What Constitutes “Good Sales”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about book sales data in the print market and what, from a publisher’s perspective, constitutes “good sales.” It seems obvious on some level that a book that sells through its initial print run and/or goes to a second print run must be selling well while one that only has a 60% sell-through and never sees a second print run is doing poorly.

But I’ve recently taken another look at that assumption and realized how differently publishers might see this equation. When authors think about sales of their books, they tend to think about how many copies actually made it to readers. But publishers think more in terms of how many copies made it to booksellers–and didn’t come back. And that means it’s probably entirely possible for a book that sells through a second print run to be seen by the publisher as a “poor performer.”

Here’s why:

  1. It’s not just about sell-through vs. returns, but also about print run size.

    Print publishing works on economies of scale. The more copies of a book produced in a single print run, the less each individual copy of the book costs to print. This means that a book with a larger initial print run (which is based on orders of the books from booksellers) is poised to provide the publisher a better profit than one with a smaller run.

    This is particularly true in mass market paperback, where the publisher is offsetting the relatively low cover price by producing many copies of the book. Although I haven’t been able to find any data telling me what the “average” initial print run for a mass market paperback is in the US, I would guess that anything under about 25,000 initial orders would be seen as “disappointing” sales by the publisher. And if the publisher paid a fairly large advance and had very high hopes for the book, 25,000 orders might well be seen as truly dismal.

    In other words, it’s possible to have “poor sales” even if none of your books are ever returned to the publisher (in other words, you have 100% sell-through and 0% returns) because the initial print run number indicated there wasn’t as much demand for your book as the publisher anticipated/wanted.

    Look at it another way. Two authors, two books. One had initial print run order for 80,000 copies, the other for 20,000 copies. The book with an initial print run of 80,000 wound up with 40% of the copies being stripped and returned (meaning 48,000 copies are counted as “sold,” even though some might still be on bookstore shelves and not in readers’ hands). This is about average (around a 40% return rate) in romance, from what I understand.

    But even if the book with 20,000 copies sells out its print run and goes to a second run of 10,000 copies, which also sell through, the first author’s book sold “better” and may very well have earned the publisher a better profit (because a single print run of 80,000 books costs the publisher less per copy than two separate runs of 20,000 and 10,000).

  2. Why was the second print run necessary?

    A second print run isn’t necessarily a good thing from the publisher’s perspective.

    It could mean that your book is flying off bookstore shelves and booksellers are frantically seeking more copies to keep it in stock. That’s a terrific thing and it’s what most of us hope happens with our books.

    But there can be other, less wonderful reasons for a second print run. For example, your book may not have sold like hotcakes when it was first released and the booksellers, needing to free up shelf space for new releases, decide to return the remaining copies they have on hand for credit. (The average shelf life of a mass market paperback is 4-6 months. Copies hanging around after that amount of time usually get returned, unless they’re perennial sellers that are constantly selling and being restocked.)

    A few months later, however, something sparks interest in your book. Maybe it gets nominated for an award. Maybe something in it inspires a controversy that gets people talking about it. Whatever the reason, there is suddenly new demand for your book. The booksellers order more copies because it’s being requested and they can no longer sell the copies they stripped and sent back three months ago.

    The publisher, having absorbed the cost of those returns on the first print run, must now pay for a second print run, effectively printing at least some number of books twice to sell them once. That’s really not a good thing from their perspective, especially since second print runs are typically smaller than the initial print run, so the per copy cost is correspondingly higher.

    All of this means that, even if your second print run sells through, your publisher can still not see your sales as “good,” especially if the initial print run was small and/or the percentage of returns of that print run was very high.

This is all sort of depressing stuff from an author’s perspective, because there isn’t a whole lot we can do to affect/prevent either one of these from hitting us. But it does, I think, help to see the process from the publisher’s point of view. What seems fabulous sales data to us might not look that way to the publisher because of the factors I’ve just mentioned and probably others I haven’t thought of.

And that’s all I got for today!

The Title Battle

While I’m waiting to hear back on the proposal my agent has out on an exclusive right now, I’m noodling on other ideas in case it doesn’t go (which realistically, it may not because it’s a pretty quirky book).

