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Archive for the ‘Writing Romance’ Category

If you’re published, but are already on book number two and haven’t hit the bestsellers lists, chances are you’re what’s termed a midlist author. To publishers, midlist authors are the least exciting category of writer. Their first books weren’t hotties. They’ve been bought again because they did okay their first time out, but are often pushed to the back of the bus in favor of those at the top, or the next potential hottie to come along.

Editors and publishers have been shouting about the death of the midlist since dinosaurs were harnessed to run printing presses, sometime in the mid-1980s. Publishing industry pundits at the time urged their readers to cup a hand to their ear and listen for the death knell, as corporations began gobbling up publishing houses and sought to “trim the fat” off their operations.

Why should we publish people who aren’t going to be runaway bestsellers? was the prevailing corporate wisdom of the era.

In truth, I suspect that the history of the midlist over the last twenty-five years could provide hours of lively debate. Is it less than it once was? The proverbial mere shadow? Or is it even stronger today?

Lori Devoti’s “The Death of the Midlist” revives the old arguments at Romancing the Blog, with news that two publishers are supposedly sending their midlists to the gallows. In addition to providing an excellent Midlist for Dummies-style primer, Devoti asks an important question.

…when I heard these two publishers were eliminating their mid-list I thought, “How?” Are they dropping everything that isn’t an A to them? Are they getting out their crystal ball and only buying the “big” books? Or are they just gouging out the middle? Keeping the A’s and the D’s but dumping those darn B’s and C’s?”

The answer, I think, would be yes. If publishers wanted to cut their midlist, there are a number of ways they could put the squeeze on the middle. They might raise the criteria for purchases of an author’s second and subsequent books, requiring higher sell-through rates or even a back-to-print order before an author was bought again. They could contract fewer new authors, selecting just a handful at a time, those they perceived as having the potential for mass appeal; whereupon they made those lucky few into bestsellers.

Where would all the unwanted authors go? It’s a sure thing that they wouldn’t stop writing, or attempting to see their books published. I know I wouldn’t. My guess is that more and more of them would turn to eBook publishers and even self-publishing as an option.

Which makes me wonder, will the large New York houses decide not to eliminate the midlist, but transform it instead?

What are the chances they’ll release most of the dinosaurs from the printing presses and put them to pasture, or swamp, or the Brontosaurus graveyard, and choose not to print, warehouse and distribute midlist books? What if they looked forward a decade, to when print book sales will be on the wane anyway, and came to the conclusion that the midlist should be eBook-only?

In this scenario, print would be reserved for two categories of books, the A-list, and those whom publishers visualized as having the potential to A-list, whether they be first-timers, or long-time eBook only midlisters who have found a large enough audience to merit the luxury.

Devoti makes a good argument in her post when she wonders how the buying public would react to a total evisceration of the middle:

…my guess is a lot of authors who live on the mid list would just disappear. This would be okay for a while. There is a never ending supply of new hopeful writers, but eventually wouldn’t that get old? There are a lot of really good books on that mid list. (Seriously, none of us believe only best-sellers are good, right? Or even all best-sellers are good.) If you could only pick between the new and the big, I truly think you would miss what used to be in the middle.

Regardless of what choices corporate publishing makes, to transition their B- and C-list authors to another format, or allow a great migration of the same to smaller eBook-only houses, my belief is that the midlist will never truly die.

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For anyone who has written and sold their first novel, what comes next can often be a daunting task. How do you get the reading public to notice you and buy?

Logically, it sounds like this should be the publisher’s job. They’ve bought your book and made it one of their products. You’ve given over your rights to them. Wouldn’t it be in their best interests to market it so that they can make more money?

Apparently not, according to an article by Neely Tucker of the Washington Post, “On Web, a Most Novel Approach.” Publishers do actively push their titles, but increasingly it’s those at the top of the food chain that get fed, while new authors, those in print anyway, who must fend for themselves.

Authors are expected to behave like mini-entrepreneurs, says Kamy Wicoff, founder and CEO of She Writes, a Web site devoted to helping women writers promote their books. She started the site in June. More than 4,000 writers have joined.

“The landscape has altered so fundamentally and irrevocably that almost no one is immune from finding ways to participate in the promotion of their books,” Wicoff says. “Writers with small advances and limited resources are expected to treat their book as a new company, with marketing and promotion and PR.”

Tucker makes this sound like a new development, though it has actually been the case for many years now. The current economic recession and systemic financial difficulties in the publishing industry, however, have accentuated the disparity.

