The Business of Writing

Yesterday

25 June 2019

Not much to do with writing, but perhaps a writing prompt.

The premise for a new movie PG just stumbled upon, Yesterday, is that due to some cosmic occurrence a small-time struggling musician is the only person on the earth who remembers The Beatles and their songs. For everyone else, The Beatles never existed.

Here’s a trailer:

From The Wall Street Journal:

How much is an idea worth? In show business it often depends on who came up with it.

In the surreal comedy “Yesterday,” a struggling musician catapults to fame by singing Beatles tunes as if they were his own, following a freak occurrence that erases the band from the world’s collective awareness.

The real-life story behind the movie, in theaters Friday, tracks nearly the opposite trajectory: A struggling screenwriter comes up with an original idea, but can’t get the project made until he passes the torch onto someone much more famous.

. . . .

Moderately successful TV writer Jack Barth had spent many a hard day’s night trying to write for the big screen, penning more than 20 scripts over the course of his career—none of which he had ever managed to sell. Then, inspired partly by his own failures, the 62-year-old Mr. Barth had the idea for “Yesterday,” and spent a few years trying to get his script made into a movie. But it wasn’t until Richard Curtis—the acclaimed writer and director of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually”—heard Mr. Barth’s idea that the dream started to become a reality.

Although Mr. Curtis had experience adapting other people’s ideas—most notably with Helen Fielding’s novel “Bridget Jones’s Diary”—in this case he preferred to write his own version of the story. Mr. Barth, selling his idea for what he calls “a fair price,” hoped for the best, knowing he no longer controlled the film’s fate. He didn’t reveal the price.

Mr. Barth credits Mr. Curtis with writing a charming movie, even though their respective scripts take different turns; in Mr. Barth’s more cynical version, the film’s protagonist, also named Jack, fails to attain stardom.

“My view was, even if I woke up and I was the only person to know “Star Wars” or Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t be very successful with it, because that’s kind of the way things have gone for me,” Mr. Barth says.

. . . .

“When I wrote my version I hadn’t actually read Jack’s; that was the deal,” Mr. Curtis says. “So I guess it was my natural instinct that went for a more optimistic version.”

. . . .

Because of his decision to sell the script, Mr. Barth can’t take credit for writing the movie and isn’t accorded the coveted “Screenplay By” credit. Instead, he shares the less prestigious “Story By” credit with Mr. Curtis, which means he is also ineligible to receive major awards.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

The Economics of Writing a Technical Book

24 June 2019

From Medium:

I am not an expert. I have co-authored a single book in 2017 called Cloud Native Infrastructure for O’Reilly Media. Many people have asked me what it was like so I will attempt to explain the process, time investment, and financial incentive here.

. . . .

The process was about what I expected. I was introduced to Brian, our first of three editors, from someone I knew who was already writing their third book. They thought I might be a good fit for what they were looking for so they made the introduction.

I thought about it for a couple weeks and then submitted a formal book proposal which entailed filling out a Word document template and emailing it to the editor. I didn’t hear back for about 3 weeks and then, after a follow-up email, heard the proposal was approved. After a kick-off call it was suggested that I find a co-author to help write the book. I had a week to find one and then needed to sign a contract with O’Reilly for dates and deliverables. I interviewed a few people and Kris Nova and I complemented each others skills perfectly for the content we wanted to cover in the book. She agreed it sounded like a good topic and she was excited to take on the challenge.

The contract seemed fairly standard and focused around content ownership and royalties split. The default split between authors is 50/50 which we stuck with. The contract stipulated that Kris and I own the copyright for the content, but O’Reilly has exclusive rights to use the content any way they see fit throughout the world now and in the future for the duration of the copyright.

Once the contract was signed there was a steady pace of work as we both figured out how to lay out content and what we should write about. O’Reilly provides a platform called Atlas for writing which is quite good. You write in plain text AsciiDoc and then O’Reilly’s Atlas platform can generate a PDF, or other formats, via the web interface or API. We both used atlas-cli to generate PDFs as we wrote. Generating the PDFs was a good feedback loop on the content. It helped make sure formatting was right and also allowed us to take a step back to read what we wrote.

. . . .

