PG’s Thoughts (such as they are)

‘Screen fatigue’ sees UK ebook sales plunge 17% as readers return to print

27 April 2017

From The Guardian:

Britons are abandoning the ebook at an alarming rate with sales of consumer titles down almost a fifth last year, as “screen fatigue” helped fuel a five-year high in printed book sales.

Sales of consumer ebooks plunged 17% to £204m last year, the lowest level since 2011 – the year the ebook craze took off as Jeff Bezos’ market-dominating Amazon Kindle took the UK by storm.

It is the second year running that sales of consumer ebooks – the biggest segment of the £538m ebook market, which fell 3% last year – have slumped as commuters, holidaymakers and leisure readers shelve digital editions in favour of good old fashioned print novels.

“I wouldn’t say that the ebook dream is over but people are clearly making decisions on when they want to spend time with their screens,” says Stephen Lotinga, chief exeutive of the Publishers Association, which published its annual yearbook on Thursday.

“There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week. [Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”

. . . .

The issue with consumer ebooks aside the UK book industry is in fine fettle. Total sales of print and digital books and journals climbed 7% to £4.8bn last year, the largest growth since 2007 when digital sales were first included.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Randall for the tip.

PG didn’t see any reference to how many ebooks were sold by publishers and authors who don’t report their sales to the Publishers Association. He also didn’t see Amazon’s name on the list of members on the Publishers Association website.

“Screen fatigue” sounds like something the marketing department invented. PG wonders if they considered “bookstore fatigue” or “high prices fatigue” while they were brainstorming.

Here’s a link to an interesting analysis of last year’s Publisher’s Association Yearbook at Publishing Perspectives, ‘As We Trade Less Neurotically’: A Nice Chat About Those UK Publishing Numbers.

The Publishing Perspectives article raises an issue PG would like to address more directly: Absent Amazon Derangement Syndrome, a decline in ebook sales of traditional publishers is hardly something the traditional publishing business should be celebrating.

Ebooks are a great business for traditional publishers – send an ebook file to Amazon and check once a month thereafter to see how much money Amazon sends back. No printing and shipping bills to pay, no inventory to manage (or to pay someone else to manage), no returns to deal with.

If Amazon hadn’t opened the gates to the unwashed horde of self-published authors, demonstrated that lower ebook prices resulted in much larger sales and then started its own imprints when the first ADS plague hit traditional publishing, the Publishing Association would be giving Amazon an award each year at its annual meeting for improving the profitability of UK publishers.

A pound (or dollar) of profit from an ebook licensed to a reader by Amazon counts for just as much as a pound of profit from a printed book sold by Blackwell’s.

A 17% drop in ebook sales is a disaster for the UK publishing business. Any assumption that each ebook not acquired is offset by a printed version that is purchased instead doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

For one thing, obtaining an ebook by touching an iPad screen is a much more effortless transaction than going to a physical bookstore to locate and buy a printed book. The alternative to an iPad ebook transaction may well be tapping on the Amazon Video app to watch a show.

 

The Greatest Poetry Reading I’ve Ever Seen

14 April 2017

From Literary Hub:

An invitation to represent England at the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway was scary enough. But to share a stage with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko at the same time: absolutely terrifying. I remember Yevtushenko from the 1960s when I was a Columbia student. He was the pop star of the intelligentsia in those days, everybody’s idea of a poet, passionate, young, courageous, glorious to look at. Women screamed and fainted at his performances.

The conference was to take place in Tromsø way high up above the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2001, a pretty town, an island city right out of a child’s toy chest. The theme was War and Peace—Tolstoy’s grandson as the guest of honor. The moderator of my session asked me if I minded speaking first.

“If you don’t,” he laughed, “you might not get a chance to speak at all.”

“Oh?”

“It is a little, er, difficult to stop this poet once he gets going.”

But there was no Yevtushenko in the theater when the session started. A minute or two into my speech, a figure appeared in the front row. I’m no good at faces, but I was pretty sure I’d spotted him because he stared at me in that disconcerting, unblinking way that Russians do. When I finished, the moderator thanked me especially—and pointedly—for keeping to my 20-minute limit. A Dane spoke after me. When he finished, the moderator thanked him too—again pointedly—for keeping to the 20-minute limit.

