The Lyons' Den

Home of author Brenna Lyons. Join Brenna as she waxes poetic...or rants and raves.

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Location: Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States

What do you get when you have a child writing seriously at the age of 7 and competing at the age of 11? A woman raised in an inner-city DMZ, weaned on too many nights of watching classic Chiller Theater until the wee hours of the morning with no parental guidance? Someone who is rumored to have picked locks to libraries to get her reads in? You end up with the Susan Lucci of e-publishing, the president of EPIC, and a driven, sleep-deprived author of fantasy and horror, straight genre through romance, dark romance, and erotica, poetry and articles. You find a woman who narrowed her college degree choices based on a comment a teacher made about her becoming "the perfect auditor or the perfect thief." And, you probably find a woman who is rumored to have once incited a mutiny...by accident. With degrees in accounting and computer programming, backgrounds in everything from teaching to clerking, tracking fraud suspects to working for the Air Force and the Navy as as civilian, it's strange irony that Brenna Lyons will become best known for her first love...writing. Brenna is an active member of EWAG, BroadUniverse, EPIC, WRW, ERWA and TELL.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Does Karma come in cycles?

There are days when you really have to wonder if karma comes in cycles...and you really have to hope that it does...for some people.

Today was a good day. I'd put the finishing touches on second draft for a novella and had two novellas ready to go into the computer for third draft. I'd written about 12,000 words of new work in the last two days, 8000 of it yesterday alone. That puts you in a really good mood...a really good place for a writer.

Then someone gave me a link that shows recent entries for your name on blogs. I found a handful of really nice ones I'd never seen before. Then I found the one that made my blood boil and darn near undid all my happy thoughts.

There are some people on the web who are somewhat of a contradiction unto themselves. They scream about their rights and the sanctity of their copyrights. They can quote the laws of copyright front and back. They refuse to acknowledge case law on the subject, even when presented with it, because it doesn't always support their narrow view of the law as stated on the copyright site...then...

As I said, I was given a wonderful link (http://www.technorati.com/) to see if you appear in the blogs of others. I found one that abuses my copyright, posted BY an author who screams the loudest about his own rights. He knows the laws. He quotes them, shouts them, screams them out. Then he has the nerve to take portions of list posts from other authors off of a list serve (all of which are copyright to the original author of the post) and post them to his blog. The reason? Since he's been proven wrong on many of these points on list, he just feels the need to strike back in the only childish manner he can (I would assume). Never mind that he's breaking the very laws he demands people uphold for him.

One can only hope that such two-faced arrogance comes back to bite him in the arse.

Note to all of the newbie authors out there. From the moment you record something IN ANY MEDIUM (voice recorded, typed into the computer, onto paper, or hand-written), it is copyright to you. Though you need to copyright it with the office before filing suit, it is still your intellectual property.

Never forget that even list posts are copywritten material. IF you take a post from a list and send it onto another or repost it verbatim somewhere else without the permission of the original poster, you are breaking copyright law and the TOS of nearly every online system. That means you can be kicked off of every list on a system and face legal action.

Here's hoping that karma comes in cycles? Mr. Loudmouth may feel good about himself tonight, but I'm hoping that tomorrow bears sweeter fruit from those of us who have had our copyrights trampled on by him.

Brenna

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

How do you do it? That way lies madness!

How do you do it? How do you write? Longhand or on the computer? What time of day? How long per day? How many words per month? I've never really understood why authors ask each other these questions. Why?

Okay...let's look at it. Why does it matter how I write? No, give me a compelling reason why it matters. I'm serious. .... You can't, can you? And, you shouldn't be able to.

There is a vast difference between studying the intricacies of the final story on paper and studying how I get those words there in the first place. There is a vast difference in asking my opinion for what to look for in an edit...or even edit tools that help you find errors and asking how I personally edit (on the computer or with red pen on printouts).

What is the difference? One is a tangible thing that can be used by many people. The other is internal to the individual author and is unlikely to be able to be copied or adopted by another en totum.

Truth time! How the words flow for me will not match how they flow for you or for Nora Roberts or for Stephen King. Each of us have our own brain functionality, home life, experiences, etc. For some people, the words flow in a noisy room with children playing at their feet and pen and paper on their laps. For others, those words flow on the train to work, in the coffee shop with an Alphasmart, or when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet. Some people cannot see their errors and need to hear them with ReadPlease. Some need crit parteners, and some find crit partners annoying. Whatever your brain demands of you to get the words on paper and edited, however the words flow without driving you crazy, you need to do it.

This is one of the reasons I hold writing classes and writing craft books in low esteem. That probably sounds strange, considering the fact that I teach classes, but it's really not. Many writing classes or craft books try to give you a template for writing a book. You do your story arc, outline, write this way... Bull! Not everyone, as I stated, can think that way. Such endeavors are only guaranteed to drive a pantser author absolutely bonkers.

There is no template for writing a book. There are no rules for how the words flow for you. They come how they come, and a smart author follows them...THEN hones whatever they have on paper in a manner that won't drive him/her crazy.

