Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A varied topic mixture of writing opportunities, insights, and changes in publishing

There are a few things that have either come into my inbox or across my proverbial radar screen that I think others would benefit from and hence this post.

My friends Jordan Rosenfeld and Becca Lawton are sponsoring "playshops" to help inspire the creative spark in writers. It is a philosophy where enjoyment of the writing process with a sense of play is emphasized over the traditional terminology of "workshops." Plus you do not have to turn anything in, it is simply to help inspire your innate creative energy.

Here is their description:

Month-Long Write Free Playshops: Playing toward Publication
Join us each month for Write Free Month-Long Playshops in which you exercise your creative chops and aim for your publishing dreams. These month-long, self-paced Write Free Playshops begin on the first Monday of every month. Every weekday for four weeks (20 days) the following activities will be sent to you in a daily e-mail (except for the Weekly Message, which will come once a week):

  • Write Free Writing Prompt to jumpstart your own personal freewrite for the day
  • Quote on Attraction to inspire and align you with your best creative life
  • Word of the Day to spark your imagination
  • Exercises to work new writing muscles
  • Weekly Message from Jordan and Becca on writing craft, practice, and community.

All this for $19.95-less than $1/day for the whole month!

There was a nice write up about the program in a column recently in my local paper.

To sign up for the playshop, click here.


For those who live in Northern California, the San Francisco chapter of the Women's National Book Association is sponsoring a "Meet the Agents and Publishers" event this Saturday, March 28th. There are eight publishing professionals who are confirmed to be there ready to hear your pitches. Both fiction and nonfiction are covered.


My friend Lee Lofland has an incredibly useful blog for those who have any aspect of police procedurals in their writing. It is not my genre, but I still find the posts fascinating.

Yesterday, Lee's post showed that he can be just as nitpicky as I am. He dissected a television episode into ten separate segments for analysis. He judged the veracity of various details à la American Idol style. Simon Cowell features prominently.

I have never watched the show in question, but I found Lee's take (and/or spit take) on the show to be highly entertaining.

On the same day, Lee showed a different side when he did a guest post "It's Not All Donuts and Paperwork" on Terry Odell's blog. Lee starts out calmly describing how he started in law enforcement, but his story gets harrowing when he describes how he handled a crisis situation which could have easily gone horribly wrong.

I hadn't known that story before, and it increased my admiration of him.


I haven't seen much discussion about this recent publishing news and was wondering if any academics reading this blog might chime in with their thoughts.

According to the online Publisher's Weekly:

The University of Michigan Press sent shock waves through the academic publishing field Monday when it announced it is switching to a primarily digital format to publish scholarly monographs. The press expects that within two years, most of the 60 monographs it publishes each year out of a total 140 new releases will be published only in digital editions. A POD option, however, will be made available for all digital books, said University of Michigan Press director Phil Pochoda. He said the press’s regional titles and its ESL list will continue to be released primarily in print editions, though select frontlist, as well as backlist, will be made available in digital formats as well as print. Print runs consequently will be more conservative, to cut down on returns. “We’re going to try to keep [initial] print runs close to orders,” Pochoda said, with more of a reliance on offset printing for smaller print runs.

My question is: How will this impact university libraries? Will they start purchasing PDF files of those academic monographs and will they be easily accessed by professors and students?

Or will the libraries wind up using the print-on-demand (POD) option?

These types of cost cutting changes can have far ranging consequences and I wonder if everything has been thought through prior to "going digital" and abandoning the printed page.


And that brings me to a recent blog post by Tess Gerritsen.

She wrote about what might be a similar trend by publishers in regard to galleys.

Tess is a New York Times bestselling author who will write blurbs to help up and coming writers. (Lee Lofland is one of her grateful recipients of her Karmic generosity.)

However, there is a limit to anyone's generosity. Recently she received an email from a publisher who announced they were no longer going to produce printed galleys.

She understands that it is cheaper and greener, but she doesn't want to read a novel at her computer nor does she want a handheld reader.

Tess loves being able to read galleys in bed, on a beach, on vacation, etc.

She feels so strongly about this that she wrote:

I think that printed galleys are part of the cost of doing business as a publisher. If you don’t print galleys, you shouldn’t expect to get any cover blurbs.


And this email came after a novelist had approached Tess and she agreed she would consider giving him a blurb. No promises, but she would try. She never guarantees blurbs because she has a lot of demands on her time and has to find some kind of work/life balance.

Now because of the change of policy by the publisher, that author's forthcoming book will absolutely not have a blurb by Tess Gerritsen.

That makes me wonder how much discussion was generated in the board rooms as to what side-effects they would have by this change in their business practices. Did they think about how it might deter their ability to generate blurbs from established authors. And subsequently how that might impact future book sales?

Did those considerations of the "human element" even factor into their debates or was this a decision based solely on the bottom line of postage and printing costs?

What makes matters worse is that email message went on to suggest recipients of printed galleys attempt to profit by the sale of ARCs on Ebay and other such sites. As if recouping a few bucks on Ebay would be worth Tess Gerritsen's time.

They also wanted her guarantee she would read the PDF galley before they would send her the file.

In one impolitic email message they not only insulted her integrity and professionalism, but they made it unlikely that she would ever provide their authors blurbs in the future.

Nice job!

It would have been far better if they had asked her if she preferred a printed galley or a digital copy because there are many people who love their Kindles and Sony Readers. She doesn't happen to be one of them.

What does the future of publishing hold if choice is not an option?


Terry Odell said...

Lots of meat here. I agree with you completely about Lee Lofland and his willingness to share not only his expertise but his personal stories. I was honored to have him as a guest on my blog Tuesday.

As for print/digital/pdf formatted galleys. Yikes. Now, one of my publishers produces gorgeous ARCs - color covers and all. BUT, they want authors to garner quotes well in advance of the production of these ARCs which they send out to review sites. The authors all wanted print. I ended up printing hard copies of my manuscript, formatted in the size of a book, spiral bound them and mailed them off at my own expense.

I happen to be one of those who likes my e-reader as much as reading print, but I think the entire 'e-book/print book' hoopla should stay away from trying to say there's only one answer. There should be room for both, and the consumer should be given the choice.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Hi Linda. Good post! I'm on the fence about the digital vs. print issue. On the one hand, I feel that in terms of our natural resources, I believe in printing less unnecessary copies, or at least printing ARCs on recycled paper. I also don't believe that it has to be one or the other. Over and over we see that digital supports and encourages print and vice versa. I think there will definitely be fallout from printing fewer galleys, etc. but I don't agree with Tess's vehement stance. Maybe the industry needs to stop relying on blurbs. I rarely read them--I don't even believe them much of the time.

Joan Price said...

Very interesting post, Linda. I bought a Kindle 2 a month ago and absolutely love it. I frequently review books on my blog about aging and sexuality --

When I request review copies now, I ask the publisher if they can provide the book as a Kindle download. So far no publisher has been able to do it, even if the title is indeed available as a Kindle edition. The problem seems to be that they can't give a specific Kindle download to another person -- although I could buy it myself.

Let's see how long it takes for that to change!

Joan Price
author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm with Tess here (not that I'm in a postion to give blurbs, thouhg) I HATE reading longer texts on the computer and I absolutely refuse to get any of those reader thingies with a screen. I spend enough time staring at those things already and I want to rest my eyes in my free time.

What the heck is wrong with BOOKS these days? ;)

Lee Lofland said...

I turn my back for one minute and you guys start talking about me!

Seriously, thanks for mentioning my blog, and Terry's. You're a true friend.

I can't blame Tess for not wanting to read manuscripts/galleys/books on her computer. She's a really busy author who's been quite generous in helping other writers. As Linda said, Tess was kind enough to read my book and then write a very nice blurb for it.

I know when I've been asked to write blurbs for authors, I found it a little tough to find the time to read the galley. I can't imagine attempting to do it with a schedule as grueling as the one Tess manages. And I definitely would not want to read an entire book on my computer monitor.

Anyway, I also received blurbs from Jeffery Deaver, SJ Rozan, Jan Burke, J.A. Jance, Lee Goldberg, and Rhys Bowen. I'm sure having their names associated with my book has helped sales. So, why, why, why would publishers want to make the best, free PR in the world a difficult process?

By the way, I'm a Tess Gerritsen fan, so you can imagine what a thrill it was for me to sign a copy of my book for her.

L.C.McCabe said...

I had a really lousy day at work today, so it was a real pleasure to come home and see so many thoughtful responses by friends of mine.

Thank you.

I am grateful that you shared your personal experiences on this topic. I didn't realize that some authors might be expected to shell out dosh for producing ARCs. I had heard of publishers expecting authors to use some (or most) of their advance money towards publicizing their book, but I had no idea it might include duplication and mailing costs for galleys.

As you said, "yikes."

The age old question of whether or not blurbs or reviews sell books is probably one that will never truly be answered. Consumer impulse buying decisions on books are influenced by cover design, jacket flap copy, and maybe reading the first page or so before they put it back on the shelf or decide to buy. If having a good quote from a recognized name helps tip the decision into "buy" versus "skip," then even if it is a small percentage the publishers are still going to want to have them.

Plus, it is tradition. Books without blurbs almost look like they are missing something. Like they're naked.

I've heard of agents using their electronic readers to upload their clients manuscripts, partials for review, etc. I'm not sure whether or not it is a simple Word document and the mechanics of how it is uploaded, but maybe I can ask someone about that for you.

I would think that publishers wanting your review for potential cover copy or just publicity at launch time would be willing to accommodate your preference.


In answer to your question, there's NOTHING wrong with books these days. At least not as far as I'm concerned. It's just that there are some bright shiny new toys that keep promising the end of the printed page as we know it.

There are wonderful advantages of communicating via email, but we still have a need for postal deliveries.

I'm still wondering how the UofM Press going primarily digital is going to impact the academic community. Especially if other university publishers follow suit in order to cut costs.

And Lee,

Thanks for stopping by. I hope your ears didn't burn too much. ;-)

All I can say about the idea of abandoning bound galleys is that this was one line item in their budget they determined could be eliminated. I think it is terribly short sighted on their part. It might wind up leading to more authors like Terry opening up their own wallets to produce printed galleys for authors in the hopes of garnering blurbs. That is if the author they are hoping will do them a favor isn't insulted by their publisher by some ham handed attempt at correspondence, thus ruining their chances.

Thanks everyone.

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Thanks for this interesting post. I also enjoyed reading about Lee's experiences.
As for the Kindle, I just bought my mom one and she loves it. It's so light she can take it everywhere and can read in bed without her joints aching. My thought is "what will happen to libraries?" Will you be able to download for free from libraries?

Anonymous said...

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