Then Yevtushenko approached the podium. He was nearly 70, hair thin, face deeply lined, back no longer straight. Even so it was clear at once what all the fuss was about. This was a hell of a delivery. Maybe his English belonged in a farce, but no Western voice soars and swings like that. Up and down. Loud and soft. Face and body in motion too. He began with an unpublished poem and went on to something about a Russian nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s swans and great big dinosaurs. But he could have been saying anything, anything at all. With a delivery like that, who cares?

And he’s a man who knew how to handle a moderator as well as an audience. After 40 minutes or so, he turned to the moderator—visibly restive by this time—and said, “Is all right? I can finish? You permit?” Then came questions. As soon as the first one started, Yevtushenko leaned across to me and said, “What is phrase seel-kee prose? What this mean?” In my speech, I’d described an American I knew as being master of the New Yorker’s “silky prose.” I explained as best I could. “Is good,” he said. “Is little bit ironic, yes?” I nodded. He leaned back in his chair, then forward again. “You sink?”

Sink? “I’m not sure what you mean,” I said cautiously,

“You sink?” he said louder.

Could he mean think? Could I have said something really stupid? I gave him a puzzled look.

He leaned back in his chair. “You have beautiful voice. All seel-kee.”

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

PG says the best poetry is meant to be spoken and heard. In a tradition going back a few centuries, poets generally wrote and performed their poetry because the sound and tempo of the words was crucial to full understanding of the poem. Poetry was a performance art. Unfortunately, poetry is primarily a subject for academic study today.

In the middle of the twentieth century, several poets were well-known for their performance abilities. Dylan Thomas performed his poems on the BBC during World War II and even wrote and performed a poem, A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London, commemorating a young victim of a German bombing attack.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko was an accomplished performer of his poetry as well, both in Russian and English.

Below are a couple of YouTube videos of Yevtushenko’s poetry performances, first in Russian, then in English.

The poem is Babi Yar. The first lines of the poem are:

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

Babi Yar is a deep ravine near Kiev where Einsatzgruppen (Nazi SS paramilitary squads who followed the German army to pacify and cleanse the civilian population in conquered territory) killed 34,000 Jews in two days, September 29-30, 1941. Later, additional Jews, gypsies, Communists and Soviet prisoners of war were slaughtered there.

Two years later, while retreating over the same ground, the SS tried to cover up any signs of this atrocity. The bodies were dug up, burnt, and all the evidence destroyed. Babi Yar is the grave of over 100,000 victims of the SS.

Following the war, the Soviet government refused requests to erect a monument at the site and it remained unmarked for over 30 years. An official memorial to Soviet citizens shot at Babi Yar was erected in 1976. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian government allowed the establishment of a memorial specifically identifying the Jewish victims.

In 1962, Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor, subtitled Babi Yar.  The first movement, Babi Yar: Adagio, includes choral settings for Yevtushenko’s poems including references to the Dreyfus affair, the Białystok pogrom and Anne Frank.

Following Yevtushenko is a recording of Thomas performing his wartime poem.

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San Diego booksellers succumb

5 April 2017

From San Diego Reader:

Robert Schrader can recall the moment when he decided to close 5th Avenue Books, the cavernous, off-white, brightly lit used bookstore that lasted longer than most on what used to be Hillcrest’s book block. (Bluestocking Books soldiers on, but the Blue Door, Bountiful Books, Grounds for Murder, and the Cook’s Bookshop and now 5th Avenue are no more.) “I came in one morning and there were eight people in the store, and I noticed that five of them — a majority of the customers — were looking at their phones. That’s when I realized that there was so much traffic on Amazon that even those people who come in here were using it as a sample store. Oh, I like this book; I’ll look it up on Amazon and see if I can find it cheaper.”

“The store hadn’t made money since 2011,” he continued, “but I was hanging on, thinking, I can reverse this. I bought from different sources, looking for stuff that wasn’t available on Amazon. But everything’s available on Amazon.” Schrader ran his closing in stages throughout February: 50 percent off on one Friday, 80 percent off the next, then $5 a bag, then $1. I visited on 80 percent day and bought, among other things, a $150 signed copy of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer for $30. Waiting in the checkout line, I started rooting through a box on the floor after spotting a couple of novels by Shusaku Endo. “Hey, whose box is that?” asked a familiar voice. It was Craig Maxwell of Maxwell’s House of Books in La Mesa. Of course he had snagged the Endos before me; he’s a pro.

“I spent $1000 and got some good stuff,” said Maxwell when I visited his shop a few days later (the Endos were priced at $12 apiece). “Lit was probably the best; he had almost every author under the sun. But I found good things in the nautical travels section and the Civil War” — even though World War II is a bigger seller for him and even though “80 percent of the people who walk through the door ask for children’s literature. I know they don’t read themselves because they never look at anything around them.”

