And instead, she became a #novelist-too

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Holding PenThe #MeToo movement, also called a moment, has delivered many disturbing ones over the past months. Men have been forced to face their history with the women in their lives, and for some of them, it’s a history of failures. There’s not an ending coming for this movement anytime soon. It would seem the only repair is to raise a new generation of men who see these violations to be as senseless as genocide.

The #MeToo story spreads across unexpected subjects. Writing novels has taken a hit. One tale is being told by one woman about another, a woman she admired and held up as a role model. In the New York Times, a column by Amanda Taub tells the story of Heidi Bond. These stories all have lessons and costs. Taub’s story about Bond includes a striking comment about anyone’s career as a popular novelist. Becoming an author can be portrayed as a misfortune.

Bond has reported that Judge Alex Kozinski sexually harassed her a decade ago while she worked as a law clerk for him. Clerks, if you don’t know, are lawyers in this kind of job. Taub knew Bond while both women studied in Michigan’s law school. This time out, the harassment story led to Bond leaving her profession and slipping away from her career, and even the use of her name.

Taub explains, in the article that ran in the Times.

The harassment tainted her career so much that even though she had access to some of the most coveted jobs in the country, she wanted nothing to do with them. She left the legal profession entirely, and is now a successful romance novelist writing under the name Courtney Milan.

Bond’s transition from abused attorney to romance novelist looks like it’s painted as an utter fall from power and magnificent, meaningful work. Becoming a novelist is no small bit of work to get successful at it. Romances are read by women, by and large. The tone that I read in Taub’s writing — she’s a journalist, and so a writer like Bond — felt like the career of romance writing was some ash heap.

Bond’s accomplishment has her books in the top 500 Victorian romances at Amazon. Big list. High number. She publishes herself, which is the smart way to get books out if you write in genres.

But romance writers get dismissed, even by other writers. Romance writers get read in great numbers, a thing that separates them from some earnest, MFA-studied novelists, nominated for prizes because their readership is rooted in literature experts. Romances first came into my house in a box from a good friend, one with a Master’s degree in Library Science. Jane said she had another box of these romances waiting for me if I made my way through the ones she brought.

I’m trying comprehend Bond’s story on an emotional level. A bright and capable woman says she was abused by Kozinski and ultimately left her dream career. The place where Heidi Bond resurfaces is amid a life’s work creating stories about women and men striving to love each other. Those stories often involve women coming into their rightful places in life, where their talents and drive are rewarded with happiness. They are recognized and respected. Sometimes these heroines’ jobs in the novels make a great difference in life.

On a personal level they want it all, though, and they are entitled to that. They want to experience love, and the majority of those characters want that love from a man. The men in the romances are unlike the judge. They are sometimes mistaken and full of flaws. Few of these men have a disgraceful act against a woman in their past. They are complex nonetheless.

Complexity is something that’s been put to the side during the movement. I’d like to believe that Amanda Taub’s article did not use “romance novelist” as a tut-tut clucking of disregard. It’s possible that I read that into the piece on my own. But just after Taub delivers the report on the romance writing, she tells us that Bond’s story is about “the systemic and institutional consequences of this kind of harassment.”

Those consequences include working to become a successful novelist. This in no way forgives what the Kozinski may have done. There’s also nothing like novelist harassment, unless you count the unkind acts that Amazon reviewers do every hour of every day. Like Bond knows as an author, we sign up for that kind of abuse as writers.

Writing novels might not change the world in the same way that laws in courtrooms can. But creativity brings meaning to our lives, and few kinds of creativity aim so straight for our hearts as romance novels. Writing them can be noble work, not a consolation prize.

We have to take care here in this moment, while women and the men who support them weed out abusers and re-educate them, not to lose our grip on love. Exemplary love between men and women is no fantasy. Having a role model is a good thing for every one of us, whether it’s a top lawyer or the heroine in a novel. A model from fiction is created with imagination—the special talent that writers have to inhabit and comprehend, with compassion, every aspect of human nature and foibles.

If that sounds like I am equating being a lawyer headed to the Supreme Court with being a successful romance novelist, I’m guilty of that. Without being too glib, laws do get reversed, even the ones that do good. And so good laws can then be replaced by unfair ones. The worst thing that can happen as a result of a romance novel is that it gets pulped by a publisher who couldn’t sell it. These days even that’s unlikely, since self-publication, and success, is well within any hard-working author’s grasp.

