Could be a good time to be not yet in print

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Google and the Authors Guild announced today that they’re revising an agreement to pay authors for printed books that get read online. Along with the American Association of Publishers, the parties wanted to give Google the clear path to scanning millions of printed works, then offering them to read over the Web.

There might be no better time to stay out of print than now, while your as-yet-unpublished book isn’t covered by the agreement. Published writers, you and your publisher have until June, 2010 to file an objection to the agreement if Google has already scanned your book. Nobody has seen the latest version of the agreement promised today. But DC Comics and Microsoft have filed objections to the existing settlement.

The Authors Guild threw up a roadblock to Google’s scan-and-display policy when it was announced last year. A fairness hearing in US, scheduled for today, has been delayed until next month.

The Guild is the domain of the published writer, and the organization takes its eligibility to an exclusive level. Even if you have a book contract, it must “include a royalty clause and a significant advance, and must allow the author to retain copyright.” Independent book publishers, who are accepting new books from new authors at a faster rate than major presses, are skipping advances these days. The Guild accepts members whose books are “published by an established American publisher… excepting small literary presses of national reputation.”

So whatever agreement the Guild, major publishers and Google arrive at, it won’t keep you from disputing when Google scans your small-press book and charges to read it. With exclusive eligibility requirements like these, Google is just ensuring that those left out of the agreement will probably welcome the online readership as a way to promote the books — which will likely have links to online stores. That’s where Google makes its money anyway, not in the per-reader charges.

Limelight burns more than Twilight

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There’s a great interview with Stephanie Meyer in Entertainment Weekly’s Web site. The best-selling author of the Twilight series of teen vampire love said that being this successful — first three books becoming movies, fans clamoring for more writing — has blocked her on the project.

Everyone now is in the driver’s seat, where they can make judgment calls. ”Well, I think this should happen, I think she should do this.” I do not feel alone with the manuscript. And I cannot write when I don’t feel alone. So my goal is to go for, like, I don’t know, two years without ever hearing the words Midnight Sun. And once I’m pretty sure that everyone’s forgotten about it, I think I’ll be able to get to the place where I’m alone with it again. Then I’ll be able to sneak in and work on it again.

While you work on your first book, you can be alone. But once a book hits with the splash that Twilight gave to Meyer, you’ll never be alone again. This is the business side of writing, the one that creates fans, makes you a celebrity and rich. Meyer is about the same age as J.K. Rowling was when Harry Potter ascended. But the Twilight empire has emerged much faster (some say the writing is a little under-baked) and this is Meyer’s first dance in the limelight. She talks of a new project she wants to work on that revolves around mermaids. You can look back at the movie careers of Quentin Tarantino, Orson Wells, even Kevin Smith after Clerks to see the challenge. The limelight was so hot that their second act was where the twilight fell on them.

You can climb back to the light, but it helps to be able to foresake the fame and quiet all those voices. An artist has to stay true to their own voice. If not, then your romance in the world of vampires might be dead to you.

As for waiting two years to release the next installment of Twilight, it’s a period where her publisher gets to prove its faith. They may need to release an imperfect Twilight book to be able to let Meyer cast off the yoke of Edward and friends. Two years is an eternity for an impatient publisher. Time means something different to the undead, though. Last week Meyer was looking toward the movie screen, not the word processing screen. Her blog reported:

We only have to wait 71 more days until New Moon the movie hits theaters! In case you don’t want to have to count the days on your calendar (like I just did) every time you think about Edward and Jacob, I’ve added a countdown widget to the New Moon Movie page

How hot is Twilight’s limelight? Hot enough to withstand the wisecracks and endure self-parody. On Facebook you can find a group called Because I Read Twilight I Have Unrealistic Expectations in Men

Of course, that should be “expectations of men,” but it’s only English written by 266,000 fans in the group. This is fame and fun we’re witnessing. And after 29 million copies sold, it would seem we’re all witnessing.

Popular and good writing can be exclusive

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A USA Today story reports that Stephanie Meyer of the Twilight series is now “dominating” the paper’s bestseller list. These books of the undead, and the movie franchise they’ve spawned, are lively enough to have earned her publisher Little, Brown $40 million already. So the author has her own $4 million in royalties to bank.

By most accounts, though, the writing is weak. Especially compared to the Harry Potter series, which USA Today was quick to compare to Twilight. Bestselling seems to be the only point in common. A reading teacher reports as much in the comments on the USA Today site.

I’m a Reading teacher, its my job! And I must say JK Rowling’s books are far superior in writing, character development, plot, and readability, just to name a few things. Meyer is good, but Rowling is great! I put Breaking Dawn down utterly disappointed, compared to the tears of joy and sorrow that were gushing from my eyes when I put The Deathly Hollows down. Meyer may break records, but overall Rowling is Queen.

Does Stephanie love it, and live the creating like Rowling did? Her publicist reports that she’s taking a break from the romance of vampire passion.

When Meyer might publish a new novel isn’t known, says Megan Tingley of Hachette’s Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She’s “enjoying the writing process without a deadline or targeted publication date.

