Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Part Three, The Year in Publishing

Continuing my overview of what has happened in recent months.


Ebooks are as much a part of the publishing scene these days as paper books. Most genre publishers offer the ebook version at the same time as the paper book, and backlist is being converted to ebooks at an incredible rate.

Ebooks continue to be the primary route of distribution for smaller publishers.

Most of the major book distributors have their own ebook distribution system, and Amazon is using its ebook reader, the Kindle, to make it as much a leader in ebook distribution as paper book distribution.

Ebooks are the primary growth area right now for most publishers, but the so-called "tipping point" in their popularity hasn't been reached according to most pundits.


Used book sales are a profit hemorrhage in the publishing industry.

The publisher and the author make nothing on used books so the industry is being starved by used book sales. This is a particular hardship for authors who don't have as diversified a number of titles as the publisher does.

This means that the author makes little money, the publisher loses sales on that author, and the author is less likely to sell another book to that publisher.

In other words, the big publisher and name authors with lots of backlist like Nora Roberts are hurt by used book sales, but the smaller authors and small publishers can be killed because they lose more than they gain.

Publishing is like investing, the more diversified you are, the better the chance for survival and profit.

The Internet has made used books an even greater problem because so many books can be found used.

The old belief that a buyer will choose new after discovering a new author through a used book is less true because it is so easy to find a used book within hours or less of the book hitting the physical shelves. Some books, courtesy of book clubs and advanced review copies, can be found used weeks or months before they hit the shelves.


Tomorrow, I'll continue my overview by talking about Amazon's less than stellar behavior toward authors and publishers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Part Two

Continuing my overview of what has happened in recent months.


Amazon remains the Godzilla of online book sales in both new and used books while Barnes & Noble online, etc., eat the crumbs.

Amazon gives readers an incredible selection of books not found in brick and mortar stores so they are the place to go for serious readers. A month's entire line of books by most publishers is available at Amazon, and their search functions as well as their Listmania and "if you like this book, you'll like that book" features, and reader blogs help readers find books and authors they won't find elsewhere.

Used book sites like Alibris are a major force in book buying as readers search for bargains, and Amazon displays the used book right beside the new book in their search results.


Most major publishers do large print runs of their titles and store the books to sell through bookstores, etc.

A large print run requires a large expense up front in the printing followed by the cost of storing and moving inventory. For massmarket (standard-sized paperbacks), books not sold at the bookstore have their cover ripped off and returned while the book itself goes into the landfill. The publisher pays for the shipping in both directions.

Obviously, this is a serious waste of money and resources, but the bookstores and publishers seem addicted to this model.

In recent years, print on demand books (POD) are becoming an important part of the paper book process.

POD books are printed, one at a time, to order and shipped to the store or the buyer. Large publishers use POD for backlist, and small publishers and individuals who can't afford large print runs also use it.

Recently, a major publisher used POD to catch up on unexpectedly high demand of a nonfiction title.

Most of the major book distributors have their own POD company as does Amazon.


Tomorrow, I'll continue my overview by discussing ebooks and used books.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Year in Publishing, Part 1

This is a series of blogs I wrote in June on the current state of publishing and bookselling and how that affects writers and readers. I focused on genre novels.

Sources for the information I used include "Publishers Weekly," "Shelf Awareness," "Publisher's Lunch," and various professional trade blogs.

My credentials: I'm a publishing news junkie of over thirty years, and a published author of over ten years.

I will post the whole series of eight, a day at a time, then I’ll update you on what has happened since.

First, an overview of what's happening in the business.


Not surprisingly, the problems with the economy are hurting the sale of books. If it's a choice between food and gas or books, books are almost always the loser.

Even romance, which has always been considered an economy-proof genre, has struggled recently although it remains healthy with steady growth.

Readers are borrowing books at the library and buying used books. Neither venue is good for the author bottom line.

If a reader has a choice between a "name" favorite author and another author for a new book purchase, she will buy the name author. New authors' books tend to be bought used.


