Monthly Archives: July 2011

The 99 Cent Ghetto

26 July 2011

Paranormal romance author Zoe Winters disagrees with the idea that ebooks want to be 99 cents. Strongly.

Excerpts:

I’m sure I’ll piss someone off with this. But it’s got to be said. I know there are people out there who believe that it’s only a matter of time before the uppity authors (like me) who charge an actually decent price for our work have to grovel and crawl and beg for readers at the 99 cent price point.

I call bullshit.

I just don’t buy that there will ever come a day when all ebooks are 99 cents or free. I just don’t. You can’t compare it to itunes because that’s a SONG. The equivalent of a short story. You also have varying lengths of work. Like short stories, novellas, novels. It makes zero sense to charge 99 cents for all of it. It would be far too confusing for readers.

There will always be a sliding scale.

And if there isn’t, many people currently writing will simply quit writing (or will write MUCH shorter work). Including me. I love writing but I’m not your slave. This is my career right now. If it ever becomes completely unfeasible as a career, I will find something else to do for a living. As much as it will pain me to make that choice.

. . . .

99 cents is a ghetto. We don’t all live in it. Nor do I believe the day will ever come when we all have to. If we ever do, then our general world economic hardships will be FAR more far-reaching than fiction and we will probably all be living in mud huts.

This dystopian author society that some preach with an almost frothing-at-the-mouth rabid glee, is Chicken Little craziness. There are ALWAYS people predicting apocalypse. Whether it’s religious, economic, environmental, or business.

The other problem with the 99 cent ghetto theory is that it treats books as commodities. As if people don’t want a specific EXPERIENCE but just something cheap.

. . . .

This “downward pressure” and race to the bottom is an author-created problem. It wasn’t created by the readers. No readers who are just readers and not also writers would ever devalue our work to this extreme without being conditioned into thinking it was okay and business as usual.

The most important thing is to write something COMPELLING. Most books aren’t compelling. No matter who publishes them. It’s hard for me to find a book that I don’t just put down out of total boredom or disinterest.

Link to the rest at Weblog of Zoe Winters via Dean Wesley Smith

Agents in Conflict with Clients – Issues and Responses

26 July 2011

Passive Guy has blogged before about conflicts of interest when an agent becomes a publisher for its clients, as many agencies are doing in response to the financial squeeze in Big Publishing and the flight of authors to indieworld.

Thanks to a tip from Jeanne, PG learned the Bookends LLC agency has taken a similar step and announced it yesterday. Passive Guy will note that, prior to drinking indie Kool-Aid, he had a positive attitude toward Bookends as an agency based largely on their blog. Here are some excerpts from the announcement:

One of the things I’ve always said is that there is no universal way to be a great agent. Each client is an individual and each career needs to be approached differently. I feel the same about self-epublishing. In looking at what we could offer our clients, there wasn’t one universal path that would fit every client and every need. So after much talk and consideration, BookEnds is taking a variety of approaches to self-epublishing in the hope that we can continue to provide the best opportunities for our clients.

. . . .

We have clients who are working closely with us on their self-published books and using us as agents. For the work we are doing with them we are getting paid a 15% commission. In most of these cases we have worked with the clients on the books prior to the decision to self-epublish and are now continuing that work. The clients cover the costs of conversion, the cover, editing (if necessary), etc., and we manage all the books once they are ready to be loaded to the sites. We also provide revisions and edits for those books that might not have been published before. What this all means is that we work with the clients to market the books, upload them to the retail sites, and we’re constantly talking to the clients about how we can leverage their self-epublished books to spark sales on their “traditionally published” books as well as build sales on the self-epublished books.

And last, we have Beyond the Page Publishing, a company we’ve built with a new and separate epublishing team to work with those clients who have a real interest in self-epublishing, but don’t have the desire, inclination, or time to manage the publishing process. In other words, these clients want to test the self-epublishing market, but want the support that a publisher provides. With Beyond the Page, the author submits a manuscript and the publisher provides editorial services, manages the cover design, converts the files, and uploads the books to all sites. In addition, marketing and product management support is provided throughout the process. This could mean updating files to match changes in the author’s career, price changes, book teaser changes, or general marketing changes to, again, help push the titles the author is publishing traditionally.

What interested PG even more was a deluge of comments (well over 100 as he writes this) to the blog post. Many commenters were vehement in their opposition. PG has to give grudging admiration to the agency for keeping their comments open to one and all. Here are a few excerpts from the comments:

What services do you provide for e-publishing that can’t be achieved by someone better suited for the job?
Marketing – I guarantee your online marketing skills aren’t as good as a college student fresh out of class and that kid would cost a fraction of what you are charging.
Editing – There are people on craigslist that have English degrees from NYU that will edit my book in half the time for cot a fraction of what you are charging.
E publishing Web sites- Those Web sites pretty much explain themselves. Anybody could be proficient at understand what is needed from them in less than two hours. That’s free.

Sooooo what I’m saying is, If an author decides to E publish why in the world would we need agents?
. . . .

I’m okay with options one and two.

I think number three is a terrible conflict of interest. An extraordinary conflict of interest. I think that’s the sort of conflict of interest that would lead me to fire an agent–even an agent who had been otherwise wonderful.

I do not believe it is possible to be both an agent and a publisher at the same time. Who on earth do I go to if I don’t like what you’re doing? This is deeply wrong, in my opinion. You cannot publish your clients and serve as their agent. This is both self-dealing (which is problematic) and it creates a situation where your clients can no longer freely communicate with you about the entirety of the publishing process.

There are some hybrid processes that make me feel queasy; but this isn’t even hybrid. It’s a full-blown publishing company with separate acquisitions, cover art, and so forth. You’re exercising editorial control. You’re creating the entire package. You’re setting yourself up as a publisher, and doing so from a position of power with authors who are used to being able to rely on you for advice.

Sorry; this says to me that you are putting your bottom line before your clients.

This is deeply, deeply unethical.

. . . .

Of course BookEnds is putting their bottom line first: they are a business, not a service. They are just like everyone else, trying to put food on the table during a crappy economy. You can’t expect them not to change their strategy when the publishing world is going through such drastic changes. Any agency who doesn’t adapt and offer services to independent authors is going to go down with the ship.

I would want an agent who would help me sell the most books, either through traditional or indie publishing. Yes, more money for me means more money for them and there is nothing unethical about that.

. . . .

The agent’s job is to advocate for the client in sales to and negotiations with publishers. If the agent is also the publisher, there is no one representing the client’s interests. No one.

Worse, there is no motivation to do the fundamental work of an agent. Representing a book to publishers is a venture that carries no guarantee of income. An agent can send a ms out, talk it up, and push it, but if it doesn’t sell, you’re out of luck. Why bother with all that work and angst when books can instead be shunted into the agency’s own publishing program, thus guaranteeing that the agency, er publisher, er you, will make least a little money? Why bother sending a book to Avon or Berkley, when the agent can tell the author that MyLittlePublishingHouse has decided to “buy” it?

The conflict of interest in agents-as-publishers is huge. Clients can no longer be certain whether the advice they get is about what was best for them or what is most convenient/profitable for the agency/publisher. Who would authors talk to about a funky publishing schedule? Who would they go to if the “publisher” suddenly changes the contract or stiffs them on promotion or royalties, or screws up my book somehow? And how would they ever know their agent put his or her best effort into trying to sell it somewhere else first?

Who represents *the author*?

Again, the clear answer: No one.

So, yes, I’m with Courtney. If I were a client, I’d fire you immediately, no matter what you’d done for me in the past. Because you’re no longer an agent. You’re a publisher.

Link to the rest at Bookends

In the interest of legal education for writers, a conflict of interest doesn’t mean someone in the middle of the conflict must, under each and every circumstance, be disqualified from representing an author.

Conflicts of interest sometimes arise between lawyers and their clients. Depending upon the nature of the conflict, in some cases the attorney must withdraw from representation. In other cases, the attorney may continue representation if he/she takes very careful steps and makes extensive disclosures of the nature of the conflict, etc., etc., etc.

By legal definition, if the attorney takes such steps and the client, being fully informed, consents to ongoing representation, such representation is ethical.

In the real world, 99 times out of 100, it’s easier for the attorney to withdraw, refund all fees and take any other steps necessary to make certain the client is not harmed rather than continue with the representation even if it is legally permissible.

PG does believe agents should be held to high standards regarding conflicts of interest, but, in all fairness, doesn’t believe they need be as high as for attorneys. (PG isn’t aware of any instance in which an agent’s missteps lead to an author being sent to the electric chair, for example.)

High ethical standards do mean the agent needs to be cautious and meticulous in disclosures of conflicts when dealing with any client in a conflict situation. PG has laid out some steps agents may want to consider to work through an agent/publisher conflict.

To respond to a couple of comments to the Bookends announcement, however, if an author has never been a client of the Bookends agency, PG sees no conflict in Bookends pitching their epublishing thing to the author. The potential for conflict arises when an agent has established an agent/principal relationship, which is based upon an author’s trust. If no such relationship exists, Bookends epublishing is no different than any other publisher.

Legitimate questions concerning the cost of the epublisher’s services and its qualifications for providing those services should be asked, but PG would recommend any author consider those cost/benefit issues for any publisher, including Big Publishing.

UPDATE – The volume of comments continues on the Bookends web site. Passive Guy recognized several regular visitors to this blog who acquitted themselves well.

PG just tried to post a comment on the site, but doesn’t know if it will appear. Here’s what he wrote:

What a business launch.

I started receiving emails yesterday and woke up to more this morning.

I’ll try not to repeat very much of what has already been said in many different ways and have a blog entry of my own on this subject that will appear shortly.

It appears Bookends was blindsided by the conflict of interest issue. The issue was not addressed in your announcement nor on the website for your new publishing venture.

As well as you may perform for your clients in your core business as literary agents, to not anticipate questions about conflict of interest when you become a publisher betrays a misunderstanding of a fundamental role of an agent.

Agency is an ancient concept. Since biblical times and continuing through the traditions of English common law to the present, an agent has had the obligation to always act in the best interests of his/her principal. For a literary agent, the principal is, of course, the author.

One of the core value propositions an agent offers an author is the commitment by the agent to take the author’s side in dealings with publishers.

Even when there are nice people on both sides, author/publisher relationships are inherently adversarial. If an author grants a publisher a particular subsidiary right, the publisher will make more money from that right and the author (probably) less, etc., etc. There’s nothing evil about this. It’s simply a fact of commercial life.

The agent is supposed to be on the author’s side in this relationship. An author is supposed to be able to trust that the agent will give the author unbiased counsel for the best interest of the author. Agents encourage authors to give such trust to them.

An agent must not abuse that trust in any way. Even the appearance of abuse is wrong.

If an agent (not just literary, any agent) has a conflict of interest – including a financial interest in a transaction that may be contrary to the principal’s best interest – a faithful agent must fully disclose the conflict of interest, advise the author to obtain independent advice concerning the conflict, and take whatever steps are necessary to protect the author’s interest in the face of the conflict.

One of an agent’s obligations is to anticipate conflicts of interest with a principal and take steps before the conflict arises to avoid it where possible.

I am an attorney and an attorney’s obligation to a client is governed by the same fundamental principles as agent/principal relationships. One of the well-established bases for clients suing attorneys is for an undisclosed or improperly-handled conflict of interest.

While recognizing that literary agent/client relations are dissimilar to attorney/client relations in many ways, I believe understanding something about how attorneys are obligated to deal with conflict situations may help literary agents anticipate such conflicts and take reasonable steps to avoid them or remediate them if not avoided.

The vitriol contained in some comments here is an indication of how sensitive many clients and prospective clients are to the conflict of interest issues inherent in a literary agent also acting as a publisher. These conflicts are real and substantive and can’t be waved off by saying, “We would never do something like that,” or “We’re always concerned about our clients’ welfare.”

Bookends is not the first agency to set up a publishing operation for existing and new clients. I have no doubt that some agent/publishers will be sued by their clients in the future and agent/publishers will be at a great disadvantage in those suits because of credible allegations of conflict of interest.

I no longer practice law, so this is not a pitch for anyone to hire me.

I am not in the habit of doing link spam, but if you go to my blog, The Passive Voice – http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ and search for conflict of interest, you will see several posts discussing this issue. Some of these posts describe ways that literary agents have or can either avoid or properly mitigate conflict of interest issues.

UPDATE: Since it doesn’t look like PG’s comment is going to poke its wet little nose out on the Bookends site, he’s glad he clipped it and posted it here.

Given that Passive Guy’s prose style is seldom equaled and never surpassed, he can only conclude some people never like to be reminded they might be sued while making money.

Big Indie Publishing Success Story

25 July 2011

Internet guru and bestselling author Seth Godin made a big splash in tech publishing circles when he announced he was going to self-publish with Amazon seven months ago. He called his venture The Domino Project and says it is “powered by Amazon.”

At the time, lots of publishing insiders were poo-pooing (PG knows he  shouldn’t use words like that because children may visit this blog, but it’s the only one he could think of) Seth’s project. As one example, publisher Michael Hyatt (who seems to have partially changed his mind and has a good blog) wrote Why Most Authors Should Not Emulate Seth Godin.

Seth has a short update on his self-publishing venture:

 To date, we’ve published four books. We now have more than 250,000 copies in circulation across the four titles, and every one of them hit the Top 10 list (either hardcover, Kindle or both) on Amazon.

. . . .

In the next four weeks, we’ve got four new titles coming out, each very different in its own way.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog

Going from zero to 250,000 copies in seven months is a nice start for a publishing project.

It’s interesting to check the prices of the four books published. One must assume since the project is tied to Amazon that Amazon is providing information about optimum pricing. The top price is $10.08 for hardcover and $7.99 for ebook. The lowest prices are $7.14 hardcover and $6.59 for Kindle.

Assuming an average price of $8.00 per book, the project has generated $2 million, or $500,000 per book so far.

The first book was published on March 1. The publication dates of the other three were April 20, May 25 and June 29. Thus, the first book has been in publication for almost 5 months and the last about one month. PG doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to project these four books will generate aggregate revenues of at least $6 million or $1.5 million per book in their first year of publication.

It’s interesting that each book is offered in hardcover, ebook and audiobook format. No paperback versions are listed on Amazon. PG has no idea how the hardcover/Kindle breakdown looks, but he would bet a large majority of sales are Kindle.

Passive Guy also doesn’t know what the royalty rate looks like between Amazon and Domino or between Domino and its authors, but he would bet each of the three living Domino authors (one of the four books was Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is no longer demanding royalties) is very happy with the money he’s receiving from this venture.

An Author Speaks to Publishers on the Occasion of His Hanging

25 July 2011

Times have changed since a certain author was executed for murdering his publisher.

They say that when the author was on the scaffold he said good-bye to the minister and to the reporters, and then he saw some publishers sitting in the front row below, and to them he did not say good-bye. He said instead, “I’ll see you again.”

Sir James Matthew Barrie

What an Ereader Can’t Download

25 July 2011

UPDATE: PG had a burp in his blog and missed the quotes when this post first appeared. Sorry.

From Danny Heitman at the Wall Street Journal:

The books on our living room shelf, on the other hand, were acquired through hours of browsing in bookstores. Lined up at attention from floor to ceiling, they stand as touchstones of my personal geography—bright reminders of places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, and people I’ve met.

