On limited purpose public figures #notchilled

For those who haven’t heard the background story:

Ellora’s Cave has been in the news much over their failure to pay authors, editors, and cover artists, while engaging in significant shenanigans. One of the people who has collated and distributed news about Ellora’s Cave’s failures is Jane at Dear Author, who wrote this post.

Jaid Black and Ellora’s Cave sued Jane for defamation over that post, which has caused an outpouring of support for Jane.

In response to aforementioned support, Jaid Black tweeted:

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That’s true if you’re a private citizen and people are talking about your private affairs. But in this country, we want to make sure that people have the right and ability to talk about matters of public concern, to express their opinion on them, and to speak freely without worry that their speech will be chilled. So if you inject yourself into an issue of public concern, you may be a limited purpose public figure–that is, someone for whom the standards differ.

This is not legal advice–I cannot give legal advice–but I set this out to explain what I am about to do next.

Continue reading

Dear Authors United: Stop being gross.

Note: this is a cranky-pants ranting that I probably shouldn’t post, but here we are.

I promise, I’m not going to be that person who fisks every last thing that a certain group posts. And I’m not going to do a line-by-line on the latest letter to come from Authors United. Nor am I the person who constantly defends Amazon (how could I? I have no idea what the heck is going on in negotiations, so I can’t even pretend to know who I should take to task or what they shouldn’t be doing).

But honestly, this latest letter by Authors United is abysmal. Here are the three sentences that stuck with me throughout the day, and in the worst possible way:

“We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China.”

The amount of cluelessness packed into those statements baffles and horrifies me. In one horrifically fell swoop, the authors of that piece imply  that it’s okay for people who create consumer goods to be deeply underpaid. They imply that books, and therefore by extension, authors, are special and better than everyone else around us. And they imply that authors don’t (and shouldn’t) come from China.

Me personally, I understand that I create entertainment. When it comes down to it, I think the single largest threat to my income does not come from the future or ebooks or Amazon–it comes from the possibility of a dwindling middle class, where fewer and fewer people have disposable income to spend on books. So I’m not going to say “Yes, I’m all for cheap consumer goods if it means other people suffer, but not when my livelihood is at stake!” That’s some grade-A bull right there. The best thing for me as an author is the thing that is best for my readers. My economic interests are tied very, very closely with theirs. And so I’m not going to assume that we “all” appreciate the fact that middle class jobs are disappearing in order to fuel my rapacity for the latest and greatest phone. I’m pretty sure we “all” don’t appreciate that.

Second, these words assume that the author is distinct from the person creating those consumer goods. I can pretty much guarantee you that somewhere in America, there is someone working minimum wage who ends every shift too damned tired to create. She has it in her–I know it–to write an amazing book. I want to read it. But being on your feet that many hours a day, constantly dealing with customers, doing the absolute worst that there is to do for minimum wage…that takes it out of you. I think it’s a bigger threat to our literary society that that person isn’t going to have a chance to write. Personally, I wouldn’t dismiss her like that. I wouldn’t act like somehow I’m better than her, and my income should be protected while I’m nonchalant about hers. The only thing that separates me from her is luck. I hope she gets a piece of my luck, because I’m grateful for it every day.

If you think she’s not lonely, that her feelings are less intense, that her struggle to make a living is unworthy and irrelevant…well, I don’t know what to say to you. I have worked crappy jobs. I have worked as an author. There are times it is hard to be an author. But despite those hard times, I never, ever tell myself I would be better off working at any other job in the world. The letter acts like authors don hazmat suits and risk our lives in the trenches. We don’t. We really don’t.

And then we get to outsourcing authors to China? Okay. I understand that the US tends to export entertainment by and large, but it might be useful to remember that the rest of the world exists once in a while. Proportionally, around 20% of the world’s population is from China, so if things were fair and the economy was global there would be 5 times more authors from China than from the US. (There would be as many authors from India as from China, too.) I can’t really understand why it would be bad if someone in China wrote a good book and readers here got to read it. That sounds awesome to me, and I don’t understand how more good books could possibly pose a threat to literature.

Oh, wait. That’s not what you meant to imply, was it? You weren’t trying to say that the Chinese could write good books. What exactly was it you were trying to say about Chinese people? They only produce cheap, shoddy knock-offs? They can copy Western literature, but they have no creativity of their own?

Yeah. I think that’s what you were saying.

