Moratorium on manuscript buying

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books. […] Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it’s indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.


1. Expect this to keep happening for a while at other major publishers.

2. More independent publishers will spring up, particularly in the ebook arena.

3. Major publishers will start mining their backlists for ebooks. Oh, wait, they already have. Credit for innovation coming right up!

4. Revisions in the advance/royalty system. E-presses blazed this trail, but Harper Studios has taken up the cause (and may end up reaping the credit for that, too).

5. This may be the death knell for the consignment system of selling books. One can hope, anyway.

Yeah, it’s depressing, but A) everybody’s having a hard time, so boo hoo at you too, publishing and B) everything is cyclical.

Quite frankly, the economic downturn and the rise of the ebook couldn’t be timed better. You build up the low-cost or free alternative in the downswing (coupled with instant gratification), something people can afford and are open to, then you see it explode once the upswing begins.

Dead tree books will NOT be a thing of the past (knock on wood), but the smart publishers and booksellers will find cheaper alternatives to bring those to market too. If you want to survive after an economic downturn, you must start thinking in the long-term instead of the short-term; you sure as heck aren’t making any money now, so figure out how to make money when everybody has some again.

Pssst, publishers and booksellers:

It’s called the Espresso.

In kiosks.

At Wal-Mart, Target, and smack DAB in the middle of your chain or independent bookstore.

Book design: ur doin it rong

Thank Mike Cane for this rant.

I’ve read a few self-pubbed books lately. None of them were egregiously horrible in the design department and a couple of them were even fairly decent. And frankly, after I converted them to digital and put them on my ebook reader, it wasn’t an issue at all. But let me take the opportunity today to piss off everybody right up front and then we’ll get to the good stuff.

1. If I hear one more word out of self-pub haters that someone self-pubs because she sucks as a writer– Oh, wait. I hear that all the time and move along on my own business. Nebber mind. You go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing, Mr./Ms. Author, because obviously it’s working for you. (Note: I saw the writing on the wall for me when an editor said, “We love it and it’s well written, but we don’t know where to put it.”)

2. If I hear one more word out of proudly proclaimed self-publishers that no one can typeset anything in MS Word and make it look right, I’ll scream. Yeah, I have seen your books and yes, like you, I can tell who did and didn’t use Word for typesetting. Yes, you proud InDesign/PageMaker users, I can tell that you (or the interior design person you hired) used InDesign/PageMaker. How can I tell? Because you (or the person you hired) suck at InDesign/PageMaker. I cut my teeth on PageMaker in J-school, so I know what it can and can’t do and how well you have to know it to do it right. GIGO.

Design, people. Design is the first reason independent publishing gets no respect. If a reader can’t get past the design, doesn’t matter how good the writing is or isn’t.

I’m not going to worry about discussing cover art today, because, well, I can’t speak. I winged that and after about a year and sixteen different covers, I had enough skills to put this together:

The Proviso print cover


So let’s talk about interiors, shall we? In this I have a wee bit of knowledge, but mostly it comes from J-school.

In my opinion, there are a few basics that should be fairly commonsensical but I’ve seen violated as of late:

1. Don’t use Times New Roman 12 pt single spaced. Please. Pleasepleaseplease. Pwettypweeze with sugar on top. (And as a personal favor to me, don’t use Garamond or Palatino Linotype, either. Ask Lulu to please add some more fonts to their repertoire you don’t have to embed OR learn how to embed your fonts, but then you wouldn’t need Lulu.) If you choose to use a sans-serif font, pick one that’s easy on the eyeballs like Calibri or Candara.

2. Justify your margins.

3. Don’t use 1/2-inch paragraph indent. Use something a lot smaller.

4. White space!!! You can get away with using a smaller font size if you make sure your line spacing is adequate.

5. Don’t put your headers on the chapter page break.

In my case, I had a 283,000-word book. I wasn’t going to be able to mess with font sizes much and still fit it all in one spine, which meant I had to do a couple of things I wasn’t happy about, but won’t do on books any shorter. One thing was having to make the font 11 pt. Because in Adobe Jenson, that’s really really really small; on the other hand, the line spacing is 14 pt, which, according to some typography books I’ve read, is a good ratio and I must say my eyeballs agree. The other thing was:

6. Start all chapters on the odd page, not the even. This isn’t a “rule” so much as simple polish. I couldn’t do it because of my page count. On the other hand, I haven’t read a book that stuck to this “rule” in so long I’m not even sure why I care.

Okay, so here’s an example from The Proviso:


Let’s break it down.

1) No header on chapter page, and no page number, either.

2) Right margin justified.

3) 0.5 inch on the outside margin, but wider margin on top and bottom (not much, admittedly, but enough).

4) 0.2 inch paragraph indent.

5) Drop cap and first line small caps. It’s nice. It means you notice details. Neither of these is necessary, but it polishes without going overboard.

6) Nice line spacing = plenty of white space, or at least, as much line space as I could afford, given the length of the book and Lightning Source’s printing limitations.

So what’s my point?

If you are going to try to do these things yourself, learn what makes human eyeballs happy. Read the books. The one I lived and breathed by was this one: Type & Layout

Practice. Experiment. Study the way other books are designed (especially the high-end ones). Notice details. Take notes. Don’t be afraid to throw out your pet specs (the same way you shouldn’t be afraid to throw out your words that don’t work).

Independent publishing is a business just like any other business that sells goods to merchants, which makes it difficult enough for us in an industry that doesn’t do business that way and has a vested interest in keeping the status quo. But you know what? If the last week of handselling has taught me anything, it’s that the readers don’t care who published your book–unless it looks like an unprofessional job.

If they take one look at the book and ask to see it, read the back copy, then flip open the pages to read a little bit, and then whip out their checkbook (especially for a book this expensive), then you’ve done something right. If they aren’t intrigued enough to make it to the back copy, and then the first couple of pages, all the good writing in the world isn’t going to help you. They won’t know why they don’t like looking at it and they’ll care even less, but they will know they just don’t want to look at it.

Bottom line: Once you’re finished with the story inside, forget about it and concentrate on the visuals. The book is the art. It all works together in a symbiotic fashion. Don’t believe me? Ask all those authors whose publishers killed their sales straight out of the gate with a bad cover and bad back copy.

“We don’t know where to put it.”

I do. Right in the readers’ hands.

Book Review: Do the Math

Do the Math
by Philip B. Persinger
published by iUniverse

I read a review of this book that pissed me off, but the blurb looked interesting and so I went forth to iUniverse (yes, it’s independently published) to purchase the ebook. I will spare you the nightmare of actually getting the book, but iUniverse? Bite me. Fortunately, the author came through for me when I copied him on my bitchmail to iUniverse (which they still haven’t responded to). Anyway, he got me a print copy of his book posthaste and so I was a fan on that basis alone.

Here’s the blurb:

What could be worse than losing the love of your life? Getting her back!

William Teale is a brilliant professor of mathematics. His theory of inevitability posits that any human action, no matter how insignificant, might result in a disproportionately huge calamity.

His wife, Virginia “Faye” Warner, is a world-famous romance novelist who specializes in reuniting soul mates after a tragic and prolonged separation. According to her math, “one past and two hearts plus one love equals four-ever.” The Teale-Warner marriage is a thing of geometric and artistic perfection, a melding of the heart and the brain-amour and algebra.

But when Faye’s ghostwriter suffers a nervous breakdown and shakes all the arrows out of Cupid’s quiver, Faye reintroduces her husband to love. Unfortunately, it’s not with herself, but with the woman William had loved and lost years ago. Love is about to clash with inevitability, and it’s unclear which will emerge victorious.

Told in the off-beat voice of William’s graduate intern, Roger, Do the Math reveals the curious relationship between logic and love and the delightful consequences of taking a chance.

Only one bad point and it’s technical: The funky paragraph breaks in dialog. Oh, I don’t mean the looooong monologues that have to be broken, but, for example:

“Her home away from home,” he answered. “Room 407. New Coventry Medical Center. Only the best.”

“By the way,” he added as he picked up Claire’s drink and toasted me with it. “You did very well tonight, Roger.”

That unnecessary split happened enough that it was annoying, but certainly not enough to diminish the overall fantasticity of this novel. If you ever needed a posterbook for the validity of self-publishing, this is it.

And one aside, which I don’t know if it was tongue-in-cheek or not. A vague reference is made to the movie Poltergeist, but the story is set in 1978 and that movie didn’t come out until 1982. I could see how that could go either way, so I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt.

This is the story of 50-year-old professor of mathematics William Teale and Virginia, his romance-novel-writer wife and Claire, Teale’s lost love from 25 years ago. It’s told from the point of view of his 25-year-old intern, Roger, in first person. And oh, it takes place in 1978. Did I say that already?

This book’s kinda sorta billed as a romance. I think. I’m not really sure. And I don’t really know what it is anyway except hilarious. I know it’s supposed to be poignant and bittersweet. I know it’s supposed to be about Teale’s relationship with his wife and his lost love. Really, I do know that.

But what you have to know going in is that I have an eccentric sense of humor and a wee bit of a crush on higher math. Can’t add or subtract without a calculator (multiplication and long division are simply out of the question) and I really just don’t care for discrete math much, but after some struggle and time, I’m a fair hand at simpler calculus. It’s like the bad boy you just want to take home and try to tame.

Okay, so what that’s got to do with the price of tea in China is this: If you don’t get the math jokes, it’s okay. It’s still funny. If you do, it’s ROFLMAO funny. The author conflates mathematics and romance in such a bizarre way I can’t help but chortle just thinking about it. For instance, Teale tries to figure out what to do about his problem using set theory in a discussion with Roger:

“It’s about balancing the quality of the empty set against one with two elements,” I started out. “That just doesn’t make sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” he said.

Relieved by that concession, I followed up.

“Then how can a set of two elements be qualitatively equivalent to an empty set?”

He smiled wearily. “Unexplored territory, isn’t it?”

He thought a moment longer. “It’s the wasteland,” he said. “We understand the null set. There’s nothing there. But a set of two elements which has no connection, or, if connected, no contiguousness, that is, ultimately a set that is in and of itself empty, isn’t it?”

In other words, using set theory, Teale equates his relationship with his wife (two elements in one set that are disconnected) to a set with nothing in it.

All the little oddball characters that populate a college campus/faculty/town are fondly drawn and you can immediately find the equivalents of these people in the memories of your own college experience. All the subplots come together nicely in one tight, tidy little knot at the end (although I’ll admit I knew where one of them was going on page 23, and sure enough).

Now, about that “romance novels are just a formula” business: That is repeated ad nauseam throughout the tale, but funny enough, even though they spend valuable computer time (vacuum tubes! keypunch cards!) trying to figure it out, they read from a how-to-write-romance manual and follow it strictly, and yet…they never manage to figure it out, disproving their own premise that there’s a real formula to it.

I had no problem with this facet for three reasons: (1) Though all the characters (including the romance novel writer and her ghostwriter) think this, it doesn’t seem to be thought of as a bad thing; it’s simply a fact of their life and needs to be adhered to as any other product specification, as they’re up against a deadline, and (2) This is set in 1978, remember. The specifications outlined are, to the best of my recollection, exactly how romances were written in the late ’70s, so I can’t really go throwing stones at fact (or at least my perception of fact), and (3) For all the “formula” talk, it was still respectful of the genre and its fans.

Some passages that made me howl (and wake up the Tax Deducations) got their pages dog-eared. (The horrors!) Examples (although I must warn you that my sense of humor is a bit, ah, weird, and these are somewhat out of context so they might not translate):

[Sample from a technical writer for a nuclear reactor handbook applying for the job of a romance novelist ghostwriter]:

“…pump type can be determined by identifying flange at top of housing. Inductive cooling pump has a rigid pressure release vent hanging down perpendicularly on flange centerline. Whereas action release coil pump is unique because of the two nipples protruding from either side directly above the emergency bleed valve.”


“A warning. The manifold might be hot. Use caution when sliding the spanner between the opened blades, as there is a danger of electrical arcing… It might be necessary to remove the probe from the main sheath and reinsert with proper lubrication… If vibration continues, apply appropriate torque to the uppermost junction point until release is achieved…”

[Romance novelist] closed the booklet with a rude snap.

“There has been a terrible misunderstanding here.”

“I’m sorry?” said Claire.

“This seems so–how should I put it? Technical.”

Even though it is in no real way similar, it vaguely reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s The Big U. Loved the premise, loved the voice, loved the characters and the humor is dry enough to make you beg for water.

And, oh, the author didn’t assume the reader would be 5 and need everything explained.

For future reference

Over on Teleread, there’s a new blog post today about ebooks being fertile for annotation. I envision this somewhat like a post littered with Wikipedia links to explain things so that the reading audience who doesn’t know what he’s talking about can go get a little primer, and the part of the audience that does know won’t have its reading flow interrupted.

I could have (and still could at any point in the future) litter The Proviso with references and annotations embedded in the ebook editions, but my question is this:

If you had an ebook reader (or if you HAVE an ebook reader), how do you think you’d like such a thing?

On the ebook front, nothing much to report except the iLiad just released a new thingymajig that’s not getting rave reviews. And the Kindle’s not coming out in the UK this year.

On the publishing front, The Mysterious They say that if you’re a midlister or a new author–or an agent specializing in such–y’all are just SOL ’cause the PTBs at major houses are tightening their belts (which means either the smaller houses will be, too or they’ll step in to take up the slack and make a mark).

Yeah. I don’t have that problem.

Oh, one more thing. As a reader, I have a suggestion for you e-publishers: Put the blurb of the book on the first page. That way I haven’t forgotten what the book is about when I open up my ebook reader and see titles and author names. I’m terribly forgetful and have no wish to dive into a book I don’t know what it’s about. Yeah, I downloaded it so it must have intrigued me but now I don’t know why. With my print books, I always go to the blurb to figure out what I want to read next, but obviously, there is no back-of-book on an ebook.

And by the way, we did put The Proviso‘s blurb in the front for that very reason.