Thursday, December 31, 2009

Visualize Your Characters

Yesterday, I went to see Avatar at the IMAX. Super movie. I plan to go see it again.

As I was coming home, though, I got to thinking about two aspects of the movie: the Characters and the Story. Both played major roles. But I think it’s the characters who carry the story.

The message in the movie is not new. The plot is not new (of course, there aren’t any new plots, just versions of old plots). The setting is different, but recognizable.

The characters and how they interacted with each other pulled me into the movie and kept me hooked.

I would love to have my readers so involved with the characters that they stayed glued to the story, forgoing bathroom breaks and ignoring all around them.

To create those kinds of characters, the author has to see and be the characters s/he’s writing. She has to know how the characters think, feel, react, love, and believe. She has to know who they are at their core and what they’re trying to hide. She has to be able to see them from top to bottom, from toenails to eyelashes, from spots to tail. And the author has to be able to get the reader to see and feel that character through their actions, their words, their reactions, their emotions, their decisions - not through looking in a mirror.

Have you written a character who came to life on the page? Have you read a character who felt real and whole to you? Is your character so real to you that you can see him? Can your readers?

(Have a Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!)
TweetIt from HubSpot

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Books Read in 2009

Yesterday, I read an article in the MetroWest Daily News called “Holmes: The best book I read in 2009 was….” Holmes, the Opinion Editor for the paper, asked his colleagues to name and describe their favorite read from 2009 - not necessarily published in 2009, but read by them this past year.

The Daily News staff and bloggers had a wide-ranging selection of favorite books. Of all the ones they listed, I had read zero.


I would say that I need to increase my reading, but I don’t think I can. I’ve read some good books this year (even wrote recommendations here on Straight From Hel) and I’ve edited a lot of good books, as well, plus turned in three of my own, two of which are now out.

I don’t know that I could single out one book as the best, though. How about you? Can you name one book you read in 2009 that you would rate as the best?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books for Fun & Enlightenment

If you’ve not heard of Abe Books, you might want to check them out. They sell books: textbooks, rare books, all kinds of books.

Today, just for fun, I thought I’d introduce you to their Weird Book Room. The books there are bizarre. In other words, weird.

This week’s Weird Book of the Week is:
The Teach Your Chicken to Fly Training Manual by Trevor Weekes.

Not interested in chickens? How about tattoos? Then try:
Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan by Robert Chenciner, Gabib Ismailov, Magomedkhan Magomedkhanov, and Alex Binnie.

Or how about this one, first published in 1951:
Nudism in Modern Life: The New Gymnosophy by Maurice Parmelee.

This one might just be the winner of the longest title:
Impeccable Birdfeeding: How to Discourage Scuffling, Hull-Dropping, Seed-Throwing, Unmentionable Nuisances and Vulgar Chatter at Your Birdfeeder by Bill Adler Jr.

I know some of you will want to get:
50 Ways to Use Feminine Hygiene Products in a Manly Manner by B. Koz.

Perhaps you could use:
The Bible Cure for Irritable Bowel Syndrome by Don Colbert.

But, if that doesn’t work, you may want:
Toilet Paper Origami by Linda Wright.

Abe Books has got lots of weird books. And you can always suggest ones you think they’re missing. What’s the strangest book you’ve ever read?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Monday, December 28, 2009

Influential Books of the Last Decade

Julia Keller with the Chicago Tribune took a look back at the decade about to end and noted what she saw as the big news and the most influential books.

She sees Kindle as causing a “huge tectonic shift within the publishing industry, one bound to shake up how authors get paid, as well as how publishing companies and booksellers make money.” She also paid tribute to “the power of a TV talk-show host to shape our collective taste in books.” (Oprah, in case you were wondering.)

She closed her article by listing the 10 most influential books of 2000 - 2009, with a brief comment about each.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2000) by J.K. Rowling.

"White Teeth" (2000) by Zadie Smith.

"Twilight" (2005) by Stephenie Meyer.

"Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" (2003) by Lynne Truss.

"The Tipping Point" (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell.

"The Da Vinci Code" (2003) by Dan Brown.

"Be Near Me" (2006) by Andrew O'Hagan.

"The God Delusion" (2006) by Richard Dawkins.

"Wintergirls" (2009) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

"Oryx and Crake" (2003) by Margaret Atwood.

