Category: News

May is National Short Story Month!

By Midge Raymond,

It’s been only a couple of years since National Short Story Month was designated by Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network — and as this Poets & Writers article notes, the idea was first floated by The Story Prize‘s Larry Dark back in 2003: “I think the story needs advocacy as a cultural institution the way poetry has done … There’s a national poetry month, and I think there should be a national short-story month, too.”

While National Short Story month may not yet have the organizational and institutional support of, say, National Poetry Month, it still deserves recognition, celebration, and support. Here are a few ways in which readers and writers can do just that …

— Read and support the literary magazines that publish short fiction. There are far too many to name here, but this month, consider one of the many magazines devoted solely to short stories — Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Freight Stories, and Fiction Magazine, to name a few.

— Visit web sites devoted to short stories, such as Andrew’s Book Club and The Short Review. Check out the many diverse collections highlighted on these sites, and treat yourself to one (or more).

— Mark your book club calendar. If you’re in a book club, designate May as the month you read a story collection, if you haven’t already. If it’s too late to make this month’s pick, mark your calendar for May 2011.

Think about the last short story you enjoyed, whether it was in a journal or a book-length collection, then talk it up: tell your friends, family, colleagues, and/or book club about it. Share the love; spread the joy.

Happy Short Story Month to all.

Free books!

By Midge Raymond,

In honor of National Poetry Month, poet and blogger Kelli Russell Agodon has gathered together 51 generous people to give the gift of poetry, i.e., free books. What better way to celebrate?

To enter the drawings, visit Kelli’s blog for links to the participating bloggers/poets/poetry lovers.

Enjoy — and spread the word!

Happy National Poetry Month.

Stuff for writers

By Midge Raymond,

Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, the Guardian recently asked other writers for a few rules of their own, including Margaret Atwood (“Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine”), Roddy Doyle (“Do be kind to yourself”), Richard Ford (“Don’t drink and write at the same time”), and Helen Dunmore (“Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite”).

You may also enjoy responses to this piece from writers at The Huffington Post (“NEVER WRITE AGAIN”) and Salon (offering “five recommendations for the flailing novice”).

In other news, the Nieman Journalism Lab has an interesting feature on a bookstore working with self-published authors to get their books on the shelves. At Boulder Book Store in Colorado, authors pay the store $25 to stock five copies of a book, replenished as needed, with higher rates for additional benefits ($75 to appear in the “Recommended” section; $125 for a mention in the store’s email newsletter and on the Local Favorites page, and to be available for online purchase; and $255 for an in-store reading and book-signing. It’s an interesting model — and one that will definitely appeal to self-published authors who consistently have trouble getting into bookstores — but of course, bookstore browsers will now have to wonder whether a “Recommended” book is on the shelf because it’s good, or because the author has paid for it to be there.

In this wonderfully in-depth interview, Philip Graham, editor of Ninth Letter, talks to The Morning News about getting into the New Yorker, writing about place, and teaching creative writing (which he does at at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), among other things. Check out the interview as well as his blog.

This just in from Bellingham Review: the contest deadline has been extended to for the magazine’s annual fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction awards.

And, last but not least, here’s something for both readers and writers: Melanie Rae Thon has published a new poem, appearing online at On Earth As It Is, “a cycle of prayer narratives, or dramatic monologues addressed to God, from writers of different faiths.” New work will be posted each week by contributing writers.

Happy reading and writing!

More fiction posing as nonfiction

By Midge Raymond,

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it happened again — publishing drama in the form of a publisher pulling a nonfiction book because significant parts of it are, in fact, fiction. This NY Times piece offers details: Charles Pellegrino originally claimed he’d been duped by a source while writing The Last Train From Hiroshima, and then the book’s publisher later learned that other people in the book may not exist, and that the author’s Ph.D. may not exist either.

This is certainly not the first or even the most dramatic revelation of questioned work — remember James Frey? Margaret Selzer? Herman Rosenblat? to name just a few — but it comes at a time when publishing is at a precarious spot in its industry’s history. As novelist Kurt Andersen told the Times: “If book publishers are supposed to be the gatekeepers, tell me exactly what they’re closing the gate to.”

