Musing on Monday: To Enter or Not to Enter

The RITAs, that is.

Now that they are open for entry, I have to decide (and fairly quickly) whether or not to enter any (or all) of the novellas in Behind the Red Door.

It wouldn’t be such a difficult decision if I could enter the anthology as a unit. But because the book consists of three novellas, I must enter each novella separately in the Romance Novella category. At $40 a pop, the entry fee alone adds up pretty quickly, to say nothing of the expense of shipping 15 copies of the book.

The decision would be easier if I thought one of the novellas was far and away better than the others, but…I don’t. I like them all for different reasons. More, I’m pretty sure if I chose one just one to enter, it would be wrong one.

And then there’s the fact that even if I entered all three, the likelihood of any of them reaching the final round is very, very small. Aside from any other factor, erotic romances don’t tend to fare well in the RITAs, Pam Rosenthal’s Edge of Impropriety notwithstanding.

There are all the reasons NOT to enter. But, there are reasons to enter. First and foremost is that, while the chance of finaling might be small, it’s only zero if I don’t enter. And reaching the finals would be amazing and awesome. Not that I remotely expect it, enter or not. There are way too many other great authors entering wonderful novellas this year (particularly Courtney Milan and her lovely novella, This Wicked Gift, which comes out at the end of this month). That said, it’s hard to make the deliberate choice not to play.

So, what would you do? Enter them all? Close your eyes, pick one, and enter that one? Or enter none at all?

Decisions, decisions. (I’m a Gemini. I’m bad at them!)

Edited to add: I decided it was worth asking the National office whether novellas in single author anthologies were treated the same as novellas in multiple author anthologies. Some contests I’ve found do treat them as a novel, so I thought it was worth asking. Alas, it is as I thought…to enter all three, I must enter all three individually and send in 15 copies of the book.

Thursday Throwdown: Are Most Bestsellers Good or Garbage?

With Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol hitting the shelves this week and almost certainly destined to be a blockbuster bestseller, I remembered a discussion I had about a month ago on Twitter about whether or not books that make the bestseller list are, in some objective measure, “good”–even if we personally don’t see their appeal. I said I thought they were.

Just because I don’t like a particular book and/or don’t think it’s well-written doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. And I think if large numbers of people are buying and reading a book, there has to be something worthwhile about it. I just don’t subscribe to the theory that popular culture has poor/low taste and can’t recognize quality. For starters, if I did subscribe to that theory, I’d a) think democracy was the stupidest form of government on earth and b) stop trying to write good books and try to write crap instead.

The reason the release of the Dan Brown book made me think about this is that his breakout book, The DaVinci Code, is without a doubt one of the most maligned bestsellers in recent memory. According to many of its critics, it’s poorly written with wooden dialogue and a boring protagonist and a plot that’s both derivative (“Hey, someone else thought of that whole Mary Magdalene bit first! How dare the author use it?”) and predictable (“I figured out the last clue PAGES before the protagonists! How could they be so stupid?”).

Now, all of that may actually be true, but I’m going to tell you a secret: I liked The DaVinci Code. Not as much as Angels and Demons (which coincidentally had an even more absurd and fanciful plot, but who’s paying attention?), but…it was, for me, an enjoyable read. No, I didn’t think it was high literary art or destined to become a classic in the canon of American literature, but as entertainment, these books worked for me–and clearly for several million other people as well. And when we get right down to it, isn’t that what books are supposed to be? How can people be wrong about what entertains them?

None of this is to say that deserving books always become bestsellers. There are a whole host of factors that go into determining which books hit the bestseller lists, not the least of them being whether or not the publisher markets it with the intention of making it one. But I do think publishers have a pretty good idea which books have the right elements to become bestsellers and they plan accordingly. They aren’t stupid. Of course, sometimes, they get it wrong (like all the publishers who turned down The Shack, which has since become an enormous bestseller), but by and large, they do a pretty good job of guessing which books will have the popular appeal to hit the bestseller lists.

