Brainstorming on the Beach

The Novelists, Inc. conference Brainstorming on the Beach was held at St. Pete Beach on Florida’s west coast. It is the first writers conference I’ve attended where no one handed out promo materials, dropped their bookmarks on a promo table, or talked much about their work. That’s because all of Ninc’s members are multi-published career authors. So you don’t come to this conference to promote yourself. You come to learn and schmooze with fellow authors about issues affecting us all.

This year’s conference brought in many illustrious speakers, pundits in the publishing industry. Here are some of the highlights of what I learned in no particular order:

    *      Everyone will be reading on their mobile phones in the future. What will this mean for the art of writing? Smaller paragraphs, shorter books, scenic descriptions perhaps replaced by video.

    *      Ebooks will be the next mass market.

    *      Think global. People in other countries want to read our work and they want these stories to take place in the U.S. so they can read about our lives here. The demand will continue to grow exponentially. This is a huge potential market.

    *      Many pirate sites originate overseas where English language content is unavailable. How to combat piracy? Cost and Convenience. Make our work cheaper and easier to obtain.

    *      Be prolific to build your brand.

    *      Don’t think of writing as draining your mental energy so you need to refill the creative well. Think of writing as recharging your batteries so that the more you write, the more you’ll want to write. It’s harder to restart the engine so keep it running.

    *      Publishers need to step up to the plate and provide authors with editorial, distribution, promotion, and product if they’re to be viable in the future. The most important role of publishers continues to be as a gatekeeper for a quality read.

    *      Social networking is crucial for authors to establish a platform.

    *      Reviews still drive book sales, and bloggers are the new reviewers.

    *      Indie bookstores still have tremendous influence. They may still be around after the chains go out of business. Establish a connection with your indie booksellers.

    *      Writers with a backlist have many different avenues to explore to make their books available to readers again. This is an exciting time because we can bring our stories directly to readers ourselves.

Many of us authors are struggling to define our roles in this new publishing climate, to understand where the industry is headed, and to define our limits for social networking. The beauty of Ninc is that we know we’re not alone. For more details on each panel presentation from the conference, please visit my personal blog.

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Konrath & AmazonEncore strike a deal

by Michelle Gagnon

I’m a huge fan of Joe Konrath‘s ‘Jack’ Daniels series (written under “J. A Konrath”). So it was with tremendous excitement that I read this news:

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that AmazonEncore, Amazon’s publishing imprint, will release the newest book in bestselling author J.A. Konrath’s Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series, “Shaken.”

This is a huge step forward, both for Joe and for Amazon’s imprint, which traditionally has only published reprints of self-published books by new authors, not original titles from known authors.
Clearly Amazon is now throwing the gauntlet to the traditional publishing houses, starting with a writer who has already carved out a name for himself by publishing over a dozen books using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (in addition to his success in the traditional publishing milieu).

Joe played coy regarding the actual details of his advance with AmazonEncore, saying only that he received a very favorable contract. The digital version of the book will be available on Kindle four months before the print version.

So what does it all mean? It brought to mind an interview a few weeks ago with a Newsweek editor. Responding to the news that Newsweek had been offered for sale, he said that he felt they’d been doing things backward in recent years, compiling a weekly magazine while simultaneously offering daily articles on Newsweek.com. In the future, he thinks the most viable model will be to start with the daily articles, compiling the most popular into a print edition at the end of every week for readers (such as myself) who prefer reading in print form.
In other words, the online content will drive the print content, not vice versa.

Coming on the heels of my post last week about the recent uptick in digital vs. print sales, this was big news. I’ve felt for a long time that if Amazon got their act together by offering Kindles at a lower price point (which hasn’t happened yet, but must be on the horizon), they could easily position themselves to dominate the industry, effectively cutting out traditional publishing houses. They already have massive marketing and distribution resources at their disposal. All they’d have to do was hire a team of editors, and offer the mainstays of the industry (Patterson, King, Child, Steel, etc) a larger percentage of the royalties. As Konrath says in his press release, “[This] company can email every single person who has every bought one of my books through their website, plus millions of potential new customers. I’ve never had that kind of marketing power behind one of my novels. I’d be an idiot not to do this.”

