Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guest author Delaney Diamond: My On-Again/Off-Again Affair With Erotic Romance

Delaney Diamond is the bestselling author of African-American and interracial romance.  Her latest books, Worth Waiting For (sweet interracial romance) and The Temptation of a Good Man (sensual African-American romance), will be released this fall. Visit or join her at to stay up to date on future releases. 

Everyone knows sex sells. Take a look at ads for, Carl Jr.’s hamburgers, and perfume ads, and you’ll agree with me. Because of the sexy nature of the ads, they remain planted in consumers’ minds, and those businesses watch their sales go through the roof each time a new commercial launches.

The same holds true for romance novels. Sex and romance go hand in hand. When I first started reading erotic romance, I have to admit it was thrilling, but the bloom has started to fade off the rose. I’ve found lately that I don’t purchase as many erotic titles as I used to, and I’m less likely to try new-to-me erotic romance authors. The fact is, erotic romance has gotten a little extreme for my taste. It seems authors are trying to outkink each other.

There are basically three heat levels of romance. Sweet (inspirational is sweet with religious content), sensual, and erotic. I read books in all three categories, but my writing remains firmly planted in sweet and sensual.

Below are some of the gripes I have about erotic romance:

Lack of plot. Whenever I find one that has a good plot and sexy scenes, I’m always excited. I’m tired of sex scene after sex scene. I just end up skipping over them.

Excessive curse words. Curse words can be used to signal anger, excitement, etc. They can also be used in dialogue to distinguish the speech patterns of certain characters from others. However, if everyone in the book is cursing up a storm, it’s a turn off. I don’t need the f-bomb dropped every three sentences.

Graphic descriptions. This goes hand in hand with excessive curse words for me. Granted, I tend to use euphemisms in my writing. I realize that not everyone appreciates words like shaft, manhood, arousal, and apex of her thighs as substitutions for sexual organs, but that’s what I’m comfortable writing.

I’m okay reading words like c*ck and p*ssy, but when they show up every five sentences, I get aggravated. And the one word that I absolutely can’t tolerate as a female sex organ is the word c*nt. Ugh. It knocks me out of a sex scene every time, but the word has become more prevalent in erotic romance and gets tossed around more than a frisbee on a sunny afternoon in the park.

Unbelievable sexual scenarios. I used the word unbelievable because I’m hard-pressed to believe these are part of the billion-dollar genre romance. I think we need a new genre for these types of books. Just a thought…

  • A ménage à trois is no longer enough. Now we have heroines sleeping with as many as seven men. Seven. I found one like this. The more the merrier, I guess.
  • Voluntary incest. I still can’t believe this is considered romance.

I often run across conversation threads on Goodreads where readers bemoan their displeasure with erotic romance. Some are gravitating toward the opposite end of the spectrum—toward sweet books. I’m not sure if there are more readers reading sweet, or if it’s simply that they’ve become more vocal, but sweet books are taking off.

The Clean Romances Group on Goodreads has over 900 members and continues to grow steadily. My first sweet romance will be published by Astraea Press, a publisher dedicated to offering clean romance and fiction. Even though they only opened their doors in February of this year, they have dozens of published books by approximately twenty-five authors. They’re growing so fast that the owner just hired several more editors and another cover artist to meet the demand of submissions.

I realize this is all about personal taste, and we express our preferences by deciding how to spend our limited income. Anyone who prefers sweet or erotic won’t buy my sensual books any more than I will buy an erotic book that includes the situations I listed above.

So tell me, what are your preferences? What are you getting tired of seeing in the genre(s) you read?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Turning Back The Writer's Clock...

I love being a writer in the modern age with all the technology and gadgets at your fingertips. Computers, Internet, cell phones, iPad or other Pads, PC cams, Instant Chat, Video Chat, on and on. With these things handy, most writers can do all their business and then some without ever having to leave their office.

I have practically forgotten what it was like to type books on a typewriter, go to the library for research, go to local bookstores (with Amazon and BN online, among others, pretty much making it a lost art), gather at watering holes to shoot the breeze with other authors and fans alike (can do all that now with my iPhone, iPad, and computer), etc.

Even doing book signings is not what it once was. Readers are not as eager to press flesh with you or get your John Hancock, or watch you read a passage from your book. The thrill is gone now that they can interact with you online, talk to others about you online, review your books online, and most anything else they wish to do with respect to connecting with your book online.

And yet, though I am perfectly at home, fully embracing the ease with which I can write, publish, and promote books in the modern age, I have to admit that at times I long for turning back the clock to the good old days.

I may never admit this to my wife and would never suggest such to my publishers, but I miss (a little) typing my manuscripts on my old true and tried typewriter. Or going to the library and spending the entire day there pouring through books and newspapers. Or chatting with librarians and other users. Or hanging out at bookstores as a writer and reader. With the latter, I loved searching for the true treasure amongst tens of thousands of books. The read was almost incidental.

I also loved stocking my home bookshelves with books I acquired and could pull down whenever it suited my fancy. Now I do much of my reading and shelving virtually, through my iPad, Kindle, or Nook.

If there were a time machine, I just might take a trip down memory lane to enjoy the good old days as a writer old enough to remember and still appreciate.
So long as I had a round trip ticket to return to the sweet life for writers today.

How did you like the old tools of the trade compared to today?

What do you wish was still alive and well in the writing world from yesteryear?

Friday, August 26, 2011


I live a Jekyll and Hyde existence. I just spent three months as a full-time writer. Now I’m back to school and for the next eight months or so I’ll be a part-time writer. Full-time is better but I can’t make a living that way. During the summer I often wrote 5 or 6 hours a day and then spent a few hours on the business end of writing. I did a lot of blogging. Most days now I’ll be getting an hour to write, if that. I’ll be cutting back on blogging. I just won’t have the time. The business end will have to take a back seat to making progress on actual writing.

Making progress. Sometimes, when the writing time gets shortened by life and work, that’s all you can do. A paragraph here. A page there. A few notes taken during a meeting or spoken into a tape recorder on a daily commute. Adaptability is the key, and I’ve become adaptable by necessity. I try to look upon it as a challenge, and I think I manage fairly well.

However, my level of adaptability pales compared to some professional writers I know. There are trends in publishing as in every other field. I have a friend who wrote historical romances until that market softened, then switched to historical mysteries, then took a turn at thrillers while keeping her mystery series running. All were written under different names and along the way my friend had to reinvent certain aspects of her writing style and storytelling style for different audiences. Another writer of my acquaintance changed her writing style dramatically, going from lush, serious prose to airy, light and humorous, and in the process upping her sales dramatically. I’ve heard of other writers doing much the same. It amazes me.

It’s not just that I would find such large scale reinvention difficult from a writing standpoint, but I’d find the whole process terrifying emotionally. I’d find it horrifically stressful, particularly if my livelihood and the wellbeing of my children were at stake. They say necessity is the mother of invention and that might explain why these writers have been able to do what they did and remain successful at a high level. I admire them, whatever the trigger.