The current trends in bookstores and other physical locations is more books by just a few authors.

Target and Walmart which sell large numbers of books have cut down the amount of books by around fifty percent in the last few years. The books added to the shelves each month are almost always that month's list leader -- the publisher's lead title for that month, and it's usually a name author.

They believe they make money by having more space taken up by more books by a few bestsellers than with a wider range of authors and books.

Meanwhile, the chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders are putting out more authors and titles, but they, too, no longer carry most of that month's books by the major publishers.

Borders has started a series of concept stores which display books cover forward. So far, they've seen an increase in sales although they have cut the number of titles displayed by thirty percent.

Independent stores are dying at an alarming rate, and those which remain often keep themselves afloat by selling used books.

Still, a vast majority of all books sold are in brick and mortar stores.

In the next days, I'll cover online markets, print on demand, ebooks, and the problems with Amazon, then I'll discuss options for authors as well as the near and far future as publishing changes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Publishing, Market, and Agent News


A happier version of book sale numbers, particularly romance and fantasy from the publisher of Juno Books.

HarperStudio and Borders has started an experiment in book distribution which moves away from the returnable book model.

Is having your book come out in hard cover or paper (massmarket/trade) better for your career. The answer may surprise you.


A blog on writing written by copy editors. Much more entertaining than you'd expect.


St. Martin's Editor Michael Homler is interviewed. He works with crime fiction, literary fiction, literary and commercial biography, pop culture, narrative nonfiction, popular science, graphic novels and memoirs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Name Game

Finding the right name for characters involves a number of variables.

*The period the story is set in. Names must be authentic for the period. A number of websites are available for different historical periods as well as recent years. Do your research, and don't have a Medieval heroine named Tiffany.

Here are a few sites to look at
First names:
Popular first names in recent years:

*The location of the story and ethnic background of your characters.
Popular first name by state:

*The current impression the name gives. Years ago, for example, men were named Leslie, but it has become a woman's name. Naming your hero Leslie might be authentic for the period, but it will give your reader the wrong impression.

*How hard the name is to type. I avoid some names because I can't type them. If you must use a name that's hard to type, pick a simple nonsense string of letters then do a universal search and replace. Be absolutely sure the letters are nonsense so you don't insert the name in the middle of words that have that string within them.


The right name for your hero or heroine is one of your most important decisions.

For major characters, I don't just pick a name I like. Instead, I wait until I see a name, and a frission goes through me to tell me I've hit the name for my character. Most of my character names have been gifts of that sort. Sometimes, the character will tell me his name at a certain point in the creation process.

The name, in other words, is as much a part of making the character real for the writer as it is for the reader.


Try to avoid a secondary character's name that is similar to your major characters' names. That includes names that begin with the same letter or look similar (Al, Sal, and Sally).

Before I start writing and after I have my main characters' names, I make a list of other names I can use in the book which fit the period, etc., as well as being different from the major characters' names. This allows me to pick a name for that waitress who has a few scenes without having to stop my writing while I think up a name.


I have used similar names deliberately in my writing. In TIME AFTER TIME, my hero remembers all his past lives, and he's trying to convince the heroine they have been reincarnated lovers in each of those lives. He restages and retells their past lives and their loves so I needed different names for them in each time period.

I decided that I'd use the same first letter or letters of their current names for each past name so that the reader would recognize instantly when I mentioned a name even if they couldn't recall the period that name was from. Each name would have to fit the historical period as well as the personality of the character.

Justin was earthy Jed in the Old West, and Alexa was Annie. In the 1940s, Justin was sophisticated Jared and Alexa was Alicia. Their other names also reflected character and period.


For main characters, particularly villains, it's a good idea to put the name into a search engine to see if someone out there shares the name. Put the first and last name into quotation marks so you will only receive results with both those words close together. If you find someone with that name, you may want to consider a different name.

This is also a good idea for book names.


