Short or long?

15 Apr

Do you like short stories? I love ‘em! Not that I’d want to do away with book-length fiction – not by a long shot! But still, the variety of shorter stories is amazing. And sometimes a shortie is just what you have time for.

It’s hard to believe that for the first 60 or so years of the twentieth century, almost every magazine printed (on paper, not electronic!) – and there were bunches of them! – no matter the theme or subject matter, carried at least one short story. And frequently, more than one. Many of them would have a summer ‘beach-reading’ special, with half a dozen or so short stories in the one issue. Generally speaking, I think I’m safe in saying that these stories were between 2500 and 10,000 words. The best thing is they always had a beginning, a middle and an end. You always knew where you stood with these stories. Unless, of course, they were part of a ‘serial’ and published in chapter format. Many great novels began this way – quite possibly the most famous were the books of Charles Dickens and later, Sir Adrian Conan Doyle’s fabulous creation – Sherlock Holmes.

Believe it or not, nearly every magazine published – even men’s magazines devoted to mechanics or hunting & fishing – included short fiction in their editorial content. Without even really trying, I came up with 39 titles – in all genres – which gave us short fiction.  Check out this list, which I know is nowhere near complete.

Adventure Graphic Story Magazine Radio Times
Analog Science Fact & Fiction Jack and Jill Real
Battle Cry Ladies’ Home Journal Redbook
Better Homes & Gardens Look Saturday Evening Post
Coronet Mademoiselle Seventeen
Cosmopolitan (the original!) Male Spicy Detective
Dynamic Science Stories Man’s Conquest Stag
Ebony Man’s Illustrated The Great Monster Magazines
Field & Stream Man’s Life True Confessions
For Men Only McCall’s True Mechanic
Fury Photoplay Vogue
Galaxy Science Fiction Popular Mechanics Woman’s Day
Good Housekeeping Popular Romance Wonder Stories

While searching for more, I came across this collage, which I found wonderfully fascinating. I hope you like it too!   (I think the easiest way for you to find it is:  Type ‘popular magazines in the 1950s’ into the Google searchbox, then click on Images.


At any rate, the market for short stories is once again growing rapidly, thanks to the internet. There are probably hundreds of e-zines out there, devoted to every subject known to man – or woman. Or child, for that matter. And, further, I’ll bet that almost all of the great writers of the middle to last years of the previous century started out writing short stories. They’re great for teaching craft – and learning about plot, developing characters, how to ‘show, don’t tell’ and creating the right setting for the story. You can learn about dialogue – and dialect, develop action or leave it static. The possibilities are virtually endless. You can develop your own voice – or several voices! Not to mention different styles, as well.

I didn’t exactly start out to write short stories – I just wanted to write. But over the last almost 40 years, I’ve written a bunch of them in various genres. A good many of them could be categorized as light romance, but they’re mostly too short to be considered seriously as romance. In 2002, I self-published an anthology of 18 stories, ranging from 420 to 18,500 words. A couple of those stories won awards (and a couple more came close, but no cigar!) and several of them were eventually published, some by me and some by a real publisher. Now I’m busily accumulating more short stories to flesh out the remaining stories in that first anthology, to be published later this year at CreateSpace. The title is: Brief Interludes. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens! I think I have two more to go! Or maybe three.

One of the greatest benefits to the beginning writer is being able to finish something fairly quickly! A short story generally writes faster than a novel. That’s a major bonus, I think, and I highly recommend it to my students as well as anyone else who wants to write. Another nice bonus is that usually you sell ‘first-time rights’ which is only for that particular publisher. Once the host issue is out there, the rights revert to the author, and it can be sold again. But it would be nice to wait a while before you do that – at least a year. Then try for a different sort of market – not a direct competitor to the first purchaser. That might backfire on the writer, and rightly so, in my mind.

So, good luck with the shorties – and thank you again for reading! The first piece posted at this blog was in April, 2010! Hard to believe so much time has flown by! Thank you to all of you!

As always, if you have comments or questions, please write to me at

A book is a book — is a book?

2 Apr

When is a book not exactly a ‘book’? Maybe, when it’s an e-book? But not really.

As I wrote last time –  A book is a book is a book! Regardless of how it’s published, it’s still a book! Indeed, that is true. If your words are somehow issued in a format that makes them possible to be read by others, and you get paid by those astute folks, then, in my estimation – it’s a book.  If the words are not printed on paper, but sent through some electronic medium or other, then it’s an e-book!

Personally, as an old fogey, I don’t believe e-books will ever replace paper books. They do have their place, however, and a convenient one it is. Last spring, when I went to Colorado and back on the train, my dandy little NOOK was not only a library, but also a music player. There was no wi-fi on my train, but I’d put a batch of MP3s in my NOOK, so I could listen to my own music while in my compartment. The train thoughtfully provides electric outlets in each compartment, so I could keep it charged up! This little NOOK (the HD) has a computer in it, but my fingers are too fat to type on that miniscule keyboard, so I also carried my laptop. My next acquisition, the larger NOOK (HD+) also has a computer, but even better, thanks to Android, I have a Kindle app on there, too. To me, this is the best of both possible worlds!

The very first e-book I ever bought was a Georgian/Regency romance by Laurie Alice Eakes. In January, 2000, it came on a floppy disc, in HTML coding. I bought it to support the author, just as I’d bought hundreds of paperback books to support other authors in the  13 years I’d belonged to RWA. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read Laurie Alice’s book because I found the HTML to be beyond difficult. Lines of type that extended from one side of the monitor to the other were impossible for me. I tried to re-format it, but that was just too tedious and never-ending. It’s still in my computer, however, and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to do it.

E-books weren’t exactly a high priority for me, as I really preferred the traditional book. The early e-readers (at least the ones I saw) were somewhat bulky and balky, and didn’t carry much of a charge, so you could easily run out of juice at just the wrong moment. That seldom happens with a paper book.  And then there were so many different kinds of e-readers, who knew what to get? Would the format that it supported have the books you wanted to read? Maybe. Maybe not. They were NOT interchangeable.

Among the early e-readers were the Sony Librié, Rocket, Softbook, CYbook and Bookeen. Occasionally another one would pop up for a brief time, then disappear, such as the Microsoft Reader, which lived in your computer. The first mass-produced e-reader was the Amazon Kindle, which virtually exploded the then marketplace. Soon after, Barnes & Noble came out with the NOOK, and then everyone created something to perform the same functions, including Apple and Google.  The Kindle went on sale in 2007, and in July of 2010, Amazon announced that it sold more e-books than hardcover books during the second quarter of that year: 140 e-books for every 100 hardcover books. Kindle has broken sales records every quarter since then.

Now, of course, you can even read on your phone – if you can see that well, that is. Lots of us can’t, so we won’t be a very good customer for those devices, if that’s the only reason to have one.

That should not stop anyone from writing for that market however. Nearly every traditional publisher also provides their books in a multitude of e-book formats – in multiple markets. BUT – even if you’re not affiliated with a traditional publisher, that shouldn’t hold you back, if you really want to be published in e-book format.

Publishing on Kindle is amazingly easy. They issue easy-to-read and understand instructions, and provide a space to upload both the innards and the cover (in separate files). You don’t even have to know any special coding or formatting! They do it all for you, and then they offer a ‘digital proofer’ so you can see (before you publish it) how it looks. Some things you can change easily, some require more serious attention. (One little word to the wise: fancy fonts don’t work. Use a plain serif font, instead, and save the fancy stuff for print on paper, which pretty much stays where you put it!) I would strongly encourage anyone considering this venture  to pay really good attention! When it’s your name on that cover, you want it to be in the very best condition possible. This means professional editing and proof-reading, too! Once it’s the way you really want it, you can make it available in any of the Kindle stores, internationally.  Another bonus: you can insert photographs in B&W or color and they work well!

But the best part, really, is that from the day you put your book up there for sale, you can see what it’s doing in all those various marketplaces. You can issue yourself a daily sales report, if you wish. And two or three months later, you’ll reap the benefits of those sales.  Presuming there are some, and there most likely would be. If your book falls into a really popular niche, you might well surprise even yourself with your success! I would also encourage you to pay attention to the pricing of your e-book. For instance, a novella of 20,000 words, should not be priced the same as a novel of 75,000 words! It should also be lower in cost that the traditional version of the same length, etc.  You’ll definitely sell more over time, with that lower price. If you stumble, however, you can always change it later.

