Thursday, May 28, 2009

Salute Your Shorts


We are in the process of making an important decision with regards to our submission guidelines. It's something I've pondered for a long time and, oddly enough, not an issue that's easily decided by sales research. Since Phaze Books launched in 2004, we have accepted a minimum word count of 5,000, priced at $2. Reaction to the pricing versus the content has been mixed for a while, yet depending on the work, genre, or author, sales of works at this length are pretty good.

So, what's the problem, then? Truthfully, there isn't really a problem, only a desire to foster long-term relationships with authors, as well as offer quality works to readers - priced more accordingly to length. Far as I can tell, we are one of the few publishers accepting works this short (at least through our remaining HeatSheet theme calls), and in the past when I've proposed upping the minimum I've heard protests. While I realize it's great to give authors who write shorts the opportunity for a forum, it brings up the question of what I call "drive-by" publishing. I am realistic, and I like to think I provide a good environment for our authors, but I do wonder if the low minimum may be looked upon as a means of shopping that one work nobody else will read, publishing it, then disappearing. It happens too often, and suddenly you're a mill. I don't want that.

I support the goals of authors. I am an author myself. Many of the authors I know constantly grab for the gold ring - I want that for myself as well. I would love to see my name on a mass market paperback one day, nestled next to other bestsellers. The editor in me, however, wouldn't mind seeing authors submit more works, because they like our company and wish to keep the ties strong. Longer works, too, could mean more royalties in the end if the sales are good.

So the question is, raise the bar or not? Bring in new authors under a new minimum count and allow in-house writers to submit 5K stories? Let everybody submit at the old minimum and lower the price on 5-8K works? We have a number of works already discounted on our sales page, and we do plan a number of sales this summer, along with our new Reader Rewards program which kicks off in June. By then we'll have made a decision about shorts, so look for the guidelines to be tweaked.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chocolate Review: Michael Mischer Cayenne Spiced Mango

During Balticon weekend I made a side trip to Biagio Chocolate in DC. It's a blink and miss it kind of place, off Dupont Circle and situated in a basement style storefront. When you walk in, though, you're in Heaven. Just an amazing collection of chocolates from around the world - always something different when you go. One bar that wasn't there on my last trip was the Michael Mischer Cayenne Spiced Mango (72%). How can you walk away from a brand like that?

The packaging is certainly tempting - a clear plastic case turned backside out to showcase large chunks of dried mango coated in red and black speckles. Since the bar looks quite thin for the amount of fruit it contains, the mango appears ready to fall from the chocolate's hold. It's not so much infused in the chocolate as it is floating, embedded.

Though the aroma is bold and characteristic of a 70 percent cacao, the snap is almost non-existent. The makeup of the bar - small pillows connected by a thin bedding - could be the issue. Held on the tongue, the chocolate alone is rich with a smooth finish, and combined with the spicy fruit it provides a good contrast. Yes, there is a kick with the cayenne, a latent one that doesn't last. I think that's good - it doesn't take from the enjoyment of the chocolate and I'm not gasping for water afterward.

If there's one warning about a bar like this, it would have to be to eat it as soon as possible. I don't know if this is a bar to keep around in a stash while you whittle away at something else. Unfortunately, their website is not taking orders at the moment, so if you're looking for a bit of spice with your chocolate you'll have to search for this one. It'll be worth it, though.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thinking Healthy, Seeking Inspiration

This weekend at Balticon served to remind me how I need to re-evaluate the way I eat. It's no secret that I love food - a blogger who contributes half of her content on chocolate is obviously sending a message. Once upon a time I did manage to lose a great deal of weight, and the adage holds true. It's very easy to gain it all back and then some. I need to get rid of it again.

I'd like to make use of our kitchen and appliances for this purpose. Ready made meals are convenient, but at least with cooking I can control what goes in to what I eat. A food processor would be good to have, at least a better one than I have now, for making sauces for pasta. My mother has a good recipe that doesn't use much sugar. Believe it, you'll be surprised to know what's in that canned ragout.

My biggest obstacle is the range oven. We rent, and the one we have is old. One of the burners doesn't work anymore, and it takes forever to boil water. We really need to get it replaced, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. I would love to have one of those special cooktop stoves where you can grill a steak directly - my mother in law has one and it works great. Hubby wants to splurge on an outdoor grill this summer, and as much as I've admire the Weber round grills he wants something with the number 6000 after the name that can rocket the house to the moon if needed. We just need some skinless chicken grilled, not tortured.

Well, we'll see what the weekend brings. I'll watch what I eat, and make what I do eat an experience rather than a chore. Taking the Julia Child approach - where dining is an event more than a fact of life - just may help me to appreciate the process of finding better food. I may even break out the good Mikasa plates this summer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Call for Submissions: M/M Steampunk Anthology


UPDATE 5/10! SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW CLOSED! THANKS!

