In Defense Of…

With RWA Nationals almost upon us, and this topic still a hot one behind the scenes and elsewhere, I think it’s worth saying the following:

From this side of the desk, it is very easy to tell which authors have been part of professional organizations like RWA. Those authors tend to have a better understanding of the business, approach edits with appropriate objectives in mind, and hold up their end of the bargain in a much more professional manner than those authors who haven’t benefited from time spent in a writing community.

Their work consistently shows better attention to detail, and stands a greater chance of pleasing genre readers. These authors read, understand and follow submission guidelines, and put their best foot forward every time. RWA authors also tend to enter the publishing world with more realistic expectations, which removes much stress from all sides of the equation.

So thank you, RWA (and other organizations like you), for cultivating professional attitudes, and coaching authors on the ins and outs — and ups and downs — of working with publishers, editors, dead lines, and promotion.

And on that note, my need to hire aforementioned editors (along with my need to implement a formal galley system) has knocked my Left Behind workshop off the table. Sorry, but there truly is no rest for the wicked…

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eHouston, We’ve Got A Problem

ETA: This has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a week, and I had every intention of letting it languish there indefinitely because it read too much like a rant, and I’ve been doing too much ranting lately.

But then I saw this DA post and changed my mind, because the crux of it has suddenly become all too relevant.

ORIGINAL POST:

Think the golden age of digital publishing is finally upon us? Well…someone grab that eagle, because it’s nowhere near ready to land.

Digital publishing has problems. SERIOUS problems, and if the problems aren’t solved, we could be doing irreperable harm to the very industry we’re trying to promote.

I’m talking today about print convention —  the many spatial and symbolic building blocks that relay an incredible amount of information to readers, without words. Things like indents, font type, white space, dashes (Kindle’s still Latin1? Really? Hell-ooo), double quotation marks, font sizing, pagebreaks, and etc.

I’ve recently taken part in a grueling production system overhaul. My goal was to ensure Lyrical’s ebooks would be xml compliant in order to keep them viable for some time to come. I learned very early on that html/xhtml and print convention do not work and play well together. It is extremely hard to mimic crucial print convention in a digital medium.

If you’ve ever tried to post an excerpt on your blog or website, you no doubt know exactly what I’m talking about: the excerpt ends up laborious reading because the spatial requirements of print convention are dang near impossible to reproduce without a whole heck of a lot of CSS.  

If you were working with a web designer to perfect this, and ultimately gave up, consider yourself forgiven — the coders think you’re being ridiculously picky when you’re only trying to please your readers.

Add to this another problem: the device developers want toys, options, bells and whistles to make their devices appealing to consumers. So what do they think is appealing?

San-serif font, apparently. Yet there’s a very good reason why traditional print books use serif fonts. If you don’t know what it is, you probably shouldn’t be developing reading technologies.

And then we arrive at my own personal nemesis: indent depth. This has been turned  into a “user setting” so readers can “personalize their reading experience”, which has caused many devices to completely ignore any CSS controlling that vital print convention, and often results in no, or too shallow, an indent to clearly define the start of a new paragraph.

For anyone who just thought “big deal,” let me explain why my knickers are braided about this frontlines battle in the xml vs. print convention wars. As a parent volunteer, I spent a lot of hours being read to by kids at a local elementary school. Everyone ought to be just as concerned by the following as I was:

A boy was reading to me, tracing his finger along a line of narrative. He kept getting hung up from one line to the next because the indents in the book were so shallow, he didn’t understand that one paragraph had ended and another had started, and thought he’d missed something.

This boy was 7 years old. He already knew the print convention. The convention wasn’t followed, and he got frustrated to the point he very nearly gave up. Had it been anyone else but me sitting there, able to explain that he was 100% right that the print didn’t make things clear enough, and that the book was at fault, not him, our industry might have lost him forever.

Yes, I did just use a poorly printed traditional book as an example. Read on.

Now hand that same kid an ereader and let him go nuts with the settings. Will he understand why the book is so dang hard to read? No. Chances are, some crazy old editor won’t be sitting next to him explaining print convention.

Yeah, user preference settings are great, when you know what you’re doing. Most readers won’t understand the consequences of print convention’s absence, and they shouldn’t have to. Publishing isn’t merely the act of distribution. Publishing is, in large part, quality assurance, and coders, designers and manufacturers are now just as much a part of publishing as authors and editors.

In all the haste to add user features (and God forbid value) to ereaders, the device  manufacturers don’t seem to understand the mantle of responsibility they’re so eager to wiggle into. People won’t buy devices just to set them on a shelf. They’ll want to actually use them. But what happens to reading enjoyment in stock projections, market share and patents? Do the corporate and tech sides forget what makes reading enjoyable in the first place?

Given everything I’ve learned in the last two years, I’m forced to conclude they do, so here I am with a reminder. The desire of any reader is to FORGET THEY’RE READING and become completely caught up in the story. Bells, whistles, toys…they’re distractions rather than desirable features.

Which brings me to display errors: As an editor, I am all over anything that breaks immersion. Any distraction or disruption in the reading experience can cause a reader to put a book down and never pick it up again.

Explain to me, coders, why it is in any way acceptable to have illegal character boxes or big huge blank spaces in ebooks. Yes, there’s a coding error in the ebook file itself. But you know what? eBook publishers wouldn’t have to produce 90 different file types in 90 different character sets if the manufacturers weren’t quite so eager to hogtie their consumers with proprietary file types.

That’s how mistakes happen. That’s how immersion gets broken, and that’s how our industry is losing the fight we ourselves started.

We’re already bucking a few hundred years of print tradition by taking books digital. If we ignore the importance of print convention — and the neurological processes going on behind the scenes — with our shiny new medium, we are damaging, maybe irreparably, the experience of reading for many generations to come.

It’s imperative that device developers, xml coders and traditional print publishers have a meeting of the minds now, before the state of print convention is devalued even farther in favor of shiny things.

We will never coax print-readers over to the digital side until we can expertly mimic the print experience. The way things seem to be headed right now, with all camps divided and serving themselves instead of readers, digital publishing will never, ever be able to deliver the experience — or reap the rewards — we all desire.

And no DRM. Paying customers aren’t thieves. DRM is a hold-over from the traditional publishing model, and even a majority of “new” digital publishing models are profoundly defective. 

If we want this industry to survive the digital age, all camps have to get on the same page (if you’ll forgive the pun) and borrow Bezos’s talent for revision.

Meanwhile, while I’m keeping myself awake nights trying to figure out how to save print convention and defend a reader’s right to actually enjoy a book on their 9-gabillion dollar chunk of e-ink and plastic, I’m hearing a lot of celebrating on some big blogs about how our day has finally come.

Maybe it has, but we are not ready for our close-up, Mr. DeMille.

First, we have to go back to the very fundamentals of reading to make sure we’re reinventing only those parts of the wheel that need re-inventing.

Print convention isn’t broken. The technology we’re pursuing is. We need smart innovation, and we need it now.

A New Pet-Peeve

Egregiously busy around here, as ever.

And of course I surface to gripe about something that used to annoy me, but now makes me downright mad.

Secondary characters in romances: You know the ones — the mother, the sister, brother, partner, gay BFF who says the right thing at just the right time. The “heartfelt talk” that helps either the hero or heroine see their romantic interest in a different light, or perhaps see just how badly they’re screwing up.

Pick up any romance — at least 7 in 10 will have a scene like that these days. From a theory standpoint, that secondary character could be serving as The Mentor, The Trickster, The Herald, or a Threshold Guardian, depending, but…

Why the HELL aren’t the hero and heroine having these conversations with each other? People don’t choose romance to get a character reference from some random bobble-head secondary character.

If you’re writing a romance and you’ve used this tired old device as a stand-in for real conflict intensification and resolution, think twice. Unless there is an extremely compelling reason — and I do mean extremely — why tension and understanding can’t be accomplished between the main protags alone, take the binky out of your mouth and rewrite the scene between the hero and heroine.

Yes, I can hear your protests. “But that wouldn’t work because…”

Hey, despite what the rest of the literary world might lead everyone to believe, no one said writing romance was easy. Or if they did, they’ve never written beyond chapter 1.

And never use the word “chuckle”, lest ye forget.

Adventures in Publishing

We (Lyrical) had something happen this week I think it’s worth sharing with authors, a sort of “please never do this” caveat.

First, let me repeat for the umpteenth time that publishing is a business. A contract for publication is a legal document that holds both the publishing house AND THE AUTHOR to very specific obligations.

Once you sign that contract and return it to the publisher, it becomes legally binding. After signing, you can not suddenly decide to sign a contract for the same work with another publisher and ask the first house to tear up their contract. 

Mind you, Lyrical took one for the home team and let it go. We’re not interested in getting this particular author in hot water with the other publisher in question, and we’ve issued a release of rights.

The point is, any other publisher might not have responded the way we did. (And personally, I feel we set a dangerous precedent, here, but were left little other choice.)

So please don’t do this. If you submit simultaneously to a number of houses, please wait until you’ve received response from all parties before accepting a contract for publication. It IS legally binding, and this is a real good way to land yourself on the “unprofessional ” list.

We Need To Talk

At our editorial staff meeting earlier tonight, we had a question come up that raised quite a few hackles. It concerns a response we hear too often from authors during edits and, when paired with a related problem, strikes at the heart of why some writers click and others struggle.

Here’s the refrain we hear too often: “But Dickens [or insert any other megafamous author of choice here] does it that way all the time.”

Here’s the related problem: “I’m the next Nora” [or insert any other megafamous author of choice here]

First of all, there are no Weird Al Yankovic’s in writing. Dickens (or whoever) isn’t writing your story. YOU are. You wrote a whole story in your voice, and shouldn’t suddenly thrust a completely different style on the reader for one or two sentences and expect it not to stand out and trip the reader. In addition, no one will be inserting your name into that argument someday if you don’t write the story your way

Second, there will only be one Nora. Stop chasing her market and create your own.

