A Sneak Peak: Cover and Blurb

As I mentioned a few weeks ago on Twitter, I am thrilled to have been invited to contribute a short story to the Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance, due out in January of 2011. Over the weekend, the editor sent out a preliminary copy of the cover art, and I wanted to share it with you all, along with a brief blurb for my story. Hope you like both!

mboScottishThe Reiver by Jackie Barbosa

Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle, gets the shock of his life when he discovers the reiver captured in a raid on his lands is not a boy, but a young woman. Although she flatly refuses to tell him her name or how she came to be riding with a raiding party, Duncan cannot countenance imprisoning a woman in his dungeon but neither can her release her without compensation. Unable to ransom her back to her family, he treats her as an honored—though exceptionally well-supervised—guest. He takes to calling her Reva and determines to seduce the truth of her identity from her. There’s just one problem—the reiver may steal his heart before he can reveal her secrets.

Now I just have to write it :).

On Reviews and Fairness

I’ve meditated before on how hard it is for authors to sit on their hands and not argue with a review they disagree with. I’ve also said I think it’s the only right way to handle it. As an author, you have to put your book out there and let it speak for itself. If a reviewer doesn’t “get” it or doesn’t like it, for whatever reason, it’s appropriate to thank the reviewer for their time and then turn away. (I did recently respond to a review in which the reader said she found the POV shifts hard to follow, and because I knew we’d taken out the scene breaks that originally demarcated them in the editorial cycle, I mentioned that in my comment. But even without the scene breaks, if she wasn’t sure whose POV she was in at all times, it’s my fault as the author for not making it clearer and obviously something I can do better.)

That said, I’ve been thinking lately about what is “fair” in a review and what isn’t. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed a fair number of comment threads in which the reviewer is taken to task for allowing his or her biases, education, or preferences to “prejudice” their reading of the book. Apparently, these folks think that reviewers ought to read as if they are blank slates, with no prejudices whatsoever, and judge the book solely based upon…what exactly?

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? If a reviewer can’t invoke his or her biases, education, or preferences in evaluating a book, what the heck is left? I don’t know how anyone can ever come to a book without any preconceptions. It’s just not possible. Every reader’s response to every book is as individual as that person. If no one is allowed to bring their life experiences to their perceptions of a book, no one can ever review any book, period, because everyone’s reaction to a book is inherently subjective. There’s no such thing as an “objective” review, and I think we ought to throw the idea that they can or ought to be out the window with the baby and the bathwater.

That said, there’s objective and then there’s “objective.” By “objective” in quotes, I mean that the reviewer has somehow been “cherry-picked” and/or influenced in some manner to give a particular review, usually a positive one rather than a negative one. As an author, I always prefer reviews written by people with whom I have no personal relationship. Not that I don’t love hearing how my friends loved my book, but that’s a lot less important to me than the opinion of a reader I don’t know from Adam. I also find there are some review sites which seem to give glowing reviews of nearly every book they review. I tend to have a lot less faith in the “objectivity” of those reviews, especially when I know the publisher has provided a free copy, than of those where the ratings vary from the very positive to the very negative. (And I would be just as wary, of course, of a review site that seemed to post nothing but negative reviews.)

I also think it’s not fair to give a book a negative review because you don’t like the author personally, because you think the author is ugly or fat, or because (and this one is a little more slippery) because you hate all books of that genre. This isn’t to say that I don’t think reviewers should ever try to read a book in a genre that hasn’t previously appealed to them or to read books with characters or plot situations they usually find unpleasant or distasteful. It’s just to say that if the only reason for reading it is to confirm your suspicion that you are right and everything like this is trash, it may not be a good idea of actually write a review after you’ve read it, unless, of course, you are completely upfront about your intentions. (And by, it might not be a good idea, I don’t mean you can’t write a review. I just mean that when people accuse you of not being fair in your review, they’re probably right.) This sort of thing happens a lot with books in the romance genre (we’ve all read the opinions of people who’ve read one romance and concluded it’s all mindless drivel), but I’m sure it also happens to books in other genres as well, and that sort of blanket criticism truly isn’t fair.

But other than those situations, I can’t think about much that’s not as fair in reviews as it is in love and war. As a writer, I might like it if I could tell readers to judge the book solely by MY intentions and what I believe I put on the page, but the reality is, I know that’s impossible. One reason I know it’s impossible is because I can’t do it, either.

So, what do you think? What makes a review fair or unfair? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Curious About Print Publishing Royalty Statements?

So was I! I still am, a little, but having received my first earnings statement (for sales of Behind the Red Door from release through December 31, 2009), I feel a little less in the dark. And since I don’t have any boundaries when it comes to sharing how much (or little) I’ve earned from the sale of that book, I’m going to share it all with you. Down to the last detail, including how much my advance was, how many units of the book are in circulation, and so on.

Ready? Here we go.

Descriptions List Price Rate Net Receipts Gross Units Return Units Net Units Earnings
Domestic Sales $13.95 7.50% 5,566 (2,132) 3,434 $3,592.82
Foreign Sales $13.95 7.50% 677 (57) 620 $648.68
Direct to Consumer $13.95 2.00% 38 (0) 38 $10.60
Special and Final Sales $13.95 5.00% $16.74 3 (0) 3 $0.85
Subtotal Royalty Earnings 6284 (2,189) 4095 $4,252.94
 
Return Reserves (1,855) (1,855) ($1,940.79)
 
Royalty Earnings Net of Reserves 6284 (4,044) 2,240 $2,312.15
 
Deductions
Advance ($2,250.00)
Amount Due $62.15
 
Earnings Other Editions $213.87
 
Total Amount Due $276.02
 
Earnings Other Editions (ebook)
Direct to Consumer $11.86 25% $66.00 11 0 11 $16.50
Direct to Consumer $12.00 25% $768.50 162 0 162 $192.14
Direct to Consumer $13.95 25% $20.93 3 0 3 $5.23
Subtotal Royalty Earnings 176 0 176 $213.87

Okay, so, let’s deconstruct this a little bit.

First of all, it looks as through 6284 copies of the print book were either distributed to booksellers or sold directly to consumers. I don’t think it includes any copies that are still in the warehouse. That doesn’t give me an initial print run figure, which I’d hoped to be able to discern from this statement. However, my editor told me a few weeks ago there were 448 copies in the warehouse, which pushes the initial run up to at least seven thousand. In addition, this is only books distributed/sold as of December 31 of last year. The statement cycle is such that you get a statement in June that reports on July to December and another in December that reports on January to June. In addition, if your book comes out in the middle of a cycle, you have to wait until the NEXT cycle to see the first statement. For example, because my book came out in June of 2009, I didn’t get a statement in December of 2009.

Okay, so, I’m guessing my initial print run was in the neighborhood of 7,000-8,000 copies. Low, unfortunately, even for a niche line like Aphrodisia, but not a surprise to me.

Next, of the 6284 copies originally circulated, 2,132 were already returned, leaving net “sales” of 4,095 copies (e.g., books that are still in circulation and could theoretically be sold). A sale, as I understand it, doesn’t mean an actual consumer purchase (except in the case of Direct to Consumer and Special and Final Sales), but that it’s available for purchase. That’s why there’s an additional line item for return reserves, because the publisher is holding back some royalties in case more copies are returned by booksellers.

Okay, so what about those return reserves? I have to admit, I can’t figure out how they arrived at the 1,855. I thought it was calculated as 40% of the number of copies still in circulation, but that (4095 X 40%) doesn’t come out to 1,855. So, I have to throw my hands up in the air and assume there is some logic being applied that I can’t see.

Another thing that’s not quite right is my advance. The statement says I was paid $2,250 in advance. That’s incorrect. My advance was $2,500. If they had gotten that right, my net earnings would only have been $26.02. I notified my editor of the error and the royalty folks said they’d just catch it up/correct it in the next statement cycle, so I don’t have to send any money back (and I’m glad, not so much because I want to keep the money as that the agency already took its 15% off the top of the payment and the accounting hassle of refunding their portion and mine would have been quite a pain).

Last, the only reason I earned out is because of those wonderful ebook royalties. I get paid 25% of net on those, and even with the relatively low net, I still earn more per copy on ebooks than print. In recognition of that, I’ve decided to add some links to the website to point you to places where you can purchase Behind the Red Door in digital format, partly because I’d like to encourage you to buy digital if you can/want to and partly because, it turns out, my book isn’t all that easy to find in digital format. The only sites I’ve found it on so far, outside of Kensington’s direct site, are (in order of best pricing) Amazon Kindle, Sony, MobiPocket, and All Romance Ebooks.

Okay, so that’s it. Now I am naked before you all (at least in the figurative sense), and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.