When I left

21 August 2014

When I left, Merle was wearing a bungalow apron and rolling pie-crust. She came to the door wiping her hands on the apron and kissed me on the mouth and began to cry and ran back into the house, leaving the doorway empty until her mother came into the space with a broad homely smile on her face to watch me drive away.

I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.

Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Amazon’s awful war of words: How an iron-fisted PR strategy went off the rails

21 August 2014

From Salon:

Since 1948, Highlights for Children (“Fun With a Purpose”) — a magazine most of us have only ever encountered in pediatricians’ waiting rooms — has featured a cartoon called “Goofus and Gallant.” Intended to teach kids the basics of courteous behavior, it stars two boys who illustrate the right and wrong way to behave in various situations. “Goofus and Gallant” has gone on to inspire some dark adult imaginings, but never before has it seemed so perfectly applicable to the book business.

That’s because lately Amazon has become the Goofus of publishing news, the surly, inconsiderate and gauche kid who never seems to get anything right. This is not to say that Amazon is any less powerful in the marketplace or less likely to triumph in its ongoing war against book publishers. But on the P.R. front, in its most recent battle against the Hachette Book Group, the online retailer has stumbled again and again.

. . . .

Amazon has long been a tight-lipped operation, refusing to release hard information to the press (which to this day has never received figures on just how many Kindle e-readers the company has sold) and communicating through the rather arcane medium of the forums on its own site. This strategy, however, was patently inadequate to the sudden onslaught of high-profile bad press. It kept coming, too, zeroing in not just on the company’s dealings with book publishers, but also on its impact on the economy and its own workforce.

. . . .

All of these criticisms forced Amazon to respond in a fashion to which it was not accustomed: via public statements issued to the press and direct communication (i.e., email) to customers. Its lack of experience in such communications showed. When Publishers Weekly approached the retailer for comment on a conversation between Grandinetti and Preston in which Grandinetti reportedly asked Preston to quiet his protest, an Amazon spokesperson accused Hachette of using its authors as “human shields,” a highly untimely bit of hyperbole. Another spokesperson told the Guardian that Preston was “entitled” and an “opportunist.” Of course, Preston had himself described Amazon’s behavior as “thuggish,” but public relations is not a rational art; insults that sound merely intemperate from the mouth of a novelist in a shed (a New York Times article on the petition came with a photo of Preston standing in his “writing shack”) register as ominous and bullying as part of the official response of a gigantic corporation.

. . . .

Yet Amazon does have its partisans — specifically, the authors who use its self-publishing programs and whose books are published by its imprints. Nearly 8,000 of these signed a verbose petition at Change.org calling for Hachette to capitulate. (If there were ever a document to suggest that self-published writers are insufficiently edited, it’s this one, even though it begins with a promise to be concise.)

This is Amazon’s core constituency, one whose loyalty is fueled by gratitude for the technological innovation that has permitted them to publish their e-books and also by loathing for the publishing “oligopoly” that has denied them publication the old-fashioned way. The Readers United letter, with its misquoted Orwell, its bitter asides (“Well … history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”) and its vaguely conspiratorial/messianic tone (“the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move”) may sound like “full-out crazy town” to Eldritch, but it is the native tongue of the indie author community.

Amazon much resembles a political party that hasn’t figured out how to recalibrate its rhetoric to appeal to voters outside its base. Its pronouncements come in Amazonspeak, a language bred in a corporate echo chamber and the cheerleading threads of its self-publisher forums. Hence, its incessant harping on the fact that Hachette is owned by the “$10 billion global conglomerate” the Lagardère Group — itself dwarfed by Amazon’s own $90-billion valuation.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

People who are associated with Big Publishing have the idea that the public is fascinated with stories about Big Publishing.

In this case, the author of the Salon piece appears to have published a book with Hachette, a fact she fails to note in her piece. So if she’s fascinated by Amazon/Hachette, everybody else must be similarly fascinated.

The New York Times is also fascinated, but, despite its reputation, the NYT doesn’t reach a very large number of people - 1,865,315 daily; (including 1,133,923 digital) according to the best info PG found on the web. For comparison, the population of the United States is over 318 million.

So, even if every subscriber to the NYT cared about Amazon/Hachette (a vanishingly unlikely prospect), NYT articles about Amazon/Hachette would reach about one-half of one percent of the population of the US.

