Monday, March 31, 2008

But Don't Talk Back to Darth Vader . . .

. . . he'll get ya!

The followed video is Star Wars as explained by a three-year-old.

More on the Amazon Announcement

ComputerWorld has an article on the Amazon announcement here.

Robert Mitchell of the ComputerWorld blogs has a post here.

An iPetition Has Started

Okay, I'm putting my money where my mouth is.

I've just disabled the "Buy BAD GIRL" button for Amazon on the right side of this blog. I'm now directing readers to B&N only.

I've also been informed that there's a petition on line to encourage Amazon to change its mind.

Go here to sign the petition.

Let's Take A Look At Jeff Bezos

With all the flap about Amazon's latest announcement, I thought it might be instructive to take a closer look at the company. We're going to start today by talking about the man at the helm of the Internet giant: Jeffrey Preston Bezos. Then tomorrow we'll talk about and all its little tributaries.

Bezos was born on January 12, 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Jacklyn Gise Jorgensen, a teenage bank teller. Jeff says he's had no contact with his biological father since he was a year old. Two other men dominated his childhood: his maternal grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise, and his stepfather, Miguel Bezos.

Jeff's grandfather was an engineer and the regional manager for the Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque. "Pops" Gize retired at an early age to his Lazy G Ranch in Texas. Jeff spent a lot of time with his grandfather on the 25,000-acre ranch, learning to fix equipment, dig ditches and brand cattle.

When Jeff was four, his mother remarried. Her new husband was a Cuban immigrant named Miguel Bezos who adopted Jeff. Miguel, who prefers the name "Mike," came to the U.S. alone at seventeen, learned English, and earned both a high school diploma and a college degree before becoming a petroleum engineer at Exxon. He modeled the work ethic that Jeff still demonstrates today. Jackie and Mike had two more children together: Christina and Mark.

Jeff's mother Jackie says Jeff showed evidence of both a mechanical aptitude and a strong will at a very young age. When he was three, he demanded a bed instead of a crib. When Jackie refused, she found the toddler in his room, clutching a screwdriver and trying to dismantle the despised crib.

The family moved from Texas to Florida where Jeff graduated from Miami's Palmetto High School in 1982 as the valedictorian of the 680-student class. He went on to Princeton intending to study physics, but later switched to computer science and electrical engineering.

Jeff graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1986 with a membership in Phi Beta Kappa. This is a serious Type A personality.

Jeff did three stints with Wall Street firms after graduation. The first was with a high tech start-up called Fitel that was trying to develop a network for international trade. After two years with Fitel, he joined Bankers Trust in 1990 where he was in charge of developing their computer system. Two years later, he joined D.E. Shaw & Company, a hedge fund that relied heavily on computer technology. He stay at Shaw for four years, meeting his future wife, MacKenzie, a researcher and another Princeton alum there. They married in 1993 when he was 29. They now have four children.

According to his bio on the Academy of Achievement (AoA) website, "In 1994 . . . [while doing research] Jeffrey Bezos observed that Internet usage was increasing by 2300 percent a year. He saw an opportunity for a new sphere of commerce, and immediately began considering the possibilities."

Jeff researched the commodities most likely to be sold successfully on the Internet and zeroed in on books. "He flew to Los Angeles the very next day to attend the American Booksellers' Convention and learn everything he could about the book business." (AoA)

When Jeff approached Shaw about the possibility of investing in an Internet start-up, his employers declined the opportunity. Jeff resigned, and he and MacKenzie set off for Texas where he convinced his family to loan him $300,000. Mike and Jackie Bezos trusted him enough that they gave him the bulk of their retirement savings despite the fact that Jeff told them there was only a 30% chance his new venture would succeed.

When I think of taking my parents' life savings, my skin chills. It tells me a lot about Jeff's determination and self-confidence. Of course, his gamble paid off. Jeff still owns almost 24% of the company and has a net worth in excess of $6 billion. did a profile on Bezos in 2004. I found this quote interesting:

What really distinguishes Bezos is his harrowing leaps of faith. His best decisions can't be backed up by studies or spreadsheets. He makes nervy gambles on ideas that are just too big and too audacious and too long-term to try out reliably in small-scale tests before charging in.

He has introduced innovations that have measurably hurt Amazon's sales and profits, at least in the short run, but he's always driven by the belief that what's good for the customer will ultimately turn out to be in the company's enlightened self-interest.

Bezos sees himself as a "change junkie," and the culture he has created is adept at coming up with innovations, but he's also surprisingly blatant and unabashed about copying ideas from competitors. And while Amazon has benefited from Bezos's forceful convictions, he's remarkably good at listening to outside critics and following their advice when they convince him that he's wrong.

We'll pick up tomorrow with

But, before I go, I want to draw your atttention to a post I did about ten months ago on May 20 here. In talking about the future of publishing, I said:

The large houses face competition on two fronts: from the Internet giants and from the e-publishing industry.When I say Internet giants, I'm talking about Google,, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft. Of the five, I suspect the biggest direct competition will come from either Google or My money is on Amazon. The biggest dark horse IMHO is eBay.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Targeted Feedback to Amazon

I went looking for an email address to send Amazon a message regarding their recent policy change intended to force people to use their publishing company, BookSurge. I could only find snail mail addresses, which is absurd for a business that exists on the Internet.

Then Shiloh Walker posted an email address for Amazon's customer service department on Dear Author. However, when I used that address I got back a message that it does not accept incoming messages.

The email I received however included the following:

If you need to contact us about a different issue, please visit to send e-mail to customer service. Please be sure to use the e-mail address associated with your account when you contact us.

I went to that page and discovered a "contact us" button on the right hand side.

Apparently Amazon prefers to receive email from their own customers because they wanted me to sign in. I was happy to do so because I've ordered a jillion books from them over the years.

Please go here and send your own message to Amazon. Feel free to copy, customize and send the following:


I am a long-time customer of Amazon's. You can check my account to see the number of books I have ordered over the past eight years.


I was appalled by the news that you are trying to force publishers to use BookSurge.

If I understand the situation correctly, not content with the fee you already collect from publishers for listing their books on your site, you now want them to use your proprietary publishing arm to guarantee you set-up and printing fees as well.

This is corporate greed gone amok.

To me, this is about protecting the small presses, which provide a level of innovation not usually seen in the larger presses.

Jeff Bezos once said the customer was the person to whom corporations needed to pay the most attention. This is one customer who is sending you a clear message. Shape up or lose my business.

As an aside, I was not happy that it took 30 minutes to track down an email address to send "feedback" to a corporation that does business online. This does not speak well for your customer service approach.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Series Question

This question has been answered again and again by agents, but it just keeps coming up. After answering it yesterday on a writers' loop to which I belong, I got an email today from another member of that loop, asking it again, apparently convinced my first answer didn't apply to him.

The question? How do I write a query for my series?

Here are my Three Rules About Writing a Series:

1) Don't try to query a series. Concentrate on writing one good book and querying that one alone. Until you sell the first book, you don't HAVE a series.

2) The first book of your proposed series must able to stand alone. That means the reader must finish it and feel a sense of satisfaction. You cannot leave your reader hanging. Therefore, do not make the mistake of believing you can divide your 300,000-word epic into a three-book series. The story arc will be off--I guarantee it.

3) Be careful about introducing a lot of extraneous elements into that first book because you're "laying the groundwork" for the other books. If the elements don't further the storyline of the first book, delete them. If you're lucky enough to get a multi-book contract, you can introduce the new material in later books.

My mother always said, "Learn to walk before you run." Otherwise, you risk tripping yourself up.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I Gotta Change My Party Affiliation

Note to Elizabeth Hasselbeck: If you are trying to help the Republican Party in the November election, I strongly suggest you keep your mouth shut.

Update On Situation With Amazon

In my earlier post I quoted Publishers Lunch in indicating that it did not yet appear Amazon's mandate applied to traditional or e-publishers.

Publishers Weekly for today says:

"Over the last year, BookSurge has been trying to cut into the market share of pod leader Lightning Source and is using the selling clout of Amazon to generate more business. 'I feel like the flea between two giant elephants,' said the head of one pod publisher about the upcoming battle between Lightning Source and BookSurge/Amazon. He said although the deal with BookSurge will be more expensive, he has no choice but to make the move since most of his authors expect their titles to be for sale on Amazon. He added that his company will also continue to use Lightning Source for printing as well. Amazon's BookSurge mandate extends to traditional publishers as well as to online pod houses. Neither Amazon nor BookSurge returned calls . . ."

I'm not a lawyer, but I find myself wondering about this move. I have memories of when the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against Microsoft back in 1998. Here's a part of that press release:

"The Justice Department today charged Microsoft with engaging in anticompetitive and exclusionary practices designed to maintain its monopoly in personal computer operating systems and to extend that monopoly to internet browsing software. Twenty state Attorneys General and the District of Columbia filed a similar action today.

'Consumers and computer manufacturers should have the right to choose the software they want installed on their personal computers,' said Attorney General Janet Reno. 'We are acting to preserve competition and promote innovation in the computer software industry'."

I would think some of the same issues would apply here. Read the whole press release from the Justice Department here.

In case you're wondering, "On November 2, 2001, the DOJ reached an agreement with Microsoft to settle the case. The proposed settlement required Microsoft to share its application programming interfaces with third-party companies . . ." (Wikipedia)

Stay tuned . . .

Amazon's New Policy on POD Books

Yesterday, Writers Weekly reported in their online blog here:

BREAKING DEVELOPMENT: We were notified by a PublishAmerica author that her book was available for purchase through Amazon on Tuesday but today the "buy" button for her book on Amazon is gone. We researched some other PublishAmerica books and it appears the "buy" button on Amazon has indeed been removed from the vast majority of their book pages.

In today's Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg says: Inc., flexing its muscles as a major book retailer, notified publishers who print books on demand that they will have to use its on-demand printing facilities if they want their books directly sold on Amazon's Web site.

The move signals that Amazon is intent on using its position as the premier online bookseller to strengthen its presence in other phases of bookselling and manufacturing. Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers in the U.S., with a market share publishing experts estimate to be about 15%. Amazon doesn't comment on sales.

Today's Shelf Awareness quotes the WSJ saying:

"Amazon 'has evolved into a fully vertical book publishing and retail operation. Most recently, Amazon acquired audiobook seller Audible Inc. Amazon also sells its own ebook reader called the Kindle'.

Publishers will have to use Amazon's BookSurge POD subsidiary. Among competitors are Ingram's Lightning Source and"

This morning's Publishers Lunch reports:

There are no accounts yet of the policy being imposed on traditional publishers that also use Lightning Source or other print-on-demand vendors; by the current accounts the moved is aimed at independent publishers whose focus is POD books as well as self-publishing competitors to Booksurge such as (Separately, Amazon has been working since mid-2006 to get mainstream publishers to use Booksurge for print-on-demand books sold through the e-tailer, for traditional purposes--out of print books; large print; etc.--as well as to fulfill "demand spikes" when a regular title is temporarily out of stock.) Ingram and their Lightning Source operation have worked closely with Amazon in the past in a variety of ways, including packing orders with Amazon packages and labels.

It will be interesting to see where this goes next. My first thought was that someone would be suing Amazon for interfering with free trade. The Washington Post says this: . . . which has brushes with monopolistic tendencies before, is doing just that, this time in the print-on-demand business, where it is asking such publishers that they will have to use its on-demand printing facilities if they want their books directly sold on Amazon's website. POD is a growing business online, especially in the academic books market, where it has been embraced by more than half of the country's university presses . . .

Stay tuned . . .

A Tale Of Two Citizens

I had an odd thing happen on Tuesday. For the first time ever, the two sides of my life came crashing together without warning.

"Maya Reynolds" came into existence in early 2005. In February of that year, I'd made the decision to actively pursue erotic romance as a genre and started the story that would eventually become Bad Girl.

My business plan included entering contests in order to get my work in front of agents and editors. The very first contest I entered left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'd decided a pseudonym would put some distance between me and any whack jobs who might suddenly take the notion to look me up.

That probably sounds pretty paranoid, but I'd been conditioned to be careful. The previous year, I'd shattered my left leg in a fall on an icy hill. And, when I say "shattered," I'm not exaggerating. I broke both bones in two places each, leaving the leg so unstable that I spent a week in a hospital and another month in a rehab unit. It took two months in a wheelchair (punctuated by a surgery on either end of that eight weeks) BEFORE I graduated to crutches.

Five weeks on an inpatient unit introduced me to the Law & Order franchise. I'd never seen the show until my accident, but since it rules late night television--a time when pain and the unfamiliar surroundings took a toll on my sleep--I saw a lot of episodes in a very short time.

Law & Order will put the fear of the Lord into a single girl. Unattached women appear to be an endangered species in the mind of producer Dick Wolf. And women authors were among his favorite targets for murder and mayhem. Selecting a pseudonym to keep religious fundamentalist nuts and lonely geek psychopaths at bay sounded like a good plan to me.

A word to the wise: spend a bit more time (and thought) than I did selecting a pseudonym. In casting around for a name, I thought of Maya Angelou, whose writing I'd admired for years. Because she was on my mind, I googled her, and discovered she held the lifetime chair as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. In less time than it takes to eat a M&M, I decided I liked the sound of "Maya Reynolds."

Of course, not thinking that decision through guaranteed that any time someone googled "Maya Reynolds," they would get pages and pages of results on Maya Angelou. It took eighteen months for me to shove that lovely lady off the first page of Google results.

Back to my story. I ended up entering five contests in 2005 with three different stories. I won two contests, placed second in two and got a message from a judge in the fifth that she was "offended" by my entry. That fifth contest also happened to be the first of the five. The judge--who had obviously never read an erotic romance story before--was so extreme in her reaction, I felt personally attacked. She helped to toughen my hide and make me aware that not everyone would be tolerant of my choice of genres. It also helped me decide to write under a pseudonym--for safety reasons.

Since assuming the Maya Reynolds mantle, I've tried to keep my two personas separate on the Internet. I'm less concerned in the Dallas writing community where a lot of people know me by both names. At my university, some of my co-workers are aware of my extra-curricular activities, but it doesn't come up often.

Once a month, my school offers a luncheon for me and my administrative peers. A group of us get together for free food and discussion about common issues.

Toward the end of our monthly soiree this past Tuesday, I was standing near the door talking to two colleagues when a woman I barely know came running up to me. "I finished Bad Girl in one sitting," she gushed. "My husband kept asking, 'Are you STILL reading that book?' I've loaned it to two friends, and I'm waiting for it to come back so you can autograph it."

I was so startled, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. In true author fashion, I said, "Tell your friends to buy their own copies."

Everyone laughed, and the moment passed. But it was the first time my life as an author had intruded into my daily world as an university administrator. I've had fans come up to me at RWA chapter meetings or at workshops and say much the same thing. But this was the first time I'd had the experience in my "other life." I was surprised at how much it startled me.

As most things do, it got me to thinking about writing a story about a woman who compartmentalizes her life to an extreme degree.

Maybe I could even submit a television screenplay to Law & Order.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Agent News

Courtesy of Publishers Lunch:

Tina Wexler of ICM has been promoted to literary agent. She has been specializing in children's books, but now she will expand her adult fiction and non-fiction lists.

Do I Believe in Universal Health Care???

A subject that doesn't often come up among writers, but a very serious one nonetheless is the subject of health insurance.

If you're a single person who happens to be a free-lance writer, health insurance is a major concern.

When I left the full-time work force in 2002 to concentrate on writing (I wasted nearly a year in travel and play), I was covered by COBRA for eighteen months. For the three and a half years that followed, my BIGGEST problem was the crummy health insurance for which I was paying a small fortune.

Sixteen months ago, when I got notice of yet another rate increase, serendipity occurred. The phone rang, and the manager of a large department at a local university asked if I'd be interested in going to work for them. On another day, I might have said, "No," but on that day, I was holding a notice for an lousy insurance policy whose monthly payments would have purchased a luxury car. I agreed to the interview and have been back in the work force ever since. And I don't regret it.

I've been astounded at the level of comfort having a great health insurance policy brings. I don't put off my mammograms, I get routine check-ups and I no longer panick at the first sign of illness.

The New York Times addresses this issue today here.

A New Law Passes Up In Indiana

Almost exactly a year ago, I did a post here about what happens when the government tries to kill an ant with a machine gun.

