Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm #1 I'm #1!

Well Charlie is anyway.  Charlie aka Dream Horse.

It's great.  I'm told this helps you get found.  I admit that I don't know how any of it works.  (And I wish B&N would have a similar rating system)

What this also suggests is that Children's Books is not as dead a category as it was over the summer.  I expect that after Christmas that may even change more.  eBooks are certainly a great value and during tough economic times for people who don't find reading something other than a book a chore, this is wonderful.

I got a nice email from B&N about the Dream Horse/So Impossible Horse situation and they said they'd fix it. That would be lovely.

Back to Bad Apple 2 after this very nice treat.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Strange Times

It seems like the world has collectively gone nuts.

 Ystenes  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ystenes/with/5045516430/

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dream Horse

This is a day to talk about problems.   We'll deal with Amazon first.  Their problem is it takes quite long for anything to go live. I forgive them.  They have a help department that actually responds.

Barnes & Noble.  They have a big honking problem over there.  Anything you upload goes live very fast, YAY!  If you have a problem with anything--forget it.  There is no help to be had anywhere.  If you email, I think their "support" is in Mumbai.  You will get an answer from someone with a foreign name and the answer is a form welcome letter.  I found a phone number. Simone knew nothing.  She gave me an email address.  It was dead.  I went to the site and found another email.  It's been about 5 days and they haven't gotten back to me.

What's this huge issue?  The first book I epubbed was Impossible Charlie at Smashwords.  That was a year ago.  When Smashwords started their premium distribution thing, what did I know.  I said ok.  After all B&N was closed to independent publishers and you can't get to Apple without a Mac.  Good deal. 

Soon I began to notice that Summer Horse was way outselling it.  I thought maybe having the word Horse in the title would tell readers this was about a horse, while Impossible Charlie could be about a chipmunk.  I renamed it The So Impossible Horse.  Time passed.  B&N began PubIt.  I noticed things I published there but not Smashwords were selling incredibly well.  I unpublished several books from Smashwords in order to control them more efficiently at B&N.

One element B&N has in their favor is that you are allowed 2000 characters to describe your work but only 400 at Smash.  Well that stinks and I think it affects the sales. 

Summer Horse is doing great at B&N (nothing at Amazon--I'm not understanding that whole thing).  I realized about 2 weeks ago "Where's Charlie?"  I had unpublished it at Smash but it was still listed at B&N and shouldn't have been.  That's when I started trying to get someone to pay some attention to me and get The So Impossible Horse unpublished at B&N so I could republish it through my account.  Right now if anyone buys it, there's no conduit for me to be paid since the Smashwords connection was severed.

There is no one at B&N apparently.  I finally wrote to Smashwords and Mark Coker said Smash would eventually have longer descriptions, but sorry as he was to see me go (I still have books there, just not epub or mobi versions) he would try to get B&N to unpublish.

Hasn't happened yet.  So over the last 2 days, I did another pass thru Charlie, which for B&N is now called Dream Horse.  I also added a lot of neat photos as illustrations and uploaded that this morning.  I'm sorry to have 2 virtually identical books there and will go back to the description to DH and say it replaces SIH but can't think of another way to get Charlie live and under my control at B&N.

This is terribly unprofessional of them--even though I love their customers to pieces.  They started PubIt with absolutely no conception that any of us would have questions or problems with the service.  It took Lee Goldberg almost 2 months for his novel to go live and he couldn't get any response either.  So I'm not the only one who has experienced trouble.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


That would be Sweeps in the screenwriting category on Amazon.  My pal pointed out I'm right next to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  (It's all about writing for television, it absolutely belongs in that category.)

I have much to be thankful for this holiday.  I would like to be specific (because Rabbi Pliskin says you should be).  I would like to thank Jeff Bezos for creating Amazon and all that means.  Not only can I get any book I want, last time I placed an order I got a pasta machine and a new gasket for my pressure cooker and a book of Rabbi Nachman quotes.  Is this great or what?