For comparison with NYT circulation, 11.8 million people watch Duck Dynasty. Almost ten times as many people pay attention to the Robertson family as pay attention to the NYT. If Phil Robertson ever weighs in on Hachette’s side, maybe Amazon would be worried. (For overseas visitors, you probably won’t understand Duck Dynasty. It’s an American thing.)

Let’s take this one item at a time:

1. Nobody cares about Hachette.

2. Amazon is the single most admired brand among US consumers.

3. Amazon is still growing at a rapid pace, so US consumers, including US readers, are voting for Amazon with their dollars.

4. Barnes & Noble’s sales are shrinking and it is closing stores on a regular basis. Indie bookstores (bless their hearts) can’t and won’t make up for the sales decline at Barnes & Noble. The value for an author in signing with a traditional publisher, including Hachette, in order to get his/her books into bookstores is on a steep and steady decline.

5. The traditional model of publishing is in a downward spiral. How fast it’s going down is up for debate, but the overall share of books sold by tradpub is shrinking.

6. More importantly, tradpub is leaking authors to self-publishing. The share of royalties paid to authors by tradpub is declining and the share of royalties paid to self-pubbed authors by Amazon and others is increasing.



E-reading has adverse effect on plot recall, says study

21 August 2014

From The Bookseller:

Kindle readers are “significantly” worse at recalling plot compared to paperback readers, according to a new Europe-wide study.
The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month, showed that Kindle readers “performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order”, researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University told the Guardian.

For the study, 50 readers were given a short story by Elizabeth George. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle and the other half read a paperback version. They were then asked about objects, characters and settings in the story.

. . . .

“You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual … [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Paperback Writer: Do irish writers make a living?

21 August 2014

From The Independent:

These are tough times for publishing. It is a late but definite casualty of the recession, with falling sales, the steady rise of self-publishing and yet another crisis of identity in ‘serious’ literature. But what kind of effect is all of this having on the actual writers? Emily Hourican asks if it is still possible to make a living as a writer.

. . . .

Anyone who was in London this summer, and saw posters for Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing plastered across the sides of buses, would have been forgiven for thinking this was the hot summer blockbuster and McBride the new EL James. A bonk-buster, perhaps; chick lit, certainly. In reality, McBride has been called Joycean, even Beckettian, by reviewers clearly struggling with conveying the substance of a book that has no formal plot. This is a work of ‘serious’ literature, with claims to rewriting the duties and scope of ‘The Novel’, but for promotional purposes, it’s getting the Carrie Bradshaw treatment – the side of a bus.

It’s a bit bizarre alright, but then, these are angsty times for publishing – falling sales and profits, bulk discounting, the rise of self-publishing, even a crisis of identity and aspiration in fiction. The novel, Will Self intoned in May, is dead, “and this time it’s for real”. Fearful publishing companies are reluctant to take chances any more, instead they are casting around for a ‘sure thing’, something to halt the rot.

. . . .

“I’m afraid I did invent Benjamin Black for commercial reasons,” he agrees, with disarmingly cheerful candour. “He’s supposed to be doing my day job for me, though I wish to goodness he’d start pulling his weight and show some tangible – ie profitable – results. My Banville books earn very little. That didn’t matter in the days when I was making my living in journalism, but the freelance world is a chilly place.”

Interesting that Banville, who is a Booker Prize winner for The Sea, and widely recognised as one of a small handful of great contemporary writers, still refers to his profession as “the freelance world”.

So what does he make of the industry right now? “It does seem publishers, like everyone else, have had to be less ambitious and generous – some would say foolish – than they used to be,” he says, “and I hear that advances have been falling. Certainly, they were too high in the boom years of the 1990s, and raised expectations beyond all reasonable limits. But then, back then, bubbles abounded.”

. . . .

“There is no thing as a ‘typical’ advance,” Vanessa O’Loughlin agrees. Vanessa is founder of online magazine site writing.ie, a one-stop shop for authors. She is also a literary scout, who has played a part in some major deals, most recently twentysomething County Meath writer Jax Miller’s six-figure signing with HarperFiction. “And royalties vary enormously too,” Vanessa says. “There are hundreds of variables in a publishing contract that impact the author, all up for negotiation”.

