Digital sales were up 33 percent at Hachette Book Group in 2013. Digital sales now represent 30 percent of the company’s overall business.
Overall, the company saw a 6 percent increase in revenues in 2013, coming off of a difficult year in 2012. In 2013, the company broke its own bestsellers record with 206 print and 84 eBook titles on the New York Times bestseller list, including 52 No. 1 bestsellers.
HBG’s releases for the year included: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling; The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks; Alex Cross, Run by James Patterson and David Ellis;David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell; The Hit by David Baldacci; and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
The publisher also announced that Mauro DiPreta will join the company, serving as Vice President and Publisher of Hachette Books, a new publishing division that launches this year. The new imprint will be built on Hyperion’s backlist which HBG acquired in 2013. The division will also publish new titles.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
A plot problem, or plot stall, or writing yourself into a corner, is when you're going along pretty good, writing your story, and you suddenly get stuck. You don't know what's going to happen next. Or the thing you wanted to have happen next doesn't seem to make sense anymore. The story was going along smoothly, now it's all awkward and bumpy and wrong. You will find yourself having to explain why characters are doing things they are doing, coming up with elaborate justifications for actions that you know in your gut are out of character. Hand waving things that really don't work. And then you may just hit a point where you can't go on.
It's not that you're lazy and you don't want to write, you're not blocked, it's that you know something is wrong and the plot path you are on doesn't work anymore. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't match the image of the story that is stored in the back of your brain somewhere. Whatever it's supposed to do, it's not doing it.
The reason a lot of writers and artists watch Project Runway is to listen to Tim Gunn's tutorials. He's been a teacher and a mentor to creative people for a long time, and a lot of what he says can apply to any artistic project. One of the things he will tell people is, to paraphrase, "you need to free yourself from this" where this is the thing you've worked yourself into a corner over. That means you need to step back from the flawed thing you have been trying to fix and mentally start over. Your basic idea is probably still good. But somewhere along the way you went off the track from it.
The longer the work, the more likely the plot problem doesn't originate at the point where the story-car slid off the road and your writing came to a halt. The plot may dead-end in chapter six when you realize this is just not working, but the groundwork for chapter six was actually set up in chapter two. Chapter Two is where your problem starts, not chapter six. You need to stop hammering at chapter six, trying to make it work, and think about how you got there.
Take a fresh file or sheet of paper and start outlining the plot so far, in simple declarative statements. "Janine wakes up, discovers someone has broken into the cargo hold of her airship." "Janine calls Esther for help, and they find footsteps and follow them out of the compound." etc.
Just outlining it like that may help jog something. Are Janine and the other characters taking the next most logical step to figure out their problem? Did they/you make an assumption somewhere that doesn't make sense? Is the solution too easy? Is the solution too complicated, because it's trying to fill in plot holes that shouldn't be there in the first place? Are you making the characters do what you would do rather than what they would do?
Maybe Janine should call the airship police, maybe that's really her next most logical step, maybe it's the natural thing for her character to do. If there isn't a reason she shouldn't do it, maybe she should. Maybe it will add a layer of complexity to the plot that will lead you to the next step, and open up more interesting possibilities.
(There's a bit in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night where Harriet is working on her book, dictating it to her secretary, and she is trying to write a scene where a guy, Wilfred, finds the murdered man's handkerchief in his girlfriend's room, and assumes she has it because she's the murderer. The scene just won't work, and finally the secretary says, "If that happened to me, I'd assume the laundry just made a mistake." Yeah, pretty much. Wilfred isn't going from A to B, he's going from A to M, and most of the readers are going to need a willful effort to follow him on that journey. It just doesn't make sense. Harriet solves this by going back to the beginning of the book and making Wilfred the kind of person who would naturally make the assumption, on very poor evidence, that his girlfriend is a murderer.)
If that doesn't help jog something, look at the individual plot elements. Are there any that make you, in your heart of hearts, go "blegh." Are you actually stalled because you're really thinking "I don't want to write this part because it's boring"? This isn't a report for work, it's fiction. If it bores you, it's going to bore your readers. Get rid of it and think up something better. Maybe you picked the easiest thing, the first thing you thought of, when you should have pushed yourself and picked something different, trickier, edgier. Maybe it shouldn't be Janine's airship, maybe it should be her sentient flying whale.
If that still doesn't work, try explaining your plot to someone in person or email. When you're thinking about a plot, telling it to yourself, you can unintentionally gloss over the tricky bits that don't work and they slip past. When you're trying to make another person understand what you're talking about, those tricky bits stand out like they're lit up with neon.
