WTF Wednesday: Jackie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day

I suppose one of the advantages of having a blog is that, every once in a while, you get to use it just to rant about how bad life sometimes sucks. It just happens to be extra appropriate that the crap went down on WTF Wednesday instead of some other day of the week.

Every year about this time, the company I work for (which shall remain nameless for a number of reasons) holds an educational conference for our clients. Since I’m an instructional designer (meaning I write lots of training materials), I do quite a few of the sessions every year. Normally, we hold the conference live at a local hotel, but this year, the decision was made to go virtual due to the recession and the fear that many of our clients wouldn’t be able to attend. The parent company hired a third party vendor to handle the technical aspects of the conference.

Or so we thought…

The first sign things were not going well came this morning when the first live session was broadcast. The sound kept cutting out. Eventually, there was no audio at all. Dandy. The vendor couldn’t seem to figure out what the problem was, so the session was eventually cancelled.

Now, I had my own live session at noon. At this point, I was starting to think bad thoughts about what was going to happen when it was my turn to broadcast. Maybe it was stress or panic, but all of a sudden, I started having migraine precursors (for me, that means auras and aphasia). Not knowing whether I have to go in or not at this point, I took some Tylenol 3 and crossed my fingers that they’d decide to postpone the session so I could sleep in a dark, quiet room.

No such luck. “Come in, they’ll have it sorted out by then.”

So, I went. Fortunately, the drugs were working pretty well so I didn’t have a bastard of a headache, but when the time came for my session…you guessed it…no audio. After 20 minutes of dicking around, the presentation was cancelled and now I’m supposed to do it tomorrow instead.

As if this weren’t all irksome enough, I had a little time between leaving the office and picking up my kids, so I stopped on my way home at the B&N, planning to pick up Tessa Dare’s Surrender of a Siren. I know from experience I can rely on B&N to shelve books on their release date if not before, whereas my Borders tends to be slow (they didn’t have my book out for a couple of WEEKS after the release date).

Yeah, right. This ONE time, when I most needed a good comfort read to curl up with, B&N failed me. The book isn’t out yet and I didn’t have time to try anywhere else.

Waaaah!

Okay, so, tell me about your latest terrible, horrible, no good, really bad day. Because misery loves company!

Musing on Monday: Placement Does Matter

Last week, I asked you all what most influenced your book buying decisions. The results (you can see them yourself by clicking “View Results” on the poll in the right margin) were quite interesting to me, mainly because they confirmed my long-held believe that there’s not much an author can do to materially affect her book’s sales. I was especially interested to see that very few people cited advertisements or online blog appearances as having a significant impact on their buying choices.

What I did notice, however, is that the majority of the respondents said the book’s cover, title, and blurb, along with a scan of its contents was a factor in their choices. That makes sense to me. I know those are a factor in my decisions as well, along with the second-biggest vote-getter, word of mouth recommentations from friends and family. But while most everyone knows that picking up and reading/handling the book is an important part of their book-buying choices, few of you acknowledged that the book’s placement in the store or availability in stores like Target/Walmart had an affect on what you choose to buy.

Now, I suppose if you do a lot of research on books before you even walk into the bookstore and have a very strong idea of what you’re looking for when you get there (and I generally do), store placement/distribution probably doesn’t have much effect on what you purchase. You’ll go searching in the stack for that book you’re interested in whether you can find it easily or not.

But what about those impulse buys? I have to admit, store placement makes a huge difference to me, because I certainly haven’t got the time to go through ALL the books that are shelved, spine-out only, in the romance section to see if the cover and title then the blurb and contents grab me. So it’s just a fact that the books that are shelved face out, whether in the front of the store or on end caps and tables, are going to draw more attention from me unless I’m looking for something specific. And while the cover and title may entice me to pick up the book, the blurb may intrigue me, and the contents may actually induce me to buy, unless I SEE that cover and title, I’m never going to pick the book up in the first place unless I’m actively looking for it.

This is even more true if you do most of your book-buying (as I suspect the majority of Americans do) not at book stores that shelve a wide variety of titles, but at big box chains like WalMart, Target, and Costco. Everything at those retailers is stocked face out, but it’s only a limited subset of everything that’s available at any given time. Those stores have, quite honestly, a huge impact on the reading tastes of Americans. A book that doesn’t get stocked in WalMart, for example, will generally wind up with an initial print run of less than half a book that they do pick up.

All of this makes it tough for authors whose books don’t get picked up by those big chain stores AND whose publishers don’t choose to purchase that face-out space in brick-and-more stores. Your initial print run is pretty much guaranteed to be under 30,000 books. And many potential book buyers who might really like your book will never even see it, because it will be buried in the shelves at Borders or B. Dalton, spine out, between hundreds of other spine-out books. It’ll be there for people who are actually looking for it, and that’s a good thing. No one can buy a book that isn’t stocked. But it’s an uphill battle to get exposure for a book unless the publisher buys it, because there just isn’t a whole lot the author can buy that works half as well.

Worldbuilding: How Do You Do It?

The backstory to this post is that I have what I (and everyone I’ve shared it with) think is a really cool idea for a YA novel. At this point, it’s a concept without any real plot and, even trickier, requires me to build a non-existent, paranormal world, something I haven’t really ever done before. Some of my friends have encouraged me to just start writing and let the worldbuilding and plot come as I go, but I have a hard time doing that because for me, internal logic and consistency in worldbuilding is epically important. I simply can’t write the story until I have most of the details of how the world behaves and what it looks like.

The biggest problem I’m having with this whole worldbuilding gig, though, is that I really don’t know how other writers do it, so I have no idea how to go about it myself. I’m not the sort of writer who tends to outline stories, although I do consider myself more of a plotter than a pantser when it comes to writing. It’s just that instead of outlining the story on paper (which to me feels a little too much like writing the actual story, and then I find the process of actually writing it boring and redundant), I tend to work it out in my head and hold it there. This doesn’t mean I have every scene in mind when I start out or anything as regimented as that, but it does mean I have the major turning points sorted out and know what I’m working toward at each step along the way.

Sometimes, I think my inability to outline (which I’ve had since I was a kid in school; I always wrote the term paper first, THEN wrote the outline, even if the teacher demanded the outline be handed in before the term paper) is a shortcoming because it means I sometimes get stuck. The past couple of weeks have been “stuck” weeks. Every story I’m working on reached a point where I just wasn’t sure what should happen next. I knew what plot points I had to cover, but coming up with a scene that actually covered those point without being nothing but plodding exposition was driving me crazy.

I feel a bit the same way about my worldbuilding issue. I have some broad outlines and a few details, but I have no idea how to organize them into a clear, comprehensive “picture” of the world I want to write about. So, I’m asking authors out there (especially those who’ve got experience in writing paranormal stories) how they go about it. Do you jot things down as they come to you? Write a “bible?” Or just make it up as you go along?

I know there isn’t any one “right” way to do this. But having not done it before, I’d like to know what ways have been the right ones for other people.

WTF Wednesday: Erotic Romance is NOT a Subgenre

A few months ago, I entered an RWA chapter contest that permitted entries from both published and unpublished authors, provided the manuscript itself was not published. (No, I’m not going to tell you which contest it was.) I was curious to see how these stories would play, but also figured I should enter the category which had an editor I’d be interested in getting the manuscripts in front of should I final.

To that end, I entered the historical category rather than erotica, despite the fact that there are sex scenes in the first chapter of both manuscripts. I knew that was a gamble, but both manuscripts were firmly set in historical periods and, as such, fit in the historical category as well as or better than they fit in erotica.1

Fast forward to yesterday, when I received my score sheets. I already knew I hadn’t made the final round, and I was fine with that. I also expected the early sex to be an issue for the judges, but not as big an issue as it was. My scores on one manuscript were 74 and 68 (of 100). On the other, 69 and 59. Ouch!

