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Monday, December 17, 2007

Ruth & Jon Jordan Interview

Suspect(s): Ruth and Jon Jordan
Known Aliases: #1 Crime Fic Fans, Mr. & Mrs. "Killer" Crimespree (okay, I totally made those up...get over it)
Occupation: Bouchercon Fanatics, Crimespree Magazine owners, Massive Readers
Last known location: Milwaukee, WI

In this week's show, Ruth and Jon spill about their love affair with B'Con (including next year's con in Baltimore), Crimespree Magazine, and their fave reads of 2007. Listen in as they tell all about what will make them abandon a book, what makes Milwaukee a nifty town to live in and their weapons of choice for editing.

Click on the player in the side bar, subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Maddy Van Hertbruggen Interview

Suspect: Maddy Van Hertbruggen
Known Aliases: Her Royal Maddness, The Maddinator
Occupation: Mystery addict - avid reader, owner/co-founder of 4MA list serve, book reviewer (plus one of those day job things to feed the addiction)
Location: Somewhere Deep in the Heart of Texas

This week we talk with hard-core mystery addict, Maddy Van Hertbruggen. Listen in as we chat about the readers list serve (4MA or For Mystery Addicts) that she started, some of her fave reads of the year, and her thoughts on how to deal with those pesky Texas Jackalopes.

You can also check out some of her book reviews over at the fab Reviewing the Evidence.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Seth Harwood Interview

Suspect: Seth Harwood
Age: Yeah, okay, I dunno
Occupation: Writer, Podcaster, Creative Writing college prof.
Last known location: Bezerkley, er, Berkley, CA

In this week's episode, Seth talks about how his Jack Palms series, how he got into podcasting his novels and his upcoming print release of Jack Wakes Up. We find out what's on Seth's TBR list, who he'd like to see star in a Jack Palms movie, and what he would do if he could spend a day with his protagonist.

Visit his website to find out more about how to make every Sunday a Jack Palms Sunday. You can also check out the start of his second book in the newest issue of Thrilling Detective.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mark Billingham Interview

Suspect: Mark Billingham
Age: Hmm?
Occupation: Author, stand-up comic, all 'round troublemaker
Last known location: Lurking in London

In this episode, Mark talks about his Tom Thorne police procedurals, his upcoming stand-alone novel, IN THE DARK, and the foreword he wrote for the fab anthology, Expletive Deleted. He also joins in the debate about genre vs. literary novels and how much sex/violence/cussin' is too much. Find out what's on Mark's iPod, the perks of mentioning favorite restaurants in your novels and what celebrities are reading his books.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Megan Abbott Interview

Suspect: Megan Abbott
Age: Haven't a clue, didn't ask
Occupation: Author, editor, college prof.
Last known location: New York City

Listen in this week as Megan talks about the slippery definition of noir, the women of noir (both those who write/wrote it and the characters in it), and the new anthology A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir. We also discuss Queenpin's Broadway musical potential and the best way to get those pesky bloodstains out of your favorite cocktail dress.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Duane Swierczynski Interview

Suspect: Duane Swierczynski
Age: Young 'un
Occupation: Writer, Editor-in-Chief of Philadelphia City Paper
Last know location: The mean streets of Philadelphia, PA

In this week's episode, we talk with Duane about Blondes, redheads, comics, historical mysteries, and journalism. Listen in as we explore Duane's shocking revelations about his flute playing nerd years and his recent first-hand (er, nose) experience with feminine hygiene products.

*Warning: you're gonna need running shoes for your ears! This dude talks at warp speed.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Anne Frasier Interview

Suspect: Anne Frasier
Age: I should really just skip this one, shouldn't I?
Occupation: Author
Last known location: Minneapolis, MN

In this week's episode, we talk with Anne about PALE IMMORTAL and the further Tuonela, WI adventures in her upcoming book, GARDEN OF DARKNESS. Listen in to find out what she would do if faced with a (possible) real-life vampire, what her fav. classic horror movie is, and what decidedly unscary things are found on her desk.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

James Oswald Interview

Suspect: James Oswald
Age: Doesn't really matter, does it?
Occupation: Writer, animal poopologist
Last known location: Somewhere unpronounceable in Wales...

This week we talk with author James Oswald, who lives in Wales, but is a Scotsman and don't even think about calling him Welsh or he'll get a wee bit upset with you. Listen in as James talks about his supernatural/police procedural Debut Dagger nominated novel, NATURAL CAUSES, his tragic lack of Halloween experience, and the potential pitfalls of mixing a shepherdess costume with a beard.

Subscribe via RSS reader (button in sidebar), or subscribe through iTunes here (it will prompt you to open iTunes, then take you to the podcast subscription). For those of you who had subscribed via the old feed...well, you're gonna have to subscribe again to this feed instead. Happy listening!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kat Richardson Interview

Suspect: Kat Richardson
Age: Dammit, that's personal!
Occupation: Author of GREYWALKER series
Last known location: Seattle, WA

In this week's episode, Kat talks about her gritty paranormal P.I. books, who she'd pick to play the lead in GREYWALKER: THE MUSICAL, and what sends her Creep-O-Meter into the red zone.

For more info on Kat and her books, visit her website at www.katrichardson.com

Saturday, October 13, 2007

IfQ's New Hosting Home

I've had it and have kicked Podomatic to the curb. So...I've switched to a new hosting service. Just hope I can get the embedded player to do its thing without a huge hassle. Until I get that figured out, though, those of you who haven't heard Charlie Huston's interview yet can go here to listen to/download the show.

The new Libsyn page is lookin' a little ugly now, but at least the show is, y'know, available to be heard! I'll work on making it pretty after I get next week's show edited and posted this weekend. Dammit, dammit, dammit!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Podomatic Ate My Shows...

and I'm not quite sure what to do. They had 2 hard drives crash and are working to retrieve the data, but it's not a fer sure deal that they'll be able to do it. On the plus side, I've got my shows backed up. So my plan is to upload Charlie's show again (when Podomatic will let me...bastards) and keep my fingers crossed that the other shows will be retrieved. My biggest worry is annoying iTunes subscribers who have already downloaded the shows and will now get an extra.

Dammit. Wish I was a super techie chickie and could do this shindig sans external help. But I'm not, so I'll just try to find another way to deal.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Podomatic continues to suffer from technological gremlins. I'd have a huge fit if I thought it would help. Since it won't do a damn thing, all I can say is that they're working on their server issues and will hopefully have the problem resolved soon. *sigh*

Monday, October 08, 2007

Charlie Huston Interview

Suspect: Charlie Huston
Age: Dunno
Occupation: Writerly dude
Last known location: Another lost soul in La-La Land, CA

In this week's episode, I talk with Charlie about his Joe Pitt books, the benefits of having an undead protagonist, and his status on the Most Wanted lists of PETA and Cozy Mystery Fans.

For more about Charlie and his work, visit his website

Check out his Moon Knight work here

Oh, and it WAS Kabuki. Here's the linky to the writer's website.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stephen Blackmoore Interview

Suspect: Stephen Blackmoore
Age: Unknown - hey, not all the undead remember their death-days!
Occupation: Avid reader, writer, and some weird computer-related thing called "a day job."
Last known location: Lost somewhere in La-La Land, CA

In this week's episode, I grill Stephen about the perils of mixing horror and crime, the general squickiness of undead sex, and the tastiness (or lack thereof) of candy corn and wax lips.

Visit Stephen's R-rated blog (it's got fab linkage to his short stories, too) here

Sunday, September 23, 2007

New Podcast - Allan Guthrie!

Suspect: Allan Guthrie
Age: Um...what was the question?
Occupation: Writer, editor, lit. agent extraordinaire
Last known location: The corner of Trouble and Pearce, Edinburgh, Scotland
*photo by Mary Reagan, NY Photo

In this week's episode, we pitch hard questions at HARD MAN author, Allan Guthrie. We cover the whole shebang, from the fab Two-Way Split, to his Edgar nominated Kiss Her Goodbye, and on to Hard Man. Listen in to find out his thoughts on men in kilts, his baseball bat of choice, and more than you ever wanted to know about meat carrots and vegetarian haggis.

