Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Jewel in the Spam Bucket

31 July 2011

All bloggers learn about spam comments.

Passive Guy doesn’t know if anyone else checks their spam folder, but he does. Once in a while, he finds a legitimate comment that somehow triggered the spam hound’s defensive instincts and brings it back from the dead.

In the process of checking the spam yesterday, PG found a comment, clearly spam, but demonstrating a distinctive style. Since the day had not been packed to the brim with amusement, PG found it amusing and thought you might as well.

The crux of your writing whilst sounding reasonable initially, did not really sit properly with me after some time. Someplace within the paragraphs you actually were able to make me a believer unfortunately only for a while. I however have got a problem with your leaps in logic and you might do well to fill in those breaks. When you actually can accomplish that, I would definitely end up being impressed.



The reading of good books is like a conversation

31 July 2011
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The reading of all good books is indeed like a conversation with the noblest men of past centuries who were the authors of them, nay a carefully studied conversation, in which they reveal to us none but the best of their thoughts.

René Descartes


Creating an Electronic Audience

31 July 2011

David Farland shares how he’s going to handle his backlist:

For example, some of us old-timers aren’t in as enviable a position as it would seem. I spoke to a friend yesterday who is a bestselling romance novelist. She recently went to her publisher and asked for a reversion on her out-of-print books. The publisher immediately took the books, converted them to electronic text, and put them up for sale, putting them “back in print” so to speak, but only offering the author a pittance in electronic royalties. (I’d heard of Harlequin doing this with other authors, but this was the first independent verification I’ve heard of this practice.) Other publishers are stealing OP books outright, not even offering the authors royalties.

. . . .

1) Get content up quickly. This means putting up books and stories that you own outright—short stories, novels, and series. For many of us, it means simply: write quickly. This might sound daunting, but it’s not.

In my own coffers, I have seven OP novels that I can put up—a single book, a two-book series, and a three-book series. By the end of the month, I should get all seven of those books up.

. . . .

But I have a lot more short fiction—some thirty or forty short stories and novellas that I can publish. I have already put up two little collections, but I need to get all of the rest of my stories out in the next month. Some of my Star Wars stories can only be re-published in a collection that has all of my short fiction in it, so I’ll have to bundle up all of my short stories into on large volume if I want to reprint these. So I should be able to generate about 50 or 60 sellable pieces of fiction this month.

. . . .

2) Get the books out at the right price. Those who are prospering electronically are often giving away free samples, or selling some work at roughly $1 per book, with higher prices for later books in the series—keeping prices low (at $2.99 per book). For myself, I’m proposing a multi-tier structure. I’m going to put out some short stories for free in order to attract new readers, but the bulk will be priced at .99 cents each. However, these will have links back to my web page where I’ll sell my OP books at low prices–$2.99 per book, while a few new works will be at a premium price—up to $9.99 per book. In other words, I’m hoping to build an audience by using a few free products to introduce people to my work. They’ll then have the choice of whether to buy my backlist (for cheap), or purchase books at a premium price. Right now, my books are all out at the wrong price. I’ll need to change this.

3) Validate yourself. Each book or story that you put up should have a decent cover, a good sales pitch, intriguing cover quotes, and so on. In short, each product will need to be a “total package.”

. . . .

4) Market after the fact. Every product that you put up—from a free short story to an expensive book, should link back to sites where the reader can find more of your work.

Link to the rest at David Farland


How Other People Edited My Novel

31 July 2011

From author Lydia Netzer, whose  first novel, Shine Shine Shine, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press in summer of 2012:

I spent over ten years writing my novel. There was a lot of self-editing that happened during those ten years. From tweaking sentences to throwing out chapters and even whole drafts, I edited pretty constantly as I went along. I edited based on my own opinions, and based on suggestions from my critique group. I edited when Susannah told me on an early draft, “No, this isn’t right. You haven’t got it yet.”

. . . .

Lots of people have asked me how much influence my agent and editor had on my book, and if that bothered or upset me. The answer is that they had a lot of influence, and all of it was good in the end, and none of it ultimately bothered me. There were changes that made me hesitate, and some that I thought might be impossible. I had decided that I was not going to be some sort of annoying prima donna. I told myself that I was going to be a good girl and not argue, and that I would take every suggestion and try and make it work in the book. There was only one suggestion that I could not find a way to do. All the rest of them made the book better, I strongly feel. So when I look at the book I don’t see my darling book underneath the mean changes and ugly edits forced on me by other people. I see a book that’s so much better than it was a year ago, I hardly recognize it.