My books are consumer goods. I believe this because they behave like consumer goods. When they have better packaging, they sell better. When there is increased word of mouth, they sell better. Sales are elastic with price. I don’t think it cheapens me or devalues my books to admit to basic reality: Books are consumer goods. I can complain about it, and say they shouldn’t be consumer goods, but we are not living in that reality. It would behoove us to stop pretending otherwise.

My livelihood as an author is best protected when the companies that distribute and sell my books understand that my books are in fact products, and try to maximize the amount of money made on those products. I do not feel devalued in the slightest by having someone understand economics and use that understanding to try and maximize my income. Nope; I am delighted that my current publisher takes the side of crass commercialism in the sale of my books, and I suspect that the Authors United folks who have a publisher doing the same feel the same way.

Nor do I think it devalues me or my work to say that my books are consumer goods. They are lots of other things, too: entertainment, insight, a way for a person in a hard place to get through an impossible day. Consumer goods can enrich and educate our lives, and they often do. But they are also still consumer goods. (My current publisher, despite being a hard-headed crass commercialist, also feels about my books much the same way I do. She does not insist I write the trendiest thing. She knows I am an artiste as well as a business woman, and sighs and accommodates me anyway.) (Heh.)

If I were to write a letter to the board of directors of a publicly-held U.S. company, I wouldn’t do something as stupid as telling them to avoid thinking about economic reality. I would hope that among the 900-something signatories, at least one person would have a basic understanding of corporate law–enough to know that the board of directors of Amazon owes the company and shareholders a fiduciary duty to maximize profit. They emphatically are not supposed to indulge in their own views about the feelings of art, nor are they supposed to see themselves as upholding a culture of elitism with a side-serving of thinly-veiled racism. They owe a fiduciary duty to the company. That means they are obligated to think about the economic reality first and second and third and all the way up through the last. You may not like that about corporate America, but it is what we have.

So why don’t we pretend this letter never existed? Quietly delete it. And then go and write a letter about good business practices and the fiduciary duty that the directors owe to the company. That, I suspect, will get read.

You’re authors. I’m sure you can think of something to say.

RWA Elections

Some people have noticed that I am running for the position of Director at Large on RWA’s board of directors. This is a brief blog post about that.

Why are you running?

Because people asked me to, and I decided that (a) I might have something to contribute, and (b) despite all outward appearances, I had not yet exceeded my capacity for whacking my head against a brick wall.

Why should I vote for you?

  • Because you generally like the way I think.
  • Because you think I need less time.

Why shouldn’t I vote for you?

  • Because you generally don’t like the way I think.
  • Because you generally do like the way I think, and recognize that if I am elected to the board, I will owe RWA fiduciary duties that will require me to maintain silence on issues relevant to RWA instead of mouthing off about them here or on twitter, and you would rather have me in mouth-off mode.
  • Because you notice that I’ve scaled back my workshop/traveling commitments in anticipation of extra work in 2015/2016, and you want me to come speak with your chapter (note: probably won’t work for more than one or two chapters.)

What is your agenda?

  • To promote the professional interests of career-focused romance writers in all ways that are legal.
  • In general terms, I’m a particular fan of increased transparency and increased inclusion.

If I vote for you, will you do everything I want?

Unlikely.

If I vote for you, will you do anything I want?

Maybe, if you want some of the same things that enough other members of the Board want.

If I vote for you, will you make all the decisions?

No, I’ll be one member of a large Board of Directors, which means there will need to be wide group consensus on any action RWA takes.

How do I vote?

You have to be an RWA general member in good standing. You should have received an email from RWA with a link to the ballot. If you didn’t, check the RWA website for more information.

Who else should I vote for?

There are no ogres on the ballot! Everyone looks great!

That being said, in terms of the board of directors, I do have to put in plugs for two people.

  • Tessa Dare is a very good friend of mine, a brilliant woman, a fabulous writer who has been extremely successful in an entirely different way than I have. (And also, we were both asked and we talked each other into running, but only so long as we did it together.)
  • Carolyn Jewel, whose technological expertise is second to none, who has a great combination of skeptical and open-minded, and who always makes decisions with data.

Will you be sad if you are not elected?

No. I will be faintly relieved.

Will you be sad if you are elected?

No. I will feel anticipatory weariness.

How to suck at typography

Over the last few months on twitter, I’ve increasingly seen people linking to covers of historical romances and saying something like UGH this does not look right!

Some of those covers actually have great underlying images. The problem in 99.9% of them is that the typography is…not good. There are usually three ways that people end up with typography that is not good.

