Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Case for Self-Publishing

22 May 2011

From The New York Times Book Review of all places.


I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to a first-time author. A self-published book is almost certainly going to end up on the digital slush pile, with fewer readers than the average blog post. But for a writer like me, which is to say, most working writers — midcareer, midlist, middle-aged, more or less middlebrow, and somewhat Internet savvy — self-publishing seems to make a lot of sense at this point. Early in my career, because of some lucky breaks and a kinder economy, I was able to get advances that helped me support my family over the months it took to write a book. I haven’t been a huge best seller, and I’ve never seen a residual check except for an independently published book of crime stories that I edited, and that was only because I got nothing up front. But I’ve built a modest audience and a name. Now that the advances are smaller and the technology is available, why not start appealing directly to those readers?

. . . .

Corporate publishers do certain types of books, the ones that have a chance of landing their authors on the “Today” show or on the discount table at Costco, quite well. The big-publishing model can work. I currently have a contract, albeit a modest one, to write a nonfiction book for an established publisher, one that’s mainstream in concept and execution, with a clear marketing hook. But most books that corporate publishers release will fail to make money, both for the writer and the company.

. . . .

Here are the economics: I’m going to charge five bucks, or $4.99 a download. For every book sold, my online vendor will send me 70 percent of the revenue. In raw dollar amounts, that’s more than three times what I’d get from a mainstream publisher for each paperback sale. If I manage to score a thousand downloads, which I almost certainly will at that price point (I have a large family), I’ll make 3,500 bucks, and if I get 5,000 downloads, I’m looking at $17,500. Quickly, I’ll have earned the equivalent of a pleasant advance for this book. The vendor will pay me monthly, and will allow me to adjust the amount I charge in case my initial calculations are wrong.

Overhead will also be low. If I need to cover upfront costs, I can always wage a modest campaign on the grassroots online fund-raising phenomenon Kickstarter, which has worked for me before. Meanwhile, a guy from my fantasy football league, a talented editor who put out dozens of works of crime fiction when he ran an indie noir publishing house in Los Angeles, where I live, will be editing the manuscript for nothing. He’s now interested in learning the ­e-publishing game. In exchange, he says, if the book really starts to sell, I can buy him a few beers. I like those terms.

Link to the rest at The New York Times Sunday Book Review


What if Every Book was its Own Social Network?

22 May 2011

I didn’t blog about Joe Konrath’s ideas on what ebooks could be earlier, but this framing of the idea from Techdirt caught my eye. I still have doubts about the viability of Joe’s ideas, but he always makes you think.


Whenever disruptive innovation comes along, the first (and totally understandable reaction) is to take what was there before, and shove it into the new things. It’s why automobiles were originally “horseless carriages.” It’s why when TV came along, the early shows were really just radio programs that you could see. It tends to take some time before people begin to realize that the new platform or technology allows you to do something truly different — rather than just “updated.” Lots of people think they understand this, but it’s often really difficult to comprehend how to really embrace what a platform is good at. However, true “killer apps” tend to come about only after people start recognizing the truly native capabilities of a platform, rather than trying to shove the old into the new with some bells and whistles.

Take ebooks, for example. There has been talk about the fact that now that ebooks are “digital” it means that they can be more “interactive.” Yet, what is the “interactivity” that most people have been talking about? Mostly adding audio and video. But that’s just taking a book and adding a small bell and whistle, rather than what the native platform is really good at. Adding audio and video is still the same basic thinking. It’s broadcasting. It’s taking some form of content from the author/publisher and broadcasting it somewhat statically to “the masses.”

. . . .

[Quoting a Joe Konrath blog post] I buy the book with the click of a button. But rather than begin reading right away, I message my friend who is also in the book, and we decide to join the 4:00pm Whiskey Sour Book Club. There are eight other people signed up for that time slot, and we can all read and discuss the book together. There is also a 3pm slot open, but that’s for fast readers, and my speed is moderate at best. The 4pm is a moderate speed club.

Since 4pm isn’t until later, I browse the Whiskey Sour Forum, and read a few reviews. I also join a chat session and meet two of the other readers who are in my 4pm Book Club. One of them is a bit abrasive, but the bot monitoring the chat session warns him, then kicks him off. Typing on my keyboard becomes tedious, so I plug in my headphones and we voice chat for a bit, talking about thrillers we liked.