. . . .

Asked why he maintains his La Mesa Village storefront, Maxwell paused before replying with a smile, “I just can’t see waking up at home, schlepping to the kitchen in my pajamas and having a piece of toast and then schlepping over to the computer and being ‘at work.’ I think of a brick-and-mortar store as a real business. I know that’s anachronistic, but these illusions are important to some of us.”

Link to the rest at San Diego Reader and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG takes no pleasure in seeing bookstores close just as he has taken no pleasure in seeing newspapers close. The Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media says the newspaper workforce has shrunk by about 20,000 positions, or 39%, in the last 20 years.

However, PG is about to permit his last subscription to a physical newspaper lapse, thus ending a reading habit that began when he was seven years old and mispronounced most of the words he read. He just doesn’t read the physical paper much any more.

Since he spends most of his work day on the computer, PG has no shortage of access to the information contained in his newspaper. Away from his desk, his phone alerts him to breaking news at least 12 hours before the newspaper arrives.

Once in awhile, PG buys a physical book on Amazon, but he hasn’t finished reading one of those in 2-3 years. Despite a lifetime of reading books on paper (think voracious childhood reading, college lit classes, law school, law practice, voracious adult reading), they feel sort of clumsy to him now. On the other hand, he inhales ebooks, particularly titles that would never appear at a Barnes & Noble.

Despite the numbers of pleasant people in the paper book business, it’s going away. There are a couple of large universities not far from Casa PG, but backpacks stuffed with books are an increasingly rare sight. Backpacks are for laptops and tablets. Everybody carries phones and assiduously studies them between classes.

Used book stores will outlast stores that sell new books (and will probably morph into antique book stores) but there won’t be enough of those to employ most of people currently working in the paper book business.

Bestseller Lists and Other Dreams

31 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 In March, Marie Force announced she would no longer chase the bestseller lists when she released her latest book title. She wrote a great, honest, and direct blog about her thinking, and I urge you to read it all.

In the blog, she describes a trajectory of obsession and disillusionment that is very familiar to me. I’ve gone through that range of emotions several times in my long writing career. Ironically, the change in my attitude toward the bestseller lists and the status they confer (or don’t) came when I was still a 100% traditionally published novelist. (I’m hybrid, traditional and indie, although I don’t publish my novels [in English, anyway] traditionally any more.)

Why is that ironic? Because by the time it became easier to chase a bestseller list, I was no longer interested. Yet the entire focus of the first wave of indie writers after the introduction of Kindle Direct Publishing was on the various bestseller lists, first on Amazon, and then the established ones, like The New York Times and USA Today.

. . . .

Whenever I write a blog post that upsets a certain group of indie writers, they discuss the post on their blogs and cite whatever Amazon rankings they can find of my books at the moment. Often the books they find have low rankings, and they use that to say I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Okay. Fine. Whatever floats your boat. My business is based on a lot of product, published wide in a worldwide market, using print, audio, ebook, translations, and more. I don’t usually look at an individual book’s ranking in one format in one marketplace—and even though Amazon is the biggest marketplace at the moment, it’s certainly not the only one.

I write that with complete calmness, and a bit of a shrug, but believe me, that calmness and shrug came years after I got rid of my bestseller list obsession.

. . . .

I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer from as far back as I can remember. I wrote my first novel in grade school (and, sadly, illustrated it too). I didn’t know any professional fiction writers. I firmly believed in the myths, that it was impossible to make a living as a fiction writer—unless you hit a bestseller list, specifically The New York Times, which was the only one I saw in the books around my parents’ house.

So, I imprinted young: bestseller list = enough money to make a living = success.

And as I got older, I met a lot of writers. Some were journalists (making a living: check); some were poets (working as professors: check); some were fiction writers (making money…how?). It took me a long time to realize that you could make a good living without hitting a bestseller list. A lot of successful writers taught me that, sometimes directly and sometimes through example. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

Before Roc Books bought my first novel, I had made friends with an outspoken book dealer. He was trying to qualify as a New York Times bookstore—the first I’d ever heard of such a thing. He ran an sf and fantasy store, and he was campaigning to be one of the stores that the Times spoke to on a weekly basis to compile the sales.

I have no memory of whether or not he succeeded. I don’t think he did. Over the years, I met many booksellers who were Times qualified. They were required to keep their status quiet, but some didn’t. And some told me years after they were no longer on the Times list.

