Monthly Archives: June 2011

Writing naked (nakeder than Orwell)

30 June 2011

Seth Godin boils down George Orwell’s writing rules to their bare minimum.


1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. You don’t need cliches.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Avoid long words.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

. . . .

The reason business writing is horrible is that people are afraid.

Afraid to say what they mean, because they might be criticized for it.

Afraid to be misunderstood, to be accused of saying what they didn’t mean, because they might be criticized for it.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog

Passive Guy thinks Seth’s complaints about business writing apply to a lot of non-business writing as well.



How Do You Make a Living Writing Fiction? A Look at the Numbers

30 June 2011

Passive Guy hit the wall with math in high school. He searched in vain for a college that didn’t require the math part of the SAT exam.

If Excel hadn’t been invented, PG would have required some horrible-looking finger transplant to add or subtract double-digit numbers.

Author Dean Wesley Smith has gone on a numbers binge. These numbers will interest even the most innumerate of authors because Dean shows you how to earn a living writing fiction.


Start from the premise that I am a professional writer.

Start from the premise that I want to make $100,000.00 per year with my fiction writing.

Start from the premise that I can write four novels a year. (About one hour of work per day…1,000 words per day total. 80,000-90,000 word novels.)

Start from the premise that I only want to indie publish. (Ignoring all other income from sales that will come an indie publisher’s way such as translation, movie, audio, and such.)

Start from the premise that I will make this money like I make it in traditional publishing advance and royalty system. (When I make $25,000 on a book in traditional publishing, it comes in three advance parts for a $20,000 advance and $5,000 more in royalties over a few years. About five years total time to earn a full $25,000 traditionally publishing a book.)

So to the math:

I want to make $25,000.00 per book paid out over a 5 year period.

$25,000 divided by 5 years = $5,000 per year per book.

$5,000 per book divided by 12 months = $416.67 cents per month per book.

$416.67 per book divided by $3.50 per sale = 120 books sold per month per book. ($4.99 cover x 70% = $3.50)

That means across all sites (iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, B&N, Kindle, Createspace, bookstores, and all the overseas ebook sites) a book must sell 120 books in a month regularly, on average, to make the author $25,000 over five years.

That’s right! 120 books per month to make $25,000 per book over five years.

And if you keep writing books at the 4 per year pace, in the sixth year you will make more than that $100,000.00 per year when all your books average that sales number. And you will have made far more than that total income over the five years.

Link to the rest of the numbers at Dean Wesley Smith




Amazon Publishing to Authors: ‘Review’ Our Books and We Will Promote You

30 June 2011

From the New York Observer:

The Observer has now learned how Amazon is looking to revolutionize the process of getting author blurbs: provide a review for a book on an Amazon imprint and Amazon will give the reviewer — and his or her book — extra promotion as a thank you.

. . . .

Exhibit A is an email that was sent in January to Elyse Cheney, a New York literary agent, asking for a quote from one of Ms. Cheney’s authors for a book called Stalina, “by an exciting author named Emily Rubin.” The book was coming out on AmazonEncore, the Amazon imprint that republishes successfully self-published books.

I’m interested in knowing whether [name redacted] would be willing to take a look at Stalina and if he likes it, provide a guest review in which we’d also  promote [name redacted] and his works, including any upcoming projects.

“They referred to her as a man!” said Ms. Cheney with disdain. The client in question is a woman.

The email went on to detail its promotional efforts:

The review would be prominently featured on in customer emails, rotating campaigns in the Books and Kindle stores, and on the Stalina detail page (to which our marketing and PR efforts will be driving significant traffic).  This would be a great way to get added exposure on Amazon for [name redacted]‘s backlist or upcoming releases.

“It’s completely unethical,” said Ms. Cheney. “That’s just not how blurbs are done.”

Link to the rest at The New York Observer

Passive Guy is not sure if this upsets him or not.

On the one hand, Amazon has tremendous market power as both a newly-minted publisher and a retailer and an offer of promotion for an author’s books is a powerful incentive to help out.

On the other hand, a big publisher has tremendous market power and a request to one of the house’s authors to blurb a book for another author is also a powerful incentive to help out. Advances may be in play here.

On the third hand, authors blurb back and forth all the time because they like the person even when they don’t particularly like the book.

Ms. Cheney’s complaint in the article seemed to be more about style than substance. They certainly do things differently in Seattle than they do in New York. Ditto for Houston and Los Angeles. (Thank goodness.)

