Thursday Throwdown: What Authors Really, Really Want

Before I launch into my post, just a quite note: I’ll be picking a winner from Monday’s contest for a copy of Erica Ridley‘s Too Wicked To Kiss tomorrow, so if you haven’t already commented to enter, be sure to do so today :).

Okay, onto the topic at hand.

My latest proposal went out on submission yesterday. This is the third proposal my agent and I have tried to sell since I received my contract with Kensington for Behind the Red Door back in April of 2008. Since you haven’t seen any sales announcements from me since then, I think you can safely assume that two of the three attempts were unsuccessful. We have yet to hear about the third, although I’m not holding my breath.

But this post isn’t to whine or curse the universe for failing to recognize my brilliance. Rather, it’s a reflection on what I’ve come to realize is most important to me. And perhaps it would surprise you to know that it isn’t landing another NY contract or getting the big bucks or racking up good reviews. Or maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know, lol.

What I’ve realized, however, is that there’s really only ONE thing I want: to be read. I don’t write for any other reason than to share my stories with readers. Readers. Not my CPs (who are awesome, by the way, but have very different goals and motivations when reading my books than true readers). Not my agent (though, bless her, I think she’s my biggest fan). And not editors, whether they work for big traditional publishers or small epresses or any combination in between. Those folks I just listed are all in between you–the reader–and the story I want to share with you. Editors, in particular, can keep my story from ever making it into your hands

So, if that’s the way I feel, you might wonder why I don’t just self-publish my books. The answer is complicated, but I have to admit that I’m considering it more and more lately. When and if the time comes that I have a completed book that I really believe in and no publisher I want to work with makes me a reasonable offer for it, I’ll at least look into that possibility.

That said, I still want the help of a publisher to get my books into readers hands, and that’s simply because I don’t have a lot of faith that my books can find readers (and vice versa) without the help of a publisher. As much as I want you to be able to read my books and enjoy my stories, I want a publisher to believe in them and (most important) hel me get them into your hands. I’m only one person, and my reach is limited to what I can accomplish on the Internet, and let’s face it, the signal-to-noise ratio is high and getting higher.

But in the end, what I really, really want (and what I think most authors want) is to be read. Anything else is gravy.

Musing on Monday: Opening Paragraphs and a Giveaway

After sending my latest proposal to my agent (it’ll be going out to some editors in the next week or so…commence nail-biting), I decided it would probably be a good time to open up a erotic short I started writing at the end of the summer then set aside in favor of other projects when I reached an “OMG, I think this sucks” moment.

Rereading what I had so far, I don’t know WHY I came to the conclusion that it sucked. It’s actually–dare I say it myself?–pretty good. Yes, the scenario is far-fetched and, yes, given that I’m trying to keep it short (15k or less so it can go to Spice Briefs), the HEA might come (pun intended, lol) a trifle quickly, but I have to admit that as I was reading what I’d written, I completely BOUGHT that these characters were meant to be together and would have an HEA.

Okay, so now, having meandered far from the subject line of this post, I have to say that one of my favorite things about this manuscript is the opening paragraph. Although I’m not one of those who believes the opening of every book has to be mind-blowingly good, I am well aware that the first paragraph(s)/pages of a book can strongly influence how I feel about the characters and a great opening will make me want to read more as fast as possible. It’s also the case that opening paragraphs, even if well-written and catchy, can spoil a book for me. I won’t name the book, but there is one highly acclaimed romance that I simply never liked, and I think it’s because the first paragraphs distanced me from the characters and I just never came to care about them as a result.

Because I like this opening so much, I thought I’d share it with y’all:

It was a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Grace Hannington was the most inaptly named young lady in all of England, if not all Christendom. Within two months of her debut, she had ruined at least a dozen gowns—none of them her own—and half as many cravats by spilling tea, wine, or some sort of sauce upon them, trod heavily upon many a gentleman’s slippered toe, and broken the nose of one unfortunate chap with a misplaced elbow during a reel. That list of missteps did not encompass the full measure of the lady’s sheer gracelessness, however, for she was herself forever nursing some sort of self-inflicted injury, ranging from a sprained wrist and a stubbed toe to this evening’s glorious and ill-concealed black eye.

