Another Awesome Announcement: Former Big Six Editor Ruth Harris Joins the Blog

I have another Awesome Announcement this week: I now have a blog partner! She’s NYT bestselling author and former editor at Bantam, Dell and Kensington, RUTH HARRIS.

I’ve had a lot of fabulous guest bloggers here in the last year, but Ruth is the only one whose post made it into my top ten most popular posts of all time. Her no-nonsense humor and vast experience seem to speak to readers here.

I’ve been bugging Ruth to start her own blog because she’s got so much insider information that new writers would love to hear. But she’s got a whole lot on her plate right now, as she reissues her old titles and launches a bunch of exciting new projects.

My own plate is starting to fill up too. (See last week’s Awesome Announcement below.)

I believe social media should be fun (and social) and I don’t think it should take time away from the real work of writing (see my advice on Slow Blogging) That’s why joining forces seems like a win/win situation for both Ruth and me.

Ruth will be writing once-a-month posts of her own, plus we’ll be posting dialogues and Q&A sessions as well as welcoming a great line-up of guest posters.

Guests in the next few months will include Samuel Park, author of the critically acclaimed This Burns My Heart, zombie-lit star Jonathan Maberry, Public Query Slushpile’s Rick Daly, debut romance writer and blogging superstar Roni Loren, and Kindle bestselling phenom, Mark Williams.

I’m still basking in the glow of finding a U.S. publisher who is brave enough to publish something as cross-genre, darkly satiric, and outside-the-box as Food of Love. Yes, I’ve signed the contract, and Food is going be re-published soon by the lovely people at Popcorn Press, in both ebook and print—available in the US and the UK at amazon. More on that soon.

So ta-dah! Here’s Ruth. She is going to be giving us insider information about what editors want, and also let us in on what happens behind the scenes in corporate publishing.

And now she’ll tell us something about herself—

From Ruth Harris: About Me

I started out in publishing right after I graduated from college. My first job was as secretary to a textbook editor, an unpromising start if there ever was one, but I was soon promoted to copyediting—much more interesting.

In the years that followed—the years when editors ran publishing—I worked at Dell and Bantam and at Lancer, a successful but now defunct (not because of me!) independent mass market paperback publisher where I wallowed in the joys of genre publishing in its heyday. 

I've been a copywriter, assistant editor, editor, editor-in-chief and, eventually, publisher (Kensington).

I've written more magazine articles than I can remember and a few paperback originals even I've forgotten.

My books have been published by Random House, Simon & Schuster, and St. Martin's. I’ve sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback editions, been translated into 19 languages, published in 25 countries and selected by the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club.

I live in New York City with my husband, writer Michael Harris,  author of Always on Sunday: An Inside View of Ed Sullivan, The Beatles, Elvis, Sinatra and Ed's Other Guests  and The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground . Both are available in Kindle editions.

Recently I’ve been acquiring the rights to my backlist and re-issuing them as ebooks. You can now buy The Last Romantics, Husbands and Lovers, Decades, Love And Money, and Modern Women for your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other e-reader—with more titles to follow. You can find them at my author page at 

I’ve also got some hot new fiction in the works. Stay tuned. 


So Ruth’s in New York and Anne is in on the Central Coast of California. The blog has gone bi-coastal!

From Anne: Six More Things Writers Won't Miss About the Big Six "When They're Gone"

Two weeks ago I wrote about Eric Felten’s article in the Wall Street Journal: “Cherish the Book Publishers—You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone”  I responded with some suggestions about what readers won’t miss when/if those nice corporations get driven out of business by all the nasty little self-publishers.

But there’s even more stuff that WRITERS won’t miss—things Ruth will be telling us more about soon. Here are a few of them.

1) SHORT SHELF LIFE. People expressed surprise when I said that John Green’s hit book of last year, Will Grayson, Will Grayson was already remaindered in hardcover. But the truth is, the average Big Six book has a shelf life “somewhere between milk and yogurt,” as a former bestselling author once told me. Even if a book has steady sales, if they’re not in the millions, your book will be removed from bookstore shelves after a few months to make room for new fare. And this week the New York Times reported that the life cycle of books has been further shortened. Publishers are issuing paperbacks within a few months of the hardcover, thus giving a title an even shorter time to build an audience.