This article was referred to PG by a regular visitor here who thought Amazon’s behavior was not good. What’s the consensus?



Need an Endorsement for Your First Book? How About Donald Trump and James Patterson?

30 June 2011

A great story from the San Francisco Book Review about first-time novelist Ben Lieberman and how he managed to get Donald Trump and James Patterson to endorse his book.


The public endorsement of a celebrity can lend your work that extra bit of velocity to push you past the crowd. Consumers identify celebrity endorsements as a measure of that person’s taste, and may accordingly align their reading lists in the same manner (think Oprah!).

With the cutthroat tenacity of a veteran of the Wall Street financial trenches, author Ben Lieberman knew if he wanted to get the frenzied attention of a reader today, he’d have to get some hefty endorsements.  So he did just that, from media heavy weight and financial mogul Donald Trump, to the devoutly followed intrigue author, James Patterson.

. . . .

Lieberman made several bold moves to get his manuscript into the hands of Patterson and Trump.  Living in New York City, he hunted “the Don” down on a golf course and admittedly stalked Patterson. He showed up with his book in hand, humbly introduced himself as a new author and politely asked if they would take the book home, read it and let him know what they thought about his work.

Lo and behold, three days later, Lieberman received a phone call on his home phone number from James Patterson (on his caller I.D.) and Patterson let him know that he couldn’t put it down and would be happy to offer an endorsement. No one was more surprised than Lieberman himself!

Link to the rest at San Francisco Book Review

UPDATE: Commenter Sarah Stegall says, “The story behind this story is that Lieberman’s book is from Telemachus Press — that is to say, an indie publisher. I wonder if that bit was deliberately omitted from the article, or if the writer just didn’t realize it.

“Lieberman published the book himself, got an endorsement from two heaviweights, and managed to get the book reviewed in one of the few remaining book review papers in the nation. Damn good work, I say.”

PG says, “Go Indies!”



Self-Publishing Mind Map

29 June 2011

If you don’t know what a mind map is or, perhaps you question whether your mind can be mapped at all, Passive Guy has something for you to see.

A mind map is like an outline for free spirits.

Self-publishing coach Shelley Hitz has created a mind map for indie authors.

When you click on the mind map link below, you’ll see why I can’t excerpt anything.

Link to the Self Publishing Mind Map

If you want an overview of mind-mapping software, including a couple of free programs, click here or for way more detail, go to Wickipedia.


Random House Royalty Switcheroo

29 June 2011

Agent Kristin Nelson discovered something that will make Random House authors want to double-check their ebook royalties.


Since we’ve been speaking of 25% of net receipts and it would have been easy to miss, if you publish with Random House, you might want to take a look at your April statements again.

Random House decided they were arbitrarily just going to use the 25% of net receipts to calculate their authors’ eBook royalties in this last accounting round—regardless of what is stated in the contracts. There was no mention of it to agents or letter circulated to authors–that I know of anyway. I’m assuming some folks just weren’t going to notice?

Link to the rest at Pub Rants

Passive Guy has to admit he likes Kristin’s style. She runs the numbers and determines that some RH authors will win and some will lose under the new regime.

The bigger point for PG is how this was done and what it may reflect about the publisher’s attitude toward its authors. (Remember, PG has been hip-deep in Harlequin for a few days.)

If we consider a publishing contract at a high level, it’s a license of the author’s copyright that carries an obligation to pay royalties for the license. The amount of those royalties and how they are calculated is included in the contract. Everybody signs at the bottom and the contract is binding on both parties.

There are lots of other provisions in the contract, but this is the heart, the fundamental purpose – author gives publisher the right to do something and publisher pays author for that right.

So, how does the amount of payment change without the author agreeing to the change? Assuming the author has an agent, that agreement, probably called an amendment to the contract, would go through the agent.

Let’s look at contracts in the reality-based world.

What would happen if PG decided to change his mortgage contract and thought 50% of the old payment was just right?

What would happen if the producers of Jersey Shore decided Snooki was receiving too much money under her contract and cut her per-show payments in half in the middle of the season?

Kristin is rightfully perturbed on behalf of her clients and herself, but PG looks at the bigger picture and asks a simple question. What kind of company would try to pull something like this by changing the money calculation and issuing royalty statements that, on their face, breached its publishing contracts?

Kristin writes that nothing was mentioned to agents and authors received no letter from Random House. There’s something more fundamental, however. Unless the signed publishing contracts says Random House can exercise dial-a-royalty rights by sending out a letter (don’t sign a contract like that if you see one), the only way Random House can adjust royalties is if the author agrees to the change – in writing.

