Friday, July 01, 2005

Friday Morning Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast (S/o/S)

Somehow I find myself back to photo stock. What are the odds? Let me reiterate for you POD folks (or any author, for that matter): shoot your own cover. Or purchase an image that will be retired. Or have it shot by a pro. Or have it shot by a friend who hopefully has some graphic design skills. But generic photo stock is risky. And usually cheesy.

Another case in point (after
the Max Barry incident): The cover of John D. Moore's CONFUSING LOVE WITH OBSESSION is incredibly similar (c'mon, it's the same image) to the CD cover of this bizarre "guitar pickin'" version of various John Mayer songs. I checked the release dates to see who was first and, sure enough, guitar pickin' dude won by a few months--and admittedly has a better cover.

Sorry, turns out your body wasn't a wonderland after all. I was merely obsessed.

And here is some fun stuff (for everyone but me): a random, quick sampling of ten POD titles currently performing better than your Girl on Amazon (I'm wearing a blue 12,922 today.)

A PLEASANT SHADE OF GRAY by Anthony Cancelliere (iUniverse) - 12,401
ABU GHRAIB by Michael Cannon Jr. (Xulon) - 12,317
COOKIN' FOR LOVE by Sharon Boorstin (iUniverse) - 12,130 (good for you, Sharon.)
BELLIGERANCE AND DEBAUCHERY by Tucker Max (Lulu) - 10,007
BEDTIME STORIES FOR WOMEN by Nancy Madore (Llumina) - 5,889
ALMOST HOME by Damien Nichols (iUniverse) - 917
RAW FOODS FOR BUSY PEOPLE by Jordan Maerin (Lulu) - 773
HOW TO UPSET A GOLIATH BOOK BIZ by Willem Meiners (PublishAmerica) - 1 (with a bullet!)

Got nothing to do today at noon? You can always check out the
PODCast over at WBJB radio. It turns out that, each Friday, they run an "on air" discussion of the self-publishing world. Truth is stranger than fiction. They have interviewed various pros--including iUniverse CEO Susan (don't you dare call her Suzie Q.) Driscoll. Today they are talking with Authorhouse President and CEO Bruce Smith. If we're lucky they will get the attention of that guy who upset the goliath book biz (mentioned above.)

And, ending on a sad note, it appears that
Xlibris has not had a news item in almost 2.5 years. *sniff* Poor fellas.

It seems as though (not only is the POD industry dealing with stagnation) Xlibris is fighting their own pathetic ennui. And, unlike iUniverse and Authorhouse, they haven't updated their website in over five years. Truth is, I wasn't even sure they were still in business.

Have a safe holiday, everyone. And remember--trips/vacations are an excellent time to catch up on some great reading. Allow me to suggest any of the books listed on the right.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Publishing Professionals (or, Reasons for Unabashed Hatred)

Over at Mad Max's blog (for those of you who do not know, Max, like me, is in the industry and veiled) he has a wonderful entry from Lauren Baratz-Logsted, author of THE THIN PINK LINE and CROSSING THE LINE (both published by Red Dress Ink. She discusses her relationships with her five (five!) agents over the years--or, as she calls them, marriages.

Why do I bring this up? In passing (while discussing marriage number two), she gets this feedback: "...we’d received a few incredibly glowing rejections from publishers – 'this book is so sad and funny, but we don’t know how we’d market it.'”

If you are a talented writer who happens to not write exceptionally marketable books, expect to see a lot of these types of rejections. But fear not: I (really, my agent) received plenty of these "marketing rejections" for my first novel, thought Penguin Putnam did a fine job of getting my book in front of folks.

Another lesson learned: you need to take control of your own career. No one--I repeat, no one-- has their finger on the high-blood-pressured pulse of this industry. Do what you have to to get your book published (as long as it is good, please.) Consider this from Lauren's post:

In November 2001, Harlequin launched an imprint called Red Dress Ink. I sensed that the editorial sensibility behind these books would be interested in yet another of my novels [#6] I had in my arsenal, The Thin Pink Line, a dark comedy set in London about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy. I mentioned this to Three, pointing out, Hey, it’s always good to get in on the ground floor with a new publisher. After reading The Thin Pink Line, Three said it was very funny but that sort of thing had been “done too much already.”

