Why enter pitch contests?

Other than sheer masochism? They offer a slight shortcut to the usually long query process, they let you meet fellow writers and industry professionals, and they offer the chance to get agent offers and free feedback.

I’ve blogged before about some dangers and darker sides of online pitch contests. Now for a spotlight on the second valuable gift they offer: feedback and editing.

Very few people can write in a vacuum. We need feedback in developmental stages of a mms, and capable editing at the later stages.

Would-be self-published writers, do you know that it can cost between $1500 and $5000 for qualified professional editing of your mms? Most self-pub authors don’t bother, and it shows in the final product.

Many pitch contests offer author-peer and professional feedback, for free or a minor donation! Some offer the finalists or winners a few weeks to a couple of months of pro editing, as well as a final showcase to tempt agents and acquisition editors.

Sure, it’s a long shot, but why not try?

I just finished a rewarding and humbling experience: tightening up my smutty M/M space opera MORO’S PRICE, which is being re-released (in a heavily revised version) from NineStarPress this summer. I have an awesome editor, and I really need her skills. (So many mistakes!)

The experience made me look again at my newly revised high fantasy mms. It’s a better book that the version I shopped last year, but I know it needs editing.

So I’m bashing my head against the mostly-so-far-fruitless pitch contest scene again, and entering this mms in the upcoming Pitch 2 Publication melee.* I have a teeny chance at getting anywhere in that event, but I’ve got to try it.

Because even if I don’t snag an agent, I’ll get strong feedback. All the ‘unsuccessful’ contests last year, plus agent and editor feedback, led to my recent revisions and a much stronger book.

If I need to, I can then self-publish that book.

(I have been known to submit work to top SFF short fiction markets, just for their personalized rejections, for similar reasons.)

*Which has now been postponed and replaced with Revise & Resub.

 

Character names and titles

Character names and titles are important in fiction (duh!)

Different genres have different naming trends and types, if not outright rules. A clever writer can exploit or twist those, while a tone-deaf writer can suffer for them. Of course, it helps to read massively and currently in your target genres.

I have a perennial problem with names. Many of my characters go through name changes during their story’s evolution (Tel from ‘Bloodshadow’ has had five different names). Or they’re called by different names by different people or groups (Moro from ‘Moro’s Price, poor lad.)

Some characters will stubbornly keep their names, no matter what plotty bribes I throw their way.

I’ve got two naming problems right now, with two separate projects.

My editor felt uncertain about a 52nd Century character calling himself ‘Bill’, with a given name of William (which he hates, hence the nickname). Realistically, linguistic drift and culture changes should result in very different name structures.

But this is a smutty M/M space opera, not literary fiction with scholarly linguistic projection.

The character has good reason to go by a jaunty, unassuming nickname. So I left him as ‘Bill’.

I gave him an Eastern European version of ‘William’ that links back to part of his family’s heritage. He still hates it, because it makes him look even more like a rich mobster. And, like the rest of the book, it offers an indirect political comment on RL current events.

My second name problem is an honorific, a job title, a threat, and an insult…applied to one of the founding characters in my secondary-world high-fantasy Lonhra Sequence books. I’ve had this (mostly background) immortal character in his/her/their current form for over three decades. (What happens when you worldbuild as a hobby.)

That character’s given name changes often due to marriage and politics, but their title is a bedrock of Lonhran history.

Imagine my reactions when I read today about a new YA author using almost that same title in her fantasy book! After the initial jolt passed, I examined my problem logically.

I doubt she ‘stole’ it, even though my version has been trade-published since early 2012. The title is a combination of two common English language words. It’s likely many people have used it.

Could I use the Lonhra language version: Tilurak? It means the same thing. I like both, but the longer English version is more familiar and approachable for me.

If an agent or editor brings up the coincidence, I’ll have to explain and justify my reasons.

Until then, that character title stays.

The lesson for other writers? Names can be a battleground. Be prepared to fight for, alter, or jettison them as needed.

When writing goes exceptionally well

I’ve been at a plateau for a while on the big fantasy project: polished, but not quite gleaming. This weekend, three things happened:

I wrote a decent pitch for an upcoming pitch contest.

Image result for ronan dance off GIF

I tightened the first chapter, and bridged new and old versions with really strong scenes. I forced more emotion into one character, and more agency into another.

Image result for maleficent cartoon GIF

Both beta readers on this project (who are neither lazy slouches nor easily won over) have given me their vast approval.

So even if the pitch contest doesn’t work, I’m far more confident about this book than in its previous versions. It’s not wasted effort, if it improves the manuscript.

