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Posts tagged with: publishing industry

Does the Golden Heart mean now what it meant then?

It’s been four years since the 2009 Golden Heart nominations were announced and the group that would become the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood came together. When I look back at all the success stories we’ve shared among ourselves, they run the entire length and breadth of the publishing spectrum: from sisters who directly sold their first book as a result of the GH nomination, to others who went on to publish in genres outside of Golden Heart category, to sisters who have found success with indie publishing.

There have been sweeping changes in the publishing industry since 2009 and as this year’s GH hopefuls wait for the call, I wondered whether the Golden Heart nomination means as much today for a writer’s career as it did then.

The Decline of RWA Contests

For the last several years now, local chapter contest coordinators have been seeing a decline in the number of entrants. We see constant appeals that entries are low in one category or another. Christi Barth, coordinator of the Reveal Your Inner Vixen contest, explained that this was the the last year due to “significantly decreased entrants” in the past few years.

contest-closedPart of this could be due to the decline in the economy–a contest entry usually costing anywhere between $35 and $50. It may also be due to the fact that there are so many more avenues for authors to publish nowadays with the rise in digital publishing as well as self-publishing. Ruby Sister Tamara Hogan theorized that people may question the return on investment on contests. Why pay money to try to get in front of an editor when most digital houses will allow you to submit without an agent?

How does this decline in contest entry in general affect the Golden Heart? It’s hard to tell if there is any effect since the Golden Heart is capped at a certain number of entries. So even if the overall interest has declined, the number of entries hasn’t fallen below the cap. You are still competing with as many others as the entrants did in previous years.

There was one marked difference. Despite still having the same number of entries overall, the inspirational category had to be closed this year due to low enrollment. So for whatever reason, less inspy authors were opting to try for the Golden Heart this year.

Getting out of the Slush Pile

It was always known that the Golden Heart was not a golden ticket. One of the greatest benefits of the nomination was to give authors a boost in the query and submission process. In that, the GH appears to maintains its caché, at least among agents and editors.

To Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin’s, a Golden Heart nomination “would ALWAYS get my attention and a GH win, in my mind, pretty much says, “read this as fast as possible.” In her mind, this hasn’t changed between then or now.

According to agent Jill Marshal, “I don’t think that has changed from 5 years ago.  I still think the Golden Hearts are considered one of the top romance writing contests in the country and are widely recognized by writers, agents, and editors.  What has changed is that there are now more ways to discover great romance authors, including epublished authors and self-published authors, and so there are more avenues competing for agents’ and editors’ attention.”

That seemed to be the universal answer from the agents and editors that responded. The Golden Heart was an indicator that an author had the writing chops and knew about the industry. The nomination and especially an award seemed to go a long way with industry insiders.

But finalists need to strike while the iron is hot. Author Amber Lin pointed out that a nomination will probably entice agents or editors to request a full. “After that it’s strength of book. Like college GPA matters at first job, but much less later.”

Traditional Publishing vs. Digital or Indie Publishing

One of the biggest perks of the Golden Heart contest was to be able to get your work in front of an acquiring editor at a traditional publishing house. Yet with so many different avenues for authors, has the value of that opportunity declined?

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Those who wish to go the traditional route might value the opportunity the GH represents. Yet there are many more authors now who are looking to avenues outside of traditional publishing. The Big Six (plus Harlequin) are no longer the only game in town. (And I guess we can’t even say the Big Six anymore, huh?)  Are more and more authors turning to digital and indie publishing? Is the value of a traditional contract diminishing in authors’ eyes?

Is the Golden Heart a Selling Point?

Publishers often use the Golden Heart Award as a selling point, as seen on Ruby Sister Kim Law’s cover for Sugar Springs.

Sugar Springs

Many previous finalists, published and unpublished, are now self-publishing their GH nominated manuscripts as well. Why not include the Golden Heart nomination in their marketing as well? I believe many authors do in their bios and cover copy.

