How Nora Roberts became America’s most popular novelist

24 July 2014

From The New Yorker:

Roberts, who, as J. D. Robb, also writes futuristic police procedurals, has written a hundred and eighty-two novels, in addition to short stories and novellas. In a typical year, she publishes five “new Noras”: two installments of a paperback original trilogy; two J. D. Robb books; and, each summer, what her editor, Leslie Gelbman, refers to as the “big Nora”—a hardcover stand-alone romance novel. To keep track of Roberts’s output, Amy Berkower, her agent, maintains a dry-erase board in her office, along with a running catalogue of factoids. Twenty-seven Nora Roberts books are sold every minute. There are enough Nora Roberts books in print to fill Giants Stadium four thousand times. Since 2004, the cover of each Roberts release has featured a monogram in the upper-right corner—“the official Nora Roberts seal guarantees that this is a new work by Nora Roberts.” Her books outnumber her intimates. Only one J. D. Robb novel features a dedication—to a friend whose brother is a priest, and who promised, in exchange for the mention, to get him to grant Roberts perpetual absolution.

According to Publishers Weekly, Roberts wrote three of the ten best-selling mass-market paperbacks of 2008: “The Hollow,” the second book of the “Sign of Seven” trilogy (three blood brothers find love and fight a demon); “High Noon,” a reprint of her hardcover romance from 2007 (a hostage negotiator in Savannah meets a cute sports-bar owner while talking down a suicidal bartender); and “The Pagan Stone,” the third book of her “Sign of Seven” trilogy. “The Hollow” sold 1,912,349 copies, exceeded only by “The Appeal,” by John Grisham. Penguin, Roberts’s publisher, shipped six hundred and thirty-seven thousand copies of last year’s hardback release alone, for a total of more than eight million books in 2008. In addition, Roberts sold five and a half million copies of backlist titles, and J. D. Robb sold four and a half million books.

. . . .

Smart-alecks make bad pupils but excellent students of human nature: Roberts is good at what she does not only because she is prolific but also because she can write zingy dialogue and portray scrappy but sincere characters. She is known for her particularly believable heroes—according to Wendell, “100% real dudes.” Her female characters frequently possess an entrepreneurial streak, and they are more independent than many of their peers, and certainly their predecessors, even if some among them still have a propensity for crumpling like tissues at the sight of bodily fluids. “ ‘Oh. Oh my,’ was all she managed before her eyes rolled back,” Roberts writes, of Faith Lavelle, who, in “Carolina Moon,” has agreed to help the bachelor veterinarian Wade Mooney perform an operation on an injured sheepdog. Roberts’s colloquial style can be inelegant, but it deflates the more vaporous of her scenes—Wade revives Faith, and, in a few sentences, they are back to talking about “dog poop.”

A self-taught writer, and an irreverent one, Roberts was not, at first, an easy sell. Amy Berkower said, “I remember Nancy”—Nancy Jackson, the editor who acquired Roberts’s first novel, in 1980—“standing on her head to get Nora’s books because they didn’t follow the formula as strictly as others.” In violation of Lubbock’s Law, a genre convention stating that, for reasons of reader identification, romances should be written from only the heroine’s point of view, Roberts sometimes adopted the hero’s perspective.

. . . .

Roberts’s predominance is a feat of marketing as much as of style. At one point, Roberts had delivered a trilogy to Penguin, the installments of which were scheduled to run a year apart. “I went nuts,” Berkower recalled. “They said they didn’t want to overexpose Nora. And I said, ‘Well, she’s not Mickey Mouse yet.’ ” The parties compromised on a book every six months, a publishing schedule that they have adhered to since. Berkower and Roberts conceived of J. D. Robb in 1995, as a way to capitalize upon Roberts’s rate of production. The effect of the ploy was not only to turn up the pace of the treadmill for the publishing industry but also to conjoin the genres of romance and crime, along with their readerships. John Lennard, a professor of literature at the University of the West Indies, wrote, in an essay on Roberts, “Roberts has in some ways done for Romance what the hypercelebrity of Harry Potter has done for Children’s Literature, making it acceptable fare for reading adults in general.” To project mainstream appeal, Roberts’s books typically feature her name, in big letters, and some sort of inanimate, totemic object (cattails, a lighthouse, a shrimp trawler)

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

What Jane Austen Looked Like According to Forensic Science

15 July 2014

From Electric Lit:

In the nearly 200 years since the beloved author’s death, readers have been unsure what Jane Austen actually looked like. The only portrait available was a watercolor by her sister Cassandra that Austen’s niece claimed was “hideously unlike” the author.

