Archive for the 'Business of Writing' Category

Rocket Boy, Geek Girls, and A New Publishing Venture

November 2nd, 2009

Almost a year ago a bunch of writers got together and, to borrow a line from some 1940s musicals, said, “Hey, we have a barn! Let’s put on a show.”  Translation: twenty or so of us decided that, with our various talents, our backlists, and our increasing concern about the shape of publishing and our place in it, we were going to try something new.  Thus, Book View Cafe was born: a website where readers can find short and long fiction by name authors, for free or for a nominal fee.  In the nearly one year since then, the Cafe has added some authors and gained almost 1500 subscribers.  The site generates 700,000 hits a month (!), we’ve promoted new releases by various of our authors with blog posts and Twitter-fic contests.  And now, BVC announces the creation of Book View Press and its first e-publication: an anthology of new and reprint SF: Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls.


Book View Café, the Internet’s only professional author cooperative announces the creation of Book View Press. Book View Press will expand the Café authors’ mission of bringing the best online fiction to the readers by bringing new work ready-to-read on the most popular ebook devices, including the Amazon Kindle, the Sony eReader and a variety of cell phones.

This group of award-winning and best-selling authors is launching their new press with a its first science fiction anthology: ROCKET BOY AND THE GEEK GIRLS. A collection of rare reprints, hard-to-find favorites and bold new tales by some of SFs finest authors including Vonda N. McIntyre, Katherine Kerr, Judith Tarr, P.R. Frost, Patricia G. Nagle, Amy Sterling Casil, and Maya Kaatherine Bohnhoff.

Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls is available at for the Kindle version and for other formats including pdf, mobi, prc, lit, lrf, epub.

To celebrate the launch of Rocket Boy, BVC is holding a TwitterFic contest. For details visit the BVC website:

For info contact:

I have a story, “Abelard’s Kiss,” in the anthology, but that’s not the only reason to check it out.  Deep Genre’s Katherine Kerr is in the anthology too.  And in the spring we’ll be bringing out a companion e-anthology full of great new and reprint fantasy stories.  It’s good reading, available in most electronic formats.

Hey: BVC may not be the future of publishing, but it’s one version, and it’s here now.  We, as writers, decided to take control of a small patch of our destiny and a small patch of the internet.  Come check it out!

No Visible Means of Support. Please.

August 18th, 2009

In the days when I was reading slush (unsolicited manuscripts to the fortunately uninitiated) we had a rule of thumb: the more “supporting materials” came with a fantasy manuscript, the more likely the MS was to be rotten. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule: some manuscripts that came with this stuff were okay; few were top-notch. A beginner mistake is to assume that, as finished books have these things, it’s necessary for the aspiring writer to provide them.

Really: no it’s not.

First of all: it reads like a newbie mistake (see above). Second of all, the more detailed and lavish the supporting materials are, the more likely the story itself has been shorted, because the writer has gotten so wound up in providing the schematics for the world (and showing you that they’re all, all there!) that she has forgotten things like logic, character, and wordcraft.

This does not mean that the writer should not do her homework, keep charts and research files and maps and whatever else makes it possible for her to construct a world.  But, as I think I’ve said before, 9/10ths of the worldbuilding iceberg should be underwater, unless you want your manuscript to sink like the Titanic.  Even when the work is finished, think carefully about imposing too many maps, etc. on your reader. 

Of course there’s a reason I’m thinking about this.  I just finished reading a quite satisfying fantasy novel, second in a series set in a big, sprawling elsewhere.  The worldbuilding is generally quite satisfactory.  Two problems:

  • In the first book in the series the author included a pronunciation guide so that readers would understand how to say the names of characters and places.  The problem with this is that once I read the arcane rules of this language it meant that every time I met a new character I not only had to remember what she looked like, but that her name was pronounced so that the first H was aspirated but the second H was not*, and that U was always pronounced long, as in you, but A was always short as in aaaa. This means, for me as a reader, that I’m doing the equivalent of walking through a new country with a guidebook in my hand, rather than getting involved in the story. In the second book there is no pronunciation guide, but (sadly) I still remember it, and kept trying to sound out the names in the new book by the same rules, rather than just getting into the story.
  • Both books have maps. The first book takes place entirely on one continent, and it’s pretty easy to follow the peregrinations of Our Heroine and her dauntless companion once they leave her hometown and set out to save her people from invaders.  But in the second book–because there were maps (not only of the continent but of the world itself) I kept referring back to them. In the second book Our Hero and his dauntless band sail off to save some captives and wind up saving the world and…it’s a good story, full of cool worldbuilding and action and angst and stuff.  Only, I kept trying to figure out where they were on the maps, and got hugely frustrated because I couldn’t: the larger map that compassed his travels did not include the names of the places they visited, so I still have no idea where they started from and only a rudimentary one of where they ended up. But every time the author gave me a new place name I leafed back to the front of the book and tried to find it. Once again, having that supporting material available was a distraction, not an aid.

Not everyone reads as I read, I know.  Many people would skip right over this stuff, or wouldn’t be bothered the way I was.  But some people will be, and for us, it’s a drag.  So think carefully about including your supporting materials with your work, either in ms. form or in the final book.  If someone proposes it, ask yourself (and the proposer) what you want the map to accomplish.  If you’ve built your world solidly enough, readers might not need a map.  And if there are specific reasons (you want a visual reminder of how close the enemy city is to Our Heroine’s wee tiny cot in the woods, or to give some visual cue as to why the journey from Hither to Yon takes six years by carrier yak), make sure that the map is set up to be useful. Because human nature is such that some people are going to try to use it, and hold it against you if they cannot.


*The real pronunciation rules have been changed to protect the innocent.

Fort Freak, and Writing in the Cities You’ve Never Visited

May 14th, 2009

As before, news and a rumination.  The news is that Fort Freak, the latest volume in the ongoing Wild Cards cycle, has been announced over at George R.R. Martin’s blog, and I’m among the writers tapped to write it.

Fort Freak

Fort Freak

Aside from the good feeling of having a proposal accepted, there’s also the writer’s anxiety about writing about something you don’t know and fear of getting it wrong.  Mary Anne Mohanraj (also among the writers, and new to Wild Cards) was writing about the same thing, relative to Fort Freak being a police story, something she knows little about beyond what she’s seen on television.  My knowledge of police dealings has a slight benefit in that one of my best friends had studied to be a cop (until health issues made him change to lawyer) and his brother is a cop, and I have other friends who work in law enforcement, so I have people to run legalities by so I won’t run too far afoul of Sjöberg’s Law of Cinematic Inaccuracy.   (“Movies get everything wrong. Hacking-based movies are laughable to hackers, military-based movies are laughable to members of the armed forces, and Indiana Jones movies are laughable to archaeologists.”)  Or, as it’s recently been termed on, having a story “Dan Browned,” a subset of the trope “Did Not Do the Research.”

Of course, there are sins and sins.  Television budgetary concerns can excuse Television Geography and even “The Mountains of Illinois”, but novels and short stories?  Not so much.  I’ve read short stories set in San Francisco where people had a picnic in Candlestick Park (not realizing that it’s a baseball/football stadium) or walked from Alameda to downtown SF (somehow forgetting that not only is this quite a distance, but the bay is in the way).  And these were published too.

So, I’ll confess my failing: I’ve never visited New York.  Neither state nor city.  But I’ve written stuff set there.  Most recently for my story in Busted Flush (the scene cut for pacing and plotting, not inaccuracy), but before as well.  And now I’m about to do it again.

On the plus side, I’ve at least touched Connecticut brownstone (the Flood Mansion in San Francisco is built of the stuff, imported at ruinous expense back in the day) and being familiar with the architecture of San Francisco and other cities helps, in that what was built in one city was then reproduced in other cities of the era, often by the same architects.   (Driving around Mexico City a few years ago, I was getting deja vu, thinking at times I was in parts of San Francisco or New Orleans or even downtown San Jose.)  And with Wild Cards being an alternate timeline which diverges in 1946, there are structures which were knocked down in our Manhattan which can still exist in the world of Wild Cards.  Not tipping my hand too much, but I’m currently researching  one of those, both because it’s neat in terms of alternate history to preserve something rather than destroying everything, and because if I’m pulling from museum archives and photographs, I don’t have to worry that much about someone who actually lives somewhere looking up from the book and rolling their eyes about how I’ve got it wrong.