The only catch: it all has to be done by Friday the 24th. That’s when the pitch contest begins…but more importantly, it’s when I have to start work on a major art project AND wrangle incoming edits for the brand new, shiny version of Moro’s Price (coming from NineStar Press this summer).

Shame on Samhain

A brief but long overdue update, on erotic romance publisher Samhain. After announcing their closure late in 2015, they regrouped in a flurry of activity over 2016.

But they’re closing for real at the end of February 2017, only a few days after releasing a last round of contracted books. Those first rights are burned, and how much will those authors earn now in less than a week of sales? I’ve seen new authors who actually submitted mms to Samhain over 2016, when many seasoned authors warned them off. Loyal readers are scrambling to back up their digital libraries.

The company had a good run over much of its eleven years. I’m sorry to see Samhain go, but wish they could have kept their first promises and folded more responsibly last year.

The death of the romance industry small presses…claims another round of victims.

Update 2-12-2017: In a move eerily like their announcement in 2016, Samhain announces it will retain a handful of employees and ‘wind down’ company sales to help satisfy customers. During this process, as rights come due, those will be reverted to the authors. Ready-to-launch books will still be sold. Uncompleted projects will be reverted.

Potentially, this means that a Samhain title released in late February of this year might not go out of contract for 7 more years…or by March of this year. We don’t know yet, because we don’t have a ‘lights out’ date for Samhain. A potential title (contracted but not ready for release as of February 2017) would be reverted this month to its author.

Now, this is just a year’s delay of closure, not long in the publishing world. Samhain is closing because of poor ebook sales. So it’s very likely those remaining Samhain authors are not going to see the sales levels they might have, from back in the company’s glory days. How much marketing and promo will Samhain do now, over how long the company winds down?

I still think it was irresponsible of Samhain to solicit and contract more authors between 2016 and 2017, but at least the company appears to have a plan in place.

If you love erotic romances and Samhain authors, keep buying while you can…and back up your digital library!

Of Shade and Soul: A Touch Trilogy Novella

My friend A. G. Carpenter and the great people at Falstaff Books have released ‘Of Shade and Soul’, the second novella in her Southern gothic ‘Touch’ trilogy.

Delaney Green might be dead, but she don’t mean to stay that way. As she searches for a way back to the realm of the living, and the man she lay down flesh and bone for, Percival Cox and his team investigate a series of deaths and stolen souls. But Percy is not the man he used to be. If Del can’t find a way to stop him from waking his past, he could destroy everything, including himself.

This is a powerful continuation of the first book (I was honored to read both in their beta stages and final form). The final product is worthy of a Poe award. If you like moody Southern gothic, horror-fantasy, magical realism with a languid air of magnolia and burnt blood…this is your trilogy. Come read it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Shade-Soul-Touch-Trilogy-Novella-ebook/dp/B01MZE2D64

New version of Moro’s Price coming soon!

 

My debut novel MORO’S PRICE, a M/M space opera erotic romance, was first published in 2012. I’m pleased to announce that a newly revised version will be coming soon from NineStar Press.

If you liked the original version, I think you’ll love this one.

If all goes well, you’ll also be seeing the direct sequel to MORO, as well as a spin-off M/M novella featuring two side characters.

Thanks for your patience and support!

2016 year in review

I could almost get away with the stub listing ‘It sucked’.

The many and varied ways 2016 achieved maximum suckage will be studied in later history (if there is anyone left alive to study it). I’m not raising my blood pressure detailing those slings and arrows tonight.

Instead, I want to talk about good things.

I’m still alive. Most of my family and dearest friends are still alive. A very good friend survived serious career and health setbacks. I am loved and cherished, which is awesome and humbling.

I eased away from one publisher this year, and gave another new one a chance. In art, one venue I thought moribund is actually turning lucrative, while I’ve dropped another before it cost me too much to recover from. My writing struggled out of a lazy plateau and improved dramatically. I have a wealth of art, jewelry, and writing projects to address, and just enough skill to reach them.

I have goals for 2017, and far less fear about them than I would have thought, a couple of safe and happy years ago.

So for my readers and anyone stumbling onto this post: I hope you have a sane, healthy, happy, productive, humane, and triumphant new year.

Endure. Live. Thrive. Resist.

More publishers behaving badly

As if 2016 hadn’t sucked badly enough before this, December saw news that two more publishers were going under with messy implosions. In both cases, authors and readers were left hanging.

Torquere was a small erotic romance publisher once reasonably respected, but torpedoed by mismanagement over the last few years.

The bigger news a few days ago: the abrupt dissolution of AllRomance Ebooks/OmniLit. This was a digital ebook sales platform that had just branched into direct publishing. For other publishers, ARe/Omni had thousands of titles across many genres, from Big Five houses to small independents and self-published authors. (I even had a spot on ARe, in prep for my future self-pub efforts.)

