Now Available in Digital Format: The Reiver

I was very excited last summer when I was invited to write a short story for an anthology called The Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance. The print version of the anthology was released earlier this month, but for readers who prefer digital formats to paper, there really weren’t any options…until now.

As of today, The Reiver (with gorgeous cover art provided by Kimberly Killion of Hot Damn Designs), is available in a variety of digital formats for $0.99 from the following vendors:

A few other authors have also made their stories available in digital, including the Kimberly Killion and Julianne MacLean.

You can read an excerpt from The Reiver and get links to purchase the print copy here.

Print Runs and Order to Net: A Primer

During a discussion I had on Twitter yesterday regarding the recent uptick in authors being asked by their NY publishers to take a new pen name, often with the intention of masking the author’s previous identity from booksellers, I realized that a lot of people probably don’t understand how print runs are set for books. I know I didn’t really understand the internal workings of this mysterious part of publishing until well after I was published in print myself.

So, here, in broad outlines, is how it works:

When a print publisher offers a contract to an author, they typically want the author to provide a certain number of manuscripts under the same contract. So, for example, an author might be offered a contract for anywhere from 1 to X books (I think 7 is the most I’ve seen announced under a single contract), with the advance for all those manuscripts set under the terms of that contract. In romance, the typical contract seems to be for 2 or 3 books.

When the publisher makes the offer and sets the advance, it does so by ESTIMATING the appeal of these books to booksellers, but it actually has no concrete idea of how many copies of the 1st book will actually be ordered. A publisher NEVER promises in a contract that X number of copies of each book will be printed, and the reason publishers don’t make such promises is that print runs are set based on orders from booksellers. The more the publisher has paid in advance for the book, the more its sales staff will probably do to market the book to booksellers in the hope of increasing the initial number of orders, and certainly the publisher has a target number in mind. Notwithstanding, there’s really no way to know what the print run for an author’s first book will be until the orders are in, which happens about 2 months before publication.

All right, so let’s suppose an author’s first book in a three-book contract has an initial print run of 50,000 books in mass market paperback. That’s a pretty decent print run, so the publisher is probably reasonably happy, provided they didn’t pay six figures per book in the contract.

Let’s suppose a “standard” publication schedule, so the next book in the “series” comes out six months later. When the booksellers go to order the second book, they are no longer looking only at the sales and marketing materials when setting their order numbers. They’re also looking at how many copies of the FIRST book were actually sold. So, if collectively the booksellers only sold 25,000 of the 50,000 copies they ordered of book number 1, the number of orders for book 2 is likely to be…you guessed it, 25,000. This is a practice referred to as “order to net” and you can see how it affects both authors and publishers from this example. If the second book in the series only has a print run of 25,000, it will likely be on fewer shelves and thus have less opportunity to attract readers. In all likelihood, when the third book in the series comes out in another six months, the orders will be even fewer unless the second book literally sells through its entire print run.

Now the publisher is not happy. Especially in mass market paperback, there is a law of diminishing returns, and once the print run drops below 25,000-30,000 copies, it’s tough for the publisher to make back their investment on the book, even if the entire print run sells through.

And this is why, if the publisher likes the author’s books and thinks there’s still a chance for them to sell well, they often ask the author to take a new pen name. Because if the print runs have spiraled downward like this (and they don’t always–some books sell through their entire print runs and even go back to second, third, and even fourth printings, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that order to net will hurt you), the orders for the first book in the next contract will be based on the author’s previous sales. Booksellers run under the assumption that their consumers have “voted” on their willingness to buy a particular author’s books by what they have bought before. By giving the author a different name (and trying to hide the fact that it’s the same author from the bookseller), the publisher hopes to get orders for the first book under the new contract back up to what they were for the first book in the first contract. This, in turn, hopefully gives the author a better chance to succeed the second time around.

Now, there are other ways that publishers try to avoid the problem of “order to net” tanking a new author that they hope will break out big. One is to release the books so close together that booksellers really can’t base orders for the second or third book on the sales of the previous one(s) because the previous ones haven’t been out long enough to establish sufficient data trends. I’m seeing this a lot more lately, and up to a point, it can really help an author to succeed. It can also have its pitfalls, though–if the books fail to take off as the publisher and booksellers expect, there can be a much higher percentage of returns, especially of the later books in the series, which in the end may put the author right back in the position of one who has been tanked by “order to net.”

But if you’ve ever wondered why on earth publishers would want an author to rebrand under a new name, even at the risk of her former fans not finding her books, this is why.

Reflections on Saturday’s Shootings in Tucson

I don’t tend to talk much politics on my blog, but every once in a while, it’s a necessity. This is one of those times.