As with the music industry, what I suspect will end up happening is a consolidation of the various houses into a few major players (with, most likely, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple among them). A few months ago the industry seemed to wake up to this threat, leading to the “agency model” battles between MacMillan and Amazon. (The “agency” model is based on the idea that the publisher, not the vendor, is selling to the consumer and, therefore, setting the price.)

I think that in the end what the publishers need to fear is not that Amazon will set the prices for their new releases, but that they’ll take them over entirely.

I’m not saying this is good news for writers-it remains to be seen if this will lead to a larger publishing base, or a more narrow one. But it does appear to be the first volley over the decks in the coming battle.

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The iPad: Is it really all that?

by Michelle Gagnon

ibooks_hero_20100403.jpgI’ll start by saying that I don’t completely understand the Apple mystique, in fact I’m a little perplexed by their cult following. I appreciate my iPod and iPhone as much as the next person (although AT&T easily takes the prize for the worst network). But in my experience, some of the Apple products leave much to be desired. My husband finally convinced me to switch from a PC to a Mac last year–which has absolutely been a mixed bag. Some of the programs, like iPhoto and Scrivener, I love. Yet I can’t fathom why there isn’t a blogging program for Macs that holds a candle to Live Writer. On the plus side: fewer viruses and crashes. But I sorely miss Microsoft Outlook.

So with all the hoopla surrounding the release of the iPad, I was skeptical. It looked big, for one thing. What I like about the Kindle and the Sony Reader is that they manage to mimic the experience of reading a book. You open something, hold it in both hands. In comparison the iPad appears unwieldy, roughly the size of a dinner plate. I couldn’t imagine holding this big flat thing and reading off it.

But then a friend brought one over for me to test drive. Wow. It has all the features of the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader. It’s light and comfortable to hold. The pages actually appear to turn, which is a neat trick. And that’s just the beginning.

There’s been a lot of chatter about eBooks and what they mean for the industry. Most of the debate has centered around issues like the recent Amazon/Macmillan pricing standoff, and what kind of ebook rights authors should be getting. There are those who claim that within a decade print books will be a rarity, limited editions published exclusively for collectors. Others say that’s an exaggeration, books are here to stay.

What’s been lost in the debate (because until now it was largely irrelevant) was how books and the entire reading experience could change. The Kindle and the Sony Reader were great, but they basically just enabled a reader to experience a book the same way they always had. The main benefit was that the font size could be adjusted, and the reader could hold a full library. Neither offered true interactivity, a bridge between books and other media.

That bridge is exactly what the iPad provides.

Check out this video of the iPad version of Alice in Wonderland (but be forewarned, it’s a little frenetic. I’d advise against clicking on the link if you’re prone to seizures).

Wow. Seeing that, I finally grasped the iPad’s potential. For one thing, it could revolutionize children’s books (although I’m hard pressed to name a parent who would hand a relatively fragile $500 device over to their child). And for graphic novels, this is a complete game changer. aliceforipad041610b.jpg

On my book tour for THE GATEKEEPER, I assembled a PowerPoint display of real-life settings from the book and other materials to provide a frame of reference for readers. Just imagine if that information could actually be incorporated into the text itself.

It reminded me of reading The Da Vinci Code while vacationing in Costa Rica. I found it maddening that when so much of the plot was focused on specific paintings and statues, there were no images included in the text. With the iPad, a book could include those, plus links to video interviews with the author, related sources- really, the sky is the limit.

I’ll save a discussion of other iPad features for another day, including apps (movies look amazing on it, though, in case you’re curious). But I have to say, I’m a convert. I’ll probably wait for the inevitable price drop. When that comes, (and I suspect we’ll be seeing a huge decline in prices for eReaders across the board soon), Apple could corner the publishing market the same way that they basically appropriated the music industry. And along the way, they might end up changing what constitutes a book.