In addition to my middle grade book (which I’m writing when I find the time, although that hasn’t been often lately), I’ve been thinking about several other stories:

  • An action/adventure/superhero-y YA  for which I have a main character, title, blurb, and hints of the plot, but nothing “writable” yet.
  • A contemporary with a suspense element; again, characters, title, blurb and hints of plot, but probably not yet writable.
  • A dark, angsty historical for which I have a lot that’s arguably writable (characters, plot, conflict) but for which I don’t have a title. And I hate trying to write a book without knowing what the title is!

I know it’s an odd hang-up, but it’s one I can’t shake. I pretty much always tackle writing a manuscript in this order: Title, Hook, Book. Of course, that’s not to say the title always comes to me before the hook (or blurb), but usually writing the blurb/thinking about the story will suggest the title very quickly. And many times, I get the story idea from the title (the contemp I’m thinking about started as a title and the story suggested itself from the title).

Anyway, before I can take my historical idea any further, I really need to settle on a working title, even if it doesn’t stick (although my hope is that it does stick at least until the point at which I send it to my agent and she sells it–then the publisher can toss it out the window, lol).

So, here are the three titles I’m considering. None of them strike me as 100% “right”–each seems to me to have its problems–but I’d love your impressions of the possibilities. Unfortunately, though, I can’t seem to get the “Insert Poll” option to work and place the poll inside of this post, so you’ll have to vote on the possibilities in the sidebar. (Sorry about that–there seems to be a scripting error somewhere, and I have no idea how to fix it!)

Thanks for stopping by and thanks in advance for voting. And if I get really motivated, I might even get up a WTF Wednesday post for today.

Sayonara, Sweethearts!

I’m off early Monday morning for a five-day visit with my aunt and uncle in Minnesota. It’s become something of an annual tradition since we went the first time back in 2007, and my kids were pretty disappointed when we told them we might not be able to fit it in this summer. As luck would have it, though, we found a few days to squeeze it in and a bunch of frequent flyer miles to pay for the tickets.

I don’t expect to have the computer with me, which means I’ll be away from email, Twitter, and the blog for the whole time. Hopefully, you’ll all still remember me when I get back :).

In the meantime, here are some photos from our trip to Yosemite earlier this month (the camera was out of battery by the time I got there, so there aren’t any of little ole me–I consider that a plus) to entertain you. Hey, they’re pretty!

vernalfalls
Hiking up to Vernal Falls

vandavernalfalls

Vernon and Aurora at the top of Vernal Falls

haqlfdome

Half Dome

julianrock

Julian on a rock at Mist Lake

kidsriver

All three kids on the Merced River

tenayalake

Everyone but me at Tenaya Lake

 

 

tuolomemeadows

Tuolome Meadows

aurora

Aurora, who turns 10 today!

vernonironman

Vernon does his Iron Man impression

snowinjuly

Snow in July!

campfireHanging by the campfire

Hope you enjoy the photos and I’ll see you in a week or so! 

Musing on Monday: Digital Rights for the New Millenium

…Or The Reason We Need Big Name Authors to Care about Digital Royalties.

By now, you probably know that the fabulous team of Jane Litte (Dear Author), Sara Wendell (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), Angela James (executive editor at Samhain), Kassia Kroszer (Booksquare and Quartet Press), and authors Lauren Dane and Maya Banks will be giving a “Rogue Workshop” on Digital Publishing alongside (but separate from) the RWA National Convention in Washington DC this week. (Deets here. The Twitter hashtag for the session, which will be live-tweeted, is #rd09.)

In large part, this fine group of experts in digital publishing decided to put on this workshop because RWA’s final conference schedule include nothing on epublishing. Not, as far as anyone could tell, the barest mention of it. But in the thread at DA that I linked to above, a bit of a dustup erupted over whether the workshop they’ve put together is a) necessary or b) really addresses the needs of broader RWA membership since it’s focused primarily on digital only publishers.

Now, I happen to think that the real crime here isn’t that there isn’t a workshop on epublishing per se (not that I don’t think it would be great and worthy), but that no one’s talking about digital rights and royalty rates at traditional print publishers. Because I’m telling you, folks, this is gonna come back and bite us all in the butt in another 10-15 years (maybe less). Edited on 2/22/11 to add: Okay, I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. The time horizon from this post was a little less than 2 years. I posited a 90:10 print:digital ratio in my numbers below. A lot of authors are already at WAY over that ratio.)