Writing is TYPICALLY a solitary art, though there are those who write as part of a couple or group. That is how their mind works, so they go for it. Writing is a solitary art, BECAUSE it is highly unlikely that two minds will be able to work so closely in synch as to allow the authors to follow the same regimen. Even Rodgers and Hammerstein worked separately and only came together at crunch time.

In addition to driving yourself crazy trying to do something that isn't natural for you, comparing yourself to other authors has another down side. Prolific authors often intimidate authors who aren't. It's not that they mean to do it, and the ironic thing is that the prolific authors usually understand something that the slower authors don't.

Quantity and quality have not even a passing resemblance, though some people will try to tell you that they are inversely correlated. Some people write quickly and well, some quickly and badly, some slowly and well...and some poor soul out there with the dream but not the talent or drive will write slowly, carefully and badly all in one fell swoop. How the words flow for you is the only thing of importance. Trying to force yourself to match someone else's output will only make you crazy. Okay...it will make your quality suffer, because ANYTHING you do that forces the words to come a different way than they are intended to is going to change your quality.

I should pause here to say that SOMETIMES enforcing artificial framework on yourself is a good thing. Some people just want to put pen to paper then get frustrated when the story doesn't come together. For them, they are not actually born pantsers, but they don't know how to be a plotter. Teaching craft does have merit AS LONG AS the teacher or book takes into account natural inclinations as well. The ones that don't are the ones that make me leery.

So...where does that leave us? The words flow for you how they flow for you. If you write quickly with pen and paper in a noisy room, you're happy doing it, the words are flowing, and what you're coming up with isn't absolute crap, DO IT! But, don't try to adopt someone else's style or compare your daily output to theirs. That way lies madness.

In service,
Brenna

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Suffering for your art?

Recently, a rather well-known male mystery writer made several tacky comments about women writing. I won't give this yahoo the benefit of mentioning his name, thus giving him more promotion, but I did want to give my gut reaction to what he had to say.

In short, Mr. Mystery seems to feel that women aren't serious writers, that the Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Romance, etc. genres are fluff, brainless, not worthy of award. He also states that women aren't serious writers and are not willing to suffer for our art as men are. According to him, men are serious writers, and women aren't.

I hardly know where to begin, considering how flawed his comments are. I seem to find a lot of comments like this to rebut, but this one is especially dear to my heart, since it comes from the most blatant misogynistic streak I've encountered in YEARS!

Let's take his comments one by one, shall we?

All women-centered fiction is brainless fluff, not worthy of awards... I believe that was the first comment that caught my attention. Well, that just goes to show that Mr. Mystery doesn't read the genre. That shouldn't surprise anyone. It also shows that he's firmly stuck in the pecking order crap. I'd even go so far as to say that he's part of the "Good Ole Boy" Club of Publishing and doesn't believe the little women have a place in publishing. (We should probably all be home, waiting to rub his shoulders... Wait, I do that in addition to writing, so I will get back on subject now.) Sorry. I think Andre Norton took care of that belief a long time ago. Maybe Mr. Mystery would care to join the 21st Century sometime soon.

These days, women writing (and reading, for that matter) have college educations and incorporate that education into our writing. When we write fantasy, we world build with the best of them. When we write science, we make sure our science base is factual and our theories plausible. When we write history, we can cite the first-hand sources to back our knowledge. We research. We question. We do it right!

Add to that the fact, as I have stated before, that the readers' expectations are at an all-time high point. Those books that don't provide a solid base may be fluff, but they also don't compete in the same markets as the type of books that Mr. Mystery either dismisses or isn't aware of. Painting all woman-centered fiction with the same broad brush is not only unfair... I would go so far as to say that it is the sign of a weak mind to attack blindly what he doesn't understand.

Women aren't serious writers, willing to suffer for their art. Men are.

!!!!!?????!!!!!

Sorry... I had to take a break to chuckle. WOMEN aren't serious? Show me a man who takes care of three small children all day then gives up SLEEP to write for half the night to meet a deadline, who edits at the computer while he nurses a baby (okay...I'll even give him bottle feeding!) and checks homework, who negotiates a contract while making dinner. Women are die-hard serious about what we're doing.

Most female writers I know are wives and mothers...or even grandmothers. We aren't writing in our free time or even lucky enough to EVER give up an office day job to do it. There is no giving up motherhood! And many of us have day jobs on top of kids and still find time to write. We MAKE the time to write. We MAKE the time to meet our deadlines. Mr. Mystery believes he suffers for his art? Try living on four hours of sleep per night just to realize your dream of writing.

I've often wondered if men really believe this ridiculous tripe...or if it's a subconscious cry. They HAVE to believe they suffer to create something, because they don't suffer to create the ultimate...a new life? Or maybe that's why women don't claim to suffer for their art when they really do. We know the true suffering, so creating worlds, characters and plotline (while essential to our being) is a minor twinge in comparison. I've certainly never needed an epidural to get edits done.

Or...as I like to state it... I was (metaphorically speaking) born with a pen in hand. If I do it right the first time, why should I suffer for it?

Brenna

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Whose fault is it?

So, back to a discussion that is near and dear to me...and relates loosely to the subject I wrote about earlier... Who is really to blame when a book goes out from a publisher in poor condition?

