Sunday, January 29, 2012

Trying to Do Your Best for Readers

A number of years ago, I attended an interesting workshop given by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, about the publishing biz, and things that aspiring writers should ponder. It was an interesting discussion. One of their comments was that every writer needs to make a decision about whether to commit to writing as a career, which means living with no regular paycheck, or taking the risk of writing fulltime. Kristine and Dean chose the latter at a fairly young age and succeeded. In fact, in her Jan. 25th blog, Kristine says she considers a professional writer as someone who makes between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. I don’t agree. I also remember her saying that she wrote 25 new pages of work everyday in the morning, and spent the rest of the day editing, which she doesn’t consider writing. Again, I disagree. She also estimated that she put in, at that time, roughly 90 hours a week on her career. After that discussion, I made a conscious choice to put my children first and keep the day job, as we needed the money, and I knew it wasn’t going to come quickly by choosing fulltime writing.

Recently, I found Kathryn’s blog, and noticed a distinct change in her approach to self-publishing. I was self-publishing in print form when I attended her panel a decade ago, and at that time, she was pretty clear that self-publishing was a horrible career move. Not anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I do agree with a lot of what she says. Rusch is one of the few authors who not only writes prolifically, but understands the business side. However, I find myself once again disagreeing with a point she made in her Jan. 25th blog. It’s about indie authors ignoring readers, just as the big publishers have been doing. Rusch explains that the traditional publishers have an annoying habit of making the first book in a series out of print before the next installment hits the shelves. She maintains that indie writers are committing the similar sin of ignoring readers. Rusch is furious (her word) that indie authors are promoting the heck out of their first books and offering no follow up. Well, wait a sec. Kindleboards is crowded with authors who are serving up sequel after sequel in their series. She also says that if indie authors don’t produce new books before one or two years they’re insulting their readers. Again, I disagree.

I also know of many indie authors who are writing fast and publishing unpolished books far too quickly. Look, few authors are intentionally ignoring readers. It’s just that most of us don’t have the skill or time to produce quality books quickly due to day jobs, children, health obstacles, and so forth. No doubt, authors will say, well work around it...find a way. Well, we are, trust me. Readers might grow tired of waiting for the next book, but I think many of them are quite willing to wait longer for a quality sequel rather than a job full of typos, grammatical errors, and a weak plot.

Please, let’s not blame writers who are trying hard with whatever time, energy, and skill they have. It’s not about ignoring or disrespecting readers. It’s about struggling to write (and being serious and professional about it) while living with health and/or family challenges that certain six-figure income writers either overcame or never had to deal with in the first place. You can read her entire blog entry here

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at and on Kindle at

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Responding to Negative Reviews

I’m one of those writers who likes to know what’s going on in the publishing world, but a recent article in caught me by surprise, and then it bothered me a little.

The article is about hostile responses to a negative book review. Apparently, one incident in particular recently invaded Goodreads and Twitter. I love Goodreads. It’s a wonderful place for readers and writers to gather and share a love of books, and although I only belong to a handful of groups, I’ve never seem flame wars erupt there, but it seems at least one has happened lately. The war apparently spilled onto Twitter where authors and even agents have also stepped into the fray.

According to the article, a much-hyped young adult novel called Tempest by Julia Cross received a negative review, which caused the author’s friends to put down the review and the reviewer. Even the author’s agent offered up comments. Their responses caused more backlash from readers until all hell broke loose on the forums, resulting in reader and review bashing on both sides. The article makes it clear that the author at the center of all this responded gracefully.

I want to reflect on reviews in general. First there’s a difference between a negative review and a bad review. In my mind, a bad review is a poorly written condemnation (or the exact opposite) that misses the point of the work, but caters to the reviewer’s agenda. Bad reviews, if totally off the wall, can be removed from places like amazon, if one is so inclined.

But why respond to negative reviews? Aren’t they simply one person’s opinion? Maybe some reviews will hurt sales, but maybe they’ll help. There is some merit to the line, “a bad review is better than no review at all”, and I know indie authors who’ve garnered impressive sales numbers, reviews notwithstanding.

The bottom line is do you want to harm your reputation as a reviewer, author, publisher, or agent by jumping into these types of name-calling squabbles? Is it worth it to create the kind of bad blood that will make future readers not want to buy your books, or read your reviews? Sure, lots of opinions on the Net are irritating. If we feel compelled to reply, shouldn’t we at least take time to think carefully before we reply? As the article demonstrates, words are powerful. Let’s use them wisely.

You can find the whole article at

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at and on Kindle at

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The KDP Select Experiment: Part 1 - Mission Impossible?

On December 21 I blogged about the huge carrot Amazon was dangling in front of authors--the opportunity to share in a $500,000 pool via the new KDP Select program. I mentioned that I wasn't happy with some of the conditions of this program or with Amazon's obvious ploy to monopolize the industry. Regardless of the smile on my face in the pic to the left, I don't like being backed into a corner. However, I recognize from a business perspective they're doing what most successful businesses attempt to do--destroy the competition.

The exclusivity clause still bothers me, even now that I have enrolled two of my titles into the program. It bothers me that those with other ereaders outside of the Kindle won't have access to these two titles--DIVINE INTERVENTION and THE RIVER. But from a business perspective I'd be remiss in my duties to completely ignore or overlook what Amazon is offering. I still think Amazon could have taken away the exclusivity clause and still have a ton of interest. It would have been "fair" to everyone else. But big business rarely ever plays fair.

You can read about the first steps I took and follow my experiment at:

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Thinking Outside the Bookstore

Writers are looking at venues other than big-box stores for signings. Small, independent bookstores are increasingly attractive, with their (sometimes) lower commission, and their strong connection to an active reading community.

Conventions and writing workshops have long been valuable ways to meet the public, meet and make fans, and promote and sell your work.

But, more and more, writers are looking beyond these obvious spots.

The "occupation cozies" probably led the way. A woman who decorates cakes for a living stumbles into a mystery and ends up solving it. So the author sells books at small bakeries and pastry shops. A zookeeper solves mysteries and the author does signings at zoos. I recently heard of a group of writers who feature horses in their books who banded together to sell at tack shops and other places horses and their owners are known to gather.

I have an out-of-the-bookstore experience coming up today: The Southern Indiana Writers Group, of which I am a member, have been accepted into an art exhibit. The exhibit is Arts Council of Southern Indiana's "The Animals In Us", and our entry is our anthology about animals, BEASTLY TALES. Our anthology will be for sale, along with prints, sculptures, and other pieces of original and reproduced art.

It pleases me more than I can say to see literature going out and finding readers, and it pleases me even more to see people responding to that availability.

We did a reading in an art gallery/restaurant once, and one of the patrons (who didn't buy a book, alas) came up and thanked us, saying that she never liked to read, but she had discovered from us that she loved being read to. If we had had our books on tape or disc, she would have bought one. The fact that we had opened somebody up to reading in any media was very, very satisfying.

How have you seen writers promoting or selling books outside of big-box bookstores? How could you do it?

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Who Owns the Ebook Rights to Decades-Old Titles?

The title of this blog is a question posed by journalist Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in a recent article for The Wall Street Journal. It also works as a follow up to my blog last week about the importance of bequeathing your intellectual property.

The latest battle for ebook rights involves HarperCollins and a company called Open Road Integrated Media Inc., whose owner is a former HarperCollins CEO. Open Road released an ebook version of a popular children’s book published in 1972 called Julie of the Wolves. (To date, 3.8 million copies have been sold). HC is suing for copyright infringement, claiming they still have rights to the book, even though the original contract was made long before the digital age flourished.

It’s a huge issue. As one publisher noted, ebook revenue for publishers could be as much as 40% by the end of 2012. HC states that the ebook is directly competitive with the print book, which is still being sold. They also indicate that they had planned to bring out an ebook version. A spokesman for Open Road states that HC is trying to intimidate authors and grab rights that were nonexistent several decades ago.

And this is the crux of the matter. If there were no clauses in an author’s contract addressing ebook and other digital rights, does a publisher have rights to those books? Do family members? Some publishers are claiming that they do. Since big bucks are at stake, you can expect this issue to be played out many times in the near future. To read more, go to

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback at and on Kindle at

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel

I am involved in a wonderful project with eight other Second Wind authors. Rubicon Ranch is an ongoing collaborative novel that we are writing online. It is the story of people whose lives have been changed when a little girl's body was found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was her death an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Each of us writers is responsible for the development of our own characters. My character is Melanie Gray. She has traveled the world with her husband, a world-renowned photographer. Together they authored many coffee-table books (she did the writing, he the photographs). One of the books told about mountains of the world, one about rivers, one about oceans, one about forests, and now they have a contract to do deserts. After they rented a house in Rubicon Ranch to begin their in-depth study of the southwestern deserts, he died in a car accident.

