Big Publishing

Rich Pickings for the Small and Beautiful

21 April 2014

From Digital Book World:

Here in the UK, the acquisition of Constable & Robinson is leading to virtually all of its workforce being let go, Quercus will be next having been bought and, more globally, the Penguin Random House merger is starting to leak hundreds of jobs. I understand business is business, but it is the cloudy nature, the hidden words, the political answers that enrage. Job losses should never be handled by PR departments.

. . . .

However, this article is not intended to be one of doom and gloom. The point I wanted to make was that an interesting trend is happening – due to the above but also generally a large number of very skilled workers are moving from their conglomerate employers to smaller companies.

. . . .

Going further, at the London Book Fair, and probably aided by our recent recruitment drive, I was approached with incredible regularity by people in between meetings asking if any further vacancies are coming up. It immediately became clear that something quite dramatic is happening here.

. . . .

Those with ambition and drive in publishing are now looking out their windows, or into their computer screens, and seeing the best independent companies taking risks and innovating quickly and cleverly, as they have to do to survive. These key people have an inborn desire to succeed, and so it is only natural they want to move away from the required structure of larger companies and into the movable, continual evolution of smaller ones.

. . . .

In summary, job losses particularly where avoidable will always make me enraged, and I think we have an obligation in the industry to shine a light where it’s happening. But there is comfort in an exciting migration. Just an in music and art where in my lifetime I have seen a sudden independent scene reinvigorate a weary market, a very exciting trend is starting to emerge in publishing.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG always hopes anyone who is laid off is able to find a good new job quickly.

However, having worked with both large and small companies, he will say that the skill set necessary to succeed in the former may be much different than that required to make meaningful contributions in the latter.

More to the point for the primary audience of The Passive Voice, if you’re a traditionally-published author, you really don’t want your editor and others with whom you’ve dealt to “transition” to a small and beautiful company.

In recently merged or acquired organizations, an almost superstitious attitude can arise toward those who were pushed out and their pet projects. Those projects can become tainted by an aura of failure. If they were any good, their champion wouldn’t have been fired. If the inheritors of the departed employee’s responsibilities can avoid such projects, perhaps they’ll be spared when the next round of layoffs appear.

Generational Divide

21 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When I was taking classes in the craft of fiction, everyone—from established professional writers to English professors—recommended that a writer never ever say that a character looked like a famous actor. No “he resembled a young Orson Welles” or “she dressed like Claudette Colbert.”

Not only was it lazy writing—the Gurus said—but, more importantly, there was no way for your reader to know exactly what you meant.

You see, kids, back in the days when you walked uphill both ways in the snow to get to your typewriter, when manuscripts were laced with white-out, and copies were made with carbon paper, old movies were hard to find.

. . . .

 But the teachers all had a point. Not only did referencing old movies make it difficult for modern readers to “see” your characters, it also dated the work. Because so much of popular culture back then was available for such a short period of time, and then it was impossible to find without an archive nearby, a good old movie house (with a lot of money), or a lot of late-night television viewing. I often memorized TV Guide, and stayed up until the wee hours to see a censored version of a movie I’d only heard about.

. . . .

 By the early 1990s, I realized I could compare my characters to movie stars, if I wanted to, and people would understand. It’s still lazy if that’s all I say—but if I’m in the point of view of say a major movie buff, it might be a great way to characterize my narrator. The option is open to me.

. . . .

 But we haven’t given much thought to the world we’re moving into. The world that so many people who were born from about 1995 to now will inhabit.

. . . .

Brian Robbins, who runs Awesomeness TV, a provider of YouTube channels (and programming) and which attract (as far as I can tell) at least thirty-one million teens and tweens. About their attitude toward programming, he says,

The next generation, our audience and even younger, they don’t even know what live TV is. They live in an on-demand world.

An on-demand world.

Think about that for a moment. Those of us raised in that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world had a sense of urgency about everything we loved. If we didn’t schedule ourselves around a TV show, we’d miss it. If we missed the opening weekend to a film, we might not see it. If we weren’t listening to the radio during a baseball game, we might never understand the nuances—we’d have to stick with the reported coverage the next day.

That’s changed. I don’t feel any urgency at all about finding what I love. I just deleted a show to make room on my DVR, secure in the knowledge that I can pick up that series on demand when I’m ready to.

. . . .

We writers take advantage of it when we write in series. Our readers want the next book the moment they finish the previous one. E-books allow the reader to get that book at 4 a.m. on a holiday weekend in a town where there won’t be an open bookstore for another 48 hours (and even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the bookstore has the title).

But on demand has its other side.

Personally, I love it, although it does make me pickier than I used to be. Faced with the choice of programming or reading material, I can judge what I watch by mood. I need something funny tonight, or maybe I’m in the mood for a detective show, but not urban fantasy with a detective (like Grimm). Back in the day, I had to watch whatever was available on Thursday on Thursday, mood be damned.

. . . .

I think the first metric is how many people want a book within a week of its release. That doesn’t make a book an instant bestseller. It simply shows us—the writer—how many fans we’ve managed to capture.

The next metric is how many copies of the book sell over time. That time should probably be measured in year-long increments. How many copies sell in the first year? How many in the second? How many in the fifth?

Because if the book’s sales increase per year, then something is happening for that book. That something is word of mouth.

We never had a way to measure word of mouth before, because books became unavailable within weeks of their release, and went out of print within months. Now, we can see the growth as more and more people tell their friends about a title.

. . . .

The publishing industry isn’t even talking about new metrics. That idea hasn’t occurred to traditional publishing, and indie (or self) published writers are constantly seeking validation from the old system—trying to figure out ways to game the bestseller lists or to get a fantastic review from somewhere that has old-world prestige.

. . . .

The traditional publishing industry is notorious for not studying anything. What works to promote a book? Who knows. Why should they study that?

But at some point, traditional publishers are going to have to develop new ways to figure out which products sell well and which ones don’t. All of their systems—from sales figures (which measure books shipped not books sold) to bestseller lists to critical acclaim—are based on the old models.

It might take another ten years or more before traditional publishing figures out how to measure success for its various titles. What happens in ten years or more? Members of the on-demand generation will start to step into positions of power at traditional publishing companies (and everywhere else). Those future adults will want metrics that mean something to them, not things that belong to a hot autumn night accompanied by the smell of burning leaves and ancient voices on the radio.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG had a couple of thoughts while reading Kris’ latest business post.

First, he wonders if traditional publishing will stay around long enough to develop new ways to figure out which products to sell. There will probably be organizations named Penguin Random House, etc., but PG suspects that, like big record labels, they’ll be vastly shrunken and have less money to throw around than they do today. Certainly, they’ll have less influence over authors in general.

Second, he agrees with the suggestion not to say one of your characters looks like a famous actor.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a famous actor as a source of character description.

PG did some acting in college. He was competent, but that’s about it. He did, however, perform with very good actors, including some who went on to have successful professional careers in movies, TV and on stage.

One of the things the very good actors did was always look interesting. Little things were going on with their posture, their faces, their hands most of the time they were on stage. When you were in the audience, your eye was drawn to them even when they weren’t speaking. They weren’t doing big hammy things, just subtle little things that sometimes communicated with the audience on almost a subconscious level.

In movies, really good actors usually do the same kinds of things. (What they have to do on a stage that is 30 yards from some of the audience members  is different than what they do when a camera is shooting a head-and-shoulders shot, but they’re still doing interesting things that you and I wouldn’t do if the camera was pointed at us.)

So, PG’s suggestion is to watch what an actor does when playing a character that is somewhat like a character in your book and take ideas for character descriptions from them. How do they move and what does that tell you about them? What are their mouths and eyes doing? Their hands? Perhaps it might work better with the sound off, but you might also want to analyze what’s going on with the voice as well.

Just a passing thought.

Toward a Fair Non-Compete Clause

21 April 2014

From author James Scott Bell:

Recently, a friend sent me the text of a non-compete clause to have a look at. It was from the contract of a New York publishing company. My gob, as they say, was smacked. If there was a contest for the most one-sided non-compete clause ever, this would take the crown.

I say this in love. Truly. I love traditional publishing and want it to survive. But contracts that contain clauses like this one are not going to aid the old cause.

. . . .

The clause prohibits the author from publishing “material” that is “similar” to the Work. So what if your crime novel is coming out from Publisher, and you want to self-publish a mystery short story? Or sell it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine?

Too bad. Because a short story is “material.” And a mystery usually has a crime in it, so it’s “similar.”

Or suppose you’ve had the foresight to reserve audio rights. You have a mellifluous voice, and spend twenty hours recording the audio version of your book for ACX, Amazon’s platform for indie audio works.

No go, because the clause in question prohibits the author from “exploiting” any reserved rights that may “conflict” with sale of the book. And who gets to decide if there is such a conflict? Not you.

. . . .

Further, how long do all these restrictions last? There is no time limit (though the overall agreement is for “life of copyright.”) Which leads me to believe that the wet-behind-the-ears law grad who drafted this needs to be flogged with a hardcover copy of Calamari and Perillo on Contracts. This clause is clearly unenforceable without a time limit. Courts will not allow a company to tie up someone’s economic future ad infinitum.

But the burden of challenging the clause is, of course, on the author. Or, should the author go ahead and publish a work the publisher deems to be “competing,” the publisher may task some associate at their retained law firm to put down his coffee and make life difficult for the author.

. . . .

Thus, the standard non-compete was to keep John Grisham from publishing The Firm with one publisher and The Pelican Brief with another, and having them both come out at the same time. The books would “cannibalize” each other, so the saying goes. One, or more likely both, publishers would be harmed by this.

Here’s another reason publishers need the clause. Suppose Publisher is coming out with your debut thriller, and pricing it as a $14.99 trade paperback, and a $9.99 ebook. But, at the same time, you bring out a self-published thriller and price it at $3.99 in digital and the same $14.99 in POD. And then you unleash your social media marketing efforts to emphasize the book that’s brining you more money per unit (i.e., your self-pubbed effort).

. . . .

So what is a fair non-compete clause? Very simple: a time-limited clause that specificallydefines the type of material covered. For example:

For one year from the date of publication of the Work, Author will not publish or authorize to be published, in either print or digital media, any work greater than thirty-thousand words in the thriller, mystery or crime genres.

This leaves open the publishing of short-form work which, I might add, the publisher should encourage. This is how the writer attracts more readers, many of whom will then seek out the author’s trad-published books. It’s a classic win-win.

Link to the rest at James Scott Bell and thanks to Nick for the tip.

Unfortunately, there are a number of problem clauses in standard Big Publishing contracts. Out of this group, the strangest is the non-compete clause.

An economist would likely point out that every book competes with every other book for buyers’ dollars. Indeed, books compete with movies, television and fly-tying for leisure-time expenditures.

PG has heard the “another book would cannibalize sales” argument many times, but no one making that argument can ever point to any specific evidence that this actually happens. Perhaps the source of this delusional syndrome can be traced to microorganisms that breed in unread manuscripts.

Do readers have one budget for John Grisham novels and another for Nora Roberts novels? And the Nora budget is replenished only once a month? If they did, then Nora’s publisher might say she shouldn’t publish a second book within a month of the release of the publisher’s book.

PG thinks the only remotely reasonable non-compete provision is one with tight time constraints like one month and he’s not sure even that can withstand much logical analysis.

But, if the cannibalization theory had any validity and a publisher was really concerned about not cannibalizing Nora’s sales, the publisher would not publish any other competing romances that would interfere with sales of Nora’s books.

PG says if you really want to send a publishing attorney into a snit-fit, suggest that any non-compete provision that binds the author should also bind the publisher on identical terms. (We have to avoid cannibalization, you know.) If we’re trying to prevent competition for shelf space for an author’s book, we ought to make sure that Putnam and Berkeley aren’t clogging up the romance shelves with competing authors when one of Nora’s books arrives at Barnes & Noble.

Contrary to the fever dreams publishers harbor about competition among books, every smart indie author and serious reader knows that the only thing better than one new book from an author you like is two new books from an author you like.

One of the most common buying habits of any serious reader who discovers a great new author is to immediately read all the other books by that author. Indeed some readers will check to see if a newly-discovered author has other books before reading the first one so there’s no problem feeding their habit if they get hooked..

PG would argue that traditional publishing’s artificial throttle on the output of most authors to one book per year or something close is a terrible marketing practice. A great many readers who liked the author’s previous book and wanted another may have forgotten all about that author a year later.

Lots of indie authors have built big audiences and increased their sales by releasing a new book every few weeks. Or they post new chapters every week, working their way up to a complete book. But, of course, these naive souls must not know that they’re cannibalizing their own sales.

PG has been a marketing vice president a couple of times and, in his youth, worked as an account executive for what was then the largest advertising agency in the world. (It was not quite back in the Mad Men days.) In PG’s boundlessly humble opinion, what passes for marketing theory in the publishing world leaves a great deal to be desired. Exhibit A is non-compete clauses.



The Yellow Light Reversion Clause or A Minimum Wage for Authors

20 April 2014

From Hugh Howey:

The economics of book publishing have shifted and will never be the same. Both the physical book, with print-on-demand, and the e-bo0k, with its infinite supply, have created a world where the written word is forever available for commercial transaction. Hundreds of years from now, anything written today will still be available for sale. At that point, of course, the works will be in the public domain. But what to do until then?

The current book contract in all its lovely boilerplate no longer makes sense in light of a work’s permanence. Such contracts are an outdated mechanism. New contracts are needed. Authors will still care about their works decades down the road in ways that publishers most likely won’t. Many publishers view backlist as competition to frontlist. Dusty tomes do battle with the shiny and new. If the purpose of publishing is to blow out the release and hit the grail of lists—The New York Times—then lowering the cost or in any way promoting a decades-old story can only harm this goal. The beloved author today becomes the pariah of tomorrow.

Reversion clauses are meant to protect the author’s interest by assuring the work will return to them once it has sufficiently withered on the vine. But these terms are ludicrous and growing more so. I’ve seen contracts where a work remains with the publisher so long as it sells 100 copies in two reporting periods. That’s 100 copies in a full calendar year. A publisher could order that many e-books for themselves at the last moment and retain rights to a work until the author dies, and then another 70 years after.

Again, these injustices meant little when a book had a three-month lifespan on a bookstore shelf before going out of print. The same terms are a slap across the face today.

. . . .

