Archive for the ‘publishing’ Category

Digital Strategy in Historical Romance

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

If you think that a publisher’s main job is distribution, and that distribution is a button press on the internet, you’re wrong, and I hope to demonstrate that today with some vague (yet convincing!) handwaving.

I don’t intend this post to be one about the merits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but instead to be about the merits of having a digital strategy versus not having a digital strategy.

A little over a month ago, Publisher’s Weekly released a list of the bestselling ebooks of 2012. They used words like “jaw-dropping” to describe the numbers that are being racked up. I thought there was something jaw-dropping about that list, especially when you perused the historical romance offerings, and it wasn’t the numbers on the list.

I went through and I pulled out all the numbers for historical romance authors. I did that because that’s my genre. It’s not the hottest romance genre at the moment, so there aren’t a lot of authors racking up numbers in it, but it does sell steadily and respectably. Here’s handwaving, part I: I had to rely on my own name/title recognition to determine if a title was a historical romance, and I’m not perfect; and also, these numbers are self-reported by the publishers, so there may be errors or titles that were not included. Nonetheless, I did see representation on the list overall for all the romance houses (with the exception of Kensington), so my assumption going in is that this is a pretty decent list of NY-published books.

Here are the historical romances I pulled out, with digital sales numbers attached.

A Night Like This, Julia Quinn (Avon) 66,192
The Ugly Duchess, Eloisa James (Avon) 59,333
The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae, Stephanie Laurens (Avon) 55,093
The Duke is Mine, Eloisa James (Avon) 47,983
Sins of a Wicked Duke, Sophie Jordan (Avon) 46,687
A Week to be Wicked, Tessa Dare (Avon) 44,792
A Rogue by any Other Name, Sarah Maclean (Avon) 44,380
A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James (Avon) 42,624
Winning the Wallflower, Eloisa James (Avon Impulse) 40,954
Never Seduce a Scot, Maya Banks (Ballantine) ~38,600
Seduced by a Pirate, Eloisa James (Avon Impulse) 34,516
A Lady Never Surrenders, Sabrina Jeffries (Pocket) 34,290
The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor, Stephanie Laurens (Avon Impulse) 31,027
Never Love a Highlander, Maya Banks (Ballantine) ~30,200
The Lady Risks All, Stephanie Laurens (Avon) 29,100
Seduction of a Highlander, Maya Banks (Ballantine) ~28,400
The Fall of Rogue Gerrard, Stephanie Laurens (Avon Impulse) 26,466
How the Marquess was Won, Julie Anne Long (Avon) 25,980
The Duke and I, Julia Quinn (Avon) 25,640
Devil’s Bride, Stephanie Laurens (Avon) 25,229

I bolded the outliers so you could see the pattern.

Avon has always been a force to be reckoned with in historical romance, so maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but cripes, that’s just embarrassing. Pocket has one book on the list. Ballantine has three, but they’re all from the same author (and she’s a massive force to be reckoned with–her non-historical romances sold even better). And there are imprints that are simply not registering on the historical romance radar–St. Martins, Berkeley, HQN, Mira, Grand Central.

Has it always been like this? To find out, I performed Handwaving part II. Which is to say, I went through USA Today’s top 100 list (Why the top 100? Because I’m too lazy to do 150) from February 2010 to August 2010–that is, in the times when digital was selling in much smaller amounts–and made a list of all the historical romances that hit the list at that level. Again, this relies on my ability to recognize historical romances when I see them, so there’s the potential for human error.

Here’s that list (no particular order, since I don’t know what being #18 on the list in one week means in comparison with being #13 in another week):

