BEA is almost here, IDPF is hosting its annual conference, but sadly I am in the Toronto office, plugging away. Still, there is news:
Amazon has acquired Avalon Books acquiring over 3,000 backlist titles in romance, mystery and western. None of the titles have been digitally published. “I’ve been running Avalon Books–which was founded by my father–since 1995, and it is time for me to explore the next chapter of my life,” said Ellen Bouregy Mickelsen, Publisher of Avalon Books. “I chose Amazon Publishing because they care deeply about the writers, readers, and categories that have long mattered to our family business and they are uniquely positioned to assure that our titles make the leap forward into the digital future. I am pleased they have asked me to assist during a period of transition to provide continuity and support for our authors.”
F+W launched their original romance ebook imprint today: Crimson Romance. Welcome! It truly is more like the Romance Wars all over again, which means there is lots of opportunty and choice for authors. Crimson is publishing romance in 5 series and actively looking for submissions.
And, of course, Entangled shared some of their amazing numbers over the weekend. As a fellow publisher I am certainly impressed at how well some of their titles are performing, and do think their covers are excellent. I spent some time on their site this week, and realized the majority of their pricing is $2.99 whether the story is a novella or full-length novel in any range. Of course, the $2.99 pricing is attractive to consumers, but what do writers think about it and the future of pricing for our stories.?Will readers only be willing to spend a few dollars on their books? Or does the $9.99 price of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY show that readers will spend whatever is needed to get the book they want?
What do authors think? Are we jumping at short term gain and about to face a bleak future? What about when the big online retailers decide to change self pub rates (you don’t have a contract with them, so nothing is guaranteed). Seventy percent today could easily be fifty, thirty, or ten tomorrow. Even publishers like Entangled who are using the self pub model at these retailers may find themselves challenged.
It’s not often that Saturday Night Live riffs on a book, so I do have to congratulate author E.L. James at hitting the zeitgist with Fifty Shades of Grey. No matter what you think of it — I liked parts — it has drawn attention to a genre that has has lots of books in it. We’re no slouches at Harlequin so we took advantage by creating an online presence for erotic romance.
It links to a page at the Harlequin blog. Take a look! It’s a fun-in-cheek introduction to the much-steamier side of romance novels.
I also like to make a distinction between erotica and erotic romance. Both feature sex as a driving force of the story, both use a variety of sexual techniques to explore theme and character, but erotic romance still has a HEA (happily ever after). The HEA might be a menage, a master/dom relationship, or something else out or the ordinary but love and commitment drive the story.
Erotica is often considered more literary. Erotic romance as a genre is more recent, with Ellora’s Cave dubbing the term romantica, and has grown quickly in the digital space. If you’re curious take a look at the lists of titles we’ve pulled together to suit different tastes (for the newbie, historicals, bdsm, menage and more). We won’t tell…
The SNL video (make sure your kids aren’t around!)
Amazon scored a woman with a great roledex: Sara Nelson formerly of O, Oprah Magazine and before that Publishers Weekly has joined them as editorial director. From Publishers Weekly.
Torstar reported results.Harlequin is owned by Torstar.
Laura Dawson is moving to R. R. Bowker.
There was lots of buzz last week because TOR ebooks announced they were going DRM free in July. I would note that Carina Press has been DRM free since we launched 2 years ago. Note as well, Pottermore is now selling more legitimate ebooks now that they are available. This supports my ongoing argument that most readers will pay a reasonable amount for ebooks as long as they are available. When they are not available, the reader will still “acquire” the ebook.
Last I have a new job at Harlequin! Okay, it’s very similar to what I was doing but as Director, Editorial Digital Initiatives I am focusing on Author Services, Harlequin Digital-First Content and Carina Press. The exciting part is I am officially part of the editorial team.
I enjoy the Oscars because a group of girlfriends get together to eat hors d’oeuvres, drink lots of wine and dish on the dresses. Fun! While I missed Jimmy Kimmel’s post Oscar show, I certainly enjoyed his movie trailer of every genre, plot and character type mashed up into one movie.
The best part of university, for me, was Alpha Omicron Pi, a *womens fraternity (that’s what we insisted on calling sororities at the Univeristy of Toronto). The education was first class, the downtown Toronto campus beautiful, but the friendships, social activities, business meetings and projects that made up my experience at AOII are what I valued most. I still use the skills I learned at AOII – how to run an effective meeting, organize big projects, attract new members, plan and host social events where everyone feels welcome and engaged – more than any business training I have taken since.
