Monday, July 26, 2010

The Next Gold Rush for Publishers & Superagents--or perhaps, for you

Ebook rights? In the past, it was almost an afterthought. No more!

Check out this cautionary Writers’ Guild article by Victoria Strauss about your ebook rights. Think carefully whom you choose to assign them to! In Strauss’ words; “The fact that e-rights--which until recently had very little actual value, despite persistent predictions of an imminent tipping point--are publishing's new gold rush; and the fact that the lines between agents, editors, publicists, and publishers are becoming more blurred by the month, with more and more agents taking on more and more functions outside of just brokering rights and guiding careers.”

A book by any other name...

Am presently in the agonizing process of trying to come up with a title for my sci fi series, along with a title for the first novel. Oh gosh, is it ever painful!

I think coming up with a title must be akin to writing poetry. You have only a very few words, and every word has to be the perfect word. For a novelist who is used to a long yarn, this is not easy.

I started out loving THE EMPYREAN CHRONICLES, but it turns out I'm the only one who loves it. I'm mulling over titles like HEAVEN'S BRINK, THE STAR CHASERS, THE SKY CHASERS... oh the list goes on. I'm not sure if I can hold out for the one title that everyone jumps at screaming, "Yes! That's the one!" because that could take years, and we don't have years. We have a week at the most, because my publisher has to start rolling it out, putting it on lists and posters and promotional materials, pitching me to conferences, etc... They need a title to do all this.

I think my problem is that I send out books with "working titles." This basically means that the title isn't good enough, I know it's not good enough, but I assume my publisher won't really like any title I come up with because they almost never do and so I don't invest too much in the title I submit with. I think this may have been a mistake, and it's one I'm going to try to learn from. Even a working title should have the potential to be the perfect title. Sure, there's a chance the publisher will change it anyway, but that's no reason not to try your best before you submit.

Writers (mostly) know how to write books, publishers (hopefully) know how to sell them. Writers are supposed to be good with words, but publishers know the market. I think most book titles are the result of much debate and compromise, and my series will be no exception. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Asking Nicely: The Problem of Willpower.

Today in Scientific American I read an interesting article about the paradox of willpower, and how sometimes the more determined you are to do something, the less likely you are to do it.

The article provides a wonderful little trick for writers: Instead of sitting down and sternly ordering yourself to write 10 pages today, sit down with the attitude that you're open to writing as many pages as you can. In other words, instead of telling yourself "I will," ask yourself, "Will I?" This little trick could turn out to be my saving grace.

My agent has managed to negotiate the kind of deal for me that doesn't come along too often in a writer's life, and I need to make the most of it. It's a three book deal for a science fiction series that we've now tentatively titled The Star Chasers. I have about a year to come up with a 400 page sequel, and I'm finding the task somewhat daunting. This is the first time in my career that I'll be dealing with this kind of pressure.

I was just at the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference, an intimate little gathering in the heart of the Tetons where lots of writers, agents and editors come together to talk about writing. One of the speakers was Craig Johnson, who turned out to be one of the funniest writers I've ever heard speak. Mr. Johnson, who is a bona fide Wyoming cowboy including shit-kickers and sweat-stained straw hat, turns out a mystery series that enjoys much critical acclaim and a wide audience. He is quite familiar with the concept of writing a whole lot in a short amount of time. After his talk I raised my hand and I asked him timidly, "How do you deal with all that pressure?" 

He said very wryly, "If you think that sitting on your butt and writing every day is pressure, then you've never had a real job."

In other words, I'm so very lucky to be a writer who actually gets paid for my work, complaining about the "pressure" really is quite unbecoming. Some people dig ditches for a living. Some people hack their way into burning buildings. They don't worry about being in touch with their creative process. They just do it.

But now I feel I've contradicted myself. Which do I do? Ask my subconscious brain nicely to please come up with 400 pages by my deadline a year from now? Or do I tell the whiny parts of me to shut up and be grateful that I'm not still doing dictation for a living?

Whichever it is, I need to get back to work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Inception and similar ideas

So I saw Inception last night, and thought it was great. But I have to admit I was struck by several connections between this movie and one of the story lines in my book, The Secret to Lying.

In some ways, this was a relief, because when I wrote The Secret to Lying, I didn't know if people would get the level dreaming, and the dreams within dreams. I thought I might have been one of the only people to dream that way. But after seeing Inception, it seems pretty clear to me that other people lucid dream and level dream like this as well (even using some of the same tropes, such as the elevator to go down into deeper levels, falling to wake up, not being able to differentiate dreams from reality, etc...). There are other similarities between my book and the movie that I don't want to mention right now, because I don't want to give anything away. Still, it's interesting to see the connections. If you liked Inception, you'll probably really get into this story line in my book. And if you didn't like Inception, no worries —the dreams form only a small part of the book, and The Secret to Lying goes in a very different direction from Inception.

As a side note, I'm often worried when I have a new or interesting idea that someone else will publish something similar first, and people will think I ripped them off (in this case, my book came out before the movie, so I'm in the clear). But I've noticed that this happens a great deal —that new ideas, or thoughts even, seem to come in waves. So as soon as one person has a break-through idea, other people seem to have it as well. I think this says something interesting about our collective unconscious. Whether it's because people are reacting to similar social forces and events, and thinking up similar reactions, or because thought itself spreads, like strings on a guitar showing sympathetic vibrations when you hit the same note (so the E string vibrates when you hit the same E note on another string) is unclear. But what does seem clear is that our shared humanity runs deeper than we often realize.