This brings up an interesting point:

In this day and age when SO many more books are being put out, is the Golden Heart nomination and award even MORE valuable? It’s become more difficult for an author or title to be discovered. Does the industry and insider recognition given to the Golden Heart Award provide an even more critical boost to an unknown author?

And when presenting the book to non-industry insiders, having an award displayed on a cover or back cover copy might add to the marketability of a book. Readers don’t necessarily pay close attention to awards and author quotes, but they probably notice that they’re present. They’re used to seeing big, bestselling books plastered with accolades, so even if a reader doesn’t know what the Golden Heart Award is, it certainly doesn’t hurt to brag about it on the cover.  Just like you might not know who New York Times Bestseller Ima Ryder is, but her quote sure makes the cover look more impressive!

Validation

I think most GH finalists can agree, the most rewarding part of the nomination is the validation. “Someone likes me. They really, really like me.” At the time when we receive the nomination, we’re all still unpublished writers, which means it’s likely that agents and editors haven’t yet stepped forward to tell us, “You got what it takes, kid!”

Author Laurie London probably gave me the freshest and most uplifting answer as I attempted to navigate through today’s complicated publishing world and the Golden Heart’s place in it. “So much of writing is a mind game,” Laurie pointed out. (actually, she tweeted out) “Validation, in my mind, is hugely motivating.”

Her ultimate point was that the Golden Heart serves as a motivator. And with the right motivation and all these different avenues open to authors today, the Golden Heart nomination becomes even more powerful than it was before.

JeannieLin2sm

Ah, there’s me way back when. :) When I first began my exploration into this topic, I was feeling cynical. I was ready to wallow in the nostalgia of what the Golden Heart meant in the days when traditional publishing was the only game in town and how the appeal of contests was starting to fade away and the Golden Heart with them. There are so many other ways to get the attention of editors and agents nowadays. And more immediate and lucrative ways to get your work into the hands of readers.

But ultimately, the power of the Golden Heart award has always resided in what we make of it, how we choose to take that one little foot in the door and move forward. And with that in mind, it is just as powerful, just as effective, just as much of an opportunity as it was when the Ruby Sisters first came together–as long as you decide that is what it’s going to be.

So make it so.

Good luck all you GH hopefuls and I can’t wait to celebrate with you next Tuesday!

Good things come in small packages?

Once upon a time—okay, about ten years ago—we romance writers all knew how long a story should be. If you were writing for a Harlequin line, there was a specific word count to be met for it. If you were writing a single-title novel for another publisher, it needed to be 90-100,000 words. There were exceptions, to be sure, but for the most part, things were set and clear.

Very few novellas were published. Due to the constraints of efficient print publishing, novellas had to be grouped into multi-author anthologies or into anthologies by a single (generally best-selling) author. Short stories had almost no place to go. There were no other options.

Five or six years ago, single-title lengths were trending downward, toward 80-90,000 words.

Now, with the explosion of self-publishing, stories of any word count can find a home—and readers—and sales.

As an indie author, I have every length to play with. Sometimes I’m certain that the story I have in mind will take a whole novel to tell. Or I may know I’m aiming for a very short story, or a novelette, or a novella. Of course, some of those times when I think I know, I’m, well, wrong.

I was going to announce a release today, but instead, I’ve found myself holding off, because I think the story wants a little more room.

I’m grateful I have that option. But these days, even trad-pubbed authors have more choices. Digital publishing makes shorter works possible. Publishers don’t have to concern themselves with how much (or how little) paper a story will use, and whether it can be published efficiently.

Authors on every publishing path are finding advantages to shorter stories. Short works can entice readers toward longer ones and bring in readers who might not otherwise find you. For example, in the last two weeks my free fantasy short story, Swords and Scimitars, has received two reviews from guys. Yay! Men aren’t the typical fantasy romance reader, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll keep reading and go on to discover the rest of the wonderful genre of romance. Gateway drugs! :-)

So I’m curious: have you found yourself writing shorter works now? Do you enjoy writing shorter tales as an author—and do you enjoy reading shorter ones as a reader?

Experimentation and a Ruby Release: “Swords and Scimitars” by Cate Rowan

I have a new release to tell you about, but first, let me get this out of the way: I used to write to please others.

It’s not that I don’t take other people into account anymore—not at all. I have a readership, and their opinions of my work matter to me.

But I no longer write to please the traditional publishing industry. I’ve learned a fine lesson about that.

A panel of editors and agents once shot down my query letter at the RWA conference. It was a query letter workshop for Golden Heart finalists, and the panelists were to say “stop” when they reached the point in a query where they wanted to quit reading. The entire panel yelled stop as soon as they learned that my book’s hero, a sultan, already had six wives.

The industry consensus was that a book like that wouldn’t succeed. Under the paradigm of that time, they were likely right to shoot it down.

I hired several agents over the years who did their best, but Kismet’s Kiss was a tough sell. Despite two Golden Heart finals, it clearly didn’t fit the New York marketing boxes, and editors were afraid it wouldn’t make the publishing house enough money. That’s understandable; it was a risk. I was pushing boundaries.

But I knew romance, and understood my contract with the romance reader. I felt my book could flourish, and I was crazy (= stubborn) enough to try. After two small presses made offers, I decided to self-publish Kismet’s Kiss.

Instead of selling it to a publisher, I sold it to readers—more than 2600 of them to date, at prices from $2.99-5.99. And another 3600+ readers have bought my second book, The Source of Magic. While the number of copies sold is lower than what many trad-pubbed authors can expect, I earn much more per copy. I’ve made nearly $13,000 already. This is far beyond the average advance for two books from a debut author, and Kiss and Source are still in the marketplace earning more each day. They’ll never go out of print.

It’s funny to look back on my journey and realize what’s happened. It was not quite a year and a half ago that I published Kismet’s Kiss. I was the first Ruby Sister to self-pub, and alas, it wasn’t because I’m a visionary or a psychic. (I only wish.) I’d just realized going indie was my best chance to succeed and find readers for stories I loved.

Ten Rubies have now tested the indie path, and there are more Rubies planning to try it. Some of our agent-approved, contest-winning, misfit books that would otherwise be lying abandoned in darkness have found life—and readers—and in many cases, have revived their authors’ enjoyment in writing.

I LOVE THE NEW WORLD OF PUBLISHING.

This world also lets authors experiment with prices, covers, descriptions, book length, and subject matter. That’s part of the fun for me with my latest release. It’s a short story of 7,000 words, a length that has very few traditional markets. I’m pricing it at a mere 99 cents to see if that will entice readers. And although it’s a prequel to Kismet’s Kiss, which is a fantasy romance, I consider “Swords and Scimitars” to be a historical fantasy. It brims with emotion and love, but it’s far more a hero’s journey through an exotic culture (think “Arabian Nights” or “The King and I”) than a traditional romance.

A few months ago, Amazon offered indies another way to experiment: the Amazon Select program for Kindle books. Select allows the author/publisher to set the book’s price to free for up to five days out of every 90. Free books get lots of downloads and greater exposure, which helps generate paid sales afterward. The author/publisher has control over when the free days are scheduled, making it easier to arrange promotions. The downside is that the Select program requires Amazon exclusivity for the full 90 days. I’ve been reluctant to add Kismet’s Kiss or The Source of Magic to the Select program for that reason. I’ve made about a quarter of all my sales through Barnes and Noble.

Still, now that I have a new release, I thought I’d try Select for “Swords and Scimitars” and see what happens. Hmm… have I mentioned my dislike for that exclusivity thing? Yeah. So before I sign up for Select, I’m making “Swords and Scimitars” available for the next five days at Barnes and Noble (nook) and Smashwords (all formats), as well as at Amazon, and all for just 99 cents. This way non-Kindle readers can get their hands on “Swords and Scimitars,” too.

 

Swords and Scimitars: A Fantasy Short Story

Immortal twin brothers. One enchanted sword. A tragedy that propels them into legend.

The lives of well-born twins Kismet and Taso are easy and carefree—endless days of bedding women and fighting battles among the gods—until sorcery drives a wedge between them that slices deeper than flesh. Kismet has striven to be the ultimate warrior, but a mistake costs him his brother, his family, and his homeland.

He carves out a new life in the desert, rising to the command of a realm and an army, yet can’t escape his past. When two women beg for his aid against tyranny, he must sacrifice his freedom and his long-scarred heart to help them.

“Swords and Scimitars” is a short story of the immortal founders of verdant Teganne and desert Kad, two rival realms divided by magic—yet bound by blood, mistrust, and love. The chronicle continues in the award-winning fantasy romance novels Kismet’s Kiss and The Source of Magic.

 

I used to write to please others… but I wrote “Swords and Scimitars” to please myself and my readership, and with luck, to attract new readers from a different genre. It’s an experiment for sure, and one of which I’m proud. As a writer, that’s the best feeling of all.

Thank you for stopping by to celebrate the release of “Swords and Scimitars.” To add to the festive mood, I’m giving away three copies to non-Ruby visitors. Leave a comment to enter, and good luck!

What’s Up for the Publishing Game in 2012?

(Bingo card on left by John Scalzi.  Bingo card on right by Shmuel 510.  Thanks, guys–both are hilarious and brilliant takes on the “pat” lines we’re hearing from each side!)

On Thursday, Ruby Sister Vivi Andrews will be here again with her crystal ball to help us all make predictions about what’s to come in 2012–personally, professionally, and (perhaps most importantly) in the world of sports. Prepare to have chills as she reminds us which predictions from 2011 actually came true!

Today’s a bit more prosaic, but it’s about predictions too . . . .

A couple days ago, the most wise and wonderful Jane over at Dear Author offered up these thoughtful predictions for what will happen in the publishing industry in the coming twelve months.

We all know what a wild ride 2011 was, with the mass embrace of e-readers and the consequent meteroic rise in self-publishing–not to mention all sorts of apocalyptic talk about the death of “traditional” publishing and the obsolescence of agents and copy-editors and the imminent descent of mutant hordes of carnivorous ravens and that sort of thing.

Jane, of course, is much too measured and thoughtful for apocalyptic rantings. She makes perfectly rational predictions such as “Digital book sales will represent 50% of trade sales by the end of 2012,” and also predicts the purchase of Goodreads by Amazon. (Pop over to dearauthor.com using the link above and read the full predictions for yourself…the details are fascinating!!)

What do you think, dear Readers? Is Jane on the money? Is she way off the mark?

What else do you predict will happen in the industry this year, especially in romance publishing?

Which genres are going to dominate? Will we finally see the full-blooded return of the Western? Will zombies keep gettin’ the love? Will vampires really wither and die?

Will the back-list books in digital form squeeze out debut authors? Will self-publishing start to seem scary again?

Given the times, are readers going to be wanting more humor or less? Heartwarming or bloodcurdling? Fast-paced reads or big sweeping multi-generational sagas?

What do you see as the Next Big Thing in publishing? Make your wildest predictions! We dare ya!

 

San Francisco eBooks for Everyone Else Conference Recap

Yesterday’s eBooks for Everyone Else conference was an amazing one-day event about all aspects of digital publishing, from formatting and uploading to pricing and marketing. The event, run by Publishers Launch, brought together approximately 100 publishers, agents, authors, and vendors for a quick and dirty slog through a very ambitious list of topics.

I could probably write a novella about this conference, but I’ll highlight a few of my key takeaways for you. If you want my raw notes, you can read my Twitter feed from yesterday (http://twitter.com/#!/Sara_Ramsey) since I wrote 100+ tweets about what I was hearing throughout the day.

One additional note: some of this is more focused, at least on the surface, around epublishing. However, I think that savvy authors should keep track of what’s happening in channels other than their own and implement approaches that work — whether that’s epubs borrowing from what traditional publishers do, or vice versa.

