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Thursday, February 11, 2010

New York Times on E-Book Pricing

Here's another article about the whole thing. Nothing new really, although for me it's official confirmation of stuff I've watched happen personally.

It's got a quite a few quotable lines in it, but I'll resist the urge.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are You Sure You Want To Say That? Just Wondering...

I recently noticed a blog post by an aspiring sf writer of African descent. She got turned on to the genre, apparently, by reading Harry Potter, and now she has a recently completed manuscript. Thinking she would look into what other black writers had accomplished in the genre, she looked for some titles to read, found Acacia: The War with the Mein, read it and... decided to blog about how lame it was. She didn't like it much. Found the characters mostly uninteresting, their names annoying, nothing much surprising in it and just way too many words for such a nothing story, that sort of thing.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with someone not liking a book of mine. She may think it's not a good book; I'd say it is, but it's not a good book for her. I wish people would understand that a bit more often. But so be it.

What I am interested in here is that she chose to write a blog post that included all the above information. Why, I'm inclined to ask, would an aspiring writer hoping to break into the genre and become one of very few black writers in the genre choose to begin by writing publically and negatively about one of the few other black writers to find success in the genre? Does that sound like the best career planning? Especially when they're writing on a personal blog that nobody is reading, but that the author in question is more likely to come across because it's their book being trashed. See what I mean? She's reaching very few people, but the one person she's most likely to reach is... me.

I'm not sure how much folks know this, but part of what it means that black writers are so few in this part of the literary world is that we tend to... ah, know each other. Go to a con and you're likely to connect with Nalo and Nnedi, with Alaya and Nora, with Steven and the Minister, Tananarive and Doselle and Tempest and... well, I was going to say Samuel, but the only time I was at a con with him I was too shy to say hello. But my point is that it's a small group, and the way we stand out in this community makes it easy to connect, strike up friendships, and find professional support. We don't all know each other, but in general we do know each others' work, and I reckon we keep an eye on each others' careers to some extent. None of these writers is doing exactly the same thing. None of us need love each other's writing without question (though I often do). But all of us benefit from looking out for each other. A blurb here, a recommendation there, a shout out on occasion, choosing a particular title for a course and thereby selling twenty books... It's small stuff, but it counts.

In my opinion, this aspiring writer has unintentionally demonstrated how little she knows about the industry she wants to be part of. After writing this negative review, what's she gonna do if she meets me at a con? It's fine if she says hi without commenting on my writing, but it's hardly a great opening to say, "Hi, I read your book and didn't like it and went out of my way to tell other people it wasn't that good. I'm hoping to be a writer myself, though. Can you help me get an agent?" Of course she never would introduce herself that way in person, but... that's exactly what she's done with her blog post!

Remember folks, when you post something on your blog people may read it. It may serve as your introduction to them. Just something to keep in mind...

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Charlie Stross on Amazon, and Toby, and fashionista_35

Another examination of the subject, with some great points.

And here's Tobias Buckell.

All these guys know way more about this stuff than me...

As does fashionista_35, as proven here.

You know, I'm actually not too confused anymore. :)


Ah, So Amazon Has "Capitulated"

Things are happening fast, apparently.

Amazon.com has announced that it's going to have to accept Macmillan's terms. HERE'S their announcement. I put the quotes around the "capitulated" because Amazon used it themselves. They've "capitulated" to selling ebooks at a higher profit margin, to likely making more money while also allowing the publisher to maybe remain able to publish titles in the future. Tough deal...

Listen, I'm no enemy to Amazon. That's not it at all. Please note the Amazon links in this blog. Rest assured that I check my Amazon sales ranking daily, and that I'm a frequent customer myself. I just find some of the rhetoric around this dispute... questionable.

For example, I find the wording that Amazon uses - that "Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles" - a bit strange. Shouldn't they? That's what it means to be a publisher, to take all the risks of publishing and supporting titles. And that's a misuse of term "monopoly". If Macmillan was not only the producer of the titles but also the only venue to sell them that would be one thing. But that's not the case. And why shouldn't a publisher have ownership of the titles they've legally contracted to bring into the world? As an author, I signed a contract with my publisher (who is not Macmillan, by the way) to look after the future of my books; not Amazon. By pricing them publishers are not making people buy them at that price. They're not selling gasoline, here. They're only saying selling them for less doesn't work for them as a business.

I guess a lot of folks think Amazon.com should have that ownership, judging by the comment thread. Seems like a lot of people think publishers are just making a big money grab, since ebooks should just be like gravy to them. I may just have a different perspective on this, but I think folks have the wrong idea if they're thinking the publishers are some sort of fat cats in control of everything, and if they think that ebooks are completely separate from the economics of the entire industry. As a novelist with five books behind me my feeling is that the publishing world is struggling to stay afloat - not chowing down on big ebook profits.

Tina Jordan, in a short piece for Entertainment Weekly, words it this way:

"As someone who has been following this drama, and reading all the comments on this and many other books blogs, I'm alarmed that so many people seem to see Macmillan as the villain here. It's not that simple. The book business has never had high profit margins (I believe 3% is considered fairly healthy, which ought to give you some idea.) It costs an enormous amount of money to produce a book. The author is paid an advance; the book is edited and copyedited and often put through a legal check; a jacket is designed; the publisher pays for marketing (ads!) and publicity (sending the author on tour, or, if they're lucky, paying to bring the author to New York so that they can appear on a national TV show). The printing, binding, and shipping of a title are not the real expenses involved in publication. The issue that Macmillan had with Amazon is a very real one: Given the punishing terms that Amazon insists upon (most e-book profits are going to Amazon, not to the publisher/author), publishers are literally often losing money on their e-book ventures with the company. What Macmillan wants to do is what it calls "agency pricing", that is, offer the e-book for more money when it first comes out, and then decrease the price as time passes - much in the way that a book is first available in hardcover and then in paperback."


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Strange Things In Publishing

We all know these are strange times for publishing. I find it hard to get a handle on where the industry is going and if that destination is a good thing. I tend to be hopeful, confident fundamentally that people will always need stories, and therefore always need writers to produce them. The rest is just details, right?

But... I keep bumping up against strange, kinda unexpected twists.

There are the Kindle $9.99 protesters that go around leaving bad reviews on Amazon, really only saying that no Kindle book should cost more than that amount. Not sure how they came up with that, what amount of market research and analysis of production budgets and profit and lost calculations they've considered. I'm not saying what they should cost, I'm just wondering... I also think they might find that the price is only higher for a period of time - like the first year that the book is in hardback format. My Kindle version of Acacia: The War with the Mein is $6.39, and I figure The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) will drop in price too - once the print version heads into mass market paperback. I wonder if these folks that haven't read my books but have written negative "reviews" will come back then and remove them?

Or there's stuff like Amazon pulling Macmillan titles off because they couldn't come to terms on pricing/royalties for ebooks...

Here's a New York Times blog piece about it.

Here's a letter from Macmillan about it at Publishers Lunch.

What's up with this?

And then there are the folks that wrote protest "reviews" because my books weren't available for... ah... free. For free? (These reviews seem to have been removed, but still.) Just a question about that... How do people that advocate for free books explain how the author gets paid? Or does the author not need to get paid? That's absurd from my point of view, but that's because I know how many days, weeks, years of work writing a book is, how much it effects the circumstances of my family's life on a daily basis. Am I crazy for thinking that writing novels of 200k+ word length (that people want to read) is actually work? I don't make extravagant money writing. I make enough to sustain my family. If everything is free how can I do that? And if I can't do that, folks, I can't spend my life writing books. I just don't really understand this free book thing. If you do, please explain it to me.

