My Eulogy for My Son

Our minister read this for me at the Celebration of Life. I wanted to share it here as a further tribute to my beloved son.

When Julian was a baby, he was a terrible sleeper. I always read in the parenting books that newborns slept 12 hours a day, but if Julian slept that much, he did most of it in half hour increments around the clock. Many well-meaning people encouraged us to let him cry it out, but neither of us could bring ourselves to do it. He just had way more stamina than we did. Now, I will be forever grateful that I held him and comforted him when he was small and didn’t let what was merely a passing phase provoke us into doing something that didn’t come naturally to us as parents.

It’s not hard to think of complementary adjectives to describe my son. Everyone who knew him has listed them repeatedly: smart, inquisitive, witty, kind, confident, handsome. But the word that comes to my mind most of all isn’t an adjective, but a noun. That word is “friend.”

Yes, he was my son, and for that alone I love him more than I can ever express, but he was also becoming his own person, and that person was a young man I respected and cherished and loved to spend time with. Of course, more and more, he wanted to spend time with his friends, not his parents, but he was still willing to indulge his mom in conversations about any topic that interested him—politics, religion, economics, science. (When we talked about science, he mostly talked and I mostly listened. He knew so much more than I did, it was a little embarrassing.)

Sometimes, I wonder if I indulged him too much, if I treated him more like a peer than a child. But even when he was very young, he had an innate maturity—not to mention an uncanny ability to win almost any debate—that made it hard to be much more than his companion and guide in the world. More than anything, I wanted to give him the strength of character to live a full and happy life. And even though his life was all too short, I do know that it was a full and happy one. Perhaps that is all any parent can ever really hope for.

Good night, sweet Julian. I am so blessed to be your mother. I will love and miss you always.

Why I’m So Passionate About Contract Terms

It pains me to have to write this post so soon after writing one promoting the potential benefits of going with a digital small press. I’m still a believer in the digital small press model, but frankly, authors have to be so, so careful when signing contracts these days, even when the publisher is well-known and reputable. If you don’t have an agent, I really believe it’s downright dangerous to sign a boilerplate contract from any publisher these days without first having the contract reviewed by an attorney with a specialty in publishing. And honestly, even if you have an agent, it might not be a bad idea to have the contract reviewed by an attorney. Because man, publishers are getting sneaky these days.

The latest contract clause to trip my trigger is in the boilerplate of a major epublisher. A publisher I would have recommended authors consider up until I was made aware of this clause, which is apparently relatively new. At this point, I’m not at liberty to name either the publisher or the source of this information. I will also say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I haven’t seen the precise wording of the clause; I only know what I have been told it says. Notwithstanding, I think it’s important to give everyone a heads-up about this particular rights grab, because it’s one you might not even see coming.

So, in a nutshell, the clause states that the publisher “owns” the metadata associated with the book, then further defines metadata as “work-for-hire, including cover copy, blurb, tagline and sales hook.” What’s wrong with this clause, you ask?

Well, first of all, it’s an odd definition of “metadata.” Metadata is usually understood to be things like the author’s name, the book’s title, the series title, and the keywords used to promote the book (for example, “historical romance” or “secret baby”). These are all pieces of data that get sent with the book to retailers to assist them in classifying the book on their site and in searches. I don’t think of any of the items listed in the actual contract as “metadata” at all, so that leads to the head-scratchery question of whether the publisher is trying to claim ownership of the items I consider metadata IN ADDITION TO the items listed in the clause.

Second, the clause defines metadata as work-for-hire and provides a list for inclusion but none for exclusion. And if cover copy and taglines are “work-for-hire” that the publisher owns, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that content and copy editing (which the publisher pays for) might also be covered by the clause. The contract doesn’t specifically state that edits ARE work for hire, but it doesn’t say they aren’t, either. As far as I know, there’s never been a case where a publisher tried to prevent an author from republishing a reverted book because they owned the edited version of the text, but that doesn’t mean one might not try to, and a clause like this in the contract could certainly give them leverage in the attempt.

I hope from the above explanation that it’s apparent why I think this is a dangerous clause to agree to. If the publisher is really claiming ownership of your book’s metadata (its title, the series title, your name), that means that when the rights revert to you, you might not be able to republish it with the same title, series title, and pen name. (I have a hard time seeing how they could claim to own your name, especially if you’ve used it for books with other publishers, but the fact that your name is metadata and they are claiming to own metadata is troubling.) And if the metadata is really only the “work-for-hire,” you still might be in a bind if the publisher tries to claim that the editorial work on the book belongs to them or even if they try to claim you can’t use words and phrases in your version of the book’s description and tagline that are similar to those they used.

