Lately, I've been overwhelmed by what I'll call the fear factor. Clive James asserts there areonly so many storylines and patterns of conflict, suggesting all that's left to distinguish one work of crime fiction from another is setting. (An assertion I find absurd, but let's set that aside.)

Jim Huang offered insights from his experiences that didn't give much reason for cheer either. Elsewhere, a fascinating discussion about royalties opened the door for people to share opinions on yet another contentious topic.

And elsewhere in cyberspace, people are still going on about Rankin, McDermid and sexual orientation like it's a hot new topic.

And then there is the steady stream of spam from people. Argh... I've never been so frustrated. Oh, don't get me wrong. Jim had valuable points to make. The royalties discussion was fasinating. But everything feels so... negative lately, and I haven't even linked to the latest discussion about cutting review space. It just feels as though the consistent message is it's impossible to succeed.

Our recent decision to launch Spinetingler awards was, in part, a knee-jerk reaction to it all. We'd discussed it. We still hadn't worked out some technicalities, but I said, "Screw it, we're doing this. We'll tweak as we go."

I'm hoping people here will start thinking about nominations in the appropriate categories. We've tried to level the playing field so that authors with major profile compete against others with a lot of profile, and those without as much push get a shot at some publicity.

Other than that, I'm mostly avoiding lists and forums these days. I find myself thinking that instead of the endless discussions about the decline of review space and how hard things are right now, we need to think past the old standbys we've relied on. Thinking back to Anne's idea of some time ago, about the Book Channel, I find myself wondering if the next order of business might not be BookTube. Heavens, if GodTube can make a go of it, surely BookTube can...

Maybe we should host a virtual Crimespace Convention. Special video interviews, podcasts, articles...

Damn, okay, I have to stop thinking. I have a frickin' deadline to meet.

** Edited to add: Okay, since I didn't make this clear enough, this isn't about kickstarting a pity party or anything like that. I'm tossing out the challenge, for us to come up with some things we can do to celebrate our genre, to celebrate good books and the love of reading. We're doing our awards. I tossed out ideas like BookTube and a Crimespace Convention (by this I mean an online virtual con). What I'm saying is, let's not just keep complaining, or reading the doom and gloom. Let's put a little elbow grease into doing something positive.

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in terms of what to do offline; maybe trying to make a conscious commitment to support the small independent crime bookstores and publishers, to avoid the scenario where Walmart et al gain a strangle hold on the bookselling business, so we only get to see the top 20 blockbusters on sale.

As a reader - more author videos (book tube) sounds like a great idea, seeing authors as people rather than names on a dustjacket certainly would make me more likely to considering purchasing their books.
LOL Chel.

We have Book TV in Canada, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The TV thing seems to apply more in the States. As others (Christa below) have mentioned, Anne Frasier had an idea about that, and put it on a thread here... three months ago, maybe? It was a while. But it was an interesting idea. I think the trick is getting something like that off the ground.

And when you ask 'do publishers think about these things too' do you mean things like book television or the decline of review space or...? I know one of the big criticisms thrown around over the past six months about the review space was that publishers don't advertise, so the review space isn't supported. (This will be a very generic comment, because it would be a bit different in Canada, the US, Ireland and the UK as well as a bit different publisher to publisher.) Some publishers say they can't afford to advertise, others argue they can't afford not to, as it becomes a vicious cycle.

Simple math factors in. The larger the publisher the higher the volume of books they put through their distributor the better the deals they can potentially broker. Places like Costco, Tesco, Wal-Mart... they all rely on volume discounts. And places like that can get a better price than independent booksellers. Independents are in a bit of a choke-hold. For me, it's a 70 km drive each way to go to McNally Robinson, which is pretty much the only option I've got other than the large Canadian chain store. I have never seen Kevin Wignall's books stocked anywhere here. I saw one Al Guthrie book at McNally Robinson once. That's the only store that carries Duane Swierczynski... You see the path I'm on here? I'm pretty much stuck with Amazon or the conventional bestseller stuff already.
Era, i meant do the publishers brainstorm as much as you guys. You don't see many books advertised on t.v. Why? (well not this side of the world). I know it's expensive. And i suppose this all comes back down to money. *sigh*
More and more programmes are upping books. Take Richard and Judy as an example. Why not aproach more chat shows. Especially as there is an example of success to go on.
The Opera channel has been going strong for a while now. Who would have thought it. Yet more and more young people are buying their cd's!
Marketing is key.
Why did i only hear about crimespace lately? None of my friends had heard about it either!
It's a big world out there.
May i be so bold and use shoes as an example?
There is a brand of kids shoes i stock in my shop. They have not yet been delivered, yet i already need to re-order. The first batch has completly sold out. Why? Advertising. If you make something big, it will be. They have a gimmicky tune and give a little gift upon purchase. Voila.
So my point is if the books were to be advertised properly i think sales would surge.
Why not do a group campaign between say five or ten authors. We did that with a few retail stores and as well as saving money we got a longer and larger run.....
I think I've only once ever seen an actual commercial for a book on TV... A Val McDermid book, advertised during a Wire in the Blood episode.

