Friday, August 26, 2005

Friday Morning Bloody Marys, extra celery and Tobasco

Greeting, faithful patrons. We've got a big(ish) meal for you to gag down today, so let's get off and running--and sorry, we don't serve screwdrivers in an insufficiently classy place as this!

Presenting the P5 for August 26, 2005:

(1) SUFFER IN SILENCE: 61,663 6

(2) COOKIN' FOR LOVE: 79,312 6

(3) INFERTILITY SUCKS: 127,523 6

(4) ISN'T THAT BIGAMY?: 194,445 5

(5) RATED F: 199, 983 5


Right out of the gate, I should mention
the article that ran on the front page (!) of the Dallas Morning News (yeah, you have to register--for free, though) this past Saturday. Who was quoted that might be worthy of mention? Well, duh--me. Why else would I care? In this nifty article about POD (and its tales of success and tales of failure) you get snippets from all sorts, including me--and boy, do I sound nasty. I guess the truth can be painful.


Here's a fun one (for everyone but Rick Moody and the folks at Little, Brown.) Think the cover of a book is not important to its sales? Think again.


For those of you who do not read the business section of the New York Times, you should check out this
article about Warren Adler. Who is he? I wasn't sure, either. He is the guy who wrote WAR OF THE ROSES (which later was made into a major motion picture.) Turns out the guy has written 25+ books, but has come to giving some of it away via electronic format. He is still on the e-book train (as for the "way it's gonna go") but he has some interesting observations about publishing in general, including the stance that publishing is going to have to change if it wants to survive.

It is the only industry that still operates the way it did 100 years ago, and is likely the reason nobody invests in publishing stock, and why most conglomerates are divesting themselves of publishing companies, and why it rarely turns a profit--unless a Harry Potter novel comes out.


Remember our buddy, Will Clarke? The man who set the example for going from POD to Traditional Publication? The man who gives out finger puppets at his signings? The man who once started at Authorhouse and moved to a multi-book deal and a movie adaptation?

If you want to read about the dream and the journey, check out this lengthy and quite engaging article in the Dallas Observer. Supremo!


Ever read any P.J. Parrish novels? Good chance you have since she is a New York Times Bestselling author. But if you haven't already, now is your chance. And stop by her blog and check out her comments on the world of POD.


And for all you kind folks who sent me wonderful comments regarding my slam of the Xlibris spam last week, I'm afraid to say it is nowhere near as funny or clever as one that J.A. Konrath wrote. (We even make the same joke about asking for an advance.) You must read this (true) story by Mr. Konrath (who, like Ms. Parrish, is another blockbuster author with a major house) regarding an incident with POD.


This story, courtesy of Publisher's Marketplace, is all about on-demand reading--via vending machine. It's one thing to see your book in the window of a Barnes & Noble . . . but sitting behind those metal twisty things? And what happens when it gets stuck, like so many of the Twix bars I've lost over the years? Bastards.


And, as we informed you a few months ago, Authorhouse was experimenting in the UK with one of their "publishing plans" getting you shelf space in a bookstore. Well, as we guessed, the idea has surfaced in America.

Check it out, baby.

The problem is this: what on God's Green Earth is a Joseph-Beth bookseller? This isn't B&N. This isn't Borders. This isn't Waterstones. Turns out they're located in, like, five cities. Is that worth the extra $200?

As usual: no. Unless you live in those areas and your book topic is of interest to folks living in those areas, you'll be tossing your cash in the wind like you would be for advertising in the New York Times.

But the plot thickens. If you read the article about it via Publisher's Weekly, we see a slightly different view. It turns out the book is only stocked at the store nearest the author, not all the locations. Further, they only stock five copies--so if you sell all five copies, you make, what, $10.00?

Now, I am not picking on Authorhouse for this (well, I am a little) because they are clearly trying to find ways to get books into bookstores for their authors. But in this case, the wealthiest authors get placement. What they need is a crossbreed of iUniverse's Star program and this Authorhouse initiative. And, of course, it needs to be cost-free to the author. Because . . . the fiscal advantage to Authorhouse is quite obvious. A quote from the article:

If someone decides to publish with Authorhouse, the store location gets a minimal referral fee. "Every day everyone who works in a bookstore is asked, 'How can I get published?'," said [Joseph-Beth v-p of marketing Michelle Sulka]. "Now, at last, we're able to tell them there is a way to get published and promoted."


And lastly, is your POD title only selling two copies a month? Would you rather sell 15,000 in eight minutes? All you need is QVC!


Well, you smarmy drunkards, the cabs are waiting outside to deliver you back to the warm confines of your luxurious lifestyles. Enjoy, and we'll see you Monday with (I know, it can't be) more treasure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

MANDATORY READ: The Elizabeth Burton Interview

Welcome once again to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Step inside, step inside. (Special thanks to my older sister for exposing me to the progressive rock likes of ELP at age five.) Today we are hand-delivering (or whatever) an interview with an editor (among other roles) with a small press that uses POD as its print method (likely the most popular technology for very small presses and new independents.)