Those of us writing now, whether trying to maintain and advance a career, or get one started from the ground up, are living in times when adaptability is becoming ever more necessary. The ebook revolution, with the explosion of self-publishing that has accompanied it, and the rise of social media as a marketing tool are just the most salient examples. The old ways are not dead and gone, but they are living side by side with new approaches. I’ve certainly been trying to adapt, what with my blogging and my Facebook presence, and I’ve even tried the self-publishing route with Killing Trail. So far I’ve not been tremendously successful but in this new world you never quite know what is going to hit and when.

I’d especially urge newer writers to consider adaptability and flexibility among the necessary writer’s tools for the 21st century. For example, don’t reject the possibility of self-publishing, but don’t consider it the be all and end all either. Certainly, I hear much talk about “branding,” about becoming known for doing one thing really well, and that is a way for some folks to make a name for themselves. But remember that trends change, tastes change. When the brand you established is no longer selling, you have to be willing to change to survive. Supposedly, an old curse is: “May you live in interesting times.” In publishing, we’re all living in exactly those times. It’s scary, but a little exhilarating too. In such times, the adaptable have the advantage.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Team writing: what defines a co-author

I have always been a solitary writer. But not all writing is solitary. There are many writers who do team writing, some under a single composite name. Then there are the ghost writers whose great contributions go unrewarded while some (usually famous) person gets the accolades that come with sole authorship.

I recently embarked on a team writing project. How I managed to entangle myself in such a venture is still a mystery to me, but it began with a conversation that went something like this:

“Mommy, can I write a book with you?”

“Sweetie, Mommy writes books for adults not eight year old kids.”

“But maybe we can write a kids’ book now and when I get older I can write romance just like you.”

(Blush, blush, blush) “I’ll think about.”

A few weeks later my first team writing project was on the way. It was a science adventure novel, written for children eight to twelve years old. My co-author: my eight year old daughter.

We first started out brainstorming, and boy was my daughter excited and full of ideas. I must admit, I thought her excitement would have fizzled the moment we began writing the manuscript, so I began the first chapter on my own. I discussed the chapter with her and was surprised when she started making recommendations, contributing to the ideas and rearranging the chapter. Then one day I returned from work and found her on my laptop. When I asked her what she was doing, she proudly showed me what she added to the manuscript… all three sentences. It took her a few hours.

We sloshed through it for about a month, writing back and forth, discussing everything until the third chapter. Then we hit a dead end. Weeks went by without either of us touching the manuscript. That’s when I realized what was missing: an outline. As a solitary writer, my outline is written in my head. But my co-author cannot read my mind. So I sat down and carefully planned out the concepts I wanted covered and wrote a detailed outline of the book. Excitedly I showed it to my co-author.

With a shrug of her shoulders, she responded “ok,” before returning to her video game.

I ploughed along anyway. Having a good outline, I wrote the book within a week. With great excitement I shared the rough draft with my co-author. She immediately started critiquing: “This chapter is too long; I want first graders to be able to read it; the sentences are too complex; how would they know where in the cell they are? Kids aren’t allowed at the museum of Natural History unsupervised...”

Her critique was quite valued and I gladly made the changes. But by the sixth chapter (there are ten chapters), she lost interest. Getting her to even read the rest was a challenge. I threatened to remove her name from the book. After all, how could an author not be interested in the book they have written?

So I share this longwinded preamble to ask the question: What defines team writing? Do both authors have to contribute 50/50 to the writing, editing etc? Is it a matter of idea sharing?

I am going to summarize my daughter’s contribution and then my contribution and then I’ll ask you to be the judge.

My Daughter’s contribution:
• Brainstorming
• Orally suggesting scenarios to set up the story
• Ensuring that the language is age appropriate
• Ensuring that dialogue fits that of a nine year old American
• Critiquing sentence structure, chapter organization, chapter length

My contribution: All of my daughter’s contributions plus
• Writing the story
• Editing the story
• Revising the story
• Checking for scientific accuracy
• Researching the information

Based on this information, should this maunuscript be considered the product of a team writing project or is my daughter’s contribution something that a critique group would do worth only acknowledgement in the dedication? Should her name be included as a co-author on this project?
Finally, what would you do if you were writing as a team and your co-author isn’t contributing as much as you expect?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is This Seat Taken?

Well, well, well.

We meet again, and it seems as though I’ll be hanging around with you good folk for a while.

A couple of weeks ago, my longtime friend and fellow word pusher Kevin Killiany asked me to join the fun here on a regular basis. I’d already provided a couple of guest blogs over the past year or so and I was actually contemplating a third such invitation from Liane. That’s when I received Kevin’s call to add my particular flavor of madness to an already groovy rotation of fine writers. “Sounds like fun,” I thought to myself, and so here we are.

Some people might view that last sentence as a warning. Go with your gut.

So, what’s my story? I’ve been writing professionally since I sold my first short fiction piece to Pocket Books’ first-ever Star Trek: Strange New Worlds contest way back in 1997. Since then, I’ve managed to cobble together something resembling a writing career while holding down a full-time “regular” job. I’ve written or co-written more than a dozen novels along with a bunch of short fiction, magazine articles, web content, and a few other odd things along the way. I’ve had a very nice run of good fortune. I keep expecting UPS or FedEx to airdrop the other shoe any day now. Until that happens, I do my best to “pay it forward” when and where I can, which is why I agreed to become a Novel Spacer.

“Oh, come on, Dayton!” I can hear someone shouting from the cheap seats. “Give us some juicy details!” Well, I guess it seems only fair, before I begin my reign of terror tour of duty here at Novel Spaces, that I share some other background tidbits:

  • I don’t have an “online persona” and a “real world” persona. I’m the same person in both realms. For better or worse, what you see or read is what you get.

  • There were only three Star Wars movies. I’ve heard rumors about other films bearing the Star Wars moniker, but I refuse to heed such unsubstantiated tripe.

  • What? Something writing-related? Okay, here’s a big one: I don’t believe in “writer’s block” or “finding my muse.” What I do believe is that those are euphemisms for “I don’t feel like writing today.” Other variations on this condition are, “Hey! A Deadliest Catch marathon!” or, “Wow, my DVD collection could sure use genre, title, director, and gaffer.” I can sympathize with the feeling, as I have to juggle writing in and around the day job, my wife, two young daughters along with all the activities which come with said offspring, and other demands on my time. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a muse to show up. A deadline is my muse, as is the paycheck that’s often attached to it. Writing and expecting to get paid for it carries the same demands as any other job. I know there are people who will take issue with my stance on this, but chances are they’re not paying for my mortgage or my kids’ tuitions.

    (It’s quite possible this topic will be subjected to further examination in a future column. Stay tuned.)

