glory enthuses "He's probably very good at disguising mature skin.")  

But the two most important supporting characters are what you might call a couple of soulmates of Miss Z.  Police Chief Wayne Gallant came to town just after a nasty divorce, which means Helma has a crush on the only person around as nervous about relationships as herself.  And Helma reluctantly takes in (but never talks to or touches) a stray animal who becomes known as Boy Cat Zukas, because that’s what the vet calls him.  Boy Cat is as standoffish as his owner and they seem made for each other.

The first eleven books were published by Avon, which then chose not to renew the contract.  Dereske has no complaints; she understands that the economy forced the decision, and she was willing to call the series over.

But remember what I said about Jo's relationship with her readers?  They were insistent that  the saga needed an ending.  After holding discussions with  some mainstream publishers, she decided to self-publish.  And that brings us to Farewell, Miss Zukas,  which winds up most of the strings of the story and brings our heroine to a happy ending.

And speaking of happy endings, you can see this story as depressing  (good authors are losing publishers left and right) or positive (authors are taking control of their destiny).  But in the spirit of natural perversity I am going to end with a favorite passage from the very beginning of Miss Zukas And The Island Murders
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On [Miss Zukas'] desk blotter lay a week-old newspaper article listing ten books a local group, calling themselves Save Your Kids, demanded be withdrawn from the library collection.  Two of the books, including Madonna's SEX, weren't even owned by the library, although twenty-three patrons had requested them since the article appeared....

Eve pointed to the Save Your Kids article on Helma's desk and stuck out her lower lip.  "Why ban Little Red Riding Hood?  What did SHE ever do?"

"I believe it was the wolf who did it," Helma said.  "But don't worry, she's safe.  Fortunately, the Constitution's still in effect."


If you like funny mysteries with quirky characters, you can't do much better than to take a trip to Bellehaven.