Thursday, April 30, 2009

You DO Want Me to Buy Your Books, Right?

Okay, so Fictionwise is having a half-off sale and I'm running around filling my cart. There's this writer I've liked before, I read the first book of a series (sort of a psychic-urban-fantasy sort of thing) and it was good, so I look up her name to see if the next book in the series is there. Well, they've got number three, but not number two (or even number one) and I'm not about to skip number two because I'm uptight that way.

I see that she's got another series going, though, another urban-fantasyish setting only this one's about vampires. I read some of the plot descriptions and they sound pretty cool. Okay, I want to try the first one and see how I like them. Except... there's no indication on Fictionwise as to what order you should read them in. :/ And in fact, there seem to be two series here (Fictionwise lists them in the SeriesName: BookTitle format and there are definitely two series names) but descriptions from both series mention the same character so... I guess they're linked? I can tell which series comes first, since Fictionwise tells you what year a story was published in and the second series is 2009, but all the first series books were published (or maybe just hit Fictionwise?) in 2008, so no help there.

I fire up the Google-fu and find the author has a couple of web sites and an LJ. One of the web sites has all the books for the first series (the one I've got number one of) in the proper order, but doesn't even mention the other series. (Either one.) Nothing helpful on the other web site. I check the LJ and... nothing helpful there either. I mean, there are probably individual posts to the journal as each book comes out (I would hope so, anyway) but I'm not about to go paging back through this writer's journal by hand. The logical thing with a journal is to have some obvious place -- like a pinned entry which is always on top, or a listing or link in the journal's profile -- where a reader with money in hand can find things like buy links and lists of what order to read series books in. No luck.

Now there might well be some other web site farther down the Google page with a list of the books in the series I'm interested in, in reading order. I've checked the writer's sites, though, and I don't think I should have to go wading through fan pages to find basic information. I'm assuming the writer wants me to buy her books and I don't think it's too much to ask for her to give me reading-order lists on her web site or journal or whatever, where I can find them without going on a web-wide Easter egg hunt.

And not to pick on this one person -- I've had similar problems with other writers, both e-published and folks whose books are on the shelves at bookstores, where I'm standing there with my credit card in my pocket and there's nothing on covers of series books to tell me which order to read them in. At least with a paper book I have in my hand in a bookstore, I can flip through and find the copyright page (which usually gives month as well as year) or maybe a reading-order list somewhere in the front- or backmatter. Although I've run into lists of an author's other books before which were not in reading order, so that can be a trap.

And then there's the question of aggravation level, diminishing patience, and my willingness to overcome same; it's probably not going to fall out the author's way unless they're just that high on my Favorite Writers List. Take Jim Butcher, to name one person whose books inexplicably say "Book One [or whatever number] of the Dresden Files" until they hit book six or so, and then just say they're "A" book of the series. [headdesk] The Dresden Files really rock, so I'm willing to grit my teeth and mutter imprecations about Butcher's publisher for changing the series line at the bottom of the cover, while I stand there in the bookstore juggling five or six of his books, trying to get them into copyright order so I know which one to read next. If you're much lower on my Favorite Writers List than Jim Butcher, though, I'm much more likely to just give up on your series and move on to the next writer.

Right now, I have money. I want to give it to this writer. (Well, all right, a chunk to the writer, a chunk to her publisher and a chunk to Fictionwise, but still.) These are e-books, we're doing this online, she has two web sites and an LJ. Is it that hard to post a list somewhere telling me which book to buy first? :/

Sorry. Moving on to the next writer.


Just Put Your Foot Right Into This Trap....

Am I the only one who hates tinyurl links? :/ I mean, seriously, if you hover the mouse over one of those links, all you get is the tinyurl address itself, which means nothing. You have no idea where it leads, where you might be taken. Whenever I see one I always feel like it's a web leading to a spider that's going to bite me and inject viruses onto my computer or something like that.

Is it really that tough to just use the real URL? Everyone has copy/paste on their computer, right? If anything, it's more work to use tinyurl. Is there even a point to it nowadays, when we don't generally type out the URLs by hand anymore? (And come on, it's been, what, fifteen years or more since we had to do that on any kind of a regular basis...?)

If you're particularly HTML savvy you can even use the href command so that a word or three in your text becomes a clickable link -- I have the command in a file so I just copy/paste it into my post or comment or whatever, then fill it in with the link I want to use and the words I want clickable. There you go, about as easy as it gets without having someone else do the actual mousing and typing for you.

I have to trust someone implicitly to click on a tinyurl link in their post or comment. And even then, I can usually find a good enough reason to skip over it. If folks are hoping for readers to follow their links, using tinyurl loses me.

Am I alone in my unreasoning suspicion...?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Naming Oops

So I'm going along working on my new book (and seriously, it's amazing how much progress you can make when you ignore the internet for days at a time) and I've got a little over 40K words when it suddenly hits me that the name of one of my two main characters is the same as the name of one of the main characters -- the POV character, in fact -- from my last published story. [headdesk] So I picked a new name, did a search/replace and kept going. Although I still catch myself using the old name periodically, so I'll have to do another search/replace when I'm finished, just to make sure I don't have one of those mid-text name changes once the book hits publication, 'cause that's really embarassing.

[I know, that's one of the things editors are for, but I've seen it happen in other people's books so obviously editors can miss these things too.]

Anyone else here ever done that? Anyone? Show of hands...? [wry smile]

What's really annoying is that I do keep written track of all the names of major characters in my published and hopefully-to-be-published stories. I have no idea how I missed the duplication, although I suppose having to swap in mid-stream will encourage me to check the Already Used list more carefully in the future.

The second annoying thing is that I used to be able to keep the names of every character I'd ever written in my head, along with characteristics and plotline. Heck, I used to be able to remember the title and character names of every book I'd ever read in my head; that petered out somewhere in my mid-twenties or so, at which point I owned four or five thousand books and had read a lot more. It's weird that I was ever able to do this, because my memory for individual data items has always been pretty abysmal, other than this one quirk. But still, you'd think I'd at least remember my own characters. :P

Angie, heading back to the word processor

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bestseller Numbers

Lynn Viehl, who hit the NYT mass market bestseller list last year for the first time, shares her royalty statement, talks about the hard numbers of advance, royalty, sales and reserves, and discusses what was and wasn't done to make those bestselling numbers happen. I've never seen anyone do this before, so thanks to Lynn for being so open and sharing this stuff with the community.

Check it out -- there's some interesting info there.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anthology Markets

I finally started keeping track of anthologies in a file instead of just writing them down in my calendar or bookmarking the link up in a special folder in my browser. While it's true that I have at times written a complete short story in a few days, or occasionally in a few hours, I've discovered that this works best when you get a sudden spark of inspiration and can start furiously banging away on the story right off. Turning the calendar page and seeing that there's a theme anthology with a deadline on Wednesday and trying to come up with an idea which fits the theme and then writing and polishing it to send in two and a half days later is another matter. [wry smile]

So, with some advance notice, there are seven anthologies with deadlines in mid- to late-May. (Not even close to comprehensive -- these are just my publisher's anthos, plus other calls I ran across and which interested me enough to jot down the info.)

Most are romance or erotica, but also listed are Sword and Sorceress 24 (Fantasy) and Catastrophia (SF/Horror).

[ETA NOTE: I've been getting a lot of hits on these posts, so if you've just wandered in off the internet, hi and welcome. :) I do these posts every month, so click here to make sure you're seeing the most recent one.]

13 May 2009 -- Pushy Little Bottoms Taste Test -- Torquere
Publication date August 2009, submissions due 5/13/2009 (Topping from below? Demanding a good spanking RIGHT NOW? You bet. I want bossy little bottom boys! No whining allowed.)

Taste Tests are mini-anthologies consisting of three or more stories ranging from 3000-7000 words each for a total of 10000-20000 words. Monthly themes are posted on the Taste Test submission page, along with deadlines and links to our general submission guidelines. Authors may submit a single story to any open theme, or submit a set of stories as single author collection, suggesting their own theme.

15 May 2009 -- Body Paint Toybox -- Torquere
Like the Taste Tests, Toy Boxes are small collections of three to four stories ranging from 3000-7000 words each for a total of 10000-20000 words. We'll post themes that we'd like to see, and authors can submit one story or a whole collection. Entire collections must center around a single toy box item.

15 May 2009 -- Wrap Me Up - Erotic Holiday Tales -- STARbooks
Do you like to sit on Santa's lap? Are there eight things you wish you could do to your boyfriend during Hanukah? Does Kwanzaa give you the urge to commune with nature? Or, do you just like to write about people who get horny over the holidays?

There is no limit to the possibilities. Your stories can take place at the North Pole, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, or the Continent of Africa, just to name a few locales. Your characters may be Maccabees, Wise Men, Tribal Elders, Romans, Greeks, or Elves, just to give you a few ideas. Let your imagination roll and think outside the gift-wrapped box, and give us your hottest holiday story. Have fun and give our readers the gift that keeps on giving, so they come back for more.

15 May 2009 -- Sword and Sorceress 24
Stories should be the type generally referred to as "sword and sorcery" and must have a strong female protagonist whom the reader will care about. See Sword & Sorceress 22 and Sword & Sorceress 23 (or 1-20) for examples. We do not want stories with explicit sex, gratuitous violence, or profanity. We are NOT a market for poetry. We are willing to consider stories set in modern times, but we won't buy more than one or two of those for the anthology. We always want something short and funny for the last story.

Length: up to 9,000 words, with preference given to shorter stories. The longer a story is, the better it has to be. Long stories should be submitted early in the reading period.

20 May 2009 -- BEST GAY ROMANCE 2010 -- Cleis Press
For the sensual anthology series BEST GAY ROMANCE 2010 (Cleis Press, Winter 2009) I'm looking for short stories (maximum 6,000 words) that are as sweet as they are steamy, as emotive as they are erotic: fiction (or true stories) about two men (or, who knows, more) falling in love. The wooing and the winning, the blush of a crush, the details of a date, the rush of romance... If sex happens, that's fine, but the emphasis in these stories should be on what happens on the way to 'sexual congress' - or what happens after it, happily ever after.Deadline: May 20, 2009. Submissions to BGR2010 []; please put BGR 2010 in the subject line. Original stories or work published from May 2008 to May 2009.

31 May 2009 -- Catastrophia -- Allen Ashley, PS Publishing
Catastrophia will be a collection of stories loosely themed around the theme of catastrophes, disasters and post-apocalyptic fiction. I will be looking for original, unpublished stories which deal in a modern manner with these classic SF- and Horror-based tropes.

31 May 2009 -- Blood Fruit -- QueeredFiction
Queer, dark, macabre tales of horror, (blood and gore and rotten fruits welcome) are sought by QUEEREDFICTION. Chill us with your horrifying, sensual tales of gay and lesbian terror. Your submission should be a short story between 4,000 and 10,000 words. We are seeking fiction with positive images of queer characters. We’re not looking for clich├ęs. We do not want reprints. We are seeking first world rights for this anthology. For full details view the official guidelines. Queries welcome.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Update

Amazon is trying to sidestep the publicity nightmare by claiming that this is all a glitch and that they're working on fixing it. Umm, sure.

Jane at Dear Author looked up the metadata for a number of books, both ranked and de-ranked, and it seems the stripping of sales ranks might've been done in accordance with the metadata, looking for "Gay & Lesbian" or "Erotica" in the metadata to choose what to strip. Books like A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality weren't stripped of their ranking because, despite being clearly about homosexuality, they don't have "Gay & Lesbian" in any of their metadata.

That explains how this could have been done automatically. There apparently is a consistent keyword-type search which could've been used to strip rankings on books which all had metadata features in common by someone typing in a command. I still don't buy the "glitch" story, though, because that doesn't explain why writers like Mark Probst were told straight out that the de-ranking was done by Amazon, per their policy of removing "Adult" material from searches and listings. Why would anyone have said, "Yes, we do this, it's policy" if it was actually a glitch? Sorry, Amazon -- I'm still not buying it.

Note also that someone came up with the tag Amazonfail and people have been applying it on Amazon to books which had their ranking stripped. This isn't something that's going to force Amazon to do the right thing; they can and likely will delete the tag as soon as they notice it. I'm willing to spend some time tagging and confirming tags just to be annoying, though; have fun if you have some free time.

I did notice that some of the books which have been used as counter-examples ("Why were those books de-ranked and not these?!") have been included in the Amazonfail tagging. I didn't confirm those; I still think that all the books should have their rankings and be included in searches and listings. No matter what I personally think of some other books (the historical manual on dogfighting, for example) I oppose all censorship and suppression of books and won't even suggest suppressing books I disapprove of, any more than I approve of anyone else censoring books I like. That's just me, though.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Amazon Is Protecting YOU From Naughtiness!

What? You say you're an adult and don't need a nanny when you're shopping for books? Too bad. Someone thinks you do, and whoever that someone is obviously has a lot of pull at Amazon, and has a particular axe to grind when it comes to GLBT books (that's books, not just fiction) and also some het erotica.

We've been tracking this issue for a few days now and have been trying to be fair, wondering about mistakes and glitches and computer hiccups. Erastes's Transgressions and Alex Beecroft's False Colors have been doing very well on Amazon for the last ten days or so, had been ranking in the top five for GLBT pretty consistently and often went one-two. False Colors had been selling well enough that it was close to hitting the bestseller list in "Romance" rather than just "GLBT Romance," which would've been a wonderful coup for Alex as well as her publisher.

Apparently someone objected to that, though, so the sales ranking data was stripped from both books, as well as quite a few others. Without that ranking data, a book won't show up on any bestseller list. God forbid that NICE people who are just searching for a good, wholesome romance have their eyes burned out by being forced to view the cover and title of False Colors. (Which, BTW, is a historical whose cover art has two guys fully clothed in historic Naval uniforms on it, nothing nasty or smutty or naked, unlike so many of the het romance covers which are apparently considered clean and pure and worthy of being displayed in the more general searches.)

If you're not sure what sales-ranking data has to do with searches or anything else, this is briefly how it works: When you do a search on, say, ROMANCE on Amazon, it gives you a list of all products which fit that term, listed in order of popularity, determined by how many copies have sold. Those sold copies contribute to the item's sales ranking; an item which ranks 3,820 on the ROMANCE bestseller list isn't as popular as one which ranks 249. Everyone wants a rank of 1. If a product doesn't have a sales ranking attached to it, it'll never appear anywhere on those search lists, since they're ordered by sales ranking and the list won't find a product without one.

The books are still listed on Amazon, are still available for purchase, and can still be found if you go specifically to the Books section (as opposed to using the search box on the front page) and enter the author's name or the title, but a customer who's just browsing a section rather than looking for a specific book or author will never see it. Stripping the sales ranking from a book doesn't make it completely unavailable, but it does cut down significantly on the number of people who'll see it, which cuts into the author's sales.

Mark Probst, whose book The Filly had its ranking stripped (despite being a historical YA with gay characters but no sexual content) wrote to Amazon to ask what was up. This is what they said:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

So no, it's not any kind of glitch or error or oversight. The Filly and Transgressions and False Colors, along with Heather has Two Mommies and John Barrowman's autobiography and Stephen Fry's autobiography and Nathaniel Frank's Unfriendly Fire (which is a non-fiction examination of military policy) and hundreds of other books, some with sexual content and many without, have been deliberately targetted as "adult" material. Umm, right. Heather has Two Mommies is a children's book, and only the most narrow-minded of homophobic bigots would consider it to be "adult" material.