[A] Yellow Light reversion period . . . might go something like this (with added legalese, of course):

  • If the work in question does not sell 1,000 copies in a single reporting period of six months, the author is granted the right to set the price of the work and to request and approve of a change in cover art. If the work does not sell 1,000 copies in the following reporting period of six months, the rights revert completely to the author.

. . . .

The point of the clause is to give the publisher a chance to revamp the work or invest in its promotion. Any publisher confident of its ability to increase sales should be willing to sign a contract containing such a clause.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

PG agrees with Hugh that standard reversion clauses (sometimes referred to as out-of-print clauses) are no longer appropriate for a much-changed book world.

PG will further criticize most of such clauses as designed to make sure a book never reverts unless the publisher wants it to do so. Many of these clauses are anything but simple and require much more than the failure to sell a minimum number of copies to trigger reversion.

Additionally, in a world of 99-cent ebooks, the number of copies sold doesn’t necessarily translate into a meaningful royalty check for an author.

PG first wrote about about a Minimum Wage for Authors reversion clause about three years ago and that post generated a lot of comments. Here’s a reprise of his former post:

The purpose of a traditional reversion of rights clause in a publishing contract is to return all rights to a book to the author when sales of the book have tailed off or, for whatever reason, the publisher is no longer interested in publishing the book.

Often, reversion of rights is connected to an ambiguous Out of Print clause. Under some contracts, a book goes out of print when the publisher declares it to be out of print. Under others, a book goes out of print when the number of printed copies in the publisher’s inventory drops below a specified number. Under one OOP clause PG heard about recently, if the publisher had fewer than 100 printed copies of the book and the author was willing to purchase those copies, the book would go out of print.

A reversion of rights clause without a definite trigger is nothing but an invitation for an author to go begging to his publisher from time to time.

Again, to protect the relationship of the author with the publisher, following isn’t the exact reversion of rights language in any contract PG helped with, but it will give you some ideas about how such a provision might be constructed. All capitalized words or terms are Defined Terms described elsewhere in the Publishing Agreement.

The major components of the provision are:

  • It can’t be exercised until royalties earned equal or exceed 150% of the advance. So the demonstration provisions didn’t become too complex, I didn’t include termination provisions for situations where royalties earned were less than 150% because the equities between author and publisher differ if the advance isn’t earned out.
  • If any semi-annual royalty report provides for payment of less than $3,000, the author can give notice of intent to cause rights to revert
  • The publisher can pay the difference between actual royalties and $3,000 and continue the contract. This gives the publisher a second shot at promoting sales of the book.
  • If the publisher doesn’t cure the shortfall or a subsequent royalty report provides for less than $3,000 in royalties, the author can terminate the contract and publisher can’t stop this from happening

Here’s the language

Reversion of Rights

A. If, after the Royalties earned by Author under this Agreement total 150% or more of the Author Advance paid by Publisher hereunder, the Royalties for the Work are less than $3,000 on a semi-annual Statement of Royalties, and Author owes Publisher no other unpaid sums under this Agreement, Author may give Publisher written notice that Author desires to exercise the Reversion of Rights to the Work under this Paragraph.

B. After receiving such written notification, if Publisher desires to continue to exercise its rights to the Work under all the terms and conditions of this Agreement and Publisher is not in material default under any provision of this Agreement, Publisher may, within 30 days of receipt of such notice from Author, pay to Author the difference between the actual Royalties paid with respect to the Work on the preceding Statement of Royalties and the sum of $3,000. If Publisher makes said payment in a timely manner, this Agreement shall continue until later terminated under this Paragraph or another Paragraph of this Agreement.

1. By way of illustration and not limitation, if Publisher pays Author the sum of $2,000 with a Statement of Royalties and Author gives notice as provided above, Publisher may cause this Agreement to continue by paying Author the additional sum of $1,000 within 30 days of said notice.

C. If

A. Publisher fails to make the payment described in sub-paragraph B. above or

B. Publisher has made one such payment and, thereafter Royalties for the Work are less than $3,000 on any subsequent semi-annual Statement of Royalties and Author has given a second written notification of intention to exercise Reversion of Rights as provided in sub-paragraph A. above,

all rights to the Work shall revert to Author on the Effective Date set forth hereafter, and Publisher shall have no further rights to the Work, subject only to the provisions of sub-paragraph F. hereof.

D. The Effective Date upon which all rights to the Work revert to Author shall be 30 days following receipt of the last notice from Author as provided in sub-paragraphs A. and/or C. above.

E. On and after the Effective Date, Author may exercise all of the rights of the owner of the copyright to the Work free and clear of any claim whatsoever by Publisher.

F. For a period of one year following the Effective Date, Publisher shall have the right to liquidate any remaining inventory of hard copy books in its possession on the Effective Date, subject to its obligation to pay Royalties to Author therefor and all other obligations of Publisher under this Agreement. In the event that Publisher has any remaining hard copy books in its possession on the first anniversary of the Effective Date, Publisher shall cause such books to be destroyed at Publisher’s expense.

G. Any other provision of this Agreement notwithstanding, after receipt of any notice from Author under sub-paragraphs A. and/or C. above, Publisher shall not enter into any agreement with any third party assigning, transferring, selling or licensing any rights to the Work in whole or in part without the express written consent of Author to the specific transaction and any such purported assignment, transfer, sale and/or license without the express written consent of Author shall be void ab initio.

Looking back at this language, PG was going out of his way explicitly cover all the bases and use it as an opportunity to help authors to understand not only what a Minimum Wage reversion clause might look like, but also understand how to read a typical publishing contract reversion clause. It would certainly be possible to squeeze the concept into a shorter provision. For simplicity purposes, referring only to a specific minimum dollar amount for royalties and eliminating any reference to a percentage of the advance would be one way of shortening and simplifying the language.

As mentioned earlier, several experienced authors commented favorably about the Minimum Wage concept when PG first posted about it.

However, PG has not seen or been informed that any traditional publisher has picked up on the idea. During the intervening years, if anything, many reversion clauses have become even more complex and purposely impenetrable.

If an author signs a typical traditional publishing contract today without major revisions to the reversion or out-of-print clause, he/she is probably going to be bound by that contract, regardless of book sales, for the life of the copyright to the book, which is the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years in the U.S.

Obligatory Disclaimer: PG hasn’t put a disclaimer into a post for a long time, but because he has included some specific contract language, he thinks it’s a good idea.

Passive Guy is an attorney, but he does not provide legal advice on this blog. He is most definitely not your attorney unless you and he both sign a retainer agreement. Only then will he give you legal advice and it will be delivered privately, not in a blog post.

Passive Guy’s rants, examples of contract language, discussions of litigation issues, etc., are for discussion purposes only. What PG says may not be appropriate for your circumstances and may make your problems worse instead of better. PG’s ideas may ruin your life, cause bolts of lightning to strike you dead or trigger premature balding. Talk to your lawyer before you use any legal ideas, contract language, etc., etc., etc. that are discussed on this blog. You obtain legal advice from an attorney you hire, not a blog.

Firm That Helps Authors Buy Their Way Onto Bestseller Lists Goes Into Stealth Mode

20 April 2014

From Forbes:

For years, it was an open secret in the book publishing industry that any author willing to spend enough money could nab a spot on the major bestseller by engaging the services of a company called Result Source Inc. Now that secret is a little less open.

A few weeks ago, the San Diego-based firm quietly scrubbed most evidence of its existence from the web. Its website, which previously contained numerous case studies describing the many campaigns it has executed for authors, has been reduced to a bare-bones landing page with a logo and a contact form.

. . . .

Curiously, all this comes more than a year after an expose in the Wall Street Journal revealed Result Source’s business model for what it is: Basically, the company requires authors to make bulk purchases of their own books, then breaks those orders up into small increments to make them look like organic retail sales. For this service, authors or their publishers pay tens of thousands of dollars, on top of the cost of the books whose purchases Result Source launders. The total price tag can approach $250,000.

WSJ’s reporting prompted a strong response from Amazon, which declared that it would no longer do business with Result Source. Yet according to the Wayback Machine, which takes historical snapshots of websites, Result Source’s full website was still online as recently as Feb. 3, 2014.

. . . .

The timing suggests it has to do with a scandal that’s been unfolding in the evangelical community over the past six months. Result Source started out as a marketing firm catering to Christian authors, and they still make up a large part of its client roster. Several well-known pastors, including Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll and Perry Noble, have recently been accused of using their congregations’ funds to pay for bestseller campaigns.

. . . .

Duncan and others have floated the idea that the IRS should get involved, arguing that the pastors in question have been exploiting their churches’ nonprofit status for personal enrichment.

. . . .

All of this seems to have led Result Source to the belated realization that everything it does makes everyone involved look pretty bad.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Here’s a link to what Result Source looks like today and what it looked like in February of this year (sort of).

Innovation is in the blood

16 April 2014

From FutureBook:

If there was one dominant theme coming of out the London Book Fair last week it was of an industry taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath and working out what comes next. At Digital Minds, the author Nick Harkaway said that publishers liked to reach a plateau and then wait for the next innovation to run them down.

. . . .

There isn’t a conversation I have with anyone in publishing these days that isn’t prefaced by a worried shrug, or a slightly nervous glance over the shoulder. Publishing is in confident mood right now, but that confidence is based on some brittle assumptions: that digital continues to not disrupt, and that physical book retail does not close down. Take either of those two pillars away, and all this talk of an orderly transition to digital, will vanish as quickly as a drunken tweet.

The question of what comes next, and how much we can influence that should now be foremost in our minds. Speaking at Digital Minds, Faber’s Stephen Page said it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months.

. . . .

