Potter E-books - Magical or Just Muggle Mischief?

Howdy Gang! Not going to lie, life is pretty swell in South Texas this time of year. Not too hot, never cold. Wild flowers seem to cover everything that isn't paved. Lots of rain too, which I couldn't say--well, the entirety of last year really. In fact, if you'd have been here just a few months ago you might be surprised to see anything growing at all. I know most of us locals are.

You see the entire place--I'm talking ALL of Texas, and it's a big dude--was burning up. Literally. In September, Bastrop County caught fire. Less than a one hour drive from my home some 34,000 acres burned, over a 77 square mile area. That's about three times the size of Manhattan Island. Well over 1,500 homes were destroyed. And that was just one (albeit the largest) of our fires last year. There were 27,000+ wild fires reported in the state in 2011. (Not a misprint, that's 27 with a K.)

Drought was to blame. It just didn't rain. None. For months and months and months. Then it got really hot. San Antonio had 57 days of 100 F or over temperatures in 2011 (I think our average is around 9 per year). The combined effect put us on the brink of becoming a burned out desert, and that's no overstatement. 

Now, less than a year later, my yard is green, the bugs are out and my roses are even blooming!

Just goes to show that the world keeps plowing ahead, never looking back. Nature doesn't care what happened last year, just give it some water and you'll see. 

I think Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is forcing the publishing industry to do the same.

The Harry Potter series is perhaps the most popular book franchise of all time. All told, well over 400 million copies have been sold worldwide. 8.3 million copies of the seventh (and final) book in the series were sold in the first 24 hours of its release (way back in 2007 ... yes, we're that old), making it the fastest selling book of all time. Suffice to say, they're kind of a big deal. (More details can be found here.) 

Fast forward to now...

Electronic books are a big deal and getting bigger by the month. In 2011, the e-book market generated just shy of $2 billion in the U.S., and that's projected to be somewhere north of $5 billion in five years. (More here.) That's just the U.S. mind you. With little provinces like China being relatively new passengers aboard the e-book express, who knows what kind of growth we'll see globally.

It's not a slam on paper publishing, it's just the digitization of the world we live in. It has happened to medical records, music, banking and everything else under the sun. Now it's happening to books. And it has been happening for a while now.

You can tell from our faces that Ron, Harry, Hermione and I think this is serious business.
So why then, is the most beloved book franchise of our time just now getting the digital treatment? Most of that has to do with the author. You see, when J.K. Rowling first published Potter in 1995 (now you feel REALLY old, right?), electronic rights weren't part of the negotiations. Her publisher didn't buy them, just the print (and audio and whatever else was standard for the time). Major oops. Not their fault, but major oops nonetheless.  

Trust me, if Bloomsburry/Scholastic had had the e-rights, we'd have had Kindle versions three years ago. Just too much money to be had. Instead, we waited. More than anything, it seems we had to wait for J.K. to get comfortable with the idea. (And she certainly didn't need the money right away, did she?) 

No, J.K. needed to embrace the idea of e-books. You can read an interview she did in June of last year HERE where she discusses the role of e-books in her life (the beauty of taking 50 books on vacation with no extra luggage, downloading stories on the go for her children, etc.) 

She also had to overcome her fear of piracy. She put on record many times that the idea of people being able to run wild with her property on the Internet was a primary objection to her books being digitized. An irony of sorts, because the Harry Potter books have been a hot item on the digital black market for years. Some have even theorized her reluctance to publish a legitimate digital copy has only exacerbated the issue. 

Lego Harry would use a forbidden curse on pirates. Don't let the smile fool you...
Whatever the case, the wait is over. As of this week, you can now download fully legal copies of all 7 books in all their digital glory for your Kindle, Nook, Kobo--well, anything really. By legal I mean you have to pay for them, of course. 

But the 'why' really isn't the important part. It's more about the 'how'. 

In a move straight out of the playbook titled, Oprah: Seven Ways to Dominate Everything You Touch - Billionaires Only Addition, J.K. created her own gigantic website, refused to sell her books on anything but her website, and essentially squeezed until the retail giants of the world agreed to play with her. Yes, you can go to Amazon and Barnes & Noble to purchase the Potter e-books, but they just route you around to her site.

Did I mention J.K. has the electronic rights and therefore keeps (according to estimates) 70-90% of every dime she makes? No subsidiary. No 15-30% cut for the author. No distributor cut. So when you purchase the $7.99 to $9.99 book (depending upon which book in the series you buy) through her Pottermore site, J.K.'s cash register rings to the tune of $6 - $9. Amazing! 

Can you imagine going to Amazon and saying, "Hey, I want you to advertise my books, but you can't distribute them or otherwise benefit. You just get to put my name up and have a link in your book store." And then imagine Amazon begging you for the opportunity. 

It's called ultimate power, and it's something very few of us will ever get to taste for ourselves outside of deciding if we want fries with our meals.    

But even if we don't wield the power of the Elder Wand, this turn of events holds the potential to change life for all kinds of authors. (Even the non-billionaires types.) I'd wager digital rights conversations between agents and publishers are getting more heated by the minute. 

And as I say, it doesn't just apply to the big dogs. After all, who knows what and how something becomes as popular as Harry Potter. We DO know J.K.'s rags to riches story (my thoughts). We DO know how very few people, in the beginning, thought the books would be successful, even on a small scale. Who's to say you're not next?

It's not just big news for publishers, either. This could be a moment where Amazon and other retailers are put on notice. Maybe they can't make all of the rules going forward, as so many Indie authors and traditional publishers are worried? 

Perhaps this proves that if an author gets big enough, they can hang their own shingle? And make no mistake, it's the big name authors that make the business go round, so when they talk others listen. Furthermore, I'll be surprised if more publishers don't start pushing direct e-book sales as a result of Pottermore. Most of the big publishers despise Amazon anyway, so why not ride J.K.'s coattails into a new era to table turning? 

And we won't even go to the, "if it succeeds" kind of talk. It's Harry Potter. It's going to generate millions PERIOD 

Also, don't be quick to think that no true Indie e-book author will ever be able to pull off that level of fame without the help of a big publisher and big advertising. 

There are John Locke's and Amanda Hocking's out there who've done loads more (already) on their own than anyone thought possible just a couple of years ago. I'm fairly convinced there will be many more millionaire authors who've never published traditionally as we move forward.

My questions for you: Is this a watershed moment in publishing? Or is this just an isolated case, never to be replicated by anyone else? (Mischief managed?) 

Do you think publishing is pretty much the same as it has always been? If it isn't, do you think it can/will return to that point? 


Does the Hunger Games Movie Make the Grade? (review, minimum spoilers)

Hey gang! Like 99.9% of the rest of the populace, I was able to catch the Hunger Games movie over the weekend. I wanted to give a quick 2 cents in case someone is in the .01%. Plus I thought some fans might want to gossip with me. : )

I've read all 3 books (a couple of times) to give you perspective on my expectations/experience going in. I'm a fan of the source material, and the review will come as such. I'll give a quick grade for each aspect of the movie listed below.

I've done my best to generalize, so the spoilery stuff should be minimal.


Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence): JL nailed it! She's distant, yet emotional. She's cautious and observant. She's tough as nails on the outside with a compassionate core. She's Katniss. GRADE - A+

Peeta (Josh Hutcherson): He really conveyed Peeta's compassionate resiliency. His relationship with Katniss is believable and heartfelt. Thought the character came off a touch more needy (sensitive?) than the Peeta in the books. Probably more to do with movie stuff (script, etc.) than his performance. Overall, excellent job. GRADE - A-

Gale (Liam Hemsworth): Didn't really have a big role in this one, but he was most definitely Gale. Confident, assertive and rugged. Unlike Peeta, I thought his was a pitch perfect translation of the character (again, much less screen time). Can't wait to see his increased presence in the future movies. Grade - A

President Snow (Donald Sutherland): Absolutely great. Stole every scene he was in. Just the right mix benign politician and evil dictator. Perfect casting, perfect performance. GRADE - A+

Effie (Elizabeth Banks): Another ringer performance. I hated her. I pitied her. I believed her. She WAS Effie Trinket in all of her awkward and vain glory. Grade - A+

Cinna (Lenny Kravitz): If I'm being completely honest, thought he was a little stiff. Kravitz definitely captures Cinna's compassion and his affinity for Katniss. But that's all he brought out. It was one layer of the character. Looking for a little more passion and confidence. In the book, Cinna really got Katniss' vulnerabilities better than anyone else. That really never came through for me in the performance. GRADE - B-

Haymitch (Woody Harrelson): Like Kravitz, I thought Harrelson's performance was solid, not perfect. Again, this might have more to do with movie stuff than the actual performance, but I was left thinking too highly of Haymitch, too soon in the movie. Haymitch (to say the least) isn't the most likable of fellows, and that doesn't change much throughout the books. You understand him better as Katniss does, but he never really feels like a champion good guy. He's an antagonistic motivator. We hate those people, even if we respect the heck out of hem. Harrelson was at best cranky, and at worst a loving uncle. And much more of the latter than I'd have liked. GRADE - C+


For most, a book to movie adaptation is made or broken with how successfully the theme or 'feel' of the book is translated to film. I'm pleased to say they mostly hit a home run with the Hunger Games movie. The liberties taken, or stuff they added for the film, were few and universally enhanced the story from a visual perspective. Omissions from the source story, while also infrequent, will stick out a bit more to the diehards. 

Most of the details left out were minor and simply muddled the finer aspects of character development and motivations.  Example 1: Katniss' expertise in botany (She's named after a plant. Hello?!) really isn't given much attention. As a result, an important scene late in the movie kind of loses its impact. Example 2: Katniss finding water in the book is a big deal. In the movie it's barely a footnote. 

A few minor things, but an otherwise outstanding job. GRADE - A


The movie really shined in this area (quite literally in some instances). The Capitol was splendiferous and cosmopolitan with its sparkling fountains, towering buildings and yawning streets. The Districts were dirty, compact and simple. And the games arena ... WOW! Exactly as I imagined it. So much so that I'm probably most excited for the second film just to see how they pull off the next arena.

The casting, as we've known for months, was pitch perfect. Gale = strong handsome jock. Peeta = artsy normal guy. Foxface = Fox faced girl. Snow = creepy beard face. After seeing the movie, the care given to the actors selected for the roles (in terms of appearance) really stands out. The costumes were crafted with equal care. Capital citizens were over the top (think Hollywood on steroids), the District folks were simple and downtrodden. 

It all combined to really put you in Panem. GRADE - A+


OK, this is going to be a mixed bag. The sound mix is awesome. Nature scenes make you feel like you're outside. City scenes sound like a city. You'll flinch and jump right on cue. As for the music and score ...

I've listened to the Hunger Games soundtrack. It's excellent. Lots of folkie goodness laced with modern nuance. Legendary producer T-Bone Burnet intended it to sound like 'country or folk music as it would be 200 years from now' and they nailed it. You won't hear much of it in the movie. I'm cool with that. I don't particularly care to hear Kid Cuti and Taylor Swift during intense movie moments.

That being said, the score was virtually nonexistent for me. Outside of a couple of memorable scenes late in the movie (and they ARE doozies!), I don't think there's another definable music moment in this film. A score can elevate a great movie to iconic status a la Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, ET, The Artist, etc. A missed opportunity, and ultimately the gist of my overall grade below. GRADE - B+ 


You can probably tell I really enjoyed the movie. Yet I think it falls just short of perfection. When I think of the best film-from-book adaptations I think of the first two Harry Potter movies, The Shawshank Redemption, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Babe, etc. The Hunger Games isn't quite on that level. 

In the end, the Hunger Games movie is a rare Spring bone thrown to us from Hollywood, and fans of the books and movie lovers alike shouldn't miss it. GRADE - A-

Have you seen it? Agree with my impressions? Let's hear your take!


A Writing Champ Knows How to Take a Punch

There are many truisms in life. Little nuggets of wisdom that almost universally endure the eroding waves of cause and effect. Basic principals that go un-scortched amid the persistent flames of action and reaction. It's yin and yang. It's up then down. It's "60% of the time, it works every time."

Here are two examples:

1) If you go to Disney World, you're going to have fun. Lots. 

2) If you write box competitively, you're going to get hit in the face. Lots.

"That's my gift. I let that negativity roll off me like water off a duck's back. If it's not positive, I didn't hear it. If you can overcome that, fights are easy." - George Foreman

Let's consider that C word for a moment. Being competitive doesn't necessarily mean you're out to win or conquer someone else. It just means you're in it for more than recreation. Even when it isn't fun or amusing, you'll keep trying. You'll try until you're proficient, even if you fail a bunch of times prior to that point. You'll keep going once you ARE proficient in an effort to snag the uncatchable: perfection.  

Being competitive is active, not passive. You don't wait for (or expect) something to simply happen, you strive to make it happen.

"A champion shows who he is by what he does when he's tested. When a person gets up and says 'I can still do it', he's a champion." - Evander Holyfield

The competitive stuff seems kind of painful, right? It is! In fact, I'd argue that if it isn't hurting, you aren't doing it right. Growing sucks, but it's necessary if you're going to realize your potential--in anything.

You'll never master walking without falling a bunch. No one rides a bike on the first try. The first day of a new workout routine is going to kick your butt, no matter how good of shape you're in. To be the main event means you've fought a BUNCH of undercards along the way.

Life, boxing and writing have this in common: resiliency and toughness are earned--both taking and giving--one punch at a time; success or failure comes with the final blow, not the first. 

"I'm scared every time I go into the ring, but it's how you handle it. What you have to do is plant your feet, bite down on your mouthpiece and say, 'Let's go.' " -Mike Tyson

As writers, what kinds of punches can we expect on our way to the title? I imagine it goes something like the following ...


This'll be the first real hit you take, probably when you've put your work out for public flogging for the first time. Could be a teaser/excerpt on your blog, could be the reading of a poem at your local coffee house--heck, it might be fan fiction you've posted on a Wizards of Warcraft site.

You'll mostly get the 'it was fun!' or 'good job!' kinds of feedback, but there'll be that one person (Crazy Grammar Lady-CGL) who mistakes your relatively frivolous effort for something more serious. CGL will point out a misspelled word (or six), an egregious run-on or maybe your sixth-grade understanding of the proper usage of there, their and they're. 

What does it matter? Everyone knows CGL is crazy and is as tactless as a tired two-year old. You'll pretend it's no big deal, but in your heart of hearts you thought it was pretty darn good or you would've never put it out there. 

So the punch lands. It hits you square in the nose. Your eyes water. Flinching, you check to make sure there's no blood. This is for real! This is the moment you become a serious writer or not. You'll either put your gloves up or deem the pain isn't worth it and call it quits. 

If you fight on, you'll come to recognize CGL as the first real writer you ever encountered...


You've landed a few jabs, taken a few jabs--you're really mixing it up now! You've joined a critique group of serious writers. After a few weeks of giving excellent feedback on other people's work, you submit your own. You've come to know these people personally, and you respect their talent. You'll graciously accept anything they have to tell you.

A few of them give you some soft jabs. "Keep at it!" "You have great descriptions!" You're feeling good. Then Larry "I've Been Published in a Magazine" Floyd Jr. steps into the ring. You playfully bob and weave as he steps to you. Suddenly he knocks your gloves down and nails you in the chops. POW!

Reading your dialogue is like eavesdropping at a robot cocktail party. Your use of adverbs is pathetically, abominably and relentlessly out of control. Your plot is so well hidden we're more likely to find Amelia Earhart first. On and on he goes until you're left staggered and dazed.  

You realize he's fighting to knock you out, not just to spar a few rounds. You'll consider going down to the mat and taking the ten count. Maybe you weren't cut out for this after all? 

After a few moments (days, weeks, months), your head clears and you get mad. You realize Larry was trying to bully you out of the ring. You didn't even take a proper swing back at him for Pete's sake! You fight on. After exchanging some real punches, you realize you're stronger than before. 

As it turns out, old Larry was toughening you up, not running you over. You'll probably thank him in the acknowledgements of your first book.


You think you're well-conditioned now. You've fought the local circuit to a standstill and it's time to step up a class. If you're going to be a title contender, you'll need to land a serious opponent after all. 

There's this agent whose blog you follow. She's perfect for the story you've been hammering away on for the past three years. She's even responded to a couple of your Tweets, so you're practically BFF. You know she'll love it so you stick your chin out and fire off the query ...

SMACK! Thirty minutes after you hit send, she catches you with a form letter rejection to the jaw. You fall back into the ropes, then to your knees. How could this happen? Three years of work shot to hell in thirty minutes! All the training in the world can't fix a glass jaw, you reason. It's the first time you've truly been knocked down and you're humiliated. No getting up from this one... 


You got back up when you realized all the great fighters get knocked down. You stayed in the fight and learned a few things about querying, writing and yourself along the way. You've developed a reputation as a hard-nosed brawler and you even landed an agent. You're experienced and polished. It's time for a shot at the title.

Your manuscript is on submission, and your agent is working hard in your corner. You've been trading blows. The judges love you. The fans are behind you. Rumor has it you've even caught the eye of a big shot editor at a big shot publishing house. If you can just last the round surely you'll win by decision.

BAM! Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was excitement, but you let your guard down a split second. The editor took a new job. They no longer want your story. Worse still, your agent decides he isn't the best fit for your work. Maybe you got the book out, but your first major review let you have it like a rented mule. Three months out, and you can't even find your book in the Amazon Marketplace. You're back at square one.

The uppercut set you up, the hook finished you off. You're down on the mat and you feel like you're staring through paper towel tubes. Someone is counting, but you aren't sure who. The world goes black. Cue the circling song birds.  


Muhammad Ali lost only 5 matches. Joe Lewis lost only 3. Sugar Ray Robinson (voted by ESPN as the greatest boxer of all time) lost only 19 over the course of 202 bouts and 25 years! Though their legacies would defy the logic, in the moment of defeat I'm sure each man felt like an utter and complete failure. The real fighters always do when they falter. It's not that competitors don't get discouraged, it's just that they don't quit.

I'm not suggesting writers have to be physically tough, although I sometimes think it might help keep the critics a little quieter. No, recent experience has just reminded me that we have to have the mentality of a boxer. We're going to get hit. It's going to hurt. We just have to decide if we're going to keep fighting.  



Just a quick note to say I'm back and thank you SO much for the thoughts and well-wishes. They were appreciated and tremendously uplifting in a down time.

I'll be back to posting this week and looking forward to catching up with you all.


Temporary Leave of Absence

Hey gang. Sad to report we've had a death in our family. Unless spammers show up to entertain you, the blog and Twitter will be silent for the next several days as I travel for the services and spend time with my family.

See you on the other side, hopefully under better circumstances.


Author Self-Promotion - Say It, Don't Spray It

I'm going to attempt to tackle something that might not win me many friends among my writing peers. Unfortunately, it's a topic that is proving irksome for me (and many others), and I've got something to say about it. It's unfortunate, cause when I've got something to say, I usually say it--even it it ticks people off. 

I've openly condemned author vs author crime on this blog. I say, let's love one another and save the venom and vitriol for the people who really deserve it: agents, editors and folks who leave us negative reviews on Goodreads... 


Seriously though, there's enough negativity and self-concious nonsense involved in writing as it is without us foisting it on each other like brussels sprouts on the plates of our worst enemies.

In the end, that's what prompted this post; I'm seeing some authors going after other authors, and it probably isn't necessary. Granted, I think the 'one rotten one spoils the bunch' idea is probably a valid concern. I just have a hard time believing authors are purposefully trying to destroy their own self-image, much less the self-image of all authordom. (Word? Didn't think so...)

So consider this an attempt at self-analysis, not an attack. That's how I feel, and I hope you'll take that into consideration when you read the following. I'm not calling anyone out or assigning blame, just making a point. (I hope.)

(Long post ... you've been warned.)

Self-Promoting Authors = The Hyena's of Social Media

Got your attention? Thought so. 

Not necessarily how I see it, but you need to understand that's how many, many people see it. Judging by what I've read on blogs of late, the author who spams Twitter with links to their books might as well be a vicious scavenger searching out--and killing--precious time as if it were defenseless and super cuddly lion cubs. 

Seems pretty harsh, right? Is it fair to roast someone for trying to make a living? We don't bitch about Apple and McDonald's every time an iPhone or McRib commercial airs ... OK, might be bad examples, but in their respective cases it's at least expected. 

They're businesses. They promote. Sometimes to the point I want to spoon out my own eyeballs, but it's their right.

Now let's look at the independent authors of the world. Shoot, let's go ahead and include 95% of the traditionally published authors in this discussion as well. Marketing budgets for the non-bestselling authors (see also - most of them) are notoriously small-to non-existent, so the burden of promotion rests on their shoulders nearly as heavy as it does that of the indies.

So, how then, do these authors differ from other businesses? I think most acknowledge they ARE small businesses unto themselves. Should they be expected to adhere to a different set of operating principals just because they don't have billion dollar budgets? After all, no one is being paid to do it for them, nor can they afford to promote via the accepted routes of television, billboards and Facebook ads. 

No, the typical author only has the free Internet marketing vehicles at their disposal (blogs, Facebook, Twitter and forums), and like most company cars, they're featureless and have limited uses. Still, it beats walking, right?

After giving the difficult situation some thought, I think this gets at the only real question to be asked: are authors treated/viewed differently than other business enterprises when it comes to promotion? 

Sadly, based purely on what I'm reading from bloggers and Twitter users, I think the answer is yes.

So we understand there is something of a discord between outcome and intention, now we have to answer the why. I attribute most of it to a simple misunderstanding of how people use social media.

Strictly wearing your author/writer hat, answer the following: Why did you start blogging? Why did you create a Facebook profile? Twitter? Goodreads? LinkedIN? 

If you're like many authors, you did it to get your name out there. To create an identity--a social reference point--for who you are as an artist. An advertisement for you, as it were. 

Yes, you also did it to network and connect with other writers. But when the truth serum jello shots come out, most of us will admit we did it primarily because it is widely recognized to be a necessary step toward becoming 'author'. 

Agents, writers and other book industry folks tell us it is expected, not recommended. So we listen and open up shop. Hoping all the while to amass enough attention to build that nebulous PLATFORM thing. I think most of us are on the same page here...

Now let's consider why real people (non-authors) join Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Readers do it to talk about books and authors they love. Families do it to stay connected with people they love. Friends do it to  to gossip about, spread political rhetoric to, and post questionable photos of people they know. (Note to self: get new friends.)  Basically, for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with author reasons.

I think a lot of authors simply fail to understand that most people don't use Twitter, Et al. to buy books. They use it to interact, to share and learn things about the world. Which leads me to ...


Great, we've spent years catching all of these followers and now we can't even tell 'em about the book we've (FINALLY) finished. Seems like a wasted opportunity, using these thousands (Dozens? Six?) of Facebook and Twitter contacts to share recipes and cat videos instead of spreading the word about our work, right? 

Yes and no. They probably aren't our followers because of the book/s we've published, and most certainly aren't following us for the book we told them we were going to publish six years ago that now lines the recycle bin. They follow us because we already know them, have interesting things to say, or they want to get to know us.

When it comes to social media, understand that your book is secondary, maybe even thirdary, (damn, another non-word!) to who YOU are. 

Does that mean you can't share good news? Absolutely not! When your book launches, you've got every reason in the world to celebrate and tell your followers. Have a blog tour and take that victory lap. If you get an epic, mega-awesome review, share it. 

Just don't share every review ... don't tell us six times a day that your book is available on Amazon ... make sure that blog tour doesn't extend beyond the six month birthday of your book ... don't alert us when you've lowered the price .15 cents ... well, you get it. 

"Like a gardner, I believe what goes down must come up." ~ Lynwood L. Giacomini

The key to effective promotion, I believe, is to let others do it for you. And, like farming, when promoting you should plant your seeds long before you expect to harvest. 

Start by asking: Contact followers privately, and respectfully ask if they'd be willing to help spread the word for whatever special event you're doing. (note: I did not say 'buy your book') Or better still, send out an open request for people to help and allow them to come to you. I ran a rare author/book promotion on my blog last week for two reasons: 1) The author asked for help on his blog, and 2) he is excellent at doing the next point.

Promote other authors without being asked: If you've read their book and enjoyed it, announce it to your followers as you would tell any friend about something you've enjoyed. Comment on the blog posts you love. Tweet that great blog post, even if you didn't write it (making sure you include the author in your tweet, etc.). 

You'll be shocked to see how others will work to promote you when you've done the same for them. 

Above all, remember: Suggestions and advice mean so much more when they come from someone you know well. Believe it or not, a friend telling me a book is great is worth so much more than actually having the person who wrote the book tell me it's great.

Though it sounds counter intuitive, spend your energy Online getting to know people, not promoting your work. With time, those people will come to know you--and by extension--the things that are important to you.