Harassment is abuse and a sin and a crime. There’s no crime in abusing writing, but I’d rather not see it thrown onto the ash heap. We may not need to celebrate this moment by dismissing something as complex as creating a novel. We’re going to need love going forward. We’ll need it closer to our lives than just imagined in the pages of a book. Those pages are a good place to start, though.

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Genres are a way in to getting paid

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MashupCoverI was at a Writer’s League of Texas meeting this summer, the annual Agents & Editors Conference. An agent on the panel said, “Don’t think of writing in a genre as a way to settle. Think of it as a way in to getting your story read.”

I had a client once who said he was worried that his book didn’t seem to fit in any of the publishing categories like science fiction, or romance, or thriller. The book had all of those elements. Sell it as a combination, I suggested. Blade Runner meets The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Now Amazon is showing us that genre is the fastest way to a career as a writer. A new program, exclusively for writers of science fiction, romance, and mystery, is going online in a few weeks. “Authors whose books are selected get a $1,500 advance and 50 percent royalties on net ebook revenue.” Not bad. The Net 50 part of that deal is pretty common for small presses. Some of the small press deals won’t even print a book at first — you get an ebook produced instead. The paperback comes later on.

At Amazon, you’ll submit your genre book as a Word file, and you have to dream up a cover. Then your completed story of more than 50,000 words gets crowd-sourced to see if it’s popular. How the mechanics of the latter will work remains to be seen.

But only genre stories are eligible. They’re usually closest to being ready for a publisher to sell. Still to come: genre crowdsourcing for historical fiction, horror-paranormal, fantasy and erotica. Length will be an issue with those last two. Fantasy probably cannot be done in under 120,000 words today. Erotica will struggle to get 50,000 words completed. Maybe there’s an erotica-fantasy combination that can be sold.

Let Amazon’s crowds say if your book will play

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Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 3.48.50 PMAmazon has announced a new service, Write On, that promises to give authors the opinion of readers who will unpublished manuscripts. Think of it as a crowdsourced critique group. From The Wall Street Journal:

Write On allows authors to post their work at any stage of the writing process and engage with readers who may suggest any number of revisions. The site already includes dozens of works and, for some, comments on aspects as detailed as a misplaced comma.

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company offers no financial incentives for using Write On, though she hinted that Amazon may find stories it likes and publish them.

The story in the Journal adds a note from a unnamed spokesman that there’s no reason anybody couldn’t see these unpublished books, and then take interest.

Indeed. There is no reason why Amazon couldn’t take interest in the published books it already stocks, too. But books from larger publishers get a great deal more interest at the world’s largest bookseller. Write On appears to be another step on the path Amazon took to produce its Alpha House and Transparent streaming series entries. The retailer, now producing plenty of content with six of its own book imprints, is a provider of content. More

The future of bookselling: keeping authors happy

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bookstoreThings are changing on a steady course for the trade of selling books. Now there’s analysis emerging that suggests the most important part of publishing — in the trade sense, where there are agents and the lot — is keeping authors happy.

It’s been said before, but this book industry is really about the storytellers, not the companies which make their stories available and try to lure readers toward them. Imagine the role of the bookstore in five years as an advertising medium, a place to help generate desire for a book. You walk the aisles, but you order from an online source. Showrooming, it’s already being called.

A savvy column on this is online at The Idea Logic Company, written by Mike Shatzkin. In The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishinghe writes

Most of all, publishers are going to have to think about how they maintain their appeal to authors if putting printed books in stores becomes a less important component of the overall equation. It is still true that putting books in stores is necessary to get anywhere close to total penetration of a book’s potential audience. Ignoring the in-store market obviously costs sales in stores, but it also costs awareness that reduces sales online. (After all, stores are very aware of the “showrooming” effect: customers who cruise their shelves with smartphones in hand, ordering from Amazon as they go!)

But that’s today when the online-offline [book sales] division may be near 50-50 overall and is 75-25 for certain niches. If those numbers become 75-25 and [niched at] 90-10 over the next five years, the bookstore market really won’t matter that much to most authors anymore. Whether through self-publishing or through some fledgling publisher that doesn’t have today’s big publisher capabilities but also doesn’t have their cost structure, authors will feel that the big organizations are less necessary than they are now to help them realize their potential.

It’s still easy to find the agents who remain cheerleaders for the “curated” book. That’s the one which is selected from many which are submitted, then re-crafted by revisions from the author [demanded by the big organization to ensure sales, or the hopes of them], then finally edited by a pro and turned out to a sales force.

Maybe. But when bookstores become shops for coffee and blank books and writing instruments and toys, the big organizations are going to get a smaller share of retail space. Book retailing is going to become less important than book selling, and the latter is much more available to the indie publisher.

