Publishing Wars

29 August 2014

From BBC Radio 4:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

A few locks of dry white hair clung

29 August 2014

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

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

On Agency Clauses

29 August 2014

From Adventures in Agentland:

A typical agency clause will read something like:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Why?

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why don’t authors compete?

29 August 2014

From Seth Godin:

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

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

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

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

And yet authors do it all the time.

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

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

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

Book publishers shout foul over Amazon Japan’s new ratings

29 August 2014

From The Asahi Shimbun:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Why This Bestselling Author Decided To Start Self-Publishing

29 August 2014

From io9:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Here’s a link to Karen Traviss’ books

Ann Widdecombe’s Dancing Detective is debut self-publishing performance

29 August 2014

From The Guardian:

Featuring a “conceited brute” of a politician, a professional dancer named Beautella LaReine and a backstage murder on a popular televised dance contest, Ann Widdecombe’s first foray into detective fiction has just been self-published on Amazon.

The former member of parliament has released The Dancing Detective through Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing arm. Drawing from Widdecombe’s own experiences on Strictly Come Dancing, it is set around the fictional dance competition Lively Toes – and includes a character named after Widdecombe’s Strictly partner Anton du Beke, who Widdecombe writes has “graciously agreed to be the model” for her creation, one Anton Caesar.

“No judge or contestant is above suspicion,” when the murder is committed, according to the book’s description on Amazon. “As events escalate and it seems that the murderer may strike again, the crime-solving efforts of the police are supplemented with those of a mysterious dancing detective in a desperate race to discover whodunnit. Moving between past and present and unearthing long held secrets along the way, this is a case teeming with possible motives and in which nothing is as it first seems.”

. . . .

Widdecombe told the Herald Express in Torquay that she had been thinking about writing her Dartmoor-set detective story ever since she appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010, “but had to stop writing it because the publishers wanted my autobiography done first”.

She chose, she said, to publish the novel herself because she has a series planned about the same detective, and “if you give it to a publisher it’s nine months before it comes out and nine months before the next one. With Amazon you can put them up whenever you like and there’s a lot higher royalty on the Kindle edition than any author is going to get in publishing.”

Self-publishing has become an increasingly popular route for writers today. According to Nielsen BookData, in 2013 18m self-published books were bought by UK readers, up 79% on the previous year. As well as Widdecombe, names including Steven Berkoff, Joe Simpson and David Mamet have all chosen to make their own way to market.

. . . .

Widdecombe has written novels before, but published them through traditional publishers. An Act of Treachery, in which a French girl is in love with a German officer, was released by Orion in 2002; The Clematis Tree, released by the same publisher in 2000, focuses on a child who suffers brain damage in an accident. It drew the following review from Ruth Rendell in the Sunday Times: “Widdecombe once memorably said of a certain home secretary that he had ‘something of the night about him’. She has something of a Sunday afternoon about her, but her book is readable and, not surprisingly, she is good on the political bits.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Here’s a link to Ann Widdecombe’s books

Books-A-Million, Inc. Announces Second Quarter Results

29 August 2014

From MarketWatch, a Books-A-Million press release:

Books-A-Million, Inc. today announced financial results for the 13-week and 26-week periods ended August 2, 2014. Revenue for the 13-week period ended August 2, 2014 decreased 0.5% to $108.3 million, compared with revenue of $108.8 million in the year earlier period. Comparable store sales for the second quarter increased 0.1% compared with the 13-week period in the prior year. Net loss attributable to Books-A-Million for the second quarter was $3.0 million, or $0.21 per diluted share, compared with a net loss of $9.1 million, or $0.62 per diluted share, in the year earlier period.

. . . .

Commenting on the results, Terrance G. Finley, Chief Executive Officer and President, said, “In our BAM! retail stores, the continued improvement in our core book business was a key driver of our performance. The teen and children’s book business was particularly strong, led by the positive impact of media, particularly movie related tie-ins such as John Green’s Fault In Our Stars, and Disney’s Frozen. In addition we had a broad group of merchandise categories showing stronger results for the quarter. These included bargain books, general merchandise including gifts and toys, media, and our cafes.

Link to the rest at MarketWatch

For overseas visitors, Books-A-Million is the second-largest bookstore chain in the US.

Here’s an excerpt from an International Business Times article in 2011 when Borders, then the second-largest bookstore chain in the US, went bankrupt and closed:

Borders is closing, liquidating its remaining 399 stores and eliminating 10,700 jobs, and many people are wondering why. They loved the stores, they say.

But the remarks of one sad customer speaking Monday sums it all up.

“I love going to the bookstore — leaving the kids and sneaking away, looking at the variety,” said Joe Lanier, a hairstylist from Southfield, Mich., speaking to the Detroit Free Press about Borders’ closing. “I hope someone can come through and buy them and bail them out.”

Lanier meant well, obviously. He was shopping at a Borders store in Michigan at the time, not far from the company’s Ann Arbor headquarters.

. . . .

Customers like him liked visiting Borders’ big stores. They liked the relaxing, park-like browsing experience. But take note that Lanier never said he loved buying books. He said he loves looking at the variety.

. . . .

In reality, though, Borders was long gone. The company has been losing money for five years because most customers felt just like Lanier, whether they knew what they were saying or not. That’s the way they feel about many bookstores in America. They love to go there, look, browse, and relax.

But Borders was not a publicly-supported library.

