September 28, 2008

Publishing Industry--Do or Die?

Publishing Industry--Do or Die?

By Dorinda Ohnstad

This blogging business is new to me. I have never written one, nor before my attempts to write this one had I even read one. My three teenage children wouldn’t be surprised; they know all too well that I barely know how to text message never-the-less know something about current communication venues such as MySpace and FaceBook. I certainly don’t know any of the texting acronyms that everyone else seems to take for granted. Any interpretation help in that regard would certainly be appreciated. My kids laughed at me when I thought that LOL meant lots of luck. Hey it fit and worked for me. I can tell you that they “laughed out loud” at that one. Nix on asking my kids for any further text abbreviations or acronyms for fear of looking like a complete Neanderthal.

By the way, what’s up with the LOL bit anyway? Why do I have to laugh out loud? Can’t I simply chuckle quietly to myself? Or what if what the sender has to say doesn’t make me want to laugh at all? Can anyone out there explain this to me in a way that someone older (notice I didn’t say old as I refuse to lump myself in that category, not yet anyway) like me will actually get it?

On top of the fact that blogging is a new adventure for me, this group blog is a new direction for our writers’ group. We’re late in the blogging game (these days it doesn’t take long to be late in the game) and we’re attempting to compete with the thousands of other blogs out there for your attention. Chances are I will fret over every word of this blog for days and have it fall on deaf ears. (Hmm, I wonder if that is even possible given these words are written not spoken.) But we authors have to write for the sheer pleasure of writing, and not for the published attention it might bring us, or we might never write at all.

Still, I hope that this elicits some response in someone other than my fellow K C Writers’ Group members who already have to put up with reading my writing on a regular basis. Besides, they know me personally and will have to look me in the eyes at our next meeting (translation: means they have to be nice to me), whereas all of you readers out there can throw your comments my way and have little concern that you will have to meet me in person. And if you do (hopefully at a book signing some day), you certainly don’t have to admit to it unless you want to.

The other day one of the members of our writers’ group, Sunny Frazier (author of “Fools Rush In”), passed on an interesting and timely New York Times Magazine article titled “The End” written by Boris Kachka and published September 14, 2008. In short, this article discusses the current publishing industry crisis and speculates at its potential demise. As an unpublished novelist wannabe, I found that to be a rather disconcerting prediction. If the publishing empire is going to fall, I would rather it wait until I’ve had my opportunity to grab the brass ring first. My own publishing desires aside, writers and avid readers alike should be very concerned about the doomsday message this article carried. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. (To view the article and posted comments online go to

According to the article the problems plaguing the industry are:

· Blockbuster strategies that have led to bidding wars and the payment of astronomical advances for manuscripts with potential for huge commercial success; many of which fail to live up to their expectations.

· The industry is struggling to figure out how to reach readers in light of the fact that traditional marketing (media, book reviews, and blurbs) is no longer effective.

· An archaic consignment system that results in publishers having to buy back books that aren’t sold by book outlets and having to shred them leading to waste and lost profits.

· The market for fiction is shrinking.

· The imminent loss of Oprah’s book club which has fueled book sales.

· Borders’ crisis could lead to the elimination of competition with Barnes & Nobles, which would lead to less leverage for publishers for placement in Barnes & Nobles.

· Big box outlets & Amazon account for almost 80% of the book sales market, and publishers fear that Amazon is moving toward controlling every facet of the industry and intends to edge out the publishers in the process.

· Some industry experts believe that the future of books sales is e-books, print on demand, online subscriptions and other alternatives to print books.

The burning question I had after reading this article was: What’s the best resolution for readers and authors alike? Like it or not, we all have to recognize that the world has changed drastically since the Gutenberg bible was first printed. Technology rules the world. Our youth are more comfortable with its use than we are and have more entertainment options than ever before as a result. For those of us middle-aged and up, growing up we didn’t have the entertainment options available today and books were the primary venue to wile our time away. In addition, youth today have more demands on their time (e.g. sports, school or other extra-curricular activities) and less free time to read even if they had the inclination. Fewer youth than ever are gaining a love for reading, and those that do are more likely to prefer an on-the-go friendly e-book reader to a paperback, and the rest will simply wait until it’s made into a movie and see it at the local theater.

