This week in writing… poetry & letters edition

It’s National Poetry Month! Spring is in the air, and everyone’s inspired. I wish I could put a poem here, but I suck at that, so let’s just dig in…

Jane Yolen has tips on writing poetry over at Katie Davis’ blog.

On April 21st, the Postal Service will honor 20th century poets with their own stamps!

The 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winner and honoree has been announced.

Maybe you’re just looking for the best prose out there… Bank Street has you covered with the best books of 2012 from infant to YA.

Over in the UK, the Roald Dahl museum has now opened up an exhibit that includes his writing hut. Man, I want one of those!

Have you seen this letter from Kurt Vonnegut to the head of a school board who ordered his books to be burned in the school furnace?

In news of nicer letters, there’s this book of letters C.S. Lewis wrote to children.

There are a couple of new ventures to report. The people behind One Story have now launched a new magazine, One Teen Story for older readers. They are now accepting short stories for their first year of publication. Also, author Marissa Moss is launching her own publishing company, Creston Books.

Dahl in his Writing Hut

Just as the DOJ, Apple and the big 6 start making decisions about their suit, Amazon cuts ebook prices. This will further separate them from the pack, and put them firmly ahead of their competition. I wonder what Barnes & Noble’s response will be, if any. (Oh wait. They’ve updated their Simple Touch with a GlowLight. OK, that’s a handy feature, but is that enough?) Meanwhile, in the Department of Justice suit, three are settling while three more are standing up to fight, saying that there was no collusion on their part to set the prices of ebooks. And on the other end of the spectrum, the ebook version of J.K. Rowling’s new adult novel will be priced at about $20. What the muggle?

With all the fur and feathers flying, some publishers are trying to squeeze out Amazon by not signing contracts with them. (How do we feel about this, authors?)

If you think that ebook pricing doesn’t affect you because you’re only a reader, you’re mistaken.  A consumer advocate group has calculated that the pricing fix will actually cost each of us about $200 more this year. I know what you’re thinking. You’re just going to get your ebooks from the library. Well hold that thought. Libraries and publishers are still fighting. In fact a group of 25 libraries in Connecticut recently voted to boycott Random House.

Bah humbug, you say? Who cares about ereaders and ebooks you say? Well, it seems that people who use electronic devices to read, read more than those who only read on print. I bet the divide will keep growing.

[Roald Dahl image from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/walesarts/2011/09/roald_dahl_day_events.html]

This week in writing… bully edition

Amazon continues to be the 300lb gorilla this week as everyone is worried about how they might crush the publishing industry. And once the bane of the industry, especially independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble is coming out looking like the New Hope, a potential David to Amazon’s Goliath.

Publishers are cheering the fact that Barnes and Noble have refused to carry any books published by Amazon in their stores. While publishers are thrilled that B&N is standing up to Amazon, at least one writer thinks that B&N would be wise to play nice.

Publishers also aren’t making any friends with librarians. Their insistence on restricting library access to ebooks has irked the mild-mannered bibliophines enough to issue a statement saying basically, enough of that crap.

Publishers’ fear of ebooks and what they mean to the print business isn’t unique. Jonathan Franzen shared his own fear of ebooks saying, “The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing — that’s reassuring.” So… ebooks change text every time you pick them up? Wow! Oh wait. They don’t.

Ebooks are kicking up even more dust as some publishing houses try a new delivery format: novels by committee in which the author releases a book, and readers give input on what should happen next, that the author then writes to satisfy. There, there, Franzen, don’t weep. Some people think this is great. Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary said this on her twitter feed in response to a reporter’s dismay: “Oh, please. All this shows is how clueless the reporter is… Like god forbid anyone get any entertainment out of reading. Or try something new.”

Maybe it doesn’t work for storytelling, but it might be good for information-gathering. UK publisher And Other Stories gets readers together for a report on which books to take on for translation, rather than using a traditional written report. What a good idea!

Where are all the good books anyway? Here’s what some of our best writers think are the greatest books of all time.

And finally, Jacqueline Woodson, author of one of my favorite picture books, The Other Side, talks about her new novel in this video.

Tuesday Mashup

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll keep it short.

In response to the YA is bad for you drama of the last week and a half, Sherman Alexie added his thoughts to those of other renowned YA authors in saying all the ways that those “problem” books help kids in real pain, and don’t hurt the ones who aren’t.

While Wired was saying that ebooks are not quite all the way where they need to be yet, someone else was reporting that Kindles represent 10% of Amazon’s market.

Speaking of Amazon, their new “Sunshine Deals” pinpoint the books priced at $0.99, $1.99 and $2.99. Watch out, Big 6! Which is one of the reasons why some say that now is the best time for authors.

Maybe that rejection pile that’s growing on your desk makes you disagree, so here’s a post from Nathan Bransford’s blog about rejection and recovery and how you need to be a writer-athlete. Er, read it. You’ll understand.

If you’re looking for places to get feedback, try the site Critters Writers Workshop. There’s also Backspace which is another writer’s community. And my new favorite, Evil Editor who tells you just why you’re not getting anywhere with your writing.

And in the looking-for-an-agent category, there’s an interview with Sara Megibow over at the blog Mary Baader Kaley (is) Not an Editor.

Finally, a big thank you to the folks over at BooksNJ for a terrific event on Sunday. My family had a great time, especially the kids. (Below, the Non-fiction panel I was on with fellow authors Linda Bozzo and Ann Malaspina.)

Have a terrific week, everyone! And happy writing.

[Image of readers via Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-64102-0002 / CC-BY-SA]

Monday Mashup

I’m beginning to notice that my news skews toward the juvenile, which isn’t a bad thing considering how the juvenile market has been booming lately. In YA: Then vs. Now, Sarah La Polla breaks down what’s changed: “For being such an important part of the industry, YA is practically a baby. It’s a genre that keeps growing, not only in numbers (though that is true too), but in definition. Novels for teens used to be its own category, relegated to the back of the bookstore with a simple sign above it reading “Teen Literature.” Today, there are as many sub-genres in YA as there are in adult fiction.”

Speaking of sub-genres, Amy H. Sturgis lists the YA Dystopian novels that have cropped up since 1960, and the list is just going to keep on growing. She describes dystopian as, “those that imply a warning by describing a world gone wrong: utopias that took a bad turn, worst-case scenario post-apocalyptic societies, post-disaster tales that focus more on the undesirable communities that develop after the disasters than on the disasters themselves, etc. ”

If you’re still writing, agent Janet Reid wonders if you’ve set any summer goals this year, because “setting goals will get you farther than not setting goals– even if you don’t reach the actual goal itself.” Know what that means? Set some goals right now! And here’s Camp NaNoWriMo to help you accomplish those goals! But while you’re setting goals and working to reach them, be very careful that you don’t overdo the solitude that you’ll need for writing. As R.L. LaFevers says, there’s a big difference between solitude and isolation. “At first glance, these would appear to be non-issues for the introverted writer, who thrives in solitude. Yet introverts need human connection as well. We are not immune from loneliness; we are not invulnerable to solitude’s darker twin, isolation.”

When you’re done writing, you need to look for an agent. And here’s one that’s the best of the best. Andrew Wylie talks about not just literature, but the new rules in publishing as presented by ebooks. While his colleagues seem to be afraid, “Wylie remains a rare optimist in publishing circles, fueled perhaps by the healthy backlists and literary estates he represents. Information technology may be upending business models, but he believes the global interconnection these advancements permit provides immense opportunities for his authors.”

And after you’ve landed that dream agent, you might want to know what the submission process is. It’s different from the query process you used to find that agent, by the way. “Going on sub varies greatly based on your agent. In all likelihood, any certain approach is perfectly normal and acceptable. Some agents will have their authors write the cover letter that will be sent to editors with the manuscript. Some prefer to do that themselves. Some will call editors to pitch, others will email. Some will send out very few initial submissions, others might send out a little larger group.”

And if you’re looking for that magic formula that will propel your book into superstar status, this blog breaks down the possibilities. “To become a bestseller in the e-format I’d say it takes hard work, writing skill, and the development and maintenance of loyal fans, with a generous pinch of luck and good timing.”

Past the writing process and ready for a presentation? Here’s how to get rid of the jitters. I’m going to need that on Sunday at the BooksNJ 2011 event, where I’ll be presenting on two panels: non-fiction children’s books, and ebooks.

There was some talk over on LinkedIn last week about whether or not book trailers for novels was worth it, or a giant money suck. Results are inconclusive. You have to be a part of the Ebooks, Ebook Readers, Digital Books and Digital Content Group to see the conversation. I think.

In tech news, word on the street is that the new Nook kicks the Kindle’s ass. Hooah!

And finally, the Wall Street Journal article that’s causing a big stir among the YA crowd: Darkness Too Visible, in which YA is perceived as “a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” Of course, the YA authors who write this “dark, dark stuff” and those who don’t, and especially the ones who love those books, fired back. Laurie Halse Anderson said in a post, “I know how ridiculous and harmful the statements are. Books don’t turn kids into murderers, or rapists, or alcoholics. (Not even the Bible, which features all of these acts.) Books open hearts and minds, and help teenagers make sense of a dark and confusing world. YA literature saves lives. Every. Single. Day.” And on Jay Asher‘s Facebook page, he commented, “The Wall Street Journal should be ashamed for printing such a disgustingly one-sided piece of nonsensical crap.”

My two cents is: if you don’t like the literature you see, keep looking until you find something you do like, or better yet, write your own.

Thursday Mashup

Yeah. I know. Let’s just get to it, shall we?

The biggest publishing shocker for me last week was the news that Umberto Eco isn’t well read, and says that you don’t need to be either. Who’s worried about book sales? Not him, apparently.

And I bet his writing space doesn’t look like this either. (That’s super cute, right? via @MisaBuckley.)

But if you do like reading, and you want to do it on an eReader, the big news was Kobo’s new eInk display with touch screen and not to be outdone, Barnes & Noble released yet another eReader called the Simple Touch Reader that has the same capabilities. While Kindle is still maintaining their lead in the eReader industry, I don’t think they’ll have that hold for long, and the news is that they’re now looking to make Android devices to keep up  with everyone else. Let me just say now that whoever makes a color eInk display is going to CLEAN UP.

In more Barnes & Noble news, they’ve now moved into craft sales, which is good news for this blog, as I can now get my knitting supplies and my books in one cart. Yay!

And in more eReader news, at least one university is opting for eReader texts instead of all those bulky textbooks, which is the best application for this technology.

If you want to know how much an eBook should cost, you gotta go to Mike, who breaks down the economics and the dilemma on both sides: “obviously many readers feel that the prices [of eBooks] are outrageous and unjustified. How do greedy authors sleep at night? To be honest, having unhappy readers causes us some sleepless nights. Worrying about paying the rent if ebooks were priced as low as readers want causes even more sleepless nights. So, the gentle reader may rest assured that authors are, indeed, losing sleep!”

If you’re wondering how to create a writing platform, YA Fantasy Guide has the answers because as they say, “You need to get yourself out there in your field before you submit your work. Great writing, original stories, and platforms are sure fire ways to create a successful writing career for yourself. ”

And speaking of careers, two full-time writers reveal how they do it. And yes, those fantasy advances are hysterical. Though if you can’t decide if you should jump in, you need to ask yourself if writing is a calling or a career. Your mindset may have more to do with your success or failure than you think. Author Edward Nawotka says that for writers, “The sense that writing as a calling can sustain them, but thinking of writing as a career can armor you against the vagaries of this unpredictable business.”

Finally in the writing as profession category is this Writer Unboxed post about what you can expect as a professional writer and how to separate the fantasy from the reality. “How does it look when you project the image of your professional writer self into the future five years, or ten?”

For those of us who are well on our way to super stardom, you need to beware of the contract. J.D. Sawyer ( who is not a lawyer) wants you to think about your rights over the long term on dodgy clauses. “It’s situations like this that underline the unequal bargaining muscle that publishers (of all media) bring to the table. But there is something you can do to equalize that balance: When faced with a clause like this, say “no.” Period.”

There’s a new “boyz” magazine in town. And that’s great. Unless mis-spellings bother you.

See if you live in one of the most well-read cities in the U.S. (I don’t.)

Books are still being banned. Seriously? Yes. Sadly.

What some of us think of self-published books, and how to overcome that prejudice.

Last week was also BEA, so there’s some news on that front. Like Google abandoning their ebook store. Why? Read here. And the American Booksellers Association on the fate of indie bookstores: “There is nothing like browsing in a physical bookstore. That is something you can’t replace.”

And finally, we lose the divine Ms O. and all her lovely influence on the world of books, and also, libraries. Bye Oprah!