  1. They are doing the typography themselves.
  2. They have hired the typography out to someone who is not good at typography (e.g., they have used a graphic artist to make the cover, but not all graphic artists are great at laying type.)
  3. They have hired someone who knows how to do decent typography, but insist on elements that are not good typography. In other words, the client is creating the problem.

This post is specific to historical romance. That’s because I’ve spent a ton of time looking at historical romance covers, and feel like I can talk about them with some reasonable authority. This post is nonetheless not intended to be authoritative, complete, or to serve as instruction for anyone putting together a book cover.

This is a post that is designed to do one thing and one thing only: Tell people things to do on their historical romance cover to make sure the typography sucks.

Without further ado, here are some of the most effective ways to suck (with suggestions as to how to not suck.)

1. Choose a crap font.

Bad typography: Crap font

This is the biggest one. I can’t tell you how many historical romance covers are ruined by crap fonts. Just about anything you got free on your computer or downloaded from some free site is going to be sheer crap, I’m sorry to tell you. And fonts that are great for the inside of the book–fonts like Garamond or Times New Roman–often don’t do well on the cover for name/title fonts.

As a note, what constitutes a “crap font” in historical romance is not the same thing as a “crap font” in another genre. For instance, Trade Gothic is standard on a number of thrillers. It would look ridiculous on a historical romance. Spend some time looking at covers in your genre to see what kind of fonts people use.

I actually don’t think that the typography above would be absolutely terrible for a certain kind of book.

A great font is not just a great font–it is also a way to brand yourself as an author. Don’t be afraid to spend money on an excellent font. It always annoys me when I see people whining that people won’t buy their book when it’s less than a cup of coffee, but they are unwilling to shell out $50 for an extraordinary font that would brand their books.

(My biggest problem with some of the less-expensive-but-still-professional-looking cover design shops is that they’ve figured out a typography combination that works for them and they keep using it over and over, regardless of the client.

End result? A look that is branded to the cover designer rather than the author.

But given a choice between crap typography and a non-branded cover, I’d say go for the non-branded cover.)

2. Use low-contrast color combinations.

image

Want people to be able to read your title and your cover? Well, don’t use red-on-red color combinations. This one is fairly easy to see, and yet I keep seeing things like this crop up on Amazon. I really have to wonder at people who put out books like the above. What are they thinking?

3. Use too many fonts.

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Using a small number of fonts allows you to create a cohesive feel to your cover. One or two fonts–three at the absolute maximum, and then only after careful consideration–is all that anyone should ever need to make a good cover. Too many fonts will distract the viewer.

4. Don’t pay attention to kerning

image

Kerning is about the spacing between letters. As a note, this is one of those places where a quality font really matters: a really good font is one where the designer has gone through and specified kernings for every pair of letters. That gives it a professional quality that requires less work on the designer’s part. The random font you got for free off of someone’s website? Probably has crap kerning, and you need to adjust manually.

See that space between the “T” and the “H” in the author name? It just looks weird. And unprofessional. Ditto for the space between the “D” and the “u.” If you look at all these letters, you can see that they subtly feel like none of them are properly aligned.

If you don’t know how to kern a font manually, you’re probably not someone who should be doing typography. If your designer doesn’t know how to kern a font, ditto.

5. Use font effects.

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You know what? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you have any doubts as to your ability to judge typography, you should not use font effects beyond a mild drop shadow. For historical romances, font effects are basically death. I include in this flashy color gradients, fonts on a wavy path, fancy texturing or beveling of the font… You name it, I don’t want it. Font effects are the opposite of tasteful covers. They are harder to read at best, and migraine-inducing at worst. The worst fug in the world comes from font effects.

DO NOT USE.

6. Use all the whizbang.

image

Yay, you spent a ton of money on an awesome font, and now you want to show it off. Your font has whizbang. So much whizbang! You cannot wait to show everyone all your whizbang.

Please restrain yourself. A few bits of whizbang are enough for any one cover. Too much whizbang is hard to read, and that distracts people from the cover itself. You are better off having no whizbang than too much.

7. Don’t balance your cover elements.

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This is actually a really, really subtle point–the typography above is actually not horrendous. But in this case, it has been centered with a computer and left like that. The end result is that it looks unbalanced. The “The” is hanging over the “Duke” and there’s a large gap that makes it perceptually look like it’s farther away (even though I have set the baselines of all three words to be equidistant). “Dukes” and “Cock” do not appear to be centered with respect to each other. And the elements are placed over the image without any thought as to what will draw the eye on the image itself–note that the eye is naturally drawn to that white spot right by the rooster’s wattles, and the text placement does not logically follow from that spot.

