Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Big Gun Walks Away from a Huge Trade Deal to Indie ePub & Other Explosions from Publishing’s Front Lines

Yes, it’s true, successful thriller author Barry Eisler just walked away from a hefty 500K deal with Minotaur Books in a decision to self-publish his next novel, The Detachment. He had apparently been talking heatedly with self-pubbing guru, and fellow thriller writer, Joe Konrath, in order to learn all the digital angles before he took the plunge. In Eisler’s words: "it wasn't just that the 17.5% ebook royalty publishers are offering was looking less and less attractive compared to the 70% I can make on my own. It was that, combined with the way I saw the industry changing, along with my growing understanding of the overall longterm value of a legacy publishing deal vs the overall longterm value of going it alone."

Makes horrible sense. Publishers Weekly reported that there’s been a definitive rise in eBook sales. Bookstores can’t seem to sell enough books to stay out of financial trouble, and more and more folks are buying kindles, iPads and the like. I feel the burn too. In the Catskills, where I often go to escape the frenzy of NYC, the last great indie bookstore, Hamish & Henry is closing shop. I can’t find even a cruddy bookstore within a 50 or 60-mile radius. This lovely bookstore was the lifeblood of the western Catskill community. They hosted readings and talks and all kinds of fun parties. No holding back “progress” I guess. Ebooks are a sensible answer to the many, many people who love to read, and happen to live in places lacking a decent bookstore.

I’m a person who sees the glass half full, though. I see the revolts in the Middle East as exciting (not the bloodshed, but the overthrow of the 30 and 40-year stranglehold on the people)—a true reformation of the people, by the people. I also see this revolution in the book industry as potentially exciting, albeit scary.

Trade publishers are handing out less contracts as their budgets shrink. Smaller advances too. Bookstore chains are suffering. And forget about the smaller mom & pops. If amazon offers a 70 percent royalty on indie eBooks, why would an author be so incredibly excited about a much lower eBook royalty from a trade publisher? This phenom is similar to what happened in the music industry. You can’t find a good CD store anymore. If you want to buy an album (an old term already!), you head on over to iTunes and download one for half the price. The musicians still get paid (mainly earning their keep from touring anyway), and without all the middlemen.

On the flip side, self-pubbed superstar, Amanda Hocking is headed in the exact opposite direction. Grass is always greener, right? Word has it that she’s shopped around her new series to trade publishers. To quote the New York Times article: “On the same day Barry Eisler turned down half a million dollars from Minotaur to self-publish, news emerged publicly that Amanda Hocking appears to be doing the exact opposite. Yesterday afternoon we finally caught wind of what many in the industry have known about for weeks now, which is that agent Steve Axelrod is shopping her new four-book series to publishers, attracting bids of well over $1 million for world English rights."

Lastly, read the link about another self-pubbed book, Faking It by Elisa Lorello, that has caught fire.

Still, it’s a serious leap of faith for anyone who has struggled and sweated to finally land a book contract, or two, or three… and get published the traditional way, to even think about going rogue. As of now, I’m just a very interested bystander. Print will be around for a long time. Or, in Amanda Hocking's own words, "I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret: This isn't an either/or situation (print vs digital). You guys are both on the same team - Team Writer."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catherine Stine teaches at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference June 3rd, 4th & 5th. Also, contest and manuscript critique details!

Anyone near the Philadelphia area, who needs an expert critique of his or her manuscript? Want to try your hand at writing for kids or teens? Learn more about plotting and characterization? Smooth out those kinks in your story plot? Find out how to land a great agent? If so, this workshop is perfect for you!

Catherine's Writing Children's Fiction Workshop, 3:00 to 4:15, all three days

Plus an ongoing wealth of other talks, info sessions and panels

Combining discussion of the craft of writing with fun free-writes, Stine helps guide students to evoke vivid stories and the seeds of possible novels for kids and teens. In addition to discussing elements such as character, plotting and popular genres and trends in children’s fiction, students learn ways to seek a great agent and about marketing techniques. Plenty of time for Q & A. We meet every day at 3 pm.

In addition, writers are also invited to send a bonus submission of a one-page synopsis and up to a 2,500 word-count chapter for critique.

Manuscript submissions must be sent (postmarked) by April 8th!!!

Three contest winners will be chosen from the submissions. First prize is free entry into the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference for spring 2012! Second & third places win small cash prizes. Must enter by April 8th.

Catherine will read and comment on submissions prior to class and pass them back during the workshop.

***Note: Students can sign up for the workshop after April 8th, but will not have a manuscript critique.

Conference links: Registration Form

Downloadable Workshop Schedule

More Workshop Details

Manuscript Critique & Contest Submission Details

Room Reservations at the Holiday Inn

STUDENT RECOMMENDATIONS:"Catherine gives creative exercises, smart critiques, exposure to different genres, and nuts-and-bolts instruction on the mechanics of plotting a novel. I began the class with a three-sentence story idea, and within a few months, I had a book contract. I can't recommend her class highly enough."

-Holly Kowitt, author of the middle grade novel, The Sweetheart Deal (Scholastic)

"Catherine's workshops motivated me to write consistently and provided me with literary tools and techniques that enhanced my work. I especially benefited from her insightful critiques. I highly recommend her class to both aspiring and established writers. She's also resourceful about the business of writing and publishing."

Renee Watson, author of the picture book A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House) and a novel, What Momma Left Me (Bloomsbury)

"I highly recommend Catherine's course. She provides a useful overview of the various categories of children's books, and the elements of storytelling. She also gives detailed feedback on your writing, and is particularly helpful with plot development. I enjoyed every class we had."

-Julie Sternberg, whose delightful early chapter book, My Bibi, is forthcoming with Amulet Books

Monday, March 7, 2011

ePubbing: Tips from Trade Authors & other Bold Explorers

Gone are the days where publishing one’s own stories as eBooks was a questionable career move, akin to being published with a vanity press. With the advent of kindle, iPads and apps, and with less people buying traditional hardcovers (who has the cash to shell out $24 for a book?), bookstores and the publishing world have been in an uproar. Authors and readers are quite open now to new publishing delivery systems.

It seems almost every week, I hear word of another indie or ePublisher opening up for business. Dragonfly for fantasy and sci-fi comes to mind, as does Muse it Up in Canada. I hear more and more authors' incredible success stories about self-ePubbing with createspace, often selling so many copies that a traditional publisher comes calling after the fact.

A couple of weeks ago, on an online chat, a well-regarded children’s writer, Arthur Slade, revealed that he had formed his own publishing company to reissue his out-of-print books, such as Draugr, depicted above. He even named it after his grandmom! Mind you, this author sells via the traditional system quite well.

His admission prompted a blizzard of comments from other successful writers who loved the idea of publishing their own out of print books, or self-publishing manuscripts that their editors had turned down. And this produced a flurry of questions about the actual process: did anyone know of a great book cover artist, who worked freelance? What was the best program to format one’s manuscript for uploading to smashwords or create space? And what were the best sites to publicize eBooks? The kindle boards were highly recommended as a place that really helped get this part of the job done, while joining a vibrant online community.

This is truly an exciting time! Authors can pick and choose. They can have some of their books published with traditional publishers, and others, including more experimental work, or their out of print titles, can sell as eBooks. The author can take control over his or her book cover formatting, interior illustrations, even pricing. As Arthur Slade puts it: “One basic reason is that Amazon pays 70% of the cover price and that I can also publish my books in other countries without much effort. I'm a bit of a techie, so the process of turning books into eBooks wasn't too painful. I can get a book ready for Amazon in about two hours now. You can go through smashwords. That means you only have to do the book once and they send it to Amazon, B&N and iBooks. They take a small percentage. And, most importantly to me, I maintain control of my book over the long term!”

There are others joining in the conversation. Take a look at Joe Konrath’s blog post Ebooks Ain’t a Bubble and eisforbook, where a bunch of authors are posting about getting their books ready as eBooks, or Rob Sider’s site, 52 novels, where he helps convert your Word files to a kindle-friendly eBook text!

The stigma is gone, and the fearless tread on open, untrammeled ground. Please let us know about any really cool ePublishers, book cover artists, and blogs that cover this. Also, fill us in on any tips for DIY newbies. Check out Arthur Slade’s great blog on this topic while you’re at it! and his website, where you can buy one of his newly released eBooks Draugr and Dust:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dr. Seuss Day, Fun With Kids!

In honor of Dr. Seuss Day, March 2nd, I drove out to a school in Lodi, NJ and did a booktalk and readathon with the fourth grade kids. Every time I do a school visit, I am so very clear why I write for kids. Kids are amazing and fun and so pumped to read good stories!

To backtrack a little, the journey to Lodi was not an easy one. I was nervous about driving my Subaru, as it has some mysterious issue that makes it sound like a cross between a race car and an ancient jalopy. And it’s not the muffler—I had that checked already. Any minute the thing could’ve stopped in its tracks on the highway. To complicate matters, there was a detour on the route I was supposed to drive in on, and no signage whatsoever as to which alternate streets to take.

After a couple of pit stops to ask two very kind folks the way to the school, I chugged in five minutes before I was supposed to appear in the library.

Talk about sweating it!

But as soon as the kids filed in and I saw their eager faces, I breathed a deep sigh of relief and all of my angst dissolved.

I showed them my books, A Girl's Best Friend, Be Careful What You Wish For (I have a short story in this anthology) and Refugees. Then I played a “What if” game with them, where I had them imagine scenarios and characters, and build a story together, based on their brainstorming. They were great at naming the characters and thinking up contraptions for the main guy, who’s an amateur inventor. They understood that each of the three main kids had to have a distinct personality (rather than being too similar). They understood the need for conflict and action. I illustrated this by saying, "Wouldn't it be boring if Harry Potter and his friends sat around drinking juice and chatting instead of actively pursuing a quest? The kids thought this image was pretty funny. Indeed, they were very story savvy.

I think they appreciated having the story structure demystified. I explained that when I was in fourth grade I had plans to write a long book, with chapters. I would always get to around the third chapter and then lose steam, because despite my enthusiasm, I had no idea how to keep it going. In other words, I could've benefited from someone showing me how to construct a rudimentary story roadmap. Characters, plot, challenge, action, struggle, apparent defeat, resolve--you know the drill.

Anyway, the above photo is from my time at the Dr. Seuss Day. What fun!!!!

What do you do to celebrate reading on Dr. Seuss Day? On any day?

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss.