Fish

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moved Again

This time for the last time. My blog is now back at http://susanlandissteward.wordpress.com
Please visit me there and subscribe. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Book is OUT!

My first book was part of the first Puddletown Publishing launch. Blind Leading the Blind is the first in a lesbian series about Erik(a), a defrocked detective, and Liz, a blind psychologist. It's mostly a mystery, but there is romance, a dog, even some discrete sex. It's also funny. I like neurotic characters, I am a neurotic character, and can't imagine writing about perfect people. (Even though Erik does believe, at times, that Liz is the World's Greatest Blind Lady. Don't worry, she's not. In fact, she can be a royal pain. Also features horses, Portland, snow, and did I mention sex?

Anyway, you can buy it from that carousel over there to the right (---->) for $4.99 at Amazon. As soon as B&N gets it's act together, you can get it for Nook. Also available at Smashwords.com in all sorts of formats..

Other books in the launch, also available -------> and at Smashwords are Kidnapping the Lorax by Pat Lichen (a real-life Greenpeace pirate) and Volunteer for Glory by Alice Lynn (a Civil War historical romance.) Sanna, Sorceress Apprentice, a middle grade/YA fantasy by Roxanna Matthews, is at Smashwords. Amazon is  having hiccups over it, but it should be there soon.

If you buy any of them, and I hope you do, please leave a review on Amazon or Smashwords. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Some Thoughts on Sex in YA

First, I want to say up front that I don't write YA. I don't read a lot of it either, except when I'm editing it for publication, but I do have a 12-year-old granddaughter who reads voraciously, and she has a 30-year-old mother who reads right along with her.

On Christmas Day, my daughter called me all a-flutter. Her husband, the dashing Army Pilot, had ventured into the local B&N to buy the GrandGirl a vampire book. I know New York says vampires are so last year. Well, they clearly don't know their market. It was the only book GrandGirl got this year, and she immediately started reading it. A few pages in, she started asking some questions that raised  eyebrows among the adults. A few pages later, the book was taken away and marked for return to B&N. Why? Sex. Inappropriate sex.

As in references to c&*k s*cking in the school hallways. Did I just shock you? I hope so.  It was worse than that but I'm not going there. My granddaughter is 12 and her mother is pregnant. GrandGirl knows how babies are made. But she is way too young to be exposed to that sort of explicit sexuality.  Now, my daughter is no prude. She and her husband, then boyfriend, had GrandGirl when they were 16 and 18 respectively. She knows that teens have sex, I know that two of my daughters were sexually active in the later years of high school. I got them the contraceptives myself. But come on folks, explicit sex in YA?

YA spans a huge developmental range, from 12 to 18, or 14 to 21, or even 12 to 25 as some are now saying. But a 12-year-old is vastly different than an 18-year-old, or even than a 15 or 16-year-old.  How do I know this? Well I was one, and I've raised a few, and I taught and worked in child welfare for a couple of decades. Trust me on this. My credentials are in order. Not to mention the fact that a lot of kids leave the YA section at 15 or 16 and move on to the adult books. So I'm assuming a lot of YA readers are in junior high or early high school.

Even so, YA authors battle back and forth on rating systems. Some call it censorship. I call it parenting. Yes, telling me what I can and can't read as an adult is censorship. Giving a parent of a minor a heads up about the contents of a book is not. Parents are supposed to protect their children from premature exposure to adult matters. One reason we took kids away from parents in child welfare was exposure to pornography. And the sections of the book in question I had read to me were definitely approaching porn.

I recently happened on a discussion of sex in YA and the question being batted around was whether or not it interrupted the story to have the teens practice safe sex or discuss the harsh realities of teen sex, like contraception, pregnancy, and STDs. Several of us, mostly grandmothers or mothers of teens, weighed in on why this discussion was even happening. Safe sex for teens is a no-brainer. The bigger question is why explicit sex at all?

J.K. Rowling made a fortune with a series with no sex. According to my daughter, Stephanie Meyer's books don't have graphic and explicit sex. I'm almost 60 years and I'd rather not read a lot of sex scenes. (Well, a good lesbian mystery is okay, but I still don't want page after page of sex.) I want it used appropriately, to move the story along. The story is important. Gratuitous sex is unneeded.

As a publisher, my business partner and I have decided to bypass the debate. Our books will be rated. For sex, language, and violence. We want parents to make informed decisions for their younger teens. We will have books that are for everyone and others will be marked MT for mature teens.

We're not prudes. We understand teens, we were teens. I, at least, was a sexually active teen. (I don't know about my partner as it's none of my business). I have an active sex life, I swear like a sailor, and I love a good RPG with lots of things to kill. But kids are prematurely sexualized in our society already.

As a child welfare worker, I took more than one baby away from a teen mom who wasn't ready to parent. I worked with women in their early 20s who had already had five or six babies removed. Permanently. Yes, there were other factors at work, but why do we as authors want to contribute to it? (For that matter, the number one factor was drug and alcohol abuse leading to neglect and abuse of children. If your book glorifies drugs or drinking, it may just be a contributing factor).

I'm not saying don't put sex in your YA book if it's important or moves the story along. I'm saying think about why you are doing it. If it's gratuitous, remember that some parents actually care about things like that. And if you do need it to move the story, don't make it graphic or explicit. If that's what you want to write, there's a whole genre called erotica out there.

My daughter returned the book to B&N, and made a big stink about it. She told her friends and the mothers of her daughter's friends. I passed the information along to my friends who still have kids at home. An author lost a lot of possible sales. My daughter also called her publisher mom and asked me to rate our books. Which we were going to do anyway. We may be trailblazers. But if the things I've seen in some YA books continue, we probably won't be the only ones.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Some Thoughts on Language and Diversity

We've been having some interesting discussions the past few days, here in Puddletown, centering on language and diversity. We've got a great book coming out, an historical romance set in the Civil War, and we've had to take a long look at what we will publish in terms of language. The words used in the book were common in their time. They were used appropriately. They were not used gratuitously. And Mark Twain used them in his work. Of course, he was writing in a different time.

I finally had to take a personal look at how I felt. My immediate family has African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, people of many faiths and no faith, extremely rich folks, and folks living on welfare. It's a very large family, a true microcosm of America, and I love them all. I don't want to hurt any of them. I want every one of them to be able to read any of Puddletown's books without being offended by language. 

So we have decided that our books must not contain words referring to any ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation that would offend a member of that group. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, I'm a lesbian, writing for other lesbians. I can use words that non-lesbians, writing for a non-lesbian audience can't. African Americans can use words I wouldn't presume to use. A Jewish person writing about the Holocaust can take liberties a Christian can't. 


Yes, it is political correctness. However, it's important to remember that political correctness has been co-opted by a segment of our society as a slur, much like the words "liberal" and "feminist" have been turned on their side and used to mean something they are not.


The idea of politically correct language came out of the early feminist movement as a way to make people aware of the ways language can be used against people, particularly woman. But it's not just women who are hurt by language. Most of us probably belong to a group that is maligned through the use of words we'd rather not hear used against us. 

Just for myself, I am a woman, a lesbian, a liberal Christian, the granddaughter of a Jewish woman, and the grandmother of the Hispanic Wonder Babe. My other grandchildren are the whitest of the white, and Army brats to boot. I have several friends who are transexuals. My comadre y compadre are Hispanic. I have several African American nieces and nephews, and an Asian niece and grandniece. 

I'm sure if you think about it, you probably have friends or loved ones in some of those groups, or maybe in others. Please, as we write, let's remember that we are writing in the 21st century, and we know better.

An Interview With Susan Landis-Steward

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A. When I was four. I wrote poems which my father translated from hieroglyphs and stored in my grandmother's German Bible. One was about a star.
Q. Your grandmother was German?
A. Well, her Bible was. I assume she was. Her last name was Rugenstein. You do the math. My father also said she was Jewish. She was dead by the time I came along. But she married a Mennonite, and they raised their kids Lutheran. You figure it out. I gave up trying to understand my family a long time ago. That's probably another reason I write.
Q. So you just started a publishing company. What do you know about publishing?
A. More than you might think. I'm a few credits away from a Masters in Publishing. And I've been working in the industry for several years as an indexer. Oh, and I've had some stuff published. Besides, I chose great business partners.
Q. You write lesbian mysteries?
A. Yes.
Q. ?
A. You asked the question. I just answered it.
Q. Why lesbian mysteries?
A. Write what you know. I'm mysterious and lesbian. I'm also neurotic so my characters are neurotic. My mysteries are fairly autobiographical in many ways, but only those who really know me know which parts are me.
Q. Do you have a dog?
A. What kind of lesbian would I be if I didn't have a dog? My dog is a Jack Russell Terrier/English Springer Spaniel mix named Good Dog Gwyneth. She's a pound puppy. She thinks my partner is God. I am merely a door and can opener. Unless I'm going somewhere in the car. Then I become a temporary demiurge.
Q. Why do you use words like demiurge?
A. I have a Masters in Spiritual Traditions and Ethics. I seldom get to use those words.
Q. Are you some sort of religious freak?
A. Why, yes, I am. But not in the way most people think of it. I'm a JuBuEpiscoPagaTarian Universalist who reads the Qur'an for edification and studied for the Episcopal priesthood.
Q. You wanted to be a priest?
A. Until I realized I couldn't bear to spend another minute with my seminary  classmates, yes.  As a layperson, the Episcopal church had a hard time shutting me up. I liked that. Now I preach in the UU tradition sometimes.
Q. Do you talk about religion in your books?
A. Sometimes. In the second book in my Blind series, I introduce a  woman priest as a character. Write what you know again. I know a lot of women priests. Although I like nuns better.
Q. Nuns?
A. I fell in love with my partner because she wore nun shoes. I love nuns. When I found out she'd done time in a convent, I was hooked.
Q. So there are lesbian nuns?
A. Well, duh.
Q. One of your main characters is blind. Why?
A. As a person with a disability, I'm fascinated by the ways people with disabilities find ways to live normal lives, whatever that means. Since my disability is hidden, I figured a character with a visible disability would be easier to write.
Q. How long have you and your partner been together?
A. Depends who's doing the math but somewhere around 20 years.
Q. Math?
A. Yeah. I have a hard time remembering how old I am so I get the math wrong. I have to figure out how old the oldest kid is, and then remember which year she was born, and work from there. I get it wrong a lot.
Q. Kids?
A. And grandkids. I'm lesbian, not unplumbed. I've got three daughters, and almost four grandkids.
Q. Back to the math...
A. I can't figure out how my cell phone works either. It has a big red button that says "END CALL" but when I answer the phone my brain says "PUSH ME." I hang up on people a lot.
Q. About your brain...
A. Traumatic brain injury, October 9, 2002, during simple throat surgery. The brain injury would have been okay except for the three concussions in the years before. Cumulative effect. My brain finally gave out.
Q.  Huh?
A. I died. I did not see Jesus. I did not go toward the light. I caught a jump start from a passing surgeon, and an ancient Asian nurse scared me back to life by yelling, "BREATHE"  every time some alarm went off. For awhile, I was out of alignment, pulled to the left, had a weird kind of aphasia, used a cane to stay upright, and set things (usually things full of liquids) down on invisible tables. I also closed my eyes while driving.  I'm mostly okay now, though. Although, I did get fibromyalgia as a lovely parting gift.
Q. I'm glad your brain is better. What changed?
A. Knitting and spinning. I did a lot of both since I couldn't work. I made lots of yarn and lots of scarves, hats, and sweaters. Later I learned that using both hands at the same time knits new neural pathways. Since I needed some new ones, I just made them myself.
Q. Thanks. We'll do this again sometime.
A. Please send someone else to do the interview. Your questions suck.

Questions for you Blogger Experts

What is that gadget called that lets you show three other posts folks might like? I can't find it because I don't even know what to call it. Thanks.

Oh, and don't forget to follow the new, improved (I hope) Wiggle Room. Thanks

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

E-Books: What's In Them For Authors

Well, lots. Now, remember from last post, I'm not talking about self-publishing. I'm not dissing it, I just think that the writing community has to build credibility for e-books by making sure that only quality e-books get published. If you can do that yourself, great. If not, maybe you should look for some help. But first, why would you want to e-publish your book?

Let me give you numerous reasons why you may want to rethink traditional publishing:
  1. Traditional publishing has controlled the gate for too long. Very few new authors get published, and if they do, very few earn out their advances.
  2. Even if you get an advance, chances are it will be miniscule. And it can be years before you see the first royalty check. If your book doesn't get remaindered first.
  3. It takes a long time to find an agent, more time to make the rounds. If you're lucky enough to get a contract, you've got a long wait until your book gets published.
  4. Then you may get 5 or 6 percent as your royalty.
  5. Unless you are the next J.K. Rowling, you'll still have to do most if not all of your own marketing.
  6. Publishers used to be in the business of selling books to readers. Now they are in the business of selling books to bookstores. And even the mighty Powell's, with numerous floors covering a full city block, admits that they're making their money on tchotchkes rather than books. With fewer bookstores, and more space going to cards, journals, games, toys, and other non-book items in the ones that remain, your chances of getting on the shelves, or staying there for any length of time, are getting slimmer and slimmer.

