Monthly Archives: May 2011

Here a Tweet, There a Tweet, Everywhere a Tweet, Tweet

31 May 2011

The always-helpful Self Publishing Coach, Shelley Hitz, has a collection of articles on how to be a Big Tweet Person and still have a life.

Passive Guy is about to have has more than 1700 followers on Twitter and is picking up about 25-30 new followers per day (Thank you, Twitterati!), so he can feel Twitter suction coming up through his keyboard all the time.

PG’s favorite Twitter efficiency post title in Shelley’s collection is Make Friends with A Timer, which would be useful since many of the other suggestions revolve around things you can do in 15 minutes.

Here’s a link to the whole collection at Self-Publishing Coach.


For publishers, the author is just one more noodle in a big bowl of pasta

31 May 2011

Writing is essentially a self-motivating occupation.

Passive Guy knows the Mastercard bill helps with motivation, but a writer doesn’t have a district director setting quotas and giving weekly motivational speeches (“Write or die!”).

Hugh McLeod is an advertising executive who is creative (not necessarily a common pairing). He also makes money by drawing cartoons on the backs of business cards.

Although a distant second to caffeine, Hugh is good at kick-starting creativity.

Hugh has 26 tips for How to be Creative:

1. Ignore everybody.

The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you. When I first started with the cartoon-on-back-of-bizcard format, people thought I was nuts. Why wasnʼt I trying to do something more easy for markets to digest, i.e., cutie-pie greeting cards or whatever?

You donʼt know if your idea is any good the moment itʼs created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. Thereʼs a reason why feelings scare us.

And asking close friends never works quite as well as you hope, either. Itʼs not that they deliberately want to be unhelpful. Itʼs just they donʼt know your world one millionth as well as you know your world, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard you try to explain.

. . . .

3. Put the hours in.

Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. 90% of what separates successful people and failed people is time, effort, and stamina.

I get asked a lot, “Your business card format is very simple. Arenʼt you worried about somebody ripping it off?”

Standard Answer: Only if they can draw more of them than me, better than me.

What gives the work its edge is the simple fact that Iʼve spent years drawing them. Iʼve drawn thousands. Tens of thousands of man-hours.

So if somebody wants to rip my idea off, go ahead. If somebody wants to overtake me in the business card doodle wars, go ahead. Youʼve got many long years in front of you. And unlike me, you wonʼt be doing it for the joy of it. Youʼll be doing it for some self-loathing, ill-informed, lame-ass mercenary reason. So the years will be even longer and far, far more painful. Lucky you.

. . . .

4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.

Nobody suddenly discovers anything. Things are made slowly and in pain.

I was offered a quite substantial publishing deal a year or two ago. Turned it down. The company sent me a contract. I looked it over.


Called the company back. Asked for some clarifications on some points in the contract. Never heard back from them. The deal died.

This was a very respected company. You may have even heard of it.

They just assumed I must be just like all the other people they represent—hungry and desperate and willing to sign anything.

They wanted to own me, regardless of how good a job they did.

Thatʼs the thing about some big publishers. They want 110% from you, but they donʼt offer to do likewise in return. To them, the artist is just one more noodle in a big bowl of pasta.

Their business model is to basically throw the pasta against the wall, and see which one sticks. The ones that fall to the floor are just forgotten.

Publishers are just middlemen. Thatʼs all. If artists could remember that more often, theyʼd save themselves a lot of aggravation.

Link to the rest at a “manifesto” (click the download button for the PDF) and a link to Hugh’s blog (with cartoons)


Why Did Romance Author Courtney Milan Go Indie?

31 May 2011

Hint – Money had something to do with it. But so did her readers.


[I]t’s better for me. Other people have explained why they’ve decided it’s in their economic self-interest to self-publish, and so I’m not going to repeat the explanation.

My actual calculations were more involved, but quick-and-dirty: Harlequin pays me 8% of the digital cover price of my books; so assuming I sell no print books, I make more money self-publishing when 31.9% of my sales are digital. Digital sales breached the 30% mark in February of this year.

The fact that I’d come out ahead financially was not my only consideration. I’ve gotten e-mails from people all over the world who want to know why e-versions are not available in the UK or Australia. The answer? Blah, blah, longwinded version here.  (

If I control my own distribution, I make sure that anyone in the world can buy my book on the day of release at a reasonable price.