Right now, publishers who distribute primarily in digital format offer royalty rates to authors ranging from roughly 35%-50%. (Some may be a little lower, some a little higher.) If the publisher also offers print copies of the books, they pay royalties similar to print publishers.

By contrast, publishers who distribute primarily in print (i.e., the major New York houses) tend to offer royalty rates on digital copies that are less than half what the digital publisher pay. I would have to go check my print contract to see what my royalty rate on my digital copies it, but I know it’s standard for the publisher’s contracts, it’s probably not more than 15%, and we didn’t try to negotiate a higher rate because, at the time, it didn’t occur to me that I should try.

Looking back, I wish I had tried, although I doubt my agent’s efforts on my behalf would have been successful. Because, while digital copies are likely to be a very small percentage of my overall sales, by accepting that royalty rate, I basically made it harder for other authors who follow me to ask for more.

And this is why it’s so important for the big name, bestselling authors to start pushing the royalty rate envelope on digital. Now. Before it’s too late and the paltry 10-25% rates we’re seeing now become so ingrained, they never go away. So ingrained that even the primarily digital publishers start lowering their rates to match. (Because believe me, they will. I frankly don’t wear the rose-colored glasses that say epublishers are “the good guys” who will never take advantage of their authors. Um, maybe a select few, but even they are businesspeople and they publish books to make a profit, not to make authors happy/rich.)

As worried as traditional print authors are now about the possibility that their publishers will follow suit with primarily digital publishers and stop offering advances (a concern I know is out there despite claims to the contrary), they ought to be worried that they’re setting a precedent when it comes to digital royalties which, in the future, will ultimately cost all authors a BIG chunk of money. Including themselves.

It might be hard to see this right now if you’re a bestselling author in mass-market paperback. My bud and critique partner, Amie Stuart did an informal survey about digital royalty rates a while back, and one of the respondents said her royalty rate was quite low (perhaps around 15%) but that it didn’t concern her because while on of her books sold 800,000 copies in paperback, less than 800 digital copies had been sold. In that context, the difference between 15% and 35% is pretty meaningless.

The problem is, of course, that the numbers won’t continue to be skewed that way forever. More and more people are beginning to prefer reading on a digital device, be it a dedicated reader, a smart phone, or even their computers. (My 12yo would rather read on the computer screen than read a paperback. I bet, in his generation, he’s far from unique.) And while the traditional print publishers seem determined to make every effort to keep digital from gaining a foothold in the marketplace (DRM, high prices, and withholding release of the digital book for weeks or even months after the print book is on the shelves), in the end, the revolution will come. Print books will never go away, but those 800,000 to 800 numbers are simply not going to last. And even if we never reach the point where digital sales of New York Times bestsellers outstrip print sales, when they reach even 10% of all sales, the royalty percentages will begin to matter. A lot.

Let’s make the numbers easy. Say you’re the author of a book that sells 100,000 total copies. Let’s assume 90% of those are print copies at an $8.00 cover price ($7.99 is very common, but I’m rounding for simplicity) and your royalty rate for print copies is 8% (that’s pretty standard for mass market paperback, I believe), so you make $0.64 for every copy sold. You’ll bring in a tidy $57,600. Not bad, you say (and I agree; I’d be thrilled with that, lol).

But let’s look at the 10,000 copies sold in digital format (because we’re in the world of 90/10–and believe me, that’s coming fast!). Let’s say you got a fairly standard 15% royalty rate on your digital sales. Let’s further assume that your publisher is forward-thinking enough to offer digital books at a slightly reduced cover price, so they only cost $6.50 instead of $8.00 (in part because Walmart/Target/et al. probably doesn’t charge a full $8 for your print book, even though you get paid as if it did). You still make more per ebook sale than mmpb sale–97 cents per copy, and that means an additional $9,700 in royalties for you, which is quite nice. But…if you’d held out for the kind of royalty rates digital publishers off, even at the low end of 35%, you’d be earning 2.275/copy or $22,750. So even at 90/10 split in terms of sales, your income for the 10% digital sales are nearly half your total print sales earning.

