Arsenic or Lemonade — What’s your poison?

by Jordan Dane

Please give a big Murderati welcome to author Jordan Dane whose newest novel EVIL WITHOUT A FACE (Feb. 2009! That's this month, kiddos!) begins what promises to be another extraordinary series from this fine writer. 

See you next week,

Marolt2____Tight (full) If poured a tall glass of arsenic and a similar serving of lemonade, I would choose the lemonade. Even if the arsenic was in a really cool glass with a mint leaf and an umbrella, I would still choose the refreshing glass of lemonade — all bright yellow and cheery. With or without a straw. Call me an optimist, but that's the way I choose to look at the doom and gloom everyone has been posting about the fate of the book and of the publishing industry. I choose optimism, a positive attitude, and my writing because they're the only things I can control.

Now it's a very real thing that our economy is struggling in an unprecedented way and businesses are having a rough time in this recession/depression. Ultimately corporate decisions will be made and "you know what" will trickle down hill. (No, I'm not talking about Reagan's "trickle-down economics.") People are complaining about the death of the book for a number of reasons. There's less disposable income to buy books and no time to read when people are working two jobs. The new electronic formats will make the printed book obsolete. And one of my all time favorites, that our society prefers the mindless entertainment of reality TV and video games over reading. But every generation of authors has faced its share of naysayers for a different set of calamitous reasons — and the union of author and reader still carries on.

If the doom and gloom this time are so much more compelling and weightier, then why is it that people are still buying books?

Even when there are countless other forms of entertainment, the publishing industry still sees $1.375 billion dollars in estimated revenue for romance, $819 million for religion/inspirational. $700 million for science fiction/fantasy, $650 million for mystery, and $466 million for classic literary fiction. (Romance Writers of America provided statistics from third parties.)

And why is it that people are so willing to endure the abuses of countless rejections and lower pay to write, giving up more lucrative jobs to do it? And when aspiring writers find it hard to get published, why is it that they resort to self-publishing and are willing to pay for that privilege? How many times have you heard people tell you, "I want to write a book"?

For me, the answer is that story telling has been around for as long as man has been in existence and has retold stories on cave walls. The written word breaks down barriers of countries and cultures and allows human beings to share emotions and their life's experiences in a unique way. There is an undeniable bond between author and reader that is consummated when the book is read. (Picture reading under a single lamp and snuggled in bed with nothing but you and that author whispering words in your head — making a connection — and not in a creepy way.) The author's job means little if the reader doesn't become a part of the process. And no matter what form the written word takes — audio, electronic download, or some other future means — there will always be that magic when the reader and the author link their experience as one and the circle is complete, like a Vulcan "mind meld" between the two of them.

In the end, we can only control our writing. And making the best book possible is our best defense against a reading public that is evolving. We can choose to post and circulate links to negative articles about the future of the publishing industry and perpetuate the doomsday outlook or we can choose to visualize a better day and keep writing through this slump.

So what's your poison — arsenic or lemonade? I'd love to hear positive thoughts today. If politicians can spin positive tales, I say we fiction authors should be able to top them. What are some subtle indicators that the publishing industry might be on an upswing?

How about these gems?

*  A 9-year old got a six-figure movie deal off his book HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS.

*  Remember the memoir that wasn't? James Frey's book A MILLION LITTLE PIECES is being adapted into a movie. From goat to Hollywood cool, and I think I smell another book deal.

*  If Britney Spear's mom can ALMOST sell a book on parenting, doesn't that mean there's hope for ANY ONE?

*  Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. and Big Fish Games have teamed to create a series of Mystery Case Files books. In the summer of 2009, Big Fish Games will begin publishing interactive games inspired by Harlequin Presents, the popular romance novel series. The games will be sold online exclusively through Big Fish Games. (An interesting statistic I found — Harlequin sold a book every 4.1 seconds in 2008 and has sold 7.576 billion books since its inception.)

EVIL FINAL COVER Don't forget, EVIL WITHOUT A FACE comes out from Avon HarperCollins this month.

"This intense thriller establishes Dane as a diva of the flawed, baggage-laden but likable heroine. Jessica Beckett is a hard-boiled bounty hunter surrounded with a dazzingly imaginative supporting cast of characters. And Dane pulls out all the stops en route to the dramatic finale."  
                   — Publishers Weekly

24 thoughts on “Arsenic or Lemonade — What’s your poison?

  1. toni mcgee causey

    Hey Jordan, great to see you here!

    Positives — I think publishing companies are actively looking for ways to get more books in front of people, whether that’s through e-books, tie-ins, or unusual venues. They’re also experimenting with marketing ideas to see if they can reach out to a bigger group of people: free downloads of backlist to drive frontlist sales, repackaging books into another format, and as you mentioned, exploring the book-to-game potential.

  2. Alli

    Thanks for this positive post, Jordan. I’m a member of a critique group and the seven of us continue to write (and sell) and ignore the doomsday rumblings. We figure things will turn themselves around, and if they don’t, then we’ll adapt but will never give up writing or buying others’ books. For as long as there are people, there will always be story tellers.

  3. Allison Brennan

    Hi Jordan! My copies of EVIL WITHOUT A FACE were delivered by the guy in brown last week. Woo hoo! Welcome to Murderati I’m so glad you stopped by.

    I am a lemonade person, too. Always have been. Can someone be a realistic optimist? That’s me. It’s much healthy to focus on the positive truths than it is to focus on the negative truths.

  4. Betty Gordon

    Thanks to Jordan Dane for her comments. I, too, am an optismistic person who will always go for the good side of things without, hopefully, accusations that I have my head in the clouds.

    I went through the rejection period before getting published but these rejections only served to encourage me to write the best possible book possible.

    I see tremendous support at the present time for the independent book stores which continue to put new blood in our system in a different format from the chain stores. In addition, I am fortunate to be with a publisher (two women) who keep their thumbs on the pulse of the literary world and keep their writers informed. There can never be too much information for authors that we, in turn, can use to further the industry–not just ourselves personally.

    In hard or sad times, people tend to retreat into written worlds which transfer them to another life. If the connections between writers and readers are substantial, readers will be transported from their sadness into another realm whether it be the puzzle of the mystery, the amazing love story, life in another time period, etc.

    All in all, authors who continually spin the best stories possible and create substantial connections with readers will continue to be a ‘star’ with amazing tales. The format of the work continues to expand and even though it is convenient to have an electronic reader, I don’t think it will ever completely replace the emotional connection of holding a print book in one’s hands.

    Even though the face of publishing may change in various way, I think the future looks bright for good works in every format available as long as there are those who love the written word and continue to spread it among the public.

  5. Kathryn Lilley

    No positive indicators come to mind right now, Jordan. However I will stick with writing for the same reason as cited by George Bernard Shaw:

    “My main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably.”

  6. Jordan Dane

    Like many businesses today, the publishing industry is faced with reinventing itself and that can be daunting. Hence the game tie-in and movie deals that revitalize reading. And books like Twilight also stir up younger minds and encourage them to read, like Harry Potter did. Some of this should be encouraging news for all of us.

    But I also see the author’s role as staying the same–write the best story you can conjure. And I think we also need to push the envelope of our genres to find the next DaVinci Code or Harry Potter. It’s part of the challenge and the fun of writing.

    I write a very cross genre story myself because it’s the type of book I want to read. And it gives my publisher more bang for their buck in marketing it in more than one spot. When I first researched what type of book I wanted to write, I ultimately looked at my own shelves. I’m a voracious crime fiction reader. So instead of trying to fit into someone else’s trend, I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read. I figured that I am the market.

    Maybe this downturn in our economy will result in much needed changes–to ditch things that aren’t working or stream line processes. But in the mean time, it’s up to us to write, write and write some more. The written word is not dead. It’s the way we get it into people’s hands and minds that needs innovation.

  7. Jordan Dane

    The publishing industry is struggling to reinvent itself and that’s a daunting task. The game tie-in and movie deals that revitalize reading are positives. And books like TWILIGHT can also make reading important to younger readers who will grow into reading adults. It takes one trigger to capture the imagine of someone to make them a reader. For me, it was horses. As a kid I read anything I could on them.

    And I see the role of the author as remaining the same–to write the best story we can and to push the envelope on our genres. I write a cross genre story that mixes mystery, suspense/thriller with some romance and humor. I chose this kind of book because it was the kind I wanted to read. I’m an avid crime fiction author but I wanted that feel good and emotional story that romance brings. So my publisher now has the ability to market me on more than one shelf in the store, which is a better bang for the marketing buck.

    Our challenge is to write with passion and to believe in our work and try new things. In combination with our publishers, we can get ourselves out there. But this downturn in the economy may ultimately be a good thing to force companies to look at what’s not working, to streamline, and to reinvent and think out of the box.

    If we think positively–and takes this as a learning experience–we can turn this industry into something new for readers.

  8. pari

    Jordan,It’s great to have you here.

    Thanks for the sunshine today.

    Like you, I continue to write. I’m a yin -yang kind of gal — nothing is static.

  9. Jordan Dane

    Pari–There are so many ways we sabotage ourselves. Most of it stems from doubting ourselves. We are an insecure lot for the most part. I see it in myself. I can appear confident on some issues, but with my writing (something I care a great deal about), I am vulnerable and it’s a struggle at times. Robert Crais said that he writes in constant fear, but what gets him through the doubt is–he believes in the talent that got him published in the first place.

  10. Cornelia Read

    Jordan, what a great post! I’m with you and Robert Crais on feeling scared and vulnerable, but I’ve got to give this career my best shot because I love it, and because I am really terrible at being a waitress and a hotel chamber maid and just about every other kind of job I’ve had outside writing.

    Those by-genre stats are fascinating, by the way.

  11. Jordan Dane

    RWA maintain independent stats on their site and RWA is quoted often when it comes to industry sales. I like to think that romance is the new black. It goes with everything. And the cross genre novel can bring you a new revitalized audience too. For those wondering where the classic mystery market is, it may take revamping an old MS and infusing it with friction between a hero and heroine to make it seem fresh and new–and open up a whole new market. More lemonade?

  12. Silver James

    Hi, Jordan. I’m glad there’s lemonade because it seems a lot of people are choosing the arsenic – and arsenic doesn’t go with anything, not even old lace.

    I think there will be a shift in the publishing paradigm. Smaller, leaner publishers will challenge the behemoths. Ebooks will continue to make a dent and the ease of POD will keep printed books on people’s shelves. The days of big advances will dwindle but for a select few stars. The romance branch of the industry seems to be able to stay on top of things and when you compare the cost of a paperback book to a night out at the movies, or even renting a video, the book does have a better bang for the buck.

  13. Jordan Dane

    The price point for a paperback is a good thing to point out in this economy, Silver. I noticed that some authors are issuing their paperbacks sooner than normal after their hardcovers to capture both markets. Not a bad idea. And women readers make up a large part of the reading public so it makes sense to consider writing something with crossover appeal. Women love crime fiction too. I know I did before I sold. But I liked the added dimension of a man and woman in the mix–not necessarily a love affair.

    And it might be just me with my lemonade glasses on, but I noticed some few upbeat news at PW, talking about leaner shops and combining children’s dept that used to be separate. I like to hear things like this.

  14. Silver James

    I’m all about mixing things up, Jordan. Half the fun of a good mystery or crime novel is the frustration of the sexes having to deal with each other! Even if there’s no romance. I also believe cross-genre dressing is smart. My mysteries have romance, my romances have mysteries, and all of them have a touch of paranormal/fantasy.