The Truth About Lord Stoneville, Sabrina Jeffries, Pocket
The Elusive Bride, Stephanie Laurens, Avon
Taming the Highland Bride, Lynsay Sands, Avon
Ravishing in Red, Madeline Hunter, Jove
Nicole Jordan, To Tame a Dangerous Lord, Ballantine
Dark Angel & Lord Carew’s Bride, Mary Balogh, Dell
The Hellion and the Highlander, Lynsay Sands, Avon
Provocative in Pearls, Madeline Hunter, Jove
The Marriage Ring, Cathy Maxwell, Avon
An Impossible Attraction, Brenda Joyce, HQN
In Bed with the Duke, Christina Dodd, Signet
Monica McCarty, The Chief, Ballantine
Amanda Quick, The Perfect Poison, Jove
Victoria Alexander, Desires of a Perfect Lady, Avon
Sarah MacLean, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, Avon
The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly, Signet
Johanna Lindsey, Rogue of my Own, Pocket
Seducing an Angel, Mary Balogh, Dell
Rule’s Bride, Kat Martin, Mira
A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior, Suzanne Enoch, Avon
Never Less Than a Lady, Mary Jo Putney, Zebra
A Lady Never Tells Lies, Candace Camp, Pocket
Hannah Howell, Kentucky Bride, Zebra
A Secret Affair, Mary Balogh, Dell
Married by Morning, Lisa Kleypas, St. Martins
Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn, Avon
A Gentleman Always Remembers, Candace Camp, Pocket Star
If He’s Wild, Hannah Howell, Zebra
Johanna Lindsey, That Perfect Someone, Gallery
Jane Feather, Rushed to the Alter, Pocket
Lisa Kleypas, Love in the Afternoon, St. Martins
Stephanie Laurens, The Brazen Bride, Avon
My Dangerous Duke, Gaelen Foley, Avon
Jude Deveraux, Days of Gold, Pocket Star
Eloisa James, A Kiss at Midnight, Avon
Loretta Chase, Last Night’s Scandal, Avon

Avon was still doing well in 2010–they have 33% of the historical romances on the list–but two years ago, they weren’t ridiculously dominant. Now, like I said, this is handwaving. So ignore the 33% number–numbers here are vague notions, and highly error prone. Let’s just concentrate on the general trend.

Which is that Avon is kicking everyone’s ass today, and they weren’t two years ago.

So…what on earth is going on? Here are a few obvious things to consider.

The top authors on the list of digital bestsellers are Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Stephanie Laurens. All three of those authors have books on that list of bestselling digital titles of 2012 that were not published in 2012. Specifically, Julia Quinn has “The Duke and I,” which is the first book in her Bridgerton series. Eloisa James has “A Kiss at Midnight,” the first book in her Fairy Tales series on the list. And Stephanie Laurens has “Devil’s Bride” on the list, which is the start of her Cynster series. In other words, Avon is not just trying to push the author’s latest release–they’re pushing the author’s latest release by bringing in new readers with older books that are tried and true.

Both Eloisa James and Stephanie Laurens have multiple Avon Impulse titles on the list–novellas that came in at low price points and allowed readers to try a new author at a low price and a lower investment of time. I didn’t see low-priced novellas from other houses until near the end of 2012, and by that time, the 99 cent novella was so commonplace that it wasn’t selling in significantly greater numbers than other books.

Not insignificantly, Avon was one of the few major NY houses in 2012 that was publishing historical romance and experimenting with pricing strategy.

Finally, Avon developed a method for getting the word out about changes in pricing strategy–they didn’t just drop the price and expect people to notice.

All of this comes down to one thing: if you think that all publishers do in digital is press a button for distribution… Well, for some books, it certainly looks like you’re right. But a publisher that thinks about publishing as a strategy rather than a button, a publisher that uses an author’s entire output to move books will do much, much better. Dominantly better.

When the rewards are somewhat evenly distributed among publishers in 2010 and are sharply skewed come 2012, it’s not the individual authors that are at fault.

Publishers other than Avon: What the heck are you going to do about this? Because you just got schooled, and that’s embarrassing.

As a note: I suspect that some people at those publishing houses, if they saw this, would say, “We have a digital strategy, but we just choose not to employ it for all our authors–just for the super-duper awesomely important ones, the ones that are major events, and an author who just barely nicks the New York Times List is not on our register.” That may be true, but if it is…why would any of those authors bother with you for their next contract?

As a final note: I’m aware that there are a lot of books that are not on this list that sold over the requisite amount. We’ve got nothing from Montlake, and I’m darned certain that Montlake has a handful of historical romances that have easily oversold not only the 25K mark, but the 66K mark that represents the top of the charts. We’ve got nothing from self-publishers, and I know from personal experience that there are self-published books that would land on the charts. I’m not sure Kensington or Sourcebooks reported. So these numbers are limited. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear to me that employing a digital strategy on behalf of your authors kicks the pants off of having no apparent digital strategy.

So, that whole “legacy publishing” thing…

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

You may note that I haven’t used the words “legacy publishing” to talk about traditional publishers.

There’s a reason for that. I don’t like the term.

Look, I get why some people are using the term. And I understand that the point of using the term “legacy publishing” is that it conveys instantly what you think of traditional publishers: that you think they are old, inefficient, and outmoded. I could argue until the cows come home about whether traditional publishers are old, inefficient, and outmoded–get a bunch of authors together, and we talk about almost nothing else.

I’m still not going to use the term.

Here’s why. Imagine someone came up to me and said, “Courtney, since you write romance, I assume that you’ve sold out the One True Writing of Sad Books for crass commercial happy endings. Only whores sell out, and so from here on out, I’m going to call you Whore-tney.”

I would be pissed off. I would not want to debate whether writing happy endings was selling out, or discuss the merits of literary fiction versus romance–all very interesting discussions. I would want to beat the crap out of the person who was calling me a whore.

I would not feel better if the person said, “Look, it’s just a point of semantics–we both know what I mean when I say ‘Whore-tney’ so I’ll just keep calling you that, and you know that by using the name, I’m referring to you.” I happen to already have a name, a perfectly good one, that so far serves to differentiate me from others. I don’t need a new one, one that has an extremely negative context.

Imagine the person goes up to my friend and says, “So, I think Whore-tney made an interesting point the other day. What do you think about it?”

Do you think my friend will want to honestly debate the pros and cons of the argument? No, she’s going to say, “Stop calling her Whore-tney, or I will rip your eyes out.” (Probably not that. My friends are more gentle.)

Vocabulary matters. Vocabulary that is chosen to insult people–particularly when you state that “legacy publishing” does not mean “non-self-publishing” but “publishing in a way that I like instead of a way that I do not like”–has an effect: it immediately closes down conversation with people who do not agree with you.

Now, if you intend to do that, fine. But I don’t. If I use the words “legacy publishing,” I’m implicitly insulting all the people who are involved in it–not just editors and publishing house executives, but friends of mine who have decided it is in their economic best interest to continue to publish with their traditional publishing houses. I’d like to talk to those people about pros and cons. I’d love to debate it.

I don’t want to walk up and kick dirt in their face over a fine point of semantics.

As it is, we have lots of perfectly fine vocabulary words that describe different kinds of publishing. So here are the words I will use to describe various kinds of publishers:

“Traditional publishing” which can be split into “New York publishing” and/or “big publishing,” “small presses,” and “digital first publishers.” I’m not sure where Amazon’s new publishing arm fits in to all of this; they may be a different beast altogether, or they may just be a particularly rapacious branch of digital-first publishing. They are probably a cross between a small press (they give advances) and a digital-first publisher, but I am unsure. Nonetheless, I am unstymied by my immediate inability to classify them. Since they seem to be one of a kind, I shall just call them “Amazon” for now.

Some people would not put digital-first publishers under the traditional publishing umbrella. Surely they do not qualify as legacy publishers.

Then there’s “agent publishing”–a relatively new beast, and I fear a contradiction in terms, but alas.

And then there’s “self publishing” which can be of the “agent assisted” variety.

Now I’m aware that the word “traditional” in traditional publishing is not without moral valence. Traditions are good! Traditions are like turkey and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving! Traditions are warm and comforting! But traditions are also kind of stodgy–and people have been using that word for a while now.

There. I’ve managed to use words to refer to things without using insults. I feel that etymologically, I can refer to everything.

Now, I’m willing to talk about all the ways that big publishers are getting things wrong–just as I’m willing to talk about how Amazon’s new imprints may be getting things wrong, or how small presses get things wrong, or how self-published authors may be getting things wrong. But I don’t want to send people the message that in order to engage in me with conversation, you must start from the presumption that I am right and you are wrong.

That’s what you do when you’re trying to piss someone off, not when you’re trying to talk with them.

I don’t imagine that I’ll change anyone’s minds (or vocabulary) with this post, but I do think it’s important to push back on the assumption that it’s a good idea to insult people.

A rant about goals

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Here’s the thing. People are different. Very different. What works for one person doesn’t work for another.

Today I saw, for the fourth time in a week, someone saying to someone else, “You shouldn’t make a goal of getting published. You should only make goals that are in your control. So, you can make a goal of ‘I will finish my novel,’ or ‘I will submit this for publication,’ but you can’t make a goal that you will get published.”

Excuse me while I put on my cranky pants.

Why not? True, if you make goals that are outside of your control, you might be disappointed, and that’s too bad. But what the heck is the point of a goal? If the point of having goals is to be motivated, you need to know how you work. If you are the kind of person who gives up (or who is set back) when you face disappointment, then yes, make rational goals so you can cheer yourself on.

Me, I’m not. If I fail to make my goals, I shrug, because I know they contain an aspirational element. But my goals are there to motivate me, and let me tell you, back before I was published, I was not motivated by the prospect of sending fifteen queries to agents. That would have been a sucky goal for me, because it meant nothing to me. I didn’t want something I could check off a box so I could feel like I was making forward progress. I wanted something I could strive for. It wasn’t the prospect of submitting my book to a publisher that made me stay up until 3 AM some of those mornings, polishing scenes.

