Monthly Archives: April 2011

No, I’m not blogging on the royal wedding

But I do want to revisit briefly the “outing” of high school English teacher Judy Buranich as the author Judy Mays.  I first wrote about this Wednesday afternoon when one of our authors sent me a link to the story and told me to check twitter because it was ablaze with outrage over how Buranich was being treated.  I joined a number of others in wondering exactly where along the line WNEP and its reporters and editors forgot the meaning of the words “ethics” and “journalistic integrity”.

Since then, I’m still shaking my head in wonder and applauding those students and former students and their parents who have come out in support of Ms. Buranich.  I also took the time to watch the video of the original story as well as the follow-up.

The original story opens with the newsreader sitting at the anchor desk.  Behind him on the screen is a cover from one of Mays’ novels with the graphic “Hot for Teacher” overlaid like a title.  When they cut to video, we see a group of four women sitting on a bench swing and a couple of chairs.  It’s the sort of scene you’d expect from middle America — all wholesome and good.  And then they start talking.  One of the mothers expresses her outrage that anyone would write “such stuff”.  She doesn’t read it you see.  So I guess that means no one else should either.  I almost fell out of my chair when she worried that her son might be sitting in class, wondering if Ms. Buranich is “looking at him a certain way?”  Okay, number one, that comes awfully close to saying Buranich is a pedophile.  My only response to that is a resounding “WTF?!?”

Another mother is concerned about doing what’s best for the “children in school right now.”  Of course, she conveniently forgets about the First Amendment.  She forgets about the fact that this teacher had done nothing to promote her books in the classroom.  There has been no allegation that she spoke with her students in, or out, of class about what she did away from school.  No, all that matters is that she writes novels these few women don’t approve of.

After outrage hit their facebook page, and what appeared to be —  at least to me and a number of others — an attempt to censor the negative responses, WNEP did a follow-up to the story.  No, it isn’t an apology, far from it.  But it does show a group of Ms.  Buranich’s supporters.  These include not only parents but former students.  According to the story, some 20 supporters turned out (and there are not more than 5,000 supporters on the Buranich/Mays facebook page).  I was impressed by what the former students had to say.  One of them commented that “everyone” has known about Ms. Buranich’s writing career for quite some time.  Another called her one of the best teachers in the district.   Still, the WNEP had to add its touch of salaciousness to the story  by continuing to use terms like “racy novelist”.  So much for even-handed reporting.

As far as I’m concerned, if Ms. Buranich didn’t promote her books in the classroom and didn’t do anything to violate her contract, then this is nothing more than a non-news item a station has used in the worst way to drum up ratings without giving a damn about how it impacts Buranich, her career or her students.

If you want to read more, or find out how you can best support Buranich, I recommend you check out S. V. Rowle’s blog here.

–Amanda

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It really must have been a slow news decade

I want to thank one of our authors, Taylor Lunsford, for first pointing me to the following.  It seems that if you live in certain parts of this country and dare teach our darling kids, you can’t have a private — and I do mean PRIVATE — life.

WNEP in Pennsylvania has, in my opinion, forgotten the difference between “news” and “witch hunt”.  In case you haven’t seen the articles and tweets flying across the internet, it seems that a 25 year veteran English teacher has another job some of the parents in her district don’t like.  She — gasp — writes erotic fiction.  Mind you, she does so under a pen name.  She doesn’t promote her work in her home town or anywhere near it, as far as I can tell.

Here is how the story on the WNEP site opens:  A series of racy romance novels by an author named Judy Mays are a little too racy for some parents in our area, especially now that they have discovered the woman known as Judy Mays is teaching their children.

Okay, I can see it raising a few eyebrows, but this hatchet job — first by some parents and then by the media — is uncalled for.  From what I can tell from the article, there had been no problems with the teacher until a parent started searching the internet for information.  Mind you, it looks like she was looking for information about the erotica author, not the teacher and just happened to put two plus two together.

The parent is worried about what her son will be thinking about as he sits in English class and knows his teacher writes erotica.  I have two questions.  The first is, why was she researching an author of erotica if it is so objectionable?  And what is her son going to think as he sits at the table knowing his mother was researching an erotica author?

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great post on the article and I recommend you check it out.  I’ll simply repeat what SB Sarah asked:  what makes this news?  It’s not.

As I said, the internet has been ablaze with this story and with people — including a number of the teacher’s former and current students — coming to her support.  Funny thing, if you go to WNEP’s facebook page, you won’t see those statements of support.  No, you have to go to the tab for “most recent”.  And, as you read some of the comments, it becomes clear that some comments have “disappeared”.  One commenter even suggests that the station maybe revisit the class on ethics.  I have to agree.