Mind you, this won't be the cover. I'm excited that I get the chance to edit a whole steampunk anthology! I love going to the cons and seeing the enthusiasm for the works, so maybe this will be a good match.

Call: M/M and Menage Steampunk Anthology, Title TBA
Edited by: Leigh Ellwood
Projected release date: late 2010
Format: eBook (with possible print release)
Publisher: Phaze Books
Payment: $50 for one-time electronic and print rights, plus copies

Hey, all you steampunk enthusiasts, grab your goggles and get to writing! Phaze Books is planning an M/M (and bi-M menage) steampunk collection for eBook publication in 2010. If you have a yen for 19th century history with a touch of good humor and technological innovation (and a whole lot of manlove!), we hope you'll send us your hottest steampunk erotic romance of 10K - 20K words. If you're not sure about the genre, check out this Wikipedia entry for steampunk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk) to get an idea of the style of stories we're looking for. Think H.G. Wells or Wild Wild West, then turn up the steam factor with an incredible M/M or MMF/MMM match-up!

This call is open indefinitely until the spots are filled. Contributors will offer one-time electronic and print rights to their works and receive a one-time payment of $50 and contributors copies (eBook and/or print, if the book goes to print).

To submit to this anthology, please follow the Phaze Books structural guidelines at http://www.phaze.com/submissions.html and attach your RTF submission to Leigh Ellwood, c/o Phaze Books at submissions @ phaze (dot) com. Please use STEAMPUNK ANTHOLOGY is your subject header.

Launched in November, 2004, Phaze Books has offered a wide selection of erotic romance and women's erotica in eBook and print formats. We are proud to have a number of best-selling and rising stars of romance in our catalog, as well as a Romantic Times Top Pick, an EPPIE winner, and several EPPIE nominees. Please visit us at http://www.phaze.com.

Semper Fi

To all those who serve to preserve our freedoms, which allows me to write silly things on this blog, thank you.

Balticon weekend was fun, though I didn't spend too much time at the conference beyond my own panels. I think next year, however, I will endeavor to get a booth in the dealers' room. There appear to be so many cons and festivals where we could reach readers, and I have a feeling this is the way to go in the future. With science fiction fans, in particular, my hope is that we can attract people to the eBook model and introduce them to some great writers.

When I am in the DC area, I do my best to get to Biagio Fine Chocolate to restock. Not that The Stash is running low, but Biagio carries a number of brands I can't readily find at the beach. This weekend, I treated myself to the following:

Michael Mischer 72% Dark with Cayenne Spiced Mango. This is a single origin (Criollo) bar with huge dried fruit chunks. How could I walk past something called caynne spiced mango? I'll be sure to get to this one soon; the way it's packaged, I have a feeling it will temper more quickly than others.

Christopher Elbow 61% Dark with Crystallized Ginger. This is a heavy bar, the feel of it is leaden in my hand. Not sure if the ginger is responsible or not.

Coppeneur 65% Dark with Blue Mountain Cafe. This is apparently a German company using single origin cacao and Jamaican coffee. I love Blue Mountain coffee, though it's hard to find here (expensive as hell if you do), so I couldn't pass this up.

New Tree Alpha 65% Piment. This is a generous sized "tasting square" of dark chocolate with pepper. This looks to be a new variety from New Tree.

New Tree Alpha 65% Thyme. Same deal with thyme. Just looked interesting.

Pralus Le 100%. Rated 4th on the 70 Percent site Top 10. 100% dark, 'scuse me while I kiss the sky chocoalte. I was told if you dare to go all the way, this is the bar to do it. Light a candle in the window for me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Join me at Balticon!


Join me, Helen Madden, and Alessia Brio as we talk dirty and literary in Baltimore for what will prove to be a terrific party. This is to be my first Balticon, and I'll speak on two panels, one on Saturday night and one on Sunday night. It'll also be the first time in a while where I don't have put in time at a table or booth, and I don't mind that at all. It will be nice to play tourist for a bit and see the con through those eyes. Next year we'll get the booth and do the hard sell.

I will have gift certificates for free eBooks, though. Just look for the tired old lady in the pink Coming Together t-shirt and I'll give you one.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Free Story vs. the Whole Enchilada - Does Giving it Away Hurt Chance of Publication?

I write free stories. They aren't very long, maybe a few thousand words apiece. It's something I like to do in between longer works to prime the pump (interesting choice of words for a romance writer, but make of it what you will), and I enjoy doing it. Go to my home page now, and you'll see quite a few available. I plan to do more with my "quickies," namely work them into another blog to distribute via Kindle. More on that later.

The reason I write these freebies is two-fold: first, I want to introduce new readers to my style. I find if they enjoy a free Dareville short, for example, they may wish to buy the longer works. The second reason: to discourage eBook piracy. It happens, and I don't like it. I am not a wealthy person, and I make a living writing. It's what I do - some people remove tonsils, I write about nookie. It's a job, and I should be paid for it. I know times are tough right now, but if you catch one of my eBook novels on sale you can get it for half the cost of a movie ticket...and you get to keep it! You want free, I will give you free, but please buy the stuff that is for sale.

Okay, soapbox time is done. I'm here to talk about how "free" is a good thing, and how much is too much. That too much to ask?

I promise I'll stop. Really.

Other authors may do the same thing as me, and offer free shorts. Some will put them on their blogs or websites, or publish them through a site like All Romance eBooks for greater distribution. I think that's great - use your best strength to promote your work. On occasion I'll see instances where a writer (often unpublished otherwise) has presented an entire novel on the Internet for public consumption. Also fine - if that is how you choose to showcase your work, wonderful. Maybe it was uploaded for grins, maybe the author had shopped it around and, frustrated over the system, just decided to give it away. I've done it myself once before with a work called Murder Most Trivial, and I plan to do it again with another book through a revamped blog. Nothing wrong with it.

Now, let's say that author submits the free novel to a publisher...and leaves it up in plain view for everybody to see. Let's say an editor or agent is researching the writer's credentials and finds the very work that was submitted, what do you think will happen?

Yeah, don't TiVo Oprah anytime soon.

In discussing this topic with others in publishing, a theory was posed that the act of making a large work (for the sake of this post, we'll say anything 60K words and higher) can attract the eye of a Big-Time Agent who will light a fuse under their asses and rocket them to fame and fortune. I know there are online marketplaces out there where people are offering works, and occasionally you'll find a press release about some unknown landed a contract with Big-Time Publisher this way.

One. One author. How many of us are out there jockeying to be that one. Yeah, don't even TiVo Kelly Ripa yet.

Some might argue that offering a work for free helps that work garner sales upon publication. I'm not so sure. If I've read your book for free, why would I then buy it? That's what I didn't like about the original iUniverse model, which posted an entire POD book on their site. I actually read a few books that way, and I didn't buy them afterward. Lost sale right there. One might present Corey Doctorow as a valid argument for posting free works. He offers Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for free, and it's in paperback, and he does well...but does his success really apply to the rest of us? Correct me if I'm wrong, too, but I believe the print novel came before the free eBook, right? If you try it the other way around, wouldn't it be safe to say you are setting yourself up for disappoint if you try to shop that work?

To present the case in bullet points:

1) Putting my novel up for free can increase my chances of being "discovered".

I can't speak for other editors and agents, but I personally have no time for leisure surfing for fresh talent. I run a small eBook press, too, so if I'm too busy what are the odds that Super Agent of MegaBucks, LLC is going to find you? And if you send out an RTF version of the web novel to prospective publishers and you don't tell them the book is out for the world to see, I guarantee you that you will be remembered...and not in the good way.

2) Putting my novel up for free can foster a readership for my work.

Yes, it can. Why put the energy into shopping that work to publishers, though? Wouldn't it make more sense to write something original and send out that book? Best case scenario, if you do get a contract, you could have many auto-buys before it hits the shelves.

3) What do you know about anything?

Quite a bit. I'm not saying don't post an entire novel online, but only not to be too terribly surprised when agents don't beat down your door to option it. And if you do manage to sell this way, that's wonderful. Live up to your talents, and I'll keep an eye out for your next book.

Take a Hike, Leave the Weight Behind

Seriously, it's time to get involved in some kind of weight loss program. It can't be good to suck wind from climbing a single flight of stairs, so I should find a way to stop. I walk through the kitchen and the bottles on top of the refrigerator rattle. That never happened when I was young and skinny.

Used to be, before I had all these responsibilities, Hubby and I would don our hiking shoes and head for the northern Georgia parks for long walks. That's the one thing I miss about the area is the rugged terrain and the tranquility. Especially near Dahlonega there were some great trails. You got a good workout.

Where I am now, there's a paved trail running through our neighborhood. I don't necessarily need hiker shoes to tackle the path, but I do need time and opportunity. It's difficult to walk with the little one because she likes to stray and pause, and we go right past the park. That's thirty minutes of pushing swings. Much as I enjoy it, it doesn't burn many calories.

With summer coming up, we've talked about a hiking trip. I like Bryson City and the Nantahala region, so maybe I'll dust off the hiking boots and help the little one better appreciate nature. Perhaps I'll like it so much I'll forget to come back here. Heh.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Defining the Decades in Film

While I'm waiting for the muse to return from the mall, or wherever it went, I thought I'd pass the time with a few neat blog exercises. You'll learn more about me than you ever cared to, and if you like you have the opportunity to promote yourself. Here's how it will work.