It’s also interesting that the royalty rope-a-dope happened with ebooks. Once again, a publisher appears to be miscalculating royalties on ebook sales. No wonder traditionally-published authors believe there’s no money to be made in ebooks.

PG is a natural-born troublemaker and is probably not worthy of emulation, but if he received a weird royalty statement, he would be inclined to read his audit paragraph and go do an audit. Authors pull back from these because it’s possible to spend a lot of money hiring people to do audits.

At some time in the future, PG will write about audit clauses he has seen. Some are awfully loose and provide an author and an author’s cousin Vinnie who took an accounting class one time a plethora of opportunities to dig all over the place and cause a lot of grief for the publisher.

As just one hypothetical grief example that a sensitive and reticent author would never consider, no audit clause PG has ever read prevents the author from sharing what she finds in the audit far and wide.

PG can see it clearly in his mind’s eye. Vinnie pulls out a piece of paper and says, “This looks fishy to me.” Sitting beside Vinnie, Annie Author tweets, “My accountant just found evidence of royalty fraud at Random House.”

Guerrilla warfare is how oppressed people sometimes fight their battles.

Just a couple of thoughts in passing.



Trusting the Reader

29 June 2011

Long-time editor Alan Rinzler provides excellent advice to authors about their relationship with their readers.


Q: How can I be sure my readers will understand my core message, my purpose for writing the book in the first place – unless I help out with a little commentary or explanation?

A: Authors need to respect their readers and allow them their own reactions to the narrative.

This issue comes up frequently for authors at the early stages of writing a novel, memoir, or non-fiction narrative. The writer wonders: “How present should I be in the story?”

What’s wrong with explaining?

The original motivation for an author is usually to illuminate a story that the reader can easily identify with and care about. So what’s wrong with underlining an idea or focusing on the intentional meaning of what’s going on?

What’s wrong is what I see frequently as a developmental editor. Authors who insert themselves intrusively into the story in a misguided effort to explain the meaning of what’s happening and control how the reader responds to the characters and action.

A guiding principle

Have you ever been to a movie where there’s an annoying voiceover narration that keeps commenting without adding anything to what you’re seeing on the screen?

That’s equivalent to an excessive explanation that an author inserts unnecessarily.

Far better to let the story tell itself.

. . . .

Mistrust is at the heart of the question

Consequently, I believe all writers should avoid the mistrust at the heart of engineering artificially authorized feelings. Instead I recommend an author include only what’s necessary to achieve a proper balance between the quick and the dead, the hollow shell of rapid surface events and the overwrought laboring of an author preaching from a soapbox.

Here’s a good example of such a subtle balance from a very good short story by Tessa Hadley called Clever Girl that recently appeared in the New Yorker magazine:

“Our new garden, which my window overlooked in blind indifference, was only a rectangle of clay, marked off with fence posts and wire from the clay rectangle belonging to the other houses.”

Hardly any explicit emotional direction here. “Blind indifference” is the only clue of where the author might be coming from, but the author hasn’t chosen the words: It’s a first-person narrative.

Meanwhile, the bare description and repeating appearance of the clay rectangle again and again sent a shudder down my spine, evoking, for me at least, desolation, dread, isolation, vulnerability and fear. All very powerful in this story, which is narrated by an unhappy ten-year-old girl who has just moved to the suburbs with her mother and unwelcome new stepfather.


Link to the rest at The Book Deal

When Mrs. Passive Guy reads Mr. Rinzler’s advice, she’s going to make PG have it tattooed someplace visible to improve his fiction writing.

“Insert themselves intrusively” is what lawyers do all the time and PG finds the habit hard to break, but his recovery from practicing law continues. In baby steps. Baby ant steps.


Harlequin Horrors Wanted

29 June 2011

Passive Guy has received a rapid-fire education on all things Harlequin since blogging about Harlequin royalties four days ago.

PG is particularly interested in one reported practice of Harlequin. Here’s a summary from attorney/agent Elaine English:

At this point, it’s necessary to make a side-trip to discuss a bit about the organization of Harlequin before addressing further the specific issue of the royalty rates applicable to these contracts. If you will notice, all of these contracts (with the exception of the 1982 Mills & Boon agreement) are with a parent, corporate entity in Switzerland.  In the earlier contracts, it is Harlequin Enterprises, B.V., and in later agreements, Harlequin Enterprises S.A.  For our purposes, these are one and the same.  Without going into a great deal of technical explanation (which is beyond my abilities in any event), Harlequin has structured the author contract so that your agreement is with, what is in effect, this holding company, but the actual publisher (or receiver of funds from the sales of copies of the work) are various imprints and divisions (subsidiaries of the company) in the US, Canada and elsewhere throughout the world.  When the contracts speak of “related licensees,” it is referring to these subsidiary entities. Apparently actual license agreements were/are regularly entered into between each of these subsidiaries and first HEBV, now HESA.