So, how do you feel about openings? Any books in particular that you think have stellar openings (or really bad ones, lol)? Or, if you’re a writer and motivated enough, share your favorite opening paragraph from one of your books. From all the comments, I’ll pick one poster at random to receive a copy of Erica Ridley‘s wonderful debut (with some great opening paragraphs), Too Wicked to Kiss, which officially hits the shelves next Tuesday.

Musing on Monday: How Much Are Books Worth?

In case you missed the MacMillan/Amazon ebook price crisis over the weekend, you can catch up on the details (along with a very cogent analysis) at agent Nathan Bransford’s blog. There are several posts over at Dear Author as well.

Hidden in the midst of all this controversy, however, is the question that really interests me: how much are books worth? And by “books,” I mean not the paper and ink on which they’re printed or the computer bytes on which they’re stored, but the actual dollar value of STORY they contain, however packaged. In other words, when you buy a book, are you buying it for the storage medium or for what you perceive its entertainment/informational value to be?

I’ll be honest–I’m still a primarily paper book reader. This is a function of a combination of factors, including the fact that I don’t feel ready to invest in an ereader as I think the technology is still too fluid and the prices for the devices too high for what they do. I worry about amassing a library of ebooks in formats that will become obsolete and unreadable, something I know will never happen to my paper books (well, unless my house burns down). That’s not to say I can’t be converted–and in fact, the groaning of my bookshelves argues I should hope to be converted soon–but I’m just not there yet.

That said, I have bought ebooks, though usually these are books that aren’t available in print format. I don’t dislike ebooks by any means, nor do I feel they’re intrinsically less valuable than print books. Yet I know many, many people DO think ebooks are instrinsically less valuable (in the dollar sense) than print books for a number of reasons, including the fact that there is no physical object, the digital file cannot be legally shared or resold, and (in the case of Kindle) the file can be removed remotely by the vendor. And then there’s the whole DRM thing (something I’ve honestly never encountered because I don’t believe I’ve ever purchased an ebook that had it).

Okay, so I do agree that a physical book has slightly greater intrinsic value than a digital one because, once purchased, it cannot be repossessed and it can be legally shared or resold. Obviously, it also costs more per unit to produce paper books, which argues for a higher price than digital books. But how MUCH more?

A large part of the MacMillan/Amazon kerfuffle was driven by publishers’ fears that setting prices too low for digital books would act to “cannibalize” hardcopy sales, especially of hardcovers, and also set consumer expectations that a digital book is NEVER worth more than $9.99. MacMillan would prefer to have more flexibility in establishing the core value of the CONTENT of their books than Amazon’s pricing structure would have allowed, even though (according to Nathan Bransford’s analysis), the Amazon structure actually results in the publishers receiving about $2 more per copy sold.

The thing is, I sympathize with MacMillan’s position even though I don’t know that I’ll ever be willing to pay much more than $9.99 for a digital book. Certainly, the high end that’s being discussed for digital books in the “agency” model of $14.99 is WAY more than I’d ever pay. But that isn’t because we’re talking about DIGITAL books. It’s because, as a book-buyer in ANY format, my price range for a single title novel is no more than about $10, with an absolute ceiling of about $14, and I’ll pay that only in VERY special cases. (If I want to buy a book that’s only in trade paper, I’ll wait for a coupon or a special 3 for 2 deal to come along to make the unit price more tolerable.) I never buy hardbacks, not only because I think $20+ is outrageous for a book, but because I find them heavy and unwieldy.

So, basically, I don’t see my price tolerance for books changing all that much based on whether it’s digital or print. I don’t tend to pass on my paper books to other people very often (most of the folks I know IRL don’t share my taste in reading material), so the whole “I can share/resell it” thing doesn’t factor into how much I’m willing to pay.

In the final analysis, I’m willing to pay for a book what I think the story contained within its pages or bits and bytes is worth. For me, that’s around $10. But that doesn’t mean I begrudge publishers for wanting to establish higher prices for their books. Maybe I’ll adjust to those prices or maybe I won’t. Only time will tell. But I don’t think format should be a SIGNIFICANT factor in determining the dollar value of a book’s contents.

Okay, tell me why I’m all wet :). And how much do YOU think books are worth?