Which is why I decided to organize a minor reunion; dinner at a Toronto restaurant and invitations sent out via social media. A quick kudo to the wonders of social media as it was through Linked In, Facebook and contact lists that I was able to email 18 sisters and 14 of them showed up for dinner last night. (One was a husband, but the brave fellow definitely counts.). The out-of-towners from Calgary and Chicago were the first to repond affirmatively.
But there is something intrinsically scary about any kind of reunion. It is a recurring theme in our category romance novels, because it pulls at such visceral emotions. It seems like a good idea at the time, as we fondly recall the halcyon days of our youth (yes, we can get carried away in our thinking when refecting backwards with words like halcyon, carefree youth, friends forever) and then it’s the actual day and you worry if you will have anything to talk about or if you will rcecognize your university friends or worse if they don’t recognize you. It has been almost **30 years since I’d seen a few.
The evening was a great success. A couple of people were early so there were several of us in place at the start. And then for the next hour every ten minutes a new person would arrive. We had a private room at the back of the restaurant so everyone was able to make an entrance. Of those I had not seen in years it would take me 3 seconds to realize who they were and then in 30 seconds they looked just like they had when we hung out at the ***frat house.
This is us.
Much thanks as well to Boland’s Open Kitchen. Not only were the food and service excellent but their private room was ideal. They set up a large rectangular table and when the doors were closed the restaurant did not have to hear us but we could converse and move around. Thank you, Boland.
*There was some official reason as to why we called it a women’s fraternity having to do with the Greek definition of fraternity, but really, it was just pretentious and an attempt to differentiate us from the sorority stereotypes.
**This is how long ago our university days were: a group of us were at the opening of the Madison Avenue Pub. The first day. It was only the basement. It now spreads over 3 Annex houes. Buffalo wings were new. New.
***Okay, some habits are really hard to break.
“I’ve written a great book, why should I write a good synopsis? Can’t the editor tell the brilliance of my book from my book? After all, isn’t that what an editor is paid to do: read books?”
Every Monday night after I have finished my reading for “Acquisition Tuesday” I get the feeling that writers must ask themselves the above question at least subconsciously.
On Tuesday we have our acquisition meeting for Carina Press (and I usually have 2 books to have read and report on). I also attend a Harlequin acquisition meeting, where I have to admit I do a little more skimming. With the Carina acquisitions I’ve been assigned I always read at least the first three chapters and more often at least twenty percent of the manuscript (my Kindle tells me where I am) before reaching for the synopsis. Last night, one of the books was sort of okay, but not brilliant, so I eagerly read the synopsis to see how it turned out. The synopsis was dead; a lifeless piece of prose that outlined the plot but showed nothing of the characters, revealed nothing about how/why the hero and heroine fall in love, did not showcase the author’s voice and even left several plot holes dangling. The second book I read was great, and I it read all the way to the end, until 2 a.m., because I loved it so much. I didn’t need the synopsis but I read it and it fulfilled all the things the first synopsis did not. It had voice, character development, explained the romance and the mystery and showcased the author’s writing strengths.
I often sigh in our acquisition meetings about the poor quality of the synopsis. That because the author did not answer my questions I was voting to reject rather than accept (the manuscripts that come forward at acquisition have already made it past an editor who wants to acquire the book). And sometimes an author does not even include a synopsis.
This makes me wonder if writers understand how many different ways a synopsis is used in a publishing house, so I’m going to list them. I am sure I will miss some but the most important thing for writers to realize, especially after they are contracted, is that your synopsis is the only part of your writing some people who will work on your book will read.
If your synopsis doesn’t sing; if it doesn’t sparkle, zig and zag, highlight your voice and strengths, then the flat, dull prose is what people who are working on your book will think about your book (those creative types who write the cover copy, make the cover, etc.)
When and how is a synopsis used in a publishing house:
- By readers on the acquisition team. Sometimes we read the entire book. Sometimes we read the first few chapters, skim the middle and then read the end. Sometimes, after the opening chapters we are ambivalent and turn to the synopsis to answer our questions about the plot, characters and writing. Your synopsis can sell your book.
- By the person who writes the cover copy. It’s rare when the copywriter receives more than the synopsis. This is why you need to deliver the flavor of your book in the synopsis. If your book is funny your synopsis should be funny. Same for scary, suspenseful, emotional, etc.
- By the person who creates your cover image. People judge a book by its cover. The book artist judges your book by your synopsis.
- By the subrights team. Our team attends the Frankfurt and London book fairs, has contacts with movie agents, audio houses, large print houses. The list a good subrights person can sell your books rights to goes on and on.
- At Harlequin, our reader service book club reads the synopses to see if there are any books published by Carina Press that could fit into their book club. If the answer is yes the book is printed and goes into the homes of thousands of avid readers.
- Harlequin is a global company. Our overseas partners and licensees read synopses to fill local markets needs. Italy likes historical romances. France is keen on the paranormal. Did your synopis sell your book to an overseas editor. Remember this highly educated person is reading English as a second language (or third or fourth language, those Europeans!) so flow and entertainment are important!
- A reporter has called about an article and wants some information. What do you think we send?
- I’m sure I’ve missed several other ways we use synopses….
A last story. Years ago when I managed Harlequin Love & Laughter we had a deal with a production company that was filming a series of Harlequin TV movies based on novels by some of the biggest names in the business at that time: Linda Howard, Debbie Macomber, Jayne Ann Krentz. They were one book short for the twelve movies they were going to shoot and an email was sent out to forward any synopsis for novels that included a suspense element. I had a brand new author whose romantic comedy had a mystery subplot and I also remembered the author has written a delightful query letter. I called her and told her she had to get me a one page synopsis written in her entertaining, comic voice by 5 p.m. so that I could forward it to the movie company. She did. Two weeks later she was signing the movie contract.
A good synopsis can help sell your book.
The movie, renamed Recipe for Revenge:
In this week’s episode of this delightful and always-improving sitcom, Sheldon decides to apologize to Amy by giving her a gift.
I watched the premiere episode of Big Bang and was not impressed. I thought the characters were too stock, and the pretty blonde, Penny in particular, added nothing to the show, so I never returned until I listened to the TV Guide podcast and the commentors convinced me to give the show another try. I’m glad they did because it has been a staple ever since. As I seem to find fewer and fewer shows worth spending my time on, I am always glad when Big Bang is on because I can rely on it.
One of the changes I like most about this show is the addition of more female characters: Bernadette, Amy and Priya had joined the gang. Moreover, I like the fact that Penny, Bernadette and Amy have become friends. They are not extensions of the men or plot conveniences but developing characters who are interesting. The women often hang out together, completely separate from the men, something I wish more series books included.
We’ve learned a lot about Penny over the years and seen her grow because of her friendship with the nerdy scientists. It makes complete sense that she would now be friends with intelligent, successful women like Bernadette and Amy. The writers also showed us that Bernadette is not maternal (show don’t tell) and we learned why from her back story about raising her younger brothers and sisters. She does not want to give up everything she’s accomplished in order to care for a child stuffing Cheerios up their nose.
But the writers are also willing to show our humorous weaknesses, hence Amy’s reaction to the tiara. I love Mayim Balik’s weak-kneed, complete body response to the ultimate princess symbol. Brilliant.
As National Novel Writing Month comes to a close tomorrow, I was thinking about what it means and why people participate. After all, it’s a crazy challenge: write an entire novel in one month. 30 days to write somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 words? That’s at least 1,666 words per day, if you are writing a short book. (Figuring out daily word count is probably the only time most writers use their calculator.)
But if anything NaNoWriMo seems to be growing in popularity. Why?
It’s because writing is hard and solitary. NaNoWriMo is a community so you can engage with like minded people. Not only can you create an online profile and keep track of your writing, but you can also meet up with fellow writers. For once the group with laptops at a coffee shop might be actual writers. I also adore the fact that NaNoWriMo does not discriminate. Literary novels and genres novels are both welcomed and accepted. Many published authors also use the event to spur them forward.
The deadline is incredibly helpful; no matter what you try you can’t make December 1 not come on time.
But I think most important aspect is the aspirational goal: write an entire novel.
Aspirational goals drive us forward. To do something most people would consider impossible. Think of the Wright brothers. Or Edison. Or Steve Jobs. They dreamed big and accomplished big. That’s the heart of NaNoWriMo.
Your novel will not be perfect at the end of the month, but if you worked hard you will have something you did not have on October 31.
So to all of you who have been taking part, congratulations and well done. And you have about 33 hours to make your aspirational goal!
(A list of novels that have been published from NaNoWriMo.)