Before you link over, try to figure out about which book she said, “Lord help us.” And which one earned the comment: “Along with its evil spawn -- er, I mean sequels -- this dully written series…” And which two earned theses comments: “…cataclysmically popular and utterly enchanting….” and “Linguistically splendiferous….”

If you’ve read any of her top ten of the decade, would you agree it belongs (or they belong) on the list? Which one would you include that she didn’t?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Sunday, December 27, 2009

E-Book Hackers

On the Wednesday before Christmas, BBC News posted an article about a hacker who claims to have broken the copyright protection on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.

Apparently hackers have their own online forum. One of them challenged others to hack Amazon’s e-reader. Labba, a hacker, accepted the challenge and hacked the Digital Rights Management tool.

DRM hackers cracked the code for iTunes. Before that, they “cracked the copy protection on DVDs in 1999.” The guy who hacked the DVDs, know as DVD Jon, “now runs a company with an application to take the pain out of moving different types of content between devices.”

The folks who hold copyrights to e-books, like authors or publishers, want the works’ copyrights protected. Consumers often dislike DRM software because it limits what can be done with the content.

According to the BBC article:
As soon as a new DRM system is active, hackers begin to try and break it.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Survival of the Stuffed

Did you survive Christmas dinner? Or are you still totally stuffed?

Think back on yesterday’s menu. What did you serve? Now think of a character you’ve written. Would s/he have eaten the same Christmas meal? What would s/he have eaten that was different? Why?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas to one and all.

This is a short post so you can get on to your own family or to blog hopping.

Today, most of us are opening presents and stuffing ourselves. We’re laughing and talking and listening to holiday music. We’re setting the table and washing the dishes. We’re watching football or Christmas DVDs.

I hope you’re with family and/or friends. Take lots of pictures. Have fun. Eat anything you want. Get and give lots of hugs. Focus on today. Tomorrow will come soon enough. Live in the now. Live and love today.

Merry Christmas to all my wonderful cyber friends and to new friends who stop by.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

If you’re like me, today you’re busy cooking or doing prep work to cook tomorrow. Or maybe you’re out doing last minute shopping. Perhaps you’re on the road to grandma’s house or the kids’ house. Whatever you’re doing, it’s probably not a lot of blog hopping. That’s why I especially thank and say welcome to anyone stopping by today or tomorrow.

For me, the day of Christmas Eve is a cook and prep day. The more I can get done today, the more I’ll enjoy tomorrow.

Christmas Eve is the time to gather in the living room, read The Night Before Christmas or the Christmas story, and force the kids to drink eggnog. Yep, that’s right. I said “force.” No matter what recipe I try, they hate eggnog. Even if I add in a candy cane. Even if, now that they’re older, I add a bit of alcohol. They hate eggnog. But, hey, it’s a Ginger tradition. We have eggnog. They complain and leave their glasses for Dad to drink.

Last year, I gave up. No eggnog. No complaining.

I was wrong. They then complained that there was no eggnog to complain about. Turns out they hate eggnog, but look forward to the tradition of complaining about said eggnog.

Do you have Christmas Eve traditions?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Book Launches

The Independent out of the UK had a recent article which was subtitled: “…a look back at a year of surprisingly fancy book launches, international incidents, hip-hop Hamlets, schlockbusters, flopbusters and outsize blockbusters.”

I expected some “over the top” launches, but I guess the British are more refined than the US, even in their “schlockbustes.” There was, however, this:
In January, at Twickenham, Mills & Boon celebrated its new series of "Rugby Romances" with champagne, long-stemmed roses and waiters in bow ties, teeny tiny rugby shorts and, um, nothing else….
There seemed to be several duds, like:
Glen David Gold promised to make good on his promise to dress up in a French maid's outfit and serve tea to everyone at his publisher, Sceptre, in return for missing his deadline for Sunnyside. (As the year ends, I'm told, he's still to get his feather duster out.)

The festival was seemingly marred by Geraldine Bedell-gate, the author claiming that her novel The Gulf Between Us had been banned because it involved a gay relationship. But it turned out that the festival merely hadn't invited her.
Ah well, not all book launches can feature wizards or whip toting strippers.