In the wake of the deaths of six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal district court judge, and the shooting of 13 others, including Gabrielle Giffords, who is miraculously still fighting for her life, a lot of people on the left were quick to place blame on certain conservative commentators and politicians for inciting the shooter with their rhetoric. They were quick to do this even when it wasn’t entirely clear what the shooter’s motives were (and I still think it’s unclear; the young man is clearly unhinged, but whether any particular ideology can be considered responsible for his actions is a big question to me). People on both sides of the political spectrum are now calling for more civility in our country’s dicourse, and I think that would be nice but…frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

Why not? Partly, because political discourse has NEVER been particularly civil in the United States. Honestly, some of the stuff we think of as “over-the-top” these days (Sarah Palin’s gunsight map of targeted Congressional Districts, for example) would be considered laughingly polite by 19th century standards. If you want to see brutal political lambasting, just look up “Lincoln+cartoons” on Google and see what you get.

But the other reason I’m not holding my breath is because I know I am not always as temperate as I could be when people I disagree agree with express opinions I find morally reprehensible. As a Unitarian-Universalist, I am committed as a basic principle to respect the dignity and worth of all other human beings, but that doesn’t mean (I don’t think) that I have to respect their ideas when I find them to be bigoted, intolerant, uneducated, or just plain stupid.

Still, as I’ve been ruminating on the meaning of the events in Tucson and what they mean, I’m reminded of something our minister said in a sermon a few years back. He couldn’t find a source for this quote and I haven’t been able to, either, but I really believe the sentiment it expresses and I imagine if everyone took these words to heart, the world would be a better, safer place for everyone:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it is your destiny.

It’s a Boy…and a Girl…and a Boy (Cover Art Swoon)

I’ve been on pins and needles for what seems like months now to see the cover art for GRACE UNDER FIRE, my upcoming Harlequin Spice Brief (April 1). Today, it came at last and, oh my, was it ever worth the wait.

I love everything about this cover. I love the guys in their cravats and waistcoats and coats. I love the heroine’s dress, both the color of it and the way it’s falling away from her torso. And I positively adore the expression on her face; it actually makes me a little weak in the knees.

Harlequin has always impressed me with the quality of the covers they do for their Spice Briefs, and particularly the historical ones. They just look right. I knew whatever they did for my story, it would be gorgeous, but I have to admit that they far exceeded my expectations.

So, my thanks to Harlequin for a beautiful, beautiful cover. Now I think I’ll go upstairs and take a shower. Because this is HOT!

My One Writing Resolution for 2011

I’m bad at New Year’s resolutions, which is why, as a rule, I don’t make them. It’s not just that I seldom KEEP my resolutions that makes me eschew them, however. It’s also that I figure if it’s a good idea to do (or not do) something, it’s just as good an idea on December 31 as it is on January 1 and why wait?

Notwithstanding, I did realize I have one goal for myself in the coming year, although I had already implemented it before the end of 2010. Quite simply, it’s this: NO NEW SHINIES. In 2011, I will allow myself to write anything that already has at least a page written, but I will not start any new manuscripts. No matter how awesome a new idea seems, no matter how tired I am of the stories I have to choose from.

The reason I’m making this pact with myself is simple: I’m a great starter and a lousy finisher. I’ve always been this way, and I’ve always known it was a tendency I’d have to struggle against. But now, with 2010 behind me and only two completed manuscripts to show for that entire year (although I wrote several hundred thousand words, I’m sure), it’s very clear to me that I have to confine myself to the books I’ve already started writing. And there are a LOT of them. I mean, A LOT. In fact, in no particular order, here is a list of manuscripts I could tackle this year if I ONLY choose from the ones I have started (not including my active WIP, a category-style romance I’m determined to have done by mid-February at the latest):

  • Single-title contemporary romance, currently at 20,000+ words
  • Middle grade mystery, currently at 16,000 words
  • Historical (Edwardian) urban fantasy, currently around 10,000 words
  • Book 1 in futuristic series, currently at 7,000 words
  • Historical (Regency) romance, currently at 8,250 words
  • “Boy” YA, currently at 5,000 words
  • Category romance, currently at 3,000 words
  • Contemporary romance novella, currently at 4,500 words
  • Short historical (Ancient Greece…yes, really) romance, currently at 2,500 words

And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. There are undoubtedly a dozen more at one stage or another, just waiting for me to give them my attention. Which means there is absolutely no excuse for starting anything new this year unless (and this is a caveat I don’t would love to have to employ but don’t particularly expect to) I were to finish and sell one of the books on this list, in which case, I might be obligated to write more in that vein to satisfy the contract.

So, that’s my goal for 2011. It’s simple and straightforward and I will consider it a major success if I can adhere to it. (My fingers are already itching!)