Amid the struggle to get published, my fellow writers and I end up talking a lot about self-publishing, which usually has been viewed as the only option for writers who aren’t “good enough” to find a “real” publisher. Yet many writers are choosing to self-publish these days — and it’s not because they’re not good enough (Steve Almond is certainly good enough – check out his story in this LA Times piece) or because they won’t be able to sell enough books (we all know John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, can sell books, and Publishers Marketplace recently announced that he is self-publishing his latest, Venus On Fire, Mars On Ice). They’re choosing it for other reasons, among them making more money, having more control over the process, and, as Steve Almond puts it: “No marketing plan, no guilt-inducing advance, no royalty statements, no remainders.”

This is not to say that, just because another questionable nonfiction book has slipped through the cracks, we should abandon the publishing world and do it all ourselves — not at all. Self-publishing, of course, is not for everyone — having no marketing plan, for example, is only a good option for someone who already has an audience or has a great deal of experience in book marketing — and in general, having gatekeepers is necessary and good. But for those with great books that can’t sell in today’s market, it’s good to have other options, and slipping under the gate might not be such a bad idea.

Doing the math with e-books

By Midge Raymond,

This New York Times piece outlines the costs for both traditional paper books and e-books, and helps show, in numbers, what the issues are — and why we’re all better off with e-books priced higher than $9.99.

The article outlines who gets what slices of the hardcover and e-book pies — money goes toward not only paying authors but to copyediting, design, marketing, printing, storage, shipping, and, for e-books, converting to and typesetting in digital format. After all the math is worked out, the e-book emerges as slightly more profitable.

But as the article notes, “e-books still represent a small sliver of total sales, from 3 to 5 percent. If e-book sales start to replace some hardcover sales, the publishers say, they will still have many of the fixed costs associated with print editions, like warehouse space, but they will be spread among fewer print copies. Moreover, in the current print model, publishers can recoup many of their costs, and start to make higher profits, on paperback editions. If publishers start a new e-book’s life at a price similar to that of a paperback book, and reduce the price later, it may be more difficult to cover costs and support new authors.”

Another worry, of course, is that bookstores will be unable to compete: “As more consumers buy electronic readers and become comfortable with reading digitally, if the e-books are priced much lower than the print editions, no one but the aficionados and collectors will want to buy paper books.”

Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, a consultant to publishers, believes that publishers need to go into e-books slowly to avoid this happening: “The simplest way to slow down e-books is not to make them too cheap.”

Many authors remain concerned about what e-books will do to the industry, but I like what Anne Rice had to say to the Times about it: “The only thing I think is a mistake is people trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam. It’s not going to work.”

How the Apple tablet will affect publishing

By Midge Raymond,

Today is the big day: Apple will unveil its new tablet, which will be interesting not only for those who love Apple toys but for everyone involved in publishing as well. As this NY Times article observes, “Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine — a chance to undo mistakes of the past.”

That is, whereas print media has been suffering as more and more readers resist paying for content, the Apple tablet will introduce new ways to market — and charge for — digital content. As the Times notes, such devices make consumers more willing to pay for content: “In the last decade, while people downloaded music illegally to their desktop computers, they happily paid small amounts of money on their cellphones to download ring tones and send text messages.” So far, at least three magazine publishers are preparing to distribute content on the new tablet.

The iPad will also have an effect on Amazon’s Kindle. As the Daily Beast reports, “Only two years ago, [Apple founder Steve] Jobs contemptuously predicted that the Kindle would flop.” And now that readers have embraced the Kindle (and its very low prices, set by Amazon to the dismay of publishers), Apple will come out on the publishers’ side by allowing them to set their own prices. This will be a relief to those in the industry who worry about readers getting accustomed to paying $9.99 for Kindle versions of hardcover bestsellers.

And so the rules of the game are changing once again. The Daily Beast notes, “In anticipation of Apple’s tablet launch, Amazon announced that it would begin giving a more favorable split of Kindle sales dollars to publishers and authors. Amazon also decided to allow outsiders to create software to run on its device.”

I’m eager to see the tablet, not only because it’s a cool new toy but to see what effect it ultimately has on publishing. Even though it’s Amazon that is taking a loss by pricing books so low, this does affect the entire industry, and it’ll be interesting to see whether this new device levels out the playing field a bit.

Will it be a happy new year for writers?

By Midge Raymond,

Here we are in 2010, and with that comes more predictions about the publishing industry.

The IdeaLogical Blog‘s Mike Shatzkin has posted twelve predictions for publishing this year, much related to digital content as well as a couple interesting predictions about authors and retail.

The Huffington Post offers 10 more predictions, and these too focus on e-books as well as on the publishing houses and what’s likely in store for editors as well as authors in the new year and beyond. A few takeaways: six-figure advances will likely be a thing of the past; publishers will take on fewer titles; demographics will favor books for young adults.

Richard Curtis offers a few predictions on GalleyCat, among them that e-book enthusiasts will return to print books and that at least one major publishing house will be acquired by a retailer.

Robert Gray offers Publishing Trends of Futures Past, a look at predictions and insights from 1850 (when Harper’s quoted the North British Review likening publishers to “a kind of moral vampire, sucking the best blood of genius, and destroying others to support themselves”) to 1985 (bringing another Harper’s piece, titled “Will the Book Survive?”).

And this CNN article notes that Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, simultaneously released in hardcover as well as in e-format, “offered a peek at the future of bookselling”; in other words, it’s a cautionary tale about digital piracy. The challenges mostly surround the mega-bestselling authors, the ones who need to worry about their books being pirated on a large scale. Some writers, such as J. K. Rowling, simply avoid digital format — but few emerging writers will be able to have this luxury.

In fact, for emerging writers, times are going to be tougher than ever (even in good times, the writer’s life has never been for the faint of heart). But persistence is everything: The writers who end up with book contracts are going to be the ones who don’t give up. They’re also going to be the ones who, if need be, take matters into their own hands and self-publish — in a smart way: good editing, good design, good marketing.

So if your New Year’s resolutions include writing, keep this in mind: 1) make sure your resolutions are things you can actually control (i.e., not “publish my novel with major publisher” but “submit my novel to agents”), and 2) to be open-minded about the myriad possibilities for emerging writers in a time when just about everything about publishing is up in the air.

Looking back at 2009 and ahead at 2010…

By Midge Raymond,

Okay, it’s now that time of year when we look ahead (and make New Year’s Resolutions) and look back (at all the things we accomplished — or not, hence the New Year’s Resolutions).

On the publishing front, literary agent Nathan Bransford looks back at 2009 in his blog … while this Booksquare post looks ahead by forecasting publishing trends in 2010. It’s going to be another interesting year in publishing — and this post covers everything from rights to pricing to independent booksellers. (Yes, e-books “will be huge.”) And it’s hard not to love this Guardian blog post: 2009 was the year of the short story, which proves that “reports of the short story’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

I also took a few moments to look back on the most popular posts on this blog, and among the top five were posts about social media: Twitter and Facebook. It was great to see readers checking out the Forgetting English Reading Guide and my Q&A with essay writer Brenda Miller, and rounding off the top five were the Stuff for Writers posts. Thanks so much for reading last year — I hope you come back often in 2010!

And finally, there’s nothing like a new year to inspire new writing goals. I recently met with a wonderful group of fellow writers to set goals for 2010, and it was incredibly inspiring (especially hearing about those writers who set and met their 2009 goals).

If you’re ready to do the same, I suggest a three-step process:

– What were your goals last year? If you don’t usually write down your writing goals, this year would be a good time to start. The years  have a way of slipping by if we don’t articulate our goals, and whether this is the year to write your novel, to find an agent, or to start journaling, putting it down on paper will hold you accountable. Better yet, find a writing buddy or writing group so you’ll be able to share the joys and challenges, as well as stay inspired.

– Did you meet last year’s goals? Whether you wrote them down or just had a vague idea of what you wanted to accomplish with your writing, how’d it go? If you achieved your goal — finished a first draft, submitted a story for publication, took a writing class — then think about what enabled to you do that: What had to align in your personal and professional life to make that happen? Take note of what worked, and make it happen again in 2010. If you weren’t able to meet your goals, why not? Take a look at what got in the way, and work to resolve this issue so you’ll have a better chance of completing what you set out to do this year.

– What are your writing goals this year? Finally, make that list. It doesn’t have to be grand, like Writing the Great American Novel — it just has to be something you’ve always wanted to do but have never made the time for. When you outline your goal(s), think about how you can use time to your advantage — this is the one time all year in which you’ve got 12 months (52 weeks, 365 days) in which to work on your goal. Don’t waste a single day. If you start out strong, you’ll find yourself inspired, you’ll get into a routine, and you’ll accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

Happy new year.

When Will There Be Good News?

By Midge Raymond,

As I sifted through the stacks of newspapers that piled up over the week, it all added up to some pretty depressing publishing news (as for what’s going on in the rest of the world, let’s not even go there). First I read this NY Times story about price wars, which notes that Wal-Mart and Amazon will be offering new hardcover releases at $8.99 this holiday season. This is, in so many ways, a new low.

“Publishing as we know it is over,” John Grisham’s literary agent, David Gernert, told the Times, if people start getting used to $10 books. If you can buy a new hardcover from a bestselling author for under $10, Gernert notes: “why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.” Indeed.

And if that isn’t scary enough, check out this article on book piracy, and learn all about how file-sharing sites (such as RapidShare, Megaupload, Hotfile) offer easy access to pirated e-books. Because e-books are inevitable (for better or worse), piracy is becoming a huge concern — and the only good news about this is that it might create jobs in a struggling industry (because file-sharing sites don’t generally screen for content, they’ll only take down pirated material if asked, which apparently means publishers and/or authors will need full-time piracy detectives to protect their work).

The Times discovered through Attributor, a company offering antipiracy services to publishers, that 166 copies of the e-book version of Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” were available on 11 sites (RapidShare accounted for 102). Yikes. I’m all for e-books as part of the evolution of publishing and storytelling, but clearly this is going to be a significant problem, albeit more for hugely bestselling authors like Dan Brown than for the rest of us.

And yet…we can’t ignore the fact that e-books are an inevitable part of the new publishing landscape, particularly with ongoing troubling news about independent bookstores closing across the country. The latest concern is, for me, very local, with the news that Seattle’s beloved Elliott Bay Book Company faces serious financial hurdles. This Newsday article highlights other independent booksellers worried about the price wars.

However, there is — as always — some good news mixed into all of this. The Newsday piece does include booksellers’ optimism that they exist not to sell the hottest new hardcovers but to offer “all kinds of books – classics, specialty books, nonfiction, wholesale bulk sales to schools – as well as events.” And as Terry Lucas of The Open Book says: “We sell customer service, knowledge – and you can’t do that for $10.”

And don’t forget that Powell’s (Portland, Oregon’s awesome bookstore) sold books online even before Amazon did — and now carries more than 200,000 titles in four digital formats. So bookstores that change with the times will likely be here to stay.

Finally, we all have to remember that stories were being told long before books existed — before written language existed, in fact. And even when tales went to print, the idea of copyright didn’t come until later; everything was — for a while, at least — in the public domain.

And so we’ll continue to tell stories, and people will continue to want them — the big question of the future being how we tell them, and how audiences receive them.

“The Center of the Universe”

By Midge Raymond,

Whatever your view of e-books, they seem to be gaining more traction with each passing day. Among the latest: according to former HarperCollins president and chief executive Jane Friedman, electronic books are “going to be the center of the universe,” as she told the NY Times. She has recently formed a new company, with Jeffrey Sharp, that will “republish old titles by big-name authors including William Styron, Iris Murdoch and Pat Conroy in electronic form.”

The Times notes that the company, Open Road Integrated Media, “plans to push a torrent of online marketing on new readers in the hopes of reigniting the backlists of well-known authors in the digital world.” In addition to the authors above, Friedman also has the rights to publish Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and is working on obtaining rights to several of the late Michael Crichton’s books.