My goal was that I wanted to be published (in fact, my goal was more irrational than mere publication). Was this a goal that was in my control? No. But I worked like hell for it, and for a damned good reason. That’s how I work. That’s how I motivate myself. For me, setting piddly little goals that are in my control feels like… an office job. “Today, I will send five letters.” This does not motivate me.

Pfft. Today, I will do everything I can do to make my dreams come true, not chase down some arbitrary predetermined thing that I know I can do. (True confession: I see little point in making a goal of doing things that I already know I can do. I realize people differ, which is why I’m good with people who make rational goals–I just don’t want them telling me, and people like me, that what they’re doing is crazy. Of course it is crazy–but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.)

I have goals for the future that are insane–I know I will never get them. I have goals for the future that are somewhat possible. I can’t think of a single thing that I call a “goal” that is readily doable.

So, seriously. Don’t edit other people’s goals by telling them they aren’t good goals. And if someone is editing your goals, and it feels weird, just tell them to get out of your hair. I’m not saying that you have to write your goals all irrational-like, like me, but for heaven’s sake, if your goal is to get published, and someone tells you that’s not a good goal, the proper response is: “Why not? It’s what I want.” And don’t let them push you around. You know you better than they do.

Rant over. For now.

On self-dealing

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Sorry I have been absent. I handed in a book early this week, and I have been playing catch-up ever since. This blog has long been neglected, and it is only getting unneglected today because I am going to say something I shouldn’t say.

There is an unspoken rule in publishing that you should not criticize publishing professionals. I am going to criticize publishing professionals, and I am going to do it because I think that what is happening is wrong and unethical. Some of the people I am going to criticize, I will say in advance, I have heard glowing things about–marvelously awesome things–and so please keep this in mind. Even marvelously awesome people do things that cross ethical boundaries.

The Association of Author’s Representatives has a canon of ethics, which states (among many other things): “Members shall not represent both buyer and seller in the same transaction.”

The basic idea is this: If you advise someone, and you are in a position of trust, you should not compromise that position of trust by steering them towards options where what you want and what they want do not coincide. For instance, a financial adviser should not steer her clients to invest in a company owned by her brother-in-law: The clients just want to make money, but the financial adviser is emotionally involved with the company, and perhaps will not be able to emotionally separate herself from the prospect of helping her brother-in-law get his company off the ground. Even if the financial adviser believes she is operating on a perfectly rational level, and is willing to invest her own money to get the company off the ground, she can never be sure that her emotional involvement does not color her picture. The end result is that to avoid any appearance of ethical lapses–and to protect herself from emotional influences that are so subterranean that even she can’t detect them–a wise adviser avoids such issues entirely by never, ever steering clients towards investments where she, or her loved ones, will profit personally.

The same is true for agents. An agent is an author’s most zealous advocate. She fights for every aspect of her clients’ careers. A great agent monitors print run, coop, marketing. She pushes for foreign sales. When you go back to contract, she asks for more money, better royalty rates, a bigger push in marketing. An author trusts her agent explicitly–and it’s easy to do so, because an author and an agent have interests that are wholly aligned. You want to make more money as an author; your agent wants to make more money as an agent. She gets 15% of what you get. Her interest is your interest: to sell as many books to as many people as possible.

When we were deciding between publishing houses, my agent helped lay out the pros and cons for me of all my options. We talked about our biggest worries with each one, and I believed that she was pushing to get the very best offer we could from every house, so that I could make an informed decision. I knew that she wanted to get the best for me, because (a) my agent is the kind of perfectionist who would never let anything stop her, and (b) it was never in her interest to do anything else.

This stops being true if your agent is either a publisher herself, or is so intertwined with the publisher that you cannot distinguish between them. And, sadly, this is the second time this year I’ve seen agents who have morphed themselves from agents. The first is Lori Perkins, whose clients are sold to a publisher in which she holds a financial interest, Ravenous Romance. Lori Perkins has explained that she doesn’t take a commission on those sales to Ravenous from her clients–but all that this accomplishes is that now she truly has no financial interest in doing what is right for her clients. She has no interest in fighting for an extra 2% royalty rate, or a higher advance for her clients, because now she isn’t even getting paid for that.