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ISHTAR II and the Slush Pile

Almost from the beginning of words chiseled in stone, there has been a slush pile—literally the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts that accumulate in the offices of publishers. And for decades, it was the hope and dream of unknown writers to have their hidden gem plucked from the pile and go on to be a bestseller. Despite the ishtar odds, which are slightly worse than Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty remaking ISHTAR, there have been a few slush-pile hits, or at least career starts. My friend Kris Montee tells me that she got her first break in 1984 when her manuscript THE DANCER was plucked from the Ballantine slush pile. Kris and her sister Kelly went on to become NYT bestselling authors as P.J. Parrish.

In a recent WSJ article by Katherine Rosman, she noted that CARPOOL by Mary Cahill was the last book published by Random House that originated from their slush pile. That was back in 1991. Today, most major publishers have a strict policy of not accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

There are a number of reasons for the death of the slush pile, the biggest being shrinking budgets. Now you’d think that having an unending supply of material at your disposal without even asking for it would be a plus, right? No. First of all, the publisher has to pay employees to weed through the slush. They simply can’t afford it anymore. The rare chance of finding a winner is greatly exceeded by the waste of time reviewing unpublishable work. Let’s face it, there’s usually a good reason why unsolicited work goes unpublished.

Another reason for the demise of the slush pile is the fear of being accused of and having to defend against allegations of stealing someone’s work. Again, it’s all about money. Why even take the chance.

And believe it or not, the anthrax scare after 9/11 became a major reason no one wants tons of unsolicited mail sitting around their offices. Even with no shrinking budgets, money can’t defend you against toxic death.

So how can a new writer hope to get their toe in the door? Get an agent. Next to writing the best book you can, it’s crucial that you find a literary agent. With few exceptions, publishers will only consider material sent to them by an agent. The agent is the primary filter and first line of defense for the publisher. And in some cases, it not only has to be an agent, but one they already know and have an established relationship. Today, there’s much more responsibility placed on the writer/agent than ever before.

A bit of good news: despite all the drawbacks to the slush pile, publishers are of a belief that a diamond might still be hidden among the mountain of coal. As long as there’s even a slight chance, there needs to be a way to find it. So some publishers are creating virtual slush piles. For instance, HarperCollins introduced a website called Authonomy that allows writers to upload a manuscript. Visitors can read the work and vote on their favorites. The HC editors will then review the five highest scoring submissions each month with an eye for publication. How are your chances? Over 10,000 manuscripts have been uploaded so far with 4 bought.

We should be seeing more of these virtual slush piles popping up as time go on, especially with the public doing all the work and only the overhead of the site being the primary cost.

So how did you get your start? Did you submit cold or acquire an agent first. If you aren’t published yet, have you ever sent in an unsolicited manuscript? What was the result?

BTW, anyone know when ISHTAR II will be released?

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Embracing Change

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

New year! New decade! and 100 years since the date I set my first book (yes, that would be 1910)… So I’m figuring it’s probably a good time to consider embracing change – not that I’m a stick in the mud (like Winston Churchill I believe there’s nothing wrong with change so long as it’s in the right direction) but I do like to know how things turn out (which, of course, is impossible). I’m a great one for worrying about the not-so good changes (pointless I know), so this year I’m going to throw off my shackles and embrace uncertainty and change in all aspects of my life (yes, really…)
I met most of last year’s resolutions after all – I did grow my hair long (and then cut it all off in horror at what I looked like); I learned how to ride a bike (my husband bought me one for Christmas so my fate is sealed) and I did lose weight (although after eating my way through the holidays my bum is now exponentially larger…sigh). My writing resolution (put the writing first!) fell a bit by the wayside – but then with twin five-year old boys I guess what else can I expect! I completed two books and am three-quarters of the way through a third…so not too bad…(though on the publishing end of it, 2009 was bit of a dud).

I’m reminded of a quotation from Washington Irving that I think I may adopt for the year:

“There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.”