So, that’s my opinion. I think most bestsellers are, in fact, good rather than garbage. Even the ones I either didn’t like or that I have no interest in reading (dude, Twilight). Hey, I don’t have any interest in reading Moby Dick, either. I escaped it in high school and I know it’s supposed to be great literature, but I also really don’t care that much.

But I’m curious what you think. Do you think most bestsellers deserve their status or do you think they’re mostly garbage or is it somewhere in between. Vote below and leave your comments!

[poll id=”5″]

P.S. Yes, I’ll be buying The Lost Symbol but I’ll be waiting for it to come out in mass market paperback. Not only because I’m cheap, but because I just don’t like reading hardbacks!

WTF Wednesday: Touchy, Aren’t We?

I’m not the only person to notice and comment on this by a long shot, and I’m sure I won’t be the last (in fact, I think there’s a report on the topic on this afternoon’s All Things Considered on NPR), but wow, we’re all a little touchy lately, aren’t we? The number of incidents involving celebrities, athletes, and politicians popping off at little or no provocation is legion (and I won’t reiterate them here on the grounds that they don’t need anymore publicity for bad behavior than they’ve already gotten). And then there’s the general undertone of…sorry, I can’t think of any word other than “bitchiness”, despite the sexist connotations…that constantly seems to be flaring up in Romancelandia. Again, I don’t think I need to cite specific incidents for folks to know what I’m referring to.

The thing is, I’m not here to castigate anyone for this or decry the lack of civility in the modern world. Because, darn it, I have to count myself among the cranky pop-off’ers. Honesty forces me to admit that the tone of this blog has not been exactly upbeat and lovey-dovey of late. Now, I’m not attempting to excuse bad behavior, either, and I would like to think I haven’t engaged in any actual bad behavior remotely like some of what I’ve seen/heard about in the news lately, but I am wondering if this malady is deeper than individual circumstances.

See, I’m grumpy about a lot of things publishing and writing related–some of them things I can control (like whether I’m actually writing anything) and others I can’t (whether there’s anyone willing to buy the anything I write)–but I’m starting to suspect that my grumpiness is magnified by everything that’s going on around me. The whole world seems to be in a state of perpetual pugnacity. Everyone is just itching for a fight (to quote Michael Feldman), whether it’s over “death panels” or the president’s citizenship status or a certain Twitter hashtag that shall remain nameless.

It’s pretty easy to suspect that a big part of the reason for this constant underlying irritation is anxiety. With the economy still in such a state of upheaval, people are just plain worried. Those who’ve lost their jobs are worried about finding new ones. Those who haven’t lost them are afraid they might. And then there’s the overall pace of technological and social change, everything from the rise of digital media to same-sex marriage. Even those of us who are all in favor of progress are a little knocked on our ears by the sheer instability of things.

So, now that I’ve realized I’m more than a little touchy (and guilty of expressing it), I’ve decided I have to take some steps toward positive thinking. Not because it will make better things happen, mind you (I don’t believe in the power of positive thinking in quite that way), but because it will make me feel better. Because being cranky really sucks.

What about you? Feeling touchy lately? Any advice for handling one’s irritation in a positive way?

P.S. I don’t believe the president calling a certain celebrity a “jackass” helps to improve the tenor of the discussion.

Thursday Throwdown: Why You Should Want Universal Insurance

Yes, I’m pre-empting my normal ranting and raving about publishing and writing to bring you an overtly political rant and rave about healthcare reform.

Here’s the thing…I’m frankly baffled that this is political at all. Everyone should want universal access to healthcare in America. Everyone should want everyone else to have insurance coverage. Everyone. Including, yes, those terrible, evil illegal immigrants who are ruining America.

But I digress.

I have a very personal story to tell that illustrate why universal coverage should matter to you, even if you have health insurance. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do, really, with enlightened self-interest or lowering costs by getting all those uninsured people out of the emergency room.

No, it’s because it can save your life (or the life of someone you love).

Back in July of 2003, I had a sudden and severe asthma attack. The best way I can describe it is to say that it felt like someone had closed a door between my upper airways and my lungs. Everything seemed to have swollen shut. I tried my rescue inhaler without success. I tried my nebulizer, also without success. It was the middle of the night, so I called 911, imagining that there would be something the paramedics could do for me that I couldn’t do for myself. Then I woke my husband.