The second is the Waxman Agency, which recently announced Diversion Books, an electronic press. Diversion Books has already published books written by Waxman Agency clients. And I have to ask: Really? If your agency owns a publishing house, do you really think you won’t be biased–just a little–in negotiating contracts with your clients? Will you really be able to tell your clients, “Yes, I think that it’s best if you publish with us, versus a more established e-publisher like Samhain?” without having the teensiest bit of bias? Can you evaluate your chances of success–logically and dispassionately, the way you would for an author choosing between publishing houses? Will you fight yourself for the best royalty rate? Will you be asking hard questions of yourself? If you produce a horrendous cover, will you call yourself up and say, “Honey, no. We have to lose the mullet,” or will you be the one to placate the author? Can you really wear both those hats?

Don’t get me wrong. I have several friends who have Holly Root of the Waxman Agency as an agent, and they universally sing her praises. I have heard nothing but good things about her. But for me, this would be an instant deal-breaker.

I don’t think these people mean to screw their clients. I honestly believe that the Waxman Agency really does think that this is, in fact, a good thing for their clients, an additional opportunity that their clients can avail themselves of. None of the people I have named are bad people. None of them are perfidious jerks, trying to do their clients wrong. But all of them have put themselves in the way of temptation. They have complicated straight-forward interests. And smart people who zealously represent their clients don’t do that. That’s the point of rules of ethics: to steer you away from temptation, even the ones that are so subterranean you might not recognize them.

I understand that publishing is changing and that the role of agent will see revamping over the next few decades. But the one thing I can say for sure is this: If the role of agent morphs into the role of publisher, the person needs to stop calling themselves an “agent.” If there is anything–anything at all–that stands in the way of an agent zealously representing her client, that person has ceased to be an agent. They may be a publisher. They may be a full-service book-packager with editorial add ons. They may still be something very valuable in the publishing world–don’t get me wrong–I understand where all of this is coming from. They may be visionaries in publishing.

But what they are not doing is zealously representing their clients’ interests. If there is any financial issue that stands as a roadblock between your client’s best interests and your own, you’re not 100% an agent any longer, and that is a problem.

So, what do I think you should do about this, if you’re looking for an agent? My best advice is to look for an agent who is a member of AAR. The Association of Author’s Representatives has a smart canon of ethics. It’s not a guarantee–there are always liars, or people who bend the rules–but look for someone who values that canon.

I know that this post is not going to make everyone happy. I’m sorry for that–but the truth of the matter is this. If you’re going to pay someone 15% of your work, you deserve full value for your money. And someone who is conflicted about that–or is willing to enter into such conflicts–in my mind is not worth the price.

On Entitlement

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I know. I still owe you the third part of my discussion about copyright and the internet. In my defense, I have to think to write it, and at this moment all spare brain cells (all three of them) are devoted to writing books. In the broader sense, this is good for me and you, but not so good for my discussion of copyright.

But I have something to say about entitlement, and I don’t even have to think about it to write it down, so here goes.

In the last handful of weeks, I saw an instance in which an agent accused a writer of “entitlement.” The agent in question is Lori Perkins; the post is here if you are interested. I mention this, but I don’t mean to single out Lori Perkins in this post as the sole source of bad behavior; there were a number of people who have done similar-ish things in the past that have grated on my nerves. This is just the one that pushed me over the edge.

In any event, in the post in question, this agent labeled a writer as “entitled” because he sent two polite inquiries about a partial sent out in July. One inquiry was sent in November, at which point he was told that he would get a response sometime in December. The second inquiry was sent in February.

“Entitlement” is one of those words that has a certain morality embedded in it by implication. That is, if you say someone is “entitled,” in modern times we mean “this person is acting as if they are owed something, when they in fact are not.” In other words, when we say someone is “entitled” we usually mean that they are falsely entitled. Leaving off that modifier in regular speech means that certain things often go unspoken. That is: if you say someone is “entitled” you should also explain what is false about their sense of entitlement. Because there is nothing blameworthy about someone acting as if they are owed something, when, in fact, they are owed something.

In this case, the gentleman in question had not heard anything on the pages he sent to the agent for over six months. He did not insist that the agent in question read them instantly; he asked instead for an update on his status, and was roundly berated for that. And I just want to take a step aback and say… wait, what? In what sense is a person ever not entitled to ask about partials sent at the request of an agent, and not answered? How is asking for a status update, in a polite manner, ever indicative of a false sense of entitlement? And what does it say about the agent in question, that she thinks that the author did not deserve even this bare courtesy?

So let’s start with the basics. No, you are not entitled to be a diva. You should not expect agents to drop everything to meet your every need, before you’re signed as a client–but we’re not talking about that kind of person. We’re talking about the average writer. We’re talking about someone perhaps like the gentleman featured on Lori Perkins’s blog, or maybe someone like you.