. . . .

[More from Konrath]

Whiskey Sour has a full length, author-read commentary, where Konrath explains where, why, and how he wrote certain scenes.

Some of the group wants to continue, but I’m curious to listen to the mp3 commentary, so I beg off and decide to join the 6pm Club for Chapter 2.

The commentary is interesting. Konrath is an entertaining guy, says a lot of funny things. But I realize I’d enjoy it more after I finish, so I pop into the next book club.

. . . .

[Still more from Konrath]

I watch TV for a bit, until a screen comes up saying it is chat time. I sync my ereader with my TV and watch Konrath’s talking head as he fields a Skype chat. Several people express that they wanted a longer ending. Konrath says he’s working on one, as well as three new chapters which will be inserted into Whiskey Sour at the end of the week.

Link to the rest at Techdirt

Why Does John Malone Want to Buy Barnes & Noble?

22 May 2011

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal says John Malone, owner of Liberty Media, wants to buy Barnes & Noble for the Nook, not for the physical bookstores.

This raises a question in Passive Guy’s mind about whether Liberty would spin off the physical bookstores at some point. Right now, PG thinks the physical stores are a key competitive advantage for Nook because they allow prospective purchasers to try out the ereader.

Additionally, during a conversation PG had with a Barnes & Noble employee a few months ago, she said virtually every Nook sale resulted in the sale of one or more covers for the Nook. A nice little twist was when a husband/boyfriend bought a Nook+cover as a gift for a female, said female frequently came back to the store to buy another cover in a better color.

While Barnes & Noble has to pay attention to competitors’ pricing when it prices the Nook itself, the covers and other accessories are very high margin items. (Ditto for Kindles) Without access to inside info, PG would speculate BN may make more dollars from the sale of the cover than the sale of the device.

Once you sell the Nook, of course, you sell a bunch of high-margin ebooks for the Nook and probably have a long-term customer. That’s what has captured John Malone’s attention.

However, from a cost standpoint, these profitable Nook stores are inevitably sitting inside much larger Barnes & Noble stores selling physical books which are not so profitable. If you close the bookstores to save money and focus on ebooks, you lose the Nook retail locations. Without the Nook retail locations, you’re going head-to-head with Amazon in a pure online business, which is not a battle PG would recommend.

One possibility would be to ditch the leases on the big stores and start opening much smaller Barnes & Noble stores to house a Nook store and a few books. With this model, you would might employee costs by having one employee located in the Nook store and one for the rest of the store.


John Malone has bet big on cable networks, home-shopping and satellite TV. Now, with a bid for Barnes & Noble Inc., Mr. Malone is rolling the dice on e-books.

Barnes & Noble would represent a new digital retailing toehold for Mr. Malone’s Liberty Media Corp. conglomerate, whose assets include the QVC home-shopping network, stakes in a smattering of media and technology companies, and several small e-commerce businesses.

Mr. Malone sees the book chain as a bargain and an opportunity to play in what may be a large growth opportunity for e-books, say people familiar with the matter.

. . . .

But Barnes & Noble still presents a thorny problem for the digitally minded Mr. Malone: the nation’s largest bookstore chain remains predominantly a brick-and-mortar business with 705 retail stores and about 40,000 employees.

. . . .

Liberty’s cash offer was the only serious one Barnes & Noble has received, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (link may expire after a period of time)

Do You Have a Nook Color? Want to Watch Hulu?

22 May 2011
Comments Off on Do You Have a Nook Color? Want to Watch Hulu?

PC World shows you how to hack your Nook Color so you can use it to watch Hulu.

Don’t email Passive Guy if this doesn’t work. And no, he won’t buy you a new Nook if your’s starts shooting sparks.

Find out how at PC World

The Annoyances of Ebooks

21 May 2011

I mentioned a blog post by Megan McCardle speaking of the advantages of ebooks.

A collection (covey? herd? gaggle?) of people who dislike ebooks descended on Ms. McCardle after her post.

Here are some excerpts from her response that make a good point about all sorts of disruptive technology:

I think this [criticism of ebooks’ shortcomigs] makes a critical error: the belief that a technology must be superior on all fronts in order for it to supplant an earlier technology.  This just isn’t true.