Who wouldn’t want that? Especially since the percentage of readers who’ll be buying digital is only going to increase. At the point at which it reaches even 25% of gross sales, your digital royalties will account for fully half your income.

Now, maybe there are some folks who don’t believe that authors should get a significantly higher royalty rate for digital books than for print. If anyone wants to make that argument, go ahead, although a lot of folks also claim that the only reason digital publishers offer such high royalty rates is because they don’t have to support the overhead of print costs and returns. So, you know, either the digital distribution model is cheaper or it’s not, but if it is, why shouldn’t the author get a larger percentage of the return. Why willingly give up 85% of the profit to the publisher in that scenario.

But here’s the thing: we need print authors with bestseller status to be the ones to demand better royalty rates for their digital books. Because those of us still in the shallow end of the publishing pool just don’t have the clout. If we walk away from contracts with poor digital royalty rates, the publisher will just find someone else who will take it. We’re kind of a dime a dozen to them. It’s the big name authors who regularly hit the New York Times and USA Today lists who have the ability to make publishers sit up and notice.

Please? Because even if it never makes much of a difference to you, the next generation of writers is going to thank you.

Guest Author Interview–Candace Havens

Today’s guest author interview is with Candace Havens, author of numerous books including Charmed & Dangerous, Charmed & Deadly, The Demon King and I, and her latest, Dragons Prefer Blondes. She’s also the inventor of the Fast Draft writing method and just an all-around real nice gal! Please make her feel welcome.


dragonspreferJackie: Your upcoming release, Dragons Prefer Blondes, is the second installment in a series that began with The Demon King and I (love that title, by the way). Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea for the series came to you, as well as a little about both the books thus far?

The idea for the series came about in kind of a funny way. The very first book I wrote was about these four wealthy sisters who had cool powers. I wrote that book in about two weeks and then stuck it in a drawer. My second book, Charmed & Dangerous sold, and I was busy with that series for a few years. Then one morning I woke up and I figured out how to make that first book work. I laugh because the only thing that is the same in The Demon King and I, from that first draft, are the names of the sisters. Everything else is different.

demonkingThe series is about these four sisters who the rest of the world sees as successful, wealthy heiresses. What they don’t know is that they are also Guardian Keys, who protect our world from other worlds. The Demon King and I was about Gillian, a lawyer and art gallery owner, who ends up falling for the one guy she should hate the most — Arath, the king of the demons. While, she’s trying to deal with the fallout from that relationship, she’s also trying to save the world from some nastiness.

Dragons Prefer Blondes, focuses on the dragon slaying Alex, who is chosen by a dragon warrior, Ginjin, to be his mate. She’s not so cool with this, and begs the head of Caruthers security, Jake, to be her pretend boyfriend. What she doesn’t realize is that she has big time feelings for Jake, which come to the surface as they spend more time together. She’s also kind of busy trying to find out why the dragons are drugging and kidnapping humans.

Jackie: Before I go any further, can I just say how much I love the titles of the Charmed series? So clever, they jump right out at you. And I’m a firm believer that titles do matter when it comes to sales, both to editors and to readers when the book is on the shelves.
 
One of the things I often wonder is how other authors arrive at their titles/book ideas. Often, for me, a book idea starts not with a plot or characters, but with the title. The title then suggests the premise for the book and then I think up the characters and plot.
 
How does it work for you?

charmeddangersYou are going to be very disappointed when I tell you that I have never once come up with a title for one of my books. I mean, I come up with titles but my publisher never uses them. The editor who bought Charmed & Dangerous said, “I love everything about this book and I’m not changing a thing – except the title!” I’d been calling it the Witches’ Diaries before that. I’m supposed to come with a title for my Harlequin release and it’s freaking me out. My editors have always come up with my titles, until now.

Jackie: No, not disappointed at all. I think a lot of authors (if not all) have a hard time coming up with titles for their books.
 