I remember being shocked at what I learned: no one independently verified the bookseller’s numbers. No cash register receipts were submitted, no one checked shipping orders. The bookseller could have conflated his best friend’s book if he wanted to.

I don’t think any bookseller did that—at least not any I knew—but the temptation was there. And my outspoken friend was most worried about being told which books to include in his list, because he had heard the Times sometimes nudged a bookseller in a particular direction.

True? God knows. Maybe true in the late 1980s when these discussions took place. Maybe a beloved conspiracy theory among genre booksellers. I have no way to verify.

. . . .

Then in the year 2000, the New York Times got really peeved at J.K. Rowling and the YA writers who “hogged” the adult hardcover list. The Times introduced a “children’s book list” for bestselling books, and made no bones about why they were doing so:

The New York Times Book Review will print a separate best-seller list for children’s books starting on July 23. The change is largely in response to the expected demand for the fourth in the Harry Potter series of children’s books, editors at the Book Review said…. With an enormous initial print run of 3.8 million in the United States alone, it is widely expected to reach the top of the list.

”The time has come when we need to clear some room” on the list, said Charles McGrath, the editor of the Book Review…

The phrase missing here is “for more worthy titles.” Adult titles, even though adults were reading Harry Potter.

I had never noticed the Times monkeying with the list before, not like this, and not so blatantly. I was offended, upset, and crushed—in my dreams.

. . . .

This was when I really learned that the lists were based on velocity—how fast a book sold—not on actual total sales. This finally answered my questions about the way that genre writers could earn a hefty living while literary (and critical darlings) often had to teach. “Sales” were based on books shipped, not on books sold, which really came home to me from traveling.

I went through O’Hare around this point, saw a book by a writer I knew, and the book was on every bookstand, at every checkout place, even at the restaurants. The book was there on Thursday, as I flew out, and in seemingly the same numbers on Monday when I flew home. At the time, I thought that the books had been replenished.

Nope. They hadn’t sold.

But for that week, my friend was on the bestseller list. And he couldn’t sell another book after that, because his sell-through was so abysmal as to make him untouchable under that name.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says it’s great when indie authors appear on bestseller lists, but the point Kris makes about velocity of sales is key to understanding bestseller lists and in placing them in their proper business perspective.

If you sell 1,000 ebooks in a single day, you’ll likely be at the top of an Amazon bestseller list and probably more than one list. For marketing purposes, you can probably advertise yourself as “#1 Amazon best-selling author” forever because it actually did happen one time. Lots of traditionally-published authors have been promoted as a “New York Times best-selling author” many years after any of their books actually appeared on an NYT list.

However “best-selling author” is used so often that PG expects it may not be a terribly-effective marketing claim regardless of how much it impresses Uncle Jake. Just like all the students in Lake Wobegon who are above-average, a lot of authors have been bestsellers.

PG thinks a better mark of business success in writing is whether an author can quit their day job and support themselves with their books or otherwise generate a reliable income stream. Still a better indicator is if they can support themselves by writing year after year after year. If an aspiring writer wants a model to emulate, the author who quit the day job ten years ago is probably a better example than someone who was #1 on an Amazon romance list three years ago and still works the swing shift at 7-11 to make ends meet.

To be clear, PG is not denigrating anyone who works at writing, day job or not, and who has been or is listed on a bestseller list. That’s an accomplishment that many indie authors never enjoy.

However, earning your living and making a career as an author is more of a long game. Selling 1,000 ebooks in a single day won’t pay the rent next year. Writing ten books that each sell 40 copies per week on average won’t make you an Amazon Sales Rank queen for a day, but they’ll be a far more significant benefit to your household budget. If you work hard and add another ten books then another and keep doing the sorts of things that generate that 40 copies per week in sales for each one, you’re looking at a successful business career as a professional writer.

That’s the sort of thing that Kris has done for a long time and why PG believes what she says about how she’s done it is worth considering.

Data Diving

24 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Once a month (more or less), we host a gathering of professional writers on a Friday night. The gathering is open to writers from our writers network, and other professionals we know. Most are from the Pacific Northwest, although folks who are traveling through often stop as well.

We have only one criteria: The writers have to be working hard at the business of writing. You’d be surprised at how many professional writers are ineligible just from that criteria. You’d also be surprised at how many writers who absent themselves from the gathering after attending once. We’re too intimidating, I think.