I know that 2010 is going to be year of change – and so I am going to focus my efforts on trying to adapt as best I can. I shall shift my position in the stagecoach and see how it feels:)
I have ideas for lots of new books (even I need a break from Edwardian England sometimes) and I am completing a short story as well…so maybe I’ll even foray a few more times into this medium (or maybe not…let’s see…)
So forget resolutions – let’s just accept the inevitability of change and fess up – what kind of change will you be embracing this year?
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The eRights Grab


by Michelle Gagnon

So to end the year, I thought I’d close with yet another issue confronting the publishing industry: eBook rights. Ten years ago, these were rarely included in contracts, since the prospect of reading books in this format was still fairly far off on the horizon.

But we’re about to enter a whole new decade, by the end of which I suspect at least half of all books will be enjoyed on some form of eReader (and that’s a conservative estimate). Which makes the move by Random House last week pertinent to all of us, especially authors who have backlist books where eRights weren’t spelled out.
Here’s what happened, as detailed by the Author’s Guild:

“On Friday, Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent a two-page letter to many literary agents regarding e-books. Much of the letter is devoted to Random House’s efforts and investments to market traditional and electronic books.

On the second page, Mr. Dohle gets to the point. After noting that most of Random House’s backlist titles grant the publisher electronic book rights (we agree, since most backlist titles are from the past ten years, a period in which authors have generally licensed electronic rights in tandem with their print rights), he writes that “there have been some misunderstandings concerning ebook rights in older backlist titles.” He then proceeds to argue that older contracts granting rights to publish “in book form” or “in all editions” grant electronic rights to Random House.

The misunderstandings reside entirely with Random House. Random House quite famously changed its standard contract to include e-book rights in 1994. (We remember it well — Random House tried to secure these rights for royalties of 5% of net proceeds, a pittance. We called it a “Land Grab on the Electronic Frontier” in our press release headline.) Random House felt the need to change its contract, quite plainly, because its authors did not grant those rights to it under Random House’s standard contracts prior to 1994.

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.

There’s no need to take our word for this, however. 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. Judge Stein specifically dismissed notions, raised by Mr. Dohle in his letter to agents, that the non-compete clauses of these old contracts in some manner acted to grant Random House electronic rights to the works, saying that this “reasoning turns the analysis on its head.” The court pointed out that the license of rights comes solely from the contract’s grant language, not from the non-compete clause, and that non-competition clauses, to be enforceable, have to be narrowly construed. Using the non-compete clause to secure future rights is unsustainable. An appellate court affirmed Judge Stein’s decision.

We are sympathetic with the difficult position the publishing industry is in at the moment. The recession has been tough on book publishing, as it has been on many industries. And everyone with knowledge of the dynamics of the industry properly fears that Amazon’s dominance of the online markets for traditional and especially e-books will give it a chokehold on industry profits. Difficult times, however, do not justify this attempt at a retroactive rights grab.

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. Authors and publishers have traditionally split the proceeds from book sales. Most sublicenses, for example, provide for a 50/50 split of proceeds, and the standard trade book royalty of 15% of the hardcover retail price, back in the days that industry standard was established, represented about 50% of the net proceeds of the sale of the book. We’re confident that the current practice of paying 25% of net on e-books will not, in the long run, prevail. Savvy agents are well aware of this. The only reason e-book royalty rates are so low right now is that so little attention has been paid to them: sales were simply too low to scrap over. That’s beginning to change.

If you have an old book contract in which you haven’t granted e-book rights, patience is likely to pay off. The e-book industry is still young — there’s no need to jump in. And we strongly suspect e-royalty rates are at a low-water mark.”

I feel the same way- can a publisher really justify a 75/25 split when the costs involved with bringing an eBook to market are dramatically less than those incurred by a mass market paperback? The fact that initially 5% was offered is almost laughable- clearly someone saw the writing on the wall. The question is, with the entire market beginning to shift in this direction, how can authors protect themselves? How do you prevent your backlist from being exploited? Since eBooks tend to retail for $5-$15, a more equitable distribution of the royalties means that even with this seismic shift, writers could still manage to earn a living from their work.