Oh, and if you live in the U.S. Oh, and would like a copy of Guthrie's latest, KILL CLOCK, a novella for adult emergent readers, check out The Book Depository
These fab peeps will ship your fav U.K. books to the States...fer free!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cornelia Read Interview

The In for Questioning podcast is off to a great start. Cornelia Read is in the hot seat for this week's show. Check it out to hear all the gory details...

Suspect: Cornelia Read
Age: Where are your manners?!
Occupation: Author, raconteur
Last know location: San Francisco Bay area

In this week's episode, we drag Edgar-nominated author Cornelia Read in for questioning. We discuss Cornelia's books, A FIELD OF DARKNESS (nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author), and her up-coming book, THE CRAZY SCHOOL. You won't want to miss Cornelia describing how to turn an innocent laundry basket into a murder weapon, her version of a ferret Rapture, or her verdict on the sexiness of patchouli.

Join us next week when we haul Scottish author, editor and literary agent, Allan Guthrie, in for questioning...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

In For Questioning - The Podcast!

Today marks the official launch of "In for Questioning," a weekly podcast geared toward Crime Fiction - writers, readers, and various other criminally-minded types. I drag 'em in, ask the (sorta) tough questions and toss 'em back out again. So check out this week's show and see whatcha think! Questions or comments? Well, that's what the comments section is for, right? Or drop me an email at inforquestioning@gmail.com.

Our first victim:

Suspect: Daniel Hatadi
Age: Old enough to know better
Occupation: Crime fiction writer, reader, founder of Crimespace, erstwhile musician and all 'round trouble-maker
Last known location: Sydney, Australia

In this week's episode, we haul Daniel Hatadi in for questioning. Listen in as I ask him about Crimespace, his "left under the bed" first novel, and his unnatural attraction to a dead rubber chicken. We also find out how Daniel would bump off Prof. Plum, and what goes next to the shrimp on his barbie.

Join us next week when we haul Edgar-nominated author, Cornelia Read, in for questioning...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spinetingler Awards

After much debate, we've decided to implement an annual award through Spinetingler Magazine. Two things were paramount in my mind when considering this:

1. I didn't want us to just duplicate what others were doing.
2. I wanted the awards to invite the participation of readers and authors.

As a result, October 1, 2007 we'll open up the nominating process. I will have information about this on our site and post more (assuming that's okay with the moderators) when the time comes.

Our categories have been selected to try to make sure newer talent isn't overshadowed by the greats. In order to be nominated, the author must have had a new title out between Oct. 1, 2006 and Sept. 30, 2007, available in Canada. (Don't you worry about that - we'll worry about it. If we can't get the book here, we may not be able to consider it - depends on how long it takes us to get it in.)

The categories:

- Best book of the year by an author with 9+ titles published OR an author who has secured a six-figure advance. (Readers don't need to worry about figuring this out - we will.)

Rising Star
- Best book of the year by an author with 4-8 books published

New Voice
- Best book of the year by an author with 1-3 books published

Best Cover Art
- Lots of whining about repetitive cover art lately. We're not going to whine. We're going to applaud the good stuff there is.

Best Publisher
- If you're a reader who just loves a certain publisher, or an author who's had great experiences or a bookseller who believes there's one publisher out there that's outshining the rest, tell us who and why.

Best Editor
- Pretty much the same as the above. Even if you don't know who edited a book you can nominate it with the title, author's name and publisher's name. Plenty of people have commented on poor editing. When you see a book you think is rock solid, really impressive, we want to know. It's about time someone told editors they were doing a great job.

Best Short Story on the Web

There has been a lot to complain about in the publishing world, and much of it is valid. But we've decided to spend our time and energy focusing on celebrating the positive. We'll open nominating and see what readers tell us is worth looking at. Then we'll narrow down a shortlist of nominees in each category, and announce the winners in our January 2008 issue. (I’m hoping we’ll have a shortlist available early December.)

And the reason for three categories up top and not just two (debut vs best) is because we want to encourage publishers to grow their authors. We're moving authors with big deals into the toughest category to level out the playing field for good authors without as much publisher support, who would otherwise be overshadowed because of the amount of publicity the authors with major deals get.

I hope some of you will start thinking about it. Every person will be able to nominate up to five selections in each category. Every little bit of PR helps, right? And we could tell you our opinion... But I kind of figure we do that in our reviews already. There are a lot of people who can't attend conventions and vote for the other fan choice awards. You can nominate for this one for free, from the comfort of your own home, and have your say. We're still working out some logistics, but we'll be ready to roll October 1.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

2007 Dagger Award Winners

The list is in, naming the winners of the Dagger Awards, handed out by the Crime Writers Association.

Duncan Lawrie Dagger Peter Temple - The Broken Shore (Quercus)

Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Fred Vargas - Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand (Harvill Secker), translated by Siân Reynolds

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Gillian Flynn - Sharp Objects (Orion)

The CWA New Blood Dagger Gillian Flynn - Sharp Objects (Orion)

The CWA Dagger in the Library

Stuart MacBride
“His books tell of life in all its grim reality, but this only adds to the appeal of this truly impressive new author...the grimmest of subjects, but leavened (thankfully) with dashes of humour. He’s bad news for the Aberdeen tourist industry, but great news for crime readers.”

C.J. Sansom was very highly commended in this category.

The Debut Dagger

Alan Bradley – from British Columbia in Canada – is this year's winner with The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie.

David Jackson, from the Wirral on Merseyside was Highly Commended with Pariah.

Summer 2007 Spinetingler

The Summer 2007 Spinetingler went up earlier this week. It’s got a fair bit of stuff in it.

Short stories:
A Tragic Affair - George M. Burden,
Veronica’s Sweetest Gift - Steven G. Childress,
Laura and the Cowboy - Nikki Dolson
Ragamuffin Girl - Grant McKenzie
The Living Dead - Amra Pajalic
Rattenkreig - Stephen D. Rogers
The Inheritance - Pam Skochinski
The Rocks - Robert Wangard
Profiled - James R. Winter

This is a great batch of stories. I don’t want to get into dissecting them, because I could be here for ages. Check them out for yourself!

We also have an excerpt of Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood. For those who missed it the other day, Seth does weekly podcasts of his novel, and you can listen online for free. I did the intro of the ‘story so far’ last week, something that came about because my husband did a podcasting feature on Seth and Shannon Clute in this issue, and Shannon Clute also wrote a profile on Out of the Past and Behind The Black Mask.

There are interviews. A teaser of the forthcoming interview with Rick Mofina, which will run in the fall issue. Others interviewed include:

Steve Mosby
Sheila Quigley
Julia Buckely
Jon Papernick
Toni McGee Causey

And Marshall Karp is interviewed by Cornelia Read.

Two other ezines – Heliotrope and Pulp Pusher – are profiled. And there are plenty of reviews, including:

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride (this is actually an opinion piece covering all three of his books that I wrote up)

The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby
A Perfect Grave by Rick Mofina
A Thousand Bones by PJ Parrish
Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas
The Big Blind by Ray Banks
Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues by Robert Fate
Street Raised by Pearce Hansen
The Concrete Maze by Steven Torres
Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks
Lottery by Patricia Wood
Sinners and Saints by Eileen Dreyer
French Creek by Peter Rennebohm
The Sleeping Doll by Jeffrey Deaver
Scavenger by David Morrell
Double Delight by Rosamond Smith

I’m fully capable of saying we’re already getting a deluge of new submissions, and I hadn’t quite finished clearing my backlog. Sigh. I’m afraid that with the new job, and with a few of our readers unavailable, I may have to turn around and close again right away. I’m currently slotting stories for the Winter Issue scheduled for January…

You can also subscribe to get an email notice when there’s a new Spinetingler. Just email subscriptions@spinetinglermag.com with the word ‘subscribe’ in the subject line. Email addresses will be kept confidential.