Not only the convenience of shopping, there is the whole ebook thing which has changed and improved my life in immeasurable ways.

I can write anything I want to.  I don't have an agent or an editor telling me it won't sell 20,000 copies.  If it sells 5000 or 500 or 50 I'm thrilled.  I get to say what I want to say.  I get to tell the stories I want to tell.  I don't know what epublishing would be without the Kindle.

So, yes, I am filled with gratitude.

Dig Deeper

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Indian Pudding

I grew up in Connecticut.  (Don't bother looking for me there, I'm gone.)  I thought Connecticut was New England but it's not actually anymore.  I'm not sure any of New England is still New England but I suppose some remote towns in Maine might be.

When I went to college in Massachusetts, this strange dessert was eaten out there.  Indian Pudding.  What the heck is it?  It was dark brown and served warm with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.  I hate vanilla anything.  Eventually I tried this glop.  Delicious.  There's the strong taste of molasses balanced by the sweetness of the ice cream.  The cold of the ice cream against the heat of the pudding.  The substance of the cornmeal (sort of like a polenta).   This version seems to have originated at at the time of the molasses trade to the colonies mid-1700s but it obviously was made earlier, possibly with maple syrup, quite possibly with no sweetener and as a savory, not as a dessert, sort of a frumenty.  Made primarily of cornmeal and molasses, it could be made over an open fire (or the stomach of an animal like haggis).  It requires no skill or special equipment.  It could be stirred with a stick with Pootatucks looking on.

There are, like anything, several versions, some with eggs, some with raisins, but this one is the best.  You're supposed to scald the milk first.  Do I look like someone who's going to bother with that?  If you said no, you're correct.  You can make it in a microwave, and I've done it but I can't really remember.  You could probably make it on a stovetop instead of baking it just the way rice pudding can be done.

Use a large buttered baking dish.  You can cut this in 1/2 if you'd like.  You need to be a responsible adult and keep an eye on it.  I'm guessing it'll take about 2 hours at 350 degrees but your mileage may vary up to 3 hours.  It'll set up, but don't overcook because it'll set up more once it's out of the oven.  Serve with, yes, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, or custard (very nice).

  2/3  cup yellow corn meal                  
  4 1/2  cup milk                              
  1/4 cup butter                            
  1/2 cup molasses                          
  1 teaspoon salt                              
  1/4 cup sugar                             
  1 teaspoon cinnamon      

What does this have to do with writing?  I have to eat, don't I?  


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Again

I'm still writing Bad Apple 2, I've started to research for another project and between the news of the day and everything else, anything I could say wouldn't be appropriate for a mixed audience.

I'm trying to sort through the massive change that's transpired over this year.  For at least half of my career, I could pitch an idea and if it was liked I would go forward.  For the other half I had to write the whole thing before it was considered.  You might think writing the whole thing came first.  No, it came last.  As if the fact I have published a good number of books already said nothing about my ability to write a book.  (I have an analogy here but I'm not going to use it.)

I really started to hate this business and not want to write anymore.  I prayed to not write anymore.  Then the great blessing of ebooks arrived and over the course of the year, I started to love the process of creating a book.
You can't pitch anyone an ebook, you have to write it.  So if I'm not getting the balm of money to write a less than pleasurable book, I should love the project.  I'm sort of right back to the beginning of my career when I loved what I wrote and that was the reason for it.

I don't know what I'll write next.  Bad Apple 3 probably.  Just Kate is my bestselling book at B&N, followed by Summer Horse.  At Amazon it's Not Low Maintenance.  This doesn't tell me anything.  A Young Adult book, a Middle Reader book and a Women's Fiction atypical love story that doesn't follow the romance formula.

How lucky that all these books are finding an audience.  In the world of tradpub, this kind of shotgun approach is frowned upon.  And Joe Konrath proves me wrong every day.  Stick to what you're good at.  Stick to the one thing.  We can't pigeonhole you if you don't stick to one thing.  That tyranny is dead.  Although I'm sure it's still very valid advice in epub--get a lot of books under your belt about vampires or brutal killers and the audience will find you.

The next post will be the recipe for Indian Pudding, something required at this time of year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holographic Singer

She's more realistic than some of the current crop of so-called entertainers.  The song's pretty good, too.
I watched several times.  Is this really a hologram?  Apparently it is.  Apparently it's not some CGI trick.

I find myself not quite knowing what to make of it.  What does this herald?  On one hand I'm fascinated by the technology that's being demonstrated.  On the other hand I have concerns about our diminishing humanity as it is.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Done or Not

No, I'm not done with anything at the moment.  But I was ruminating on the speed of digital publishing.  In the old days, the process took so long that there at least should have been time to rethink aspects of the book.  I don't know that it happened, the books I've read lately that were traditionally published were so horrid that I'm surprised an agent and editor read the manuscript at all.  No, I'm not naming names.

Does digital publishing encourage writers to write faster and with less precision?  I think the answer has to be yes in the vast number of cases.  It's like the pulp magazines in the first half of the 20th century.  Stories were churned out.  Magazines needed to be filled, writers needed to be paid, readers wanted something/anything to read.

Now we have a somewhat similar situation where so many ebooks are at a bargain price--you couldn't buy a magazine for what many digital books sell for--there's great enthusiasm to put books up for sale that might have benefited with a little more time in the oven.  I suspect this will sort itself out.  Readers are anxious to get books for $1, or $2.99 tops, so maybe they don't see the seams and the unpolished prose.  Maybe no one cares anymore.  Or maybe some do and are desperate to read something that's not about vampires.  (Some explain the vampire thing to me, please.)

I still believe ebooks are here to stay, will only increase in sales and will sooner rather than later change the way traditional publishing operates now. 


Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Last Agent

This morning my agent and I parted ways.  I hoped he would be my last agent and he is but not in the way I expected.

My pal said agents are like the hula hoop.  Passe.
Certainly they are not required for digital publishing.
From a writer's perspective, everything that is wrong with the traditional publishing business is cured by digital.

In a business journal there was a longish article about Amazon driving the digital market.  It touched on the fact that print is declining while the trajectory of digital is improving.  I understand the reluctance some people have to this reality.  I feel it this morning.  Much of my life has been devoted to finding the right agent.  Having the agent.  Being annoyed with the agent because they won't do their job.  (To make it clear, the agent's job is to submit the client's work, if they're not doing that, they're not doing their job.  It's really simple and you might be surprised at how few agents can rouse themselves to submit the work in a timely fashion.)

I am doing a renewal of my website because it was so out-of-date.  I'm sure it's not as fancy as it could be but if all the links work, then I'm practically a genius in my own eyes.  Let me just say I'm using Expression Web and it's a terrific program.  I cannot explain how it can be a Microscoff product and not create the hairpulling hassles I usually accord MS.  But to be fair, so many people hate Vista and I've been running it for about 3 years with the only problem being that I don't know where to look for stuff I could find in XP.

To any veteran who might wind up here, or to any family of a vet, we all owe you a debt of gratitude.  Thank you for your service to this country.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Not Low Maintenance review

I haven't done much (enough) to publicize my books but I did submit it to a review site, The Romance Reviews and today the review was published.   I couldn't ask for more.  The reviewer, Rho, is obviously astute and well-read! ;-)  In truth, Rho read the book carefully and understood it.  I'm grateful for that.  That the book was well-received is lovely.

I noticed that several other books received 5 stars and they were traditionally published.  2 weren't "tradpub" and received 4 stars.

What does this suggest to us?  The important issue is that it's perfectly possible to achieve the level (laughably easy one might say) tradpub insists can only be gotten thru a relationship with them.