Now, not only does Melanie have to deal with the pain of losing her husband and figuring out what she’s going to do for the rest of her life, she needs to fulfill the publishing contract or she’ll have to reimburse the publishers, which she cannot do because the advance is all but spent. Since she is not a photographer, she roams the desert bordering on Rubicon Ranch, taking hundreds of photos, hoping that a few of them will accidentally end up being as brilliant as her husband’s photos always were. She finds the child’s body and takes photos of the scene after calling 911. At first she is a suspect but once the Sheriff has ruled her out, he requests her help in reading the desert and desert-related clues. Still, the sheriff does not trust her completely, thinking she is hiding something.

Chapter 26: Melanie Gray -- by Pat Bertram

Fury, like wildfire flashed through Melanie. Fury at the sheriff for paying his silly games when people were dead, fury at herself for playing his fool.

She’d been flattered that he thought she could help with his investigation, but apparently the only thing he’d been investigating was her and how to get in her panties. And she’d fallen for it. Cripes, what an idiot! All her resolve not to let him get to her had been for nothing.

And that whole seduction scene—”So maybe, when I need you to help me, I won’t have to bully you. You’ll cooperate with me because you understand that getting my job done honestly is the most important thing to me.” Did he believe his own drivel? And anyway, how could she help when he wasn’t doing anything? It had been two days since Riley died. Didn’t they say that if they didn’t catch a killer within the first forty-eight hours that chances are he or she would never be caught? And the sheriff had wasted those precious hours trying to seduce her.

She’d fallen for Alexander’s crap and apparently she hadn’t learned anything, because here she was again, playing straight-woman for another unprincipled clown. Alexander, at least, had offered her adventure and marriage, and for a while he had even been faithful. But Seth? What did he have to offer? Nothing. He was married, and he was a taker. He’d take everything she had, which wasn’t much, just her integrity, and she’d be damned before she let him tarnish that with a tawdry affair. She’d seen the look in his eyes when he’d said “And I know you’d rather claw out my eyes and slash my throat than let me touch you.” And that look had belied his words. He seemed to think all he had to do was pretend to know her and she’d fall into his oh, so understanding arms.

“What?” he said, sounding as if he didn’t know exactly what was going through her mind. How could he not? He, Sheriff Seth Bryan, the great detective.

“As if you don’t know.” Melanie spit the words from between clenched teeth.

Seth’s brows drew together in an almost believable though comic look of confusion. “That’s such a typical womanish remark. I thought you were different.”

“You thought I was gullible and na├»ve. You thought since I put up with Alexander’s philandering, I’d put up with yours, too, but that is not going to happen. Only a fool gets involved with a married man, and whatever you think, I am no fool.”

Seth held up his hands, palms toward her. “Whoa.”

“Being a widow does not make me ripe for the plucking. I don’t need to be serviced like a bitch in heat. Believe me, the last thing I need in my life is a man, especially a married man. Calling it separate maintenance does not make you any less married.”

He flashed his teeth. “So you do like me. You’re protesting too much.”

“Not protesting enough, apparently, or else you wouldn’t have that silly grin on your face.”

He lost the grin. “What’s going on here? I thought we were having a nice meal while we went over the case.”

“You should be going over the case with your deputies. They, at least, seem to understand how inappropriate it is for you to include me in your investigation. Unless I’m still a suspect and you’re trying to get me to let down my guard and confess?”

“I told you, you were never a suspect.”

“As if playing with me, gigging me as you called it, is any better. So let’s discuss the case. What were the results of the autopsy? Was Riley murdered or was it an accident? If she was murdered, how was it done and who did it? Were there drugs in her system? Have you interrogated her parents yet to find out what they’re hiding? Have you found out who the dead man is and what, if anything, he has to do with Riley’s murder? You pretty much ignored me when I said he looked liked Riley, but then, that’s understandable. I never got a good look at the girl. All I saw was her jaw line, her nose, and her eyebrows, so whatever I blurted out after seeing the man’s corpse has to be discounted. Did the same person kill both of them? Or were there two different killers? Or . . .” Melanie paused to grab the thought that flitted through her mind. “Did he kill Riley and someone else kill him?”

Seth picked up his sandwich, dipped an end in the au jus, bit off a piece, and chewed slowly.

Melanie nodded. “That’s what I thought. You’re all talk.” She deepened her voice and mimicked him. “‘We have to solve these murders.’ Yeah, like there really is a we. Well, there was a we, but that was Alexander and me. You and I will never be a we.” A cough shuddered through her torso. She took a long drink of water, hoping she wasn’t coming down with a cold but was merely dehydrated from the strong air-conditioning and her rare monologue.