Consider this post deja vu all over again. Only this time it's the Indiana state government that's using a bulldozer to squeeze oranges for a glass of juice. Sweet mercy!

Gov. Mitch Daniels, Republican of Indiana [I really gotta change my party affiliation], signed House Enrolled Act 1042 into law last week. This gem of a statute will take effect on July 1. According to the Indianapolis Star, it "requires businesses that sell sexually explicit material to pay a $250 fee and register with the secretary of state, which would then pass the information to municipal or county officials so they can monitor the businesses for potential violations of local ordinances."

The law as passed will require bookstores--not adult bookstores, mind you, but your ordinary independent or chain bookseller--to register.

Publishers Lunch quoted the owner of Big Hat Books Elizabeth Barden as saying "the law could include 'just about any coming-of-age novel and books on health, hygiene and human sexuality'."

Republican Indiana State Senator Brent Steele, who was a co-sponsor of the bill [Note to self: Contact the Dallas County Elections Office today to get the paperwork to change my party affiliation] told the Indy Star "he believes bookstore owners are getting worked up over nothing . . . I just don't think that their concern is legitimate."

He went on to explain that the law "is aimed at 'helping counties that do not have zoning ordinances track businesses selling sexually explicit material, including videos, magazines and books,' especially adult stores that open along interstates in the southern part of the state." (Shelf Awareness)

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression doesn't agree with Senator Steele. According to their website here, the ABFFE supports booksellers "in the fight against censorship." Their site quotes the ABFFE president Chris Finan saying:

“It is un-American to force booksellers to register with the government based on the kinds of books they carry . . . It is also unconstitutional, and we intend to do everything we can to challenge this violation of the First Amendment rights of Indiana booksellers and their customers.”

Remember Elizabeth Barden, the owner of the Big Hat Books, quoted earlier in this post? She had a great line for the Indy Star: "On the one hand, we feel a need to censor ourselves, while on the other hand, we are spending our tax dollars to free the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people."

Amen, Sister, amen.

And where the hell is the telephone number for the Dallas County Elections Office?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A New Agent On The Block

From today's Publishers Weekly:

Kate Schafer has opened her own literary agency, kt literary, llc. After 12 years working as an agent in New York, nearly a decade of which was spent at Janklow and Nesbit, Schafer is opening up her new shingle in Denver. She will handle both fiction and nonfiction and is currently seeking submissions in middle grade, YA, and women’s fiction plus pop-culture narrative nonfiction.

A New Hat For A Literary Agent?

Eleven months ago on April 28 in a blog here about the new digital economy, I made a prediction. I said:

What I suspect is going to happen is that the lines between publisher, distributor, bookstore and author are going to start blurring. Unusual contracts among the different parties are likely to emerge.

While I still believe that comment was on target, I left one element of the equation out: the agent.

I was interested to read in The Bookseller on Saturday that a well-known UK literary agency is planning to start its own print-on-demand (POD) service for its authors' backlist.

PFD plans to design new covers for out-of-print books by their clients, list them on Amazon and then fulfill the orders that come in via Lightning Source's POD operation. The books will be priced at £10 and £15, and the authors will be paid a flat royalty of 10%.

On the surface, everyone wins. Readers can access out-of-print books by favorite writers, authors may be able to develop an audience of new fans and, because PFD is using POD technology, the books won't be printed until there's an order received so there won't be any messy returns to deal with.

What's not to like?

For starters, the new initiative is meeting with resistance from the Society of Authors, the UK equivalent of the U.S. Authors Guild. The first reason they give is the one I usually offer to people who are considering self-publishing. The Bookseller quotes the Society of Authors' Kate Pool:

". . . sitting back and saying you can find this book listed on a website is very different from trying to find a publisher who'll take these titles on and bring them back into print . . ."

Newbie writers often believe that all they need to have is a physical copy of their book to put up for sale on Amazon or their own website. They forget that selling books requires a mechanism to drive traffic to that listing on Amazon or their website. In the cacophony that is the Internet, their books will be competing with the nearly 300,000 titles printed each year. Without something to make that listing stand out, they will be lucky to sell one or two copies--and those will probably be to their mothers and their old elementary school teachers.

But the Society of Authors didn't stop there with their objections. "[PFD] seems to be taking 90% of the money for no work."

I think that's a wee bit harsh. After all, PFD is acting as the book packager, putting together the author, cover designer, Amazon and printer. The designer and printer will need to be paid. And Amazon is going to take a nice chunk of change for their role in the process.

On the other hand, a 10% royalty does seem absurdly low to me--unless PFD is going to undertake an aggressive marketing campaign to drive traffic to those POD books. Nothing in the story I read indicated that was part of the plan.

But all this ignores a central point. Is there a conflict of interest in PFD acting as both the author's agent and his de facto publisher?

The Society of Authors certainly seems to think so.

Marcella Edwards, who is overseeing the program for PFD, disagrees. She told The Bookseller, "once the agency has proved there is a sustainable demand for a particular title, it will then try to re-sell the book to a mainstream house. 'We will still be actively trying to get deals with publishers'."

It remains to be seen how PFD's new business will be regarded. They report several of their authors are signing up for the new program, including the "VS Pritchett estate, the Storm Jameson estate and author Angela Huth."

You can read the entire article here.

Interestingly enough, today's edition of The Bookseller reports that "US agent Andrew Wylie has . . . snatched Evelyn Waugh's literary estate from PFD, the agency that handled it for the past 80 years . . ."

In a related story in today's Times here, it's reported:

The loss of Waugh from its stable is the cruellest of many recent blows inflicted on PFD. Although it had lost Ruth Rendell, the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and the children’s novelist Anthony Horowitz, the company had at least retained a sturdy backlist of departed [note: deceased] writers, including the estates of authors such as V.S. Pritchett and Roy Jenkins. But Waugh was the jewel in their crown. The Waughs’ loss of faith in PDF is more devastating since the relationship dates back so far.

We all know the publishing industry is changing. Digitization, POD technology and the Internet are having a huge impact on what was. It remains to be seen what will come next.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hey, Borders and B&N!!

This is my Tuesday morning rant.

In the days of $3+ per gallon of gasoline, coupons with a short shelf line are impractical.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I organize my shopping trips these days. I don't just run around willy-nilly.

Here in Texas, things are a bit spread out. I can use a quarter of a tank of gas in no time at all.

So, Borders, quit sending me those three-day coupons. I won't be using them unless I have a trip already planned to your part of town. It's pointless for me to save $4 on a book only to spend $6 in gas.

And, Barnes & Noble, good luck with those one-week coupons. Maybe I'll use them; maybe I won't.

I can understand that you're trying to keep a tight grip on income/expense and that means knowing when to expect those coupons to be redeemed. However, if you don't offer a reasonable window of time, I'm not even gonna bother printing them out.

Rant over.

So What's Up at Barnes & Noble?

Barnes & Noble, the world's largest bookseller, issued a press release earlier this month, announcing their results for the fourth quarter and full year ending 2/2/08.

That press release reported:

Excluding the impact of the extra week during fiscal 2006, Barnes & Noble store sales increased 2.8% for the quarter and 4.3% for the full year as compared to the same periods in fiscal 2006. Comparable store sales decreased 0.5% for the quarter and increased 1.8% for the year . . . Excluding the impact of the extra week during fiscal 2006, Barnes & comparable sales increased 13.1% for the quarter and 13.4% for the full year as compared to the same periods in fiscal 2006.

Thanks to Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch, I found a new website today called Seeking Alpha here where you can read the transcripts of conference calls between stock analysts and various companies' executives.

I just finished reading the ten-page transcript of the March 20th call with the executives of Barnes & Noble relating to those fourth quarter and year end results.

Some of the more interesting items follow. Copyright rules given by the site permit the copying of 400 words from any transcript. Let's see if I can use my 400 words wisely:

  • In trade books, fiction and the genres had a strong quarter, especially graphic novels and romance.

  • Hardcover sales were driven by a host of familiar names, including Sue Grafton, Dean Koontz, Ken Follett, Stephen King . . . Both John Grishman (sic) and James Patterson had two bestsellers . . .

  • Last year’s first quarter . . . included phenomenal book and DVD sales for Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, the bestselling combination non-fiction book and DVD title in [the chain's] history.

  • [B&N plans] on opening 35 to 40 stores this year and closing approximately 20 stores.