I heartily encourage you to try. Don’t be afraid of the Brave New World of publishing! It’s waiting out there to welcome you with friendly, open arms!

Next time we’ll talk about short stories – do you like to write them? If so, then, what do you do with them?

As always, if you have a question or a comment, please do write to me:


There’s Publishing . . . and then, there’s publishing.

18 Mar

But still, over here . . . there’s even yet more publishing!

The other night I had a great in-person chat with a friend of many years (as opposed to an ‘old’ friend, which neither of us is. Yet.) Anyway, we met as sort of youthful authors in the late 80s, as members of the same chapter of RWA, which at that time was still new, too. She wrote a medieval historical romance, while I was trying for traditional Regency, but we were both writers, and still are.

I have kept at it, and have now published (or had published) five full-length novels, plus half-a-dozen or so novellas and a couple of novelettes, with more in the chute! My friend switched her allegiance (that’s allowed!) to science fiction, and then switched again – to journalistic non-fiction. She is now a highly-regarded, reliable, responsible free-lancer in our area, but has plans to retire this year and get back to the fiction world.

As we were chatting away, I realized that she is really not well-informed about the many changes in the book publishing world during the last twenty-five or so years. I was happily throwing out all these terms, not immediately realizing that her eyes were glazing over and most of my wonderful words were sailing right over her head.

It dawned on me then, that perhaps I’ve been doing the same to you, my loyal readers, so I need to back up a few steps and start over again. This will probably end up being another chapter in my forthcoming ‘How to Write a Book Book’ due out later this year. Not everyone will be happy with the same publisher or publishing style – and that’s a good thing. There is an abundance of variety in today’s publishing world, and while I’m not an expert on every aspect of it, I think I know enough to hold my own on this topic.

The word ‘Publishing’ refers to someone putting words out there for several someone else’s to read. That’s basically it. Kids can publish (and have, many times) a neighborhood newsletter. Maybe it had only a dozen copies, but that’s enough to count. Sometimes they even had the temerity to charge for their progeny. And as we grow up, we still do – and hope that someone will like it well enough to want to pay to read it. Writers are so optimistic!

These days, it could be words actually printed on paper, but more likely, it’ll be an e-book. Regardless of format, it’s still publishing. It used to be that ‘publishers’ meant the commercial houses in New York City or London, mainly. These were the companies that supplied us with ‘literary’ works and mass-market paperbacks, and in truth, these publishers were the Holy Grail for writers. They are known as ‘advance against royalty’ houses. What that means is – if an editor likes the submitted manuscript and wants to publish it, they’ll offer the writer an advance of so many dollars, to be paid back from the royalties earned on the sales. This latter feat happens perhaps once in every 25 or so books published. (Maybe more often now that not so many books are being published every month by these houses.)

The next category would be the ‘small press’ – a privately-owned small company that had a particular agenda for its books. Maybe only hard-boiled mysteries, for example; or maybe vampire novels or erotica. They pretty much stuck to their specific genre, which had a built-in audience. The advance (if any) would have been small, as were the royalties earned, but the prestige was great. The books were nicely done, and any author would be proud to show them off. Whereas the large publisher might put out 50-100 books a month (across all its various lines) the small press might only do half–a-dozen books a year.  But that small print run (maybe 1000 copies) would be exceptionally well done.

Then there were companies that would publish your book for you, as long as you did all the work, and brought them a camera-ready, edited and proof-read book and at least an idea for the cover. These companies were very above-board, and were able to do small print runs, such as for a family history perhaps. These would not be widely circulated, as they were intended only for a small, specific audience. Occasionally, one would find its way into a bookstore, but generally, they were sold – or more often, given away – by the author to the chosen recipients. This was self-publishing of the highest order.

At the bottom of the list was the Vanity Press. This was a type of publisher who never rejected any manuscript, unless, of course, the writer couldn’t – or wouldn’t – pay the sometimes exorbitant fees. They charged for everything they did – in some cases way more than the service should have cost, had the author gone looking for a better price – or service. Even though a fee was charged for editing and/or proof-reading, it was sometimes hard to see the proof of that statement. Sometimes, even the production of the book itself would be shoddy. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of these companies left out there any more.

The BIG change engine was the advent of Print-on-Demand. It was the logical child of the marriage between the computer and duplicating machinery. The best part of POD printed books is that the book isn’t printed until someone orders it – and pays for it, generally up-front. Nothing at all wrong with that, either, in my opinion. Sure beats paying out thousands of dollars for boxes and boxes of books, most of which will end up in the landfill!

This process has opened the door to individuals and small presses, alike, enabling them to have a book published without having to mortgage their home (or first-born kid) to pay for it all. Personally, I think it’s the best thing to happen to publishing in at least the last two hundred years!

Some commercial publishers of the advance against royalty type are even taking advantage of this process when the book is not going to be done in hard-cover. It’s still possible to do the innards that way and then put a hard-cover on it, but as that runs up the cost per book, it isn’t done all that often.

Since it’s so easy to produce a book by this process, it’s not unheard of for a publisher to do a first run in POD, and if the book looks like it’ll have legs, they can easily switch to the conventional method of production.

But hey! A book is a book is a book! Regardless of how it’s published, it’s still a book!

Next time we’ll talk about e-books. As always, if you have a question or a comment, please do write to me:

To do – or not to do?

5 Mar

A couple of weeks ago, I was brought up short by a sentence in a book review. It was “The details sometimes seem present because the author found them, not because they’re particularly instructive or metaphorical.”

Oh, wow. How true is that! I’m sure we’ve all encountered that occurrence at some point in our reading history. But let me tell you, it’s not always easy to ignore that marvelous new fact even if it brings the narrative to a screeching halt. That is, when the reader stops reading, and begins to scratch the head, trying to figure out ‘what did that mean?’ It’s truly not a very good thing to have happen.

I freely admit to having committed this sin, completely detouring my story from north to south, or some other unexpected direction, but – I just couldn’t help it! The thought of being the first author to make that fact known to the world is just tooo overpowering, even if it really makes little – or no – sense in that particular place. I think it happens most often when the author has created really spectacular characters. They can be totally imaginative, or actual personages who lived long years ago – far enough in the past that the fear of a lawsuit is negligible.

Actually, this sort of adventure is really more the fault of the character than the author. These characters are just determined to exert their own influence, regardless of who they trample on in the process. The author never has to worry about what they’ll say or do – they’ll do it all by themselves, believe me!

I’ve had several characters absolutely refuse to do as I wanted them to do. One in particular, the maid Clarissa, in Ardenwycke Unveiled actually scolded me for making her speak in dialogue when she’d been educated with the daughter of the house, and thus was as well-spoken as her mistress! It was true. No matter how many times I’d start her out speaking in dialect (as did her beau, Jamesy, who was an uneducated outdoor slave) before the end of the sentence she was once again using English as well as I do.  This was happening in the late 1700s in upstate New York, when the well-to-do Dutch families kept black-skinned slaves.

I’d found that fact in the travel section of my local newspaper some years earlier, and was as surprised as anyone when it popped out of the labyrinth of my brain to present itself in this book.  So, after that night when Clarissa yelled at me, I was a much-chastened author, always careful not to make her look foolish. She’d learned to read and write, and took enormous pride in those skills, unusual for one of her race in that time.

On the other hand, Windsong, the mother of the hero in Secret Shores, did her best to hijack that book, until I threw up my hands in disgust one night and informed her: “Now listen here, lady. This book is about your son. It is NOT your book. If you behave and let this be Jock’s story, I’ll do your story next.”

So then, when my editor started talking about a second book, I suggested Windsong’s story. By this time I knew her really well, and she was a great narrator. I just listened to what she told me and typed as fast as I could, trying to keep up! She knew her story much better than I ever could. Of course, having done so much research on that period and time, it came very easily.

My advice is: pay attention to the little details. Who knows when you might need one of them at some future time?

As always, if you have questions or comments, please write to me:      Thanks!

And thanks for reading!

When I have/am . . . I will do . . .

19 Feb

Have you ever said to yourself: when I have/am, I will …………  (when this problem is solved, I’ll do that)

I’m sorry to say that probably – you won’t. How do I know this? Because I didn’t do it either.  Get those qualifications out of the room. They don’t belong there. What does belong is: dedication, determination, discipline, diligence. At a minimum, you start with these. If you don’t have them, find them or you’ll have a really hard time reaching your goal. I won’t say you never will, because I don’t know your level of persistence, but I’d say the chances are slim and null.