I think it's an astounding and wonderful experience to read something in a book, or see something in a movie, that you've thought before but never imagined putting into words. It's how we recognize ourselves through others. And by that same token, if you know yourself (as Socrates suggested) —if you peer deeply into yourself— then you probably also see deeply into others.

For writers, this means that if you write the story you want to read, and let your self be your guide —seeking out the things that resonate with your self on a deep subconscious level— then your story will probably also resonate with others. At least, that's my hope.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Selling a book.

Hurray! Hurray! I have a publisher for my next book! It will be the beginning to a science fiction series, tentatively titled THE EMPYREAN CHRONICLES, and I'm ecstatic. In this climate, I'm lucky to be publishing at all. It's rough out there these days.

Creating a relationship with a new publisher is always a daunting proposition, more so considering that this is going to be a series, if all goes as it should. For the next few years, these folks are going to be my partners in crime, my compadres, my defenders and my face before the world. So signing this contract will be a bit like getting married. The stakes feel almost that high to me.

I've been watching the flurry of emails between my brilliant agent and the crackerjack editor I'll be working with, butterflies in my stomach even as my hands are clasped 'neath my chin in a Shirley Temple pose, my dimples in full relief because I'm just so happy that this book, dear to my heart, is going to be snuggled into a binding and sold to hopefully eager readers.

Yes, indeed, today I am the lucky one, the belle of the ball so to speak. My dance card is full. There is champagne in my glass and a skip to my step. Soon I will buckle down to a fairly brutal writing schedule, but right now it's celebration time. Hurray for me and my sci-fi saga! Hurray for THE EMPYREAN CHRONICLES!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

When the Writing Retreat is Over

The weeklong Cape writing retreat is over and I’m back at my writing desk at home. I’m lethargic and unfocused, and trying to figure out why, since this is not a normal occurrence for me. I know I miss the camaraderie of my fellow-retreaters—our two-hour shoptalk over breakfast and coffee on the porch, our long dinners with more shoptalk, word games and readings. I miss the feeling that we’re all slogging through our manuscripts together (well, from our different spots on the porch).

I don’t miss the heat or the lack of TV and Internet, though that was surely good for me too. My first night home I watched about three solid hours of TV, which only left me feeling guilty with a slight headache. Ew.

I do go to a writing space, so I shouldn’t complain too much. That’s probably the place to go tomorrow. I’ll hear the tapping of fingers on many laptops, and see people snoozing on the collective sofa and chairs. I’ll even get a chuckle when I pass by a few cubicles and see people sneaking facebook, and youtube and all of the many permutations of avoiding work, or letting the work percolate while feeding the brain online garbaggio.

Do you attend a writers’ retreat? What do you think about them? For more meditations on the joy and claustrophobia of writing retreats:

Adventures in Book Trailers!

Inspired by Amy, and her wonderful book trailer for Zen and Xander Undone, I decided to try my hand at this new-fangled video stuff. Unfortunately, I don't have John Green's gifts for video charisma. So instead, I decided to make the anti-book trailer trailer.

For all those who dislike book promotion or book trailers, here's my video on what doesn't work for selling books.

Secret to Lying Book Trailer:


Sunday, July 11, 2010

What makes a book "good" or "bad"?

I apologize for another cross-post, but I am really curious about your thoughts on this. I'm afraid I'm a little bit rant-y on the subject - I'm not even really clear (as you will see) where I come down on this subject. Though in the end I think it's up to the reader. Here's the post:

I finally listened to the “Summer Reads for Kids” episode of On Point that aired earlier this month. Visit the website to listen to the interview: It’s a great discussion which raised a lot of questions for me.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins came up in discussion. Interviewee Pete Cowdin felt that, though he enjoyed it, he considered it a “guilty pleasure” but not necessarily a good book. Theoretically I can see his point (though admittedly I really enjoyed it) but does that mean that all guilty pleasure books are inherently bad?

Huge blockbusters influence the entire publishing industry – we’re wading through mountains of paranormal romance novels about girls dating vampires, werewolves, zombies, pixies, demons, etc. I get irritated at the huge stacks of Twilight in big bookstores while so many other books aren’t getting much attention, or even a space on the shelves. Big sales certainly does not mean good writing and exemplary literature. But what is the criteria of great literature? I have my own ideas of what works for me, but that doesn’t mean that I know what deserves to be labeled a good or bad book. And if readers are to make up their own minds, is there really any use in making this distinction?

The market influences writers, too. I can’t imagine that SO MANY authors just happened to be writing about vampires in time to jump on the Twilight bandwagon – not that I blame them for doing so. In the NPR interview, Esme Raji Codell expressed the sentiment that children should come first for the author, not the marketplace. I agree: if every writer catered to the whims of the marketplace then publishing would stagnate – there would be no growth, no freshness. But if our readers are salivating for more indulgent, guilty-pleasure stories, how bad is it for us to indulge that desire if that is what we truly want to write?