What have you done to make your launch memorable?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Clear as Fog

Publishers Weekly has an article on the goings-on in the children’s books world over this past year. If you write or publish children’s books, you’ll want to keep up with this. You can read the article, but it may just confuse you.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 called for the testing of children’s books (and accompanying items that come with some books) for lead. But they haven’t gotten around to issuing guidelines for said testing.
This lack of direction makes it difficult, if not impossible, for publishers and other makers of children’s products to comply.
There was confusion from the very beginning:
It initially was believed that the Act could cause children’s books [to] be removed from schools, libraries, and stores; nonprofit groups to lose the ability to accept donations; and retailers, printers, and publishers to potentially go out of business.
There was a little bit of light, but not much when:
…the CPSC declared a permanent stay of enforcement for “ordinary” children’s books printed after 1985, saying it would not impose penalties against anyone for making, importing, distributing or selling them. This gave the industry some relief, but still did not preclude states’ Attorneys General from enforcing at their discretion.
According to Publishers Weekly, this is where it stands now:
1. Ordinary books published after 1985 are “safe.” Sort of.
2. Books-plus and novelty books will have to be tested before being deemed “safe.”
3. Retailers can sell children’s books printed after 1986, but could face fines if they sell or display a lead-containing book.
4. Libraries and schools might be able to keep lending or using books printed before 1986. Or they might not.
5. Used booksellers might be able to sell books printed 1986 or before, but they can’t sell anything “unsafe.”

And there you have it. Clear as fog.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Breakthrough Writing Contest

Here’s information on a contest that, if you win, involves publication of your manuscript. It’s called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Entries have to be made online and your novel should be between 50,000 and 150,000 words. You also have to submit a pitch statement, author picture and some other information.

If you’re thinking, dang, my manuscript’s not ready, don’t worry, you still have time. Entries are only being accepted between January 25, 2010 and February 7, 2010. It’d be good, though, to get ready since they only accept the first 10,000 entries. Although you can’t submit your material yet, you can sign up for email updates.

This year there are two categories: General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction. Each category will have a winner. And each winner receives a $15,000 publishing contract with Penguin USA and distribution of his/her novel on

The entries get narrowed through 5 stages of judging. The first round is looked at my Amazon editors. Those who move on are rated by Amazon top customer reviewers. Those who pass this level go on to full readings by Publishers Weekly reviewers. Those who make the semifinals are read by Penguin USA editors. And the three in each category who make it to the finals are voted on by Amazon customers.

You can link to this contest from this post or via my website page of Contests for Writers. I maintain lists of contests and events on my website, both of which are updated weekly (and I’m always on the lookout for contests and events, so email me if you know of ones not on my list). This is one of the bigger contests, so I thought I’d blog about it.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Great Flood, A Mermaid Tale

Back in early November, I told the tale of The Tail, the first mermaid tale. I promised I’d occasionally tell other tales. So today, I’m telling the tale of The Great Flood.

Early one morning, I came into work, expecting it to be just another day of picnicking underwater, doing ballets and waving from the volcano at guests. When I got backstage, though, I discovered it was not to be just another day. Although we were having overcast weather, elsewhere, days ago, the weather had been stormy and rain had fallen in giant buckets. That “elsewhere” was where the springs at Aquarena Springs got its water. It rains there, filters down into the sub-levels and eventually rises in the hundreds of springs where I swam.

We were expecting a huge amount of water -- so much that all workers were assigned jobs to save the show area. The volcano and submarine could float, although they might lose some anchors. But… heavens to Betsy… Ralph(s) was in danger. Ralph, in case you’re just joining in on these tales, was Ralph the Swimming Pig, the most famous performer. (Don’t tell anyone, but there was always at least two Ralphs since, unlike human performers, Ralph wasn’t allowed to swim two shows in a row.) So Ralph and Ralph had to be moved to high ground.

At the time, we had two swans in the show area (someday I’ll tell a tale about them). They can swim, but since management didn’t want them to be able to swim right out of the show area in the high water, they had to be corralled and moved to high ground. Have you ever tried to corral a swan?

All kinds of stuff had to be tied down. Management wanted us to move the catfish that was older than sin and bigger than a zip car to a more secure place. If you think swans are difficult to wrangle, try moving a big ol’ bottom dwelling catfish. We got the swans moved, but not the catfish.

They wanted us to move the ducks, but, come on, ducks can fly.

Finally, the Ralphs, the swans, the volcano were all rescued or tied down or set free.

Then, we, the performers, were told to get in and swim the late morning show. (Shows you what the pecking order was.)