Publishing’s other great problem is that its core product isn’t broke. What have we really found out from five years of Kindle? Readers like reading. And generally they like reading in an environment unencumbered by music, video and animation. If publishers don’t feel like their products are going out of fashion, how can we expect them to change them.

. . . .

Publishers innovate constantly but much of it occurs in niche areas, away from the glare of social media. Show me a reader in demand of a new way of reading, and I’ll show you six publishers trying to meet that demand. Show me a publisher innovating and I’ll show you six technologists explaining why they are wrong.

Link to the rest at FutureBook

Big Publishing’s inability to engage in meaningful innovation was encapsulated for PG in, “. . . it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months.”

If you’re afraid to lose money, you’ll never do serious innovation. If you think real innovation can happen on a six month time-table, you really don’t understand innovation.

This is a reflection of a classic bean-counter mentality which may be well-suited for optimizing revenue and profit in a stable business environment but practically guarantees the business will be roadkill during a period of change.

The book business is not in stasis and won’t be for awhile. Organizations that do well in a period of disruptive change are typically lead by people who are willing to bet the company on a great new idea. Jeff Bezos has done this over and over with Amazon.

And as for “taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath,” PG doesn’t expect Amazon to do that any time soon.

Big Publishing has all the wrong people in management positions and probably can’t do anything about it.

Stand Up For Yourself

14 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A few weeks ago, at our weekly professional writers lunch, a writer mentioned a private listserve he’s on with other writers, all of whom are traditionally published. According to him, that list has been discussing an abusive editor, one who is tearing apart her bestsellers, making them revise their books repeatedly while telling them that they don’t know how to write.

. . . .

I knew the editor in question, and she went after me viciously in October of 2011. So viciously, in fact, that I immediately attempted to terminate my contract with the publishing company.

Let me tell you what happened, then let me tell you what I did, and then I will expand this essay into something everyone can use.

October of 2011 was a bad time for me.

. . . .

Publishing in the United States was changing quickly, and it often felt like the ground was shifting under our feet. We had cash flow issues because of the estate (see the link above) and because we had started three new businesses before Bill died. My stress was off the charts.

I still managed, somehow, to write a novel that I was quite pleased with. For once, I managed to hit every note I had promised in the proposal that sold the novel. The novel was risky for its genre, but the editor had approved the proposal and all was fine—I thought.

Then on the afternoon of October 18, 2011, the editor called me from a conference I had had to cancel out of due to my health and the estate issues. I thought she was going to update me on a book the company had just published—sales figures or something—or maybe convey something about the conference.

Instead, she wanted to talk about the book I had turned in. She didn’t ask how I was (and remember, she knew that I couldn’t attend for health and personal reasons) or anything. Instead she lit into me and my work as if I were a beginning writer.

She told me that I couldn’t write very well. She told me I knew nothing about the genre I’d been publishing in for fifteen years. She told me that I might think I was a good writer, but I wasn’t, and I needed to shape up.

I was stunned as this torrent of abuse continued. It went on for fifteen minutes before I could get a word in edgewise. I should have hung up; I was too sick and emotionally exhausted to think of that option until after the call ended.

. . . .

I drafted a letter to the publisher of the company. I cited everything the editor said in this and previous conversations, said I had concurrent notes so I wasn’t trusting a faulty memory, and then demanded to be released from my current contract.

Because I’ve been in publishing a long time, I did not do this angrily or stupidly. I told the publisher of this company that I would repay my advance and, on the book that was currently in production (not the one I had just turned in), I would repay all expenses the company had incurred to date.

. . . .

In my letter to the publisher, I cited my credentials, my publishing history, and my business and financial history, so he knew who he was dealing with.

He knew this was not a bluff.

I also told him that his editor was not doing her job. She was having subordinates do much of the work for her, if not all of her work for her.

I sent the letter as an email and as a certified letter, then sat back to see what would happen next.

What happened was a prolonged negotiation with the vice president of the company, a much higher ranked person than the publisher I had initially addressed. I still had several books under contract, one in production, plus the one I had turned in, and three more to write. I was going to cancel the contracts on all of these and repay the advances.

He reminded me how expensive it was.

I told him that I would not work with a company that approved proposals and then turned down a book that followed the proposal to the letter. I also told him that I had been misled about the company’s focus. I had not realized that it expected me to follow rules of a subgenre I would never ever write in. I usually avoided companies and book lines that required such things, because that’s not how I write.

He assured me the company did not expect that. We went back and forth for some time, and came to an understanding. I would switch editors for the book in production and the book I had just turned in. I would have no contact with the first editor.

If I was still dissatisfied, we would part company before I started writing the next novel I had to finish for them.

The new editor was just fine. A gem, in fact.

. . . .

Which brings me back to that professional writers’ lunch a few weeks ago. I asked the writer who is on this listserve what the writers who were being abused by this woman had done.

He said they hadn’t done anything. They were signing up for more books and taking the nastiness—the you-can’t-write, you-are-worthless comments—and sucking it all up, trying to continue forward. And unsurprisingly, several were having trouble finishing novels.

I had to clarify: You mean no one has asked for a different editor? No one has withdrawn her book? No one has left the company?

. . . .

In publishing, when someone in charge of your book does not respect you or the book, it shows in the book’s treatment. I fired an agent of mine shortly after she told me her bestselling client wrote smut. It wasn’t literature, it was crap, but it sold, she said. And then she laughed.

She said that to me, another client, about a client who earned millions for the agency. Imagine how she talked to the client’s editor. Imagine how she talked about me.

Respect matters, and writers should demand it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

One of PG’s rules for business and life is not to deal with jerks.

The only exception is when PG has been in court and the jerk was on the other side of a case. Then it could be fun.

Value Propositions

13 April 2014

From author Dan Meadows at The Watershed Chronicle:

Here’s the thing, we can all talk until we’re blue in face about ebooks, bookstores, publishers, writers, et al (a point some would say we already reached sometime in early 2012) but none of it means a damn thing. The only thing that matters is the value proposition offered to us and how that informs the choices people make. Everything else is bluster. Worse yet, it’s meaningless bluster that far too frequently merges with wish fulfillment of the person doing the blustering. “Ebooks are dying.” “Bookstores are crucial to the future.” “Writers need publishers to be the best they can be.”

. . . .

Twenty five years ago, if I wanted a new book, I had a few choices. There was the library (a brick and mortar bookstore that’s basically free for readers), used bookstores (brick and mortar store that’s cheap but whose offerings are dependent on readers getting rid of their old books), rotating racks of best sellers in retail stores (having little to do with book discovery and everything to do with pushing already known entities to impulse buyers) or bookstores themselves (who offered the best selection and knowledge about books available at the time).

In that environment, the value proposition to readers was on the side of bookstores. The time, effort and extra money necessary to patronize a bookstore was a fair trade off for what we got in return; a wider selection of books to choose from. Today, however, that value has flipped on them. Bookstores, with their real world physical constraints, inherently offer a limited selection of books. Online, however, has no such trouble. Online, you can find and buy every book. All of them. So now, bookstores have gone from having the best selection of books available to having a limited subsection of books.

. . . .

With ebooks, online print book sales and rapidly approaching explosion of print on demand technology, the value proposition to readers of frequenting bookstores is a problem. When they had the best selection and a knowledgeable staff that wasn’t easily reproducible, we thought nothing of the outlay in time and effort to shop there. We didn’t mind paying a few extra dollars on the price of a book to support their infrastructure when they provided a service that we valued. Today, though, shopping at physical bookstores requires readers to sacrifice. We need to give up our time and effort to get there, then pay those extra few dollars for the privilege of shopping in a limited pool of material. We need to choose to give up value available to us in order to use bookstores.

. . . .

When the value proposition changes from one where I pay out because you bring me value to one where I pay out to bring you value, that’s not going to end well for you. You can discuss bookstores’ place in literary history and culture all day long, it doesn’t change the simple fact that the value you once earned your coin with simply ain’t what it used to be.

This applies to the publisher/writer dynamic as well. Twenty five years ago, if I wanted to be a published writer, I had to go through the slow slog of querying agents, editors or whomever, piling up rejection after rejection until I get lucky enough to be offered a contract that paid me pennies on the dollar from the revenue my work generated. Not only did writers accept this, we fetishized it to the point where there are still writers who have inexplicably fond memories of taping rejection letters to their bulletin boards. The fact was, if I wanted to be published, that’s what I had to do. The value proposition of going through that crucible was worth it because it was the only way to reach the goals we wanted.

. . . .

Publishers and bookstores carefully crafted the value they brought over decades, some would say centuries. It does seem a bit unfair to people who have dedicated their lives to those ends to see that value knee-capped in less than 10 years. But that’s life. Sometimes, the things we value are life-long, sometimes they only last a matter of days or weeks. The thing is, you can never really tell when that value is going to vanish. And once that happens, you have to look toward the value you actually possess today and going forward.

When you hear people talk of the role of bookstores and their value to society, ask yourself, are they referring to the value they offer right this moment or the value they offered a quarter-century ago? Same with publishers. Is what they do today valuable or are they still treading on what they did that was valuable two or three decades ago?

Link to the rest at The Watershed Chronicle and thanks to Chris for the tip.

In Google Books appeal, Authors Guild decries Google’s impact on Amazon sales

12 April 2014

From TeleRead:

The Authors Guild is appealing Google’s November fair use win in its Google Book scanning case. The Guild says that Google is “yanking readers out of online bookstores” and stifling online bookstore competition with its digitized books.

“Google emptied the shelves of libraries and delivered truckloads of printed books to scanning centers, where the books were converted into digital format,” the Guild’s lawyers said.

They wrote that the library project was designed to lure potential book purchasers away from online retailers like and drive them to Google.

Wait, what?

. . . .

Second, this is the same Authors Guild that blamed lax antitrust enforcement for Amazon’s domination of the online book sales market, called Amazon “anticompetitive,” and insisted that the DoJ antitrust suit against the publishers was only going to help Amazon.

Now they’re suddenly all concerned over Google’s impact on Amazon’s wellbeing? Seriously?

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Solidly Mid-List

10 April 2014

From author Russell Rowland via The Rumpus:

Solidly mid-list. That’s how an agent described my work a few days ago in her very flattering letter telling me that she wasn’t interested in representing me to sell my next novel. She also said many of the things I’ve become accustomed to hearing about my work—that the writing is lovely, that it beautifully captures the dynamics of its small Montana community. But all those nice things were followed not by an ‘and,’ but by a ‘but.’ The same ‘but’ that I’ve been hearing a lot lately, which is that this book is too quiet to be a breakout novel.

And it may sound strange, but I was grateful that she was the first to acknowledge something I’ve suspected for years now but haven’t heard outright from anyone. That I have somehow become a ‘mid-list’ writer. And what that means is that I am likely to have a better chance of making the Red Sox pitching rotation than of finding representation. Okay, I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

The signs were all there. The sales of all my books since my first novel have been mediocre at best. I have not been able to break in with a major publisher again since novel number one. I’ve been reviewed by some smaller publications and newspapers, but nothing like In Open Spaces, which was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Times, made the San Francisco Chronicle’s bestseller list, and was named on a couple of ‘best of’ lists for 2002.

. . . .

So what happened? How did I get here? That’s really the mystery of this whole business, this amazing adventure we call writing.

. . . .

I know that I am at least partially to blame for the way my career turned. There were missteps along the way. The most significant mistake was in the process of trying to sell novel number two. In Open Spaces was originally sold to William Morrow, in 1999, when they were still a separate entity. But a year later, about the time we finished editing, Morrow was swallowed up by HarperCollins, my editor was among those who lost their jobs, and for a while (two and a half years, actually), my book got lost in the sea of books that a merger produces. There was a period where they weren’t sure it would be published. There was an even longer period where I heard absolutely nothing, which was worse. It had taken me eight years from the time I wrote this book to find a publisher, so on some days, the thought of waiting another year or two wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But there were other days when it felt like a horrible joke.

Thankfully, after being assigned to five different editors, all of whom left the company, a junior editor was willing to take it on, and it came out in 2002, three and a half years after I signed the contract. But she too left the company, a month before it was released. I would imagine that Harper was surprised at the modest success of In Open Spaces considering it didn’t have anyone pushing it in-house. But I was eventually assigned to another editor to negotiate the second novel. He was a big fan of the first, so I was sure I was in good hands. I wasn’t worried at all.

. . . .

[H]e was very happy to find out that a sequel was in the works, and asked me to send along what I had, which was only a couple of early chapters. A few weeks later, he contacted my agent with an offer. A very good offer. Five times the advance I got for my first novel. Today I would take that offer without a second’s hesitation. But basking in the success of my first novel, and prompted by a suggestion from my agent, we arranged to meet with my editor, and we discussed the possibility that he might get me a better offer once the novel was finished. The idea of getting more was too appealing to pass up. So I officially declined their offer, with a wink and a nudge to my editor.

And I did what writers are supposed to do. I went to work, and close to a year later, I was nearly finished with the first draft of The Watershed Years. What happened next is so predictable I can’t believe it never even occurred to me at the time. When I contacted my editor to tell him the new novel was nearly finished, he had some bad news. He was leaving the company. They gave the finished novel to a different editor, who was not interested.

. . . .

The hardest part about being a mid-list writer is that people assume, because you have several books out there, that you don’t have to worry about whether your next book will get published. People are constantly asking me for advice about how to find an agent, or whether I will recommend them to a publisher. I often don’t have the heart to tell them that I’m looking for an agent myself, which is a whole ‘nother story. People assume that if you’ve published three novels, publishers are eager to have you join their stable.

. . . .

So where does this leave me now, today, without an agent or a publisher, with two finished novels waiting patiently in folders on my computer, and a third well underway. Not to mention the memoir. Well, it’s simple, really. And also incredibly clichéd. But what writers always need to do in the end is to write. There have been many many times during these years that the rejections have battered my confidence to the point where I’ve considered giving it up. Every time I get my royalty statements, which come every six months, my resolve gets tested in ways that sometimes take weeks to overcome. But the desire to write, it seems, is a sickness for which there is no cure. Except writing.

If I were the only one going through this, I would know it was me. I would know that I really am one of those people who think they’re better than they are. But I know so many writers, many very good writers, who are struggling with this same situation.

Link to the rest at The Rumpus and thanks to Matt for the tip.

PG says consolidation among publishers is far from over and, of course, more experienced editors will be laid off. And more authors orphaned.

Nobody cares about your writing career as much as you do.

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