And then there's the whole changing landscape thing. Independent bookstores gutted. The chain stores in trouble despite that. Newspapers not reviewing books much anymore. Lots of articles with titles like "The Death of Fiction". (That one is at Mother Jones. Kind of interesting, not just the article but the comment thread afterward.)

I'm not really advocating anything here. Just being dazed and confused...

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Small Thing

The Other Lands now has a page for the mass market paperback edition on Amazon. And I've a sales rank, which means at least one kind person has actually ordered it!

Don't necessarily wait until August 31st to pick one up, though. The hardbacks really are lovely, and they're available now!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Babel Clash Post

I just put up a new post at Babel Clash, about genre hopping this time. It's HERE if you're interested.

Posting it reminds me to mention that my reading with Jeff VanderMeer and Paul G. Tremblay is coming up. It's this Friday in Boston. (Details are in this post.) If you happen to be in the area, please stop by!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Guardian on Waterstone's

Interesting article in the Guardian. It's about book selling in Britain. There are, of course, a lot of parallels to the US industry. This is particularly interesting for me as I have fond memories of Waterstones. I wrote a bit of Pride of Carthage in one on Prince's Street in Edinburgh...

The article is HERE. Lots of comments follow it, and by no means do they all commiserate with the author!

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Monday, September 28, 2009

TOL German Deal

Hurrah! Blanvalet and Random House finally put together a deal for a German edition of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2). Very good news. I'd been so pleased with the enthusiasm Blanvalet showed for Acacia: Macht und Verrat, and I'm thrilled to hear they want to continue with the series. In the current world economy, each of these foreign deals is a big blessing, a bit rarer than just a couple of years ago. Thank you, Blanvalet, for sticking with the Akarans (and me)!

Now, considering that the cover image the US edition used for The Other Lands was actually from the German cover of Acacia, I wonder what they'll do this time? I'll happily wait to find out.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Publication Day

That would be today.

The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) is finally available, hopefully marching out of stores all around the country. I hope that means readers will be picking it up and falling back into the Known World - or that they'll decide to give Acacia: The War with the Mein a try, knowing that if they like it there are quite a few hundreds of pages now to be read - and that the end is in sight!

It goes without saying that I would very much like you to buy one and/or to spread the word about the book. They make great presents, you know! I know it's no small thing to hope that you'll put down your 20-some dollars for a new hardcover, but there's really only two reasons I hope you do.

One is that I believe there's a lot to be found in the book, and I know I worked very hard to make it surprising and thought provoking and engaging. Two is that I want very much to be able to continue to write books, and to be able to focus more and more of my time on doing so. The only way that happens in our market economy, though, is if people BUY my books. Reading them is what matters to me; them being PURCHASED is what matters to my publishers and the outlets that stand between you and I.

All right, that's the end of my hard sell. Now I'll just try to remember how fortunate I am, and be very pleased my characters and stories are out there yet again.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Giveaway Is Closed

Okay folks, that's it. The window for tossing your name in the hat for one of these books has now officially closed. Thanks to everyone that joined via my Forum or Facebook. Much appreciated. I'm happy to say that enough of you did join that this thing will actually be fairly competitive!

Over the weekend, I'll work out how to do the drawing this time around. I change it a little each time, although as in the past it will likely include my kids. See here for previous examples: HERE, HERE, or HERE.

So check back in a couple of days. You may see your name getting pulled out of hat, or rising out of pool in the form of a wookiee or something equally random...

In other news, I just learned that the foreign rights for Acacia Book 3 (needs a better title, huh?) will be handled through the Curtis Brown Agency in UK. I dig that. You see, for all the books up until now, Doubleday (Random House) handled the foreign rights. (And took a cut accordingly.) This time around, I've maintained the rights, and now my own "people" will be looking after me.

You want some irony in this? Well, consider that Curtis Brown was one of the first agencies to turn me down when I was a kid fresh out of grad school with two novels I was shopping around. They weren't wrong, and neither of those novels sold, but I'm just saying... What a difference a decade makes!

They're a pretty awesome agency, with lots of high-profile clients. (And yet they're accepting me - go figure.) Check out their website: HERE.

I'm still represented by International Creative Management for domestic and film-related stuff. (ICM's website is HERE. And, yes, they are stingy with information. That's in direct correlation to how cool they are, though.) So that hasn't changed. It's just that I now have a somewhat larger extended family out there. I'm all smiles about it.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Amazon Taps Its Inner Apple

Interesting article over at Fast Company Magazine. It's about Amazon and digital books and the future of publishing. For me, it's kinda strange reading it. On one hand there are scary aspects; while on the other some of it sounds promising...


Monday, July 06, 2009

The Geek Curmudgeon

Proof that arc copies of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) exist and are out there in the world! Rick Klaw (The Geek Curmudgeon don't ya know) mentions having received a review copy. Nice. Little milestones in the process...


Friday, July 03, 2009

My Declaration

I can announce with some relief that I've just come to terms with Doubleday for another novel!

It will, of course, be the third in the Acacia series. I don't have a title for it yet and it largely needs to be written, but I do have it mapped out in detail. It's my hope that you'll find it a big, satisfying meal that wraps up a lot of the series' plot threads, sees major characters come into their destinies, and leaves potential for continuing stories. That's what I have in mind, and I'm glad to have Doubleday on board to continue the journey with me.

It's too early to start talking pub date or any of that. I just wanted to let you know that if you're kind enough to begin the series there will be at least three books and a reasonable amount of closure by the end of that cycle. And if you read these books in significant numbers... Oh, I could be happy writing in this world for a long time.

So, for anybody that thought I was just dabbling in fantasy, I hope the continuation of my efforts here show that I'm series about this genre.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Other Lands in Audio

I'm very pleased to announce that we've come to terms with Tantor Media for The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2). (At least, I think we have. These things are dealt with by other folks entirely. But I think it's safe to announce this.) I'm thrilled, and happy to have an answer for readers that have been asking me about it for a while now. Here's the answer! Yes, it's coming. It's happening!

I don't know for certain, but the narrator from Acacia, Dick Hill, may be back to do this one. I hope so. He's good, and continuity is important. (Also, I know he wants to do it!)

I'll let you know when I know about release dates, etc, but you can know it's coming, hopefully to a library near you - and via Audible.com.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fresno Author Quits Day Job

I've never received so much attention here in Fresno as I have in the weeks since my departure has become public!

First the local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, did a grand feature article in their Sunday insert section. Rather a nice article, really, and more accurate than most. (They suggested that pose by the way. It's not like I really think I own the bookstore...)

Now the Central Valley Writer's Workshop has an article about me.

Well... it's nice to know I'll be missed. (A little bit, at least.)

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Monday, May 11, 2009


Hi. I'm going to France tomorrow for Imaginales! I'm running around today, packing, remembering things, forgetting things, remembering that I forgot and forgetting that I remembered. That sort of thing.

I'll be taking my camera and computer with me to Paris and Epinal, of course, but I'm not sure how much I'll manage to blog. I'll try, since it's not everyday you get to head off to a foreign country, attend a con, meet all sorts of folks, promote books and generally have a great time. I may be pretty busy, though. That's the only thing.

Although, if this is really what Epinal looks like it's hard to imagine feeling to pressurized...
Oh, my passport! Let me go grab that now, while I'm thinking about it...