You wrote a book. You submitted it to an agent. Now you’re getting a little worried. Maybe your book isn’t there yet. Maybe your characterization is not zipping. Maybe your plot could be more original. Maybe your query letter has a howling clunker in it. Maybe it does. The last I checked, those things didn’t turn you into a piece of granite, unworthy of basic human civility. And an agent–a good agent–knows that even if this book isn’t there yet, you might move on to book #2 or #3 or #4, and one day, your book will be there. In any event, at a bare minimum, you are one of the very few people who had the courage and stamina to write a whole book.

You are entitled to someone who thinks of you as a potentially valuable asset, who starts off what might be a long, profitable relationship with a sense of professionalism and respect. It is not too much to ask that if an agent says she will get back to you in ten weeks, that at the end of ten weeks you can send a status update asking for more details. And if she responds, “I haven’t gotten to it yet; give me another month,” it is not completely beyond the pale to ask for another update several months later, and if that person fails to respond that time, to e-mail her boss to see if she is still around. You are entitled to civility and professionalism.

You get what you see with agents. If someone doesn’t treat writers with respect on her blog or on twitter, chances are she doesn’t magically morph into someone who treats her clients with respect once she signs them. And yes, you can tell. My agent? She respects writers–even the ones who aren’t there yet. You can tell from her blog, and the effort she goes through to educate people about the query process and the business of publishing. She’s not the only one. Take the late, lamented Miss Snark (aka Janet Reid, aka the Query Shark). She respects writers, too, and you can feel it, even though her tone is quite different. Nathan Bransford? Ditto. Jim McCarthy? You betcha.

Want to know how to judge an agent? Pay attention to how they make you feel as a writer. And anyone who makes you think you’re an insignificant worm, and you’re falsely entitled merely because you think you deserve common courtesy?

Run away. Run away now.

Because if there’s one thing you are entitled to, it is an agent who thinks you have something to offer her.

Read Between the Lines

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion about Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. For those of you who don’t know, the cover of her book depicts a big-eyed white (some think Asian) girl with long hair, when the main character of her book is black with short hair. Naturally, she was upset. But I’ve seen several people say that if Larbalestier was so upset about the cover of Liar, she shouldn’t have said she liked it first.

I’m a teacher, so I’ve written letters of recommendation.  For some students, I have no difficulty writing good things.  But 66% of the people who have asked me for letters of recommendation have been in the bottom half of the class I’ve taught.  Some never came to office hours or asked a question in class.  “I’ll write you a letter,” I would say dubiously, “but is there anyone who could write you a more enthusiastic letter?” (sidenote: Every single one of those people said, “No, there isn’t. I need you to do it.” That sound you hear is my heart breaking.)

I have also read literally hundreds, if not thousands, of letters of recommendations. I have read only one letter that ever contained bad things about a student.  (“John,” this extremely famous person wrote, “is a whiny baby. He makes appointments and never shows up to them. I told him I wouldn’t recommend him, but he listed me on a form and now career services keeps badgering me. I wish him ill.”)

The rest of them, though, are not necessarily helpful to the student. I know this, because I have written those letters. I am entirely positive.  I am also entirely truthful. I tell people in advance that if they have other options, they should use them, and I will do my best… The letter may say good things, but when the good things it highlights are trivial (“I love Lisa’s hair ribbons! They brighten my class!”), it doesn’t do much to recommend the person’s intellectual capacity.

Authors, talking publicly about their covers, are the same way.  An author cannot honestly say, “I hate my cover” in part because she doesn’t want to hurt sales and marketing’s feelings, and also in part because even if she hates her cover, she doesn’t want to point out the flaws in it to anyone who might otherwise buy the book. Saying “hate my cover” is akin to saying “Don’t buy my book.”  So what an author does instead of voicing her discontent, if she is honest, is praise the hair ribbons. And that’s a significant tell.

Here is an enthusiastic recommendation of a cover: Justine Larbalestier talking about her Australian cover. Here is what Justine says about her Australian cover for Liar:

I love it more than I can say. It captures the book so perfectly. I asked for something spare, iconic, cool and dark. Possibly a typographical treatment. Bruno exceeded my expectations by miles. I keep staring at it cause it makes me so very happy.

Notice how three of those six sentences start with “I.”  “I love it more than I can say.”  “I keep staring at it cause it makes me so very happy.”  The rest all talk about her feelings about the cover as well: “It captures the book so perfectly.”  “Bruno exceeded my expectations.”  This is a real, positive recommendation from an author.  She loves it.  She keeps staring at it.

