Monthly Archives: August 2014

A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points

30 August 2014

From Android Police:

Let’s be honest, busy people don’t have time to trudge through long books made of mostly filler. Unfortunately, publishers know they can’t put a high price on a 40-page book. In the end, authors are stuck building a lavish sea of meaningless words around the simple concepts they want to convey. That’s where Blinkist comes in. It’s a service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points. Think of it like Cliffs Notes, but even shorter and not funded entirely by high school students.

. . . .

Blinkist suggests you can fly through Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start in 18 minutes and Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect in just 13. Each book has a brief description and hints about who might want to read it, and all of the content is laid out in simple sections with just enough text to get the point without a bunch of repetition or unnecessary examples. There are currently over 400 books in the catalog, with about 40 new books added each month.

Link to the rest at Android Police

To answer an obvious question, copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

17 U.S. Code s102 (b) states:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The distinction between an idea and the expression of an idea may not always be clear but, for example, the idea of a young man going off to a boarding school where magic is taught and magical creatures are kept is not protected by copyright law while Harry, Hermione, Hogwarts and the particular world created by Rowling is protected..

Keeping it Fresh

30 August 2014

From author Dave Farland:

When you’re writing a long novel, sometimes as a writer you feel that you are getting stuck in a rut, that your prose has become repetitious, so it is important to find little ways to vary your work.

Most often, writing teachers will suggest that authors write sentences or paragraphs (or even chapters) of varying lengths.

For example, Ernest Hemingway is often considered the “master of the short sentence,” but in every story that he writes, when he gets up to the place where a thematic climax comes in, he will suddenly write long sentences—as long as three or four hundred words even.

. . . .

Anyone who has ever suffered through bipolar disorder knows that even a single protagonist can suffer through violent mood swings that seem to have nothing to do with what life throws at them. Thus, a character may be on top of the world one day and suicidal the next. So the emotional tone in a novel can vary widely, too.

I’ve seen authors who struggle to put in characters who are wildly different, so that each person is highly individual, and that can be fun, since it pushes you to really delve deeply in order to create interesting characters. Thus, you can look at the works of Arthur Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes, and find many interesting characters with odd habits, unusual costumes, and so on.

Sometimes you can simply alter your style in small ways to good effect. In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the author will go for fifty pages of dialog where the beats—the character’s internal thoughts and the descriptions of the external settings and character actions—are all skillfully interwoven through the dialog.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Farland’s books

Publishing Wars

29 August 2014

From BBC Radio 4:

Who will win the book wars between the world’s largest publishers and Amazon, the comprehensive online retailer? Adam Fleming reports on the latest – and potentially epoch-making – chapter in the book wars.

The big French publishing house Hachette is locked in a battle with Amazon in the US over the price of Ebooks. Amazon alleges the prices which publishers, including Hachette, charge for these titles are too high. In support of its campaign to lower them, Amazon has made purchases on its website of books by authors who are published by Hachette – including such well-known writers as Ian Rankin – slower and more expensive.

. . . .

 Adam Fleming asks why this row has flared up now and who will win it. Where do authors and readers stand in this battle between corporate giants and what do they stand to win and lose? He also explores the radical changes that are taking place elsewhere in the publishing industry – such as self-publishing – in which Amazon is itself involved – and independent funding of books. How will these changes affect all those who write, publish, buy and read books.

Link to the rest at BBC Radio 4 and thanks to Nick and several others for the tip.

There’s a 28-minute radio program at the link that includes interviews with three British indie authors.

A few locks of dry white hair clung

29 August 2014

A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

On Agency Clauses

29 August 2014

From Adventures in Agentland:

A typical agency clause will read something like:

Author authorizes Agent, located at (ADDRESS), to collect all gross sums of money due under this Agreement. Any receipt of such sums shall be a good and valid discharge of Publisher’s obligations to make payments to Author. Agent is empowered to act on behalf of Author in any and all matters arising out of this Agreement.

In the article, the author addresses why this is problematic, and recommends either not having this clause, and having all money go directly to you, or modifying it to be revocable at any time.

For the record, I HIGHLY respect SCBWI, and I HIGHLY respect the author of the article. The intention behind it is very good, and authors SHOULD think about what they’re agreeing to; it IS problematic if you’ve signed with a “schmagent” – someone who disappears, along with your statements and royalty checks, leaving you high and dry.

I shared my post with Sara Rutenberg, the author of the SCBWI article, who pointed out: “Unfortunately, there are so many agents out there who are unscrupulous. The column was written in response to a number of people who found themselves in [the position of being with an agent who is not remitting timely or disappears]. It is critical to [discuss the agency clause] up front, or people will not feel comfortable taking actions needed to protect themselves.”

. . . .

I think it would be a mistake to feel that you are getting a bad deal from, or not sign with, an agent or agency that insists on this language.

Why?

There are several issues with direct payments. If you have your royalty statements and payments coming to you, instead of your agency, you would be responsible for remitting your agency’s commission and, at the end of the year, also remitting a 1099 to that agency for what you paid them. I actually can’t imagine that any foreign publisher would be ok sending payment to the author, instead of the foreign co-agent who brokered the deal – but, in that case, you’d be responsible for remitting payment to your agent, your co-agent, and dealing with any tax withholdings applicable to the specific country’s laws when you pay your co-agent (and then have to remit a tax form to them, too, at the end of the year).

You would also be responsible for sharing statements with your agent(s). Why? We need to check them! Think mistakes never happen? Think again!! It is part of my job to monitor any statements that come in, to be sure everything is calculated and reported correctly.

. . . .

You can absolutely discuss the split payment option with your agent upfront. However, keep in mind that not all publishers will agree to this (particularly in the case of subsidiary rights), which is why an agent may not agree to contractually be obligated to secure split payments for you.

. . . .

But, as I said, this isn’t something every agent will agree to, even if discussed upfront. And that doesn’t have to mean the agent is a schmagent, or that you’re getting screwed. The agency clause is VERY common. At the end of the day, if you have doubts about whether or not you can trust your agent to handle funds or statements – why are you signing with this person?! I think the true warning, and really, what Sara was after too, should go against schmagents, rather than the agency clause. You sure as heck should have done your research to make sure the agent offering rep is legit.

The agent-author relationship should be one of trust. If you’re worried your agent is going to, or currently is, screwing you over…you’ve got issues that need to be addressed immediately, either in conversation with your agent, or by parting ways/not signing with that agent.

Link to the rest at Adventures in Agentland and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

The original post is incoherent in spots, so allow PG to clarify a few points:

1. The agreement between author and agent as well as an agency clause in a publishing agreement should always provide for split payments with 85% going directly from the publisher to the author and 15% paid to the agent. Each payment should be accompanied by a royalty report delivered to both the author and the agent.

There are no benefits and many potential downsides for an author to have the entire royalty check sent to the agent. At a minimum, there will be an unnecessary delay of a few days or a few weeks between the time the royalties are paid to the agent and the time the author receives his/her share of the royalties.

And if an agent runs into financial troubles or develops a drug habit . . . . Stories of agents stealing from authors are legion. PG believes most agents are honest, but everyone is better off to avoid the possibility of temptation. An old Mark Twain (PG thinks) saying applies here, “Many a man has been saved from sin by the lack of opportunity.” Mark Twain spoke before gender language equity, but the saying would also apply to many a woman.

2. PG usually doesn’t play  the lawyer card, but the advice to check out your agent and go on trust (instead of a proper contract) is typical of the way non-lawyers think about business relationships. And very few agents are lawyers.

How long does the contract last? While PG strongly objects to their length, a typical publishing contract lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years in the US and for a similarly long time in most other industrialized nations.

Under a standard agency contract, how long will the agent be collecting royalties when an author signs a typical publishing contract? You guessed it, the life of the author plus 70 years.

Agents die. Agents go out of business. Agents sell their businesses to other agents. Agents merge their businesses with other agencies. The probability that the agent who sells a book to a typical publisher will still be around when the publishing contract finally ends is very close to zero. The probability that, at some time during the life of the publishing contract, a total stranger will take over administration of the contract in place of the original agent is close to 100%.

Your original agent could be the Mother Teresa of the agent world, someone who would never, ever do anything to harm an author under any circumstances. But, when Mother Agent goes to her heavenly reward, she could be succeeded by Mother Devil. You don’t want Mother Devil’s hands on your money.

3. PG could mumble on about other problems with the original post, but he won’t. Like many other fields of human endeavor, some agents are wonderful and capable, other agents are terrible and incompetent and most are somewhere in the middle.

Some of the problems with agents are a result of the fact that anybody can call themselves a literary agent regardless of qualifications or the lack thereof. Cathy Convict could walk out of a twenty-year stretch in Folsom Prison on Monday afternoon and set herself up as Cathy Agent on Tuesday morning.

For all their shortcomings, lawyers must hold a valid license to practice law. For all their shortcomings, bar associations can and do cause lawyers’ licenses to be yanked if the lawyers don’t follow the rules. Clients can file complaints with bar associations without hiring a lawyer to assist them. For all its shortcomings, the threat of losing a license helps keep lawyers in line.

If a lawyer does what virtually all agents do – receives all the royalties payable under a publishing contract, then pays the author 85% of the proceeds – the lawyer would be required to maintain a trust account separate from any other bank accounts for the purpose of holding client funds. The lawyer would have to deposit the publisher’s check into the trust account and pay the author directly from that account. The trust account is subject to audit by the bar association to make sure client money is handled properly.

Trust account mismanagement is one of the quickest ways to lose a law license. A complaint from a client to a bar association about trust account problems may be the best way to fast-track a bar association investigation of that lawyer. A lot of lawyers (including PG) strive to avoid receiving client funds in order to stay clear of potential trust account issues.

None of these safeguards apply to a literary agent. There is no agent’s license to yank. The agent may have a trust account, but nothing requires the agent to put all client funds in the trust account. If a client has a complaint about improper behavior by an agent, there is no agents’ bar association where the client can lodge a complaint. An author has no way to resolve a large problem with an agent short of hiring an attorney and, if that doesn’t work, filing suit against the agent.

Why don’t authors compete?

29 August 2014

From Seth Godin:

There’s an apocryphal story of a guy who went for his final interview for a senior post at Coca-Cola. At dinner, he ordered a Pepsi. He didn’t get the job.

And most packaged goods companies would kill to be the only product on the shelf, to own the category in a given store.

Yet, not only do authors get along, they spend time and energy blurbing each other’s books. Authors don’t try to eliminate others from the shelf, in fact, they seek out the most crowded shelves they can find to place their books. They eagerly pay to read what everyone else is writing…

Can you imagine Tim Cook at Apple giving a generous, positive blurb to an Android phone?

And yet authors do it all the time.

It’s one of the things I’ve always liked best about being a professional writer. The universal recognition that there’s plenty of room for more authors, and that more reading is better than less reading, even if what’s getting read isn’t ours.

It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s an infinite game, one where we each seek to help ideas spread and lives change.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog and thanks to Jessica for the tip.

Book publishers shout foul over Amazon Japan’s new ratings

29 August 2014

From The Asahi Shimbun:

Online retail giant Amazon Japan introduced a new system this summer to rank book publishers, a decision that has not gone down well with its business partners.

Amazon Japan is the nation’s largest book retailer for paper and electronic media. Its new system gives higher rankings to publishers that pay higher fees to Amazon Japan and to publishers with larger eBook catalogs.

Additionally, eBooks from publishers ranked higher are given more prominence on the Amazon.co.jp website.

Many publishers, including high-profile publishing houses, have protested the move, calling it a form of “blackmail” that exploits the company’s considerable dominance in the book retailing industry.

. . . .

An official with Amazon Japan’s public relations department said, “It’s difficult to comment because the issue deals with individual contracts.”

Link to the rest at The Asahi Shimbun and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Why This Bestselling Author Decided To Start Self-Publishing

29 August 2014

From io9:

Author Karen Traviss has published a slew of successful books, from her own Wess’har Wars series to a number of Star Wars, Halo and Gears of War novels. But for her new techno-thriller Going Grey, she decided to walk away from a mainstream publishing contract and self-publish. She explains why.

. . . .

“Nobody else is going to do it for you.”

It was deceptively simple advice given to a group of aspiring writers at the MSU Clarion workshop. The wise words about taking charge of your own career came from author Suzy McKee Charnas: and one of the writers was me.

Brace for a few numbers. I like numbers. After 24 novels with Big Five publishers, 12 of them NYT best-sellers, I took Suzy’s words to heart and withdrew my 25th novel – Going Grey – from the schedule of a Big Five house and released it independently. The whole Ringer series will now follow the same route.

When my first book was published ten years ago, the technology to do that didn’t exist. The ability to sell e-books, paperbacks, and audio editions globally without the need for a middleman is something that’s only recently become a realistic alternative.

. . . .

But mention indie publishing – direct publishing, self publishing, call it what you will – and you’ll still trigger knee-jerk frothing among writers in opposing camps. Some of that is fuelled by partisan reactions to Amazon, the main driver of the rapid growth of the independent sector. One camp claims Amazon is the evil empire that destroyed bookstores, and all the indies it’s spawned are people who can’t get published any other way: the other camp says Amazon has dismantled the Berlin Wall of giant publishers and retailers – “Big Publishing” – to give more freedom to more writers.

Readers rarely care or even know who your publisher is, though. Why should they? Publishing is packaging and distribution. Consumers’ rational concerns are what’s in the package and how much it costs.

I’m in neutral territory, or at least I’ve seen both sides of the razor wire. I’m a commercial author who’s sold a lot of books through the Big Five. But I’m also an ex-journalist with a critical eye on big corporations, and I’ve had my share of bad experiences with traditional publishing. What follows is a non-partisan account of why more writers like me are finally waking up to another way to do business.

Initially, my decision to publish Going Grey independently related to a specific problem; it was taking too long to get it on sale, and I wasn’t willing to wait any longer. It was only after I acted that I realised how much the industry had changed, and how naive I’d been to think Big Publishing would look after my interests because I made money for it.

The traditional publishing industry is getting a serious kicking these days. It’s a common pattern in business. An industry enjoys a protected existence for years, mergers force the eggs into fewer baskets, and the players get complacent and flabby. They overlook new technologies and bolder business models creeping up on them – in this case, Amazon. Publishers thought they were the creators of books and that their customers were the book stores. They forgot that that authors are the sole source of books and that the only paying customers are readers. Everyone else in the food chain is replaceable.

. . . .

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences with publishers, including breached contracts and books left marooned “in print” but unobtainable, but I’ve fared better than many other writers. I’ve never had to languish in a slush pile, I’ve had advances well above the average, and I’ve never really been stopped from writing what I wanted. I never reached the stage where a publisher wrecked a book or buried my career, unlike friends I’ve seen sunk by inexplicable decisions and foul-ups.

But I’ve made more in royalties from one moderately successful, short-run franchise comic series than I’ve made in ten years of royalties from novels, more than half of which were best-sellers. That illustrates the reality of traditional publishing even for apparently successful authors. Unless you’re one of a small handful of mega best-selling writers, you’re not the one getting rich off your work.

Link to the rest at io9 and thanks to Chris and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Karen Traviss’ books

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