And, join with me in wishing James Oswald all the best tonight. His story, Natural Causes, ran in the fall 2006 issue of Spinetingler. He wrote a full-length manuscript based on the story and it shortlisted for the Debut Dagger prize. He’s off to London tonight for the awards. No matter what happens, he’s a fantastic writer, and I hope this helps him land a publishing deal.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Publishing Moving in New Directions

From time to time author forums feature grumbling about the industry and what should change to make it better. However, the complaints often run in tandem with criticisms when publishers do try something new, or when a new player steps on the scene, especially if they do things differently.

An example was recent discussion about SLIP AND FALL, a book by Nick Santora published by and available exclusively at Borders. I’m personally not surprised by moves such as this, and today comes word that the book made the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list in its first week out.

I did find it interesting that the choice by Borders to publish a book and sell it exclusively raised questions for people. You won’t find me saying anything here I didn’t say on the thread already – you’ll find me saying less. But the idea that booksellers have ever been neutral, or impartial, is wrong. Especially in the US the books that end up prominently displayed have been pushed by publishers who’ve paid for them to be there. What difference does it really make if a publisher is also a bookseller and they push their own book? Poisoned Pen Press does it.

Now, in the case of Poisoned Pen Press, their books are also available at other bookstores. Borders could do that as well. They have (obviously) decided that it would be best to handle sales exclusively. And it appears that this may have been a good decision. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if they decide to do this again before we’ll really know.

This news comes at the same time as news about a bookseller with a mission. He intends to sell 1001 copies of a book before it’s released through hand sales and word of mouth in the hopes that it will generate interest from a US publisher.

The article is fascinating, and one any author, bookseller, publisher, booklover should consider reading. The author, Papernick, a 36-year-old Toronto native, said that after his book of short stories was published and then favorably reviewed in The New York Times, he thought success would take care of itself. It didn't. Now he's convinced that today's authors have to be more proactive in promoting their work, finding imaginative ways to rise above the crowd.
"Being a writer is only partially about being an artist. It's also about being a salesman, if you want people to read it," Papernick said.

Welcome to the new world order of selling books and getting published.

And what’s really interesting to me is a comment from someone recently about a publisher assessing an author’s marketing strategy and considering publishing them based solely on that. I’ve seen this with a few publishers I’ve looked at – a requirement to submit a marketing plan along with your manuscript.

I have to say that I find that part of it sad. A lot of authors are focused more on selling than writing, more on profile than prose. And I still look to my list of greats – Bruen, Lippman, McDermid, Pelecanos, Rankin – who honed their craft and focused on the quality of the books… which explains to me why they’ve achieved the success they have. The work speaks for itself.

I do think that if someone proves they can sell then certainly a publisher should pick them up. There’s clearly a market for their work. (I also think that aspiring authors should be careful when assessing their options, because some equate the success of one author with the publisher instead of the author. Particularly with very small, new publishers, the success of an author depends on their own marketing strategy. A lot of us are on our own.)

Honestly, I applaud the efforts of the bookstore and the author to raise his profile. I’ll be watching to see what happens.

The thing I note about these two stories is that both of them involve more hands-on involvement from booksellers. For those who dismiss the significance of booksellers and the importance of having people who move books by recommendations this is proof that skilled sales people who actually read books and interact with their clientele can make a significant impact on the success of a book.

Now, the reality is, there’s nothing that a small publisher can do to compete with the clout a large publisher has in the business. But publishers such as Poisoned Pen Press have taken a proactive approach to putting good books into the market and have gained a lot of respect within the industry. Proof that (some) booksellers not only know how to sell books, they know how to produce books that sell. And perhaps the evidence needed to remind those in the business that the way forward is to keep your finger on the pulse of readers and understand their interests, and publish accordingly.

And perhaps all of this is proof that – like it or not – new authors should take marketing courses. However, what this author, Papernick, is doing is actually teaming up with someone who knows how to sell.

Perhaps proof that closer partnerships between authors and publishers and booksellers are the most effective way to sell books.

I honestly don’t know. The real proof will be if Papernick gets picked up by a US publisher. Meanwhile, the armchair critics can sit back, watch it unfold and commentate.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Reading

The Toronto Star has a genius piece on the joys of summer reading. Summer reading ... is that trashy page-turner you plan to devour while reclining on a deck chair with a vodka martini in one hand... is a guiltless pleasure, no matter how trashy the page-turner or how large the martini… ... is like winter getaway reading on a Caribbean island, but lasts longer and – when enjoyed on your back patio – costs a whole lot less and comes with a greatly reduced likelihood of contracting hepatitis. It’s a good list, although I have to say I was in the bookstore yesterday, stocking up on my supply of books, and staff person extraordinaire 'J' warned me off the new Ondaatje.

What did I buy? The collectors edition of Knots and Crosses, because it’s reassuring to see that everyone has to correct typos.

The Darkness Inside by John Rickards. Because, although I’ve already read it, I believe in supporting my favourite authors.
Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. Because I haven’t read him yet and really, really should.

And two more Hard Case Crime books to help complete Kevin’s collection. Now that he’s subscribed they’ll arrive by mail every month.

I did not, however, buy Hung Out to Die by Brett Battles. But I did smile when I saw it still listed on the chain store computer here.

For the record, they also have the book with proper title (and publisher) The Cleaner. On sale June 26, btw…

The Toronto Star has also compiled a list of some summer beach reads. I decided that I should do a little list of some of my recommended summer reading. What do I suggest? (In alphabetical order, so no squabbling.)

Ammunition by Ken Bruen. Well, anything by Ken Bruen. But there’s something about Brant that suits the summer, when you want to have an action-packed read that has you flipping pages late into the night.

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride.

Yes, MacBride is back, and this time he’s got John ‘Spanky’ Rickards to torment on the pages. He also includes a hilarious nod to Rankin, although Rankin fans lacking a sense of humour will likely send hatemail and firebombs. Stuart may have to dress up as a woman more often to avoid detection.

Wonder what the hell I’m talking about? Read his blog if you want to know more, but whatever else you do, read his book.

Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid.

I’m absolutely choked that it looks like this book won’t hit Canada until next year. It’s been too long already. I may have to order from the UK.

The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby

This is an absolutely spellbinding thriller. Part of you doesn’t want to turn the page to face the truth, but you have to know how it will unfold. Mosby expertly weaves the threads of the story to build the tension and just when you think you know how it will unfold he pulls the rug out from under your feet. It may seem early in the year to make predictions, but I doubt a more original work will cross my desk this year. A tour de force, Mosby is my pick as breakout author of 2007 and is now on my list of my annual ‘must-reads’.

A Thousand Bones by PJ Parrish.

A riveting page-turner, I was kept up half the night reading because I just had to know what happened next. Of course, the worst thing about finishing a wonderful book is that you know you have to wait a year for the follow-up, but if A Thousand Bones is any indication of what PJ Parrish can do with this character it will be well worth the wait.

What else do I have on my tbr pile, waiting?

Strangers by Carla Banks
Cut to the Bone by Shane Gericke
Big Numbers by Jack Getze
The Rabbit Factory and Bloodthirsty by Marshal Karp
In this Rain by SJ Rozan
What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman

And still some unread Bruen…

What am I currently reading?

A Perfect Grave by Rick Mofina.

No doubt there will be other books I’ve neglected to mention here that I might make a point of highlighting over the summer, but this is a good start. Feel free to add recommendations of your own below, because you can never have too many books!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

When Is Your Delusion Reality?

In the wake of a ruling against author Laura Albert, who created a fictional persona (JT LeRoy) and wrote an autobiographical novel based on JT’s life as a male prostitute, I find myself wondering how this will impact the writing community… and sadly, I don’t think it will have much impact at all.

To writer Laura Albert, her alter ego was a psychological necessity, but to jurors, the fictitious male prostitute JT LeRoy was a fraud. A Manhattan jury decided Friday that Albert had defrauded a production company that bought the movie rights to an autobiographical novel marketed as being based on LeRoy's life.
The federal jury, after a short deliberation, awarded $116,500 to Antidote International Films Inc…

In bizarre testimony punctuated by tears and laughter, Albert told jurors during the trial that she had been assuming male identities for decades as a coping mechanism for psychological problems brought on by her sexual abuse as a child.
To her, she said, LeRoy was real.
But Curtner (Antidote’s lawyer) said Albert stepped over a line by signing contracts and obtaining copyrights under the phony name…

The article also mentions how Albert had friends dress up in disguise and pose as JT LeRoy at signings, and how she staged calls to a psychiatrist.