I lost a few dollars from sales of Maestro this last quarter, I’m sure. I know other authors who estimate they’ve lost $10K or more. Follow the link for more news about this crash (which may have less to do with financial losses than graft and fraud.)

Torquere’s troubles, we knew about at least half a year. The ARe debacle had hints of trouble a few months ago for some authors, but most of us never saw it coming.

We don’t like to see Amazon as the only outlet. For many of us, ARe was the next biggest earner, and its loss will ripple across the romance genre.

Welcome to the future, I guess.

Update 1-2-2017: The AllRomance/OmniLit sites have vanished now, like a once-vast city buried in lava. I remember how big those sites were, especially to romance. It seems surreal that they’re gone.

More disquieting are the hints and rumors of continued odd behavior from Lori James, and the realization that ARe/Omni were on shaky foundations at least two years ago. The good news is that Big Five publishers will almost certainly file suit, but that won’t help the small presses and individual authors also dragged down.

I’m no lawyer or publishing professional. My sense, from listening to people who are: look closely at your publisher. Try to determine if they’re responding quickly and responsibly to these debacles, and to shifts in the larger publishing world. If not, you might want to pull back or get out while you can.

There will almost certainly be small publishers who will lose large amounts of money from what Lori James owes. Some will lose more money trying to pay their authors’ ARe/Omni royalties out of pocket. Some won’t pay, or will only pay the 10% they might get. Either way, some of these publishers won’t survive the financial hit or the exodus of angry authors. If you love your publisher, rally around and help…but be willing to take the risks, too.

As a reader, the most important thing you can do for the writers you love: leave online reviews. Wherever you buy a physical or ebook, give an honest review. Don’t randomly gush 5-star reviews…put some thought into them. Why did you like the book? Why not? Even a guarded 3-star review can have great positive effects; even a negative review can spark the interest of other readers.

Digital books can make an author’s backlist accessible. But no one will buy that backlist if they don’t know it exists. So review!

 

 

 

 

Beall’s List and fake academic publishers

The predatory vanity publishing world is not limited to fiction. Academic and scientific papers are also a hot commodity, since the legitimate markets can have high entry barriers in fees and vetting. A host of predatory and often outright criminal publishers have surfaced to ‘serve’ those customers.

Many scientists and academics need to publish work to promote their career, grants applications, or general reputation.

Many dubious presenters need an official-looking publishing credit to bolster their claims or products (similar to how fiction vanity publishers use fake or problematic contests and associations to push their services.)

How to tell the difference, when many respected logical thinkers may not be able to?

Look for the same flops in logic you’d find in other anti-intellectual communities. The same meaningless jingoism, the same vague promises…and often, the same exorbitant publishing fees!

The US and Europe have their share of these outfits. But a large number of them are based in India – a rising market combining powerful legitimate publishers, brilliant academics, knowledge-hungry students, large amounts of money, predatory vanity publishers, and viciously divisive nationalist politics.

Here’s a link to Scholarly Open Access, and Beall’s List of predatory and fake journals. If you find a ‘journal’ listed here, it’s worth taking your time to be skeptical before you decide to submit to it!

Here’s a link to Brian Dunning’s ‘Skeptoid’ podcast about fake academic publishers and the white hat hoaxers who help expose them.

Just for laughs – and the learning experience! – here’s a Wiki link to the time when SF writer Isaac Asimov thoroughly trolled a scientific journal that wasn’t paying attention.

Why is this crap a worldwide problem? A lack of properly vetted and researched scientific and academic work hurts all countries’ scientific intelligence quotient. It allows for easier plundering of whole economies by special interests using ‘fake news’ to advance their agenda. It covers and excuses wars and genocides. It promotes simplistic thinking and Orwellian Double-Speak over difficult but worthwhile truths. It has specific individual human costs, too, as when cancer patients choose ineffective bogus treatments over proven science, based off poorly-researched work in fake journals.

Peer review, like democracy, only works when your peers are intelligent, critical-thinking, and well-read members of the wider community.

White Walls, Ghost Ship, and the arts in America

While we’re looking at the economic and social issues coalescing around the Ghost Ship fire, we need to accept that exploitation of creatives is so common it’s basically a tenet of American culture.

The vanity publishers I talk about in the ‘Filigree’s Rule’ section of this blog? They’re only one of the more-blatant tips of a big iceberg, culminating in our President-Elect.

Coded into bedrock American culture is the idea that art is frivolous or a luxury, that artists are second-class citizens who don’t contribute much to the greater good. ‘Safe’ art gets a nod from the powers-that-be, while ‘unsafe’ art gets tagged as unsavory and socially dangerous. ‘Play’ is never as worthy as ‘work’, even though play has been shown to be a common behavior among smarter animals, and a core practice of many genius-level humans.

I can hear any number of civic boosters, art professionals, teachers, grants committee members, and charitable foundation members yelping ‘Not so!’ if they read this. While they are all tirelessly working to fight upstream against the very attitudes I just mentioned.

Ask yourselves how much better your jobs would be, if Americans truly valued art and creativity?

From the San Francisco area comes this update on a story I first heard about years ago: the saga of a hip gallery called ‘White Walls’, a grifter called Justin Giarla, and the artists who ran afoul of him.

I was in the art supply retail business around the time White Walls became really famous. I remember seeing the glossy magazine ads for the space. I can see how artists got seduced by the pitch.

Quoted from the first story: “He did this intentionally to people, and bullied them when confronted,” Soukup wrote. “He hid behind the threat that he could ruin you if you spoke out against him.”

Quoted from the second story: When street artist David Young V, also known as DYoungV, saw Harman’s post about Giarla, it inspired him to go public with his own story. “It’s been public knowledge that Justin has been either stealing from or attempting to steal from artists for years,” DYoungV wrote in a public Facebook post. “Yet artists heard all the warnings and continued to work with him anyway. It’s almost like nobody wanted to believe the ‘rumors’ until it actually happened to them.”

Anyone who has been in the art sphere for a while has met a Giarla. I’ve known several, and yes, lost money and art to them. That artists, musicians, and writers have a tendency to shrug off such misadventures as ‘part of doing business’ is a sad but necessary fact of our lives. When any gallery exposure might be the lucky break we need to become famous – or even just solvent – we gamble.

The Giarla story at least has some merit, now that other artists beyond the initial whistle-blower have come forward to admit being scammed, too.

So if you’re a new artist trying to get your big break, what can you do? Here’s some tips I’ve learned from 30 years in the trenches:

It’s a business first, friendship second. Don’t believe anyone you work with, when they call your relationship ‘a family’. The more they emphasize ‘family’, the more you should silently add ‘dysfunctional’, and plan accordingly. Be nice about it, but protect yourself. While you’re at it, don’t completely trust your fellow artists, either – they’re all subject to the same temptations and shortcuts, and you might become a handy patsy or scapegoat.

Get everything in writing. Do not rely on handshake deals, since they can fall apart like wet toilet paper. Even the most well-meaning gallery owner can fall off the wagon, or even the map. Getting terms of your business relationship on paper may help bump you up in the line, if it comes to litigation or bankruptcy courts.

Never risk more than you can afford to lose. Accept that every single painting, sculpture, manuscript, poem, or song you produce in that relationship is subject to theft, in one way or another. Gamble – but spread out your risk factors.

Very rarely is ‘working for exposure’ worth your time. Any time someone asks you to volunteer your labor, materials, and time for free or a pittance, make sure the ‘exposure’ is actually worth something on your CV.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably either a filthy lie from a scammer, or the nonsense from someone too airheaded to survive in business.

 

 

Painter 17 teaser art

Corel’s new digital arts platform Painter 17 is out now, and I’m fiddling around with it this week.

I finished this teaser art piece for the new version of Moro’s Price in about 30 minutes, and that was because I was slowly playing around with some of the new Artist’s Favorites brushes. I should have been able to do it in 15 minutes.moro-diamond-for-blog

Of course, I’d already photographed the emerald-cut diamond myself, and long ago designed the palm tree insignia. But now it’s a useful bit of art that may or may not end up as a cover design, once I fiddle with it some more.

Painter 17 so far: gorgeous. Controls are more integrated and intuitive. Customizing brushes, filters, etc is much easier. The help menus make sense. Corel seems to finally be listening more to its coveted base: artists who have some real-world skill with drawing, painting, and mixed media, and who want to recreate those looks in digital media. (And go lightyears beyond!) I’m not alone in my esteem.

If you’ve ever waffled about buying Painter as an actual, real, not-Photoshop digital arts platform, this version is probably the best entry into the Painter world that I’ve seen in 20 years. It’s not cheap, but if you are a student, you might be able to score the more affordable Educational Version.

 

Narrow Shore

(Soon to be an artist’s book.) For a couple of years, I’ve been taken to task by well-meaning folks who want me to make only positive, light-hearted, beautiful books that affirm life and hope. And I do – I’ve got a lot of those on the workshop table, or in development.

But being a nihilist, I also embrace the darker possibilities.