But the kicker is that all of the judges, in one way or another, indicated they would have scored higher if I had entered erotica, not historical. WTF? One story is set in 1817, the other in 1929. Both are romances set in a historical time period, ergo, regardless of the sexual content, they are historical romances. This means they were not entered in the wrong category and therefore, should not have been scored “down” for content that might have met the criteria of a different category.

For a long time, I’ve waffled on whether or not adding an erotic romance category to the RITAs would be a good thing. In theory, I thought it would be a good idea since it would give authors more options when it came to determining which category their book best belonged in. RWA has long maintained, however, that the criteria for defining a romance as “erotic” is simply too slippery and could lead to more problems than it solves. (The outcome of Dear Author’s poll last week on the question of what constitutes erotic romance provides, to me, confirmation of the “slipperiness” of the criteria. The most popular answer was “any romance that is really sexed up.” Okay, great. Define “sexed up.” Anyone?)

The outcome of this contest has pretty well convinced me that RWA has it right. Erotic romance isn’t a subgenre; it’s a heat level. And all subgenres (with the exception of Inspirational, which I do think has specific expectations that are distinct from other subgenres) can accommodate all heat levels, from sweet to scorching. A romance set in 1825 is a historical romance, while one set in 2009 is a contemporary. Neither the role sexual encounters play in that romance nor the frankness of the language used has any bearing on whether the book is identifiably historical or identifiably contemporary. If the book fits the definition of the category, it does, even if it also happens to fit (in the judge’s opinion) the definition of another category.

The problem is that when a category for erotic romances/erotica exists in any particular contest, the judges then feel free to second-guess and penalize the author for entering a book which is otherwise clearly suited to the parameters of the category simply because it has strong sexual language and content. Basically, this means they are importing subjective opinions about what heat level is acceptable in a romance of a particular type (be it contemporary, paranormal, historical) when that is nowhere objectively defined in the scoring or the category descriptions provided by the contest coordinators. True, there may be more contest coordintors could do to instruct their judges NOT to score manuscripts/books based on heat level, but the reality, I think, is that they’ll do it anyway, especially if an erotica/ER category exists. Moreover, in the RITA, where scores are simply numeric with no comments, authors will never even KNOW they were dinged for erotic content unless the judge actually goes so far as to state the book was entered in the wrong category.

So, what do you think? Is “erotic romance” a separate, definable category? If it is, how would you define it? And do you think I’ll ever enter another contest again ;)?


1In my opinion, erotica is distinct from erotic romance. Erotica does not follow the romance genre requirement to focus on the development of a romantic relationship nor does it have to resolve in an HEA or HFN ending for the protagonists. Erotica can end UNhappily. Genre romance, and therefore any romance with erotic contact, canNOT. If I am writing a story that focuses on a romantic relationship and ends with an HEA/HFN, it’s an erotic romance, not erotica.

What Influences Book-Buying Decisions

One of the most persistent and pesky questions that authors and publishers deal with is what sorts of promotion are most effective for getting a book into readers’ hands. This is especially true now, as the whole world of advertising is changing so dramatically with the rise of the Internet and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Because of this (and because I’m infinitely curious about the degree to which an author can effectively promote her book independent of what her publisher does), here’s a little poll on how you make your book-buying decisions.

[poll id=”4″]

And I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours ;).

Musing on Monday: Identifying Your Business Philosophy

In recent months, I’ve come to realize that writing is a lot more business than art. A lot more. Oh, the writing part is still the most important thing–it’s the production end of the business equation. You can’t sell a product you haven’t made (and although it’s possible to sell an unfinished product on proposal, in the final analysis, you still have to produce it at some point!).

As authors, we spend a lot of time and effort worrying about the writing end of our jobs. About all the C’s: craft, conflict, characterization. We read books about these things, about how to hone our product to perfection. We chat about them with our critique partners and writer friends. Agonize over them during revisions, and stress over whether we’ve done them “right” when we start submitting to agents or editors.

But oddly enough, I think most of us spend very little time analyzing our business philosophy when it comes to actually selling our product. Just getting an offer of publication can seem so remote and unlikely that we rarely think beyond that point about what we want from being published.