[Right: that crowded comedies-about-fake-pregnancies genre…]

When I asked if Three would submit it to just this one publisher, I was told no: Three claimed to know for a fact the editor of Red Dress Ink did not want books with a London setting. I found this so hard to believe that I asked Three for permission to send it myself. This suggestion was greeted scathingly, and dismissively. I went ahead with the submission, and subsequently sold The Thin Pink Line all on my own to Red Dress Ink—indeed, I was offered (and accepted) a two-book contract. They even decided to publish The Thin Pink Line as the imprint’s own first-ever hardcover and came to me with the offer of an additional three-book contract before my debut had even pubbed.

Note also: Lauren buried her failed books in a box in her basement--books that agents and other industry professionals had believed in. And that, my friends, is a shame.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Oh, that naughty Amazon!

Perhaps Amazon should pay closer attention to their Search Inside logo that appears atop book covers. Consider the title: BOYS WILL PUT YOU ON A PEDESTAL (SO THEY CAN LOOK UP YOUR SKIRT): A DAD'S ADVICE FOR DAUGHTERS by Philip Van Munching. Then consider where the arrow is pointing. Then consider this: Search Inside.

Probably not exactly what the author had in mind.

The Novel and the Almighty Euro (a cautionary tale)

If you want to read an article that brings out the highs and lows of the endless avalanche of POD titles, check out this one by Kel Munger entitled The Great American DIY Novel. Kel writes for the Sacramento News & Review and wrote a little diddy on local writers pursuing publication down the dark avenue of Print On Demand.

The article is quite accurate (and features a nice review of Greg Blecha's brilliantly-written LOVE IN THE TIME OF THE APOCALYPSE) and is well worth a read.

Kel and I shared a brief email exchange and it quickly became clear to me that she has a firm grasp on what is going on in the publishing world. She agreed to let me excerpt some text from our email discussion:

Kel says, "I review books and write on literary subjects for the paper (among many other things). Generally, I give local authors with POD books a chapter's trial over my lunch break. Most of them aren't read past that first chapter, but at least I try; I understand that most newspapers won't review them at all. Greg's book was so good that I couldn't put it down and I was late returning from lunch."

I agree fully. I, in fact, missed a meal when I read LOVE.

But here, Kel really hits on what is happening in the publishing world:

"I'm genuinely torn between a healthy respect for access to publishing for all and aggravation that so many people think anybody can write a good book. It's like saying anyone can be a brain surgeon; it would be nice if it were true, but it's just not so. It also demeans the hard work and discipline most writers apply to their craft.

"I put the blame at the feet of the corporatization of the publishing industry (as you pointed out, Bertelsmann owns 3/4 of the world). When books became "units" instead of artifacts, we began to truly lose something precious. I mourn the loss of slush piles read by up-and-coming editorial assistants on the lookout for the diamond in the rough, and established editors and agents willing to mentor promising writers in hopes of getting a long-term profit from a successful career. But then, perhaps like all nostalgia, that ideal may have only existed in some writer's fantasy."

This is why we are here, folks. This is why agents and editors are repeatedly telling us that good books are getting rejected day after day--intentionally--because they know Marketing will never go for them. I can't think of a more horrible thing than to tie stock prices to art. Why? Because this is the result. EMI recently had to tell their stockholders that profits would be lower than expected because the newest Coldplay CD was delayed, to which [lead singer] Chris Martin said, "what do I care?"

Indeed, he should not care.

Sure there are exceptions in the literary world: Grove/Atlantic, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Algonquin, Houghton Mifflin, MacAdam/Cage. They are exceptions because they are still independents (basically). Enjoy them while you can; as soon as Bertelsmann buys them it will all be over.

Nothing good will ever come of this. And the more that corporate "control" of the publishing industry surfaces, the more POD will take on an increasingly significant role. There is no other choice.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

On magic. On Size.

On magic: A gentleman who follows this blog asked me where I excerpted the (well-written) reader review of PublishAmerica's moronic HOW TO UPSET A GOLIATH BOOK BIZ. My answer was: well, Amazon, of course. But when I went back to look for it, it was gone. Like magic.


And so were the other five reviews I'd read (note: they have been replaced by three more blasters--all one star reviews.)

This is not an Amazon glitch, of course. Anyone who has a book listed with the noble retailer can testify to how easy it is to have reviews removed. The "guidelines" for reviewing books on Amazon are actually more stringent than one might think.

I chatted with my "old buddy" who used to work at Amazon and he said this: "Any review that shows up [on Amazon] has been validated, but many times the author will contact us and say it needs to be removed because it violates one of the guidelines, [for example] discussing a different title within the review of the book."

Which means the self-congratulatory CEO and his President have nothing better to do than appeal Amazon reviews. How about spending some time promoting one or two of your 12,000 authors?

But here's the best part. My friend checked with a colleague at Amazon and total sales to date of Meiners publishing tell-all: zero.

On size: A faithful reader tipped me to a link about book size, since it has been of some discussion in the comments here. Check it out.

Keep in mind that size is quite a varying factor in publishing. Some publishers bulk up and some bulk down, for different reasons. Some use smaller text to print a small book (think PRAYER OF JABEZ) that can be jammed in a coat pocket or purse. Others bulk up (think Clancy or Grisham), taking medium word counts and using larger fonts and filler pages (white space between chapters, etc.) to make the book feel "meaty" and substantial.

Publishers look, first and foremost, at word count. I would suggest it is hard to get a 40,000 word book published unless it is in the young adult genre. Usually, 50,000 to 120,000 will do the trick (but you should aim for 60 - 90k, especially for a first time writer--though genre will determine a lot.) Of course there are exceptions, but let's stay focused on the rule.

Take a look at the text stats on Amazon for some of your favorite books and see the difference. For example: Chuck Palahniuk's FIGHT CLUB (since he's a popular topic these days) is 208 pages and 51,397 words (247 words per page) while LESS THAN ZERO by Bret Easton Ellis is 224 pages but only 49,888 words (222 words per page.) Perhaps more significantly, check out VICIOUS SPRING by Hollis Hampton Jones (I'm trying to stay in genre here) which is 192 pages (only 16 pages less than FIGHT CLUB) but weighs in at only 37,330 words! That's a mere 194 words per page. Here we clearly have a case of a book being bulked up. Keep in mind, too, that publishers like to play with book sizes, which will also adjust page count.

This is why it's called the publishing game.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I WAS A VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN by Shelly Rivoli (iUniverse)

This novel, as you might not guess by the title, is about a woman. It is a heartwarming story about a woman who (sort of) finds herself by selling vacuums (the hard way.) Shelly Rivoli's I WAS A VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN is a humorous and refreshing read in more ways than one.

Forgive me for sounding all girly, but the story is simply cute. It's simply a tale about a young woman with spirit who's trying to make it in the world (and who gets excited about a job paying $12.84 an hour!) and the miserable life one has as a door-to-door (excuse me--direct sales) salesperson. It is not Sex and the City and it is not BRIDGET JONES and there is no mention of YA-YAs and it is not like anything by Sophie Kinsella. Be thankful. It turns out young women can do simple things and be entertaining, and I found this novel to be a joy after being pounded to death week after week with 300 page slutfests with covers no more imaginative than a pair of legs, a short skirt and high heel strappies. Consider the difficulty in writing a story on this topic as opposed to [most chick lit premises which amount to no more than frequent sexual disappointment, inability to find good men and unwarranted discourse on the size, shape and function of male genitalia, which, as it turns out from reading these books, usually perform unexpectedly]. Fear not: I am no prude. Though were I, I would not be offended by Ms. Rivoli's text. As stated: it's cute.

Guys, stay with me: I fear I may be losing you but the truth is there is much here to entertain you, too. First and foremost, this book is about selling. And anyone who has had to deal with that in his or her career will love the vignettes.

The book is a tight, fast read and is well-edited considering it's POD. The structure of the novel makes it easy to read pieces at a time (should you need to.) If you're like me, you'll gobble it up in one night. A perfect read after you've just watched or eaten something heavy. And check out Shelly's website for more details and info!