Amazon loosens its Kindle payment purse

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stack of coinsAmazon will now pay you for every e-book you sell every month. The largest book retailer in the world is paying much quicker than any traditional publisher. From a message sent to all of us Kindle authors this week:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) authors who receive their royalty payments electronically will now be paid in full every month for all their sales without any minimum thresholds for payout. This gives authors greater access to their earnings and a more reliable payment schedule, 60 days after the month royalties are earned.

It’s easy to set your account payment preference for the Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) royalty payment option. Simply sign in to your KDP account and under “Your Royalty Payments,” select EFT for each applicable marketplace.

You’ll get an electronic payment to your checking account 60 days after the month in which the sale occurred. Yes, if you sold one 99-cent book, Amazon will pay you the 67 cents (your 70 percent, less the data file carrying charge.)

In the old scheme — and for authors who still insist on checks instead of electronic deposits — you needed to hit a threshold of $100 to see any royalties. There’s something heartwarming about seeing even modest deposits from a book you’ve labored to write, get edited and proofread, then pushed you way into the Kindle store.

On that last task: Bookbaby has a $249 package that takes your Word file and makes it available to the leading ebook distributors. There’s a pared-back set of services at $99, too. Highly recommended.

Trimmed-out parts of nonfiction can become singles

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Much like the music business using 45s of the 1960s and 1970s, today’s publishing is using smaller bits of books to attract sales of the complete work. The e-book option was exercised on a chapter omitted from a book by NPR’s The Math Guy, Keith Devlin. His new book The Man Of Numbers had a chapter dropped onto the cutting room floor that Devlin and his agent Ted Weinstein produced and have published as a single, available across all the ebook reader platforms.

There’s about 70 such Singles in the Amazon Kindle store, many  of them fiction in the form of short stories. Amazon wants an author to have a complete book for sale in order to get a Single into the store. The Singles, of course, have always been digital files; a few years back they were PDFs that you didn’t even need a Kindle to read.

The extra material from Devlin’s book is about Leonardo DaVinci and his 600-year jump on Steve Jobs. More importantly, it’s a way for Devlin’s traditional publisher to let the author test the waters, permitting authors to create these singles. Devlin cut his own deal in publishing to make the Single appear, but he needed permission from Man of Numbers publisher Bloomsbury to do it.

Independent singles in the record business could spark a complete album, and still do. The record label took its standard cut of the sales, though. Book authors who write long — especially the nonfiction writer like the one that I’m editing this week — can generate their own higher-percentage revenues from a single. Bloomsbury figures short works like this single will help sell The Man of Numbers. It also serves as a roadmap for making a good but standalone chapter an earner for an author. More details at the Paid Content website. Weinstein wants everybody to understand he’s not adding “publisher” to his business card, and he’s still an agent. That’s his story today, anyway. Good agents will see these allied deals and partner with their authors.

Enter Amazon’s tourney to get published

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If you need a deadline to finish that long-malingering novel, Amazon provides one. In two months submissions start for the Amazon On-Demand publishing contest. Penguin Publishing Group and Amazon will accept up to 10,000 entries between Feb. 2 and Feb. 8. Sue Monk Kidd and Sue Grafton judge the finalists.

The beauty of this contest is that there are no entry fees. Amazon’s Vine Voices reviewers get the first cut at winnowing the entries, but in the final two round, Monk and Grafton will do the choosing.

There’s a $25,000 publishing contract as the grand prize. For complete information and an entry form, see the Amazon page that contains the Frequently Asked Questions file on the contest.

Contest submission period begins February 2nd, 2009 at 12:01 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) and ends February 8th, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time), or when the first 10,000 Entries have been received, whichever is earlier.

To enter on February 2nd 2009, go to www.amazon.com/abna or www.createspace.com/abna, register and submit your entry following the instructions on the entry form. In the mean time, go to www.createspace.com/abna to sign up for contest updates and valuable online content that will help you get your submission ready. To register and enter you will need to submit:

  • The full/complete version of your manuscript (the “Manuscript”), which must be between 50,000 and 150,000 words;
  • Up to the first 5,000 words, but no less than 3,000 words, of text of that manuscript, excluding any table of contents, foreword, and acknowledgments (the “Excerpt”);
  • A pitch statement (cover letter/summary) of up to 300 word (the “Pitch”)
  • Other registration information as asked for on the entry page (such as name, contact information, book title), and
  • An author photo (if desired), which must be in .jpg format (at least 72 dpi and 500×468 pixels)