I’ll also be running the story by some native New Yorkers, so I can get the errors caught before publication.  But right now, it’s research time.

Giving it Away for Free

April 7th, 2009

Witch Way to the Mall

Witch Way to the Mall

This was going to be a small announcement that I’ve got a story coming out in Esther Friesner’s Witch Way to the Mall this next June, and Baen is offering five of the stories early, including mine (you have to click all the way to the end to find it, since it’s not linked in the contents), but, well, it’s sort of morphed into a rumination on copyrights and giving it away for free.

This was prompted by a short letter I got last night from Paizo, a gaming company I’ve bought from before and who has given me some very nice PDFs of their other games as free samples:

Dear Kevin,

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of Please check out our other downloads at

Sincerely yours,
The Paizo Customer Service Team

This has prompted a great deal of talk on the Paizo and Wizards boards and elsewhere, with a press announcement from Wizards saying they were shocked shocked! to find that people were violating their copyrights on the internet, and they’re now suing people as far away as Poland and the Philipines — this particularly ironic since a number of years ago, they themselves violated the copyrights of a number of authors, myself included, with the publication of the Dragon Magazine compilation CD.  But the fact that my very first professional sale (if not publication credit), which was reprinted by Wizards without my permission, was then pirated around the globe without Wizards’ permission?  I suppose I could fall into a fit of apoplexy that my words my precious words! were no longer under my control.  But since I’ve been giving that article away for free on my website for years, the mental chain is more: sauce, gander, world’s tiniest violin.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think Wizards has the right to pull those works they do hold copyright to from publication, but giving customers who’ve already paid for the work less than twelve hours notice is rather bad form.  Moreover, I think it’s inane to cut off electronic reprints of out-of-print books, especially when there’s a demand for them and the fans will have to chose between pirate networks and the absurd prices of antiquarian booksellers.  And when I say absurd, I mean absurd: Last night I went on to to get a book I wanted, and while I was there, the engine (which had remembered my previous searches) told me I could get a copy of  Wild Cards Card Sharks, which has my first professional fiction publication, for only $1.37.  This seemed absurdly reasonable, and since I’d heard they were going for much more (and I only have two copies myself) I decided to snatch it up, only to find that the price had jumped to $53 once I clicked on the link and it was absurd the other way.

I’m not going to pay $53 for a paperback.  Moreover, I don’t expect any fan to.  And it’s not like I’d see any of that money from the antiquarians in any case.  I’d rather the fans download it from Polish pirates, then buy something current (such as, for example, Busted Flush or Witch Way to the Mall).

Which I suppose brings us full circle: There are free stories–regardless of how they got there–and if you like them, you can buy more stories.

Publication basking: Busted Flush here, latest Wild Cards novel

December 9th, 2008

I got my author’s copies of Busted Flush yesterday, the latest Wild Cards novel which I wrote part of. I’d seen bits and bobs of the other author’s sections during the writing phase, for character approval and to see that we were on the same page, but this is my first chance to read the whole thing together and I’m enjoying it. So far I’ve read Melinda and Caroline’s sections at the beginning, then skipped ahead to reread parts of what I wrote (since there’s no plot surprises there, but there’s the fun of seeing your words in actual print).
Busted Flush cover shot
I’m not certain how many other authors do this, setting aside a day for enjoying the book when it comes out. Lots of times I know it hasn’t worked out, due to life, deadlines and other realities (and today not so much either, since I’m having a friend over to help install a new hard drive in the new computer and attempt to transfer what files were saved from the dead one), but when it happens, it’s nice to be able to just sit back and bask.

P.S. As a small update, there’s now an interview with me and the rest of the Busted Flush authors up at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for anyone who’d like to read it.

Introducing Book View Café

November 19th, 2008

I’m formulating my thoughts on this whole politics/class/fantasy thing–an issue which fascinates me as a writer and a human.  But (as with many fascinating topics) every time I write something I realize I need to think a little more.  So pardon me while I think, and I’ll be back to the topic in a day or so.