So many customers liked to flip through some books, maybe even buying one every now and then. But Borders stores occupied 25,000 square feet on average, and it’s hard to make a profit renting some of America’s prime real estate at that level when people primarily enjoy looking at the only product you have to sell.

Link to the rest at International Business Times

I Just Can’t Quit You, Jeff

29 August 2014

From author Jane Adams via The Huffington Post:

The disclaimer comes first. In Amazon’s early days, I had a regular gig reviewing mystery novels — it was like being a taster at the chocolate factory! Still, it wasn’t enough to convince me to invest in their stock, which could then be had for even less than my occasional $50 review checks. As a writer myself, I knew the sorry economics of publishing — an industry where 90 percent of the product lost money, 7 percent broke even, and the rest made the owners enough to cover the others. Why throw good money after bad?

Of course, that was back when Amazon only sold books,its stock was $9 a share, and I thought of the company as being part of an industry that was even then on life support..

Today books are such a small part of the company’s bottom line and Amazon is such a big part of the online economy, you wonder why they fight so hard with publishers who won’t give in for such (relatively) small gains. And why they keep triangulating authors like me — the midlisters — between a rock and a hard place.

. . . .

After a dozen editors who fell in love with my protagonist told my agent they couldn’t sell a book with an elderly (60) romantic heroine, I self-published it with Amazon. Hardly the great American novel — more like chick lit for older women – Sugar Time was smart and funny and I wanted it out there . But “out there” is different in cyberspace, which was the only place it went — sort of like George Clooney spinning into the void in Gravity. I’d always assumed that even if I couldn’t figure out how to break it out via social media, I’d sell enough copies locally and regionally to make a few dollars, and I’d at least get it reviewed in the Seattle papers, which had reviewed my previous 11 titles.

But any home-field advantage I might have reasonably expected evaporated. Not one bookseller would stock it unless ordered and paid for it in advance. “And even then, we wouldn’t put it on our shelves,” added a buyer from Powell’s. “Why would I sell a book by a company that’s driving me out of business?”

. . . .

I don’t blame Jeff Bezos for my failure to take my own advice, Sugar Time has a few sexy scenes, but 50 shades of gray described my heroine’s hair, not her libido. However, like a battered wife, I am still insanely devoted to my (fifth) Kindle. I am a sucker for its instant gratification, low prices, and ease of use.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a link to Jane Adams’ books

You can try to be the next Hemingway — for $6,000

28 August 2014

From The Guardian:

The clock is ticking down: it’s only two months until National Novel Writing Month kicks off. Wannabe Stephen Kings and John Greens are sharpening their pencils, dusting off their ideas and booking vacation time for the month of November.

Literary agents already are bracing themselves for a deluge of mostly unpublishable manuscripts that they’ll start receiving weeks after that from authors dreaming of repeating the success of Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants.

But if agents and publishers turn up their noses at your deathless prose, these days you can bypass them entirely and publish independently. Indeed, Amazon reports that self-published books represent as much as a quarter of the top-selling list of titles on their Kindle e-book platform. Some authors are even opting to bypass the group of firms they refer to, somewhat disdainfully as “New York publishers”, in favor of going indie.

But if going solo gives you the chance to thumb your nose at the naysayers and hang on to more of your royalties, it comes with a big price tag. Instead of a publisher paying you thousands of dollars for the right to publish your Great American Novel – and footing the bill for printing and distributing it – you need to be prepared to fork over thousands of dollars to cover those costs yourself.

. . . .

Editing: $4,000

Most other expenses are about transforming your work of art into something that looks and feels as if it has just been handled by the same team that publishes the likes of Donna Tartt or John Grisham. You’re a professional, and your work should reflect it.

The crucial expense – and the one you shouldn’t even think of ducking if you want to have your book read and appreciated – is editing. Not just proofreading, or even copy editing, but content editing, starting early in the process.

“It’s like building a house; you don’t want to go back and tear it down and start from scratch after you realize the foundations were badly designed,” says Lisa Renee Jones, who published her first novel in 2007 and who calculates self-publishing (in conjunction with working with mainstream publishers) has helped her earn as much in a month as she once did in a year from her writing.

Expect your editor to quote an hourly rate ($50 is a good figure to bear in mind) and give you an estimate of the number of pages he or she will tackle each hour.

. . . .

Reviews: $825

There are two ways that a self-published author can get their magnum opus into a reviewer’s hands. If you’ve already decided that you’re going to make a physical book available, using a service like CreateSpace or Lulu, you can simply order author’s copies (at a small percentage of the price a regular reader would pay, perhaps $5 for a $14 book) and mail them to the bloggers who have promised to review the novel.

It all gets a little more complicated if all you have to work with is an electronic file, however. An easy option is making your book available to interested reviewers and bloggers on NetGalley, which MacLennan warns will now set you back about $400.

The alternative can chew up a lot of time and energy, though, because you’ll have to make sure that your novel is available in whatever format the prospective reviewer prefers. Telling someone who reads on Kindle that you can’t deliver for that format will be the kiss of death – as will be delivering a garbled text, with sentence breaks, capitalization in strange and unusual spaces and other hallmarks of amateurishly-formatted e-books.

Options include paying for pre-publication reviews on sites like Kirkus, which can be as high as $425, or submitting your e-book for review by bloggers at NetGalley (another $400), in hopes that those reader reviews will spur sales.

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

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