    To be viable in a tight economy, a writer needs to appeal to as many readers (and that includes both sexes) as possible. Smart publishers will understand the trend and will hopefully seek out authors who can provide that broader appeal.

    BTW, sorry I’ll have to miss your interview on “Good Day Tulsa” tomorrow morning. I hope it goes great!

  15. Michelle Gagnon

    Hi Jordan! I’m doing my best to stay positive. I feel like there’s definitely a chicken little aspect to nearly every industry right now, but people are reading, after all escapism is a powerful thing. Although I have to confess, the fact that a 9 year old got a six figure movie deal makes me want to weep (and those ain’t tears of joy). Time to put my toddler to work, clearly.

  16. Michelle Gagnon

    Hi Jordan! I’m doing my best to stay positive. I feel like there’s definitely a chicken little aspect to nearly every industry right now, but people are reading, after all escapism is a powerful thing. Although I have to confess, the fact that a 9 year old got a six figure movie deal makes me want to weep (and those ain’t tears of joy). Time to put my toddler to work, clearly.

  17. Jordan Dane

    The one that makes me cry is Sarah Palin’s $11 Million deal that is being bantered around. But for all of these high profile deals, it’s the backbone of authors within a house who sustain it in the long run. Shareholders always want a steady growth. They’ll take the unreal spike in revenue, but they need that steady revenue stream too.

    Michelle–Can your toddler write? If so, find a niche. You and Britney Spear’s mom.

    And Silver–I like the way you think, woman!

  18. Jordan Dane

    BTW–I saw in PW that Reed Exhibitions has cancelled Book Expo Canada, the big trade show event. This happened in the oil & gas industry too. The big energy conferences shut down or cut costs. Every one in the publishing industry probably saw this coming. When they looked at their budgets,they had already made up their minds not to budget for booth space. Those are expensive and hard to track the benefits of having a presence there–especially when they can conduct business in other ways. Conferences are for dog and pony shows and entertaining clients. The real transactions occur outside the conference and could be done over the phone or via emails. It happened in the energy industry years ago. The publishing industry is catching up and even Reed has to make decisions on which events are best to support.

  19. Hank Phillippi Ryan

    People are afraid, and that colors everything they do. What looked one way two months ago–is suddenly different. That’s the danger of panic. And it’s contagious.

    I look up at the stars (yes, sappy, totally sappy)and I think, we’re so small. And the time we exist is so brief. And all we can do is try to do our best. And keep perspective.

    (Besides being an author, I’m also a TV reporter. Another industry where people are holding on by their raggedy fingernails and watching more pals get laid off every day.)

    But there will always be books, and people who write them and love them. And continuing the gooey sap-fest, places like this and blogs like this prove it.

  20. Michele Stegman

    Many of us have similar thoughts about the enconomy. Just remember that during the Great Depression movie ticket sales were greater than they are now! No matter how bad, people like entertainment. Which is better $8 for a two hour show or $8 for a book that can keep you entertained for several hours and which you can read over and over again?

  21. Jordan Dane

    Wow…I like your comments, Hank & Michele. Well said, sappy or not. And being an avid reader since I was a kid, I would choose a book over a movie anytime.

    With a book I can also explore my own experiences and memories that an author triggers. For a long while now, since I’ve started writing, I have limited my time at the movies, simply because I prefer to be in the worlds I create. The power to create something from scratch is still a marvel to me. And I’ve always appreciated the power of the written word.

  22. J.T. Ellison

    I’m definitely a lemonade drinker. In down times, readers want entertainment, and that means thrillers and romances. I’m lucky, I write thrillers and have mmpb originals, and that puts me in a good spot. But people will continue to read, writers will continue to write. Down markets come back. I don’t think it’s time to throw it all in just yet…

    Welcome to Murderati, Jordan. Great to have you here today!


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