I don’t remember much after that. My husband says it took almost 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. They tried to get me to use my nebulizer (duh, I’d tried that; didn’t work). They tried giving me oxygen. And finally, they realized they had to transport me.

And then they spent SEVERAL MINUTES in the driveway of our house trying to get my husband (at 2am with his wife DYING in front of his eyes) to supply proof that we had insurance. Never mind that, even then, that was illegal. Never mind that I was in the back of the ambulance going cyanotic and gasping for air.

Obviously, they did eventually transport me and, thank God, a wonderful team of doctors and nurses saved my life. But by the time I arrived, I’d been in cardiac arrest for almost five minutes.

Now, if those paramedics hadn’t stood there in the driveway asking my husband about our insurance, I MIGHT have arrived at the hospital with a heartbeat. I might not have had to have CPR. I might have spent less time in the hospital, costing my insurance company and the health care system in general less money. At the time, I had a

Even though they weren’t supposed to ask, the fact that they KNEW many people don’t have insurance made them feel they were justified in doing so. They wanted to make sure they would get paid. I can’t say I entirely blame them. But that small delay could have been the difference between my living and dying.

When my husband arrived at the hospital, the paramedics were coming out. They wouldn’t look at him. He thought then that I was gone. They are probably lucky I lived, because he’d probably have had a cause of action in my wrongful death if I didn’t.

But either way, wouldn’t it be better if no one EVER had to worry whether a patient’s care would be paid for? It could save lives. Maybe yours.

WTF Wednesday: Ten Things I Hate About You

My maudlin little post yesterday about knowing when to throw in the towel (I still don’t know when that is, lol) garnered this response from an author who’d like to remain anonymous (for reasons I’m sure you’ll understand when you read it).

Being a writer is a little like being a crack addict—or like being in love with an abusive spouse that you just can’t find the balls to walk away from. Over the last few months I’ve received more than a few rejections. Matter of fact, I haven’t sold for quite some time, and not for a lack of trying. I realize that the market is tighter than ever and selling is harder than ever; I am far from naive about the publishing business—and maybe that’s the real problem. But after a spate of recent rejections I found myself wondering if, to be blunt, I was just writing too smart, putting too much thought and care into the proposals I was crafting.

“Too smart” is probably not the right phrase. Maybe the word I’m looking for is complex, as in “too complex” or simpler as in “simpler, more basic storylines” or even trope as in “writing more to trope and trying less to be unique and truly creative”. Because you see, even when I did “the same but different”, as in the same as what everyone else is writing but different, apparently my different was too different.

And when one sees people selling and selling… and selling and publishing and one knows they can write rings around those who not only continue to sell, but end up with six, seven, even eight books out in a year, it does make one wonder. Especially when you receive rejections from an editor who just doesn’t like your voice or your writing and you’ve read some of the books this editor has published and to be frank, they suck. They’re mediocre—at best—and either this writer can’t write or this editor can’t edit. If the authors of those books had been your critique partners, you would have kicked the manuscript back to them and told them to start again because holy fucking hell, that was some nasty vile shit. Not that I would ever say that to any of my critique partners because they’re all damned fine writers.

And when your critique partner tells you that you write better than a well-known NYT bestselling author, it makes you stop and ask, “What am I doing wrong then that I can’t sell another book?”

To be frank, it’s demoralizing.

Time and time again, I find myself wondering why I don’t quit and sadly, the only answer I can come up with is this one: sticking with it might be demoralizing but quitting would be humiliating.

I hate myself for not having the guts to quit, for not having the balls to yank down my pants and show you the moons of my ass while lifting both my middle fingers and then walk away—forever;

I hate myself for loving what I do so much that I’m willing to take beating after beating after beating.

I hate myself for the bitter taste of pride in my mouth.

I hate this business that can get away with paying authors advances that are no higher than when writers like Nora Roberts started out 25 plus years ago. Yeah, there are houses out there paying 2000.00/book advances, 3000.00/book advances, 4000.00/book advances and writers saying yes. We should all be ashamed for saying yes. We should all be ashamed for bending over and saying, “stick it to me and don’t bother with the lube!”

I hate this business because the amount of money you’re paid per book directly ties into the amount of promotional love you get from your publisher. If you took that $2000.00 a book deal, you’re fucked. All the promo is on you and that measly-ass two grand they paid you…there is nothing and I mean not a fucking thing you can do with that two grand that will get you noticed. Instead, what you should do with that two grand is take your kids to Disney World. For real. The Magic Kingdom makes everything better.

I hate this business because there are only two major book chains left in the U. S. and publishers have to pay booksellers for premium space in their stores.

I hate this business because one of the most powerful people in publishing is the head buyer for a major book chain.

I hate this business because retailers…OMFG RETAILERS have the power to change a cover or a title. People I am not making this shit up! And it is not right! Not right at all!

I hate this business because, more often than not, it’s not about what’s good or even what’s great, it’s about what’s marketable and what we can sell the most of. RIP CHICK LIT.

I hate this business because publishers pay booksellers to promote books that sell instead of letting booksellers promote books they love or books that they feel need or deserve a little pimpage. Am I the only one who sees the irony in that? Sure it’s a bookseller’s job and a publisher’s job to make a profit but books that sell are going to sell regardless. What about the books that don’t sell? What about the books that get no attention? I mean, what’s the point of pimping Danielle Steele when she’s got a built-in following? Yes I’m thinking of a recent book-pimpage video I watched)

And honestly, when’s the last time you bought Danielle Steele? Right. You’re not her target audience; your grandmother is.

I hate this business because for many writers, it’s about quantity not quality.

I hate this business because even after you make the New York Times, publishers still aren’t satisfied. They want more and more and more. Congratulations, your last book sold a million copies and you made the NYT. Next time you need to sell 1.25 million and you need to hit higher on the list—and oh yeah, stay on the list longer.

You want to know who the true vampires are? The motherfuckers who look at profit and loss and bottom lines and then turn around and fire damned fine editors because…they can get two, or maybe even three, for the price of one. The assholes who have turned publishing into…Hollywood. You know…that place where imagination used to reign supreme and classics like ET and Star Wars were made. That place where they’re now so desperate for movie ideas, they’re pillaging all the really bad horror movies of the 70’s and 80’s.

A final word of caution: To all you aspiring writers out there who are just dying to break into New York publishing, who think you’d sell your soul for a book deal, or even an agent, who scoff at people who try to tell you it’s no better on the other side of the fence. I know you think you’re smarter and more clever and more educated about publishing that many of those who went before you, and that when you sell, it will be different, better somehow, but the cold hard mother fucking truth is, it won’t. You’ll be as fucked as the rest of us. No wonder Hemingway was an alcoholic.

‘Scuse me while I go shoot up.

When Is It Time to Throw in the Towel?

I remember a time when I wrote for the fun of it. When I had no idea what the “rules” were and the words just flowed out of my head and onto the page. Yeah, most of them were crap, but I didn’t know they were crap, so it didn’t bother me. I just enjoyed the process of committing the story in my head to paper…or the screen, as the case may be.

Somewhere along the way, though, writing stopped being fun. I’m hard-pressed to say exactly when it happened. Probably, that’s because it didn’t happen overnight. It was a more gradual process. I learned more about craft, more about the should’s and shouldn’t’s. I became a much better writer in every objective sense than I was when the words just flowed and I didn’t care if they sucked or not. I had a few short stories and novellas published by an epublisher, then a novella collection published by a New York house.

Wow, I was a real writer! What an accomplishment!

But the joy? It’s gone. Writing has become a chore, about as much fun as cleaning the bathroom and with even less reward. At least someone is always grateful when I clean the bathroom. My wonderful CPs and a few friends aside, nobody seems to care one way or another whether I ever write another word.

It’s not just that I haven’t been able to sell anything since Behind the Red Door. Oh, sure, that’s part of it. If I were feeling some love from editors, my own love for the task of writing might be considerably stronger. But it’s more than that.

You see, I’m starting to wonder if I have had an inflated opinion of my own skills. Maybe I’m just really not any good at this. Maybe the reason I’m not selling anything is because…duh, I don’t deserve to.