Despite much of the outcry against e-publishing, at least one literary agent (Pat Conroy’s agent, Marly Rusoff) pointed out that “Republishing is an art and takes a lot of energy,” and is glad to see this energy devoted to an author’s backlist, which generally doesn’t get as much attention from traditional publishers that are more focused on an author’s current book. In addition, while a simple reissue of an older book doesn’t usually get much attention,  Friedman is planning a “torrent of online marketing” as she reissues old titles in e-formats.

It’s great to see some new thinking that will keep people interested in and buying books — especially after learning that book sales are down this fall, despite the season’s big-name titles and the massive marketing campaigns. Publishers are finally noticing that it’s not such a bad thing to offer more options (particularly more cost-effective ones) in today’s economy. Hyperion publisher Ellen Archer told the Times that the season’s releases “are all great books, but they are all hardcover books…How many hardcover purchases can one person make given these difficult times?”

This article in the Pacific Northwest Inlander — which, on a sadder note, is about the closing of EWU Press — mentions a study showing that while 80 percent of Americans after high school never read a book to completion, more than 40 percent of people with college degrees never pick up another book after graduating. Will this change if the books are in more portable or interactive formats? I look forward to finding out…

Today, it’s all about publishing

By Midge Raymond,

I very much enjoyed seeing in today’s NY Times that the Daily Beast is forming a new imprint (in a joint venture with Perseus Books Group), Beast Books, that will publish books (first in e form, then in paperback) by Daily Beast writers (who are mostly freelancers). The idea is to condense the period of time it takes to get a book from the author into the world (with traditional publisher, the process can be up to two years; Beast Books is going for a few months). Best of all is that “writers will receive low five-figure advances from Perseus, then split profits from the sale of both the e-books and paperbacks with Perseus and The Daily Beast.” While neither group would specify what the amount would be, it will be more than the typical 15 percent an author usually receives in royalties — and to me, lower royalties and a bigger share of the profits is a step in the right direction.

Speaking of changes in publishing, I really liked this blog post from literary agent Nathan Bransford about whether authors of the future will even need publishers — an insightful look at the challenges in the industry as we e-books become more and more popular. And speaking of, check out this story about the two latest devices.  Booksquare also posted a blog that takes a good look at digital publishing.

The Joy of Writing

By Midge Raymond,

This article in today’s NYT is all about art, but it made me think all about writing. It’s about, essentially, the way we tend to collect digital photos as evidence of places we’ve seen, without really absorbing the experience of being there. Whereas in the eighteenth century, “Travelers who took the Grand Tour across Europe … spent months and years learning languages, meeting politicians, philosophers and artists and bore sketchbooks in which to draw and paint” — by now, “Cameras replaced sketching … convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look.”

In class last week, as I gave my students one of their final writing exercises of the quarter, one writer asked whether I do these types of writing exercises myself. The answer: Yes. But as I read this article this morning, I realized that I’m not unlike those who snap photos of the Mona Lisa and then move on to the next famous work of art — I tend to do writing exercises as a way to get me through a story, to solve a problem I’m having with a character or a scene, not for the simple joy of language, of writing something completely random. The last time I did that was so many years ago I can’t even think about it because it makes me feel too old.

The article does take a step beyond visual art: “At one time a highly educated Westerner read perhaps 100 books, all of them closely. Today we read hundreds of books, or maybe none, but rarely any with the same intensity.” As writers, we read books, stories, and poetry carefully — but is this in order to learn more about writing or to enjoy the work itself?

As the article notes, “Artists fortunately remind us that there’s in fact no single, correct way to look at any work of art, save for with an open mind and patience.” This is a good way to approach reading and writing as well. (Writers are generally known for having open minds, though I’m not so sure about the patience part.)

So here’s my Monday morning challenge: Take some time today to write for no reason whatsoever. Write something you’ll never use for anything other than enjoying that one moment in time in which you’re writing. And while you’re at it, read something — a poem, a story — for no reason other than to enjoy it (that is, whatever you do, don’t think about how the author juxtaposes images or develops character).