Is keeping you from requesting reversion by making it difficult, if not impossible, for you to republish the book the purpose of this clause? I can’t say. But I also can’t say I see any other logical reason for the publisher to claim ownership of these items. Even if the clause is truly limited to the listed items, at most epublishers, all of them are written by the author, not by an employee of the publisher. Very often, the blurb the author used when submitting the book to the publisher is the basis for the cover copy. How can the publisher own in perpetuity something the author wrote before contracting the book? It’s the kind of rights grab that sets my teeth on edge.

Anyway, the bottom line here is that if you are offered a contract by a publisher, be sure to look for clauses like this that assert perpetual ownership of metadata and/or work-for-hire. If you find one, request that the publisher either strike or modify the clause to your satisfaction. Even if the publisher wouldn’t prevail in preventing you from republishing the book on reversion, you don’t want to get tied up in court over something like this.

Print vs Digital Sales: An Addendum

Today, Hugh Howey provided an update to yesterday’s data by looking at print sales and what impact giving up those sales might have on authors’ bottom lines. (Sorry, I have to link to the information on The Passive Voice because the firewall here won’t let me load Howey’s site directly. Can’t help wondering if my employer is in collusion with the Big 5, lol!)

Anyhow, when I looked at this data, it struck me that when the AAP says 70% of book sales are in print, they don’t mean actual unit sales; they mean gross revenue. You can see right away why that’s an important distinction. Because in general, prices for digital books tend to be lower than prices for print, even when it’s the same book. (Thank you, DOJ, for the abolition of agency pricing.) So when traditional publishers say 70% of the market is in print, they don’t really mean that 70% of books sold are still sold in print. That’s what it SOUNDS like they’re saying (it’s what *I* thought they were saying!), but it’s not.

I wondered, based on this light bulb going on, whether the estimates on print vs digital sales would change if I did the math based on gross revenue as opposed to unit sales. Of course, this has one inevitable problem, which is that I have to estimate the average sale price of both print and digital books to arrive at a conclusion. And I have to estimate those prices to take into account all the different print formats as well as the different pricing strategies of different publishers. I thought, however, that it was reasonable to assume the average sale price of a print book is $8 (taking into account retailer discounts) and the average sale price of a digital book is $4. It’s possible that my average for print is too low and my average for digital is too high, but from my look at the Top 50 on Amazon a week or so ago, I think it’s pretty close.

Ready for the math?

$70 in print = 8.75 copies sold
$30 in digital = 7.50 copies sold
$100 print + e = 16.25 copies sold

7.50/16.25 = 46.15% of all unit sales are digital

I did NOT expect that outcome. I swear, I didn’t choose my pricing estimates with a goal in mind. But there it is. It’s nearly exactly the same as when I estimated it based on 75% of the market belonging to traditionally published books and 25% belonging to mostly digital/self-publishers.

But what if the average price of print books is $9 and the average price of digital is $3.50?

$70 in print = 7.78 copies
$30 in digital = 8.57 copies
$100 print + e = 16.35 copies

8.57/16.35 = 52.42% of all unit sales are digital.

Again, all I can say is coffee=smelled.

Writing While White (Diversity vs Authenticity)

Meoskop wrote a very thought-provoking post over at Love in the Margins the other day that she titled Reading While White (The Finicky Reader). In it, she admitted that one of the reasons she might not be finding as much ethnic and cultural diversity in romance as she wants is because she isn’t actively seeking out works by non-white authors.

I’m entirely on board with the general concept, but there’s one thing that worries me. You see, I’m a white author, but I’m not interested in writing only white characters any more than, as a woman author, I’m interested in writing about only female characters. I want to put diversity into the books I write as much as I want to find it in the ones I read. My world isn’t all white just because I’m white. My husband is of Mexican and Native American descent; several of my closest friends in the romance writing community are black; my husband’s former boss and many of his coworkers and friends are Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean. If I’m going to write “what I know,” especially in a contemporary setting, I have to include characters from many different ethnic backgrounds because that’s the world I live in.

But as a white author, can I do that with “authenticity”? Or am I doomed, by dint of my Northern European ancestry, to get it wrong because, despite my immersion in a culturally diverse world and my active efforts to avoid it, I see everyone through my privileged white lens?

Well, the answer to that is, I hope not. I’d like to think that if I can write male point of view characters while not being male, I can write point of view characters from other cultural backgrounds, too. The characters in my stories have many traits I don’t personally share, but my job as an author is to try to get inside the skin and the mindset of someone unlike me and make that person come to life on the page. And I strive to do that for every character, no matter what their skin color or country of origin or social status might be. I may not always succeed, of course, but that’s going to be just as true of characters with whom I share traits as those I don’t.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, though, because the book I’m writing, RULES OF POSSESSION, features a biracial hero. Warren’s father is African American and his mother is Korean. Warren is also a very successful NFL quarterback. The thing is, for a long time in the NFL, black quarterbacks were very much the exception, not the rule. That’s changing (the 2013 season started with 9 black starting quarterbacks out of 16), but the “stereotype” of an NFL quarterback is still a white guy, and I didn’t want to write that character again. But I’ll admit, I’m nervous. I’ve tried to cross all my t’s and dot my i’s when it comes to building this character, to steer away from stereotypes while also not steering away from his ethnic background and cultural identity.