We are meeting with Elizabeth Burton from Zumaya Publications.

Seats are filling fast so let's get started.

Girl: Thanks for stopping by, Liz--my casa, su casa. And, well, Bank of America's casa. Feel free to help yourself to some yogurt and pepperoni. So when did Zumaya open its doors? And where on God's creation are you, anyway?

Elizabeth: Zumaya was founded in Y2K by two authors, Martine Jardin and Diana Kemp-Jones, who had been through the scam wars, one to the tune of several thousands of dollars. They started out partly just to finally get their own work published but soon decided to expand the business to create the kind of publishing house that has gone the way of the dodo--the kind where good writers are nurtured and great books that can't get past the bean-counters could reach readers. As for where we are: define "you." The company is based in British Columbia. I run the editorial offices for Zumaya from Austin, Texas, and the editorial offices for our erotic fiction/romance line just moved from Massachusetts to Virginia. Ain't Internet commerce grand?

Girl: How many titles do you publish per year, and in what genre? I'm picking up a heavy mystery/thriller vibe here.

Elizabeth: Hmmm, you must be channeling Arthur Conan Doyle--he'd be up for that. Actually, we publish just about every genre there is, as well as some nonfiction niches. This year, we started publishing science fiction, fantasy and paranormal suspense (I like that better than "horror," don't you?) as a separate imprint, Zumaya Otherworlds. Our erotic fiction/romance imprint is eXtasy Books, and we just added a straight romance line there called Pearls. Our average is 25-30 titles a year. Since I do all the editing at Zumaya (mostly because the people whose books I sign make that a condition of their signing), that's as many as I can decently handle.

Girl: What, no Da Vinci Code copycats?

Elizabeth: Oh, ye gods and little fishes, no. We have a "business card" we hand out that says "Tired of reading what was hot last year?" We mean it. What I look for is something familiar enough the average reader will be comfortable with and enjoy but that is, at the same time, unique. In fact, if the "common wisdom" is that there's no market for something, I'm willing to bet there is. Historical novels, for instance. Friends of mine who write them tell me they've heard over and over that there just isn't a market for them. Then I hear other friends who love historical fiction telling me how frustrated they are that they can never find anything decent to read. So, historical fiction is one of the niches we're building--but not the John Jakes kind. What I like are historical novels that shed light on average people during periods that rarely if ever make it into the history books.

Girl: I agree--my theory is this: if someone was interested in writing it, there is probably someone (though maybe just one) person interested in reading it. So, how many Zumayans does it take to run the place?

Elizabeth: Most of the editorial and technical work is borne by three pairs of shoulders: mine, Martine Jardin's and Stef Kelsey's. Stef is the editor-in-chief at eXtasy. We get a ton of marketing help from some of our authors, for which we are ever grateful--they are the soldiers in the battle to beat the system.

Girl: What made you decide to go with POD as your publishing model? Have you done any traditional print runs?

Elizabeth: When Martine and Diana started out, POD was simply the most economical way for them to publish. Given that most if not all of the writers whose works they were publishing were unknowns, the print-on-demand model allowed them to take the chance on their books doing well without setting them on the verge of bankruptcy.

When I joined the company as a partner in 2003, I took a crash course in publishing. The amount of waste I saw that resulted from the print-run model, especially with mass market paperbacks, just appalled me. Okay, printing tons of books makes sense for Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, but when you're talking about a new or midlist writer what is the point of wasting paper and energy to produce books that are only going to end up on a scrap heap somewhere?

That, and the ability POD gives us to take chances the print-runners can't afford to, set me on the road to developing a new model that uses the benefits of inventory-free publishing for both us as a publisher and booksellers. I fully expect to do at least some small print runs when we get our first break-out book, which I expect to happen soon.

Girl: I've seen a bunch of "deals" for Zumaya on Publisher's Marketplace. What percentage of your books come from agents and what percentage from authors?

Elizabeth: I'd say it's about 5 to 1. We do have agented books under contract--there are agents who see us as a steppingstone to bigger and better things, and that's fine with us. Our contract makes it easy for them to do that--it's short-term and has a clause that allows them to buy out a title if it gets picked up elsewhere.

Girl: What is your typical advance?

Elizabeth: We don't give advances at this point. My research has shown that there are two main reasons given for advances. One, they show the publisher's belief in the writer. Two, they help a nonfiction writer offset the costs of completing a book proposal.

If I offer someone a contract, it's because I believe in them as a writer and in their book. I don't do it otherwise. In addition, we contract only for those rights we intend to use: trade paperback, ebook and audio. We don't do audio yet but I hope to begin by the end of 2006. That means all the other rights--foreign language, serial, film, etc.--are the author's to do with as he or she sees fit. Our contract term is for two years post publication, so if the author isn't happy with us they're free to go at that point.

As for nonfiction, we don't do enough of it where the lack of advance to this point has been an issue. Most of the submissions in that area are either finished manuscripts or the author has his or her research all but done and just has to do the writing.

Girl: What are some of your bestselling titles and how are they performing?

Elizabeth: Considering the bias against print-on-demand and the difficulty of persuading bookstores to even look at them, we are seeing a steady increase in sales of both paperbacks and ebooks. Our current paperback bestseller is a terrific women's fiction novel, 24/7 by Susan DiPlacido. It's a sexy, edgy novel set in Las Vegas that has gotten very good reviews. Our current bestselling ebook is a wonderful collection of fables about dragons that's the kind adults can read to their kids and have tons of fun doing it: The Affairs of Dragons by Mary Fairbanks. It's also available in paperback, of course.

Our most recent release, and one we have great expectations for is TechnoNoir, edited by noted mystery writer Jeffrey Marks and a woman whose debut mystery we'll be publishing in 2008, Eva Batonne. Finally, in August 2005, we're releasing another work of women's fiction, Harvey & Eck written by Erin O'Brien. Erin's brother was the late John O'Brien, who wrote Leaving Las Vegas. It's about a 30-something woman electrician who finds herself pregnant, dumped by her lover and living with a husband who's turned into a nag. She picks a name from the phone book and begins writing a series of letters to a man she calls "Eck" and over time both of them discover new lives.

Girl: Yeah, I thought TECHNO NOIR was great. Unusual and great, which is what made it stick out for me. How much does Zumaya sell online versus the traditional bookstore?

Elizabeth: We do a little of both, but at this point the majority of our sales are online because a good portion of them are ebooks. Our bookstore sales are usually at a signing, or shortly afterwards. We'd like to see that change, especially with indie bookstores. We feel print-on-demand can help them compete by giving them the chance to offer their customers something they can't get at the superchains. Now all we have to do is convince them.

Girl: How much editing to you put into your projects?

Elizabeth: If I see something that needs to be addressed at the time I offer a contract, I send the author a critique and request they consider making the changes I think are necessary. I then do a thorough substantive or line edit on the book when we're nearing publication. The edit goes to the author for whatever needs done, and when I get the new version back I set the proof and do a complete copyedit. The proof is set in a galley, which then goes back to the author for a final proof.

Girl: Excellent. So what's on the horizon for Zumaya?

Elizabeth: Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, I expect to see us with at least one book that breaks the barrier within the next six months. I've already mentioned I want to see some titles in audio. My biggest goal, though, is to make POD a viable alternative to standard operating procedure when it's used as an alternative to print runs. Maybe we won't save a lot of trees but at least we can say we tried.

Girl: Indeed. The smaller presses that utilize POD are already ahead of the biggies who are trying to figure out how to transition their current warehousing methods. Eh, but who cares--that's their problem.

Well, thanks again, Liz, for hanging out, chatting, and sharing a nice hunk of Hormel processed beef product. Check out what Zumaya is offering these days, and especially TECHNO NOIR, which yours truly recommends.

Stay tuned for more interviews and, of course, more treasure!

Monday, August 22, 2005

THE VICARIOUS LIVER by Beth Amos (Booklocker)

For those of you who do not know (or remember) Beth Amos, perhaps you should take note. Ms. Amos had written several novels for HarperCollins back in the 1990's, including EYES OF NIGHT and COLD WHITE FURY (which happened to be a favorite of my sister's.)

Her latest work--and arguably her best--was released POD-style through Booklocker: THE VIACRIOUS LIVER: A MATTIE WINSTON MYSTERY. And let me say this book is not only a page-turner, it's a giggle-generator.

One of my greatest criticisms of the mystery genre is that, while most of the time the stories are character-driven, they are not driven well. Why can't a good mystery also be a snappy one, a funny one, a hilarious one?

Well, Beth Amos must have been reading my mind.

LIVER tells the story of Mattie Winston, a former RN who moves up (or down, as it turns out) to a job as a coroner in a small town.

"It’s a bit of a mental adjustment. After twelve years of working to save people’s lives, I now remove their innards after they’re dead and weigh them on a scale like fruit."

What makes Mattie's job worse, though, is that her first case ends up being directly tied to her: the death of a woman (and former co-worker) who happened to be having an affair with her (near) ex-husband. Sound like a typical mystery plot? Maybe. What makes the difference here is the way the story is told and the cast of characters Mattie uses to decipher the truth about the crime, including a computer hacker who fancies himself a superhero and a hairdresser who works out of the cellar of a funeral home.

Mattie has a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time--but she is a classic character and classic heroine, and one you will want to see again. We can only hope this will be a series that will find great success.

THE VICARIOUS LIVER is a perfect beach-read for that final summer trip (or for when you're stuck in traffic on the return home.) Grab it for under $11.00 on Amazon.