. . . .

Beautiful agent wrote the pitch letter (It’s like Eat, Pray, Love, but in SPACE!!!) and compiled a list of editors. On April 26, she started pitching it, and in a couple of weeks we had a deal. And an editor. You may notice that the word “edit” is prominently featured in the title “editor.” Unsurprisingly, my adorable editor had a list of things she wanted tweaked and twirled in the book. One character was to have a much larger role. One subplot was to get a much more complete treatment. We talked about the edits on the phone, and I pondered and toiled over them in the manuscript.

. . . .

No novel falls perfectly from a writer’s head. Mine has maybe been through more changes and permutations than most. But when the cover goes on and the pages get numbered and the release date finally comes, there aren’t going to be any more chances to fix it. This is my chance to make the book as perfect as possible, and I’m taking every opportunity I get.

Link to the rest at Lydia Netzer


The Basic Math of Publishing

31 July 2011

Here’s a second the first of two David Farland posts for today (PG switched the order) with Dave’s usual combination of deep knowledge of traditional publishing with a willingness to move toward new opportunities.

For those new to the blog, Passive Guy has mentioned before that Dave is not only a prolific and successful fantasy/scifi author (over 50 published novels), but he has also helped a great many successful authors get started.

For several years, Dave taught creative writing at Brigham Young University. His students there included Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Eric Flint, Jessica Day George, James Dashner and Dan Wells. Passive Guy knows of two other former Dave Farland students who have received multi-book contracts with impressive advances from Big Six publishers for books that haven’t been released yet. (Not everybody listens to what PG says about indie publishing).

This excerpt is from Dave’s excellent and free email newsletter:

 A reader of the Daily Kick asked me recently to help him try to figure out whether it was better to self-publish a book as an e-book, or to go with a traditional publisher.

That’s a hard thing to do. Right now, taking a shot in traditional publishing is like trying to hit a moving target. In the past month alone, the nation’s third largest chain, Borders, has filed for bankruptcy and is now liquidating 400 of its stores. Many other bookstores are in trouble.

Meanwhile, book sales on a month-by-month basis for hardcovers in the US are showing about a 40% loss, on a month-to-month comparison to one year ago, and paperback sales are also tanking.

At the same time,, the world’s largest retailer, is showing about a 300% rise in sales of e-books on their site from last year.

. . . .

As a result of this, an author can anticipate that paperback sales now are about 50% of what they were last year.

In other words, paper books are rapidly dying. Many of the retailers who were selling them only a year ago are gone, and many of the survivors were selling paper books are now pushing electronic books instead.

So what should an author do?

Right now, if you publish a book in a paper format, it will take about two years for the book to be printed and released. What will the markets look like in two years?

I don’t know. I strongly suspect that in early 2012, we will see that more than half of all book sales are made electronically. By mid-2013, that number might rise to 70% of all sales. In a market like that, what can a publisher really offer you?

. . . .

The major thing that [publishers] demand is electronic rights. Most publishers now are offering 25% of “net” to their authors on electronic sales. Once they hit the author up for operating expenses, that means that the author will get less than 15% of the money spent on the sale of a book.

Now, don’t be fooled. Your agent will get a portion of that (about 15%, normally). And of course the electronic distributor will normally get a healthy chunk, too (at least 30% of the sales price).

Then you have to worry that your publisher is paying an honest royalty to you. (If you listen to authors, you’ll find that it appears that many publishers are not paying honest royalties.)

The result is that over the life of a novel, the author will get very little of the money paid for his product, if he goes with an agent and a traditional publisher. Let’s say that you write a book that makes $100,000 in sales over the next ten years. How much of that will you get as an author?

Well, the electronic distributor ( and Noble), under current rates, would get $30,000. Your publisher will take in the other $70,000, and would then pay you 25% of net. What’s the net? That’s hard to determine. The publisher might well charge you for the operating expenses of its company as a part of that net, or subtract money spent for advertising, or editing.

