Ask The Editor

September 22, 2009

Noooooo, not Heathcliff, too

I loved Interview With The Vampire, but that was probably the last vampire novel I could say anything remotely as positive about. Yet, I know I’m in the minority. Friends and colleagues swoon over Charlaine Harris’s vampire series and the Twilight books have probably outsold Harry Potter by now.

But can’t we draw the line somewhere, people? Must it really come to this? Publishers Lunch reports the latest vampire novel sale:

Sarah Gray’s WUTHERING BITES, a retelling of Wuthering Heights in which Heathcliff is a vampire, to John Scognamiglio at Kensington, in a very nice deal, for publication in September 2010, by Evan Marshall at Evan Marshall Agency (World).

- Anita Bartholomew

May 26, 2009

If you’ve been turned down by publishers, should you beome a publisher yourself?

We live in interesting times.

Advances are half or even a third of what they were a year or two ago. I’ve heard reports from colleagues who are accustomed to high five-figure advances for their non-fiction narratives and how-to books getting offers in the mid or even low four figures. And that’s if an author can even get an offer.

Fiction seems to be particularly difficult to sell at any price right now.

Filmmaker John Sayles’ agent failed to get a single offer on his latest novel.  Sayles has previously published acclaimed novels and is among Hollywood’s most accomplished directors and screenwriters.

The rejection of his latest manuscript drives home just how depressed the market is.

“This is really astonishing,” says Ron Hogan, senior editor of Galleycat.com, a website devoted to publishing news. “I mean, this is John Sayles! You’d think there would be some editor who’d be proud to say, ‘I brought the new John Sayles novel to this house.’ “

Anthony Arnove, Sayles’ literary agent, sent the novel out on a first round of submissions last fall, and recently sent it to another group of editors. His goal is to land a deal with a deep-pockets publisher who can promote the sprawling, epic tale about racism and the dawn of U.S. imperialism.

Sayles’ 1977 novel, “Union Dues,” was nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Anarchists’ Convention,” his comic short story about aging Jewish lefties, has become an American classic.

But Sayles’ earlier novels weren’t bestsellers and traditional publishers are looking for sure things. Nevermind that, as anyone who has ever browsed a remainder table knows, the sure thing doesn’t exist.

So, what should an author who has a good manuscript do? In my opinion, as traditional publishing opportunities shrink, and non-traditional opportunities expand, the best thing an author who is willing to bet on his or her own prose can do is become a publisher. I don’t mean that authors should send their manuscripts off to iUniverse or Lulu, pay a few hundred bucks, and keep their fingers crossed. That may seem an inexpensive option but it’s probably going to get you exactly nowhere. The cheap solution is actually an expensive one if nobody knows your book exists or wants to buy it.

Become a real publisher, if you have the time, money, marketing understanding, and willingness to work as you never have before for your book’s success.

More on what this means in terms of budget, planning, and everything else, in subsequent posts.

- Anita Bartholomew

May 17, 2009

A gift from Florida’s prison guards to Carl Hiaasen

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 12:56 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Those who enjoy Carl Hiassen’s wacky novels about crazed doings in Florida probably think he’s got a wild imagination. And he does. But, folks who live in Florida also know that he gets plenty of help from the politicians, developers, crooks, liars and civil servants of our state.

The headline this weekend in The Miami Herald just begs to find its way into a Carl Hiaasen novel. And those who don’t read about it today will assume, when they see how he spins it in a year or two, that Mr. Hiaasen has to be making this stuff up because it couldn’t possibly happen. And yet …

A total of 43 children were directly and indirectly shocked by electric stun guns during simultaneous ”Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day” events gone wrong at three state prisons, according to new information provided Friday by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Also, a group of kids was exposed to tear gas during a demonstration at another lockup.

… In nearly every case, the guards had permission from parents or grandparents to administer the ”electronic immobilization devices,” McNeil said.

”I can’t imagine what these officers were thinking to administer this device to children, nor can I imagine why any parent would allow them to do so,” McNeil said. “This must not happen again.”

