Wednesday, April 29, 2009

RIP Ernie Barnes

By Angela Henry

Acclaimed artist and former Denver Broncos football player Ernie Barnes passed away on Monday at the age of 70. Most people probably don't know Barnes by name. But if, like me, you were a child of the seventies and grew up watching Good Times, then you're probably familiar with his work. Barnes was the artist who painted every piece of JJ's beautiful art work for the show, as well as his most famous painting, The Sugar Shack (above). Every time I see one of Mr. Barnes's amazing paintings, it instantly takes me back to my childhood and Wednesday nights at 8pm watching Good Times. The world has lost a truly talented artist.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sweet Deception book video

By Patricia Sargeant

I'm very excited to share with you the book video for my June 2009 release, Sweet Deception.

In the interest of full disclosure, Sweet Deception is a contemporary romance. The plot doesn't include a mystery or suspense or thriller. The characters are fighting the enemies within rather than external villains.

Reviews have been good, though. RT Book Review gave it a four out of four-and-a-half stars and wrote, "Sargeant's novel develops into an interesting drama with many twists."

CLG Entertainment gave it four-and-a-half out of five stars and wrote, "I like both my male and female leads to be strong, yet vulnerable, and Sargeant handles this wonderfully in Sweet Deception."

It might help if I told you a bit about the plot. Sweet Deception features a dutiful minister's daughter who leads a secret life as an erotic romance author. When she begins an affair with a best-selling thriller author, she's outed and has to choose between duty and desire.

OK. If the above video doesn't work, then click here to view it. Send me your comments and let me know how you enjoy it.

Happy reading and writing!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Deals for Bloggers With Catchy Ideas
By Persia Walker

So what's the latest trend in publishing?

Blog-to-book deals for folks who think up funny subjects, put up a blog, invite user content -- and then sell the whole package for a fat check.

The New York Times is writing about the success of comedy screenwriter Duncan Birmingham who decided to set up a blog featuring pictures of the funny, and sometimes undignified ways, in which people dress their pets. He called the blog Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves. The site went up in January. Visitors immediately started uploading pictures of dogs in underwear, cats dangling in socks, and other photos of that ilk. Not only did the general public think it was a good idea, so did the publishing world. According to the Times, editors and literary agents were contacting Birmingham within a week.

Then, there's the case of the ladies who created a blog that amalgamated funny e-mail exchanges between moms and their grown kids. For Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose, the result wasn't just a well-visited site, but a book called Love, Mom.


The folks behind This Is Why You're Fat enjoyed similarly-attained success.

Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

The sole downside for the blog-owners? They have to track down the people who submitted the materials to begin with and get permission to use them. That, the Times writes, can become a "nightmarish task."

Somehow, I feel no sympathy. I mean, sheesh, these folks should do some work. After all, they're essentially making money off of other people's content. (Which also leads me to ask, why would anyone agree to let someone else make money off of their photos?)

As a writer who, like many writers, labors countless hours over a manuscript, fretting about plotting, characterization, and story arcs, I guess I should be angry over how these non-writers are getting over.

I should be angry, but I'm not. As a matter-of-fact, my little heart of crass commercialism feels only a touch of envy. At the most, I find myself wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Does this lack of resentment stem from my odd, but firm, belief that there really is enough for everyone to go around, or is it disguised despair, or do I genuinely believe that these folks, with their witty ideas, are contributing something?

Perhaps it's a bit of all of that. Humor is something we're in dire need of. Reminders to laugh at ourselves, they're to be valued.

I do think I'm just a bit cynical, too. We all know that American publishers race from one fad to another. They're producing book versions of farcical blogs now, too? Why would that surprise me? Furthermore, I would never assume that money not spent on fad books would be spent on serious ones instead.

I could let this instance of industry foolishness get my dander up, but I refuse to. I choose to leave the anger to others. I choose to believe that eventually real writers will have their day. I choose to believe that the decision-makers in publishing will soon be forced to seriously reconsider their priorities.