Let’s be generous on our determination of net, and say that you get 20% of the total received–$14,000. Your agent will then get an additional $2010. This would leave you with a little under $12,000 over the next ten years.

. . . .

Given all of this, the answer to the question is, “When does it make sense to publish with a conventional paper publisher?” The answer is, Never. Those days are gone. It would appear, right now, that the potential profit lines on a graph will diverge dramatically, and the longer you publish your book, the more you’ll regret going with a traditional publisher.

Unless, that is, you look at publishing as a career. It may be that a publisher will bring out your book, create buzz, give you a tremendous advance, launch your career beautifully, push your books so that they sell far better than they would have on their own, and turn you into the next J.K. Rowling. It does happen. Getting the notoriety and the marketing push from a big publisher can be a huge boost to a budding career, and it may be worth your time to seek out a major publisher.

You publisher typically offers editorial skills, marketing muscle, credibility—a lot of things that any author needs.

However, as an author who has been in this business or 25 years, I have to warn you about how it really works. Anyone who has been in this business for very long will tell you horror stories about how the conventional publishers messed up their editing, their cover quotes, their cover art, missed their ship date, under-ordered on print runs, refused to send the author on a signing tour, and so on. In other words, for every fairytale come true, authors can tell you about a hundred nightmares. For every author who makes a living in this business, dozens attempt it and fail.

Link to the rest at David Farland. You can join Dave’s free email newsletter list here.


The Conversations of Old Guys

30 July 2011
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Always filing away dialogue ideas, author Susan Daley reports:

I overheard two men yesterday as they passed by:

The first man, while he bravely shuffled to keep pace with his companion, said, “I’m moving as fast as I can at my age.”

The second man replied, “You’re doing great. I tell people, if you don’t like this speed, you won’t like what’s coming.”

Link to the rest at Looking Out My Backdoor



Mickey Spillane on Writing

30 July 2011

I’m a commercial writer, not an “author.” Margaret Mitchell was an author. She wrote one book.

Mickey Spillane


Your Agent Isn’t Your Mommy

30 July 2011

A comment at Courtney Milan’s blog caused Passive Guy to reflect on the extreme reactions of some authors to any criticisms of the business practices of agents. These reactions may also occur in response to reports or opinions that traditional publishing is in rapid decline, but are particularly intense when agents are criticized.

Some of these reactions don’t strike PG as the responses of mature business people discussing a business relationship.

Here are some examples from the comments section of the Bookends blog during the disastrous introduction of Bookends’ agent/publishing venture:

[Speaking of one of Bookends’ agents] My gut, my heart, my experience says to trust in her vision because I have faith in her inventiveness, faith in her intelligence, and unshakeable faith in her integrity.

I trust her implicitly to take care of my career…which in turn takes care of hers.

Jessica and I have spent many hours talking about my work and my career. I trust that she has my best interest at heart, and not just because my best interest is her best interest.

The idea that anyone is trying to exploit anyone else deeply saddens me. [After signing with an agent,] I would trust him/her with all my future endeavors. All. Even if they seemed, excuse the turn of phrase, sketchy as hell.

Quite simply, I trust them no matter how our business relationship shifts and changes to keep up with the industry.

To PG, these kinds of reactions seem weird and a little icky, but mostly adolescent, maybe even babyish.

They’re sound like a shy sophomore who has a giant crush on the high school quarterback and slips anonymous love notes into his locker. Bobby can do no wrong because he’s just so cute and wonderful and she knows he likes her because he said hi one time in the hall between classes.

Or (rolling away from sexism), they’re like Napoleon Dynamite after someone agreed to go to the dance with him.

This is a business relationship, not a girls and boys club. The class of trust that speaks to PG in quotes like these is a mommy trust or a clingy best friend trust, a deeply codependent and needy trust. If the agent terminates representation, it will feel like a breakup instead of like switching to a new doctor.

In discussions about the massive changes underway in publishing, some authors resolve all concerns by saying something like, “I asked my agent about this and she says it’s not really a problem.” This reminds PG of little kids who say, “Oh yeah, well my dad says . . . ”

Passive Guy doesn’t know if agents consciously encourage this sort of dependency, but it sure makes for cooperative clients.