All that said, Mr. Hiaasen has so many screwball Floridian antics to choose among, he might not consider the above worthy when compared, say, to this item:

A parachutist landed on a beer vendor at a coleslaw wrestling match during central Florida’s raucous “Bike Week” celebration.

- Anita Bartholomew

May 5, 2009

Mystery Writers of America celebrate Poe bicentennial

Edgar Allan Poe would have been 200 in January. The Mystery Writers of America were in New York City at the end of April to hand out Edgar Awards for the worthiest mysteries of the year while (belatedly) celebrating the birth of our first mystery novelist.

April 22, 2009

What Dan Brown can teach us all (don’t laugh) about writing

Dan Brown’s follow-up to his The Da Vinci Code – which was the bestselling hardcover novel of all time –  is set to release in September.

First, let’s get the issue of writing skill out of the way because, if you’ve read The Da Vinci Code, and you’re a writer, you probably believe you can out-write Dan Brown with half your talent tied behind your back.

But, Brown teaches us that there is more to being a successful writer than having a way with words. It’s Brown’s stories that have made him a success, along with his expert use of tension.

The Da Vinci Code appeals to readers who enjoy a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. That’s what Brown delivers. He also lets readers figure out the various mysteries a page or three before his protagonists do, making the reader feel satisfied in his or her deductive skills. And perhaps most important to his success, Brown seems to reveal intriguing secrets hiding in plain sight.

In other words, he has nailed a winning commercial formula. All he left out were interesting characters and appealing prose.

- Anita Bartholomew

April 8, 2009

Google Settlement: Is it a bum deal? Part 1

If you’re an author of a book or if any writing of yours has been published in a book as part of a collection, you’re a member of the class in the Google settlement. This settlement is meant to resolve the class action lawsuit that the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed against Google.

The settlement has been touted by the Authors Guild as a great win for authors. Is it?

Well, not exactly.

There are too many problems with it to list in one post so I’ll take them up in a series of posts. First, compensation for past infringement. If Google has already scanned your work without permission, under the settlement, you get just $60 for that infringement, unless you opt out (which, if your book is still selling in print, I’d recommend you do now. The deadline is May 5.)

Is $60 adequate compensation when a mega-corporation scans and republishes your work without your permission? Google claims that its scanning constitutes fair use but it’s unlikely that any court would agree. Fair use is a permitted use, under very limited circumstances, by someone who doesn’t own the copyright. Here is the relevant part of section § 107 of the copyright statute:

…the fair use of a copyrighted work , including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

I’m not a lawyer but the guys at Google have plenty of them. My guess is that it would be very difficult for any lawyer to argue with a straight face that Google’s use is fair use. That’s because its scanning specifically falls on the wrong side of at least three of the four tests above. The purpose is commercial.  The amount copied very often is the “heart of the work” which courts have repeatedly found to be too substantial to be fair use, even if the entire work isn’t copied. And the effect on the potential market for the work is vast. If you can find what you want in a book by reading a portion of it online, through a Google book scan, you won’t have a reason to buy the book.

So, if it’s not fair use, and if it would be difficult for any lawyer to make a fair use argument with a straight face, given the above, what is it? It can only be either fair use or infringement, which is what the class action lawsuit is all about.

The statutory minimum penalty for infringement is $750. That penalty can go up to $150,000 if a court finds that the infringement is willful.

Do you believe that a court would find that Google willfully infringed the copyrights of all the books it’s scanned without permission?

And, if you do, do you believe that you should settle with Google for just $60 and, in effect, sign a contract of 100-some-odd pages about what Google can do with your work in the future and what your (now limited) rights would be?

Only you can decide what’s right for you. But, here’s the thing. Google wants its scanning operation to be an ongoing venture. So, there really isn’t any need to just let this happen if your head is spinning just trying to absorb all this. You can say no to Google and not lose anything except that 60 bucks in settlement money (assuming Google’s already scanned your book — if it hasn’t, you get nothing).