The other thing you mentioned earlier is that you wrote the original draft of
The Demon King and I in two weeks. I have to tell you, the very idea of that makes me breathless and dizzy. I know you’re pretty famous for your “Fast Draft” method of writing books. I tried it once, actually, but it didn’t work for me, primarily I think because I don’t tend to have the scenes in a book thought out quickly enough that I can write that many pages in a day.
 
Anyway, that fact makes me wonder how you write–plot or pants or somewhere in between? I’m definitely in the somewhere in between category, which I think slows me down. I think if I were totally plot or totally pants, I could be faster, lol, so I’m curious where you fall on the spectrum as someone who also writes very fast.

I’m a pantser, though I usually have a brief synopsis to please my editors who have bought the book.

I can almost guarantee you that Fast Draft didn’t work because of that nasty internal editor. When you can let that nasty hell witch go, and let your subconscious take over, magic happens. I’ve worked with thousands of writers through the years, and the process has worked for them. But the key is learning to let go and let the words fall out of your head where they may. (smile) I never know what’s going to happen next, and I’m always surprised when I have the finished product.

Jackie: I do have a pretty nasty internal editor, which I freely admit, although I’m not sure it’s a complete disadvantage since I don’t tend to need to do much revising. My first draft and my final draft are not much different from each other.
 
So, as a pantser, how hard is it to write a synopsis for those pesky editors? And how much does your final draft resemble that synopsis?

It’s really tough for me to write a synopsis. I’d almost rather write an entire book. Seriously. It’s one of my least favorite things about writing. I usually have the who, what, where, when and why, correct, but everything else about that synopsis as far as plot lines and characterizations usually changes by the time I finish the book. Though, this last book for Harlequin, I was much closer than I’d ever been before.

Jackie: So, enough “shop” talk. Tell us a little about Alex, the heroine of Dragons Prefer Blondes. She’s a dragon-slayer, but there must be some history to that role.

The rest of the world thinks Alex is this wealthy entrepreneur who has some of the hottest clubs all over the world. They have no idea she’s a Guardian Key who protects us from nasty dragons. She’s an excellent fighter and doesn’t take crap off of anyone, but there’s also a softer side to her. She has a habit of picking up stray people, who need a second chance. She helps them to rebuild their lives. You also get to see a funny side of her as she helps a friend plan a wedding. She’s trying to save our world from the dragons, find out who is attacking the people who work for her, and at the same time plan this crazy woman’s wedding. I love Alex, and I would totally hang out with her.

Jackie: Alex sounds like a kick. I’ll bet it was great fun spending time with her while you were writing the book.
 
What about your hero, Jake? What makes him Alex’s perfect match?

Okay, I’m going to be honest here. Jake is my dream man. From head to toe, he is exactly what I would want in a man, strong but vulnerable, sexy and sweet, kind but tough. He loves Alex, and she’s not exactly easy to love, but he doesn’t take any crap off her. He’s the one guy who can stand up to her, and she doesn’t cut his head off. She might want to at times, but she respects him too. He heads up Caruther’s security, and has the unenviable task of keeping Alex safe. She doesn’t make it easy.


Well, I’m sold. Doesn’t Dragons Prefer Blondes sound great?
 
Candace is doing a 100-blog tour and there are prizes to be had, so please go check out her website for more information! Thanks to Candace for graciously chatting with me about her writing and her books.

 

Guest Author–Leigh Court

secretsToday I’d like to welcome guest author Leigh Court to the blog. Leigh has a Victorian-set novella, THE BET, in the latest Red Sage anthology, Secrets Volume 27. She’s here today to talk about her book and about writing with me. She’ll also be giving away a copy of the anthology to one lucky commenter!

Jackie: So, how did a television news reporter become a romance author?

One particularly bad week at work turned me into a romance author.  A good friend of mine — an ABC World News Tonight reporter — was killed in a helicopter crash on his way to cover a story (the cameraman and helicopter pilot also died). My NBC news director assigned the tragic story to me, since I knew him (and his family). As you can imagine, that was a difficult story to do, but later that same week, I had to cover the particularly gruesome death of a New York State trooper. At the end of that week, I went home thinking, “All I do is bad news.” That’s when I picked up my first romance novel, to try and cheer myself up. It worked! (And it was cheaper than therapy, LOL.) So I thought, “Hey, I write for a living, maybe I could write one of these!”  After all I’ve seen of life and its tragedies, I’m thrilled that now I can *guarantee* readers a happy ending!