Move over paper

Today is an exciting day. History was made. Again! And it’s great to live at a time that history is being made in huge ways. Is it because of technology?  The news about Bin Laden was widely shared first on Twitter. And when I read it on the New York Times, I could click on the link to the press conference the President gave about it, and email it to my mother.

President releases birth certificate

In the last week there has been so much interesting news, that it could almost make your head spin. So being able to parse all the information, to really understand it, to go in-depth the way you might want to, or skip over the stuff that you’re not that interested in, is a function of modern media, and new ways of disseminating information. And it’s why paper, as a technology for sharing information, is no longer the best platform.

I’m not going to insert an apology here about how much I love “real” books because it’s an insult to technology. eBooks, phones, and tablets are springboards with social networking providing the people power for how information is distributed. To believe differently, is to ignore the facts. Support for the Iran elections gained popularity on Twitter, with people showing solidarity by turning their avatars green. The White House Correspondence dinner was linked on Facebook (mostly the part where Seth Meyers insults The Donald’s “fox” hairdo).

Gore recording for OUR CHOICE the app.

It’s only a matter of time before paper goes the way of 8-track and cassette tapes not just for news, but for entertainment purposes as well. And if you don’t believe me, you only need to see what software developer Mike Matas of Push Pop Press did with Al Gore’s book, OUR CHOICE.

Don’t worry. It’s a good thing.

3 wishes for eLibraries

Yesterdays news that Amazon made a deal with OverDrive for Kindle owners to borrow library books came as a surprise to me, since as a Nook owner, I’ve been borrowing ebooks from the library since I first bought the device. However, library ebook titles are so few, both in available titles and number of copies, that it may not be the big boost Amazon is hoping for. Big publishers like Macmillan and Simon & Schuster still aren’t selling ebook titles to libraries and because more people are buying tablets and ereaders, demand far outstrips supply. For the ebook library patron this only adds up to frustration which brings me to my first wish:

Get more books!

Publishers need to get on the ebook loan ball. This will only be a boost to their authors, and advance their sales, because libraries do BUY those copies that they loan out, and they will need a lot of them to meet the demand.

Once, I waited three months for an ebook loan, only to have it slip away because I didn’t download it within the 2 day window before it moved on to the next patron on the list. (I was sick, dammit!) And since then, I haven’t ordered another title because the library doesn’t have anything I’m interested in. Or they might, only I can’t find it because their interface is clunky, non-intuitive, and frankly, a giant bore, which brings me to my next wish:

Libraries need a better web presence.

Granted, they don’t have the cash that bookstores do (especially with recent cuts to education and libraries), but they need to have a better system of getting books into the hands of patrons. A more intuitive and more visual (as opposed to text-heavy) web interface would increase circulation because patrons would be able to find the books they’re interested in, and books could be “shelved” by interest, author, genre, and topic, and even give recommendations based on a patron’s previous borrows. And though there are a lot of patrons who will be clamoring for these ereader titles, not everyone will be, or needs to be, which brings me to my final wish:

Don’t waste money on buying ereaders for loan.

With all the publisher-convincing, title-stocking and web-improving that will be happening, libraries have enough to think about. I’m all for making sure all books are available to all patrons, but I disagree with those who think it’s the library’s job to make ereaders available. Unless the library plans to make some books available only in ebook form, I don’t see any reason to loan out expensive equipment. Ever borrow a DVD that wasn’t scratched up beyond recognition? So how long do you think an ereader would last? The money’s better spent on getting publishers on board and improving web presence.

[Image of book and computer from: http://www.blogtrepreneur.com/2009/03/17/write-your-own-ebook-for-profit-or-traffic/, image of kid’s ebook from Wikimedia Commons.]

How to build a team

E is for Book

More and more traditionally published writers are moving to self-publish their own ebooks, and as ebook numbers rise, everyone is watching the trend and wondering when it might be best to bite the bullet and jump in. I certainly am. The numbers are looking good, and it’s all about the numbers. But there is still a lot to consider if you’re going to self-publish. You may think that getting a book onto the Nook or Kindle is a simple matter of this:

Write the book –> edit the book –> format the book –> send the book to the millions of ebook buying masses!

But it’s really more like this:

Write the book –> find a professional editor to edit the book –> rewrite the book –> copyedit the book –> format the book –> work with a professional designer to create a cover — > send the book to the millions of ebook buying masses –> market and promote the book

Building a team

Doing all of this on your own isn’t wise. You really need fresh eyes, professional eyes to take care of some of the heavy lifting. So you’ll need to put together a team. You need an editor, a copy editor, a designer, and if you’re not good at marketing, you’ll need someone to help you with promotion. Finding the right people may be a job in itself, and you will be paying them up front before your book has made a dime. But now you’re investing in yourself and your work. So you have to know whether or not that investment is worth it.

Are professionals worth it?

Do you really want to turn off readers because your book is a minefield of errors? Don’t let this happen to you. Hire an editor and a copy editor.

Covers are billboards advertising your work. You definitely want to shell out the money for a good one. Because people still judge books by their covers.

If you’re shy, you want someone else stomping the virtual pavement for you to promote your book. Because if nobody hears about it, how will they buy it?

And finally

The main reason for spending money on a good team is this simple fact: your current book is the best ad for your next book. If this one fails to please, what’s the likelihood of anyone picking up your next offering? Like I said, it’s all about the numbers.

Bookstores are dead. Long live bookstores!

In the ever-increasing ebook market, bookstores seem to be as endangered as polar bears, and inspire the same amount of passionate response. Things are changing. It’s natural that some people will panic. But is that panic really warranted? I know that some see the closing of Borders bookstores as a huge sign that The End Is Near. But I think the end is only coming for huge chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Small independent bookstores will thrive because they cater to niche markets. And customers will probably like them more because they’re going to be specialized.

In a post last week, Nathan Bransford asked for advice to booksellers. Among the comments was a bookseller named Boon who wrote that their specialized bookstore didn’t cater to mass-market books and bestsellers, and is thriving because of it. And it is because their customers trust them to stock only books that they feel really good about. Sounds awesome right?

In Boon’s comment, the store employees were called “curators,” a feeling echoed in Nicole Krauss’ recent article for The New Republic. As the market changes and authors take more control, what will survive are the experts. So a bookstore like Boon’s is probably going to continue to do remarkably well. Even on the production end of things, things will change. On J.A. Konrath’s blog, he and Barry Eisler recently discussed why Eisler was walking away from 1/2 mil book deals. They argue that editors will move from publishing houses to agencies as author’s representatives will increasingly have more power than the publishing houses. I don’t think that this is necessarily true. I think some editors may be able to stand alone as authors will seek to hire them directly. Again, the experts will win out, because naturally some editors will be more coveted than others.

The business model is turning upside down. And there are going to be a few bumps and bruises along the way but nobody’s job is going to disappear. The ones in control are just going to be different. Imagine authors running their own publishing houses. And small booksellers with the power to really have an impact on books.

Honestly, if you’re a writer or an independent bookseller right now, this is probably the best time to be in this business.

[Photo by Ansgar Walk, available here.]

The eBook round-up

I read a blog post this morning about the 100 best tech out this year. Google and Apple top the list with Android products and iPad. The 3rd generation Kindle was in the top 5. (Nook didn’t make the list.)  Now Google’s throwing their hat in the ePublishing scene, making it possible for those buying Google Editions eBooks to have more control over them than Amazon’s Kindle or B&N’s Nook currently allows. Google’s angle is that if you buy a digital edition from them, you can read it off any device you have. If you buy from Amazon or B&N, you can only read it on their devices, unless you get a program like Calibre to convert your documents.

As it is, Nook Color is going to give Kindle some trouble, and Google Editions will be another thorn for Amazon. Google has the ability to turn your search into a purchase by taking you to an article you’re looking for as well as a Google Editions book on the same subject that you might like to buy with one convenient click.

Google hasn’t taken on their own eReader device, but it’s probably not far off. Nook is Android-based. It’s only a matter of time before Google launches their own, or builds more capability into the Nook. And since Amazon and B&N have opened up as ePublishers, it’s probably not long before Google turns readers into authors too. And since they won’t restrict what kind of device people will be able to download their digital texts to, guess, who everyone’s going to go to when they need to publish or buy a book?

It’s kind of exciting. Like the Wild West. Everyone goes to the ranch owner who can deliver the best steer and the fastest horses. They watch the rodeo to see who puts on the best show. And the one with the fastest draw wins.

[Image: http://www.cowboytroy.com]