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Editorial Anonymous Has Good News

Came across this post last month and rather liked it. Here's good news and good news about reviews.

Thing is, I actually believe it. Not only do I believe it, but I also think that the more people read any book the more people are going to not like it. That's just reality. So would you rather have a handful of raves from a few folks, or bushels of mixed reviews from the masses?

I remember a few times when someone at a reading has said they got interested in a book of mine because of such and such review, and that's why they bought it and brought themselves out to meet me... Sounds normal enough, right? Funny thing is that the times I'm recalling are times that the review in question wasn't a good one.

I was like, "Really? You read that review and... I mean, did you notice that the reviewer hated me and thought my children were ugly and wrote that concluding paragraph about how my feet stink?"

And they were like, "Huh?"

I could only conclude that what most people take away from a review of a book is that they... well... read a review of that book. If they read it they're more likely to remember it - the book, that is, not the specifics of the review. If they remember it they're more likely to assume the attention was good.

So, win/win? I think so. Most of the time, at least.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Other Lands at B&N

A few folks have been kind enough to mention that they'd prefer to buy The Other Lands via B&N, but noted that it wasn't available for pre-order there yet. Well, it is now: TOL at B&N.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Good Vibes Needed

Today, folks (and for next few weeks, actually) I'd love to have your positive energy. You see, The Other Lands concluded my existing book contracts with Doubleday. I've done all five novels with them so far, and I think things have gone quite well. Of course, each new deal brings a new set of surprises, and I've known for a few months that I was going to be pitching my next book in a free falling economy. Being prone to bouts of exuberant positivity (I'm joking about that) I decided to quit my day job before having that new contract in hand (I'm not joking about this part), and after my publisher went through a major restructuring. Go figure.

I've been working on a proposal for the concluding book in the Acacia trilogy for some time now. I chipped away at it slowly, layering in more and more details as they came to me. Fortunately, I can now say the fricking book makes sense to me! I know what happens. I see it. I like it. It exists - although only in a summarized version of about 24 pages. Oh, and at a bit more length in my head.

Recently, I sent that proposal to my agent. We went back and forth about it and about other aspects of what we'd look for in a new book deal. Yesterday we decided it was ready, and today he will have initiated the pitch and discussions with my editor. It'll be a few weeks, probably, before I know just what's gonna happen.

This is where your good vibes come in. Send them to me. Shoot them out to my editor. Make sure he knows at some cosmic level that you want this thing finished. Convince him that David and family should be allowed to eat and live indoors the next few years...

If it works, I'll be most grateful to you.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009


You know when you see a link on somebody's site to somebody else's site, and you like what you read and then want to point people in that direction, but then you know you can't take credit for discovering the second author's post yourself because you only found it because of the first site?

That's what I have here. Kate Elliott recently did a post on Agents, Publishers, Aspiring Writers. (It was also about paddling, which is something close to my heart as well.)

Thing is, she wrote it in response to Justine Larbalestier's post on the topic. I liked hers too. Makes some good, clarifying points for aspiring writers. So go take a look at one also: Agents and Rejection. (She's got stylish boots, too.)

And my work here is done. I won't try to add any of my own wisdom on the subject. (Which is me trying to be wise by omission...)

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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Copyedit

One of the crazy things about this publishing biz is the way the corporate machine sometimes chews up the authors that it works with. I've just been chewed. A small chew. A good one. No lasting harm done. All in the name of my career and betterment of my work, etc. But still, I've spent the last week with the copyedited version of The Other Lands (which is what you see to the left here). And it was a doozy of an edit.

I should mention that the copy edit part of production happens after the standard editor has approved the book. It's accepted. Money is released. Oh happy day! But then the book goes to the copy editor, and a whole new level of torture is inflicted on the manuscript (and the author).

I don't know how it is for other authors, but in my experience the copy edited manuscript of a novel arrives one day, with a note saying it has to be back in NY like... uh... four days later. Four days! That's what happened this time. In the past I'd managed this fine, but this time there was more work to be done, and staying up all night wasn't gonna be the magic fix.

The other thing is that the copy edit is both incredibly intimate and yet also cold and official. On one hand you've got all these marks, queries, red lines, incredulous comments about your lack of logic, the pointing out of glaring mistakes, the questioning of your understanding of basic laws of physics and human anatomy... I'm serious. I mean EVERY page gets torn up, and that's when the book is in fairly polished condition. So you get tons of critical comments but never, ever, ever, in any way does the copy editor make a positive comment. Nothing. All the red ink, but not one, "Nice use of active verbs". The whole thing is a rather daunting experience. (I imagine some of my students hooting with glee at this.)

The good news is that I've now been through this five times. Can't complain about that. I have returned the much improved manuscript of the book to Doubleday, and hopefully we're back to smooth sailing. Lest I sound ungrateful, I'm happy to admit that the copy editor did a wonderful job, and I can't thank her enough for tearing up my pages so thoroughly. I just want you all to know that I've spent a week in a state of coffee-jazzed fear and loathing. Glad that's behind me. Onward, now, to dreams of massive success and accolades!

We all have to dream.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Realms of Fantasy is NOT Closing

Tir Na Nog Press just purchased Realms of Fantasy from Sovereign Media. That's lucky. From the news release...

"Lapine is not anticipating any changes that will be visible to the public. Realms will continue paying authors the same rates, on acceptance, and leave the editors in place. He hopes to have his first issue out in May."

That's lucky.

You can see the news story on SFScope here.

Or check out the new Realms website here.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I just heard that Solaris Books is for sale, as confirmed in this Locus story. I guess this doesn't mean they're done for, but it must be very worrying for their authors. Solaris is only a couple of years old. Reportedly, they've been making a profit - just not enough profit for the powers that be.

Take a look at their website: Solaris. As of this writing, there's no announcement of this news up. What you will see, though, is a backlog of news about recent signings and accolades, including one about my friend Jetse De Vries. Anyway, I wish all their authors the best as they ride this out.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Hurray for Spain!

This is another bit of cool foreign language news. The Spanish publisher of Pride of Carthage (Anibal, el orgullo de Cartago), has just bought the rights to Acacia. I'm thrilled by that. I'd been waiting for a Spanish sale, hoping, dreaming...

I knew Ediciones B did well with Anibal, but they didn't jump immediately at Acacia. It's tough to sell the rights to a series with only one book actually out. I think what happened is that another published did jump, and that prodded Ediciones B to jump a bit higher. Oh, it might have helped that they heard the second book was done, also. So very glad to hear it.

This feels especially nice because several Spanish-language readers of Anibal have asked if there would be a translation of Acacia. I can now happily say that there will be. It could be 18 months before it appears in the world. But it's coming!

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Hannibal Marches On Romania?

It pays to look over your royalty statements from time to time. I feel like each time I do I discover something new...

Something prompted me to take a look at the last statement for Pride of Carthagerecently, and guess what I noticed?

Unless I'm reading the thing wrong, Pride of Carthage has been published (or will be published) in Romanian! The publisher is the RAO Publishing Group. I can find little info about them on the internet, but...

I think this is them.

Beyond that, no, I can't actually prove to you that I'm big in Romania. You'll have to use your imagination.

How could I not know this already? Uh... Well, I don't know. Doubleday is part of Random House. Random House is huge. Some things just sort of slip through the cracks in terms of somebody at my publisher realizing they have or haven't told me about something. I guess this was one of those cases. Also, the advance wasn't... uh... much. Not enough to really attract anyone's attention.