However, she does agree that, “advances have been gradually reducing since the start of the recession. Now, instead of an advance, publishers might offer enhanced royalties. They are starting to think outside the box.”

To me, that just sounds like more 
risk-sharing. They are unwilling to take a punt any more, so they persuade the writer to share risk – and rewards – with them. Quite like drilling for oil or gas.

Because very few writers will talk about advances. Of those I tried asking, one turned me down regretfully: “Sorry, but my agent and publishers would kill me”.

Link to the rest at The Independent and thanks to Renee for the tip.

Thief Takes $6K Worth Of Bestsellers From Library, Sells Online

21 August 2014

From CBS Pittsburgh:

 Local libraries have been on alert after some sticky fingers have taken hundreds of books worth thousands of dollars.

A book thief with a fondness for bestsellers has been busy.

. . . .

“Within the last maybe six months or so, that a lot of our new books and bestseller books have gone missing,” said Jill McConnell, Acting Director of the Cooper Siegel Library in Fox Chapel.

The books are apparently being sold over the internet.

“Yes,” says McConnell, “Other libraries have discovered that their books were sold online.”

Link to the rest at CBS Pittsburgh

I’m Backing Amazon and Authors Should Too

20 August 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘You’ll never work in this town again!” My agent’s exact words were a bit different, but the message was clear: If I took Amazon’s side in its battle with Hachette, no publisher would publish another book of mine. That is a risk worth taking because the publishing industry seems bent on eating its young.

The fight between Amazon and Hachette is ostensibly about e-book pricing. In reality, it is about much more: innovation and the future of publishing.

. . . .

Hachette, understandably, wants to control the pricing of its products. But more important, it wants to maintain its share of e-book revenue at 70%, and to pay authors royalties based on whatever they can negotiate; but typically no more than 10%. Amazon originally pushed to increase its share of the selling price from 30% to 50%—consistent with the print model—but recently proposed a more radical formula: 35% for the publisher, 35% for the author, and 30% for the seller (Amazon.) Hachette said no.

Amazon knows that publishers are resistant to changing their model—the last real innovation was the introduction of the mass-market paperback in the 1930s.

. . . .

I’m supporting Amazon. I think Amazon is far more likely to come up with innovations that may save book publishing, which is in desperate need of being saved. The long-term trends are not encouraging: People are spending less time reading books (including e-books;) unit sales are down, and per capita spending on books continues to shrink.

Yet book publishers seem unwilling or unable to recognize the implications of these trends. What other consumer business responds to flat or decreasing unit sales by increasing prices? But that is what book publishers do year after year. Between 2003 and 2013, the price of the average hardcover fiction title rose 49% to $26.63; nonfiction books are priced even higher.

In theory, it is the publisher’s role to identify promising authors, cultivate them and promote their books. In reality, publishers put out an increasing number of titles each year with little or no marketing support. If an author can promote her book on her own, terrific. If lightening strikes, and a title miraculously becomes a hit, even better. But with more than one million new titles coming out each year—including self-published books—that is a high-risk proposition for most authors. It is not surprising then that the typical book published by a “real” publisher sells fewer than 1,000 copies. Self-published titles sell even fewer.

The publishing industry’s business model and processes are relics. The returns system, in which retailers can return unsold copies at any time for a full refund, is a remnant of the Great Depression. Such marketing basics as price-testing and package (cover) testing are nonexistent. Until Nielsen introduced Bookscan a few years ago, publishers didn’t know how many books they sold; they only knew how many they shipped. Returns could come back at any time.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Chalzc and several others for the tip.

Mean Streets

20 August 2014

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor.

Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Against Editors

20 August 2014

From Gawker:

In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. How many good writers has Big Edit destroyed?

“Pish posh,” you might say. “You’re one to talk. Your grammar is wronged, your metaphors are blunt bricks, and your similes are like a hot needle to the eyeball. Your infinitives are split, your participles are dangling, your spelling is eroneous, your cliches are old as time, your sentences are repetitive, and your sentences are repetitive. Your concepts appear to have been plucked from thin air with no foresight, hindsight, or insight. If anyone is in need of a good editor it is you. And you are ugly.”

Yes. I’ll grant you that. That is beside the point.

. . . .