Oh, and in case you thought Amazon was stripping books with any mention of homosexuality, A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality is still ranked and shows up on search lists. So no, this isn't a case of some clumsy tech setting up too wide a target in the database and stripping the ranking from all books which mention GLBT topics or keywords; this is a very specific and targetted attack on books with friendly or positive treatments of GLBT subjects, plus whatever het erotica the censors think is ewwy enough to be swept up in the same net.

Unless of course it impacts the sales and promotion of Amazon's own Kindle and Kindle-proprietary e-books. Alex noted yesterday that Kindle versions of False Colors and Transgressions had become available as Kindle e-books, complete with rankings which will let the Kindle versions show up in searches and bestseller lists, but the paperback editions still have no sales rankings. I guess Amazon's concern for the children and the more narrow-minded of their customers only extends so far as other publishers' books; for their own pet project, they're willing to ignore morals and decency and do whatever it takes to make money. Wow, at least they're consistent. [/sarcasm]

This is being discussed all over so most of you have probably heard about it already in one form or another. Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books are two of the larger sites discussing the story. It's worth reading the comments; there are many good comments and more details about what is and isn't being rank-stripped, as well as trackbacks to other discussions. Also note how many people are saying they're ready to stop shopping at Amazon over this, and how many writers have already stripped the Amazon buy-links from their blogs and web sites.

Smart Bitches also set up a Google Bomb to redefine "Amazon Rank" thusly:

amazon rank
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): amazon ranked

1. To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies).
2. To make changes based on inconsistent applications of standards, logic and common sense.

Etymology: from 12 April 2009 removal of sales rank figures from books on containing sexual, erotic, romantic, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer content, rendering them impossible to find through basic search functions at the top of's website. Titles stripped of their sales rankings include "Bastard Out of Carolina," "Lady Chatterly's Lover," prominent romance novels, GLBTQ fiction novels, YA books, and narratives about gay people.

Example of usage: "I tried to do a report on Lady Chatterly's Lover for English Lit, but my teacher amazon ranked me and I got an F on grounds that it was obscene."

Alternate usage: "My girlfriend wanted to preserve her virginity, and I was happy to respect that, then she amazon ranked and decided anal sex was okay."

If you post about this issue, and I encourage you to do so, please include a link to that definition page. It's already the first entry shown whenever someone Googles "Amazon rank," but more is always better and will make it harder for Amazon or any publicity-doctor firm they hire to bury it.

The LA Times Blog has posted on the subject. At the time their article was written, Amazon had "not responded to the LA Times request for clarification." I'm sure that's because of the holiday, and the fact that no one's in the office or at all contactable, and not because Amazon's upper management is locked in a frantic meeting trying to figure out how the hell they're going to pull themselves out of this publicity disaster they've created.

Some people around the blogosphere are questioning why GLBT and erotica books are being censored while most het erotica and sexy romance books are not. Also mentioned are other possibly objectionable books which are still sales-ranked on Amazon. To me, the clear discrimination makes this even more of an outrage, yes, but saying, "Why strip this and not that?!" makes it sound like stripping the sales rankings off all these other books would make this okay.

It won't.

This isn't quite censorship but it's close, and as such it's a despicable thing no matter what is or isn't included. I don't want more het-oriented books stripped of their rankings to make this somehow more "fair." I want the sales rankings restored to all the books, so that I and every other customer can search for the kinds of books we want and know that we'll be shown all the relevant books, not just the ones that aren't too gay, or the ones that haven't been stripped yet, or the ones available in Kindle editions. I'm an adult, I don't need a nanny to "protect" me from making bad book choices, and I'm grossly offended that the views of a few narrow-minded people who apparently can't bear to even see the title and cover of a book they don't care to read are being given preference over the views of the rational and mature majority.

If Amazon doesn't fix this soon, I'll definitely be shopping elsewhere from now on.


Friday, April 10, 2009

New Column -- Writers' Obligations

I have a new column up at Romancing the Blog today. This time I'm talking about what writers owe to their readers. As usual, my take is that it's kind of complicated. :) Drop by and tell me what you think.