Jackie: Wow, that really sounds like a horrible week! I would definitely give up my day job in your shoes.
 
So, you decided to write romance, but why historical romance? What drew you toward the historical sub-genre as opposed to, say, contemporary or paranormal romance? Or, dare I say it, romantic suspense, which you would seem to be eminently qualified to write?

LOL, ironically, I think the reason I write historical romance is exactly because of the harsh realities of my experience as a news reporter. I set my stories in the Victorian era because I think men were more noble and gentlemanlike at that time, although that probably wasn’t true of every man, of course. It also lets me play with the delicious dichotomy of a repressive sexual era into which Richard Francis Burton introduced the Kama Sutra to England!  That books plays a big part in my novella THE BET in Secrets Volume 27 — in fact, it’s crucial to the bet.

Jackie: Oh, well I think with that teaser, you’re going to have to tell us a little bit more about this “bet.” Because I’m definitely intrigued!

In my story THE BET, two drunk friends make an outrageous wager. My hero, Damian Hunt, Viscount Atherton, claims that he can, um, er, satisfy a woman using just his words. The contention is so scandalous and implausible that his friend George Beringer wagers his London townhouse that Damian can’t do it, and the woman George chooses for the bet is not only a virgin, she’s also George’s prudish sister Claire! Damian is forced to accept the bet or lose his prized racehorse in forfeit, but he rightly fears that a virgin wouldn’t know what the heck his erotic words mean, so he uses the visual of the Kama Sutra to help introduce Claire to the ways of the flesh. But the end result of THE BET is nothing that Damina or George could ever have imagined!

Jackie: Wow, what a great premise! So, tell us a little bit about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantser or a little of both?

I’ve always been a pantser, but whenever I get stuck in the middle of a story, I do dearly wish I was a plotter, LOL!  Seriously — the more stories I write, the more I realize the value of being a plotter. It hasn’t yet made me one, but I do admire them!

Jackie: Do you have any plans for a sequel to THE BET (I’m thinking maybe George needs his own story, but that’s because that’s how I think!)? If not, can you tell us your next project or release? Or anything else you’d like to let readers know?

In my opinion, George is a bit of a cad. I don’t know if he’ll be reformed in a future story, but in the meantime, I’ve sold a story to Samhain Publishing — a contemporary novella that will be included in their Binding Ties anthology. The story comes out on September 29, and yes, there is um, er, a bit of bondage involved!!
 
I also have a Victorian novella in Secrets Volume 15 called The Disciplinarian. And despite the naughty title, the story is not what you might think!
 
Thanks so much for letting me visit with you, Jackie!  If any of your followers would like to read an excerpt from my Victorian romance THE BET, which releases on July 15, please have them to visit my website at www.leighcourt.com. And if they buy the book I’d *love* to hear what they thought of Damian and Claire’s story!  An excerpt from The Disciplinarian is on my website as well :-).


Thanks to Leigh for being my guest today, and for offering up a copy of the book as a prize. I’ll draw and announce the winner, selected from the commenters on this post, on Thursday, the 9th.

On Friday the 10th, Candace Havens will be here to talk about her new book, Dragons Prefer Blondes.

All the WIPs I’ve Loved Before (and Still Do)

I get asked pretty often what project I’m currently writing. It’s a hard question to answer, because I’m seldom writing just one thing. Whether it’s a good or bad thing, I’ve always got more than project cooking at any given time. When it comes to writing, I’ve realized that I’m polyamorous, and while that means I find it difficult to “commit” to any particular manuscript, it also means that when I hit a roadblock in one story, I can always switch to another one for a while. 

Here, then, in no particular order, are some bite-sized samples of all of my “active” projects:

Prohibition Era Romantic Suspense

It just figured that Mitch would be the one to get stuck arguing with a clerk over payment, freezing his fucking ass off to avoid offending a former client, and getting pushed around by a couple of thugs. All while Carter was back here, getting a taste of some damn fine pussy.

A pussy, Mitch pointed out to himself with no small amount of censure, that his partner had no business coming anywhere near, seeing as how she was a client. How was he supposed to maintain a professional distance from the woman after this?