Those of us who grew up loving the printed word have discovered that technology has provided us greater and easier access to a wider array of books through the convenience of shopping from home. Like it or not, Amazon has tapped into something big. I will admit to turning to Amazon to purchase books because I’m an extremely busy person and I can avoid a trip to the local mall, dealing with traffic, parking, etc. and get books I want delivered to my home. On top of that, I don’t have to worry about whether or not the book store will have the book I’m looking for. I’m not the only one who feels this way. I have a friend who is as ardent a reader as they come (she reads at least four books a week on average), who on a recent visit to San Francisco took her book wish list of 25 authors to both Borders and Barnes & Noble and came home with only 4 crossed off her list. She had hoped by going to bigger book stores in the big city she would have access to more books than she would find in the local Hanford book store, but that wasn’t the case. Of course, both stores said they would be happy to special order the books for her, but she pointed out to them that she could do the same herself online through Amazon, where she could not only find the books she was looking for, but find a used much-less-expensive alternative to buying a new one at the book store.

A key part of the publishing industry equation that wasn’t mentioned in the article is the access to the used book market in a way that has never happened before. In the past, you could buy used books only at a used bookseller’s store or the local library book sale, where it was hit and miss as to which books you could find. Now you can find what you’re looking for through Amazon with a click of the button and don’t have to dig through dusty books for hours hunting for that one book. In my early days, the only real organized used book market was the used text book market in and around any major University, but now even that is an online market too.

Bottom line is that today there are more options than ever for readers, while at the same time there appears to be fewer readers to market to. Technology has forever changed the market for books and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the evolution of the publishing industry. So what does that mean? I think that for the reader it will mean more options than ever before, which should be a good thing so long as it doesn’t diminish access to literature. I think that one way to ensure that access to literature isn’t unduly impacted by the ensuing change is to make sure that publishing houses survive to ensure competition within the industry. My suggestion is that publishers take a page from Amazon’s playbook. With more buyers turning to online purchases there is no reason that publishing houses can’t sell their books directly to the end buyer, and provide it through multiple formats, including e-versions and print-on-demand. In the end, I think that could be a good thing all around for authors. As the market shifted to looking to a few big commercial blockbusters it provided fewer opportunities for authors who didn’t fit the bill. Yet, we know that there is a market for more than just the Dan Brown’s of the world. Those avid readers out there, like my friend Victoria, crave more. If the publishing industry moves in a different more flexible direction it would provide more options than the expensive traditional print book options, which should be a good thing for reader, author and publisher alike.

So what do you think?


September 25, 2008


By Sunny Frazier

There are weeks devoted to a variety of causes, but September 27 to October 4 “celebrates” Banned Books Week. The festivities are brought to you by the American Library Association along with other bookish groups and is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
To prepare for the week-long event, order your BBW kits now. This includes three posters, a set of bookmarks, a list of banned books, and a button that announces “I Read Banned Books.”
What notorious books are we talking about? Anything by Mark Twain and Stephen King are suspect. Keep the Judy Blume books out of young hands. Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker (The Color Purple) made the list.
Throughout the 20th century, many books were challenged, yet escaped banning. Maybe you've read some of them: To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, The Sun Also Rises, Catch-22, Brave New World, Gone With the Wind, and Lord of the Rings. Shame on you! 420 books were added to the list last year. Harry Potter is at the top of the list.
So, who's trying to ban all these books? No finger pointing, please (although parents lead the pack). Who is fighting to keep these books on the shelf? People who believe in intellectual freedom and the right to read anything they darn well please.
I picked up this quote on the Banned Books Site from a former editor of the LA Times. Phil Kerby said “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.” Opps. Am I allowed to use the “S” word in a public newspaper?
When I was a junior at Lemoore High School, I got a chance to work in the library. While shelving books may not have been every teenager's dream job, I loved working in the stacks. One day I found a small shelf of books hidden in the room where damaged books were kept.
“Why is Madam Bovary back here?” I asked the librarian. “It looks fine. I'll put it back on the shelf.”
She stopped me. “We can't put it out,” she explained. “It might get in the wrong hands.”
This was news to me. I'd heard of the book, but I'd never seen a copy. I lived a pretty sheltered life. Still, I knew it was considered great literature. So, I did the logical thing. I asked if I could check it out.
She scrutinized me and apparently I passed muster. “You're mature enough to read it,” she said, and gave me the book. It was all rather cloak and dagger. I never even checked it out.
I tried hard to find the “dirty parts” and failed miserably. It was a tough read for a 16 year-old. Lots of French society and outdated manners. Okay, so Bovary had an affair. I understood the plot and found it boring. There was more going on in a Harlequin romance.
At about the same age, I read Fahrenheit 451. That happens to be the temperature that books burn. I guess that's one solution to ensure censorship. The other is to stop writers like me from exploring topics that make others uncomfortable. We have a knack, perhaps a drive, to write what we think. Take our pens and computers away. Refuse to publish our works. Perform a literary lobotomy on creativity.
Or, better yet, just close the book that offends you. Put it back on the shelf and simply walk away.

