Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bestseller - How Does it Translate into Numbers...?

Not a day goes by that I don't see at least one or two announcements cross my screen, proclaiming that the author's novel is a "bestseller." I often hit "reply" and congratulate the author but it always, always bothers me that I don't know what exactly does that mean -- in terms of numbers. And who has kept such count and provided it to the author?

I guess the ultimate question is: "Do the e-publishing houses have their own standards of what constitutes a bestseller - or is there an industry standard for this?"

One of my e-publishers holds an actual event as a standard for the rest of her authors. One particular author worked so hard on promo in his hometown that he sold 400 trade paperback copies of his novel, that was also available in electronic format. The publisher holds this number for print copies as the company's topmost standard for "bestseller." It's the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest for this particular e-publisher. However, she also holds 50 electronic copies sold as a "well-selling" book. And 100 e-copies sold represents a bestseller. The sales would be within 2 or 3 quarters - or in some cases within a year. A 100 e-copies of any novel sold in one year would represent a "bestseller" for this publisher.

Then there is the other publisher who considers 500 electronic copies sold in about 2 quarters as a threshold for bringing the book out in print format. However, she will make an exception (don't know the background of this) and now and then she will send a book into print after having sold only 200 e-copies. I've four publishers but none of them have given me their standards on what constitutes a bestseller. It's probably the reason why I constantly wonder how those other authors advertise their novels as bestsellers. What do they base their 'bestseller' tag on? And WHERE exactly is the given book a bestseller? On the, on fictionwise, on other e-book distributor sites - or if it's in print, how many paperback copies did it sell?

In Canada, and in traditional print publishing, 5,000 copies sold constitutes a bestseller. In US, it has to be 10,000 or more. Once again, St. Martin's Press might have a higher threshold for declaring their novel a bestseller than Random House but once you're in this category, it hardly matters.

Where it does matter, is in e-publishing and for all the e-pubbed writers, like me.

So...what is your understanding/take on the issue? What constitutes a bestseller for you? Who has the authority to declare any e-pubbed novel a bestseller and who keeps such statistics? I'm sure many of you have followed the NCP saga - and I am one of their authors - and therefore know that NCP no longer provides any numbers sold to their authors. They simply send a royalty check for copies sold during any particular quarter. The author is left to ponder just what does the dollar amount represent in terms of number of sales. It's also a mystery as where did these sales come from. Thanks for any input. Edita.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Great Editorial Debate

Ever since the New Concepts Publishing came out and flatly stated that they do not do editing of contracted novels - because neither writers nor readers know any better regarding editorial instructions or the writing craft rules - there's been a "rippling" storm coursing through the yahoo group lists and many blogs. General questions that I've seen used in attacks and counter-attacks are:

  1. Do readers, especially of e-published novels, actually notice any lack of editing and/or do they catch any poorly crafted writing? And if they do - do they care?

  2. How many writers - e-published mostly but also pubbed by large New York presses - actually understand editorial requirements and instructions given as edits of their work?

  3. Has poor editing or lack of editing actually hurt author's sales? (of subsequently released new novels)

  4. What exactly does an author understand by “poor editing or lack of editing?”

  5. What exactly does a reader understand of the same conditions? And what does it mean to an editor?

Does any of the above matter - in the e-publishing or traditional pub-houses?

I'd like to hear any opinions or experiences from readers, writers and/or editors on the above questions. And here are my experiences - as a reader and author.

I've read many books by Koontz and Danielle Steele that were riddled with typos. Is this bad editing? Nah. Just some tired copy-editor's late night work. Did I forgive it? Yeah, I did. I've read trade paperbacks that started as e-print novels by some of the well-established e-publishers out there -- also riddled with typos. Did it 'swear' me off the writer's work? Nah.

But something else did.

Poor story flow. Lack of story structure. Rambling or stilted prose. Fragmented dialogue and blatant discontinuity. For example, some of the e-novels written in 1st person, offer comments and observations - in a sense making a promise to the reader to "I'll tell you later about this..." and never, ever do come back to the started story-thread. I've combed such trade paperbacks for just this one "clue-answer" that was promised on pg 11 and by pg 258 it still was not to be found.

Do pov-changes within a sequence or as may be the case in many stories, within a paragraph or couple of lines of dialogue, bother me as a reader? It's jarring. It's annoying and it's distracting to a degree where the reader wonders whether the author knows anything about his/her writing craft at all...but, hey, it's forgivable. One can actually LEARN to live with it - if the story's strong. If it flows. If it has believable dialogue. If it delivers on ALL its 'hidden' sentiments and promises. If it is otherwise written well.

But often it's the story that's delivered in such a convoluted, sloppy and nearly haphazard manner that as a reader, I confess to not being able to finish quite a few trade paperbacks that started very promising...very promising indeed.

And this is where the writing craft itself separates proof-readers from editors. Typo-free story is not necessarily a well-written story. An author who establishes e-pub business to promote his/her own work...along with works of others, is not necessarily a good editor - or even an editor - period.

Do I want another author editing my work?

That's the billion-dollar question today in the e-publishing industry. There are a few superb editors out there who later on settled into writing. Nancy Mehl is one of them. She helped me edit my first published novel, "The Cracked Shadow." She was an editor and taught creative writing for 30 years before she settled into writing her own novels. She is a superb editor and a great writer. How many e-publishers today actually have STAFF editors who have editing experience (never mind credentials) and do nothing but editing?

NCP has just owners who write. In a sense, they're doing their writers a huge favor by NOT even attempting to do edits. And their readership certainly doesn't seem to mind so...? I think NCP will survive quite nicely and continue doing what they've been doing all along - producing novels for which there is an established readership out there that either doesn't care, desn't know better or doesn't notice lack of editing. There are other e-pubs that do little (typo-only) or no editing - I won't mention them but they're doing fairly well too with their established readership.

And then there are publishers, e-and-print, who actually have "Howitzer-size" editors - big-guns. These folks really know what editorial process entails, how to apply it and what constitutes editorial improvements - not to be confused with editorial whims, edit-by-numbers, and silly, petty indulgence. These folks will pick up story disconformities lickety-quick. They will ask one question that will very often lead to the author having to re-write most if not the entire storyline - if the author wants the novel to see the light of electronic debut. These are the folks who will not contract a poorly-structured, poorly-executed novel and will see this from reading the first 5 pages of the story - first 5 pages that are totally typo-free. These are the folks who will INSIST on changing one sentence and when the beleaguered author finally gives in, he/she will see that the change actually streamlines the story's flow - ENTIRE STORY'S FLOW at that.

These are the folks who know their facts, know their history, know their social or political taboos and are quick to censor any offense in a manuscript. These are the folks who have ONE preferred manual of style for placement of commas and will stick to it - author would be wise to just accept the comma placement with a blanket acquiescence.

These are the folks who have actually READ every single page, every single line of your manuscript and you as an author can readily see this - because Microsoft and Bill Gates gave us "track-changes" tool.

These are the folks who actually pick-up on your characters' motivations, no matter how subtle, and, depending on the action, timing or surrounding events, will question these and you as an author better have a logical answer.

These are the folks who give you 3 months to "answer" 750 questions enclosed in ''comment" balloons that arrive with your 1st edit.

These are the folks who give you an additional month to repair what they still see amiss in 350 questions that arrive with your 2nd edit.

These are the folks who generally edit for a living and to them editing is a job - not "that proofing thing they do to writing before we can put it up on our site for sale."

As an author, I've been in all three categories - good edits, poor edits and no edits. Did it hurt my sales? I don't think so. Not with any of the pubs where my works appear. However, I definitely prefer to work with an editor who knows his job, even if time and experience has shown me that those works that are with a publisher who has no editorial staff whatsoever, aren't going to suffer that much. It's actually quite an exciting experience to work with an editor who takes your story and its characters to task, every step of their actions and motivations. Such true editorial application makes you a better writer - it challenges not only your creativity and imagination, but your knowledge of writing craft.

As a reader...well, that's a different story. I've spent a lot more time on reading excerpts of those e-published authors whose print books I bought to see whether there's been improvement. It made me smile when I saw it...but it wasn't too often. I wonder whether we approach 'reading novels' differently as authors and readers? Or whether I'm just an oddball.

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    Targeting Your Reading Audience - Defining Your Genre

    Now that I have 5 books out there - counting the 2 that will soon be released by Cerridwen Press and NCP - I found it's very important to give accurate pointers and clues as to any given novel's genre. It seemed so easy and obvious when I wrote each book what it was that I was writing...until it came to that horrendous task of coming up with a 50-word pitch that would appear on a book's jacket. It's a mystery...well, yes but it also has romantic subplot, and it's a thriller-type of suspense, rather than just mere romantic suspense and yes, of course it has hot sexy parts but those are all part of the story which, at least for me, is why I write to begin do you get all that across?

    Several years ago, when I had Helen McGrath Agency as literary agents, my agent Doris Johnson, told me that it was very difficult to sell cross-genre novels, regardless of their quality and "fresh" approach. I didn't understand what she was saying. I do now. It's very hard to correctly represent such a novel through the requisitve 50-word sales pitch that would woo the reader and - more important - that would not mis-represent the novel's slant and story. In "Burning Spiral" that's to come out soon from Cerridwen Press, my heroine is a detective who, together with her partner, is trying to solve a string of bizarre murders. The nature of the murders and clues borne by the victims pushes the novel into fantasy category. But there is a strong romantic subplot as well as professoinal power-plays and intrigues that she must deal with in her work environment. Many "how-to" sources advise to forget subplots when 'pitching' a novel and just deal with the main theme. But in this case, if main theme is taken, it would become a simple police mystery and that's nowhere close to what the story's about. I asked a writer-friend to write her version of the 'pitch' and she came up with something that sounded more like mainstream. That's when I realized that all one can do is give a brief blurb about the conflict the main character's facing and its consequences if not resolved.

    My NCP novel, "Sweet Poisoned Wine" is a romantic suspense with sex scenes that do not happen behind closed doors, and yet NCP put it into a sweet romance category on their site. Other distributors gave it a 'sensual' rating. It made it that much more difficult to try and write a good commercial pitch for it - for my press releases. I'm curious to see what "The Flaming Tiger" will earn as rating because the sex in that romantic thriller is definitely several notches hotter (and darker) than the rest of my novels. Still, when I think of the novel, it's the suspense/thriller storyline that drives everything that happens in the heroine's life and sex - dark and desired - is a natural outcome.

    "Cold Scheme," which came out with is perhaps my best-written and best in terms of suspense story to date that's out - so I was rather pleased when one reviewer called it a dangerous and disturbing story, precisely because that's what it's meant to be. So, whatever pitch I wrote for that one, is true to its roots.

    I found a good source for my inspiration for my book, "The Cracked Shadow" once it came on the becaue there you have the feature of the site 'pulling' for you other books just like yours - if you love reading this, you will enjoy reading this - and basically those other books defined the genre and category for me. Once I saw the slant of the pitches for those other books, it became much easier to write my own promoting pitch for "Shadow." Mind you, I find that a lot of those other pitches actually mis-represent the novel and often so badly that having bought it, I file it away half-read because it's nothing like its jacket-blurb promises. But the key words here are 'BOUGHT IT' which is all those jacket-blurbs want to achieve.

    So, it continues to be a dilemma with each promoting pitch I have to write - do I follow suite of those other commercial jacket-blurbs and hype the book's story and plotline, using sex as the ultimate selling tool, or do I stay close to the novel's "roots" and sweat over writing a 50-word pitch that gives a feel for the conflict and its consequences? I spend months walking with a story in my head precisely because for me, interest of writing lies in telling a story, rather than inserting requisite hot-sex scenes in for the sake of pitching it along those lines. And when I settle on an excerpt it's invariably one of the 'pivotal' conflict points in the story, rather than a segment that features a sex scene. Those, at least for me, are seldom 'pivotal'. They're more the type of culminating or platform scenes that change the direction of the story from then on, or more richly 'texture' the relationship that has been building up to that point. But they're NOT the story or its conflict resolution.

    One of my Night Owl Romance reviewers for "Burning Spiral" mentioned that she was pleasantly surprised by the wide-sweeping growth of the characters throughout the novel. It was something I never consiously thought about; rather it was all such a tightly-woven part of the story that to me it seemed transparent precisely because without such character growth, there would be little point to the story.

    I asked my writer-friends the ultimate question: Do you fill your pitch with all the commercially triggering words that feature these days in genre promotion, or do you try to pitch it along the lines of the story and its conflict? For a while it looked like I wouldn't get an answer - all the ruckus of discussion the topic raised - but one of them, obviously as exhausted by all the email noise as I was, said, "Give 'em a story and conflict...but make sure that somewhere in the middle of your 50-word pitch you include the word 'sex' -- three times. That ought to do it." And while I do see a commercial merit in 'overselling' my novels along those lines, I live in dread that one of these days I will get a letter from a reader who bought one of my books...and it won't be a nice fan letter either.