[W]riting and editing are two completely different skills. There are good writers who are terrible editors. (Indeed, some of the worst editors are good writers!) There are good editors who lack the creativity and antisocial personality disorders that would make them great writers. This is okay. This is natural. It is thoroughly unremarkable for an industry to have different positions that require different skill sets. The problem in the writing world is that, in order to move up, the writer must stop doing what he did well in the first place and transition into an editing job that he may or may not have any aptitude for. It is impossible to count how many great writers have made the dutiful step up the career ladder to become an editor and forsaken years of great stories that could have been written had they remained writers. Journalism’s two-step career path is a tragedy, because it robs the world of many talented writers, who spend the latter half of their careers in the conceptual muddle of various editing positions.

. . . .

Go find a story published a few years ago in The New Yorker, perhaps America’s most tightly edited magazine. Give that story to an editor, and tell him it’s a draft. I guarantee you that that editor will take that story—well-polished diamond that it presumably is—and suggest a host of changes. Rewrite the story to the specifications of the new editor. Then take it to another editor, and repeat the process. You will find, once again, that the new editor has changes in mind. If you were a masochist, you could continue this process indefinitely. You would never find an editor who read the story, set down his pencil, and said, “Looks fine. This story is perfect.” This is because editing is an art, not a science. To imagine that more editors will produce a better story is akin to imagining that a song by your favorite band would be better if, after the band finished it, it was remixed by a succession of ten producers, one after the other. Would it be different? Yes. Would it be better? I doubt it. The only thing you can be sure of is that it would not be the song that the actual musicians wanted it to be.

When any industry fills itself with middle managers, those middle managers will quite naturally work to justify their own existence. The less their own existence is inherently necessary, the harder they will work to appear to be necessary. An editor who looks over a story and declares it to be fine is not demonstrating his own necessity. He is therefore placing himself in danger of being seen as unnecessary. Editors, therefore, tend to edit. Whether it is necessary or not.

Link to the rest at Gawker and thanks to Karen for the tip.

VAT concerns for Scotland ‘Yes’ vote

20 August 2014

From The Bookseller:

Concerns have been raised over the book trade implications of a “Yes” vote in the Scottish independence referendum, with the introduction of VAT on printed books set to “affect all bookshops and publishers north of the border if the Scottish electorate votes for independence”, according to a group from the trade.

. . . .

In an open letter to The Bookseller . . .  the booksellers and publishers warn: “The UK and Ireland enjoy a 0% rate on print books unlike the rest of the EU where VAT is applied at varying rates, but no less than 5% (except of course Luxembourg where Amazon enjoy their 3% rate, at least until 1st January 2015). Any newly independent state of Scotland reapplying for membership of the EU would be required to apply VAT on books. In fact, according to European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, new EU members must apply a 15% minimum.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A case of self-publish or be damned?

20 August 2014

From author Michelle Jackson via The Irish Times:

As the paperback edition of my traditionally published novel Six Postcards Home hits the shelves I am monitoring the ebook version which I self-published on Amazon.

I suppose you could say I am one of a new breed, a hybrid author; someone who is traditionally published yet has self-published ebook editions and titles.

The term can be given to authors who publish in a variety of combinations, for example, authors who self-publish first then a traditional publisher prints hard copies after the book has proven successful. Some very talented authors have been picked up this way who received rejection before.

Self-publishing is a liberating process and stands for one-fifth of all ebook sales in the UK. While publishers and Amazon work out their differences in the courts the facts for the self-publishedwriter are simple. Authors earn a 70pc share of sales for self-published ebooks priced over £1.49 and can reach a global audience in the process.

Compare this to the standard percentage of 6pc – 10pc of a traditionally published book bought off the shelf.

. . . .

After the publication of my last novel, I decided to take a break from writing a new novel this year and I wanted to travel to find new inspiration. However, when I received a lot of lovely emails from readers, asking when my next book would be appearing, over coffee one day with fellow authors Niamh Greene and Marisa Mackle, we decided to produce a book of short stories in between our other writing commitments and Irish Girls on Holiday was born.

It seemed to be the perfect way for us to connect with our readers, offering a summer book that would otherwise not have been published. It is also a way for us to introduce each other’s readers to two new authors. We wrote seven stories each and commissioned a cover design. A major benefit of self-publishing was having control of the entire process – setting the publication date, deciding on the cover. And we had a lot of fun in the process.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times

Here’s a link to Michelle Jackson’s books

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