But, hey, who cares how many lei I'm raking in? (That's Romanian for money, by the way.) The point is my characters are getting to have a Romanian life! That's fun.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Normal School

This is just a quick shout out for the new literary mag here at Cal State Fresno. I've been amazed at how quickly it's grown into an awesome journal. This is mostly due to the work of Steven Church, the main dude in charge of the thing (and author of The Guinness Book of Me: A Memoir of Record and the forthcoming Theoretical Killings: Essays, Experiments and Accidents).

Not only was the debut issue pretty fabulous, the magazine has recently been picked up for distribution by Ingrams. You may see the next edition in... in... Barnes and Noble and such places! For an upstart literary journal that's rather amazing. To win that shelf space during this economic cycle is... well, whatever comes after amazing.

Here's our site; pretty stylish, huh?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wanna Have the First Say...

In terms of how a new book begins to enter the publishing world? Well, Publishers Weekly is one of the places to start, and interestingly enough they're looking for reviewers - especially in genre areas. Says Rose Fox (the power that be in this area)...

"At this point I am only looking for people who have already done a lot of nonfiction writing, preferably book or movie reviewing, and are familiar and comfortable with the editorial process, small wordcounts (I ask for 180-200 words and edit them down to about 145), and tight deadlines. The pay is $25 per review and I generally send each reviewer about one book every two weeks, though if I bring on many more reviewers that may stretch to one book every three or four weeks."

I know, $25 will hardly put the kids through college, but think labor of love, though. Labor of love...

The full ad is here, on PW's site.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

To Facebook for Realms of Fantasy!

Some very good writer/student/friends of mine have started a Facebook group with the goal of aiding Realms of Fantasy. It's likely a tall order, but I do think it's important to rally behind causes you care about - especially when something like economics is dragging down a publication that fulfills some very needed roles for a literary genre. Realms of Fantasy did that. It's a publication I personally went to many times as I felt my way into being a writer of fantasy. It's been a very real resource for me, and I'm sure it has been for others too.

So... pop over there and see if you can't brainstorm some ideas to help!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sunday Won't be the Same

In some ways this is a personal thing to me. I grew up largely in the DC metro area, and we always received The Washington Post. For that matter, I even delivered the paper myself for a while. Oh how I remember the heft of the Sunday edition. Oh how I remember all the stuffing of the special inserts in the pre-dawn hours out in my garage, loading up my bike and then making my wobbly way out into the still suburban streets...

Back then, and in the years to come as I went to college and grad school in the area, I took it for granted that The Book World insert was always going to be a part of that. Always had been. Always would be. Right? It told me that books were important, and that authors were interesting, and it was my go to source for knowing what literary events were on in the city each month. As a writer, I was reviewed in its pages. I watched it connect me with readers and get people out to events. Before long I also reviewed for them. It became one of my favorite sources of book news. Even now - as I've become more and more a part of the fantasy community - I was pleased to see reviews by writers like Elizabeth Hand and Jeff Vandermeer in those pages...

All of which is preamble to saying how disappointed I am that the Post has decided to drop the section. I know it's not the end of the world, and that they'll still be book coverage elsewhere in the paper, but it's no good sign.

Honestly, as I look back I realize that knowing that there was a special section on books placed an early awareness of the value of literature in me. I may not have been reading that stuff myself at the time, but I knew that books were an important enough part of people's lives that major papers made room for them. The ritual of my mom sitting on the couch on a Sunday morning with the book section folded open looked to me like part of ritual of what it meant to be an adult.

It's because of that nostalgia that I greet this news sadly. I believe the only two stand-alone book sections are now in the NY Times and the SF Chronicle. For a country this size, that seems rather pathetic. I know, though, I know... Times change. I'm all for embracing change. I just hope that it is change that's happening here - not something more dire.

It doesn't help either that Realms of Fantasy just announced it was folding completely a few days ago. Try going to their website: this is what you get.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catalog Copy

My publisher just sent me the copy they'll be using in the catalog that will feature The Other Lands. Kinda cool to see it. Makes things feel that much more real when someone else writes up a description of the book. Makes me go, "Oh, yeah, that sounds like what I wrote! I remember that!"

Strange how unreal a novel you wrote can feel. Not until I get a bound copy in my hands do I really believe in the thing. But promo material like this helps. Here's the pitch...

(Spoilers - Don't read if you have yet to read the first book but plan to.)

The Other Lands
Book Two of the Acacia Trilogy
David Anthony Durham


The thrilling new installment in the alternative epic that the Washington Post called "gripping" and "sophisticated... from the first pages, Durham demonstrates that he is master of the literary epic."


The apocalyptic struggle against the conquering Mein now won, Queen Corinn rules over the Acacian Empire of the Known World with a stern hand - aided by increasing mastery of the occult powers contained in the Book of Elenet. But far across the seas the mysterious inhabitants of the Other Lands seemingly control the fate of her empire - supported as it is by an underground trade in drugs and slaves. When she sends her brother Dariel on a secret mission across the hazardous Grey Slopes to investigate, it begins another cycle of world-shattering and shaping events.

In this bold and imaginative sequel, David Anthony Durham's epic imagination continues to expand the Known World of the novel into yet undiscovered lands, drawing on a literary tradition that stretches from The Iliad to George R.R. Martin.


"A big, fat, rich piece of history-flavored fantasy... Imagined with remarkable thoroughness." - Time

"Thrilling... Durham's new world - like our old one - is crawling with wickedly fascinating [characters]." - Entertainment Weekly


David Anthony Durham earned an MFA from the University of Maryland and is the author of Gabriel's Story, Walk Through Darkness, Pride of Carthage, and Acacia. Durham lives with his wife and children in California and teaches writing at the University of California, Fresno.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008


So, you think you've been in this business for awhile. You think you know how things work. You think that you can't be surprised anymore by the lengths to which people may go to puff themselves up shamelessly. And then... well then something sort of pops up and surprises you. I don't mean something totally new, but then again when you turn it a bit and look it in the face it's like... wtf?

I haven't spent too much time thinking about ghost writing. No big deal. It's celebs needing someone to "help" them right bios, right? Reasonable enough. We don't expect actors or sports stars or most politicians (Obama not included) to be able to put a series of sentences together to make a cohesive, honest or interesting narrative. The idea here is that the celeb - for better or worse - has experiences, charisma, fame, whatever - that people want to read about. They're bringing something to the bargain, and just getting a little help putting the sentences together. No problem.

Thing is, I recently heard some writer friends talking about ghostwriting fiction. That's right: fiction. Writing a novel, for example, by the terms of a contract, getting paid, and then having that novel published under some other actual person's name. I don't mean writing under a pseudonym. I'm talking: I write the book, I give it X, get paid, and then X pretends to all the world that he wrote it. Does this not sound fundamentally wrong? (The getting paid part is good, but still...)

Scott Westerfeld, the very successful sci/fi writer (who doesn't ghostwrite anymore) wrote about it in a blog post a while back. It's a great piece. Read it because he knows a lot more about all of this than I do.

(This crustacean, by the way, is a Ghost Crab. He looks kinda suspicious.)

I'm still left stunned, though... Have you or I read a "novel" not really written by the person named on the front? Makes you wonder...

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Publishing Death Watch"?