I write and edit all my books, getting no outside input.  I create the covers myself.  I want it that way.  I want to sink or swim on my own.

It's true I've been doing this nearly all my entire adult life and am pretty good at it.  Writers just starting out might need some help or another perspective.  That's fine and they are encouraged to get all the assistance they need.  The goal is to be at the same level if not better than tradpub (laughably easy to achieve, for further illumination on this point check yesterday's post on cover art).

It's very nice to get a glowing review.  Thank you Carole and Rho.

Back to Bad Apple2.

Marc Chagall

Monday, November 8, 2010

Love In The Air

This is the book I have coming out next year from Avalon.  It's about two people who fall in love while performing a World War I era show at an aerodrome.

Since I'm working on a couple of different projects right now, I don't want to take time away from them to do a mock-up cover for LITA for the blog.  I'll just say it wasn't what I would have done at all.  It's a romance, there's a  handsome flyboy in the book.  Why not feature him on the cover?  Women read these books and we should assume they like men.  It seems like a good choice.

First is their cover as the editor sent it to me last week.

Then there's an image I found a year ago that I thought would make a good cover.  It's what I can offer.

And then there's a really quick mock-up I did for my agent without a super handsome guy but a super good pilot, Cole Palen.

Maybe Avalon didn't have the budget for a male model.  There was a budget for a plane.  How about using a plane from the book, ie the plane the character flew, a Fokker Dreidecker.  Which was red and would have shown up a lot better (on a baby blue background???).  I don't understand their choices.  Neither did my agent.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Make It Interesting

I came into publishing just as the impact of television was really being felt.  A hundred years ago a writer could stroll their way into a story.  Not anymore.

Some years ago I wrote 3 chapters of a mystery and my agent sent to to Avon.  After about a year they said it started too slow, (talk about slow, they can't read 3 chapters in 12 months?) the murder didn't happen quick enough.  I rewrote it so the first line was "Oh damn, a dead guy."

How fast does a book need to start?  Do we want the experience of being immersed in the world of the characters or do we just want the bare bones of the plot and how it all turns out?

When I first approached Sweet Cider/Bad Apple I wanted to set the scene.  To me, unlike for some people who read this book, the story is not about the murder.  The roots go back 30 years.  It's a concatenation of events and choices that lead all these people to where they are in the present day.  It's important to know this otherwise nothing can be explained.

Do we want to know why people behave the way they do or do we just want to be titillated.  (I met a guy on the internet who was interested in electric devices to be used in the most startling of ways, oh never mind.)  Do we just want that shock, that visceral reaction?  Maybe it's a vampire screwing someone's head around on their neck.  What's the next shock?  How do you outdo that?  Or do we want to know why people do what they do.

This is the essence of entertainment now.  What are we trying to say?  If nothing, okay.  There's an audience for that.  BIG audience.  Maybe these people never get tired of Life Lite.  The non-caloric, non-substantive meal that doesn't feed, doesn't nourish.

If you're trying to say something, make it interesting.  Your readers will stay with you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Christmas In Connecticut or When Does This Thing Start

After yesterday's post I decided to watch the movie again.  As soon as it began I remembered I fast forward through the first 10 minutes until we get to Elizabeth Lane.

I realized this is something important.  Something went really wrong in this movie if you can replace that much story telling with 2 lines of dialog spoken by the magazine publisher which goes something like "A nurse at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital wrote and asked if Elizabeth Lane would host Christmas for a heroic sailor who never really had Christmases growing up and so enjoys her cozy magazine columns.  I said yes."

Actually that's pretty much the log line isn't it.

Do we need to see Jefferson Jones in his act of heroism, floating on the ocean for 18 days?  I don't.  If it was any good, I'd watch it again.  After all, I've seen the movie a bazillion time and it never gets old.  Except the first 10 minutes.  Has storytelling changed so much since 1945?  No.  If I were to guess why we see Dennis Morgan for 10 minutes is that they paid for him and they were going to use him.  They would have been better off doing the dinner scene that doesn't exist for 10 minutes.