Although one would hope the appearance of an author is irrelevant to enjoying their work, Jane Austen fans who’ve been curious about her appearance now have a life-size wax sculpture courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre. The sculpture is based on work done by FBI-trained forensic artist’ Melissa Dring. Dring used first hand accounts of Austen’s appearance of which there are several. The Guardian points out this passage from the memoir of her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh:

“Her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well-formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face.”


Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Carina Press Spotlight: Why we’re not at war with self-publishing

15 July 2014

From The Carina Press blog:

In the spirit of last year, where we introduced “Carina Uncensored” in our 2013 RWA spotlight, we’re doing something a little different in our 2014 spotlight at RWA. We know that authors have a lot of choices–both in workshops at RWA and also in publishing–so we want to give attendees the best possible chance to get to know Carina Press, understand our philosophy, and ask questions not just of us, but our authors. Below is the information for our spotlight. If you have any questions you’d like to ask ahead of time, please ask them in the comments so we can get the information included in the presentation.

Link to the rest at Carina Press and thanks to Sharyn for the tip.

To be clear, this posting isn’t the expression of PG’s opinion either in favor of or against Carina Press. He did think the headline was an interesting theme for a publisher to strike during RWA, however.

Enhanced editions!

8 July 2014

From author Courtney Milan:

Hi everyone! The enhanced editions of my first five books–Unveiled, Unclaimed, This Wicked Gift, Proof by Seduction, and Trial by Desire, are now available–and they’re only 99 cents each through July 25th.

. . . .

Q. Why are you releasing enhanced editions?

A. Because I can. I know that sounds a little bit ridiculous, but let me put it to you this way–if you had a contract with a publisher for print-only releases, and the contract specifically stated that you reserved digital rights, would you put that book up as a digital edition? Of course you would.

That’s what my contract looks like with regards to enhanced editions. They specifically reserve the right to make enhanced ebooks to me. I had that right, and so I am now exercising it.

Releasing enhanced editions gives me control over pricing, covers, branding, promotion, and back matter. It also makes me more money.

. . . .

Q. Specifically what in your contract allows you to do this? Can I do this, too?

A. There are two parts to my contracts that allow me to do this. The first is the following statement in the Grant of Rights section of my contract:

(d) electronic use of the non-dramatic unenhanced verbatim text of the Work, excluding video use (whether in a now known form or hereafter discovered) … Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Agreement, electronic rights shall be limited to the display of the text in the Work and shall not include any moving images, sound or any interactive or multimedia elements.

Incidentally, give my agent, Kristin Nelson, a hand for drafting an extremely clear statement. If she’d just left it as “unenhanced verbatim text” or even limited it to “multimedia elements” we might have had to argue about what “multimedia” and “enhanced” meant. As it is, the line about “sound” gave me a really, really clear out: As long as I included audio, I was outside the rights I had granted to my publisher.

The second is something that is not in my contracts, and that is a noncompete provision of any kind.

I don’t know if you can do this. You’ll have to look at your contract. I’ve mentioned here the two things you’ll need to look at–the grant of rights section and…uh, the rest of the contract. In the grant of rights section, you need to look and see if you are only granting rights to the “unenhanced” text, or if you reserve “multimedia” rights or something along those lines. There are probably a thousand different ways to word the reservation, and so there’s no magic language I can tell you to look for.

There are also a lot of authors out there who don’t have an enhanced reservation at all. I’m pretty sure that Harlequin series boilerplate, for instance, will not allow this.

Whether you can do this will depend entirely on what you and/or your agent negotiated.

Link to the rest at Courtney Milan and thanks to Amy for the tip.

Christina Brashear Returns as Publisher at Samhain Publishing

22 June 2014

From The Digital Reader:

Dogged by reports of conflicts with authors, struggling digita- first publisher Samhain Publishing announced today that owner Christina Brashear is returning to the company and taking up the role of Publisher.

. . . .

There haven’t been any rumors about financial issues, but in May 2014 Dear Author reported that authors were having problems getting Samhain to revert the book contracts to the authors.

The publisher was in general described as being unresponsive to queries, and they had also recently started using a new boilerplate contract which reserved copyright over a book’s metadata (title and other technical info about the ebook) to Samhain. While it might seem unimportant at first, that new contract clause could make it more difficult for an author to subsequently republish an ebook.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Female Authors Depend on their Husbands to Write Romance

2 June 2014

From Good Ereader:

There is no denying that the Romance and Erotica genres are hot right now and the industry is mainly written by female indie authors. If you look at the iBooks the current top 100 authors is 64% written by women, Amazon has 56% and the Publishers Weekly top 25 has been dominated by women almost 100% for the last six months. Why is the vast majority of fiction and nonfiction writers women?

The primary reason the vast majority of women are bestselling authors or aspiring writers trying to get their big break is because they rely on their husbands to generate the household income why they explore “their passion.” Many women authors have been quite vocal about how they are able to do what they love and rely on someone else to manage their life and keep the lights on.

One author recently mentioned “Health issues forced me from the work place even before the economic downturn. Now my hobby is looking like it will support me as well as a ‘real job’ would have, all within the next few years. Can I say hooray?” Another author said “I had pretty much quit my day job to get a Master’s Degree, but knew I’d have to go back to work as soon as I was done with classes. So, I began planning for it and while in the middle of writing papers – wrote my first two books. We can’t live without my husband’s salary / insurance yet.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader and thanks to Louisa for the tip.

PG thinks this sounds like click-bait.

One of the quit-the-day job memes that PG has heard lately is “First, I was able to replace my income with the money I made from my writing, then I was able to replace my husband’s income. Now, we work together in our self-publishing business.”

PG will also mention that Mrs. PG worked to put him through law school, one of the many important things she has done to help him be successful in his career.

Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers

12 May 2014

From Dear Author:

The rise of self publishing hasn’t just affected traditional print publishers. In fact, with the rate of ebook adoption slowing many observers suggest the numbers indicate we’re reaching a plateau. One of the less publicized victims of the sea changes occurring in publishing is the digital first publisher.

While reports of financial instability has plagued Ellora’s Cave, one of the oldest digital publishers around, for years recent rumors place Samhain squarely in the spotlight as well. Long time readers of Dear Author are familiar with the rise and fall of digital publishers back in the mid to late 2000s. It seemed that everyone with a passing knowledge of a WordPress template felt comfortable setting up shop.

Through it all Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have endured.

Recent reports from authors, however, suggest that both companies are struggling. Ellora’s Cave is undergoing several months of non payment of royalties stemming back to October 2013.

In response to the late payments, the owner of Ellora’s Cave sent out a group email in February explaining that royalties were late because a new program had been installed but the software program needed fixing resulting in the EC staff having to calculate royalties by hand.

. . . .

Samhain doesn’t have money problems. From all accounts, the company is still flush but experiencing some downturn in sales. No, the complaints about Samhain have to do with author contacts and contract terms. These more restrictive terms seem inspired to keep more rights within the company.

There are the general complaints that Samhain is slow to respond to any inquiries. But more disconcerting for authors is the change in several policies.

It used to be that obtaining a reversion of rights was fairly simple. Any author could request a reversion of rights after seven years. Combined with robust royalties of 30% off the retail and 40% off sales direct from the publisher, Samhain was viewed as one of the best and most author friendly contracts around.

Tides are turning. Currently Samhain is being non responsive to reversion letters. Samhain, in response to an inquiry, simply says that it is being thoughtful in the way that the requests are being processed.

A new contract clause is being inserted. The boiler plate language is Metadata with respect to the Work shall be considered work made for hire to the Publisher and Publisher shall own all rights to such metadata.”

Link to the rest at Dear Author and thanks to Amy for the tip.

Lord Grenville’s Choice

7 May 2014

For newcomers to The Passive Voice, this isn’t a book blog. From time to time Passive Guy receives requests to promote books, but politely declines to do so. There are many other places that do a better job of that than PG ever could.

The only exception is when Mrs. PG asks PG to mention a new book she has just released.

Grenville - Final - Amazon


Lord Grenville’s Choice went up on Amazon yesterday. CreateSpace is dallying a bit as usual, but the POD should appear shortly.

What’s the book about?

There’s a Lord – not a Duke or a Baron, a Lord.

Mrs. Lord believes she’s in a marriage of convenience.

An aristocratic hussy sticks her nose into the Lords’ family affairs.

Spunky Mrs. Lord has had enough and splits.

Lord notices she’s not around any more. He goes looking for her.

Because you came to The Passive Voice, you’ll get some never-before-revealed, behind-the-scenes inside information about this book:

  1. A long-time friend of Mrs. PG’s says the dark-haired woman on the cover looks like Mrs. PG at 21.
  2. Continuing on the cover, Mrs. PG thinks the Lord’s chin is cute.
  3. Nobody has said PG ever looked anything like the Lord. He doubts anybody ever will.

UPDATE: PG neglected to mention the cover artist – Carol Fiorillo

Media Coverage of the Harlequin Acquisition: It could be worse. No, actually, it couldn’t.

5 May 2014

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

And here’s where nothing’s changed.

Readers have been talking about what the potential results will be of HarperCollins/NewsCorp’s acquisition of Harlequin most of the day. What does it mean for libraries, digital readership, international romance readers, and the people who work at both companies? All logical questions.