  • I like Mountain Dew. Okay, “like” is too soft a word. I’m of the unwavering belief that Mountain Dew is created from the tears of the goddess Aphrodite herself. Oral ingestion is my preferred method of intake, but in an emergency where I’m unable to make such decisions for myself, let this blog entry serve as my advance directive authorizing the intravenous administering of this vital fluid.

  • While I certainly don’t want you to feel that you’re wasting your time reading anything I bring to the table, I don’t and won't claim to be an expert in any subject, much less writing. Any advice I offer will usually carry some variation of that disclaimer, even though it almost always will come to you by way of my personal and professional experiences in this business...the good, the bad, the funny, and the infuriating. Your mileage can and will vary. Heck, my mileage varies from project to project.

As you’ve hopefully surmised, I lean toward keeping things light and casual. I aim for the same basic tone on my own blog, even if I’m attempting to present thoughts on a serious topic or if I’m just pissed off about something. Ultimately, I want to have fun here, even if and when we might be talking “serious writerly business,” and I want you to have fun reading and commenting on whatever words I sling into this space.

Okay, enough goofing off for one column. Now that my “introduction” is out of the way, we’ll be sure to cover an know...topic of some sort next time. Until then? Write On, fellow scribes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lick, Spit, and Polish

Every writer has her or his own way of writing a story or book. The same is likely true for polishing that short story or book. I know people who leave polishing until the very end, until everything else is done, which both astonishes and horrifies me.

I start polishing with the very first draft.

One reason is that I've spent more than twenty years as a professional copyeditor. Typos, awkward sentences, and not-quite-right words jump off the screen. They distract me so much that I can't focus on the story. Thus, even as I'm writing sentences for the first time, I'm checking the dictionary to make sure words have the nuances I think they do, looking in a thesaurus to find le mot juste, and checking the Internet to see whether such-and-such a food or technology existed in my time period. At the very least, I put a green bar over a word or phrase that I need to come back to.

But I also think revising from the very beginning leads to a better book and that most of the reasons apply to every writer.
  • People get used to mistakes if they see them often enough. If you've read your manuscript more than three times, you're probably no longer seeing most of the mistakes and they'll stay in the story forever.
  • If you have a critique group, mistakes can throw your readers off track. For example, if you type "Mali" instead of "Bali," your readers will be baffled when your protagonist goes scuba diving in the ocean or sees an orangutan in the forest. Similarly, convoluted sentences and unneeded words can mistakenly lead your readers to think your story boring when in truth raw writing is hiding the great story underneath. I believe the cleaner the manuscript, the better your critique group can focus on your storytelling.
  • I edit better than I write. My first drafts tend to be self-contradictory and repetitive, overuse certain words, and have characters named A, B, C, and D.  Given I need to copyedit my first draft before I give it to anyone anyway, I might as well strengthen the verbs and nouns, smooth out obvious bumps in rhythm, and untangle sentences. 
  • I want my finished manuscript to be perfectly clean and every sentence to be beautiful. Of course, I'll never achieve that level of quality; we all have to settle for good enough because our lives are finite and we want to publish many things. But the level of quality I'm willing to settle for usually requires ten to twenty rounds of polishing. Doing those rounds at the end would drive me crazy with boredom. Spreading them out keeps polishing fun and also lets problem words, sentences, and paragraphs marinate long enough for good solutions to arise.
  • It's easy to forget what you've worked on and what you haven't. By checking spellings, connotations and denotations, and facts right from the beginning, I rarely have a story fall apart because I made an erroneous assumption at the start that affects a crucial plot element.

How do you polish your book, and why do you do it that way?

I'll be back at Novel Spaces again on September 6. I hope you enjoy the end of your summer.

—Shauna Roberts

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Relationship Saturday: Novel Spaces

I find contemporary relationships to be absolutely fascinating. After all, we're all here on this earth to love and be loved. Most of my books revolve around family, parents, children, etc., but mainly love and life issues between a man and a woman - some type of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, shifting to boy meets the girl next door scenarios.

Though my first title, May December Souls, was classified as romance, my books are now far from romance and are very unconventional. I'll take on the everyday dramas of real life that involve taboo topics, and twist them into couples's lives. I feel passionate about tackling the edgy characters who take a shot at things that make folks just a little uncomfortable, even the wife who physically abuses her husband - you hate her to no end, yet by the end of the story you understand her dimensions enough to feel sympathy and cheer on her success. And actually cry at her demise. Or the woman who dates her best friend's son, and the payback is for that best friend to date the friend's father.

On my Facebook page, I gather relationship dilemma questions from FB friends who inbox me in confidentiality, and post the questions for my other FB friends to lend their advice, instead of me lending advice (well in some cases I do). It absolutely fascinates me that while you would think most women would feel outrage over a new husband who still pays his ex-girlfriend's son's cell phone bill (not his biological son), you'll find other women who understand the bond between a man and a boy from a supportive mentoring standpoint and think it's okay, suggesting the woman not be so insecure. You might have a man who is upset that his wife won't take his last name once they're married, yet other men would have no problem with it. Every time I think I can predict the responses, someone posts an opposing view that makes you think. I even asked women what they would do if while making love to their husband, he told them it would be their last time together. The responses were shocking, hilarious, and passionate - some simply asking "why" and others ready to Lorena Bobbitt him in a heartbeat.

Love and relationships are complicated and what one person does in one case will be the complete opposite in another. I think that's why writing stories can be so entertaining to readers, yet frustrating as well. We have an opportunity to show them what can happen, and introduce them to the lives of people they otherwise would not have had an opportunity to experience, who might not think like them, but who are dealing with their drama based upon their own make up, issues and experiences. It's like getting dirty virtually without having to play in the mud.

I still believe that true life is stranger than fiction. What we write about has been done before somewhere, and some things we hear about we probably couldn't have made up in a million years. But the blessing comes once we create three-dimensional characters (knock on wood) and allow them to experience the friction of their journeys, even when we don't know how it will end.

Relationships - the heart of our works and the pulse of our passion. Seeing other sides and hearing other views, even on Facebook, has enriched my writing and my outlook on love and life, encouraging me to stay open-minded. On this Relationship Saturday, I just want to say, thank you to my FB friends for their invaluable feedback, and thank you to my readers, for reading the stories of my drama-filled, flawed characters who are just trying their best to, relate.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rules of the Road

The first story I sold to a professional market – that is to say one that paid money, not contributors' copies – was to Pocket Books. I won a slot in the annual Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology with a "Voyager" story.

The Strange New Worlds writing competition (SNW) was for new writers – those with fewer than three professional sales. Every year of SNW's ten-year run hopeful writers sent in two thousand to three thousand submissions, trying to earn a slot in the twenty-story anthology. Though the competition was fierce, with few exceptions members of the Trek online writing community were open and mutually supportive. Soon after the winners were announced, I began receiving e-mails from writers who had not won asking me how I did it. A few were looking for a secret password or the name of the person who could get them into the anthology so the biased judges couldn't keep them out, but most had questions about the craft of storytelling. Several asked me to look at their stories and tell them what they might do to improve their chances.