What writer wouldn’t enjoy that kind of writing life? Wealthy beyond her dreams, with only millions of Potter fans and the reading teachers of the world to sniff at her work. As for the publisher, they want the books as fast they can get them, to piggyback on the publicity. As the article points out, Stephanie has tapped the motherlode of young female readers with Twilight, Edward and vampire fantasy. If you desire good and popular writing all at once, working for the first might be a better place to start to get to the second. Unless you’re plugged in to the fantasies of YA-reading women. They buy a lot of books.

I’m reminded of the line from Citizen Kane, when his business manager Bernstein is interviewed. “Making a lot of of money isn’t difficult, if all you want to do it make a lot of money.” I’d be wary of starting a vampire novel just about now, though. When every publisher wanted the next DaVinci Code when it was soaring, imagine how many candidate queries poured in trying to be just like the Flavor of the Last Three Months. The time of just-average writing of vampire teen romances is gone by now.

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 or, register and submit your entry following the instructions on the entry form. In the mean time, go to 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)

Keep a query professional

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Sara MegibowThe Kristen Nelson Literary Agency has a helpful newsletter for the writer who’s nearing a query letter date. That’s the deadline I’m approaching for Viral Times, once the revisions are finished. One of the agents at the Nelson Agency offered this advice about writing the query.

Advice of this type often tells a writer not to do silly things, like mail chocolates along with a letter. But at least the agency’s Sara Megibow (at left) affirms some things you should do in a query to an agent.

  • State that you found our agency through or Preditors and Editors, or, etc.
  • Note that you have looked at our website and have read the submission guidelines
  • Mention any of the books represented by Nelson Agency which you may have read
  • Repeat your contact information right in the body of the query letter (you can hardly ever put your name, title of work and email address in too many places).

These are all things that one might do in a job interview too, and following these guidelines always come across as professional to me.

In order to stay professional, try to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Don’t be overly self-deprecating (i.e. “I know I have no experience and I am sure you don’t have time to read my work, but…”)
  • Don’t be too casual (i.e. “Yo! I love to write and I think my stuff rocks!”)
  • Don’t include religious blessings or quotes in the official query letter (although many people do have these kinds of quotes at the ends of the email as a footer, and that seems fine to me)
  • Don’t be cutesy (we find that fancy fonts or colorful backgrounds do not help the professional tone of the query letter)

Choosing qualified SF markets

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Having a book published is a milestone for every author, no matter who does the printing and selling. But not all publishers are equal in the eyes of the professional writing guilds. I started to look into membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. SFWA is a lot like the other pro writing associations: The Author’s Guild, or the Writer’s Guild of America (for film). These groups take you in, but only after you’re published or produced.

If that sounds like chicken and egg thinking, it might be, until you land your first sale. But not just a sale to anybody, for the SFWA. The group’s Web site lists specific publishers which do not qualify a writer to gain entry into SFWA. The list as of this year:

The following markets may not currently be used for membership purposes. If/when any of these are determined to meet the applicable criteria, they will be moved to the list of qualifying markets. No judgment as to the quality of these markets as publishing venues is in any way expressed or implied by their inclusion on this list.

  • American Book Publishing
  • Armitage House
  • Barbour Publishing
  • Creeping Hemlock Press
  • Crossquarter Publishing Group
  • Embiid Publishing
  • Fairwood Press /
  • Gardenia Press
  • Great Plains Publications
  • Golden Gryphon
  • (for dates after 2/2003)
  • ImaJinn
  • iUniverse
  • Medallion Press
  • Oak Tree Press
  • Oceans of the Mind
  • OnSpec
  • Paradox
  • PublishAmerica
  • Silver Lake Publishing
  • Small Beer Press
  • Spectrum SF
  • Unbelievable Stories (Quill-Pen Press)
  • The Urbanite
  • Vestal Review
  • Wheatland Press (e.g. Polyphony anthology series)
  • Wildside Press
  • Zumaya Press

There’s not much explanation about why these presses don’t earn a writer entry into SFWA — but seeing Xlibris and iUniverse among them indicates a bias against the self-publisher or cooperative publisher. (That latter one is a house where you bring money to invest, in addition to your well-polished MS.)

There’s even a method to submit a publisher for consideration by the SFWA, to be added to its next “membership-earning” list. Noteable for the Austin-based writer: The SFWA gave its 2008 awards, the coveted Nebulas, at the Omni Hotel here in the spring. A fellow named Michael Chabon walked off with the Novel prize for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a great SF novel hiding out as an alternative history. Chabon, of course, took the Pulitzer home for The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Why care about SFWA membership, or membership in the Romance Writers of America? This kind of credit gets you extra attention and perhaps a pass upward to the next level at the Kristen Nelson Literary Agency. Probably plenty of other agents, too. Since you need a sold book, or a few sold short stories, this might be a Catch-22 unless you’re submitting to the short story markets. The SFWA site has a list of qualifying book publishers, too.

Membership in things like the RWA and SFWA is not a requirement to be considered for this agent. But it’s among a list of things to put into a query to the agency. What’s more, the list is something to consider when engaging an agent, like “can you get me into a publishing house that’s on the SFWA list?” This is the big-time tent, if you’re aiming for that.

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