2) RETURNS: One of the insanely dysfunctional things about the publishing industry is “returns”. Bookstores are actually consignment shops. “Units” are only on loan. Books can be sent back at any time for a full refund. This is because of something that happened during the Great Depression, although I’m not exactly clear what. But nobody’s been able to change this insanity for 80 years. The returned books are remaindered or pulped. This means most books end up shredded like Steve Buscemi’s character in Fargo. Yeah. Kinda grosses me out, too.

3) PREMIUM BOOKSTORE SPACE RESERVED FOR SUPERSTARS. Even if you get a Big Six contract and your debut novel comes out in glorious hardcover, your book may not land on that “new releases” front table or the endcap of the Barnes and Noble shelves. Hot bookstore space is purchased by marketing departments, who decide what they think might be a blockbuster and what won’t.

If you’re a debut novelist, they’ll probably decide it won’t. This means your book will get buried spine-out on the back shelf, probably in the wrong section, because some data entry person put the wrong code on the sticker. (I used to have to fight to put Margaret Atwood in the literature section of my B. Dalton store, because she was coded as “romance.”)

4) BEING A MINION OF THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT. You’ll be expected to do 90% to 100% your own marketing—their way. The New Yorker published a hilarious comic essay by Ellis Weiner  that purported to be a memo from a publisher’s marketing department.

Some prize quotes: “we’d like to see you on morning talk shows like the “Today” show and “The View,” so please get yourself booked on them.” And “I’ve attached a list of celebrities we think would be great to blurb your book, so find out their numbers and call them up. Be sure to do all this by Monday…because all of editorial…go to the Frankfurt Book Fair for a week.”
5) BIG ADVANCES THAT ARE RESERVED FOR SNOOKI’S PILATES COACH (see last week’s post.) Your chances of getting one of those big advances you’re always reading about are close to zero. Royals, reality TV superstars, politicians, and unconvicted felons get the big money, not actual writers.

6) BOOKS ON THE BESTSELLER LIST THAT AREN’T BESTSELLERS. In the comment thread last week, bookseller Christine Ahern explained it to us, “‘bestseller’ is not about how many books are actually bought by consumers. It is the number ordered by retailers—and these days, many of that number are returned. In that sense: being a bestseller on Kindle is more meaningful” than being on the NYT bestseller list!  

Ruth and I aren’t going to tell you not to go for that big brass ring of the Big Six contract. The industry is changing by the minute, but getting an agent and a name publisher is still the most likely path to major publishing success for a debut author. Small and self-pubbers don’t get reviews in the New York Times or People magazine or Kirkus. We’re not likely to get into libraries or chain stores—which represent a rapidly shrinking, but still significant share of the market.

But it’s good to be aware of how dysfunctional the current system really is before you sign up—or start mourning it. Some things about this business really need to change. And that’s why this is such a fantastic time to be a writer.

Ruth has gone from the corporate big time to running her own indie business—and she loves it.

I’ll be traveling the middle ground with a small independent press.

So this blog will now be able to give you the skinny on publishing in all its aspects. Thanks for joining us, Ruth!

Scriveners, what subjects would you like Ruth to address? Do you have burning questions about the editorial and acquisitions process at the big publishing houses? Do you have any writing issues you'd like to discuss with a seasoned editor? Do you wonder what it's like to go indie after being a big-deal corporate honcho? 

Next week, we’ll have a guest post by the incomparable Samuel Park, whose literary novel, This Burns My Heart  has been getting rave reviews from all the most prestigious literati--and is one of Amazon’s top picks for this month. Samuel will be giving his secrets of self-editing--and tell us why you shouldn't always obey those publishing rules: read DON'T KILL YOUR DARLINGS!! by Samuel Park on August 7th.

And if you’re going to be in California in September, there’s still time to sign up for the Central Coast Writers' Conference, where I’ll be teaching Social Media for the Anti-Social.

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