It’ll be interesting to see how this issue in particular shakes out. No matter what, I think that despite all the doom and gloom, this is an exciting time to be involved in the publishing industry. The world is changing rapidly, and the publishing industry is now being dragged into the modern millenium. It’s impossible to foresee exactly what the future will bring, but no matter what, the times they are a changin’.

Happy holidays to all of you. Thanks for taking time out of your lives this year to rant, discuss, and debate with us. I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2010.

Best,

Michelle

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Bleak November

by James Scott Bell

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. – Moby-Dick (Rockwell Kent, Illustrator)

Why does November feel like the month the Earth stood still? Or imploded? Or got hit by that tsunami in the movie 2012?

It seems like this month all the upheavals in the publishing industry started to coalesce into one big flaming mess on the order of the Hindenburg. At least, that’s how it sounded on various blogs and comment sections, where rhetoric sometimes reached conflagration levels.

All the anxiety over eBooks and eReaders, the move of some big publishers into the self-publishing market, the revelation of paltry incomes associated even with a New York Times bestselling book, and the apprehension of authors and agents over just how anybody is going make any kind of a buck as a novelist anymore – it all seemed to come to a head this month.

Why should this be so?

First, the very pace of change in our world is now such that major developments happen almost as fast as chair throwing incidents on Jerry Springer. And humans naturally feel anxious about change until we can catch up and figure out what’s going on. But we always seem to feel a few steps behind these days.

How fast are things moving? Already there’s talk that the Kindle is on the way out. Authors and publishers are even now embedding links to websites and YouTube for added content in digital novels, links which can be accessed on, say, an iPhone but not a Kindle. There’s even a name for such digi-novels: Vooks.

Which leads to the technological changes that seem poised to alter the paradigms we’ve lived with for centuries, such as books on paper being paid for by readers. No one knows what a paradigm shift feels like until they’ve actually been through it, and we haven’t been through it yet. We’re inside it.

So as all this is happening, hands are being wrung throughout cyberspace. The only thing we know for certain is nothing is certain, and the landscape we see today will be very different tomorrow.

I have but two predictions:

1. People are still going to want good stories to read.

2. They’re not going to pay as much money to get them.

As to #1, writers need to do what they’ve always done: write and write well. Over and over. That calls for commitment to the craft and resistance to the “easy way” of self-publishing.

Let’s be blunt. We all know the overwhelming majority of self-published books aren’t good enough to be published the traditional way. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. There are. But they are as rare as Susan Boyle.

Yes, I do believe authors will do more direct selling in the future. They will make their stuff available in digital form directly. But they still have to prove themselves to be good writers, or people won’t buy.

Which leads to #2. Consumers are being trained to pay $10 or less for books. This means hardcovers are probably a dinosaur. The mastodons are in the tar pits.

But there will still be a market for books, because of #1. You know what it feels like? The mass market paperback boom post-World War II. Low price point, ease of use. The eBook revolution may be recreating this type of market. (According to Kelly Gallagher, VP of Publishing Services at RR Bowker, eBook consumption favors fiction over nonfiction at a rate disproportionate to print).

The cream will rise to the top. Those novelists who can deliver, book after book, are going to gain a following and have the chance to make some coin.

EBooks still represent only a small portion of the book market, by the way. I mean, let’s not be hasty. The “early adopters” drove sales of eReaders over the last year. The curve is going to flatten in 2010 or 2011. It’s not going to be like the personal computer boom. We’re talking about a convenience rather than a necessity. (That may change somewhat as businesses find ways to use the ever improving devices. But will they become “little laptops”? I don’t think so because we already have something called . . . a laptop).

How far eReaders will eventually reach is still a tough call. I know there are purveyors of pervasiveness out there, but hold the iPhone. I’ve pointedly spoken to several twenty-something readers over the past few weeks, and was gobsmacked when none of them liked eReaders. They were paper people! Astonishing.

So whenever I get to feeling like old Ishmael, with a “damp, drizzly November of the soul,” and when I, too, want to go outside and knock some hats off, I remember that fiction writers will always be around. The world needs us.

Maybe now more than ever.

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Playing Fair is Overrated

By John Gilstrap

No, I know it’s not my usual day, but Michelle and I are switching blog dates this week . . .