Being spring-fed, the waters in the show area were always crystal clear. That day, the water was so murky it was almost like trying to see through a wall. I could put my hand up about a foot in front of my and not be able to see my fingers. The girls moved ballet up close to the sub, did our moves, then held out our hands, hoping the guys holding the air hoses would spot our palms and give us air. The water was so cloudy the audience inside of the sub would not have been able to see us picnicking on our lily pads, so we took our picnic bags, swam right up to the sub windows, held on to the window frame and ate our celery and drank our punch. Then we turned and swam back toward the volcano, hoping we weren’t wandering off in the wrong direction.

After the show, we headed up top to wave goodbye to the audience as they exited the submarine. An audience that consisted of one man and his dog.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Authors Guild Weighs In

Last Sunday, we talked about Random House claiming e-book rights via contracts signed before e-books came into existence - and heirs fighting that stance. Today, a week later, we’re talking about the Authors Guild post in response to Random House’s move.
A fundamental principle of book contracts is that the grant of rights is limited. Publishers acquire only the rights that they bargain for; authors retain rights they have not expressly granted to publishers. E-book rights, under older book contracts, were retained by the authors.
The post goes on to say:
A federal court in 2001 examined this precise matter in Random House v. Rosetta Books. Judge Stein of the Southern District of New York was unequivocal in his 10-page decision: authors did not grant publishers the e-book rights in the old book contracts at issue.
The post notes that times are hard in the publishing industry, but adds:
It's regrettable and unhelpful that Random House has chosen to try to intimidate authors and agents over these old book contracts. With such a weak legal hand, it would be well advised to stick to its strength -- the advantages that its marketing muscle can provide owners of e-book rights. It should also start offering a fair royalty for those rights.
Click over to read the full post on the Authors Guild site.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Friday, December 18, 2009

Twitter Discussions

For those of you who think Twitter is trivial or only for selling stuff or self-promotion, you might want to think again. Twitterers are doing more active back-and-forth discussions. One such discussion took place this past Sunday.

The discussion primarily involved independent booksellers, who talked about ideas like making it possible for customers, through in-store kiosks, to access a database of bookseller reviews, view digital content, and browse inventory.

You can go read Breathe Books’ manager Jenn Northington’s summary of the discussion on her blog. You can also go on Twitter and read the posts by the participants and others by searching for #indiekiosk. Keep in mind that when there’s an online discussion about a subject that interests you, you can participate. That # sign means it’s a discussion. If it were a private discussion, the participants would be DMing each other without the # sign.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Last Minute Shopping

If you’ve been thinking of buying an e-reader for yourself or someone else, PC Magazine has a comparison of the different devices. It used to be that there weren’t many choices, but that is changing.

Overall, it’s a good comparison. There was one point that I questioned:
Electronic ink renders text that is sharp and easy to read, but there's no backlighting, so an e-book reader is just like an actual book—you can't read it in the dark.
I thought at least one of the devices had a backlighting feature.

Here’s a comment on Format Issues:
Amazon uses a proprietary format called AZW that only works with its Kindle e-book readers. The B&N Nook and Sony readers support a more-universal standard called ePub, which many libraries across the country are using for lending e-books. Still, Kindle doesn't currently support ePub, and Amazon continues to be the leader in e-book reader sales.
At the end of the article, they rate each of six e-readers. So, if you’re still shopping around for an e-reader, check out PC Magazine’s comparison of the top devices.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Falling Dominoes

I believe there will be a time when e-books will be interactive, have pictures like some of the e-textbooks already have, perhaps even have a way of asking the author questions or visiting their websites (e-readers already have Internet capabilities), maybe even videos.

The Wall Street Journal has an article that shows some of this is beginning to happen.
Macmillan, one of the country's largest book publishers, says it will begin selling enhanced electronic-book best sellers in the first quarter of 2010. The special editions, which will include author interviews and other material such as reading guides, will carry a list price slightly higher than the hardcover edition.
Notice that these enhancements will come with a higher price than the e-book alone. The enhancements also affect the pub date. Macmillan says these new e-books will go on sale the same day as the hardcover edition, then after 90 days, the special edition will be replaced by the standard e-book. BUT, best-sellers not issued in this way will have hard covers issued, then several months later, the standard e-books will come out. BUT, if the book is not a best-seller, the e-book will come out the same day as the hardcover.

Some other publishers are withholding e-books altogether.