Being a big believer in paying things forward, I didn't think twice about offering to help. Which is how I quickly learned something about writers most editors have always known.

The rules governing content for SNW stories were pretty basic. 1) You can't kill any of the regulars; 2) You can't introduce a character who's a lot like you who becomes the savior/love interest/best friend of everyone aboard the Enterprise(s)/Voyager/DS9 [this is known in the industry as a Mary Sue story]; 3) No love affairs not in the TV show [we're looking at you, Kirk/Spock fanfickers]; 4) No suddenly discovering a major character has secret children, especially if he/she didn't know about them; 5) no copyright violations, as in no Star Wars/Stargate/Powerpuff Girls crossovers; and 6) No changing events that have already happened in the series.

Because I'd won with a "Voyager" story, most of the people who asked for help had also written for "Voyager." If you are not a Star Trek: Voyager fan, you can be excused for not knowing a character named Kes was written out in season four and a new character called Seven of Nine introduced to replace her. This transition did not sit well with the Kes-iphiles in the fanbase. Fully a dozen Kes fan writers who could not understand why their stories hadn't made it had submitted variations on Seven of Nine getting killed off and Kes coming back. There were as many Mary Sues, spanning all the shows; a handful of crossovers with other intellectual properties; one that was based on a popular song of the sixties (as in people spoke the lyrics as dialog); and one in which it is revealed that a major female character had given birth to a child fathered by Lore and didn't remember the event or the child. Lore is an android. (No, not the phone.)

I wish these stories had been terribly written; that way I could excuse the writers for not understanding the rules they were breaking. But the fact is most of them were well written and one or two were excellent. The writers knew exactly what they were doing but – and here's the thing any editor could have told me going in – they felt that their story was so good it didn't have to follow the rules.

Every market has rules. A story that's right for Esquire will not be right for New Yorker. Analog does not publish horror and Ellery Queen does not publish romance. If you as a writer are determined to have your work published by a particular market, you need to study that market. This goes beyond the basic first step of knowing and following the guidelines of your target market. Read the stories they've published over the years until you can recognize an Atlantic story or an Asimov's story when you see one.

Of course a writer does not usually target a specific publication before writing a story. The traditional sequence is for the writer to write the story that's in her, then look for a suitable market. Standard operating procedure is for her to send it to the highest paying market first, then – if it gets rejected – to the second-highest, then the third, and so on until it sells (or she gives up). There's a strong case to be made for this method – it became the standard for a reason.

But an equally strong case can be made for recognizing what market would be most interested in your story and sending it there first. If you don't know, you should research until you do. This will not only make the submission process easier and more pleasant for you (because let's face it, reading a bunch of well-written short stories can't really be called a hardship), it will show respect for the editors who may – if you send them a story that's right for them – buy one of your stories. (And, no, editors are not being narrow minded when they stick to their preferences. If you want black appliances in your kitchen and the store delivers avocado green, sending them back is not being narrow minded – it's knowing what you want.)

Because you can't know what an editor needs on a given day, there's a chance the story that would normally be a perfect fit won't be right this time. So have a list of markets ready; if the story comes back from your first choice, mail it to your second.

The bottom line is: If you want to sell your work to professional markets – and there are a lot of paying markets out there – learn the rules of each market and then follow them. That's being a professional writer.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Leslie Effect

I sit in Holy Apostles and The Mediator Episcopal Church in Philadelphia where Leslie Esdaile Banks’ memorial is about to be held, the church she grew up in. When I walk in an hour early the front of the church is filled with women in white, ringed around the altar, singing to her memory, like a choir of angels. There are photos all around the room, revealing a Leslie I didn’t know -- Leslie the college student, the coquettish vamp, the wife, the mother, the sister, the woman with a full and rich life outside of her writing.

I met Leslie at Medgar Evers College, the year my first novel was turned in to our mutual editor at St. Martin’s. It was on one of the college’s famed literary weekends, and I had arrived too late to see my friend Tananarive Due and her husband Steven on the panel they were on. I got there as the panel with Leslie was starting and found a seat, sat back to see what she was like. My editor had told me she was giving “L.A. Banks” my book to read to see if she would do a blurb for the cover. I’d heard of her, knew of her work, but hadn’t had time to read any of her books yet. She soared high above me in the literary world, with dozens of books published to my modest one, though she was five years younger.

She was typical Leslie on the panel -- smart, funny, and most of all encouraging to the young writers who came up to the microphone to ask questions afterwards. One young black woman in particular broke into tears as she described how her professor had refused to let her use a work of vampire fiction as a class assignment, though the material was near and dear to her heart. Leslie’s response was to write it -- whether she could use it in class, whether she could get it published or not, she had to let it out and into the world. She went on to point out a growing market for vampire literature and black writers, and by the time she was done, the young woman had stopped crying and was nodding, revived, inspired, touched by what I can only call The Leslie Effect.

I got a taste of it later that day when I went to the post event reception across the street to find Tananarive and Steven. Before I found them I saw Leslie talking to some people at a table and hovered nearby, waited for a chance to jump in and politely introduce myself. When the moment came, I stepped forward and smiled.

“Hi, my name is Terence, and we share an editor...”

“Monique? Isn’t she great?” and we launched into a discussion of why. By the time we ran out of steam and other topics, I felt like I’d known her forever. She assured me that she would make sure she got my book, and that she couldn’t wait to read it.

The next day Monique sent me a message that Leslie had sent an e-mail about me -- fortunately not “Keep that lunatic away!” -- and that she was looking forward to reading my manuscript. A few weeks later I was sent perhaps the kindest words I had ever heard about my work, a compliment that would be plastered across the front of my first published novel for the world to see, so she had to mean it. I sent her a profuse thank you in e-mail, and promised her a copy of the book when it came out. Her reply was that my writing was “fierce and passionate” and reading it had been a pleasure. I floated on that for weeks. It meant even more to me than the Publisher’s Weekly starred review that followed.

I stayed in touch with Leslie. We corresponded by e-mail, met at readings she did in New York at Hue-Man and for the New York Review of Science Fiction. It was there that Jim Freund, the host, pointed out that we had not one, but four black writers in the room who wrote vampire fiction, and the idea of having a black vamp night at NYRSF was born. My friend Linda Addison, who I’d met when we both were included in the Dark Dreams anthologies, was willing, as was Alaya Dawn Johnson, whose first published novel was the start of a fantasy trilogy, but whose second was a vampire novel. I insisted that without Leslie, there was no point. What contemporary black writer had a larger body of vampire fiction? She had opened the door and paved the way for us all. To my delight, she loved the idea, added her name to the roster and the event was on.

It took months for it to come to pass, conflicts with the performers’ schedules, the venue, my collaborator, Sheree Renee Thomas’ mother fell minute Alaya was going to be at a convention the day we settled on, the next day the venue had to reschedule us -- by the time everything was settled and I got to the Soho Gallery for Digital Art for the fateful night, loaded down with video equipment, I was frazzled and ready to collapse. At the last minute Sheree Renee Thomas, my co-curator, had to cancel coming up to stay home and care for her mom, so I was suddenly both a reader and the host for the evening. I had been nervous enough about attendance -- it was a second event that month for NYRSF, most regular attendees were either on their way to a convention or working. Despite my fears, Adrienne, the president of Leslie’s fan club and head of the Street Team that got out word about her appearances, had done her usual job, and the room was full of old familiar faces from NYRSF and a wonderful new crop of readers who were Leslie’s fans.

It ended up being exactly the right room for the evening, a mixed bag of races, writers and readers who enjoyed the night for everything we put into it. The night ended with Leslie’s reading from the first book in her vampire series, after she shared the wonder that was Leslie. As much as I always enjoyed listening to her read her work, what I loved most was Leslie talking about her work, and what she put into it. She always shared the joy of the writing experience itself, but also the fun she had in working reality into her fantasy, creating a full-bodied fictional world that let her make psychological, political and social points about ours.

The night ended as they always did, with dinner nearby, and me getting too little time to talk to Leslie as much as I wanted to, as much as everyone wanted I put her in a cab to get back to her train on time, she promised as always that the conversation would continue, that one day we’d have time to trade literary war stories over red wine.

The last time I talked to her at length was over Christmas. I was out in Montauk during the worst blizzard in recent New York history, working on a new novel that scared the hell out of me (and still does) as she offered solace and seasonal cheer, despite my dark mood. I did my best to do the same for her. It had been the best of times and the worst of times for her that year as it had been for me, and we commiserated by e-mail and phone through the snow.

It seemed all too soon after that I heard the news that she was sick, an abrupt missive that swept through the community like a mystery -- what was wrong, was she okay, would she get better? But more important, what could we do, how could we help? Benefits to offset the costs of her medical care were mounted, e-mails flew across the country; by the time we all knew what was wrong, it was almost over. I spoke at a fundraiser at Hue-Man that was more of a rally, raising money but also energy for Leslie. We all left on a high, after sharing stories and laughter, the joy of Leslie. That Tuesday as I sat in an edit room at work and checked e-mail, I found out Leslie was gone.

I excused myself, went down the hall to a supply room and wept as much as I could allow myself to without losing it for the rest of the day. I locked that mental door for the rest of the week to get through the job, and booked my train tickets to Philly for the funeral Saturday as soon as a time and place were announced. The ceremony is as beautiful and heartfelt as the lady herself, a full house of love and sorrow, paying homage to her in a way only Leslie could have inspired. There were stories and songs from family and friends, and the most wonderful photos of her from childhood, high school and college, as bride, wife and mother, all the way through her meeting with President Barack Obama, when she introduced him at Arcadia University.

It was a life well lived, in all ways. I have yet to meet or talk to anyone who met Leslie and didn’t fall in love with her immediately. She was one of the most honest and loving people I’ve met on this planet, and to say she will be missed is a gross understatement. Her absence from this planet leaves a hole that can never be filled, only built around to define its length and breadth, like the Twin Towers memorial. We will remember her, not just for what she did in a remarkable life, but for all that she inspired. Her work will live on in various forms as her writing partner works on a film of the vampire books, as the comics continue, but it will also live on in the work of all of us she inspired with her generosity, her wit, her talent and most of all, her sheer energy. How can so much power be gone from the world? It’s not. It can’t be. It has only changed form, and we all have to do as Adrienne said in her ending comments from the podium at the service -- a call to all the writers touched by Leslie’s life and work. Share your talent and your love of your art. Be open and generous to those coming up behind you, and let those ahead know they are enjoyed and appreciated. Don’t wait until it’s too late -- if I have anything to be grateful for, it’s that I always made clear to Leslie how valued she was to me.

I now see Leslie as a guardian angel to us all, a new muse, floating free like Obi-Wan Kenobi after death, where she can spread her good will even wider. I sense her beside me from time to time, as I’m sure many of those who love her have, a soft hand on my shoulder like that of an angel from “Wings of Desire”. It comes when I feel most like I’ve lost her, and a gentle thought whispers, “Would I ever leave you?” with a laugh. She’s not gone, will never be forgotten, and more than that, lives on forever in all the lives she touched, changed and improved.

I remember that when I thanked her for her comments on my book, I told her she was the “Patti LaBelle of Horror”, every bit as beautiful, talented and generous, which made her laugh, that rich full laugh that infected everyone around her. It was only today that I found out that, like Patti, she LOVED to cook and have people over to eat, and that no one who came to her house ever left hungry or empty handed.

I wish I could have been to one of those house dinners or back yard barbecues people talked about so much today, though the post ceremony gathering in the rectory was pretty much how I would picture them. If there is anything I’m sure of, it’s that Jesus is chowing down like never before, and that all the angels have hot sauce staining their wings and a ziplock bag of BBQ leftovers under their arms. I miss Leslie, yes, but also know she is with us in a way she could never be before, and that it’s up to all of us to keep that part of her, the pure love expressed in the singular miracle of Leslie’s life, alive.

* * *

I am editing video of an interview with Leslie on the launch of her comic series at BEA last year, and her appearance at the “Beyond Blacula” event. The DVD will be made available as part of a continuing fundraising effort to offset the family’s bills for her medical care. Go to for information and/or to donate to the fund.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Glamorous Life of a Writer

I cannot tell you how many movies and television shows I have seen over the years that depicted a writer as living the glamorous life. It is no wonder that writers are often the envy of many.

Indeed, the public perception of a writer is synonymous with glamour and the good life--based to a large extent on Hollywood productions.

I have been to my fair share of functions where readers and others have asked me about my "glamour life," including travels, other "famous" people I have met, size of house, new book deals, books optioned by producers, etc.

Admittedly, it is an easy conversation starter when you tell people you are a writer. Of course, it is easy to embellish the life of a writer, feeding into the listener's fantasies.

Or, as is often the case with me, you can be straight with people and tell them what it is really like for the vast majority of writers.

One thing I like to say is an old adage, "Writing is the loneliest job in the world." Yes, you can often find yourself surrounded by people over the course of life, but when you spend as much time writing as I do, you have to do it with solitude as your constant companion. It is really the only way to get things done and stick to a schedule of deadlines, rewrites and more deadlines.

My life as a writer in anything but glamorous. I spend 10-12 hours in my office every day, typing away on my computer, trying to finish a chapter or start new one. Or otherwise working on plots, characters, proposals, etc.

It is a decidedly unglamorous life that extends beyond my humble abode. I know lots of other writers and most also live a less than glamorous life. If only we could spend all our time sitting by the pool sipping cocktails in Maui. Or dancing at a hot nightclub amongst stars. Or moving back and forth between mansions we own. Or counting all the money coming in from mega bestsellers.