Meanwhile, I want to let you know about a new venture started by a group of women writing in SF, fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance: the Book View Café.  Writers such as Ursula LeGuin, Vonda McIntyre, Irene Radford, Katherine Elisska Kimbriel, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Sarah Zettel, and, well, <i>me</i>, are putting up screenplays, stories, poetry and even whole novels.  Right now it’s all read for free, while we’re in the shakeout period.  Thereafter some of it will be free, some will be free if read online, some available for download for a nominal fee. 

The idea is to make a place where we can get our work before readers in a new way–stories that are out of print, experimental, or otherwise unavailable.  There’s also a blog with posts by the site’s various authors–updated daily, and as diverse as we are.

Looking for something good to read?  Want to check out a writer you haven’t tried before?  Check out the Book View Cafe.

Blog party

September 18th, 2008

Nope, no essay this week.  I wrote one already for agent Lucienne Diver’s Epic Fantasy Week blog.  Other guest bloggers are fantasy writers Lynn Flewelling, David Coe, Diana Pharaoh Francis, and Sara Hoyt.  Join us for talk about characterization in fantasy, writer promotion, series arcs, worldbuilding, and writing fantasy in a scientific world.



April 29th, 2008

I have an erratic career path.

My first four books were written between 1976 and 1981; book number five took another two years to write (I went to the Clarion SF Writing Workshop; I moved from Boston to New York; I worked part time and then full time, I fell in love, I fell out of love.  Life, right?).  I also started writing SF and fantasy short stories.   When I turned in my last romance (in 1984) I kept writing short stories and started noodling around with a story which grew into a book.  It took me more than ten years to finish that book (worked freelance, picked up my acting career again, fell in love, got married, started working at Tor Books, had a baby, went back to work again, left Tor, left the job after that, edited comics for three years, had another baby).  I sold the book on a partial manuscript while I was still working at Tor, and was more than half-way through it–but it still took what seemed like forever to finish.  After I turned in The Stone War I got a chance to do a work-for-hire novel based on a Marvel Comics superhero–Daredevil.  I wrote that book in about six weeks, from a fiendishly tight outline (remind me sometime and I’ll tell you the hoops you jump through to write tie-in novels) and it was fun.  Then I wrote Point of Honour, and almost immediately afterward, Petty Treason.

Then, two weeks after I turned Petty Treason in in 2002, we moved to California.  My writing path since then has been, um, erratic.  And with the benefit of hindsight and a several-decades-long career, I now realize that my writing history is punctuated by gaps.  Some of them very significant gaps.  I am not, nor do I ever expect to be, one of those 2000-words-a-day-year-in-and-year-out, writers.  But there have been times when I wrote consistently, turning out a book a year or so.  And times when I didn’t, when I felt guilty because I wasn’t writing, or because I wasn’t finishing a book.  Guilt, needless to say, butters no parsnips and is the enemy of the creative process.

But a time has come, at the end of each of these hiatuses, to jumpstart my process and get back to work.  What to do?

Here, in no specific order, are some of the tricks that have worked for me:

  • Retyping the stalled manuscript.  Yes, even at book length.  Maybe especially at book length.  Retyping immerses me in the book in a way that merely re-reading and line-editing doesn’t.  I often find myself adding, branching out, finding the places where I went astray, cutting out wholesale chunks.
  • Writing “cover copy” for the story.  Nothing focuses what you believe are the salient points of a story like trying to convey it in a punchy, convincing two paragraphs.
  • Following The Artist’s Way or some similar program.  The Artist’s Way requires, among other things, that you write three pages, longhand, every morning before you do anything else.  When I was stalled on The Stone War this was one of the things that helped get me moving again.  And you don’t have to follow all the rules the Way suggests: Julia Cameron isn’t going to show up at your house at 6am to make sure that you’re writing before you feed the kids, or that you’re making all your “artist dates.”  The right way to do this is the way that helps you.
  • Participating in a writers’ workshop–one where I have to show up in person (nothing against online crit groups; I just found that having to show up was useful to me) and one in which I focus as much on the critiques I’m giving other people as I do on their critiques of my work.
  • Reading stuff that makes me want to write.  What is that going to be?  Sometimes it’s fiction that, in some way, approaches what I’m trying to do.  When I was working on Point of Honour I was reading The Maltese Falcon, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and The Name of the Rose.  If another writer has pulled off a particular technical trick, I may want to read that work for awe and inspiration.

