Is that a new RWA rule in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

Booksquare reports that The Romance Writers of America have passed a new rule barring the national and chapter websites from linking to authors with certain objectionable images or words on their bookcovers or on their sites/blogs.

… it’s pretty clear
the Board has never once, in their entire lives, taken a gander at the average
romance novel cover. If so, they’d realize they have just eliminated 99.9% of
all covers:

With respect to all RWA programs and services, the following shall not be
depicted or represented: exposed male and female genitalia, exposed female
nipples, cunnilingus and fellatio, hands or mouth covering naked female breasts,
naked or g-string-clad buttocks, and beastiality. The following words: cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit, will not be

The president of RWA has clarified this regulation, saying this means (and we

. . .if we wish to retain our charter with RWA, we will no longer be able to
show jacket covers that don’t meet the standard and we can’t even link to the
websites of those authors who might show their own covers, have excerpts that
include certain language, or lead to the publisher’s website.”

So if their rules say they can’t link to any site that has the words cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck
, motherfucker, shit and tit, then they can’t even publish this rule on their own site since, by definition, it means printing the words cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit
, and tit.

That said, I’d like to belong to any writers organization progressive enough to have the words cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit in their rules for anything.  I’m pretty sure there isn’t a rule in the Mystery Writers of America or the Writers Guild that includes the words cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit, but I think there should be.  Imagine what DEADWOOD would be like without the words cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit. Or Harry Potter.  Or our National Anthem.

You can’t use the words cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit, but it’s okay to use the following words and phrases instead:
his throbbing maleness, adoring his gargantuan manhood,  heavenly cave
of feminine delight, give me some of that hot monkey love,  butt hole pirate, poop,
and swelling bosom.

I guess they won’t be linking to my site. I don’t use the words  cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit, but I’ve got a big Dick on the cover of most of my books.

UPDATE : My brother Tod has some thoughts about this new rule, too, the one that forbids certain images and words like cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit, though he doesn’t use cock,
cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, shit,
and tit anywhere in his post (which is a word that, incidentally, is an acceptable alternative for cock)

The Metaphor Challenged

Some writers should be forbidden by law from using metaphors.  This example of a felony metaphor abuse was perpetrated in today’s New York Times by Thomas Friedman, author of THE EARTH IS FLAT.

Indeed, there is a huge famine breaking out all over India today, an incredible hunger. But it is not for food. It is a hunger for opportunity that  has been pent up like volcanic lava under four decades of socialism, and it’s now just bursting out with India’s young generation.

We Can’t All Be James Reasoner

Some writers (like the book-a-month man James Reasoner) can finish a book and, the very next day, start writing another one.  I need a week or two to decompress…but I always feel guilty about it. Apparently, I’m not the only one.  It seems even first-time novelists are afflicted with this sickness. HelenKay Dimon sold her first novel to Kensington last month and now…


It’s been more than 3 weeks – okay, it’s been 4 weeks…whatever motivation kept me writing almost daily through rejections and
while I learned some sense of craft disappeared in a giant poof of
nothing the first week of May.

So, it’s time to start over.  Time for new goals.  Time to … concentrate on writing and, you know, all those things
that helped to get me published in the first place.  One might call
this the quest to find my lost motivation.  I call it what must happen
starting this evening.  It’s time.  It’s past time.  Next project…..

I feel for her, I really do. She’s being so hard on herself…and for what? Taking a short writing vacation.

It’s okay to take a little time off from writing, to bask in the glow of the finished project, to relax and regain your creative strength before embarking on the next book. At least that’s what I always tell myself  while, at the same time, feeling like a lazy ass bum for not writing.

Tod on Self-Publishing

My brother Tod has used the letter posted here today from iUniverse CEO Susan Driscoll as a  starting point for his ruminations on self-publishing.

Publication is not a birthright. If you are being rejected by every agent and
publisher in the land, save for those who want you to pay them for your work,
it’s time to take a hard look at what you’ve created. Art for art’s sake is
fine, but if this is the career path you choose, at some point you have to ask if what you’re creating is, indeed,  marketable.

iUniverse CEO Speaks

I received the email below from Susan Driscoll, CEO of iUniverse.   It is presented here unedited. She has also kindly offered to let me interview her for a Q&A to be posted here in the future. If you have any questions you would like me to ask her (in addition to whatever occurs to me), please share them in the "Comments" to this post. Thanks!

Dear Lee,

I’ve been reading your recent postings regarding iUniverse. Having lived on both sides of the publishing
world-from my experience in traditional publishing and now as CEO of a self-publishing service provider-I have a unique perspective on the publishing business.

One very important correction to your recent posting (and I know that others have pointed this out): the number of iUniverse Star titles is 83 but the number of titles that have sold over 500
copies is many thousands. To qualify for the iUniverse Star program, authors must have sold 500 copies of their book, at least 50% of those through retail channels. If authors are committed to marketing their books and feel that the Star Program will help them enhance those marketing plans and increase book sales, they then apply. When considering titles, we ask
the same key questions that every editor and traditional publisher asks. Is it good? Will it sell? But beyond that we only select the titles that we feel will benefit from the advantages of being in the program. You can see that there are many criteria-promising levels of retail sales, the author application and commitment, and careful consideration by the Star Review Board. That means that there are far fewer books  that reach Star than that sell 500 copies.

The reality of ALL publishing today is that authors are expected to be aggressively involved in marketing.
Traditional publishers will rarely pick up a non-fiction author who doesn’t have
a "platform," and new fiction titles have to be exceptional to even be
considered. By helping authors to self-publish their books, iUniverse gives them
a way to begin building a platform and honing their writing skills. The majority
of authors soon decide that they don’t want to play the marketing game and
that’s fine–they still have the enormous satisfaction of seeing their book in
print. Those authors won’t likely ever get a traditional book contract nor will
many care. It might sound corny, but
there are few accomplishments as great as writing a book and seeing it

Read more

What I’ve Been Reading

I haven’t been reading as much as I would like lately because I’ve been too busy writing, but I have managed to squeeze in a few books…

044914836x01_sclzzzzzzz_I devoured Ed Gorman’s WOLF MOON in one sitting. I really enjoyed it. The book came out a few years ago and it’s unlike any western I’ve read before.  Think of it as western noir, with an emphasis on noir, though you wouldn’t know that from the standard "western" cover and "frontier" font.  Sure, it takes place in the west and has all the expected genre trappings…but it’s the kind of tale Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, Dan J. Marlowe, Wade Miller, Vin Packer and Charles Willeford like to tell. Dark and violent. Grim and doomed. It’s about a bank robber who gets double-crossed, goes to prison, and seeks revenge. Sounds pretty standard but trust me, it isn’t. The hero of this book is an original…a guy who is literally rabid with revenge. I can’t help but wonder how the book
would have fared, and the attention it might have garnered, if it was marketed as a weird twist on a dark crime tale instead of western.

I also read Meg Wolitzer’s THE POSITION, about a couple of sex educators and the impact their JOY OF SEX-esque book has on their children.  The book was well-written, clever, funny and insightful and yet, as a whole, unsatisfying and disappointing. I kept waiting for the story to start and it never did. I kept waiting to get involved and I never did. It’s basically a series of loosely connected vignettes without any real narrative drive. 

Which brings me to Susanna Clarke’s JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL. I’m mid-way through it (pg 390) and so far I am loving it. I find myself so involved in the book that  I tote that damn thing with me everywhere (which is no small feat…the book is nearly 800 pages and I have a bum arm) and find any excuse at all to read. I’m sure a thousand folks have said this before me, but I’ll say it again… the book is basically HARRY POTTER for grown-ups. I hope the next 390 pages are as satisfying as the first!

Authors Guild Investigation into Agent Nancy Ellis

I received this email today:

Last October, we alerted members that literary agent Nancy Ellis
(also known as Nancy Ellis-Bell) , formerly an agent in Litwest Group, had
settled a suit brought against her by Authors Guild member Raymond Barnett. Mr.
Barnett’s suit alleged that Ellis had failed to remit to him any of a $7,500
advance payment she’d received from Tarcher/Penguin on his behalf in December

We have now learned of a new judgment against Ellis, filed on April
26 in Mendocino County, California, for the wrongful retention of $19,000 of one
of her client’s funds.  In addition, several other current and former clients of
Ellis have recently contacted us claiming that she has withheld advance and
royalty payments owed to them.

of course, quite serious charges, and we’ve assigned an in-house lawyer to
review all aspects of this matter. If you’ve been a client of Nancy Ellis and
have not yet contacted us, we urge you to do so.  Please e-mail us at or phone (212) 563-5904 and ask for Michael Gross.

The Made Men of Mystery Fiction

There’s a phenomenon in mystery/thriller fiction… I call it "The Made Men." These are authors who wrote several terrific books…a string of career-making, break-out, wonderful books which have made them icons/leaders/celebrities in the genre…but have been writing  mediocre (or worse, far worse) books for the last few years. And yet, each new book from one of these authors is treated as if it’s another masterpiece, and the hyperbole used to describe the author and his work gets grander with each new release.

Are reviewers in a trance? Are readers under a spell? I don’t know. But I must be one of the few who didn’t get hypnotized. 

My theory is that for some special authors,  once you reach a certain status in sales and critical acclaim, from that point on you are untouchable. You are a genre "Made Man" (though this applies to female authors as well) and seemingly no matter what you write, you are held in the same high regard by critics and readers alike. I recently read the latest book by one of these authors and am dumbfounded that anybody could have ranked it as a masterpiece…or even particularly good. It certainly didn’t come close to matching his previous work (by the way, just because I say "his," don’t assume I am talking about a male author). So why all the praise? Made Man, that’s why.

Am I way off base?  Or am I simply a lousy judge of good writing? Or is it sour grapes on my part? Or am I on to something here? Your thoughts are welcome.

Whither the Book Tour?

17813888The LA Times devoted the front page of their Calendar section today to a feature on my friend Harley Jane Kozak and her book tour to support DATING IS MURDER. It’s great to see her getting some well-deserved publicity.  The article is about her, but the angle really seems to be whether a book tour  makes sense anymore for authors who aren’t mega-bestsellers.

There are fewer Kozaks — new writers hoping to stake out a readership — out on
the road these days. When they do tours, the trips tend to be shorter and closer
to where the author lives or where the book is set, hoping to play off local

"What we have learned is that if you are going to go out on
tour with basically an unknown author and set up a book-signing, chances are
you’ll have two to five people show up," says Justin Loeber, publicity director
for Simon & Schuster. "It’s just not very cost-effective."

The reporter followed Harley to several of her signings, including some in Houston.

Each morning, Kozak visits a handful of bookstores to meet the owners and
managers and sign copies of her books. In smaller ones, such as Houston’s Blue
Willow Bookshop, tucked between a tailor and a gift store in a neighborhood
strip mall 10 miles west of downtown, that means three hardcover copies of the
new book and four paperback copies of her first one…

…an evening reading and signing at Murder by the Book, where she is double-billed
with Randy Wayne White, author of the bestselling Doc Ford mysteries and former
"Out There" columnist for Outside magazine. Together they draw about 50 people,
and Kozak signs 34 books for 19 readers, many of whom tell her they came for
White but decided to buy her book too.

The question is whether the schlep to Houston was worth it.  Most likely, she wouldn’t have sold 34 books at Murder By The Book otherwise (and will now sell more since she signed stock), but when tabulating the costs of the trip (and time away from family and writing), was it worth it?  Did she gain anything in the long run by signing seven books at Blue Willow Bookshop?  I don’t know. But those are questions that authors, publishers and booksellers are asking themselves these days as it gets more and more expensive to send authors out on tour (or for authors to send themselves).