A couple of days ago, I clicked on a Twitter link to a book for sale on Fictionwise. A book with a (in my opinion) ridiculous premise and worse cover art. But this book has obviously sold hundreds of copies and most of the ratings by readers are “Great.” It has a few “Good” ratings and a couple of “Averages.” No “Poors.”

By comparison, my ebooks’ reader ratings on Fictionwise are about evenly split between good and average. I have a few greats. A couple of poors. But in general, it’s pretty clear that the typical reader has a lukewarm response to my books. Oh, they don’t hate them, but they don’t love them, either.

But it’s not just buyers at Fictionwise who feel lukewarm about my work. Oh, I get generally good ratings from most reviewers, but I’ve never managed to garner a recommended read or top pick or anything like that. And I’ve yet to receive a single piece of fan mail from a new reader since my print book came out. I’ve gotten some fan mail from my ebooks, and some readers who’ve contacted me in the past wrote to tell me they liked Behind the Red Door, but it doesn’t seem to have garnered me a legion of new fans.

What am I to take away from this? I always write the best book I can, believe me, but the best book I can write is apparently not the book that editors or readers are all that excited about. I could launch into a screed at this point about the lowest common denominator and the inability of “the masses” to recognize true quality, but even if I thought it was true that my books were “too good” for the general public (which I don’t), it doesn’t really matter. If no one but a handful of people loves my books, there’s not much point in pursuing a career in writing. Especially if I’m not getting any pleasure from it myself.

I’ve said before that the only way to be sure you’ll never be published is to give up. But I’ve been published. So? Do I keep trying to get published when it’s about as much fun as slamming my finger in a door or do I close the book on the “writer” chapter of my life and move on?

I’m sure this whole post sounds like a combination of a self-pity party and a cry for attention, but I’m not looking for anyone to tell me I’m too talented to give up or otherwise exhort me to keep the faith. I’ve heard that plenty of times already (usually from those devoted CPs and friends, bless them), and it hasn’t changed anything. I’m still not sure why I should keep at it.

Right now, what I genuinely want to know is how anyone knows it’s time to quit. Not just writing, but any pursuit where the relative likelihood of success is small and the cost of continuing to try is high—in blood, sweat, tears, time, money, whatever. When does someone who desperately wants to be a major league baseball player decide it’s time to give up the dream and focus on a “real” career instead? When does someone whose life ambition is to be an actor realize he’s probably got a face for radio (or maybe just doesn’t have as much talent as he imagined)?

So, what do you think? When is it time to throw in the towel?

Thursday Throwdown: Shelve the Books Already

We all know there’s something of a crisis in the bricks-and-mortar bookselling industry. Both independent and chain bookstores are strugging to survive as people are buying fewer books overall and more and more of those buyers are choosing to purchase from online retailers, especially the 1,000 lb. gorilla, Amazon. They’re also facing stiff competition from the big box chains like WalMart and Target, which stock a much more limited number of titles but provide nice discounts on the ones they do carry.

What are bookstores to do in this economy and environment? Well, I’ll tell you one thing they could do that would make me immensely happier and more likely to buy from them–shelve books on (if not before) their official release date! I cannot tell you how many times in the past few months I’ve gone into my nearest Borders or Barnes & Noble on the release date of a book I was craving only to discover it hadn’t been shelved yet. When I asked, I was told they hadn’t “broken down that box yet.”

Want specifics? How about this–although my Barnes & Noble had my book shelved several days early, my Borders didn’t bother putting out the one copy they apparently ordered for a full TWO WEEKS after its release date. TWO WEEKS! And I’m a local author. What’s up with that? And when I went there looking for Tessa Dare’s first book, Goddess of the Hunt, a few weeks later, it was also not shelved on its release date (although I did find it there a few days later).