Never Underestimate the Value of a Book Trailer

As an example, the Post tells the story of first time nonfiction author Kelly Corrigan, who in 2008 published a memoir, The Middle Place, about cancer’s effect on the family. True, nonfiction about disease is a long way from romance fiction, but many of the same challenges face fiction and nonfiction authors alike.

When her book came out, Corrigan received no invites to book festivals, was not sent on tour, didn’t even get reviews. What she did in response, however, could serve as an excellent PR blueprint for all authors. She got busy.

She cobbled together a trailer for her book on her home computer, using iMovie software, downloading a free tune off the Web for background music, and stuck it on her Web site. Her agent helped get her on one network television morning show. About 20 friends hosted book parties, which she hit on a self-funded three-week blitz, selling books out of the trunk of her car. A guy shot video of her reading an essay at one of these parties, and she posted it on YouTube when the paperback came out.

A year later, the book has sold about 80,000 copies in hardcover and another 260,000 in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan data. It sat on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks, peaking at No. 2. That homemade trailer has been viewed more than 100,000 times. The video of her reading has drawn 4.5 million hits.

EBook authors may not find themselves selling copies of their books out of their trunks. Still, the ingenuity behind Corrigan’s story is admirable and inspiring. This is a meaty article, with a single bottom line lesson. If you want to get noticed, it’s your responsibility to do it for yourself.

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inverted-em-sigJust stumbled across this fun website, Excerpt Monday, an ongoing hub of links to new romance novel excerpts that are refreshed each month. For September, I counted thirty-six romance authors participating, among them Emily Ryan-Davis, Ella Drake, Stephanie Draven, Julia Knight, and Jeanne St. James. Here’s how site creators Bria Quinlan and Alexia Reed, explain it.

Once a month, a bunch of authors get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate–just an writer with an excerpt you’d like to share.

The site is pretty bare bones, but the links to the individual excerpts on authors’ websites are terrific. I especially love the sneak peeks at works-in-progress or books that haven’t yet hit the stores.

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One of the most frustrating problems for romance authors and author hopefuls is not how to write something, but what to write and how to find people, ideally lots of people, who will buy it. Some authors excel at the business and marketing side of the writing biz, while others loath it and just want to be left alone to do their work.

Personally, I hate marketing. Why? Because it’s extremely complex and considering the vast array of ways people communicate with each other these days, there’s just so damn much of it. If you’ve ever visited a writers forum and taken a look at the signatures of the various posters to that forum, you may have noticed it’s common for an author to include links to websites, multiple blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other assorted “content streams.” All of that has to be built and maintained, and it’s a helluva lot of work, time that’s pulled away from what many writers prefer to do, write.

Some experts claim that no amount of marketing an author does, and this includes book signings and tours, will increase that authors sales. Others believe it’s crucial to engage in as many activities that put your name in front of readers as you can. Most authors have the option of leaving all publicity efforts up to their publishers, but it’s becoming increasingly rare to find an author who doesn’t have at least a bare bones website or blog.

Even if the subject of market trends makes your brain want to shut down, it pays to have at least a passing knowledge of them. Who is buying books now and why? How are they buying books? Where are they buying books? What are they buying? How can you use this knowledge to sell your books to them?

More importantly, where is the market going to be one, two, five years from now? You may wonder, am I going to be left in the dust if I don’t pay attention?

Lucienne Diver, an agent with The Knight Agency, gave the keynote address at the Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine, Florida last week, a speech that addressed many of these questions. “New Publishing Paradigms,” is now posted on her blog. I liken it to the publishing version of a fold-out pocket map of a foreign city.

Some nuggets:

  • Reading among adults and teens is actually on the rise for the first time since 1982
  • Some companies are experimenting with enhanced eBooks, which do more than simply deliver words on the screen
  • Audio downloads of books are currently outselling eBooks
  • You can’t have a bestseller without having people talk about your books (handselling), and much, if not most, communication occurs online
  • Viral marketing is the “big buzzword,” (i.e. friends emailing links to friends who forward the links, etc.)
  • Serialized novels are becoming popular
  • Some print publishers are experimenting with a low advance/50% of monies earned model
  • Dark and sensual is currently outselling humorous and light (odd given the depressing economy)

This is only a brief list. I’ve left out many of Driver’s other important facts and insights. Some of you may already have much of the information in this address, but I’m willing to bet you’ll find a helpful surprise or two.

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As I hunt up new things to blog about, occasionally I’ll come across something noteworthy or fun that doesn’t always end up in a post of its own. Here are a few sites and tidbits I’ve come across this week that are well-deserving of a mention.