Until that day comes, I'll keep writing and I'll keep believing that there's enough to go around.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Niche Buster

By Angela Henry

The thinking behind the black book niche is that being black gives an author a built in audience, that our books appeal solely to other black people, and that no one but black people would be interested in reading books with black characters. Okay, now let’s all laugh together. Well what happens when a black author discovers that the audience that has overwhelmingly embraced her books is outside the black book buying niche?

That’s what best-selling author L.A. Banks discovered about her Vampire Huntress series. Banks recently did an interview with editor Karen Hunter for AOL’s Black where she discussed attending DragonCon a few years ago and meeting her fans

"We were in the heart of Atlanta, where the majority of the population is black, but at the convention center, it was about 99 percent white," said Banks, who graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business and from Temple with a master's in filmmaking.”

"I had about 300 people in my room for a book signing and maybe five of them were black. I had so many white fans complaining about how hard it was to find my books and asking me why it was in the black section. I didn't have an answer. I went back and told my publisher that they had to do something. They needed to get me into the mainstream section of the stores." From L.A. Banks is Queen of the Damned by Karen Hunter, Black

You can click here to read the entire article to find out if Banks and her publisher succeeded in their quest to get her books moved. But the fact that her latest book in the series, The Thirteenth, is a New York Times Best-Seller should give you a clue ; ).


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writing with a Day Job

By Patricia Sargeant

On one of my writers loops, there we had a really great discussion about writing with a day job. Since most of us don't make enough from our publishing contracts to support ourselves, we have to keep the day job.

Now don't get me wrong. Especially in this economy, I drop to my knees every day and give thanks and praise for that regular paycheck. But juggling a demanding full-time job, a family, personal commitments and a publishing deadline can get hairy.

A lot of really great suggestions and ideas came from that discussion. Writing during your lunch hour. Writing before work, if you're a morning person. Writing at night, if you're not.

Some people carry tape recorders. Others carry notepads.

Discipline is key. For me, at the end of the day, it's important to have written a certain number of pages to stay on schedule. Whether I'm writing in the morning, during lunch or at night.

How do you juggle writing with your day job?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Want an Espresso? An Espresso Book Machine That Is
By Persia Walker

Good news for everyone, really. Print-On-Demand books might be coming to your neighborhood stores for real now, print-on-demand as in the ability to print books on the spot, when customers order them.

According to Publisher's Weekly, Lightning Source has entered into an Espresso Book Machine pilot program. The EBM device, which is made by On Demand Books, is said to work fast -- taking only 15 minutes to copy, print and bind books. Apparently, it can print 112 pages per minute, including four-color covers, producing books identical to traditional methods of printing.

Here's a YouTube video of an EBM from 2007. On Demand says it will display an updated model at the London Book Fair, so this video might be a bit dated. But it's still very informative.

LS has gotten some of its leading clients to sign on. That includes Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill, Macmillan and the Hachette Book Group. PW said that readers will soon be able to choose among some 85,000 titles at EBM stores across the country. However, it gave no specifics on which U.S. bookstores might be using the EBM.

So far, Blackwell's, Britain's leading academic bookseller, is the only bookseller I'm aware of to have formally announced its introduction of the EBM in its bookstores. Its news release is giddy with anticipation of increased sales.

It's clear that the EBM offers excellent benefits to booksellers: they needn't ever go out of stock and can offer a huge increase in their number of titles. What does it mean for writers and readers?

For writers whose books are regularly on display, this development mightn't mean anything. But for those whose books have disappeared from the shelves, it could mean a great deal. For self-published authors, whose books were never displayed in stores to begin with, it could be a watershed event.

For this last group, the EBM could help open up a whole new channel of distribution. One of the concerns that has caused bookstores to be so unwilling to stock books by independently- or self-published is fear that the books are unreturnable. Obviously, with the EBM, this isn't a problem. To underscore the point, Blackwell's says it actually "hopes to attract a new audience of eager, budding authors and self publishers keen to see their work in print." So here's a bookstore chain that's not only open to undiscovered talent, but thanks to its use of EBMs, can eagerly embracing it.

