Writer's Blog: Blog of romance author Jennifer Ashley
The occassional ramblings of a romance and mystery author.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
fan fic furor
I've seen out in bloggerland furor about the New York Times article this past Saturday on fan fiction writers landing big deals in NY. My husband, fearing I'd too be in an uproar, told me not to read the article (not knowing I'd already glanced through it). The article is posted on the NYT site, but I'm too lazy to look up the link to it. I imagine you can find it if you browse their site.
Fan fiction, if you've never heard of it, is a writer who enjoys a book or tv series or movie so much that they make up their own stories in that world with these characters. Nowadays those stories (which range from excellent to indecipherable) are posted on blogs and fan fic sites; decades ago they were photocopied or mimeographed and passed around at scifi cons.
Now fan fiction writers are attracting the attention of NY publishers who are offering them six-figure deals. Hence the furor.
When I saw the article I waited for the spark of resentment--how can a neophyte author who is not even building his/her own characters and worlds land a huge deal when excellent original works go undiscovered? (please, I'm not including myself in "excellent original work"-- I know my own skill level!)
No spark. No resentment. Nope, not a twinge. Why?
I dunno. Maybe because I don't care? This has nothing to do with me. My career is my career. If someone else gets their foot in the door writing fan fic, well, good for them.
Publishing is not fair. It never will be fair. It's a business, about making money for the company. Individuals within that company care about good books and good authors but the company is there to make money. That means they'll do it any way they can--looking for authors who already have an audience draw is one way.
Authors get into this business in many ways. There's no one golden gate, no right way, no guarantee that the way you try will work. I have a friend who was "discovered" through her e-published books. I have a friend who won a contest and got a contract. I know authors who were bought out of the slush pile. I know many who, like me, wrote books, queried agents, and kept on writing and querying no matter how many rejections we got, until finally we made it. I know authors who sold their very first book, I know authors who sold on some ridiculous number like ms. 50.
There's no use being po'd at someone who got in through writing fan fic. Maybe I'm experienced enough to realize that getting in even with a big advance doesn't make you a star, nor is it a guarantee that you'll have a career. These few people might end up huge stars, they might flop. Who knows?
I find it interesting that the books that are huge hits: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Da Vinci Code, Stephen King's books, and Harry Potter, to name a few, seem to come out of nowhere. We don't hear about their big deals (unless you religiously read Publisher's Lunch, and maybe their deal wasn't even big enough to be posted there anyway). We hear nothing about these people until all the sudden their books are phenoms and everyone knows their name.
Why? Because the books are fantastic, entertaining, and appealling. That is what makes an author huge, not a discussion of their deals.
Anyway, rambling on here.
As to the anger that fan fic writers are plagiarizing, well, they are (if the characters and worlds are not in the public domain). I have no business making up Firefly stories in which Mal and Inarra get married. If I did write my own version of that story (because those two so need to go to bed), I'd likely do it for my own enjoyment. I'd let my husband read it, and that's it. It would not be posted or published in any way.
However--if you are contracted to write a media tie-in book (e.g., X-men books, Buffy books, Star Trek books, Star Wars books) and the like, that is perfectly legitimate. In that case you are writing with full permission of the copyright holder. You have to conform to the copyright holder's version of the world (there are stringent rules for Star Trek, and I hear the Star Wars "bible" is huge) and they have to approve your story.
Likewise, writing about a character/story in the public domain is fine. Examples: John Gardner's Grendel, the Pulitzer Prize book about Jo March's father (of Little Women), Laurie R. King's series featuring Sherlock Holmes, the "followups" to Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca and many more.
So anyway, there is fan fic an there's fan fic. And again, if it gets someone's foot in the door, who am I to crush their toes off? I'm excited enough about my own stuff not to worry about it. (And see #7 of my Career Time Wasters post below.)
My new website is almost done. Whew.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Talk Like a Pirate
Today is annual Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrrrgh. Here's the official page. Some zany stuff. I have so much fun when I write pirate romances--I take the reality of it and mix it with the swashbuckling stereotype. I did that particularly in The Care and Feeding of Pirates. Buried treasure on an island? Why not???
Thanks to all who checked out my web page for problems. This morning it's very slow loading, arrrrgh! (my pirate curse of the day). Don't know if that's my computer, or Yahoo, or what. Crossing my fingers that it gets better. Have been looking frantically at my .css file to see if that's the problem, but it looks fine and pretty simple, no complicated file calls. So maybe it's just the server. Sigh.
I'll get over it, maybe. So if the site doesn't load for you right now, try again later. Take care!
Monday, September 18, 2006
If any readers want to beta-test my new website, I'd be grateful. I'm especially interested in testing it with Macs because I don't have access to one to make sure nothing is whacky. I need to know:
1. Do the pages show up clearly and is the template there? (You see a nice banner at the top and two column formatting?).
2. Do the pages load ok? (too slow? partial loading?)
3. Do the navigation links work? (Note, I have not changed every page to the new template so its ok if some of the pages have a different look. Hit refresh and if it doesn't change to the same template as the home page then I haven't changed it yet.)
