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>Open Thread

>Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Saturday morning open thread. This is your chance to toss out questions, comments, and all sorts of stuff. Just remember, no spoiled fish or other stinky things. It is so hard to get the smell out of Blogger when you guys do that. Any way, there’s been a lot of news in the publishing world this week if you want to talk about that. Or if you have a specific question you want to ask, here’s your chance. One other thing, if there’s a specific topic you want us to cover in depth, let us know.

And now, before I crawl away to find more coffee, the floor is yours!

>Warm Ups

> I’ve gone back to exercising recently after a bit of a break, and despite my best efforts ended up tearing a muscle.

I blame the Brisbane City Council bus service.

Getting home and back out in time for Tae Know Do training is tight at the best of times. I usually end up five to ten minutes late, but thankfully the instructor is flexible (no pun intended). This time the damn 114 bus never turned up. After 40min waiting, myself and another frustrated bus goer hoicked it to the Myer Centre to catch the 120 – which of course, was also late. At least it arrived. On the other end I had a 10min sprint to get to my house, change then race for the training hall. All in all I was just over 40min late for a 1 1/2 hour class. Now that would have been fine, but this particular, cold rainy Brisbane winter day, my muscles did not agree. I did some quick stretches, then tried to do a fast series of front kicks to warm myself up for sparring, on the fifth kick. Ouch!! I had torn my left calf muscle. My first muscle tear. Instant invalid. I’ve been hobbling around ever since (slight consolation is female sympathy, women now hold lift doors open for me:)).

So that got me thinking. OK. Warm-ups are important, especially if you have done a lot of training in a short period of time and your muscles are fatigued (which is what happened to me – too much training without enough rest trying to ‘get back into it’). Why should writing be any different?

I often chastise myself for sitting down at the computer and finding it hard to flick a switch into creative flow, like I should be some sort of creative machine – a literary Spock. But what about the warm-up?

Perhaps juggling a few adjectives? Lifting heavy metaphors or running a tight course through some tricky punctuation?

Take some new words that have caught your attention (this week mine all start with ‘p’ – pernicious, pusillanimous) and construct a few fun sentences. Try writing about something that has been teasing at your mind, maybe a few ideas, or describe something that caught your attention (absolutely awesome mist in Brisbane this morning. Looked fantastic across the trees of nearby Toohey Forest. The airports were closed).

How do you warm yourself up for writing? Or do you regularly tear your writing muscles and limp from paragraph to paragraph? Got any suggestions for fun writing warm ups?

>Of Eminence and Grease

Quick question: who is the most influential person in a typical company? Hint: it’s not the boss. It’s not the owner (unless the company is very small). It’s probably not you, because the people who read this blog are mostly not into the whole making friends and influencing people thing, and people tend not to want to employ subordinates who are smarter than they are.

If you look closely, you’ll find the real power usually lies with the boss’s secretary (or personal assistant, or whatever they call it). If there’s no-one who formally fills that role, look for someone who talks to pretty much everyone and who everyone goes to for the news about anything. There’ll be one who the boss listens to. And if you’re employed in that company, do not, under any circumstances, piss that person off.

It’s pretty simple if you know what to look for, and it happens wherever there’s a power structure that’s too big for the person at the top to follow (or there’s too much information out there). The CEO, or President, or King, or Lord High Thingamajig ends up with someone filtering out all the little things that someone else can handle, and passing on the important stuff.

A gatekeeper, in other words. If the King never sees your petition for justice, he’s not going to grant it. And if the boss never sees your wonderful work, he’s not going to reward it. Same principle, similar results. From such are bureaucracies born…

This is where the grease comes in. If you can’t convince the gatekeeper on the merits of your situation, there’s a long, long history of convincing the gatekeeper by means of a little palm-greasing. Leading to those that have getting more while those that don’t have get less, since the noble with the biggest purse can afford the best bribes and get little things like laws adjusted to his favor (side note of trivia: privilege is derived from the Latin for ‘private law’. There really are two sets of law, one for the super-wealthy and one for everyone else). Uncorruptibles are few and far between, and usually won’t be found working for any government of any color.

Even so, eventually the gatekeeper’s load gets too much, so he acquires a set of advisors/assistants. Enter the beginnings of a bureaucracy that’s founded on keeping people away from the top, not “serving” the populace.

Yes, I’m cynical. The thing about bureaucracies is that as long as they exist, they’re important in all the wrong ways. Never piss one off – it’s not possible to go through life without dealing with them, and angry bureaucrats have all sorts of untrackable ways to take revenge. Files get ‘lost’. Or end up on the bottom of the queue. Or some obscure rule no-one’s ever heard of before applies to you. You can run into this even without upsetting one of them: all it takes is a body of law so complex it has cracks and the misfortune to fall into one.

And grease applied to the eminence is the way around the entire mess – worse, it tastes lousy, even with ketchup. I think it might even be one of those universal truths.

p.s. For those who are wondering, this whole post is born from a bit of punnage involving the term ‘eminence grise‘. Personally, I prefer greasy eminence.

>The Best Laid Plans


Appropriate to do this, of course, on a day when I’m late posting. It’s not that I didn’t leave enough time to write last night. I did. My mind just refused to cooperate.


I’ve heard no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. With me, no plan seems to survive contact with the real world.

One of the things that amuses me is looking back, say, on my college years. I took a degree in languages and teaching. Now I’ve done many things since leaving college but I only used my degree for about a year and a half and even then a lot of the translation I did was Portuguese to English which I could have done without a degree and German to English, which I could have done after highschool.

Then there was the kid thing. We waited a year before having kids because we were going to have a large family and wanted to have a year for ourselves first. Six years of infertility treatment after that first year, we produced one child. And then we said “That’s it. We’re not having more treatments, so that is our large family.” Four years later, I found out I was six months pregnant. And then we said “Oh, it fixed itself. Now we’ll have one every year.” Do I need to say there’s been no third child?

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Well, plans are particularly funny when they are made about writing. At least for me, they are. Most people I know have some sort of contact between plan and career.

I started writing science fiction. I was going to be a science fiction writer. Twenty years later, I was published in Fantasy, Mystery and Historic Fictionalized Biography with multiple books in each when my first science fiction book (written 13 years before) came out. Now I start when I hear myself called a “science fiction writer.” For years, that’s how I thought of myself, even as everyone else called me a “Fantasy writer”. Now it seems too late.

However at this point I’m not taking any bets. It’s entirely possible that if I should end up being remembered by the future it will be for something I haven’t even yet written. Maybe the future will consider everything I’ve done so far my apprenticeship and will consider me a great writer for … scripts. YA romance. Techno-pop-Fantasy. Or some other genre yet to be invented.

So, what’s my point with this, other than depressing you?

To tell you not to be depressed. To tell you to give yourself permission to fail, sometimes and to leave enough room in your plan to adapt to the unforeseen. To tell you in the distance view, this will all make sense, even when it doesn’t. And that if you keep trying, something will come of it.

Take the above – when no one would take my science fiction, I could write fantasy because I’d uh… done a couple of novels in it. I could write mystery because I’d read as much as fantasy and science fiction. If I’d refused that early offer on the fantasy novel and said “I’m a science fiction writer” chances are I wouldn’t be published in either today.

I’m not saying sometimes it doesn’t break your heart. I broke my heart over the cancellation of the Musketeer Series. But I took the opportunity to write a contemporary mystery, which seems to be doing well.

Oh, look, I know what it’s like to have plans fail and fail and fail. Did you think I INTENDED to write for nine years before I sold a word of what I wrote? Or to sell a short story four times (and never see it in print, btw) before I sold another? Sometimes it seems as if your heart is so shattered you don’t have a heart anymore. This is what my grandmother called a good time to turn your guts into a heart and forge on.

The thing is, if you read anyone’s bio, you’ll find the same sort of thing. And even if you look at the shelves of your favorite authors’ works, you’ll find there’s some books you don’t care for. If that were the only thing they ever wrote, how would you judge them? Do you realize sometimes those were their own favorite books, the ones they thought would go big? (And sometimes did. You just hate them.)

So, gird your loins (don’t grill them! Well, unless they’re not yours) and start walking down that old glory road. There’s gold in them there hills. Or maybe the other ones a bit to the side. We’ll find out when we get there. Plan but stay ready for serendipity. The way to do this is to plan on what YOU are going to do, not on the response. Don’t say “I’m going to write a bestseller” say “I’m going to write three novels and submit them. And if they don’t sell, I’m going to write three more.” However, keep your mind on the dream, on what you’d LIKE. It’s my firm belief that you’ll get there, if you only keep it in mind and remain flexible and working.

And because at this point you’re not nearly depressed enough, one good way to focus on your long-term dreams, without making them into plans that make you unable to react to here and now is to write your epitaph. Leave out your date of death and – if you wish – manner of death (though amusing ones are welcome) and other personal details, but write what you’d like to be remembered for.

Here is mine – you can write yours when you stop laughing –

Sarah A. Hoyt, aka Sarah D’Almeida, aka Elise Hyatt, aka Nikita Marques, aka Carolina Haute, died yesterday after being nibbled to death by ducks. It appears she ran out of bread and the ducks took revenge.

She is known to fans of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror and romance. She will however probably be most remembered for her science fiction. In a career spawning almost sixty years, she created a vivid and compelling “future history” to rival Heinlein’s. (Whom she was always very flattered to find herself compared to, even if it was just “oh, look, they’re both carbon life forms.”) Into that history she wrote men and women of extraordinary courage, who face their world and its changes unafraid, and whose example inspired a generation of men and women. She will be remembered by her husband, children, cats, but mostly by those ducks.

Your turn!

>The Battle of the Apostrophe!

>Warning, Rant.

What happened to teaching basic grammar in school?

Many people seem to think that the possessive apostrophe is optional. Or they use it everywhere, just to be sure.

‘He see’s a problem!’ Gahhhh!

Even if you weren’t taught grammar in school, it is easy to learn. There are many helpful sites on the internet. Like this one. It has lots of sub topics so you can chase down exactly what you want to know.

Or Daily Grammar which was put together by someone even more obsessed than me. Or the Grammar Monster , a free online reference for business writers and students. Or this one where, if you have the internet, you can learn English using their tutorials. Did you know that a ‘Gerund’ is a noun made into a verb by adding ‘ing’.

How about that Google? We say I googled it. I am googling it. I will google it. I have googled it. He is going to google it. The tenses go on and on.

And then there are the tricky words. I am constantly correctly ‘affect’ and ‘effect’. Here is a site with an explanation of commonly confused words. And here is the Research Haven, with a list of words that are commonly mixed up. This is one I correct all the time.

Its is the possessive for it. (The dog ate its supper.)
It’s is the contraction for it is. (It’s another cold day.)

And then there are the times people just accept spellchecker without switching on their brains.

The creator made the earth in seven days, it is the ‘crater’!

The thing is, if you are trying to write you are trying to say something specific. If you get your grammar wrong, it changes the meaning. If you choose the wrong word, it changes the meaning. And that is without even trying to create a distinctive voice, or convey the nuances of character.

It’s been a long day, I’m going to make myself a strong cup of tea, now. Is it just me and I’m being overly obsessive?

>May you stay forever young

>The Golden Age of Science Fiction is supposed to be 15. And seriously the one thing our genre needs is the youth. It’s been heading into the silver age, and rapidly toward the bald and toothless age for years now — something evidenced by where money is being made: out of hardbacks. They’re expensive, not something that your young, experimenting audience is buying. So when they get to being your main source of income… you have a problem – you can come up with all sorts of arguments saying it just ain’t so, but, well follow the money. On another list I belong to a rather predictable old chestnut came up from some of the younger writers, who, as something completely original which has never ever happened before, reckoned it was time the old geezers who were blocking up the ladder to the stars get bumped off to retirement so they can rise and bring some young audiences along with them. Some peeps then predictably said it wasn’t happening and really there was no greying of the audience, and xyz authors were young and exciting and appealing to the youth… The youths cheered and added a few more names of young Turks appealing to the t’yoof o’ today. A happy little bit of stick-in-the-mud un-hip granny-and-gramp writer (you know – old, like… over 40) bashing ensued. They really are terrible and so out of touch, these fossils… should NEVER write teens or YA, yadda yadda….

And then some miserable elderly curmudgeon RUINED the party, by pointing out that of the list of ‘young hip examples’ were ALL over 40 when they wrote the books, and several of them wouldn’t see sixty again either. I was keeping a low profile but shaking my elderly gray head and thinking that I’d beat the young whippersnappers to death with my Zimmer frame just as soon as I got it out of the kayak. I’d have bitten them too, only I left my dentures drying next to the spear-gun. See… I’ve read some of the work of the youth who thought they’d attract a young audience. Some of it is quite good. But none of it really appeals to an entire young audience — I’d say it appeals to that subsection (principally female in their case) young audience who wants to be thought old and sophisticated, and you know, adult (like, you know, like 23). It’s got fashion and sex and teen angst (which is pretty much like angst from any age group) and… well that’s about it. It’s a real audience. And they’re reaching it. But it’s not ‘the youth’. It’s just a fragment of the whole young audience, the wanna-be adult section, who perceive that sort of thing as the essence of adulthood. I’m happy they have writers that appeal. No one ever will get the whole audience, but well, for boys anyway, James H. Schmitz would do better on the appeal. He’s been dead some years, and, um, would be little long in the tooth by now. But here is the point: his writing isn’t. It’s still full of a boyish enthusiasm and fast moving adventure. It’s accessible, easy to read, and um… entirely free of angst. There’s not much sex or fashion either, actually. And herein lies my theme for today: There are authors who are themselves good at relating to younger people — I suspect I am one of them, at least for the kids who don’t desperately want to be adults, (I dunno. Ask Chris’s kids) but who love the joys of fish, mud and a fire on the beach. There are a small subsection of kids 5% of teen males and maybe 20% of teen girls I have huge difficulty talking to. Boring brats trying to pretend to be grown-up without the experience or intellect to make them more than cardboard cut-outs of what they think adult is, IMO. But then I never really got this whole adult bit too well myself, so maybe it’s just me. There are other writers who do the teen-angst well – Misty Lackey really gets through to them. It’s REALLY truly nothing to do with the biological age of the author.

But that’s my two cents. So what does the genre need to get more readers involved in the Golden Age? Sex? Violence? Tech savvy? Adventure? Language? My youthful writer friends say that as by 15 50% of teen girls are sexually experienced it’s got to have more sex. Grittier and kinkier they think will work. While I can believe that might have more appeal to that 50%, I would like to add a couple of small caveats – firstly most of us are liars about sex (the average 15 year old pimple-face who tells you he’s getting lots is a prime example), and secondly even if 50% is the real figure, if you had to take the kids who will ever read for pleasure and do the same analysis… I think you’ll find readers are often in the other 50%… which is why they have time and inclination to read. For some it will be wish-fulfilment. But it is a very broad and segmented audience, a lot of whom did not read Harry Potter for the sex.

So – repeat – how do we get that young audience?

>It’s an Odyssey

>The general definition of an odyssey is an extended adventurous voyage or trip, or an intellectual or spiritual quest. If you’ve kept up with news from the publishing world this week, you’ll probably agree with me that this profession is on an odyssey right now, on odyssey of exploration of new technologies, new relationships and — unfortunately perhaps — new conflicts as the struggle for domination continues between the traditional and the innovative.

All right, I hear you asking how this week has been any different from the last year or so. Two things stand out, in my opinion. Both of these are indicators that the business of publishing has changed much faster and in ways that are rocking the traditional publishing business plan so badly that the little leak in the boat has become a flood. How the “agency plan” publishers react very well may be the make-or-break point for them.

The first item that caught my eye in the last week or so was Amazon’s announcement that the first quarter sales for the year saw more e-books being sold than hard covers. Specifically, it announced a ratio of 143 e-books sold for every 100 hard covers. In the last month, the difference has increased to 180 e-books sold for every 100 hard covers. Is this the tipping point for e-books, I don’t know. I think if it isn’t, we are almost there. And, yes, that slight tremor you feel is the “Agency Five” quaking in their boots and trying to hide it.

To put that into perspective, the American Association of Publishers has released its May sales stats. Books sales increased in May 9.8% and sales are up 11.6% for the year. That’s the good news:

The Adult Hardcover category was up 43.2% percent in May with sales of $138.5 million; sales for the year-to-date are up by 21.7% percent. Adult Paperback sales decreased 2.2 percent for the month ($110.7 million) but increased by 15.7 percent for the year so far. Adult Mass Market sales decreased 14.6 percent for May with sales totaling $54.6 million; sales were down by 7.3 percent year-to-date. . . E-book sales grew 162.8 percent for the month ($29.3 million), year-to-date eBook sales are up 207.4 percent. [emphasis added] Year-To-Date E-book sales of the 13 submitting publishers to that category currently comprise 8.48 % of the total trade books market, compared to 2.89% percent for the same period last year. . .

So, e-books for these 13 publishers total less than 9% of the market. However, if we were to take into account all books bought in this country, I have a sneaking suspicion that number would be much different. But that is just supposition on my part. However, the rate of growth for e-book sales by the 13 publishers who reported to AAP is telling. Yes, that tremor we felt earlier is getting stronger.

Finally, the news that turned the tremor into a full-blown quake has certain publishers threatening dire consequences. In case you haven’t heard, Wednesday, Andrew Wylie announced an exclusive deal with Amazon to bring out 20 “modern classics” as e-books. Among the authors involved are: John Updike, Salmon Rushdie, Philip Roth, and Vladimir Nabokov. You can just imagine the roar that went up from the offices of publishers throughout New York. “These books are still in print. They are still under contract. They are ours! Oh, wait, there’s no clause in the contract for electronic or digital rights. Well, that doesn’t matter. There is language there somewhere that will cover it. We know there is. So, Andrew Wiley, you can’t do this.”

Yes, I’m being facetious here. But it does point out the problem facing publishers, authors or their estates with the changing of technology. These contracts written years, sometimes decades ago are out-of-date with the times. And the publishers aren’t renegotiating. So agents are looking for alternatives for their clients.

And there is, in the short term at least, going to be fall-out not only for the publishers but for the agents and their clients, even clients who aren’t involved in the Odyssey 20 deal. “The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this agency as our direct competitor,” Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said in a news release on Thursday. “Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.”

In Mr. Wylie’s defense, if he needs to be defended, he noted in his announcement that the deal to bring out the Odyssey books was limited to those books where the publishers did not have the digital rights. “The fact remains that backlist digital rights were not conveyed to publishers, and so there’s an opportunity to do something with those rights.” This has been, in my opinion, an issue since the onset of e-books. If the publisher has the digital rights to an author’s backlist, then why not bring them out, if for no other reason than as promotional tools for the newer books?

Needless to say, the industry is standing up and paying attention to what happens next. The “Agency 5” publishers are taking the hard line and saying that Wylie’s actions are wrong and injurious not only to the authors but to the publishers and the industry as a whole. Some traditional booksellers are worried that this action is just the tip of the iceberg and will further erode their business. Agents are watching closely to see what happens — some are probably acting like sharks attracted by chum, circling to see if any of Wylie’s 700 clients jump ship — while others are thinking about how they can follow Wylie’s example for their own clients. Then there are the writers. We are a wide and diverse lot. You’ll find any number of reactions from us. For myself, I applaud Mr. Wylie and his agency for what they have done. My only fear is that this will cause publishers to insert clauses into their contracts that give them digital rights — no biggie here if there is reasonable compensation for the author. The key term being reasonable — but that they will also amend the term “still in print” so that as long as a nominal number of digital copies of a book are being sold, it will considered “in print” for all forms of the book, thereby all but preventing the rights from ever reverting back to the author.

Some other links about this issue:
Galley Cat
Jason Pinter

So, what do you think? Did Wylie make a good move for his clients, all of his clients, or will this wind up backfiring? Should publishers be able to claim the digital rights for books that are “still in print” but were contracted before the advent of e-books and for which they have not executed contract amendments? Is this the tipping point for e-books?