But what about the future? Shouldn’t you want Google to scan your book so that yours will be available on the web along with every other book? There are better ways to get your book on the web, without having to make Google a partner. But that’s for another post, coming shortly.

- Anita Bartholomew

February 20, 2009

James Patterson gets 28 new co-authors

According to readwriteweb.com:

Best-selling crime author James Patterson will release a new kind of novel next month – one that’s been collaboratively written with the crowd. Called AirBorne, the upcoming novel will feature 30 chapters, each written by a different author except the first and last – those will be written by Patterson himself.

The co-authors each won the right to pen one of the chapters in a contest co-sponsored by Borders Australia and Random House. The book will be released, one chapter at a time, on the web, of course.

February 5, 2009

Stephen King on other bestselling authors

People are sometimes surprised when they ask what I read and I answer, everything. They assume professional writers and editors have such refined tastes that we limit our reading to authors such as Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and the occasional Philip Roth.

While I can’t speak for all of us in the publishing world, most of us probably try to read whatever we can get our hands on, especially those books, well-written or not, that have become bestsellers. We want to know why. How did the author capture such a large audience? What is it that resonated with readers?

In a USA Today interview, Stephen King, the master of horror fiction shares his thoughts about the writing gifts of some other bestselling authors. His verdict on two prolific blockbuster authors:

“You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just awful. It varies. James Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful.”

But here’s where I really relate to King. After pointing out that Stephenie Meyer, author of the popular Twilight vampire books, isn’t much of a writer, he shares insights on why she’s a success:

“People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”

All writers of fiction should do the same kind of analysis, especially when reviewing books that are similar in some way to their own. What is it that sets the book apart and draws readers in? Rarely is it the quality of the writing. More likely, it’s something about the story or the characters or both.

January 22, 2009

From rejection to self-publishing to bestselling novelist

We keep reading (and hearing from agents, publishers and others in the industry) that it’s more difficult than ever to get a book published by a major publishing house. And that’s not surprising, given the economy in general and the publishing market in particular.

Yet, with increasingly regularity, we read stories such as this one, about a novelist who couldn’t get a literary agent, let alone a publisher, decided to self-publish, and now has a hit.

Lisa Genova, 38, was a health-care-industry consultant in Belmont, Mass., who wanted to be a novelist, but she couldn’t get her book published for love or money. She had a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, but she couldn’t get an agent. “I did what you’re supposed to do,” she says. “I queried literary agents. I went to writers’ conferences and tried to network. I e-mailed editors. Nobody wanted it.” So Genova paid $450 to a company called iUniverse and published her book, Still Alice, herself.

That was in 2007. By 2008 people were reading Still Alice. Not a lot of people, but a few, and those few were liking it. Genova wound up getting an agent after all–and an offer from Simon & Schuster of just over half a million dollars. Borders and Target chose it for their book clubs. Barnes & Noble made it a Discover pick. On Jan. 25, Still Alice will make its debut on the New York Times best-seller list at No. 5. “So this is extreme to extreme, right?” Genova says. “This time last year, I was selling the book out of the trunk of my car.”

Does this mean we should all be self-publishing? No, although it’s easier than ever to do so. What it probably means is that, when literary agents and publishers are too cautious to consider any manuscript that doesn’t scream “bestseller” the minute they read it, lots of potential hits will never get published. And, intrepid authors who have faith in their books, who understand marketing and promotion, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to get those books into the hands of readers, might as well try on their own.

The alternative is that nobody reads what you may have spent years writing.

January 15, 2009

Bestselling novelists, worldwide?

It’s not who you may think — or, at least, not who I guessed it would be (J.K. Rowling and/or Stephenie Meyer). Instead, according to the U.K.’s bookseller.com,   in a poll of Top 10 fiction bestseller charts across nine different countries , the two names that appeared most often are Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and Ken Follett (World without End).

Hosseini and Follett made bestseller lists in seven of the nine countries.

So maybe, adult fiction can compete with YA after all. (At least, outside the U.S.)

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.