Monthly Archives: April 2014

When an author should self-publish and how that might change

30 April 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

There is a question that every agent and publisher is dealing with, because authors surely are. And that’s this: when should an author self- (or indie-) publish?

The answer is certainly not “never”, and if there is anybody left in a publishing house who thinks it is, they should think a little harder.

For a number of reasons, the belief here is that most of the time for most authors who can get a deal with an established and competent house, their best choice is to take it. It’s good to get an advance that is partially in your pocket before the manuscript is even finished and assured once it is. It’s good to have a team of capable professionals doing marketing work that authors are seldom equipped to do well themselves and which can be expensive to buy freelance, particularly if you don’t know how. It’s good to have a coordinated effort to sell print and ebooks, online and offline, and it’s good to have the supply chain ready for your book, with inventory in place where it can help stimulate sales, when you fire the starting gun for publicity and marketing. And it’s great to have an organization turning your present book into more dollars while you as an author focus on generating the next one, and start pocketing the next advance.

Publishers have heretofore really had only one model for working with authors. They acquire the rights, usually paying an advance-against-royalties, and own and control the entire process of publishing. It is generally understood that all efforts to make the book known can show benefits in all the commercial channels it exploits. So publishers have generally insisted on, and authors have generally accepted, controlling all the rights to a book when they pay that advance.

. . . .

 Since publishers until very recently effectively monopolized the path to market, they could effectively make the rules about what an author could publish. That usually has meant no more than a book a year. It has also usually eliminated anything that isn’t “book-length” or that needed to reach the market very quickly upon completion of the writing. And in a practice that ultimately has had painful consequences for publishers, it meant backlists went out of circulation when a title wasn’t worth printing in bulk.

. . . .

 Although most of the Strum and Drang around how digital changes the publisher-author relationship have been about the royalty rate — publishers tend to want contracts that specify a royalty of 25 percent of revenue on ebook sales, various upstarts and digital-first publishers pay 50 percent and an author going directly to the retailers can get even more — that is, for most authors, less of a problem than it might first appear.

. . . .

 Where royalty rate is most consequential is for authors with a substantial reverted backlist. Since they begin their self-publishing efforts with equity built at least partly on a publisher’s back, they have a decided advantage over a fledgling self-publisher. Several authors have done very well for themselves building out from the platform of personal name recognition and titles somewhat established in the marketplace. The first of the obviously successful self-publishing authors was Joe Konrath several years ago and that’s how he started. Others have followed in his wake. And although the work required to self-publish and market yourself effectively is not trivial even if some readers know you and some of your work, it is also considerably more likely to result in a useful financial reward than trying to self-publish from a standing start. And certain chores, like editorial development and copy-editing, are eliminated by starting with already-published material.

. . . .

 All of these motivations — monetizing previously dead backlist and getting to the public with material even a successful author would have difficulty getting a publisher to do — are behind the fact that the big literary agencies are staffing themselves to help authors navigate the digital world. In different ways, we have seen this emerge at Writers House, Trident, and Curtis Brown, among others.

. . . .

 In other words, the gap between pure self-publishing and traditional publisher-author deals grew wide enough that the agents saw the need to fill it.

. . . .

 It will compound the pressure on the alternative players if Amazon continues to grow its global market share for ebooks. The bigger the percentage of the market that can be reached by self-publishers with one stop at Amazon, the less interest they’ll have in picking up smaller chunks of the market with additional deals.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to David for the tip.

As PG has mentioned before, he generally regards Mike’s thoughts as representative of the more advanced executives in Big Publishing. If this theory is correct, Big Publishing appears to be moving beyond denial when it comes to the future of physical bookstores and the reality of successful indie authors.

However, grabbing all rights to a book forever in exchange for an advance is just not a very attractive publishing offer for a rising indie author any more. Especially if the contract includes a non-compete clause.

If an indie author has 3-5 self-pubbed books that are selling well enough to quit the day job, that author has probably cracked the code for reaching a group of readers that will buy more books that he/she writes in the future. This author has a reasonable idea of how much three more books written for the same audience will generate in royalties.

A $150K 3-book deal spread over three years that would have formerly looked wonderful isn’t that impressive for an indie author who is already earning $50K per year with no limitations on how fast he/she can publish new books and no agent to pay. Particularly if such a deal comes wrapped in a Paleolithic publishing contract that is impossible to understand. (Hint from PG: The parts of a contract that are difficult to understand are prime locations to hide nasty terms.)

Aside from the unimpressive money, there’s the whole complex process of dealing with a traditional publisher.

Having a publisher and an agent and telling all your friends you have a publisher sounds really cool to an author who hasn’t done it before. However, if you gather a group of traditionally-published authors for frank discussions, you’ll often hear experiences ranging from aggravating (nobody ever responds to emails) to horrifying (totally screwed-up royalty statements) arising from their relationships with publishers.

For a traditional publisher, the customer is always the book buyer and never the author. Once the publishing contract is signed, the honeymoon can end in a hurry.

Above all

30 April 2014

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.

Nora Ephron

Bertelsmann CEO gives insights into European media moves

30 April 2014

From The Financial Times:

Europe’s biggest media group has a problem. It is a family-controlled German conglomerate competing in a digital age dominated by Amazon and Apple. One of its peers, publisher Axel Springer, has confessed to being “afraid of Google”. Another, France’s Vivendi, is breaking up after investors judged it less than the sum of its parts.

. . . .

Since his promotion to the top job in 2012, Bertelsmann has merged its book division Random House with rival Penguin to create the world’s biggest publisher by sales, Penguin Random House (which is part-owned by Pearson, owner of the Financial Times).

. . . .

All those moves were intended to allow Bertelsmann to grow in the new media landscape. “Until two years ago at Bertelsmann, digitisation was primarily seen as a threat and not an opportunity,” says Mr Rabe, who has been with the group since 2000. “People were looking for this famous red button to press to stop digitisation.”

. . . .

“In the past people told me, ‘Thomas, never touch the German [book] club business’, or ‘never sell the Chinese club business’, or ‘you can’t reduce headcount in Gütersloh’.

“We’re in the process of shutting down the German book club, large parts of it. I liquidated the Chinese book club during the Olympic Games in 2008 when it attracted less attention,” he says.

Link to the rest at Financial Times (behind paywall, sorry)

PG says the European media execs generally don’t do interviews very well. He cringed whenever the CEO of the European media conglomerate for which he formerly worked got anywhere near a reporter.

“Shutting down the German book club” may make the earth move in Gütersloh, but it doesn’t exactly give PG goosebumps.

The Strange Triumph of “The Little Prince”

30 April 2014

From The Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

Of all the books written in French over the past century, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince” is surely the best loved in the most tongues. This is very strange, because the book’s meanings—its purpose and intent and moral—still seem far from transparent, even seventy-five plus years after its first appearance. Indeed, the startling thing, looking again at the first reviews of the book, is that, far from being welcomed as a necessary and beautiful parable, it bewildered and puzzled its readers. Among the early reviewers, only P. L. Travers—who had, with a symmetry that makes the nonbeliever shiver, written an equivalent myth for England in her Mary Poppins books—really grasped the book’s dimensions, or its importance.

Over time, the suffrage of readers has altered that conclusion, of course: a classic is a classic. But it has altered the conclusion without really changing the point. This year marks an efflorescence of attention, including a full-scale exhibition of Saint-Exupéry’s original artwork at the Morgan Library, in New York. But we are no closer to penetrating the central riddle: What is “The Little Prince” about?

. . . .

It took many years—and many readings—for this reader to begin to understand that the book is a war story. Not an allegory of war, rather, a fable of it, in which the central emotions of conflict—isolation, fear, and uncertainty—are alleviated only by intimate speech and love. But the “Petit Prince” is a war story in a very literal sense, too—everything about its making has to do not just with the onset of war but with the “strange defeat” of France, with the experience of Vichy and the Occupation. Saint-Exupéry’s sense of shame and confusion at the devasation led him to make a fable of abstract ideas set against specific loves. In this enterprise, he sang in unconscious harmony with the other great poets of the war’s loss, from J. D. Salinger—whose great post-war story, “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” shows us moral breakdown eased only by the speech of a lucid child—to his contemporary Albert Camus, who also took from the war the need to engage in a perpetual battle “between each man’s happiness and the illness of abstraction,” meaning the act of distancing real emotion from normal life.

. . . .

In the deepest parts of his psyche, he had felt the loss of France not just as a loss of battle but also as a loss of meaning. The desert of the strange defeat was more bewildering than the desert of Libya had been; nothing any longer made sense. Saint-Ex’s own war was honorable: he flew with the GR II/33 reconnaissance squadron of the Armée de l’Air. And, after the bitter defeat, he fled Europe like so many other patriotic Frenchmen, travelling through Portugal and arriving in New York on the last day of 1940. But, as anyone who lived through it knew, what made the loss so traumatic was the sense that the entire underpinning of French civilization, not merely its armies, had come, so to speak, under the scrutiny of the gods and, with remarkable speed, collapsed.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

McDonald’s offers kids free e-books

30 April 2014

From The Bookseller:

Fast food chain McDonald’s is teaming up with Kobo to offer free downloads of children’s books for the first time.

From today (30th April), every Happy Meal box will come with an e-book voucher allowing customers to download Famous Five book Five and A Half-Term Adventure by Enid Blyton (Hodder Children’s Books).

McDonald’s said it decided to venture into e-books after consultation with the National Literacy Trust (NLT), whose research shows that kids’ ownership and access to tablets has grown in recent years.

. . . .

However, McDonald’s said it is not deserting print books and the Happy Meal boxes will also contain one of six Secret Seven stories, again written by Blyton and published by Hodder, and a £1 voucher that can be used to buy a Secret Seven or Famous Five book at WHSmith or Eason.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Can publishers change from funnels to megaphones?

30 April 2014

From Nathan Bransford:

It’s no secret that the publishing industry is in the midst of a vast transformation. The question is whether the industry can pivot to a vastly different reality.

. . . .

Russ Grandenetti, Amazon’s Kindle vice president said:

The old print world of scarcity—with a limited number of publishers and editors selecting which manuscripts to publish, and a limited number of bookstores selecting which titles to carry—is yielding to a world of digital abundance. Grandinetti told me that, in these new circumstances, a publisher’s job “is to build a megaphone.”

Building a megaphone is a really great metaphor for the value publishers can still bring to the publishing process even as we march steadily into the e-book era.

. . . .

The old print world really was based on scarcity. There was only so much shelf space in bookstores, therefore there was only so many copies of any book it was profitable to print, therefore it was necessary and profitable to winnow down all the books out there into a select, chosen few.

Publishers added value through the act of curation. Gatekeeping is now treated with derision in some quarters, but it was a terribly important, valuable business activity. Publishers built cachet through quality control, and booksellers and authors alike came to depend upon them for this service.

Publishers were a crucial funnel. They made the system work when it simply wasn’t profitable to print every book ever written during the first five hundred years of the printed word.

. . . .

The value in publishing is no longer built around scarcity. It’s abundance. Instead of culling books into a select few that arrive on bookstore shelves, the value publishers now must bring is helping authors rise above the noise and connecting readers to the books they want to read.

. . . .

This is a world of choice. There are two major shifts publishers need to make in order to accommodate this shift:

1. They will need to start treating authors as customers
2. They will have to invest in publicity, marketing, and branding

Can they do it?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

PG would point out that it takes a much different skill set to be a curator than it does to help authors connect with readers. Since publishers are institutionally unconnected with readers, one wonders how useful they’ll be to authors.

It sounds to PG like a pretty lame value proposition for authors.

There are a zillion experts in marketing to consumers who have a big head start over publishers when it comes to connecting with readers.

James Strauss and his Fake Writing Credits

30 April 2014

From Lee Goldberg, Author & TV Producer:

A year ago, I published a blog post here titled “Easily Fooled” about being on a TV writing panel at a mystery conference with a guy whose writing credits were all fake.  I omitted his name to save him embarrassment. I was being too kind, because the guy is still hoodwinking conferences and the paying attendees with the same scam. So here’s the post again… with his name included this time.

James Strauss

James gets gigs teaching screenwriting courses based on his experience writing episodes on the TV shows HOUSE, DEADWOOD, SAVING GRACE and ENTOURAGE. The problem is, according to the Writers Guild of America and writer/producers on those shows, James Strauss never worked as a writer on any of those series.

. . . .

The First Clue: Strauss Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About

Recently, I was a guest at a Love is Murder Conference in Chicago and one of my fellow speakers/panelists was James Strauss, who claimed to have written for scores of acclaimed network TV shows, like House, Deadwood, and Entourage, and a big upcoming movie, The Equalizer. Based on his experience, he’d been invited to speak at writer’s conferences, seminars, and libraries from coast to coast, including some nice paid gigs in Hawaii and Mexico. I’d never heard of him…and the instant I met him, I knew something was off.

For one thing, I knew one of the writers of the big, upcoming movie he claimed to have worked on…and I knew writer/producers on most of the shows he said he wrote for…and when I mentioned their names to James, he was evasive or said he came on the various projects before or after my friends were there. I might have bought that, screenwriting is a pretty nomadic business, but everything he said on his panels and in his talks about writing scripts and working on episodic series wasn’t just wrong, it was inane. Even in our personal conversations, he said some pretty stupid stuff about the business.

The Second Clue: Strauss Had No Credits. Anywhere. For Anything.

. . . .

What I don’t get is how so many conferences, libraries, and seminars could have invited this guy to speak, and paid his way to tropical locales, without doing even the most basic check of his credentials. In this day and age, if a guy says he wrote for some of the most acclaimed shows on TV, you should be able to easily confirm it with a simple Google search. And if you can’t, that should be a big, fat, red freaking flag.

Link to the rest at Lee Goldberg and thanks to Barbra for the tip.

Sonnet 18

29 April 2014

One of PG’s favorites. And we’re completing National Poetry Month in the US.

Next Page »