But the truth is that writing is hard work, harder to get rich and famous by, and not all that exciting, per se.

The good news, though, is that we can write about writers who live the good life and thereby live vicariously through them.

What type of glamorous life do you live? Or do you, like me, leave the glamour to others?

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm so vain ...

I believe that I am the only author in the Novel Spaces group who has solely self-published, so I feel that I should put my two-cents into the discussion about self-publishing.

A friend of mine picked up the proof of my soon-to-be released children's book, Trapped in Dunston's Cave, Book 3 of the Caribbean Adventure Series. She read the back and spotted the line that read "Published by CaribbeanReads Publishing".

"You found a publisher," she exclaimed, her voice filled with joy and relief as if I had won the lottery or discovered a cure for cancer.

"No, I am publishing under my own company's name," I replied, struggling to maintain my grip on my pride.

As a self-publisher I get this response all the time. Looks of sympathy cross the faces of would-be well wishers when they discover that my work was not snatched up by a big publishing name. I think that John Locke expressed my frustration well at some point in the tirade which is How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!

"When I invested my own money to start my insurance agency no one accused me of making a vanity investment. ... When Bill Gates and Paul Allen invested their time and money into developing code for the Altair computer, no one accused them of writing vanity code. But if Bill Gates and Paul Allen invest their own money to write a book, they’re no longer businessmen, they’re vain! ... How absurd is that?"

I agree that self-publishers have to blame much of this attitude on themselves because as was pointed out in some posts earlier this month, many don't do their homework, don't get their books edited professionally, seem not to have heard of a spell-checker. But the truth is that self-publishing is not easy and the market will eventually weed out the careless and the best of the crop will survive if we, the readers, let them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer's End

In one week, on August 17, school begins again. Besides teaching three courses, I’ll resume my role as chair of the Xavier University IRB. And, even though I have some time left before I actually return to campus, I’ve already begun working on syllabi and the myriad other things that have to be completed before I step in front of my new classes the first time. This means that summer writing is essentially over for me. I’m saddened by that, but happy to call the summer of 2011 one of my most productive ever. I finished a 31,500 word novella, “Under the Ember Star,” finished putting together a collection of my horror fiction at over 70,000 words called “In the Language of Scorpions,” which called for me to write several new stories, and wrote or started several promising stories outside of that collection.

An important element in my production was my Xavier laptop, which I brought home with me at the start of summer. In the last few years, because of a motorcycle wreck and just the sheer impact of aging, I’ve found it harder and harder to sit for long hours in my home office chair in front of my desktop computer. My legs begin to burn and tingle and cramp. My back starts to twinge. But this summer, I stacked up a backrest on my bed, slid my laptop on the ‘lap desk” that Lana bought me, and worked much of the time outside my home office. Ninety percent of “Ember Star” was written that way, and I actually wrote faster than ever before.

On Monday I hauled my work computer back to work. I hate packing and unpacking it every day so I left it there. Even if I tried bringing it home every night, I would inevitably forget it at some crucial moment. So, yesterday I got myself a new laptop for home. I wrote this blog post on it, leaning against the backrest on my bed. I bought one with a 15+ inch screen, and also got a better designed mouse. The bigger screen allows me to blow the font size up to make writing easier on my aging eyes, and the new mouse eases my clicking burden.

What does this all have to do with writing? My point is that our writing worlds change as we get older. They have to. I can’t put in the marathon sessions in front of a desktop computer that I used to. I need bigger fonts for my eyes and anything that eases the burden on my wrists and hands and the rest of my body. I’ve found that being flexible in where I write and in the tools I use has allowed me to maintain, or even increase, my productivity while still protecting my physical wellbeing. Since writing is a huge part of my life, that’s incredibly important to me.

I’ve never been a particularly picky writer, in the sense of having to have everything just so in order to get words onto the page. But I used to have a narrower range of locations that I could write well in. I’ve found now that, by using a laptop, I can arrange just about anywhere to suit my writing needs. I’ve also found, though, that my tools have had to get more flexible too. All I used to need was a blank screen. Now I need my tools to ease the burden on my body so that it doesn’t protest while my mind is creating. Fortunately, we live in a wonderful world where writing tools are concerned. The right computer, right keyboard, right mouse, right software is out there. You just have to find them, and it may require a bit of experimentation before you do. But you need to have your tools work for you rather than against you.

How about you? How have you changed the way you write over the years? Have you gotten more flexible? Less flexible? What could you do tomorrow to make your writing easier? Maybe it’s time to do it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The self-publishing option

Having published two books using the same traditional publisher, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am no authority on the publishing industry. In fact, I feel I know even less than before I was published. Why? Maybe the industry is filled with so many inconsistencies that I am confused. Or maybe, the industry is just constantly changing.

One of the biggest changes in the industry is the increase in self-published books. With the internet, the rise of e-books and the proliferation of e-readers, self-publishing has become much more attractive than a few years back. There are many advantages to self-publishing as well as many drawbacks. I will outline a few and you are welcomed to add (or dispute) as you see fit.

Advantage # 1: You publish what you want to write and retain the rights
Back in the mid 1990’s while in college, I worked for an author who was trying to get a work of non-fiction published. It was a book about walking from Manhattan to Bear Mountain. The author included a lot of little anecdotes about the history of the area and the changes in the area that he noted on each walk. He first submitted to traditional publishing houses. Several accepted but with changes to the manuscript. One of the publishers wanted him to remove the anecdotes and just outline the walking; another wanted the title changed. The thing is, the anecdotes made the book come alive. Without them it was just another boring “how to” book.

That author, in frustration, decided to self-publish. He was able to publish his story as is, anecdotes included. He retained all the rights to his books. And yes, back then he had an advantage. He was already running a small vanity press.

Drawback #1: You do all the work

Based on what that author went through I decided never to self-publish any book in my life. That author had to do everything. Editing (I edited that book and it was grueling); cover design; getting it to a printing press; warehousing, distributing and the author’s favorite nightmare, the marketing. The upfront cost was expensive. The last time I spoke to that author, some fifteen years ago, he had just broken even.

Advantage #2: you have a higher profit margin
Very true. But if the book doesn’t sell enough to offset your initial investment you still don’t make Jack. 100% of zero is still zero. Traditional publishing houses can spread the cost because they publish multiple books. In the case of my boss, he barely broke even a few years later.

Today, with print on demand and electronic books, self publishing does not require the warehousing, mass printing and the exorbitant upfront cost that my boss had to cough up. That means it is easier to make a profit. If you google “self-publishing” you see hundreds, if not thousands of self-publishing websites. For a small cost, many will get your manuscript published. Unfortunately, the onus is on the author to maintain the integrity of the work, making sure it is edited correctly. And yes the marketing nightmare persists.

Drawback #2: people still frown on self-published authors
Even today, many authors whose works are published by traditional publishing houses view self-published authors as second class wannabes. Many consider their work to be substandard (though that is not always the case). That is probably because traditional publishing houses are selective in the authors and work they choose while anyone with a few bucks and time to invest can self-publish.

So would I self-publish today?
Considering the ease of self-publishing today compared to the 1990’s, I will consider that avenue. But because I absolutely hate the business side of writing, I’ll have to exhaust the traditional route before I venture into the realm of self-publishing.

So what about you? Will you self-publish?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Authors, clean up your act.

I've got a bit of news for authors of all stripes: "Indie" publishing is not a free pass.

The new technologies make it possible for writers to bypass the gate-keeping functions of literary agents, acquiring editors, copy/line editors and proofreaders. Writers/authors can now offer their products directly to the customer in digital form. Say what you will about the traditional publishing model, the fact is there was some measure of quality control. The absence of these standards in the new model is proving disastrous to, if not the viability, then the integrity of self-published or "indie" e-books.

"I have to admit that part of the problem is the poor quality of so many ebook offerings ... of every 10 ebooks I acquire, I am certain that 8 or 9 will be trashcanned within the first 30 pages of reading."

...I’m complaining about authors who don’t see the value in hiring a professional editor, authors who think they can both write a compelling story and either self-edit it or hire the next door neighbor to give it the editorial once over...

Writers are jumping at the opportunity to do it all themselves: write, edit, design covers, market and sell. They are happy to do away with publishers and other middlemen, reduce costs and take a bigger piece of the royalty pie. My contention is that while many authors attempt to do it all, they seldom can do it well. Nowhere is this as apparent as in the egregious lack of editing in many, some say the overwhelming majority, of these books. The ones I've read, with few exceptions, are so rife with errors that I wondered what on earth the author was thinking. Even authors who have been previously published by traditional houses and who decide to go the "indie" route are guilty of putting substandard, hastily slapped together, unedited and un-proofread books up for sale.
  • Authors, when you do this, you disrespect the readers.
  • When you disrespect the readers you lose them.
  • Lost readers means lost sales.
  • When you sell substandard books you undercut the very platform that makes your "indie" venture possible.
  • Discerning readers will fall back on the names and houses they know they can depend on for at least some degree of quality control.
  • E-books like yours will continue to be underpriced because no one wants to spend more than a few cents on a product that has a 10-1 chance of being unreadable.
  • Reviewers will continue to discriminate against self-published e-books, and with good reason.
I'm giving some unsolicited advice to authors swarming to offer their e-wares to the public: Clean up your act. Have a competent reader proofread your book (at the very least) or have it professionally edited. Readers forgive a handful of errors in books, even in traditionally published print versions. A handful of errors on every page is unacceptable.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back to Basics

On impulse when packing for a recent vacation, I stuck into my suitcase a beginner's guide to writing fantasy that had been sitting on my to-read bookcase for years. I'm currently in the planning stages for two novels, one of which is a fantasy. I thought a review of the basics might dredge forgotten knowledge from the backs of closets and bottoms of drawers in my brain and bring them into consciousness again.

I was surprised to discover how many of the basics I had forgotten. For years, I had routinely read writing books and magazines to reinforce what I knew and keep it fresh. Somehow, sometime, I got out of the habit. I wanted to spend writing time writing, not reviewing basics. Bad idea.

As I read, I was even more surprised to find myself learning new things. Many Beginner's Guide to Writing [Genre X] are generic writing books with examples taken from the genre named in the title. Not the book I packed. It got right to business by analyzing why J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books were successful.  It then spent considerable time defining fantasy and its subgenres, with reader expectations for each and examples from many works from many decades, before focusing on specific aspects of writing fantasy. Many of the concepts and advice I had never come across before.

Soon, the book was sparking ideas for my fantasy novel. A more dramatic opening scene materialized. Then a twist on that scene revealed what the hero's quest would be and his core strong and weak traits. A villain appeared, with evil motives completely unknown to the hero. Luckily, a surprise traveling companion also showed up.  She does know what's going on—but she demands a high payment for helping him, and her morality is ambiguous.

There's still much I need to figure out about my characters and plot, but I came home ready to write the first few chapters. And I didn't have to do any work to shape them—I merely transcribed each new idea into my notebook as it popped into my head.

There was even lagniappe. I didn't come home with only a planned-out first quarter of my fantasy novel. I also have a page of scribbles for the characters and plot of a complete short story, also sparked by something I encountered in the how-to book.

Just think how much planning I could have gotten done if my husband hadn't insisted on seeing the sights and walking along the beach!

Dancers take lessons throughout their professional lives so that their skills continue to expand and grow. I think "continuing education" is good for people in all of the arts. I've heard some professional writers remark that they don't go to writing workshops or talks or RWA annual meeting sessions because they wouldn't learn anything. Perhaps that's true for them; I can't imagine ever knowing so much about writing that I couldn't learn more. So I plan to revive my old habit of reading writing books.

I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on August 21. See you then!

—Shauna Roberts

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Accomplished Life of author L.A. Banks - R.I.P.

I'm very sad to post the follow-up news to my previous post in June - that author Leslie Esdaile Banks passed away Monday morning, 8/2/11, from late-stage adrenal cancer.

Leslie penned over 40 novels and 12 novellas in her lifetime, and generated legions of adoring fans with her vampire huntress book series that she wrote under the name L.A. Banks.

Last year, she introduced the President of the United States at Arcadia University, which was surely one of her greatest memories.

Rest in Peace, Leslie! May your family and friends be comforted by beautiful memories and the unforgettable sound of your laughter. And here's to knowing that you left us so many of your literary gems that will live on forever! Job well done!!

Please visit her website for updates on funeral arrangements, and to read more about her life and phenomenal works, and to purchase her titles! Leslie Banks

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writers in a Strange (publishing) Land

[Full disclosure: I am an unabashed fan of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I want to say that up front because I'm going to be citing them as authorities in this column. I have always said I am a writer because Dean and Kris took the time to beat me sensible. Dean is for the most part an affable bear who's up for anything (his life is full of episodes that "seemed like good ideas at the time") while Kris is five-foot-nothing of absolute focus. They bring an uncompromising dedication to excellence in the craft and business of writing and their physically exhausting and emotionally brutal workshops will kill you. But you'll be reincarnated as a better writer. When you finish reading here, go explore their sites.]

Those of you familiar with my stance regarding vanity presses (which is to say intractable and unrelenting hostility and the firm conviction they are best dealt with using fire, salt, and a solution of 80% chlorine bleach) are probably expecting me to come out against indie publishing. That's because most people -- enthusiastically encouraged by the traditional publishing industry -- conflate the terms. Laura Resnick did a wonderful job of explaining the difference back in 2009 on the Novelists, Inc., blog.
To be clear:
1: My attitude toward vanity presses has become more distilled and potent in direct proportion to the rise in independent publishing.
2: Vanity and indie are completely different things.

Indie publishers who declare they've slain (or are in the process of slaying) the dragon of traditional publishing are at the very least overstating the case. The big traditional publishers are still earning billions in profits, so they're not going anywhere. While the writer going indie may have slain their personal rejectosaurus rex, they are not impacting the major houses to the extent they think they are. In fact, they're helping the big houses consolidate their ownership of traditional publishing; the guys getting hit the hardest are the small and medium presses that were barely getting by to begin with. In the past most writers started with Penguin or Simon & Schuster and worked their way down, eventually reaching the small presses. Now writers who bounce of the big houses go indie (or bypass traditional publishing altogether). To a small but significant extent indie publishing is helping WalMart and Tesco wipe out the mom-and-pops.

(In related news: Big-box traditional bookstores are getting out of the traditional book business. And I don't just mean Borders going broke. Our local B&N recently moved to a bigger store, nearly 50% bigger. They now sell DVDs, games, Nooks, and Starbucks coffee. Also some books. The have fewer books and less space devoted to book shelves than they did at their smaller location. Everyone's buying online. Independent booksellers are going under in droves. When you finish reading here, shut down the laptop, go to your neighborhood bookstore and buy a book. Pay full price. Invest in our allies. Or in yourself: independent bookstore owners will be more likely to display your PoD books if they already know you as a loyal customer.)

Up until a few years ago -- in fact, up until the beginning of this year -- some independent publishers were leveraging their independent success into lucrative contracts with big house publishers. Instead of submitting manuscripts, they were sending editors high-quality PoD trade paperbacks, complete with testimonial blurbs on the cover, sometimes with reviews by Kirkus or ForeWord if available, and always with a letter saying the writer was selling e-books and PoDs of the novel (no sales figures!) and stating the author would cease both if the publisher offered a contract. Today this clever marketing tactic is not good strategy for a writer's career.

Once upon a time traditional publishing contracts involved specific rights for set periods of time. For example American hardback rights until five years after the book goes out of print. The writer was free to sell rights to her work in Europe and Asia, negotiate separate contracts for paperback, audio, and e-editions, etc. And, if the publisher stopped printing the book, in five (or two or seven, depending on the contract) years the hardback rights reverted to the writer and she could market them elsewhere. Established writers and new writers who have the sense to hire an intellectual properties attorney rather than an agent can still get contracts like this; but they'll have to fight every step of the way. Because in the new age of electronic publishing, the big house contracts ask for global rights for the life of the copyright. (Writer's life plus 75 years.) That "out of print" clause is still in there, but only to distract the writer and lull her with a false sense of security; as long as the publisher carries the e-book in their catalog the book is "in print." (For some fascinating reading on publishing contracts, read the Passive Guy's educational series of blogs on the subject.)

Publishing contracts did not change because the big houses got meaner. Publishing contracts changed because the way information and intellectual content is disseminated and accessed has changed at a fundamental level. Publishers are struggling to regain the control they had five years ago (not likely) and retain their profits (very likely).

What should a baby-seal new writer do in this sea of orcas? Stay out of the water. As Dean Wesley Smith eloquently explains the publishing industry is undergoing so many fundamental changes there is no clear path forward. He predicts two years until the landscape will again be navigable, but admits that's a guess. What does he recommend we writers do while hunkered in our novel bomb shelters waiting for the storm to pass?

Go indie.

[Footnote: The above advice applies to novels. If you write short stories the market is wide open.]

Monday, August 1, 2011

Writers Walking on Eggshells

There has been a lot of interesting discussion about indie publishing lately. Novelists, Inc. has a powerful conference coming up that I'm going to have to miss this time. Unless things change in the next month or so, and then I'm going to break speed records paying the fee, booking a flight, and getting a room! So here are a few topics, and my humble stand on them:

  • Agents/Literary Agencies becoming publishers - Sensing that indie authors have realized they don't need agents, and to stay relevant (solvent), several respected agencies have announced new epublishing ventures. I see this as a conflict of interest. No way around it IMO. I would not be happy with my agent becoming a publisher.
  • Pricing - There are those who argue that free or .99 books devalue our work. Their stand is that we're communicating to readers that what we do isn't worth a decent (according to us) price. I say books have always been discounted, sold as used and remaindered in the traditional publishing business. I don't see how this is different, except authors are in control. So if your audience is willing to pay your price, then what does that have to do with other prices for ebooks? People who are fans of the Stephanie Plum series are going to buy it, even if another author is charging .99. If readers don't like a book, no price is going to get them to buy it (and not return it).
  • The indie publishing market is now flooded with crap - How is this different from any other time? Okay, so maybe it's just me, but I've seen floods of books before that sit gathering dust. Some of those were in bookstores.It only takes one bad book, maybe two if they're generous, for readers to stop voting with their money. And for them to tell their friends, "Don't bother." Readers will figure it out, trust them.
Finally, to the title of my post: in the old model authors walked on eggshells a lot. What do you mean, Lynn? Well, as a newbie author (back in the olden days) at RWA national conferences we were constantly reminded not to tick off editors and agents. Their time is precious, we were told. Don't talk to them in the elevators, don't approach them without an invitation. Be very careful not to offend them because the publishing business is a small world. You don't want to be that author who is the subject of the latest horror story being passed around at conferences, business lunches, and (egad!) on an agent's snarky blog. Now I understood the need to help authors with business etiquette, after all I didn't know a lot and was eager to learn. I abhor rudeness, and of course would never knowingly step on toes.

But somehow over time this morphed into most authors being treated as necessary nuisances (doormats), the low people on the totem pole who just had to take all kinds of crap and not respond. I even remember being told we had to understand of Editor A or Agent Z was having a bad day, even if it was our own editor or agent. We just had to grin and take it. "Be professional and suck it up", was the message. So a lot of us complied. Some grumbled about it (raising my hand here), but still followed the rule.

Bump that. I expect to be treated with the respect due a valued content provider. Like Miss Manners I would never stoop to reacting in kind to bad behavior (okay, sometimes I slip on this one), but I won't put up with rude, condescending behavior -ever-again. No author should. The reason publishers have books to sell (and make a profit on) is because you (authors, I'm looking at you) wrote a book that people are buying. The reason an agent is collecting 15% is because you wrote a book that a publisher paid for, and people are buying.

Now let me say I've worked with wonderful editors, and met respectful agents. So don't think I'm painting them all with the same brush. I won't detail the bad experiences, and some I've heard from other authors. I'm just saying that indie publishing has put us in the driver's seat as never before. Some of us traditionally published authors just aren't used this new role. Frankly, for a lot it's scary. Some have retreated to the comfort of having contracts and not having to think about covers, reading sales reports from various outlets (like Kindle DP and Pubit) and more. That's fine. There is no one way for us to get our stories out there.

But one new, and IMO refreshing, thing is authors now realizing they don't have to walk on eggshells when it comes to certain practices and behaviors in traditional publishing. Folks are speaking up in ways that would have caused gasps of horror just a few short years ago.