Wednesday, March 28, 2012


On Monday, March 26, RWA announced the finalists in the Rita (for books published in 2011) and the Golden Heart (for books by unpublished writers). This post is solely about the Rita--not the Golden Heart--and I am announcing at the outset that this is only my opinion and I may be prejudiced because, although several years ago a novel of mine was a finalist in the Golden Heart (Second Place they called it at that time), my published book wasn’t listed in the nominations for the Rita on Monday.

Considering what’s happening in publishing these days, it strikes me that other writers may have the same concerns as I do, and perhaps we need to bring the subject out into the open.

As has been the case for as many years as I’ve been a member of RWA, every book nominated in every category was a book which was published by the “Big 6 plus Harlequin” or a subsidiary. In fact, in two categories this year, every nominated book was a Harlequin release. No exceptions.

How could this still be true today when statistics show that as many independently published books are available (or may even outnumber) traditionally published books? Every week I read stories about authors whose novels were rejected by the big publishers, but, after they self-published them, they sold thousands, even millions, of copies. Why were they not nominated for the Rita?

Of course RWA has a criteria for when an Indie published book is eligible and perhaps none were even entered. There are probably an equal number of books published by small presses which also meet RWA guidelines. I know several authors besides me whose books were published by small houses and entered in the Rita but were not nominated. Yet, the guidelines for entering the Awards stated that members should enter long before the deadline because they expected an overwhelming number this year. Presumably books by new publishers. But none of them got nominated.

I was aware that in the past only novels published by big publishers ever gained these nominations, and hence the awards, but I hoped this year--thanks to all the new books by new publishers now available--it might be different. In addition, my book was a love story set on the Titanic, and this is the year of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. James Cameron is re-releasing his film, Titanic, and many national magazines carry articles about the disaster. Plus, my novel received three Five-Star reviews. In addition, many of my readers, and at least one of the reviewers, admitted to weeping as she read the scenes of husbands watching their wives get into lifeboats and knew they would never see them again.

Really, I’m perfectly okay with the assumption that my book was simply not good enough to be nominated for a Rita, but no small press books were good enough? Did the judges actually read those books?

I know judges are busy (I’ve been a judge but not for the Rita) and must work toward a deadline which might cause some to skim a book, or not finish reading it. I’m also aware that judges of contests are sometimes prejudiced from the start when they encounter a book from a heretofore unknown publisher. They simply assume that if it wasn’t published by the Big Six, it can’t possibly be any good, so why bother reading it?

I hope I’m wrong about that, but we’ll never know, will we?

Dear fellow-writers, What do you think about this? Did you have a book published by a small press and enter it in the Rita?

Big Six
Golden Heart

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


vMost writers get rejected before they begin to sell. Even after you’ve published something, you can still get rejected. Every book must stand on its own. Only Stephen King, Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts can sell anything they write.

But don’t take rejection personally. It might have come from a female editor whose husband just dumped her. Or a male editor whose ex-wife has the same name as your heroine. Or they had a cold that day. Or the sun was shining. If your story is good, it will find a home eventually. My novel SOUTHERN STAR was rejected nineteen times before Avalon Books bought it two years ago.

AUNTIE MAME was rejected sixteen times. LUST FOR LIFE was rejected seventeen times. THE GINGER MAN was rejected thirty-six times. All of those books were published and are so well-known I didn’t even have to mention the authors’ names.

Pearl Buck’s novel, THE GOOD EARTH, was rejected thirty-one times before it sold, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize. One publisher said, “The American public is not interested in anything about China.”

Of Joseph Heller’s CATCH 22, a rejection letter said, “This is a continual and unmitigated bore.”

Tony Hillerman’s first book got this one. “If you insist on rewriting this, take out all that Indian stuff.”

Of John LeCarre’s novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, an editor wrote, ”You’re welcome to Le Carre. He hasn’t any future.”

And then Sol Stein received this rejection letter from an editor in China. “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. Were we to publish your story, it would be impossible for us to publish in the future any work of a low standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years, we shall see its equal, we are, to our great regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you, a thousand times. to overlook our shortsightedness, temerity and lack of imagination.”

Have you had any unusual rejection letters? Come and share.