Seth gave her a searching look, opened his mouth and then closed it again with what sounded like a resigned sigh. She wondered what he’d been going to say and why he thought better of it, then she let out a sigh of her own. It didn’t matter. She had enough to do with grieving and fulfilling her book contract. She had nothing left for the sheriff and his investigation. Whatever he might think, she really didn’t know anything. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. She did know one thing.

She threw her napkin on the table and stood, ready to flee.

Seth gaped at her. “What’s going on?”

“I’m going home, Sheriff Seth Bryan. I’m through with your games. You lied about investigating Alexander’s accident. I saw the photos in the newspaper and I visited the scene of the accident. There was nothing there to indicate that the crash had been anything other than an accident. Perhaps someone had tampered with the car, but the only way to find that out was to investigate the vehicle itself. And you didn’t care enough to check it out.”


An additional chapter of the book will be posted every Monday. Please join in the adventure — it should be fun! We don't even know whodunit and won’t know until the end. You can find the earlier chapters here: Rubicon Ranch

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Why Bequeathing Your Intellectual Property is Crucial

Recently, I came across a couple of interesting articles on the WritersWeekly website owned by Angela Hoy ( If you have a chance, you should subscribe to her weekly newsletter. It’s full of good information.

Two of her articles that really struck me were about the copyright of a deceased author’s work. As Angela points out, it is absolutely wrong to assume that the work a deceased writer, even that of a close friend or relative, can be used by you, unless this has been clearly stipulated in their will. Verbal intent is not enough! Angela, who also publishes books through her company, booklocker, gives an example of a writer coauthoring a book with someone who died. Legally, the family of the deceased could halt the project, unless the rights to that work had been bequeathed to the coauthor in the will. You can read the whole article here,

Angela explores this issue further in another article, where she’s had the relatives of a deceased writer, whose work she’s published, fight in court for the right to acquire royalties and copyright to the deceased’s books. She’s also been approached by relatives of a deceased writer who try to claim royalties and rights, when in fact, the legal beneficiary was actually someone else. Angela now puts a beneficiary clause into her contracts, to prevent from becoming embroiled in court battles.

With the prevalence of ebooks and unlimited shelf life, a deceased author’s work can go on selling long after his or her death, so the question is, who do you want to bequest your intellectual property to? Every writer needs to address this issue, published or not. Those of you who have a drawer full of unpublished work could have a relative wanting to put them on the market after you’re gone, so they can collect royalties. Angela’s article about relatives going after a deceased writers’ work and royalties is filled with examples that will make your head spin. You can check it out at

The whole issue of who owns rights to books, and in particular ebooks, is a hot topic these days. Old contracts are being scrutinized and family members of deceased authors are looking to cash in on their relative’s earlier print books by turning them into ebooks. The New York Times wrote an interesting piece about the case of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, among others. My Styron’s family is claiming that they have the ebook rights to his work, however his longtime publisher, Random House, is claiming that they have the rights, which they have no intention of giving up. These types of legal battles are now being played out all over the country as the relatives of famous writers from bygone eras now want to cash in on the ebook revolution, as do their publishers. To read more, go to

The moral of all this is that you must pay careful attention to your contracts, and you must make it clear to whom you intend to bequeath your work to. If you don’t, things could get messy and costly for your family.

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback and Kindle at

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Banished Words for 2012

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m not going to bore you with my resolutions, which are pretty much the same as they were last year, so I thought I’d start the year off with a fun blog.

In case you haven’t seen it in the newspapers, Lake Superior State University has come up with a list of twelve words or phrases that should be banished in 2012, due to overuse or downright misuse. LSSU acquired this list by seeking nominations, and responses came from far and wide. So, be warned: if you choose to use any of these words in your writing this year, do so at your own peril!

The most nominated word is “amazing”, which probably won’t surprise you, because frankly, it’s both overused and misused a great deal. The other nominated words are:

baby bump
shared sacrifice
occupy (fill in the city of your choice)
blowback (often used by corporate types to mean reaction)
man cave
the new normal
pet parent (I wasn’t familiar with this one)
win the future (especially common in American politics, I’m told)
trickeration (come on, now. Is that even a word?)
ginormous (a favorite of my daughter’s when she was in her early teens a decade ago)
thank you in advance (I’ve never been fond of that either)

You can read some of the voters’ comments at

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at, Kindle at and in paperback at