Now, a new model of e-publishing: (Disclaimer: I am co-founder of a company that works on this model. However, we're not taking submissions right now so I'm not soliciting books. You can follow us on Facebook at Puddletown Publishing Group if you want to know when we open the doors to submissions again. But we're pretty busy right now so it may be a month or two.)
  1. E-books are the wave of the future. Even kids are getting in on the ride, and parents and teachers support this. Kids love gadgets. If it takes a gadget to get them to read, why not?
  2. Indie e-books are inexpensive. Since our overhead is low, we pass that on to the reader. While the Big Six have set roughly $9.99 as their low price, so as not to compete too much with the much more expensive trade paper version, indie e-book publishers can set their prices much lower and still make money. When we launch in March, our books in our initial catalog will all cost around $4.99 or less. That's one grande latte. People are more likely to buy a book for $5 than one at $10. And more likely to take a chance on a new author.
  3. Indie publishing royalties are higher. If you grant e-book rights to the Big Six, you'll get 17.5 percent and your agent gets a cut. If you grant them to us, or folks like us, you'll get a lot more. And here at Puddletown, our royalties go up with sales.
  4. You'll never get remaindered. If your book doesn't sell a kazillion copies the first month, nobody's going to ship it back to be recycled. It will stay for sale as long as you want.
  5. E-books have an indefinite shelf life. Once it's out there, it stays out there.
  6. Authors start making money sooner.  It takes us about two months to get a book to market. Compare that to the year or more it takes traditional dead-tree publishing.
  7. If you don't want to give up the dream, you don't have to. Puddletown, at least, buys e-rights and POD rights only.  We'll even give up POD rights if an author wants.
  8. We don't lock you into an exclusive contract. Our contract is for one book, for two years. If you want to try your luck elsewhere, we'll part friends.
  9. We know the importance of social networking to book sales, and we'll not only help you set up your own campaign, we'll do one for you off our platform. We have no front-, mid-, or back-list. Every book gets the same treatment. We realize that if you aren't making sales, we're not making money.
  10. E-book publishing is author-centric. We are in the business of making sure we all make money. Since our overhead is small and our time-frame is fast, we don't have to wonder what's going to be hot two years from now. Vampires hot right now? We can have that book out in a couple of months.  Alien swamp monsters the next big thing? We have an app for that.
  11. The Big Six seem to be wearing blinders and can only see the BIG books, the ones with generic appeal. So if you're quirky, or a bit odd, your book will probably never get sold traditionally.
  12. I write lesbian mysteries with a blind protagonist. My books will be marketed to the LGBT community and the blind community. The cool thing? For only a very small investment, we'll be able to produce books that can easily be converted for use on Braille readers and computers. And we'll also produce a recording. How many new authors get an audiobook right out of the box?
  13. I could go on and on. But the real hurdle we have to jump is the idea that an e-book is somehow not a real book and that being e-published is just not the same. Let me disabuse you of this right now.
  14. Yes, there are vanity presses posing as e-publishers. They want your money up front. Avoid these like the gimmick they are. Puddletown, and others like us, use the same system traditional publishers use. Even my book was sent anonymously to a reader who has never met me and never heard of me. She had to approve before I went any further. (She doesn't like one of my books...I'm going to have to do some serious rewriting if I want that one published.)
  15. Once we accept a book, we do substantive edits, copy edits, send it back for rewrites, and edit some more. Our reputation is on the line as well as our authors'. We won't publish dreck.  And, did you notice, we still didn't ask for any money?
  16. We also pay for your cover  and all the other aspects of design, including POD formatting if you want some print copies for your mother and the other Luddites in your life. The only cost you have to pay is for your copyright. $37. Because you want to own your own book, don't you? And you don't pay that to us. It goes to the government. BTW, did you notice this? Some publishers are trying to buy all your rights, including  your copyright, for exclusive rights to your sequels. That means they own your book.
  17. All we ask of our authors is that they participate in their own self-marketing, which we help them set up. They don't have to, but that's their loss. We don't know their social networks and connections. If they choose not to use them, then they don't make as many sales.
  18. Oh, and once we earn back our expenses, the royalties we pay start going up.

So do you want to spend years querying the Big Six, searching for an agent who may or may not do much to sell your book (and then takes 15 percent if it does sell), all for a measly 5 to 7 percent for a paperback or 17.5 percent for an e-book? Or do you want to publish within a short period of time and earn a whole lot more?

Your choice. And the choice of the future.

PS  We love bookstores and will be partnering with them to make sure they don't fail. We are under no illusion that everyone will want to read books electronically. Which is why all our books have the POD option.
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