At the moment, it’s still convoluted and varies from publisher to publisher. Publishers are worried about profit. With hardcovers selling at around $25, and e-books being sold by Amazon and B&N for about $10 even though they pay the same price for e-books as they pay for hardcover (and are therefore losing money but hoping to gain buyers’ loyalty), publishers worry that retailers will demand a lower price and publishers will have to cut prices and, in the end, lose money.

And if they lose money, then they will cut even more midlist or new authors and… so the dominoes keep falling.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Blog, I Write

The amazingly talented author, Elizabeth Spann Craig, awarded me her Blogging Writer Award. When I say, “her” award, I mean really hers. She created it. I’m lucky to take a picture that isn’t blurry, and here she is creating awards. Take a look at it:

Here’s what Elizabeth said inspired her to create the award:
Every day the online community of writers amazes me. I get so much encouragement and inspiration from the blogs that I read and from the wonderful commenters on Mystery Writing is Murder. Among the encouragement I get are awards for my blog. To me, they represent a “Good job!”—which I really appreciate.
I totally agree with her on that.

Here are Elizabeth’s rules for the Blogging Writer Award:
You can post this image to your blog…or not.
You may share this award with others…if you like.
You may adapt or alter this image in any way.
As you can see, I posted her award here for all to see. I have no plans to alter the image since, first of all, it is hers, second of all, I love it as is, and third of all, I know my limitations.

I planned to pass on the award, but Elizabeth had such an extensive list of writers she awarded that just about everyone I might have passed it on to was already on her list. What I do want to do is encourage you to click over to her blog post and pick out one or two on her list that you’ve never visited and go leave them a comment.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Monday, December 14, 2009

Where in the World is Helen?

I’m here! I’m there!

Actually, I’m here today to let you know I’m over on L. Diane Wolfe’s blog, Spunk on a Stick’s Tips. I follow Diane’s blog daily. She has posts on writing (she’s the author of The Circle of Friends series) and she also hosts guest authors. She has some weekly features, like the Sunday Sillies and Fridays’ Book News, where she links to other blogs. If you’re not already following her, check out her blog.

She invited me to post on Spunk on a Stick’s Tips about research. For the nonfiction books I write, I do a lot of research. And those of you who write fiction know that fiction isn’t all made up. You have to do research for both fiction and nonfiction.

If you’ve got a few minutes, click over and read my post on researching for fiction and nonfiction, including some personal examples of my own research. I’d love to hear a couple of your research experiences.

Thank you, Diane, for allowing me to take over your blog today!

TweetIt from HubSpot

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heirs Fight for E-Book Rights

As you might have guessed, just about all the publishing news lately has been on e-books or Kirkus Reviews shutting down. We can’t tackle the both today, so I thought I’d give you some interesting news on e-book rights.

We’ve said before that e-books are really coming into their own now. More and more companies are coming out with competing e-readers and more and more authors are publishing e-books, either on their own, through a company, or via their publisher.

To keep you up to date, today we have news on a fight between authors and publishers about rights to re-issue books in e-book form. One of the groundbreaking fights is between the heirs of William Styron and his original publisher Random House. Although Styron used to be a big name (Sophie’s Choice, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and others), his books are not selling like they used to.

Styron’s family wants to re-issue them as e-books. Random House says they own the e-book rights, even though the contract they signed with Styron was before e-books came on-scene.

This same struggle is going on with books from other authors, like Ralph Ellison, John Updike and Ernest Hemingway. Some have been resolved. Some have not. Not only does the Styron family feel they own the e-book rights, they feel they deserve more than what publishers generally give in digital royalties, since digital books cost less to produce than print books.

There is precedent that supports authors and their heirs, according to an article in The New York Times:
In 2002, Random House sued RosettaBooks, an e-book publisher, for copyright infringement when Rosetta signed contracts with authors — including Mr. Styron — to release digital versions of previously published novels.

In its suit, Random House relied on wording in its contracts that granted it all rights to publish the works “in book form.” But a federal judge in Manhattan denied the publisher’s request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that such wording did not automatically include e-books. An appellate court similarly denied Random House’s request.
In cases where the author’s books were published (and contracts signed) before there came to be e-books and, thus, e-book rights may be in question, negotiations are ongoing. Some have been settled. And for new authors, this is another reason to have an agent. If you don’t, you’ll probably want to consult with an attorney who deals in book rights.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What’s Most Important?

Yesterday, we talked about writing new themes, ideas and angles rather than jumping on band wagons, or boats that have already left the dock.

Today, we discuss what’s most important in a novel. Your idea of what is most important may be different from mine. For me, I think characters are most important.

You need characters you care about. If you don’t, the reader won’t. Characters need to be interesting - even the bad guy. Characters need to be different - a book of clones with the same personalities would be boring. You need protagonists your readers can relate to. Characters have flaws, just like real people. Characters have goals and setbacks and friends and quirks and secrets, goals, flaws, hopes, pasts and even things they would kill to protect. Even characters who are best friends or twins will be unique.

Characters carry the story. They shape it, manipulate it, become it.

They live in the writer’s head until the writer brings them to life on the page. Then they become part of the life of the reader.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Friday, December 11, 2009

Writing What Sells

The title of this post may sound like a no-brainer piece of advice: Writing what sells will get you published.

What kind of post would that be? It’d be a post of wrong information.

If you’re writing a sweeping saga of two generations of vampires in hopes of jumping on board that big vampire sailboat, you’re most likely too late. That boat sailed. But maybe you can build your own boat filled with adventurous satyrs who can blend in with humans.

Sure, agents are still looking at vampire novels, if they have a new twist or an angle not yet used. But you’ll have a better chance of selling your book if it’s unique, different, new.

The chances are slim that you’ll sell tomorrow what’s selling in the bookstores today. Why read a copy when you can read the original? Unless you make it new and totally you (the way Meyer’s books are her vision and Rowling’s books are hers), it’s not going to sell. It’ll be a copy.

Come up with your own ideas, your own characters, your own new angle. And make it YOURS. If you do, you’ll be much closer to a ticket on the sailboat of getting published and signing books.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Check Your Emotions

One thing you, as a writer, have to keep in mind is that you are not your characters. Each character may have bits and pieces of you, but not all of you, unless you’re writing your memoir. And certainly every character can’t be you.

That means you have to look outside yourself, imagine what it’s like to be that person. Imagine what it feels like when bad or good things happen to that character. Imagine what it’s like to live in a country or culture you’ve never been in. To be religious when you’re not. To eat meat when you won’t. To free fall from a plane when you can’t. To be what you aren’t.

That’s a big part of your job as a writer. To be successful as a writer, your readers have to believe you must know what it is to have lost a child to a serial killer or to force yourself to go to a job interview even though you’ve got the flu from Hades or to be a substitute teacher in front of 22 seniors who throw spitballs and refuse to listen.

You can’t say, oh, I’d never get out of bed if I lost a child… or I’d run out of the office if I threw up in the boss’s lap… or I would take control and have those teens eating out of my hand in ten minutes. You have to envision what your character would do and feel.

You have to check your emotions and write what your characters would do and feel. And if you’ve never experienced what your characters are going through, then you need to step into their skin and imagine - or talk to someone who knows what it’s like firsthand.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

POD People

Remember the old movies of pod people? Sci-fi, scary music, dark lighting, things popping out unexpectedly? Pod people may be back, but not that kind.

It may be the time of POD people - writers with books printed on demand. That’s what POD stands for: Print On Demand. Some have come to use it as if it means self-published. It doesn’t. A lot of self-published and vanity books are printed and mailed to buyers on demand. So are a lot of books published by regional, small, university and major publishers. Print on Demand is a process, a way of printing books.

Print On Demand makes sense. A few bookstores have POD machines in-house and can print a book in about five minutes. The majority, though, aren’t available for use at bookstores. Who has them? The same people who could print huge runs for bestsellers or smaller runs for regional books.

It cuts remainders - the returning of books unsold. It could give a clearer picture of actual bestsellers. Instead of stores ordering hundreds of copies of a politician’s or celebrity’s book, sending the book to the top of the bestseller list, then returning hundreds of unsold books, stores would order only the ones they know they can sell.

It could make it easier to get your hands on a copy of out-of-print books. Bookstores could “carry” thousands of books - they’d just be in the machine waiting to be printed.

Stores wouldn’t have to carry multiple copies of all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. But within minutes you could hold in your hands the N book or the A book or whichever one you wanted.

Remember our many discussions about e-books and print books? They can co-exist. We don’t have to divide into camps of “print-only” and “electronic rocks.”
TweetIt from HubSpot

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Importance of Books

Surfing the news net, I came across an interesting article in the LA Observed called Future of Book Publishing is Unknowable. At the rate things are changing in the industry, I think most of us would agree with that title.