I’ve been aware of the case for a while. The information I do have prompts me to agree with the judge in this case. I’m stepping into my reader/consumer shoes when I saw that.

In every transaction that occurs, there’s a certain level of trust involved between buyer and seller. I trust that the grocer has not peed on the vegetables before he puts them out in the produce section and sells them. I trust the cook at the restaurant isn’t spitting in the soup. When those trusts are violated it’s pretty clear that the consumer has a right to take offense. However, when authors or artists lie in order to promote work, it isn’t as black and white. I went to amazon, and the cover blurb for one book - ’long may he have the courage to remember’ - underscores how this book has been marketed: As reality.

The “reality” of JT in Ms. Albert’s mind does not make him actually real. Return to amazon and scroll down to see the tags people associate with the book - faker, dishonest, media scam all on the list.

I think people do have a right to feel betrayed, and one of the things I particularly don’t like about it is that it calls into question the integrity of every other author. When authors such as James Frey and Ms. Albert are revealed as frauds the response from readers can include feelings of betrayal and outrage that people will blatantly lie for commercial gain.

Sadly, it would seem Ms. Albert has a knack for fiction, and it’s a shame she didn’t market her work as such. However, it also makes sense. Nonfiction writers are often better paid than novelists, and I doubt there would have been interest in a movie if the words “based on a true story” couldn’t be slapped down on the front.

Why? Truth has a power that fiction rarely matches. When we read fiction we can retreat to a spot in our minds where we can separate it out, and reassure ourselves with the knowledge that this never really happened. The most inspiring thing I ever write is unlikely to match the truth of the courage of a person such as Terry Fox, and the most devastating thing I write can’t match the depths of pain and rage I feel reading a story like this, where a father rapes his two-year-old daughter. I could kill the bastard myself.

No, no matter what, no matter how skilled we are as authors, the knowledge that a story is true makes it impact us differently. These authors who defraud the public understand that, and then abuse that knowledge through intentional deceit.

One thing from the article that gets me - "They made my life public domain. It's about commerce," she said. "They're going to try to hijack my copyrights, which is like stealing my child."
What I want to know is how that’s any different than what she did, not just to the production company, but to her publisher and the reading public?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Question of Ethics Shouldn't Be Dismissed

The New York Sun has a piece titled The Scorn of the Literary Blogger that is itself, short-sighted at best in its analysis of the strengths of newspaper reviews compared to the shortcomings of “blog” reviews.

The reason I say shortsighted is that the author has declared, “People who write about books on the Internet, and they are surprisingly numerous, do not call themselves reviewers, but bloggers.” Well, I don’t. Not when I review in Spinetingler. And when Reviewing The Evidence was named a top blog the staff openly declared on DorothyL that they are not a blog, though they’d take the publicity. Considering the reviewing team over there includes an experienced journalist (which Spinetingler does as well) I can imagine some annoyance at the gross generalization that just because a review appears online it is not insightful and cannot be professional.

However, there is something else about the article that I do find interesting, and that is the assertion that it is only the “bloggers” who see conspiracy theories in the business, and Mr. Kirsch’s assessment of what the purpose of a review is.

The National Book Critics Circle did an extensive survey, which forms the background here.

“Yet in the face of the constant shrinkage of newspaper book coverage — as inexorable, it seems, as the melting of the glaciers — the literary world still makes time to fight over some very minor "ethical" questions. "Should a book review editor assign a book on subject A to a reviewer who has also written a book on subject A?" the NBCC survey asked. "Should authors who publish with a particular house be permitted to review other books published by that house?" I can't think of a working editor or journalist who would say no to either question. What's more, such questions demonstrate a basically flawed understanding of what book reviews are for….

“Questions like those raised by the NBCC survey envision the book review as a transaction between author and reviewer, rather than between reviewer and reader. To be obsessed with potential bias or conflict of interest on the book reviewer's part is to imagine the reviewer as a judge, who is obligated to provide every author with his or her day in court. But that judicial standard is impossible, because there is no such thing as an objective judgment of a work of literature; aesthetic judgment is by definition personal and opinionated. Nor would a perfectly objective book review even be desirable. The whole point of a review is to set one mind against another, and see what sparks fly. If the reviewer lacks an individual point of view, or struggles to repress it, there can be no intellectual friction, and therefore no interest or drama.”

The inference I take from this is that reviews should be an opinionated assessment of the work based on taste, and not an objective analysis. I disagree, at least in part.

Let’s go to the one statement I do agree with, that a review is a transaction between reviewer and reader. It is the job of the reviewer to give the reader enough information to decide if they want to read the book. That has nothing to do with the reviewer’s opinion and everything to do with the merits of the book itself.

For example, hand me a cozy, amateur sleuth book and you are not likely to get a passionate endorsement, the way I would laud an excellent police procedural, for example. Why? Because I am more passionate about one subgenre than the other. But what does that have to do with the person reading my reviews? Quite possibly, nothing. To trash a book because it fails to be what appeals to me does not mean it won’t appeal to someone else. A fair assessment evaluates the strength of the writing, the execution of the plot, the development of the characters and tries to assess the overall work against its own genre. It would be ludicrous to try to compare Faulkner to Evanovich.

I actually make a point of trying to get books that fit the interests of the reviewers into their hands. The reason is that I feel they understand the subgenre, have done a wider range of reading within it and can better assess the book for the potential readership of the title. Me? Give me a cat mystery and I’m likely to trounce it for being wholly unbelievable. Of course, believability isn’t the point of a cat mystery, so what good is the review to people who have interest in those books? It’s of no use to anyone at all, least of all me, who had to spend personal time reading a book that I have no interest in.

There is something else in the article that bugged me. The specific question: "Should authors who publish with a particular house be permitted to review other books published by that house?"

Just because reviews are meant for readers, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ethical questions to consider. I, for one, do not believe that any reviewer should belong to an authors’ organization on the basis of reviewing. Now, opinions will differ on this, and I respect the rights of others to see it differently. However, this is how I see it: I see it as a serious question of ethics.

The truth is, it can be very difficult to assess your peers. Anyone who tells you otherwise has a heart of stone or is lying. This is something you must learn to deal with, and not every reviewer gets to the point where they can do an honest and fair assessment, without considering the repercussions.

A recent example turned up in a discussion I had with a reviewer who decided not to review a book they didn’t enjoy. It was beyond not enjoying. They didn’t feel the book was well written, didn’t like the story at all. However, the praise has been pretty much universal for the book, but they had the liberty of not reviewing it and decided they wouldn’t. One thing that came up in the discussion was the lavish praise through blurbs and reviews. I looked through the names. About 90% of them I could connect to the author in some capacity – they share an agent, an editor, a publisher in one country or another...

I would have to be an idiot for it not to cross my mind that some of the people may have given the book an endorsement because they were asked to as a favour for an editor, agent, etc. I mean, we have some authors openly declaring that they’ll blurb anyone, even if they haven’t read the book, and others saying they’ll always find something positive to say. Of course it calls into question the credibility of the blurbs. Don’t believe me? Read Barry Eisler’s candid take on it, and JA Konrath’s views for yourself.

This connects right over to reviewing, because we do have peer reviews, for one thing. And for another, there are a lot of reviewers who are aspiring authors. Ask yourself honestly, considering what two well-known authors have said about blurbing, is an author reviewing another author from the same publisher going to have the same credibility as a reviewer who isn’t an author?

We live in the age of skepticism, and that has nothing to do with blogs. That has everything to do with the disillusionment society, in general, has gone through. It used to be that you believed in the church and the government and didn’t question them. Times have changed, a lot. Now, we no longer hand respect over to governments. Watergate, anyone? We no longer hand respect over to anyone easily. If we are suspicious of the political leaders we elect, it stands to reason people will be more suspicious of everything. I know journalists, which is why I don’t blindly trust everything I read. If I’m skeptical of those spinning the hard news, of course I’ll be skeptical about those writing opinion pieces. One of the big problems in this country is that the newspapers have known political associations. So much for journalistic integrity. I watch the spin. One of the best shows we ever had in this country was Sunday Edition, hosted by Mike Duffy, an hour of political discourse that included pulling in political pundits from all leanings… even a Quebec separatist. The show had punch because it had every perspective, and representatives from all over the country chiming in. No localized interest special lobby groups with the sole voice. And through hearing the differing opinions you were able to walk away with a more balanced, informed opinion than you could get from any news program or newspaper. Don’t forget, people get misquoted in print all the time. Stuart MacBride recently talked about this. It stands to reason people who are intelligent and aware will give the benefit of the doubt instead of blindly believing everything they see in newsprint.

In fact, it’s in thinking about that that I’ve wondered about another blanket statement that the author of this article didn’t qualify: “Despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn't.”

The question unanswered is where the future of literary culture does lie. Clearly, not in newspapers, not at this rate. In Canada we have Book Television, a full-time channel like HBO. There are programs where the point is to host panels and discuss issues of relevance. In fact, a recent one I watched was on the current trend in “trash” or “slam” reviewing. It was interesting to sit there listening to “respected” reviewers talk about how it’s a good thing for reviewers to just rip a book to shreds.

Of course, I don’t recall anyone qualifying that with “when it’s justified.” Just a hearty endorsement for ripping books apart in reviews. Then, of course, there was the kindler, gentler side represented. I was waiting for the happy medium: Shouldn’t a book get the kind of review it warrants? They were reading from a review of a Martin Amis book that was a personal attack on the author, because the reviewer felt betrayed by him. It was called a review but it was an editorial on Amis as a writer, not a critical assessment of the book (Yellow Dog), which apparently was so offensive. You know what? Even if the next Rankin book was a complete letdown for me, I wouldn’t go and write a “review” and talk about how he’d failed me as a reader. It would be one thing to argue that the current book did not measure up to his established track record, based on an evaluation of the books. It would be quite another to mourn someone as a fallen author who’s just churning out senseless pulp for the masses to make a buck. It’s trends like that that undermine the credibility of reviewing itself. I mean, as a reader and as a reviewer myself, I get the feeling some people are trying to sensationalize reviews with scandalous opinions in order to make them more interesting. And that is not the point of a review either. Frankly, some like prime rib, others like chicken cordon bleu. A lot of people like coffee, but I can’t stand the stuff. It doesn’t make anyone right or wrong, it just means we have different tastes. The reviewer is supposed to be letting people know if the book will suite their taste buds and if it’s a worthy read. The review they talked about on that program was an example of someone who had a pretty high opinion of themselves and who’d stepped way beyond the bounds of what reviewing is supposed to be about – it clearly was about the reviewer and the author, and had nothing to do with being an exchange between the reviewer and readers. (Justifying my skepticism that, no matter what reviews are supposed to be, not all reviewers for newspapers clearly understand that. And if they don’t understand that, it opens the door to asking all those ethical questions I believe the NBCC was justified in asking.)

I don’t have the answers, but at least I’m open enough to admit it. This article doesn’t have the answers either, and doesn’t even assess all aspects of internet review that currently exist. I don’t completely disagree with concerns about general blogging reviews. However, the quality and value of those reviews will vary, site to site, blogger to blogger. There are some excellent bloggers and online reviewers - Lesa Holstine, a librarian with a lot of experience in the book business, Brian Lindenmuth (the link is to his recent review of Hard Man) at Fantasy Book Spot, who does more in depth reviews than most newspaper reviewers do, Russel D. McLean, who does exceptional reviews for Crime Scene Scotland.

One thing is certain: Solving the problem of dwindling review space won’t happen by making sweeping generalizations. You can’t defend reviewing as an institution with blanket statements either. It’s like saying all priests lead godly lives, or all politicians are honourable. There are going to be reviewers who are unethical, because there are unethical people in every business, in every industry, in every walk of life. It’s a fact. Saying otherwise is naïve.

For the record, if I feel there is some relationship basis that makes it impossible for me to defend my credibility on a review, I don’t review the book. Some organizations I’ve left have authors I will never review. It’s more for my own peace of mind than anything. While I can trust myself to be objective and judge work on its own merits, others can look at the situation and speculate that criticisms may have been leveled for personal reasons. I just don’t need the headache. Having left two organizations I did belong to, with hard feelings between myself and some members unresolved, I have no intention of joining other organizations and putting myself in that position again. I recently discussed the spouse of an author who rebutted a review publicly. What nobody has publicly considered is that the spouse has ensured that reviewer can never review works by that author again. If they do and are completely positive, people will say the reviewer backed down to pressure and didn’t want any more hassles. If the review is negative, people will say they’re getting even for the rebuttal. The very act of reviewing another book by the author exposes this reviewer to questions about their integrity, but not because of anything they have done. Believe me, if it was me, I would ban that author from being reviewed in Spinetingler. The potential repercussions simply are not worth the headaches. At the end of the day, we reviewers have to trust our own integrity. Just because I know I endeavor to be fair and honest doesn’t mean others will automatically believe I am. That is another fact of life. I just sign my name to reviews I know I can live with, and don’t worry about the rest. There will always be critics. As far as I’m concerned, the only time I’m at risk of compromising integrity is when I stop asking myself those ethical questions.

In my opinion, it’s a shame more reviewers don’t see that.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Book Burning

A Kansas City man is burning books, because he couldn't even give his collection away to libraries or thrift shops.

"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn't have a permit to burn them.

Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply -- estimated at 20,000 books -- is exhausted.

On the one hand, the media coverage is obviously generating awareness, but I wonder about the message being sent here. Does this come over as a great tragedy and strike those who aren't avid readers as a sad thing, or does it suggest even passionate readers and collectors are losing faith in the power of the written word?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Media Predict: Thoughts

Regarding Media Predict, I think every single person has a responsibility to do their homework when it comes to an agent, publisher, contest. Many are quick to rush to judgments without all the facts. The initial criticisms I read were based more on speculation about the process, rather than anything substantive (and no, I haven't read all the criticisms). Even after my quickie interview earlier this week there were still a lot of unanswered questions, as the comment trail on my own blog, and Crimespace, proved.

My thanks to Brian for emailing me and mentioning the terms of use on Media Predict's site. After taking some time to look at them I have to say I have no desire to participate in this. The 'perpetual' right to sell your work will be a deterrent for agents and the ownership issues are of some concern. I'm no expert with contracts but I strongly recommend that anyone considering participation do their homework and consult a lawyer. I will be watching to see how this unfolds, but at this point in time I have to say that my long-term speculation is that it won't produce anything of note to the publishing world.

In short, experienced editors who have been working in the business for years cannot always predict what will catch on and what won't. The reality is anything posted to this site will be likely a minimum of 18 months from publication. By that point, any 'hype' from the process will have eroded. It will make no difference to bookstore staff and readers, who ultimately decide what succeeds and fails in this industry.

I applaud the idea of listening to readers to some degree, but that remains my single biggest issue about this: There is no guarantee that readers will participate. In fact, the proof is that the main crime fiction 'industry' blogs haven't even discussed this, but my interview was picked up by Midas Oracle, a site that focuses on market predictions.

It is my feeling that this approach will attract game players and not readers, or book-buyers. And one thing that anyone in this industry should know is that a lot of us readers don't like being told what books to buy by people who don't know anything about our genre or our industry.

No snap judgments. Two days of thinking about it. And I stand to be proven wrong, but that's my present personal position on the whole thing. Never take anything you read here as an automatic endorsement and act on it alone. Always - always always always - do your homework before signing any contract or entering a legal agreement.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Betting on a Bestseller: Media Predict responds to questions about the stock market approach to publishing

Yesterday we learned Simon & Schuster was (again) setting the publishing world abuzz with a strategy to involve the public in the publishing process. Brent Stinski, from Media Predict – the company overseeing the stock market game for S&S and the person who came up with the concept – takes some time to answer a few questions and explain how this process works.

Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions about this new project with Simon & Schuster. First, can you explain a little about how it works? Can any writer (unpublished or published, agented or unagented) participate? What about those involved in the stock side of the equation? Can anyone participate or are there guidelines?

Hi Sandra. Thanks for writing. Let me start out with a few big picture comments – and then we’ll get into details.

Media Predict will help media companies do what they’ve never done very well: make good forecasts. Traditionally in media, around 10 percent of the product line generates about 90 percent of revenue. So – whatever method they’re using – media companies most often aren’t honing in on what people want. It’s a very inefficient process, and we’ve all come to accept it because, I think, we assume there’s no better way.

Media Predict uses prediction markets to address this problem. Prediction markets have built an astonishing record in forecasting election results, box office revenue, sporting events, and more. And this is true even when it’s a prediction market game like Media Predict.

So in a nutshell Media Predict uses markets to make sure good stuff gets through the system. That’s the goal.

Now to answer your question: yes, any writer can submit to the site, agented or otherwise. And anyone over 18 can register on the site and trade. We need avid readers (like Spinetingler readers) to look over the book proposals and trade shares of the book proposals according to their careful deliberation.

What would you say is the primary purpose behind this plan?

The primary purpose behind Project Publish is to ensure writers and users that at least someone will get published off of Media Predict. If you’re a trader, your predictions will have a huge impact. And if you’re an unknown writer then you can come to our site have a chance at getting published. All you have to do is impress the traders who evaluate your work at Media Predict.

How did this originate?

The idea started about two years go. I was in Iowa City (my hometown) and I had a cup of coffee with one of the people at the Iowa Electronic Markets at the University of Iowa. He encouraged us to forge on, and we did.

Is there any guarantee that a participating writer will get a publishing deal? Or is it possible several will, or nobody will?

I assume you’re referring to the setup of the contest. Some attention has been paid to this, but I think it’s a storm in a teacup. Basically Simon & Schuster wanted the right to opt out if we simply couldn’t provide them with any good, publishable books. Looking at what we launched with, we’ve already surpassed that goal. There’s some great stuff on the site. So yeah: there will be a winner.

Now, remember that anything that appears on Media Predict is eligible for publication at any time. Simon & Schuster will choose from the top-50 scoring works at a future date. But if a publisher wants to buy a book tomorrow, then they can. Given the quality of material we have, I expect that to start happening soon.

Author Barbara Fister has commented on this plan, saying, “On the other hand, I'd much rather be asked which book I'd like to read, not which book is likely to sell the most copies. This approach just seems to keep pushing away the question of what readers - real readers - actually like and gets the public involved in the same guesswork now done by publishers.”

I can sympathize with this view. The thing to bear in mind is that – one way or another – we’re all dependent on the internal mechanics of publishing houses to deliver our books to us. If we improve that, we all win.

I think the key is confidence. It’s hard to have a lot of confidence when less than 10 percent of books are supporting the production costs of almost 90 percent of what publishers put out. As it is there’s an overwhelming temptation for publishing houses to go for blockbusters, or cookie-cutter stuff that they think people will like.

But what if media companies had more confidence? At the moment, they often see unusual or innovative material as too much of a risk, but they’ll put out these kinds of works if they had good predictions to back them up.

So this author may chafe at having to make predictions about books he or she might never read. Then again, there are lots of different kinds of books on the site, and there’s no requirement to trade in them all. In the end, the method does its work – and the more it’s applied, the more we’ll raise the level of content that publishers put out for everyone.

Two questions came to mind when I read Barbara's comment. One was, what’s to stop the people from putting stocks on the books they do want to read, rather than what sells? Is there some incentive to “win” the game with the stocks by “investing” in a way that means you become the virtual Donald Trump of the game? If not, how do you gauge the intent behind any of the participation?

You become the virtual Donald Trump merely by predicting well what will happen. Will a book get a deal? Will a band get a deal? Will a television pilot win its timeslot? These are the questions.

What’s nice about markets is that I don’t have to know the individual psychology or motivation behind someone’s predictions. As long as they’re right, they’ll prosper. So one person might just bet on what they like as an individual consumer. Another person might make complex calculations in making a prediction. It doesn’t matter – in the end the market brings together everyone’s best ideas. And the end prediction is usually very, very strong.

And part of the article in the NY Times referred to this being used as a variation on a focus group. The commenter above clearly distinguishes between the question of what a person is interested in reading and what a person thinks will sell. For example, I read a variety of lesser-known authors – Steve Mosby, Carol Anne Davis, Allan Guthrie, John McFetridge – that I will happily buy future books by, but I know that an autobiography of Bill Clinton is going to sell more copies than any of their works. What would you say to those who wonder if this plan only gives ammunition to support projects that would be an easy sell anyway?

Going back to my comments above, the goal is to improve confidence. A guy like Steve Mosby (we can ask him) probably had a tough time getting people to pay attention to him at one point. But he’s good. He fought through, he got into print, and now he has his audience.

With greater confidence everything about media improves. Niche-specializing publishers put out and profit from niche books. Mainstream publishers put out and profit from high-volume books. The real problem is the risk and uncertainty – that’s what makes record companies crank out synthetic bands and movie studios put out something like Big Momma’s House 3. This kind of decision-making is based on a rational desire to recoup investment, since to executives these things seem like safe bets. Ironically in the end they’re not – since all kinds of derivative stuff fails too. But that’s the vicious cycle we’re in.

We say: if you have an audience, you have a deal. That’s the way it should be. Or at least that’s a future we’d like to see. And that goes for niche products as well as mainstream ones.

I recently discussed focus groups and having more reader feedback in the publishing process, which is something I believe in to a point. With this approach, what ensures that actual avid readers will participate, as opposed to those who enjoy playing with stocks?

We have no assurance. Media Predict makes some people very excited. Others don’t have the same reaction. So we’ll just work with the users who believe in us.

What’s nice about prediction markets is that you can generate very accurate predictions with only a few people – with only a few dozen, some researchers say. We may need higher numbers in the case of Media Predict. But we’re confident there are enough avid readers out there who will get hooked on this. (The site is supposed to be fun, you know.) We invite avid readers to join in and trade at Media Predict. It is their participation that will propel good stuff through the system. Their participation will be enough for us to generate good results.

Will there be status reports or updates through this process to try to drum up interest?

I’m not sure – we have a blog, and I’ll post there when I have time. As with any internet company, we’ll have to see how things go.

Now, how can writers participate? And how can readers get involved in playing the stocks?

Anyone can submit to Media Predict without any commitment whatsoever. Our current books were referred to us by agents, but we’ll include user submissions as well. Unfortunately we’re limited in the amount of material we can put up, but we’ll include as many books as we can on the site. After that, it’s up to the users to call the shots.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not really . . . I guess we realize it’s a lot to take in, and that all of this can be confusing. I think some of the press coverage in the publishing community reflects that confusion. But we’re not trying to please everyone, and this isn’t for everyone. We’re really looking for the people out there who believe in this method – they’re more than enough to help us achieve our goals.

So if anyone out there has read this far, I’d encourage them to get involved. It’s your site. You can make it work.

Thanks for your interest Sandra. And thanks to your readers.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Brent. This is one of the more original things I’ve seen lately, along with the author bus tours in Scotland. Very creative, and more than anything, it will be interesting to assess the entire process and see what happens.

Well, we never said we could compete with the bus tours in Scotland . . .

There has already been discussion about this on Crimespace, and undoubtedly as the industry takes note there will be more discussion. I guess you could say the jury is out – on the authors under submission and the process. The one thing I feel confident about is that a lot of people will be watching.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Debut Novelist Gets $1.25 million

Ed Gorman has already said it best. This is an absolute must-read, especially his commentary at the bottom.

Stocks on Stories

Simon & Schuster is in the news again, this time for a plan involving fantasty stocks based on manuscript proposals. Media Predict is soliciting book proposals from agents and the public, and posting pages of them on the site. Traders, who are given $5,000 in fantasy cash, can buy shares based on their guess about whether a particular book proposal is likely to get a deal, or whether Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, will select it as a finalist in a contest called Project Publish. If either happens within a four-month period, the value of the shares go to $100 apiece; if not, the share price falls to zero.

The site also allows traders to bet on the chances that unsigned musicians who currently top the rankings on MySpace.com, the social networking site, will get a record deal.

Media Predict is modeled after other so-called prediction markets like the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which allows traders to bet on the four-week North American box office receipts of movies, or the Iowa Electronic Markets, which allow people to bet on election results.

“Being able to predict the performance of something is key,” said Brent Stinski, founder of Media Predict. A prediction market, he said, “is a very powerful tool.”

For Simon & Schuster, the partnership is yet another attempt to gauge popular tastes. Earlier this year, the publisher teamed up with Gather.com, a social networking site, to run an “American Idol”-style contest in which voters pick a manuscript for Simon & Schuster to publish.

In the case of Media Predict, traders are not voting on the book they like best, but rather are placing bets on which they think will do well. According to Mark Gompertz, publisher of Touchstone Books, Media Predict could do for book publishing what focus groups do for soap and soda and what screening audiences do for movies.

One thing is certain: It will be very interesting to see how this project unfolds.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Aspiring Author on Tour

ASPIRING Scottish authors are being encouraged to apply for a unique writer in residency - on a bus.

Last summer Aberdeen City Council's pioneering "Reading Bus" took to the road for the first time in an innovative drive to encourage youngsters to read and to promote family learning in a non-school environment.

The converted single-decker targets children and parents in the city's St Machar area, which has a secondary school, ten primaries and three nurseries.

It was revealed yesterday that, thanks to funding from oil giant Shell UK and Lottery Awards for All, the Reading Bus initiative is to appoint its own writer in residence - a published author prepared to work on the bus for a year.

Click on the link for the full article. This is one of the more interesting ideas I've seen of late. Think of our discussions about author tours here: Why is it this can get corporate sponsorship? Could the same concept be applied in North American?

I suspect I'll be mulling over this for a few days, and perhaps back with more thoughts on it later. It isn't the same as my rock 'n' roll authors suggestion, but there are similarities that, if expanded upon, could be used as the platform for a very interesting author tour.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

POD Technology

In a recent discussion on one of the lists I read, there was debate about what qualifies a publisher to be recognized as 'legitimate' by some organizations. Every organization seems to have criteria that must be met.

One of the things that has kept some publisher from being recognized is the use of POD technology. In fact, most review sites will not consider reviewing POD titles. Others assert that stores don't carry POD titles because most aren't returnable.

It's blanket discrimination like this that makes it hard for technological advancement. I'm familiar with POD and some of the shortfalls. I'm also aware that places that use printers such as Lightning Source allow for returns and distribute through Ingram. I could go in a whole different direction with a rant here, but won't.

The main focus of my thoughts is a report on Galleycat, about changes to contracts with Simon & Schuster. Here's an excerpt:

S&S spokesman Adam Rothberg was surprised at the "overreaction" by the Authors Guild. "We believe that our contract appropriately addresses the improved technology, increased availability, and higher quality of print on demand books, and reflects the fact that print on demand titles may now be readily purchased by consumers at both online and brick and mortar stores. We are embracing print on demand technology as an unprecedented opportunity for authors and publishers to keep their books alive and available and selling in the marketplace in a way that may not have been previously possible for many authors, and are confident in the long term it that will be a benefit for all concerned." S&S further wanted the author and agent community "to know that, when necessary, we have always had good faith negotiations on the subject of reversions, and will continue to on a book-by-book basis."

Here's my first question: Will the newspapers that have policies against reviewing POD titles be subjective with future reviews of Simon & Schuster titles?

Here's my next question: Will we see more mainstream acceptance for POD?

I'm personally amused by the timing of this, because of some of the recent discussions. If you read the Galleycat article (and you really should) you'll know that this contract issue is a serious one. The rules concerning POD titles and reclaiming title need to be addressed before POD becomes even more common than it already is.

Theakstons Old Peculier Longlist Announced

The long list for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, given out at Harrogate Crime Festival in July, has been announced. You can vote online. The shortlist of six is then selected and there's a second round of voting.

The nominees:

Dead Place by Stephen Booth
All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre
Death of a Chancellor by David Dickinson
Never Go Back by Robert Goddard
Two Way Split by Allan Guthrie
Little Face by Sophie Hannah
Ash & Bone by John Harvey
The Stranger House by Reginald Hill
The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill
Blood and Honey by Graham Hurley
The Lighthouse by PD James
The Death Ship of Dartmouth by Michael Jecks
Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride
The Train Excursion by Edward Marston
Ratcatcher by James McGee
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
Dance with Death by Barbara Nadel
Jacquot and the Angel by Martin O'Brien
End in Tears by Ruth Rendell
Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

Vote here

My congrats to all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Focus Groups, The Americanizing of British Novels & How Publishers Can Join The 21st Century

This is the inevitable follow-up to the last post. I've had a few days to think over the article. Cross-posted from my personal blog. (Evil Kev is my husband.)

”I am thinking it would be fun to do an arc in a f2f group. Discuss a book in detail BEFORE it is published and then give the author the feedback - or at least the feedback that might be useful.”

When I read that my automatic response was It’s never going to happen. Yes, call me a pessimist, call me a cynic. Lynne’s idea (posted on my Crimespace chat wall) has merit but adds a layer of work to the already lengthy publishing process.

Only a few days later an article in the NY Times said: The hunt for the key has been much more extensive in other industries, which have made a point of using new technology to gain a better understanding of their customers. Television stations have created online forums for viewers and may use the information there to make programming decisions. Game developers solicit input from users through virtual communities over the Internet. Airlines and hotels have developed increasingly sophisticated databases of customers.

Publishers, by contrast, put up Web sites where, in some cases, readers can sign up for announcements of new titles. But information rarely flows the other way — from readers back to the editors.

“We need much more of a direct relationship with our readers,” said Susan Rabiner, an agent and a former editorial director. Bloggers have a much more interactive relationship with their readers than publishers do, she said. “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books,” she said.

Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling. Publishing employees tend to be liberal arts graduates who enter the field with a starting salary around $30,000. Compensation is not tied to sales performance. “The people who go into it don’t do it for the money, which might explain why it’s such a bad business,” Mr. Strachan said.

I agree that reader feedback is important and that publishers should be seeking it. However, I don’t think that Amazon is the best way to get the kind of feedback publishers need. More on this shortly.

Evil Kev and I have been talking about this a lot lately, for a variety of reasons. Part of what spurred it was the fact that Lynne has read my new manuscript. Lynne read SC for me when it was in ARC form. A 4MA-er, she knows her in-depth book club discussions. She made a list of discussion questions for me that I could provide to book clubs.

Since she was interested in reading What Burns Within I thought that was more than fair, since she’d helped me out with SC, despite the fact it’s manuscript stage. I was a bit unfair to her, because I didn’t even give her a teaser to ground her with the story. Just handed her the manuscript. Duh. When people read books they have the back cover description to tell them who the main characters are.

Lynne’s response to WBW (“I stayed up till three thirty this morning reading it. WHY did that publisher turn it down? Nice or not whoever it was has made a mistake - this is really good. I am totally enjoying it, I like the characters and the story has me totally sucked in.”) was what ultimately led to our discussion about readers giving feedback at the ARC stage.

As Evil Kev pointed out to me, movies have been doing this for ages, with focus groups. Writers often participate in critique groups, but that’s not the same thing. Those are selected groups of writers who see your work again and again, and who pass their work back to you. I’m not discounting the value, but this is about giving readers some say. I don’t want to touch on the issue of sensitive writers but believe me, if someone offers me an ARC or manuscript to read to blurb and doesn’t ask for feedback, I don’t give it. I know better than to mess with an author’s ego about their work and I actually do value my life.