  • Although [B&N was] disappointed in [the] overall holiday sales results, the key drivers of [the] negative comp store sales was the rapid deterioration of the music business in the fourth quarter.

  • Chief Operating Officer, Mitchell Klipper said: However, I would like to point out some of the positive highlights for 2007. First, the company achieved record sales. With comp store sales growing 1.8%, the addition of 31 new stores, we managed to keep building our business.

  • Klipper continued: In addition to growth in bookstore sales, we achieved record Internet sales in 2007. Sales grew 13.4%, which is the strongest growth in more than five years.

  • Still on the subject of Internet sales, he said: In the past year, we’ve become much stronger on three key metrics. First, we’ve become much more competitive on price due to our new lower prices to members. Second, we offer very fast delivery. Most of our orders are shipped UPS without additional customer charges for the services. And third, the relaunch of our website last October, as well as the new functionality added to the site -- these three metrics have increased our traffic and our page views.

  • Klipper crowed: ...we also saw record growth in our member program. We added more new members in 2007 than any previous year since the launch of the program.

  • He added: We sold a record number of titles last year -- more than $1.1 million unique titles . . . we are in a long tail business. A large percentage of the books we stock sell only a few copies each year.

  • In answer to a question from an analyst, Marie J. Toulantis, CEO of Barnes &, responded: . . . e-books have been around for a long time. It still remains a very small market, albeit obviously growing but when you look at the percentage growth, remember it’s growing off of such a very small base. We continue to look and evaluate and we’ll make decisions about when and if to jump in at the appropriate time.

  • In answer to another question about downloading in the store versus the reader format, Toulantis said: . . . I think there’s only one store in the whole country that even has that. Whether or not that’s successful remains to be seen . . .

By my count 397 words. Whew!!!

Not wanting to waste my last three words, here they are: "we," "our" and "a."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ten Questions to Ask

Before I even sat down to address this morning's post, Dear Author announced two more e-publishers are in trouble here.

According to DA's Jane, Shadowrose Press is not responding to author questions and Dark Eden Press is closing due to owner illness.

While I cannot comment on the Shadowrose Press situation, the misfortune at Dark Eden highlights one of the risks writers take when signing up with a small e-publishing operation dependent upon a "key" person. That's how "key man" insurance came into being (see here).

Life happens. People get sick, get married, have babies and move. Your job as a professional writer is to ensure that the publishers you work with will continue to do business no matter what life throws at its employees.

I promised to list questions I would ask before signing with an e-publisher. Here are some of the things I would want to know--and I would verify the answers I got directly from the e-publisher with other knowledgeable writers.


1) How is the publisher set up? Is it a sole proprietorship, a limited partnership or a corporation? How long have they been in business? While not deal breakers in and of themselves, I think these questions can be helpful when considered in the context of all the other questions you will ask.

To highlight why the number of years in business should not be the sole criteria on which you make a decision, let me tell a personal story. Before Samhain went into operation, Crissy Brashear invited me to send a manuscript to her. Because it would have been my very first published novel and because Samhain was an unproven entity, I declined. She was very gracious in response and, of course, Samhain has gone on to success. Even though, at that point, Samhain had not yet started, Crissy herself had e-publishing experience already (at Ellora's Cave). I wonder how I would have responded if NCP had asked me to submit a manuscript at that time? They've been in business since 1996.

2) Who are the owners? Are they published writers? If so, are they publishing their work alongside their authors' works? This would raise huge conflict-of-interest red flags for me. I want my publisher focused on the profitability of the operation, not on his or her own sales.

Let me add: There are cases where writers have successfully owned an e-publishing operation (Ellora's Cave and Loose Id spring to mind); however, in both those cases, there appear to be arms-length relationships and additional executive staff besides the writer owners.

3) I would want to know that the owner/publisher had separated his/her personal accounts/expenses from the operation's accounts/expenses. (As an aside, I'd probably want this addressed in my publishing contract even if the e-publisher's boilerplate did not include that language).

4) I'd be asking about the size of the operation. Caveat: I actually know one e-publisher who simply takes pseudonyms depending on whether she is acting as publisher, editor or customer service department. I'd try ordering books from that e-publisher at different times of the day and on the weekends to see how the links worked and what happened when I tried to contact Customer Service.

5) I'd check the reputation of the e-publisher online and among writers. I want to do business with professionals.

One of the things that struck me in the recent New Concepts Publishing mess was how often the company's response got personal--either in the excuses made by the author liaison or in the reported posts/emails by the owner. Most recently, the NCP owner reportedly issued a post, asking writers to give her the names of Canadian attorneys so she can sue for "defamation." (see Ellen Ashe's blog here).

6) I'd ask the name of the editor I could expect to be assigned to. Then I'd try to find someone who knew that editor.

7) I'd ask about foreign rights, specifically rights associated with languages beyond English. If the e-publisher does not have a sub-rights operation, I'd want to make sure the contract only specified "exclusive worldwide English language rights."

Since I've wandered into contract territory, here are some more contract issues:

8) Sandra Ferguson raised an excellent point yesterday in the comments to my post. I'd alluded to the subject previously in my post about contracts here under the "royalty" heading. Any clause relating to royalty should specify how that royalty is calculated, not simply a percentage number.

9) Most contracts will specify in great detail what is expected from the author in the way of performance. It is the author's job to specify what is expected from the e-publisher. Among performance items I'd want would be a date range for expected publication of the work in question and the consequence to the publisher for failing to publish within that period of time.

10) I would pay particular attention to what constitutes grounds for reversion of rights to the author. I personally would prefer not to have a number of years determine when my right revert. I'd probably seek to negotiate specific performance thresholds such as if the book is removed from the website and/or if the book fails to meet a minimum threshold of sales during a certain period of time.

I'm sure others can think of other pitfalls to avoid. These are just the ones that sprang to my mind when I mentioned the subject yesterday.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Just Erotic Romance Reviews

Just Erotic Romance Reviews has posted an interview with me in their latest newsletter.

To access the interview, you have to join the Yahoo group here.

On The Instability of E-Publishing

I was working on my manuscript when I took a break to do my daily tour of the Internet.

Imagine my surprise to stumble unto a full-fledged argument titled "Where the Hell is EPIC?" over on Dear Author here.

Jane, one of Dear Authors' stalwart founders, was complaining about EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection (see the website here), the support organization for e-published writers. She says:

In the past year, when we have seen more than one epublisher show their ass online and more and more authors being taken advantage of, I have found myself asking where the hell is EPIC? If EPIC, an association dedicated to epublishing can’t make a stand regarding the epublishing industy, what use is it other than to pat itself on the back and give questionably meaningful industry awards.

About a year ago, I applied for EPIC membership, wanting to learn more about the e-publishing industry. I'll admit I was taken aback to find they only admit persons who have already e-published (which I have not as yet).

The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of America (see here) have the same rule. I can kind of understand why. Otherwise, they'd probably be swamped by millions of 13-year-olds with sci-fi manuscripts in tow.

What the SFWA HAS done is provide a lot of resources--including the famous Writer Beware site here--to help unpublished writers. EPIC does provide a lot of links, but the most useful thing I've found at their site is the sample electronic contract here.

I posted a comment at Dear Author, which I'm going to include here because it sums up my thoughts about the problems with e-publishing.

Putting aside EPIC and RWA for a minute, I suspect a lot of the problems within e-publishing result from two issues: (1) the grass-roots origins of the industry. Even the largest and best-respected e-pubs were mostly started by writers seeking an outlet for their own work; and (2) the desire of most writers to see their books in hard copy. This puts financial pressure on e-publishers who want to keep the authors who are selling books on their site and who are clamoring to have their books published in print as well. The e-publisher may not have the business skills to balance the risk of a print venture against their desire to grow.

The major differences between New York and the present e-publishing industry are intent and practices.

By intent, I mean New York is clear about the goal: to make money. Conflicts of interest such as the publisher’s desire to see his/her own work released simply do not pop up very often when you are part of a corporation reporting to shareholders every quarter.

By practices, I mean fiscal expertise and competency. Many e-pubs begin in someone’s kitchen where, with a laptop and a website, a person with some computer skills can go into business in days. Because you can do it, doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it.