I certainly can't speak to everything the publishers think (and I'm sure it varies from house to house somewhat) but my understanding is they just won't put money in that. Either don't have it or don't feel it's a valuable use of their money.

Some publishers encourage to spend their entire advance on promotion. Most authors (other than big big names) pay for their own touring.

In principle, I'm with you. Bottom line is, people are much more likely to buy something they've heard of. The standby with books is to rely on word of mouth. Unfortunately, it used to be that publishers would invest 7, 8 books in an author to grow them and give it a chance for them to catch on. Lately, the pattern is shifting to one or two book deals, and authors feel under pressure to do well enough to stay alive. Most authors simply don't have the money to do major promotion, and where they are on the totem pole determines what kind of in-house promotional support they get. As to group campaigns, it's the same root problem. Not everyone has the same resources, and it can be tricky, as release dates can shift, etc.

Richard & Judy seem to do well with the books in the UK, and Oprah to some degree in the US. Since I don't watch Oprah, I can only go off memory of report, but I understand at one point she pulled her book club because the ratings dipped for those shows. Kevin and I were talking about that book - Skinny Bitch - which became a hit because one of the Spice Girls was seen carrying it. I think a lot of people assume it's because that comes off like a celebrity endorsement, but I think it's just because people have actually heard of it. I don't give a $*@! what the Spice Girls read, hardly watch TV and don't read much entertainment news, but have heard of this book as a result. And while I haven't bought the book, I did pick it up and look at it because I'd heard of it.

There was a thread here not so long ago about the self published guy who claimed he was going to be on Oprah (and it was picked up by the press, then later proven a lie). I know it's easy to jump all over they guy but by telling one lie he got more publicity than he could have with half a million bucks. Will it help him? It probably actually will. I mean, in the wake of one scandal I went for lunch with a friend, and she told me she was reading James Frey.

(And I did blog about Crimespace when it launched, and have on occasion linked to discussions over here. But beyond that I'm reluctant to tell people on one forum about another forum. Don't want it to seem like poaching...)
I don't know - I feel pretty positive about the genre right now (I know - Perpetual Pollyanna, that's me).

There are so many good books being published, so many small publishers coming out with great ideas for classic and new fiction. I think the problem is more to make people aware of those, and I don't necessarily think that's something that an online community can do any more than we already have. For me, BookTube wouldn't be something I would use - if I've heard of the author and their books sound interesting then I'm going to buy their books. A video of them online wouldn't affect that decision either way. If I DON'T know an author's name then it's unlikely that BookTube would work for me either. I use YouTube a lot for music, but even so, I don't think I would use it for book related stuff. I'd rather be reading a book.

The video clips with stills on with a voice over or music don't interest me at all. I do like the videos which give a taste of the book - such as Michael Connelly has done, and Christa Faust is doing (I'm really loking forward to that one), but unless it's done that well, with some money and professionalism behind it just doesn't work for me.

Crimespace feels like a virtual convention as far as I am concerned anyway, but group chats or reading groups or writing groups etc would help to build that sense of community even further.

I like Daniel's Flash Fiction idea and maybe a competition could be linked to that. I like short stories of less than 1000 words. I can read one quickly in my lunch break. I often get bored with longer short stories, but that's just me.

The only podcasts I ever listen to are the Clute and Edwards noir ones which are excellent.

Awards...hmmmmm....I like awards, and any meaningful ones are good, and, hopefully, get the nominees and winners some exposure, but part of me feels there are too many, and that that could devalue the whole thing.

What's going to reach more people? I guess the answer is TV. But that costs money and unless it's done right it's going to be pointless. It's like the Pearl & Dean adverts at the cinema for your local Indian restaurant. Just not very good. I also have positive proof that getting your name mentioned on national radio has a positive effect. It's getting that wider audience that is important, rather than preaching to the already converted.

I think forums (fora???) like Crimespace are great, but again, we're relatively few in number. All each of us can do really is keep spreading the word about our favourite books and authors. All that helps in a small way. As far as anything bigger, well different things work for different people.

But, yes, on the whole I am pretty positive. When I go into my local Borders the crime fiction shelves take up more and more space every month, and more and more new authors are lining the shelves. And there are always people browsing and buying in the crime fiction aisles, unlike many other parts of the shop.
Awards...hmmmmm....I like awards, and any meaningful ones are good, and, hopefully, get the nominees and winners some exposure, but part of me feels there are too many, and that that could devalue the whole thing.

