Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Making Up For Lost Time

Cutting right to the chase with lots of news.

From 12/23/08 Publishers Lunch:

Borders has gotten an extension of another month on repayment of their loan to Pershing Square ($42.5 mill). PL says "The nearly worthless stock has still managed to decline another 20 percent in early trading today, though Barnes & Noble has suffered weak trading the past two days as well."

ScrollMotion's interface for iPhone books has made arrangements with a variety of publishers. Random House is in on this deal and is releasing a dozen books on iPhone. PL notes a Wired report that Twilight will be among the books making the leap.

The technology, called "Iceberg" allows Apple to get in on the business and get a percentage of sales. And "ScrollMotion says it envisions a more organized app store and iPhone/iPod interface in the future where titles could eventually be sorted and grouped creating a virtual library of all your books."

The price sounds steep, though, when compared with e-books. Between $12 and $28, found PL - 30-40% more than the respective Kindle edition of the same title. Twilight will be $10.99 for the iPhone book, versus $6.04 for the Kindle copy.

Publisher's Weekly December 15, 2008 edition was chock full of news, reports, reviews and info, too.

For those of you who remember Francis "Baby" from Dirty Dancing (and who doesn't? - send good thoughts out to Patrick Swayze who's fighting the good fight against his cancer), the PW Pick of the Week is a biography of Frances Perkins, FDR's secretary of labor and the first woman in the cabinet. Kirstin Downey's Doubleday/Talese book debuts on March 3, 2009, for the history buffs out there.

The Forward column in the issue debates the pros and cons and marketing value of author websites. While no one has yet been able to get proof-positive that a good website = good sales, most folk agree that if you haven't got one, you're not helping yourself. PW reports that Carol Fitzgerald, founder and president of Book Report Network feels "having a Web presence gives writers a chance to extend the conversation with their readers." She's "less concerned about authors having a message board or book trailer than with providing a go-to place for fans." PW passes on her warning not to overdo the Flash, though. She also thinks that a blog is a easy way to keep your site fresh. This sentiment is seconded by author Chris Bohjalian, who enjoys blogging and finds it "the easy part of maintaining an online presence." He recycles content from his weekly newspaper column, a concept also espoused by Penny Sansevieri, marketing guru (see past posts). He says, "It all goes back to that notion that an author is no longer a disembodied face on the back of a book jacket."

But the most succinct statement (IMHO) is that of Steve Bennett, author of 50 titles and president of Author Bytes, which builds author Web sites. "A Web site is your locus in space. It's not that people can't get basic author information on Amazon. But they're looking for extras. The Web has changed the way we learn about products and services; it's hard to imagine succeeding without it."

Dean Koontz, horror master and perennial visitor to the NY Times bestseller list, has his latest title at #8 on the PW Hardcover Bestseller Fiction list. He's spotlighted and has the following to say about that question all writers get: "Story ideas have come to me from lines in songs, from a scrap of overhead conversation, from just about everywhere. And sometimes a story pops into my head and I have no idea what the source of it was." The title, Your Heart Belongs to Me had an 800,000 copy first printing. Guess Dean's doing something right!

When fans of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series heard about True Blood they were all a twitter. But it appears the series is making new fans for the authors' quirky heroine. Backlist sales were so great that Ace created a 7-volume boxed set. 130,000 copies have shipped so far. Ace Associate Director of publicity, Jodi Rossoff crowed, "We knew it would do well, but it has surpassed our expectations."

And speaking of vampires, did you think that maybe the vampire romance genre was cooling off, what with dragons, gargoyles, demons and gods on the scene? Apparently not. The 12/15/08 Mass Market Bestseller list has 3 vampire titles on the list.

Gotta love it, too, when our President-Elect has two titles on the Trade Paperback Bestseller list! (Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope are at 2 and 3, respectively).

Another story on the technological has me stumped, except for the openers. The title of the article, What the Hell is XML, sums it up for me, but the intro makes a strong case for e-books, e-marketing and the changes being wrought to the traditional publishing models. Article's author Mike Shatzkin (founder of the Idea Logical Company and one of the creators of the StartWithXML project) says bluntly: "Print book review media and subscription books clubs are fewer in number and, most critically, bricks-and-mortar retail shelf space for books is being reduced." He highlights the proliferation of on-line review sites. As we've all seen, too, print review in even the biggest newspapers is dwindling, with some abandoning their entire book review sections. Further, says Shatzkin, "While sales of books through bricks-and-mortar locations are stagnant, sales through online channels....are growing. A goodly portion of those sales are driven by 'referrals' from specialized Web sites." At the heart of the changes already being experienced, "The shift from traditional to digital marketing is already changing publishers' mindset when books are acquired ("Does this author have a Web site?")."

So it isn't just the book format that we're seeing veer into digital, but the marketing of the titles as well. I'm not the first to say it, but I keep hammering at the bottom line: Digital is going to be where it's at. Be there or be square! Start compiling those lists of on-line review sites. Can't get a Times review? How about SmartBitches Love Trashy Books, Coffee Time Romance and dozens more.

Lots of great reviews in the issue, too (where, or where am I going to put all these books?!).

Bestseller Susan Elizabeth Phillips' latest, What I Did for Love (Morrow/Feb. 09) garnered a starred review for a "over-the-top, hot-under-the-sheets romcom". "In this massively entertaining romp, redemption is always possible, and even a fake Hollywood couple trapped in a pretend marraige might find true love."

Edgar-award winning mystery author Alex Berenson's forthcoming "The Silent Man" (Putnam/Feb. 09) features CIA agent John Wells and his fellow agent and fiancee, Jenny Exley. PW says about the bad guys in the "well-plotted and thoughtful" thriller: "These extremely clever villains...aren't mad dog idiots but credible characters..." In summation, "Fast and furious when it needs to be, this is a welcome addition to an excellent series."

Of interest to those self-published authors, or if you are thinking about taking that route, take note that in addition to The Celestine Prophecies and Eragon, both originally self-published, a new St. Martin's/Dunne Feb. 09 release, "Hater", by David Moody, was originaly self-published, as well. Termed a "nail-biter", it has gone that extra mile and has been optioned by Guillermo Del Toro for film. Success stories are out there, and since a self-pubbed title that sells 5,000 or more copies (by dint of the author's hard work), generally gets attention from established publishers looking to get a product that's already been test-driven, it is a viable option for an author who may not fit "the box" of many publishers. Lulu and iUniverse/Authors House and X-Libris are the big three when it comes to self-pubbing. Check the sites for answers to your questions on the hows and how-muches of self-pubbing.

Debut author Meredith Cole's St. Martin's/Minotaur mystery "Posed for Murder" won the Minotaur and Malice Domestic's Best First Traditional Mystery competition has an amateur sleuth and a NY setting. PW found it "entertaining".

Romance author Sharon Ashwood has switched genres with her latest, an urban fantasy romance (first in a series). "Ravenous: The Dark Forgotten" (Signet Eclipse/ Feb. 09) is a "well-paced tale of supernaturally infested Fairview, U.S.A." features witch Holly Carver, handsome police detective Conall Macmillan and her "undead business partner" (and, apparently more!) vampire Alessandro Caravelli. "Strong world-building and romantic elements benefit from deft tuoches of humor; readers will look forward to the sequel." Nice start, Sharon!

On the non-fiction side of things, there are a couple of titles that may help those writing both contemporary military characters: Soft Spots: A Marine's Memoir of Comat and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" by Marine sergeant Clint Van Winkle (St. Martin's/March 09, and FBI agents: Bullets, Bombs, and Fast Talk: Twenty-five Years of FBI War Stories" (James Botting, Potomac, Feb. 09). Memoirs are a great way to gather emotional and immediate details that speak to a reader where dry facts don't, and to give authors insight into characters who are living lives you never have!

The internet and all the fun folks are having in the virtual universe has a downside too. While the legal universal is still playing catch-up, the case of a forged MySpace page is being litigated (claims of emotional distress and defamation). Another media case in the courts concerns the use of "fleeting expletives" and other languaged deemed sexual or obscene in televised media. So far the Supreme Court holds the First Amendment supreme, and given the likelihood that President Obama will appoint liberal judges to any vacancies, it seems destined to remain so for the time being. But keep tabs on rules, regulations and, soon, laws, promulgated regarding obscenity (always a flashpoint for critics) on the web and other new media. Knowing what you can and cannot say, what might get you in hot water, and understanding basic defamation/libel strictures is a wise choice for anyone posting commentary on the web, like blogs, journals, podcasts, and statements on other social sites. When it doubt, zip that virtual lip!

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