. . . .

New technologies are like that.  They don’t actually have to be faster, or better, than any conceivable product.  They just have to be better in key ways than the competition.

There were, for example, a lot of complaints about the horseless carriage.  Busy professionals like doctors pointed out that if they bought such a contraption, they would no longer be able to wrap the reins around the buggy whip and take a nap while the horse drove home.  Others pointed to the very low reliability of motor cars, compared to horses, their inferior capabilities on dirt roads, and the difficulty of finding gasoline in the countryside.  People lamented the inability to bond with their cars the way they did with their “team”, and the fact that the motor car would blindly drive you into danger where the horses would have shied away.

All of these things were true. None of them mattered.  Automobiles were faster than horses, and didn’t need to be fed when not in use.  As they became more popular, they made horses a less and less viable means of transportation: drinking troughs disappeared, livery stables and feed stores shut down, hitching posts were not installed.

. . . .

A lot of the reaction to any new technology is simply that many of us invested a lot of effort in learning how to use the old technology well.  That’s especially true of books.  (It’s no accident that so many of the complaints come from journalists, academics, and other writers).  For years, in school and at work, we constructed increasingly elaborate personal reference systems from notes, flags, and dog-ears, and our brains are now very nimble at using them.  Change is hard.  Moreover, it involves recognizing that all of our previous effort was a sunk cost: we have a painfully acquired skill that is now useless.  We’d much rather double down than move on.

Link to the rest at Megan McCardle

The Sharks are Chewing on Each Other

21 May 2011

Earlier this morning, I tweeted about this, but it’s worth a short post.

It appears that agents and publishers are beginning to attack each other. The trigger is the contracts agents are pitching to their authors that designate agents as publishers of backlist titles to ebook and POD in return for 50% of the revenues after the agents recoup their “expenses.”

For an author, a 50% royalty for ebooks sounds better than a 25% royalty from a publisher, but, of course, the cost of self-pubbing an ebook is negligible and the author then keeps 100% of the royalties and pays no “expenses.”

This story is the first instance I have heard about where a publisher strikes back – making a deal directly with the author and cutting out the agent.

When the pie starts shrinking, those who are accustomed to eat pie start fighting over the size of their slices.


When agents Sonia Land and Ed Victor announced that they would begin publishing select authors works digitally I wrote that I thought the narrative that agents would disintermediate publishers was somewhat overstated and that a reverse tale might equally become true.

The news that we report today that Random House has approached the author Tom Sharpe direct and concluded a deal for his backlist e-book rights without recourse to his agent (Sonia Land chief executive of Sheil Land) shows that publishers will not go quietly into the night, and simply let the author brands they have built discard them.

Agents will fume: one said the gloves were now off. Anthony Goff, president of the Association of Authors Agents, told me that undermining the principle that publishers should not engage in contractual discussions with agented authors direct was “unacceptable”. He said: “Once an author has a deal with an agent, then for a publisher to go behind that agent’s back for financial or contractual discussions is totally unacceptable. It is not just that agents don’t want it, neither do authors. There is a reason agents are employed as advisers.”

Link to the rest at FutureBook

How to Read a Book Contract – Assignments – Part 1

21 May 2011

Passive Guy would bet that almost no one perusing his babblings has ever really read an Assignments clause.

“Wait,” you object, “I read all my contracts all the way through.”

“Very well,” PG responds with a cruel smile. “What did your Assignments clause say?”

PG would bet silence would ensue.

The right to assign a contract is the right to take whatever your obligations and rights under the contract are and give them to someone else. Sometimes money is involved, but, absent prohibition, you could assign your publishing contract for Ten Ways to Help Your Hickory Tree Grow Faster to your twelve-year-old nephew for his birthday. He would be disappointed, but you could do it.

The Assignment clause is one of those things that might not even be in the contract. That’s one reason why PG’s earlier cruel smile question might befuddle you.

One of the cool things about the right to assign a contract is that if the contract doesn’t say anything about it, the general rule is that either party is permitted to assign the contract. To be more specific, most Assignments clauses are, in reality, contract terms that limit the right to assign the contract.

Why do you care whether your book contract can be assigned or not?