Typography is not just about placing elements over an image; it’s about bringing things together into a cohesive whole.

If you cannot tell why items 1-7 are not great examples of historical romance typography, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that does look GREAT on a curvy path!” do not do your own typography. You do not have the skills you need. In fact, you are the opposite of what you need, and you need to get out of your own way.

(It’s okay. Everyone sucks at something.)

If you look through a designer’s portfolio and see them using only cheap/free fonts with terrible kerning, do not use them. Et cetera and so forth.

Things you should do if you want to not suck

(Note: I basically banged all these images out over the course of half an hour, and now I’m looking at this and still want to fiddle–especially with moving around the title/author name–but since I am not, in fact, using this for anything except illustration purposes, I’m just going to leave it like this, even though I’d probably still make changes.)

image

 

1. Use typographical elements to draw the eye back to the image rather than send it away.

2. Pay attention to how typographical elements interact with each other–in this case, the “D” and the “C” in the title interlock with each other, and I’ve moved the “The” to give a sense of balance. Rather than having the swirl from the R intersect the middle bar of the “E” as in the above image, I’ve deleted the middle bar, so the elements flow together.

I do not pretend this is the best historical romance cover ever (for more reasons than one). But it is, at a minimum, not guilty of horrendous fug. And if you are nitpicking things about this cover, yay, congratulations, you may be nitpicky enough that you can do typography!

3. Use a great font sparingly. This font is called Desire, and it is made by Borges Lettering. It is the only font used on the cover for the last three images. (You can see that the font has a lifetime supply of whizbang, should you wish to use it–use with care.) You can get it here: http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/charlesborges/desire/

4. Make sure that the typography and the image interact well. Don’t cover over parts of the image that you want people to focus on; make sure you choose an image that has a lot of places to overlay font with a great color contrast. (This, by the way, is the primary driver of the “girl in a massive dress” cover–because the dress serves as a blank palette to overlay text on.)

All righty. That’s my short course on how to suck at typography. I’m sure I’ve left off a bunch of items, so please feel free to add your own tips in the comments!

Enhanced editions!

Hi everyone! The enhanced editions of my first five books–Unveiled, Unclaimed, This Wicked Gift, Proof by Seduction, and Trial by Desire, are now available–and they’re only 99 cents each through July 25th.

enhanced

If you want to know what an enhanced edition is, I explain it better here. If you have already purchased these books, and just want the additional content, you do NOT have to rebuy the book just to get it–I don’t believe in making people pay twice, particularly when they’ve been nice enough to buy the book in the first place. The enhanced content is available for free on my website here.

That is, I think, all that you need to know as a reader: you can get my earliest books, with more content, for 99 cents!

Here are buy links, for those who are so inclined:

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/enhanced-amazon
Barnes and Noble: http://smarturl.it/enhanced-bn
Google: http://smarturl.it/enhanced-google
Kobo: http://smarturl.it/enhanced-kobo
iBooks: Unveiled | Unclaimed | This Wicked Gift | Proof by Seduction | Trial by Desire

Authors, have asked me a lot more questions over the last few weeks, and so here are some answers to those questions.

Q. Why are you releasing enhanced editions?

A. Because I can. I know that sounds a little bit ridiculous, but let me put it to you this way–if you had a contract with a publisher for print-only releases, and the contract specifically stated that you reserved digital rights, would you put that book up as a digital edition? Of course you would.

That’s what my contract looks like with regards to enhanced editions. They specifically reserve the right to make enhanced ebooks to me. I had that right, and so I am now exercising it.

Releasing enhanced editions gives me control over pricing, covers, branding, promotion, and back matter. It also makes me more money.

Q. Are you the first person to release enhanced editions?

A. Nope! Publishers have been putting out enhanced editions for years. And authors have self-published enhanced editions before, too. I’m aware of two other authors. Christina Dodd has put out enhanced editions of her Lost Hearts series, with deleted scenes and author commentary, and Cherry Adair has put out enhanced editions of a number of her books–with more material in them than I can possibly list here.

I’m pretty sure that Cherry Adair, like me, is putting out enhanced editions while her publisher still holds an exclusive license to the underlying unenhanced text.

Q. Specifically what in your contract allows you to do this? Can I do this, too?

A. There are two parts to my contracts that allow me to do this. The first is the following statement in the Grant of Rights section of my contract:

(d)  electronic use of the non-dramatic unenhanced verbatim text of the Work, excluding video use (whether in a now known form or hereafter discovered) … Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Agreement, electronic rights shall be limited to the display of the text in the Work and shall not include any moving images, sound or any interactive or multimedia elements.

Incidentally, give my agent, Kristin Nelson, a hand for drafting an extremely clear statement. If she’d just left it as “unenhanced verbatim text” or even limited it to “multimedia elements” we might have had to argue about what “multimedia” and “enhanced” meant. As it is, the line about “sound” gave me a really, really clear out: As long as I included audio, I was outside the rights I had granted to my publisher.

The second is something that is not in my contracts, and that is a noncompete provision of any kind.

I don’t know if you can do this. You’ll have to look at your contract. I’ve mentioned here the two things you’ll need to look at–the grant of rights section and…uh, the rest of the contract. In the grant of rights section, you need to look and see if you are only granting rights to the “unenhanced” text, or if you reserve “multimedia” rights or something along those lines. There are probably a thousand different ways to word the reservation, and so there’s no magic language I can tell you to look for.

There are also a lot of authors out there who don’t have an enhanced reservation at all. I’m pretty sure that Harlequin series boilerplate, for instance, will not allow this.

Whether you can do this will depend entirely on what you and/or your agent negotiated.

Q. Will you look at my contract and tell me if I can do this?

A. No, sorry. That’s a job for a lawyer, and I’m not licensed to practice anywhere at the moment, and don’t want to get you in trouble.

Q. Are these self-published?

A. It depends on what you mean by “self-published.” If you look at the publisher listed on the vendor websites, it will say “Entangled Edge/Macmillan.” That’s because I have a distribution arrangement with Entangled Publishing, who in turn has a distribution arrangement with Macmillan.

Why do I have a distribution arrangement with Entangled? I wanted to make sure I was falling under the safe-harbor laid out in my contract–meaning I had to include audio. Self-publishers cannot publish books to Amazon or Barnes and Noble with audio in them, so I have a distribution arrangement with Entangled to send them out.

I produced the files and covers entirely on my own, and granted Entangled a nonexclusive license to distribute them. [ETA: As a sidenote, I asked Kristin to negotiate that agreement as well, and she made sure we stuck to the points we needed to most protect me.]

I could have gone through someone like vook.com to distribute–but I’m getting a much better deal this way.

Are these self-published? I bore all the costs and work of producing the files, so in that sense, yes. Are these distributed through normal self-published channels? No. They are not.

Q. Are you worried that your publisher is going to sue you?

A. Not really. We’ve kept them in the loop throughout, and they’ve had the chance to raise objections before now, which they have not done. My contract is really clear on this point, so they don’t have grounds to sue me. And they’re not unreasonable.

That being said, my budget for this project included a phantom legal fund. Just because something’s extremely unlikely doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

Q. Are you worried that someone is going to get sued over enhanced ebooks?

A. Yes, which is one reason I don’t want to look at anyone’s contract (I mean, aside from the fact that the unlicensed practice of law is generally frowned upon). There are potentially tens of thousands of books out there that have an enhanced ebook reservation in them.

I think that there’s a huge opportunity here for authors, but I also think there is a huge risk involved, and I want to emphasize the risk in addition to the opportunity. I think there are very few authors who are positioned as well as I am: on the one hand, my contract is from my limited experience unusually clear on this point; on the other hand, I have legal resources available to me that are, to say the least, uncommon.

Q. Are you worried that your publisher is going to be unhappy about this?

A. Not particularly. But if I were still publishing with them, and wanted to continue publishing with them, this would not have been a particularly prudent course of action.

Q. Where did you get the idea for this?

A. From Joe Konrath, at the end of this post. And yes, I’ve known that I could (and likely would) make enhanced editions since before I self-published my first work. I’ve been planning these ever since April of 2011.

Any other questions? You can ask me in the comments. (I may be in and out quite a bit today, but will get to comments as I can.)

RT’s Giant Bookfair

Yesterday was RT’s Giant Bookfair. It was easily the most intense signing I’ve ever been at. Authors rubbed shoulder to shoulder (literally), books taking up all available table space, with a line of readers that snaked through much of the building. The waits were immense.

Some self-published authors are talking about one specific thing: that is, the separation of authors into two rooms on the basis of criteria that would not have been obvious to readers. Authors who were selling nonreturnable books–typically, authors from digital-first presses and self-published authors–were selling books on consignment, whereas the other books were being sold by a bookstore.

(For those following along at home: Most authors know what is meant when we say a book is “returnable,” but readers probably don’t. So just to make it clear, many publishers make their books available to bookstores on a “returnable” basis. That means the bookstore can order in 20 copies of a book to see if it will sell well. If it does, yay for everyone! If not, the bookstore can send back the copies they didn’t sell for credit. They do this to convince bookstores to take a chance on authors without having to take an enormous risk. From a book fair perspective, it could be very expensive to order nonreturnable books that are not sold at the book fair. There is little other avenue to sell those books–so ordering those books, and having to eat the cost of them, could easily make a bookfair unprofitable, and then we wouldn’t have them at all. Instead, authors with nonreturnable books bring those books on a consignment basis.)

That meant that the authors needed to bring those books, have them checked out, determine the sales of books afterward, and fill out paperwork as to how they were to be paid. I believe RT handled those sales. By contrast, a bookstore was handling the sales for the books that were returnable. At the RT Giant Bookfair, for administrative ease, authors with nonreturnable books were put into a separate room. This saves a little time because then RT staff would automatically know if an author needed to be checked in/checked out. From the reader perspective, I believe that these books had to be paid for separately, too. (I didn’t go through the paying lines and so cannot say for a fact that this is true, but I’ve heard it more than once now.)

(Another not-so-sidenote: I refer to this as a “separation” because that is in fact what it was. I do not think it’s appropriate to use civil rights language to describe what happened. There is a difference between business arrangements that are entered into voluntarily, and irrational, debilitating animus that is based on immutable personal characteristics. Also, there is a difference between separating people on the basis of irrelevant facts like race, and separation on the basis of legitimate, administrative reasons. It’s really uncool to appropriate the struggles of minorities to describe a voluntary choice to get 70% royalties on digital books. I don’t really want to have that debate, though, because I have Been There Before and it Rarely Does Any Good. So I’m putting my thumb on this particular issue: I reserve the right to disemvowel comments that go there. If you want to engage in appropriation, you can find other venues to do it.)

This separation was not explained well to readers or volunteers–unsurprisingly, since most readers/volunteers don’t really know or care whether the books they buy are “returnable” or not, since that’s a distinction that matters only to the bookseller.

Naturally, people made up their own explanations for the divide. Rumor has it that someone claimed that the authors with returnable books were “real authors” and that the authors who were selling their books on a consignment basis were “aspiring authors.” As far as I can tell, this appears to have been one misinformed volunteer, rather than the official RT Convention description. It was not something that I saw or heard, and I do not think it was widespread.

Several readers had difficulty finding me because it was not made clear that there were TWO giant rooms full of authors, and while there was a list stating what room each author was in, if you’re looking for 15 authors, it gets confusing to plot out a course between them unless you sit down and plan everything right from the start. The end result was that a division made on the basis of administrative ease led to chaos and confusion. It meant that it took readers much, much longer to navigate the Bookfair and find the authors they were looking for, and even longer to pay for those books.

While I understand the administrative reasons that gave rise to the separation, the end result was hurt feelings for authors, and–far more importantly–confusion, hassle, and hours-long waits in line for the readers who had come to this event to get signed copies of books from their most beloved authors.

I hope RT will strongly consider the possibility that a separation based on administrative reasons that are not immediately visible to readers created more difficulties than it solved. One possible solution is to scrap the consignment system and have authors with nonreturnable books sell their own books directly, using something like Square.

Despite these administrative issues, I still really enjoyed the signing. I sold every book that I brought. I met many people I had only interacted with online, and others who have just read my books on their own. Thanks to every reader who came to find me, to the wonderful authors sitting next to me who took this whole thing in good humor, and to the RT volunteers and staff who put in a tremendous day of work to make a signing of 700 authors come together.

Can we talk about black women in stock photos?

Trigger warning for racism.

I’ve talked before about how I make covers for my books.

http://courtneymilan.tumblr.com/post/73371595545/where-do-your-covers-come-from-the-images-models

The basic idea is this: (1) I go on stock photo websites, (2) find pictures of women in wedding dresses, and (3) modify the dresses in photo editing software. Voila, a cover.

The most time-consuming step in this process is (2)–finding a photo that will make a good underlying cover. It’s not easy. You need someone who doesn’t have a silly expression on her face, whose pose is interesting and makes the viewer wonder about her. She should match the description of the heroine in the book. If I’m doing a series, the pose needs to match what I’m doing for the other books in the series. Since these are wedding-oriented, I have to discard a good portion of them because the women are wearing or holding things that are incompatible with a book cover photo–things like veils or massive bouquets. I have to look through about 500 or 600 photos for every usable picture I find.

Luckily, there are tons of pictures of women in wedding dresses on stock photo sites. These are very often pictures that are designed for women to look at, because everyone wants to sell a bride something. The dresses are beautiful. The lighting is often just a little ethereal, which is great for a historical romance cover. And the photos are all taken with a certain view in mind: to send women the message that they are beautiful, that they deserve to look pretty and deserve to be happy. (We can talk about the bridal industry and beauty standards and all that jazz…but not today.)

Even with that said, it probably takes me 2 or 3 hours to find a good photo. This is something I do at night, when I’m too tired to do more taxing work. It’s relaxing to just thumb through photos.

Or it was until I started looking for photos of black women.

There are 107,151 pictures tagged “bride” on shutterstock.com for all ethnicities. (If you don’t add “all ethnicities” on there, you get substantially more photos–but I’m not going for exact statistics here, just a hand-wavy feel of things.)

You can also search by ethnicity (assuming the photos are properly categorized in the system).

Here’s the breakdown (and, no I didn’t make up these ethnicities, so let’s not try to parse this too much):

  • African: 57
  • African American: 444
  • Black: 222
  • Brazilian: 2
  • Chinese: 1,783
  • Caucasian: 77,536
  • East Asian: 2,704
  • Hispanic (Latin): 1,572
  • Japanese: 1,592
  • Middle Eastern: 1,235
  • Native American: 41
  • Pacific Islander: 102
  • South Asian: 1,614
  • Southeast Asian: 2,077
  • Other: 3,484 (Not scientific, but at a first guess, many of the brides in the “other” category appear to be white.)

Of course, there is some overlap between these categories. Some photos show up in both the “African American” and the “Black” ethnicity tag. And as you might imagine, some photos are tagged as all possible asian ethnicities. But you can see what I’m driving at. 107,151 photos of brides on shutterstock, and less than 723 of them are of black women. That’s 0.6% of all the available photos, and that percentage looks even worse when you remember that shutterstock is a global site, and many of the contributors are not from the US.

That disproportion is troubling.

But let’s talk about the kind of photos you can find on shutterstock.

Some of the photos are absolutely lovely.

shutterstock_100026020 (1)

Attribution: Deborah Kolb, shutterstock.com

Like this. (I used a picture of the same model, different pose, on the cover for Talk Sweetly to Me.)

So don’t get me wrong–there are adorable pictures up there, and yay for that! But there are a lot fewer pictures over all than you’d expect from population proportions. And while 0.6% of the photos of brides are black, the pictures of black brides are disproportionately less likely to be ethereal pictures of beautiful women.

There are more photos like this, where you can’t actually see faces.

shutterstock_152429537

 

attribution: John Warner, shutterstock.com

Those are relatively innocuous.

There are also more photos that look like this:

shutterstock_108557000

Attribution: nostalgi1@mail.ru | shutterstock.com

Don’t get me wrong. She’s beautiful. But she is also wearing substantially less clothing than your average woman who walks down the aisle. This is not a photo that is designed to make a woman think about the joy of looking beautiful on the special day when she gets married to the man of her dreams; this is a photo that’s designed to attract the male gaze.

And then there are photos of black women wearing wedding dresses that have no counterpart in all the 77,000+ photos for white women. I’m talking about this:

shutterstock_90214876

 

Attribution: Rob Byron | shutterstock.com

I do not have enough NO in the world for this. Fuck this shit.

Even if that last image did not exist (and it does), it doesn’t change the fact that there are disproportionately fewer pictures of black women in wedding dresses, and a smaller percentage of that tiny number intend to send the message that black women deserve to look beautiful and be happy.

And that’s horse shit, plain and simple.

 

Jackie Barbosa’s “Can’t Take the Heat”

Last night, I read Jackie Barbosa’s novella, called Can’t Take the Heat.

This is a beautifully written, emotional, sexy novella about Delaney Monroe, a firefighter, who broke up with her fiancé, Wes Barrows, three years ago when he couldn’t handle the dangerousness of her job. She suffers a traumatic injury on the job and–since she’s never updated her medical paperwork–Wes is the one called to her side in the hospital. When she awakes, she’s lost all memory of their breakup.

Now, I know what you’re thinking about amnesia books. You know how this is going to go: They’re still attracted to each other, she doesn’t know the truth, sexy times happen and she gets mad when the truth is revealed. That’s what a second-chance-amnesia story is, right?

Wrong. I love what Jackie does with this trope. I enjoyed the immediacy of the writing and the emotions in the first part of this novella, but there’s a point about half way through when something happens–something that I wasn’t expecting, because it’s not how second-chance-amnesia stories generally go. It was something that changed the story from enjoyable to flat-out lovable. The story is both sweet and emotionally devastating. The side-characters are fully fleshed out.

The only bad thing I have to say about Can’t Take the Heat is that I wish I had the next book in the series to read right now.

If you want to get a feel for what I mean by “immediacy” in this story, go read the prologue on Jackie’s website. After I read that, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep until I finished the book–that’s how utterly gripping it was.

You can get this book here: All Romance eBooks | Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo |Smashwords

This post is part of Blog About Jackie’s books week.

I’ve known Jackie since I first started writing, many many years ago. She was part of a little group of not-yet-authors who were new to writing, and who are now multi-published authors who have written historicals. Jackie has been a friend and a support to me. Our debut New York published books came out within a year of each other. I was devastated to hear that she’d lost her teenaged son, and heartbroken for her.

If you have a chance, please consider donating to, or letting others know about, the Julian Fraire memorial fund, which is being set up in her son’s name.

A little something for Jackie Barbosa

Author Jackie Barbosa recently lost her teenage son in a terrible car accident. No parent should ever have to live through this, and you can imagine how devastating this has been for her. Online, there’s no way to make someone a casserole or take her flowers, but there is something we can do to help ease her burdens and to send her the message that she is supported in this time: that is, for a short space of time, to take over the burden of talking about her books.
Between March 21st through Monday, March 31st, we’re asking people to talk about Jackie’s books. You can find a list of her books here: http://www.jackiebarbosa.com/books/. Your support can be as simple as a post to your Facebook page or twitter stream, or as long as a lengthy discussion of a particular book on a site. You can blog about a specific book, or just choose one to mention. Let us know about the post by e-mailing me at contact@courtneymilan.com. We’ll update this post with links on a nightly basis.
Reviews are always welcome. Given the occasion, however, if you post a negative review of Jackie’s books, please don’t ask us to link it here–we want to make sure that it’s a safe space for her.
We would also appreciate it if you’d link and/or donate to the scholarship fund being established in her son’s honor, the Julian Fraire memorial fund.
Thank you all so much.
(note 5/26, I’ve just discovered that I only previewed the updates, but did not  save them. Eek. My bad!)
Here’s an incomplete list of links. I haven’t been able to capture them all, and I’m not linking to individual tweets (because it would be unwieldy). If you want to be added to the list, e-mail me above:

 

Traditional versus self publishing: official death match 2014

On twitter the other day, Smart Bitch Sarah remarked that it’s sad that the discussion about ways to publish has turned into an official death cage match where each side has to sneer at the other. There are enough people on both sides of this debate who do that. I try not to. Sometimes I fail, because I don’t give enough disclaimers.

For a number of reasons, a lot of authors who are traditionally-published and curious about self-publishing talk to me about their careers when they’re up for contract renewal. Over the last 2 months, that number has been extraordinarily high—I think I’m up to 11 right now—but if I count over the last…three to four years, I’ve probably talked to dozens and dozens of authors. These range from people with print runs big enough to send a book to everyone in entire cities, to people with mass market print runs that are under 10K.

Believe it or not, I really do not push any of those people to self-publish. There really are benefits to both sides. (Although, fair warning, I have been known to say things like, “Holy crap, that advance is ridiculous, you’re worth more than that.”)

This blog post is for people who are traditionally published and who are thinking about self-publishing. It’s not intended for people who have not published yet. (That’s not to say it’s irrelevant to the unpublished; just that that is a slightly different ballgame, and one I’ve never had to play.*)

I want to note at the outset that a lot of this sounds like I’m assuming it’s an either/or question. It isn’t.  I know and respect plenty of people who do both, and more power to them! I personally don’t write fast enough to do both effectively. I could traditionally publish a little on the side or self-publish a little on the side…or I could just go for broke. So while there is no theoretical reason why anyone has to make a choice, writing speed and career demands pose a practical limitation on me, and other authors as well.

This is a really, really massive blog post. Some caveats: my experience skews towards romance. I have made a personal choice about what I do, and it’s gone really well for me. Even though I try to be evenhanded I’m sure where I come from colors what I say. Take this all with a grain of salt.

With that being said, if you find yourself in an official death match between traditional and self-publishing, here are 11 points you should consider.

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