That sounds kinda ominous. It's not so bad, though. Just a small piece in The New Yorker that looks at a few different quotes about the current state of publishing. Really just seems a bit inconclusive, and the Hachette statement about a book selling forty-thousand copies being a "disaster" for them seems a bit hard to credit...

It's here, if you're interested.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Advice From Scalzi and The Swivet

As Paranoyd here pointed out to me, John Scalzi has also commented on the publishing er... turmoil over at Whatever. Much wisdom.... and a helpful suggestion. This is a much more focussed suggestion, I think, than our (still) president's suggestion after 9/11 that we "go shopping", even if it's similarly a consumer-based idea. He says the best thing you can do for publishing and for authors you love is to...

"Buy some damn books.

Fortunately, this advice is well-timed: Books are inexpensive yet valued objects, which means that they make lovely gifts for whatever holiday festivities you subscribe to this time of year. Now is a fine time to introduce friends and loved ones to some of your favorite authors - and in doing so, you're boosting that author's sales, which will make his or her publisher marginally less liable to dump their shivering ass onto the street..."

I couldn't agree more. Full post is HERE.

Also, my friend and former publicist, Colleen Lindsay, has a few words to say on the subject at the Swivet. Her advice: "DON'T PANIC!!!"

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Job My Boss Used to Have?... It Just Vanished

There's to be some major restructuring in the Random House world (which, by the way, is a HUGE part of the publishing world in general). Among other things, Doubleday's publisher (and therefore my boss) doesn't have a job anymore. His position won't exist because Doubleday is being merged into Knopf. I'm not saying he's out on the street. He's too much of a veteran not to land in some other role, but I do find it pretty strange. This is the guy that ultimately gave the thumbs-up to Pride of Carthage and Acacia. Not sure what all this means, but in far away New York some of the factors and players that effect my career have shifted (if you don't mind me making it personal for a moment). It could be kinda good to be part of Knopf, but one never knows until the dust settles. Oh, this business...

Anyway, I won't give you the whole rundown here, but if you want to know more you could check out chairman Markus Dohle's "Letter on Restructuring" over at Publishers Weekly.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HMH Places "Temporary" Halt on Acquistions

I don't know how long this will last or what it really means, but this rather public announcement from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is a bit alarming. They've asked their editors to... well, to stop buying books. Considering that's what editors are there for, this is troubling. I know that buying freezes happen during tough times, but I don't think it's usually announced publicly like this.

Here's Publishers Weekly talking about it.

And here's a more in-depth piece just out from the New York Times.


Monday, November 17, 2008

A Milestone

Thanks for all the book suggestions for my father in law. I'm still cogitating on it.

The end of last week saw a new milestone in my writing career. A first. I've waited a long time for it, and I took the weekend to process that I've actually turned the corner on another stretch of my career. What's the news?...

I received the royalty statement for the period of Jan 1st to July 31st. (Yes, it takes a bloody long time to get these things - always longer than you expect.) For the first time, I've made royalties! A decent numerical figure, actually. If you've got a minute, I'll explain just what I mean...

One of the nicer things about staying in print and publishing over the years is that you increasingly can find your income coming in from diverse sources. Movie options and audio rights - handled by my agent - appear on their random schedule. But since I first signed with Doubleday back in 1999 they've held on to my world rights. This means that people in the Random House foreign rights department negotiate with foreign publishers on my behalf. They make the deals, and then they usually just bring me in to confirm that I'll accept what they think is the best offer. For this, they keep a percentage of the money the foreign publisher pays to publish the book in their country/language.

There are pros and cons to this. Many successful writers will tell you they gain a lot by having kept their foreign rights. Their agents handle them, and they likely have more say in the small details and negotiations. AND they get to keep a higher percentage of any deal that's made. Our agents always take their 15%, but if a publisher is negotiating the deal they take another 15 to 20%. So, say you have a $10,000 advance for Italian rights. An author whose agent handles those rights gets $7,500 from the deal. An author repped by his/her publisher gets $6,000. (Before taxes.) So obviously, you keep a higher percentage of your money if you hold on to your rights.

Thing is that not all authors have books that are going to be attractive to a foreign market, and not all agents have the overseas contacts to make those deals happen. My agency, ICM, does very much have those contacts, but by the time I signed with them I'd already agreed (unagented) to the basic aspects of my contract for Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness. I'd signed away the foreign rights to Doubleday, and at the time it didn't much matter. Those books did not attract foreign interest (except for WTD selling in Portuguese, go figure...) Basically, though, I got a slightly higher advance because Dday had the rights, and since they weren't really selling anyway that all seemed appropriate. And, true enough, in the years since these two books have just about earned out the amount I got in advance for them. They haven't earned royalties over that amount yet, but all in all the accounting was pretty spot-on. That's a winning situation, really, because many, many books never earn out their advance. This doesn't mean the publisher can't still make money off the books; it does mean that the author may not see money in addition that agreed upon advance amount.

When it came time to negotiate for Pride of Carthage and "another novel" I was in a little bit of a Catch-22. I wanted foreign rights back, sure, but I also wanted as large an advance as I could get. I couldn't know if I'd ever break into the world market anyway, so I signed for those books, let Dday keep the rights, and took what looked like a lovely check at the time. (It was a good advance.) Of course, this time around foreign publishers jumped on the book. Transworld bought it in the UK about two months after I'd signed with Dday - and, no, I hadn't written the book yet. You see, those first two novels proved to them I could write. They just wouldn't bite until the topic of my book looked more commercial. Other foreign language sales followed, and Dday began to recoup the money they had paid me in the advance. They KEEP the money from these sales until the money brought in pays back the advance they gave me. Only after that point do they start to need to think about cutting me royalty checks.

BUT... Pride of Carthage and what became Acacia were accounted together. Each book had a price tag attached to it, but when the revenues for the first book reached the point at which you could say that book was earning royalties the royalties didn't actually come to me. Instead, they started to pay toward the moneys advanced on the second book. About a year ago, Pride of Carthage had earned more in royalties than I'd been paid in the advance, but Acacia was hot off the presses, and just at the beginning of its earning cycle. So, no royalties.

Until now. Yes, friends, the revenue from Acacia has finally pushed the combined income from both books beyond the amount of the advance. From now on, every six months I can feel pretty confident I'll be getting a check in the mail. I'll never know exactly how much, but it'll be something. And that's an income my family had not seen up until this point. Lovely.

Oh, and I should mention that the only reason I earned out was because of foreign sales. Yep. On Pride of Carthage well more than half my income was from overseas. Acacia looks similar so far. Do I wish ICM handled those foreign rights for me? Sure, it would've meant quite a bit more cash at this point - if they'd made the same sales Random House set up. Who can know if that would have happened? And who can say that Dday would have published me as well as they have without them knowing they had all the rights to exploit? And how would I have kept my family afloat if I'd hadn't taken the money offered when it was offered? Ah, so many questions...

What's done is done, and I can't say I'd do any of it differently. What matters now is what comes next. New deals to make. New books to write! You can believe I've got some schemes in mind on how to make the best of what's to come. The fact that I'm now a royalty-earning author makes it that little bit easier...

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

World Fantasy 2008

Nice photo, huh? Calgary looks lovely. Thing is, I spent five days there and I didn't see anything like those mountains. Not from ground level. Not from the sixteenth floor. What's that about? Were the mountains really there hanging behind some haze like here in Fresno, or was this thing photoshopped, or did I managed to just always be facing the wrong way? I may never know. Anyway...