How? By writing the stories that inspire you. Readers can smell an author who’s phoning it in. Editors can spot those authors from space. Call it “write what you know”, “write what you love” or any other catchphrase du jour, but if you’re not inspired by what you’re writing, no one else will be, either.

So, get inspired and stay inspired. Write your own book, your way.

Thanks. I feel much better now.

New Stuff

Check the lefthand sidebar for new pages — author info, most of it, and bits of it rehashed from the LPI support forums. 

Since we often wish authors planning to submit had access to the info beforehand, here it is.

The pages support comments like any other blog post, so if you have questions, post them there, please.

Off to do something completely unrelated to work =)

Call for Subs: Lyrical Elite Imprints

Lyrical Elite Imprints

Lyrical Press, Inc. is now accepting submissions for three new imprints: Allure, Elements and Vintage. 

Imprinted title payouts: $100 advance (50% upon receipt of signed contract, 50% upon remittance of approved final) + 40% of earned digital royalties.

We will not review queries, partials or proposals. Only completed manuscripts will be considered. Required length for all three imprints is 60-80k ONLY. We will not consider works of less than 60k, or longer than 80k for elite imprints. (full submission details to follow imprint guidelines)

Titles that do not fit specific imprint guidelines might still be considered for non-imprinted contract/release, but will not be eligible for advance.

Questions regarding guidelines or other specifics should be directed to submissions at lyricalpress dot com.

Specific Imprint Guidelines:

Lyrical Allure
Acquiring editor: Emma Wayne Porter
Genre: erotic contemporary romance
Length: 60-80k
Key Characteristic: willful hero, capable heroine
Key Characteristic: sexual tension and romantic conflict
Requirement: HEA
Sensuality Level: extremely hot

Editor’s notes: Know your tropes. This line is focused on the buildup and resolution of sexual tension and romantic conflict. The thrill of anticipation is as key as the erotic payoff.

We want willful heroes, and capable heroines. We do not want “perfect” or cardboard characters, nor do we want helpless, shrinking-violet heroines. We want compelling, fully developed contemporary characters with GMC and sizzling conflict brought to fulfilling resolution.

Lyrical Elements
Acquiring editor(s): Renee Rocco a/o Emma Wayne Porter
Genre: paranormal romance
Length: 60-80k
Key Characteristic: gripping and dangerous paranormal conflict
Key Characteristic: romantic conflict
Sensuality Level: any
Requirement: HEA

Editor’s notes: The paranormal conflict should be on an equal footing with the romantic conflict—there must be an imminent threat to the hero, heroine or both. We want to worry the will get them before the boy can get the girl. Know your lore. Know your characters. Make us believe the lore, make us care about the characters, and scare the crap out of us at will. 

Lyrical Vintage
Acquiring editor: Renee Rocco
Genre: historical romance
Length: 60-80k
Key Characteristic: immersive historic setting
Key Characteristic: romantic conflict
Sensuality Level: any
Requirement: HEA

Editor’s notes: For now, Old West/Western is lumped in with all other historic eras. We want fully immersive, rich settings positively rotten with conflict of the times. No contemporaries in historic disguises—we want driven characters caught in authentic, seemingly insurmountable conflict, and we want our heart-wrenching HEA fulfillment. 

Submission procedures:
Please remember we will not consider queries, partials or proposals—completed manuscripts only.

Submissions should be sent to: submissions@lyricalpress.com 

Subject line should contain the targeted imprint, along with the book name and your pen name. 
Example: Lyrical Vintage: HOW THE WEST WAS UNDONE by Emma Wayne Porter 

The body of your email should contain all of the following:

  • Your name
  • Your pen name
  • Target imprint
  • Book title
  • Book length
  • Your email address
  • Your mailing address
  • Your website URL (if applicable)
  • A very brief “hook” or “blurb”
  • Any publishing credits

Attachments:
The full manuscript in .rtf, .doc or .docx (If you use Microsoft Word, please send .doc or .docx)
2-page, double-spaced synopsis

Manuscript File:
Filename: BOOKTITLE_imprint_sub_authorname

Example: BOOGIEMANNIGHTS_Elements_sub_EmmaWaynePorter
Please include a title page containing the following info: 

  • Your name
  • Your pen name
  • Your email address
  • Your mailing address
  • Targeted imprint
  • Book title
  • Book length

Please do not include a blurb or synopsis inside the manuscript file. The faster we can get to the story, the more we will like you.

Preferred formatting:

  • Black, Times New Roman 12pt font 
  • 1.5 line-spacing
  • .5” first line indent
  • Margins at 1” all
  • Chapter headings 16pt TNR font, centered
  • Page breaks between chapters

Synopsis file:
Filename: BOOKTITLE_syn_AuthorName
Synopses should be no more than two pages, double-spaced.