I came to the conclusion that my Borders must be understaffed, but since the B&N had my book out few days earlier, when it was time for Tessa’s second book, Surrender of a Siren, to hit the shelves, I went there, sure they’d have it out. But they didn’t! They lost a significant sale from me as a result of this failure because I was going to buy the next two books in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but since I couldn’t get everything I wanted and I knew I could also get the Westerfeld books at Target (which always stocks a good selection of YA), I left without buying anything. I went to Target two days later, where I scored everything I wanted for a lower price (and also purchased a bunch of need sundry items into the bargain…ah, convenience).

So, here’s the deal…if bookstores don’t get with the program and shelve by their release date (not the day after or two days after or a week after), it’s my personal belief that they will continue to lose more sales to the chains and to the online booksellers. Amazon was shipping my book, which had an official release date of May 26, 2009, as early as May 17. (If I had any notion of hitting any bestseller lists, that might have irritated me, since I know early release is bad for those “numbers,” but given that wasn’t even on my radar, it was actually nice to know they were sending it out to folks who’d preordered months before.) For Borders not to shelve it for a full two weeks after the release date is, IMO, unconscionable (and honestly, since the last attempt to find a book on its shelving date failed, I’m seriously considering never shopping there again).

What do you think? What do you think is killing brick-and-mortar booksellers? Am I onto something or are there other factors you’d like to discuss? I’d love to hear!

WTF Wednesday: What Is It With Dark?

My dear friend and CP, Amie Stuart, received a rejection today from a major publishing house on a “dark” paranormal. The editor’s reason for rejecting it? The tone felt “too light” for her tastes. Now, I can’t tell you anything about the proposal (which I’ve read large chunks of) because I can’t give away Amie’s story idea, but here’s the funny thing: a different editor rejected the same manuscript not too long ago because it was “too dark.”


Of course, this just points out what we already know–that reading is subjective, and editors are just as incapable of having completely objective reactions to books as anyone else. One editor’s too dark is another editor’s too light. And as an author, you really just have to write the book YOUR WAY and not try to second-guess. That’s really hard to do, though, especially when you get so much conflicting feedback.

But the real topic of my post today isn’t rejections or subjectivity so much as it is–what gives with DARK these days? Everywhere I turn, it seems editors want “dark” (usually “dark and sexy” but notice the dark comes first.) And they don’t just want it in paranormal, but also in historical, romantic suspense, etc. Now, I do see books coming out now that are lighter (Tessa Dare’s wonderful trilogy from Ballantine comes to mind, as well as Victoria Dahl’s fun contemporary series with HQN), but it does seem to me that editors right now are looking for stories that I, at least, suspect I would find depressing and unreadable.

To me, dark is fine, but it needs to be balanced wit and humor. When it comes to books with dark, tormented characters and plots, I don’t mind a bit of weight, but I still want it to be fun to read. (IMO, Amie’s book is exactly the right mix of dark/tormented and wry/twisted humor.) And if there’s no wit or humor in it–if there isn’t SOME lightness–then it’s not fun. After all, even Hamlet and King Lear, among the darkest stories ever written, have moments of comic relief.

Mind you, I’m not actually saying that none of the “dark” books editors are buying have moments of wit and humor. What I wonder is why there’s such a passion for dark at all? We’re living in difficult times, surrounded by real crises and real danger. I thought one of the reasons romance was bucking the downward trend in book sales is that romance offers a guaranteed “feel-good” read.

Yet it seems to me that most of the dark romances I’ve read lately DON’T make me feel good at the end. There may be an HEA, but all too often, I’m left wishing the heroine (or hero in some cases) would run as far and fast as possible from the character who is supposed to be his/her perfect mate. And even if I like the characters and want them to live HEA, the story leading up to that ending can be too difficult/painful for me to feel like I had a good time reading the book.

Now, of course, I’m only one reader (and one writer). Perhaps there’s something about very dark stories that end happily that a large proportion of romance readers finds particularly satisfying. I simply find it perplexing, in the current climate, that lighter romantic comedies aren’t more sought after/fashionable. I know I want to escape the darkness of our times, not immerse myself deeper in it, and I’m looking for romances that give me pleasure all the way through. (That doesn’t mean there’s not conflict or danger or heart-wrenching moments, but I want to ENJOY those moments. Does that even make sense, lol?)

So please, New York, give me more of the fun and less of the torture. Pretty please?