Will I get it right? I don’t know. But whether I do or don’t, I’m going to keep writing POC characters because it’s the only way I know to reflect the world as I see it.

“Scholarly” Romance Covers: The Next Big Thing?

Yesterday, I got into a brief Twitter conversation with Rose Lerner, Isobel Carr, Ros Clarke, and Cecilia Grant. Cecilia had just posted a link to her book, A Gentleman Undone, on Booklikes, where the lovely (and sexy!) cover had been inexplicably replaced by the cover of a scholarly Polish language book with a similar title. (Alas, Booklikes has fixed the cover, so I can’t show you.) The following discussion ensued:

Screenshot-from-2013-11-14-104854

Of course, none of us could resist the “challenge” to start a new trend in romance cover art. Rose and Ros both have theirs efforts on their blogs already. (Rose’s Social Disorder and Ros’s The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh are standouts for me, but they’re all hilarious.)

Here’s what I came up with for two of my historical titles:

ScholarlyHUTC ScholarlyLessonPlan

So, what do you think? Will this become the new Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon? Only time will tell!

And if you’re an author who’s joined in the fun and I haven’t linked to your covers yet, be sure to post in the comments!

The One Thing Every Author Needs to Understand about Goodreads

If there is one thing I think authors could benefit from understanding about Goodreads, it’s the fact that it is first and foremost a book discovery/recommendation engine. That means that its software is constantly evaluating each user’s ratings of books and using that information to display books that are “similar.” But, of course, “similarity” only goes so far, which means that if you happen to like shifter romances but loathe vampire ones, you’re liable to get a lot of recommendations for vampire romances unless you make an effort to tell Goodreads “I don’t like vampires.” One way to do that is to rate every single vampire romance you see as a one-star book. Goodreads will eventually get your point and stop recommending Twilight at al.

The point I’m making here is that there’s nothing inherently vicious or personal about a reader giving your book one star before reading it. Just as those who rate books five stars because these are the kinds of books they really like and want to have show up in their recommendations isn’t deliberate “padding” of the rankings for those books. They’re both about making Goodreads useful to the user.

The sooner authors can understand and accept this, the better. Because Goodreads actually IS a very useful discovery engine, but it only works as well as its ability to find readers who’ll like your book. And it can’t do that if the baseline assumption is that every reader will love every book.

Today’s Excerpt from SKIN IN THE GAME

Coming out tomorrow! Available for preorder at:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBookstore | Kobo

“So, at least I finally get to see what I missed the other morning,” Cade murmured.

Angie eyed him balefully over the rim of her coffee cup as she took a fortifying swallow. “Well, feel free to leave now that you’ve satisfied your curiosity.”

Shaking his head, he patted the playbook. “I really did come to go over this. I didn’t expect to find you still in bed at nine o’clock in the morning. But I can’t say I’m sorry I did. You look…wonderful.”

“Oh, please. I look like death warmed over.”

“I think you look sleepy and rumpled and desperately in need of kissing.”

“You have to stop that,” she snapped. Because all of it was true. As irritated and unsettled as she was by his presence, her lips felt heavy and swollen with need.

Both pairs.


“Why?”
At first, she thought he was pulling her leg, but then she realized the question was absolutely genuine. He really didn’t see a conflict.

“Because you’re my boss. You can’t just come to my house first thing on a Saturday morning and hit on me while I’m still in my pajamas.”

“Well, you could always take them off,” he suggested, waggling his eyebrows.

“Oh my God, you’re impossible.”

“On the contrary, when it comes to you, I’m willing to be very, very possible.”

Win a Kindle Paperwhite!

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Cover Reveal and Preorder Links for SKIN IN THE GAME

It’s finally here! It’s finally here! I’ve been dying to reveal the cover/cover copy for SKIN IN THE GAME, my Entangled Brazen debut, for weeks. And now, I finally can.

*drum roll, please*

SKIN IN THE GAME (A Play Action Novel)

SitG 500px Angela Peterson was always the quiet, shy kid growing up in Harper Falls, crushing on the high school quarterback and honing her football strategy skills. Now grown up and coaching the high school team, she’s shocked when that same sexy quarterback returns to Harper Falls asks her back to his hotel room. And then tries to steal her job.

Injured NFL quarterback Cade Reynolds is in Harper Falls to take over as interim head coach, and he never thought the tall, blond bombshell he propositioned would offer up any resistance. Not to a repeat of the amazingly wild night they shared and certainly not to his coaching position.

But the Harper Falls High Eagles are Angie’s team, and even the hometown hero won’t take that away from her, no matter how hot he is. As the two engage in a battle of wits and wills, this is one game neither is prepared to lose.

Preorder at: