How to Read a Book Contract – For Avoidance of Doubt

31 March 2012

A reprise of a post from last year.

Contract clauses beginning with the phrase, “For the avoidance of doubt” are a common feature of business contracts.

For example, Company A is negotiating a three-year contract with Company B to purchase twenty different products from Company B. The contract includes ten pages outlining minimum purchases, pricing and quantity discounts, price adjustments for changes in raw materials costs, methods of calculating credits for returns, etc., with variations for each product.

Company A carefully analyzes all the different combinations of prices, refunds, etc., but wants to make certain it doesn’t receive a big bill as a result of unanticipated future permutations.

Company A might insert a clause in the contract that says, “For the avoidance of doubt, Company A will never be required to pay Company B more than $2 million during any calendar month.” (PG has somewhat simplified the likely language.)

With this clause in place, as Company A’s CFO manages cash flow, she knows she will never have to write a monthly check for more than $2 million to Company B.

Last week, Passive Guy blogged about an important essay from Kristine Kathryn Rusch discussing borderline fraudulent contract practices of publishers in recent contracts with authors.

The practices Kris mentioned included embedding important contract provisions in difficult-to-decipher e-rights clauses or obscure clauses in the Warranties section of publishing contracts, traditionally the home of routine boilerplate. An example of one buried warranties restriction Kris identified would “warrant that the writer will not write anything until this particular book under this particular contract is published.”

So, how is an author to respond when the publisher or agent-turned-publisher offers up a shady contract?

An intelligent (and the recommended) response would be to hire a competent attorney to review the contract.

Now, to be completely truthful, is it possible for a clause to be hidden from a competent attorney? The answer is “Yes.” Not likely, but possible. Passive Guy would love to assure you that all attorneys sprinkle themselves with fairy dust each morning so they never make mistakes, but this is not the case. (Besides, fairy dust makes PG sneeze.)

In the absence of fairy dust, an approach to buried gotchas PG sometimes uses is to expand the familiar For Avoidance of Doubt clause into a Smoke ‘Em Out Clause.

The purpose of the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause is to:

  1. Reveal where the gotchas are buried, and/or
  2. Provide a reasonably good method for avoiding the effects of buried gotchas

Here’s an example, based in part on Kris’ essay, of what a Smoke ‘Em Out Clause might look like (simplified to keep you from falling asleep). The term, “Work” is a defined term identifying the book that is the subject of the publishing contract. Reservation of rights would be handled in a separate clause.

For the avoidance of doubt, no provision of this contract shall:

  1. Give Publisher any rights to any present or future work of Author other than new books with the same characters and settings as the Work.
  2. Prevent Author from publishing any of Author’s present or future books with another publisher or self-publishing such books except for books with the same characters and settings as described in Paragraph 1 above.
  3. Give Publisher any rights to electronic versions of the Work except for an ebook version of the Work with features substantially identical to those ebooks being sold at retail by Publisher on the date of this contract.
  4. Give Publisher any rights to versions of the Work in electronic or other formats that are not being sold commercially at retail by one or more major book publishers on the date of this contract.
  5. Give Publisher any rights to past, present or future creations of Author that are not books, including adaptations by Author or others of the Work into a form that is not a book or ebook.
  6. Give Publisher any rights to modify the content of the Work as initially accepted for publication by Publisher without Author’s express written consent in a document separate from this contract.

Passive Guy could go on, but the purpose of the sample clause is to demonstrate what a Smoke ‘Em Out Clause might look like, not provide a comprehensive cut-and-paste example of everything that might be listed in one.

This clause probably doesn’t replace any other clause in a standard publishing contract. It’s added to the contract. What the author is doing is making a list of things that he/she is worried about and negating the publisher’s right to do those things.

The fundamental purpose of this clause is to conflict with hidden clauses that say something different. If you’re sure you’ve found all the gotchas, you may choose a different negotiating tactic to deal with them. However, it still may be a useful approach to set forth some clear and reasonable items in a For Avoidance of Doubt paragraph and make the publisher justify something much more restrictive.

The style of this clause should be simple and straightforward, both for clarity for the author and for clarity for a judge. I’ll talk more about the judge later.

What are some possible responses of a publisher to a clause like this?

Response 1: This is our standard contract and we’re not making any changes.

What you’ve learned from this response is that the publisher’s contract has at least one provision and probably more than one provision that conflicts with the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause. If the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause doesn’t make any changes in the standard contract, there is no cost to the publisher in accepting it.

By virtue of the blanket refusal to discuss changes in the contract, you’ve also learned that, as the author, you are not a respected partner for this publisher. Instead, you are an indentured servant. The only reason you’re not a slave is that slavery is prohibited by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution (and similar laws in another countries), so the publisher will have to be satisfied with indentured servitude.

A variation on this response is, We have dozens of contracts and the administrative issues involved in modifying our standard form for an author would be overwhelming.

Bogus. Hundreds of large companies have thousands of contracts that are completely different from one another and they manage to deal with them.

Response 2: We can agree to paragraphs 1 and 3, but can’t accept the rest.

Now you know where to look for gotchas. The ones you talked about in your paragraphs 1 and 3 are probably not in this contract, but you need to hunt through the contract for the rest.

Response 3: We can’t agree to your proposed addition because it conflicts with other parts of the contract.

Bingo! Your immediate response is, “Which parts of the contract do my proposed language conflict with?” You will then receive a nice little map to a flock of gotchas. If the publisher refuses to tell you where the conflicts are, see Indentured Servitude above.

Response 4: We can agree to your proposed addition with some minor changes to your language.

Watch the changes like a hawk. Analyze the contract until you are certain you know which contract provisions the changes leave in place. Once you think you know what contract provisions are involved and if they don’t bother you, generate another Smoke ‘Em Out Clause that just skirts around those provisions. If the publisher says OK to the new clause, you’ve probably found all the gotchas. If the publisher wants more changes to your language, analyze those carefully or, alternately, ask why the changes are necessary and which contract provisions are conflicting.

Response 5: Your addition is acceptable to us.

This may mean you have a clean contract. This may also mean your Smoke ‘Em Out Clause missed the hidden landmines. This may also mean the publisher will be relying on its standard contract language to override the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause. This reliance is, I believe, risky for the publisher.

As mentioned earlier, the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause is designed to conflict with objectionable provisions hidden in the contract. If your language does conflict and both remain in the contract, you’re looking at a fight somewhere down the road. The Smoke ‘Em Out Clause is not a guarantee of victory, but it should help you out.

When a judge is presented with a contract that includes unclear or conflicting language, the judge will first try to find an interpretation of the contract that honors all the language. One of the reasons for simple and clear statements in the For Avoidance of Doubt (FAOD) clause is to make it difficult for a judge to construe the contract in a way contrary to this clause.

The language of the FAOD clause (“For the avoidance of doubt, no provision of this contract shall”) is designed to tell the judge that if something else is floating around the contract that conflicts with it, the FAOD provision will govern.

Another reason for simple and clear statements is that, comparing those with the complex and roundabout wording necessary to conceal a good gotcha, the judge has more opportunities to construe the gotcha language in a way that preserves the fundamental intent of the FAOD language.

A general rule of copyright law is that an author is presumed to retain all rights not expressly granted to a publisher. Some of the FAOD provisions sound like retained rights.

Finally, a judge will understand the publisher was trying to distract or deceive with a hidden gotcha and will be aware of the great disparity in resources between a big publisher and an individual author. If the FAOD language gives the judge something to hang his/her hat on, he/she will come down on the side of simple, clear and fairer to the author 9 times out of 10.

An FAOD clause is not a replacement for carefully reading and understanding a publishing or agency contract. An FAOD clause is not a replacement for a competent attorney.

An FAOD clause is not many things, but it is a lovely way to set a cat among the pigeons in a negotiation.

Since Passive Guy has been more specific about clauses, language, etc., than he is in most of his contract posts, he will remind you that nothing in this blog is legal advice. People who want PG’s legal advice need to hire him or be a very close relative.

 

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Atria Books And Paragraph To Launch Crave

11 December 2015

From PR Newswire:

Paragraph and Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, today announced the launch of Crave (ThisIsCrave.com) – a new app that matches bestselling authors with the hottest actors to offer romance fans an entirely new reading experience. Crave will be available for download on iOS at launch with Android to follow shortly after.

The first books to launch on Crave are Atria’s November 9, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover, followed by books from #1 New York Times bestselling author Abbi Glines, and USA Today bestselling author K.A. Tucker.

Subscribers will receive one installment from the book each day, and every new segment of the story is coupled with instant notifications, videos and photos from the lead character.  Books are released serially, typically in advance of their official publication date, creating a new reading paradigm where the only place to experience the enhanced story will be in the app.

“The way we consume information has changed dramatically in the past few years,” said Ziv Navoth, Paragraph’s CEO. “We took the romance novel and asked ourselves how can we create an experience that fits the way people like to experience stories these days. The result is Crave.”

The Crave Studio scours the world and polls fans to discover actors who resemble the actual book characters so much that they might have well been the inspiration for them. Crave then turns them into real-life stand-ins for their characters, turning the audience’s fantasy into reality.

“Today’s romance reader isn’t satisfied with simply reading a story,” said Colleen Hoover. “She wants to be immersed in the story and get closer to the characters, while also building a relationship with the author who created them.”

“This is an exciting endeavor for us.  Truly the way readers consume, share and talk about books has changed greatly, and with Crave we are able to marry new methods of delivery with high-quality, value-added content to engage readers in an entirely new type of experience,” says Judith Curr, President and Publisher, Atria Publishing Group.

Crave is a subscription-based service. Fans subscribe to an author’s channel for less than a dollar a week ($3.99/month) and receive daily installments from their newest books over a period of 90 days.

Link to the rest at PR Newswire and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

PG is reminded of one of the most common provisions in any publishing contract: All rights not specifically granted herein to the Publisher shall be reserved to the Author or something similar. 

Sometimes this provision is accompanied by Any rights not specifically granted in this contract shall not be deemed to have been granted by implication.

For the avoidance of doubt, PG is not expressing any legal opinion with respect to this story.

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The Amtrak Writers Program

10 March 2014

Passive Guy has received lots of email about the terms and conditions of the newly-announced Amtrak Residency Program for writers. If you’re not familiar with it, Amtrak is offering free tickets for authors, presumably on train trips that will last for at least several hours, encouraging them to write about their experience.

The email has focused on the following paragraph in Amtrak’s Terms and Conditions:

6.   Grant of RightsIn submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.) Upon Sponsor’s request and without compensation, Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights and/or to furnish Sponsor with written proof that he/she has secured any and all necessary third party consents relative to the Application.

PG has the following responses:

1. He is exceptionally pleased that authors and others are carefully reading terms and conditions relating to their writing and encourages the continuation of this practice.

2. PG is also pleased that authors and others are raising the alarm about problematic terms and conditions and hopes this practice continues and grows.

3. For attorneys who are writing terms and conditions, PG suggests it’s a good idea to consider public response before pulling out the moldy boilerplate paragraph covering a Grant of Rights. Amtrak should be asking uncomfortable questions of its counsel about this public relations disaster. Because it is counsel’s fault.

4. This language is, in fact, a rights grab. Amtrak officials have issued statements saying this isn’t what they meant, they would not use any materials without consulting the author, etc. As with all “we would never do that” responses to contract concerns, PG’s response is, “Great. Let’s change the contract to reflect what you just said.”

5. While this is a rights grab, it only covers the Application that would-be train-riding authors submit to Amtrak, not the stories and books the authors write while they’re on the train. So it’s a baby rights grab.

6. However, babies grow up, so authors who are selected to receive free train travel will want to carefully review any other terms and conditions or contracts that Amtrak requires them to sign before the conductor says, “All Aboard!”

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The Gathering Storm of Indie Publishing

22 June 2011

The Alexander G. Public Relations blog has an interview with author Jason McIntyre. Jason is a hard-core indie writer.

Excerpts:

AlexanderG Whiz Blog: What led you to being an indie author–did you try the “traditional” route?

Jason McIntyre: As mentioned, I’ve been writing for a long time, going to writers’ groups and honing my craft. Erroneously, I always thought that if you write a good book then publishers would want it, then readers would buy it and read it and either like it or loathe it. What I was hearing is, “Jason, you tell a mean story. You really understand how to engage the reader and get me excited. What I’m not seeing here is a clear-cut way to sell this book in a book store. You don’t stick to one genre and your characters aren’t always perfectly likable. I’m afraid we’re going to pass.”

I knew that readers would connect with my work but it wasn’t until last year when the iPad was introduced that I realized a writer like me could establish a connection with an audience on my own terms and with my own energies. I could do the editing, proofing, design and distribution in a grass roots way and use social media to get the word out. It began as an experiment of sorts and I found a decent footing so I continued. First I was a bestseller at a book distribution site called Smashwords.comand then, in October of 2010, I shared a couple books on Amazon’s Kindle, currently the biggest distributor of ebooks. Now my books are available on all the major ebook sites and selling well.

AlexanderG Whiz Blog: You enjoy a robust fan base. You have a great website. What do you do to market your work?

Jason McIntyre: The biggest thing I do for marketing is one-on-one communication with readers. I use Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads to connect with people I believe will have an interest in what I’m writing, then I offer discounted copies and discuss the books directly with them. After years of hearing other authors and agents and publishers telling me what I was doing wrong, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear directly from a reader who has had heart palpitations from reading a particularly engrossing scene or chapter. They are the audience. I believe in letting them decide what’s good and what isn’t. For the most part, I’ve found tremendous enjoyment in interacting on such a close level with these readers. They’ve made short stories better when I’ve offered them beta copies to read and told me that an idea sucks when it actually did. Generally, they get very excited over small discounts, free copies, and especially advanced access to a story as I’m working on it. You can’t pay for the kind of publicity you get from a genuinely interested reader who tweets or brags about a book they liked.

AlexanderG Whiz Blog: What is your biggest challenge when it comes to getting the word out about your novels?

Jason McIntyre: Finding readers as opposed to other writers who also read is a big challenge. Don’t get me wrong, the writers’ communities on the net are a joy and a value in terms of camaraderie, spirit, knowledge and help. But readers are harder to come by. Generally, they are living their lives, reading books, going to their jobs and spending their social media time with their friends and families and coworkers. Their goal isn’t to help you by reviewing or advertising your book. You can’t hit them over the head with a sales pitch or they will bolt. (Have we mentioned he has a great blog? It’s called The Farthest Reaches. Check it.)

Link to the rest at Alexander G. Public Relations

Passive Guy thinks it likely that Mr. McIntyre is a client of Alexander G. One of the PR services Alexander G. can provide is to have a widely-read blog and use it to spread McIntyre’s fame.

For the avoidance of doubt, PG has no problem with this.

UPDATE: Alex has commented on this post and clarified that Mr. McIntyre is not a client and that Alex discloses the relationship when he blogs about a client. Sorry for the misunderstanding on PG’s part.

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The Bookseller Hires Author Solutions Exec To Spout Propaganda

7 June 2013

A response to Author Solutions and Penguin Random House – The Real Deal? from the indispensable David Gaughran:

[Author Solutions uses] a multi-pronged strategy:

1. Author Solutions runs a multitude of faux-informational websites purporting to provide independent advice to inexperienced writers. After filling out a questionnaire, these sites then present a selection of publishing “options” – all subsidiaries owned by Author Solutions, all terrible. Author Solutions spends a lot of time and money to ensure that these sites appear at the top of Google’s search results for any generic terms that a publisher-hunting newbie would use (I’m not linking to these sites as that will help their SEO, but you can Google anything like “I need a publisher” to see what I mean. Running variations of those searches will bring up more than 20 different fake sites, all operated by Author Solutions).

2. Author Solutions operates fake social media profiles of “independent publishing consultants” which are manned by Author Solutions staff, target the most inexperienced writers, and only recommend Author Solutions companies.

3. Author Solutions pressures customers into writing positive testimonials before releasing their books for publication. I received one such complaint the last time I posted about Author Solutions, from an AuthorHouse UK customer who said that they wouldn’t publish the book she had already paid for until she wrote the testimonial here (second from top).

4. Author Solutions partners with supposedly legitimate and independent organizations to give a veneer of respectability to their scammy operations (like Hay House, Writers Digest, Simon & Schuster, Lulu, HarperCollins, the Authors Guild, Harlequin, and various writers conferences).

. . . .

While I regularly read both The Bookseller and FutureBook, I’ve had plenty of issues with their editorial line, particularly with regard to their policy of never printing anything critical about Author Solutions – or, at least, not since they were purchased by Penguin.

In the last few months, this policy has extended to censoring comments critical of Author Solutions on their blogs, a policy they now share with Digital Book World – whose parent company has its own Author Solutions-powered vanity press.

Both of these companies depend on income from advertising and running conferences, and it appears they don’t want to be critical of a huge player like Author Solutions’ owner Penguin – especially with their impending merger with Random House, which will create the largest (by far) trade publisher in the world.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible and thanks to Geoff for the tip.

Passive Guy says the vanity press business is just another variation on the contract scams that the “legitimate” operations of some big publishers foist on unwary authors.

Without spending time blowing his own horn or claiming to be the smartest guy around, PG has negotiated a lot of contracts with a lot of large organizations – Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Citicorp, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Fidelity, Disney, etc., etc., etc. He’s currently negotiating contracts with companies that are household names for some of his non-literary clients. Suffice to say, PG has a sense of what’s generally considered reasonable in American business contracts.

When he first focused on a plain-vanilla publishing contract from a large New York publisher a few years ago, PG was astounded at how unfair some of the standard contract terms were for authors. As he saw other publishing contracts, he learned that publishers copied onerous terms from one another. The wording might be different, but the meaning was the same.

Additionally, it was not unusual to find what, to PG’s jaded eyes, were drafting techniques designed to disguise some of the more egregious contract provisions from authors who did not have experience dissecting contracts.

After having reviewed many, many agreements and proposed agreements between traditional publishers and authors, PG is prepared to say these contracts, as a group, stand apart from the general run of business agreements as conscience-shocking monstrosities.

No, they do not reflect the special snowflake nature of publishing. They’re simply designed to screw authors and give publishers control over authors and their work that is far beyond what is regarded as reasonable in the rest of American business.

So, when David justifiably rants about how Random Penguin’s Author Solutions and other vanity presses screw authors, PG suggests this is just the other side of the same coin as the non-vanity part of the business. Each side reflects the same attitude toward authors — geese to be plucked.

PG hasn’t written longer posts on specific publishing contract provisions for some time. You can find examples here, here, here, here, here, and here. If you use TPV’s blog search function to look for How to Read a Book Contract and cursor down, you’ll find more.  You can also search on the Contracts category to pull up everything, but this category covers much more than contract problems for authors.

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How to have an Amazon-free Christmas … and save money

12 November 2012

From The Guardian:

Amazon, Britain’s biggest online retailer, is undeniably cheap. But in the three years in which it amassed £7bn in UK sales, it paid no corporation taxon any of the profits from that income. So can consumers worried about tax avoidance – albeit entirely legal – shop elsewhere without having to face higher prices? Money went shopping and found it is surprisingly easy to enjoy an Amazon-free Christmas, yet still save money.

We tested prices on what are expected to be this year’s top-selling Christmas toys, from LeapPad computers to Lego. In almost all cases we found a retailer cheaper than Amazon, although we cannot vouch for each retailer’s tax position – some may engage in similar tax avoidance practices used by Amazon.

. . . .

But ethically minded shoppers then hit a conundrum: when it comes to tax, is shopping at Smyths any better than shopping at Amazon? The most recent UK accounts for Smyths Toys UK at Companies House show turnover of £97.4m in the nine months to the end of December 2011, an operating profit of £2.4m and corporation tax paid of £610,857. It may not be much, but it does appear to be paying more tax in Britain than its giant competitor.

It’s worth noting that Smyths’s parent group is based in Galway, Ireland, where the corporation tax rate is 12.5%. Ireland has come under fire from campaigners who say multinationals use its generous rate to minimise their tax bills elsewhere. For example, Apple is estimated to have avoided more than £550m in tax on more than £2bn of underlying profits in Britain by channelling business through Ireland, according to a Sunday Times analysis.

Help is on the way from accountant Richard Murphy of Tax Research, an anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert who is preparing a guide for consumers naming the shops where you can buy safe in the knowledge that tax is being paid, while shaming the tax avoiders. 

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG will remind visitors that he doesn’t always agree with everything he posts.

PG will also note that tax evasion – violating tax laws – is different than tax avoidance – utilizing the tax laws to minimize the amount of tax paid.

The United States Supreme Court has expressly approved tax avoidance, stating that “The legal right of an individual to decrease the amount of what would otherwise be his taxes or altogether avoid them, by means which the law permits, cannot be doubted.” Gregory v. Helvering, 293 US 465 (1935)

PG doesn’t know if Great Britain provides a similar opportunity, but any US citizen desiring to make a free-will donation to the United States government can go here to learn how to do so.

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Self-Pub Suicide – Yet More Angst

8 November 2011

An anonymous blogger called AE started lots of discussions on The Passive Voice. See the original PV post here and a follow-up post here.

Basically, AE chastised indie authors for publishing bad books and predicted this would be professional suicide. AE was somewhat ambiguous, but it appeared AE was planning to be an indie author and didn’t want the indie well polluted with second-rate trash before taking a drink.

Lots of good comments appeared.

Passive Guy wanted to highlight a few of the comments (please don’t be offended if yours isn’t included):

From Thomas E:

I think the simple answer is that indie publishing is no different than traditional publishing in one important respect: if you write a bad book, no one will read it.

It’s hard for me to contemplate any scenario where self-publishing a bad book would actually have the effect of ending a career. Firstly, the nature of samples means that no one would buy it. And, in general, they won’t remember flicking through a sample and rejecting it any more than I remember the books I didn’t buy from a bookshop.

Secondly, if you are afraid of that why not self-publish under a pen name?

No, I think the only thing that can kill a writing career is to stop writing or not put your work up for sale. That’s it.

Bad books will not sell, regardless of sales tricks. Good books will. Write good books.

From David Gaughran:

The argument about how much of self-published work is “crap” is pointless. It doesn’t matter. Crap books (whether self-published or not) have no effect on my books. Just like Snooki’s books have no effect on Stephen King or John Grisham.

The only books that have an effect on the sales performance of my books are my other books.

Anyone who tries to make the argument that readers are becoming tired of self-published “crap” and that it is somehow reflecting badly on all indies and that readers are becoming wary of anything self-published needs to be pointed towards the Kindle bestseller charts.

For the last three months since I have been casually tracking it, self-published work has captured roughly a third of the top five hundred or so bestselling e-books on Amazon. That proportion has stayed relatively stable.

If you look at the genre bestseller lists (where readers first switched to e-books and started reading indies), the success of indies is even clearer – on the science fiction, romance, and thriller bestseller charts, indies regularly capture 50% or more of the top spots, beating out the biggest books from the biggest writers.

This would seem to indicate that indie books are getting more popular, not less.

That simple fact should bury this “crap” argument once and for all.

J. Tanner wrote:

The way the argument is presented is distractingly circular, and hyperbolic.

But in my experience there’s a grain of truth.

Trade published books are almost uniformly written to some minimum standard of readability. I’d bet even the Snooki book that is the self-pub punching bag de jour is competently written. By a ghostwriter overseen by a decent editor and followed by a copyeditor. The content is almost certainly vapid given where it originates from, but I don’t doubt the prose is workmanlike, grammatically correct, and free of typos.

Self-pub stuff is all over the map. There is absolutely stuff indistinguishable from trade published work in the prose department. But there is also stuff one would not be surprised to encounter scrawled in a public bathroom stall. That bit is what so many latch on to and there are enough examples of it that you could read it until you die (and it might end up being the cause.)

However, it’s not a significant problem for the discerning reader who won’t be interested in 99% of trade pubbed or self-pubbed books anyway. The scrawled ones are easily noticed and rejected in seconds. The trade-pubbed ones can be more insidious in a weird way–you might need to read several chapters of reasonably written prose before you can determine this book really isn’t for you after all.

It sounds like both the author and the anonymously quoted friend are discerning readers. (I am as well.) It seems pointless to me to call out “you suck!” to only an easy target subset of stuff they don’t like while ignoring all sorts of other stuff they don’t like either but that’s their choice and they can try to defend it (and fail I expect.)

Kat J. found a deer hunting parallel:

Aren’t we a twitchy bunch? Have we been slammed for so long we jump at the slightest sound like deer in hunting season?

It’s been said here by a number of people – there is plenty of crap out there – both Trade and Indie.

We all know that publishing is a mean, nasty business where insults are slung like mud in all directions.

We also know the Steve Jobs biography was pulled because it contained formatting errors.

There is no such thing as perfection. It is a goal for which we all strive. Therefore – I thank God for the NitPicking readers!

And I’m very interested on what she has to say about ‘Swallow the Moon’ – not because I think it’s perfect, but because I want my next book to be better.

Isn’t that what all this is really about????

C.S. Splitter made a confession:

How’s this for honesty:

“Suck” is subjective, but…

I put out my first book too soon and I got very good reviews from review blogs and readers. I put it out too soon because I did not know any better. The technical aspects of the writing could have and SHOULD have been better. That was the bad news.

The good news was that the story and characters were good enough to, apparently, make the readers and reviewers overlook the avoidance of em dashes, semi colons, colons, and just plain poor punctuation. And the occasional typo. And beginning too many sentences with conjunctions. lol

Honestly, I just put the book out and didn’t do much marketing because when I wrote it, I never expected anyone to read it. Then when people did read (nope, not friends and family) and like it, I wanted to get more opinions on it.

After all, if I had ZERO talent, I wanted to know before I spent any more time writing bad stories. One can learn to write better, but I think you can either tell a good story or you cannot.

Now that I know there is something there, I got an editor and a professional artist for the cover. I just got the edited file back from the editor. Yeah, I apparently suck. I know that because of the rainbow of colors she used to point out writing mistakes or where it could be made better.

If I could pull the book from publication without losing the great reviews, I would do so. Thankfully, I can just continue to let people ignore the book until I get the edits done.

So, yeah, as a writer I sucked. I think I suck less now and I hope I suck even less in the future. I am exploring this indie/self pub thing and figuring things out as I go. It is fun, but there are mistakes to make along the way.

The beauty of self pubbing, especially where eBooks are concerned, is that you can fix your mistakes.

Yes, there were better ways to get the feedback I was originally seeking, but I did not know that “then.” I know now. That I put the first one out too soon is an endless source of embarrassment to me even though no one else seems to notice.

My re-release and new book will not be perfect either. I console myself by opening up a random, recently traditionally published book from my shelf and finding error upon error there too lol.

As self pubbed/indie writers we DO need to be honest with ourselves and understand that much of the work out there is bad in some way. Maybe even our own. We can, however, get better.

From David Gaughran again, responding, in part to a suggestion that indie books need something like a Consumer Reports to filter out the poorly-written ones:

Don’t Amazon reviews fulfill this function already? And Goodreads? And LibraryThing?

I know there are issues with sockpuppets, spiteful reviews, false reviews, and review swapping, but I would bet anything that’s a tiny fraction of overall reviews.

While readers may suspect a book with a handful of reviews, do they feel the same way about when with 50 overwhelmingly positive reviews? I don’t think so.

I get messages from readers all the time who said they picked up one of my books because of the good reviews.

Don’t forget there is also a whole book blog ecosystem out there. Readers really do trust reviews from sites like Big Al’s BooksAndPals, Sift, Red Adept, and lots and lots more. I remember getting a really huge boost from Pixel of Ink when they recommended one of my books (not a spot I paid for, they just decided to recommend it).

There are lots of sites out there trusted by readers that recommend books all the time and drive a huge amount of sales. I remember Amanda Hocking saying that book bloggers were crucial to her early success.

Finally, I would caution on making generalizations based on a small and noisy group of forum regulars. I don’t think they are representative of the general reading population, and several there seem to have axes to grind for whatever reason.

By any metric, indie sales are increasing. They are taking over the bestseller lists (around a third of the top-selling e-books on Amazon at any given time).

And, if you look at the genre bestseller lists, it’s even more stark. These are the readers that switched to e-books first and encountered indie books first. Half of the romance, thriller, and horror bestseller lists are self-published work. Surely if anyone was going to get “sick” of wading through “crap” it would be the readers who switched first.

However, it seems these readers are reading more indie books, not less.

Passive Guy thinks some online discussion boards (and comment threads) can turn into echo chambers.

Is there a crisis for indie books and indie authors? Are we on the brink of destruction?

PG thinks not.

Amazon ebook sales are going through the roof.

Are indie ebooks all being ignored? No, they’re a substantial and growing presence on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Look at the post immediately below this one for the latest evidence.

Do indie ebooks suffer from terrible quality problems? The ones that don’t are selling. The ones that do are not selling.

To traditionally-published books suffer from terrible quality problems? The ones that don’t are selling. The ones that do are not selling. (Talking to you, Snooki.)

Both Amazon Publishing and a large number of agents are trolling through indie ebooks in search of authors/clients. They’re not trolling because indie books are a sea of mediocrity. PG has had several clients who have been so contacted because of their indie books. Some indie authors are accepting the resulting invitations to traditional publishing and some are not.

If you think about it, an agent is much more likely to find a quality unrepresented author by checking the indie bestsellers than by wading through the email slush pile.

PG believes the overwhelming majority of readers who don’t spend half their lives making comments on Amazon forums are discovering good books through a wide variety of sources – friends, online discussions among people they respect, Amazon reviews, other online reviews, formal reviews in traditional publications, etc., etc., etc.

PG thinks a very small percentage of readers care whether an ebook is published by somebody in New York or not. Readers focus on the book, not the provenance. If they think about a brand, the author is the brand, not the publisher. Ask John Locke. People outside of the writing/publishing world generally ignore publishers. More consumers know ShamWow, Slap Chop and Snuggie than Simon & Schuster.

If you want to get into conspiracy theories, the indie-haters who spend so much time on various forums could well be unemployed editors laid off from traditional publishers or agents who are losing their clients to indieworld.

Buying an ebook, indie or othewise, is about the most risk-free way you can spend your entertainment money.

First, you can read a sample before buying. Second, you can immediately get a refund if you decide you made a mistake with your purchase. You don’t even have to find your receipt or take your book back to the bookstore.

Nobody’s forcing any reader to pay for and/or read an ebook that’s poorly-formatted and filled with grammatical errors.

Almost all authors are subject to bouts of angst. PG thinks we need to examine whether some authors are projecting their anxiety onto the world of self-publishing and whether such projection is distorting their view of of that world.

As long as PG is being psychological, he would also point out a geyser of all-or-nothing cognitive errors floating around about self-published books.

The sun is rising for indieworld, not setting.

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