I mean that sincerely. I don’t think it’s because of the accolades in the room (multiple award-winners, New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, multi-published fiction and nonfiction writers). I think it’s because we’re all working hard at our indie publishing businesses, and we don’t dumb down the meeting.

One extremely prolific traditionally published writer showed up last year, and started asking basic questions (how do you format books?) and everyone shut him down before the meeting even started.

If you don’t know something basic, you can ask someone on a break, and more often than not, you’ll get weird look and a series of links. This is a serious meeting of hardworking, serious professionals who are bootstrapping each other into the ever-evolving new world of publishing.

. . . .

In the middle hour of our three-hour talk, the conversation went something like this:

my click-through rate is…

…I received 96,000 impressions…

…at least thirty-percent downloaded my…

Numbers, data, and more numbers. Writer after writer recited facts about their newsletters, their ad campaigns, their book sales, and all of those facts had data to back them up. These writers were often looking at phone screen or their laptop to give accurate information (as if the rest of us would shoot them if they reported wrong), and we were comparing performance, subscribers, money earned, and books sold.

I don’t think anyone mentioned craft except to acknowledge that a certain level of craft is necessary to get readers to return to the fold.

I sat back and absorbed this conversation, letting the words run over me a little, because I was surprised by it. Not by the conversation itself—we’ve had a variation of that conversation off and on for a year now—but by the complete acceptance of it. I was surprised by the way that no one, not even the newcomers to the meeting, seemed to think the conversation was out of the ordinary. We were comparing results of various marketing techniques, trying to figure out our way through the morass of data that’s being flung at us, and—most importantly—sharing what we had learned, what worked for us, and what didn’t.

. . . .

[In years past] At conventions, we writers discussed a variation of the same topics—agents, editors, marketing to the increasingly smaller and smaller subset of publishers, and the best way to handle the problems that came up in our various careers.

Not once did we mention data. We did discuss how to goose book sales, but based on the royalty reports. We tried to figure out how to get rid of our reserves against returns. We often argued about the value of book signings and book tours, but we never had data.

Because our publishers didn’t have data either.

Data is becoming the new religion at traditional publishers, but they’re the proverbial first-year English majors trying to understand an advanced-level Physics course. They don’t have the math skills, mostly, to understand, for example, why Author Earnings really is a good way to look at the entire industry.

(The responses to Data Guy’s presentation at Digital Book World, both live tweeted [live social media-ed?] from the conference and in private, were disbelieving. I’ve heard industry professionals say that the only accurate reports came from Nielsen later in the day. (I searched for someone courageous enough to write that in their blog about the event, and couldn’t find it. I don’t want to out folks who wrote me emails, so I’m afraid I can’t link here.)]

. . . .

But the one thing we didn’t discuss, something I hadn’t even thought of until Saturday morning, was how to manage all the data we were receiving. We joked about it a bit, about a writer we had been watching—a high-end marketer who reported that his well-known marketing practices were finally failing him, until he realized (hello!) that he needed to produce more product. Everyone he had reached had bought his five or six books. He needed to write another one.

That got a great laugh from the group, because the one thing we do, we all do is write the next book. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to write as much as we can, with this fire hose of information streaming our way.

And it’s not just the new programs, the new way to market, the new opportunities opening up each and every moment of each and every day. It’s also the changes in the data we receive.

. . . .

However, we are rapidly getting to the place, as writers, where we need to figure out how much of this data is relevant or useful. Just because I can find out that more people in Hong Kong open my newsletter at 10 in the morning on weekdays than on weekends doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to know that information. I might, if I’m looking for the best time to send a newsletter. But the service I use for my newsletter will aggregate that data for me, and tell me the optimum time to send a newsletter to that subset on my mailing list.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says anybody who doesn’t understand why Data Guy’s information is extremely useful shouldn’t be trying to run a business in 2017. With every passing month, the business practices and business savvy of traditional publishing are falling farther and farther behind both indie authors and the rest of the world.

When PG is negotiating agreements with traditional publishers, it’s an entirely different experience than negotiating IP rights agreements with tech companies or investment bankers. The publishers are so far behind and so unaware of things that are taken for granted in today’s business world, it’s almost laugh-inducing.

Just as one example, royalty statements every six months give rise to visions of row after row of ink-stained bookkeepers laboriously adding up long columns of numbers by hand.

Of course, Amazon pays every month and so does the rest of American business. The same people who don’t understand Author Earnings are the ones saying it’s impossible to calculate and pay royalties more than twice per year.