There are people who will tell you that it's the author's fault. Simply, the author shouldn't let something substandard go out. Others will counter that it's the editor's fault for letting it get out there without proper editing (or the publisher's fault for having incompetent editors). Still others will blame the EIC or other, final line person at the editor who should make sure the product that comes off the line is as close to perfect as it can be.

Who do I agree with? NONE OF THEM!

None of them? Okay...more precisely, all of them...and none of them.

Don't roll your eyes yet. Hear me out.

Why is the author to blame? Because, darn it! Your name will be on the cover. Take the time to make sure the blasted book is as perfect as you can make it. Do your craft and your career mean so little to you that you aren't willing to give a SERIOUS once-over to the book before it goes out? I don't mean thirty minutes on a 75,000 word book and you claim you checked it! I mean "LOOK AT IT." Use ReadPlease or a similar program to read the book to you, so you can find typos that you can't see. LOOK at the formatting on every page. If you hand it back in less than a day, you haven't done your job.

Why is the author NOT to blame? Human beings have the most delightful ability to complete and correct patterns. It's inborn into most humans. When presented with a dotted line picture, you can see the whole. When handed that test where the first and last letter of every word in a paragraph is right and the letters between are scrambled, you can still read the paragraph, can't you? Of course you can! You're human. For authors, it's even worse than that. You know what the paragraph SHOULD say, so your eyes and brain conspire against you to make you THINK you see it on the page, when it's not there. That is why you have an editor in the first place. The editor is going in cold. The editor is supposed to see what is really there. That is why the company pays them. Ultimately, the editor is MORE responsible for spotting errors. No matter how saleable a book is when it comes in, it is going to have errors. There is no such thing as an author presenting a perfect manuscript for publishing.

In addition, there are errors an author cannot possibly catch, errors that occur after he/she has done galleys. Let me share a few.

I had two books release with the wrong file. One released (not once but THREE times) with the pre-galley file. Now, that wasn't MY fault as author. The post-galley file was corrected, checked and submitted for release three separate times. The publisher formatted the wrong file three times and put it out for sale THREE TIMES with the wrong file. Needless to say, that is not my favorite publisher. The other book (a different publisher, who is still mortified to have made this mistake, which speaks highly for them in my book) was put out with my first edit file. IOW, the book went out as I submitted it with the editor's notes for the first round of edits in the margins. I kid you not on this one. I had added two scenes to the book, including a new ending, and done all the edits between. The truly amusing thing was that the book reviewed well in that condition. Miracles never cease!

Sometimes the people formatting CREATE errors that the author doesn't see until the book comes back to him/her as a completed and published whole. I had a dated book and had put the full date on the first chapter. Since the rest of the book took place over 13 weeks in the same year, I didn't put years on the rest of the chapters. Taking this as an error, a well-meaning formatter added dates to the rest of the chapters, only on one of the chapters, when he was no-doubt tired, he typed 2991 and not 2001.

Another? A popular NY author had someone in formatting do a strange sort of find/replace where she replaced every instance of the word blonde with backseat. Ouch! Another? Another popular NY author had someone after her final galley check change the word whuffle (a cat noise) to waffle. Her ARCs went out with a waffling cat. Another? One more from NY... A well-meaning individual created a world rule breech in a famous NY author's book by arbitrarily stating that it took 4 blood exchanges (not the three established in her series) to create a vampire. Believe me...readers didn't miss it.

Now, NONE of these errors are types of things that an author could have prevented. So, to those who say that it is ultimately the author's fault...sorry. I cannot agree.

Editors? The first-line folks? I already stated why it WOULD be their fault. Why wouldn't it? First of all, for the same reasons it might not be the author's fault. The wrong file can go out or the final formatting can cause errors that the editor will never see.

Another reason that it wouldn't be is if the author refused reasonable edits. THAT would be the fault of the publisher and EIC for allowing it to happen, as long as the editor let them know it was happening. There are some prima donnas out there. I won't lie. Some authors feel their art is above editing. But, the buck stops here. The publisher must publish with a couple of thoughts in mind: Will it sell? Does it break any laws? Does it offend my core readership, the people we do not want to offend above all else? AND...Is it worthy to carry the company name? The company name will be on that cover as well as the author's. The quality of the offering MUST be taken into account by the publisher. I realize that the publisher may not want to give a popular author walking papers, and that is their prerogative, but in the end, I am not certain allowing substandard books to go out is in the company's BEST interest.

So, to all those who claim it's the front line editor's fault... Sorry, I cannot agree with that.

To those who state it is the EIC or other final-phase person at the publisher's fault... Sorry. You know what I am going to say. Ultimately, this person should be the most accountable for the state of a released book. It is the hand that should hold it last, the one that should safeguard company and author both. But... This person is only following orders, and if the publisher decides to let a prima donna slide, the EIC has absolutely no choice in the matter, besides quitting.

Likewise, few publishers (I mean the OWNER of the company now...) do the final check themselves. While they, like the captain of a ship damaged at sea, are the final person held accountable for any problem at the company, people are strange creatures, and you cannot always anticipate when an editor will decide to slack off, when an EIC may be preparing to jump ship and isn't doing the job correctly, when someone doesn't report a prima donna up the line and tries to handle it personally...and badly.