This time last week I was still at the World Fantasy Conference in Calgary. I should probably say a word or two about it before too much time passes. It was, as ever, a wonderful con. World Fantasy was my favorite last year, and I think it will be so again. Some other cons have great panels (Readercon and WisCon come to mind), but it's hard to beat the combination of panels with so many professional writers, agents, editors in the mix. There are great numbers of fans, too, but there's definitely a professional feel to it. I didn't do any business there myself, but I know some that did. (I won't say anything specific, but some careers were advanced over those few days...)

I arrived aware that a lot of the folks I'd hung out with most last year weren't going to be at this one (think Pat Rothfuss, James Patrick Kelly, Kelly Link and the Angry Black Woman, for example), but I figured I'd still connect with some old friends and make some new ones. That, fortunately, is just what happened. Now, I didn't take a camera, so I don't have photos to verify the accuracy of all the namedropping I'm about to do. You'll have to trust me, and I'll just have to pinch images from elsewhere...

The first night I was happy to reconnect with Mary Robinette Kowal, Lou Anders, Jetse De Vries, John Picacio (these last two guys I first met at the Elf Fantasy Fair in the Netherlands) and to meet Paul Cornell (of Dr. Who fame), Marjorie Liu and Diana Rowland.

Day Two I went to plenty panels and readings, and by the end of it I was hanging out with George RR Martin (he'd read Pride of Carthage since last we met!), Steven Erikson (and lovely wife, who kept saying things to intentionally embarrass me), Daniel Abraham (I went to his reading; he came to mine in return; kinda nicely reciprocal), Dave Keck and my British editor, Simon Taylor. Did I say "hanging out"? I did, didn't I? And I mean it. Strange but true, these folks seem like... well, like friends. I guess that's part of the con magic.

By Day Three I was starting to get fuzzy on some things. At some point in here I got chatting with Todd Lockwood. He was the artist guest of honor, and I'd enjoyed watching his slide show of his work. Didn't really expect to talk to him, but then he ended up joining me at a table with others, and next thing you know we're talking about raising kids and art and politics. (Yeah, he's an Obama man.) Great time. Actually, it seems weird that I ended up talking as much as I did with one of the GOH, but so it was...

My conversation with Garth Nix was pretty short, but it was awesome. I'm a fan of his. His The Abhorsen Trilogy is wonderful, and I've enjoyed the several Keys to the Kingdom books that I've read. I'd accosted him last year in Saratoga Springs, and been very pleased that he'd already heard of Acacia. This year, though, it got better. He'd actually read and enjoyed Acacia! He even invited me to go surfing in Australia! (Okay, pause... that last bit might be a... lie. Getting carried away. He did read Acacia, though - I swear.) Needless to say, I was very pleased.

And then there were lots of people I saw in various settings: Nathalie Mallet (who was kind enough to come to my reading), Alaya Dawn Johnson and Doselle Young (with whom I commiserated about being black at a fantasy con - oh, we got hard, ya'll, you don't even know!), Kay Kenyon (who is very refined, and a lovely person to banquet with, and has lovely looking books that I want to read), Daryl Gregory (who was on my other elbow at the banquet, very good to talk to. I'll be checking out his book), Jay Lake (ah, Jay Lake... the first time we met one of us was drunk, while the other was only mildly inebriated and the combination wasn't always good... I won't say which was which, but in any event we've become more and more friendly since), Carrie Vaughn (who I wish I'd talked to more as she was very friendly and fun) and Derryl Murphy (a Canadian in his element). I know there were other folks too, but my brain gets a bit like swiss cheese at cons, full of holes.

On a number of occasions I was approached by people that seemed to be resuming some earlier conversation with me. I had no idea who they were or what they were talking about. Figured it must have been my fault, though, so I managed to bluff. Then came the time after a panel that Minister Faust was on... An older white gentleman approached me, complimenting me on the panel. I graciously pointed out that I had not, in fact, been on the panel. It was the other black guy in the room that had been. Not sure he believed me. Later that night, speaking with Docel and Alaya we realized (or re-realized, since this is a known phenomena) that the same thing had been happening to all of us. We'd each been approached by people that were sure we were somebody else - one of the small number of black people attending such events. We didn't have to look anything like our doppelgangers, by the way. Not body type or complexion or hair or clothing style or facial features. Nope. Just being recognizably black seemed to be enough.

My point: just cause you think you spoke to any one particular black person at a con doesn't mean you really did. Might want to check the name tag. Something to consider...

People I should have talked to but didn't... Two obvious ones come to mind. I went out of my way to hear Minister Faust talk on several occasions, but I never stuck around long enough to actually say hello. I should have. He's a wonderful reader, very amusing writer, and generally an insightful, completely engaging person. Silly me.

Second on the list is Tad Williams. I was elbow to elbow with him on several occasions. He always seemed happy, full of humor and openness, but somehow I didn't break the barrier. Should have. Confession: there's only one reason I didn't, and that's that I haven't actually read him. I'd like to. I plan to. But I haven't yet. Considering that he's sold so many books and was at the con in a prominent roll I just... oh, had a high school moment when a silly bit of trepidation got in the way. Oh, well, next time.

I'm thinking that's about all I have to offer at the moment. There were great panels, yes. A lovely art show. Readings galore. But I guess what I always remember most is spending time with other people that write for a living, people whose work I admire or want to learn more about. At a con I get to be a writer and a fan both. That's nice.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Baby, It's Going to Be Cold Outside in Book Publishing

So says an article in The New York Observer, in reference to the state of publishing. One of my grad students sent this to me. Things were hard enough for the hordes of aspiring writers working so hard to make it. No doubt about it, the nearish-future is gonna be tough for them, and by the time the dust clears the industry might look quite different. Or am I wrong?

The article is here.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gregory Frost

I met Gregory Frost, author most recently of Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet, at Readercon. Should've spoken to him more, and I hope to next time. I did hear him speak quite a bit - on panels and stuff - and always found him engaging.

So it was with interest that I came across an essay he wrote for the Wild River Review. It's a personal look at some of the problems of publishing in today's book market, with changing priorities in the industry making it challenging (or downright maddening) for authors. Give it a look. Anybody interested in writing or serious about reading should keep an eye on what's happening in the industry that connects books with readers - or doesn't.

You can read Gregory's essay HERE.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008


I just noticed that Colleen Lindsay (agent, publicist, unparalleled character) was nice enough to mention the paperback publication of Acacia on her blog, The Swivet. I won't just send you to that post, though, since it'll just send you back here, but I do want to mention her blog. I love dropping in there and you might too. It's a great combination of publishing insider info, agent-hunting suggestions, genre news and notes, and bit of random stuff about cats.

I've mentioned it before. I'll mention it again. It's here: The Swivet.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008


Interesting piece over at SF Signal. As part of their Mind Meld Series they asked a selection of authors, editors and publishing professionals...

If You Could Change Any Aspect of The Science Fiction Field, What Would it Be?

The answers are quite interesting and varied. Participants include Kathleen Ann Goonan, Colleen Lindsay, James Van Pelt, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, and Ken MacLeod. Go take a look.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Groove, and BEA (Day Two)

You know what's happened to me the last week or so?

I've gotten my groove back.

Seriously. It's a while, a painful while. I just wrapped up my introductory year of teaching at Cal State. Kinda crimped my writing production when I was teaching. Not saying it's not a worthy profession and that my job isn't a rather primo one; but still - it turns me into a part-time writer. That's just the truth. Before that I had to deal with a move from Colorado to California, and before that I taught a demanding year at Colorado College.

Throughout all this, I kept chipping away at Acacia: The Other Lands, but chipping away isn't the way I prefer to write. I like to be up to my ears in my material. I want ideas bobbing against me all day. I want to be composing scenes in the dentist's chair, rearranging chapters at SaveMart. I want to be stunned by plot points revealed as I'm flipping eggs. When writing is going well for me it's a pretty all-encompassing thing that becomes a part of everything I do. It has not been that for the last two years. I still got work done, but...

Not like I have the last week! I'm free, with nothing to do for a little while but write. (Well, and be a husband and father, with all that entails - but you know what I mean.) I know my window of time is short before other commitments start interfering, but it's so, so wonderful to realize that I can get that full-time writer buzz back! It's here. I'm in it. I'm a writer again, and the words they are lining up.

And to some degree that's why I've neglected my Day Two BEA post. It's no big deal. Not that much happened, but I've been distracted. I will now take a few moments out and tell you what happened, should you be interested to know... (Oh, and I know! I don't have any original photos. That's cause I'm lame and don't want to carry a camera around - or feel silly asking to take photos. Instead, I cull from the internet...)

Day Two was Scalzi day. Yep. I'll admit it. My day was shaped around arranging to hang out with John Scalzi. (Didn't have that much else to do anyway, but this would still have been a highlight even if I did.) We met up for coffee and had a good long chat. (Some of you may be wondering who picked up the tab. Answer: man of class... uh, Scalzi. Waved away my pathetic attempt at bill shuffling and took charge. Impressively done. Now, do bear in mind that I have my own internal calculator for such things. I know now, and will not forget, that I owe John a drink of some sort. I can reciprocate, see? I'll settle up at Denvention, I hope.)

Paranoyd said he was curious about my "take" on Scalzi. I'd say it's this: He's a great guy. He's personable and funny, seems generous with his time and gracious in dealing with fans. He speaks his mind in the same engaging way he does on Whatever. (By the way, today is his thirteenth wedding anniversary. If you haven't already, go over to Whatever and say, "Ahh...") He claims that he can dance, although I did not witness this and can't confirm it. But another thing you notice about him is a sense of confidence. He knows who he is, what he does well, what people think of him, and he seems to rather like the way things have played out for him. (Tell me if I'm wrong, John.) I mean that in a completely positive sense, by the way. It's a good way to be, and I wish it on more people.

I'd also mention how nice it is to feel a sense of camaraderie with fellow writers. It's not quite the same vibe in the Big L "literary" world. Things are pricklier. But I've just had a great time recently connecting with writers like John, and like Tobias Buckell, Mary Robinette Kowal, Patrick Rothfuss and plenty more. I may be wrong, but so far it feels like this is a group of young writers that wants to encourage, support and just hang out with other writers. That may seem like nothing other than what you'd expect, but believe me writers in general can be a strange bunch. Who would've thought the world of fantasy and sci-fi would introduce me to so many people that actually seem... like pretty decent and (ironically) down to earth human beings (with quirks, admittedly).

While still with John I had a celeb author sighting: Neal Stephenson. Only from the back, though. I was sitting with Scalzi and he said, looking beyond me, "Oh, there's Neal Stephenson." Then he qualified that spotting by saying Mr. Stephenson appeared to have no interest in being approached by random people. He had a serious face on - as well as a rather sharp suit and, if I remember correctly, a completely shaved head. He'd been somewhere and was now going somewhere else and deserved to be left alone. Honestly, I get that completely. (I, on the other hand, walked through the same area with a smiley, open face that said, "Come on. Approach me. I know somebody here recognizes me. Just admit it..." But Neal is clearly past that.) I'm a fan of his, and I love it that he has a new book coming out.

So, does the fact that I saw Neal Stephenson but didn't even speak to him merit reporting? Not in and of itself. But I don't mind mentioning it as part of the over all vibe of the entire BEA scene. The place was just chock full of authors and celebs. They were all around, and knowing that tends to make ones eyes a little manic, jumping around, wondering who is who. Wondering if you'll recognize your favorite famous author when you see them in person (bearing in mind that some author photos are Biblically old or wonderfully flattering - which makes author ID potentially tricky).

After coffee Scalzi and me went over to the Tor booth to hang out a bit more. Cool sitting behind the Tor lines, watching passerby wondering who I was and how I managed to be on the other side of the barrier. Who I was (if they'd asked me) was kind of a goof. I must of been tired from the day before, because I didn't actually make the best use of my Tor booth time, see the following examples...

Cory Doctorow. I have to admit that I got a little weird with Cory. He's exploding just now, has a wonderful new book (according to the likes of Neil Gaiman), Little Brother, and is very much in demand and successful on tons of fronts. Scalzi introduced me to him at the booth. Thing is we were sitting there talking for a while and he asked me what my book was about. I said... "Oh, I don't know." He said, "No, tell me. It's been out a year, right? You must know how to pitch it by now." I shrugged and smiled and... didn't answer. He said, "You really don't want to tell me, do you?" I then directed him to John, saying, "Ask him. He's read it." But John was being devoured by some fan or another and couldn't really be consulted. So, end of story is that Cory left with no idea of who I am as a writer, probably convinced that I'm an amateur that never really lived in Scotland for five years, or anything else that I claimed...

In which case, you might ask me, "Why didn't you just tell him what Acacia was about?"

My answer... I was kinda hungover.

Uh... Other than that, I have - and still do - think it hard to explain 600 page books in sound bites. It's not really possible. When it's done it's marketing palaver. I'm not at all suggesting that Cory was asking for my pitch. I am saying that I'd seen/heard so much pitch madness that I hated the notion of pitching him. Anyway, I was in a mood.

I was still in this strange mood when Brandon Sanderson came by. I saw him standing there. I could read his badge... but I didn't say hi. Weirdness. I wish I had. I wish I'd said, "Brandon, dude... What's up? How you doing? You've got tons of cool things happening all at once! Okay, tell me true, is it a good thing to be finishing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series? I'm just saying - lots of folks think that's a dream job, but... it could also be a burden of unusual size." But I didn't speak, and then the moment passed...

When I left the booth I did the thing I said I wasn't gonna do. (Well, no, not the thing. Just one of the things...) I grabbed several of the Christopher Paolini Brisingr tote bags and began the harvest! Oh, there were books to be grabbed. There were lines to stand in. There were authors I'd never heard of to shake hands with. I circled and circled, and - despite the apparent physical activity - I got heavier with every lap. It was book weight, though. That doesn't count. By the time I was near to leaving I made sure to turn my name badge around and hobbled out covert-like. Good thing I'd packed light on the way there.

Oh, and on a random note... It needs to be said that Tim Holman, the Publishing Director for Orbit Books, is a good bloke. I just want that on the record.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

I Know A Cat That's Rocking the NY Bestseller List - But What Does That Actually Mean?...

I've been chatting with Patrick Rothfuss for about a year now. I dropped him an email after The Agony Column reviewed both our books way back in spring 2007. We've corresponded ever since, and got to hang out on a few occasions - World Fantasy, Fantasy Matters Conference. He's a great guy. He wrote a rocking book, The Name of the Wind, and it's sold really nicely as a hardback. And now it's a NY Times Bestseller in mass market paperback! For a while he was in the teens of the list, but a couple weeks back he cracked the top ten. Yowsers.