Especially when she panted breathily, “That was amazing.”

“It most certainly was.” Mitch released the door knob and slammed it shut behind him.

Carter’s eyes met his over the redhead’s shoulder, and his lips moved silently. Mitch knew what he said, anyway.

Shit.

Damn straight.

Regency-set erotic novella (m/f/m menage)

As Grace floated back to earth, her limbs weak and tingling with bliss, the only thing she could think was that someone owed her an apology for making her believe ravishment would be a bad thing. If this was being ravished, then she was all in favor of it.

Atticus brushed her curls, which were dampened with perspiration, away from her forehead and smiled down at her, a triumphant sort of joy writ upon his features.

Meanwhile, Colin extracted a kerchief from a pocket and patted her nether curls, which were far more than merely damp, gently to dry them. When he was done, he drew the same kerchief over his mouth and chin.

“Was that sufficient information, my dear?” he asked as he hoisted himself up to sit beside her once again.

Regency-set mainstream novel

A bespectacled woman sat in an armchair in front of the fire blazing in the large stone heart, reading—of all things—a newspaper. Not the scandal sheets, but the London Times. Clad in a plain pale blue frock, her hair covered in a lacy white fichu, she hadn’t seemed to hear him approach. Instead, she ran a finger down the center of the paper, nodding or shaking her head at turns.

Peculiar.

Who was she? Surely not a close relative or friend of Lord and Lady Parminter, based on the simplicity of her dress. Since she was staring down at the paper, he couldn’t make out her features, but given the spectacles, he imagined she must be roughly his soon-to-be mother-in-law’s age. Likely a spinster cousin who had passed through her youth with neither dowry nor good looks to recommend her. Although, he had to admit as his gaze swept her figure, she possessed a rather fine pair of breasts for a woman who was getting on in years.

His stomach interrupted his thoughts with an unpleasant, empty roll, and it occurred to him that perhaps she had become so engaged in her study that she had forgotten about breakfast. And if he offered to accompany her to the dining room, he wouldn’t have to make a fool of himself by asking directions.

He cleared his throat, loud enough to ensure she heard him but not so loud as to be vulgar.

She looked up, removing the spectacles as she did so.

For ten full seconds, every one of Robert’s major bodily functions ceased operation. His lungs seized. His heart stopped. His mind went blank. Even his stomach ceased its incessant grumbling.

She definitely wasn’t old. And, God knew, she had more than enough good looks to recommend her, though it was her eyes that arrested him more than any other feature. Dark blue gray, they were the color of clouds before a storm. Fringed with thick, smoky lashes, their depths sparkled with pure intelligence and utter guilelessness. Whether or not it was empirically true, he was looking into the face of the most beautiful woman on earth.

A woman he had to have.

…and for something completely different:

Middle grade paranormal mystery

Brooke Forrester’s thirteenth birthday began like pretty much any other day. Which was to say, crappy.

She overslept, which meant skipping either breakfast or a shower to catch the bus.

Her younger brother, Garrett, who didn’t have to be at school until a full hour after she did, raced into the bathroom ahead of her and slammed the door in her face, then hogged it for a full fifteen minutes.

And when she finally got in to brush her teeth and hair, she found a ginormous zit growing in the middle of her forehead. By lunchtime, it would be the size of a Hummer and just about as environmentally friendly.

No one said “Happy Birthday” to her, not even her mother, who’d only pecked Brooke on the cheek before dashing out the door, muttering about a meeting she couldn’t be late for.

Brooke made it down to the kitchen just in time to grab a bagel and say goodbye to her dog before running to the bus stop.

As usual, the shaggy, brown-and-white mutt was waiting outside the front door for her, wagging his tail. When she walked out onto the front porch, he jumped up, resting his two front paws on her thighs.

Brooke scratched him behind his pointy ears. “At least you still love me, Mr. Pettybones.”

The dog looked up to her with soulful brown eyes and said, “I do love you, but from now on, I want you to call me ‘Jim’.”


So, any favorites from among those options? Which one do you hanker most to read?