The reaction of these few parents who are, I’m sure, convinced they are protecting their children and community from an EVIL WRITER is exactly what I’d expect it would be if they’d found out ten years ago the teacher was J. K. Rowling.  This narrow-minded, vicious attack on a woman who has not, from what I can tell, done anything to call attention to her “side-job” is unconscionable.  Would they demand a man writing books filled with blood and gore decide if he wanted to be a teacher or a writer?  Doubt it.

One more question:  the article makes it clear the reporter — and I use that term loosely — contacted the school district superintendent.  But there is not, unless I missed it, any evidence to show they tried to contact the teacher…why am I not surprised?

This is a lesson for all of us.  If we are writing — or editing or publishing — anything our community, or members of it, might find objectionable, and that might impact our day jobs then do use a pen name.  But make sure you not only list a hometown far from where you actually live but also that you don’t have your actual picture available for download.  Because there is always a Mrs. Kravitz” in the neighborhood.

*For those of you young enough not to recognize the name, Gladys Kravitz was the nosy neighbor across the street on the old sitcom Bewitched.  She just knew there was something strange with that Stevens woman and was always trying to prove it.  Then she’d shout it to her husband, the neighborhood and the world.  However, Bewitched being a sitcom, it never ended badly for Samantha Stevens, the neighborhood witch.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a sitcom.

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Borders Security Breach and Book Country

Borders is once more in the news, this time because of a security breach that revealed the names and email addresses of some of their reward program customers.  Somehow, a marketing company created a searchable database that included information from the reward program.  Hopefully, Borders is right and “only” 150 or so customers were affected by this breach.  However, with their track record, I’m not sure I’m confident more customers weren’t exposed.  I guess what really concerns me is the fact that the first I heard of this was from this link, not from Borders itself.  As a reward customer, I’d expect the company to let me know of any possible exposure of my private data.  So far, I’ve seen nothing in my inbox from them– except, of course, for ads.

The same article by the Detroit News also notes that Borders needs an additional $50 million in financing to keep operating because some of its suppliers are demanding payment before delivery.  Without the additional funding, it only has enough capital to operate for another few months.  This from the company that keeps saying it plans to exit bankruptcy by August, even though it has yet to file an operating plan with the bankruptcy court.

I really do hope they can turn the company around and make a go of it.  But, unfortunately, I’m not seeing any real indication that they will be able to.  Hopefully, I’m wrong.

The big news in the publishing world came with the announcement that Penguin has a new venture — Book Country.  On the surface, this looks like a potentially very good thing for genre writers.  It is being billed as an online community where authors can post some or all of their work and get feed back.  In order to get feedback, you also have to give feedback.

I don’t have any real problem with that part of it.  That is pretty much standard for most legitimate online crit groups.  It’s also fair.  If an author wants critiques of his work, he should have to critique the work of others in the group in return.  No biggie and no surprise.

I even like the genre map.  I don’t love it simply because it is incomplete and I don’t necessarily agree with the placement of some of the genres.  But, as a visual aid, it is a good tool to help refine in your own mind where you own work falls.  I know that sometimes I have a hard time, especially when starting a new story or novel, figuring out exactly how to classify it.

However, I do have several concerns about this new venture.  The first is an old concern.  There are publishers who feel that posting a work-in-progress to a blog or even an online critique group constitutes publication.  It doesn’t matter how much of it you do.  Other publishers feel that if you post more than 1/4 – 1/3 of your work online to a group, that is publication.  The fact that Book Country will show up to 5,000 words (iirc) of any title posted without the reader having to register can cause trouble.  Are there procedures in place that might mitigate this concern?  Sure…but it is still a concern and something every author should keep in mind.

This is when I remind you that editors and agents do google authors’ names and titles when a submission comes across their desks.  I guarantee you, Book Country will be joined and checked as well.  So bear that in mind.

There was a time not too long ago when Harlequin was smacked, and smacked hard, by authors and professional groups alike for offering what was seen as a vanity press option for those unable to get their foot in the door at HQ.  Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America even delisted HQ for a time.  That vanity press option evolved into Carina Press.

So, when I read that Book Country “will offer a suite of self-publishing services that will offer e-book and print publication for a fee.,” my alarm bells went off.  Penguin, in the guise of Book Country, will let the author pay them to publish digitally or in print their book.  Stop right there.  The money should flow to the author, not away from him.  You can already publish your e-books for free at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, just to name a few.  Using Smashwords alone, if you invest in an ISBN and meet a few minimal requirements, you can be listed in more than half a dozen major e-book retailer sites.  Other than the $10 or so that the ISBN costs, you have as much exposure as you need — if you are willing to bust your butt on promotion.

For print books, CreateSpace works with and through Amazon to allow authors and small publishers to put out dead tree versions of their books — again, only for the cost of the ISBN.  Okay, for wider distribution, you can pay an additional $40.  But again, that is minimal.