I am reasonably certain that, however long my writing career continues (until they prise my laptop from my fingers, no doubt) there will be lulls in my creative process.  That means I’m always looking for new ways to jumpstart that process.  Got any you want to share?

Reader Questions: How do you Pitch the Multi-Volume Series to Publishers?

February 14th, 2008

Reader Adam S queries:
Most publishers I’ve seen ask for a portion of the novel you’re hoping to have published and a synopsis of the story. So where does the multi-volume novel fit into the picture? The publisher isn’t buying all the books right away, just the first (in case the first doesn’t sell well), so the synopsis should be only the first story, right? Do they need detail about where the entire story is heading? Because other than the last scene in the series and a few locations and events along the way, I don’t know what happens between the end of the first book and the end of the last book. How did you handle this with the Crown of Stars series?

First of all, the publishing world has altered significantly since I sold the first book in the Crown of Stars series. The winds of change have howled through, and the paperback rack in the front of the store looks markedly different than it did five years ago much less than it did in 1995 when I sold the partially-written King’s Dragon (then with the working title of Dragon’s Heart) to DAW Books.

I believe I may have sold the Crown of Stars series as a potential trilogy on the basis of a five page synopsis. Which I doubt, after multiple computer changes, I even possess any longer. Nor would that synopsis bear much relationship to the books as they were finally written, although certain plot elements would stand out as unchanged. However, I was able to do that because I already had a track record with DAW Books, having published four Novels of the Jaran with them. In addition, I made the deal for Crown of Stars in the wake of signing a contract to collaborate with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson on The Golden Key, also for DAW Books.

In this case we’re talking about a multi-volume series by a new author, in today’s market.

It’s an entirely different kettle of worms now. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are hot. Young Adult remains very strong. Second world fantasy in a series still sells, and I am pretty sure can sell well, and publishers are still looking for new voices, but it isn’t as wild as it might have been ten years ago as people scrambled to find the next Robert Jordan. Laurel K Hamilton is the new Jordan in terms of marketing strength and coat-tails, if one must use that analogy.

Also–and this is important–I’m neither a publisher or an agent. Publishers and agents will have different perspectives than mine, so anything I say must be understood as filtered through my limited understanding and experience and my own biases. Booksellers will have a valuable perspective on this also; seek out their opinions, if you can.

In general, however, and in a simplistic form, this is what I would say:

1) publishers like series.

A strong series generates reader loyalty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with standalone novels, but in marketing terms a standalone novel is a new sell every time even though there may be other compelling angles (reader investment in a particular writer, forex). A series is a known quantity, a story-line or characters or world the reader is already invested in.

I don’t say this to suggest you should write a series over a standalone novel (publishers like standalone novels, too). Or that standalone novels are morally superior to series. Me, personally, I read both with equal pleasure (as long as I like what I’m reading).

2) Think about how you want to structure the volumes and the story within each volume.

You can write a true multi-volume novel (or trilogy) in which each volume is incomplete, a part of a larger whole (think Crown of Stars), or you can write installments in which each individual novel stands more or less alone with some form of a complete plot which is resolved by the end of the book while also advancing a larger overall plot (the earlier Harry Potter books are examples of this method).

To market to market to buy a fat pig?

Have a complete first novel.

In these days where you want a strong follow-up close upon your first publication (no big gaps between books), I personally think you’re better off with a second novel in hand as well, but it isn’t required.

If you have a complete first novel, I suppose you should include a synopsis of that novel, but you absolutely (I think–more knowledgeable folk may know better) must include a synopsis of the rest of the larger story 1) to show that you know where you’re going with this and 2) so the publisher can see you have a colorful journey and a firm destination in mind and larger plot on which they will judge how well the material will hold up to being extended over multiple volumes (you want a fat narrative not a thin one).

If, for instance, your plot consists mostly of “and then there was another encounter” – you’ll have more trouble selling a publisher on the idea of a multi-volume novel. If your plot shows significant chance of twisting turning layering and depth, they’ll be more interested. I’m not actually sure how detailed the synopsis needs to be. I have written few synopses, all of which were pretty sketchy, and even then I’ve never followed those outlines. But you must show you have a long, large plot in mind that can sustain multiple volumes. That doesn’t necessarily mean a detailed 50 page outline; a sketchier outline can show off the big plot questions as well, but you have to be sure to highlight the Bigness and Epic-ness of your plot if you’re going sketchy.

Your strongest selling point remains a well written and exciting first volume, that shows off your capabilities. Show them two well written and exciting volumes, and it’s likely an even better sell because they’ll see volume one isn’t a fluke or the result of ten years of painstaking labor that suggests volume two won’t follow for another ten years.

Beyond that? I’m not sure there is more to do except to start sending material to publishers. Again, as much as the market has seen an explosion in urban fantasy, there are still plenty of new secondary world fantasy writers breaking in and getting a great deal of attention. The market is open. Good luck.

Meanwhile, if any of you all out there have specific insights into the synopsis, I’d love to see your comments here or as posts in your own spaces (if you do that, please flag them here–thanks!) because it’s not a subject I can really say much about on as I am a notoriously poor synopsis/outline writer.

Spinner Racks

December 7th, 2007

Tom Doherty’s blog on the vanishing mass market paperback should be required reading for anyone who is serious about writing genre fiction (or fiction generally, or anything generally, actually). Disclaimer: Tom is the Publisher and President of Tor Books, and I was his assistant for nearly five years. Tom knows mass market publishing better than just about anyone, and more to the point, he is passionate about publishing and books. Not book-shaped salable widgets, not product, but books.

For years Tom has talked about the diminishment of the mass market in places like supermarkets and drug stores. We used to swap stories about the allure of the spinner racks. When I was a teenager and we’d moved out of New York City and into rural Massachusetts, the drug store was my life line to genre fiction. The local libraries didn’t have much by way of SF or fantasy–lots of historical fiction, Regencies, romances of every stripe, but SF and fantasy were still a sort of untouchable literary caste. But in the drugstore there were spinner racks, and every month I’d go (I got so I knew when the stock would be refreshed, and show up that afternoon) and pick up as many new paperbacks as my allowance would permit (in the days when books were fifty cents to a dollar and a quarter you could actually do that). I encountered Suzette Haden Elgin, Damon Knight, Philip K. Dick, Donald Barr, Robert Silverberg, Terry Carr’s wonderful Years’ Best anthologies, as well as Asimov and Heinlein and Herbert and other Usual Suspects. I found writers I would not necessarily notice today because of the sheer volume of SF and fantasy books that are out there. When there are four genre books a month on the racks it’s easier to buy all four; I didn’t worry about whether a book was my kind of SF because I was so happy to have any SF at all. I was forced by circumstance to read whatever there was, and I was the richer for it.

I love bookstores. I loved bookstores when I was a teenager but even then I bought differently at Barnes and Noble or B. Dalton than I did at the drugstore. I’d encounter a new writer at the drugstore, and after that seek that writer’s work at the bookstore. The books from the spinner racks were the doorway drug that led to the harder stuff. Nowadays when I buy a book it’s most likely on a recommendation from a friend, or it’s by a writer I already know, or something I’ve seen reviewed. What I don’t get too often is surprises, that great feeling of opening a book with no idea of what I’d get. Of course some of it was lousy, but a lot of it was at least entertaining, and some of it was really good.

How do you find new books? Do you get any surprises? I think Tom’s right, that the demise of the spinner rack has a lot of impact on my career, on the sorts of people who might once have picked up a book of mine from the spinner rack but now don’t get a chance to do so. There are other ways to get in touch with potential readers (this blog, after all, is one of them). But that surprise is rarer and rarer, and I, for one, don’t know how to replace it.

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