Here are a couple of what the author of the article, Kevin Roderick, called “tidbits” from a keynote address by Steve Wasserman, former Los Angeles Times book editor, now agent and book editor at Truthdig.

Wasserman quoted Randall Stross of the New York Times, who asked:
With the new devices in hand, will book buyers avert their eyes from the free copies only a few clicks away that have been uploaded without copyright holder’s permission? Mindful of what happened to the music industry at a similar transitional juncture, book publishers are about to discover whether their industry is different enough to spared a similar fate....”
Wasserman added this:
In the United States, bricks-and-mortar bookstores continue to disappear at a rate rivaled only by the relentless destruction of the Amazonian rain forest. Twenty years ago, there were about 4,000 independent bookstores. Today, only about 1,500 remain. Even the two largest U.S. chain bookstores—themselves partly responsible for putting smaller stores to the sword—are in a precarious state…
Click over to read what Wasserman sees as the three overlapping and contending crises facing the publishing industry. According to the article, Wasserman said: “[Readers] know in their bones something we forget at our peril: that without books—indeed, without literacy—the good society vanishes and barbarism triumphs.”

I think Wasserman is right in that statement. Without the ability to read and comprehend, society is in trouble. I would add that people also need a choice in what they read and the ability and freedom to discern truth from propaganda and hot air.

What do you think?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Differences in Publishing

Do you really understand the differences between self-publishing, vanity publishing, pay-to-publish and traditional publishing? It’s all rather confusing. The lines have become blurred, partly because more authors are self-publishing or paying vanity publishers to do some of the work, but not all, and partly because some vanity publishers are promoting themselves as self-publishers and various pay-to-publish companies offer so many different options and prices.

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware discusses the different options and how the lines have become entangled or deliberately blurred. She takes you through the history of self-publishing and vanity presses, and asks some important questions, like:
Is self-publishing keeping 100% of the profit from sales? Is it owning your ISBN number? If the company that produces your book takes a cut, or if you use its ISBN, are you by definition vanity published, even if you didn’t pay an upfront fee? Is any print-on-demand publishing service vanity publishing, or are there meaningful differences between them?
She does more than ask questions, though. She gives you her definitions of Self-Publishing, Assisted Self-Publishing, Vanity Publishing, and Deceptive Vanity Publishing. She not only defines the categories, she names companies that fall under each.

Her article is definitely one to read and save.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Who are Your Top Authors?

Y’all probably know I like CJ Box, who writes the Joe Pickett series. As soon as he publishes new books in that series, or a standalone like his latest, Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, my husband and I grab it. So when I came across an article in The Guardian called “CJ Box's top 10 US crime novelists who 'own' their territory,” I went to see who he considers “the greats.”

His list is interesting as is this tidbit he wrote in the introduction:
The dirty little secret about the very best contemporary crime novels is that it often doesn't matter much who did it and why, but where the story is set. Solving the crime is simply a vehicle to travel through the territory. Reading the best crime novels about specific locations by authors who live there and own their home turf is like visiting with the ultimate know-it-all guide who moonlights as a voyeur.
If you like crime novels, check out CJ Box’s list of the top ten. For each author, he tells the setting of the series, as well as why he thinks that writer belongs on the list and the titles he suggests you read.

Now, my question for you is: In the genre you like most to read, who is your favorite author and why?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Who Are These Celebrity Authors?

The TimesOnline had an article called “Publishing House Jobs Go as Celebrity Books Fail to Sell.” The opening line is:
The lustre of celebrity memoirs, possibly the most reviled literary genre in history, is fading as publishers voice their alarm over returns from books that have been “authored” by star names to whom they have paid vast advances.
Hachette UK is saying it intends to focus on more traditional titles. Tom Weldon, the deputy chief executive of Penguin UK, said, “Sales are down by around 25 or 30 per cent this year, more than the decline in the book market overall.” But Weldon then went on to say, “I don’t think the category is dead. It is worth noting that the biggest selling authors this year will be Ant & Dec, while Jeremy Clarkson, Chris Evans, Frankie Boyle and Peter Kay will also be in the top ten.”

Am I totally clueless when I ask, Who, the heck, are those people? Celebrities? I’ve never heard of a single one of them. Admittedly, I’m not terribly hip anymore, but, seriously, celebrities? I will cut Weldon some slack. These names may be immediately recognized in Britain. You don’t have to search very hard in American bookstores to find D-list celebrities with books out either.

As always, there’s debate. Liz Thomson of BookBrunch said:
Most of us are aware of our limitations and have sufficient humility and commonsense to say no to things we do not understand and cannot accomplish with dignity and honesty. Not so the many celebrities who put their names to novels they have not written, and to ghosted memoirs about their vacuous lives.
The author of the TimesOnline article countered with:
For the time being, at least, reports of the death of celebrity memoirs may have been exaggerated.
What do you say? Do you love celebrity books? Do you care if a celebrity book is written by a ghostwriter? Do you think celebrities getting millions in advances and appearing on major talk shows is good for smaller or new writers because it keeps books in people’s minds and wish lists? Or do you think it hurts the ordinary writer because in these tight times there’s not much money and room left over for publishers to take a chance on a new writer?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Friday, December 04, 2009

Survey Re: E-Books

All the news every day seems to center on E-books. The Bookseller, on December 2nd, reported on a survey of more than 1,000 book trade professionals prior to The Bookseller’s Digital Conference.

Here are some of the results of that survey:
The results showed that though 44% of respondents had read a book digitally, only 19% had bought one. The majority of respondents said that e-books should be priced at the same cost as a paperback book (30.1%), or cheaper (53.6%).

Over 67% of the 1,080 respondents who completed the survey said that book trade professionals should re-skill to take advantage of digital media.

Almost 70% of those surveyed said that interoperable e-book formats and devices would be key to the growth of digital publishing.

The majority of respondents said that less than 10% of current sales were from e-books (47%). But by 2025 16% said that more than 51% of sales would be from digital content, whereas just 5% said the electronic market would be less than 10% of total sales.
To read more results from the survey, be sure to click over and read the full article.
TweetIt from HubSpot

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Book Reviews

One thing that all writers have in common is the desire to get good reviews from reviewers who have influence on readers. There are tons of review lists out there, some well-known, some not. One of the most coveted is the School Library Journal list of best books.

Recently, the SLJ posted an article on how the books are chosen to be reviewed. It also answers the question of how they whittle down the selection, which, to me, was most interesting.
In 2009 we received more than 13,000 titles, of which 7,000 were logged into our system for possible review. We published 5,700 reviews, a record number.
Clearly, having a good review in the School Library Journal can make a difference in whether you get into library collections. Any of you ever been reviewed in the SLJ? Have you gotten a review somewhere else that you thought made a difference in your sales?
TweetIt from HubSpot

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bad Loving

Hollywood gives out awards for just about anything. It’s all about the facetime, baby. We writers are a bit more reserved. We have regional awards and a few national awards for genres and one big national award, which so few viewers tuned into that they’re no longer on TV. But there is an award that probably would be a hit on TV: the bad sex award.

Never heard of it? This year - the 17th annual year, mind you - France's Bad Sex in Fiction Award went to Jonathan Littell for his novel The Kindly Ones. Now, if you haven’t read The Kindly Ones, you might think it was a novel so obscure only the judges had read it. Au contraire: it won the Prix Goncourt in 2006 and has sold a million copies in Europe. The BBC said:
In one excerpt, the author describes a sexual encounter as "a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg".
There’s even been a Lifetime Achievement Award for bad sex in fiction. Last year John Updike won that honor after his novel The Widows of Eastwick gained him a fourth consecutive nomination.

There are still prestigious awards to be had, people. Keep writing!
TweetIt from HubSpot

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Never Pee in the Water, Agents Might be Surfing

All of us, bloggers, tweeters, facebook frienders, goodreads reviewers, linkedin connectors, tend to think we’re talking only to a small group of friends or interested bypassers. We forget that our tweets and comments are out there for the world to see and read, forever, even if you delete your website or blog. That can be a bad thing.

It can also be a good thing. GalleyCat recently reported on a good example.
In two weeks and 314 tweets, the Fake AP Stylebook Twitter feed has earned more than 43,000 followers. Now, the creators have signed with an unnamed agent.
The website pays homage, in a funny way, to “The AP Stylebook.” The two founders, Mark Hale and Ken Lowery queried a book proposal to three agents and ended up choosing Kate McKean of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. McKean is no stranger to the Internet.
McKean is the agent for several bloggers with print aspirations, including the authors of,, and the I Can Has Cheezburger crew.
So remember this little tale and Never Pee in the Water, Agents Might be Surfing.
TweetIt from HubSpot
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...