And this is a business which is heavily dependent on Barnes & Noble and similar organizations that are stumbling towards bankruptcy court.

In a near-future United States where 80-90% of all books are sold through Amazon, what, exactly will publishers have to offer authors?

 

Cory Doctorow Launches a Bookstore Where Authors Sell on Behalf of Publishers – Wait, What?

20 March 2017

From The Digital Reader:

Cory Doctorow just announced his support for an ebookstore platform that has me scratching my head.

. . . .

It’s not just that he has apparently abandoned his support for free Creative Commons-licensed ebooks in favor of selling ebooks (welcomes to 2007, Cory!) but also that he believes that authors should be sales staff for publishers.

From PW:

Walkaway has traditional publishers, and it will have a traditional e-book edition. But I’m going to sell that e-book in a nontraditional way. I’m launching an e-book store with the book, a store that I’ve privately developed for the past three years, code named “Shut Up and Take My Money” (SUATMM). SUATMM is what I like to call a fair trade e-book store, in which the writer also serves as a retailer.

There are many small, niche-oriented e-book stores serving highly specific markets, but SUATMM is different. It’s a retail platform that lets authors with traditional publishers serve as retailers for their those publishers, on the same terms as Amazon, Kobo, Google, BN.com, Apple, and other giants. Those stores have resources no individual author (save, perhaps, the delightfully DRM-free J.K. Rowling) can muster. In particular, they can manage a seamless experience that no indie bookstore can hope to match.

. . . .

While it is easy to buy ebooks in the Kindle Store, it’s difficult to find much less buy ebooks in niche 3rd-party ebookstores (hence why Harry Potter ebooks are available everywhere, why Baen Books moved into the Kindle Store – not away, and why Hachette never launched its Kindle Store competitor).

. . . .

Instead, I want to point out Doctorow’s blind spot: the unwarranted assumption that authors need or even should be doing business with publishers.

. . . .

It’s 2017, and publishers now expect authors to do their own marketing, blog regularly, be active on social media, and ideally already have their audience built before the contract is signed.

And now Doctorow wants authors to also

Sell ebooks for publishers,
And handle payments,
And remit the money to publishers in several countries?
Okay, but if authors are going to do all this work then why sign with a publisher in the first place?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Meryl and othes for the tip.

PG delayed posting about Doctorow’s plan because he was waiting for someone to propose a theory about why an intelligent trad-pubbed author would try to sell books directly from some strange organization for side-loading onto a Kindle. What kind of service is that for an author’s readers? Who do those readers call for tech support when the ebook file won’t load?

Certainly, having an affiliate account with Amazon and embedding links to an author’s books on the author’s website might bring in a bit of money, but that’s a set-and-forget job that takes a few minutes. Some cobbled-together spit and baling wire book-purchasing system does the readers no favors.

The shortest and easiest route from an author’s website to a rewarding book purchasing experience runs through Seattle.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome takes on many different forms, but this may be the most extreme.

Let PG be perfectly clear – if Jeff Bezos woke up one morning, decided that Amazon was indeed evil for shaking up the sclerotic book business and ordered his Amazon minions to immediately stop selling books, the traditional publishing industry would collapse.

PG suspects that if Big Publishing really examined its accounts, it would discover that ebooks offered through Amazon generate virtually all of the meager profits that inure to the publishing business these days.

Actor recites all 9 hours of Amazon Kindle T&Cs

16 March 2017

From CNet:

Do you read the terms of service for every service you sign up for? Stop lying, you don’t. But you have a very good reason. They’re very long and very boring, and you just want to get stuck into whatever you’re signing up for.

. . . .

To highlight just how ridiculous it is, Choice hired an actor named Laurence to read aloud all 73,198 words of Amazon’s Kindle terms and conditions.

Based on the estimation that 500 words is one A4 page, that’s 146 pages, and it took poor Laurence nine hours to slog through the whole thing.

Link to the rest at CNet and thanks to G.P. for the tip.

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Having written, rewritten and read more Terms of Use than he cares to remember, PG says such “Agreements” always begin as shorter documents, then grow over time. They never seem to shrink.

Unless a provision is determined by a court or government agency to be illegal or unenforceable, it stays in the Terms of Service (or Terms of Use or Terms and Conditions) forever. These three titles (abbreviated as ToS, TOU or T’s & C’s when lawyers communicate with one another) tend to be used interchangeably to refer to the same type of document embedded somewhere on a corporate website or printed in tiny, tiny type on a much-folded piece of paper inserted into product packaging.