I know people who have simply taken on multiple pseudonyms, put their own work out there and then sent emails to lots of user groups talking about the wonderful new e-publisher in town. Impatient and inexperienced writers flock to these new sites and learn the hard way about things like poor contracts and reversion of rights.

What an organization–be it EPIC or RWA–could do for writers is establish a list of criteria that would help the writer sort through the wheat and chaff to figure out if this or that e-publisher is in the publishing business for real or simply trying to maintain a credible face while promoting their own work.

I’m convinced RWA (I can’t speak for EPIC; I’m not a member) has the best interests of writers at heart. However, IMHO, they need to make a REAL effort to have e-published writers or people knowledgeable about e-publishing on their board to lend some expertise so they don’t keep making missteps when it comes to poorly crafted rules.

There are a number of e-publishers who I'm told have made the leap to become "professional" operations. However, I'm going to make a prediction. If the kind of scandals we are seeing continue, e-publishing is going to be ripe for a takeover by New York before the industry makes it to adolescence. Writers fearful of the instability and poor reputation of e-publishers will decide to forego the ~35% e-pub royalties presently offered to go with the 15% e-pub royalties offered by New York.

I truly believe e-publishing is the future of the publishing industry. The fact that the biggest New York publishers are busy building their digital warehouses and retail sites is an indication they concur.

It would be a real shame to see the e-publishing industry become completely swallowed up by New York. And not just because of the money. E-publishing provides a lot of the most innovative and experimental writing out there right now. Because there isn't a lot of overhead involved in e-publishing, the industry can take risks that corporate New York can't afford. Like independent booksellers and small indie presses, independent e-publishers bring interesting and unusual offerings to the reading public.

An independent e-publishing industry would also offer an alternative to the "take-it-or-leave-it" contracting approach by New York.

RWA and EPIC could help writers everywhere by establishing a list of questions writers need to ask e-publishers before signing a contract--questions that are actually geared to the e-publishing industry (instead of being based on print-publishing criteria).

I'll list some of the questions that I'd be asking an e-publisher in tomorrow's post. I'd welcome others volunteering their own hard-learned lesssons either in the comment stream below this post or in an email to me at:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Got A Paranormal to Pitch?

My good friend and critique partner Marie Tuhart sent me the news that Silhouette is opening up for pitches on Nocturne submissions.

Although the "Call" includes a link to the writing guidelines for the shorter-length Nocturne e-books (called "Bites"), the comment thread clarifies that this call is for full-length novels. The moderator of the site does indicate that she will check to see if they are open to Bites submissions as well.

If you're not familiar with Silhouette, it's a division of Harlequin. The Nocturne site is here. Their writers' guidelines are here.

And go here to read the call for submissions.

Results of the Airwave Auction Reported

Back on October 30th, I quoted the Wall Street Journal here, in talking about a Google phone:

In recent months Google has approached several U.S. and foreign handset manufacturers about the idea of building phones tailored to Google software . . . The Google-powered phones are expected to wrap together several Google applications--among them, its search engine, Google Maps, YouTube and Gmail email...The most radical element of the plan, though, is Google's push to make the phones' software "open" right down to the operating system...That means independent software developers would get access to the tools they need to build additional phone features.

A few days later, the The Los Angeles Times (LAT) also ran a story, saying there had been reports and rumors about an upcoming Google phone for a long time. The company had admitted it planned to bid in upcoming FCC auctions for a piece of the wireless spectrum. The LAT story pointed out that Google could cut years out of the process and jump into the business immediately by simply making deals with the major wireless carriers.

Almost two months later, I offered this prediction from media pundit Thomas Ordahl on December 27 here:

Prediction #1: Google stirs up telecom. Google has been rattling its saber about the January spectrum auction, to the tune of at least $4.6 billion. Google's intention to provide open access to the data network could mean a new kind of broadband access that would be significantly cheaper for customers than the telcos' current, closed offerings. Whatever the auction's outcome, Google's participation will shake up what has become a very staid game.

This past Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported:

The most lucrative airwaves sale in U.S. history ended with bids totaling $19.6 billion, underscoring demand from AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless for spectrum that will bolster Internet services on mobile phones.

Revenue from the auction came in near the top of analysts' projections for as much as $20 billion. The Federal Communications Commission didn't disclose the winners of the 1,099 licenses.

Yesterday The Los Angeles Times reported here that Verizon Wireless and AT&T, "The nation's two largest wireless companies emerged as the biggest winners in a record-setting auction of public airwaves, increasing the odds that they will continue to dominate that market for years to come."

Verizon Wireless, the #2 carrier, will pay 47% (more than $9 billion) of the revenue raised in the auction for the largest pieces of the spectrum. AT&T Inc., the #1 carrier, will pay another 32% (more than $6 billion) for their pieces of the spectrum.

Between them, the two carriers paid 79% of the record-setting auction's revenues of $19 billion.

Sprint Nextel, the #3 carrier, sat out the auction.

Consumer advocates said they were disappointed that no major new companies emerged. They hoped that the strong signals up for grabs -- currently used by television stations but due to be returned to the government in 2009 as the stations complete their switch to digital signals -- would provide a third high-speed data pipe to homes, rivaling DSL and cable. (LAT)

Google demanded that the FCC require the winners to rent transmission rights to other companies, but the idea didn't gain traction.

Instead the FCC agreed to certain sections of the spectrum being left free in order for anyone to have access in exchange for Google's agreement to put down a minimum $4.6 billion bid.

This compromise will permit Google to sell software to cell phone manufacturers as well as to sell ads on mobile phones. The deal saved Google from having to try and outbid the two phone carrier giants.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What's Going On At Borders?

Sorry for the delay in getting back to this. Real life--and a contract--intruded.

A year ago, on 3/23, I posted this quote from the then-relatively-new Borders Group CEO, George Jones:

“We need to reinvent our business to exploit the rapid changes taking place in how consumers access information and entertainment,” Jones said. “Our ultimate goal is to make Borders a vital community gathering place where people come together to see, touch, interact, and learn – online and in-store.”

A few months later during an interview in May, Jones outlined five initiatives intended to revitalize Borders:

1) Taking back the Borders website from Unlike Barnes & Noble, which had built an active and dynamic online presence, previous Borders' executives had turned to Amazon to run their website.

2) Selling off foreign stores. Borders retained Merrill Lynch to help them unload the majority of their 73 superstores overseas. Jones explained that Borders needed to focus its attention and capital on its U.S. superstores. He said the company would likely depend on a franchise model for overseas rather than a proprietary model. (They also decided to close 264 of their 564 Waldenbook stores.)

3) Developing prototype stores. Jones said the amount of the average transaction at Borders was up, but the number of transactions were down. In other words, there were fewer customers in the stores. He wanted to encourage more foot traffic in his stores.

4) Proprietary publications. On June 11, Borders released its first "exclusive and proprietary" title, Slip and Fall by Nick Santora. Jones had plans to do additional proprietary books, believing that if readers could only locate these books at Borders, it would drive traffic to the company.

5) Expanding the loyalty program. Jones said Borders made a mistake by not immediately responding when Barnes & Noble instituted its rewards program in 2000. Borders waited until February, 2006 to follow suit.

In the past year, Jones and his team set about implementing the above strategy. Last year, they closed 75 Waldenbook stores. In September, I reported the company had sold its British and Irish subsidiaries to a private equity firm in London. But, last week, a deal to sell their Australian and New Zealand operations fell through.

The sale of the foreign stores and the closing of the Waldenbook stores were intended to free up needed capital for both restructuring and the building of Borders' new concept stores.

Last month, on February 13, Borders unveiled its new prototype store in Ann Arbor, Michigan: "a store where shoppers can mix and burn CDs, explore their genealogies and even publish their own novels."

Unfortunately, the slowing U.S. economy and the tight credit market has made this a difficult time in which to raise capital. Borders' largest shareholder, Pershing Square Capital Management, stepped forward, agreeing to lend the company $42.5 million.

According to Publishers Weekly (PW), Pershing also "agreed to acquire Borders's Australian, New Zealand, Singapore and Paperchase subsidiaries for $125 million if Borders cannot find another buyer at a better price."

That help didn't come for free. PW reported: "Borders granted Pershing Square 14.7 million warrants to purchase company stock for $7 a share for up to seven and a half years, an amount of stock equal to nearly 20% of full diluted company shares (Borders stock closed yesterday [3/19] at $7.10, a low for the year and in the range of its opening price in 1995."