Pearl Buck, Tony Hillerman,
Joseph Heller, John LeCarre,
Stephen King, Danielle Steel,
Nora Roberts

Friday, March 16, 2012


Here’s my take on the current controversy over Amazon versus the Big 6 publishers. If the Justice Department prevails, proving five publishers and Apple “colluded” to raise e-book prices, some fear Amazon will go back to heavy discounting of important books, cutting into the profit for both publishers and bookstores. The “Amazon wins” scenario scares lots of readers who fear they’ll benefit in the short term, but lose in the future if Amazon becomes the only game in town and then raises prices. That’s what price-fixing laws are supposed to prevent.

Companies with plenty of cash, like Amazon, can sell books (or anything) at a loss until they’ve killed competition completely, which is what anti-monopoly laws are supposed to prevent. Where are they in this argument?

The final judgement has yet to occur. The publishers and Apple might settle the lawsuit with some kind of compromise that solves, or at least mitigates, the problem. Even if they don’t, at this point it’s hard to know what will happen down the road.

I like Amazon, and I also like Apple, Barnes & Noble and others in the book business. That includes some of the Big 6. I’m not published by them (I’ve been with smaller publishers) and would like to be if only for the prestige they currently enjoy.

Which is not to say those guys have been smart lately. They didn’t see the handwriting on the wall, and some are still not moving into the future. Read J.A. Konrath’s blog about those he calls “legacy” publishers to learn what mistakes many of them have made. Some authors praise Amazon if only because the Big 6 “got what was coming to them.”

But, that said, they’re hardly suffering no matter how often they bad-mouth Amazon. Sure, their sales of hardcover and trade paper books have fallen, but their balance sheets haven’t suffered much. And where is this extra income arriving from? E-books of course. They cost virtually nothing to produce and provide authors only piddling amounts in royalties.

Furthermore, at least two publishers I know of are moving into digital in a big way. Random House has a new division called “Romance at Random” for digital only books. Grand Central is doing the same with its “Forever Yours” division. And both have opened their submissions to unagented authors. Methinks I see a ploy to try to snag talented writers who might otherwise decide to self-publish with Amazon. Is this good or bad? If these new lines raise royalty rates on e-books to rival Amazon’s, it might be a good thing. But I don’t know.

What do you think? Are you still trying traditional publishing or have you already switched to Indie?

Big 6
Barnes & Noble
Random House
Grand Central
J.A. Konrath

Thursday, March 8, 2012


In my last post, I mentioned the tsunami alert when I was in Hawaii and how it sparked the idea for my novel STRANGER IN PARADISE. And I could give other examples of how events in my life provided ideas for plots. But ideas come from everywhere.

Last week the post on Anne Allen’s blog (a “must read” for me) answered the frequently asked question, “How Do You Learn to be a Writer?” At the end she asked her readers to name their influences and “Read” was at the top of most lists, as it was on mine. In fact, reading good writing not only teaches you how to write effectively, but often what to write. Think of all the novels sparked by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen. I started a series about Sherlock Holmes myself--stay tuned.

And reading books is not the only way to get ideas for characters and plots. High on the list are movies, television and stage plays. Television is especially lucrative in terms of stories, because you can find them at almost every hour of the day, every day. Remember the old Alfred Hitchcock TV shows? Well, one short story writer would watch those programs, and halfway through he’d try to figure out “whodunit.” If he was wrong, he used his own version to write a short story and then sold it. Where? To Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if afternoon soap operas have been the inspiration for a whole shelf of romance and mystery novels.

Movies often get things wrong because the writers are focusing on the particular story they want to tell--and especially adding some violence and special effects to please the largest segment of Friday night filmgoers, teenagers. So their faux pas can spark ideas for a story of your own.

A stage play with only two characters inspired a book with an expanded cast by a friend of mine, and a well-known musical was responsible for a novel about a young woman with ambition who must fight against daunting odds. Mama Rose, maybe?

Keep a notebook handy when watching television or your latest Netflix movie, and--if an idea strikes--write it down quickly.

And, oh yes, did I mention that eavesdropping on conversations in theatres, restaurants, and elevators has been the beginning of many a well-told tale? I once heard of a couple who loved to get on a crowded elevator and start to tell an exciting story and then get off just before the climax. They did it for fun and really had no ending in mind, but did anyone who heard one of their “prank” stories turn it into a best-selling novel a few months later? We’ll never know.

Confession time: Did you ever use a book, movie or TV plot to prime your “idea-seeking” mind?