On occasion, stories arise about someone who inserts a provision at about the 80% point in a corporate TOU that offers to pay whomever reads the provision a reward of $100 with an email address to claim the reward. Months pass, then years, and the reward is never claimed.

While PG would never recommend treating the contractual provisions included in a TOU lightly, as a general proposition, most large organizations with lengthy TOU’s threaten violators with great vigor, but seldom seem to take enforcement actions to trial before a judge or (heaven forefend!) a jury.

In PG’s experience, TOU’s tend to be much, much longer than agreements on similar subjects that are negotiated between two parties who are each represented by counsel.

PG stumbled across an article in The Telegraph which indicates the islands from which the foundations of American law originated may have a more sensible view of TOU’s than the US does. It’s official: you don’t have to read the Ts & Cs

University of Washington Writing Guru Declares American Grammar ‘Racist,’ Wants New Rules

22 February 2017

From Heatstreet:

The chief writing instructor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, is trying to dismantle the rules of grammar because he believes they are racist—and the college has given its endorsement to his campaign.

Posters that appeared this week in the college’s writing center are part of a new effort to teach students that the conventional rules on how to structure sentences and form ideas in written language are perpetuating inequality and “white supremacy.”

“Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society,” the poster claims. It goes on to say that critiquing a student’s use of language, or implying that there is any one grammatical standard within the English language, is inherently discriminatory.

. . . .

Grammar, according to the posters in the writing center, can “justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

To solve the problem, the program intends to help students become aware of “social justice” issues in their everyday life, and to help them “check their privileges”—particularly those that result in unconscious racism.

They also appear to say that they will not deduct from grades—even in English classes in an English department—for failing to use proper grammar. “We promise to emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” a “commitment” on the poster reads. “We promise to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”

Link to the rest at Heatstreet and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Here’s the Statement in full:

Writing Center

 About Writing Center

Following is a statement that Writing Center professional staff, tutors, and the Director worked on extensively. It informs our center’s practices and on-going assessment efforts to improve our practices.

STATEMENT ON ANTIRACIST AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WORK IN THE WRITING CENTER

Our Beliefs

The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.

Because we all live, work, learn, and communicate within such racist systems, the consultants in the writing center assume that a big part of our job is to help students become more critical of these unjust language structures as they affect students’ writing and the judgment of that writing. In particular, being aware of racism as structural offers students the best chances to develop as writers and succeed on their own terms in an inherently racist society.

Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.

Our Commitment

The writing center consultants and staff promise to listen and look carefully and compassionately for ways that we may unintentionally perpetuate racism or social injustice, actively engaging in antiracist practices. For instance, we promise to:

  • be sensitive to our language practices (what we say or allow to be said) and other microaggressions that may make some people feel uncomfortable or feel in some way inferior;
  • openly discuss social justice issues as they pertain to the writing at hand;
  • emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical “correctness” in the production of texts;
  • be reflective and critical of the practices we engage in;
  • provide students ways to be more aware of grammar as a rhetorical set of choices with various consequences;
  • discuss racism and social justice issues openly in productive ways;
  • advocate for the things that will make our Center safe, welcoming, productive, proactive;
  • challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations;
  • conduct on-going assessments of the work of the writing center, looking specifically for patterns or potential inequalities or oppressive practices that may be occurring in the Center.

We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.

The Writing Center at the University of Washington Tacoma is a part of the Teaching and Learning Center located in Snoqualmie 260, and is closely affiliated with the University Writing Program.  All students can make an appointment to see a Writing Consultant in person or online.  There are four ways the Center offers expert feedback on student writing.  The Center also offers electronic resources for academic writing.

PG says this manifesto appears to him to be written in standard American English and, thus, packed with microaggressions.

PG observes not the slightest sensitivity to the way those not trained to this standard might react to such a racist tone. Clearly, those at the top of  this hierarchy are determined to bend others less privileged to their will.

How such people can purport to teach English without continuing to perpetrate an inherently hostile environment by repeatedly othering those who differ from them cannot be imagined.

His Mysterious Lady

13 February 2017

Mandatory Disclaimer for New Visitors to TPV:

The Passive Voice is not a book blog. PG loves books, but there are many other excellent book blogs. PG is unable to say exactly what kind of blog TPV is, but he’s certain it’s not a book blog.

From time to time, PG receives requests from perfectly good authors to promote their books. He politely declines such requests.

Unless the requests are delivered in person. At breakfast.