Let’s pretend that you sign a contract with Venerable Olde Publishing, founded in 1893 by T.W. “Tightwad” Venerable. One of the main reasons you sign the contract is the opportunity to work with Venerable Olde’s Chief Editor, R.P. “Red Pencil” O’Grady, who regales you with charming stories of getting drunk with F. Scott Fitzgerald when R.P. was editing Scott’s manuscripts.

You fail to note the absence of an Assignments clause in your contract.

One lovely morning, you pause in your work on your next book for Venerable Olde Publishing, a biography of the first Hindu Swami to visit Alabama, to collect your mail. You receive a letter on expensive stationery from Tightwad III announcing he has sold out to a German company whose name he can’t pronounce and inviting you to stop by for lunch if you’re ever in Provence. He is sad to also announce that R.P. is being treated for cirrhosis and isn’t expected to return to work. Your new editor will be Hauptmann Adolph von Kleist who will be in touch with you shortly.

Von Kleist emails you 15 minutes later asking how many words you will write during the following day.

What sort of limitations might you have in an Assignments clause?

One common limitation in the real world is that the contract cannot be assigned without the consent of the other party. If you had one of those paragraphs, you might not have consented to von Kleist and company.

In the unreal world of publishing, I wouldn’t count on getting a nein-to-von-Kleist clause. To be fair to publishers, the publishing contracts may well represent the single most valuable asset of the company. The publishing company is the boss and nobody there wants to bother asking the peasants for permission to sell them to a new boss.

In the real world, sometimes the no assignment without consent is softened a bit by adding a provision that consent to assignment shall not unreasonably be withheld. That doesn’t really do much good because an unreasonable person always believes they’re acting reasonably, but such an addition does signal to a judge that the option to veto an assignment is not absolute.

In our von Kliest hypothetical, since the publisher is doing the assigning, you would prefer no restrictions on your right to say no . . . . if you could negotiate that right in the first place, which you probably can’t.

However, the absence of an Assignments clause cuts both ways.

While contemplating Assignments last night (doesn’t everyone?), PG pulled out a couple of publishing contracts that were lying around. (Pause to remind you that PG is anxious to receive more book contracts and agent contracts for his Contract Collection. For one thing, he’s tired of reading the ones he has because he already knows the ending.)

PG’s reading confirmed that neither of the contracts he examined prohibited assignment of the contract by the author. In fact, one contract specifically referred to the author’s assignees – the people to whom the author might assign the contract.

So, here’s a thought to end Part 1 of our discussion of Assignments: What might happen if, when you received your email from Hauptmann von Kleist, you phoned your attorney and had her draw up two assignment documents?

  1. One document would assign your rights to receive future royalties to a trust for yourself and your children.
  2. The other document would assign your obligation to write the Alabama Hindu Swami bio to your drunken Uncle Fudd. In return for a bottle of Jim Beam, he’d sign an acceptance of the assignment.

Contracts consist of rights and obligations. Absent prohibition, you can probably assign them separately.

Some legalistic readers might object that the nature of the obligations make them personal to the author, but P.G.’s adversarial response would be, “If that’s what the publisher believes, why wasn’t it written in the contract? After all, we are dealing with a contract the publisher wrote.”

Now, this may not quite simple as depicted, but PG needs to earn a nickel or two, so we’ll continue our discussion of Assignments in a couple of days. I’m just getting warmed up on the gotchas and as demonstrated by my double-assignment trick above, I’m thinking about some author-friendly gotchas.

Obligatory Disclaimer: You obtain legal advice from an attorney you hire, not a blog. What I write here may be a work of sublime genius or ignorant drivel. Regardless of whatever it may be, it is not legal advice. To view the breadth and magnificence of my disclaimers documenting in as many ways as I can imagine that I am not your attorney, please copy and paste the word, “disclaimer” into this blog’s search box. Everything that comes up as a result of your search is incorporated in this disclaimer by reference.

Celebrating Your New Book

20 May 2011

Is Someone Stealing Your Work? How to Find Plagiarism

20 May 2011

What is the easiest way to make money fast with a self-pubbed ebook?

If your answer involved writing a book yourself, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Forget about that writing stuff, just steal someone else’s ebook, open an account on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, publish the ebook online at a bargain price and watch the money roll in.

We’ve talked about ebook plagiarism here and here.

Someday, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., are going to do something cool to catch plagiarism by comparing each new ebook file with all the other ebook files in the universe, but for now, if the author or publisher doesn’t catch it, nobody is. While the enterprising plagiarist prefers going to the big sites where the action is, with the proliferation of places to buy ebooks, why not upload everywhere? The author might catch some of your entrepreneurial activities, but the ones that aren’t caught will continue to generate cash for you forever.

As we all know, there’s a website for everything and that includes Plagiarism Today, a site devoted to fighting plagiarism in all its forms. In a quick skip through the site, Passive Guy found some silly stuff, but he also found some good stuff.

Part of the good stuff was an article about how to find plagiarism. You could wait until one of your friends emailed you, but there are better ways.


The first step to a successful Google search is to NOT use the title of your work. Many plagiarists, to hide their activity, will change the title of your work while keeping the body intact.

The best thing to do is to find a statistically improbable phrase (SIP) in your work and search for it. A good SIP is usually between 6-12 words long and is completely unique to your work.

On your first try, place your SIP in quotes. If that doesn’t return any matches, search again without the quotes to broaden your search. If neither search turns up anything and your work is posted online, it means that Google has not indexed your site and it is best to wait a few days and try again.

. . . .

[For private message boards and social networking sites]  you can use a tool called Copyscape to make the process of searching through Google much more efficient. To use Copyscape, you simply punch in the URL of the work you want to check and click submit. Copyscape will do the rest.

Copyscape uses Google as its backend so it will have the same limitations as the search engine itself in terms of what it picks up. Also, the free version may be too limited for some users since it only returns ten results. However, their paid service 5 cents per search and offers unlimited results.


Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today






No Publishing Contracts for Eternity

20 May 2011

I previously blogged about the current prevalence of publishing contracts that have a term equal to the life of the copyright. In the US, this is usually the life of the author plus 70 years.

With this “standard” term, it is not difficult at all to predict that many publishing contracts signed today will last 100-125 years or more. An author who is 30 years of age who completes a book and signs such an agreement this year and then lives to the age of 80 has signed a 120-year contract.

Such an extended term means the rights to the books will travel from the original publisher down through a chain that may include one or more successor publishers, creditors who have taken the contracts as security for loans that default, bankruptcy sales, private sales and general neglect.

Given a reasonable number of authors, it is virtually certain that some of the owners of the publishing rights will violate the contracts through ignorance or intentionally. Contract breaches or uncertain chains of title for valuable books will lead to litigation, perhaps serial litigation, between heirs to the authors and successors to the publishers that could well involve injunctions prohibiting publication, etc., etc., etc.

Most books published today will, for all intents and purposes, have little to no commercial value within 25 years. However, a few will flourish and grow to become classics, standards that are widely studied and taught. Do we want those types of books enmeshed in contracts that last nearly forever?

125 years ago was 1886. With some quick research, I developed the following list of classic or near-classic authors who were still alive then and possibly wrote (I didn’t research dates of publication) or definitely wrote after 1886 whose books are, to the best of my knowledge, in the public domain and subject to no limitation on their publication.

That list includes:
Matthew Arnold
Lewis Carroll
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Thomas Hardy
Henry James
Bram Stoker
Robert Louis Stevenson
Oscar Wilde
George Bernard Shaw
Joseph Conrad
Arthur Conan Doyle
Rudyard Kipling

Do we really like the idea that the works of authors of this quality and era might be tied up and unavailable due to fights over who owns the publishing rights?

“Sorry, no Alice in Wonderland this year.” “We hope to have all issues related to Treasure Island resolved in time to publish additional books and again permit screenings of existing movies in 2013.” “No Sherlock Holmes books, movies or television programs will be available until after all appeals are exhausted. We are asking that anyone who has possession of any copy of a Sherlock Holmes book published in the last five years in violation of the rights of current copyright owners voluntarily return that book to Dewey, Cheatam & Howe or take it to an authorized recycling facility immediately.”

To be clear, I also believe the current term for a copyright – life+70 years – is entirely too long. Just as I would not like to have the works of the authors listed above tied up today by ancient publishing contracts, I would also not like to see those works tied up by 3rd and 4th generation heirs who may be far removed from the spirit and attitude of their illustrious forebearers.

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