Traditional Publishing Stupidity

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Two traditional publishing news stories caught my eye, primarily because I blog about contracts all the time, trying to convince writers to stay away from traditional publishing contracts for their books—or at least to negotiate the hell out of those contracts.

. . . .

The first story to catch my eye was about Ronan Farrow, who rose to fame through his nonfiction about Harvey Weinstein. All of this was at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, which still continues. The book Farrow wrote, Catch and Kill, was one of the fall’s big books. It’s also a hell of a read.

It was published by Little, Brown, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, which did all the right things to promote the book. Hachette set up the proper media coverage, got Farrow on many talk shows, sent him on the right kind of book tour, and started the buzz early. Farrow’s editors and his media team Got It. They took the moment, and used it, in a way traditional publishers almost never do.

This week, Farrow announced he was leaving Hachette because he couldn’t work with them in good conscience given a book they planned to publish in April.  An imprint of Hachette, Grand Central, acquired a book by Farrow’s father, Woody Allen, titled Apropos of Nothing. Farrow’s sister, Dylan, has credibly accused Allen of sexually molesting her when she was a child, and Farrow has backed her up. He even documented the allegations in Catch and Kill, a book that was heavily vetted by lawyers.

Allen’s book was not vetted. And it had been rejected by a number of other publishers because, in most of the entertainment world, Allen is considered as toxic as Weinstein. So when Farrow found out through media reports that Hachette was going to publish Allen’s book, Farrow tried to convince them not to.

Of course, that didn’t work. As the U.S. CEO of Hachette, Michael Pietsch, told the BBC, Hachette does “not allow anyone’s publishing programme to interfere with anyone else’s.”

In other words, Hachette, like the other Big 5 publishers, did not sign a non-compete clause demanded of the publisher by authors. If one author’s book competes with another, so what? Hachette can publish both of them. But in most cases, the author must sign a non-compete clause that states that the author can’t publish a book with another company that will compete with their own book from Hachette.

Patently unfair, and something I’ve urged writers to fight against for years.

Put it this way: If one of Hachette’s authors writes a bestselling thriller featuring augmented cats, and augmented cats become a trend, then the author can’t take another augmented cat book to a different publisher even if Hachette passed on the book, provided the author signed a standard non-compete.

However, Hachette could publish two dozen augmented cat books by different authors, even though those books would compete with and possibly hurt the sales of the book by the original author.

Farrow had no leg to stand on to get Hachette to reject Allen’s book. And in publishing terms, by the time Farrow discovered the betrayal, it was much too late. Hachette was a little over a month out from publishing the book. That means Hachette invested money in Allen’s book, in a promotion campaign, in copy editing, design, and printing costs. If the book’s run was a standard run for a minor bestseller, Hachette had invested about half a million dollars in that title by the time Farrow found out about it.

No company would pull the plug on a book that late in the game because one of its authors complained.

Unless the author had standing, a sterling reputation, and 968,000 followers on Twitter.

Farrow’s comments reverberated through the industry and made headlines worldwide. On Thursday, employees of Hachette staged a walkout, protesting the publication of Allen’s book. They hadn’t known about it either (many of these imprints don’t talk to each other about purchases).

The news story wasn’t going to go away. It was large and it would get larger by the time the book dropped on April 7. In fact, when the book dropped, the protests and Farrow’s opposition would have been all that the media would talked about. Hachette Book Group’s reputation would have continued to take a hit. So, the question the bean counters had to answer was…was that hit worth the half million that the company had already spent on Woody Allen’s memoir, or would Hachette lose twice that amount (or more) in bad publicity?

The answer came swiftly. On Friday, Hachette canceled Allen’s book. Not because of contract terms, not because Farrow had any right to ask the company to live up to some mythical co-equal non-compete clause, but because publicity forced the company to pay attention to their own idiocy.

The Farrow story shows traditional publishing at its most hypocritical. Pietsch’s comment about not allowing one author’s publishing program to interfere with another’s is patently untrue. And his comments later, that Hachette “protects” their authors, is also false.

This entire event shows the kind of cold calculation that the people at the top of big publishers make about publishing. They demand that authors sign contracts that will actively harm the authors’ careers while refusing to sign the same kind of agreement themselves.

Contracts are supposed to be equitable agreements between two equal parties. Contracts are not that in traditional publishing, as I have written about many, many, many times.

So I had to stop here and actually gloat when a publisher finally suffered the fate that it has forced hundreds of its authors into—making a business decision that will cost it both in reputation and earnings because of a pre-existing agreement.

How many writers have been told to stand down from a contract they signed with a competing book publisher? How much money have writers lost because publishers want everything? The number is unknowable, bcause most authors don’t or can’t discuss their contract terms (yet another bad contract term authors sign).

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.

Then And Now

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Recently, Dean told me about a conversation he was having on Facebook with a group of writers who, in the 1990s, shared the table of contents in an anthology featuring stories about the X-Men. Apparently, that anthology has just gotten an audio edition, and one of the authors in the anthology was thrilled about that.

Then Dean threw some cold water on the excitement. Who’s getting the royalties? he asked. No one knew.

Yes, the project was work for hire, but the writers weren’t paid a flat fee. They were paid an advance against royalties, for all forms of the book.

Dean hadn’t heard about the audio edition ahead of time. Nor had the other authors. I’m pretty sure the writer who announced it just stumbled on it. And once Dean asked the question, the others began wondering as well.

This project—twenty years old—has a somewhat tortured history. It was packaged by a packager so notorious that when he died unexpectedly, the people who had worked with him weren’t upset about his death at all. In fact, when a certain sf convention tried to hold a memorial for him, they couldn’t get anyone to speak at it.

This packager had lied and cheated and abused his writers so badly that they had nothing kind to say about him, even if they were the type of people who would have been inclined to make nice after a death. He stole and embezzled and sold his companies—to himself, sometimes—and managed to always come out smelling…okay, I guess.

When he died, his financial affairs were such a tangled mess that I heard about the troubles the estate had untangling them. I’m not sure how that ended up.

But here’s the thing. X-men is part of Marvel which is part of Disney. Someone still believed they had the rights to that anthology, and could license it in audio. That audio money probably went straight into licensor’s pocket, not realizing that the authors had contracts that stipulated royalties and not a flat fee.

With the arrival of the audiobook came the realization that the book is still in print, which meant it’s still earning money. I’ll wager, although I haven’t checked, that it has an ebook edition (which it didn’t originally have). All of this means it’s been earning royalties steadily for twenty years, which, at least in our household, have not been paid in (ahem) twenty years.

Does that mean Dean and the other writers are owed millions? Naw. Probably not even thousands. Maybe a few hundred each maximum. But that’s nothing to sneeze at.

And therein lies a dilemma for writers. Do they pursue those few hundred dollars? Do they hire an attorney to figure out who actually is exercising the rights? Or do they just shrug and say, Them’s the breaks, and move on to other things.

. . . .

A few weeks before this debacle surfaced, I wrote a sticky note for my pile of possible blog topics. It says, succinctly:

Old system = make $$ for others. Pittance for you.

New system = make $$$$$$$ for you, and some for others.

I’ve been thinking about that in the connection with licensing for writers. If we maintain our own intellectual property, and if we publish the work ourselves, we own every part of that copyright. We license it to various companies which then make some money off the derivative product they produce.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Over his long and varied business life, PG has been exposed to a wide variety of industries and companies large, medium and small operating in those industries.

PG has helped clients who had problems because they dealt with shady characters. As a general proposition, even when the client was able to win in court, even with a generous award of damages, the client was never made whole. The whole episode became a dark and disturbing period in the client’s life that was difficult to put behind her/him. In that respect, dealing with a bad business associate had some parallels with marrying the wrong person.

PG will state that, as a whole, traditional publishing is a weird business. There are some nice and sane people in the business, but there are some very strange and maladjusted people as well, not the kind of people one would expect to find in most well-managed business organizations.

As just one example, practically every other business on the planet pays its contractors on a monthly basis if not more often. PG cannot think of any other major business segment that pays its bills to outside materials/service providers every six months. Undoubtedly there are some, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Of course, Amazon manages to pay self-published authors every month. Ditto for paying Random House, etc. However, Random House, etc., is somehow unable to remit royalties to authors more often than every six months, even royalties for sales made on Amazon for which the publisher is paid monthly.

One of the reasons authors sometimes lose track of the non-payment of royalties is that payments appear at such widely-spaced intervals. If an author were paid royalties earned on a monthly basis, he/she would be more likely to note the omission of an expected payment.

PG was about to begin a rant about the problems caused for authors by unskilled and unschooled literary agents who are yet another intermediary between an author and the author’s royalty payments, but he’s running out of time.

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.

Business Musings: Nobody Cares

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Nobody cares. Such a sad phrase, particularly when uttered by someone without friends or family. I recently read a marvelous short story that ended with that very concept, although not the phrase itself.

I’m not going to talk about that use of the phrase. Anything I say would be facile, because I don’t know your situation. And the phrase can mean that no one is close to you, or that the one special someone no longer is a part of your life. The solutions for all of those things are deeply personal, and I would hope that if you find yourself in that situation, you find some kind of help—whether it is a counselor or a trusted advisor or an organization that specializes in whatever it is that has caused you to feel alone.

I will also add that in various points in my life, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people, and I’ve still felt like nobody cared. Sometimes I was wrong. Often, I had to face forward and deal with loss and grief. Occasionally, I had to seek professional help. In all of those cases, I got better, and so, over time, did my circumstances. I wish the best for you.

What I’m going to discuss with the phrase Nobody cares is a different usage of it. In my professional life and in certain endeavors, I have found that the phrase nobody cares is completely freeing.

I mentioned this to Dean, and he asked, “Didn’t I just write about that?” on his blog. So I went and checked, and yes, while he used the phrase, he mostly said that he didn’t care about the way others feel about his work.

It’s a similar concept, but not the same concept. If he doesn’t care about what other people think, that still assumes that they think something. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But the assumption is that “they” care. And for someone like me, who was raised by a judgmental perfectionist, the idea that “they” care can hang over everything that I do, if I let it.

Nobody cares works better for me. It’s a relatively new mantra in my life, in fact. When I first moved to Las Vegas, I set a new schedule, which included a yoga class at the gym on Mondays and Fridays. I had never done yoga, but I knew I needed a regular stretching routine, so I figured I would try it.

That first morning, before I left for class, I ran around like a nut, trying to get my stuff in order, trying to get my routine finished, caring for the cats, and scurrying so that I wouldn’t be late. And then, suddenly, I realized that the only person who cared if I was late was me.

No one else did. The gym didn’t. It didn’t have instructions that any tardy student would be locked out of the room. The instructor certainly didn’t. I later learned that she was late half the time herself.

. . . .

And that class is one of the physical highlights of my time here in Las Vegas so far. I had a blast. And I wouldn’t have, if I thought someone was judging me and thinking badly of me.

The courage nobody cares gives me doesn’t just apply to physical things. It applies to things that terrify me. I am embarking on a new project, which I don’t want to discuss in specific terms yet. I do that sometimes, not because I’m worried that someone will care, but because I loathe answering stupid questions, and this project seems to bring out the stupid question in damn near everyone.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

As a group, authors tend to be very thin-skinned, particularly about their writing. Performers and artists often have similar feelings.

Other professionals feel the same way about what they do to support themselves and their families. While some might want to think, “It’s just a paycheck” or “It’s just a royalty check,” the fact is that most people hope for success in any endeavor for which they spend a lot of time or money or effort or all three. That hope may be hidden under a hard and thick shell of sarcasm, who cares or something similar, but PG thinks for most people, it’s still there.

The kind of balance that Kris suggests with Nobody cares is one way of coping with fear of failure/rejection/bankruptcy/homelessness/insanity/ etc., etc., etc. The breadth and depth of human fears and insecurities is breathtakingly large. And that’s only the part that PG has discovered.

One particularly disabling fear is that you will try something and another person will hate/laugh/scorn what you have done. One of the names for this trait is People Pleasing.

From Psychology Today:

Over the years, I’ve seen countless people-pleasers in my therapy office. But more often than not, people-pleasing wasn’t really their problem; their desire to make others happy was merely a symptom of a deeper issue.

For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked. Other people-pleasers have a history of maltreatment, and somewhere along the way, they decided that their best hope for better treatment was to try to please the people who mistreated them. Over time, for them, people-pleasing became a way of life.

Many people-pleasers confuse pleasing people with kindness. When discussing their reluctance to turn down someone’s request for a favor, they say things like, “I don’t want to be selfish,” or “I just want to be a good person.” Consequently, they allow others to take advantage of them.

. . . .

Here are 10 signs that you may be trying too hard to please everyone:

1. You pretend to agree with everyone.

Listening politely to other people’s opinions — even when you disagree — is a good social skill. But pretending to agree just because you want to be liked can cause you to engage in behavior that goes against your values.

2. You feel responsible for how other people feel.

It’s healthy to recognize how your behavior influences others. But thinking you have the power to make someone happy is a problem. It’s up to each individual to be in charge of their own emotions.

3. You apologize often.

Whether you excessively blame yourself, or you fear other people are always blaming you, frequent apologies can be a sign of a bigger problem. You don’t have to be sorry for being you.

. . . .

5. You can’t say no.

Whether you say yes and then actually follow through, or you later fake an illness to get out your commitments, you’ll never reach your goals if you can’t speak up for yourself.

6. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you.

Just because someone is mad doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. But if you can’t stand the thought of someone being displeased with you, you’ll be more likely to compromise your values.

. . . .

8. You need praise to feel good.

While praise and kind words can make anyone feel good, people pleasers depend on validation. If your self-worth rests entirely on what others think about you, you’ll only feel good when others shower you with compliments.

Link to the rest at Psychology Today

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.

The difference between creative and critical voice

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We spend a lot of time at workshops discussing the difference between creative voice and critical voice. When I teach, I really want to nurture the creative voice. But I do need to give guidance, and some of that sounds critical. Because we’ve all been through decades of schooling, we also hear the voice of the teacher as “the authority.” I do what I can to mitigate that, in that, I don’t want my students to think my voice is the correct one, particularly when it comes to their vision.

I might have misunderstood their vision. I might not know exactly what they’re trying to do. Or, in some ways, worse, I might not like the kind of fiction they’re writing, and that seeps out in some of my comments.

So I’m constantly thinking about the difference between creative and critical voice during workshop weeks. I’m also monitoring myself, because if I’m not careful, teaching can make me too critical of myself.

I thought I had escaped that part. I love teaching romance. Even though it’s the hardest genre to write well, it’s also the happiest. A happily ever after ending is an essential part of the genre. And so, instead of looking to the worst of humanity, when we write romance, we write about the best.

. . . .

The next morning, I woke up with my own voice in my head, repeating a line from the KIckstarter script I wrote: Because I couldn’t help myself, I wrote two of the longer stories, and an entire novel.

And then I stomped around the condo, because I realized that—dang it—the critical voice had been there all along.

You see, I’ve been whining that 2019 isn’t as good a writing year as I want. I wanted to get to a big project that I’ve been looking forward to, but I need to finish a few things first. And I’m nowhere near finishing those things.

I also had to drop a lot of work because we had a crisis at WMG when Allyson Longueira had emergency brain surgery. We’ve had some tough years the past few years. I was the emergency in 2018; Allyson in 2019. I’m hoping that 2020 is much, much better.

So I lost writing time. A lot of it, as I took on other projects that needed finishing.

. . . .

But that sentence from the Kickstarter script—Because I couldn’t help myself, I wrote two of the longer stories, and an entire novel—kept coming up in my brain all day Friday. I noodled over that sentence.

Because I had been telling myself, severely and somewhat angrily, that I haven’t been doing enough. I haven’t been writing enough. Not enough new words.

Even though, I did the two novellas and that novel from March to August, while doing other things. And I finished some big projects in January and February in prep for the even bigger project that I haven’t gotten to.

None of that counts the work I’ve done here, on this business blog, because that’s nonfiction, and I don’t count nonfiction. Just like I don’t count editing, because none of that is new words of fiction, which is all I do count.

And yes, I’ve had to take some time away, but Holy Carpal Tunnel, Batman, I have been doing a lot of fiction writing just the same. I had thought of it as things that either got in the way (some promised fiction for anthologies/other people’s projects), the stories for the Holiday Spectacular, and the novel that I had started thinking it was a novella.

If I total my words, I’m down a bit from pre-2016 levels, but not much. And I’m better than I was in 2018 by a long shot.

So the critical voice, for me, had moved from what’s wrong with the fiction to what’s wrong with production. And it had been lashing me, hard, in ways that I would never allow an actual person to do.

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.

Expect Failure

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Not too long ago, I made a suggestion to someone I’m working with. I thought we should send our project to a Big Name Magazine, for consideration in one of the many things they’re doing. (Yes, I’m being deliberately vague.)

The response I got from my partner on this project was purposely discouraging, questioning my desire to even try because Big Name Magazine gets thousands of submissions. I pushed—hard—and the project got submitted.

I’m not sure I got angry about that response, but I did get peeved. I personally hate it when someone refuses to try because thousands of other people are trying too. Guaranteed failure, that’s what that attitude is, and not the good kind of failure.

It’s the kind of failure that shows a lack of belief, either in the self or the project.

A lot of people refuse to try anything because they’re afraid of failing. And I find that ironic: because failing to try is failing.

. . . .

“Expect Success” is all about attitude, about approaching everything—including submitting a project along with thousands of other people—with the idea that your project could succeed. Be optimistic and try.

The other point of expecting success is to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep pushing until you do succeed.

But if you do that, then the subtext is this: you will fail.

A lot.

And for some reason, most people see failure of any type as a failing.

So imagine my delight when I was reading an article in, of all things, a magazine that I get for free because I went to the Consumer Electronics Show. In the May/June issue of I3, entrepreneur Jake Sigal explores something they do at his company, Tome.

Tome both shares and celebrates failure. Sigal writes:

We have a fail brick with our logo that is earned. Whenever anyone fails, we post a message on Slack and show off  the brick on our desks as a badge of honor.

Why? Because Sigal’s company “encourage team members to push personal technical limits, without fear of the consequences of failure….Failure is not only tolerated, it’s expected. We use it to decommission certain techs while others are prioritized.”

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.

Rethinking the Writing Business

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When the disruption hit the publishing industry ten years ago, I watched with a wary eye. After I finished The Freelancer’s Survival Guide in the summer of 2010, I repurposed this weekly blog to help me understand the changes the publishing industry was undergoing. It seemed, in those heady days, that everything changed daily. And there was a large contingent of brand-new writers who knew so much better than the rest of us how revolutionary this indie publishing thing would be.

Most of those writers—the hoards that used to come screaming (literally) to this site every Saturday to denounce me and tell me what an idiot I am and how wrong I was—are gone now. They quit the business not because they weren’t earning money—most of them earned a boatload—but because they couldn’t handle what they had set up.

Many of them published rapidly and followed an insane publishing schedule that couldn’t be maintained in the face of real life. Some based everything they had and everything they knew on Amazon algorithms, only to be shocked when Amazon persisted in changing up those algorithms.

Others couldn’t handle the financial ups and downs of freelancing and some, frankly, didn’t give themselves a chance to succeed. They saw others making thousands every month while they were making coffee money, and decided that they’d never succeed and quit without ever completely learning their craft or building up an audience.

. . . .

New, hot, and trendy has a shorter shelf life these days than it did, and I wasn’t sure why. There’s a lot about this new world of publishing, as I called it, that I couldn’t figure out.

. . . .

We’ve been doing this wrong.

By this, I mean the writing business post-Kindle. We’re all approaching our business like we’re still in the publishing business. But we’re not. We’re part of the entertainment industry, and that entails a lot more than we think it does.

Let me see if I can retrace some of this thinking, so that I don’t just spring my ideas on you and have you balk at them.

I signed up for the Licensing University classes connected to the [Las Vegas Licensing] Expo. I saw those last year, and felt that I would miss a huge opportunity if I failed to attend.

This year, I looked at the roster of classes, and promised myself I could leave any class that was too basic for me. The “Is Your Brand Ready For Licensing” was a case in point (although I didn’t realize it until later). That was a copyright/trademark basics course that falls into the well-duh category for me, but is probably necessary for most first-time attendees at the Expo (and for most writers as well).

But the Basics of Licensing class? Holy Crap-Poodles. I figured I’d sit there for ten minutes before going out to the floor to look around. Instead, I took 30 pages of notes. (In future posts, I will deal with much of what I learned on a detail level.)

That class laid out the basics of a licensing deal, while acknowledging that each deal is different.

Let’s back up. We writers are creators of intellectual property. We have the property to license. We are the licensors. We’re looking for licensees. Okay? Got that?

The terms of a basic licensing deal includes these elements:

  • A Royalty
  • An Advance Payment Against That Royalty
  • Net Sales Definition
  • Some Kind of Reporting Process
  • Termination
  • Insurance/Warrantees/Indemnification
  • Jurisdiction

A basic licensing deal includes a lot more than that, things like minimum royalty guarantees, an audit schedule, minimum performance threshold, quality and approvals, advertising and marketing requirements, and so on.

The licensor is a participant in all of that. An active participant, who can terminate if, for example, the quality of the product (based on the sample) doesn’t come up to snuff after several tries.

I remember thinking in the middle of that class that the publishing agreements that I signed back in the 1990s had a lot more in common with a standard licensing agreement than standard publishing contracts do now. In fact, there was a lot in the old publishing contracts that were just like a licensing agreement. In fact, the old publishing contracts were licensing agreements with the pro-licensor stuff (the stuff that benefits the licensor/writer/creator) taken out.

. . . .

Fast-forward through the afternoon to the class on How To Negotiate A Licensing Deal, which was listed as a negotiation class, without the “licensing deal” part added in. I wrote a book on negotiation, for godssake. I’m damn good at negotiating. I figured I’d be leaving this one early as well.

Nope. Another 30+ pages of notes. With two surprises added in.

First, from a passing comment on royalty rates.

In licensing, the royalty rates can vary from 2% to 20% of the net sales price (usually wholesale, but that’s changing depending on distribution). One of the instructors (an agent) mentioned that really big brands with a lot of clout like Disney can get the 20% royalty without a lot of pushback because their brand is so valuable.

. . . .

Once upon a time, I was a work-for-hire writer, and one of the properties I wrote work-for-hire was Star Wars. I got a 2% royalty on the books published (see above).

In most work-for-hire publishing projects, the royalty rate gets split between the licensor who created the intellectual property and the writer who does the actual work on writing the novel. I do not know what Bantam paid LucasFilm for those early books. It might have been 10%, it might have been 15%. I do know it was less than 20%. At the time, you see, Star Wars was considered moribund. The books, Tim Zahn’s first trilogy in particular, led the entertainment industry to realize that there was a hungry audience for more Star Wars. The revival of the brand dates from that very first publication.

So I know that, in those days, LucasFilm didn’t have the Disney-level clout that it would later achieve. Which had an impact. Because, when it came time to renegotiate the license with Bantam, LucasFilm asked for a 20% royalty.

Bantam balked. They claimed they couldn’t make a profit. They claimed they couldn’t pay their writers. They claimed they wouldn’t get writers.

So, LucasFilm threatened to pull out, and the dance began. LucasFilm came down to 19% which still didn’t give Bantam enough room to pay the writers from the royalty rate (the standard way that writers did/do business in traditional publishing).

Bantam came with a compromise. Rather than a 2% royalty, they’d pay the authors $60-90,000 for the book, which was what those books earned out at in those days. Those payments would be guaranteed, but they’d be a flat fee. So if the books sold better than that, the writers would get no more money. If the books sold less, the writers would get more than they usually would.

Business-minded writers realized this: that if they took their upfront payment (which Bantam was offering in four payments) and banked it, they’d make more than they would off the 2% royalty rate. (Money in hand is worth more than money promised. Money in hand allows things like paying down credit cards rather than charging them, and having an emergency fund, rather than borrowing, and so on.)

A bunch of us agreed, our contracts were in the works, and then the idiots at the Science Fiction Writers of America got their undies in a bundle and denounced the entire deal and faxed a protest letter to LucasFilm, naming every single Star Wars writeras agreeing, even those who didn’t agree (and had threatened them if they used our name, like me) and even those who weren’t members (like me). That piece of idiocy cost me at least $90,000 if not more, because I was slated to write a bunch of books, and LucasFilm canceled all communication with me and cut me out of everything, just like they did with all the other authors named.

The books went on without us. And I just thought it a weird deal—that LucasFilm wanted 20%–believing what Bantam put out there (that LucasFilm was greedy) and what SFWA put out there (that LucasFilm was greedy) rather than understanding that LucasFilm was treating the books as a standard licensed product.

My brain was spinning as the negotiation class went on, because I finally understood the other side—the other side not being Bantam Books, but LucasFilm. I was just a sorry little contractor caught in the middle of a negotiation for a licensing deal, with a stupid idiotic third-party organization sticking its ignorant foot into the mess.

. . . .

The royalty rates class looked at all kinds of things that can have an impact on royalty rates, including net sales.

In that discussion, one of the agents on the panel clicked the next slide in the deck, which showed Publishing. She made a face, and said, with great disbelief, In publishing, the product is 100% returnable, so you have to figure out how to cap the losses.

She went on to talk about how difficult traditional publishing was to work with because of all the quirks in its contracts.

But I sat there and found my brain spinning again. When I was a baby writer, my book agents could get a minor cap on returns, limiting them to only two or three years. After that, the publisher had to eat the returns.

A standard licensing deal has a three-year term, which meant that publishers were already set up to cap returns earlier than that.

The licensing agent also went on to talk about how she had to explain basic licensing to her publishing partners, and how she had to hold them to the fire to get them to agree to a full royalty for all the participants (meaning that if the brand was say, a star quarterback for the NFL, the NFL would get its share of the royalty and the star quarterback would get his—so maybe a 50-50 split of a 20% royalty—meaning the author would write for a flat fee).

I immediately got retroactive anger.

Licensors from outside the publishing industry—that is, nonwriters. Celebrities. Grumpy Cat—got not just an advance against a substantial royalty, but a term-limited contract, and minimum royalty payment guarantees, and guaranteed marketing/advertising budgets, and the ability to easily and routinely audit the publisher, and, and, and…

. . . .

The licensing professionals who worked for a nonwriter licensor, like LucasFilm, got a licensing deal that would make writers and their book agents fall over in stunned surprise. Simply by using industry standard.

Okay, got all of that?

In the past, writers have gone begging to book agents, to publishers, to comic companies, to gaming companies, hoping to get someone to “take a chance” on their writing.

Writers weren’t acting as brand owners, licensors, people in control of their IP, asking for a standard licensing arrangement. Writers were beggars, which put them in a terrible long-standing position with the publishers.

. . . .

The book, the published book, is not the holy grail.

The story, the thing that the writer has created, is the holy grail. Before publication of any kind.

Because publication is a license. Whether you do it yourself and upload to Amazon (Direct to Retail, is what that’s called) or whether you go through a traditional publisher (Business to Business, is what that’s called {and notice that the businesses are on equal footing in that definition}),  you are licensing a tiny portion of your copyright to make distribution of some product (in this case a book) possible.

We’ve been teaching for years that publication is a license. Not a “sale” because you don’t lose the copyright. You license it.

But Dean and I and damn near every other writer out there (with only a handful of exceptions throughout the last 100 years) have not gone any farther than that. We haven’t thought about the published book as being a single licensed product.

We’ve been conditioned by our upbringing in the business culture of the previous century to think of the published book as the be-all-and-end-all of everything we did.

. . . .

We are not in the publishing industry. We are in the entertainment industry.

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.

For PG, Kris is one of the most interesting commentators on the publishing business, traditional and modern, and he always appreciates her Business Musings posts.

In these posts, Kris often looks above and beyond agents and publishers, KDP, etc., etc. in a way most authors do not.

In a former legal life, PG represented some software and technology companies whose products were sometimes licensed to very large business organizations, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, Apple, IBM, Oracle, Disney, Hallmark, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and American Express.

(For context, at an earlier stage in his legal career, PG also represented abused spouses, dairy farmers, the tenants of small-time slumlords, people who wanted a divorce and/or needed to file for bankruptcy, a couple of arsonists, drunk drivers and people who couldn’t afford to pay an attorney and got help from Legal Aid.)

PG provides the big business list not to show what a big deal he is or was, but simply to demonstrate the variety of different licensing agreements he has seen outside of the traditional publishing business.

From a legal standpoint, as Kris says, a publishing contract is not a special snowflake, it’s a license of intellectual property, specifically, the copyright to a book which is owned by the author. Copyrights to software are what Microsoft owns and licenses to everybody who buys and uses MS Word, Excel, Windows, etc.

Although PG has not seen very many publishing contracts that acknowledge the fact, a traditional publishing contract also includes a sort-of implied license to the author’s right of publicity, sometimes called personality rights (which may include individual’s image, personal data and other generally private information).

However, most publisher-provided publishing contracts don’t look much like licensing agreements used elsewhere in the business world. Publishing agreements have little quirks that would seem strange to any attorney accustomed to seeing licensing agreements for technology or almost anything else.

PG understands the principle of customs of the trade, assumptions that govern niche businesses and the agreements they make. For example, in another case from PG’s olden days, he learned all about the New York City garment business and the strange ways it operates.

However, trade publishing and, to an even greater extent, academic and professional publishing still operate as if ebooks and other epublications have never existed. Even more important for authors, many publishers operate as if the cost of publishing was still based upon the expense and compensation structure that existed when printed books and journals were the only way to disseminate knowledge and long-form writing.

PG suggests that even for traditionally-published authors, Amazon has provided a great service by offering both self-publishing and Amazon Press as alternative methods of reaching readers. Absent Amazon’s influence, publishers would still be operating as if it were 1955 and today’s authors would be earning much less and accepting it as the author’s burden in life.

Yet, from a legal and commercial viewpoint, traditional publishing is still a screwy business and authors bear most of the burden of its bizarre practices.

PG repeats the admonition of Kris in the OP –

The book, the published book, is not the holy grail. We are not in the publishing industry. We are in the entertainment industry.


Here It Comes

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[F]or years, I’ve been wondering why big traditional publishing companies aren’t licensing their backlist. There’s a million ways to make money off copyright licenses, and the most obvious is to keep books in print. Yet so many big traditional publishing companies don’t keep their books in print.

Or, worse, in my opinion, those companies don’t publish ebook versions of their catalog. All of their backlist in their catalogs. Realize that this isn’t thousands of titles for them. In the case of some of the larger companies, the title list has to be closer to a million.

But the companies have no idea which books they still can license, whether or not the old contracts have clauses in them that allow ebooks, or even who handles the estate of those old books. I had just read a Daphne Du Maurier novel, My Cousin Rachel,  which had recently been made into a movie, and it took me a lot of scrolling to find that book. I want to read more of her work, but I’m going slowly in ordering it or buying it.

. . . .

We’ve hit the point in the ebook revolution—the online revolution really—where we expect everything (and I do mean everything) to be at our fingertips.

So back to Led Zeppelin. The band is fifty years old this year. And yeah, jeez, that hurts. Because I remember when they were the epitome of cool (and being young and not being understood by the old fogies). Anyway, the folks at Warner Music Group which apparently owns or licensed most of Zeppelin’s catalog, were planning some kind of celebration of the band.

Instead of issuing a retrospective album, they set up a website with a logo name generator. You plug in your name, and it comes up in the Zeppelin iconic font. That’s not the coolest thing about the website, though. The coolest thing is the playlist generator, which allows users to compile their own playlist of Zeppelin songs or covers of Led Zeppelin songs, and then share those playlists on social media.

Think about that for a moment: the website, if set up properly, will help Warner Music Group know what songs from the Led Zeppelin catalog (and related catalogs, like Jack White’s, are the most beloved). That information can be used in marketing later.

This little landing page, with its logo generator and its playlist generator, will then direct users to the Zeppelin website, where you’ll find all the fiftieth anniversary goodies, including the ubiquitous best-of collection and an authorized book about the band.

. . . .

According to Rolling Stone:

The [logo] site received more than 200,000 unique visitors in its first 10 days, with users making 230,000 logos and 20,000 custom playlists. The “biggest uplift” was from White’s playlist, branded as “Led Zeppelin x Jack White,” which drew thousands of users each day — which translates to hundreds of thousands of streams, which translates to a steady stream of cash to Warner and Led Zeppelin without the band lifting a finger.

Hundreds of thousands of streams, “without the band lifting a finger.” Passive income, based on one idea. Yes, streaming services don’t pay a large amount for streams, but they pay. And even a small amount of money adds up when it is multiplied by hundreds of thousands. Not counting the visibility, discoverability, and all those other “abilities” that come from the social media shares, and the links between the various playlist generators. They all play into the streaming services algorithms, which results in even more recognition, and more plays.

Once upon a time (maybe as recently as three years ago) working with what we call the backlist and what the recording industry calls “catalog marketing” was the unlit basement of the industry. No one wanted that job. It wasn’t glamorous, and it barely earned its way.

But that’s changing, and changing rapidly. Apparently, consumers no longer care about the latest and greatest thing. They want what’s new to them. More than that, they want something that they like.

This is where sync marketing comes in. A lot of younger consumers buy music because they heard it on their favorite TV show or in an important scene in a blockbuster movie. From the Rolling Stone article:

Tiffany’s 1987 cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” has seen 42 percent of its all-time Shazams come after it appeared in Netflix’s 2019 series The Umbrella Academy, and several tracks from the 1940s to 1970s climbed up the company’s global charts after floating into people’s ears from the background of Avengers: Endgame.

. . . .

I’ve noted for years now that traditional publishers have become reluctant to let go of a license once they receive it. In other words, books don’t go out of print anymore, no matter how badly the publisher is mismanaging the book. (In the past, if the book wasn’t in stores, the writer could get her rights back. Not anymore.)

Someone in that megaconglomerate knows that these rights are worth money. They’re worth a lot as assets on a balance sheet, but in the music industry, anyway, they’re also being turned into active revenue streams.

When this starts happening to books—and it will—writers are going to have to be vigilant about their contracts. They’re going to have to see if the contract’s vague 1997 language covers things like streaming rights or omnibus rights or any one of a dozen other ways to license that print book into something new.

What will probably happen is that publishing companies will do what they always do—figure it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. They’ll also not want to make payments, so writers are going to have to start auditing their publishers (which no traditionally published writer will do for fear of being blacklisted—because that’s what agents tell them to do. Sigh.

. . . .

So…be warned. Changes are coming, traditionally published writers. Within five years or so, expect a department of back catalog management in your publisher’s offices (if that department doesn’t already exist now). Expect to have every inch of your contract exploited by that department—and maybe some rights you didn’t license as well.

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 that many authors have so much emotional energy (and more than a bit of insecurity) tied up with their publisher that they desperately want to believe that publisher will always be honest and considerate of their welfare. Unfortunately, such is not always (or even frequently) the case.

Patreon, Copyright, and Personal Choice

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Patreon’s Terms of Use has a possible rights grab buried in them. This is the relevant passage:

By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content. The purpose of this license is to allow us to operate Patreon, promote Patreon and promote your content on Patreon. We are not trying to steal your content or use it in an exploitative way.

Now realize that contracts need to be read in their entirety, and this is just one paragraph. But the first sentence of this paragraph gave me pause when I first read it years ago, and clearly it upset PG as well.

That sentence at the end of the paragraph? Technically, it’s not theft if you sign away the copyright. So that “steal” thing is kind of a misdirection.

And here’s another point: Even though the FAQ and Patreon’s home page contradict the rights grab, the grab is in the Terms of Use. The reassurances aren’t.

Since I’ve worked in publishing for decades, I learned the difference between language in a contract—which the Terms of Use is, whether we like it or not—and reassurances from the company. Language in a contract can be enforced relatively easily. Reassurances are usually just that: a nice pat on the head accompanied by a don’t worry your pretty little head, sweetie.

. . . .

I saw that possible rights grab the day I logged onto Patreon and started my account. And, at that moment, decided not to ever filter any fiction through Patreon’s site.

I have very different attitudes about my fiction and my nonfiction. I write nonfiction for other people. I write fiction for myself. I’m a control freak about my fiction. I’m quite loose with my nonfiction.

And those distinctions are on purpose.

To put it another way, I look at the difference this way: I’m going to the Licensing Expo in June and while there, I will be acting as a licensor for my fiction IP. I’m not even going to mention the nonfiction IP.

I see lots of possibilities for fiction. I know there are a lot of ways I can exploit the nonfiction as well, but I’m not as interested. I only have so much time in the day, and I’ll spend it on fiction.

The upshot is that I’m extremely protective of my fiction. In no way do I want to get in a pissing contest with an internet company that deals with billions of dollars in revenue when it claims that it owns my IP.

. . . .

So when I saw that clause in the Patreon Terms of Use, I cast about for mitigating factors. There are several. The final sentence of the paragraph for one. The FAQ for another. Unfortunately, those things don’t clarify the possible rights grab. Instead, they muddy the waters. There’s enough confusion to make a lawsuit possible, which brought up the nightmare I listed above.

I felt disappointed that I couldn’t use Patreon as another revenue stream for my fiction. But I wasn’t so disappointed that I would throw caution to the wind and jump onto the platform for a few extra bucks.

I hesitated on the nonfiction as well, but ultimately decided that I could take a risk with the nonfiction that I would never take with the fiction. I even put up exclusive nonfiction content on Patreon, but it’s similar to what I put on my website, and it’s never something that I would want extra copyright protection on, like some kind of investigative reporting or a piece of creative nonfiction.

I’m very protective of my IP, but I’m fluid in the ways I exploit it. Making a judgement about which service to use and which one to abandon has become old hat for me.

I do that when I see contracts. I’ve walked away from short story contracts, foreign contracts, traditional publishing contracts, and movie deals. I’ve walked away from deals that would have paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars but would have taken my IP for that price. I have yet to find that price that “they” swear we all have—you know: where you will sell out your principles for a fortune. Offer me tens of millions for total ownership of my fiction IP and I will say no every single time.

Nonfiction, though…I’ll think about it. Maybe this comes from the fact that I got my nonfiction education in radio as a volunteer. In other words, I wrote nonfiction for free (or rather, as I saw it, in return for a master class in writing under fire). When I became proficient, I got paid (a tiny salary, but still). So there was money, but it was never the focus of the nonfiction.

. . . .

1. Know What You’re Signing. Make sure you understand the legalese. Make sure you know what each clause means and/or how a court might interpret those clauses in relation to all other clauses.

As PG mentioned in his long post, “Under general principles governing the interpretation of contracts, if there is a conflict between a specific and a general provision, the specific provision will govern.” He uses the Patreon Terms of Use as an example. The first sentence in the copyright grab is very specific. The second, slightly reassuring sentence, is very general.

In other words, the copyright grab has a good chance of holding up in a court challenge. Right now, we’re discussing a made-up court challenge that might never happen. So…

. . . .

6. Don’t Ever Delude Yourself About The Consequences. Ever. Don’t let the phrase, “Yeah, I know it’s bad, but they’ll never do that to me” out of your mouth. If something is in a contract, or part of a deal, then there’s a very real chance that that something will get activated. Someone—maybe not the person you’re negotiating with—will do that horrible thing allowed by the contract.

Be prepared for that. If you can live with that bad thing, then sign the deal. If you can’t, don’t sign.

The choice really is that binary.

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.

As usual, Kris has created an insightful post about a good way of thinking through a common business problem.

The most common response PG has received when he points out an egregious contract provision to the other side of a potential deal (the ones who wrote the contract) is something like, “We would never do that.”

PG’s reply is usually some version of, “That’s wonderful. I’m sure my client will be happy to hear that you won’t mind taking that provision out of the  contract.”

When a large organization is on the other side of a negotiation, about 99% of the time, the next statement is some version of, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This is our standard contract that everyone signs.” Sometimes it’s followed by a reference to computer accounting systems or, occasionally, an unnamed lawyer or department full of lawyers (“our lawyers”).

In ancient times, when contracts were engraved on brass or copper plates, changing a “standard contract” was certainly a laborious and time-consuming task. In the 21st century, every contract exists as an electronic document somewhere. If it’s electronic, it’s easy to change. On occasion, PG has offered to prepare a clean version of the contract without the nasty bits to help lessen the other side’s onerous workload.

In some cases, the counterparty with whom PG is negotiating honestly believes the contract can’t be changed. Someone higher in the organization has said so.

What the other side is really saying is, “We won’t change the contract for your client.”

For large publishers, without going into details, PG will assure one and all that the publishing contracts for best-selling authors tend to differ quite a lot from those publishers’ “standard contracts” which “can not be changed”.

PG has sometimes wondered if, when one acquiring editor at a publisher is saying, “I’m sorry, we can’t change our contract”, another editor is saying, “What language would you suggest?”

When someone is reviewing a contract, including a contract that will govern rights to a book or story they have written, it can be a useful exercise to ask, “What is the worst thing that could happen to my story or me if every single provision in this contract were strictly enforced according to the literal meaning of the words?”

Another useful exercise is to ask, “If people I didn’t like were to acquire this company, would I upset if they looked at the contract and did (or didn’t do) everything the contract permitted?”

One of the particular problems with traditional publishing contracts is atypical of business contracts in the non-publishing world.

Most business contracts last for a specific period of time – one year, three years, maybe even ten years. Such agreements can be extended or renewed if both sides agree. If someone enters into a bad contract, in the worst case, there is an end in sight for the obligations and restrictions contained in the agreement.

This is not the case for an author entering into what passes for a standard publishing agreement, at least in the US. As PG has noted many times before, language such as “the full term of the author’s copyright” can be expected to appear somewhere. In the US and many other countries, this means that contract is a lifetime contract for the author. The contract has a good potential for continuing for the lifetimes of the offspring of authors in their middle years as well.

If PG were king for a day, he would decree that all traditional publishing contracts would last for no more three years (maybe five if he was feeling charitable toward publishers that day).

At the end of the initial term, a publishing contract could be renewed for an additional three year period if, at that time, both the author and the publisher agreed that it would be renewed. If the contract was not renewed, the author would regain all rights to the book(s) covered by the contract.

If Amazon continues to compete with traditional publishers for the books of entrepreneurial authors and if publishers decided to respond by aggressively competing with Amazon, publishers might match Amazon’s KDP contract terms – either the author or Amazon can terminate the agreement at any time and remove the author’s books from Amazon’s store.

 

Punctuation, Voice, and Control

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In January, while I was preparing to teach a craft workshop here in Las Vegas,  I was happily reading a lovely essay on the comma in the Oregon Quarterly. The essay, titled “For Love of the Comma,” written by Kate Dyer-Seeley, is beautifully done, and as I read, I was thinking of recommending the piece on my monthly recommended reading list—until I hit this:

…I never flinch when editors suggest changes in a manuscript….When my first manuscript went through copy edits, every introductory comma was removed. I made note and intentionally didn’t use a single introductory comma in the next manuscript. But stop the presses! Don’t make assumptions or get attached to the pesky punctuator, because the next copy editor added every introductory comma back in.

Sigh. I wanted to intervene somehow. Because Dyer-Seeley, who writes mysteries as Ellie Alexander, has a lovely voice. That’s clear from her word choice alone.

However, she lets others dictate the most important part of her voice. Punctuation.

Punctuation is the most sophisticated tool that a writer has. The writers with the strongest voices also have the most eclectic punctuation. If you run a grammar checker on a passage from those writers’ works, the grammar checker will light up with “mistakes.” They’re not mistakes. They’re evidence of a writer who knows her craft and knows how to make the best of it.

Punctuation, like words themselves, is a tool for writers to use. And as is the case for any tool, you have to learn how to use it properly before your usage can become more sophisticated.

A lot of you who felt vindicated when I said the grammar checker would light up may now pack that vindication away. Most new writers misuse punctuation terribly. Those writers have no idea where to place semicolons or what an exclamation point does. They don’t know how to use quotation marks properly and would probably get the hives if I tried to explain nested quotation marks.

. . . .

The manuscript you have just finished writing is not your story. Your story lives in your mind. The manuscript is a tool that takes the story from your head and puts it in my head.

The very best writers use that manuscript tool so effectively that readers can actually hear the writer’s voice as they read. That’s why so many readers have a visceral response to writers like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. (Oh, I hate them. They can’t write. Or Oh, I love them. They could tell me stories forever.) That’s why so many English students and unsophisticated writers will complain that certain bestsellers “can’t write their way out of a paper bag.” Those reviewers, students, readers, and writers are all reacting to upper-level voice, without realizing it.

Writing itself comes from the oral tradition. In class, I always tell writers that we’re storytellers first, and writers second. Before the invention of paper and pens, stories only lived orally. A lot of great storytellers only speak their stories to this day. (Listen to stand-up comedians some time.)

Generally speaking, though, writers are introverts. We don’t want to stand up in front of our audiences and regale them with adventures. We don’t care (and might not ever want) to see the audience laugh at our jokes or cry at our tales of woe. We want to tell stories, yes, but we want to do so in the privacy of our own offices. We want others to enjoy the story, but at their own pace, and far away from us.

Hence the manuscript. Which is nothing more than a delivery system.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


Priorities

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I write a lot. I always have. When I was in college, I wrote essays instead of taking tests, wrote fiction, and worked as a freelance nonfiction writer. I also worked in the news department of a listener-sponsored radio station, where we reported and wrote a half-hour newscast. I did that twice a week on top of everything else.

Nowadays, I write books, nonfiction, and short stories. I don’t have a target weekly word count, but I do put in time, almost daily. I’m generally disappointed if I get only 1,000 words in a day, and super pleased if I get over 5,000.

Remember, I only count new words, not rewrites or anything else. All of that happens at other times, not during my writing time.

My writing has been the constant in my life. I took writing classes in college, not to learn from the instructors (most of whom had less success than I did even then) but because I needed to block out time for writing in my busy life, and I knew myself well enough to understand that if I was writing for a class, I would block out time every week.

Mind games. Writing is all about mind games and understanding yourself.

Even though I don’t understand myself as well as I think I do.

For years, I would say that I get so much writing done because I have no life. Turns out that was true. Due to the constrained circumstances I lived in on the Oregon Coast, I had no life—or very little of one. I couldn’t go out to movies or dinner with friends; I had no opportunity to see concerts or plays; I couldn’t take in-person continuing education classes; and I couldn’t make the one to two hour one-way drive that would take me to the bigger cities, because I couldn’t guarantee I would make the ride home.

I had the time to write—when I was healthy, which was rare. So I learned how to write while ill.

The key, for me, turned out to be a structure I didn’t have to think about. I knew what I needed to do—not in the deadline sense, but in the daily sense. It took me a long time to form that structure, but once I had it, I could function inside it almost instinctively. When my circumstances changed due to our move to Las Vegas in 2018, it took me weeks to realize that I had demolished my structure when I changed locations. I had to rebuild from scratch.

Rebuilding forced me to reexamine my priorities. I can’t build a structure until I know what I put first, second, and third in my life. So, priorities before scheduling—or I’ll blow everything up and get nothing done.

. . . .

I was irritated to learn that exercise made me feel better. All those studies that say eating right and exercising will improve your health and mood? Those damn things are right. I wish they weren’t, to be honest. It would be easier to sit on my butt and eat lots of bad-for-me stuff. But when I do that, I feel much, much worse.

So eating right and exercising makes me feel better. The other bonus is that I sleep better. (Yeah, also irritating.) And the third bonus? I have more energy. Even as my health declined, my energy level remained consistent because of my commitment to exercise.

. . . .

Sometimes, when I was really really sick, I had a word count quota. Or an hours-at-the-desk quota. I try not to work with quotas, though, because I love to write. What’s the point of doing it otherwise? All of my efforts are aimed at keeping the writing fun.

Except…I would rather be reading.

So, I have learned the hard way that reading is a reward for a good day’s writing. The same with any other kind of story I could consume. No TV shows until I’ve written; no movie until I’ve written; no games until I’ve written.

Sometimes I’ll stumble around my condo or my neighborhood, grumping aloud at myself: You’re not writing, are you? Shouldn’t you be writing? And if I’m not tending to my health or doing something for my relationship with Dean, that complaint is a valid one. And one I need to listen to.

Sure, I would rather read a book or sometimes, I’d rather clean the cat boxes than write. Especially if some project is going slowly.

Email isn’t writing. Research isn’t writing. Rewriting isn’t writing. Only new words is writing.

Remembering that has made me prolific, even with all the health problems.

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.

Business Musings: Ghostwriting, Plagiarism, and the Latest Scandal

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from interviewers that I have never gotten before. They ask, “Are you going to join the latest trend and hire ghostwriters to put out more books in your series?”

So far, I have managed to refrain (at least on podcasts) from responding, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and simply say, “No, I’m too much of a control freak.”

But I have a longer answer in my head. The answer is complicated. Let me see if I can break it down for you.

Readers don’t buy plots. They buy a writer’s point of view, her style, and the way she tells a story. Some idiot whose name I will not repeat and whose blog I will not link to wrote in response to the latest scandal (which I will discuss below): “What constitutes plagiarism in a genre in which formulaic storylines and themes are the norm?”

If the idiot understood copyright, she would know the answer to that question: What gets copyrighted is the form the work takes, not tropes or the formula.

Readers like tropes and formulas. They like familiar stories well told. They also like familiar stories with twists that take the familiar and make it something new.

Readers follow writers, as a brand, and readers are very smart. Readers know that a book by James Patterson will have one voice, but a book by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro will have a completely different voice. Readers will often say (even in the reviews) that they might like Patterson by himself, but refuse to read the books he’s written in collaboration with someone else.

The voice changes when someone else writes a book in the same series. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is not the same as Jeffrey Deaver’s, no matter how hard Deaver (whose work I love) tried to catch Fleming’s Bond.

If I want to remain true to my characters and my readers, I will never bring in a ghostwriter. Never.

If I worked with another writer, that writer would get credit in a shared byline.

. . . .

I’m also aware of the fact that writing in someone else’s universe is a skill that not every writer has. I’ve played in other people’s universes. I’ve written more tie-in novels than I want to think about. My favorites were Star Trek novels, but I have written a Star Wars novel, and X-Men, and several others, often in collaboration with my husband Dean. Note that these are media properties that already have more than one writer on board. In fact, they have an entire team of people putting the properties together, because media properties are, by definition, assembled collaboratively.

And still, people oversee these novelizations. The licensors review them with a fine-tooth comb. They make sure that nothing violates the rules of the universe and that the characters are consistent and that everything fits into what the fans expect.

. . . .

Because fans get angry when someone writes something that doesn’t fit in an established universe. Some established universes bring in lawyers. And all involve contracts state in unequivocal terms that the writer is writing original material in a particular universe, and that the words and writings are the writer’s own, not cribbed from other sources.

Here’s the thing about contracts: the lawyers who write them try to see every eventuality, but sometimes they miss. And when they miss, they rectify that miss in the next contract. So the fact that there are long clauses about originality and plagiarism and libel and all of those things in traditional publishing work-for-hire contracts means that somewhere, somewhen, someone plagiarized or libeled someone in a work-for-hire project.

. . . .

When I watched the collaboration start in the indie world—and when one big selling KDP author told me that he doesn’t have contracts with his collaborators because they all trust each other, well, I just about had a fit. I tried to talk him into contracts, but no, that’s a trust thing, apparently. And it’ll bite him one day, in a very bad way.

Then, shortly thereafter, I learned that dozens of big selling indie authors can’t produce books fast enough to game the Amazon algorithms, so those writers started hiring ghostwriters to produce more books, so the writer had time to write more books too.

I remembered thinking: that’s not how it works. A writer with a dozen ghostwriters would be spending all her time overseeing those writers, not writing more. She’d have less time not more.

Unless she hired someone to oversee them. And then she’d have to trust that person implicitly. I thought about the infrastructure it would take to maintain that, the readers and the lawyers for the contracts and thought, well that’s a blog post one day, warning writers away from doing this.

. . . .

In the last twenty-four hours, things got even more complicated. A few people Serruya had hired as ghostwriters –and who quit when they saw what they had to work with—claim that Serruya cobbled the books together from random quotes from various novels, and had the ghostwriters polish the damn things.

. . . .

[W]hat’s to stop the ghostwriters from plagiarizing? It’s not their name on the manuscript. And I know some of the writers who are hiring ghostwriters. Those writers aren’t vetting the books. They’re not doing the kind of due diligence that college professors and high school teachers do to see if the writing is plagiarized.

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 will add a note to the description of standard legal contracts in the OP.

Standard contracts that a large organization uses never get shorter. Over time, they grow. When a situation arises that hasn’t been clearly addressed in the contract, a new contract provision is drafted and inserted. If a new court decision comes down relating to the subject of the contract, a clarifying paragraph is added. If a lawyer for the company sees a similar contract from another company that includes a provision the lawyer hasn’t seen before, the new provision will be dropped into the standard contract.

If the contract is used over a period of several years, it grows and grows and grows. A ten-page contract becomes a twenty-page contract on its way to becoming a thirty-page contract.

If counsel is not paying attention to a long contract, a new provision might conflict with or create an ambiguity in the meaning of a prior provision in the contract, so the careful lawyer will do at least a quick review of the entire document to avoid this problem.

On the question of copyright protection for contracts, technically, there is nothing in the U.S. copyright laws that precludes registering a contract for copyright protection. Undoubtedly, it has happened at some time, but PG hasn’t heard of any litigation filed by one lawyer successfully asserting infringement of a copyright on a contract by another lawyer. (He would be happy to learn about such litigation in the comments if anyone knows of such happening.)

Law books containing form contracts of various types are available for purchase through major legal publishers. As far as copyright for individual contracts in such a book, the purpose for which attorneys purchase such publications is to use them as a basis for drafting contracts for their own clients. One might argue an implied license to do so accompanies each such book.

Back to a copyright claim for an individual contract, PG suggests it might be difficult for the author to establish he/she had not utilized material created by others in the creation of the contract and to demonstrate the contract as a whole was the result of original creative work by the author.

PG will note that an interesting lawsuit was filed several years ago by an insurance company which had labored to create a plain-English version of its previous policies and related documents which were definitely-not-plain-English. Another insurance company copied the plain-English versions verbatim and was sued by the first company. In that case, the court found the first company had a valid copyright to its documents and the second company had infringed those copyrights.

In the fraternity/sorority of lawyers, PG suspects any attorney who claimed a copyright in a contract form would certainly be regarded as a jerk. Again, lawyers copy from the legal work of other lawyers all the time, in part, as a way of saving clients the expense of paying a lawyer to create a contract from a blank screen.

The Growing Importance of Intellectual Property

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I need to be clear as I start this post. We writers create intellectual property. We license our copyrights. We do not sell stories. In fact, the stories we tell, along with their titles, are often not copyrightable. The form in which we tell that story—the order of the events, the order of the words we use,—those things are copyrightable, but the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl discovers she’s fine on her own storyline can and does fuel a thousand books and movies. (That’s why so many memes over the holiday season made fun of the romance movies on Hallmark. Because the movies—all copyrighted in their own right, all different in the copyright sense—share a lot in common.)

If you don’t understand copyright and you consider yourself a professional writer, then you do not understand the business you are in. If you have published a novel, traditionally or indie, and you do not understand copyright, you are volunteering to get screwed over and over and over again. I say this often, and I’m saying it loudly again, because the trend for 2019 and beyond is that every organization you do business with will try to take a piece (if not all) of your copyright on each and every one of your projects.

Your job is to protect that copyright.

. . . .

Forbes actually published an article in fall of 2018 titled “What Authors Should Do When Their Publisher Closes.” You can click over there if you want. The advice isn’t good, because as someone in the article says, what an author should do varies based on the author’s contract. And if the author has an agent, then they’re probably screwed. If the author doesn’t understand copyright, then they’re definitely screwed.

. . . .

I recommend publishing indie, because that’s the best way to protect yourself and your writing income. You’ll have a career if you do that. Your career might vanish on you if you try to remain traditional. Or, rather, you will write as a “hobby” while you make your living doing something else.

Yes, I’m being harsh, but that’s because the intellectual property apocalypse that I’ve been warning you about is upon us. The trends are there, and the signs that traditional publishing (and all of the other big entertainment organizations) know about the value of intellectual property are becoming clearer and clearer.

. . . .

For years now, the Big 5 traditional publishers have had contracts that essentially transfer the entire copyright of a novel from the author to them. The contracts don’t say that explicitly, but when you read the contract as a complete document (which is how you should read it), you realize that the sum total of what the clauses mean is that the writer retains no part of the copyright, and is only entitled to a tiny percentage of the money that copyright earns.

The reason these contracts changed about a decade ago had nothing to do with publishing and everything to do with mergers. As these publishing companies became part of big international conglomerates, many of them entertainmentconglomerates, the legal teams redrafted the contracts to do the copyright grabs.

Most writers had no idea what they were signing, and most of their agents didn’t either. Agents are not trained lawyers. A handful of the big agencies have lawyers on staff, but most of those agencies are concerned with making the agency money, not with making the writer money. So a lot of the contracts are structured to pay and protect the agent, while bilking the writer.

. . . .

Up until a year or so ago, most of the Big Five continued to operate like traditional publishing companies have since the 1990s—a focus on publishing a lot of titles, hoping that some will stick and become bestsellers. But that strategy isn’t working, and sales are down precipitously.

. . . .

[Simon & Schuster] has been in a media conglomerate since the 1980s. I’m not going to go through its tortured history, which runs from Paramount to Viacom and beyond, but realize this: It became part of the CBS Corporation officially in 2005. Around then, it became impossible to get book rights reverted, which is one of the tricks that is recommended for writers in the Forbes article I cited above. (How 1995. Sigh.)

S&S has experimented with electronic books since the 1990s. Dean and I personally made a lot of money in the early 2000s when S&S realized they hadn’t licensed e-rights for Star Trek books. (Dean and I wrote a bunch of them in the 1990s). S&S has tried to have a self-publishing arm since 2012, and they’re doing a lot of things that require writers to pay for services that publishers used to provide.

. . . .

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Even if they don’t create anything from that IP. Acquiring a novel’s copyright—with all its potential spinoffs, TV shows, toys, comics—increases a company’s value tremendously.

Read that paragraph again, because the information therein is the key to this whole piece.

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Your novel is IP. If they acquire it, their bottom line goes up, even if they never do anything with that IP. Got that?

That’s why S&S stopped, in 2000 or so, reverting the rights to the novels they acquired. Those novels equal more earnings potential—and they allow the company to maintain a value that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve been warning writers about this copyright grab by corporations for some time, but it was easy to ignore me because the Big 5 have not been (for the most part) exploiting (the legal term for developing or making use of) that copyright.

S&S finally is. That’s what Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy’s heady year-end report was really all about. She called 2018 “the most successful year in Simon & Schuster’s history,” and yet she didn’t cite a single print bestseller as something that caused the success.

Instead, she touted the rise in audio . . . as well as a mention that sent a little shiver through me.

She wrote:

…[backlist sales now] comprise a higher portion of our revenue than at any time in memory…while readers wanting the tried and true is an industry-wide phenomenon, our concerted effort during the last few years to acquire books with the potential for long-term backlist sales has yielded dividends.

This article does not specify what exactly she means by “backlist sales.” Does she mean actual ebook and print sales, or other licensing, such as foreign rights and so on? Clearly S&S is exploiting the audio rights clauses in their contracts.

What is clear, however, is that a big traditional publisher has finally figured out that not only does their backlist have value in raising the company’s worth, but it also has earnings potential that can be exploited in 2019.

Why does this send a chill through me? Because if one traditional publisher learns it, the others will learn it as well. And the ability of writers who have sold their work into traditional publishers to get the rights reverted will go down to almost nil.

Big traditional publishers will finally join their counterparts in the entertainment industry—the movie/TV companies, the music studios, the game companies—in demanding control of every aspect of the copyright from the original author.

Which means that if an author signs one of those agreements, the author will get pennies on the dollar (if that) for any rights—audio, movie, TV—rather than the kind of earnings writers could have gotten as recently as 10 years ago.

. . . .

And those of you who licensed mass market rights a few years ago, thinking you’d get your ebooks into stores, you probably already signed away most of the copyright, particularly if you went with Harlequin or Simon & Schuster.

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.

As usual, Kris incorporates a lot of intelligent business thought and advice into the OP (and her other posts in this series).

As PG has mentioned before, he has negotiated, drafted and/or reviewed a great many contracts during his legal career, including some large technology copyright and patent licensing agreements. As he has also mentioned before, the typical contracts between authors and traditional publishers are some of the most unfair and one-sided agreements he has seen.

In a prior era during which it was impossible for an author’s works to reach any sort of meaningful audience without a publisher to cover the costs of printing books and provide meaningful access to buyers for large numbers of physical bookstores, perhaps the value of a publisher’s services was an extremely large portion of the income generated by sales of a book.

However, in an age in which:

  • Amazon is the largest English language bookseller in the world; and
  • Opens its electronic doors to self published authors on terms substantially equivalent to those it provides commercial publishers; and
  • Ebooks have the highest profit margin of any edition of a book a publisher sells; and
  • Ebook editing, formatting and cover design of a quality comparable to that provided by a commercial publisher can be had for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars;

the real value of a publisher for a typical author compared to the effective cost of a publisher to that author has declined precipitously.

PG was about to discuss the value of branding for either an ebook or a printed book, but he will be uncharacteristically brief.

Does anyone go to an online or offline bookstore seeking out a Random House book? Of course not. They’re looking for an author, a genre, etc.

With respect to promoting and selling books, which brand name is most valuable, James Patterson’s or Little, Brown and Company’s?

Without singling out any particular literary agent or agency, PG will say, as a general observation, that agents famous and obscure don’t do anything significant to improve the contract terms for publishing contracts other than increasing the amount of the advance on some occasions. In particular, agents rarely if ever do anything to address the issues Kris discusses in the OP.

In some types of contracts — consumer loans, for example — federal and/or state legislatures have passed laws that prevent commercial lenders from including some contract provisions that are unfair or harmful to borrowers. Compared to the number of individuals who take out loans to purchase a house, automobile or dishwasher, however, authors are a tiny constituency and elected officials have much bigger fish to fry than commercial publishers.

However, perhaps as a result of such consumer protections, some authors may believe they are somehow protected from  unfair provisions in publishing contracts between themselves and large publishers. That belief is incorrect.

Some of the most unfair provisions in a typical publishing contract are presented in the most innocuous manner imaginable.

 

 

Finally, there is nurturing. Publishers don’t just produce books. They nurture. Literary agents also provide nurturing in case publishers fall short in any way.

Like a baby duckling, a baby author needs to be nurtured and petted and encouraged and gently guided if she/he is to grow into a beautiful swan.

Who better to nurture such a delicate creature than a Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien headquartered in Gütersloh?

Off the top of his head, other than publishing, PG can’t ever remember ever having a business discussion that included the word nurture or any of its variants.

PG is reminded of a quote attributed to former president Harry S. Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”

PG suggests that if you want someone to watch over you, steer clear of the publishing business.

.



Business Musings: Audio

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Publishing analysts have said for years that if the disruption hadn’t hit with ebooks, the story of publishing in the past decade would have been audio. By that, the analysts mean audio rights. They have become increasingly important and will remain so.

Here in the States, where so many of us commute to our jobs, digital audio created a revolution around 2010 or so. Rather than buy a CD or a tape to use in the car (or rent them), folks with the right kind of vehicle could play their digital audiobooks in through their car’s sound system, often by linking their phone to the system.

That has become more common rather than less. But the revolution continues. Joanna Penn, on the Creative Penn, was the first in my experience to point out that voice-first devices, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home would be able to play digital audiobooks. So someone could go from the car to the house without headphones and pick up on the audiobook exactly where they had left off.

For a while, Amazon enabled this too, by offering an inexpensive audio version of a book if you’d already bought the book in another format. Like so many things Amazon, the cheap early adaption part of this vanished, only after people got hooked, of course.

A lot of books aren’t in audio—it’s expensive to produce a good audiobook—so readers have defaulted to having their dry computer voice (Siri or Alexa) simply read the text. Purists complain about this, but when you’re desperate for audio story, you will listen any way you can.

Audio story is expanding almost daily. Podcasts have moved from a group of people talking or someone interviewing someone else into the storytelling format. Some of those podcasts are nonfiction, but many are fiction, and have become a gateway into reading novels and other fictional products. (As I write this, I just got hit with three different ideas that I want to do if only I have the time.)

. . . .

Audio is expensive to produce and it takes time to earn back the initial investment, without proper set up. I’ll get to that below, but first, let’s look at #voicefirst and Voice SEO.

Voice SEO is search engine optimization for voice-commands. With the growth of things like Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, voice commands are becoming more and more common. They can handle relatively easy commands, but not complicated ones or something said in an accent that the system doesn’t recognize.

. . . .

A lot of people make fun of readers who ask their Google Home or Apple’s Siri to read a book to them. Right now, the voice is flat and often mispronounces words. (My favorite version of Siri, whom we have dubbed “The British Guy,” says Wig-Wham for wigwam, and mispronounces every Spanish word he encounters. Which is tough here in Las Vegas, when he’s the one giving driving directions for the GPS. (Wigwam is a major street.) And don’t get me started on how badly he pronounces Hawaiian words, which are also common here.)

The flatness and mispronunciation won’t be a forever thing, though. The read-aloud feature will probably never be as good as a human performance. (The science fiction writer in me forced me to use the word “probably.”) But more and more people will use the feature as the reading improves.

Because the future of audio is moving so rapidly that I missed significant developments by taking nine months off, it’s more essential than ever for writers to hold onto their audio rights.

However, traditional publishers are snapping up audio rights with every single book contract now, which is rather like snapping up movie rights or TV rights. And writers are letting the publishers do it—usually on the advice of idiot agents.

Audio is the reason that Simon & Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy declared 2018 the best year ever for the company—the growth of audio and backlist sales, which I will get to in a future part of this series. S&S has its own audio division, and it increased its title count in 2018. The company has also started producing original content, just like Audible has.

Reidy expects S&S’s audio division to become even more important. She told Publisher’s Weekly:

With even more audio retailers coming on board, and the further proliferation of smart speakers and other listening devices, audio will remain a growth engine for us.

Audio will be a growth engine for all of us, if we can manage it. In addition to the audio retailers growing almost by the day, ways for indie writers to produce their own audiobooks and get them into the market have grown in 2018 as well.

Findaway Voices, in particular, has become a go-to site for writers who want to produce their own audiobooks.

. . . .

The key here with audio rights—with all of your rights, really—is maintaining control of them. Watch your contracts. If you’re publishing traditionally, reserve your audio rights. Do not sell them as part of a package to your traditional publisher, no matter how big those companies are.

If you’re indie publishing, watch your contracts, particularly if an audiobook publisher comes to you. As I mentioned above in the bit about S&S, they now have an entire audio division and are producing original content. Which means that they might contract for audio first.

The problem with all of the S&S contracts I’ve seen—the problem with most of the Big 5 contracts I’ve seen—is that they won’t accept a license for a single right. They want to license the entire property, even if they don’t exercise all of those rights. Which means that by licensing audio to them, you might lose paperback rights as well. Or the entire copyright, since that seems to be the M.O. for many of these companies.

Be very careful.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch



Planning For 2019 Part 2

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 The biggest issue for the latter half of 2018 was book sales. Indies and traditional publishers both complained that book sales were down, and that a crisis was imminent. Their ideas of crisis were different, but they come from a similar source, which is the current state of disruption in the publishing industry.

. . . .

I’m doing this short series focusing on 2018 with an eye toward 2019 because I firmly believe that you cannot plan for the future if you don’t know where you’re standing right now. (And a note on terminology: I’ll be using indie published writer instead of self-published writer because indie writers are running a business, whether they like it or not. I want the terminology to reflect that.)

This series is important to all kinds of fiction writers, whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid of both. Please remember that I write this blog for the writer who wants a long-term fiction career, so keep that in mind as well.

. . . .

What started this discussion were some alarming numbers from the Association of American Publishers, which can track fiction sales through traditional venues  but not, mind you, sales figures from Amazon, which is the largest bookseller in the United States. (Some of the Amazon numbers were reported to AAP from the publishers themselves.) There’s a lot of self-reporting in the old fashioned way that publishing numbers get gathered, from independent bookstores telling their numbers (without a fact check) to publishers doing the same.

Still, no small bookstore will deliberately underreport its numbers unless there is a business or tax reason to do so, which doesn’t seem to factor in here. Verifying the numbers from both booksellers and publishers has never been part of book sales reporting, not even after computers came into the picture. (Although, with the assistance of numbers from Bowker and book distributors, the introduction of computers did help.)

The numbers that caught everyone’s attention were two-part.

1) Sales of adult fiction titles fell 16% from 2013 to 2017.

2) That 16% represents a rather large dollar figure. Sales went from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion.

Realize we are talking about traditional publishing here, not indie publishing at all. Those numbers aren’t really baked into the book sales numbers in any significant way. (Remember, Amazon isn’t counted here, and Kindle Unlimited isn’t reflected here at all.)

The scarier number for traditional publishers appears deeper in the article. This number comes from Bookscan, which only tracks print sales. I’m going to quote PW here. The italics at the end of the sentence are my emphasis added.

…the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service.

For an industry that used to sell print titles well over a million on a regular basis (at the turn of the century and before) that’s a scary, scary, scary number. For comparison, I tried to go to 1998 with a quick web search of Publisher’s Weekly, but I only managed to find 1999. It’ll do.

There were six trade paperback fiction bestsellers that sold one million copies plus, and trade was the smallest selling fiction category at the time.  There were more mass market paperback bestsellers than I wanted to count—and these listings began at 2 million sales plus. Leading that list with 2 books was John Grisham at 4.1 million and 3.875 million respectively.  Eight hardcover novels sold more than 1 million copies, including (again) a John Grisham.

. . . .

Last year, John Grisham admitted to the New York Times that his novels sell half of what they sold in 2007, which was less than they sold in 1997.  Here’s how Janet Maslin of the Times reported his comments:

He doesn’t worry much about book sales either, except he’s very alert to the numbers. “The biggest change for me has been that I’m selling about half the books I sold before the Great Recession,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more than half. This is discretionary spending, and people are not spending.”

Savvy readers will see that I used this same quote last year in discussing book sales.  Nothing has changed in the year or so since I wrote that post.

Until the last ten years or so, traditional publishing dominated the marketplace. They could sell millions of copies to readers because there was no other game in town. Nothing competed with traditionally published novels.

. . . .

We are at Stage Three in the publishing disruption, though, and traditional publishers are no longer the only game in town. Not even close. And they’ve got a really serious issue: their business model was built in the previous century. To make matters even worse, they’ve consolidated. None of the big traditional publishers are nimble in anyway. They’re part of large conglomerates who expect major earnings from each corporation under their huge umbrella.

In an upcoming part of this series, I will examine how traditional publishers are looking to keep themselves relevant to their corporate masters. It will change the traditional publishing model forever, but it won’t benefit writers in any way.

. . . .

Traditional publishers are terrified by these shrinking sales numbers. Their solutions are based in their old model thinking—and, unfortunately for them, are mostly impossible.

The reason I chose John Grisham as my example is three-fold. First, there’s that lovely quote he gave the New York Times. Second, I looked up his numbers last year and the current ones are this: His books now sell in one month what they used to sell in one week. Sometimes in one day.  The third reason? He’s still sitting on top of the bestseller list, as one of the most important big guns, twenty-seven years after he hit it.

He’s on the list, Nora Roberts is still on the list, Stephen King…

Let’s go back to that Publisher’s Weekly article that sparked so much discussion. A lot of the discussion was about what’s “wrong” with fiction sales. The discussion is lost in that traditional publishing bubble, thinking they’re still the only game in town.

They talk about movies and TV as competition (what is this? 1960?) and claim that people are either reading nonfiction or aren’t reading much at all. Worse, they’re blaming Amazon for much of their problems—refusing to see that Amazon is their biggest client.

. . . .

There is one line in here, though, that speaks to the problem that traditional publishers have had since 1997 or so—and they have not solved, despite being told over and over and over again that they need to rethink this.

They’re not building author careers. Or, as Peter Hildick-Smith of The Codex Group (which many industry insiders use for market research and pre-publication book testing) told PW:

Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence. It’s not a one-and-done launch.

. . . .

The essence here is that the author is the brand, not the publisher, and traditional publishers are no longer putting the money into developing new brands. Which is why you’re seeing the same old same old on trad pub bestseller lists, and why the sales figures are going down.

There’s a lot to read out in the marketplace. Readers who like legal thrillers don’t have to read John Grisham. They can read a variety of other authors in a variety of different ways.

Hildick-Smith put his finger on the rest of the problem. He said that “so much inexpensive genre fiction [is] now available at ‘subprime price points under $5’ (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.”

. . . .

Traditional publishing is not going to build new writers into bestsellers. They’re not even trying. That’s clear from a quote from Paul Bogaards, a vice president of Alfred P. Knopf who is apparently still dining out on his 2009 acquisition of Stieg Larsson’s books. In talking about rebuilding fiction sales, Bogaards is simply quoted as saying this:

There will be another big novel. There always is.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


As PG was reading this excellent post by Kris, he was also thinking about flightless birds.

PG claims no special expertise about flightless birds, but he understands that most/all flightless birds have vestigial wings. Their distant ancestors could fly, but, over time, for one reason or another, flying became less important and they lost the ability to do so.

Some species of flightless birds live exclusively on isolated islands where few predators are found. These birds deal with whatever threats remain for them without needing to fly.

Other species of flightless birds have become very large – the ostrich and emu, for example. Given their size, they are no longer potential prey for predators like weasels and small cats which could pose a threat to smaller birds.

On occasion, a small flock of wild turkeys strolls through the grounds of Casa PG. They can fly and run and, particularly in flocks, intimidate a small carnivore.

These wild turkeys bear little resemblance to the domestic turkeys which may provide the main course for your dinner next Thanksgiving. The domesticated turkeys have been bred to develop outsized breasts, the better to provide more white meat which many consumers prefer. However, the domestic turkeys are so large and heavy, they are completely unable to fly. At best, they can run for a short distance while flapping their wings.

So back to books and publishing.

Thirty or forty years ago, there were a great many more publishers in the United States than there are today. There were more large traditional publishers in New York, some of which operated under the management of their founder or founder’s heirs and including many medium-sized publishers that have now been absorbed into giant conglomerates. There were also quite a number of successful regional publishers focused on serving a particular geographic area and many more specialty publishers that focused on particular interest groups – golf, military history, regional cooking, hunting and fishing, local history, cowboys, etc.

Today, traditional US publishing is much more concentrated, with the “Big Five”, five huge publishers, all of which are located within a short cab ride of each other on the island of Manhattan and are subsidiaries of even larger worldwide media conglomerates.

One might be tempted to compare them to giant flightless birds, living within a monoculture comprised of wealthier-than-average white people who, by and large, attended the same 20-25 colleges and haven’t had any real jobs outside of publishing. All five Big Five CEO’s are white. Four are male.

Each of the large publishers relies heavily on sales through traditional bookstores. Barnes & Noble is their largest bricks and mortar customer.

Perhaps the best example of the dangers of the Big Five monoculture is the illegal price-fixing conspiracy that began in 2009 and was designed to allow Apple to derail Amazon’s ebook business.

In 2009, Big Publishing was not happy with Amazon. The publishers had finally decided they needed to start selling ebook versions of their books. However, in the typical fashion of organizations who felt entitled to exert control to protect their quasi-monopoly, the publishers did not want ebooks to cannibalize the sales of their printed books. The publishers had for some time discouraged bookstores from aggressive price discounting. This policy worked well with smaller customers, but Borders and Barnes & Noble were large enough that they were less subject to this pressure

Accordingly, the publishers set the prices of their ebooks high so as not to “devalue” their books in the eyes of customers and to encourage customers to continue purchasing printed books through traditional bookstores and restrain Amazon’s book sales.

Amazon was not cooperating with this strategy, however, and was selling ebooks from the large traditional publishers for $9.99, even if the company had to take a loss on each ebook sale.

Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six (Penguin and Random House had not yet merged) would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies. (When PG first learned about this practice, he was absolutely astounded. It laid the groundwork for a classic slam-dunk victory in the later antitrust case. Any lawyer who learned a client was doing this would be hoisting red flags from morning until night. It was a profoundly stupid practice.)

In 2009, Apple was preparing for the announcement of the first iPad in early 2010. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a very sick man.

Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. By early 2009, he was a very sick man and had lost a great deal of weight. He took a medical leave of absence in late January and had a complete liver transplant in April, 2009. Following the transplant, he was better, but still not completely well. He would die from his illness in 2011.

In late 2009, Jobs’ lieutenant, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, set up meetings with the top executives of the six largest New York Publishers. Apple wanted to announce the iBookstore in conjunction with the iPad announcement but had concerns about Amazon’s pricing.

Cue told the publishers that Apple wanted to sell the majority its e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model of pricing, wherein the publishers would control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.

However, Apple didn’t want to be underpriced by Amazon, so it would insist on an agreement with the publishers that Apple could match any price at which Amazon was selling an ebook.

Leading up to the agreement of five of the publishers to agree to Apple’s terms (Random House abstained), they continued their private dining room discussions and called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the agreement.

On the day of the iPad launch, On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”

The plot quickly fell apart and the Justice Department sued the five big publishers and Apple for conspiring to illegally fix the prices of ebooks. Later, the Justice Department publicly humiliated management of the Big Five by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements.

The whole ebook price-fixing fiasco is an excellent illustration of one of the most serious weaknesses of the groupthink monoculture that governs Big Publishing. Even after their price-fixing fiasco, they have not made any meaningful changes to avoid becoming even bigger, fatter domesticated turkeys who are unable to respond in a meaningful way to the changes in the publishing business.

While PG believes the five huge flightless birds do not have a bright future before them, as Kris suggests, indie authors need to keep their eyes open and options ready to respond to changes in the book business.

Amazon is not the same as it was nine years ago. In 2009, its net sales revenue was $24 billion. In 2017, it was $178 billion. In 2009, Amazon was filled with managers who remembered when the company was a scrappy little underdog and maintained that mindset.

Between 2009 and 2019, a lot of new people have become Amazon executives. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the KDP group has substantially changed since then. It has undoubtedly grown into a huge organization. In 2009, Amazon had a total of 24,000 employees. Today, it has 566,000.

PG continues to be pleased with Amazon, as reflected by its usual treatment of authors. However, with a large organization, things can always change and indie authors need to be wise and ready to change when change is thrust upon them or when change can provide better opportunities for their books and their business.

 

The Current State of Disruption (Planning for 2019 Part 1)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 For years now, I’ve done a year-end review, examining what happened and where the industry stands.

. . . .

I wrote down lists and links and reviewed notes and thought long and hard about things…and still couldn’t figure out how to wrap my arms around what I wanted to talk about.

I initially thought about combining the different parts of the industry under topics, and examine the topic rather than that part of the industry. But the industry is diverging in some important ways, making that way of writing these blogs exceedingly difficult.

This afternoon, it struck me: I write the year-end reviews so that I can focus on what to expect from the year to come.

So rather than look in detail at what happened in 2018, I’ll be looking at what happened with an eye toward the future.

. . . .

A reminder: I write these weekly business blogs for other writers who want to make or already have a long-term career. If you’re just starting out, some of this stuff won’t apply to you. If you’re a hobbyist who never wants to quit your day job, again, some of this stuff won’t apply to you. Don’t ask me to bend the blog toward you. There are a number of sites that cater to the beginner or the writer who doesn’t really care if she makes a living.

. . . .

For the most part, however, dealing with beginner and hobbyist issues doesn’t interest me. I’m a long-term professional writer who has made money as a writer since I was 16, who has made a living at it since I was 25, and who started making a heck of a great living at it by the time I was 35. I started writing these weekly blogs to make some kind of sense out of the disruption in the publishing industry in 2009. I did it for me, because I think better when I am writing things down.

The disruption continues, albeit in a new phase (part of what I’ll discuss below), and so I am focusing on what I need to focus on for my long-term writing career. I hope that some of these insights will help the rest of you.

. . . .

The disruption in the publishing industry will continue for some time now. Years, most likely. I don’t have a good crystal ball for how long it will go on, but we are past the gold rush years in the indie publishing world and have moved into a more consistent business model. It’s at least predictable, now. We know some patterns and how they’re going to work.

. . . .

The disruption in traditional publishing has gone on for nearly two decades now. It began before the Kindle made self-publishing easy by giving writers an easily accessible audience. Traditional publishing became ripe for disruption in the 1990s when the old distribution model collapsed.

Many of you saw it from the outside—the decline of the small bookstore, the loss of bookstores in small towns, the rise of the bestseller only in chain bookstores. All of that came from a collapse in the distribution system, from hundreds of regional distributors down to about five. (I don’t off the top of my head recall the actual number.) That made publishers panic. They couldn’t figure out what kinds of books sold best in the Pacific Northwest as opposed to what sold well in the Southeast, and worse, they didn’t have time to figure it out.

(When I came into the business, a top sales person for a major book company would know that science fiction sold well in California and quest fantasy sold well in Georgia, that the Midwest really enjoyed regional books, while New Yorkers often didn’t.)

Bestsellers sold everywhere, so publishers ramped up the production of already-established authors and sent those books all over the nation. Then, when the crisis leveled out, the publishers did not return to the old ways, scared of what to do. They continued to push for huge sellers rather than grow newer books.

Writer after writer after writer got dumped by their publisher in this period, while some new writers made fortunes because they wrote books that were similar to existing bestsellers.

When the Kindle came around and disrupted publishing, both writers and readers were ready for something new. That combination of forces created the blockbuster indie sellers—which were not blockbuster to traditional publishers. (The writers were making significantly more money, but selling fewer units than trad pub bestsellers.)

Hold that thought for a moment while I remind you that another disruption—a different one—was hitting publishing at the same time. Audiobooks went digital, and exploded. It became easy to download an audiobook and listen to it on your iPod (remember those) or your favorite MP3 player. Some cars made it easy to hook up those players to the sound system of the car.

And thus, commuters wanted everything on audio, and the demand in audio grew exponentially. As so many industry analysts said five or six years ago, if the Kindle hadn’t come around, the big story in publishing would have been the audiobook.

And here’s another publisher problem: most publishers never secured audio rights to the books they published. That money went directly to the authors.

. . . .

For years now, those of us who watch business trends have predicted that book sales would plateau. In reality, “plateau” is the wrong word for overall book sales. Those continue to grow, sometimes in ways that aren’t entirely measurable. New markets are opening all the time, bringing in new readers.

The system for measuring both readers and sales is so inadequate that we can’t count the readers we have, let alone the new readers who are coming into the book industry sideways. However, there is a lot of evidence—scattered, of course—that new readers are coming in. (I’ll deal with this in future weeks.)

Readership is growing, but individual sales are mostly declining. Traditional publishing’s fiction sales are down 16% since 2013. Traditional publishing has a lot of theories about this, delineated out in the Publishers Weekly article I linked to.

Indie writers believe a lot of the trad pub sales migrated to them. Maybe.

But some of what happened here was the inevitable decline from the gold rush of a disruptive technology.

Let’s look at traditional publishing for a moment. Traditional publishing moved to the blockbuster model at the turn of the century, meaning that the books that were published had to have a guaranteed level of sales or the author’s contract wouldn’t be renewed. The sales rose, partly because traditional publishing was the only game in town.

In that period, if you went to bookstores all over the country, and followed that up with a visit to the grocery store, as well as a visit to a story like WalMart or Target, you’d find the same group of books on the shelves. A few more in Target than in the grocery store, and certainly more in the bookstore, but still, the same books. And the airport bookstores were the same way.

If a reader needed reading material, he only had a few hundred titles at any given time in the stores to choose from. So the reader read the best of what he found, not necessarily what he wanted to read.

Then the disruption happened. Kindles and ereaders proliferated. Readers found books they’d been searching for, often for years. The readers also found some genres and subgenres that they hadn’t seen in a decade or more, usually books by indie writers that oculdn’t sell to the big traditional companies.

The boom in ebooks grew and grew and grew. (And if traditional pubishing hadn’t dicked around with pricing, their book sales would have grown even more.) That’s why the S-curves on that graph grow precipitously in between Stages Two and Three. Adoption increases revenue for a very very very short period of time.

That kind of growth is not sustainable for years, though. That’s why I say it was an inevitable plateau. If you’ll look on that graph again, though, you’ll see that both curves end higher on the y-axis—the profit axis—than they were at the beginning.

But hitting that plateau after years of rapid growth and, in the case of traditional publishing, a near-monopoly on the market, is painful. And that’s what we’re experiencing.

Also, sales are spreading out. I’ll talk about this a bit more in the next couple of weeks. But think of it this way. Instead of a lot of readers reluctantly reading the latest blockbuster because they’re trapped in the airport and can’t find anything else to read, those readers are now downloading dozens of books on their phones, and reading a variety of things—some of which we don’t have measurements of. Those readers have left the blockbusters they barely liked behind and found books/authors they like better.

So the money that would have gone to five different authors at three different publishing companies is now going to twenty authors, and only two of those authors are with traditional publishing companies. The books the readers are reading, though, aren’t the latest blockbuster by that author, but an older book that came out a decade ago. The price is lower, and the companies aren’t interested in those sales. They want the newest book to sell the most copies.

The consumer spends the same amount of money, but spreads it out over a wider range. Many of these sales are untrackable. Not all of those twenty authors report their sales to anyone, and not all of those sales were made through traditional channels. A few of the authors sold on their own websites. Some of those books came out of bundles. And some came out of a subscription service like Amazon. The traditional publishing companies lost most of the revenue, because their book sales have legitimately declined.

But that doesn’t mean people are reading less or that fiction reading is declining.

I’m not the only one who sees this. Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard had the same reaction to the traditional publishing fiction numbers that I did. He wrote on November 18:

The big problem we have is that the fiction market, much more so than the wider book market, is so fragmented now, thanks to digital (by which I mean not just ebooks and audiobooks but online POD and most of all social media democratising the promotion of fiction titles), such that it seems like fewer people are reading fiction, but the reality is likely just the opposite.

The fragmented market is but one thing we’ll talk about in the next few weeks. We’ll look at how writers can use that market to their own advantage.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG always appreciates the analysis Kris and Dean bring to the publishing world, traditional and indie. He was going to add a few of his thoughts to Kris’ excellent post, but, perhaps as a result of holiday hangover (not the alcoholic kind), his little gray cells are not as well-regimented as usual.

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.

Here is the most recent Kris Rusch book selling on Amazon:

Business Musings: Generations

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The sf field is getting hit hard right now with a clash between generations. The clash isn’t a minor one: it’s over the future of sf. It’s about bringing in diverse voices, which sf failed to do (mostly through the gatekeepers who were [and some still are] bigoted against anyone who is not a white male). Some of the voices that are coming in are strident. Many are accusatory. A few are judgmental.

All have legitimate grievances. When you’ve been pounding on a door for years, and the door finally cracks open, you don’t say thank you. You say, What the hell? I’ve been trying to get in here for a long time. Didn’t you hear me?

Some of that generational conflict broke out on social media the morning that I’m writing this. A tone-deaf member of the older generation tried to defend himself, and failed miserably. Another member (in a different genre) has attracted national news because she was so overzealous in her real world job that she literally cost young black men decades of their lives. Her behavior back then (and now) is news to some of her younger fans. It had been so long ago that I never put the writer with the prosecutor. (I don’t think she’d been writing back then.) That terrible thing she had done is back in the news—and it should be.

That’s what some of her defenders miss. We should be discussing misuse of power and the harm we do, even as we think we’re doing good.

. . . .

I went into my office and grabbed . . .  Creative Quest by Questlove (with Ben Greenman)

. . . .

[Questlove] deals with generational change. He expresses it in metaphor.  (which is probably why I like the book: I think in metaphor.)

Once, as a young man, he walked along a train track after a train had left and wondered how long he had before another train would mow him down. He moved that physical thought into the creative realm.

How long does an artist have alone on a track, heading to the future, before another artist comes up behind him, and takes his place?

Questlove knows that art isn’t a zero-sum game. He doesn’t mean that only one artist can be on that track at one time. He really is discussing being the cool, the new. The person creating the wave, or riding the crest of the wave. Being the cutting edge.

That’s the focus here.

Because being the cutting edge is addictive. And it makes an impression on our brains as artists. Some artists continue to chase being cutting edge (which puts them behind the cutting edge train, to use Questlove’s metaphor). Others loudly defend that they once were cutting edge. And some move quietly forward, learning and growing, and accepting that they can only be cutting edge once in their careers.

Judging from this book, Questlove and the Roots belong to the latter group. Yes, they’re still learning and growing, but they’re never going to be the hot thing again. They might become more popular than they were in the beginning, but they will never be that new, surprising voice again.

We only get one chance at that.

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.

Your Basket is Leaking

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In October 2018, Sears filed for bankruptcy. The form of bankruptcy the corporate heads chose was something called Chapter 11 here in the U.S. It means that the company—once the largest retailer in the entire world—will be able to reorganize and, if they’re lucky and the folks running the company are smart, they might be able to emerge from bankruptcy with some of the business still intact.

The key here isn’t the details of Sears’ bankruptcy. It really isn’t even Sears itself which, when I was a child, fifty years ago, was a fixture in America. It’s the trajectory of the company.

. . . .

By early 1940s, Sears’ catalogue became  known as the Consumer’s Bible. In the 1950s or so, Sears started opening brick-and-mortar stores, and by the mid-1970s, the brick-and-mortar business overshadowed the mail order catalogue.

Mismanagement, a failure to keep up with the times, and a large corporate structure led to a decline starting in the 1980s, exacerbated by the rise of Wal-Mart in the 1990s. Sears still had a lot of value after the turn of the 21st century, but not in retail. The value was in its properties and its stock, and eventually that declined as well.

And now, Sears—mismanaged to pieces, its mail-order business (and famous catalogue) a distant memory—has almost thrown in the towel. They’re fighting for their existence. Very few adults alive remember the store in its heyday.

But look at that trajectory. Mail order on one item only. Then more items. Then unrelated items. Then becoming one of the biggest companies in the world. Then adding brick-and-mortar.

Does that sound familiar? Think of it this way: instead of mail order, think online. Instead of watches, think books. And then realize that Amazon shares much of Sears trajectory, only on a slightly accelerated pace—and without the name changes and the obvious added partners.

Sears to Wal-Mart to Amazon. There is a direct line. Wal-Mart is still fighting for dominance, but they’re no longer fighting Sears. They’re fighting Amazon. And Amazon is probably fighting some other company with a good idea, some company that I’m not entirely aware of.

Why is that important?

Because currently, Amazon is the biggest online retail company in the world. (Wal-Mart is still the largest retailer, but Amazon has moved up to second there as well.)  Amazon is exceedingly important to the indie writer movement. In fact, indie publishing would not be where it’s at without Amazon’s innovation with the Kindle ereader ten years ago.

In that time period, a lot of self-published authors have used Amazon’s ecosystem to make themselves, if not wealthy, then at least comfortably well off.  Many of those writers don’t even market their work outside of Amazon at all, preferring to use the tools provided by Kindle Select to promote their series and their work.

Early on, writing advice for indies (as I’m going to call writers who work outside of traditional publishing) centered on an Amazon-only strategy. If you look at my earliest blogs on the publishing industry, back in 2009/2010, you’ll see me constantly defending myself against that very argument. I learned as a young freelancer to go wide—and that was back in the early 1980s. Relying on only one source for income—no matter how large that source is—is never a good idea.

. . . .

Having been in traditional publishing, with its weird rules and limitations, meant I had learned early on how angry readers get when they can’t get a book that they want. I didn’t want to replicate that experience for them, particularly as I took back control of my publishing, so I never even considered Select.

Although, I had to admit, I was envious at times of writers who could manipulate that system to raise their profiles—at least on Amazon. It would have been nice to have access to the same tools. Eventually, I developed a few new pen names (for a variety of reasons, and no, I’m not telling you who they are), and they experimented in Select.

The Select promotion tools are good until they’re not, as everyone who plays in that ecosystem knows. Amazon changes the system, and then the indies figure out how to best use that system, and then Amazon changes it again.

There have been complaints about Amazon and its practices from the start. But savvy writers have known that Amazon started this revolution, and no matter what they’ve done, we all owe them big for that.

But…then there’s the argument I’ve been making on this blog since at least 2010. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Even if that basket is the biggest online retailer in the world.

I still get pushback on that advice. But not as much as I used to. Because some of the big pro-Amazon indies are beginning to see cracks around the edges of Amazon. There’ve been too many changes to Select, too many broken promises, too many costly mistakes.

Some of the formerly pro Select-only gurus are now quietly going wide. A few others, trapped in the ecosystem, are using other tools to make their novels available before they put the books into Select. They’re still gaming Amazon’s system, but they’re gaming it to keep the income coming—until they can move out of the exclusivity trap that they had allowed Amazon to build around them.

For the writers, though, who continued to argue that Select was the only viable place to play, October and early November were a difficult time. Writer after writer here in the U.S. noted that their international sales had declined dramatically.

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 that very few, if any, large organizations are unchanging.

Since he has watched the tech world, from the inside and the outside, for a long time, he has seen a great many changes.

Microsoft is not the same organization it used to be. Neither is Apple.

WordPerfect was a wonderful product and a superb organization in its day, but it’s gone now. Ditto for Lotus 1-2-3, Novell and Netscape. In some cases, former tech giants continue as zombie caricatures of their former selves, but the spark is gone.

The personal influence of a strong executive can profoundly shape an organization. Think of Sam Walton and Walmart. When that entrepreneurial executive leaves or dies, it is quite common for such organizations to change. The Sam Waltons and Steve Jobs of the next decades aren’t working for today’s Walmart and Apple. They wouldn’t fit.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon have a similarly tight bond. Amazon has mirrored Bezos’ personality in many ways.

But Amazon has become an extremely large company and the Bezos influence travels through lots of management levels and and subordinants’ decisions before it reaches indie authors and individual consumers. Bezos simply can’t know about everything Amazon is doing today and he’ll know even less next year.

PG thinks the Amazon plan to have two headquarters locations, which later morphed into three headquarters locations is Exhibit A in demonstrating that Bezos has taken his hands off the wheel.

While widely-dispersed major “headquarters” locations may make it easier to tap into a larger geographic pool of talent to fill the entry-level and middle-management jobs, PG suspects it’s going to be a management mess with queens and kings of little Amazon kingdoms sprouting everywhere.

Bezos’ ability to effectively provide vision, leadership and shape Amazon’s corporate culture is going to be substantially diminished. Any future Jeff Bezos-type Amazon employees who might have the talent to continue the level of innovation and organizational excellence he established are not likely to rise through this type of management structure. And their chances of catching Bezos’ attention and obtaining his help in rising through Amazon by their job performance will be slim.

 

Getting To The Stories You Love

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

One of the comments I heard the most at this year’s Business Master Class was a bit wistful. And the comment usually came in a discussion about something else.

  • I sure would like to get to the place where I can do what you folks do: where I can write what I love.
  • As soon as this [insert detail] is over, I might be able to write what I love.
  • Writers who write what they love are really lucky. Sure wish I could get there.

Over and over and over again. Those phrases have been going round and round in my head, partly because I have a lot of compassion for the speakers, and partly in conjunction with other things that have happened this past year.

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post on burnout.  It, and the subsequent posts, got reprinted in the magazine for the Romance Writers of America, the Romance Writers Report or the RWR. I got a lot of email from the original blog posts and from the RWR reprint. I had hit a nerve.

I was aware of the nerve, but not thinking about it too much, except to realize that so many writers were on the hamster wheel of doom—trying very hard to write more and more and more to make the same amount of money they had made a few years ago. We’re in a mature market now, and the highs aren’t as high (and the lows aren’t as low). Things do change, sometimes daily, in this new world of publishing, but the business models remain the same.

Dean and I have also been planning a new series of online courses which we call the Futures courses. We learned long ago that most writers don’t look very far ahead in their careers. Writers have no idea how to sustain a career past the first few years. That kind of long-term career takes not only planning, but a certain mindset, which some writers never learn.

. . . .

It’s also not fun to do something because you have to do it or lose everything. It’s better to do something because you want to, or you have hit that point in your career (or in life) that makes a change possible.

As Dean and I planned  these futures workshops, we had discussion after discussion about what’s going on in indie publishing right now. In addition to the burnout, lots of writers who were the early adapters of self-publishing have disappeared. They quit, pulled their books down (!), pulled down their websites, and moved onto other things.

Even the early gurus of self-publishing have either given up or gone back to traditional publishing in whole or in part. Considering how outspoken some of them were about the evils of traditional publishing, you (I) have to wonder what caused the shift. And the silence. None of them are blogging any more.

I suspect I know. Because Dean and I have been around forever, we’ve seen a lot of writers come and go. In traditional publishing, the average length of a writer’s active career is about ten years. That clock usually starts with the first major professional sale, and ends when the writer either can’t handle the crazy of traditional publishing any more and/or when the writer can no longer sell a book to any traditional publisher due to a variety of factors (including but not limited to declining sales numbers, burnout, difficulty of working with the author, burnout, difficulty of working with the publisher, burnout).

. . . .

The thing Dean and I have come to realize is that indie careers have a shelf life as well. Most indie writers seem to be disappearing after five to six years of really hard work.

Much of that is burnout. Some of it, though, is that hamster wheel of doom and the mature market. When a market is new, it’s in a boom cycle and everyone gets rich. When a market is mature, it’s in a sustainable place where some get rich, while others make a healthy living, but nothing more.

The tricks of the boom cycle don’t work in the mature market, and making the shift to a different way of doing things is hard.

I’ve examined those things in the past, but the one thing I didn’t examine is a whole different side to the hamster wheel.

Writers who make a good living writing something they don’t want to be writing. Writers who aren’t writing what they love.

I think every long-term writer has gone through this phase, and the writers who end up with decades’ long careers have figured out a way through it.

. . . .

I’m seeing indies hit the same problems. Sure, they might have liked writing billionaire erotica a la Fifty Shades of Gray, but after a book every two months for the past five years, writing that subgenre has gotten old. And the indies find themselves in the place that Dean (and I) found ourselves in years ago: they’re making such a good living at what they’re doing that walking away is hard.

Or walking away will be detrimental to their families. I was single when I quit writing nonfiction. The only person who might have gotten hurt when I cut my expenses and took a day job was me. At that point, I rented an unfurnished apartment and couldn’t afford to buy a couch. I lived with one living room chair and a futon on the floor for a year—not something someone with a spouse and two kids can do.

That trapped feeling—the feeling that you have to keep writing this particular thing, whatever it is, no matter what—makes everything worse. You got into writing for the love, and now it’s no fun at all, but you need the income.

You are trapped by your success and that’s harder to get away from than being trapped by failure.

. . . .

The one option that is not sustainable, however, is to continue writing books you no longer enjoy writing with no way to get to writing what you love. At some point, you’ll have to add in writing books of the heart. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and vanish like so many indies before you.

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.

As PG previously mentioned, he spent an enjoyable week in October attending and presenting at the Business Master Class conference mentioned in the OP, organized by Kris and her husband, author Dean Wesley Smith. In addition to their writing, Kris and Dean regularly hold workshops on various topics for authors. See WMG Workshops for more information.

PG has a couple of responses to the OP.

Where is the Revolution Today?

The Passive Voice sprang from PG’s fevered brain in 2011. Since its beginning, PG has uploaded almost 18,000 posts, proof that a little OCD can go a long way.

The first post on TPV was titled, Imagine There are No Bookstores , based on a now-disappeared post by a small publisher which discussed Amazon ebooks and their potential impact on traditional publishing and bookselling.

This post appeared in February, 2011, the same month that the Borders bookstore chain filed for bankruptcy. This bankruptcy would remove 650 large bookstores from the market within a very short span of time. Publishers large and small took large writeoffs for books Borders had sold but would never pay for.

In the previous year, 2010, Amazon reported $14.9 billion in book sales.

In 2010, Barnes & Noble had 720 trade bookstores plus 637 college bookstores (acquired in 2009). Barnes & Noble launched its ebookstore in 2009 as well.

Barnes & Noble reported 2010 sales from its trade bookstores of $4.3 billion, down 4.5% from the prior year.

In 2018, Barnes & Noble, still the largest bookstore chain in the US, continues its long decline.

In 2018, Barnes & Noble had 630 trade bookstores. Barnes & Noble spun out its college bookstores into a separate independent business in 2015.

Barnes & Noble reported fiscal 2018 (April 2017-April 2018) retail sales of  $3.5 billion, down 5.4% from the prior year.

Amazon no longer publishes its book sales numbers in its annual reports to securities regulators or elsewhere that PG was able to locate, likely because, compared to the rest of Amazon’s sales, book sales are not large enough to be material from a financial point of view.

The Bookseller reported that Amazon’s 2017 revenues from book sales were up 46% in the UK.

In sum, the retail book business today is increasingly centered on Amazon.

Physical retail bookstores are in a continuing long decline. Publishers Weekly reports that, in 1991, there were 11 US bookstore chains that had 13 or more outlets, with total outlets topping 3,000. In 2017, the five chains on Publisher Weekly’s book chain list had 1,076 outlets. Just since 2011 the store count has fallen by 32%.

PG is going to cut off his expatiations at this point and continue them in another post.

Suffice to say, PG doesn’t believe that the revolution is over for authors and publishers. Electronic and communications technologies will continue to grow apace over at least the next several years and the population at large will continue to want stories, so the future is still bright for storytellers.

 

 

 

 

Surviving The Stupid

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Imagine my surprise, as I scanned through Twitter a few weeks ago, to see a writer I follow go after Tor for its library policies. Um…what?

Turns out that Tor, through its parent company Macmillan has started a program in which libraries cannot get ebooks of the latest Tor releases until four months after the book is released.

Remember this is traditional publishing, so velocity is important. How fast a book sells has an impact on whether or not that writer’s next book will even get an offer from the publisher. And here—stupidly—is a publisher that has decided that library ebook sales aren’t worthwhile.

Tor/Macmillan’s reasoning? To see if library ebook sales are the reason that the company’s ebook sales are so low. That thinking is so damn stupid that I can barely type the words.

Rather than go into the reasons Macmillan’s ebook sales are low which I can digress on for hours, let me share what Nate Hoffelder said on The Digital Reader in July, when this news initially broke:

Macmillan  has poor ebook sales because they have adopted a policy of discouraging ebook sales in favor of print sales. Macmillan adopted this policy in late 2009 when they conspired with Apple and 4 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales.

That is established historical fact, and so is the antitrust suit brought by the DOJ, Macmillan settling the lawsuit,  its punishment, and Macmillan’s return to agency in 2014.

Apparently, corporate think has decided that it’s better to decrease sales to increase sales. (How Orwellian.) They’ve also got on the bandwagon of punishing people with budgets and limited income. The enthusiastic readers on a book budget—folks who provide great word of mouth during that crucial velocity period—are not worth Macmillan’s time.

The problem is that these enthusiastic readers aren’t going to be able to purchase the books themselves. Many library users are unable to make regular ebook purchases, especially if the ebooks are priced at $9.99 and up, like the Tor books. I’ve seen arguments that the libraries will still get the paper books, but that doesn’t mean that these readers want paper books.

Tor/Macmillan believes that these readers can and should wait. Which is risky on the one hand—there are always new books to read—and idiotic on the other. The readers who want a book now are the book’s most dedicated consumers. Word of mouth has become even more important in 2018 than it was ten years ago, thanks to the advent of social media, online book sites, and all kinds of blogging.

. . . .

Let me tell you, as someone whose novels were traditionally published for decades, it sucks when your publisher makes a totally stupid decision that’s going to have a negative impact on your career.

If you’re a smart author, you’ll know what the impact will be. Most traditionally published writers happily know nothing about the business of publishing, so when they get their royalty statements and their sales are down yet again, or when they are unable to sell the next book in the series, or when their publisher cancels their fat multi-book contract because sales are down, those writers are surprised. (See my blog post on “Learned Helplessness”  to understand some of this.)

. . . .

This comes at a perilous time for Tor. Their founder, Tom Doherty, moved upstairs into an honorary position in March, and was replaced as President and Publisher by a long-time corporate middle management guy who might or might not do a good job. If this library thing is any indication… well, you already know how I feel.

I feel somewhat bad for the writers stuck in this library situation. Not entirely bad, mind you, because if they had learned business, they would know that their publisher has a habit of chewing up and spitting out writers like crazy, and has for decades. Three books and out, usually, unless something takes off. And it used to be that awards and award-nominations were enough to save a writer at that company. That changed as the bean counters rose to the top of the business, and will probably get worse now that Tom is gone. He loves science fiction, and would occasionally swoop in to save a great voice that wasn’t selling well.

I doubt that will happen anymore.

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.

Blip or New Reality?

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A lot of times on this blog, I deal with the problems in publishing. Bad problems, like agents embezzling, traditional publishers not paying royalties, income going down, or sales not up to expectations.

In the early days of indie publishing, I would also blog about the problems of success. In our workshops and classes, we call them problems you trade up for.

Just because a person is successful—in any business—doesn’t mean that the problems in their life have gone away. In fact, success brings its own share of problems.

And like all of you, whenever I look at the next rung on the success ladder, I don’t want to hear about the potential problems. I say, Bring ’em on! And I mean it.

But when those problems arrive hand in glove with success, you need to deal with the problems properly to make the success last.

In the past year, a number of writers have had the marvelous difficulty of “sudden” success. And they’ve contacted me about how to handle it.

As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with a lot of change in my life, and it wasn’t until things have settled down these past few weeks that I realized just how many times people have asked about a certain problem in indie publishing that doesn’t appear (in the same obvious way) in traditional publishing.

I got another such inquiry this week, put quite succinctly and clearly, and I realized that the problem the writer was dealing with wasn’t unique to that writer. It happens to a lot of indie writers, and they’ve been talking to me, and I just hadn’t put it together because my focus has been elsewhere.

A little background: the writers who’ve been contacting me listened to me and the other writers who’ve been around a while. These newer writers wrote and wrote and wrote. They wrote in series as well as standalones. They set up their websites and their newsletters, but didn’t do a lot of promotion until they’d had at least ten books published.

Then, something hit. For one person it was a Book Bub that goosed the sales in the entire series. Another writer experienced exponential growth from month to month to month, as more and more readers discovered the series. A third writer saw a huge bump in sales every time a new product (be it short story or novel) in one series got published.

There are a bunch of other variations on this, but you get the idea. These writers have a lot of product, and they’ve been watching sales increase. Then, something—and it varies—hits, and the writers see their sales increase massively.

In one writer’s case, the book sales went from pay-the-electric bill money to three-times-the-paycheck money. In another writer’s case, the book sales went from 10 per day to 100 in every book in the series.

In every single case, the change caused a life-changing increase in income—or it would, if the sales continued.

So after a month or two of these increased sales, the writers contacted me and asked:

Is this a blip or will the sales fall off a cliff?

. . . .

Well, essentially, all huge book sales are a blip. Stephen King’s books don’t sell on release what they did in the 1980s; J.K. Rowling’s non-Harry Potter book sales are lower on release than her Potter books which are, by the way, selling steadily, but not at the stratospheric numbers they sold at in the early part of this century.

That stupid old adage what comes up will come down applies here.

But if you think about sales bundled together as a ball tossed into the air, then extend the metaphor. Sometimes that ball catches the wind and goes at the high level for a long long time, only to land somewhere unexpected.

Sometimes the ball lands on a roof, and it takes forever for the ball to fall down (if it ever does).

Sometimes the ball goes straight up, and comes down into the thrower’s hands.

And on and on and on.

. . . .

  1. Realize that it will take months to know what kind of pattern your sales have hit.

Blip? Maybe. Your sales might plateau. Or grow. Or the increase might only last a few weeks. Or it might last a few months. There is no way to know in the moment.

  1. Plan as if this increase is a blip.

Bank the money. Spend only what you would have spent if this increase had not happened. Keep the money separate if you possibly can, so you know how much you’ve earned that’s additional.

I would bank the money for three months before spending any of it. That way, you’ll know a few more things than you knew when the blip started. You’ll know if the sales are increasing or decreasing or staying the same.

If the sales continue to increase, cautiously figure out what you want to do with the added money. Three months is not enough time to decide if you should quit your day job (unless the money is 3 times your annual salary), but it is enough time to cautiously invest the money in some things for your business—a new computer, say, or something that will make the day-to-day easier.

Or just keep banking the money, saving up for whatever is next on your writing bucket list (like quitting the day job).

If the sales have plateaued, then keep banking the money. You don’t know if this is the new normal yet or a long blip. Give it another three months.

And if the sales fell off that cliff, then you can be happy that you did not make any major life changes in response—and you now have some extra cash in the bank. Yay, you!

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.

In ancient days when PG handled some consumer bankruptcies, more than one financial collapse happened in the aftermath of a client receiving a significant amount of unexpected money. It’s far more difficult to scale back financially after you’ve increased your spending than it would have been to continue to spend at the level that was sustaining you before.

The Mercedes people still want their monthly lease payment even if you’re back to Fiat income.

Licensing Opportunities

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I think the moment writers dream of being published, they have the same wish. They want to write the books of their heart. They want those books to reach a vast audience, and they want someone else to worry about doing all the things that turn a book from a rectangular object on a shelf into a vast global empire a la Harry Potter.

Most writers expect their agents to help with that. Some think the publishers will do it all. Even more writers believe that once they make a movie or TV deal, the magic will happen. Their heroine will become an action figure. Their hero’s face will decorate a throw rug. Even the feline sidekick will find images of herself for sale in the plush toys section of every toy store and bookstore on the planet.

Not to mention the new stuff—the apps, the games playable on every device, the YouTube channel, the Instagram feed, the Spotify playlist. The old-fashioned stuff too. Socks and t-shirts and posters. Tchotchkes that come directly from the book, like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Harry Potter. The first time I saw a packet of those, I laughed out loud with pleasure.

But it’s not that easy to have products made from your book. Most books don’t easily lend themselves to toy or product licensing. Most books aren’t popular enough, truth be told. And many don’t have the imagery or built-in products like Harry Potter did. (Rowling was simply showing how kids could get into a craze, so she invented a bunch of crazes, which then became actual crazes. Nifty cool, in my opinion.)

Most publishers barely have time to put out their monthly schedule of books. And most publishing houses don’t pay attention to subsidiary rights aside from translation rights and film/TV rights. Thinking about other types of marketing, licensing, and sales is simply impossible for them. They don’t have the staff, and they certainly can’t do it for each book they publish.

In fact, most publishers only respond to requests. So if some game company comes to them and asks to license the board game rights to The Handy Dandy Money-Making Novel, the publisher will figure out if they have those rights to license (chances are they do, these days) and if so, then they usually say yes, without any negotiation at all.

There is, as my poker-playing husband is wont to say, a lot of money left on the table each and every day.

. . . .

You can license anything to anyone, if you know what you’re doing. And knowing what you’re doing is the key. Most book agents haven’t even been to a [large licensing] show like this, let alone have any idea what they’re doing when they get there.

The larger agencies, with movie and TV arms, have a licensing division, but even then, those agencies usually sell the rights for their clients to one organization—say a movie studio—and don’t worry about licensing the coffee cups on their own.

Money left on the table.

And I know why it happens. It happens for the very reason that writers want to hire someone else to handle everything for them.

Learning a new world—any new world—is a lot of work. And you need to be a bit forward to handle a licensing fair. Most writers aren’t. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t attend.

. . . .

But you’re going to need to give this part of your business some thought as well.

Most writers don’t, except to say that their agent handles this stuff. I was in the middle of writing this post, having just come off the rights fair, when the Donadio & Olson news broke, and I took time out to write that first blog post about the extreme problems with agents. I recommended that writers avoid agents at all costs, and got tremendous blowback, including comments like “I can’t hold an auction for foreign rights without an agent” and other myths.

(Ironically, I was Googling that particular tweet because I couldn’t remember how it was phrased, and saw that a German publisher contacted that same author on Twitter because the German publisher “emailed your literary agent and never got a response.” You cannot make this stuff up. Seriously.)

So, I wrote about the problems with agents and financial mismanagement, ignoring the actual rights licensing and other things they fail to do.

I did meet a few agents at the rights fair. Agents who specialize in licensing the rights to “properties” that are “bankable.” None of the agents I spoke to, briefly, handled books that weren’t already big gaming or big movie projects. (Yes, I spoke to the agents. Research, y’know.)

Here’s the thing:

Indie publishing has disrupted traditional publishing, yes. But indie publishers (and writers who consider themselves self-published) have pretty much built their businesses on the old traditional publishing model.

That model is based on innovations made in the early 1960s. Traditional publishers have not moved off that model at all. This is why James Patterson has his own division (which he runs) inside of Hachette, his U.S. publisher.  The article I’ve just linked to here, on that division inside Hachette does not mention licensing outside of the traditional publishing norms of TV/Movie and translation. Patterson has added a few things, like a literacy campaign, but I didn’t see much about other types of licensing.

He’s creative and innovative, but his creative innovations are very 1990s, partly because he’s working inside the traditional publishing industry—which he disrupted (and continues to disrupt) all by himself.

You can see the book industry’s disinterest in this licensing fair just by searching for the word “book” on the website. Chronicle Books and Sourcebooks were there, but not as the companies themselves. Rather, they were represented as part of someone else’s marketing campaign.

I found Penguin Random House’s booth in the armpit of the floor, back in the part with some exhibitors for whom English was not their first language, and some smaller exhibitors like quilters.

Penguin Random House has thousands of properties that could be exploited as brands and for licensing. You’ll note in the photo above that they only focused on three for some inexplicable reason.

The big comic book companies were all present. Marvel and DC were there, of course, and they were hard to miss.

. . . .

Why should you care? Because this is the part of the business that built LucasFilm. George Lucas retained his licensing rights when he made the tiny deal for the distribution of the original Star Wars movie. There’s a lot, lot, lot of money in marketing, branding, and licensing, if it’s done right.

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.

Learned Helplessness

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I was in the middle of a long blog post about writers licensing the rights to their work when the news broke about Donadio & Olson embezzling from their clients. I stopped what I was working on and wrote a different post, because I finally had public proof of something I’d been saying for years: that important, well-known literary agents mismanage and/or embezzle the monies they receive for their clients. This has gone on for decades. It’s not something new.

. . . .

Then another reader wrote an answer post, taking me to task about telling writers not to hire agents.

He’s argued, calmly and politely, with my advice on agents before, so that wasn’t new. We disagree. He has his reasons for keeping an agent. I think those reasons are mired in the 20th century. But that’s his choice. He seems to be making an informed decision, and is taking a calculated risk. I don’t agree with the risk, but it’s his career, not mine. (I do hope he audits his agent regularly. He monitors the payments he knows are coming, but there’s no way to monitor the surprise payments.)

Then…weirdly…I started getting emails, direct messages, and notifications (from friends) of tweets taking me to task for advising that writers not have agents. I was called names. Well-known writers who have never met me wrote that I always give bad advice and that it figures because I’m …pick your hated POV here. (According to the posts, tweets, and emails {depending on who is upset with me}, I’m either bigoted or too PC. I’m against all women or too feminist. I’m always on the wrong side of every issue, and I lie, lie, lie.)

. . . .

Because you can’t fight myths with logic. Even when the myth forces the people spouting those myths to act against their own (and their friends’) interest.

In addition to the tweet-storm, I got some fascinating emails. I can’t share some of them—especially the ones from long-time IP attorneys who told me about the fraud and embezzlement at big name agencies. One IP attorney reminded me of the Harper Lee mess with McIntosh & Otis.  Ironically, according to Vanity Fair,

The agency, known as M&O, was created by Otis and her friend Mavis McIntosh, who had both reportedly left another agency in the mid-1920s after they discovered it to be highly suspect in its practices.

As I said, this crap has gone on for a very, very long time.

I got a lot of sad emails from writers who lost money to fraud, lost major book deals to ineptitude, and have given up on their careers because of agent malfeasance.

. . . .

[A] New York Times bestseller posted on my personal Facebook page that she was surprised people were talking about this issue at all (she was defending the people who were defending agents—although she hadn’t seen the truly vituperative stuff), because no one talks about agents in her experience.

Her comment was followed by a new writer who worried that he couldn’t sell to traditional publishing without an agent. To date, I’ve gotten six public comments, five personal emails and three messages on Facebook just like that, asking the same thing.

I got to noodling all of this in my head—more proof, more stories, lots of us who say we do better without agents, that we can handle our own businesses, and then I went to lunch with a new friend who has worked in the arts for sixty years. She handles her own business affairs, still.

. . . .

Artists are supposed to be feather-brained. Artists are supposed to be bad at business. Artists who are good at business are anomalies or worse. Artists who are good at business are only in it for the money. Artists who are good at business don’t understand art.

Of course, the people who are defining what that art is are mostly professors, who were unable to succeed at the business side of the art, so they have to keep their day jobs.

Some of those professors are writers with big book deals and agents.

As I was noodling all of this, though, what bothered me the most were two things in combination: that comment from the New York Times bestseller about silence and the variety of plaintive messages from beginners who are still pursuing their dreams of being the kind of writer they grew up admiring. But how do you get to one of the big five publishers without an agent?  one of those writers wrote on Twitter this morning.

Well, that assumes that a savvy writer wants a contract with one of the big five. The fact that this guy wrote the question this way proves he’s not savvy. I wouldn’t let anyone go into that shark-fest without a lot of education, the ability to negotiate, and a tough-as-nails IP attorney on their side. And even then, I would hope the writer has a good reason for going traditional, because the best negotiator in the world won’t be able to get the kind of deal that we used to get as a matter of course in the 1980s.

It was the comment though about silence that really got me. Because the New York Times bestseller was right: writers rarely discuss the problems with their agents. Writers only brag about their agent’s successes.

The writers who have been screwed by their agents are either too embarrassed to write a blog post like Chuck Palahnuik’s or those writers have signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement with that agent. Only a few of us refused to sign NDAs, refused the settlements. And when we talk about what happened to us, we’re called crazy, delusional, and outliers. When we say we handle our own business affairs, we get dismissed because we’re successful so it’s easy for us. We are lucky. Or famous. Or have connections no one else does.

. . . .

Every person in the world who starts a small business—and that’s what writing is…it’s a small business—learns how to conduct the business part of the operation. If the small business owner doesn’t learn that, then they go out of business really fast.

Artists have safety nets that most small business owners don’t have. A professorship based on a few published books and stories (as well as an expensive PhD). Or an ability to get grants. Or an employed and tolerant spouse.

The myth is that artists can’t make money. And before I confuse some of you further, I’m going to stop using the term artist (for dancers, painters, musicians, writers), and hone down to writers alone. But this applies to all of the creative arts. Artists have safety nets.

You’ve all heard that writers can’t make money, so why even try? You’re writing for the love. You’re writing to create something lasting. You’re writing to become famous or well-reviewed or accepted in your own literary circle.

You’re not writing to make money.

Only fools and hacks write for the money. The more someone publishes, the worse their skill must be. The more financial success they have, the more their writing abilities go downhill as they “sell out.”

That’s counterintuitive to the way that humans operate. The more humans practice something, the more they refine their techniques, the closer those people get to the top of their game. Their game might not be as good as someone else’s, but writers—like everyone else—improve with practice.

. . . .

This myth that writers can’t make money plays right into the hands of embezzlers and con artists. Think about it: I’ll handle your negotiations, your paperwork, your money, so you don’t have to bother your pretty little head about it.

Money gets pocketed, writers need those teaching jobs, and the leech who made the offer benefits from the myth. The writer sure doesn’t.

And then there’s the silence.

Silence is the hallmark of abuse.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Colleen for the tip.

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.

As usual, Kris gets to the heart of the matter in a way very few others do.

PG can’t go into any details because of client confidentiality issues, but today he finished reviewing an agency agreement from a large literary agency for a client.

It required more time than it has in the past. Not because the agreement was longer or more complex than the many others PG has reviewed.

It was the CYA paragraphs.

When lawyers are asked to review a contract, in addition to other subjects, clients want to understand what can go wrong if they enter into the contract, what their downsides might be if the whole thing goes south. It took PG a while to work his way through the potential downsides for the client’s proposed agency agreement.

This lead him to think more about the agency and publishing business and why some common practices that would be considered illegal and immoral in other settings are “the way things are done” in publishing.

PG’s Rule #1 for contracts is, “Don’t do business with crooks.”

A client could hire a whole herd (flock? colony? troop?) of lawyers to prepare the finest contract known to humankind. If the counterparty is a crook, the likelihood of the finest contract working out well for the client is still not good.

Crooks gonna crook.

PG just trafficked in a stereotype about crooks.

As a general proposition, while making one’s way through life, it’s not a good idea to deal in stereotypes. Every large group of people includes some that may fit a stereotype commonly associated with the group and others who are much different than the stereotype. In an effort to avoid wrongly stigmatizing those who differ from the group, society rightly takes a somewhat dim view of many varieties of stereotypes.

However, stereotypes can be quite useful and are utilized by most people in one form or another on a regular basis.

Who would you trust more, a drug dealer or an elementary school teacher?

There you go, stereotyping drug dealers.

Long ago, PG learned to be more careful about relying on the statements of a prospective client who was in prison than a prospective client who walked into his law office off the street. Are innocent people sometimes incarcerated? Absolutely. Are most people in prison innocent of a crime? Not really. Are most people really, really, really anxious to get out of prison and willing to do almost anything to achieve their goal? Pretty much.

Do common business standards and practices vary from occupation to occupation? Is an auctioneer expected to be more or less reliable when talking about the value of a piano being sold than a professional appraiser? Is there an unwritten code of conduct for auctioneers that affects their view of appropriate behavior when trying to sell something?

This is a long-winded introduction to PG’s concerns about agents and traditional publishers.

From a purely economic standpoint, an agent needs a good relationship with a handful of acquiring editors working at a small group of publisher much more than an agent needs a good relationship with an author who is mid-list or below in the publishing hierarchy.

Publishers who will pay a $100,000 advance for a science fiction novel are far rarer than science fiction authors are. This and other economic realities strongly influence the behavior of agents.

Looking at what’s really happening in an agent’s life, it would make more economic sense for the agent to work for and receive a commission from a publisher for locating a salable author than to pretend the agent works for the author and puts her interests first before the publisher’s.

This brings PG to customs of the trade.

Many years ago, PG learned about customs of the New York City garment industry while representing a client who manufactured and sold boatloads of inexpensive jackets. Some of the customs of the trade in the garment business were identical or similar to standard commercial law and others were much different. Those who regularly did business in the garment industry were far more concerned with applying the customs of the trade instead of anything the state legislature had ever written.

In this respect, the customs of the trade in New York City bore some resemblance to what was sometimes called “The Law of the Hills” in the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas.

In some cases, juries were more influenced by the Law of the Hills than they were by The Revised Statutes of Missouri or anything the judge might say about the case. While the state law might look askance at a husband beating up his wife’s lover, the Law of the Hills permitted such actions as long as nobody was permanently crippled.

PG posits that the customs of the traditional publishing trade, including the customs of the literary agency trade have created an environment in which an agent can do far worse things than fail to forward payment the agent receives for royalties from Russian sales to an author. The author’s never going to know and such an action won’t harm the agent’s reputation with HarperCollins even if someone at HarperCollins finds out about it.

When faced with a choice between promptly paying every penny of royalties due to an author and keeping the doors of the agency open, the customs of the agency trade dictate that the survival of the agency is paramount. An agent will make the same decision once, twice, three times — as many times as it takes to survive.

Thus, an otherwise honest and honorable group of people can be lead down a path that ends in systematic and large criminal diversion of funds away from authors and into agents’ pockets. PG’s gut tells him that this has happened at a great many agencies, both small and large.

It’s a custom of the trade.

An Agent Nightmare Revealed

Some thoughts from Kris Rusch on the literary agency bookkeeper who is charged with embezzling $3.4 million from the authors represented by the agency. PG first mentioned it here.

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The news broke publicly over the holiday weekend. If you blinked, you missed it.

The bookkeeper for a prestigious New York literary agency pled guilty to embezzling millions from the agency, leaving the agency “on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Donadio & Olson has existed for 49 years. Started by legendary agent Candida Donadio, the agency has represented some of the biggest names in fiction for decades.

. . . .

The actual criminal charges against the bookkeeper, Darin Webb, were filed on May 15 in federal court. Webb was charged with wire fraud for embezzling $3.4 million. A forensic audit is now occurring at Donadio & Olson, and there is speculation that the amount of money Webb stole will go much, much, much higher.

Here are the facts of the case as reported in the press. $200,000 that an unnamed writer represented by Donadio & Olson expected last year never arrived. The writer kept contacting Webb, who lied about what was going on with the money. Finally, fed up with the delay, the writer contacted someone else at Donadio & Olson. (That person isn’t named either.)

. . . .

The panic is clear in the calm language of Donadio & Olson’s attorney on the civil case. He said, the agency is focused on “ensuring that all of its impacted clients are made whole to the greatest extent possible.”

To the greatest extent possible.

. . . .

Even if the agency is insured against this kind of disaster, it would take years for the insurance to pay out, because the court cases have to go through first. And really, there are other questions here that an insurance company would want answered.

How much of this problem inside Donadio & Olson was caused by negligence on the part of the agency? Webb apparently worked alone, with no back-up. He handled the finances for the agency, received the money and the paperwork from publishers/movie studios/game companies, and then (in theory) passed that money onto the clients, retaining Donadio & Olson’s 15% commission. Did Donadio & Olson require this bookkeeper, who was hired at the tender age of 28, to be bonded? What level of degree did he have? Was this his first job?

How come no one backed him up? Did Donadio & Olson hire a CPA to review their books every year? Did Webb fudge those books before they went to the CPA?

How much of this could have been prevented with average due diligence, the kind of stuff you expect someone who has a fiduciary responsibility to clients to have?

All of those questions and more need to be answered before any insurance settlement would be considered, let alone paid.

To the greatest extent possible.

In other words, my friends, Donadio & Olson does not have the financial resources to make up for a theft of $3.4 million, let alone any more potential losses that the forensic accountant might turn up.

. . . .

[I]magine what’s going on with estates like [the estate of the author of The Godfather, Mario] Puzo’s, which includes all of the monies still coming in from the movies, from licensing, from the books (which are still in print). These are multimillion dollar ventures, handled every year by Donadio & Olson, with no one overseeing the day to day running of the finances.

Oh, my. The money was simply there for the taking.

The thing is, Donadio & Olson is a “reputable” agency. The New York Post used the word “prestigious” in describing the agency. Donadio & Olson was, until last week, a gold-standard agency, one that most young writers might have aspired to have as representatives.

. . . .

According to The Post, Webb confessed to “company executives and their attorneys” in March. A videotaped confession, mind you. Donadio & Olson was still blogging about writing and such on its site in April, acting as if nothing was wrong.

And then…and then…

Well, here’s The Post:

Some writers represented by the agency told The Post they had not been contacted about the theft, and did not know if it affected their royalties.

“This is the first I heard of it,” said McKay Jenkins, a nonfiction author.

Bert Fields, a lawyer representing the Puzo estate, said he learned of the arrest from The Post.

In other words, Donadio & Olson has not informed its clients—to whom it has a fiduciary responsibility—that their one and only bookkeeper confessed to massive embezzlement. The agency has known about this since last fall.

Sadly, I am not surprised by any of this. As I have blogged about before, literary agencies are not regulated. Prestigious agencies embezzle. I’ve personally had one of the biggest boutique agencies in the world embezzle from me. (And I suspect they still are, although I can’t prove it. But there are licensed properties—tie-ins—that I wrote whose royalty statements I cannot get my hands on because no one at the licensor will cooperate with me. The books have been in print for 25-30 years and I have never seen a dime in royalties. Ever.) I’ve also had one of the biggest fraudsters in the industry steal from me. I speak from hard-earned life lessons here.

. . . .

I understand how someone could notice the missing $200,000 payment that they knew was coming. But what about the subsidiary rights sales that no one bothered to tell them about? The royalties on already sold foreign books? The licensing payments from movie-related merchandise? The reprint fees?

I keep imagining those Donadio & Olson writers who have big book deals still working a day job because “there’s no money in writing.” There’s no money in writing when your agent is stealing it from you, that’s for damn sure. In fact, if you want to read a very sad illustration of what happens when an agent embezzles from a big name writer who only has a few properties (not hundreds like, say, Nora Roberts), read this about Chuck Palahniuk from The Guardian.

. . . .

If writers have literary agents—and no writer should—but if a writer for some reason feels they need an agent, then that writer needs to make sure the publisher/game company/film company splits payments. The company pays the writer her 85% and the agent his 15% directly. No money ever ever ever goes through the agent’s hand, except the money he earned.

Better yet to pay 100% to the author, and have the author pay the agent the 15%, just like you’d pay the housekeeper. But agents complain about that. Seems agents think the writers won’t pay them in a timely fashion.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books

PG has done a little online research.

  • Here is the website of Donadio & Olson. PG couldn’t see any indication of the tiniest cloud on the horizon when he checked the site.
  • Here’s a Tweet on the first page of the agency’s website:

 @DonadioandOlson 

Who’s excited to pick up a copy of @chuckpalahniuk new book?! It’s already made it to number seven on the @nytimes bestseller’s list! pic.twitter.com/Q1eEtQNDOP
#7 on the NYT bestseller list and Palahniuk is not receiving any royalties.

The Guardian article which Kris mentions in the OP quotes Chuck Palahniuk saying he’s “close to broke” because his  royalties have evaporated.

The agency website lists two agents:

Neil Olson has been with the agency since 1987 and became a partner in 1996.  He represents most of the agency’s estates, as well as mainstream literary and commercial fiction, and nonfiction in the areas of history, biography, science, travel, and nature.  His clients have won the National Book Award, the Edgar Allen Poe Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal, among other prizes.  Neil can be reached at neil@donadio.com.

Edward Hibbert began working at the agency in 1989.  His clients include bestseller Chuck Palahniuk, Christopher Bram, and the biographers Ed Sikov and Brian Kellow.  Additionally, he sold the film rights on such titles as the cult classic Fight Club, Choke, Oscar Wilde(based on the Richard Ellmann biography) and Gods and Monsters, winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.  He represents literary and commercial fiction, and non-fiction in the area of biography and the performing arts. Edward can be reached at edward@donadio.com.

This has apparently not been a large agency, at least in the  last few years. PG checked the agency website via the Wayback Machine on some random dates from about 2012 on forward and the largest number of  agents listed were four. Most of  the time, there were three agents – the two listed above plus Carrie Howland.

PG mentions the small number  of agents because he would suspect that the scale of embezzlement listed in the OP would be less likely to be noticed in a larger agency with a couple dozen agents and several hundred authors.

If there were two agents and Chuck Palahniuk phoned one of them to ask about his royalties, PG would think that agent might ask to  see some recent royalty reports from the client’s publishers.

At least one and likely both agents would seem likely to have a reasonable idea about how  much income the agency was  generating and, almost certainly, how much money the agent took home each year. But perhaps there were more important concerns than whether the  agency was paying its authors in full and on time.

Cultural Change And The Traditional Writer

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

It’s been a heck of a year. Or two years. Or three. So much has been happening—not just in my life, but in the world—that it’s almost impossible to keep up. And here, in the United States, the news cycle moves so fast that a short story I wrote and sold as science fiction almost a decade ago about updating news features every thirty minutes or so seems remarkably quaint. Every thirty minutes? Some days, the breaking news stories pile on top of each other in the space of minutes.

We cannot keep up, and a lot gets lost in the noise. The rapidity of change is part of that noise. We’re getting used to this frenetic pace, and forgetting how things were as recently as five years ago.

Yet, because we’re human beings and because we have lives, we sometimes miss the memo. Or the piece of news that puts everything together. Or we forget the initial assumption that makes the change visible.

And…we don’t always change either. Not right away. We get stuck in something we were told by professors or by our best friend or by our parents. We get stuck in dreams and hopes and desires, and we don’t realize that those things might no longer be possible in the world of 2018.

Or we think that the dream we formed in our twenties is still attainable twenty years later. That dream might not be attainable, and that’s not because we’re older and somewhat different. It’s because the world in which that dream was formed is no longer the world of today.

I’m as susceptible to this as the next person. It took me until I reached my fifties to realize what nostalgia actually is. It’s not a rosy-eyed longing for what used to be; it’s a sad and somewhat hopeless wish for a world we thought we understood. If you actually look beneath the surface of that nostalgia, you’ll find that old world was as complex as this one, and what we thought we understood was only the superficial surface of that world.

That superficial surface is getting scraped off. Sometimes visibly and rapidly scraped. The whole appalling Harvey Weinstein mess scraped a lot of lies off the surface of some actress’s careers in Hollywood.

. . . .

It’s the suits’ job to guess what will make a profit in the entertainment industry. But those profitability decisions shouldn’t be based on skin color or gender or a whisper campaign. Even “positive” things aren’t always positive in the eye of the artist.

I’ll never forget the day my brand-new editor called me to tell me good news about my very first novel. He was relieved, he said, to discover that I was pretty. So many female fantasy writers weren’t, according to him. And because I was pretty, they were going to promote me and my book heavily, so could I send him a stunning photograph to make his job easier?

I didn’t want to. I was heartbroken, to tell the truth. I wanted the money behind my book because the book was good, not because I hit some physical cultural ideal. I actually said that to him (because I’m not the quiet sort.) Oh, I said as politely as I could, I thought you wanted the book because it’s a strong novel.

It is, he replied. The fact that you’re pretty just means we can market it properly.

I didn’t send a cheesecake photo, although I sent an okay photo. I didn’t let a photographer take a cheesecake photo of me for a major photography book on fantasy authors either, even though that had been her orders from her editor. (The exact orders? Kris is pretty, so make sure the photo of her is sexy—even though I was a major editor and award-winning, bestselling writer at the time, jobs that had nothing to do with my looks.)

That was how decisions were made than, and often how they’re still made now. The Deciders, to use a term that I find somewhat laughable, make hideous horrible mistakes based on all of the wrong things—or worse, based on some kind of whisper campaign, something the person who is being whispered about might not even know is going on.

And yet…and yet…

Here’s what I don’t understand.

As more and more of these stories are coming out, not just in the entertainment industry, but in every industry, writers aren’t applying what they’ve learned across to their own careers.

So many writers still want that traditional “validation.” They want someone else to take control of their career. They want someone else to praise their book and make it a bestseller.

They want to put their entire artistic and creative future into a machine that’s designed to chew people up and spit them out—even if those people aren’t on some blacklist.

I see writer after writer after writer who wants to sell their books to traditional publishers or who want to go into Hollywood with a “free” option or who willingly give away the rights to something just for “the opportunity” to play in this shark tank.

. . . .

The film industry hasn’t yet gone through the full-fledged transition that book publishing and comics are going through right now. It’s not easy to make a film without big money backing and get it distributed worldwide. It is possible to write a book and get it distributed worldwide now.

That self-published book just won’t get the attention that a handful of books got thirty and forty years ago. But that 2018 book will stay on the virtual shelves while the older books rarely stayed on any shelf.

There’s a lot of upside to indie. A bit of downside too, which we’ll be discussing in the next few weeks. But the biggest upside to me is that we are not subject to the whims of someone who will only spend money to market a book on a writer because she’s pretty or because she meets the current cultural norm.

(I just got offered a big quick turn-around tie-in novel this past month, for which I would have been paid in the low six-figures. When I said I wasn’t interested and offered to give the person a list of writers who might have the time to write this project, she asked if any of them were female. I said no, none of them were. [I wasn’t looking at gender; I was looking at availability for a rush job.] Well, to be honest, she said, we only picked you because you were the most visible female tie-in author we could find. We don’t want men at all. Again, that flash of disappointment rose in me. I was chosen, not because my work is good, but because I’m female. I understand the corrective urge in the marketplace, but jeez, that comment felt as insulting as having my book marketed because I was considered pretty 25 years ago.)

Writers who choose to take their novels and their nonfiction books into traditional publishing are choosing to give their careers to the “tastemakers” who sometimes make their decisions based on their prejudices, their “understanding” of a marketplace that (in reality) does not exist, and who will do their best to destroy anyone who questions them.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. I’ve been through my share of whisper campaigns too, including one that went on for nearly thirty years—from the moment that guy lost a big prestigious job to me until the day he died.

. . . .

If you’re going traditional, you need to be made of alligator skin. You need a hide so thick that nothing can pierce it, or if something does, you need to have a system to deal with the pain so you can get up and move forward again.

. . . .

Is becoming a traditionally published author so important to you that you’re willing to succeed on any terms? Is becoming a traditionally published author so important to you that you’re willing to put your career (and your copyrights) in the hands of people who still haven’t figured out that diversity means more than publishing a few books about discrimination?

. . . .

Because, as a friend of mine once said, becoming a professional writer is easy (relatively speaking). Remaining one is hard.

Your job is to have a writing career, not to publish a single book. So be careful who you partner with over the years. Make sure that person, that company, the conglomerate is trustworthy.

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 doesn’t usually excerpt as much from a blog post as he has done with this one.

Kris is talking about some very important issues for authors, so he took the liberty.

PG would like to add a couple of additional thoughts.

As Kris implied, no conglomerate is trustworthy, including publishing conglomerates or conglomerates that own publishers. These are organizations made up of people who come and go. Sometimes they come out of desperation because it’s the only job they can find. At other times, they leave unwillingly because management changed or prior raises had made them too expensive and they were fired. Or the publisher was sold off to another conglomerate which was focused on financials and didn’t understand the book business very well.

The traditional publishing business is a sinking ship. If you’re a smart graduate with a degree from Wharton or Harvard’s Business School, do you go to work for a publisher? How about Barnes & Noble? Of course not. PG would bet serious money that a recruiter from a major publisher has not been seen at any hiring event at a top-tier university professional school in years.

Are there any talented people left at large traditional publishers? Yes, but they’re getting old and their salaries are expensive. They’re wishing they had taken that alternate path several years ago, but it’s too late now.

Somebody higher up in the corporate structure who needs to cut costs because profits are trending down will send instructions to bring personnel expenses in line with reduced sales forecasts. The big book deals that experienced staff pulled off in the 1980’s and 1990’s don’t count anymore. Ready or not, it’s time for them to leave publishing.

After those firings, anybody with a brain who is still working at that publisher will start sending out résumés and burning up the job boards. When they leave, someone less-qualified will replace them.

U.S. subsidiaries of European publishing conglomerates have the additional problem of explaining to Günter that, unlike German book buyers, U.S. consumers think ebooks are great and there are no restrictions to prevent online bookstores from selling books below their suggested retail prices. And, although Günter thinks it’s an obvious solution, unfortunately, it’s illegal for all the US publishers to meet for a drink and agree on mandatory minimum retail prices. A year later, the same explanation will be required for Katarina, who replaced Günter when he got a big promotion.

If it’s a terrible time to be an employee at a traditional publisher, PG suggests it’s also a terrible time to sign a publishing contract with a traditional publisher, a contract that will last for years and years and years and years with no way out. Günter says all contracts will be enforced according to their terms.

 

Bread and Cupcakes

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’m allergic to dairy. It’s one of the many allergies that sent me to Vegas. In Lincoln City, restaurants didn’t understand that no dairy meant no butter, no milk products, no cheese. The restaurants would often scrap off the offending item if they accidentally mixed it into my food, not caring about cross-contamination. Between that and my perfume allergy, I was no longer able to eat in any restaurant in the city by December.

So Vegas has been wonderful. When I say “allergy,” a restaurant here snaps to. They get it, because the competition for customers is so severe that everyone lives and dies by their Yelp reviews. One allergy screw-up and a restaurant is out of business. It’s been absolute heaven for me—except for bread.

I can’t find good dairy-free bread anywhere. I find some in grocery stores, but that bread is…mediocre at best.

So today, I was at my new haunt, the vegan bakery that supplies vegan desserts to half the restaurants in the city, and has fueled my sweet tooth since I moved here. I asked the owner if they made bread. They did not, although, she told me, every restaurant they do business with will buy dairy-free and gluten-free breads if they would provide it.

“You should!” I said with great enthusiasm.

“Oh, we can’t,” she said, looking tired. “We’re already doing too much as it is. We simply can’t take on any more.”

I get it. I really do.

Her bakery is so good that her clients want more. Not just more of what she already makes but more items. There’s a market, and they know she would fulfill that market with integrity, and it would add to the restaurants’ bottom line.

But she can’t.

Because they’re moderating growth.

It’s sensible. It really is. If you’re good at what you do, you will end up with more work than you can do.

When Dean and I started Pulphouse Publishing a hundred years ago, and people asked us for more of this and more of that, we worked hard to supply it. We hired more people, rearranged the business half a dozen times, and grew and grew and grew.

The problem with that was that the money didn’t grow and grow and grow with it. Accounts receivable grew, because our clients had 90 days to pay us, and often took 120 before we got too pissy.

The fact that the money didn’t arrive for nearly four months meant we were always running behind. It was a treadmill at top speed. It felt like we were going somewhere, but if we stopped moving, we would careen backwards and hit the wall.

. . . .

Writers get into this same situation. I’m in it right now. I’m getting settled from the move. I can finally see what life here in Vegas will be like. I know how Lincoln City will continue to factor in, and I know where I’ll be when. It no longer feels chaotic.

I’m still organizing my writing, revisiting deadlines and figuring out what I can do with my entire research library in boxes. And as I’ve been doing this, and I’m realizing just how much better I’m feeling, which is bringing hours back into the day, projects have reared their abandoned heads and asked, What about me? You haven’t thought of me for years.

I’m interested. I really am. I want to revive the old projects, do the work that fans are writing me and asking for, get a few projects done before any film/TV starts shooting (three possible at the moment), and explore some new ideas that have come up in the last year.

. . . .

A very real factor is time. There’s the time it will take me to write something, the time it will take me to rebuild my knowledge of a world I haven’t written in for a while, the time it’ll take to research something I want to write about.

But the bigger factor is the treadmill. I’m feeling better now. We’re having to look at the overall schedule for all of the businesses, given the changes my health has caused, so this is the perfect time to redo all of our plans.

If we’re going to add anything—if I’m going to add anything—the time is now. Just like this is the perfect time to delete something as well.

But we have to be really cautious. Because the biggest mistake we can make—as a business and I can make as a writer—is to work at the very edge of my productivity. Not the bottom edge, but the top edge, where every waking moment is spent on words or a deadline or something for the business.

. . . .

The quality won’t necessarily go down (although it might), but enjoyment will and there’s no reason to do this profession if it’s not fun.

That look on the bakery owner’s face was cautionary for me as I’m slowly returning to the land of the living. That frustration combined with the knowledge that taking the slower road, doing less and keeping the business alive, was the better choice—that look. I’ve experienced it.

But I’ve also fallen backwards off a treadmill (metaphorically and in real life), and it’s not something I want to do again.

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.

Editorial Encroachment

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last week, as I was searching for a friend’s book on Amazon, I made a loathsome discovery. My friend’s book, which is up for preorder, lists her name and the name of someone else on the byline.

I had never heard of that someone else. So I clicked on the preorder, and what did I see? A cover, with just my friend’s name on it.

So I glanced up at the title. Beneath it was this byline:

My Friend (Author), Annoying Person (Editor)

I went through the roof. My friend wrote that book. She hired Annoying Person to edit the book.

I looked up Annoying Person and found her terms and conditions. She sounds like a fairly knowledgeable editor. She only handles copy editing and line editing (although it sounds like she would have a pretty heavy hand). She explicitly says she does not do developmental editing.

Which means she has done exactly nothing on this book. She didn’t come up with the concept. She didn’t brainstorm the characters. She didn’t improve the plot. She didn’t imagine the setting.

All she did was tweak the words.

So why the hell is she getting credit for this book?

When I searched her name on Amazon, I found her listed on the byline of dozens of novels by many different writers—too many for this to be simple ignorance on the part of the writers themselves.

Annoying Person asks to be credited as editor on the book as part of her agreement with the writers. If they hire her, they have to list her as editor.

This is a great ploy by Annoying Person. It got me to look up her name. I’m sure it brings her a lot of business.

And it decreases the sales of every single writer whose byline she leaches onto.

Got that? Having her name as editor on that byline hurts sales of the books dramatically.

. . . .

For years, traditional publishing has needed brand names to sell its books. Because traditional publishing has to go from bestselling book to bestselling book to meet its monthly quota, traditional publishing’s beleaguered editorial departments do what they can to manufacture bestsellers.

Some of those are movie tie-ins. Others are books that are “just like” the books by a big name. Mostly, though, the manufactured books piggyback off an established name.

Right now, James Patterson is running a regular fiction factory. By my count, he will have 25 new books with his byline on them in 2018. That doesn’t count the “James Patterson Presents” line where he introduces a book.

The dual byline thing is very generous of Patterson. A couple of friends of mine have worked with him on collaborative projects. He’s hands-on (unlike some writers who’ve done this), and he teaches his collaborators a lot about writing and plotting, even if they’ve been in the business a long time.

The dual byline usually boosts the sales of the secondary writer. I was familiar with almost every writer he worked with. All of his collaborators were established writers before they signed on to work with him. But as I scrolled through the list, I found a couple of names I didn’t recognize. I looked them up as well, and discovered they were established, but they were new to me.

That system works well for the secondary writer. It also works well for the publisher, because they’re minting money. And it works well for Patterson, because as he’s said in more than one interview, he has more ideas than he can get to in his lifetime.

He’s happy with this arrangement. And he’s not the only one who does this. Clive Cussler does the same thing, and has done so for decades.

This is actually a 1990s trick that publishers used to use a lot more than they do now. Now, most writers who want to let someone play in their worlds either do it with Kindle Worlds or something similar.

. . . .

I got to see lots and lots and lots of sales figures from these joint byline books. I know young writers who were brought in to work with the established writers, and I know established writers who mentored young writers.

I also was in the thick of publishing when this Thing was important in traditional publishing. Dean and I, as Pulphouse Publishing, were in a co-publishing deal with Bantam Books, and as such, were privy to a lot of their business decisions back in the day.

To a person, everyone involved in these co-writing ventures acknowledged that books with a joint byline did not sell as well as books with the author’s single byline.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Melinda and others for the tip.

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.

Confidential Business Information

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When the big indie publishing movement started almost a decade ago, we were all startled by it. From the ease of publishing ebooks directly to readers to the way that fortunes could be made, seemingly overnight, it all felt too good to be true.

And that created a culture of Prove It To Me. Part art of that culture was absolutely necessary. Most people did not believe that self-publishing could make them money. Those who did had either done it before, or had such wild success that they were as startled as the rest of us.

Joe Konrath and others started posting their indie sales numbers pretty early on.  I’m linking randomly to Joe’s blog posts from 2010, just because I remember him being so open about the numbers.

I also liked the tone of his blogs—surprise that the numbers were working out the way that they were; pleased that the numbers were working out the way that they were; and a small bit of worry that the numbers might not continue working out that way.

I’m assuming that they have for Joe, although I don’t know. He stopped reporting his sales numbers a long time ago. But he’s still going at it, still publishing his books, still analyzing what’s going on (mostly in his own career), and occasionally—very occasionally—blogging for writers.

In those days, most self-published writers posted their numbers, sometimes from all the sources (all two or three of them), and usually did so monthly. It was part of what became the indie community—this openness about how well you were doing, mixed with isn’t this great? and a lot of cheerleading (If I can do it, you can too.)

The cheerleading is mostly gone. Now it’s more business focused, and many of the people who are posting their numbers are trying to sell their method for garnering those sales.

. . . .

There’s nothing sinister about keeping information private. (Although there can be, at times.) Most businesses just prefer to work that way. They want to control the reveal of information.

I’ve often been in conflict with that reveal, because I’ve been a reporter off and on throughout my life. There are rules and ethics behind how reputable reporters get information, many of those adjudicated in courts of law.

In doing this blog, I often know much more information than I can comfortably (or legally) reveal to you folks. It’s part of the business.

So let’s come back to publishing.

. . . .

The latest Author Earnings report came out on January 22, after nearly a year of silence.  Data Guy has been capturing information what he says are the million top selling titles every single day, and then using his algorithm to turn that information into actual sales numbers. He’s tweaking Amazon’s algorithms so that they work for him.

Data Guy has done this, keeping his name and identity private, for four years now. He has done a lot of work to gather this information. He says he only uses information that’s publically available…to someone with his skills. Then he uses his own secret sauce to scrape and interpret the data.

I’ve always had a slightly queasy reaction to Data Guy’s methodology, because I can’t verify it. At worst, I figured, he was a white hat hacker. At best, he was right about how he got the information. Early on, I was usually one of the last people to report his findings, expecting Amazon to shut him down.

After years, and his appearance at various conferences, I figured Amazon knew about him. If they didn’t like what he was doing, or saw it as a threat to their private algorithms, they would shut him down. Apparently, in this early stage, anyway, they saw him as another data capture service.

They might also have had no qualms about what he was doing because he was not making money from it.

Anyway, this report’s findings are a nice confirmation of what we’ve all been saying—that the market has matured, and ebooks continue to grow. That would have made a nice two-day story, something that would have helped the publishing community along.

But hand-in-glove with the new report was the announcement that Data Guy has started a new company. It was only a matter of time before Data Guy did this. Either he would quit offering the information for free and go on to doing other things, or he would monetize his work. (I had thought, early on, that Hugh Howey paid him. I’m not sure what their arrangement is.)

In response to a question I asked on the site, Data Guy said the cost of providing this information has become so extreme he either had to monetize it or quit. That makes sense to me.

The method he chose to monetize this product, however, angered a ton of indie writers. The anger is only growing as I write this on January 26.

. . . .

This is not what Data Guy promised indie writers when he started setting up this company. First, he spoke at the annual conferences for Romance Writers of America and Novelists, Inc, promising writers that if they shared their personal data with him, he would then create an algorithm that would allow them (for a fee) to see their own numbers as scraped by his algorithm.

A lot of writers—many big names—shared their data with him, so he could tweak his product. When he announced the new business, however, it was clear that his business model revealed all of this information…to companies that have revenues of ten million or more. I did a piece just a few weeks ago on traditional publishers. Ten million is the minimum threshold for what I was calling “small traditional publishers” —if you look at publically available financial data on those companies.

How Data Guy will be able to verify this information is beyond me. I now consider him untrustworthy when it comes to handling information. He gathered information from writers under false pretenses, and is now giving it to their competitors. (I write this on January 26, so this may have changed.)

The writers themselves cannot access their own personal information, to even see if it’s accurate. (I can guarantee that it does not check a writer’s complete sales or income. Writers earn from many, many more sources than Amazon, even online.)

. . . .

When the free report came out, there was a list of the top-selling indie writers—by name—with the promise that some big corporation could get their sales numbers if the big corporation paid for it. Just the list of the top 50 indie writers had some big reveals that the writers themselves did not want public.

To make matters worse, none of those writers gave him permission to use their names. I suspect (although I do not know) that some of those writers gave him information to help him tweak his algorithm, thinking they would be getting personal data from him, not data on other companies. He betrayed them.

Writer after writer wrote to him, demanding their names be removed from that 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.

The Small Traditional Publishers (2017 in Review)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[M]y traditional publishing posts are focused on the U.S. because I’m not as well informed about traditional publishing companies in other countries. Still, if you live outside of the U.S., you might find some similarities to what is happening in your country. If so, please feel free to comment below.

Initially, I planned to handle traditional publishing as one big lump in the industry. That’s how I’ve been doing it since I started blogging on the industry in 2009. But that way of dealing with non-indie publishing no longer works, and it took me until December of 2017 to make that realization.

I have known that a change was coming in traditional publishing for years now. The way that the Big Five (who were bigger and more than five nine years ago) were running their businesses inevitably meant that they would be too slow and too large to make changes in their publishing model quickly enough to capitalize on the new world of publishing.

I did not expect them to screw up as royally as they did—hating their biggest customer (Amazon) and essentially getting into a war with it. Nor did I expect the Big Five to so completely misunderstand the market that they ended up cutting their real cash cows. I also didn’t expect the Big Five to price their ebooks so high that the books sell to regular readers despite the price. That does not invite new readers to sample authors, so it’s hurting the future of the Big Five book lines.

In fact, most everything the Big Five have done in the past two years have hurt their book lines, rather than help them. Other factors will keep those publishers in business, factors that I explored in the previous post, but those factors make the Big Five a place for any savvy writer to avoid.

. . . .

Once I separated out the Big Five from all of the other traditional publishers in the U.S., I came to a happy realization. There are a lot of good publishers doing the kind of work we readers want publishers to do—curating books with a voice and an attitude, so that we know what to expect from the company, marketing those books to the best of their ability, and making the books available in all formats. In many cases, the ebooks are priced at under ten dollars.

Realize when I’m talking about small traditional publishers, I am not talking about corporations inside the umbrella of the Big Five. So even if your favorite “publisher” has a clear voice and an attitude, but is part of a Big Five corporate entity, that publisher is not the small traditional publisher I’m talking about. For example, Harlequin moved from a small traditional publisher to a corporation wrapped into HarperCollins, a Big Five company, in 2014. So Harlequin is not part of what I’m discussing here.

Neither is Tor, which is part of Holtzbrinck, (MacMillan here in the U.S.), which is also one of the Big Five. At any point, these smaller corporations can be shut down, reassigned, changed, or focused in a brand-new direction, based on what the conglomerate wants.

Rather than ask me if your favorite company is a small traditional publisher, Google them or look them up on Wikipedia. Follow the corporate trail, and you’ll learn quite a bit.

When I talk about small traditional publishers, I’m talking about family companies or companies that are not part of a bigger conglomerate. These small companies are run by a single owner or by a small board of directors, but the company is notpublically traded. Many of these small traditional publishers have distribution deals with the Big Five. Distribution deals mean that these small publishers use a Big Five’s sales operation to help sell their books (at some kind of percentage or fee; I’ve never seen one of those deals, so don’t know the financial details).

But, even with those distribution deals, these small traditional publishers are not part of the corporate entities that compose the Big Five.

And when I talk about small, I’m talking about their size in the industry, not what most people think of as small (like a little local company).

Small traditional publishers generally bring in at least $10 million in revenues annually and often have between fifty and 100 employees. Compared to the Big Five, these companies are tiny.

. . . .

The small traditional publishers have many advantages that the Big Five do not have. These small traditional publishers have a corporate vision that is usually enforced by the owner or the board of directors. Most of these small companies name the CEO or the owner of the business, and much of the direction of the business comes from the top down to the employees.

There’s an actual vision in these places, and one essential part of that vision is a love of books.

Publishing for these smaller companies is not about IP valuation (see last week) [link] or about a global market strategy—even if the company has an international vision. It’s about publishing good books that fit with the company’s business.

Sure, those books need to be commercial. And they need to earn a profit (large or small) for the company or the company will eventually drop the author.

But for the most part, these small traditional publishers are still what we romantically think about when we think about book publishers—people who love books and do their best to get them to the marketplace.

. . . .

I’ve seen the contracts for many of these small traditional publishers. Like every other business, some of these small traditional publishers are great. Others are awful.

Of the three I’ve done business with in the last decade or so, two of them have been forthright and easy to work with. They don’t have the gotcha clauses in their contracts that the Big Five have, and they’re really not out to own the entire IP.

. . . .

The third company that I’ve worked with started with the best contracts in the business—the most writer-friendly—and in the five years I worked with them changed their contracts to the worst contracts in the business.

That company is a complete mess. It has at least one editor who is well known in the business for verbally abusing her authors (and who has told more than one author to ditch characters of color because characters of color will “interfere with sales”). This company is doing its best to hang onto every single dime that the writers generate.

I suspect the company lost a lot of money in the digital revolution, didn’t move quickly enough, and didn’t have enough ready cash to handle the change, so it squeezed revenue from everywhere it possibly could. That became a habit, and the company will not change. The contracts confirm this.

I don’t know if the company will survive the next five years, despite its high reported annual revenue. If it does, it will do so on the backs of its authors rather than working with its authors.

So, as you can tell, just because a company is a small traditional publisher, privately owned, doesn’t mean it’s a good place for writers. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad place for writers either.

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.

The Big Five (2017 in Review)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In the fall of 2017, the CEO of Penguin Random House, Markus Dohle, gave a rousing, optimistic speech about the future of publishing at Frankfurt Book Fair. Some of what he said was directed at the trade, but some of it was in code, and much of it pointed to the direction that traditional publishing will take in the next five years.

Dohle’s speech discusses the new phase, in some depth, in fact. He said,

…we have relatively stable business models for selling and delivering print and e-books to readers. Amazon’s Kindle will be celebrating its tenth birthday next month. The Kindle launch in November 2007 marked a breakthrough for digital books in the mass market. The business model for e-books was “in flux” for some years, to put it mildly, especially in the large Anglo-American markets. After some disruption and a lengthy lawsuit in the U.S., we have had a widespread business model, in terms of media content, for the past two years…

I love it when business people put a positive spin on ugly. “In flux” indeed. And “a lengthy lawsuit,” as if his company had nothing to do with it.

. . . .

The Big Five publishers have a completely different problem with their profits than other traditional publishers. The Big Five answer to international conglomerates, which means that the Big Five need to generate profits for their corporate overlords. Depending on the setup of the conglomerate, those profits must appear on a quarterly or biannual basis.

And in certain corporate environments, those profits must show an annual upward trend. (A few even demand an upward quarterly trend, which truly stifles innovation.)

So the business setup is different for the Big Five than it is for other, smaller traditional publishers. And when I say smaller traditional publishers, I mean publishers who generate tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue.  These companies aren’t part of an international conglomerate but are either closely held corporations or family businesses.

A smaller traditional publisher has its own corporate culture which usually comes from the owner or board of directors. The owners are knowable, and the focus of the company understandable.

. . . .

In his speech, Dohle said this about traditional publishing:

The fundamental challenge posed by the digital transformation is the change from a B2B-oriented, publisher to bookstore publishing industry to one that is B2C-oriented (publisher to reader). In an online-dominated world, we publishers must become more reader-centric and we need to establish a direct connection with the reader.

Let’s move this out of corporate speak into real people speak, shall we? What he means is that traditional publishing’s focus used to be all about selling its product to other businesses—generally to bookstores or large distribution companies. All of traditional publishing’s marketing was geared toward getting those businesses to carry that publishing house’s books. It was up to the bookstore to sell the books to consumers.

Now, Dohle says, traditional publishers must communicate directly with the reader. They’re stymied about how to do that, since most of these companies haven’t done anything like it in corporate memory.

But a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) model doesn’t work in the kind of corporate environment that the Big Five are in. B2C models generally require slow build, with lots of focus on the consumer experience. B2C models often sustain heavy losses, sometimes for years, as the company builds its reputation (which cannot change on a whim) and then eventually makes small profits which (one hopes) turns into large profits.

I don’t see how these Big Five publishers can make the shift to B2C. In fact, I don’t think they can, not with their overall business structure.

. . . .

I think he’s telling the employees at Penguin Random House that they need to figure out how to change to a B2C model, so that they can increase sales, while he and others in the company are working on a completely different way of increasing profits.

He alludes to that different way in this part of his speech:

Furthermore, every good film and every good television series is based on a good story, and in most cases, those stories begin with a great book. Hollywood’s thirst for stories, from established studios as well as new players in the business—among them Netflix, Amazon and Apple, Hulu, Facebook and Google—has never been greater than it is today. And each iteration of a story as a film or a TV series increases sales of the original story, namely, in the form of the book.

Just before that quote, he had talked about the growth in audio books and how audio books harken back to having stories read to us as children or listening to tale told over the camp fire.

What he does not mention is that these sub-rights are on his mind, and in his negotiating strategies.

In December, Alice Luytens, a literary agent and the audio rights manager at Curtis Brown, wrote in The Bookseller that the publishing deals for audio rights have changed in the past three years.  She has seen what she calls “a significant drop in separate/independent audio rights deals.”

She writes,

This is not because the market is shrinking or offering fewer options. Far from it. It is because book publishers now believe that audio rights are “part of the package.” I do not altogether agree. Audio rights and e-book rights are not the same. … They utilize different skills and are created for an audience not limited to the reading public. So why are we in a position where we are pressured to lump together two distinct sets of rights into one package?

She asks an excellent question at the end of that quote, and means the question almost rhetorically. While her entire article points out a problem for writers (and, in theory, agents), it also shows a lack of understanding as to why these deals are changing, and changing rapidly.

The money in super-large traditional book publishing no longer comes from straight book sales. If you look at the sales figures for the big bestsellers, they’re abysmal compared with just ten years ago.

To prep for these posts, I went through months of Publisher’s Weekly, which showed the BookScan numbers, and found that books by writers like John Grisham and Stephen King were selling monthly what they used to sell on a weekly basis.

Now, these sales numbers did not include ebooks, as Publisher’s Weekly happily pointed out, but those tradionally published ebook sales numbers have gone down dramatically as prices have gone up. Traditional publishing has bitched about declining ebook sales all year.

. . . .

But that paper-to-ebook shift means that Grisham and the other big name writers are making significantly less money. They don’t generally receive a percentage of cover price on ebooks; they receive part of the net profits (unless they had a really savvy agent/lawyer way aback when). Those profits fluctuate.

And the profits fluctuate for the traditional publishers too. Because it’s become harder and harder to funnel readers into a handful of books. There has been a leveling in publishing. The mountain peaks of the bestsellers have become hills as people find other books to their tastes.

. . . .

Dohle has been complaining for years that discoverability is getting harder, and he’s right. For traditional publishing, which had a stranglehold on what was published, the open floodgates of indie publishing have been a complete nightmare.

. . . .

But the Big Five publishers have to be making their money somewhere. Right now, they’re making it by cutting back on expenses and employees, and on how much they publish.

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.

The Year in Review (Overview)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve been trying to get my arms around what’s going on with traditional publishing for about a week and a half. I have varied reports from other writers, still working traditionally. I have been perusing back issues of Publishers Weekly, looking at other news sources, and reading some of my list serves.

I’m beginning to think I can’t figure out what happened to traditional publishing in 2017 because traditional publishing doesn’t know what’s going on in its own industry.

I’m writing this blog on December 26, 2017, and I’ve just seen the data that Amazon released on its various lists. I haven’t had time to go over it in-depth, but I did notice all of the backlist titles with legs on the Amazon lists. I said to Dean, “It’s amazing that traditional publishing still exists as mismanaged as it has been.”

I think that story of mismanagement continues, which is why I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what’s going on. Publisher’s Weekly barely mentions Amazon and doesn’t use its numbers to report its bestseller list, preferring BookScan. For an ebook bestseller list, PW uses the iBooks and (occasionally) Smashwords, which is well and good, but only gets a small picture of what’s going on.

Then there are all the cutbacks in genre fiction from the Big Five. That, and the lack of effective publicity for books. I ordered too many books at the end of this year, because I was looking through PW and was startled that this favorite author of mine had published a book or that favorite author had published two books, and I hadn’t heard of those books.

. . . .

It looks, at a casual glance, like the Big Five (Four? Three? Who the hell knows) is cutting its way to quarterly profits, and doing so exceedingly stupidly. In 2017, for example, Randy Penguin dropped its cozy mystery line, which thrives in mass market. Writers whose series were growing or selling at excellent numbers (for this time period) were unceremoniously dropped.

But…smaller traditional publishers, long-established traditional publishers, like Baen and Kensington, publishers not beholden to some international corporate overlord, are scooping up as many of these dropped genre authors as they possibly can, knowing cash cows when they see them.

. . . .

I wrote a post earlier in the year about all the traditionally published authors flooding into indie publishing right now, and the lack of patience long-term indies are showing them. That flood was the direct result of the cutting that occurred in traditional publishing.

We’re going to see a lot more hybrid publishing from writers, particularly those who have huge traditional careers. One traditionally published #1 New York Times bestseller just told me that his “test” indie published novella out-earns every single one of his bestselling titles.

I would have expected that from the financial angle—making 65% to 70% of each sale is much better than 12-15% (minus agent fees)—and I said that to him. He corrected me. He said that the novella outsells his bestselling titles as well. And that surprised me.

But the earnings are speaking to him, and he’s not alone. I’ve heard rumors about other bestsellers who are frightened by their sales numbers through traditional, and watching their income decline precipitously. Some of those writers are going hybrid fast.

Others are moving full indie.

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.

As usual, PG thinks Kris is correct about many different things.

PG has used the “Not dead yet!” video from Monty Python to illustrate his view of traditional publishing on a few occasions.

Every month that goes by, PG has an image in his mind of groups of people in the publishing business holding secret celebratory Not Dead Yet dinners in dimly lit subterranean rooms. At the end of each dinner, the gathered publishers solemnly chant in unison, “Not dead yet, not dead yet, not dead yet” over and over before pulling their cowls over their heads, blowing out the candles and departing into the night.

Here are a few “But You’re Dying Fast” counterpoints that float to the top of PG’s consciousness:

  1. If traditional publishing were financially healthy, Barnes & Noble would not be circling the drain.
  2. If traditional publishing were healthy (mentally and otherwise), members of that establishment would not be trashing the world’s largest bookseller (and the publisher’s most profitable account), Amazon, on a continuing basis.
  3. If traditional publishing were healthy, it would regard ebooks as a wonderful and highly-profitable new market, the future of publishing.

PG suggests traditional publishing understands that James Patterson will die someday, their pipeline of star authors, the kind that will be good for 30 years worth of bestsellers in the future, is rapidly drying up and that physical bookstores won’t save them.

But they’re not doing anything about this reality. These publishers still require new authors to jump through a thousand hoops to be published. They still operate on an industrial-age production line that finally spits out a book a year after they receive a manuscript.

Publishers are still in a lockstep shared monopoly in which they offer identical royalty rates and require every author to pay 15% off the top to a third-party agent in order to be published traditionally whether the author needs an agent or not.

I don’t fear death so much as I fear its prologues: loneliness, decrepitude, pain, debilitation, depression, senility. After a few years of those, I imagine death presents like a holiday at the beach.

Mary Roach

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