Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I'm starting a new Wordpress blog, at http://barbarafriendish.wordpress.com. This one will stay up, but all the action is at the new blog. Come on over; we've actually got comments you can use without a Blogger account!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Artistic freedom in a limited-outlets world

SF Signal has a very interesting topic up on MIND MELD today:

Q: Once upon a time, sf/f was full of taboos: no swearing, no sex, etc. We're thankfully past those days, but are there any taboos still remaining or new ones that have sprung up? Have you ever had trouble with publishing something, or caught yourself self-censoring?
Peter Watts

As is the practice on Mind Meld, a few pro writers are asked to weigh in and the floor is opened for comments. The site may shortly go up in flames; stay tuned. What I find most fascinating is the passionate allegiance people exhibit to one side of the question or the other: the writers (and remember these are pros, not the Bitter Unpubbed) who take the question itself to task, so frustrating is the suggestion that art is not completely hamstrung by publishers' taboos or fear of others'--versus the writers who are offended by the suggestion that we should tolerate (gasp) pottymouth, much less inappropriate behaviors or philosophies, when those things are simply not necessary to great storytelling.

Look through the words to the experiences they reveal, and you may see a deeper conflict: the one between artists and entertainers, between those who want to wrestle with Big Questions and the true meaning of humanity--and those who want to be a part of the comfortable, accepted "artistic elite". I see this conflict play out over and over: at cons, on discussion boards, etc. Big Publishing is heartless and fascist, say those whose art is too risky for publishers who put money ahead of art; Big Publishing is the only thing protecting the Qualified from the Fanficcers, say those who are either comfortable within the accepted norms or both able and willing to channel their creativity into works that don't challenge their audiences overmuch.

The image above is from The Long Tail. Setting aside the political-party overtones, which I think Completely Miss The Point in any context, the image fits the situation. Self-censorship by an industry is still censorship; it is one of the most insidious symptoms of fascism. But I'm getting a bit off topic, as usual. Let's see if we can drag this back on course.

Big Publishing is Big Business. It is in the business of making money. People who work for Big Publishing are not necessarily fascists, but in order to keep their jobs they must adhere to the business model that says making money is more important than art--that choosing works which will not sell enough copies to support the Lifestyle to Which Publishing Has Grown Accustomed is a bad plan; that choosing works which may inflame the wrath of that vocal minority which fancies itself the arbiter of decency (whatever that is) and Good Taste is equally bad if not worse. Big Publishing is not in the business of taking risks; it provides a safe haven for well-behaved entertainment folk, and tries to guide the public in the direction of appreciating art that matches its ideals. It is the wrong place for artists.

Fortunately, there is a place for artists. It's called Independent Publishing. Contrary to whatever confusions organizations like Author House may have imposed on you lately, Independent Publishing is not the same thing as Subsidy Publishing or even Self-Publishing. Independent Publishing is run by people who are passionate about art, who will take on the task of bringing to the public works that will push the mainstream audience out of its comfort zone and delight those who were already hanging around outside. Independent publishers do many of the same things Big Publishers do or once did: choose works carefully, work with authors to make the works the best they can be, give individual attention to artists' visions and careers, produce, distribute, and promote books in ways that match the works themselves.

Independent publishing is not for everyone. It's a trapeze act rather than a safe career. But it may be the last remaining haven for true artistic freedom.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another example of the publicity thing done right

Those of you who caught my little show with Russ Marshalek at the Spring Book Show: go look at Eugie Foster's new Facebook group. For the rest of you, the catch-me-up: more than anything else, we talked about the fact that the Book World of Today is not a place in which writers can afford to just sit in the garret of their choice and write, waiting for the reading public to beat a path to their door. We talked, in particular, about:

* using social networking, not as a way of dropping publicity-bombs but as a way of reaching out to your audience and community;
* becoming a real part of the community: making contributions to the ongoing collaborations and dialogue among publishers, audiences, writers, the press, and booksellers

Eugie is the exemplar of the sort of work in the community I've been trying to encourage aspiring and newly-pro writers to do. Eugie is very, very talented and has been working in the field for a long time--the first time I read her work was in the Critters workshop, about a hundred years ago (well, maybe not *quite* that long ago) --and she has been polishing her craft to within an inch of its life for at least that long. She serves the community tirelessly, giving countless hours to organizations like Dragon*Con. And she gives the sense that she does these things not out of a sense of obligation, but for the joy of being a part of it.

People always ask how to publicize a book; as Russ noted last weekend, there's no single right answer, because every book is different. Every author is different, too: I am not trying to suggest that every writer should go out and do all the things Eugie does (though polishing your craft can't hurt). I am suggesting that it's worth paying attention to what people like Eugie do: enrich their own lives and become active participants in their communities by figuring out how to turn their particular talents and passions into productive ways to serve, and thus find the community predisposed to receive their written work well.

Writers are natural-born introverts; but becoming a part of the bookish community is not just good business: it's an opportunity to find like-minded people. What do you enjoy doing that could make Book World a better place?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

All writers report to Twitter. Now.

Hey, remember how you'd gotten that nagging feeling that twitter was somehow going to turn out to be worthwhile? Yeah, here it is:


Seriously. Go to twitter and read. Learn. Laugh. Cry. Maybe some of each.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Impromptu manifestation at the Spring Book Show

Just a quick note for anybody who's going to be at the Spring Book Show here in the ATL tomorrow--come by & say hi. I'm not on the program; I'll just be sitting in with the Awesome Russ Marshalek during his panel on publicity, having more opinions than allowed by law...and wandering around the fair. I'll be easy to find during that 2:15-3:15 slot, of course--and you can shout to me via Twitter (@barbarfriendish) to arrange rendezvous the rest of the time. With any luck it won't be too loud for me to hear the "you have a message" noise...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Why it's hard to make the grade in publishing

Writing for publication is not like writing for your creative writing class. There are no grades on your assignments; truthfully there are rarely assignments at all, and you'll be lucky if you ever actually lay eyes on the prof or receive a rubric of any sort. And the whole thing is pass/fail. At first glance, it's the easiest class ever.

Here's the problem: the only passing grade is an "A".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Author Event...Done Right

Last night I attended Christopher Moore's packed-house event at Wordsmiths. Like anybody in the industry, I've attended an event or three, but this one was a standout. Uh, literally. There were people standing in the vestibule of the store and spilling out onto the square. The only people who got to sit had the foresight to come in and stake out a section of floor an hour or two in advance. As I was standing there listening (because there was noplace left from which a person could see the man; Tim Frederick of Baby Got Books was kind enough to let me briefly stick my head in front of him so I could *glimpse* Christopher Moore Authorguy) it occurred to me that there are a great many things Mr. Moore does *right*, and that it might be worth sharing them here.

Moore doesn't give readings. Well, technically, he did read some stuff, but it was a little humorous essay he wrote in one of the hotel rooms he's occupied lately. Mostly he just talks; it's more like watching a stand-up comic than attending an author event, because as one would expect of Christopher Moore, it's all very funny. And he hands out swag (GREAT swag: Christopher Moore FOOL promotional hats) to people who get the quiz questions right. (Did I not mention the quiz? It's a Books by Chris Moore trivia quiz.) And he takes questions and gives entertaining answers. I stood (stood! at the end of a long day) for an HOUR and never wondered how long I'd been standing, even though I couldn't see much of anything.

Now, I'm not suggesting all you authors start putting together your standup routines before your book tours. Unless you're a humorist, it probably wouldn't go all that well. ("Dying is easy; comedy is hard.") But I do think it's worthwhile to think about what your fans, yes all three of those diehards who will show up at your next bookstore event, would enjoy.

Each author is a one-of-a-kind with his own particular strengths and weaknesses. Each work attracts a particular set of fans. What do you do well? If you give a good reading, by all means do one at your event. (But don't read too long. Five minutes is almost always plenty, and you are probably not the exception to that rule.) If you don't, well, you probably need to work on that--but you might also think about what value you bring to your fans that might be shared in a bookstore event setting. (And please, if there really are only three fans there, get down off the stage and just talk to them. You look silly up there in that situation.) Most importantly, PREPARE. You're putting on a show; try to make it a good one. Practicing your show in advance wouldn't hurt--not least because, when things don't go the way you expect, you'll be comfortable enough to gracefully depart from your mental script.

Fans come to author events, more often than not at the end of a long day full of their own responsibilities, to feel a sense of connection with the author, to experience something special. Oh, and they probably want to get their books signed. But a significant percentage of event attendees are *potential* fans who have wandered in by mistake or been dragged to the event by someone else. They probably won't buy the book that night; but if you show them an enjoyable time, they may later. In either case, the last thing they want is to see you stand there with your face in your own book, mumbling through page after page of prose for which they lack sufficient context to care (I don't care how great the passage on page 142 is. No one who hasn't already read the book will get it.) and then wait passively for them to ask you to sign their book. It is your job to do more.

Entertain if you can. Hand out swag if you can get some. But whatever you do, bring the people at your events something special, something they won't get anywhere else: a sense of connection with you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Top Ten Misconceptions About Anointed

One of the things I enjoy most about Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, which we launched last night at Wordsmiths, is hearing all the crazy misconceived ideas people have about the book. As one small part of all the silliness that went on there, I presented our Top Ten Misconceptions About Anointed list, which I thought I'd share with you here. (Mostly because I don't have a recording of the AWESOME debate event, "I'm Right. You're Stupid." presented by Russ Marshalek, publicist extraordinaire, and Joe Davich, Assistant Director for the Georgia Center for the Book (Hey, Joe, you've got to look at a blog now!!)--and moderated by the Impartial and Supremely Talented Zach Steele.)

1. Anointed has not been banned in Boston—but we’re working on it.
2. Zach did not pay me to publish it.
3. In fact, as you may have read in Baby Got Books, he thinks I’m going to pay *him*.
4. The character of Kelly is not based on Zach’s wife. To my knowledge Alice has never had roundtable discussions with the voices in her head. Her voices are much more interesting than Kelly’s anyway.
5. Zach is not an atheist. He just thinks God is funnier than Morgan Freeman.
6. Jesus did not pose for the cover art, but we do have a release to use his likeness.
7. Zach was not stoned when he wrote Billy Christ, but Billy has refused to comment on his state of mind during those scenes.
8. Reading this book will not send you straight to hell, but it may make you think.
9. My husband did not try to have me committed when I picked up this book--but he did take over Mercury Retrograde's finances.
10. We have not been sued by any church organizations, but we did receive a letter of support from the Church of Scientology.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Feelin' the Love

This week the lit blog Baby Got Books is, as BGB host Tim Frederick puts it, "throwing objectivity to the wind and having a love fest" in honor of Zachary Steele's Anointed, which we're launching this weekend at Wordsmiths in Decatur. He graciously invited me to write today's post, so I wrote a little love letter to small press publishing.

Scroll right down after you finish reading my post for Russ Marshalek's hilarious interview with Zach, which is the post following mine. Tim says it best: those two should have their own reality show.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The funniest thing I've read all day

Russ Marshalek interviews Zachary Steele about Anointed on Baby Got Books.

There is no point in my trying to describe. Go read.

Finally, some cogent thoughts on the role of the ebook

From today's Shelf Awareness.

Alas, I would have posted a link, but the link I've got points to my Gmail account. That won't help anybody. So here is the text, and if you don't already read Shelf Awareness, do yourself a favor and check it out.

E-books: Attractive to Some Readers All the Time

Robert T. Mize, owner of Hidden Secrets Book Covers, Albuquerque, N.M., offers an unusual perspective on e-books:

Hidden Secrets Book Covers manufactures cloth covers for paperback and hardcover books and for the Sony Reader II and Kindle I. I have been a vendor at the regional independent booksellers association trade shows, several Romantic Times conventions and the international sci-fi convention last August. Three years ago only a few people at the Romantic Times convention mentioned e-books. The next year there were maybe a dozen. Last year dozens were interested, and there was incredible interest at the sci-fi convention. All of the interest was in Kindle covers. I have yet to sell a Sony cover.

I do not agree with the comparison of e-books to the music business. I suspect that e-books will take around 15% of the new book market in the next two years, but I doubt that it will have taken 50% in 10 years.

Readers express interest in e-books for several specific reasons:

Commuters and frequent fliers like the compact nature of the e-reader. They don't have to fuss with folding a newspaper or magazine. If they finish reading something, they can quickly download something else with a Kindle.

People who read a book a day or more like the ability to store multiple books in a tiny space. These are the people who go on vacation with one suitcase that has 35 lbs. of books. They also don't have to worry about what to do with all of the books after they read them. If they want to keep a book for reference, they can store it on an e-book memory card.

For readers with medical problems like arthritis, M/S, carpal tunnel syndrome, lost limbs, and neck and back problems, the e-book is a godsend. The changeable font sizes can help many readers with vision problems.

Techno-junkies love new gadgets like e-books.

Textbooks are where e-books should dominate the market. In school, what would you have given for the ability to search any keyword in the textbook and be able find all passages immediately and be able to highlight sections and find them immediately? Purchasing one e-reader in elementary school that will work through high school is not unreasonable, and e-textbook packages could be put together and sold for various courses without the school or professor being locked in to a single textbook for several years.

Far more readers love curling up with a book. They also don't want to risk ruining an e-reader poolside, boating, at the beach, in the bathtub or anywhere else around water. They love sharing a great book with friends, and giving books as a gift.

Bookstores are very different from music stores. At music stores, you went to get what you had already heard or your favorite artist's newest album. At bookstores, you go to see what is available by both your favorite writers and other writers whom you have never heard of and to see books of local interest. A well-informed staff is of little use in a music store and rarely available at corporate chains. The well-informed staff is the greatest competitive advantage that independent bookstores have. Those bookstores who capitalize on handselling are the ones who will survive.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The shifting landscape of publishing

There's a lot of talk out on the interwebs this week about the future of publishing: most notably this article in Time. But the thing that's really blowing my mind is this Publisher's Manifesto by Sara Lloyd. To my publisher brain, this is the equivalent of reading Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces with my writer-brain: it makes my head fire with ideas I never had before, at a rate that would probably make your average brain-scanner blow up. Each time I go back to it I have a different set of thoughts.

If the Time article predicts a book landscape as alien to us as the shores of the Amazon, the Publisher's Manifesto makes me reconsider my methods and role: how am I to serve my writers and readers in this shifting landscape? How will the ways I market books change?

The short answer, I currently suspect, is that each work will demand its own methodology. I am already talking with other publishers with whom I swap ideas and support (yes, another shocking idea, that) about the strategies for books they're publishing. In some cases I can see books becoming the centers of online communities; in others my mind is running towards serialization and online roleplay. Still other stories, I think, must be enjoyed as we have always enjoyed novels. Each of these subgroups will demand a different type of strategy, and each work within these subgroups will become the center of something unique.

This, I think, will become one of my most important jobs as a publisher: helping works find their ways in the wide electronic world. And here's the key: that's not the same thing as "publishing digital editions". I can already see that this will require a remodeling of author-publisher relationships, in ways that I think will be exciting for some, frightening for others.

I don't have answers yet. But I'm sure having a lot of exciting ideas. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a new world out there--pay attention

Even those of us who love the printed book must bow to the many wins of the electronic version.

Take a look:

Quandries and One Hell of an Exciting Time
courtesy Shelf Awareness

Monday, January 19, 2009

What are we to make of this?

It's quite likely that there's something wrong with me, some Creutzfeld-Jakob of the publishing brain. I turned down a publishable novel this weekend.

Really, there was nothing showstoppingly wrong with it. I yanked it out of the slushpile with lightning speed because the writing was top-notch. It was SF rather than F, which excited me because Mercury Retrograde is so heavily weighted in favor of fantasy. PoV slips were minor, and I felt certain I'd be able to coach the writer through where he was going wrong. And it started in media res, which almost never happens. I had every expectation of falling in love.

So why did I turn it down? Not because of any fault, but because of what it turned out to be: a sort of James-Bond-in-space with a female protag. Sounds like a great concept, right? This is the kind of thing that dominates the upper end of SFF novel sales, and a publisher with a better moneymaking brain would have jumped all over it. I'm sure it will sell quite soon--or within a timeframe that passes for "soon" in the publishing industry. In fact I'm certain the only reason it wound up on my desk is that the path to publication with a big house has grown so very, very long.

But for better or worse--or, more to the point, for richer or poorer--it was the things this very competent novelist didn't dig into that made my decision for me: character and ideas. For me, it is not enough that a character is well-defined and heroic: I want to see him or her *develop*, deal with conflicts that are deep and defining and change as a result of confronting them. I don't want the story to turn on an Achilles heel: I want to dig into why Achilles' sexual orientation changed the course of the Trojan War. And great worldbuilding and gee-whiz-ness don't do it for me unless they are there in service of ideas the author is exploring. I understand that most readers don't share my needs: most read to be entertained, to zip through a story that gives them a good ride and maybe some good moments to roll around in their minds later. And that the smart money is in giving people entertaining diversions, not stories that will challenge them, ask them to become emotionally involved or even changed by what they read.

As a reader, though, it's things in the latter category I want to read. As a writer, that's what I want to write. As a publisher, I want to create a space where writers can do that sort of work without having to consider themselves failures if their work doesn't get below the magic Thousand Mark on Amazon. But all I really knew when I decided to decline the offer of that very competent novel was that I didn't love it. I had to wander around for several hours afteward, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.

It's possible that I recognized with my artist-brain, long before my conscious mind caught up, that to start down the path of choosing novels for monetary rather than artistic reasons is to risk artistic ruin. But it's also possible that I just have Mad Cow.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Everybody's Doing It

What do we do on New Year's Day besides wander around in a slightly hung-over state channeling Bono? Why, we make resolutions, of course. As a writer, I am required by law to set writing resolutions: you know, to write every day; to write MORE every day if I actually succeeded in the first goal last year (which, as you know, Gentle Reader, I didn't). As a publisher, I should set resolutions having to do with doing more, bigger and better; that's not going to happen, either. I will do more, bigger and better; I am too driven to do otherwise. And that's one of the primary problems I face as a writer.

My goals for this year have to do with balance: balancing the two sides of my professional life rather than allowing all the things on my publishing to-do list to push me out of the study; keeping enough sanity in my weeks to allow things like yoga, eating right, taking walks and spending time with my special people; thinking about my fiction like a writer while I'm developing the work, and only then putting on my publisher's hat; not letting any one project derail everything else; accepting that my resources are far outstripped by my vision, and that writing and publishing comprise a marathon, not a sprint.

In a year in which we will all continue to redefine prosperity, it seems senseless to set goals regarding productivity. This year I will concentrate on quality: not just in my work, but in everything I do. This will be the year I rip out a flawed chapter or subplot and rebuild it rather than worrying about self-imposed deadlines, the year I choose not to flay myself over mistakes or perceived imperfections but simply extract the lessons learned and move on. This year will be a road trip in the direction of goals: we'll arrive, but the exact time of arrival is impossible to predict to the minute, and detours may arise without warning. I will strive to enjoy and learn from them all.

But I'm not making any resolutions.