Things that caught my eye over the past week or so:
Really bad sex
I don't pay much attention to literary awards, but I always enjoy this one: the annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. This year's winner: Iain Hollingshead, for a passage from his novel Twentysomething. To spare my readers who don't like this sort of thing, I won't quote the passage--but it's a good example of the extremely thin line that divides a sizzling sex scene from a silly one.
Read the shortlisted passages here. And for more fun, previous years' winners are here.
Giving, taking, and giving again
Via the Los Angeles Times: Massachusetts author Stona Fitch has founded the Concord Free Press, a nonprofit publisher with an unusual business model: "We publish books and give them away for free—online and via a network of independent bookstores. In exchange, we ask readers to make a voluntary donation to a local charity or someone in need in their community. And we ask them to pass the book on, so that every time the book changes hands, it generates more contributions."
You can order a book from the website, or from a list of participating independent booksellers (mostly in New England), and donate to whomever you choose. The press, which is supported by grants and contributions, generated more than $12,000 in donations during its first month in business. Donation recipients include charities, nonprofits, churches, food banks, and local organizations of all kinds. One individual handed $20 to a homeless person. Another gave bus fare to someone who needed it.
Mr. Fitch, who has commercially published several books, is using his own novel, Give and Take, as the press's first offering. A neat twist on self-publishing, for sure.
Hope for books in tough economic times?
Amid daily bulletins about economic crisis, and uber-gloomy publishing and bookselling news (B&N third quarter losses, Random House slashing pensions, big layoffs at Doubleday, Rodale, and others), an annual holiday shopping survey by Minneapolis's University of St. Thomas suggests that books may benefit from reduced consumer spending--at least in Minnesota. According to the survey, "Shoppers said they'll be giving more books this holiday season, as well as clothing, gift certificates and gifts of cash."
Random House is hoping for the same thing. It's launching a Books=Gifts campaign, with banner ads and video trailers featuring well-known authors.
The dreaded query letter and synopsis
I don't know about you, but I hate writing synopses more than I hate going to the dentist. As for query letters, it's been a long time since I had to write one...and I'm really really grateful.
For those who are struggling with both tasks, here are a pair of truly useful resources, put together by author Joshua Palmatier: the Query Letter Project and the Plot Synopsis Project. At these links, you can read examples of query letters and plot synopses that actually sold books. The focus is on speculative fiction authors, but the basic principles are pretty much the same no matter what field or genre you write in.
This isn't exactly writing-related, but it's pretty nifty even so: GreenPrint, software that saves you paper and ink by eliminating wasted and extra pages from your printouts--such as the legal verbiage that's attached to some emails, or banner ads that accompany articles. The software displays the pages of the document you want to print on a single screen, with the wasteful pages highlighted so you can remove them from the print job. You can also remove stuff you don't need, such as images, to save even more ink.
It's cool and it works. The ad-supported World version is free to home users.