Monthly Archives: November 2011

To believe in youth is to look backward

26 November 2011

Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward we must believe in age.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Your Agent Isn’t Your Mommy

26 November 2011

Continuing a Thanksgiving weekend reprise of the most popular earlier posts.

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.

Here’s a link to the 50 comments to the original post. Feel free to leave a comment here if you like.

The eBook (r)evolution takes hold

26 November 2011

From IOL (Independent Online in South Africa):

“Disruptive” is a much abused buzzword at the moment. The biggest offenders are clueless corporate types trying to sound as if they’ve got a handle on the latest trends.

I hate to break it to you, but slapping a QR code on all your advertising will not make your company disruptive.

. . . .

Another oft cited disruptive technology was the Model T Ford, which did for the horse-drawn carriage what the iPod will eventually do for the CD.

But my favourite is hundreds of years older and even more ubiquitous than the automobile.

It’s the printed word. Before print pioneers like Gutenberg and Caxton, written knowledge was the preserve of the privileged few fortunate, or rich, enough to have access to the relatively tiny supply of laboriously hand-produced books.

Now, a new technology is threatening today’s gatekeepers of the written word, the press barons and publishing houses, with the fate of their mediaeval monastery predecessors.

It’s the e-book, an electronic version of the printed book, distributed over the internet and read on a range of devices from smartphones and tablet computers to dedicated e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle.

As an ardent bibliophile I’m chagrined to confess I’ve done my bit to hasten the rise of the e-book and decline of the physical version I revere so much.

. . . .

The killer advantage of the e-book was immediately apparent back then: its sheer convenience and portability. Don’t get me wrong. I love the feel and smell of a “real” book. But am I heretic for also loving the ability to carry literally hundreds of books around with me, to have a book recommended by a friend and be reading it less than five minutes later?

Today’s e-book readers, led by their undisputed king, the Kindle, offer an altogether slicker, more pleasing reading and purchasing experience. Instead of displaying the print on a back-lit, highly reflective LCD screen that can be hard on the eyes and virtually impossible to read in bright sunlight, the Kindle employs a technology Amazon has imaginatively called e-ink. I won’t try to explain how it works, but the result is a non-reflective screen you can read in the brightest sunlight. It’s uncannily like reading a real book, down to the need to use a bedside lamp, or after-market cover with a built-in book light, to read it at night.

. . . .

The good news is that prices of dedicated e-book readers have come down quite significantly recently, with Amazon recently releasing an entry-level Kindle costing just $79 (R644).

Be warned, however, that this is the ad-supported US version. The one Amazon ships internationally costs $109 which adds up to just over R1 200 including customs duty and courier delivery to your door. It’s backed by Amazon’s astonishingly generous no-questions-asked return and replace warranty.

If you’re still nervous about dealing with a company half way around the word, you may be prepared to pay R200 more to buy it from a local retailer.

. . . .

You can also buy and download e-books on your PC and laptop and transfer them to your Kindle via the supplied USB cable.

If your “buy local” philosophy extends to e-books as well as the devices you’ll read them on, Kalahari and Exclusive Books have fairly extensive e-book stores.

Do check their prices against Amazon’s before you buy, though.

Link to the rest at IOL

Interested in Ebooks? Don’t Start With Buying an Ereader

25 November 2011

From Ebook Friendly:

Christmas is coming and lots of people are encouraged to buy ereaders.

Those devices dedicated to reading ebooks have now affordable prices. They are a hot product category. Today almost everywhere everyone it talking about them.

Well, it’s not the right order. If you’re interested in reading ebooks – start with reading about ebooks.

. . . .

1.Test ebookstores

There are many places on the web where you can buy ebooks. Why don’t you spend some time to check which ebookstore fits your needs, and most importantly, has books you are interested in. Ebookstores to test: Kindle Store,Barnes & NobleKoboGoogle eBookstore.

Device needed: computer

2. Test applications

Many ebookstores have their own applications for computers, tablets and mobile phones. How is it to read an electronic book today? Ebooks are not badly prepared .doc files you were trying to read in an office a few years back. Now ebooks can give you a lot of personalization options: fonts, background, you name it. You can also add bookmarks, notes and even share text passages to social media.

If you own a smartphone, go to an application store and find an ereading app. It takes a couple of moments and is a good start. Just keep in mind that eventually you target for a bigger device than your phone.

Device needed: computer, mobile phone

3. Compare prices

If you are sensitive to price, expect ebooks to be cheaper (how much cheaper?), you can check and compare prices of your favorite books using ebook price comparison sites like Luzme or Inkmesh. Or you can have a look at how prices of Kindle books differ across the world. Or you can find out how many Kindle ebooks cost $0.99 or less.

Device needed: computer 

Link to the rest at Ebook Friendly

One thing Passive Guy would add to Piotr’s suggestions is the same thing he says to anyone contemplating a technology purchase – be careful about buying hardware from a small company in a market dominated by giants.

The history of the personal computer is littered with really terrific hardware companies that used their own proprietary operating systems. Their problems arose when they were unable to attract software developers to write good software that ran on their computers. Even Steve Jobs was caught in this trap with his NeXT computer.

Basically, there are two ebook formats that matter today – Kindle’s .mobi or .prc and Epub. PG isn’t aware of any ebook readers that don’t read one of those two formats, but if such a device exists, be very careful about purchasing it.

PG will note that this advice is probably good for the US and the UK at the moment. For other countries and languages other than English, Epub is probably a good bet, but you’ll want to do the kind of checking Piotr recommends to see what prices and availability look like for you.

The other question, which Piotr mentions, is whether an ereader is closely tied to a single ebook store. If it’s Kindle, you can have a reasonable assurance that the large majority of ebooks will be available on Amazon. Ditto for Nook and the Barnes & Noble Nook store. (Again, this works for the US). For other ereaders, make sure there is an easy way of transferring an ebook file to the ereader other than purchasing it at a specific bookstore.

The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity

25 November 2011
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The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity; so have some little frocks; but they are both not the kind of thing you can run up in half an hour with a machine.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Strip Mining the Authors

25 November 2011

Continuing a Thanksgiving weekend reprise of the most popular earlier posts.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written another important essay on the changing face of publishing. I’ll intersperse some excerpts with my comments, but this is one you’ll want to read in its entirety. There is, as always, a link at the bottom.

As will be abundantly clear from Kris’ examples, traditional publishers and the new agents-turned-publishers are making a brazen grab for as many rights from authors as possible while reducing the amount of money they will pay authors for their books. This is the new strip mining model for publishing.

Why are they doing this?

When the ship is sinking, some of the passengers start fighting over the lifeboats.

With each passing week, the handwriting on the wall becomes more and more distinct. What does the writing say?

Big Publishing, the agents who rely upon it and the traditional bookstores that provide its lifeblood are sinking. Just like the Titanic, they’re not disappearing in an instant. The band is still playing and fashionable people are doing business on the upper decks. The good ship Big Publishing will be bobbing in the waves for some time to come, but Amazon, ebooks and indie publishing have punched big holes in the hull. Those holes cannot be patched and the ship is going down.

Does this mean the end of publishing ships? No, but it means the demise of the grand ocean liners. The S.S. Amazon is an entirely different design, crafted for speed and efficiency and it doesn’t need many sailors schooled in the old ways.

While the band is playing and champagne flows, people make brave speeches about the timelessness of their trade. But, make no mistake, a battle is underway below-decks for spots on the lifeboats. If it’s necessary to toss authors over the side to make room, well, that’s just the nature of the business these days.

From Kris:

[A bestselling] writer, more than any other writer, is in danger of losing money and copyrights, of in fact going from making a lot of money to making little or no money at all. How can she lose money when she will probably maintain her bestseller status, her sales will probably go up, and her work will go into more markets than ever before?

Simple. Her contract terms will change and she might not even notice.

At some time hidden in the mists of time, an ancient rule of contracts was formulated: When a business partner is in financial trouble and wants a change in a long-standing agreement, watch your wallet. The more “routine” the change, the more dangerous it probably is.

Kris talks about e-rights:

Another clause to beware of in the e-rights clause of your new contract is this one:

“The Author hereby grants to the Publisher…the exclusive license to produce, publish, sell, distribute and further license any Electronic Version of the Work…. ‘Electronic Version’ means versions that include the Work…in a complete, condensed, adapted, or abridged version and in compilations for performance and display in any manner whether sequentially or non-sequentially and together with accompanying sounds and images, if any, transmissible by any electronic means, method or device (including but not limited to electronic and machine-readable media and online or satellite-based transmission or any other device or medium for electronic reproduction or transmission whether now or hereafter known or developed…)” [Emphasis mine.]

Yikes! Ick! No. Never, ever, ever, ever sign this clause. Think about this: movies are digitized—they are performance, and they are often distributed online. Not only does that clause allow someone to monkey with your work, abridging it, taking it out of order, adding things to it, making it into a performance piece, adding sound effects, but it also is a backwards way of granting television rights, video display rights, and any other performance right, so long as that performance can be distributed electronically.

And don’t believe that someone in your publishing house won’t use that clause down the road. The editor you trust may leave, the publishing company might change hands, and a clause that was designed for one thing will be used for something completely different.

Gold has been discovered in ebooks. Smart people are prospecting for more gold with enhanced ebooks. Video in ebooks is a definite possibility.

While a few people sprinkled in publishers’ management positions high and low may have seen a vision of what books could become and the effect that might have on publishers’ profits in their traditional lines a few years ago, nobody bothered to tell the gnomes who tended the standard-form contracts.

Kris has seen far more publishing contracts during her career than Passive Guy has, but the ones he’s examined that are more than a couple of years old are tight where paperbacks and hardcovers are concerned and they leak like a sieve everywhere else.

Back to Kris:

Watch out for your option clause. Try to avoid signing one at all. In the past, option clauses were like job security, but no longer. Option clauses have now become a way to tie a writer to a publishing house and to prevent her from working for anyone else. So strike your option clause if possible.

. . . .

Watch your warranty clause.  Now, many publishers are reverting to an old practice. They want writers to warrant that the writer will not write anything until this particular book under this particular contract is published.

This used to be a separate clause, and very easy to find.  It existed in a lot of contracts 20 years ago, then faded away.  Now it’s back with a vengeance.  It used to be that the writer guaranteed that the book she had just contracted for would be her next book and no other book would compete against it.

Now she’s guaranteeing that she will not write another book until this one is published.  And in many cases, the publisher enjoins her from writing anything.

This clause, which has been in every new book contract I have seen from traditional New York publishers in the past six months, is buried in the warranties.  Which are the boilerplate part of the contract, the part that includes bankruptcies and acts of God.  A lot of established writers stopped reading the legal gobbledygook in the boilerplate years ago, and have been snared by this clause.

Sometimes people fighting for lifeboats don’t act in rational ways. During the fight, the lifeboat may be damaged, supplies lost and passengers capable of providing valuable assistance to the survivors prevented from boarding.

When he read Kris’ description of these provisions, Passive Guy was reminded about one of the fundamental rules of making contracts with important long-term partners: Don’t screw your partner in the contract even if you have an opportunity to do so. When your partner realizes you screwed her as she inevitably will, she’ll spend all her time and energy working on ways to get out of the contract instead of doing whatever it was that you wanted her to do when you signed the contract.

What about the clause that hog-tied the author to the publisher? PG’s already thought of a half-dozen likely ways to evade the clause. He can’t help it, that’s just the way his mind works. However, he’ll keep those under his hat for the moment because he hasn’t seen the language in the contract.

Something else also came to mind, however. As described, the hog-tying clause potentially precludes a professional author from earning a living by writing for a competing publisher. When you think of it that way, it sounds a lot like a non-compete clause.

Non-compete agreements are common in the tech world. When you go to work for a tech company or become a contractor for a tech company, you’ll be required to sign a non-compete agreement that prevents you from taking everything you learned while you worked on the Apple ebook project and taking it with you when you’re hired for the Microsoft ebook project.

As with everything else, however, non-compete agreements were abused by some employers and today a dense combination of state laws and court decisions have placed substantial limits on how much a company can restrict the post-employment work of a former employee.

One of the fundamental limitations on non-compete agreements is a public policy that people should be free to work and support themselves in their chosen profession and should also be free to move from job to job. Limitations on that freedom included in non-compete agreements must be narrowly-tailored with time limitations to protect the vital interests of the company, not punish ex-employees or former contractors for quitting.

Back to the bigger picture for a moment, hiding material limitations on an author’s freedom in obscure warranty clauses as Kris describes is an unethical business practice.

Depending upon how it’s done and what extra-contractual representations are made to the author, we may be moving into fraud territory.

This practice exploits the great mismatch in resources and negotiating power between a large publisher and an individual author. Passive Guy has no problems with bare-knuckles contract drafting and negotiations when both sides have access to good-quality legal advice, but this is over the line. It demonstrates disrespect for an author and an intention to fleece the author for the financial advantage of the publisher.

This is antithetical to a relationship of mutual respect between professional colleagues. This is destructive exploitation – strip mining – of an author’s life work.

Such behavior by a publisher gives rise to an additional inevitable question. If the publisher is willing to engage in borderline fraudulent practices in its contract with an author, what additional types of fraudulent practices may it engage in? Even hidden clauses in a contract are far easier to discover than under-reporting of sales and underpayment of royalties.

So, how do we deal with hidden gotchas in a publishing contract?

Next week, Passive Guy will unveil yet another lovely contract provision for authors. Check back to learn about the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause.

And most definitely read the entire post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This one can make or save you some big money.

Link to the 44 comments to the original post. Feel free to comment here if you like.

Thank You

24 November 2011

Passive Guy would like to thank all those who have commented on and visited The Passive Voice.

He really appreciates your support.

I always have a quotation

24 November 2011
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I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.

Dorothy L. Sayers

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