This is a fill-in-the-blanks sort of sentence. In my case it was:

Once I get a new a job (I’d been  downsized and couldn’t find another job in my chosen field), I’ll  write.


When I get the bills paid off, I’ll write.

Or, whatever . . .

I think there were a couple of other notions in there, too, but none of my qualifications worked.

What I found out was this: There is NO magic switch that you can flip to enable yourself to sit down and write. Or stand up and write, whichever is your preference.  I like to sit at the computer, so if I say sit, please know it can interchange with stand up or lie down or whatever is your preferred position. What matters is this: You have to – literally – put your fanny in the chair and work at it. Make no mistake – Writing is Work! Even when it’s really flowing from brain to fingers to monitor in front of you – it’s work! Your shoulders, your back and even your butt will confirm that once you decide to take a break.

I have had days of producing 5000 or so words and it was almost all usable. Other days, I’ve struggled to get 100 sensible words, and have worked harder on them, than I did with the bigger production.

But I had to learn that there is no magic bullet. If you make the kinds of excuses mentioned at the top of this post, chances are good you’ll still be making them ten years from now. You have to disconnect from that mental image and literally turn the page. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do it.

I’d known since I was a teenager that I wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure if I ever had the gumption to say ‘I will be a writer,’ or ‘I AM a writer.’ That’s probably where I put myself on the rocks to begin with. It took 40+ years and a bossy daughter for me to realize that. She sorted me out in almost no time. “Put your ass in that chair and write!” I apologize for the words, but they were her exact admonition to me. I did as she told me to (that once!) and have never looked back.

So, unless you are fortunate enough to have a bossy daughter like I did, you need to take this advice. Don’t put off your ambition – it could easily become derailed, and you don’t want that to happen. Trust me. It’s still early enough in the new year to make a fresh start. Put yourself in that chair and write something every day. You don’t have to produce chapters every day. A page a day will be a good start. After all, a page of typing is 4-500 words, generally speaking. If a novella is fifteen to twenty-five thousand words – you do the math. You should be able to finish a shorter novella in a month. Or even less. Once you know the joy of finishing something, you’ll be eager to experience it again. And there you are – on your way to writing your first book! You don’t have to start with a novella, of course. That was merely an example.  But you can do a lot with a novella – and frankly, I’ve read any number of books that would have been so much better had they been only a novella!

It might not be publishable, but that decision can be made later. The most important thing is to get yourself in the habit of writing.

So, what are you waiting for?

By the way, my alter ego Hetty St. James has just published another Regency novelette. This one is An Improbable Duke, and it may be purchased here:

Not to belabor my point about doing something, I woke up on Friday January 31 with the basic plot of this novelette (11,500 words) in my head as the result of a dream. Granted I already knew the heroine, as she’s the major character in a Regency mystery series I hatched about 20 years ago. But this short story doesn’t figure in the series except that she had to have been married before the series begins, and here’s the tale of how that came about! To be sure, I was aided by the blizzards and frigid conditions that we experienced during the first weeks of February – they really discouraged me from going out, so I attached myself to the computer, and here it is.


Cheers, everyone!  And happy writing to you!

Which witch is which – part two!

5 Feb

Remember that old saying — be careful what you wish for – you might get it!

Well, I always hope for a response to these posts, but the one for Which Witch is Which so far exceeded my expectations as to be astonishing! I was very pleased I must say.

And then, considering that piece was inspired by an article in our local paper, it was almost hysterical to find another one a week later. On 1-21-14, a sports story said that someone had gone through the ‘ringer’ instead of ‘wringer’ !!!!  (I hope I’m not the only person left here who remembers what a ‘wringer’ really was. Or did. Or meant!

Anyway, words fell out of the ether in great abundance, and I thank all of you who contributed to this great windfall.  Here is the new batch.  (apologies for the double-spaced format here, I can’t seem to eliminate it.)

beet/beat                            one/won

blew/blue                            or/oar

booze/boos                        pain/pane

buy/bye                              red/read

cell/sell                               right/rite

cereal/serial                       sea/see

cheap/cheep                      sense/cents

damn/dam                         sent/cent/scent

days/daze                          shear/sheer

doze/does                         side/sighed

eye/aye                             sight/cite

feet/feat                            so/sew

flew/flue/flu                       sow/sough

floe/flow                            soul/sole

fowl/foul                            threw/through

hair/hare                           time/thyme

lie/lye                                vain/vane

meet/meat                        vice/vise

mist/missed                      weigh/way/whey


I must acknowledge these joyous responses from Dr. Bob Birch, with whom I have an on-going communication. He also included these five pairs of words which are spelled the same but have rather different meanings:

switch/switch  (If you don’t switch, I’m going to use my switch on you.)

smart/smart   (I know you’re smart, but my spanking would smart.)

bob/bob   (Please don’t bob while I’m trying to bob your hair.)

log/log      (Then I sat on a log to log into my email account.)

yarn/yarn  (I will tell you a yarn about my wife’s collection of knitting yarn.)

Dr. Bob  delights in words as much as I do, but his imagination is way wackier than mine, so herewith are some additions from him!

Dam Yew Kelly. You’re peace a bout righting now has me obsessing a bout words.

Sew, now I’ll knot get any thing dun. Eye kneed a brake.  I’m going two rub some cream in my hare and take some male to the post office.

Good buy four now. (but that didn’t last long!)

My time has been less interesting. I was bussed to a show where a midget was paid to bust a woman in her breasts.

four one want to write right.

I scheduled time for my wife and I for a private tour, but I lost my notes and can’t remember which hours are ours.

I wonder how often a writer has written about suffering about of flew.

In my novels a bum might jump from a moving train and land on his bum. He was quite bummed out.  Or, how about the goat that is about to butt a woman’s butt, but I save the day. Please, no wise cracks.

Similar words I always have to double check – though, through and thought. I also self-published a book for premature ejaculators where I repeatedly advised them to trust slowly.

I also frequently have to check my spelling - did I mean bowl or bow, and did I mean dessert or desert?

Serves him write. He through it. He never got the add vise, bee careful watt yew throw, bee cause it mite just come back two yew. He got his just dessert.

Reminds me of when I was in the army having intense discussions in tents.

I’m going to have to quit – - – reminding me of two other spellings I need to double check when I write – - - quit and quiet

Then he redeemed himself with this following note!

I should have checked my library a bit closer. I have a small paperback book (1987) titled THE GOOF-PROOFER: How to Avoid the 41 Most Embarrassing Errors in Your Speaking and Writing by Stephen J. Manhard.   ISBN 0-02-040610-X   It’s out of print, but there are used copies available. This book contains a chapter titled Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words. This chapter contains an exhaustive list – far more than I could ever have come up with. Mr. Manhard’s obituary is also interesting.

MANHARD, Stephen J. – On December 17, 2001, in Foster City at age 89 after a short illness. Beloved companion for fourteen years of Kitty LaPlante and beloved father of Tom and Richard, grandfather of Chris and Wendy, great-grandfather of Matthew, Samantha and Ryan. An award-winning advertising executive and writer, Steve was the founder of SPELL, the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature, a now worldwide organization encouraging proper English in everyday life. Steve also loved traditional Dixieland jazz and was a past president of the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California as well as an avid Railfan and model railroad builder for many years.

This has been a fun experience — at least for me! Thank you all for your input. I value it very highly. As always if you have comments or questions, please feel free to write to me:

The ISBN mystery

29 Jan

As a reader or writer or librarian or book-seller, you are undoubtedly familiar with the term ISBN.  In theory, each book published (whether by a publishing house or not) has a unique ID number – the ISBN. Each iteration of a title – regular print, large print, e-book, audio or whatever should have an ISBN. It is not required, but it is highly recommended, especially if the book will be sold commercially and internationally.

International Standard Book Numbers are a child of the computer, and the concept was created in either 1966 or 1970, in the UK or the US, depending on who you ask. The number started as a 10-digit number, which would identify the country of publication, the publisher, the specific edition of the title and a single ‘check’ digit at the end. There are ten digits used for this last single number – 1 through 9, plus X, which represents 10.  It soon became necessary, however, to add more numbers, so the 13-digit numbering system was created by adding the numbers 978 to the front of the 10-digit number. Surprisingly enough, the last 3 of 13-digit number sometimes differs from the last 3 of the 10-digit number, even for the exact same edition.  There. Got that?