So, whose responsibility is it to make sure the book makes it out there correctly? No one person. It's a team effort, a (hopefully) well-oiled machine. When the machine breaks down...or if it never worked correctly, the books are going to come out with errors.

Until next time,
Brenna

Cream and Crap...the integrity of publishing

This week was yet another reminder to me that some people just don't get it. Small press is...well...small. We're small because we're new. Believe me, Dorchester wasn't a big boy in it's first years, either...or Daw or Baen or Tor or Berkley... None of the big boys were big for their entire existences. They were little boys that grew and grew until they were playing with the big boys. Have we established that much as fact?

Okay...let's move on. Being small press doesn't mean that a publisher is not good. It means that, like the youngest child in a family, there are things the little guy doesn't get to do yet. Instead of "you can't stay up until ten o'clock at night, because you're only five years old and haven't proven you can get up and make it to school on that little sleep," it's "you can't be stocked in chain bookstores, because you haven't proven that we can count on you yet." That sounds just a little condescending, but it's really not as bad as it sounds. It doesn't mean that the small press will never make it into the stores; several have. It just means that a particular company won't make it there this month, because it's not big enough yet.

But, being the little kid in a world of established big kids has a down side. I'm sure you can see what's coming...bullies...more or less. At the very least, you have the patronizing individuals who honestly think they're being helpful. I find it hard to be really irate with them, because they don't get it, but they aren't the ones I'm talking about when I say someone doesn't get it.

The ones I am referring to are the small press authors themselves. Not all of us. Thankfully, most of us are level-headed, intelligent people who really do have a feel for how things move, how they grow and how to help make it happen. But, there are some real hotheads out there who just don't get it.

Let me start at the beginning. What don't they get? As I mentioned, there are bullies out there. Some of them don't trust the new industry emerging from e-books and small press. Some don't understand it. Some think it's too radical. Some are jealous...and some are outright scared, though they will never admit it.

The ones that don't trust the emerging markets are easy enough to understand. Any major change in the way things happen is sure to shake up people who are set in their ways, in the way things have always worked. Some people work best in a framework, an ordered view of the way things SHOULD be done. A new but related industry challenges that, and when it's successful, there is a certain amount of resentment, a desire on the part of the old guard to dismiss the early successes as a fluke.

Look at the advent of the printing press for a moment. When Guttenberg thrust his view of reproducing books upon the world, he was met with resistance. Why? Who reproduced books up until then? Usually monks and scribes, most under the eye of the Church and some in the employ of powerful nobles and royalty. Reproducing books on a press meant several things... The Church and nobles wouldn't hold a monopoly on knowledge, and by that, they would lose a certain hold over those beneath them. They couldn't rewrite the books to fit agendas if the printing was out of their hands. There would be little need for the masses to depend on them, and their scribes would be a lower commodity. You want to bet that the poor man met with a certain amount of animosity, resistance and mistrust? A lot. His was a revolution of publishing. So are many of the business decisions utilized by e-publishers and small press. Revolutionary...thus, mistrusted.

Why would they be jealous? For the same reason that many NY authors are working in both small press and NY or choosing to come to small press! I've covered this before, but the short and sweet is that small press allows authors to write the books they WANT to write, their loyal readers WANT to read, and NY doesn't (yet) WANT to put out. In addition, small press usually consists of a family atmosphere between the authors with a company, the understanding of how joint marketing really works and release from the pressures of the NY sales machine. (Now, mind you that I get this information from NY authors, so this isn't supposition on my part. I'm not making this up. This is how THEY describe working in NY vs. working in small press.) Some also report that they were pigeonholed in NY and wanted to write something different WITHOUT changing pen names; to do that, they had to leave NY.

Why would they be scared? This is even more simple. The numbers bear out. While NY is losing ground every year... What were last year's numbers? Somewhere between a 5 and 10% drop in overall book sales, I believe. NY is losing ground, but OeBF reports that e-books (and keep in mind that most e-book publishers have become small press publishers with the rise of Print on Demand technology, and most small press publishers have added e-books, effectively making the two synonymous...or nearly so) are gaining approximately 65% per annum in sales. Okay...admittedly, that 65% doesn't make up for the loss in NY yet, but doing the math here, we're not talking a straight progression. 100 becomes 165 becomes 272 becomes 450...4 and a half times the original in 3 years! At the same time, 100 becomes 95 becomes 90 becomes 86 in NY, bearing in mind that they are starting with millions rather than a hundred, but the progression stands, though I am dealing in percentages of the current volume and not raw numbers of books. You see that the loss in NY compared to the gain in small press/e-books is vastly different? Conventional wisdom says that e-book gains will eventually level off, but probably not in the near future. Why do I say that? Fictionwise, wresting at the moment for the #1 spot as a reseller of e-books (think Barnes and Noble for e-books), reports that their usual 100% rise in sales was closer to 120% last year.

Back to the issue...bullies...mistrust...talking down the little guy. Does it happen? Of course, it does! This is where we come into the part about small press authors not getting it.