And finally, any errors in quotes/attribution are my own, and I’ll fix anything that is pointed out to me. Now that I’ve caveated this post to death, let’s move on!

1) Discoverability

Discoverability is all about how readers find your book. In the good old days, a reader might stumble across your book in a bookstore, love the cover, and pick it up. But people who shop for books online are less likely to impulse buy; one stat quoted was that impulse buying drops by 9% when people shop online. And if a reader doesn’t know they’re looking for you, how can they find you when search terms are usually so specific and targeted?

There are a couple of solutions for this. One is more the publisher’s responsibility (or the indie writer’s responsibility, if managing their own uploads): creating excellent “metadata” for the book. That covers everything from descriptions of the book with keywords relevant to that genre, to spelling the title and author name correctly. This information is vital to whether your book can be found — for example, if I accidentally enter my name as “Sarah Ramsey” someplace instead of “Sara Ramsey”, that book wouldn’t be found by anyone searching for me directly. So, get your data straight, and make sure you understand metadata before taking the DIY approach.

Another solution is not on the author side, but on the distributor side. I personally don’t browse much on Amazon, B&N, etc., but Book Country did a really cool presentation on how one can browse through content there. Because they’re targeting genre fiction, they’re working on making genre books more discoverable — including using a cool visualization of books, almost like a periodic table, to show you what books are clustered around a book that you already love.

Bottom line: if no one can find your book, you’re toast. Getting discoverability right is perhaps the single most important thing you can do (after you write a fabulous book, of course!).

2) Marketing

Ah, marketing. The very word gives a lot of authors hives. I suppose the good news is that no one has the perfect marketing formula, so no one can tell you you’ve screwed up :)

Seriously, though, there are viable options in both traditional/digital marketing and in social media, if you’re willing to take the plunge. On the more traditional, direct to customer marketing side, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo pointed to Ruth Ann Nordin as an example of someone who does almost no social media, but has built a robust email newsletter mailing list and does most of her marketing direct to her established reader base. Bob Mayer has also had success running Google and Facebook ads in an effort to build brand awareness — he gets very few clicks, but by targeting his ads at the right places, he can get readers used to seeing his name and prime them to buy his book later.

On the social media side, it isn’t as simple as going on Facebook and playing Farmville all day. It’s important to remember that you are what you tweet. Iris Blasi said that “you are advertising the best version of yourself” — in other words, be yourself, but make sure ‘yourself’ is filtered through the awareness that you’re engaging with your audience, not your mom or your best friend.

Also, you need to know where your audience is. If you’re writing historical fiction, where do the history buffs hang out online? Is your story set during the Civil War and likely to attract older men? Or is it a Jane Austen or Tudor-era story that might appeal to women? Are you writing for teenagers? You need to identify your audience, then find them online and interact with them where they already are.

Surprisingly, one market research tidbit that came out was that teenagers may spend the most time on Facebook, but they don’t engage with marketing there. They buy primarily based on reviews from their peers, not on marketing-driven interaction. Even more surprisingly (to me), women in the 40+ age bracket were more likely to buy based on Facebook interaction and discussion, even if they spend less time there than teens. This doesn’t mean you have to be on Facebook (just because someone is likely to buy on Facebook doesn’t mean your audience is there — averages don’t necessarily apply to the specifics of your niche), but it’s worth considering where your audience can be reached. The market research came from Bowker, who is doing a ton of work on genre-specific audience identification.

Bottom line: know your audience and interact with them when and where you can.

3) The future of agents

I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but it’s no surprise that agents are being forced to rethink their business models. The agent panel at the end of the day included some powerhouses (Scott Waxman, Deidre Knight, Ted Weinstein, and Laura Rennert), and they’re all working in a variety of ways to provide new ebook services to their clients while attempting to build sustainable long-term businesses.