What does this have to do with the royalty rates?  Well, in the contracts between 1985 an 1996, the applicable royalty provision for e-books is 50% of the Net Amount Received for such sales.  This actually means 50% of the monies received by HEBV (or HESA) from the license agreement it has with the appropriate imprint/division publishing and selling the e-books.  As a result of some communications between the Harlequin contracts department and myself on behalf of an author, I learned that the current licensing arrangement provides that HEBV (or HESA) receives royalties on e-books at the same rate as provided for in current author contracts for e-book royalties (namely rates starting at 6% of cover price).  Sadly, what this means for authors, is that you are entitled to only half of that amount or a royalty equivalent to 3% of cover price.  Is this fair or reasonable?  I’d say “no.”  But that’s what these contracts provide. The only avenue, I see, perhaps to challenge this is language found in contracts starting in 1991 and continuing through 1996.  That language provides that “the NAR for the sale or license of said rights by Publisher from a Related Licensee shall, in Publisher’s estimate, be equivalent to the amount reasonably obtainable by Publisher from an Unrelated Licensee for the license or sale of the said rights.”  That language which suggests these internal agreements must be the same as unrelated, arms-length negotiations, gives an author a small window to argue that the license between HESA and its subsidiary is unreasonable in that it provides lower royalties than would be obtainable from any other, outside licensee, since generally all other traditional print publishers are paying 15% of list or 25% of net, and e-publishers are paying even higher.  Of course, remember that even under this theory, the author is still eligible only for half that amount (or approximately 7-1/2% of list).  Unfortunately, the language of this provision (as well as the publishing contract generally) gives total discretion to Harlequin to determine the reasonableness of its licenses and the estimation of equivalence in this specific case.  (I’m sure all of you have heard Harlequin’s explanation of the equivalence of its e-book royalties, so I won’t try to repeat it here.)  I don’t know whether a court would step in to second-guess the publisher’s judgment on this, but I think it unlikely, and in any event, it would have to be the result of serious and expensive litigation.

Link to the rest of Ms. English’s comments at Novelists, Inc.

Passive Guy is holding a great gush of aghastness at bay for the moment. He wants to see the contract before he cries havoc and lets loose the dogs of aghastness.

So here’s the basic Harlequin pattern as described by Ms. English and others:

1.  Author signs a publishing contract with Harlequin parent company.

2.  The publishing contract provides for royalties paid on books published by the parent company.

3.  The publishing contract also has something that sounds like a triple-whipped subsidiary rights provision.

4.  This triple-whipped provision says the author splits the “net amount received” from licensing revenues 50-50 with the Harlequin parent.

5.  After the contract is signed, the Harlequin parent licenses rights to the book to a Harlequin subsidiary for a royalty of 6% of the sales price. PG is not sure if the parent ever publishes any books itself, but it doesn’t sound like it.

6.  The Harlequin subsidiary sells the book, keeps 94% of the sales price (less expenses) and pays a “license fee” of 6% to the Harlequin parent.

7.  The Harlequin parent divides the license fee 50/50 and the author receives a royalty of 3% of the sales price. It’s not clear to PG if other expenses are subtracted to reach the “net amount received” or not.

8.  The big happy Harlequin family ends up with 97% of the sales proceeds and the author ends up with 3%, regardless of what the publishing contract says about author royalties on books sold by Harlequin parent.

As you can read above, Ms. English says this isn’t fair.

Passive Guy says . . . says . . . says . . . his aghastness level is rising by the minute, but he really wants to see the contract upon which all this is based.

So, abused Harlequin authors, cast off your chains!

Save PG from a horrible aghastness meltdown that will make a mess all over his keyboard.

Send PG a Harlequin contract that supports the triple-whipped royalty scheme. Take all the identifying stuff out as described on PG’s Contract Collection page and send it to him.

The clock is ticking!

Don’t let aghastness claim yet another victim!

Save the puppies, the kittens, the whales, the environment and PG!