I know when I got the call from my Kensington editor offering to publish Behind the Red Door, I was so thrilled someone loved the book enough to want to publish it at all, I didn’t think very far ahead. I had achieved my dream–I was going to be published, my book was going to be in bookstores across the country. That was enough. I didn’t think to worry about how big my print run would be, which bookstores would have my book in them, whether my book would have any special in store placement (i.e., coop), what the publisher would do to market my book, or what they would expect/like me to do to promote it myself. None of those questions occurred to me and now, I really wish they had.

Now, I’m not saying any of this by way of complaining. I am still thrilled and delighted that Kensington published my book, that they gave it a beautiful cover, and that their sales force obviously did their job in terms of getting it into bookstores. But…I wish I’d gone into this whole publishing gig with a clearer idea of my business philosophy and strategy.

So, as I pursue that next contract, I’m thinking long and hard about the business end of things. Asking myself what will, for me, constitute not merely being published, but being published well. These are questions not just about money, but about things like format (would I be happy with another trade format book, or do I really want mass market paperback?), distribution (I want to be in WalMart and Target if possible, right?), promotion (is the publisher going to provide me with a publicist or other marketing support?), and so on. And they’re not questions to which I have perfectly straight answers. In some cases, the answer is it depends on the book. But by and large, I have a pretty good feel now for what I want versus what I need, and I know the difference between them (i.e., I know what’s a dealbreaker and what’s not).

The thing is, as a writer, you have to know enough about your business philosophy to walk away from an offer for publication if it doesn’t meet your minimum requirements. But you can’t do that unless you know what those minimums are. So, before you start seriously pursuing publication (especially with any of the major New York houses), be sure you know what you need. If you have an agent, be sure she knows what you need.

And then don’t take less, even if it means a dream deferred.

WTF Wednesday: What’s an Author to Do…?

…when it appears her book is sinking like a lead zeppelin?

Okay, I actually don’t have any hard and fast data on how Behind the Red Door is selling. I don’t have a subscription to Bookscan, so I can’t look it up there (and although my agent probably could, I’m not all that sure I really want to know). I did call the Ingram’s number a couple of times in the first few weeks after release (and those numbers were pretty discouraging), but now that phone number is no longer working (methinks Ingram’s has taken away that lovely free service and will replace it with something I’ll have to pay for). But the most telling statistic to me is that when I go into my local bookstores, all the copies that were shelved two weeks ago are still there. NOT a good sign!

Mind you, I don’t see this as evidence that the book itself isn’t good. I think the problems with selling it can be summed up as follows:

1. Debut author
2. Trade format (which many people don’t like/buy)
3. Relatively high cover price (related to format)
4. Not much buzz/few editorial reviews

The only one I can imagine having much impact on (as an author) is the last one, but I’ve already sent out review copies to those folks I knew about who weren’t on my publisher’s list. So far, that hasn’t produced any additional reviews. Whether that’s because the people I sent it to a) haven’t read it yet or b) didn’t feel moved to write a review after they read it, I can’t begin to guess. (Of course, it’s entirely possible that the people I sent it to read it and hated it, but I sincerely hope they wouldn’t let that stop them from reviewing it and saying so. Honestly, I can take negative reviews. I won’t go Alice Hoffman on you on Twitter or anywhere else, I promise.)

So, here’s the deal. I’ve got quite a few copies of this book lying around. I also have it in .pdf format. If you’re a reviewer or a reader/author who’d be willing to read it and register an opinion, I’ll send you a copy. Free. All I ask is that you give it a review of some kind somewhere online–good, bad, or indifferent doesn’t matter to me. Just email me (you can use the contact page if you like) and let me know what format you’d prefer. Depending on how many of you respond, I’ll select ten “winners” at random.

I’ll need to hear from you by next Monday, and (while I know there’s no way I can actually force you to do this), I’d like to see your review up by September 1. (If you know you can’t make that turnaround, just tell me in the email why not. I’m pretty flexible.)

I’m not convinced this will make the slightest bit of difference. But it can’t hurt, right? So I’m willing to give it a shot.