I'll open a topic for discussion, and those of you with blogs who write about the same topic can send me your blog link and I'll post it here. You're not obliged to recip, but of course I'd appreciate it. Today, I am listing here favorite movies by decade.

I don't get the movies as often as I used to, but there was a time (when I had time) when I would rent films by the dozen and watch them over weekends. I would go on specific genre tears - foreign, film noir, collected works of renowned directors, etc. - so I would like to say I'm fairly schooled on cinema. Here, I will attempt to choose one favorite film from each decade, starting with the 30s since I have not yet seen a complete film made in the 20s and earlier - only bits and pieces as seen in documentaries.

Having fun yet? Let's start at the beginning, and at the end...we'll stop. Please note, choose a favorite film from each decade, not necessarily what time dictated was the best movie. I imagine if enough people take this challenge we'll find a vast spectrum of answers.
1930s: Gone With the Wind - For its time, this was truly a cinematic buffet. Incredible set design and costumes, a stirring soundtrack...everything about this spelled epic. When you read about the grueling process of casting Scarlett, you know they got it right in the end. All Vivien Leigh has to do is raise one eyebrow in devious contemplation and you know she's about to own Atlanta.

1940s: Casablanca -We know the lines by heart, we feel the despair of a love that can never be complete. Mystery is my first love, and if needed to research the romance of intrigue this film should be required viewing.

1950s: On the Waterfront - One word: Brando. You watch him bemoan lost opportunities - he could have been a conten-dah - and your heart just breaks. Perfectly realized in black and white to suit the overall tone of the story, with incredible performances all around.

1960s: A Hard Day's Night -This choice might surprise some, but think about it. Who personifies the spirit of this era more than the Beatles? While this film might have exaggerated the environment in which the Fabs lived during their peak (if you read up enough on them, you'll find it wasn't all lovable mop-top madness), it stands the test of time, just as the music has. Day's proves you can make a vanity-style film and do it well - great screenplay, and Wilfred Brimbell as Paul's "grandfather" is a riot!

1970s: Rocky -I know, why did I pick this over more obvious choices like Star Wars and The Godfather? In truth, I just love this movie. It's an oft-told plot, but the execution and acting pull it off in a way that makes you feel like you're ringside. People still run up the steps of the museum to this day, that should say something about this film's impact.

1980s: Moonstruck - One of my favorite movies of all-time. The verbal ping-pong between Loretta and her parents is priceless and real, and the story just flows. Did I mention I once sat on Vincent Gardenia's lap? I was three, but it still counts.

1990s: The Silence of the Lambs -The second that camera pans to Hannibal Lecter, standing with a ghoulish smile waiting to greet Clarice, you get chills. If ever it were considered okay to enjoy a villain so much, he is the one. Gripping thriller.
2000s: The Lord of the Rings - (trilogy) Really, you can't pick just one here. If I could take a day off, I'd site through all 20 hours of this and it would still move so quickly. A lush epic realized with amazing vision. Face it, Aragon's easy on the eye. :)

So there are my choices, what are yours? Comment with a link to your blog or drop me an e-mail and I'll post it.
The list so far:
Nona Wesley blogs her top picks.
Michelle Houston blogs her top picks.
Scott Christmas blogs his top picks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hitting the Wall

It's happened again.

I don't suffer writer's block, it's more like that ginormous anvil that lands on the coyote after the road runner has zipped away from the chalk circle full of birdseed.

I recently contracted four more stories with Phaze Books, each in partial condition at the moment. They know I'm good for the works, and I have outlines prepared and am familiar with the territory. Problem is, the words aren't coming and time is moving too quickly for me to sit in one place. The little one is taking more of my time these days. I work my day writing job (the bill paying one), eat dinner, play with her, wrangled her into bed late. When I finally settle down, it's Phaze work that comes first. Then I look up and it's one in the morning. My writing time is once again shoved to the side while everybody else gets to work on their WIPs. I don't know how much longer I can juggle all of this. I can't give up the kid or the bills, so we'll see if I can either stretch the day longer or win the lottery. Heh.

One thing that has helped me with writer's block is concentrating on different topics. I do write quite a bit of non-fiction articles to pay the bills, so I might just give it a go, and perhaps earn some coin so I won't have to write so much for others anymore. Of course, it might mean I'll wax poetic here about satellite dishes and pet shampoo, leaving you to wonder if I've completely lost my mind. :) The six of you who read my blog, don't worry. I'll still blog about chocolate and sex. Likely in that order.

Of Dunes and Waves and Tires

I'm tempted at times to write off my Outback as a business expense. As my booksigning calendar fills up, it seems I drive more for business than pleasure these day. Work, preschool, home, bookstore, convention, expo. This weekend is no different. The car is a mess - it's full of books and promo items and scattered Cheerios. The latter you won't find on the next Phaze Books table, lord willing.