How badly must such an agent perform before the author decides to terminate the relationship? If a plumber made a mistake that cost you money, that plumber would be gone. If a real estate agent assured you it would be a cinch to sell your house in 30 days, you’d fire her if it was still on the market six months later.

How can an author make sound independent decisions about his writing career if he “would trust [his agent] with all future endeavors. All. Even if they seemed sketchy as hell.”

When PG practiced law, he would have expected to be immediately terminated if he ever suggested something that struck his client as “sketchy as hell.” He was always happy to be thanked for his services, but would have been creeped out by the saccharine sentiments some authors slather all over the web about their agents.

Apparently, for some authors, love conquers all so long as they’re regularly rocked and reassured.

Feel free to tell Passive Guy he’s crazy about this. He promises he’ll leave your comment up even if you say you trust your agent implicitly.



Best Books About Psychos, Obsessives And Other Loons

30 July 2011

From the Wall Street Journal, a collection of the best books about the worst people.


This Sweet Sickness
By Patricia Highsmith (1960)

Patricia Highsmith admitted that she found writing about psychopaths “easy”—and who could forget the suave, amoral Tom Ripley or the petulant Bruno Anthony in “Strangers on a Train”? With the character David Kelsey in “This Sweet Sickness” she shows us not only a man being mad, but one going mad.

. . . .

Morvern Callar
By Alan Warner (1995)

When Morvern Callar discovers that her boyfriend has cut his own throat, she hardly reacts at all: “There was fright but I’d daydreamed how I’d be.” So begins this extraordinary novel by Alan Warner. We follow Morvern as she hides her boyfriend’s corpse in the attic, empties his bank account and submits the novel he has been writing to a publisher—under her own name.

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


Another Agency Shoots Itself in the Foot Announcing an “Assisted Self-Publishing Initiative”

30 July 2011

What is it with agencies and new initiative announcements this week?

First, Bookends does less than well in announcing its “Strategy for Self-Epublishing” and now The Knight Agency screws up its “Assisted Self-Publishing Initiative.”

Do all you people buy your bottled water from the same source? Are these examples of your online savvy and how well you will do in promoting your authors with blogs and tweets and social media?

You already know about Bookends. Allow Passive Guy to tell you about The Knight Agency.

1. On Wednesday, Sarah Hoyt blogged about deciding to no longer have an agent and go indie.

2. Sarah said good things about her agent, a welcome contrast from previous agents. However, as with many authors, Sarah was concerned about major shifts happening in publishing that we’ve often discussed on this blog.

3. Sarah was also concerned that her agency had started their own digital publisher and specifically concerned about conflicts of interest, just like lots of those who criticized Bookends for doing the same thing.

4. Early on Friday, Sarah received an email from her agent that said, in part, “I’m very disappointed that you’ve said something very publicly that I feel damages my reputation and that of the agency. I do hope you will print a retraction.”

5. Shortly thereafter, Sarah received a phone call from the agency owner threatening legal action.

6. Sarah wrote a lengthy blog post apologizing for any misunderstanding, reiterating her very clear earlier statements of admiration for her agent. She included a copy of the agency email announcing the new business that triggered her decision to be unagented. Sarah helpfully interspersed comments between the paragraphs of the email about her understanding of the email together with the concerns that came to mind about ambiguities in the explanation of the agency’s future new business venture.

7. It appears that Sarah’s greatest sin, in the eyes of The Knight Agency, was saying “they’ve started their own digital publisher” instead of saying  the agency had started an “assisted self-publishing initiative.”

Well, of course, everyone knows the difference between a digital publisher and an assisted self-publishing initiative. (For a giggle, PG googled “assisted self-publishing initiative” and found the only people using that term anywhere on the web are associated with the The Knight Agency or Sarah in her clarification blog posts.)

Here are some excerpts from Sarah:

Be that as it may, last I checked, calling someone a publisher was neither an insult nor a libel. Heck, my favorite publisher has it put on her name tag at conventions. So it would be REALLY hard to make that stick. As is to make the idea that I perceive a conflict of interest as being a problem into a libel. It would be fairly hard to make it stick in any case when speaking of a post that labels itself as my reasoning process – i.e. my opinion.

. . . .

So, is The Knight Agency becoming a publisher? According to them, no. I’ll leave it at that. Did I mean to impugn their character? Absolutely not. Do I agree with the path they are taking? No. Does this mean I think everyone should run madly away from them? Positively not.

I was simply explaining my own reasons – and reasoning – for taking the action I did. And everyone informing me by various means that I’m wrong and the Knight Agency is the way to Win The Future or whatever it was, please note I made it a point of saying that making predictions is hard, particularly about the future. While my decisions often cause friends, acquaintances and passing strangers to say “WTF” I don’t think this is what they mean at all.

. . . .

Yes, as in all good Hollywood Divorces, while this marriage could not be saved, due to the party of the first part having decided the concept of agency is outdated, the relationship would have been fine with better communication and if someone hadn’t tried to scare someone else with a lawyer. As is… (Waggles hand) I hope all parties involved can find a way to dismount from the soap box and shake hands and be friends, if not now at some future point.

. . . .

[Following is one of the paragraphs from the Knight email and Sarah’s response]

We’ll be taking our standard agency commission of fifteen percent (15%), absorbing all costs except those associated with copy editing. As always in our work as your agents, our objective is to allow you as the author to focus on what you do best, which is writing the most wonderful books possible while we take the time-consuming and tedious business elements off your shoulders. For our fifteen percent commission, we will provide self-publishing assistance in the following areas:

Okay, this was the crux of my problem. They don’t tell me they’re taking the 15% fee to cover the costs, they tell me it is their “standard agency commission.” I am a simple woman who reads these things far too literally, perhaps. “Agency commission, as far as I’m concerned means that they are taking a commission for selling the book. But to whom are they selling the book? Well… to the public. What does a publisher do? A publisher absorbs all costs, cover, etc, then sells the book to the public to recoup those costs and make a profit. Oh, hey, I’m going to be the first to say that 15% is a great deal in relation to what publishers offer. And if that contract has a firm termination date, it might even be a great deal overall. (As someone has noted on a blog, the costs associated with processing a book are arout $300. $1k if you go fancy. While for most small publishers publishing most authors the cost might well never be recouped even at a much larger percentage, the author has to ask himself how much he hopes to earn over the lifetime of the book. Income compounds, see. Suppose your book earns $200 this year but $1k next year and $10k the next… how good the deal is depends on how good your income is. I’m going to say – not just about the Knight Agency’s deal, but about the entire field that an author should insist on any epublishing contract coming with either a termination or a cancel at will after x time.) For all I know the Knight Agency does this. (According to Lucienne, it’s a 2 year term.) I haven’t seen a contract. This is merely a side note for those unfamiliar with digital publishing.

Meanwhile and for the record, the 15% means the agency has to collect it before forwarding the rest to the author, right? Which again is a function of publishers. Again, they say they’re not publishers and I believe it, but do you see the source of my confusion, and the source of my remaining discomfort? I’m perfectly willing to believe it drinks ammonia and eats arsenic, but I hate the fact that this schmerp looks like a bunny, okay? I would never trust it not to dig up the backyard. This is my paranoia and not meant to dispute the opinion of experts.

PG won’t copy the entire letter, but merely pronounce his assessment that the Bookends announcement and the Knight announcement share many of the same shortcomings.

Link to the rest at According to Hoyt

What separates the Knight announcement is the wonderful touch of threatening to sue one of the agency’s authors because the agency’s announcement was so poorly written that it caused the author to fire the agency. My, oh my, isn’t that a wonderful way to launch an assisted self-publishing initiative!

An old lawyer on the other side of negotiations involving PG many years ago had a favorite saying he repeated over and over during our meetings, “If it’s chocolate, you can call it vanilla all day long, but it will still be chocolate.”

PG will update the old lawyer’s saying: If it’s a digital publisher, you can call it an assisted self-publishing initiative all day long, but it will still be a digital publisher.

PG will close with three free tips about online marketing for budding online marketing geniuses at The Knight Agency:

1. Don’t threaten to sue somebody with a blog.

2. Don’t threaten to sue somebody with a blog who has friends with blogs.

3. Don’t threaten to sue somebody with a blog who has friends with blogs when you’re launching a new product.

Remember those three rules and all your mistakes will be new ones.


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