The Season

Hands down one of the most elegant and visually sumptuous romance sites I’ve seen, The Season is a place where historical romance fans can get their fix. It’s also worth a look by non-historical romance types for its sheer originality.

When visiting the site, viewers are asked to play along with the idea that they have joined the London Regency Era “Season” of parties and balls in full swing, while simultaneously viewing the latest historical romance titles. Run by romance author, Beverley Kendall, The Season exists in three-month doses with an archive page for past seasons. Visitors will find plenty of excerpts, book recommendations, and contests.

Sexy Wallpaper from Gena Showalter

If you’re into sexy guys—rhetorical question?—get this free wallpaper from Gena Showalter for Deep Kiss of Winter. Two versions are available for download.

deepkisswall1-300x187

The Passionate Pen

Looking for an extensive list of eBook romance publishers and their websites? Check out this no-frills, but extremely helpful directory by Jenna Peterson. Though not intended expressly for eBook authors, there’s still plenty of good coverage of the format, including articles on marketing your manuscripts to editors.

Free Reads from Celia Kyle

Not content to offer just one free read, this Liquid Silver Books author offers 7 short stories on her website. They’re not downloadable and must be read on screen, but hey! 7 free stories.

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It’s synchronicity.

Not an hour ago, I finished another novella and sent it on its brave little way to the first slush pile at the top of my list. Minutes later, I came across this brilliant article about slush pile submissions at edittorrent. If you’re still waiting with crossed fingers for that first acceptance call from an editor or agent, Tales from the Slush Pile will give you reason for optimism.

According to this editor-blogger, 88% of submissions are rejected without even really being read. Hold on, before you think this is a depressing rather than a happy fact, listen to edittorrent’s reasons for rejection.

  • 3% sent the manuscript to the wrong person.
  • 10% submitted a manuscript in a category the editor doesn’t publish.
  • 20% submitted fiction, but not a genre the editor publishes.

Of those left:

  • A third have serious grammar and spelling issues beyond the occasional, inevitable typo.
  • Half don’t understand the basics of telling a story.

Let’s presume that you: a) aren’t sending out manuscripts blindly to anyone with an email address, b) have read the submission guidelines and know romance is accepted, c) religiously use spellchecker, and d) know stories require a beginning, middle, and end. Maybe I exaggerate, but the point is, if you’ve made it past the beginner stages, you’re already nearly nine-tenths of the way there!

Check out editorrent’s blog to find out what happens to the other 12% of manuscript submissions in the pile.

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Getting noticed as a romance writer is hard work. Competition from bestselling novelists can suck the lifeblood out of a newbie’s promotion efforts faster than a vampire on a drinking binge.

A writer may go on tour, build a website, start a blog, make a trailer, create bookmarks, host a giveaway, attend conferences, join romance loops, and twitter until she gets carpal thumb, and still have more to do. Of all the fiction genres, romance writers strike me as being the savviest, most upbeat promoters of their own work today. They never stop working and networking, or looking for ways to get their books in front of readers.

Here’s the word. FREE is the new black.

According to the Associated Press, free books are now the latest weapon in the sales arsenal. It sounds counter-intuitive, but giving away an entire novel, not simply an excerpt or a short story is leading to dramatic increases in sales for known and lesser known romance novelists.

“There’s always going to be someone who wants free things. What we’re trying to do is link free with paid,” Maja Thomas, senior vice president of digital media at Patterson’s publisher, the Hachette Book Group, said. “It’s like priming the pump.”

“What we like to do is make the first book in a series free, usually a series that has multiple books,” said Scott Shannon, publisher of the Del Rey/Spectra imprint at Random House, Inc.

You can witness this dynamic in action at Amazon.com where a significant number of the top 25 romance novels for the Kindle are free.

For the last several weeks, Dark Fever by Karen Marie Moning has bounced around in the top five to ten books on the list. No mystery there. It doesn’t cost readers a dime to download. Not coincidentally, two of the author’s other books, Bloodfever and Faefever, have nearly kept pace in sales, even though the price for these is $6.00 and $6.39 respectively. Lara Adrian is another writer to benefit from this trend with her novels, Kiss of Midnight (free) and Kiss of Crimson (not free).

Del Rey Publisher Shannon is quick to add one caveat in the article by AP:

“We have had phenomenal success with using free books to get people to buy others by an author. But in the long term, we have to guard the market. We have to make sure people understand that time and energy goes into writing a book.”

Newbie eBook authors take heart. If you don’t have an entire novel you can afford to give away, or should even want to give away, apparently free is free and free sells romance. Short stories are just as sought after when the price tag is $0.00.

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