On March 1st we were assigned our cover animal which Kris and I named Andy O’Connor the Andean Condor. We were pretty excited to see the cover for the first time even if the subtitle went through multiple revisions. We didn’t get to pick the animal or the picture. We were told up front we wouldn’t get to pick the animal so we knew what to expect. We were also told that Tyrannosaurus Rex and unicorns are not allowed.

We kept writing until the 1/2 draft was due in early June. We turned it in and got less feedback than we expected, but it was still good to have a fresh set of eyes looking at it. We didn’t like what we had created. We had written almost 6 chapters and threw away 3 of them. The first two were heavily edited and the remaining chapter was trimmed down significantly and turned into an appendix.

We had some more planning meetings and came up with a revised outline that we submitted to our editor for review. By this time we were on our 2nd editor who wasn’t very familiar with the project so we got very little feedback and went with what we had.

. . . .

The first Tuesday of September the full draft was due and then went into a review process. There were technical reviewers we were able to suggest but mostly O’Reilly pulled from a pool of their trusted reviewers. We got minimal feedback from most of them (a survey form) and one returned notes on the PDF. We had a week to make edits. During this time the draft was made available as a preview on Safari books. In retrospect I wish we had posted preview chapters sooner which was something our first editor suggested, but we were both too embarrassed to follow through.

It wasn’t enough feedback for me so I reached out to more people and sent them chapters looking for someone to tell me it sucks and why. Luckily, I found someone who would give me the harsh feedback I wanted and I had about 3 days to incorporate their changes into the book before it went off to post production.

The last push was very difficult and stressful. There were a lot of big changes on the last weekend which was a risk, but I think in the end made the book better. The final weekend we moved some chapters around and wrote a chapter from scratch for content we felt was missing.

. . . .

I believe the first PDF came back with more than 1300 edits. Overall there were more than 2000 changes made during post. I later found out this amount of edits is fairly standard for our book length. We had about 3 weeks of emailing large, heavily notated PDFs back and forth which was no fun compared to the plain text git workflow of writing.

. . . .

All in all I worked from Feb — Oct for roughly 5 nights a week at 2–3 hours per night. I also worked about 3 weekends non-stop when a draft or final edits were due. Roughly I’d say I worked about 500 hours total. That was only my time and doesn’t include Kris’. I was lucky to have a co-author to share the load.

. . . .

At the end of final edits I was done (contractually and mentally). I had read through the entire book at least three times and much of the content was starting to lose meaning. After sending the final edited PDF I wanted to stress about missing an edit before going to bed, but I was too tired to care.

. . . .

O’Reilly provides an affiliate program which was terrible to set up and in the end hardly worth the time. You get a cut from all sales that go through your link but I have never received any money from affiliate book sales. The only money I got was when someone used my link and then bought a ticket to an O’Reilly conference.

. . . .

I attempted to set up an affiliate program for Amazon but my application was denied. Amazon offers an author central site to create a 1998 inspired author profile page and an out of date book sale statistics and rankings. I’m really not sure the point of creating the Amazon author information outside of claiming the book(s) you author and confirming that you have a terrible book rank.

. . . .

I would suggest anyone writing a book spend a night to register a domain and set one up. I launched it on August 31, 2017 and it has over 4,600 visits which is terrible by most website standards but good as a place to funnel users for info.

. . . .

From December through March the book has sold 1337 copies. I have no idea how well other books in this category sell. This total also includes 2 book signings at conferences that were sponsored by the CNCF (Thank you!) which was roughly 150 physical books total. On average, the book has sold 222 copies per month which is greatly skewed by the first month which had 930 sales. The last month (March) had 34 physical book sales. I suspect that number will go down even more over the next few months.

Sponsorships was an unexpected source of income. We have been lucky enough to have 3 sponsors so far. The sponsor pays O’Reilly for exclusive rights to provide a PDF and optional print version of the book. The company gets to put a forward in the book that Kris, me, and an O’Reilly editor approve. Once the sponsor completes their contract with O’Reilly they can do whatever they want with the books. Usually, the PDF gets put behind a web form so you fill out your email address and the company uses it for marketing services and getting customer leads. Physical books are usually given away at conferences where they can scan badges.

. . . .

Each full book sponsorship for one month nets me $3,705 and partial sponsorships give an amount based on percentage of the book sponsored (e.g. 5 chapters in a 10 chapter book is 50% sponsored). That’s much better than I expected because a one month full sponsorship is more than all other sales combined.

. . . .

There are also some other sponsorships that I think count as ebook sales but I never got a clear answer how royalties work for those. Book licensing incurs a small payment but I’m unclear how that is used. From my statements, three people have licensed the book or excerpts from it which has netted me $2.37.

. . . .

My April 2018 statement (sales from December — March) says I’ve made $11,554.15 which roughly breaks down to $23 per hour for the estimated 500 hours of work. Without the three sponsorships that would have been $5.29 per hour.

. . . .

The book has provided a few other opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had. So far I’ve done a couple podcast interviews, spoken at a few events, did one webinar, and have had a few opportunities for more writing projects with O’Reilly (some of which I’ve taken).

Would I write another book? Not for the foreseeable future. I would like to update Cloud Native Infrastructure to keep it fresh with current industry trends, but another book from scratch is not a year long project I’d be looking forward to at this time.

Link to the rest at Medium

Here It Comes

8 June 2019

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.

Why Do Employers Lowball Creatives? a New Study Has Answers

31 May 2019

From KQED:

Larissa Archer has been asked to perform for free so many times she’s lost count.

Despite her years of training, impressive resume and credibility as the founder of San Francisco Bellydance Theater, she often finds herself turning down invitations to dance for a few wrinkled dollar bills.

As Archer explains it, event producers “can’t cut corners on how much beer costs. They can’t cut corners on the rental of the venue.” But many can, and often do, skimp on the take-home pay of the talent that attracts showgoers in the first place.

And it’s not just small clubs. As KQED first reported in March, despite reaching a valuation of $1 trillion last year, tech giant Apple doesn’t pay the artists performing in its stores, compensating them with low-end merchandise such as AirPods and AppleTVs instead.

Following our report, we heard from graphic designers, musicians, muralists and comedians who say they’re frequently asked to work for “exposure” by companies large and small, sharing tales of missing payments, false promises of paid work and full-time jobs disguised as unpaid internships.

In the arts, working for low or no pay has long been an industry standard for all but the upper echelon. But as workers in other professions prone to exploitation organize for a living wage, including teachers and rideshare drivers, creatives are questioning why event producers, venue owners and companies find it acceptable to pay below the minimum wage for their work or subject them to subpar working conditions.

. . . .

Recent Duke Ph.D. graduate Jae Yun Kim, Professor Aaron Kay, University of Oregon Professor Troy Campbell and Oklahoma State University Professor Steven Shepherd studied the ways that workers’ passion is increasingly being used as a justification for their exploitation in today’s labor market.

On one hand, passion for one’s work can lead to greater satisfaction. But the researchers’ new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Understanding Contemporary Forms of Exploitation: Attributions of Passion Serve to Legitimize the Poor Treatment of Workers,” lays bare the unique ways passionate workers can be taken advantage of in a culture that encourages us to find our life’s calling at work.

Through eight different studies with over 2,400 participants, researchers discovered that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions.

. . . .

“When people read about the exact same job but learned that the person enjoyed their work, they think it’s more fair, or less illegitimate, to have them do things that would objectively be considered approaching exploitation,” says Kay. “Meaning having them do things they’re not paid for, or the company getting more benefit without giving people more of the profits.”

“Passion, or expected passion, out of that work can be seen as compensating for poor treatment,” Kim says, adding that in his native South Korea, young professionals refer to low-paying gigs as “passion wages.”

Kay explains that there’s a common misconception that if someone loves their job, they would prefer to work instead of doing other activities that contribute to a fulfilling life, which he says can be a slippery slope. “A graphic designer who works for a cool website and gets to make cool art may love their job, but they may not want to miss hanging out at their kid’s softball game over the weekend,” he says. “Forcing them to do more of it assumes it’s more joy for them, when you gotta realize that, like everyone else, they’re trying to balance their lives.”

Link to the rest at KQED

So, are authors with day jobs (or not) asked to use their writing talents for inadequate compensation on a regular basis?

Dude, Where’s My Royalties?

24 May 2019

Here’s a follow-up post to the post that is directly below this one in the online TPV parade of blog posts. You might understand this post better if you read the other one first.

From Dan Rhodes:

In other news, I’ve been busy severing ties with Canongate Books. For some years I’d found them to be evasive when faced with basic business queries, and when it came to certain financial and contractual issues it reached a point where I just couldn’t get answers out of them. I thought this was as fishy as Milky Pimms, so decided to conduct my own amateur audit (in the absence of any knowledge of financial procedures, this involved going in like Chris-R) and – boom goes the dynamite – discovered they had chronically underpaid me. Twice.

I did not take this well.

Everything goes to the dogs when the sums don’t add up. It’s a long and rotten story, and nobody enjoys hearing other people moaning about work (I’m finding it hard not to come across like Les McQueen), so I’ll keep most of it off the front page. I have, though, written an epic account of what has gone on so far. It’s a wretched read, and the last thing the Internet needs is another incandescent middle-aged man sounding off at length about things he doesn’t quite understand.

. . . .

Having to pull almost my entire life’s work out of print because of a publisher’s malpractice has been something of une saison en enfer. Anthropology? Gone! Gold? Kaput! This is Life? Splat! It goes on… Creatively, it has ground me to dust. With two non-showbiz day jobs, totalling around 70 hours of work in a normal week, time is hard to come by; the precious moments I could have spent loitering in green lanes have been obliterated by having to deal with this bollocks. It’s hard to muster the delicate balance of joie de vivre and hubris required to write a novel when your slumber is broken, your doublet is torn and a gaggle of exasperating Sloane Rangers are up in your grill.

. . . .

Apart from the soul-crushing Canongate Books shitshow, all is well. We’ve spent some of the recovered money on having a spare toilet installed – those of you who share living space with other humans will understand that this is a great leap forward.

. . . .

There’s no need for you to arrange a benefit concert or a sponsored walk. Were it not for my every moment being blighted by the unfolding horror of this excruciating debacle, everything would be fine.

. . . .

I am all at sea, and have no idea what to do with my back catalogue. Above all things I’m raising a family, and the bad vibes this has brought across our threshold are more than I’m willing or able to put up with. I’ve been stuck dealing with people like this for twenty years – they seem to be lurking around every corner, and I’ve had enough of them. Writing’s the only thing I’ve ever been any good at, and I love my books to distraction. I’m very sad at the prospect of them fading away, but if staying in the book trade means I’ll be inviting this kind of poison into our home then it’s just not worth it.

Link to the rest at Dan Rhodes

The Curious Incident of the Dog & the Missing Royalties

24 May 2019

From Dan Rhodes:

Every once in a while my reader in Cheltenham will get in touch, asking why I’ve not had a book out for such a long time. What follows is the short answer.

In October of last year, 2017, I made the heartbreaking decision to pull all but one of my books out of print. I had lost faith in their publisher, Canongate Books. The main problem was the lack of communication. This had been an issue for some years, and I’d even discovered, by chance, three editions of my work that nobody had told me about. I wonder how many more there are that I’ve never seen (seriously, publishers – if you’re going to print a distinct edition of a book, the least you could do is tell the person who wrote it. It’s balls-out dereliction of duty not to). Every time something like this happened, and I found out, they would say, Oooh, it won’t happen again, but there seems to be no introspection at management level and, with stultifying predictability, it would happen again. This was frustrating enough, and when my main contact took to ignoring my humdrum queries about contracts/royalty statements/rights, etc., alarm bells rang. (I can sense you stifling a yawn. You’re right, this is tiresome, but having set up these deals without an agent I had to keep on top of this sort of thing myself.)

I’d lost patience with them and had taken my most recent book elsewhere, but my backlist remained in place. I’d hoped we could stay on civil terms for the sake of the children, but it wasn’t to be. Not wanting to be stuck doing business with people who were cagey about finances, I requested they return the rights. They insisted on keeping hold of them (while still not answering the questions I’d been asking – they were, and continue to be, particularly evasive about the editions they’d published in the U.S. a few years back) so I dug in, looking for a way out by spending every spare moment combing through old correspondence, contracts and royalty statements, with all the joy that brought.

Throughout all this, something kept niggling: I’d not been paid a penny for my novel Timoleon Vieta Come Home since 2004, the year after it came out. I’d raised this with my main contact in 2010, after yet another demoralising £0 balance on a royalty statement. This kind of enquiry is an awkward one, because you wouldn’t be making it if you weren’t concerned that something was amiss; an author/publisher relationship is built on trust, and the clear subtext here is that your faith in their accounting has wavered. It’s obviously a very big deal to raise these reservations, yet a recent trawl through old correspondence reminded me that it took three letters of decreasing diplomacy to get an answer (seriously, publishers – if an author makes an enquiry, just answer it. It’s part of your job, and if you don’t we’ll start wondering whether you’re up to something. Perhaps you are). Eventually I was told that they’d looked into it and that everything was as it ought to be, that I’d accrued a debt on the title for deep accounting reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand. ‘Fair enough,’ I said, embarrassed for having asked.

It never seemed quite right, though – I couldn’t help feeling as if they had patted me on the head and told me to run along. I tried to push these suspicions away, because quite often people who think that money is being kept from them are having a funny five minutes. And besides, I’d had my answer: they’d looked into it, and everything was fine. Where do you go from there?

These misgivings – loopy as they seemed – kept coming back. Years of demoralising £0 balances and questioning-my-sanity later, I tentatively mentioned this odd-seeming number-crunching to a few allies in the biz (I do have some, believe it or not), and every one of them spluttered into their cornflakes. I don’t know why they were all eating cornflakes when I told them, but they were. The more people I mentioned this to, the more cornflakes were spluttered into – everybody I spoke to thought it sounded as fishy as Milky Pimms. Only Canongate Books’ cornflakes remained unsullied by splutter; only they didn’t seem to think it was odd that I’d not been paid for this book, which had been a modest success, since the year after it came out. I asked them again to look into this, but my increasingly desperate enquiries were casually batted aside, and then blanked. The old Closing Ranks/Wall of Silence trick. At every point I was treated as though I were Foolish and Deluded and an Author of No Brain at All. There were times when I thought they could be right, but the longer this went on the surer I became that my books were not in safe hands.

. . . .

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to send in auditors or pay for legal letters. I am, though, blessed with the tenacity of a rabbiting terrier. In the absence of civil answers to civil questions (or, latterly, incandescent ones) I decided to conduct my own audit. I have no idea how to conduct an audit, so I just gave it the full Chris-R. Faced with this, they finally – finally – scuttled back to their financial records. In the days before Christmas they returned with the admission that my hunch was bang on: in spite of their assurances to the contrary I had indeed been horrendously underpaid for ‘Timoleon Vieta Come Home’. If you want to know how it feels to find out that you aren’t mad after all, that your publisher really hadn’t been paying you properly for thirteen years, this just about sums it up. It was not a fun time.

In hindsight, this was a sort of grotesque deus ex machina: having spent such a long time haughtily dismissing my concerns, there was now no way they could continue to hold on to the books. They paid the acknowledged missing cash, and put a bit on top that they had unilaterally decided would make up for lost interest over the preceding years. I didn’t agree with the figure they’d settled on, and couldn’t convince them (still can’t) to acknowledge the arbitration clause in the contract, so it took a further six months of gruelling warfare, culminating in a close reading and furious waving of the as-fun-as-it-sounds Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998, to squeeze an acceptable settlement out of them.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: everybody makes mistakes – it could have been an oversight, a slip of the quill. Maybe it was, but it didn’t just happen once – it happened twice. Twice! I wonder whether Lady Bracknell would have had something to say about that. So why did the dough go missing in the first place? I wish I knew. The extent of their explanation was: The team here has calculated that due to errors on the royalty book that happened in 2004 and 2005 – where duplicate records of unearned balances were noted – you were underpaid £x. I expect that made your eyes hurt. (Seriously, publishers – next time you find yourself explaining how a huge amount of a hard-working author’s royalties came to end up in the silken pocket of your company’s Oxford bags you might want to try doing a bit better than this). A request for clarification didn’t yield any more than it having been human error. That’s something of a catch-all: a human had certainly erred. Beyond that, it was all left vague. They sent through some single-page summaries of accounts, as if that would clear things up. All I knew for sure was that a lot of money that should have come my way had, for deep accounting reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand, stopped shy of my bank account. I asked for a fuller picture of how this could have happened – twice – at which the human error line was modified to the comparably helpful Oooh, it’s all very complicated and we don’t really know. Unlike me, they weren’t interested in finding out. In lieu of proper answers they sent some further impenetrable spreadsheets, none which helped me get my head around it all. Somewhere along the line I discovered that these anomalies had happened in the vicinity of the U.S. operation that I’d had (and still have) so much trouble getting answers about.

Canongate Books’ final line is that it was a mistake. I’m not going to argue with that, but again it’s a catch-all. Maybe it really was a simple case of my royalties being innocently siphoned away on two separate occasions. I am very much open to the possibility that the version of events that they’ve settled on is correct, that the quality of their bookkeeping really was in freefall to the point where they were inadvertently, and repeatedly, keeping one of their authors’ wages to themselves. (And these are wages – though this may be in conflict with popular perception, people who write books are still sent electricity bills, and every sale counts towards our livelihoods. It’s rarely enough – most of us have to work shifts at Spatula City to make ends meet. I know I do.) I can’t help wondering, though, who was doing their internal stocktaking at this time. Sooty & Sweep I would guess, judging by the quality of their work. It’s all very well playing the human error card – and it may of course have been just that; everybody makes mistakes at work from time to time – but a company that is fit to trade should surely have a system in place to see that errors are caught and corrected. Mistakes of this magnitude, however accidental, should have been spotted, if not shortly after they were made, then when I pointed straight at them in 2010. We’re talking thousands and thousands of sales. Thousands!

Link to the rest at Dan Rhodes and thanks to A. for the tip.

The OP continues further and is well worth the read.

This is a cautionary tale for all authors.

Here are some basic business steps to take with royalties:

  1. Check your royalty statement – carefully – promptly – every time you receive one.
  2. If you see anything fishy or anything you don’t understand, send a letter pointing out the fish and ask for an explanation. (An email will probably work as well, but why not send both a letter and an email!)
  3. Save a copy of the royalty statement (of course) and save a copy of everything else you receive from or send to the publisher. Make certain it’s stored where your dog (digital or actual) can’t read it.
  4. If you don’t receive a useful response or at least an acknowledgment of receipt with a promise to send more information shortly within a week, send another communication reminding them that they owe you information and copy someone else at the publisher who ranks higher in the organization than the person to whom you sent.
  5. Continue until you receive a useful response. Add a paragraph that lists all your prior communications with the date and a note describing the nature of any response or that you received no response. Keep adding more people to the list to whom you are sending copies and note all the people you are copying at the bottom of the letter, email, fax, etc. Don’t remove anyone from the cc: list for subsequent letters/emails, just add new recipients.
    1. If your publisher is part of a larger publishing group or owned by another company, start copying people higher up the chain.
    2. If the publisher or an owner of the publisher has a legal department, send a copy to someone in the legal department.
    3. If this doesn’t generate a response, look up the contact information for the Attorney General in the state where the publisher has an office and add her/him to your copy list.
    4. If the publisher or its owner is a publicly-traded company you can probably find a list of its board of directors and add them to your CC: recipients.
    5. Send a copy of your letter to any authors’ organizations you can think of.

Your childhood etiquette instructor would probably say this isn’t polite, but you tried polite with your early communications and failed to receive a polite response. You might conclude that polite isn’t going to work in this case.

There is an old saying (at least in the US) that a squeaky wheel gets the most grease.

If you’re not being treated in a professional manner by a publisher, you’re not receiving grease.

If your bank misplaced some of your money and didn’t respond to your questions right away, you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) hesitate to make a fuss. If your publisher is keeping money that belongs to you, it’s the same situation.

Accounting mistakes can and do happen. When such mistakes occur, ethical business organizations promptly own up to those mistakes, make the numbers right for their customers and tell them what happened.

Properly-run businesses don’t repeatedly make accounting mistakes, particularly accounting mistakes that reduce their payments to others. PG says don’t patronize or partner with businesses that aren’t managed properly.

Don’t fall into the insecurity trap of thinking something like, “If I cause too much trouble, my publisher won’t publish any more of my books.”

If you’re an amateur who writes for fun, that might be a reasonable train of thought.

If you’re a professional and want to be paid for your work, it’s irrational.

Allow PG to rephrase the insecurity trap: “If I cause too much trouble, my publisher won’t publish any more books that I won’t get paid for.”

First, You Have to Write the Damned Thing.

4 May 2019

From Medium:

I have a strategy for blogging that involves checking out Quora to see what questions people are asking.

I checked Quora this morning and saw this.

Good answer, Orson Scott Card. Good answer.

. . . .

It’s not even a chicken and an egg thing. You cannot publish what you haven’t written.

You can publish what you haven’t edited. You can publish what you haven’t tried to sell to a traditional publisher. You can publish long. You can publish short. You can publish poetry, blog posts, picture books, and 500,000-word tomes that would make literary agents insta-delete your query letter.

You can publish late — long after you should have just shipped that thing.

You can publish early — before your work is polished well enough to avoid being ripped apart in Amazon reviews.

You can publish pretty much anything.

But you cannot publish it until you’ve finished writing it.

. . . .

Let me say that another way. You cannot build a literary career out of files on your hard drive that you never let anyone read. Or out of half-finished stories that get abandoned every time a shiny new idea bites you in the ass. Or out of completed novels that you never feel are good enough for public consumption.

. . . .

If your goal is traditional publishing, then this isn’t actually a simple yes or no question. Being published is out of your hands. Or it will be, once you get brave enough to put your work out there into the hands that can get it done.

You’ll need to write a query letter and send it out to literary agents. Not one or two. Not a carefully selected list of ten. Once you know your letter is doing it’s job (it’s only job is to get an agent to request your work), then send that sucker out wide. To everyone.

Last summer I needed a new agent. Once my query letter was bringing in a ten percent positive response (one in ten agents asked to read the manuscript,) I sent it to more than 140 agents. I had seven offers to represent me. Which is mind-blowingly awesome. For a couple of weeks there, I felt like one of those movies that’s up for all the Academy Awards or something.

But the hard truth is that I had more than 130 rejections, too. I was getting rejections after the agent I went with sold my book.

. . . .

If you’re planning to go indie then you are the publisher. Publishing is 100% up to you. Which means you have the responsibility of creating the most professional work you can. It’s your job to hire an editor and a cover artist. It’s your job to position your book in the market place.

Link to the rest at Medium

When PG read the OP, he wondered how much time the author spent selecting 140 agents, preparing at least semi-personalized packages for each and reviewing responses which, hopefully, involved careful vetting of the agents who were interested in seeing her manuscript.

PG has received more than one agent horror story recently, so he’s particularly sensitive to that potential problem. Without going into detail, agents and literary agencies can and do change over time. An excellent agent from ten years ago can be a far less than satisfactory agent today. If the agent is receiving checks that include money the agent should be promptly forwarding to the author, “less than satisfactory” can make the author’s life extremely difficult.

Not Just Self-Published

4 April 2019
Comments Off on Not Just Self-Published

From Joy E. Rancatore:

More than once or twice, I’ve heard an author apologize, “I’m just self-published.” That phrase hurts my heart. Why? Because what I hear beneath their choice of words and tone is something I want them to hear:

“I wrote something straight from my heart that I believed in so much, I backed it with my time, energy and money so other readers could believe in it, too.”

. . . .

1. Wash that just right out with a shot of confidence.

Before I dive in here, please take extra note that I wrote confidence. I did not write pride or hubris or boasting.

Now that we’ve got that clear, you are just as much an author with your one book that you published as an author who’s been published countless times by one of the Big 5.

You plotted and outlined—or pantsed—your way to a first draft where you went beginning to end (or zigzaggy) until you had a completed story baby.

Then you revised, rewrote, edited, rewrote, got help and feedback and critiques and outside—hopefully professional—edits and rewrote again until your book shone as bright as any polished diamond.

Whatever your reason, you chose to put your money behind your dream and publish your own book. You’re kind of a rock star, my friend!

. . . .

2. Chase it down with a slow drink of professionalism.

I’ve got to give you a note before we tumble down a cliff on this one, too. You may not have done this on your book—or your first five, depending on where you are in your journey. And, that’s OKAY. Reread that last sentence until it completely settles in your soul, because your commitment to fulfill your dream is what makes you the author I declared you to be in the first point.

Sure, there are still a few pockets of folks who look down long noses over horn-rimmed glasses at anyone not traditionally published, but they are few and far between and transitioning to the land of the dodo bird.

Chin up, writer friend, and let’s make ourselves better than we were yesterday! How do we do this? I’m so glad you asked!

You’ve got your shot of confidence warming your resolve, so now it’s time for some slow sipping. I have to add here that some folks sip slower than others and that is just fine.

Don’t compare your rate of progress to someone else’s. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is yesterday’s you.

Link to the rest at Joy E. Rancatore

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