End of day, it is the readers we write for. Without an audience no books will see print. And sometimes publishers underestimate their readers.

What justifies that assertion? Well, here’s just one example. Several months ago I was working on a profile for a new publisher that had a focus on imported British fiction. The profile fell apart, but the groundwork was there, in reader surveys I did.

“I frequently order from the UK or Canada,” DorothyL reader Sarah B told me. “Why? Because either the book is not available in the USA and I've had it recommended to me, or it's not available YET and I can't wait. Recent examples are Anthony Bidulka from Canada, and Jo Bannister and Val McDermid in the UK.”

Sarah isn’t alone, either. “When the US release is a year or more later than the UK release, I find a way to purchase the UK version,” Kim in Minnesota told me. “I'm impatient. I can generally wait a month or two but not a whole year.”

Deb in South Carolina voiced stronger opinions. “The main reason that I order books from the UK is that I don't want my UK mysteries or fantasies 'Americanized'. I find the 'Americanization' changes to be demeaning to me as a reader -- and an insult to the author. The author intended the book to have a certain impact on the reader and I have to believe that that impact can change with the 'Americanization' - changing terms, spelling, etc. If I don't understand a term, I look it up on the Internet or in one of the marvelous books such as BOB'S YOUR UNCLE or FANNY PACKS AND BUMBAGS. Most of the orders took a week or more -- depending on what I wanted to pay -- or could afford to pay -- for postage.”

Within thirty minutes of posing the question on DorothyL on a Saturday morning I had half a dozen responses in my inbox. What that tells me is that there are a high number of American readers who feel strongly about this issue.

American publishers are automatically losing domestic sales to the international market because of “Americanizing” the novels or bringing the books out months behind their original release. I understand sometimes this is necessary to accommodate author tour schedules and for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with ‘Americanizing’ the books, but a good example would be the most recent Rebus book. There was no new US Rankin title in 2006. The Naming of the Dead could have been moved up to coincide with UK/Canada release. Don’t give me the song and dance about touring. Allan Guthrie was in NYC recently doing promotion and Hard Man doesn’t come out in the US until June. In Ian’s case, this would have allowed US fans to get the last Rebus book alongside everyone else. I mean, imagine asking the US to wait six months for Harry Potter. Right.

Instead, what happens is that reviewers in the US acquire copies early and say, “Don’t wait for the US release, get it now.” And people do, and down go the US sales figures.

This could be the same with American books being released in the UK – I honestly don’t know, so please don’t take it as US bashing. (If you want to hear someone bash just get me started on generalizations about Canada’s love of bloodless murders and stupid cops.) This is just one example of something I’ve seen readers discuss, that I know some feel strongly about.

I would like to see publishers utilize the internet to maximize their effectiveness. Having a website isn’t enough – it needs to be a professional website that suits needs. Friend of mine in the business told me about one night that $10,000 of sales were put through (educational publisher). She was finally able to persuade her boss that having a functional website that allowed direct purchasing was a sound investment. Go back to that last paragraphs in the NY Times article. Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling. Publishing employees tend to be liberal arts graduates who enter the field with a starting salary around $30,000. Compensation is not tied to sales performance. “The people who go into it don’t do it for the money, which might explain why it’s such a bad business,” Mr. Strachan said.

We may love writing and books, but this is a business. Presently, the method for determining popularity seems to be based on sales. However, that becomes cyclical at some point. Someone has a great book out. It gets lots of attention. The publisher puts money behind pushing the paperback release. It’s stocked in Wal-Mart and Costco and all the right places to fly off the shelves. Bestseller. Comparable success follows for the next book. The author becomes a bit of a brand name and so then every single title they produce is automatically stocked in those outlets. Of course the books will do significantly better than the one by the new author who got a $5000 advance and no promotional budget. Sales only show us part of the picture. This does not necessarily mean that there is more of an appetite for Mr. Bestseller’s book than for Mr. Unknown’s. It just means Mr. Bestseller’s book is more readily accessible and heavily promoted so more people are likely to see it and buy it.

A lot of authors seem to be invested in finding the way to get on that promotional cycle so they can get exposure. What I think could be great for everyone is if publishers would shift it in a different direction.

Here’s a thought. Okay, not all logistics considered. But what if publishers started forums attached to their websites. They pick focus books each month and the author comes on to do an online discussion of the book, interacting with readers. This would be an attraction feature. By that, I mean that if word got around that JK Rowling was going to be on one website interacting with readers and answering questions and reading their comments I bet the traffic for the site would go through the roof. HBO did this a few years ago, for THE WIRE, with David Simon. I hide behind the luxury that we aren’t on Orion’s radar and they’ll never offer me an ARC of a Rankin title. I’ve never had to make a choice about reviewing a Rebus book. I do still review books I buy but I use it as my ‘out’ with those titles so that I can just sit back and enjoy them instead of doing a more critical assessment when reading. But if there was an in-depth discussion Ian participated in on an Orion forum I doubt I’d be able to resist.

So, you have your attraction that draws an audience. In addition to selected monthly discussion titles you also have general discussion sections for news about upcoming releases and customer comments on books. Why? I have mixed feelings about Amazon, because of how the system works. Since Evil Kev orders the books when we do use Amazon I can’t post reviews because I’m not considered a customer. And since we share the same credit cards (you know, being married and all) well, I can’t participate. Then we see the power of anonymity at work and we know how some people use it to bash people they don’t like.

The forum could conduct polls, provide authors and editors with feedback on new titles, provide feedback on things such as covers, and properly designed be an effective promotional venue to spread the word about new titles from that publisher.

By comparison to some things publishers invest major promotional money on, this could actually be done cost-effectively.

Now, I’m going to leave you with more thoughts from Lynne. She gave me permission to use them. They are her opinion, but I think they highlight things I’ve heard other readers say on lists, in one cohesive email, and these are things worth thinking about. Please overlook the fact she’s talking about my manuscript (I mean, bless fans like Lynne, this is who I want to please with my work and I’d keep writing if for no other reason than that she’d come kick my ass if I didn’t, but she was reacting to the reasons I’d been given for a rejection) and see beyond to what she’s saying about styles of writing and what does and doesn’t have a place in a story, as well as older books that are still popular that don’t fit the modern conventions.

Your book is good. Yes you have a lot of characters. Yes you have to read into in a bit to sort them out --- what are we? Stupider than a hundred years ago?

H Rider Haggard, Erle Stanley Gardner, George MacDonald, SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE -- not one of them would get picked up today because you have to read three chapters to get a start on the story and even then it is slow and takes time to learn who is who and what is going on. People today want instant gratification - open the book and the first person you meet is the only name you need to remember, and the action is right there. That is fine now and again but it is not the only way to write and certainly it is not the only thing to read!

Edgar Rice Burroughs - like how famous is Tarzan? - and his first book of the series is almost entirely a buildup for the rest of the series! One of the best stories I ever read was People of the Mist by H Rider Haggard and really getting into it was work. Getting into Lord of the Rings is work. Why do people still read it? Because we know it is worth it. Without already knowing that would they still keep going through chapter after chapter of scene building? Can you tell this is a rant?

The bottom line is that your book is worth getting through the beginning with. Has Bob Fate read it? In some ways it is not so far off from his style. Baby Shark took a bit of reading to get going in too. Yes there is, in both cases, action at the start, but there is also character building and set up, explanation of future events, background - all good stuff. It can and is over done at times but not by you. There was one author who went into detail on the wife of a retired cop who was not in the story and the wife was certainly not in the story as she had been dead ten years yet he gave detail on her social life and colour preferences and stuff - now THAT was unnecessary and really ticked me off (in fact that whole book ticked me off and the author was and is widely published but I never tried another of his).

Okay, rant over. I am not saying your story is perfect - I am not qualified to judge really but I do know that I enjoyed it and expect a number of other people will too given the chance. It is better than what I am reading now.

Of course, maybe this is the reason publishers don’t have forums. Maybe they’re afraid…

(Quick news insert: Scotch on the Rocks over at Pulp Pusher, which you should bookmark because they’ve just accepted a story from yours truly for the July issue.)