So what's wrong with these scenes?  They don't advance the story.  Do they reveal his character?  He is the love interest so maybe we do need to know about him.  Yeah, that's a good argument, but what we learn isn't that positive and also is restated later when the nurse shows up at the farmhouse.  While we supposedly should care about Jefferson Jones because he's the love interest, he's with the nurse and his buddy who we are not supposed to care about and don't.

Why am I making a big deal about this?  Because starting your story when the story commences is better than starting your story when your story starts.

What am I saying?  Starts?  Commences?  Same thing.  Probably the words are close but take the movie, yes because the sailor survived an ordeal on the ocean then was in the hospital and the nurse fell for him and wanted to do something nice is where the story "started".  It's the backstory.  But the real action begins when Elizabeth Lane finds out she's hosting Christmas for the sailor at her Connecticut farmhouse where she supposedly lives with her husband and baby and woops she doesn't have a husband, a baby or a beautiful farmhouse in Connecticut.

I don't think we need to know the particulars of Jeff Jones' incident.  We don't need to see it, especially if everything we need to get out of it can be said in a couple lines of dialog.

In general, if you have to set your story up, keep it brief, keep it salient.

Do I always do that?  No.  Read Sweeps and you'll be shouting I don't follow my own advice.  That sounds like a part 2 to this thought may be required.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Now we have Thanksgiving bearing down upon us, then Christmas and New Year's and then we pretty much have a month off until the completely concocted (as if they're all not) Valentine's Day.

I'm ambivalent about writing about the holiday season.  Please note, many Hollywood movies make use of one holiday or another.   You can also check the many romance novels set at Christmas.

So what is it with the holidays that writers are trying to tap into?  I just love Christmas to pieces and I'm Jewish.  But as Ariel Robbins said in Sweeps/Love After Lunch, it's a secular holiday now.  Historically it was a non-holiday.  Christ's Mass was the day when all the medieval folk went to church.  That was the end of it.  It wasn't until the Victorian era when it became a big thing with presents and decorations.  The tree business was from Germany and all about the evergreen.  Maybe it had something to do with the Solstice, since the days were getting longer and there was renewal in the air.  I'm not a maven on this so if I get it all a little wrong, don't send mean emails.  There was the whole Kris Kringle thing going on in Northern Europe and it all came to fruition in America.

Now we have these incredible tense days when everything is supposed to go so perfectly and if they don't, people kill themselves over it.

I was lucky to find the trailer for one of my favorite holiday movies, Christmas In Connecticut.  I don't know why it's my favorite, I also love White Christmas, but it contains most of the right elements.  Connecticut.  Snow.  Romance.  Big Christmas Tree.  What it doesn't have, and maybe it did, but was cut, we really need the iconic holiday meal.  We schlepped the chef all the way from NYC and there's endless talk about food but we don't see them at the table with the candles lit and the turkey glistening.  I needed that and I feel its absence.

When I do Christmas or Thanksgiving, I always write about the dinner.  I did it in Just Kate but now that I look back, I think I could have done more.  When I was doing the rewrite, I didn't feel the more of it so I tweaked and hat-tipped Christmas in Connecticut, and it was snowing.  I expect I did 75% of what I should have done, but the book wasn't structured for that.

Now I'm facing both Thanksgiving and Christmas in my current project.

The best Thanksgiving I ever did was in a book I haven't finished yet.  It's really good but it's not snowing.  It doesn't usually snow in Connecticut until Dec. but it was cold and it wound up raining.  This is the companion book, not so much sequel, to Not Low Maintenance.  It was more specific.  I think that's better.  And a terrific woman is going to let me use one of her marvelous food photographs for the cover, so I suppose I should finish that book Real Soon Now.  Like around Christmas when the book ends.