Essential Books for Young Adults – Amazon Promo

28 June 2011

Here’s the latest Amazon promotion –Essential Books for Young Adults


The State of the Blog Report

28 June 2011

It’s been five months since Passive Guy started this blog. The original business purpose was to build a platform to support some PG works of fiction that won’t see the light of day for awhile (PG has issues with letting go of backstory).

Since his readers are his constituency, PG decided to provide a State of the Blog report. Since almost every author blogs, perhaps some of what PG has learned will be helpful to you.

When the blog was birthed, PG was researching self-publishing, so he started posting interesting items he discovered during his research. He picked up a few readers (Thank you!), but unique visitors were bouncing along in a generally unimpressive manner.

Following is a graph showing daily unique visitors to The Passive Voice for the first two months of its existence:

This is a slow upward path, but nothing very impressive. At best, about a hundred visitors per day.

If we look at the most recent two months (approximately), we see a nicer trend developing.

For the first few days, we were in the 150-175 visitor range, then on May 7, visitors spiked to over 500. What happened?

On May 6, I wrote my first post on contracts, entitled Don’t Sign Dumb Contracts. This post commented on an essay Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote about hinky contract practices by agents and publishers. Kris was kind enough to mention my post and readership went up and stayed on a 300-400 visitors per day plateau. I’ve picked up 41 comments on that post, which was the first to generate significant commenting.

I continued to write regular posts about contracts in the last two months. During that time period, I also started paying more attention to Twitter, actively trying to recruit additional followers.

The next big spike came on May 28, when the blog hit 929 visitors. What happened?

On May 27, I wrote a post entitled Strip Mining the Authors, once again starting with an essay by Kris Rusch. Kris mentioned my post, Dave Farland picked up on the strip mining metaphor and Dean Wesley Smith had emphatic posts on May 27, May 28 and May 31 pointing to the Strip Mining and a follow-on contracts post, For Avoidance of Doubt as must-reads. On May 31, the blog punched up above 1,000 daily visitors for the first time.

Since that time, The Passive Voice has hit a new plateau, although this last Friday and Saturday were each new daily visitor records and the last four days have each had over 1,000 unique visitors. The last month has also brought more visitors from outside the United States (Thank You!).

Here are some general blog stats:

  • 511 posts since I started – Generally I try to have 4-5 posts per day. I quite often write posts for 1-2 days at a single sitting, then schedule them to appear during the day so repeat visitors will see something new.
  • 2069 comments (Thank You!) – Heavily-commented recent topics include J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore announcement, PG’s upcoming book on contracts, Harlequin, plagiarism on Amazon and Keyboard vs. Longhand.
  • The average visitor spends about 4 minutes on the site. In PG’s experience, this a high number and may reflect the number of new visitors who come and read multiple posts about contracts.

The four most-visited posts are:

1.  Strip Mining the Authors

2.  Publishers and Agents are Trying to Figure Out How to Skin Their Own Authors

3.  You Just Signed with a Big Agent? Oh, I’m So Sorry. (Snarkiness sometimes pays)

4.  Write More for Harlequin, Receive Less Money

In the last month, PG has made the blog feed more prominent and this has substantially increased the feed numbers. Currently 591 people subscribe to the feed, up from less than 100 a month ago. 165 subscribe via email, the remainder via feedreaders.

Twitter is the real deal. PG should go over the 3,000 follower mark today or tomorrow. Clicks from Twitter comprise about 25% of new visitors to the blog, about twice as many visitors as Feedburner delivers.

Some of you are familiar with Technorati. For those who aren’t, it’s like the Social Register for techheads. Technorati ranks blogs by their “Authority” based on a complex algorithm combining traffic, links, quotes, etc. For a tech type, a high ranking on Technorati is almost as cool as being mentioned in Wired magazine or standing next to Steve Jobs.

Among book blogs, The Passive Voice is currently ranked #12 by Technorati. If PG manages to push up two more spots, he’ll have more “Authority” than the Tor publishing blog, which seems very strange and makes him question the whole Technorati ranking method.

Let PG know if you have any questions about any of this, how to do something he mentioned, etc.

As far as the future is concerned, PG knows he needs to do more with Facebook and will begin to build a presence there, starting with an automated feed of blog posts.

PG also plans to provide updates on his contracts book as it progresses, likely asking for feedback on content areas, unmet needs, etc. He appreciates all the comments already made on this topic and has modified his outline based on several.

Thanks to all who support The Passive Voice with visits, comments, emails and links. Passive Guy highly values the intelligence of and interaction with the people who come here.

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