Ted Weinstein laid it out very clearly: he thinks that agents will either become a) Hollywood style agents who only work with the biggest, splashiest clients on the most surefire projects; b) small publishers themselves; or c) more like a CEO/career manager who works with a much smaller subset of clients but manages all aspects of their career (such as building a speaking career for an author who is already a successful nonfiction expert). Every agent will choose a different path that suits them, but eventually most agents will have to make hard choices about what their business will look like.

Bottom line: Agencies are in flux, but any agent worth his/her salt is thinking hard about what the future looks like for them. My own personal opinion (not endorsed by anyone) is that it’s still worth signing with an agent depending on your goals, and I would sign with mine all over again in a heartbeat. But if the agent isn’t willing to have a conversation with you about the agency’s future (or predicts something that feels totally crazy), that would be a major red flag for me.

—–

That’s the bulk of the recap. There was a lot more detail about technological solutions, pricing, conversions, more on metadata, etc., but this post is too long as it is. I’ll check in throughout the day on the comments here and answer any questions, or feel free to tweet or email me (dearsara AT sararamsey DOT com) directly!

A Who’s Who of Publishers

Sitting in a workshop last week, listening to a panel of Kensington editors, one of them commented (I believe it was Audrey LeFehr, but it might have been Alicia Condon) that she was surprised by how many aspiring authors come to the conferences without doing even the slightest research about publishers.  Those bright eyed hopefuls (us) are trying to sell our books (of course!), but they (okay, we) sometimes have NO IDEA who these editors are, or even who Kensington is.  There are oodles of publisher spotlights at the National conference designed to inform authors of just this, but we’re talking about the most basic primer.  So that’s the goal of today’s post.  A VERY basic (and by no means complete) look at the publishing houses that handle romance.  This can serve as starting point.  A simple frame of reference, so when you’re chatting with Alicia Condon and she says she is a Kensington editor, you don’t give her a blank stare.

And please, if you have corrections or additions (or questions), feel free to add them in the comments.

If you are a member of RWA, you can also refer to their member’s only publisher information.  And Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money site is also a good reference point for a ballpark estimate of what romance authors are making at various houses.

DISCLAIMER: None of this is intended as an endorsement or indictment of any publisher.  Please do research before submitting to any publisher.

This post will either scare the bubbles out of you or give you hope…

As you may know, Medallion announced in April that it would stop printing mass-market paperbacks and instead focus on ebooks. Dorchester, which has been on rocky financial ground, recently did the same and now bookstores may be in the process of returning all their unsold Dorchester stock. Five Star has closed its doors to romance. Barnes and Noble is for sale, Borders has seemed to be in financial trouble for some time now, and many independent bookstores are gone or going, squeezed by the economy. The number of traditional publishers and traditional outlets for our novels is shrinking. (David Morrell has a short historical summary here.)

The publishing industry as we know it is changing, and print is in a bit of trouble. Newspapers are closing up shop, as well. Lately even agents such as Rachelle Gardner and Lori Perkins are telling us that non-traditional routes may work best for some authors. As always, and especially in this changing marketplace, authors need to keep our eyes out for our own best interests.

Despite the above seeming like gloom and doom, there’s hope for us. The segment of the publishing that is doing well right now is ebooks.

A research study cited in the Wall Street Journal found that owners of e-readers buy more books, and PC World noted this: “Forrester Research estimates around 11 million Americans will own at least one digital reading device by the end of September… Amazon says people buy three times more books on their e-readers than they would with printed products.”

Three times more books. HOORAY!

E-readers are flying off the shelves at Amazon and box stores across the country (including soon at your local Staples), and the Association of American Publishers reported a 200% increase in ebook sales in the first six months of 2010 compared with the same dates in 2009.

So that’s what’s going on in publishing, but what about ebooks in your life? I’ve created a simple poll so we can discover the preferences of our blog readers. Go check it out, then come back and let us know your thoughts on where the industry is headed. (And whether you’ve asked Santa for some e-reader love, or would rather stand naked on a fire ant hill.)

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