Warrants are similiar to options. In stock trading, if an investor believes a stock is going to go up in the short-term, he can buy an option. Let's say ABC stock is currently trading at $10 and the investor believes it is going to go up to $16 in the next six months.

Instead of risking the $10 a share (or $1,000 for 100 shares) he would have to pay now on just a hunch, he can buy an option. For simplicity's sake, let's say the option costs him $1/share, so for $100, he gets the right to buy 100 shares of ABC at any time in the next six months for its current price of $10.

If the stock goes up to $16, that means those 100 shares are now worth $1,600. The investor exercises his option and pays $1,000 for the shares. After you subtract the cost of the option, he has an immediate profit of $500 on paper (the current value of $1,600 less the $100 cost of the option).

However, if the hunch proves wrong and the stock goes down instead, the investor allows his options to expire. All he's lost then is the $100 cost of the options.

Options are short-term instruments--usually up to nine months. The main difference between an option and a warrant is that the warrants are longer-term instruments. They can last for years.

So, in exchange for its help, Pershing Square got the right to buy what would be in effect 20% of Borders' stock for the current price of $7/share. They protect their present investment by providing help to the company and, if the stock goes up in the next seven years, they can buy it at its present bargain basement price.

In his press release yesterday morning, CEO Jones said Pershing Square's support "gives us adequate opportunity to implement our plans this year and pursue a range of longer term solutions . . . We believe that consummation of the transactions under the commitment will make us fully funded for 2008, where absent these measures, liquidity issues may otherwise have arisen in the next few months."

And he suspended the company's dividend.

In the meantime, Borders did release its fourth quarter and 2007 results. The good news: in both the fourth quarter and, in the full year 2007, sales rose versus the same periods in 2006. For the fourth quarter, sales were up 2.8% to $1.3 billion. For the year 2007, sales rose 4.2% to $3.8 billion.

I'll talk more about this later . . .

Borders May Be Going On The Auction Block

The Borders Group financial woes have been well-publicized. Last year, they began restructuring and put their foreign bookstores up for sale.

Early this morning, Publishers Weekly reported that Borders has hired J.P. Morgan Securities and Merrill Lynch to help it "explore strategic alternatives." Borders went further, saying those strategic alternatives might "include the possible sale of the company and/or some of its divisions."

I'll have more later in the day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

2007 Results For Random House

Both Publishers Weekly (PW) and Publishers Lunch (PL) reported yesterday that sales and earnings fell at Random House in 2007.

Revenue fell 5.6% to $2.39 billion and EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) dropped 4.9% to $225 million. Parent company Bertelsmann blamed the drop on the weak U.S. dollar and the "slowing U.S. economy."

Peter Olson, Random House's CEO, wrote a letter to employees that said the company "felt the absence of newly published megaseller hardcovers, which in today’s trade publishing business can mean the difference between a good fiscal year and a great one.” (PW)

I found this comment by Olson (quoted in Publishers Lunch) very interesting:

Among the year's accomplishments cited, Olson notes that "more than 10,000 of our books [are] now available in our Insight search-and-browse service and some 23,000 frontlist and backlist titles fully digitized." The Bertelsmann report notes that they now have "digital platforms with book-content search-and-browsing capabilities in the U.S., Canada, and Germany."

Last May, I reported here that Bertelsmann's Direct Group (direct-to-customer businesses) had completed its purchase of Bookspan, which operates multiple bookclubs in the U.S.

The Direct Group also acquired Columbia House, which the company said "established Direct Group as the country’s leading direct marketer of music and DVDs."

PW reports the Direct Group's 2007 revenue fell 4.1% and that Bertelsmann's Chairman Hartmut Ostrowski said the company is "examining all strategic options, including the possible sale" of the group. The Direct Group's EBIT "plunged nearly 91%."

While the weak dollar was responsible for some of the decline, Bertelsmann said the weak performance of the U.S. division where music, DVD and book club membership declined significantly and sales per member were off, was also an important factor in the disappointing performance. (PW)

PL said that, during a press conference in Berlin today Random House announced Morgan Stanley will handle the sale of the Direct Group North America, but did not give a formal timetable.

The decision is still out on the possible sale of bookclubs in Europe and Asia.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

RWA and Tsaba House At Odds

Last Thursday, Publishers Weekly (PW) had an article that reported:

Tsaba House Press, a Christian publisher of fiction and nonfiction titles, is considering taking legal action against the Romance Writers of America for refusing to consider one of the small California press's authors for a Rita Award, which honors inspirational romances.

Apparently Pam Schwagerl, the Tsaba House publisher, had contacted Publishers Weekly to let them know that one of her authors, Molly Noble Bull, had been prevented from submitting her novel Sanctuary for the Rita because Tsaba House was not "RWA approved."

Unfortunately, there was a lot of erroneous information in that article. Publishers Weekly came out on Monday and reversed itself on a number of points:

1) The Rita is an annual award bestowed at the national RWA level for published romance novels. Molly Noble Bull was trying to enter contests on the chapter level, not the national level. According to the new PW article, she was specifically interested in Fort Worth's Yellow Rose contest and in Birmingham's Southern Magic contest.

2) RWA National has nothing to do with the rules associated with its chapters' contests. Almost every RWA chapter has an annual contest (or two), which are fund-raising events. The types of contests are widely varied--first twenty pages, first meeting between hero and heroine, most exciting moment, most sensual scene--every contest is a little different. The rules for entrants also vary. Some chapters will only accept entries from RWA members, other chapters typically charge a premium for non-chapter or non-RWA entrants.

3) Finally, according to RWA's website, the organization "does not maintain a list of 'approved publishers,' but it does maintain a list of non-vanity/non-subsidy publishers." When Bull attempted to enter the two contests in question, she was told that only authors from non-vanity/non-subsidy publishing houses could enter. When Schwagerl sent Tsaba House's contract to RWA National for confirmation that her operation was not a subsidy press, RWA responded "it considers Tsaba to be a subsidy publisher because its standard contract contains clauses concerning author chargebacks." (PW)

I've been a member of RWA for four years. I am second to none in my admiration of both the organization and its members. Every time I do a workshop, I encourage newbie writers seeking publication to join RWA. The generosity of its published members and the discipline and determination of its rank and file members are simply awesome. Both groups have taught me a lot.

I applaud RWA for its tireless efforts to protect its members and writers everywhere. They take their responsibility seriously and try very, very hard.

Being a cynic, I also find it interesting that Schwagerl apparently took her complaints to Publishers Weekly. I guess even Christian publishing houses appreciate the value of publicity.

The first PW article indicated that Schwagerl uses a model contract she purchased from Dan Poynter's website (see here) instead of one drawn up by an attorney. I'm reminded of one of my mom's quotes: "Penny wise and pound foolish."

Internet rumors speculate as to whether, contrary to their claims of "Our contract was modeled after the largest publishing house in NewYork designed by a team of laywers (sic)", NCP also got their boilerplate from Poynter's website. Those rumors point to the fact that both contracts neglect the all-important word "exclusive" when describing the grant of rights.

But, see, it's only been eight months since RWA was defending a definition of a vanity or subsidy press that included: "publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site." It took a little more than two weeks before they backed down from a definition that excluded all e-publishers (see my post here).

Over the last few years, I've had generous friends who've shared their contracts with me. For this reason, the following paragraph from the second PW article struck a chord with me:

David Koehser, a Minneapolis attorney who’s specialized in publishing law for the past 20 years and represents most of the Twin Cities-area publishers, as well as authors throughout the country, concurs with Schwagerl’s claims. “Those clauses are fairly common,” he said, “They’re in most of my contracts. The author has to submit a manuscript suitable to the publisher, and is obligated to provide supplementary material. This is not considered to be a subsidy arrangement."

First of all, this guy is no slouch. Read his bio here. He's taught publishing law seminars at the University of Minnesota Law School (from which he graduated cum laude) and the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago.

Second, there ARE clauses in major publishing house contracts which include author chargebacks. Let me give a few examples:

  • I explained the warranty and indemnity clause of a publishing contract on Saturday. In the event that legal action is instituted against the publisher under this clause, the publisher can withhold monies due the author until the matter is settled since the author is on the hook for any judgments by virtue of indemnifying the publisher.
  • If the author fails to deliver a satisfactory manuscript, some contracts include language that the publisher can hire a writer to fulfill the contract and charge the author for this cost.
  • If the author makes excessive corrections to proofs, s/he can be held liable for the cost.

Also, I remember reading a contract that covered both fiction and non-fiction, which said the author was responsible to provide supplementary material (such as charts and illustrations) related to the book. It makes sense that if you need a chart to support a non-fiction book's thesis, you'd produce the chart. It isn't some sneaky way of charging expenses to the writer. If your book requires supporting documentation, you need to provide it together with your manuscript.

I have to admit I'm harboring a memory of RWA's reflex reaction last year: "We're right, and it's too bad if you don't like it."

I suspect, after they check with the major publishers, they're going to have to retrace their steps on this matter. I just wish next time they'd do their fact-checking BEFORE the hoopla instead of after. There's nothing wrong with saying, "An issue has come up, and we're investigating it," instead of a simple kneejerk reaction of, "No."

Monday, March 17, 2008

AOL Buys #3 Social Networking Site

Happy St. Patrick's Day, especially to my mother--a red-haired Irish lass when she bowled over my first-generation Italian father.

On Thursday, AOL announced it would acquire Bebo, the third most popular social networking site in the U.S. for $850 million.

According to The New York Times (NYT), AOL, a subsidiary of Time Warner, plans to integrate Bebo with its Instant Messenger service AIM.

The chief executive of AOL, Randy Falco, called the deal a game-changer for the company, which has struggled to move from an Internet access business to an advertising-supported model. AOL has spent more than $1 billion to acquire the pieces for an advertising division called Platform A that would probably be used on Bebo. (NYT)

Social networking sites have received enormous attention in the last couple of years. They provide a variety of ways in which their users can interact, including chat, email, video, blogging and file sharing. The #1 network, MySpace, was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in 2005. Two years later, Microsoft paid $240 million for less than two percent of the #2 site, Facebook.

Bebo was started in January, 2005 by a husband and wife, Michael and Xochi Birch. They are cashing out of the company according to The New York Times.

Bebo combines the features of Facebook with the focus on media and self-expression of MySpace. The three-year-old site is most prominent in Britain, where the measurement firm comScore recorded 11.4 million unique visitors in January. The site had 4.1 million visitors in the United States, comScore said. (NYT)

Bebo will allow AOL to jumpstart their social networking project. They already have the instant messaging component, and Bebo provides the community functions. AOL's AIM is the most popular instant messaging system in the U.S., ahead of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft. AIM is used by almost 30 million unique visitors a month.

Read The New York Times article here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More on Contracts

By the way, last August and September, my literary agency BookEnds did a three-part series called "Contracts 101." Jessica Faust had some worthwhile things to say about advances and delivering a manuscript.

The first of the series is here. You can find the other two by entering "Contracts 101" into the search engine of the blog.

At about the same time, agent Kristin Nelson did a ten-part series on what a sample agent's contract looks like.

Go here to start the series.

Part II Of A Look At Publishing Contracts

We start today the same way we did yesterday with the disclaimer. I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY AND AM NOT MAKING ANY ATTEMPT TO GIVE LEGAL ADVICE. I recommend a writer not enter into a publishing contract without an agent or literary attorney.

I had started yesterday's post during the time between the ending of my RWA chapter's meeting and needing to leave to attend a play last night. When we got home at 11:00 PM after a lovely evening, I finished the post and tumbled into bed.

This morning, I re-read that post, cleaned up two dangling clauses and clarified a couple of points.

In doing a search for help with today's post, I found this one here by Nathan Bransford, which I think is a good jumping-off place for today.

We're going to pick up where we left off.

VIII. Statements and Payments. This section lays out how often statements of royalties shall be rendered and when the payments associated with those statements shall be sent out. It's pretty common that if the royalty check would be under $25, the payment will be withheld and the amount due carried forward.

IX. Copyright. This paragraph contains the assurance that the publisher will include notice of copyright in each edition of the work. It also determines who is responsible for seeking copyright registration.

This is one of those places where New York contracts may differ substantially from e-publishers or small independents. New York publishers typically apply for copyright registration for the work in question in the author's name or pseudonym. Other publishers may shift the onus for this task to the author.

Agent Jonathan Lyons did a great post on copyright issues last May here. Please pay particular attention to the issue of registering that copyright within ninety days of initial publication. This is important. If you are registering your own copyright, make certain you do so within that three-month period of your book's release.

X. Copyright Infringement. This paragraph indicates that either the publisher or the author may take action in the case of copyright infringement or may choose to go forward jointly. If only one party goes forward, that party shall bear the expenses involved and shall reap any recovery.

I'm going to skip over the next few pages because there are a myriad of small paragraphs that follow dealing with subjects such as:

  • Author's property: the original manuscript and proofs
  • Author's copies: specifies the number of free copies for each physical edition the author will receive
  • Contracts with others: requirement that the publisher let the author know of any contracts the publisher enters into related to this contract
  • Use of the author's name, likeness, photograph and bio
  • Motion picture and television tie-ins: If the author retained these rights, s/he shall use best efforts to permit use of the book's title to benefit the publisher
  • No competing work: Author agrees not to harm this work's sales by issuing a competing work
  • Termination of the contract by publisher
  • Bankruptcy and liquidation by the publisher
  • Rights on termination: This covers the author's rights upon termination of either the contract or the copyright
  • Necessary revisions of the work

XI. Out of print. When the work shall be considered to be out of print. This is becoming an increasingly important paragraph. Traditionally, when a book's sales dropped below a certain threshold, the author could send a written request for reversion of the rights.

With digitization and POD technology, a publisher can try to claim that the book is still available for sale if there is an obscure website somewhere that lists the book. Remember when Simon & Schuster tried this last year? Read about it here.

XII. Option on Next Work. This "options" clause is where the author agrees to grant the publisher an option to publish his/her future work. This is an important clause. Typically, the publisher will define it as broadly as possible. The author or his/her representative will seek to define it as narrowly as possible.

If you need evidence of how risky this clause can be, please read my post from last April here.

XIII. Agency Clause. This paragraph relates to the author's relationship with his/her agent. All legitimate publishers honor the agent/author relationship, and this clause acknowledges that the agent is empowered to act for the author.

XIV. Notices. Describes how the parties involved in the contract will communicate with respect to the notices required by the contract.

XV. Reservation of Rights to Author. Language that any right not granted to the publisher by this contract is reserved to the author.

There is additional language defining terms, establishing how waivers or modifications may be done or assignments made, and establishing the state whose laws will be used to interpret the contract. I'm not going into what is essentially typical legalese for all contracts.

My RWA chapter held its 25th anniversary celebration yesterday. Author Linda Castillo was the speaker. I heard Linda speak for the first time in 2004 at a Sisters-in-Crime meeting. She is a delightful speaker.

Linda talked briefly about contracts. Her comments reminded me to say something about joint accounting, or what is also called "basket accounting." This applies to situations where a writer has a multi-book deal. If basket accounting is invoked, the author does not receive any payment beyond the advance until all books in the deal have earned out. This can take a reeealllllly long time. Go here to read Joe Konrath's post from 2006 on the subject.

I hope these two posts are helpful to you in understanding publishing contracts.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Let's Take A Look At Publishing Contracts

Okay, let's spend a little time talking about publishing contracts.

First, the disclaimer. I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY AND AM NOT MAKING ANY ATTEMPT TO GIVE LEGAL ADVICE. In fact, my advice would be to never enter into a publishing contract without an agent or literary attorney. My personal attorney looked at my first publisher contract and said, "It's a good thing you have an agent. I would have to do weeks of research to comment intelligently on this document."

Consider this more of a "tour," talking about what you can expect to see on a typical New York contract. It may take more than one post, but let's start and see what happens.

I. Identifying the date, the parties to the contract and the purpose of the contract. Contracts typically begin with a statement indicating who is contracting and for what purpose.

My contract gives my name and lists my address as that of my agent. Correspondence regarding the contract (and all advances and royalty checks) go to my agent who is my authorized representative in the publishing world. I have a separate contract with my agent which governs our interactions. She deposits the checks, takes out her share and forwards a check to me within the time prescribed by our contract. This is standard practice.