4. Do you see any stray "<" characters, or, gasp, typos? 5. email me with any problems at firstname.lastname@example.org
The URL is www.jennifersromances.com
Friday, September 15, 2006
My husband, sweet man, takes care of the household taxes (I do monthly bills, he does the taxes). This morning at 6:30 am he leans over me in bed and whispers silkily: "I need a check for [large amount of $$$] so I can mail in your quarterly taxes today."
Oh gee, what a way to wake up. I, as usual, completely forgot it was tax day. I stumble to the office to write out the large check, my peaceful dreams ruined. At least my dh went out and got me a bagel.
Paying taxes quarterly is one of the joys of writing full time. I do keep a running list of my business expenses so in April when yearly taxes are due, I can figure in deductions and hopefully have broken even or get a return. But those quarterly days sneak up on you and smack you hard!
It's now mid-morning and I haven't been able to concentrate at all. Sat on the patio--it was actually nice and cool! and made notes about my 3-year and 5-year goals and what I want to write after I finish the kazillion projects I'm into now. I'm determined to get mostly done with current books before turning in more proposals, so I don't get horrible deadline stacks like I have now.
Something cool, though--apparently my Ashley Gardner name appeared briefly in the Sept. 8 edition of Entertainment Weekly, on p. 165. Author Cara King emailed me to tell me. I had no idea! (It was a brief mention of A Covent Garden Mystery.) Neat.
Well, hopefully I can get back to writing today. I've been averaging 3-4K a day which isn't too bad. That means of course that some days I do 6,000 words, and others I limp in with 1,000. I'm currently working on the second book of the dragon series (first book Dragon Heat will be out in July of 2007.)
Happy tax day!
Monday, September 11, 2006
I control my stress from tight deadlines (and other life stresses) by doing miniatures. I've been doing them since I was ten years old and saw no reason to stop when I grew up. I'm not the only one; it's a fairly popular hobby.
When I was writing "Viva Las Vampires" for the anthology that's out next month (see my website), I had just bought a very cool 1/4" scale dollhouse kit from Debbie Young (Young at Heart), that contained everything to build the house from the ground up, including wallpaper and flooring.
I wrote my novella and built the house at the same time. I'd write until my brain was tired, then go in and build the dormer window and the attic roof, then while the glue was drying write some more. I completed the entire house and the novella at about the same time. I don't have pictures of the house up yet, but will soon. The interior decorating is not quite done yet.
Now while writing the Immortals and the dragon books, I'm doing a 1" scale bed and breakfast that's coming along nicely. I bought the house already built and partially decorated (wallpaper in most rooms plus outside complete), and stared at it for a long time before I hit upon the B&B idea. I bought a bunch of fabric and am experiementing with colors and patterns. It's shaping up very nicely and I hope to be done by the end of the year, enough to post pictures.
Also, I reward myself with minis. When I get an advance or royalty check, I take a little bit out and buy a piece from an artistan that I've always wanted, or I let myself go to a show and go nuts (which is how I ended up with the 1/4" house). The last reward was a beautiful chair from Kari Bloom:
Her work is amazing. I bought the art deco lamp from Little Lamplighter in Las Vegas to go with it (yes, it really lights up!).
Anyway, I have a bunch of my minis posted at my web site (http://www.jennifersromances.com/Miniatures/miniatures.html) It might seem a strange hobby for a writer to have, but it releases a lot of creative tension when I need it to.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
First I have to gloat that I turned in The Calling, book I of the Immortals, on time!! I mailed it off on the 30th and it landed on my editor's desk on the 1st. Woo hoo! Now I'm deep into my second dragon book for Berkley (under my Allyson James pseudonym).
I love to give authors, both new and still waiting for publication, the benefit of my experience. Mostly because, gee I wish someone had told me all this stuff when I was a newbie! It is only my experience, you understand, and so only as good as that.
I want to list some things that I have either done myself or seen other authors do that distracts them like crazy from doing the job they're supposed to be doing--writing books. I'll do a section for both pubbed and waiting-to-be pubbed authors.
1. Checking your Amazon ranking every ten minutes (every half hour, every day). The ranking is what it is, whether you look at it or not. Also, it's an inaccurate reflection of your real sales.
2. Googling yourself every day. Of course you want to know if people are talking about your book or you. But a) you might not like what they're saying; b) you won't miss a review because sites usually email you if they put up a review of your book; and c) well, there is no c. It's just a waste of time! Get back to work!
3. Over-online promoting. You can't possibly be on every chat, every loop, every forum, every blog, etc. Pick and choose, target forums/chats that have to do with your subgenre. Don't go so often that you're no longer a novelty. You want people to be excited and pleased when you show up, not think "oh no, it's her again."
4. Over-promoting, period. Your promotion is only as good as your product. You can only do so many appearances, conferences, talks, panels, and booksignings before you drop over dead. Pick and choose, target talks etc to coincide with the release of your book, then go back home and write. I mean, if J.K. Rowling hadn't written Harry Potter (or anything equally as popular) and yet went around to every convention in the U.S. and England, would anyone care? (ok, if you're hand-selling a self-published book, that's different, you have to do this kind of promo because that's where your audience is.)
5. Over-volunteering. Don't get me wrong. I volunteer. I'm secretary of my RWA chapter, I help out when I can, and I judge contests. But you can't be volunteer queen and get any work done! Again, pick and choose where you can spend the most quality effort. No one likes someone who volunteers for everything then backs out of half of it because they discover they don't really have time.
6. Staying with a bad or uninterested agent. You need someone who continuously sells your work and is continuously enthusiastic about you and your career. If your agent sits on your stuff and never sends it out, what's the point? It's hard to break up with an agent, but it's better to have one on your side. You can waste years if your agent is indifferent.
7. Professional envy. Hoo, what a waste of time and energy! I hear tales of disgruntled authors who write devastating and spiteful reviews of rival's books on Amazon--why?? Pay attention to your career, not everyone else's. Yes it's annoying when you want something very much and somone else gets it, but get over it--their success doesn't mean you won't be successful too. I've been at this long enough to realize there are opportunities for everyone out there. Your day will come--everyone's path is different, everyone's opportunities are different, everyone progresses at their own pace, everyone's at a different level. This isn't a zero sum game, and another person's success can only help you. If your "rival's" book does very well, that means bookstores will be amenable to that type of book, and you just happen to be working on one . . .
I think that's it for pubbed authors. Now for unpubbed:
1. Over-volunteering. See #5 above.
2. Being contest queen. You can spend endless amounts of time writing proposals for a contest a month (or more). Target contests where a) your type of writing seems to do well (e.g., do humorous entries final more often than dark stories?) and b) editors you wish to sell to are judging the finals. If you're trying to write a Harlequin Blaze and the judge for short contemp. is from Avalon, pick another contest or submit a different entry.
3. Finding and signing with a bad agent (see #6 above).
4. Trying to write to please six critique partners, every contest judge, every writer who gives you feedback. You could revise your ms. until your keyboard wears out and still not have a publishable book. Evaluate your criticism, and take seriously only that which has a common theme (if all six critique partners independently say your dialog is weak, work on your dialog). If you get ten vastly different opinions, that isn't helpful, throw them away. Better still, learn to judge your own work honestly and get the help of only a few others whom you trust.
5. Working on one manuscript for years that has proved to be unpublishable. You grow as a writer by writing. Some people do publish their first mss.; many do not. Often the first manuscript is your learning tool, your place to get the clutter out of your head. If you're frustrated with it, put it aside and write something else. As you become more skilled, then go back to the first ms. and see if it can be saved, or is worth saving. (I published on ms. #7--I think, I lost count!)
6. Professional envy. See # 7 above.
All right, I've wasted enough time blogging about this (but hey, I wrote my quota of 4000 words today already!). Others may not agree with everything I say, but I find that keeping things in perspective lets me get my writing done on time, which means I get paid, which means the cat gets to eat, and everyone's happy.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Thoughts on reading
I hear/see laments around bloggerland and in writer's groups about the decline of reading in general. (Not at my house, I have to say. My husband and I read more novels these days than we ever have before).
It is true overall, I believe, that fewer people are reading novels and other fiction. Some blame it on decline of quality reading materials, but I have to say I don't think that's the cause--I've read books recently that have been superb, in all genres. Likewise, I don't blame television and movies, because those industries have been worried about a slump, too.
In my opinion (and since it's my blog, you get my opinion :-), I think people read less fiction because of the gazillion distractions we've created for ourselves. Let's see: if you miss your favorite tv show, no worries, TiVo recorded it for you (or your VCR if you're still living in the dark ages of five years ago). So you don't have to read a book for an hour, you can watch your missed show.
Can't figure out how to record off the dratted TV? No worries, join an online DVD club and they'll mail you every episode back to back of your favorite shows, plus any movies you missed.
Nothing to do while you wait at the doctor or dentist or to pick up your kids from school, or . . . ? No problem, pop your iPod in your ears and listen to your choice of hundreds of songs you downloaded or listen to podcasts. Podcasts (for those who don't know) are broadcasts you download for your iPod or other mp3 player, on anything from goldfish to international politics.
Want to actually read something--move your eyeballs across words? Then there are thousands of blogs out there and thousands of web pages available for your reading pleasure. Everything from international politics to dog sitting.
Not to mention online groups where you can chat to people about dog sitting or even reading books! LOL And don't forget video games, xboxes, online interactive games and so forth.
So what I think has happened is that the time most people would fill by grabbing that paperback (or ebook!) and reading voraciously are now filled by other things.
But the good thing is, not everyone has given up reading. I hear that the sales of children's books are very good, and that kids like to read. Like I said, my reading has escalated in the past several years. I'm finding very good books by new authors and new-to-me authors. I'm reading old classics and stuff published last week. My husband can't sit down without a book in his hand (when he does, I ask him what's wrong). My friends read and we talk about the books we like.
Anyway, that's my rambling thoughts on the decline of readership. People's focuses change, is all, I think, and people do focus on different things at different stages of life.
Speaking of books published last week, my friend Bonnie Vanak has a new one out--the Panther and the Pyramid. What a gorgeous cover!! (which blogger will not load for me, darn it--go to Bonnie's site and have a look.)