As you develop characters and names, you'll discover a new fascination with names and their power, and you'll probably find yourself scanning obituaries and phone books for that unusual name to add to your name list. Enjoy this. It's part of the fun of creating characters.


What Makes Moguls Believe They Belong In the Book Business? An interesting article on why big business in publishing is such a flawed idea.

A reply to that article which says that the midlist, not the big names, is where publishers lose money.

An interesting article on book cover designs in big publishing that talks about who has impute and what the author can do to help.

The Organized Writer. How to create a storage system for ideas, etc. Part one of a new series.

A list of sf and fantasy reviewers. If you review, you can add your name.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Links to Market, Agent, and Promotion Information, PUBLISHING


Information that will be useful in the planning and writing stages of a novel.

Finding the right agent for your kind of book.

Should you submit your book during this bad time for publishers?

Agent Lori Perkins gives her take on the current dire times in publishing.

An interview with the editor of INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW, a sf and fantasy magazine.

Interview in two parts with Angela James, Executive Editor of Samhain Publishing, one of the most successful epublishers in the business, on what they are looking for.
Part One
Part Two

Jessica Faust talks about what editors in NY are looking for. Unfortunately, she's coy about who these editors are.


Marketing expert Penny C. Sansevieri offers advice on promoting your book.


The classic MONTY PYTHON parody of bad science fiction movies is now available at YouTube. If you've never seen this comedy about aliens turning Englishmen into Scots, you are in for a treat. For those of us who have, it's a comedy sketch that remains as funny now as then.

It's in three parts and runs almost 30 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Overusing Pronouns, CRAFT

QUESTION: It's recently been pointed out to me that I sometimes overuse "he" and "she" when referring to my characters in narrative as well as action. I also use direct referral by calling my characters by their names, and their general persons -- ie, "Bob," "Jill," "the man," "the young woman," etc. -- but I find that these phrases soon become old too. What should I do?

Show what the viewpoint character is feeling and seeing. For example, Tom remembers giving flowers to Jane.

Tom recalled how Jane's face lit up, her cheeks equaling the pink of the roses she clutched to her breast. She had smiled shyly at him, and he'd fallen in love at that instant.

Her face had lit up, her cheeks equaling the pink of the roses she clutched to her breast. Her shy smile had won his heart in that instant.

The second version is a more intimate viewpoint, and I've varied the sentence structure a bit.

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn't use a character's name as designation more than once a page unless it's a scene with a number of characters.

It's better to be a bit boring using the character's name, which the reader will skim, rather than to confuse the reader as to who is doing what action. This stops the reading process completely which is the one thing a writer should avoid at all costs.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Vicious Reviews 'R Us

QUESTION: Why are some book discussions and reviews so mean? Some of the so-called reviews at Amazon are horrible.

Humans have always needed to belong to a group -- some tribe that will offer protection as well as feed the primal need to be accepted.

That's why tribes were formed by early man, why kids join gangs or fraternities, and why normally sane people paint themselves with their team colors and scream like morons at sporting events.

This tribal mentality makes those who are on the other side enemies and idiots.

The Internet has allowed this mentality to splinter in so many directions that we now have a vast culture of micro-niche tribalism. Books are just another example.

Some authors have bands of groupies who trash other authors, normally against the desires of the favorite author.

These people seem to have lost the ability to separate themselves from the author because they tie so much of themselves into the author's works.

There's also the problem of intellectual dialogue versus emotional monologue. People are no longer taught how to think, as opposed to what to think, they don't know how to use reason to express ideas, and they seem incapable of doing so. Instead, it's all about emotion and being led by that emotion.

We see that in what is laughing called political discourse as well as every other form of discourse.

That book discussions have reached this name-calling low shows how intellectually bankrupt even readers have become.


Agent Jessica Faust discusses Harlequin's more mainstream and non-romance lines in her blog.


Webster’s New World Editor-in-Chief Mike Agnes explains his reasoning for selecting “overshare.” .