TV Tuesday: I Like My Men Scruffy and a Little Odd

Got into a brief conversation this morning on Twitter about why I can’t be arsed to read or care about the Twilight books. Basically it comes down to:

1) I’m not a big fan of vampire books/mythology to begin with (although I do love Emma Petersen’s vampires, but that’s because I love anything she writes!).

2) I find the idea of a hero and heroine who have to be stunted at age 18, both physically and emotionally, to have an HEA unappealing.

But that’s not really the subject of my post. Because it dawned on me that while I can find sexy young men nice to look at in a distant sort of way, I’m not nearly as attracted to men in their late teens or twenties as I am to men in their forties and even fifties. Almost all of my favorite TV shows feature male leads who are on the older, scruffier side. (The primary exception to that rule is BURN NOTICE, whose Jeffrey Donovan is neither old nor scruffy, but it has Bruce Campbell in the wonderful supporting role of Sam, and if he’s not older and scruffier, I don’t know who is, lol.)

I’ve also realized I like them odd. Just a little off. Not quite normal.

For proof of my peculiar tastes, I offer the following as my two favorite leading men, bar none:

  • Hugh Laurie
  • hughlaurieI’m embarrassed to admit that I completely ignored House for its first two seasons on TV because I didn’t realize that the irascible Dr. Gregory House was played by none other than Hugh Laurie. (It was the flawless American accent that confused me, I swear!)

    I’ve loved Laurie practically forever, having never missed him in Black Adder (an absolutely hilarious, must-see series for any British history buff) or Jeeves and Wooster, or any of a half a dozen other Britcoms he appeared in over the years. (One of my favorite bits is of him and Stephen Frye doing “Are You Being Serbed.” Slayed me.)

    I have to admit, though, that I never fully appreciated the brilliance of his acting until I saw House. It’s quite a feat, in my opinion, to make such a selfish, unlikeable character so sympathetic and to imbue him with so much humanity despite all his unpleasant characteristics. (I just hope the show didn’t jump the shark this last season with his descent into hallucination. I was very disappointed when I discovered a lot of what happened toward the end of the season wasn’t real.)

  • Jeff Goldblum

  • jeff-goldblumI’m not sure I’ve ever been happier with my TV set than when I found out Jeff Goldblum was joining the cast of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Now, I like Vincent D’Onofrio’s Bobby Goren, but (scruffiness aside), he’s not quite my type.

    Goldblum’s Nichols, though–that man has got it going on! I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to be both odd-looking and incredibly handsome all at the same time. There’s just something not quite right about the man, and yet, I find that’s exactly what’s so attractive about him, and it fascinates me. Charisma is an odd and powerful thing that I’ve yet to fully understand, but whatever it is, Goldblum has it. And I’m so happy he’s sharing it with me on Sunday nights at 9.

What about you? Got any favorite leading (or supporting) men you think others might find a little “odd?” I’d love to hear.

Two Bits

Based on the results of my (entirely unscientific) poll, you all like personal insights into the author’s life. Today’s insight into mine is the results of today’s trip to the hairstylist. (Note: These aren’t professional photos at all. The first one was taken by my husband while we were on vacation, and the two after photos were taken by my 10yo daughter about twenty minutes ago.)

before

Before

after1 after2

After

So, what do you think? I’ll tell you one thing, in the heat of August, I prefer the hair off my neck :)!

Author Blog Topics: What Do You Like to Read?

I was chatting with my best bud and CP, Emma Petersen, this morning and she mentioned she needed to go write a blog post. I said, “Yeah, blogging is like cleaning house…as soon as you’re done, you have to do it again.” And darn it, I’m always needing somethingto blog about.

Yesterday, I posted wondering how much readers really want to hear about writers trials and tribulations in the business of publishing. I’ve enjoyed the conversation that’s developed, but it’s been mostly between authors, so it doesn’t really help me in gauging what all the folks who happen to swing by my blog would like to read. So, in the interest of data collection, here’s a new poll. (You can choose more than one answer.)

[poll id=”3″]