I still care about print readers. My full-length works will be available in trade paperback, priced comparably to trade paperbacks from traditional publishers. They will be orderable through Ingrams. I’ve chosen to use Lightning Source rather than CreateSpace because even though the terms are slightly better for CreateSpace, Lightning Source has a division in the UK and is building a fulfillment center in Australia, and so I think that will overall be better situation for readers and independent bookstores.

. . . .

If I self-publish, print versions of my books will be available forever.

Finally, I’m dedicated to producing the highest quality books that I can. My readers deserve no less. If I feel that a method of publishing threatens the quality of my books, I will walk away from it, no matter the financial implications for me.

Link to the rest at Dear Author




How to Read a Book Contract – For Avoidance of Doubt

31 May 2011

Contract clauses beginning with the phrase, “For the avoidance of doubt” are a common feature of business contracts.

For example, Company A is negotiating a three-year contract with Company B to purchase twenty different products from Company B. The contract includes ten pages outlining minimum purchases, pricing and quantity discounts, price adjustments for changes in raw materials costs, methods of calculating credits for returns, etc., with variations for each product.

Company A carefully analyzes all the different combinations of prices, refunds, etc., but wants to make certain it doesn’t receive a big bill as a result of unanticipated future permutations.

Company A might insert a clause in the contract that says, “For the avoidance of doubt, Company A will never be required to pay Company B more than $2 million during any calendar month.” (PG has somewhat simplified the likely language.)

With this clause in place, as Company A’s CFO manages cash flow, she knows she will never have to write a monthly check for more than $2 million to Company B.

Last week, Passive Guy blogged about an important essay from Kristine Kathryn Rusch discussing borderline fraudulent contract practices of publishers in recent contracts with authors.

The practices Kris mentioned included embedding important contract provisions in difficult-to-decipher e-rights clauses or obscure clauses in the Warranties section of publishing contracts, traditionally the home of routine boilerplate. An example of one buried warranties restriction Kris identified would “warrant that the writer will not write anything until this particular book under this particular contract is published.”

So, how is an author to respond when the publisher or agent-turned-publisher offers up a shady contract?

An intelligent (and the recommended) response would be to hire a competent attorney to review the contract.

Now, to be completely truthful, is it possible for a clause to be hidden from a competent attorney? The answer is “Yes.” Not likely, but possible. Passive Guy would love to assure you that all attorneys sprinkle themselves with fairy dust each morning so they never make mistakes, but this is not the case. (Besides, fairy dust makes PG sneeze.)

In the absence of fairy dust, an approach to buried gotchas PG might consider if he were still practicing law would be to expand the familiar For Avoidance of Doubt clause into a Smoke ‘Em Out Clause.

The purpose of the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause is to:

  1. Reveal where the gotchas are buried, and/or
  2. Provide a reasonably good method for avoiding the effects of buried gotchas

Here’s an example, based in part on Kris’ essay, of what a Smoke ‘Em Out Clause might look like (with legalistic style amped up a little). The term, “Work” is a defined term identifying the book that is the subject of the publishing contract. Reservation of rights would be handled in a separate clause.

For the avoidance of doubt, no provision of this contract shall:

  1. Give Publisher any rights to any present or future work of Author other than new books with the same characters as the Work.
  2. Prevent Author from publishing any of Author’s present or future books with another publisher or self-publishing such books except for books with the same characters as described above.
  3. Give Publisher any rights to electronic versions of the Work except for an ebook version of the Work with features substantially identical to those being sold at retail by Publisher on the date of this contract.
  4. Give Publisher any rights to versions of the Work in electronic or other formats that are not being sold commercially at retail by one or more major book publishers on the date of this contract.
  5. Give Publisher any rights to past, present or future creations of Author that are not books, including adaptations by Author or others of the Work into a form that is not a book or ebook.
  6. Give Publisher any rights to modify the content of the Work as initially accepted for publication by Publisher without Author’s express written consent in a document separate from this contract.

Passive Guy could go on, but the purpose of the sample clause is to demonstrate what a Smoke ‘Em Out Clause might look like, not provide a comprehensive cut-and-paste example of everything that might be listed in one.

This clause probably doesn’t replace any other clause in a standard publishing contract. It’s added to the contract. What the author is doing is making a list of things that he/she is worried about and negating the publisher’s right to do those things.

The fundamental purpose of this clause is to conflict with hidden clauses that say something different. If you’re sure you’ve found all the gotchas, you may choose a different negotiating tactic to deal with them. However, it still may be a useful approach to set forth some clear and reasonable items in a For Avoidance of Doubt paragraph and make the publisher justify something much more restrictive.