According to the Publishers Weekly article, “Book Country offers writers a place to upload new works and receive feedback and criticism from a community of writers and readers; a place for agents and editors to look for new talent”.  (I have to say right now, I don’t know many agents or editors who have enough free time to spend it going through sites like this looking for “new talent”.)  Now contrast the above with this statement from Book Country’s Terms of UseYou understand that this Website is not an official or unofficial channel for the submission of unsolicited manuscripts for publishing consideration by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Not quite the same thing, is it?

But keep reading the terms of use.  Now, boilerplate is just that, boilerplate.  Its sole purpose is to protect the person or entity offering it.  But some are more imaginative than others.  Some aren’t as blatant as others either when it comes to calling attention to the so-called limitation of liability.  But not Penguin.  Oh no…they call your attention to it by putting that entire paragraph in all caps.  And, what it all boils down to is they don’t warrant or promise anything…you may receive emails from them loaded with viruses — too bad.  Basically, you aren’t happy or you don’t like the services or anything else that might happen, well, all you can do is stop using the site.

I hope Penguin decides to simply leave Book Country as an online community when it comes out of beta testing.  I’m all for anything that helps writers network with one another, especially genre writers.  But I do have concerns if they offer the pay to publish bit because, folks, that sounds an awful lot like vanity publishing to me.  Only time will tell…well, time and a full disclosure of their terms for the publishing end of the community.

–Amanda

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Quick reminder

. . . that we are still accepting submissions.  Deadline is 11:59 PM EST on the 30th of this month.  You can find out guidelines here.

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Borders execs to get bonuses

Last Friday I wrote about Borders wanting another $50 million in financing, even though it has yet to file a new operating/reorganization plan with the bankruptcy court.  Well, on the heels of that news came news that the bankruptcy court has approved a “modified” bonus plan for some of the bankrupt bookseller’s top execs.  Yes, the same company that couldn’t see the writing on the wall and act before being forced into bankruptcy is going to reward its executives for doing a good job.

Okay, to be fair, this is a smaller bonus package than the one originally requested by Borders.  Several execs are now left out of the plan and the bonuses are tied more closely to how much money the company saves and manages to pay back to its creditors.  Still, color me skeptical, especially since there is still no plan for future operations on file with the bankruptcy court — at least not one that I’m aware of.

Borders had argued such a plan was necessary to keep its senior executives on board during the reorganization.  According to this article in the Detroit News, some corporate employees had left — 47 according to the article.  These departures had created a “leadership crisis” Borders alleged.  I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a “leadership crisis” at Borders that led up to the bankruptcy filing and that losing some of the flotsam might not actually help.  However, that said, I do recognize the need of any company to maintain a viable executive workforce in order for the company to function on a daily basis.

Flash forward to this past Friday.  Saying the latest bonus plan is “in the best interest of the debtors, their estates and creditors,” bankruptcy court Judge Martin Glenn approved the plan.  For 10 lucky executives, the bonuses will range from 40% – 125% of their base salary.  The amount will depend on how much money is saved by the company as it tries to come out of bankruptcy.  For the lower bonus to kick in, the company must have at least $10 million in lease renegotiation savings.  For the higher bonuses to kick in, they must recover in excess of $95 million for their unsecured creditors.

It is important to note that the bankruptcy trustee still argued that the bonuses were premature.  Borders has been in bankruptcy only two months and has yet to file a reorganization plan with the court.  So, to me at least, it appears like a case of putting the cart before the horse and that, unfortunately, seems to be the same old operating model that put Borders in the precarious position it now finds itself in.

I’ll be honest, I have grave concerns about how they are going to reach the lease figures necessary to meet the bonus levels.  To begin with, Borders said not too long ago that it was looking at closing even more stores — stores that were not on its initial closure listings.  To date, it has closed approximately 1/3 of its stores.  There comes a point where there aren’t enough stores left to cover the debt.  And, as was noted in last week’s post, one of the reasons Borders is looking for another $50 million is because it isn’t making as much in sales at it expected and because — gasp — its suppliers are insisting on payment before turning over stock to them.

How do you increase sales when you are continually decreasing your sales outlets?  I know Borders says part of what they want to do is increase their e-book presence.  Well, so far, I’m not impressed.  I looked up approximately a dozen titles in their e-book store yesterday and not a one was available.  These were titles from major publishers and authors.  And they weren’t there.  It’s hard to be taken seriously as an e-tailer when you don’t have what your customers are looking for.

I’d feel a lot better about the judge’s ruling if we knew Borders had a clue yet about what got them where they are and about how to get out of this mess.  Unfortunately, we don’t and that is what the trustee was saying.  Is it time to give up on Borders?  Not yet.  But I do hope the publishers and other vendors supplying Borders with stock continue to protect themselves because I’m not optimistic about its chances for emerging from bankruptcy, much less that it will emerge from bankruptcy and thrive.

–Amanda

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Borders wants more & Royalties Revisited

What would a Friday be without the weekly (I know, sometimes daily and hourly) update on the Borders bankruptcy?

Bloomberg reported yesterday that Borders wants to find $50 million more in financing.  Mind you, this is in addition to the more than $500 million debtor-in-possession loan it has already secured.  The reason?  Because they aren’t selling as much as they’d forecast.  Gee, imagine that.  Have a bad business plan — oh wait, they haven’t filed their new business plan/restructuring plan with the bankruptcy court yet — and close a third of your stores and threaten the close of even more and your sales go down.  Who’d have thunk it?

Bitter?  You bet.  I love bookstores.  The Borders nearest to where I live is one of those closing, despite the fact the store was posting a profit.  Some very good folks have lost their jobs even as Borders was asking for permission to pay its executives millions in bonuses.  Sorry, I don’t believe in rewarding folks who aren’t getting the job done while punishing those who are.

Any way, there’s a lot of subtext in the Bloomberg article.  How much is true, I can’t say.  I expect a lot of it.  Unfortunately, I can’t even say I’m surprised.  This is a company that should have seen the writing on the wall more than two years ago and either didn’t or failed to do anything about it.  Now they want publishers and other suppliers to trust that they’ll pay their bills — after already proving before the bankruptcy filing that they won’t.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s time for them to prove they have a clue by filing their new business plan/reorganization plan instead of holding their hand out for more money while telling their creditors to bend over and trust them not to kick them in the rear again.

On another front, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a follow-up to her post about royalty statements.  I wrote about the original article earlier this week.  As I said then, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Rusch yet, but I have been following her blog for quite awhile now and I urge every writer and small press publisher/editor to do the same.

These two articles by Ms. Rusch point out problems I’ve heard about from writer friends for a long time.  No one has really rocked the boat because traditional publishing was the only game in town.  Now, however, with the advent of the Amazon KDP program as well as Barnes and Noble’s PubIt program, authors now have an alternative.  Throw in the growth of small press e-publishers and, well, the landscape is changing.

I won’t try to paraphrase what Ms. Rusch says in her articles.  Instead, I suggest you read them and the comments that follow.  Then, if you are traditionally published, check your royalty statements.  If you have access to your Bookscan numbers, look at them and compare them to what your statements say you sold.  Then, if you feel there is an under-reporting of your sales by your publisher, report it to your professional organizations and urge them to take action.

One last note.  Over at Mad Genius Club, there’s a writing prompt contest going on.  The winner will receive their choice of two titles from NRP, including Chris McMahon’s upcoming novella Flight of the Phoenix.  Go check it out.  You have until 0600 EST Sunday to get your entries in.

(Cross-posted to http://amandasgreen.wordpress.com/ )

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3 Cups of Tea, Kindle Lending Library and More

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes did a piece on the best selling book Three Cups of Tea.  Among the concerns raised were allegations that parts of the book were, at best, exaggerations of the author’s adventures in Afghanistan and, at worst, out right fabrications.  While 60 Minutes did not do a hatchet job on the book or the author, it raised enough eyebrows for the fall-out to begin.  The latest is news that Montana’s attorney general is going to be looking into the charity associated with the author, Greg Mortenson.

Also appearing this week is Jon Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit, an 80-something page “expose” detailing how “Greg Mortenson, humanitarian hero, lost his way”.  I am not endorsing this work as I have yet to read it, however, Krakauer was one of those interviewed by 60 Minutes who raised concerns about how monies from Mortenson’s charity are being used.

For more on this, check out my post from yesterday.

In other news, for all those Kindle owners who have moaned and groaned because you can’t borrow e-books from your library (most libraries use OverDrive which is mainly limited to EPUB format for e-books), there is good news.  Amazon has announced that it will be launching library lending with more than 11,000 libraries in the U. S. later this year.  You can read the press release here.   The really good news here is that this capability will be available for all versions of the Kindle.

Agent Rachelle Gardner has a great post today on “6 Thinks Writers Can Learn From Hemingway“.  For every writer out there, I recommend you take a look at Ms. Gardner’s list.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen posts from writers — usually new ones, but not always — say they don’t read other books in the genre they are writing in because, gasp, they don’t want to be contaminated by someone else’s style.  They are convinced what they have to say is unique and will be ruined if they see what else is happening in the genre.  Word of advice — read.  Read lots.  Read in your genre and in other genres as well.  Read non-fiction.  Research.  Read.

Finally, check out Sarah A. Hoyt’s post over a Mad Genius Club today.  This is another must-read for all authors.

–Amanda

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