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A Sinkful of Blood

Years ago, I read–listened to, rather–It’s Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong’s memoir.  The book chronicled his struggle with cancer, his subsequent recovery, and the winning of his first Tour de France victory.  I have by now forgotten most details from the book, except for one particularly gory and memorable scene.

Armstrong had been hurting for a while, his body issuing miscellaneous warning signs.  But like most young men, and I would imagine, especially like most young athletes in superb conditioning trained to withstand tremendous amount of pain and discomfort in the pursuit of glory, he ignored his symptoms.  And ignored them.  And ignored them.

Until one day he threw up a sinkful of blood.

If you are sufficiently plugged into the romance world, you already know that it’s been an eye-popping, jaw-dropping couple of days.  Harlequin’s announcement of the self-publishing (or is it vanity publishing) venture it has branded, the riveting threads at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, and RWA’s swift and dramatic rescission of Harlequin’s status as a RWA-recognized publisher this evening.

In a way, you can say that I have no dog in this fight.  Harlequin is not my publisher.  My personal eligibility status at RWA will not change.  And as I am so freaking slow writing for even one publisher, I really have not been eyeing anyone else in the business for potential contracts.

And yet I found myself on the phone this evening–a rare thing as I’m almost never on the phone–groaning together with my friend, who does write for Harlequin, among other publishers.  Her inbox has been inundated with hundreds of emails from the Harlequin author loops to which she belongs–and she gets her mail in digest form.

Afterwards I tried to explain the whole thing to His Hawtness, not just the facts of it, but why I was on the phone groaning.  And it was difficult.  The spouse is a very logical man.  He asked a series of very reasonable questions.  If there are already other vanity publishers, how does it make any difference that now there is another one?  If Harlequin Horizons tells people that they are paying for only possibilities, not concrete promised results, how does that hurt its current authors?  And how does anyone even know whether the venture would be a success, since the rates listed on the Harlequin Horizons website are, if not exorbitant, at least quite outside industry norms?

HIs Hawtness is not the only one asking such questions.  Jane of Dear Author, I believe, is also trying to nail down the exact source of the outpouring of discontent.  These two people have never clapped eyes on each other, but they have something in common: They have both long been aware of the decline and oncoming death of publishing as we currently know it.

We do too, we authors.  We see the unsustainable business model, the erosion of profits, and the stagnation of reading as a form of entertainment.  We prepare ourselves mentally for what news might come.  But we, in a sense, are Lance Armstrong: We are still ignoring the symptoms as much as we can.

Harlequin Horizon is that sinkful of blood that can no longer be ignored.  For me, it’s unease turning into anxiety.  For many other authors, I imagine it’s anxiety turning into near-panic.  How bad are things if Harlequin Enterprises, much envied and admired for its nimbleness, market penetration, and profitablity, not only turns to vanity publishing, but puts its vaunted brand name on the venture?

I understand business cycles.  I understand the changes often happen in bursts.  I even understand that Harlequin might NOT be pressured by its struggling parent company to produce maximum cash to help the entire conglomerate’s bottom line, but simply decided on its own to respond to a changing environment by trying something unprecedented.  But that does not alter the fact that the formation of Harlequin Horizons and the subsequent reactions to it together comprise the most visceral signal I have encountered thus far on just what kind of convulsive, likely cataclysmic changes there will be.

Let me make myself clear.  I am not saying that Harlequin Horizons will bring down publishing–far from it.  Publishing is already going down.  If publishing is the Titanic, then the current brouhaha surrounding HH is not the iceberg–not at all–but the scraping sound and the jolt that alert the passengers after the fact that something has gone awry.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happened.  Pandemonium.  First-class passengers got on the lifeboats while steerage passengers drowned.  And a lot of us authors, not to put too fine a point on it, are steerage passengers on the good ship Titanic.  What is going to happen to us now?

To me, that, more than anything else specifically about Harlequin Horizons as a venture, is the reason for the hundreds of email digests my friend is receiving from her fellow Harlequin authors.  It is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  It capstones all the worries and jitters that those of us who still have contracts have been experiencing–and fighting.

Of course, there is still hope.  To go back to the example at the beginning of this post, Lance Armstrong not only survived cancer, he went on to an astonishing athletic career, achieving more than he ever did before.  Who knows, maybe there will be a renaissance of reading.  Maybe the business will finally arrive at a sustainable, responsible, and profitable model.  Maybe we will in the end have less number of books published overall, but a far greater number of outstanding books.

But in the meanwhile, between that sinkful of blood and eventual glory, there were some awfully rough times for Armstrong.  And there will be in this industry for us.  No doubt about it now.