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September 20, 2008

Standing Under the Tree of Possibilities

Hi folks. I am Jackie Larson, the woman standing under the great big Myrtle tree. This is an unusual tree. You only see this particular brand of Myrtle in the Pacific Northwest, and in fact this picture was taken in Gold Beach, Oregon by my husband, Rick.
I titled this blog entry Standing Under the Tree of Possibilities, because that is what this tree is for me. In a sense I have been climbing this tree for the last six years. Ever sense I first attempting to visualize myself as an actual professional writer. My first climb on that tree wasn't when I first put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. I began writing in high school. No, it was by taking a seat at my first visit to Kings County Writers Support group in Hanford, CA.-my new home. I grabbed for my first branch when I handed five pages of "something" I wrote to June Rodriguez and she and the others in the group circa 2002, took it seriously. They enjoyed it and told me what I needed to do to improve
it. They spoke to me as if I was a writer. Being a writer was always my dream. There, it was my reality.
Soon after that first meeting, I brought in my baby, "Ironic Dance". It had been gestating in my brain since the summer before. No matter how much life tried to block its passage, it kept running its course through my veins. It took over my soul. But I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I knew I loved the little bugger with all my heart. But I felt its clinched fingers stretch the flesh of my technical know how. Critiquing by writers who had already been in the trenches and were in there now, helped me to see I wasn't a lost cause. I was a writer learning her craft. This is how it works. This is what we do. Six years later we are still doing it. Those of us who are published are still here sharing what they learned to be successful. But I see that every new book they start is full of fresh lessons to be learned. Every time, they are just beginning.
That Myrtle tree above is more than a representation of possibilities. It is part of a story in the making. Ironic Dance is not yet dancing off the shelves of bookstores, but it will be. I know this because its a good story and I tell it well. Because I am writing this novel even through the twists and turns of life. It is no longer five pages of tentative hopes, it is a manuscript in the works. It has a body now, it is a course not just running through my veins, but toward a publisher.
I and my husband travelled all the way to Gold Beach, Oregon so I could find that damn tree:) I knew I needed a tree that would be the gate-keeper to all sorts of fun and twisting realities, and by golly this is it. It was the first time I took my writing so seriously that I would travel to another state to "find" it.
Each of us has these moments. June and I shared one in San Fransisco at the RWA writers convention. I saw it change us both. There is a command to us now. We are about the business of writing. And while we were learning craft, we had a great time. Even gained fodder for great that cabbie...:)

September 17, 2008

More on Going to Conferences

I've always loved writer's conferences. These days I only go to those where I can give a workshop. But in the past I went to lots in order to learn. Even now, when I'm one of the presenters, I go to other workshops and still learn more.

One thing about the writing business is that things are constantly changing. Rules that were once thought to be unchanging have changed. Ways of querying and submitting manuscripts has greatly changed, with most publishing houses now wanting submissions sent electronically as attachments. (Always check each publisher's guidelines about this and do exactly what they ask.)

Tomorrow hubby and I are leaving for Taylorville IL and the Prose in the Park conference put on by Oak Tree Press. I'm giving two workshops. I know we'll have a great time because we're seeing a part of the country we've never been to before.

And of course, I must promote the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) conference which will be of particular help to anyone writing mysteries or anything about crime. But another plug is that we will have editors and at least one publisher and lots of opportunity for networking. Since it's in Las Vegas, it's one of the cheapest places for everyone to fly to. There is an early bird registration fee which runs out on September 30, so be sure to take advantage of that. All the information is at :


September 14, 2008

Take a Chance: Am I a Conference Groupie?

I am a recent convert to conferencing. Just this year I attended my first writing conference. Two in fact, the first one was a Mini Conference, a one day event that was held locally. I wanted to try it on for size and see what all the fuss was about. I’d been told by writer friends that going to a conference needed to be experienced by every writer. Until this year I was unable to afford the expense or the time to attend.
I was pleasantly surprised by the professional quality of the event and by the welcome I received as a visitor to their circle. It was well organized and a true learning experience. The speakers were professionals in the publishing and agent fields who were helpful and eager to share their knowledge with us. We were treated to a great catered lunch and small breaks to mingle with the other participants. This first taste of conferencing was a tasty appetizer for the main course.

A few months later I headed for San Francisco and the national conference for RWA (Romance Writers of America). Or just “The Nationals” for short. There was nothing small about this conference. Being held in one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world made it the perfect setting for a writer. And as a first timer I learned and experienced more then I ever thought possible. Over the next five days I learned quite a few things I hope to put to good use on my next conference trip.

· Go with a friend. I originally planed on going alone but my writing buddy (Jackie) was able to go with me. We were able to share all the ups and downs of being the new writers on the block.

· Make and take business cards with you. Check. But you need to remember to pass them out and not forget them in your hotel room.

· Go a day early. We did and it was worth it to be able to check out the host city without the worries of meetings or schedules.

· Take a fold up wheel bag. Thanks go to Sandy for this tip. It wasn’t until the second day that I truly understood how many free books I could conceivably come away with.

· Don’t stress over the workshop list. So many classes to choose from left our minds in a mess for the first two days. Then a wonderful thing happened. You too can buy the Conference C.D. for one amazing low price. This piece of advice brought the realization that we could attend the classes we felt we would get the most from and six weeks later when the C.D. arrives we could listen to all the classes we missed at our leisure.

· Introduce yourself and say hi. To everyone you meet. This is a difficult thing to do if you are an introvert but this is the best place in the word to practice. Say hi when you sit down in a class, standing in line at a book signing and to the people sharing your table at the luncheons. Many of these people will be first timers also and will be glad someone else said hi first.

· Take your camera with you everywhere you go. A photo opportunity is a terrible thing to waste. Yes I did forget it in the hotel room. Twice. Ask. Most of the authors and presenters are happy to pose for a photo with or without you in it. Most will ask you to email them a copy.

· Have fun. This should be a given. But it can be easy to lose site of this important goal under all the desire to step up your writing career. So just remember to take a deep breath and let it out slowly and look around you. Take in all the emotional electricity. Store it all away to be remembered and used another day.

I was so energized by the Conference and the City by the Bay that I can hardly wait for the next one. Plans are already being made.
The last best thing about going to the conference for me was five days of no laundry, no dishes, no cleaning, and no 9 to 5. No demands except from myself, no expectations except for myself and no responsibilities except to myself.

I’m looking for more tips to add to the list.
Give me your best shot.

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September 4, 2008

Bloggity Blog Blog Blog

Hi there, this is Amy one of the KC local poets. I am interested in modern poetry. I often try to find poetry in bizarre places, like in a poignant thought about a breakup, or about a car, or a particular way a puddle looks. I am fascinated about all the things in life that can become words or ideas for poetry. Having said that, I also understand that poetry is an incredibly difficult thing to define. Poetry often rides a fine line between prose, story telling, or just plain crap-o-la. Poetry is a lot like a picture in a gallery, one person’s child’s spaghetti art is another person’s $2000 painting on the wall.

My point is that it is difficult to define exactly what poetry is. This fact makes poetry very fun for me. One of the things I truly believe is that some rap (and hip-hop) music lyrics is the poetry of today’s youth. “Traditional” poetry isn’t something a lot of young people get excited about, but rap and hip-hop music often is something that young people can relate to.

My personal definition of poetry is when a writer creates words that are designed in such a way that they convey some important lesson, message, story, or an emotion in a literary and creative way. I consider rhyme, slant rhyme, repetition, enjambment, form, and meter to be one of many elements that can be evidence of poetry. I think that a lot of music, and in particular our modern rap/hip-hop music, has many of these elements. I think also that rappers have become some of the modern masters of slant rhyme. I know that the hypothesis that rappers are poets seems kind of like a off the wall idea, and my credibility may come into question due to my penchant for liking mid-nineties rap songs that date my adolescence to the time of the MC Hammer pant. I think everyone in my particular age group has songs like “Ice Ice Baby,” “Regulators,” and “California Love” on their iPod somewhere and they jam out to it every once in a while—even if they don’t admit it. As crazy as I may have been as a teenager, please take this blog as a serious scholarly debate.

I am a huge fan of California literature (and this is after all a blog centered around the theme of an area of California) so let’s use a California themed song as an example. Shortly, I will give you a few lines from the great rapper Tupac (who I don’t think is actually dead because he keeps coming out with records, but I digress). Here’s an excerpt from “California Love”

“It’s all good from Diego to the bay,
your city is bomb if your city makin pay
throw ya finger up if ya feel the same way
Dre puttin it down for the Californ-nah-yay

I believe that any decent rapper must become a proficient rhymer in order to succeed in his craft. Not only is Tupac a decent rhymer, but also he is skilled at slant rhyme. Rhyme is one of those tricky things that a lot of amateur poets and rappers think they have down. I in no way claim to be a good rhymer, and hence I avoid it in most of my writing. It takes skill to rhyme in a way that does not seem forced, one that makes words or lyrics flow in a natural way. An over-zealous rhymer can make my eyes bleed with their bad poetry, so in no way is it a pre-requsite for good poetry but I think that a good rhymer is one who shows evidence of potentially becoming a great poet.

Slant rhymes are rhymes that “almost” rhyme exactly with other rhyming words. I have found purposeful and well placed slant rhyme to be one of the elements of good rap lyrics—it’s a device they use in order to keep the beat or meter flowing. In the song, the word “California” is forced audibly as a slant rhyme. The word “California” pronounced the way Tupac pronounces it also rhymes with way, pay, and bay. Saying Californ-nah-yay also takes the 4 syllable word of “California” and transforms it into a 5 syllable word. If you also closely listen to the song, you will also find that the four lines that I quoted above are each 9 syllables long. Syllable count has to do with all types of traditional poetry, from the haiku to the sonnet, and Tupac purposefully used slant rhyme not only to rhyme, but make his syllable count flow in a metric and musical way.

Though rap lyrics may not have traditional poetic themes (often they have severely unpalatable themes), I do, however, find rappers to be quite the proficient artists in many literary devices that I commonly associate with poetry. I would go as far as to say that they are the modern poets of my time.

What do you think, dear reader? Were the thoughts of balloon pants too much of a distraction?

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September 3, 2008

PSWA Fall Newsletter

Don't want to infringe on your writing group, but thought some of you might be interested:

The fall issue of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) is now available on the website:

The website also contains information about the writing contest–be sure to read the article in the newsletter written by the contest chairperson–and the PSWA conference coming in July of 2009. There is an early-bird price break on the registration fee until September 30. I hope a lot of you will take advantage of this.

I’ve been a member of PSWA for over ten years and watched it evolve into an organization with great resources for anyone writing either fiction (mysteries, thrillers, etc.) or non-fiction about crime, law enforcement or any other public safety entity.

I’d be glad to answer questions about the conference or the organization either on list or off: