We’re ALL ePublished Authors Now

I’ve been asked to be on a panel at the RT Booklovers Convention in LA in April of next year. The topic is money and digital publishing. I’m really excited about this because I have to qualms about talking openly and honestly about money and writing (and how much there is or isn’t).

However, I think it’s about time we dispensed with the notion that there are “epublished” authors and “print-published” authors, and that these are two separate and distinct animals. Because the reality is, we’ve long passed that point. These days, pretty much every author is epublished; there are differences in the payment models for those who are published in both print and digital and those who are published primarily or only in digital, but the bottom line is that no author in today’s market can afford to ignore the “e” side of the business.

And yet, apparently a surprising number of authors still think digital doesn’t matter to them. Kristin Nelson noted in a blog post the other day that her authors’ digital sales represent a tiny fraction of total sales (although I don’t think she meant to suggest this means digital royalty clauses or the availability of books in digital format is irrelevant), and I suspect for many, many authors and books, that will remain true for some time, especially if print copies of their books continue to be available on the shelves.

But here’s the thing–books only stay on the shelves for a certain period of time, particularly mass-market paperbacks. Unless you happen to be a perenially bestselling author, chances are pretty good that only one or two of your most recent books are readily available in print at any given time. Back in the days before ebooks, if readers wanted to get copies of your backlist after reading the currently-available book, they had to ask the retailer to order a copy or (if it was totally out-of-print) go combing through used bookstores. In more recent years, they could go to Amazon or other online retailers and hope a copy was in stock or availabled for purchase used. And, of course, they can still do that–if they really want your book in print.

Nowadays, however, there’s an alternative. It’s called the ebook. And it is a wonderful, wonderful thing for authors…if they don’t squander it by allowing themselves to believe it doesn’t matter and that they shouldn’t be aggressive about their digital rights clauses. Because ebooks are the “long tail” of your publishing career. Your book may be out of “print” but it’s always available in digital format, and that is a huge benefit to you because it means you can continue selling copies of that book virtually in perpetuity. Sure, at the front end of your contract, your digital sales may represent only a tiny proportion of the total. But over the long haul, it’s the digital books that are going to keep bringing in the money. Seven years from the date of your books’ release, the only copies you may be selling are digital, but guess what? Those put money in your pocket. Money you wouldn’t get otherwise at all.

On the other side of that coin, however, is this potentially damaging fact: if your contract says your book remains “in print” so long as it is available for sale in any format, including digital, before your rights revert, you can be stuck with a publisher who has locked you into poor digital royalty terms, practically for life. (ETA: Just after this posted, Bob Mayer posted a Twitter link to this post on exactly this topic! Am I allowed to say great minds think alike?) It used to be that, in order to retain the rights to their topselling authors, publishers had to rerelease their backlist in print every seven or so years. But look carefully at your contracts today. Is that still the case? My bet is for a lot of us who signed contracts in the past few years, all the publisher has to do is ensure a digital version is available for sale. There may not even be a requirement that a minimum number of copies sell in order for the publisher to retain those rights.

You can see, I think, why none of us can afford to ignore digital publishing, digital royalty rates, and rights reversion clauses. Ebooks are here to stay and we need to embrace that, whether the bulk of our sales today are digital or not.

A Scene for Sunday

May 26, 1902

Dear Lady Beckwith,

It is with no small regret that I must inform you of my findings in your case. Alas, the strange noises you have been hearing in your home are not signals from the spirit of your dear departed husband, but the unfortunate rumblings of a boiler in desperate need of servicing. It is my recommendation that you dock your butler’s wages, as it is clear he has not attended to household maintenance in an exigent or responsible manner.

Despite the outcome of this investigation, I hope you will think of me again should you encounter other phenomena of a supernatural nature in the future.

Sincerely,
Elodie Capshaw
Investigative Spiritualist

With a sigh of resignation, Elodie folded the carefully typed letter and slipped it into the envelope addressed to Lady Beckwith. The elderly widow was sure to be displeased with the report, but Elodie could not bring herself to falsify the facts to comfort the lonely woman, especially when such falsification might lead to the old lady and her house being blown to bits by an equally aged boiler. She was equally disinclined to inform the grieving countess that her husband’s ghost had taken up residence not in their fashionable Kensington townhome, but rather in his favorite bordello near Piccadilly, where he had spent nearly as much more time in life as in death.

After setting the envelope in the outgoing post tray, she lifted the carbon copy of the letter from the desk and turned to file it in the cabinet behind her. The top drawer creaked loudly on its steel rollers as she opened it, so the sound of a throat being cleared behind her made her jump.

“Excuse me,” a polite male voice said as she spun around, “but are you Miss Capshaw?”

Elodie lowered her spectacles to peer at her visitor. A gentleman wearing pin-striped trousers and a polka-dotted necktie stood near the doorway, nervously fingering the brim of his hat. His wavy brown hair was too long and stood slightly on end, giving him a wild look at odds with his otherwise pressed and tailored appearance.

“Of course I am Miss Capshaw. Who else would I be?”

The gentleman coughed. “Well, you look rather more like a secretary than an Investigative Spiritualist.”

“You were expecting something more…colorful?” Elodie asked.

She deliberately eschewed the gaudy, gypsy-inspired costumes of the other women who plied her trade not merely because she thought them garish and unflattering, but because she did not wish to associate herself or her services in any way with those of the charlatans who merely pretended to commune with the dearly departed. No, Elodie was cut from different cloth entirely, and she chose to dress accordingly. Her ruffled white blouses and plain black skirts might be unexpected, but they clearly advertised to her clients the gravity and diligence with which she would approach their cases.

Her visitor’s cheeks grew ruddy with obvious embarrassment “Er, well, yes, as a matter of fact, I was. I’m afraid I just assumed…that is, I’ve never—“

Elodie smiled gently. Most of her clients had little to no experience with spiritualists before they came to see her, and what little they did know was influenced by the mania for seances and the like. “That’s quite all right. I completely understand.” She gestured toward the chair on the opposite side of the desk. “Please, have a seat, Mr.—“

“Langley. Sir Francis Langley,” he supplied as he slid into the seat, resting his hat on his lap.

“Very well, then, Sir Francis,” she said, setting her spectacles on the desk as she settled into her own chair, “why don’t you tell me what brings you to seek my services today?”

He glanced furtively from one side of the small office space to the other before loosening his necktie. She thought he meant to make himself more comfortable, the better to divulge his concerns. Many of her clients were embarrassed to admit they had any belief whatever in the supernatural—aside, of course, from the realms of spiritual belief prescribed by the church—let alone that they were actually experiencing visitations from the dead.

When he began to unbutton his shirt, however, Elodie experienced a trickle of alarm. What, exactly, did he think an Investigative Spiritualist was? Surely he didn’t expect her to investigate what was beneath his clothing.

“Here.” He stopped at the third button and pulled the shirt collar away from his neck.

Elodie gasped. Three deep gashes ran from just to the right of his Adam’s apple all the way down to his upper chest, slashing through the copious whorls of dark hair growing there. The wounds had begun to heal, but they still appeared swollen and tender to the touch. And certainly like nothing any ghost could have done.

“What happened to you?” she asked, unable to keep the wonder and horror from her voice.

Langley shook his head. “That’s just it. I’m not sure.”

“How could you not know?” If she had ever sustained such terrible injuries, she was certain she would remember the circumstances.

He twirled the hat in his lap, looking uncomfortable again. “I’d been out at my gentleman’s club in Tottenham Court Road that night. I’m afraid I had a bit more to drink than my usual.”

Elodie emitted a delicate cough of skepticism. Not only did she doubt that any self-respecting gentleman’s club would be located in the middle of the Rookery, one of London’s most notorious slums, but it seemed rather unlikely that Sir Francis had merely over-imbibed. On the other hand, he would probably prefer not to confess to having visited either a brothel or an opium den, and it was possible that neither fact was relevant to the case.

“Beg pardon,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand. “Swallowed the wrong way.”

Sir Francis nodded his acceptance of her apology and continued his tale. “I don’t remember much of what happened after I left except that there was a full moon that night and I heard howling. When I woke, I was lying in an alley, my clothes were ripped open, and I had these.” He indicated the wounds on his chest. “Not to mention the bites on my arms and hands.”

“So you were attacked by a feral dog.” Her brow furrowed. “Which makes me wonder why you’ve come to see me? I should think you’d be wanting the dog catcher, not an investigative spiritualist.”

“And I would go to the dog catcher, Miss Capshaw, I most assuredly would, except…” He leaned forward and tugged at one of the tufts of hair that poked out from his open collar. “You see this?”

Elodie blinked. She could hardly avoid seeing it. “Of course.”

“I didn’t have this before I was attacked. It’s all grown in the four days since then.”

Elodie sat a little straighter. That was definitely odd. And intriguing, if not precisely in her area of expertise.

“And this,” he continued, pointing to the thick, overgrown hair on the top of his head. “I had it cropped short only yesterday. Not to mention my back and…well, other places. And then…” He glanced around the room again to assure himself no one but Elodie was listening.

A fruitless enterprise given that a full half-dozen ghosts inhabited the two interconnected rooms which housed her office and private living space.
But she was not attending her client, who had lowered his voice to a near whisper. “And then, there is my appetite.”

“Appetite? You mean you are eating more than is customary?”

“Yes, that certainly,” he said, clearing his throat. “But it’s almost my appetite for…well…for the flesh, if you understand my meaning, miss. Though, of course, you oughtn’t as an unmarried lady of good reputation.”

Elodie suppressed a chuckle. She knew rather more about everything than an unmarried lady ought. But then, she was hardly a typical lady, unmarried or otherwise.

“My poor lady wife,” Sir Francis added on a sigh. “She knows not what to make of me these past few days, nor do I. To say nothing of my mistress.”

Elodie did her best to appear sympathetic. “I can certainly appreciate the vexation of your dilemma, but I’m still not certain understand why you’ve come to me, Sir Francis. I investigate spiritual and supernatural phenomena, not…well…not excessive hair growth and overactive physical energies.”

“But don’t you see, Miss Capshaw? Surely there’s only one explanation for what’s happening to me.” He lowered his voice again. “Werewolves.”

“Werewolves?” Elodie echoed.

The symptoms he described did sound like classic signs of lycanthropy, of course, but there was one problem with that theory: Werewolves, unlike spirits, were pure fiction. As were vampires and fairies and sea monsters and any number of other fantastical creatures human beings had invented to frighten themselves.

Which meant Sir Francis merely believed he had been attacked by werewolves and that his supposed symptoms must be the product of an overactive imagination to match his overactive libido.

“What else could it be, Miss Capshaw? I must have been attacked that night by werewolves and now, I am becoming one of them. It is only a little more than three weeks until the next full moon, and I must know before then so that I can protect my family.” He leaned across the desk, his expression beseeching, and clasped her hands. “Will you help me? Surely my problem falls into the realm of the supernatural, and your advertisement in the paper says you are an expert in all matters spiritual and supernatural.”

Elodie had to admit he had a point there. If werewolves did exist, they would be a supernatural phenomenon. Not that she was allowing for the possibility that they did.

But perhaps all it would take to alleviate Sir Francis’s symptoms was proof that he could not have been attacked by werewolves and that he was, in fact, perfectly sound of body…if not of mind. And who was better placed to prove that than she? Certainly not any of the false “mediums” with whom she competed for customers. Not a one of those ninnies even believed in the spirits with whom they claimed to converse. They would simply bilk the poor, deluded Sir Francis of the contents of his purse and send him on his way, no better off than before.

Besides, she could ill afford to dismiss a client. It didn’t cost much to sustain herself, but she still required the wherewithal to cover her rent and her twice-weekly visits to the butcher shop.

“Very well, Sir Francis, I will take your case,” she said while carefully extracting her hands from beneath his overly warm ones. “But I must warn you that my findings may not suit your preconceived notion of what has happened to you and, if they do not, you must still compensate me for all services rendered.”

“I assure you, Miss Capshaw, I should like nothing better than to be proved wrong in this.” Langley rose from his seat and set his hat atop his head. The brim sat askew, pushed to one side by the unruly mop beneath it.

Elodie squinted, for his hair seemed to have grown longer and more unkempt in the short time he had been sitting there. Was he drawing her into his delusions?

She shook her head. No, that was quite impossible. If there was one thing Elodie was sure of after twenty-eight years of life and more than a half century of afterlife, it was that she was the stuff of other people’s delusions, not the other way around.


So, I hear ghosts are out. But then I see quite a few books that feature ghosts.

My question for you, lovely friends and readers, is whether or not this is a story you’d want more of. Since I know there are some folks who prefer not to comment, I decided to add a poll question to make it easier.

[poll id=”9″]

Review: Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

I know, I know–I don’t do reviews, right? Well, in this case, I’m making an exception. Mainly, that’s because I can say with all honesty that I didn’t know Jeannie before I heard about this book and, although I met her at the RWA conference in Orlando and consider her a friend, I would have read and loved this book regardless.

I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive when I started reading Butterfly Swords. Despite the great buzz I was hearing and the fact that I knew the manuscript had won the 2009 Golden Heart, I wasn’t sure I would connect with the characters or the story. After all, what do I know about China in 968 AD? I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself in the world of the book because it would be too unfamiliar.

I’m pleased to say this was absolutely not a problem. To the contrary, the way Jeannie weaves the setting and culture of Tang Dynasty China into this book is nothing short of masterful. I never for one moment felt out of my element, yet this was achieved without info-dumps or long, boring narrative passages. Instead, the book is an action-packed, romantically-charged romp through a culture and time period that feels both exotic and familiar at the same time.

Butterfly Swords is what I consider a classic “journey” romance. The heroine, having discovered that her soon-to-be husband had one of her brothers killed, is determined to avoid marrying him and to warn her father of his perfidy. After staging a daring escape that is made to look like a kidnapping, Ai Li is rescued from her rescuers (who, it seems, have their own ideas about what to do with her) by Ryam, a blue-eyed foreign soldier currently trying to get back to his fellow soldiers just outside the boundaries of the Empire.

Ryam reluctantly agrees to help Ailey (as he thinks of her) get back to her family in Changan, and the two set out on a perilous trek across hostile territory, complete with sword fights (Ai Li is a very proficient swordswoman with the butterfly swords of the title) and internal battles against their growing attraction to one another. Both Ai Li and Ryam know any future between them is doomed from the beginning—he is an outsider and Ai Li has her family’s honor to uphold. Naturally, that makes their desires all the more impossible to resist.

I think Jeannie made an interesting choice when she decided to make her hero non-Chinese, but it’s something that serves the story and the reader well. Ryam’s outsider status makes it possible for him to question Ai Li about things that might also puzzle the reader. Here’s an exchange that I think illustrates this well:

‘You were marrying a man you’d never met. Of course you had doubts.’

‘You don’t understand at all.’ She turned on her heel and continued down the bank. Her stride had lost its carefree gait. ‘In our custom, it would be the greatest insult for a bride to refuse a match simply because she did not like the look of her husband. It would be disrespectful to his family and a great dishonour to mine.’

‘It’s not important that you at least see each other before being wed?’

‘Not at all. I would trust my parents would make me a good match.’

It was hard to believe someone with such unquestioning faith would run away from an arranged marriage. Even if she had been wilful or stubborn, it was unlikely a woman of her standing would risk so much to defy convention. Perhaps there was a lover. The thought alone sent a hot streak of possessiveness through him, unwarranted as it was. But why would she want to return to her family when they would certainly denounce her? Besides, her every touch spoke of innocence. He knew the signs well enough to steer clear under most circumstances.

I was so taken by the story, the characters, and the masterful writing that I actually read Butterfly Swords in one sitting. Once I started, I simply couldn’t bear to stop. I had to know how Ai Li and Ryam would get their happily ever after, particularly after Ai Li’s true social status is revealed.

The only thing that prevents me from considering this book perfect is the way the HEA is accomplished. Obviously, I won’t tell you what happens because I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but I did find it a bit rushed and improbable. It almost felt to me as if Ms. Lin, constrained by the page count of the category format, had to take a shortcut in order to get her story into two hundred and thirty or so pages. Even with that flaw, Butterfly Swords ranks as one of the best romances I’ve read all year, maybe ever.

I sincerely hope every romance reader takes a chance on this book, because I honestly believe this is a romance for every reader.

P.S. The love scenes are hot.