While sipping coffee this morning, for example, I glanced at the spine of Lance Morrow’s “Fishing in the Tiber” and thought instantly of Cleveland, even though the city doesn’t figure at all in Morrow’s lively collection of magazine essays. I’d gone to Ohio in December of 1991 to see my friend Stuart and his wife Anula, and they drove me into Cleveland for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Before eating, we braved a bitter gust from Lake Erie to visit a nearby bookstore, where Morrow’s book landed in my hand.

. . . .

Electronic books can give us a universe of reading without ever leaving the house. But the books on my shelf help me remember that reading isn’t merely an inhalation of data. My library, and the years and places it evokes, speak of something deeper: the interplay of literature and the landscape of a life, the vivid record of a slow and winding search for wisdom, truth, the spark of pleasure or insight.

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

Strangers and Friends – Two Kinds of Publishing

25 July 2011
Comments Off on Strangers and Friends – Two Kinds of Publishing

Seth Godin looks at two ways of selling books. Check back here at about 2:00 PM today, Chicago time, and you’ll learn Seth is very good at selling books.

Excerpts:

The bookstore and the publisher keep more than 85% of what a reader pays for a book.

And that money is well-earned. Why? Because book publishing is the act of taking a financial risk to bring an idea to an unknown reader.

The key word is unknown. Before the book is purchased, neither the bookstore nor the publisher knows the identity of the reader.

This is fundamentally different than a magazine or a newspaper (they have subscribers).

. . . .

Authors, then, have a choice. They can give up more and more freedom and cash to publishers in exchange for the publishers taking the risk of finding, alerting and selling to strangers, or they can start to organize a tribe, to build permission, to engage with readers before the book exists and to sell those friends on their work.

Selling to friends (people who know you, trust you, are aware of what you can offer) is orders of magnitude more efficient than seeking out strangers. Sure, it’s time consuming and frightening to earn those friendships, but they are the transformative element of the new publishing.

Once you have a base of friends, then, publishing is reduced to a much simpler set of tasks–the hard work of editing, designing, printing and fulfilling. Hard, but not financially difficult.

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

Why I Turned Down Two Publishing Contracts

25 July 2011

Travel adventure memoirist Pamela J. Olson breaks down the pluses and minuses in detail.

Excerpts:

After three and a half years of work, I finished writing a book of travel adventure memoir journalism called Fast Times in Palestine. I spent much of those three and a half years dealing with the publishing industry. In the beginning I got a top-notch agent, developed a book proposal, put together three sample chapters, and sent them off to the Big Boys in New York.

Two of the publishers asked for five more chapters each. But between their asking and my finishing, the financial crisis hit, and it was pretty much crickets after that. In the meantime I racked up several kind rejections that all said pretty much the same thing: “Love the story, love the writing, I just don’t know where to position this or how to market it.”

. . . .

I tried my luck with smaller publishers, and two offered to publish my book. I hired a consultant to look over the contracts, and I gave them both a great deal of thought. But in the end, as a first-time author with a genre-bending book about which I am deeply passionate, I decided it didn’t make sense to publish on their terms. And I’m not convinced a major publisher would have been much better. Here’s why.

Basically, here’s what a publishing house offers:

An advance. Ah, the lure of the six-figure advance. Everyone dreams about it. I certainly made a few fantasy plans about what I would do with it. But in reality, publishing houses are giving less and less to untested authors, and of course it’s only an advance against royalties. The vast majority of authors never earn out their advance, which means that’s all you get. And $25,000 (if you’re lucky) for three years of work puts you waaaaaay below the poverty line. (Small publishers rarely give any advance at all.)

. . . .

Another point to consider: A lot of publishing houses are cutting costs in part by cutting the quality of editing, and many won’t take on a book unless it already looks almost ready to go. In fact, many people who get published in New York had to hire their own editor to even get their manuscript in good enough shape to be considered by an acquisitions editor. So you may end up doing a lot of your own editing regardless of what happens.

. . . .

Publicity. New and midlist authors are stuck doing the vast majority of their own publicity even at major publishers. Only the mega-best-sellers get advertising dollars and serious public relations pushes.

Distribution. There’s no doubt publishers have the best chance of scatter-shotting your work to all corners of the country in a relatively short time. But most people buy their books online, and you can sell on Amazon just as easily as anyone else. It can be disappointing not to see your book in many bookstores, but keep in mind most new and midlist authors don’t get good placement in bookstores anyway. A few spine-out copies in a back corner aren’t going to do much for your sales numbers.

The worst part about signing with a publisher is that if you don’t make a splash in the first few weeks, they simply move on to the next book in their line-up, and your book languishes indefinitely with virtually no support at all. And your own creative marketing options are limited. Because you don’t own the words, you can’t decide when, where, or at what cost to sell them. You can’t even do giveaways without permission.

. . . .

Meanwhile, here’s what publishers take away from you when you sign with them:

Creative freedom. If they want to stick you with a hideously ugly, inappropriate cover design, they can. If they want you to take out the kissing scene, they can make you do it. They always hold the power because you can’t opt out of the deal unless the publisher breaches the contract or the book goes out of print (a slippery concept in a world of eBooks and print-on-demand, and it can take months or years for it to kick in).

. . . .

Rights to your words. Once you’ve signed on the dotted line with a publishing house, you no longer own your words. You can’t use them or post them or give them away whenever you feel like it. You might have an opinion, but you won’t have much of a say.

Control of timing. With a mainstream publisher, it will take at least a year from signing the contract to seeing it on the shelves. And that’s assuming you get a deal, which itself can take months if not years. Then the publisher can put you anywhere in her stack of priorities. She can promise a May release only to realize a similar book will be released at the same time and push it back six months. And so on.

With self-publishing, if you want it published in April, it will be published in April. See how that works?

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

How Does a Writer Get Discovered Online?

25 July 2011

Regular visitor Robin Sullivan is a small press publisher and publicist who gives regular lectures to a group of 500 authors in the Washington DC area.

She’s beginning a series of blog posts about what a writer must do to be discovered online.

Excerpts:

Priority #1 – Your own site
You MUST have a site controlled by you that you that you can send people to. Period. Don’t ever think author pages from: your publisher, Amazon, or Smashwords is “good enough”. You must have a site exclusive to yourself that you are in complete and utter control of.

. . . .

The other advantage of using a blog is that you get a SINGLE site. If you try to maintain both a blog and website one will usually be woefully neglected. (Usually the website) If you have only one to keep up to date your life gets a lot easier and you don’t confuse your readers by giving them several different places to go to.

. . . .

I want you to start on the right foot and that means thinking about your name (both for your site, and handles used by sites such as twitter and forums).

Writers are in an interesting position because they have their own name, their books name, and in some cases series names. We’ll make this real simple because I want you to forget all the other things and focus on YOUR NAME. It’s the only thing you can count on.

If you are traditionally published, there’s not telling what the “final name” of your book will be. If you stated a blog with the name of that book, and they change the title – you’re going to lose a bunch of momentum. Also keep in mind you’ll probably have more than one book out there. If you try to make your sites books specific then you’ll have to duplicate information on multiple sites with each new book. Also you’ll loose cross-selling opportunities.

Link to the rest at Write to Publish

Passive Guy can second Robin’s advice because, when he was even dumber, he built separate websites for Mrs. PG’s books.

Some were lovely setpieces, but they never changed and daily visitors dwindled to single digits. He’s left one up because it’s pleasant-looking, but taken the rest down.

The First Words Out of Your Keyboard – How to Begin a Novel

24 July 2011

We looked at the first several lines of current romance bestsellers a few days ago.

Let’s consider the first sentences (except for one paragraph and one paragraph+) of several masters.

 

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

~

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen, and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.

Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It

~

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

William Gibson, Neuromancer

~

The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts

~

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller V. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.

He said to Effie Perine: “Yes, sweetheart?”

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

The Relationship of Editor to Author

24 July 2011

The relationship of editor to author is knife to throat.

Author Unknown

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