We progress.  As a long-time reader of Regency set novels, I determined to write them, which has not been as easy as it might seem. There are rigid rules of engagement with this genre (originally, if usually incorrectly credited to Jane Austen, except that she was really writing contemporary novels, not historical romance.)  Readers of today’s Regency novels are the most exacting and quibble-some readers possible. Every historical detail must be correct. Dates, clothing, and titles account for the most criticism, but other topics will also fall afoul of these critics. (This is not a complaint, merely an explanation for those who might not otherwise be familiar with this comparatively small, but extremely passionate, loyal and vocal readership.)

So, when the theme for the 2014 Cotillion Christmas submissions was announced as “Christmas Feasts” I made up my mind to produce such a novella. There is an enormous amount of data on the internet – no question about that, but I’m old-fashioned enough to like books. So I went looking for a book of Regency recipes or cookery. Image

After an hour or so of deliberation, I settled on Lord Byron’s Relish by Wilma Paterson. Having been published in 1990, a used copy was my best resource, so I chose a book-seller I thought was in the next state over from me, feeling that proximity would maybe help speed up the delivery.

Three days later, I received a book, but not the one I ordered, and not from the bookseller I’d chosen, either. There was not one teensy little scrap of paper anywhere to indicate where it came from (well, other than the ‘Royal Mail’ insignia at the top of the label, which did indicate the UK), nor why it was sent to me. I was baffled, and finally discovered a return address in very tiny little type. I put this address into the search box of my computer and came up with a company name. In the UK. Remember, I’d placed my order with a bookstore showing an address in Indiana.

ImageI sent them an e-mail, and they disclaimed all knowledge of why I was sent this book, which, by the way is titled A Sense of Something Strange by Archie E. Roy. Actually, the title is somewhat appropriate considering what follows.  But three weeks later, and two days before the final day of possible delivery of the book I’d ordered, I decided it was time investigate further. The order had been placed with, so I went to them first. None of their obvious choices on the ‘help’ e-mail seemed logical, so I wrote: ‘I can’t return what I’ve not received. Please help?’  The e-mail went through to Amazon in fine shape, but NOT the copy which was sent simultaneously to the bookseller. It bounced. Oh, oh. I thought. Not a good sign.

So I asked Amazon to call me. It took a bit of explanation to see what might be done, and I was told to wait the two more days and the rep would write to the book-seller for clarification. You guessed it – the e-mail bounced!  And then the rep mentioned that the e-mail was a UK based e-mail.

Mere seconds after disconnecting, a niggle about the book I’d received returned to my consciousness. I went back to Amazon, and entered the ISBN number from the back of the mystery book – 1872536026 – and what should appear on the screen? The description of the book I’d originally ordered from the store in Indiana! Whoa!

Come to find out – the publisher (Dog & Bone Press – now out of business apparently) was the same for both books, and both had been published in 1990. From my own experience, I know absolutely that two books may not have the same ISBN, so I checked several times for both books, and it kept coming up the same way. Impossible!

Of course, the ISBN should also always be on the copyright page, so I investigated that page in the mystery book. Ahah! The little grey cells were indeed doing well. The ISBN inside the book is 1872536069. The last three digits were different. The ISBN and bar-code were incorrect on the back cover, which is of course, the first point of reference for a book-seller.  If you can’t trust the ISBN, who can you trust? (I don’t know either, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Back I went to Amazon again, and a very clever young man was able to understand my babbling. He cancelled the first order, requested a refund, helped me order another copy, and gave me expedited shipping!  The book should be here tomorrow!  Hooray!  My own little mystery solved. And I can now get seriously started on my Christmas Feast.  For Christmas 2014.

If you want to know more about ISBNs, here’s a great site:

One week from tonight (barring any unspecified disaster) I’ll finish the Which is Witch discussion that began with the previous post. I just had to share this adventure now, while it was still fresh in my mind.

See you all next week! As always comments or questions are welcomed at

Post Script:  The proper book arrived  today, so I thought I’d post a scan of the backs of each book, showing the same ISBN on obviously two different books! Here they are. I hope they’re readable to you! Cheers!  




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