Now let’s take Justine’s post on the U.S. cover. It’s a little longer, and needs a little more decoding, but notice what Justine never mentions:

This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue. Front of the catalogue! One of my books! Pretty cool, huh?

Translation: Sales likes it.

Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover. In fact one girl said she thinks the US cover of Liar is the best cover she’s ever seen! Wasn’t that sweet of her?

Translation: Other people besides sales like it.

It was designed by Danielle Delaney the genius responsible for the paperback cover of How To Ditch Your Fairy. Have I mentioned that’s my fave cover I’ve ever had?

Translation: I’ve liked other covers that this artist has done.

Here’s hoping this cover helps Liar fly off the shelves in North America!

Translation: I at least hope we get hair ribbons, because if this cover doesn’t sell books, it’s doing nothing for me.

Nowhere in this post does Justine say she likes the cover.  What she says is very careful weasel-wording, disguised as an endorsement, when in fact she very carefully doesn’t say a word in support of the cover.  Not one sentence begins with “I.” Instead, she mentions a lot of other people who like it.  Next time an author talks about her cover, pay attention to what she doesn’t say.  If she doesn’t say “I love it!” she probably doesn’t love it.

For the record: I love the covers for both my novella and my debut novel. This is not intended as self-referential in the slightest. I love my covers. When my publisher sent my cover for Proof, I printed it off and wrapped it around another book just to see what it would look like (Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile A Beast, by the way, for good luck.) And it looked fabulous. I wanted to buy it right then and there.

Automagic Multiple buy links

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Apropos this lovely wordpress plugin, which generates multiple purchase links for blogs in a pop-up format, I am reminded that I came up with a somewhat similar implementation for my website.  You can see it in action on my bookshelf page, right under the heading for “This Wicked Gift.”

Goal: Have links to a number of different websites so that users can purchase books from the vendor of their choice, instead of funneling them into one or two options.

Here’s how you can use the same thing on your website.  Caveats: You need a website that runs PHP.  (If your website can run wordpress, it can run PHP.  These days, almost everything can.)

Here’s what you need to do (after the jump).


DRM hurts publishing

Friday, May 15th, 2009

It was easy to give away copies of Tessa Dare‘s Legend of the Werestag.

  1. I bought three copies from My Bookstore and More.
  2. I asked the winners what file format they wanted.
  3. They told me. I downloaded the file from Samhain Publishing in the requested format, and sent it on to them.

Why could I do this? No DRM.  If Samhain had used DRM on their files, I would not have been able to host a giveaway on my website.  Samhain would have lost three sales, and a tiny portion of my itty-bitty spotlight.  DRM doesn’t prevent piracy; pirates can crack any form of DRM in about five seconds, and they have no compunction doing so, because hello, they are pirates. They eat DRM for breakfast. There isn’t an e-book format out there that can’t be cracked, and once it’s cracked once, the now DRM-free format can be served up on pirate sites.

So what does DRM do?  It makes it impossible for law-abiding people to make legitimate use of files that we purchase (one legitimate use: creating buzz about a title by hosting a giveaway).  DRM doesn’t stop piracy. It stops legitimate purchases.

DRM is the equivalent of trying to prevent teen pregnancy by teaching kids the rhythm method: Not only does it not work, but teaching it is counter-productive.

A quick reminder: It is still “Love your DRM-free Werestag” Week!

Special squeetastic edition!

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I’ve voiced this theory before: all my friends really can get published.  I know it sounds insane, for those of you who are trying to get published.  You know that there are only so many slots in publishing, and a multitude of eager authors slavering at the bit for every one of those places.  It’s a hard, hard world we live in as authors, and reality is grim.  And it may appear to you at first glance to be a harshly competitive world, one in which authors are secretly at each other’s throats wanting to tear the competition down while there’s still a chance.

But reading–and book-selling–doesn’t work that way.  There aren’t enough slots available for everyone to get published, but there are more slots available than you have friends–many more slots.  So you, and your friends, can all get published.  Now everyone, and everyone’s friends, cannot.  But there’s no reason to think that your friends are your competition.

Case in point: Two years ago, Avon ran a contest.  I entered that contest because I heard about it on Eloisa James’s bulletin board; I continued to enter that contest because of the fun and camaraderie that I found from the participants on that bulletin board.  There were 14 of us, and we banded together to critique each other’s entries, to give out virtual hugs when mean comments were made, and to celebrate each other’s successes.  We ended up calling ourselves the Chocolate Mafia.  Not all of those 14 women went on to try and write full-length romance with the hopes of publication.  By my count, I think only 9 of them did.  (I think.)  Of those nine, five now have publishing contracts: Tessa Dare, Sara Lindsey, me, and — as of a handful of days ago, Maggie Robinson and Tiffany Chalmers.

Here’s the deal announcement for Tiffany’s debut, HIDDEN BEAUTY:

Tiffany Chalmer’s debut historical romance HIDDEN BEAUTY, in which a gently raised Victorian English beauty is sold by her debtridden husband into a harem, then purchased by the Marquess she’s always loved but now must reject for the safety of her young son, to Monique Patterson at St. Martin’s, in a pre-empt, in a three-book deal, by Helen Breitwieser at Cornerstone Literary (World).

And here’s Maggie Robinson’s PARADISE:

Maggie Robinson’s PARADISE, in which an honorable man in the market for a virtuous wife must address the complication of his late Uncle’s ward, who he discovers was also his late Uncle’s mistress, the subject of an erotic book called The Education of a Young Lady of Doubtful Virtue and the woman who makes him forget all his good intentions, to Kate Seaver at Berkley Heat, in a nice deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2010, by Laura Bradford at Bradford Literary Agency.

Congratulations, ladies!  And squee!!!! I cannot wait to see these books on the shelves.  Remember, all your friends really can get published.  It’s not a competition.

Dear Amazon: WTF?

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

This last weekend, Amazon removed sales rankings from a number of products, namely erotic romances and basically anything that had to do with gay people, and made many of those books damn near impossible to search for, too.

What the rationale was for this, I can’t say.  But it makes me sad and angry.

Thing that makes me angry #1: The books that have been censored by Amazon include Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, and Alex Beecroft’s False Colors–none of which could be considered even remotely pornographic or obscene.  These are books about gay people, not books about gay sex, and censoring these books contributes to, and is indicative of, one of the worst and most invidious forms of discrimination against gays: the sexualization of gays, treating everything that has to do with gay people as if it has to do with sex.  It doesn’t, and this makes me so angry that I could spit.

Thing that makes me angry #2: Censoring books just because they happen to be about sex.  The books I write would not fall under Amazon’s censorship ban–today–but if I fall silent about it now, might they one day?  Perhaps.  But even if nothing will ever happen to me, things are happening now to people I consider friends.  My good friend Jackie Barbosa–who writes lovely, sensual, emotional romances which happen to also be erotic–whose first print book, Behind the Red Door, is scheduled for release on June 1–used to show up on Amazon when you searched for her name, “Jackie Barbosa.”  Now she doesn’t.  Do a search for her name, and you get “product not found.”  And she’s not alone.  Hundreds of books have lost their sales rankings and have simply ceased to exist when you do an Amazon search.

It’s as if these people don’t exist, as if they are no longer persons or authors to Amazon.  You wouldn’t type in the name “Jackie Barbosa” if you weren’t looking for Jackie Barbosa–who or what is this censorship trying to serve?  If you know who Jackie is, it’s not “family friendly” for Amazon to pretend she doesn’t exist.  And I’ve seen Jackie work so hard for her print release, and I know that this book is good–so what is it going to mean if people can’t find it?  Its sales, for her, are crucial in determining what happens for her future career.

This is barbaric.  It’s dehumanizing.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach.  Amazon, WTF?


Lady Chatterley’s Lover has been deranked.  Fanny Hill has been deranked.  Books about lesbian parenting have been deranked.  Mein Kampf has not been deranked.  Books about training dogs to fight have not been deranked.

I do not think that Mein Kampf should be deranked, or that books about dog-fighting should be either.  I think this demonstrates the dangers of going down the dark path of censorship.  Even if you don’t care about erotic romance or GLBT books, this should make you feel sick.  What if Amazon had decided that they didn’t want to offend Jews by offering them books about Christianity, and they deranked the King James Version of the Holy Bible, or Pope John Paul II’s In My Own Words?  What if they didn’t want to offend Obama supporters and deranked Bill O’Reilly?  What if they deranked the Koran so as not to make children think about terrorism, and deranked all holocaust books because some people think it didn’t happen, and deranked The Origin of Species because people don’t agree on evolution?

Part of being a free society means that we are sometimes going to see things we do not agree with.  It is a blessing, not a weakness.  And it’s not okay just because it happens to someone else.

I am strongly, firmly, against all content-based restrictions imposed on book browsing, purchasing, and buying.

Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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