I do my best to keep the car running smoothly, though. I like to think I'm a good driver, better now since I'm usually the one toting precious cargo - little G. When my husband looks into buying a car, however, he doesn't see it as something we'll keep forever, but as a potential trade-in for the next car. That's how his brain is wired - cars are to him like shoes are to some women, in a way. Gradually you work up from the Thom McAns to the Jimmy Choos, just as he hopes to speed up from domestic to fine German engineering.

That might not happen soon, but eventually we'll need a car to suit the whole family. We've looked at SUVs, too. Owned one at one time until gas became an issue. Somebody once suggested we buy a jeep, but I've been skittish about rag tops. I wouldn't mind a convertible, but to me they are very uncomfortable to ride in...because of my hair. Leave the top down and I turn into Cousin It. Bandanas do little to help, I've tried.

Something like the new 2009 jeep compass might work for us - large enough to hold the bikes and book festival booth gear, and it has a hard top. Doesn't really resemble the classic Jeep style with the bars and vinyl flaps for doors. There's the rugged little buggy I remember: Saturdays nights rolling over sand dunes with Motley Crue pitched to 11 on the stereo. Yes, this pretty much passed for entertainment for those of us not quite old enough to drink legally. My best friend after high school enjoying something called "sand surfing." How it works is you get one of those curved plastic disks used for sliding down snowy hills (like a giant opaque contact lens, don't ask how you could get snow gear in Florida). Kneel on the disc, grab a rope tied to the back of the car, and hang on for dear life.

Good times, good times.

I'm sure there are plenty of sites with jeep compass reviews I could consult, but if I decide to buy or lease a jeep compass it may not be in the near future. The economy really needs to improve, and though we enjoy decent sales at book fairs, it isn't enough to buy a car. Perhaps I should just cut the middleman and sell books at dealerships. Might work out well for a romance author, a car lot is full of back seats. :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blogging Today at TRS Blue

What are the five top recommended chocolates for writers? I tell all today at The Romance Studio BLUE blog. Also, over at Romantic Inks I revised an article I wrote about good events for authors to attend.

Where else do I blog? I'm helping EPIC manage their two blogs. EPIC eBooks covers the eBook and ePublishing industry, while EPIC Authors is strictly promotion for EPIC members. If you are in EPIC I heartily invite you to participate in either. We would like to see articles on eBook readers especially, so if you have a reader please consider writing a review. Jolie du Pre recently talked about the iPhone reader, and once I get my eSlick Reader I'll review it there, too.

In the meantime, it's off to write another story. I've been blocked for a while, time to trigger the muse again. Luckily I have leftover chocolate for bribing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Vacation from Myself

Lord, how I need one. Seems I have done quite a bit of traveling this years, mostly on weekends, and very little of it involved relaxation. Even the Florida trip last month was fraught with aggravation and tension...one day I'd like to just take off by myself and sleep for 48 hours. Not answer e-mail or deal with publishing stuff.

Question is, where to go? I live in a resort town, and going to another resort seems odd. I do like the Carolina shores, though. I remember several years ago Malc and I spent a long weekend at this Myrtle Beach Resort. He needed to be there for a conference, and I spent the free time exploring the area. It was during Lent, I recall, as I ended up in this Church near the beach for Friday adoration, something I hadn't done in forever. Afterward, lunch at Broadway at the Beach...this was long before the KISS coffeehouse. I imagine I could have killed some time there scratching Rush Rules on the tables. Ha.

There were tons of North Myrtle Beach Resorts lining the shore, but damned if I can remember where we stayed. The main event that sticks out in my mind was dinner - lots of seafood to be had - and this funny story some of our conference mates told us about this disappointing live music experience there. Apparently they had gone to a bar to hear some highly touted act called "Music Train". Music Train ended up being two middle-aged white guys, one on guitar and one on a Casio, reciting this oft-rehearse patter about "the good old days of rock and roll." Say, Bob, remember the 60s and how we all used to have long hair and bellbottoms? I guess you could say we needed some fashion...Help! Boom, segue into the song. This was the act, a "train" of informercial-style chat peppered with a bad lounge act. We had a good laugh hearing the story, but part of me sort of wished I had been there to witness it for myself.

Not sure I'll try the North Myrtle Beach Resort route for my weekend escape. It's fair drive from Tidewater, and literally I'll drive past a hundred beach towns to get there. Charleston seems to be more my speed, though that's a ten-hour haul by car. I do have some money saved up, and I've taken July off from signings. We'll see where I can go then - no kids, no husband, no laptop.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A picture worth a thousand dirty words


Actually, just nine in this one. Taken at Sex 2.0 last week


Friday, May 15, 2009

Chocolate: America's Favorite Pastime


In an effort to test the flavors of different cacao levels, I'm trying pieces of two bars today: an ounce of 70% Nirvana Single Origin Sao Thome and 80% Equal Exchange Extra Dark Organic. The Nirvana has a bolder taste than the Equal Exchange 70% I had I last week, with a bitter aftertaste and a sharp nose. Held on the tongue long enough, I can almost detect earthy overtones, almost like tobacco (can you tell I've been to too many wine tastings lately?). Seems like it would be a good bar to graduate to if you're slowly working your way toward high cacao levels.

The 80%, by comparison, is richer and smooth, with a latent sweetness that doesn't linger on the palate. I like the flavor of this particular bar as opposed to other chocolates I've tried at this level. Sampling the lesser percentage chocolate after this, I noticed, enhances the sweet flavor of it. That said, I think they are both good bars to enjoy on their own - I don't know that I'd put either on my coming Top Five list, but I have the weekend to figure that out.

Blogging for Dollars

I heard from my art director that Kindle will allow bloggers to offer their content for subscriptions. I pondered doing it myself, then wondered what Kindle user would pay money to look at pictures of Geddy Lee and hear me complain about things. Still, the opportunity presents itself to promote books, so I am contemplating a "quickies" blog - posts of sexy short shorts to enjoy on a daily basis. Insert the inevitable "holding the Kindle with one hand joke" here.

More later.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How to Write Chocolate off Your Taxes

The simple answer: review it for a blog.

Well, don't quote me on that. Being a published author, I could probably get away with it by calling it a promotional expense. I do give away candy at booksignings, but I imagine one day the IRS will catch up to me and wonder aloud why I would distribute whole Vosges bars to readers. Then I'd have to bring people in to verify I did just that, and those people would have to be bribed...with actual Vosges bars. So maybe there isn't a simple answer for that.

I do like to Twitter about chocolate though. Just the other day I answered a post from somebody who had tried one of the Hershey Cacao Reserve treats and was disappointed. Now, I have no memory of trying that brand myself - I've been busy collecting more exotic brands for sampling, but I ended up in a brief exchange with the woman whereupon she asked me for a recommendation. This, of course, required some research.

Now, don't think all I do every day is wolf down chocolate. I've admitted before that I keep a stash, but the reason the stash remains large is because I gradually chip away at it. Everything in moderation, and I estimate I limit myself to about two ounces a day, which is plenty for me. It's just enough to enjoy and review properly.

For this fellow tweeter, I suggested a dark around the 70% span. If you've shopped for dark chocolate before and haven't paid attention to the percentages, you'll know it does make a difference. This past week I've alternated between a few bars: one milk called Galaxy, which is a foreign import from Mars UK; the Chuao Caracas Dark (60%) with almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios; and the Equal Exchange Very Dark (71%) solid. Three different levels of cacao - three different tastes.

Galaxy, as expected, was quite sweet with a taste I've come to identify with European chocolate. It reminded me a bit of the milk Aero without the bubbles - smooth texture and lingering sugary aftertaste. The Chuao, by comparison, had a sweet flavor as well, not interrupted by the presence of nuts. I haven't had many bars in the 60% range - usually in the fifties and seventies and beyond, and I'd have to say I didn't much care for the flavor it.

The Equal Exchange was my favorite of the three - dark and rich and smooth with a bold snap and nose. Held long enough gave it sort of a citrus aftertaste. I find I prefer darks in the 70s, and it was what I suggested to my Twitter acquaintance.

I do have an EE bar in the 80% range somewhere, I'll have to report here later. In the meantime, look out for a blog on Romantic Inks on chocolate and writing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm Not Your Stepping Stone...or Am I?



Ever since I saw this one Twitter post from an author looking to opine on the progression from eBook author to print, I've heard this song in my head. Not that I mind, I like the Monkees fine, but as far as eBook publishing is concerned they are totally irrelevant, unless Nez sends Mundania a submission. Hey, the decade is still young.

Anyway, I caught snatches (heh) of the Twitter conversation Saturday while multi-tasking at the Sex 2.0 conference in the DC area. Having had the foresight to bring my laptop, I updated the Phaze Books site during downtime in the vendor's room, all the while twittering about the gig (#sex20 actually trended for a while in Twitter Search - oh, the places you'll go!). There came on my reader a few posts questioning whether or not an author should seek out publication with an ePub as a means of using the experience as a "stepping stone" toward NYC.

Now, we've heard many stories about authors who were able to make the transition. We all know that Sherrilyn Kenyon's first works were digital, and at RT Orlando two authors receiving awards acknowledged their "start" in eBooks. When I hear eBooks referred to in that context, however, it gives me the impression that ePublishing is not something one should return to once you receive "the call." In a way it's reminiscent of the Hollywood age where you had "Movie Stars" and "Television Stars" and never the twain would meet. These days, though, you find many actors switch easily, so I don't see why it shouldn't be like that in the publishing world.

On many a pro-ePub blog, you'll find lists of advantages to electronic publishing: smaller pubs offer a larger percentage of royalties, and while many don't offer advances they do pay out monthly or quarterly (you won't always find that in NY). The relationship between the author and publisher may be closer, and often an author will have greater input on marketing and cover art. I don't know how many NYC pubs will let an author design his/her own cover; many NY authors I know are given one and expected to live with it. If you ask me, those who publish e- are so more involved in the process. You won't become a millionaire within the year, and many NY authors aren't, but the freedom e- allows you could be argued as a good trade-off.

Of course, NY publishing has its attractions. In my memory, I recall a comment by a well-known author who got her start with one of the top romance ePubs. She noted with her e- work her sales averaged around 5,000 or so units per title. Her NY titles, by comparison, enjoyed a first print run of 50,000, and the distribution was wider spread. What author wouldn't want a large first run? Granted, there's no guarantee all 50,000 will sell, but that a publisher is willing to take that chance on you is flattering. Tack on other possibilities like foreign rights, audio, etc., and you can make a comfortable living.

Is an agent or NY editor going to care if you have prior ePublishing credit? I can't answer that, but I can't imagine that every new author picked for publication in the last decade had an eBook for sale.

Should you persue an ePublisher with a book just to create a backlist for NY courtship? Well...I have said this once before on my blog: if your ultimate goal is New York, persue New York. Write the book for New York, and query New York. It will appear that a fair number of authors whose first publishing credits were eBooks are making the jump, and there's a good explanation for that. Several years ago, Harlequin and Kensington didn't have erotic romance imprints, so the authors writing these explicit titles - unwilling or unable to tone down the sex - took the books to erotic ePublishers. Now that we have Spice and Aphrodosia, etc., you'll find some familiar names mixed in with newer authors - so if you are now writing your first work the field has expanded. These lines, too, are available in digital format, so depending on where you end up you could become an eBook author in one sense, anyway. You have more choices now, and you do have ePublishing to thank for that.

Those who fear having an eBook credit could harm their chances of finding an agent will take care to note that Deidre Knight, a long respected literary agent and romance author, recently put out a book with Samhain Publishing, and other bestsellers like L.A. Banks have published with smaller e- houses as well. Just as movie stars are finding their way to starring roles on the smaller screen, there can be a succesful blurring of borders in publication.

In the end, pursue the house that is the best fit for your book, even if it means stepping off the path.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another Rush tour? So much for that 529 account



I heard a rumor, said my friend, from a reputable source.

Normally I wouldn't take the time to listen, but where I hang out for my Rush fix, there are genuine reputable sources. People with connections, loose affiliations, distant relations. When you follow a favorite band around for years and years you do have to accept the inevitable notion of retirement, yet there's a small voice inside always screaming. Come on, just one more tour. You're not that old. Here, have some acai juice. Lots of antioxidants.

Indeed, look at country music. You have acts in their 70s and older touring all the time. Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn...granted, they aren't doing the high dives off the speaker towers these days, but they're out there. All we want to hear is the music - it doesn't matter if you feel you're too old for theatrics. Hire dancers like Madonna does. Stand there for two hours and play, we'll love it.

I'm not saying Rush are old, either. They certainly look much better than most acts their age now. Think about it: Keith Richards?! Doesn't some roadie jack him up to a car battery every night to get him running? Steven Tyler? A Shar-pei in scarves.

So I hear this rumor, and another one attached. I don't like to gossip, so I won't divulge. But if it turns out to be true I would be pleased to know it. In the meantime I'll be saving up my money anyway. We'll see Rush in Vegas again or send Miss Diva to William and Mary. Win-win.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Treading the Murky Waters of Reprint Rights

I feel compelled to write about this after reading my colleague's blog. Skyla Dawn Cameron manages Awe-Struck eBooks, a division of Mundania Press, which owns Phaze Books. Skyla has a very nice article on the risks of shopping reprint rights, a topic which appears to have strong relevance in the eBook world. When you consider in the past few years how many small publishers have closed shop (and I've blogged about it many times), the idea of receiving nothing but previous published works in the submission queue can inspire dread. Where Skyla notes that many of the reprint queries she receives are former self-pubs, I tend to receive more by way of ePub closures.

These days, however, we limit reprint queries to in-house authors. A number of other houses hold the same policy, while others will consider works on some kind of contingency. I am grateful to Loose Id, for example, for taking a chance on Exciteable Gals. It is my intent to give them more work in the future, and I hope to have something for them in a few months. With other books that have come back to me, though, I put them up for free. I find they are too short to bother shopping, and I would rather put my energy into promoting a new work that can better boost my backlist.

Publishers: should you dismiss reprints altogether? I would be hesitant to offer an absolute yes. If you check Phaze's April bestsellers, you'll see Emma Wildes' The Arrangement is back in the Top 20 bestsellers list. This title came to us a few years ago, when Emma removed it from Venus Press. It had placed third in the Lories, I liked the story, so we rolled with it. The Arrangement went on to become one of our top sellers, and we bound it with Emma's other Phaze works into a print title, Secret Sins. Recently, Emma published a novel with a big NY press and is receiving raves, so it appears The Arrangement is benefitting from that.

The first Coming Together volume we put out was a reprint, and our association with this terrific organization has spawned a franchise of books - and accolades. What began as a community effort to help others has attracted the support of readers and authors who give their time to worthy causes.

As Skyla notes, Mundania does a large reprint business for big names like Piers Anthony. Indeed, Piers' first Phaze title is a reprint, Relationships. Yet, this "relationship" with Piers continued with two more volumes of short stories, with plans for Relationships IV, plus a marvelous appearance at Romantic Times in Orlando. So there are success stories involved with reprinting works.

Of course, for every success we have a few duds. I would like to say everything I contract sells in the thousands, but it just doesn't happen. Taking on too many reprints from new authors, too, runs the risk of the "dumping ground" or "safety publisher" label, which nobody wants on their houses. This is why, therefore, we imposed the in-house rule as far as reprints are concerned.

Does this mean authors should not bother shopping reprint rights? Not exactly. Nobody wants to see a book orphaned. Indeed, I have three mystery novels currently out of print, and while I would love to see them available again I understand the risk involved in taking on a pony that has run the track once too often. My first book, Little Flowers, went through two houses, and some parts of the story give the book an outdated feel now. I know I wouldn't be able to place it without major revisions. So it sits.

So let's say you have an orphaned work. Maybe your publisher folded, or your contract expired and you decide to remove the work. You have your eye on a specific house where you believe your genre thrives. Maybe sales were low at the first house, and a new cover and tighter edits could renew interest. It's natural to want to find a new home. As Skyla noted in her blog, it's important to know whether or not the work is available elsewhere, and if all the rights are completely yours. If your work had been in print, you may wish to consider why somebody would spend $10 for a new book when they can search Alibris and get a used copy for $3.

If the book had been all digital, rights reversion may come easier to you. There are risks to consider like dreaded eBook piracy, but a publisher may be more receptive to your submission if the genre is right and the story is strong. One thing to know: be honest about the book's history! After I posted our new reprint policy, I continued to receive submissions of previously pubbed works. It only takes a Google search for a publisher to discover deception. If you have a reprint to shop, the publisher needs to know. There could be legal entanglements that follow, you never know.

One suggestion for sucessfully shopping a reprint: write a follow-up story and note that one is available. A publisher may be more receptive to the first work if a second one of equal or greater quality is available. It is also strongly advised to show your commitment to promoting a reprinted work. While new titles are great for assisting backlist sales, a publisher may be skeptical to consider a reprint if he/she feels your avenues for promotion have been exhausted, or if it appears you're headed in a different direction. In the case of ePublishing, the cost to produce a work is not high, but there is still work involved. We employ editors to look at the books, artists to create covers, and PR people to spread the word. There is time and money invested, and the book - original or otherwise - should hopefully yield a profit.

Anyway, read Skyla's blog. Good points made there.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lick it, Slam it, Su- uh, Read it


It's not that we couldn't wait to get the Kinko de Mayo sale at Phaze Books off and running. I just didn't want to fall asleep before I could update the site. It's happened, I'm human. These days the four-year-old outlasts me by a wide margin. She just learned to spell her name, so watch for her to become to new webmistress soon.

Now through May 6th, save 15% off your next order at Phaze Books with the code KINKODEMAYO. If that's not enough to salt your rim, we have five hot short stories available for free download, two of which are mine. A Daring Twist is part of Dareville and M/M erotic - it serves as a prologue of sorts to part of Dare to Dream and the upcoming Daring Red. As far as the universe goes, it's set around the time of Truth or Dare, and more will be explained with the next book. Anyway, hope you like it.

Sugar on Top is basically a reworking of a story I had in a Midnight Showcase Sinful Sundaes digest. The rights recently came back to me, and rather than try to shop another reprint I decided to let readers have at. It was a fun story to write, purposefully silly, about a werewolf with a sweet tooth and an invisible lady who doubles as a gossip reporter. This time, though, she becomes the gossip. Anyway, it's makes for nice margarita reading if you're so inclined. Check out the main Phaze site for stories by Becca Dale, Jude Mason, and Nona Wesley. Nona is new to Phaze, but she wanted to send something for advanced promotion, which is a great idea if you hope to introduce yourself to new readers. I touched on self-promotion a bit in the blog I do for Romantic Inks, and was surprised to see a number of people re-Tweet it on Twitter today. Gotta love Tweet cred.