Yeah, that's why we thought about this for a long time. There are already some awards out there I consider meaningless myself, but my opinion really varies award to award, depending on how they're run. I had shelved it as one big headache, but most of the other awards are attached to conventions and the people who get to have a vote are the people who attend the conventions. Plus, the categories are different, giving more room for newer/up-and-coming authors to win.

As well as giving nods to publishers, editors and for cover design. I've lost count of the number of posts about repetitious covers on blogs, and fair enough to a point, but all the complaining isn't doing anything to stop it. As one person pointed out, when you buy bulk photos how are you to know if another publisher is using the same one, and has their book coming out three months before you do? It isn't like there's a central database or time to monitor it.

Same thing about editing, so many complaints about the typos and mistakes in books. There was a good post on Detectives Beyond Borders about copy editors, and it got me thinking about that as well.

Do we have the profile to inspire publishers to put a bit more effort into original design work? Probably not. But it's the only thing I've got in my power that I can do.
I have to agree with you, Donna. I think there's a lot of good news out there. I have no trouble finding exciting new books to read. But as you point out, the trouble for the person who doesn't spend a lot of time hanging out with other readers who say "oh, have you read..." is that you may not know where the good stuff is. And author self-promotion is not, to me, any kind of solution. I'm already overwhelmed with advertising.

The publishing industry is going through a period of enormous change, and that's never easy. That said, more books are being published today than ever. There are more ways for readers to get their hands on books, to talk with each other about books, to discover authors. So I have to wonder, when we think the book business is a mess - "compared to what?"

The former editor of the LA Times Book Review recently wrote about the book review crisis in newspapers and included this intriguing bit. “In 1937, Gallup found that only 29 percent of all adults read books; in 1955, the percentage had sunk to 17 percent. Fifteen years later, in 1970, the club evidently no longer could bear to know, and Gallup stopped asking.”

Interesting. A few years ago the National Endowment for the Arts panicked because nearly half of Americans reported they didn't read a single book in a given year. More recently an Ipsos poll said we had a disaster on our hands because one in four Americans didn't read a book in a year. For whatever peculiar cultural reason, reading has been and always will be in crisis, no matter how many books there are and how many people are reading them.

None of this is consolation to the struggling writer. But if you look at the big picture, it's not as bleak as it looks. Or perhaps it's never been all that rosy.
Love the Homeland Security analogy. That will mess with my head for a long time :o)

Your friend must have a good head on his or her shoulders to be able to tell that story. That's pretty brutal!
Hi Jon, the part in your discussion where you say the author told your friend to "write better stories..." made me smile, but not for the obvious reason. In my opinion, each one of us, who are as yet unpublished authors, will, and should, feel justifiably proud of the work we've produced; even if an already published writer cannot agree that it has or shows promise.
No matter how much one may tweak, and do what they can to improve a 'finished' piece of work, or to come up with a 'better story', there are limits to the human imagination. Each one of us, is an original creator; different characters and the sojourn in which a storyline may take the reader, will have different results.
Myself, as a prospective writer, I believe in all of the projects I write about, but I would like to think that soon, many unpublished writers will achieve success, without being demeaned about their 'prize' piece of work!

If I ever had a chance, I'd love to start up a combined literary agency/publishing company, solely for unpublished writers, no matter where they lived, and publish their work!
Roger, the obvious question that comes to mind when I hear the 'write better stories' thing said to others is 'what makes something better'? In reality, much of what gets picked up for a deal is not necessarily better than a lot of unpublished stuff - it's just considered more marketable at the time, and even then editors admit it's a gamble and a guess.

Now, I do think things have to be at a certain standard for publication. My philosophy is if you read a good book you want to read another good book, if you read a bad one you'll go watch TV. Seriously, since I buy most of my books, it's much like the theatre. If I shell out a lot of money and see crap on the big screen, it's sometimes a year or more before I go see another film. But if I see a good movie, I'm hoping there'll be another good one soon. So, that's my concern with publishing stuff that's blatantly bad. Which means there has to be some standard. Of course, there's stuff that is getting published that I consider crap, and that's down to taste.

Rejection is an important part of the learning process which I value as a writer, as long as it's sensible rejection. 'Write better stories' isn't helpful - better is subjective. "Your endings are weak." "Your characters are inconsistent." "I didn't find the subject interesting." That's helpful. It at least directs a person who's willing to learn.

And one opinion is just one opinion. One story I had rejected one place was automatically accepted next place I sent it to. It remains the short story I've had the most fan mail from. A lot of stuff gets rejected because it isn't good, but to say that's the only reason stuff gets rejected is simplistic.

For myself, every time I send out a rejection letter I feel it. I know what it is to receive them, and it doesn't make me happy to tell people their work didn't make it this time. But I also do it because I know how important it is in the whole process of growing as a writer.