The style of this clause should be simple and straightforward, both for clarity for the author and for clarity for a judge. I’ll talk more about the judge later.

What are some possible responses of a publisher to a clause like this?

Response 1: This is our standard contract and we’re not making any changes.

What you’ve learned from this response is that the publisher’s contract has at least one provision and probably more than one provision that conflicts with the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause. If the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause doesn’t make any changes in the standard contract, there is no cost to the publisher in accepting it.

By virtue of the blanket refusal to discuss changes in the contract, you’ve also learned that, as the author, you are not a respected partner for this publisher. Instead, you are an indentured servant. The only reason you’re not a slave is that slavery is prohibited by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution (and similar laws in another countries), so the publisher will have to be satisfied with indentured servitude.

A variation on this response is, We have dozens of contracts and the administrative issues involved in modifying our standard form for an author would be overwhelming.

Bogus. Hundreds of large companies have thousands of contracts that are completely different from one another and they manage to deal with them.

Response 2: We can agree to paragraphs 1 and 3, but can’t accept the rest.

Now you know where to look for gotchas. The ones you talked about in your paragraphs 1 and 3 are probably not in this contract, but you need to hunt through the contract for the rest.

Response 3: We can’t agree to your proposed addition because it conflicts with other parts of the contract.

Bingo! Your immediate response is, “Which parts of the contract do my proposed language conflict with?” You will then receive a nice little map to a flock of gotchas. If the publisher refuses to tell you where the conflicts are, see Indentured Servitude above.

Response 4: We can agree to your proposed addition with some minor changes to your language.

Watch the changes like a hawk. Analyze the contract until you are certain you know which contract provisions the changes leave in place. Once you think you know what contract provisions are involved and if they don’t bother you, generate another Smoke ‘Em Out Clause that just skirts around those provisions. If the publisher says OK to the new clause, you’ve probably found all the gotchas. If the publisher wants more changes to your language, analyze those carefully or, alternately, ask why the changes are necessary and which contract provisions are conflicting.

Response 5: Your addition is acceptable to us.

This may mean you have a clean contract. This may also mean your Smoke ‘Em Out Clause missed the hidden landmines. This may also mean the publisher will be relying on its standard contract language to override the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause. This reliance is, I believe, risky for the publisher.

As mentioned earlier, the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause is designed to conflict with objectionable provisions hidden in the contract. If your language does conflict and both remain in the contract, you’re looking at a fight somewhere down the road. The Smoke ‘Em Out Clause is not a guarantee of victory, but it should help you out.

When a judge is presented with a contract that includes unclear or conflicting language, the judge will first try to find an interpretation of the contract that honors all the language. One of the reasons for simple and clear statements in the For Avoidance of Doubt (FAOD) clause is to make it difficult for a judge to construe the contract in a way contrary to this clause.

The language of the FAOD clause (“For the avoidance of doubt, no provision of this contract shall”) is designed to tell the judge that if something else is floating around the contract that conflicts with it, the FAOD provision will govern.

Another reason for simple and clear statements is that, comparing those with the complex and roundabout wording necessary to conceal a good gotcha, the judge has more opportunities to construe the gotcha language in a way that preserves the fundamental intent of the FAOD language.

A general rule of copyright law is that an author is presumed to retain all rights not expressly granted to a publisher. Some of the FAOD provisions sound like retained rights.

Finally, a judge will understand the publisher was trying to distract or deceive with a hidden gotcha and will be aware of the great disparity in resources between a big publisher and an individual author. If the FAOD language gives the judge something to hang his hat on, he’ll come down on the side of simple, clear and fairer to the author 9 times out of 10.

An FAOD clause is not a replacement for carefully reading and understanding a publishing or agency contract. An FAOD clause is not a replacement for a competent attorney.

If Passive Guy were still practicing law and decided to use a Smoke ‘Em Out clause in a contract, he would probably adjust it for the particular contract involved. One of the principles of good negotiation is to fight about what’s worth fighting over and let the rest go. A laundry list of FAOD provisions may include some that pick a fight about an issue that’s not really important to you.

The Obligatory Disclaimer: As you may already know, a blog and a lawyer are two different things. A lawyer gives legal advice to his or her clients. A blog does not have clients and does not give legal advice. Even a blog written by a lawyer does not give legal advice. This particular blog includes informed and uninformed opinions, good and bad ideas, but it does not include legal advice. For all other disclaimers that apply to this blog and everything in it, click here.