In order for the big boys to have something to pick at to make us look like lesser beings, they have to have a target, weak links. Never mind for a moment that they have weak links. The very idea of letting authors negotiate editing out of their contract is a HUGE weak link. The fact that they are seen clearly using small press successes as their spur for opening new lines is a weak point. Yes, it shows they have fiscal common sense, which is good, but it sets them up as the followers and not the industry leaders. Small press has that distinction.

Back to the subject... I do tend to have a problem staying on subject today.

In order for the big boys to have something to attack, there has to be the appearance of weakness. It is worthwhile for every author, editor and publisher in small press/e-publishing to strive for the very finest quality. That means books that are engaging and without plot holes or continuity errors. That means books with strong characters and plots, consistent world rules and characterization. That means books that have passable grammar (accounting for regional dialects in speech), spelling (accounting for the differences between Americanized and British/Australian English), and punctuation. It means not rehashing the same old story over and over but looking for a fresh twist. That means striving to be the cream of the crop and not the crap that we are often accused of being.

Now, some people like to point fingers at certain genres, but this is not genre dependent. Look at the pecking order post, if you have any questions about why people choose to point fingers at genres.

The truth of the matter is, there is bad writing in EVERY genre...and good. The genre doesn't MAKE something bad. Lazy or ill-educated authors make it bad. Sloppy attention to editing makes it bad. Those things can occur in any genre, and in fact, they occur in NY as well as in small press. There is bad science fiction out there...bad romance...bad fantasy...bad horror... And there is also good in each of them.

A genre doesn't make a book "bad." When someone says this, they are expressing a personal dislike of the genre and not an objective look at the offerings of the genre. I don't personally LIKE to read Regency Romances. That doesn't mean Regency is bad. There are some engaging and well-written Regency books out there. Just because they aren't to my personal tastes does not mean I can't appreciate that they are GOOD books.

I've stated my case. What does this have to do with the price of beer? What do I firmly believe these authors don't understand?

A call for stricter adherence to good-writing and editing skills is not a personal attack. Nor is it off base. It IS a good idea for all of us to practice it...even NY. Why anyone would argue this is beyond me.

Furthermore, getting upset and arguing the fact is more pointless. There will always be...in any genre, in any format...people putting out cream and people putting out crap. The people putting out crap may or may not know they are. If they know it, they don't care that you know it. If they don't know it, they are unlikely to believe you that they are...or they will accuse you of being spiteful and mean by telling them it, probably because they don't believe it. Even if you convince one crap-peddler to change their ways or quit, there are a thousand more out there, and you would be fighting uphill. The attempt may even tarnish your own public image.

So, there is crap out there! While it does give the big boys a target, and I won't deny that, there is no way to insure there is no target to give them. The best you can do is insure you are the cream, that you can point to your contest wins and 4 star RT reviews when someone makes a snide remark, that you can hold your head up and state categorically that you will put your books up against their best and know they will compete well.

Then the simple rule of economics comes into play. Serious readers will gravitate to the cream and spend their dollars there. The crap, like the early slipshod e-book publishing houses, will thankfully die out one by one...and good riddance to them.

While there will always be more crap popping up, they will always have one disadvantage in this business. The small publishers want to grow. That takes time. That takes a reputation for excellence. Only the cream will be able to do that in the long run, because the crap will lack the resources to grow and will never be more than small.

In service,
Brenna

Monday, May 16, 2005

The pecking order of writing?

Informed sources assure me it runs something like this... The literary set look down on the genre set (just look at the way the literaries had a fit when Stephen King won their award!), the straight genre folks look down on the cross-genre romance folks and straight romance folks. The authors with NY look down on e-published/small press authors and those authors look down on self-published/vanity published.

Despite the fact that I KNOW it's not strictly true... I know plenty of NY authors who don't look down on small press and others who, themselves, work in both NY and small press. I know plenty of small press published who don't look down on self-published authors.

Despite that fact, there is no reason for this kind of backbiting. I know that NY authors have often worked long and hard to get there and want recognition of that fact, but if you want to know the honest, hard truth of life, NO ONE OWES YOU RESPECT. Respect is something you earn, and you aren't going to earn it treating other people, authors or readers, like crap.

A contract in NY doesn't make you a better person than another. It doesn't even make you a better author, if you want to know the truth. It just means that your book was in the right place at the right time when some editor was in a really good mood. You might want to read my comments on contest wins about now. It runs about the same way, actually.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to be sweet and kind to everyone around you. Some people are so condescending, rude or otherwise offensive, simple sanity dictates that you tell them they are being that way. Does it win you friends among their supporters? No, it does not, but you have a choice...the same choice you always have in life. Are you going to play suck-up to people please or are you going to remain true to yourself and make a name for always doing so? Either way, you make some friends and some enemies. I prefer to make the ones that I don't have to pretend with, but that is my choice.

Back to the subject at hand. What are the reasons people have for their snide comments?