(And I know many published authors who take a red pen to their book after it's printed. The ones I respect the most maintain they still have things to learn about their craft. That's why they go on to write better and better books. You've got to learn to be objective about your work to get to that point.)
Sandra... I bow to your expertise! I hope I didn't come across as flippant with my reply to Jon Loomis's post, but then you do know me so well already!
As you're aware, I have had some mixed responses to my stories, which I have submitted to agents/publishers in the past, although, when I say mixed responses, I mean either a total lack of a rejection letter at all, or a standard 'I'm afraid your work is not suitable for our list...' (unfortunately due to my current employment situation, my finances restrict me from sending off my material to any lit agent... but next year, I shall be 'pushing' my work, once I've been through it with an objective 'eye'!)
Of all the publishers I sent my work to, it was only the two vanity publishers that were 'financially' hungrily eager to accept my stories; also I was unaware that they 'were' vanity publishers, until they responded with a letter, declaring their undying interest, followed with a request for 'X' amount of money from me for them to do the honours!

I should also clarify my statement, 'If I ever had a chance, I'd love to start up a combined literary agency/publishing company, solely for unpublished writers, no matter where they lived, and publish their work!' I should have added, with regard to your thoughts about 'much of what gets picked up for a deal is not necessarily better than a lot of unpublished stuff - it's just considered more marketable at the time, and even then editors admit it's a gamble and a guess.' while any work submitted has to go through the process of being properly read, and assessed for its marketability, this of course would be part and parcel of my own lit-agent/publishing company. However... it would be my intention to have some experienced people, willing to coax the writer into making their work 'more marketable' if it wasn't deemed ready. Even if this process took a little longer to produce a viable product.
Of course, for me this is simply a pipe-dream... unless I win the UK Lottery! Then who knows!!
Hi Roger. No, not completely flippant. But thanks for further clarifying your thoughts.

We reverted back to form rejection letters because of people who decided to argue over them. When we started I was determined to do things differently - after all, I'm sympathetic to writers and what they go through and the frustration of form rejection letters. A few issues along and I was sympathetic to editors. I mean, I could do a whole other side rant, about the consistent failure of people to follow and apply submission guidelines, to even spellcheck their work...

The danger spots that open up are the cost of nurturing. This is something Creme de la Crime has done differently - tried to nurture a few potential authors along. But there is a strong recommendation against publishers who also offer agenting services or editing services, particularly if those come with a fee. If you ever did have the chance to set up your company that's something you'd need to look at carefully.

There are a few levels of rejection letters:
Level 1: Standard/Form - usually means not the same ballpark
Level 2: A standard letter with a personal note attached with suggestions - maybe you're in the same ballpark, but not quite playing the same game... sort of like CFL rules vs NFL rules...
Level 3: Personal rejection letter. Close.

It's a very generic interpretation, and you can get them at all levels of querying. Short stories, trying to find an agent, submitting to a publisher. And getting one does not necessarily mean the work doesn't have merit.

So far, my favourite rejection letter is the one based on a partial manuscript that was incredibly complimentary, but they rejected based on something they said I did with the book, that I didn't do with the story, and since they had a partial I don't even know where they got the idea. But that just goes to show, you can be rejected for what you do, what you don't do and for what people think you're going to do.

The best advice I was ever given for helping me with my writing:

Keep reading, Ian Rankin

This is the best way to learn structure and form, to assess why something works and how it's done. I've taken a creative writing diploma, where they try to get you to go through a checklist with your work. It didn't work for me, in part because I'm not a plotter and they can't teach you to intuitively develop a story while writing it.

I struggled a lot with short stories, and still do. Short stories are the hardest thing to write, because they require exceptionally narrow focus and economy with words. And with them, I can really see the progression from rough around the edges to smoothing out with the odd bump to starting to flow.

I also paid for a ms critique, early on, from a British author, and after that, when I picked up books to read, it really started to click.

There is an apprenticeship to a writing career, and I think one of the biggest holdbacks for many talented writers is ability or willingness to put money into it. (I'm not saying all this for you, just generally, based on my experience.) You want to be anything else you expect to take courses and invest in your career. For some reason (here anyway) there remains this bizarre belief that with writing and acting, you can just be 'discovered' and be an overnight success. People talk about muses and writer's block, like we channel stories because we've been divinely selected to be a writer. Simply put, writing is work, and sometimes it's damn hard work. In my experience with rejecting short stories, there have definitely been a few times I've wanted to suggest the writer open their eyes while typing.

Anyway, none of us is perfect, we're all at different points on our journey, we just keep plugging along, learning and growing. And no matter how many manuscripts I have accepted for publication, I expect I'll still be saying that. Most authors I know say every book gets harder, not easier...


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