Mrs. PG has book on Kindle Scout. When PG checked the rankings before this posting, Mrs. PG’s book was Hot.

As you may have guessed by the cover, the book is titled His Mysterious Lady.

A question has undoubtedly entered your mind, “Why is a mysterious lady lurking around Regency England?”

There’s a Viscount. PG isn’t sure of his name, but it might be Bob. So Viscount Bob meets a mysterious lady whose name is Virginia. The lady is named after the place of her birth. Fortunately, she wasn’t born in Massachusetts.

What’s a lady from Virginia doing in Regency England? She claims to have an inheritance from some dead English guy, but who knows? She’s not from Suffolk, so she could be lying.

After all, the War of 1812 is going on. To be fair, most of the Viscounts in England are way more worried about fighting a guy named Napoleon than dealing with a motley crew of former colonists who are in a constant state of peevishness.

But, for all Viscount Bob knows, all women from Virginia are congenital spies. However, he’s pretty sure that all women from Virginia are not as cute as this lady is. So, he decides it is his patriotic duty to check her out.

Viscount Bob is a really smart guy and an honorable one to boot. If Bob weren’t honorable, as PG clearly remembers from a Jane Austen movie he saw on Masterpiece Theater, Bob would be called a Miscount or a Discount.

PG can almost hear Lady Catherine de Bourgh saying, “I will never permit my daughter to marry a mere Discount. She must marry Mr. Darcy so their kids will be haughty and aloof!”

But PG digresses. Back to the mysterious Virginian, Virginia, and Mrs. PG’s book about her.

Mrs. PG and PG would appreciate it if you would check out His Mysterious Lady on Kindle Scout and click on the nominate button if you like what you see.

If click on the nominate button and Mrs. PG’s book is published by Amazon, you’ll win a free early copy of the book. That way you can finally find out what happens to Viscount Bob.

 

Working for free (but working for yourself)

7 February 2017

From Seth Godin:

Freelancers, writers, designers, photographers–there’s always an opportunity to work for free.

There are countless websites and causes and clients that will happily take your work in exchange for exposure.

And in some settings, this makes perfect sense. You might be making a contribution to a cause you care about.

. . . .

But just because you’re working for free doesn’t mean you should give away all your upsides.

Consider the major publishing platforms that are happy to host your work, but you need to sign away your copyright.

. . . .

Now, more than ever, you have the power to say “no” to that.

Because they can’t publish you better than you can publish yourself.

It doesn’t matter if these are their standard clauses. They might be standard for them, but they don’t have to be standard for you and for your career.

Link to the rest at Seth Godin

PG says “This is our standard contract” may be the oldest con known to humankind to persuade someone (including an author) to sign a terrible contract.

The “standard contract”, “standard clause” or “standard language” designation is designed to make the author think that everyone agrees to those terms. Who is an author, particularly a new author, to dare to ask for something different than all the established authors accept?

This is baloney. Publishing contracts are changed all the time.

Publishing contracts of a certain era were formatted so the changes in “standard” language were shown in a different font or otherwise highlighted. PG has seen such contracts that included dozens of changes for authors who were not best-sellers. Many agents have a set of standard changes they always make to the “standard contract” from a particular publisher.

Most publishers no longer use stone tablets for their contracts. Microsoft Word can change a “standard contract” to a fairer contract in an eyeblink.

PG says, “Ask and ye shall receive.” And if you don’t receive, you can walk away and get a better deal from someone else. The Amazon or Draft2Digital or Smashwords, etc., options are always open.

Another negotiating tip – Always have an alternative planned before you begin a business negotiation. Negotiation theorists call this a BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Part of the psychology of the “standard contract” ploy is the assumption that the author is mentally and emotionally committed to having a book published by a particular publisher, working with a famous editor, seeing big stacks of books in Barnes & Noble, etc.

Prior to sending the contract to the author, many publishers encourage an author, particularly a first-time author, to think everything will be sunshine and lollipops. The author has told all of her relatives and friends that Big Time Publishing has accepted her book, imagined what it will be like to fly on a private jet to Paris for a book signing, what she will say during her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, etc., etc., etc.

These sorts of things put immense pressure on an author to not walk away from a bad deal. PG suggests that an author may want to defer any announcement until after a fair contract is negotiated and signed. However, he knows this can be a very difficult thing to do, so perhaps a cautionary element should be added to any pre-contract announcements, “But I’m going to make sure the contract and all the details are right before this is official.”

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