ETA: This post is very much influenced by Lynne Connolly’s post at The Good, The Bad, and The Unread, which I read last week.

Year-End Evaluation

Let’s take a look at the 2008 resolutions. Black is my comments from April, when I did a quarterly evaluation. Red is my end-of-year comments.

The Negative Goals

1) Have no tight deadlines

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. The recent copyedits saw me rushing to Fedex at 7:45 in the evening to make the 8pm deadline for overnighting. And to ship a measly 5 lb of paper cost me $59.95. Why for a few more dollars I could fly myself, along with the copyedits, from Austin to New York City.

Again, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought I’d do great with NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, since the book has such a strong central conflict whereas with DELICIOUS we were looking for the conflict with a flashlight and a GPS system. But turned out I couldn’t get a good grasp on how my H/H would interact with each other, the research was troublesome, there was an election going on which I followed obsessively, and the book just progressed SLOWLY.

I finally turned it in on Thanksgiving Day. And my editor sent it back. And I more or less rewrote 70% of it over three weeks. Third Christmas in a row my hair was on fire. And this time it was so bad I did not spend the holidays with my family, but stayed home alone to type from morning to night.

His Hawtness totally came through for me. This whole fall semester he’d been getting the kids ready in the morning, taking the junior kidlet to school and picking him up whenever his schedule allowed. And doing the laundry. And lots of the dishes.

I’m beyond grateful and more than a little ashamed. I’ve been awful at time management. So in 2009, only one resolution: Use my time properly.

2) Not write 1,000,000 words to get a 100,000-word novel

Haven’t written any 100,000-word new novel yet. Stay tuned.

With NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I probably wrote 150,000 words to get to an 80,000 word book. With DELICIOUS, it was 300,000 words for a 100,000 word book. So, an improvement. What can I say, my standards are not very high. :-)

3) Not be constantly behind on laundry, yard, and house cleaning

Gah! At the end of the copyedits, the abode resembled what my suburban, disney-fied imagination thinks of as a crack house. Kidlets were scrunching for socks in the laundry chute. And I just finally mowed the lawn yesterday morning, with some portion of the grass up to my knees.

With His Hawtness shouldering much of the work, and my mom pitching in all the time too, the house has been in not-too-awful shape. Good Housekeeping it ain’t, but livable.

4) Not exercise only when I have trouble fitting into my clothes

Haven’t had trouble fitting into my clothes. Have been forgetting to eat rather than eating too much. But what awful shape I’m in. Rode bike the other day to kidlet’s school because he forgot something at home. Half a mile, and I was about ready to dial 911. Must exercise more.

Have not exercised more, is all I have to say for myself. :-(

5) Not neglect this blog for months at a time

Gah again! If not an F at least a D. True there have been various updates in the past two months, but very little proper content. One reason is that all the contents have gone to other people–I guest-blogged at everybody and their great-aunt’s place during March. The experience was excellent, but my sluggish mind can only originate so many blog posts in a given time period. Guess whose blog got the shaft?

Looking a my list of posts, it doesn’t seem that I’ve neglected the blog terribly. But still there hasn’t been any serious content in a while, just miscellaneous updates. Will see if that can be ameliorated in the new year. Posts with themes, what an idea.

The Positive Goals

1) Spend so much time with Hubby that he runs away when he sees me next

He is still walking towards me whenever I see him. So must do better.

Honey if you are reading this, I love you tons! And the sexiest words a man can say to a woman in the English language are “You go write. I’ll take care of it.”

2) Get my bike repaired and serviced so that I never drive my car again for distances less than three miles, which should cover the grocery stores and the library and the most of the rest of my life when I’m not working my accounting job (which is 10 months out of 12).

Was all set to go Monday past, then it rained. And then the senior kidlet was sent home from school with a nasty bug and he’s been recuperating at home ever since. Will do next Monday.

Yep, did get bike fixed and did ride it. And then in the whole of fall I left my house three times. So stopped riding it. But then never drove the car either. :-)

3) Improve my grasp of the languages I already know.

Ummm…

Read French in Action nearly cover-to-cover when I was at my sister-in-law’s in Bangalore (she used to take French lessons). That counts.

4) Learn Spanish.

Maybe next year.

Maybe in retirement.

5) Make some money from writing. I made a grand total of $1,450 in 2007, from the Russian sale of Private Arrangements.

Well, what do you know? A goal accomplished! The delivery&acceptance check for Delicious came last month and surprised the heck out of me. I had totally forgotten that I was owed any money for it; I was just so happy that the book turned out right.

Nothing to add. :-)

6) To make 5) happen, I should sell 4 books on contract.

Sold two more historical romances to Bantam. And given the snail’s pace at which I write, I’m going to call this a goal accomplished too. Lots of people would lose sleep–not the least of which me–to know that I have more than that many books under contract. If I ever manage to write a book in under six months again, I’ll revisit this one.

Still writing at the speed of stoned snails. So again, nothing to add.

7) Have five foreign sales. I had three in 2007–Russia, Germany, Spain. Foreign rights sales are the awesome. Every one is like a little Christmas.

Sold French rights to PA in March. Not bad.

Sold both PA and D to Japan, which had me jumping up and down and sideways. And then a week later, sold both to Slovenia. Well, hello, Slovenia. So yes, that’s five foreign sales altogether. Goal accomplished!

8) Become a better person. I’m actually not a bad person at all, but there is always room for improvement. (And I wonder what it says about me that this resolution is way down on the list. Ha!)

Uhhh…no halo around my head yet, so still a work in progress.

Still a work in progress.

Actually, I don’t need to become a better person, I need to become a more attentive person. Because I’m pretty decent when I pay attention to what’s going on around me. :-)

9) Buy a pair of skinny jeans. By the time this happens no one will be wearing skinny jeans anymore. But I’m patient. I’ll hold on to them until they come back into vogue again.

I actually went out and tried on a pair. I looked stupid in them.

Nevermore.

10) Care enough to be upset when my resolutions languish from casual neglect. :-)

Casual neglect, check. Casual indifference, check. Nope, still same old me. Well, I did hate that the house got so messy while I was on deadline. So perhaps there is hope for me yet. :-)

In 2009 I will be royally peeved if I don’t follow through on my single resolution to use my time well. Every day during school hours I will write as if my hair is on fire, so that the rest of the time life is less crazy and His Hawtness doesn’t have to do so much.

And there will be a first draft of THE IDEAL GENTLEMAN in to my editor by the time NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is released. You heard it here first.

Would You Buy a Book from This Woman?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting Bettie Sharpe when she and her husband drove through Austin on their way to Dallas for a family reunion.

It is always an interesting experience meeting an author in person. I’m a huge fan of Bettie’s, who writes spectacularly badass heroines before whom the likes of us lesser mortals could only cower in fearful admiration–and sometimes just plain fear. If I’d only ever read Bettie’s fiction, my impression of her would be “awesome and badass.” But I’d also been reading her blog, so while the awesome part remained, the badass part has been, bit by bit, revised.

Well, she arrived in a cute little minivan–which held, among other things, a darling floral parasol and a large-brimmed straw hat pretty enough for the Ascot–and brought with her a polka-dot valise. And badass-ery is deader than Caesar, after Brutus was through with him.

(His Hawtness, looking over what I was writing, said, “Bettie? Badass? But she’s such a lady!”) :-)

So that made me think. I’ll be meeting people at RWA. RT is going to do a video interview with me in SF. And I’ll be meeting even more people when I go on the Levy/Meijer authors tour. What impressions will I shatter will I show up in person?

My guess, sophistication.

I like the idea of sophistication, of being devastatingly witty, and able to charm men and women alike with my worldly charisma. You know, kinda like this woman,


She looks very, very sophisticated. She looks like she’d know what to do with a pound of Beluga caviar when she flies on a Gulfstream G550 to Davos. Not sure that she necessarily looks like an author, but if someone tells me that she is one, I’d believe it.

But I don’t know that I’d buy a book from this woman.


In fact, you’d have a hard time convincing me I haven’t seen that girl waiting for the school bus. She looks like she still needs to finish her trig homework before she can sneak out to meet her boyfriend.

On top of not looking very sophisticated, I’m afraid I don’t sound very sophisticated either. Bettie Sharpe had this idea that I had an “expat-in-a-smoky-Parisian-cafe” voice, until she heard my voice on the phone for the first time. Then she turned to her husband and said that she’d bet I probably got whatever I wanted from people.

That was such an intriguing opinion that after she left I taped myself saying “Hi, my name is Sherry Thomas. I write historical romance.” Perfectly serious, harmless words, right? When I played back the tape, I sounded like an adolescent Minnie Mouse propositioning her sugar daddy.

So…you have been warned. Partially, that is. You must still throw in some general silliness and empty-headedness and a bit of occasional lewdness. And that would finally begin to approximate what I’m like in person.

And it’s like people say, don’t judge a book by its author. :-)