But basically the key is, for me anyway, to step back. If you're trying to get through a maze and you come to a dead end, you go back and look for the first wrong turn you took, you don't stand there pressing your body into a hedge trying to will the pathway to appear.
Fiction and non-fiction are different categories of storytelling — but in both cases the author has to decide what to tell and how to tell it, shaping the story so that it is a story, rather than just a leaden bundle of information. When researching the real-life information the would become The Girls of Atomic City, author Denise Kiernan found an interesting idea… now all she had to do was make a tale out of it. Here’s how she did it.
A story without conflict is like an inhibited lover. It just lies there. No matter how hard you try to get turned on, you lose interest. It can’t be over soon enough.
What attracts me as a writer to a particular story, what inspires that chemistry, is often—on the surface at least—unpredictable. Though there may not appear to be much rhyme or reason to my tastes, the one thing that always hooks me is that those tales keep me guessing. Their conversations grab me and I keep coming back to get to know them better, to keep turning their pages.
As a writer, sometimes it is just a look—photos, specifically. That’s what happened with my latest nonfiction book. I came across a vintage, black-and-white photo of some very young women operating some very odd-looking machines. The caption explained that many of these young women were recent high school graduates from rural Tennessee, and that they were enriching uranium for the first atomic bomb. The kicker: they had no idea that that was what they were doing.
Fantastic dramatic tension! I thought. You’re working on the most destructive weapon known to mankind and you have no idea until that very same weapon is revealed to the world? I dove in, and the story kept getting better. People were recruited from all over to live and work in a secret government city not found on any maps. They were highly trained to perform intricate tasks with no idea what larger purpose those tasks served. Better yet, if they asked too many questions, their stay living and working in this mysterious town was over in a hurry.
I was hooked by the Orwellian feel of it all. Looming billboards reminding everyone to keep their lips zipped. Undercover agents and citizen informants stealthily listening in on conversations in dorms and cafeterias. While I felt the story had all the hallmarks of an engaging novel, I figured that when truth seems stranger than fiction, why not stick with the truth?
This presented a couple of challenges. First, my subjects were in their eighties and nineties. If I was going to write a work of narrative nonfiction, I wanted the women’s experiences to move the story forward. I wanted to stay with their voices and their perspectives. While I was routinely amazed at the level of detail many of them recalled regarding events that had transpired so long ago, there were certainly gaps in everyone’s memories. In order to tell what I considered to be a complete story about the town of Oak Ridge during World War II, I had to use multiple women. There was an incredible amount of time-lining and Post-It shuffling going on all over my living room floor (no computer screen was big enough in the early stages) in order to piece it all together.
Another central challenge revolved around the book’s big idea: Only they didn’t know… I wanted to embrace the “not-knowingness” of those characters, which was going to provide the most juice, dramatically speaking. So while the reader knows the story is headed to the dropping of the world’s first atomic bombs, I still needed a way to let the main characters drive that story, even if they were essentially driving blindfolded.
I considered various approaches. Omitting the entire behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Manhattan Project officials and scientists kept my female leads in control, in a sense, but it risked leaving the reader too far behind. If he or she knew too little about the history of the Manhattan Project, the real stakes of that moment in history would be lost. Third-person omniscient seemed promising for a bit, but whenever I heard my inner voice beginning to say, Little did they know… I started to feel as though I was writing a cheesy movie trailer instead of a nonfiction book.
So I decided to take a hint from the Manhattan Project itself: I decided to compartmentalize. One of the ways the folks in the know kept a lid on the Manhattan Project was by keeping jobs, responsibilities and access to information as limited and as separate as possible. There were two worlds, really, one in which workers toiled away with little idea what they were working on and a much smaller, more exclusive world in which strings were pulled, strategies were devised and nuclear history was made.
I decided to create two worlds, too. I wrote interstitial chapters that took the readers out of the world of Oak Ridge and gave them a peek at what the was going on at the highest levels of the Manhattan Project. I deliberately kept my women, my characters, out of that world and those chapters. That separation reinforced one of the key strategic elements of the Manhattan Project, kept my characters in control of their piece of the puzzle, while helping the reader understand the larger stakes impacting my characters’ lives.
In the end, this freed up my characters to explore their own wartime dramas, ones I found were filled with the kinds of surprising twists and challenges that we all can relate to. They found loves and lost loved ones. They faced fears and forged unexpected friendships. They wondered what was going on around them, but put their heads down and got to work and I, in turn, got to work for them. They kept me hooked, and I was happy to let them take the lead.
• MI-11: Freedom's Defense Fund, a conservative group, is unleashing a new ad targeting attorney David Trott, who is challenging accidental Rep. Kerry Bentivolio in the GOP primary. The spot tells, in vivid detail, the story of Texana Hollis, a 101-year-old Detroit woman who was evicted from her home in 2011 and actually turned out into the street after her son failed to pay her mortgage. Hollis' possessions, says the announcer, were "thrown in the dumpster"—including her "life-saving medication." What does this all have to do with Trott? It was his eponymous law firm that foreclosed on Hollis.
Fortunately, thanks to a campaign led by writer Mitch Albom, Hollis was able to reclaim her home, which she'd lived in for 60 years. She died on New Year's Eve at the age of 103, but she most certainly hasn't been forgotten. It may be only be expedient that Trott's now getting ripped for what his firm did, but that's politics.
From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE…
The end of the beginning
My Obamacare sign-up story so far: first attempt last fall crashed and burned, second attempt in February got me one step from the end and then I got the dreaded "Error ID:500.300588" message. After trying every day or two to finish up, on February 27th I clicked the ENROLL button one more time and…
Congratulations!Now the next test: would the application I filled out at healthcare.gov make its way to my new insurance company (the non-profit Maine Community Health Options)? It was time to begin a "Billy vigil" under the front-door mail slot.
You've successfully completed all steps of your application. To activate your new coverage, you must pay your first month's premium by your plan's due date. Your plan will contact you in the next few days with details on how to pay, or visit your health plan online to make your payment now.
Writing the check for my first month of coverage wasn't too bad, with only a few do-overs due to screwing up the date, the amount, the payee's name and my signature. Plus the dog ate a few. Assuming the Post Office does its job, my payment will arrive on time and soon I'll get my official insurance card in the mail.
It's kinda strange getting insurance this way. I feel like I may actually have a smidgeon of power over my insurance company now. As long as I pay my premium each month (hundreds less than I would've had to pay pre-ACA) they have to cover me under the new federal rules. Big Insurance can no longer be the "Industry of No." They don’t get to shit on us anymore. No wonder Republicans keep trying to repeal it.
To be continued. Meanwhile Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]
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The CIA/Senate war continues to intensify, and we won't be able to stay out of that pool all day long. But I do want to get to that "My Life As A Retail Worker" story.
And you just know someone's going to do something outrageous and/or terrible before we're done. If not, we'll just say they did and see if we can get away with it.
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For the most financially destitute Mainers, the Senate debate and vote Wednesday that dimmed the prospects for Medicaid expansion was more than a political and ideological battle. It likely put health insurance out of reach for them this year.
“I’m left out in the cold,” said Gail MacLean, 64, a farmer from Gray.
U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU -2.04% Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.
Riding 400 miles from Newtown, 26 bicyclists hoping to change the nation’s gun laws faced some strong headwinds on their way to Washington, D.C. When they reached the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, they faced even more -- of the political kind.Danny Vinik:
It’s been nearly a year since a bill that would increase FBI background checks on gun buyers failed to clear a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The House has not taken up any gun control legislation and doesn’t seem inclined to do so.
But for the members of “Team 26” and their allies in the Connecticut congressional delegation, things are on track.
“Some said the Connecticut effect would not last, and they are right,” said Monte Frank, an experienced cyclist who heads Team 26, a group of activists from Newtown and other towns that have suffered from gun violence. "It's now a movement."
Republicans like to talk about government in the broadest, most abstract terms—arguing that it's too big, too intrusive, and too expensive. The argument plays well politically, since the public tends to agree. But it also allows Republicans to avoid talking about real trade-offs—like the fact that government unemployment checks help people pay their bills while they are out of work, or that government guidelines for product safety keep kids safe when they play with toys. So perhaps it's no surprise that the latest big idea from Republicans is a "national regulatory budget"—a proposal by Senator Marco Rubio that, however sensible sounding, could force government to scale back protections that people very much need.More politics and policy below the fold.
(shame is not something I recommend, but you use the self-motivational tools that work)
And part of why things didn't get done yesterday is that the contract for the new Devil's West books arrived, and I took the night to go over that with a fine-tooth comb (and a few glasses of wine). At one point, I may or may not have been reading relevant bits out loud, because some of that Legalese really calls out for a Radio Announcer Voice.
And it made me wonder if people are up for a post about Contracts and Creatives and the love-hate professional relationship between them?
Anyway, today's all about getting those last bits done, then plowing back into the writing. Yay, writing!
(originally published at Writer. Editor. Tired Person. You may comment here or there)