Some think it's EASY to write another genre. Bull! Hate to throw ice water on someone's dillusions... Okay, I'm really not sorry to do it, but there I go being honest again. It's no easier to write cross-genre romance than it is to write straight genre. Especially now, when expectations for these books are so high, the author has to not only build a strong universe and characters but weave in the romance so that the book is a unit and not simply a bunch of things happening between the same cover flaps. The expectations are not that the world and fantasy (or whatever cross-genre) will be sacrificed for the romance but that it be as strong and the romance be as strong as a straight romance.

Want the truth? Whatever you write is easier for you to write than something you don't write. What does that mean? It means that I like writing straight genre fiction and cross-genre fiction. Those are (comparatively speaking) easy for me to write. I can't cut down authors of biographies, because what they do isn't easy. Having dates and times handed to you and using them isn't a breeze. No matter what you write, you have to make that interesting to a reader, and you can't do that if you view writing it akin to having your teeth pulled.

I've tried this before, but I will challenge any author who suffers from the dillusion above to try it. Choose a genre you think is "easy to write." Now, write something in it. You think you did a good job? I BET YOU DO! Now comes the test. Have respected, published authors IN that genre crit it for you. Bet they tore it apart. Want to know why? It's not that they don't get it; it's that YOU don't get it. You can't write in their genre, because you don't understand the nuances of it. You can't write it, because you don't respect it or your heart isn't in it. You can't write it, because you want to break the rules to suit yourself, whether you realize it or not.

NO GENRE IS EASIER TO WRITE THAN ANOTHER. Get used to it! You write what you feel drawn to write. You write what you like, what you want to read, what you want to project to the world. So do others.

Some people look down on others because there is less value to what the other writes. Less value? EVERY reader reads for a reason. Maybe that reader wants escape from a dreary life. Maybe he wants information. Maybe she wants something that will make her think WHILE entertaining her. So, depending on what that reader wants from the act of consuming books, it may be your book that is of less value to the reader. No book will please everyone, and (in fact) chances are that no one book will please more than 10% of all readers.

Some people look down on others for the manner in which a book is reproduced. This is one of the stupidest reasons I know to look down on another author. A book is a book is a book, no matter how it is reproduced. In fact, as readers have preferences in what they choose to read, they have preferences in how they choose to read it. There are some readers who, at this point in their lives, will only choose to read paper books. There are others who will only choose to read e-books. I've met many of them.

As I've stated before in this blog, small press and e-publishers are REAL publishers, royalty-paying (a much higher percentage per book sold so that some e-book authors earn as much as NY midlist authors, though they sell less books per release), with a high rejection percentage, reviewing well (even matching or beating NY books in many cases), and attracting NY authors into the fold. Even self-publishing or vanity publishing has its value. Books that have a very limited audience do well in a venue like this.

No matter what reason the author can attempt to give for the scorn he/she shows another author based on nothing more than genre or format of book, it has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the author dealing out the rude comments. That author is nothing more than a snob, and the comments bear that out.

Brenna

Friday, May 13, 2005

More on LOCUS...the BS deepens...part one


"the subject of POD publishing was already so richly supplied with bunkum, hokum, eyewash, hot air, and horsefeathers that I have trouble responding with anything more polite than a groan to a further installment of same."

The quote above is from Teresa Nielsen Hayden (http://tinyurl.com/9esab), a self-professed industry professional and supporter of LOCUS magazine, in her all-out attack on the rebuttal to LOCUS's article made by Paula Guran (http://www.darkecho.com/darkecho/locus_straight.html), what I found to be (overall) a rather balanced and informed rebuttal. After reading the tripe Ms. Hayden wrote, I would counter that the bulk of the hot air and horsefeathers would fall in her flawed viewpoint, but let's look at what she has to say anyway.

Locus can't review everything.

To which I ask...who asked them to? Anyone reading my earlier post can see that I hardly expect it of them. Their obvious bias aside, LOCUS offers a service of listing releases submitted to them. THAT is all I have ever asked them to do.

I don't mean to sound callous here, but it's a waste of their resources and their readers' time for them to review POD novels from publishers who'll publish practically anything. ... Their basic take is nothing you haven't heard before: they're not going to wade through vast sloughs and floods of unreadable fiction on the off-chance that something good is buried there. The Locus staff throws those books away. There's nothing else they can do with them. The things are unsaleable, and no one will take them as a donation. (In response to my suggested alternate uses, they said that (a.) their houses are already insulated, and (b.) their back yards don't need any additional terracing.)

I HIGHLY doubt that she doesn't mean to sound callous and insulting. Her words were chosen to do just that. That much is clear. But, let's look at what she's saying.

Well, since LOCUS doesn't read the books and hasn't for quite some time, one would wonder how they could ever know the general quality coming out from small press these days. They can't. Simply put, they don't want to. Burying their heads in the sand and taking pot shots at something new seems to be much more fun for them.

If you care to read other industry-respected magazines that are not as narrow-minded as LOCUS would appear to be (if Ms. Hayden is to be believed...if she actually does sit down with the publisher and editors as she claims to and actually gets the responses from them she claims to), you will find that a large number of books from royalty-paying small press publishers actually review higher than comparable books from NY.

Let’s take Mundania Press LLC (for just a single example). I suppose if LOCUS received a book from them, they would throw it away without reading it? Well, that would be a shame and a half and a surprise to boot! If they did, I would lose all hope for LOCUS as a periodical. Why? Well, let’s take a closer look at Mundania.

Aside from Xanthe, Piers Anthony offers all of his new releases (and some of his older works) to Mundania Press. In addition, the publisher has signed on another 5 NYT Bestsellers from the 70s-90s not only for their backlist but also for their new books. They were even in negotiations with Andre Norton’s agent at the time of her death.

This is a phenomenon that apparently LOCUS and Ms. Hayden are either ignorant of or dismissing of. Many big-name NY authors are heading to small press. Some are coming in with their backlist, it’s true, since they can offer it though it’s out of print in NY. But, many are coming with new books, the books they WANT to write and their loyal readers probably want to read but NY doesn’t want to release. It’s indisputable that many NY publishers (not all) have been FOLLOWING and not LEADING for many years. They watch what works on a small scale then adapt it or acquire it for themselves. It’s simple economics, really. They don’t have the resources to take the risks until it proves out. So, authors who don’t want to wait for NY to “catch up” (or who feel pigeonholed in NY) are heading to small press with their books.

As for their assertion that no one will take small press books as donations, I challenge LOCUS to send those books to me. I know of several literacy funds who will gladly take more books for their raffle baskets. Better, the money raised would be used to help educate the NEXT generation of readers, though given another decade or two of LOCUS ignoring the growing market of small press publishers, those same readers may deem LOCUS worthless in finding the books they want to read.

I should mention that e-books from reputable royalty-paying small press publishers, which make up a large portion of the POD market when taken to print, are the largest growing book market of today. By OeBF reports, the e-book market gains approximately 65% per annum and has for the last several years.




More on LOCUS...the BS deepens...part two

As it happens, I had breakfast with Charlie Brown, the Publisher of Locus, and Liza Trombi, one of his assistant editors, just a couple of days ago, and the subject of POD fiction came up. They said they receive just about all the genre POD titles -- not from the publishers, but from the authors.

Which they apparently never read, and that means they are clueless even as they throw stones. A sad state of affairs. I don't ask that they READ all the books, but I do ask that they stop making assumptions and snide comments about a market they know NOTHING about.

BTW, I HIGHLY doubt that they receive anything approaching all there is in the genre. The fact that they think they do shows their ignorance of the sheer enormity of the market. In addition to the fact that they couldn't possibly handle all the books there are, it comes as a suprise to many authors when I suggest they send a copy to LOCUS at all.

The high prices are real. On top of that, many POD publishers (most notably PublishAmerica) don't offer retailers the standard discount, and don't take returns.

Actually, many do, thus proving yet again that Ms. Hayden knows not of what she speaks. What MOST do not allow is stripping of books. Of course, the book stores prefer the old system, wasteful as it is; it is to their benefit in many ways. Someday the resources will not support it. That won't be this year or even this decade, but it will come eventually, and unless a new BIODEGRADABLE paper is put into use, you will see the collapse of the current system when the price of this waste becomes too high.

Notice how she uses Publish America as her benchmark. That alone shows that the woman cannot see past her bias to the REAL publishers out there. Publish America is, for all intents and purposes, a subsidy/vanity press that gets it's money by giving lower royalties until a book sells past certain marks. Publish America puts out a large number of (if not all) the books it receives as submissions.

Speaking to respected royalty-paying small presses, many of whom have thier POD trade paperbacks on the shelves of Borders, Waldenbooks or even Barnes and Noble, their average acceptance rate ranges from 1 in 40 to 1 in 150. As their submissions increase, their rejection rate increases with it. It has to.

It's no surprise that bookstores don't want to bother with POD titles. It's not fair to writers like you, or to small publishers who're traditional in everything but the print-and-bind technology they use; but booksellers generally have enough work to do without undertaking to make the world fair for authors and small publishers.

In a RARE moment, she reverses much of what she's just said and tries to act like she really does see a difference between the different publishers. Sad that she couldn't have done that throughout the entire piece.

No one is asking for it. It amazes me that she presumes to make yet more assumptions when she obviously knows nothing about the truth of the matter. No one is asking that every POD book be carried in book stores. It's not feasible. However, SOME book store chains have an office that does consider publishers based on returns, discount, availablity and several books they offer for read. IF this system worked correctly, that office would work without interference and would facilitate the type of books Ms. Hayden CLAIMS to want to see succeed making it into stores. The system does NOT work correctly, and that is the only reason why Piers Anthony's small press books are not widely distributed in the chain stores at this time.

The vast majority of POD titles will never be shelved in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

This decade... I have all the time in the world, thanks, because my books don't have to go out of print unless my publisher and I wish them to. Beyond that, shelf space is at a premium, and many NY publishers are finding it difficult to get their books on the same number of shelves they did five years ago. It's a sign of the times.

Erotica and specialized romance subgenres appeal to small audiences who fervently desire a very specific range of subjects and approaches.

Oh, if I needed any more proof that the woman is completely clueless about anything but her own little corner of the world, this was it! Romance is the #1 selling type of book in the world, comprising about 50% of fiction sales (last time I checked) and a large chunk of all books sold. The highest selling romance subgenres today are cross-genre SF/f/horror/paranormal, erotic, sensual, and Christian...followed by some of the old standards. The fact that the established straight genre SF/f houses are starting erotic and romance lines and the straight romance houses are starting highly-cross genre lines should tell Ms. Hayden something. It tells everyone else in the world something.

The fact remains that the publishing houses that use offset printing to produce books in the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of copies publish (on the whole) vastly better books than your average POD publisher; and they inarguably have lower per-unit costs.

Lower cost? Certainly! Better quality books? Not likely. There are good books everywhere and bad books everywhere. Judging an entire market on the black sheep would be as brainless as me judging every book in NY by the idiots who let authors bargain editing out of their contracts. I don't care who the author is; continuity and line edits are ESSENTIAL.

While Ms. Hayden finds it easy to dismiss anything she doesn't want to accept, she's clearly taking an elitist view and forgetting the truth that many evolutions of this industry and this genre come as a result of grassroots efforts that blossom.

Brenna

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The truth about contests...

It never ceases to amaze me that some people get so...competitive about writing contests. Yes, I enter them and I love it when I do well, but I will never understand those who are either incredibly sour losers or incredibly poor winners. Why? Well, let's look at contests.

No matter how a contest is decided, there will always be a matter of either luck/chance or personal preference involved. I will disregard, for this discussion, contests that are decided on the basis of money donated to secure a win, contests that are rigged somehow to ensure a particular winner, or contests that are fake information-gathering schemes where everyone "wins."

There are contests that rely on a bit of luck. If you enter a drawing to pitch your book to an agent or publisher, you are relying on luck to win it. Every ticket that goes into the barrel has the same chance of being drawn. Buying more tickets means that you are maximizing your chances to win, but probably not by much unless you're buying hundreds of tickets. Being either a poor winner or sore loser in a case like that makes no sense. An inch to the right, and someone else would have walked away with the prize.

I do scowl openly at contests where they auction off this honor for charity. It's not that I have anything against charity or against agents donating time this way. From a purely logical standpoint, the charities are selling themselves short this way. Yes, some rich person might pay a lot of money to get that chance, but that person can attend RWA cons and meet agents there...for a lot less money. If they raffled the chance off, every aspiring author who is stuck in the slush pile would put in $5 for a chance, and a LOT more money would be raised, since it's coming from thousands of pockets instead of one. Certainly, the agent might be stuck with meeting with a complete amateur with a book that is not saleable, but that is the chance that is taken even with the auction. Just because someone has a spare $5000 in the bank doesn't indicate that he or she can write, does it?

Other contests depend on personal preferences to win. Now, let's not discuss ballot stuffing in a reader contest, please! Maybe the author has that many readers and maybe someone was busy setting up fake e-mail accounts to stuff the box. Though it may seem clear that someone is cheating at times, I said we weren't going to discuss cheating...and unless you can prove it, you might as well just go on with life, because what are you going to do about it? Accuse the person and give them the opening to make you look like a sour loser? Don't give them the benefit, please. Anyone who would cheat in a contest isn't worth your time to get upset with. (Neither are the ones who are poor winners, but there is even less that you can do about them, because at least they won honestly!)

Back to the subject... Personal preference plays a role in all other contests. How can I say that if there are judges and set guidelines? Even with established guidelines, the judges (professional authors, editors or readers) are going to weight the scores according to their personal feelings on the books they read...and sometimes even of the author in question. It's human nature, and there is no getting away from it. Accept it and move on.

When an editor reads a book for a contest, everything will be colored by what the editor likes to read and what he/she typically looks for in a submission. A judge may mark down for characterization, though the characters are strong and flawless; simply the reason that the judge finds the character unpalatable is reason enough for most to mark it down. A judge may mark down for plotline, not because the plotline isn't historically correct/researched well or believeable, not because it's full of continuity or logic errors, but because the author touched on a subject that is painful or abhorrant to the judge. Some judges may see a few typos in a book and mark down one point out of ten; another may mark down three for the same typos.

Now, does this really happen? Of course, it does. If it didn't, would authors get scores back from contests that vary wildly (4 points from one judge, 9 and 10 from two others)? Would the author get scores back that don't show any pattern of weakness but come out with high scores across the board EXCEPT that one judge gave 4 out of 10 points in characterization and another gave 3 out of 10 in plot while a third gave 9 out of ten across the boards? If it was a perfect world, and the judges didn't show personal preference in judging, this wouldn't happen. They would all judge uniformly. They would have to.

What does that mean for a contest win or a contest loss? If you win, it means that the judges you got in the draw (luck) liked (showed a personal preference to) the kind of book you wrote and your handling of it THAT DAY (luck). If you didn't win, it means one or more of the factors above failed you.

I won't go as far as suggesting that the winning book was better than the loser, though it might have been better. I won't suggest that the winning book was better suited to the contest or category, though it might have been. There have been times, and we've all seen them, when a clearly inferior book (sometimes in the wrong category) finaled or won in a contest, for no better reason than the fact that the judges liked that one that day.

Now, knowing that... Is it really worth it to be a poor winner or a sour loser?

As always,
Brenna