And let me know how it turns out.

All the news that’s fit to blog

By Midge Raymond,

This is going to be one of those random posts about stuff I think is cool.

First, there’s today’s LA Times blog about a unique call for submissions: editors are seeking photos of literary tattoos. By this they mean sentences or drawings that have so moved readers that they’ve permanently affixed them to their bodies: in other words, Tattoo Lit.

Also, there’s a lot going on in the world of publishing — in particular, news and talk about all things “e” in publishing, but I’ve just noticed that Nathan Bransford’s blog has covered everything I was going to chat about, so check out his blog. There are some good links to agent info, too.

And finally, Red Room has named the Seattle Times review of Forgetting English its Best Review this week! I’m very grateful for Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett’s review and for Red Room’s featuring it. My favorite line of the review: “Parts of these polished stories, if read aloud, would sound like a smart patient describing a dream to a psychoanalyst.” My second favorite: “This isn’t Chick Lit.”


By Midge Raymond,

So, I normally think of myself as pretty (okay, very) old-fashioned. I was the last person on earth, I’m convinced, to have gotten an answering machine, and about the last to get a cell phone. (Or maybe I’m just more antisocial than old-fashioned). Nine times out of ten I’ll chose a book with pages and a cover over an e-book; an independent bookstore with a coffee shop and resident cat over Amazon; and editing with hard copy and red pencil over electronic editing.

But times are changing. And one must also think of the environment. So I’m embracing all things e.

I’m happy that Forgetting English is now on the Kindle. And I’ve also discovered the free iPhone app that will allow me to read my Kindle books on my iPhone — and clearly I’m just about the last person to discover this as well. So far, more than 2 million users have downloaded this app, and there have been more than 12 million book downloads.


So far, I’m still reading more actual books than e-books, but so far, I’ve enjoyed the e-reading experience, even if so far it has been limited to New Yorker articles and proofreading my own book. For someone with aging eyes, the text is extremely readable, and reading on the iPhone is fantastic — particularly when it comes to airline travel or standing in line at the post office, i.e., places where a paperback or even a Kindle can feel too cumbersome.

I’ll never give up my library, even though it’s becoming a serious earthquake and fire hazard … but it’s nice to know I can store a few good books in small boxes every now and then.

The e-book debate continues…

By Midge Raymond,

The Wall St. Journal reports today that the independent publisher Sourcebooks is delaying an e-book version of one of its popular new releases due to pricing: “‘It doesn’t make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99,’ said Dominique Raccah, CEO,” who worries that e-book sales will undercut lucrative hardcover sales.

This, of course makes sense for a book that has an initial 75,000-copy print run in hardcover, as this one does. For paperback originals, though, or books with smaller print runs, I think it still makes sense to offer a Kindle version.

Have I mentioned that Forgetting English is now available on the Kindle?

I suppose I might be more into my hardcover sales if a) my book was in hardcover, and b) if I had an initial print run anywhere near 75,000 copies. But for many (if not most) authors, making their books available in this format is simply good marketing. As the WSJ article points out, “Of the top 15 fiction books on the July 19 New York Times best-seller list, only Catherine Coulter’s novel ‘Knockout,’ which ranks No. 4, is unavailable in the Kindle format.” Coulter’s agent says, “It’s no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters” — which makes sense, but only for longtime bestselling authors like Coulter. The analogy is completely different if applied to lesser-known filmmakers whose films can only be seen at festivals and on DVD … and this is where many writers fit in as well.

Publishers have been trying to keep prices for e-books similar to traditional books, but as Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps tells the WSJ: “Publishers are in denial about the economics of digital content … consumers are not willing to pay as much for content that is separated from its physical medium.”

And with an entire generation growing up digitally, I fear the day may come when few are interested in the “physical medium” at all — i.e., books. When was the last time you heard someone under the age of twenty-five talk about the feel and smell of a new book? Having recently read a storybook to a pair of five-year-olds, I can report that this age group still loves a good story, and even a good printed book. But these little ones enjoyed my iPhone even more, and they can operate a digital camera better than I can. And these are our future readers.