Making Nice in Book Reviews

Once again, the “you shouldn’t say mean things about a book/character in a book because you might hurt the author’s feelings” crowd has come out in full force, this time in response to a Dear Author review of Susan Grant’s latest release, Sureblood. In this particular review, the reviewer said that the heroine “made her want to puke” and was roundly chastised by some commenters for being cruel and unprofessional. (To be fair, she also got a lot of support.)

I don’t think it’s any secret that I’ve always been on the side of reviewers sharing their honest, gut-reaction opinions about the books they read. As a reader, I want to know how a reviewer really felt about the book because it helps me decide whether or not I might like it (and in some cases, if a particular reviewer hates a book, it means I’ll probably love it because our tastes differ that much.) And as an author, I don’t want reviewers to be afraid of giving an honest review for fear of hurting my feelings. I’m a grown-up, I put my work out there for criticism by getting it published, and my craft isn’t going to wither on the vine because one reviewer (or even half a dozen) says my work sucks.

(As an aside, I’d rather have dozens of negative reviews of my book available on the Internet than only a handful of very positive ones. Reviews, whether good or bad, equal exposure, and the more exposure a book gets, the more likely it is that readers will know it exists. Few reviews, even if they are all slavishly adoring, don’t do much to help a book get “traction.” The negative reviews might not make me feel as good as the positive ones, but they’re likely to do a lot more for my book’s visibility.)

But all of that said, what I find most fascinating about this debate is that there does seem to be a core thread of belief out there about not going “too hard” on books in reviews that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else in the entertainment world. I’ve never seen a movie/television reviewer taken to task for writing a searingly negative review. And believe me, I’ve read/heard plenty of really painfully negative reviews of films and TV shows, either on the grounds of the writing or the acting or both. So why isn’t anyone worried about the egos of the poor scriptwriter(s), actors, directors, producers, camerapeople, etc.?

I suppose there may be some fans of actors who DO defend their idols with great vigor, but as far as I know, screenwriters NEVER get the kind of “defense by the minions” that authors of books seem to, and in large part, it’s the SAME job. Yes, a screenwriter’s vision goes through many more people to finally reach its audience than a novelist’s does, but by and large, it’s still about writing, about plotting, about characterization. And as for the directors, producers, and so on…NO ONE seems to worry a bit that their feelings might be hurt by a bad review.

This baffles me. I get that, when approaching a novel, it’s easy to feel a very personal connection to the author who wrote it, and that this doesn’t necessarily translate to other entertainment media (TV, movies, plays, music). But by the same token, I can’t understand how anyone believes that screenwriters, directors, actors, musicians, etc. are any less emotionally invested in their work and therefore any less subject to “ego-crushing” than authors.

I’m interested in any thoughts you have on this. Am I wrong? ARE there people out there jumping to the defense of their favorite screenwriters/directors/musicians? Or is this really something that’s pretty much unique to books, particularly fiction?

Balls!

Hey, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about those kind of balls; I’m talking about the ones we often have to keep simultaneously in the air so our entire lives don’t crash to the ground in a pathetic heap of broken glass.

I’m in heavy-duty balls-mode right now. In addition to juggling my kids’ school and homework schedules (always a source of pain for me even though it’s nice to get a few hours of peace and quiet each day while they’re at school), getting them to various activities (I’ve got a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout, and a Girl Scout, yikes!), and keeping food in the house/getting meals on the table, next week is my company’s conference for our clients and I’m a major player in that event. This means I’ve spent most of the past three weeks making final preparations for various presentations I have to give (researching content, rehearsing, and tweaking as necessary). And next week, I will be knee-deep in the conference, which means I have to line up after-school care for all three kids, since I won’t be home when they get out of school as I normally am.

Needless to say, this puts a huge crimp in my writing style. Oh, I’ve been trying to beg, borrow, and steal a few hours here and there, but honestly, I’m so mentally exhausted from keeping track of everything else, the well’s pretty much dry. So, I am hoping that once this craziness wraps up next Friday and I’m down to just the “regular” balls, I’ll get my brain back and actually be able to dig back into writing. Because not writing gives me sad.

So, tell me, how do you keep the “balls” in the air? Do you ever find yourself just too exhausted from all the effort to keep them up there that you can’t do the things you really want to (whether it’s writing, reading, or something else)? Tell me about it :).