Also, I’m going to be up in Yosemite from this afternoon until Tuesday night. I’ve turned off comment moderation while I’m gone, so play nice!

Finally, my interview with author Leigh Court, who is giving away a copy of the Secrets Volune 27 anthology in which her latest novella, THE BET, appears, will be up early Tuesday. I won’t be here to tweet or facebook it, so please be sure to remember to drop by!

WTF Wednesday: Only Writers Should Review Books

By now, you’ve probably heard about author Alice Hoffman’s unseemly outbursts on Twitter in response to a less-than-glowing review of her latest novel by Roberta Silman for the Boston Globe. If you haven’t, you’ve probably been living in a hole in the ground. (I’d say a cave, but I kinda think you can get wireless in most caves these days.) However, for those who did manage to miss it, here are a couple of links to summarize:

Now, I’ve always said that an author never does herself a favor by responding to a negative review unless it’s simply to thank the reviewer for his/her time and thoughtful commentary. In other words, if you defend the book or attack the reviewer or call on your fans to give said reviewer what-for, you’re only going to come of looking bad. A truly inaccurate or vicious review speaks for itself, and readers will know it’s not trustworthy. No need for the author to come out with both guns blazing like a mother bear defending her cub. (Yeah, I know. Way to mix metaphors. So shoot me!)

That observation out of the way, what set me off about this incident isn’t Hoffman’s behavior, because as foolish and unprofessional as it may be, what she did was hardly unique. (Heck, this very week, another author by the name of Alain de Boton posted on a reviewer’s blog that he wished said reviewer nothing but ill will and would hate him until the day he died. Oh yeah, way to sound like an adult!)

No, what got me about this whole episode is this Tweet of Ms. Hoffman’s and the response to it:

“Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. Who is Roberta Silman?”

Many of Ms. Hoffman’s critics were quick to point out that Ms. Silman is, in fact, an author with numerous publishing credits to her name. They also suggested Ms. Hoffman might have considering Googling Ms. Silman’s name before she suggested the woman wasn’t “qualified” to review books by virtue of not being an author.

But that entirely misses the point, doesn’t it? Do people honestly believe only writers should review other writers’ work? WTF?

That’s like saying that anyone who’s not a painter can’t have an opinion about a painting or that a film critic has to be an actor or director to provide an accurate assessment of a movie’s merits. And I don’t think anyone believes either of those constructs. So where on God’s green earth does this “only writers can review books because they’re the only ones who can ‘understand’ them” come from? Because Ms. Hoffman is hardly the first writer I’ve seen express this opinion, and the folks who determined Ms. Silman’s qualifications for the job seem to be supporting that contention. (Note: I haven’t read everything that’s been said on this point; there may be folks out there who are saying exactly what I am. I just haven’t found them yet.)

Okay, so here’s the deal. READERS are the people we should expect and WANT to review our work. Why? Because they’re our customers! And while most writers are also readers, and therefore a segment of our “market,” they’re a tiny subset of the much larger group of folks who are just readers. If your book only appeals to the segment of readers who are also writers, you’ve got a problem. By the same token, if the segment of readers who are writers generally dislike your book, but the readers who aren’t love it (I can think of a few recent runaway bestsellers in recent years that probably fit this criteria–Da Vinci Code, anyone), I think you’re in much better shape.

It’s true that pure readers and readers who are also writers don’t always see books the same way. Just as the painter who looks at another painter’s work sees how the brush strokes were applied, how the colors were mixed, and other technical aspects that the rest of us don’t, the writer who is reading can appreciate technical elements of the craft (or decry the lack thereof) in a way readers probably can’t…at least not consciously. But that doesn’t mean that a reader’s response to a book is any less valid or less well-considered than a writer’s. And as a writer myself, I want to know that my book worked (or didn’t) for my readers…all of them, not just a tiny subset who happen to write.

So, to all the reader-reviewers out there: Please keep it up! If you review my book, I will never attack you in any way if any element of your reaction is less than positive (even if it’s really negative), and I will never pull the “you just don’t understand because you’re not a writer” card. I value and appreciate readers who take the time to think about and comment on my work (and that of other writers), so don’t let the nasties out there treat you as if you are not worthy.

In my opinion, you’re the worthiest people I know!