Amazon Publishing – The Earthquake Starts

31 May 2011

Business Insider, predominantly focused on the tech and media industries from a Wall Street viewpoint, comments about Amazon’s new publishing business.


Amazon is working hard to become an e-book publisher, and thereby compete with the established publishers, who also happen to be some of its biggest suppliers

. . . .

But now Amazon is going beyond [its self-publishing platform], hiring a top publishing executive and starting an office in New York, and going aggressively after best-selling authors.

. . . .

This is a risky move for Amazon, because its paper book retailing business is huge and so it’s alienating important suppliers, but it’s the right move for the following reasons:

  • It’s a huge opportunity;
  • Publishers are going to hate Amazon for doing Kindle no matter what Amazon does;
  • Most importantly, at this point the publishers need Amazon more than Amazon needs the publishers. If publishers stop letting Amazon selling their books, they’ll suffer more than Amazon.

Business Insider is working off a longer post on Seattle-based TechFlash.

Excerpts from TechFlash:

Amazon is likely to encounter plenty of resistance, especially from established publishing houses. Many are owned by larger corporations with deep pockets. They have durable business relationships and strong brand identities that will make them difficult to dislodge.

But Amazon brings its own strengths to the table. The company is innovative and profitable, with an enormous amount of information about its customers and their preferences. Its online business model makes Amazon a tough competitor on price.

“What Amazon is doing is threatening the traditional bottom line,” said New York agent Steven Axelrod . . . .

. . . .

Another New York agent, who asked not to be identified, summed up the publishing world’s reaction to Amazon’s maneuvers with one word: “anxious.”

“The fear is that Amazon will try to control too much, all of that being e-book related,” the agent said.

. . . .

Some expect Amazon to compete against traditional publishers for talent as the Seattle company ramps up its publishing business.

“What Amazon will do is go after authors,” said marketing professor Albert Greco, who specializes in communications and media management at Fordham University, in New York.

“Genius is a short supply in any business, and that’s very true in the book world,” he said.

. . . .

At least one author welcomes Amazon’s competition.

“I just get such a kick out of it,” said [Jayne Ann] Krentz, the Seattle-based romance author. She has written more than 50 books that landed on The New York Times bestseller list, and has more than 35 million copies of her books in print.

“Authors, of course, are very excited by the prospect of new players in a world that has heretofore been controlled almost entirely by a handful of publishers,” she said.

. . . .

Amazon may have a pronounced edge over traditional publishers when it comes to consumer relations. The Kindle helps the company build bonds with readers. Amazon is also known for its algorithm that recognizes customer preferences and recommends other products — often with frightening accuracy, because it tracks consumer searches and purchases.

“Amazon’s trade publishing unit will be the only publisher in New York that also has deep knowledge of and access to readers themselves,” said James McQuivey, vice president and principal media technology analyst for Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Mass. “This will give the imprint tremendous power that other publishers do not have, though they are working furiously to compensate for (it).”


Link to the rest at TechFlash

Link to the rest at Business Insider


Do Indie Authors Have to Be Popular to Become Popular?

30 May 2011

Tracy Marchini guest-posted on Nathan Bransford’s blog and has a long analysis of indie writers and indie success. Tracy self-pubbed Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms.

Excerpts from the blog post:

The first thing I’ve noticed is that there’s still a mental division between the indie world and the traditional world, despite many authors having success on both sides of the line. The most astounding part of this to me is that most of the really successful indie authors, started by publishing their traditional backlist.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is brilliant. If you have a book that was already edited, reviewed and is languishing in your reverted rights pile, then why not put it back in circulation as an ebook and hit a new audience? But sometimes I think people miss the distinction between a successful indie that started with a traditional backlist and an indie that is starting from absolute, 100% scratch. Obviously, it can be done (see: Amanda Hocking, Victorine Lieski, David Dalglish), but it’s a completely different animal, for sure.

. . . .

An indie that starts from scratch is going to have to hand-sell at least their first hundred books. This means that they are going to have to make a personal connection, talk about their book, and hope for a purchase. This is done through blog tours, book reviews and other methods. Getting reviewed as an indie through the traditional reviewers (Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal, NYT) is all but impossible, unless you’re willing to pay for Kirkus Indie. And because most indie book review sites don’t have the name recognition and following that Kirkus or The New York Times does, you’re going to be doing a lot of research and subbing to try and find the same audience.

. . . .

One thing to note about Lieski and Dalglish though, and which I think is amazingly encouraging, is that you don’t have to be Amanda Hocking to make a living as an indie. Lieski and Dalglish aren’t millionaires (yet), but they’re writing full time and supporting their families. That’s amazing, and it says to me that indie authorship is actually more similar to traditional publishing than one might think.

Some will rise to the very top, some will languish at the bottom, and some will make a comfortable living doing what they love. The difference between the two is when a book sees the chunk of sales. In traditional publishing, the focus is on pre-selling to retailers and trying to launch the book as successfully and large as possible. For most books, that big push in the beginning is going to determine what happens to the book for the rest of its shelf-life.

In indie publishing, most authors see the opposite sales pattern. It might look more like this:

Month 1 – 10 books
Month 2 – 37 books
Month 3 – 100 books
Month 4 – 300 books
Month 5 – 800 books

What you’ll notice is that all of the marketing is cumulative, and the jumps that a successful indie sees will become larger and larger.

It seems to me, that most indie authors have to be popular to become popular. And what I mean by that is that people have to be talking about your books when you’ve stopped handselling, in order to really see the groundswell of activity that someone like Hocking, Lieski, etc. is seeing.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford, Author


Memorial in Tuscany

30 May 2011

For readers outside the United States, today is Memorial Day in the US.

While for many, the holiday is only a long weekend marking the beginning of summer, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day because flowers were used to decorate gravesites, was established in 1868 to commemorate men and women who died while in military service.

I took this photograph of the American military cemetery in rural Tuscany. Most soldiers buried there died in World War II, fighting in Italy.




Update: Publishers and Agents Skinning Their Own Authors

29 May 2011
Comments Off on Update: Publishers and Agents Skinning Their Own Authors

For those who read the original post, Dave Farland’s full email is now up here.

My post included excerpts, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing.


Does Your Writing Career Need a Boost? Try Werewolves!

29 May 2011

It’s interesting to watch the evolution of The Wall Street Journal as it tries to destroy the NYT. On Friday, WSJ had a big summer books feature.


As he devours a young man alive, the protagonist of Glen Duncan’s forthcoming novel, “The Last Werewolf,” thinks of Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Mariana.” “I would that I were dead,” Jake recites silently.

Jake is a melancholy, erudite Londoner who chain-smokes Camels and downs single-malt Scotch. When the moon waxes full, he sprouts fur and fangs and a lusty appetite for human flesh.

Mr. Duncan, a 45-year-old novelist who lives in South London, invented Jake out of desperation. His previous seven literary novels sold poorly, and his agent said the prospects for selling the next one were bleak. “It was a rather mercenary and practical decision to try to write a straight genre novel,” Mr. Duncan says. What started as a supernatural page-turner became a strange hybrid: a high-concept literary novel, starring a narrator who could perhaps be described as Humbert Humbert with fur.

The gambit worked. The novel sold in 18 countries. Knopf bought an entire werewolf trilogy—Mr. Duncan is currently finishing the sequel—and plans to release the first novel in July. Ridley Scott, director of films like “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” optioned the film rights. “Thus far, it’s been the smartest move I’ve made,” Mr. Duncan says.

. . . .

This summer, novels featuring robots, witches, zombies, werewolves and ghosts are blurring the lines between literary fiction and genres like science fiction and fantasy, overturning long-held assumptions in the literary world about what constitutes high and low art. Following a string of supernatural successes, including last summer’s hit “The Passage,” a vampire epic by literary novelist Justin Cronin, and the recent surprise breakout “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness, novelists from across the literary spectrum are delivering fantasy-tinged narratives.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (link may expire after a few days)




Ebooks in South Africa

29 May 2011

Disruption is happening in South Africa. The timing is different and the attitude is refreshingly different.


Online retailer Amazon says it has sold 105 e-books for every 100 “real” books in the US in the past six weeks.

However, Josephine Baliah, website manager of South African online book seller Exclus1ves, said while they started selling e-books only in October last year, e-books comprised roughly 10% of their book sales by Christmas.

“Our high-end readers from our book club are now reading on e-books,” she said.

. . . .

Similar concern was raised among publishers when paperback books started coming out, because it meant a different distribution model.

E-books are similarly disruptive, and are requiring publishers to develop innovative solutions, said Ashton.

Link to the rest at Times Live



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