The EBM could also offer a lifeline to small, independent bookstores. These stores have suffered because they couldn't offer the kind of inventory available in larger chain bookstores. People would rather go to a large bookstore and make their on-the-spot purchase than go to a small one, order the book and wait a week for it. Now, when it's a matter of purchasing an out-of-stock or unstocked book, they might well decide to go to their neighborhood store rather than trek downtown to the larger store. Who knows? I hope so.

So far, there's only a smattering of EBMs in North America. That could soon change, given the number of titles now available. On Demand Books is seeking to develop the market. It will have a version of the EBM on display at the London Book Fair.

Questions remain, of course. While it's clear that the EBMs could be moneymakers for bookstores, it isn't yet clear how much of an investment they would represent. Some stores, especially smaller ones, might be reluctant to spend a significant sum on such new, and relatively untested, technology, no matter how exciting it might be. It could well be one of those cases in which everyone takes a wait-and-see attitude, then sees that it's working and makes a sudden rush for the gates.

One last point: It would be interesting to see how or if EBM printing affects the retail cost of a book. So far, on-demand printing has resulted in higher costs per unit than traditional off-set methods. Theoretically that wouldn't change with EBMs. However, EBM printing means no more warehousing or transportation costs for publishers. It means fewer returns and no unwanted copies. That means real dollars-and-cents savings. Wouldn't it be nice if such savings were passed on to customers?

As a closet techno-geek, of course, I'm really excited about the advent of the Espresso Book Machine. As a writer, even more so.

Friday, April 03, 2009

AgentFail at BookEnds LLC

Fellow writers or those of you who just want to get a good inside look at the publishing business, literary agent Jessica Faust has opened up an AgentFail thread on her blog, BookEnds. The threat is definitely worth a read.

What's AgentFail? It's a listing of the ways and means in which authors feel their agent has failed them. Examples: Requesting a full manuscript, promising to read it within a month and then sitting on it for months. Submitting the manuscript to the wrong editors at the wrong publishers and then when it's rejected (surprise), telling the author, "There's no market for this."

It's the kind of stuff that writers swap privately, but never dare say publicly -- until now. There are hundreds of posts over there, some bitter, many heartbreaking. It's the kind of airing that's good for the soul, though. Agent Caren Johnson has already written a reply. It's heartfelt and apologetic, but she dodges the main thrust of the objections, and focuses on a minor point. (In reading her post, it strikes me that she's not the kind of agent the writers are talking about. The ones they're complaining about are the kind who wouldn't respond with sympathy, empathy or at all.)

Unfortunately, most of the complaints listed are experienced by most writers who stay in the business long enough. I have to see them as part of the emotional cost of doing business.

#AgentFail, by the way, is the writers' chance to respond to #QueryFail, a day on Twitter when agents got to put out (nicely and sometimes not-so-nicely) the things that writers do to ensure being rejected when submitting a query. On her blog, agent Colleen Lindsay wrote that the intent was not to "mock or be intentionally cruel, but to educate." The fall-out, however, indicated that many writers did indeed feel that too many agents were of the former, not latter, variety.

To be fair, both sides have valid points. In other words, both sides are misbehaving. Janet Reid has a wonderful post on her blog in which she concedes that it's very easy for agents to become ... well, oversold on themselves (to use my words). However, as many of the comments on #QueryFail show, too many writers are undermining themselves by failing to follow some basic and generally applicable guidelines. They're submitting work that falls into a genre that the agent doesn't handle, typing in all caps, or bragging about how wonderful the work is and demanding that the agent drop everything, but everything that exact instant, to read it. To wit, neither side seems to understand what the other side is up against, which is why such events as QueryFail and AgentFail, no matter how painful, are a necessary evil.

There's also a new thread over at Twitter, called #AgentInspire, where writers can say good stuff about their agents. So far, there's only one Tweet.


Today, Jessica had a feel good Friday -- AgentPass and AuthorPass Day -- in which she gave kudos to writers for their professionalism and writers wrote in to share positive experiences with their agents. A good read.

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