And while Harlequin and HarperCollins have composed appropriately worded press releases and are making statements like “business as usual” and about fourteen thousand lawyers on both the US and Canadian sides are like GAME ON, there’s the part that actually sucks right now.

The media response to the acquisition is as expected. Which is to say, it’s so awful, I can’t even describe it adequately. There are no gifs or emergency cute baby animals strong enough to dull the pain.

Here’s Brian Stetler on CNN:

Harlequin has fallen for a charming billionaire along with the primary headline, Harlequin Swooped Up by NewsCorp.

“Swooped?” “Charming?” For real?

“Charming” is not the word describe Rupert Murdoch. Or was he tapping your phones and you had to be kind?

Also vying for first place in Completely Offensive Hogwash: the first sentence of Stetler’s article:

News Corp (NWS), the publishing company chaired by Rupert Murdoch, said Friday that it would pay $415 million to acquire Harlequin, best known for romance novels sometimes nicknamed “bodice rippers.” (Murdoch is, coincidentally, newly single.)

. . . .

And then there’s this steaming pile of crap, from the Globe and Mail, which is not (I checked) a TorStar publication.

Michael Babad writes about the signing of legal papers for a nearly half-billion dollar (CAN) acquisition, turning a Canadian company into an American subsidiary, as… a sex scene.

No, I’m not kidding.

Have a look: Make Me Melt: The sale of Torstar’s Harlequin as a bodice-ripper.

In the corner of the room, on this warm spring day cooled only somewhat by the breeze from the lake, stood the Harlequin, arms crossed and still in shock that he wanted a divorce after 39 years.

True, her sales had sagged, and he was desperate for money to pay his $160-million in debts. And, she had to remember, it was News Corp. that courted Torstar. The wandering eye wasn’t his. Not at first, anyway.

But it chilled her to her very core to become just another member of the News Corp. harem. And obviously, he had forgotten the good times, when she was younger and more attractive, before her revenue and operating profit gave way.

She understood it, of course. It was a hard decision for him – he even said so in a statement to the press – and the $455-million was good money he so craved for his shattered industry. Which is why his hands were so lovingly stroking the paper that would seal the bargain. Intimate, really, like he used to be with her.

. . . .

As I said on Twitter, do all nearly half-billion dollar acquisitions that change a Canadian company into an American subsidiary get written up as sex metaphors in The Globe and Mail?

No, of course not.

I know to expect the standard lines of media coverage of romance. I expect muscle pain andeye rolling.

I am not surprised.

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Bodice-Ripper in New Hands

4 May 2014

From The New York Times:

When News Corporation announced on Friday that it was buying the romance-novel publisher Harlequin Enterprises, cheap jokes inevitably started to fly.

It was, needless to say, a bodice-ripper of an acquisition. Would News Corporation’s Wall Street Journal be replacing its stock tables with serialized novels like “Stolen Kiss From a Prince”? Was the company’s newly single chairman, Rupert Murdoch, suddenly in the mood for love?

. . . .

Founded more than 65 years ago, Harlequin still publishes some 110 books every month. Twenty-four of the 100 best-selling fiction books in North America for the last week in April were from Harlequin, according to the data-tracking system Bookscan. News Corporation said Harlequin’s international presence — its books are published in more than 30 different languages — made the company especially attractive.

But like the rest of the book publishing industry, Harlequin is dealing with declining revenue and income, a product of the continuing shift toward digital books. The mass-market, grocery-store paperback, long the company’s bread and butter, is rapidly disappearing.

Harlequin also missed out on what was perhaps the biggest romance-book phenomenon in modern history, “50 Shades of Grey,” which was originally released by a tiny publisher in Australia before being acquired by Random House’s Vintage Books division. (In 2012, Harlequin’s chief executive said that sales of the “50 Shades of Grey” series had totaled more than its entire North American retail division.)

. . . .

Adding Harlequin, which will be folded into the company’s HarperCollins book unit, is consistent with the company’s broader strategy of investing more heavily in the publishing industry. In 2011, the company bought the religious publisher Thomas Nelson Inc. In 2012, it tried to buy Simon & Schuster from CBS, but the two companies could not agree on terms.

More generally, the book publishing industry is in the middle of what is expected to be a protracted period of consolidation, spurred by the growing popularity of e-books and the increasing power of Internet retailers like Amazon, Apple and Google. To negotiate more effectively with these retailers, publishers have been compelled to join forces.

. . . .

 Harlequin, and the romance genre in general, have been at the forefront in transitioning to electronic books. This is partly because romance readers tend to be voracious — consuming as many as 100 books a year, Mr. Murray said — and are thus especially sensitive to the cost of books. And because e-books can be downloaded instantly, waiting is never necessary. Avid romance readers can start their next novel the moment they finish their last.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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