Almost to the point that I understand what, in a fantasy world, goes into the making and meaning of a cursed object. How beauty and craft can be slanted into devious turns and outright horror, charged with subtle or overt poisons meant to game one outcome or another.

No, I don’t have to accept this ‘new normal’. No, I’m not going to bother to ‘make peace’ with people – even my own blood kin – whose fear, laziness, and entitlement led them to vote for the distilled worst parts of the American psyche: a conman, swindler, chronic tax cheat, science denier, bully, buffoon, and rapist. I don’t have to pretend manmade climate change isn’t happening, because like a gamma ray burst, my lack of belief does not shield me.

‘Narrow Shore’ will be a dark little book, but not the darkest in my CV.

Narrow Shore

 

Every year, the universe pulls away.

Every year, it darkens as the first light fades.

Those who saw the Earth from space

Are growing old.

Their children traded thoughtless lives

For easy gold,

Trapped along the threshold

Of this narrow shore

Between the howling desert

And the uncaring deep:

Too weak to linger,

Too spent to leap.

In memoriam: Sherri S. Tepper

I had to ponder this one for a week, because it hit home. I may be adding to this post over the next few days.

Sherri S. Tepper was a powerful author and outspoken activist, who happened to write science fiction and fantasy.

I first ran across her work in 1983, when my best friend Kathryn shoved King’s Blood Four into my hands and yelped ‘You gotta read this!’ I did. It was damn good.

That started my long and varied experience with Tepper’s work. Like that of Tanith Lee, some of Tepper’s writing was painful for me to read. To paraphrase a certain Discworld witch, it didn’t do ‘Nice’, it did ‘Right’.

Tepper’s decades as a feminist and ecological activist made her fiercely uncompromising on certain principles that younger and weaker writers would never dare reveal in public: women’s rights, abortion and birth control, euthanasia of severely-brain damaged individuals, internally consistent portrayals of alien viewpoints, the importance of reason and logic, and the harsh equations of survival that pit planetary collapse against human activity.

Tepper’s writing could be painful in its honesty, hilariously sly, or shockingly beautiful. Some of it, I couldn’t stand. Other pieces are favorite re-reads. The ‘Mavin Manyshaped’ trilogy links into her ‘True Game’ books, but those books are hallmarks of what can be done with extremely short novels. They’re worth looking at, in this era of bloated best-sellers.

I stole some of my core concepts about the Lonhra Sequence cosmology from her ‘True Game’ books and from Grass. I’d always meant to ask permission to showcase one or two heartbreakingly gorgeous humanist passages from Beauty in an artist’s book, if I could figure out how to present them…and now I’ll have to ask that of her estate, not the lady herself.

I’m still wondering if she was the woman who bought one of my beaded and embroidered tapestries at a Phoenix convention in 1992. The woman looked a bit like Tepper from across the room, but I never found out for sure.

She was a fellow Westerner, Colorado-born, and lived for many years in New Mexico.

If she believed in such things, I’d hope she walks in human-hallowed Baskarone at this moment…and I hope to hell she was able to vote before she died.

***

I found a couple of the passages from Beauty (a hard and lovely book that pulls no punches). The first is worth revisiting, and I hope that showing it here falls under Fair Use and an earnest homage:

What shall I write of Baskarone?

Everything that was lovely of the world when men came into it is here. Everything that men made beautiful while they were in it is here. None of the dross, only the glory. Some gardens. Some monuments. There is even an entire town, designed by a woman of great artistry. I had seen a film on it in the twenty-first. It was built early in the twenty-first and then destroyed by the nationalist terrorists in the Great Reunification War of 2043, the same war that killed all the people in Ireland, North and South, and half those in England and Scotland, as well as sinking the lands of Ireland forever beneath the sea.

In the long run, it didn’t matter who destroyed the city. Fidipur’s ocean farms now cover the place it once stood. If the terrorists hadn’t bombed it and thereby started the war, Fidipur would have razed it anyhow. Mortal man is mad.

There are a handful of marvelous mosques in Baskarone, serene and beautiful. An Egyptian temple is here, crowded with painted columns. A mud fortress is here, its walls glistening with bright murals in tiles. There are structures in Baskarone from Ecbatana and Susa. There is a building from Troy. There are two from the States of America, quite small ones, sculptural houses which look as though they grew from the earth.

Cave paintings are here, fleeing horses and lumbering bison. African carvings are here, and so many things from the Orient I could not see them all, including a city from China, lacquered all in red and gold with dragons upon its roofs.

And all these things are set in gardens and woods and forests and prairies. The flowers that bloom in those gardens are the loveliest that ever grew. The trees in those woods are tall and straight. The grasses on the prairies have never been cut, and the little peeping birds run about among their roots.

There are people here as well. The woman who designed the city, the men who built the fortress, the carpenters who carved the dragons. All those who made beauty with their lives, they are here. Those who climbed. Those whose names ring, like a wine glass in a cupboard, hidden but sounding nonetheless.

The dreams of the men who tried to reach the planets, before Fidipur took everything, they are here. I don’t know how they are there, but they glitter like sequins in the shade of that place.

 

Well, shucks…

It’s one thing when a publisher circles the drain, and nearly everyone has known or suspected it would happen for months or years.

It’s another, when a *good* small press fails. One that was, by most accounts, doing everything right: lasting for longer than two years, choosing great books and authors, designing excellent covers, marketing professionally, and offering gorgeous, award-winning books.

Jolly Fish Press is closing at the end of October 2016. This was very sudden and traumatic for them, their authors, and the agents who worked with them. Even doing everything *right*, they still didn’t make enough to continue. They’re reverting rights before the end of the month, so their authors won’t have to go through the extortion hell of, say, Ellora’s Cave.

I had been considering JFP for a fantasy novel submission early next year. I’ll mourn what never had a chance to be. I’m deeply sorry for the folks who did get snarled up in this, and I’m heartened by the outpouring of condolences and second-chance gambits.

There’s still a couple of weeks in which readers can buy JFP books in the wild…go for it, if you can, and celebrate one of the better experiments in small-press publishing. While they lasted, they burned bright!

***

All this leaves me with that nervous butterfly-stomach feeling, about some of my planned projects.

I’ve stopped looking for agent representation for Singer until I can get it rewritten to my satisfaction. There’s no point in looking for rep for the Moro books, since the first is now a reprint and the others are sequels/spinoffs of a reprint. (No legitimate agent will touch that, if my name isn’t attached to a Hugo or a Nebula.) I’m left with self-pub. Or one small press that is lovely, but could follow Jolly Fish at any time. I can hope they’d revert rights as sanely as JFP seems to have done, but that’s a huge risk to take for something that would have to be self-pub anyway, in the end.

It may come down to flipping a coin.

This is the part of the writing life that new writers are stunned and depressed to discover: that the butterflies and the despair don’t end when you finish the damn manuscript. They’re just starting.

________________

Update: October 30, 2016:

Jolly Fish has a buyer, and early reports indicate it’s North Star Editions. The way this has been handled has numerous authors and agents side-eyeing Jolly Fish, for good reason. North Star has some excellent street cred*, but they’re also new. No one knows if the rank and file editors and artists who helped put JFP on the map, will be moving over. Especially since the JFP owner/publisher is out of the deal.

I’m no longer interested, because it appears that North Star is solely a Young Adult and Middle Grade publisher. I’m not knocking those genres, because they are magical and useful (and I still regularly read both)…but I don’t write them.

*Added 10/31/16: the vanity publisher is a different North Star, apparently. Mea culpa. The North Star Editions here is the one buying JFP after Flux, and has some reputation as an educational publisher. More details to follow.

Ellora’s Cave update

(Updated October 5, 2016) I have just made the saddest $25 win that I ever bet.

(2nd update October 7,2016) I’ll keep that $25 safely unspent in case I need to return it.*

Because a couple of years ago I privately bet a group of other authors that the embattled erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave was going out of business by the end of 2016. My friends thought the place would hang on longer.

Tina Engler and her mother Patty Marks will be shutting down EC by the end of the year, according to letters sent to the authors still on their contact list. Authors are required to send in a form by early November, or risk having their publishing rights ‘in limbo’. The kicker is that, in order to reclaim publishing rights, EC authors must forfeit any outstanding royalties.

The second kicker is the suspicion that any authors who do NOT accept this ‘deal’ may find their rights in bankruptcy limbo, sold off to EC creditors, or re-claimed by Engler & Marks should they reform Ellora’s Cave (note some funky stuff with Samhain closing then not closing last year.)

Given EC’s creative accounting and reporting procedures, it’s almost impossible to know how much or how little an EC author is giving up. For some authors, it probably amounts to a pizza or two. For others, it could run into thousands of dollars. What is almost certain is that no money will be forthcoming anyway, and getting the rights back may be more lucrative than trying to force a class action lawsuit.

Here’s an overview by another onlooker. Actual screenshots of the ‘We’re closing!’ FB post are a little scarce, probably because EC authors got understandably cold feet about exposing themselves to Engler’s ire.

Virginia Nelson steps up to the plate with her candid account of her time and dealings with Ellora’s Cave.

It’s important to remember that in its early days, Ellora’s Cave was a powerhouse. Stacia Kane has a great post here about her time with EC.

I read a lot of EC books over the years, and enjoyed many of them. One of the big, recurring problems I had was EC’s ‘house style’ of pushing as many sex scenes as possible into the mms, and its preference for ‘dirty talk’ whether or not characters would express themselves that way. It was a logical over-reaction in the early 2000s, to romance publishers who insisted on fade to black or truncated sexual content. But I came to erotic romance from the SFF world, not contemporary romance, so the constant over-the-top EC sex scenes seemed unnecessary. It’s also a problem faced by many small erotic romance publishers, even now.

I’ve been taken to task here and in other online forums for my somewhat jaundiced and cynical take on Ellora’s Cave and other failing/flailing publishers. That comes across as lofty and snide, to the poor authors who did fall for those schemes. Fair enough. I’ve also picked publishers and galleries, early on, that seemed great at first, and then lost some luster. It happens. It’s happened enough times to me that I’m cynical now. I risk what I can afford to risk, and take my chances.

I maintain that the clues about EC and Tina Engler were vividly apparent as far back as the summer of 2012 (and way earlier, if you read the comment below and know any EC history at all). Anyone signing with Ellora’s Cave since 2012, did not perform their due diligence…or took an educated gamble. I’m sorry for the ones who realize they’ve been had. I shake my head at the authors, especially the newer ones, who signed since the EC/Dear Author settlement a year ago, and who are still proudly and shrilly in Engler’s court. Remember, they’re siding with this woman, who threatened bloggers, authors, and the Romance Writers of America for pointing out ‘Hey, we haven’t been paid and your royalty statements are a joke.’

Tina Engler FU

Those authors? They are idiots, and have only themselves to blame.

I hope all the EC authors can do better on republishing the many great works that did come out of Ellora’s Cave in its better days.

* Some folks who are much wiser about publishing have noted that the Engler/Marks letter doesn’t actually say Ellora’s Cave is closing. It offers authors an extremely exploitative route to rights reversion, at the expense of accrued royalties. And a threat that authors who ignore this deal may regret it.

Is EC closing? Is it being sold to a competitor or to creditors? Will Marks and Engler rise afresh with a new business, through the miracle of bankruptcy? Or will they skitter off overseas, to enjoy whatever is left of EC’s once-bountiful earnings?

Stay tuned!

(3rd update January 4, 2017) I owe someone else that $25, because EC finally went down on 1-1-2017. Whether or not Tina Engler, Patty Marks, or any other person wants to resurrect Ellora’s Cave in the future, that part of the business is over.

Engler is currently fighting an Ohio bank about a high-end party bus she owes money on (I kid you not). Like the AllRomance Ebooks fiasco, it’s doubtful that authors will ever get their proper royalties (and even whether they’ll ever get an accurate accounting of the EC business dealings.)

Agents, offers, assumptions, and bad behavior

This was going to be just a section in Filigree’s Rule, but I thought it deserved its own post. (Added info, as of 10/4/2016.)

I have begged literary agents before: please clarify your stance on negotiating publishing offers for querying authors.

We authors need to know beforehand, if you never do this and would rather we not contact you with offers, or if it is something you’ll consider doing on a case by case basis. Please put this in your goddamn guidelines, blog posts, Tumblr, whatever. We’ll be grateful and not bother you.

Otherwise, things like this are going to happen, leaving agents furious, authors confused and angry, and publishers in limbo.

Today we’re going to talk about AgentFails, offers of publication, offers of representation, and the assumption of offers.

I have a writer friend who has a great mms. It’s hard to pin down in genre, but it has good bones and a good editor will turn it into a dazzler. Friend has been trying to get this book in front of agents for a while, through queries, twitter pitch contests, etc. Friend finally gave up on those, and subbed directly to some interesting small-press publishers.

Some of which I liked and some I didn’t, but it’s not my book at stake. Friend got enthusiastic responses from three publishers, and was left with The Choice: 1. A newish press with very little to recommend it yet. 2. A stellar independent press with new capital investment and serious editorial and marketing power. 3. A quiet, niche-focused, but fairly professional press with the same core passions as Friend, and some decent plans for the future.

Friend wrote all three and asked for time. They granted it. At the same time, Friend emailed one of the agents who had asked for a query letter during a recent Twitter-pitch event. Agent agreed to look at mms.

It was then I started shaking my head and mouthing the words ‘Make no sudden moves and back away slowly’ to Friend. Because I have seen some of the online and behind-the-scenes meltdowns Agent has allegedly caused or enabled, going back to the agency where Agent learned to do these things. But again, not my circus, not my monkeys.

