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

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September 9, 2009

Wall Street Journal says that Amish romance novels are hot

Can Quaker military histories be far behind?

Snippet:

… Amish love stories, which are a booming new subcategory of the romance genre. The books, written by non-Amish writers, are aimed at a mainstream audience. But Ms. Woodsmall researches her stories among the Pennsylvania Amish, and she has a loyal Amish following.

The plot of her 2006 novel, “When the Heart Cries,” revolves around Hannah, a young Amish woman who falls in love with a Mennonite and hides her plans to marry him from her strict parents. The lovers struggle to overcome the cultural divide, and actually kiss a couple of times in 326 pages: “His warm, gentle lips moved over hers, and she returned the favor, until Hannah thought they might both take flight right then and there. Finally desperate for air, they parted.”

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
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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 13, 2009

Is Amazon becoming a publisher — or simply promoting its self-publishing options?

From its press release, announcing the new venture:

Amazon customers raved over “Legacy,” a self-published novel by 16-year-old Cayla Kluver, with customer review titles such as “loved it, loved it,” “rich lyrical tapestry and story” and “breathtaking in scope and execution!” Despite winning several prizes from literary groups and accolades like this from readers, Kluver’s debut novel achieved only modest sales. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced a new program, “AmazonEncore,” to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors, such as the program’s first book, “Legacy.”

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon uses information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales. Amazon then partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. This summer “Legacy” will be revised by the author and re-issued as an AmazonEncore edition in print on Amazon websites around the world, in physical bookstores, as a digital download from the Kindle Store in less than 60 seconds, and via spoken-word audio download on Audible.com.

There’s no word on what Amazon means when it says it “partners” with authors. Amazon may, indeed be acting like a traditional publisher and offering advances, royalties, etc. But AmazonEncore may, instead, be a re-branding or expansion of Amazon’s current self-publishing tools. It’s not clear yet. But, what if Amazon is merely selecting certain self-published books for more favorable design, distribution and marketing treatment? And what if it’s using this as a marketing tool to promote its self-publishing arm?

That seems more likely to me — and, if so, appears to be a smart marketing move.

I hate to be a cynic but, stay tuned for the details.

– Anita Bartholomew

May 6, 2009

Speaking of Edgar Allan Poe …

The New Yorker has a fascinating piece about the man who is said to have invented the mystery novel (but who is probably better known for his horror stories). It paints Poe less as a visionary and more as a writer who made a point of capitalizing on the genre that was selling well in his day. He wanted to make a living as a writer of fiction and, as today’s writers often discover, that sometimes means compromising about what to write and how.

Here’s a snippet:

Poe went to New York, but, unable to support himself by writing, he left the city within three months, returning to Baltimore to live with Mrs. Clemm and little Virginia. He published his first story, “Metzengerstein,” about a doomed Hungarian baron, his gloomy castle, and his fiery steed. He won a prize of fifty dollars from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter for “MS Found in a Bottle.” One of the editors, who met him, later wrote, “I found him in Baltimore in a state of starvation.” In these straits, Poe wrote “Berenice,” a story about a man who disinters his dead lover and yanks out all her teeth—“the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice”—only to realize that she is still alive. It has been claimed, plausibly, that Poe wrote this story to make a very bad and long-winded joke about “bad taste.” Also: he was hungry.

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

March 10, 2009

What’s worse than a rejection letter? A public rejection “tweet.”

As if it weren’t stressful enough to send out that manuscript you worked on for years and then wait for an agent’s or editor’s reply. Now some authors have to fear public shaming. A couple of literary agents, Lauren E. MacLeod and Colleen Lindsay,  have been mocking the pitch letters of aspiring authors on Twitter.

Okay, so not every pitch is a hit. But, c’mon guys, play nice. This is the author’s baby you’re ridiculing. It may seem like a hoot to you but put yourself in the writer’s place.

Meanwhile, authors, make certain that you follow an agent’s guidelines to avoid incurring wrath and ridicule.

“I know writing and querying are hard,” MacLeod tweeted. “So my queryfails have been chosen from people who did not follow submission guidelines.”

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.

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