At the Midwest Writers Workshop last week, I taught a session called, “Quit Whining and Send Another Query,” in which I shared what I know about the mechanics and emotions of finding an agent and dealing with rejection along the way.

Students expressed huge frustration with the snail’s pace at which the process unfolds. You submit a query and you wait weeks for a response. Sometimes the response never comes, so the wait stretches out interminably. I suggested that they just forget about that one and send another query. Oh, no! they cried. At a previous conference a visiting agent said that when agents request sample chapters or an entire manuscript, they expect exclusivity; they expect that no other submissions will be made to other agents until the requestor makes up his or her mind. If you send out other queries during the exclusive period, you’d be breaking the rules.

Huh? When did business become such a genteel sport? When did it become one party’s responsiblilty to make the other party comfortable during a negotiation? “It’s only polite,” a student told me. Okay, I can buy that. It’s certainly more polite than waiting five or six weeks to finally send a form rejection letter that might or might not have a hand-written signature. If the manuscript is rejected, how has the writer benefitted from losing momentum on his submissions? It it’s accepted, how has he benefitted from not knowing if there’s another agent out there who’s even more passionate about his work?

Sorry, folks, but this is business; an “implied exclusive” means as little as an “implied million-dollar advance.” Implications, like assumptions, have no place in a competitive marketplace.

Please understand that, as I told the class, my word is my bond. I unfailingly deliver what I promise. I never lie. I’m a terrible liar anyway, and I jealously guard my integrity. That said, where there’s silence in a business negotiation, there’s also a poker game in progress. Agents know that, and publishers know that, and they play the game accordingly in every negotiation.
So where is it written that the writer is supposed to sit politely and observe implied exclusivity? Did I miss a meeting? A memo?

Maybe—maybe—if the implied arrangement included a 5-day turn-around, I could buy into it; but I’ve heard too many horror stories of eight-week responses and year-long silences to see anything but a woefully stacked deck.

“But publishing is a small community,” someone said. “If you break the implied rule and submit partials to more than one agent, won’t they get angry?” In a perfect world, hell yes someone will get angry. Well, maybe not angry, but at least disappointed. That’s what happens when you’re rejected. Welcome to our world, Mr. Agent.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that three prospective agents have requested manuscripts from you. There are only three ways for the scenario to play out, and all of them are either neutral or they play to your benefit:
1. All three reject you. No one’s the wiser, so no harm, no foul.
2. One accepts you, the others reject you. No one’s the wiser, so no harm, no foul.
3. More than one accepts you. Woo-hoo! Now you get to go shopping. You get to decide which agent is your preferred choice. You accept one, reject the others. You don’t have to tell the losers why they lost, but even if you do, and the rejected agents get pissed, what do you care? You got the agent you wanted.

Let me emphasize that I am not talking about deception. If an agent asks for an exclusive and you agree, then you honor your word, pure and simple. Short of that, I think you’re free to submit at will. Want to really play hard ball? Consider this: if the prospective agent tells you outright that he expects an exclusive and you say nothing, he might assume that the deal is closed, but there’s still no contract. There has to be an offer and an acceptance. One does not guarantee the other.

I would love to hear from people who think my position is unreasonable. What am I missing? Are we writers truly honor-bound to play politely in an industry that fights dirty?

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How many books can you write in one year?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I just read an article about Nora Roberts in The New Yorker (a couple of weeks back I fear – I can never keep up!) and my jaw dropped when I read that she publishes five novels in a typical year: two installments of a PBO trilogy; two J.D. Robb books; and, each summer, a hardcover stand-alone romance novel (otherwise known as a “Big Nora”). She estimates that it takes, on average, 45 days to write a novel. When I read that I thought – what they hell have I been doing with my time?! I’ve just finished my draft of Unlikely Traitors (which we can only hope in this publishing climate will get to see the light of day!) which brings my tally, after Lady Coppers was finished a few weeks ago, to two books. Yep, just two in on year. So I thought hey, it’s only June so how many more books can I write before December??

I haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of meeting Nora Roberts’ book tally but I am hoping to write another book this year as well as a few proposals. Why? Because I feel in this economic climate I have to write, write and write – just because things are so uncertain. I think it’s very necessary (for me at least) to spread my genre-wings and fly. My plan at this stage is to write a young adult book and start a historical novel set in the mid 19th century – I also want to write a proposal (or two) for a romance novel. Panic is a wonderful motivator…

I think that Nora Roberts is phenomenal – she treats her job as a profession – one in which she respects her readers and fulfils her obligations. I am also in awe of her productivity. Not every writer can meet her level of output – nor should they. Writing is a solitary art and producing a novel is something that can take months to years to accomplish. When I finished the article, however, it made me think about expectations – my own as well as the expectations of readers and publishers. I think a fine balance has to be struck between quality and quantity but I also think that in the current publishing climate publishers aren’t often willing to invest or maintain their authors (just look at how many great mystery writers have had their series dropped) so many writers have to churn out a considerable chunk of work just to keep in the game (even if it means that many manuscripts go unpublished). For me I am seriously evaluating both my productivity as well as the breadth of my work – it’s a survival mechanism necessary if I’m going to succeed in maintaining a writing career.

But I wonder- do popular writers necessarily sacrifice quality for quantity? Is there really ever ‘over exposure’ for a bestselling writer? And for those of us who aren’t quite at Nora Roberts’ level yet, what’s the best strategy for dealing with the current climate (apart, of course from writing the best damn books we can?!)

For me it’s all about one word – perseverance.

If Nora Roberts can do it, so can I.

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We’re not in Kansas Anymore

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’m in the Hilton at Chicago O’Hare airport typing this post so apologies if I don’t get to comments until late Monday as I’ll be flying home from the Historical Novel Society conference. I had a lovely time because for once I didn’t feel like the nerd in the room full of cool thriller writers:)…okay so I still felt like a nerd, it just wasn’t quite as obvious…

On Sunday I moderated a panel on writing about non-Western cultures with a terrific line-up of panelists: Michelle Moran, Jade Lee, Kamran Pasha and Eileen Charbonneau. Of all the (fabulous, of course!) questions I asked, the one that struck me the most related to resistance within publishing houses to publishing books about non-Western cultures. Not surprising but saddening none the less. For most of the panelists, publication sprung from the faith of the one cool editor out there who fell in love with the project and was determined to see it succeed. That’s true for most writers but still the need to justify and convince the marketing and sales force of the commercial viability of such a project remains a unique challenge for the writer of a ‘non-Western’ book.

What I think depressed me the most (though I have to confess much of what the agents, editors and fellow published writers were saying at the conference about the state of the publishing industry was depressing) was the sad truth that in bad economic times most readers want to escape to something they are comfortable with – which usually means something they can easily relate to culturally. I guess readers want the comfy old sweatshirt rather than the exotic shirt they can’t seem to button up. For me, when I start worrying about the economy, I re-read English favorites like the Brontes or Jane Austen with a nice hot cup of tea in my hand – so I readily admit I’m just as bad (though I hope I’m forgiven because I usually have wider, culturally diverse tastes!)

As was evident from our discussion, one of the driving forces behind most of the writers on the panel was a desire to overcome stereotypes (and in Kamran’s case overwhelmingly negative ones regarding Muslims) and to help inform readers about the true nature of a culture which remains to many readers both foreign and inaccessible.

Which brings me to some questions for you all: In a sales driven market, how can writers help broaden the publishing industry’s cultural horizons? What makes a so-called alien culture (and I don’t mean sci-fi or fantasy) accessible for you as a reader?

Despite the economic times, I think we need tolerance and cultural understanding now more than ever. Before I embrace the blogosphere with a group hug (okay, I’m sleep deprived, so cut me some slack here…) I also want to know how do you think readers, writers and the publishing industry can help bridge the cultural divide?

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Coming Sunday, June 21, Paul Kemprecos tells us what it’s like to collaborate with Clive Cussler. And future Sunday guest bloggers include Robert Liparulo, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.
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