He's too nice a guy to hate on, so I can say that I am honestly happy he's done so well. It does make me wonder, though... Hmm... So how many books did Pat sell last week? I mean, really, what does it mean to make number ten on the Time's list? Think this question could be easily answered? Think again. It seems like there are so many factors that go into it that it's near impossible to come up with an answer - and it seems like the publishers of the list themselves aren't offering any hard numbers either. I do remember that when I lived in the UK the Guardian published a bestseller list that included copies sold that week. Now that was informative, but I've seen nothing like it over here.

And I'm not alone. Seems like authors, bloggers, editors all share in common the inability to find hard figures - or accurate ones. A few links as examples...

Tess Gerritsen had some thoughts on it.

And Slate had a rather more complex article on the subject.

Gawker had some thoughts... Well, mostly questions, actually, on how the Times comes up with it's titles.

Midwest Book Review has a few other things to say.

Here's one from the New York Sun.

Here's a NY Times article about Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep - mostly included because my Editor in Chief chimes in with some thoughts.

By the time you're finished reading all these you'll probably conclude that you've learned nearly nothing. Sounds like there are some pretty questionable methods employed - at least if you're thinking of any one list as definitive. With that in mind, I said, "Okay, lemme take a look at Publishers Weekly's bestseller list for the same week. That's another national publication. They likely pull from similar sources. I wonder how Pat's doing over there?"

Well, here's how he's doing - take a look.

Okay, you're back? Good. So if you are you noticed that The Name of the Wind wasn't anywhere to be seen on the PW list. I don't doubt that he's sold many units, so why isn't he in a comparable place on this other list? The lists don't even look much like each other... The Times #1 is PW's #6. Their #2 is PW's #7. Their #3 is #13. On the other hand, PW's #1 is the Times #5. PW's #2 is the Times #... Uh, well, actually it's not there at all. Nor does PW's #3 or #5 make appearances on the Time's list. Or something like that...

Why can't anyone give a straight answer on this? That's kinda a rhetorical question. I know why - because it's a funky, complicated business in which it's impossible to measure all units sold and - for that matter - hard to know when you can actually really call a unit sold even when you can track it. I've been asked quite often how a particular book has sold, and people seem surprised (or incredulous) by my claims that it's really hard to know. But it's the truth. I could tell you how many copies my publisher shipped out to bookstores, but that wouldn't mean a thing. (Any bookstore that orders a book can send it back.) A book - for royalty purposes - isn't really sold when a person walks out of the store with it. (Remember that anyone that buys a book can return it - and then the store can return it...)

It seems to me, from combing through several years of royalty statements, that a sale really only becomes a sale when the publisher is confident the book can't be returned to them anymore. That may seem weird, but if they didn't do it that way the publisher could find themselves paying an author royalties that they later discover the author never earned - once the returns roll back in. So, it's complicated in the long run, not to mention in the quick turn-around of ascertaining a weekly bestseller list.

What is concrete about all this? Pat has sold a lot of books. That's clear. He's sold a lot more books because he was on the list. And he will sell more books because of it for a long time, since he now bears NY Times bestselling author tattooed on his forehead. I have no such tattoo. I thought about putting "Briefly made the BookSense Extended Bestseller List" on mine, but it doesn't quite have the same effect. I've been known to say, "One week I sold more copies than any one JK Rowling title in Chile!", but people just look at me funny when I do that. I can also proudly declare that, "I'm big in Sweden!" That's pretty cool, admittedly, but if I told you how many copies I sold (maybe) over there it might take the shine off... Anyway, I'm rambling.

I do know this, though: if I see Pat at WisCon next week I'll not say no if he offers to pay for the coffee...

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Some Questions From Vincent...

I recently got a nice letter from an aspiring writer named Vincent. He had kind things to say about my work, and was excited to have finished his own novel recently - one that I believe is in the multi-cultural fantasy vein. He had some questions about getting published, including wondering what I thought about self-publishing.

Here's a bit of what I said...

Congrats on finishing a novel! No matter what happens to it that's a great accomplishment. Most writers don't make it that far, so you have reason to be proud. As for publishing advice... Well, I recommend doing things the old fashioned way. Personally, I wouldn't choose self-publishing without first having looked into the traditional agent and publisher route. Some books can certainly work in self-publication, but a multi-ethnic fantasy might be a tough sell.

Frankly, if your material is good, I think you'll find the genre open to it and eager for new writers. Having said that, it's still hard to break in, and you should expect some rejections and dismissals along the way. Just for context, Frank Herbert had a hard time getting anyone to publish
Dune. It was rejected by 23 publishers! It's now sold well over 12 million copies... That's unusual - and it's a terrific book, but I'm just mentioning that rejection is always part of this game. I do think you should seek out professionals first and for a while, even if it means some discouraging times. The fact is that mainstream publishers can get your book to an audience via many avenues. They can also help make sure you're delivering the strongest book possible. That's not something that family and friends can always do for you.

So I suggest getting a copy of the
Writer's Market. They're available at most major bookstores or through Amazon. There may even be some specially for fantasy/sci-fi. Start with agents, looking up different agencies to see who represents material at all like yours. Also, go look at authors you like and check the acknowledgments. A lot of times they'll thank their agent, so you can figure out who represents them. And then, when you have some likely candidates, send them submissions in whatever format they ask for - some will just want a letter to start with, some might want a sample, some might want the entire book. Make sure you follow their guidelines. If you don't they may loose interest before they've even looked at your work seriously. If you sign with a good agent they'll be able to take your novel in to publishers with a professional approach, likely speaking to editors they know and have worked with. They'll also be there to look after your interests - because your interests and theirs will overlap...

And I'll mention that - while I'm very happy for my career to be where it is now, I also began just as unpublished as anybody else. I scanned the
Writer's Market. I wrote those letters. I got those rejections in the mail. It wasn't easy, but it's not supposed to be. That's why it's so wonderful when you finally break through and get that acceptance letter. I hope that happens for you!

And I do. I also remember well the hunger of those lean times, sending my work out into the world, checking the mail, checking the mail, checking the mail... and more often than not finding polite rejections in it. (Insert Sad Face Here.) Think I've got it made so that past rejection stuff must be old history?... Well, it is, and yet it lives with me still. I've got the documents to prove it. Take a look.

Here, for example, is my first rejection from an agent...

Funny thing about this one is that some ten years later - after I'd published three novels and been asked to judge the Pen/Faulkner Awards - I happened to be at an award ceremony function with this self-same agent. I mentioned that I'd submitted to him, which he hadn't recalled. We both laughed. So it goes. I was pleased to be able to say that he'd missed an opportunity, and he was gracious enough to concede the point.

Now, was he mistaken in not representing that novel? Well, no. I did get an agent for it soon after (the wonderful Marie Brown), but it's not a novel that ever sold. I had to write two more before that happened. Instead, that novel began to wrack up rejection notices. Some examples...

Note that passing months. These are just representative, mind you. Each month contained several more just like them...

While I was living in the UK, I even tried repackage some of my material as British and send it to British publishers. I managed to sell a few short stories over there, but the book publishers generally came back with variations of this...

So it goes. If I can end all this rejection stuff on another positive note, however... The same Transworld that rejected me in 1997 came on board several years later. They published Pride of Carthage, are about to publish Acacia, and are set to publish the sequel as well. Were they wrong for not grabbing my earlier novel? Not a chance. It might have felt that way to me at the time, but I'm thankful that this process - filled with rejection for several years - pushed me to write bigger and better. Seems to me that's part of what the process is about...

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