Agent…made a tentative offer on just a chapter or so. This is not unheard of, but it’s really strange for a new writer’s first book. Most agents want the full, so they can see where the story goes.

Friend sent off mms, and reminded Agent there were offers on table. Friend asked for a value-added statement from Agent, as in ‘What can you do for me that I can’t, in these current markets?’

No further word from Agent. Faced with offers and ticking clocks, Friend finally stepped back from agent-hunting and took offer #3 from the Nice Little Place. Sent a polite email to Agent, to thank for the time and consideration spent.

Only Agent had just cross-posted, apparently anticipating Friend’s acceptance, and sent an editorial letter with suggested changes and some other markets. A few minutes later, Friend got a terse email generally concerned with the wasting of time, the bypassing of protocol, and unprofessional behavior.

Bear in mind, the Agent made no formal offer of rep, set no timetables, did not contact Friend at all after the first gushing comments on the first chapter read. There’s even some worry on Friend’s part that Agent was planning on collecting an easy 15% for ‘negotiating’ the already-issued offer from the Nice Little Place.

And then Agent tweeted about it in public, in terms both snide and histrionic.

I can actually see Agent’s POV, and the assumption that Agent did a favor and was rebuffed. I know a few weeks to a month is probably not a good time limit on deciding whether to rep a book or not, let alone an author.

But this is WHY professionals trained by professionals FIRST make formal offers with specific timetables, expectations, and concessions…so nobody jumps the gun and writes what they think of as a ‘wasted’ editorial letter. Or assumes that they are the One, the Only, and the Perfect Choice.

And now Friend knows their incredible, uncanny luck, at avoiding having to work with this particular Agent.

I’m really looking forward to seeing that book.

 

The Force Awakens

Way back when, I graduated from high school in the same month I saw ‘Return of the Jedi’. Yes, that is how old I am, ha ha. From 1977 to 1983, I was a ‘Star Wars’ nerd. During the following years, I lost interest in the ‘Star Wars’ universe as expanded in dozens of books. It was too much to follow. I was beginning to build my own fictional written universe. But to this day, buried in the DNA of my Lonhra Sequence stories, are equal threads of Middle Earth and Star Wars.

We won’t talk about the ‘Star Wars’ prequels. Ugh, no.

But I have to cautiously admit that Disney and J.J. Abrams have done well by that universe recently. I like the television properties being run right now. After nearly a year of stalling, I finally saw The Force Awakens tonight.

It was actually quite good.

I can see why my friends think Rey, Finn, and Poe are adorable, and why they think Kylo Ren is a whiny puppy. I can even see the story reasons for some of the plot choices made. I’m looking forward to the next movie.

I can feel the sparks of my second-oldest fandom stirring. Just what I need: more plot bunnies!

 

Six Bone Rings…

…On their way to being art.

Fire Mountain Gems had a closeout sale recently, during which I got some great  items that will all make incredible book or jewelry art. Eventually.

The first such transformation will be these six carved bone rings, originally from China & dyed with dark brown bands and peace symbols. For around $1 each, I thought they’d make perfect mini-platforms for altered art. They vary in ring size, and the raised (peace symbol) portion is no more than .75″ across. I did a preliminary clean on the one on the far left.

six-bone-rings-1

The brown dye was so fugitive it rubbed off on my hands! That had to go, via about an hour with a tub of water, a cordless Dremel, and some graduating grades of sandpaper. While I hated taking away another artisan’s hard work, I have to admit that the cleaned rings look so much better.

six-bone-rings-2

Then I made some ‘pages’ from strips of machine-embroidered linen and cotton bias tape. Drilled some holes in one of the newly-cleaned rings. Cut, embossed, and painted some leather strips. Carved out two more bone shapes, to go with the ring. I have to find or order boxes to fit them, because they’ll need some kind of storage/presentation case.

With luck, I’ll be showing off the first of six bone mini-book rings in a week or so. My target wholesale price will be around $85 to $100 each. I’m reasonably sure the edition will sell out within a year of delivery to my art agent.

Not a bad investment in art supplies and a little time.

First look: Moro’s Price revisions

I’m having too much fun completely re-writing this book. Should revisions be fun?

Leopard of Saba

 

Slightly different names, timelines, inciting incidents, backstory. Still a big, messy space opera romance. Still familiar to the 1500 – 2000 of you who read the first one, but hopefully much better.

The new first line of the new Chapter 1 (subject to change, of course):

Fourteen hundred spectators watched Jason Kee-DaSilva, the Leopard of Saba, ruin his career two minutes after his comeback victory.

 

(Digital sketch after this article on Muay Thai.)