My publisher contract specifies the literary work's tentative title and describes the subject matter of that work. The description is less than twenty words, but includes the genre and the overall plot.

II. Author's Grant. This section grants specific rights to the publisher for the term of the copyright and any renewals. It includes what rights are being granted and in which specific countries and territories.

I began reading agent blogs in 2004, starting with Miss Snark. During this tour, I will refer you to specific posts relating to various subjects.

Agent Jonathan Lyons had a great post on the grant of rights here. Take a look at it.

This is the place where a contract specifies exclusive or non-exclusive rights to things such as printing, publishing and selling the work in various mediums (hardcover, paperback, audiobooks, etc.) and through various distribution channels (bookclubs, serializations, etc.). If you grant non-exclusive rights, you are able to grant those same rights to another entity. Obviously, most publishers are seeking exclusive rights.

III. Author's Warranty and Indemnity. Here the author assures the publisher that s/he wrote the work in question, owns the work in question, has not put it in the public domain and did not infringe on anyone's copyright in writing the work in question.

The author also indemnifies (secures the publisher) against any losses emerging from misrepresentation of the warranty.

About ten days ago, in the wake of the unveiling of the two recent fake memoirs, Nathan Bransford posted here about this clause in the contract.

IV. Delivery of the Manuscript. This paragraph describes when and how the manuscript shall be delivered (date and in what form: electronic, hard copy, etc.) This paragraph also describes what a "satisfactory" manuscript will look like and what happens if the author fails to provide a satisfactory manuscript.

Again, check out Jonathan Lyons' blog here for more information on this section. You'll need to scroll down to the third post on the page.

V. Publication. This paragraph specifies how much time the publisher has to actually publish the manuscript. It also indicates what happens if the publisher fails to meet its obligation.

Let me stop here and point out that a publisher's "boilerplate" contract generally favors the publisher. It's up to the author and the author's legal representative to ensure that language in the contract is fair to the author. If a contract doesn't include clauses like this one, two years after the signing, the author can find him/herself without a released book and no idea when the book will be released. If the proposed book's genre is no longer popular, the publisher is unlikely to want to publish the book unless there is a legal obligation to do so.

VI. Advances. Finally, we come to the money. Advances are exactly that. An advance against the royalties your book will earn. As long as you don't do anything dishonest (remember Paragraph III up above) and you perform as agreed, you don't have to return the advance.

When we talk about "earning out" the advance, that's when the royalties for books purchased total up to more than the advance paid. If your book doesn't earn out, you don't have to give the advance back. However, this is a case where an overly large advance can work against you. You want to be able to earn out. Otherwise, you run the risk of the publisher refusing to contract with you again on the next book--or of offering a much lower advance. See here for the story of Tom Wolfe leaving his publisher of forty-two years after he ran into this sort of problem.

Advances grew out of the fact that it can take a long time from the point of contract to the release date. E-books didn't originally give advances because they could release a book within one or two months. Now that this window for e-book release is expanding, a number of e-publishers have begun giving advances--even if only a token amount.

Increasingly advances are paid in thirds: one third upon acceptance of a signed contract, one third upon submission of a satisfactory manuscript and one third upon release of the book.

I personally like the three-part advance. The first part motivates me to write, the second part is a reward for a job done and the third part gives me money to spend on publicity at the very moment the book is being released.

VII. Royalties. This is the section where the percentage of royalty the author receives for each medium (such as hardcover, trade paper, mass market and all other editions) is determined. These paragraphs will also indicate whether the royalty is a percentage of list price or net receipts. See Jonathan Lyon's post on this here.

This section also declares when no royalties shall accrue; for instance, when books are used for purely publicity purposes.

This post is long enough. Let's stop here for now and pick this up again later.

In the meantime, if you would like to see an example of an e-publishing contract, go here to EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The World's Fifty Most Powerful Blogs

I'm going to do a post on contracts--probably this weekend when I have the time to think about it.

In the meantime, The Guardian did a story on Sunday about the world's fifty most powerful blogs. The link to it is here, and the top twenty with links are:

1) The Huffington Post
2) Boing Boing
3) Techcrunch
4) Kottke
5) Dooce
6) Perezhilton
7) Talking Points Memo
8) Icanhascheezburger
9) Beppe Grillo
10) Gawker
11) The Drudge Report
12) Xu Jinglei (in Chinese)
13) Treehugger
14) Microsiervos (in Spanish)
15) TMZ
16) Engadget
17) Marbury
18) Chez Pim
19) Basic Thinking (in German)
20) The Sartorialist

While I've visited #1, #2, #3, #8 and #11, the only blogs that I routinely visit are Dooce, Gawker and Engadget.

After looking the top twenty over, I think I'll add Marbury to the list I visit regularly.

Hope you find one you like.

What Not To Do In A Crisis

It's been four days since I posted here on the situation at NCP.

I ended that post with the following suggestion:

Poorly managed e-publishing operations have gone out of business with depressing regularity over the past two years. NCP needs to focus on convincing its authors that the problems they've identified are being addressed and will shortly be a thing of the past.

Instead of paying heed, NCP ignored the warning signs of a coming tsunami. On Wednesday, the whole sorry mess emerged on the Dear Author website here.

Yesterday, the first wave of that tsunami hit the beach. The comment trail became increasingly ugly as more and more writers came forward to add to the NCP saga.

To save time, let's all just agree at the outset that the NCP author liaison is not the customer service ideal. Instead of recognizing this and muffling the man, someone left a back door open at NCP and he escaped. The poor soul ran right to Dear Author and posted a soliloquy that included the following gem:

Years ago, we let some authors out of their contracts early and what happened. A loud mouthed flag-waver led a slew of inexperienced authors with her to Triskilon and a couple of other now defunct e-pubs. I have to admit it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling all over. NCP is not exploding internally. Even though 2007 was a bad year for retail sales nationwide, we still grew by 7%.

While you’re absorbing the shock of his glee at competitors going out of business, let me ramble for a minute or two.

I am a huge NPR fan. It plays in the background whether I’m in my office at the university or working on a manuscript at home.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Two days ago on Wednesday, I listened to an interview on my local NPR station about a new non-fiction book titled The Age of Engage: Reinventing Marketing. I’ve since purchased the book written by Denise Shiffman.

Among the things Ms. Shiffman says is that, in a digital age, companies must be continuously connected in real time to their markets. In years past (pre-Internet), when a company experienced a PR disaster, they retreated behind closed doors and worked on their strategy for containment. Days later, they would emerge to do damage control.

In today’s world this is the worst possible strategy. Shiffman urges companies to immediately come forward, fess up and talk about how they intend to fix the problem. Sort of the same approach I advocated on Sunday.

Instead, using a retro strategy, it appears NCP retreated behind closed doors—whether to work on a containment plan or just to ignore the whole mess, we can only speculate.

Then someone left a window open, James evaded his keepers, shimmied down a drainpipe and became the public voice of the e-publisher.

I almost want to send my new copy of The Age of Engage to the NCP owners. Or perhaps we could take up a collection to buy a copy for them. It's likely they'll be tightening their financial belts in the near future.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stealing From Bookstores

Check out a February 26th article on bookstore thieves in The Stranger, Seattle's weekly alternative newspaper.

Author Paul Constant describes his adventures in chasing thieves out of the independent bookstore where he worked for eight years.

He talks about the time he encountered what was clearly a contracted book thief who was carrying a list of the most desirable books:

1. Charles Bukowski

2. Jim Thompson

3. Philip K. Dick

4. William S. Burroughs

5. Any Graphic Novel

Find the article here.

News From Overseas

I've decided to enhance my reputation. Maybe work on being more cosmopolitan.

Toward that end, today's post contains stories from overseas--courtesy of The Bookseller.

  • France is preparing to challenge Google's Book Search program. The Paris Book Fair opens on March 14th. Gallica 2 will be unveiled at the Fair. The new program will offer over 60,000 digitized works from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), which plans to add another 40,000 books. Another 2,000 books came from fifty other publishers, some of which were subsidized for participating. Copyrighted books supplied by publishers are "expected to quickly exceed 10,000. Authors welcomed the Gallica 2 project, according to Alain Absire, president of the 6,000-member French writers union (SGDL) . . .[and it] will offer publishers and e-tailers several possibilities, such as selling or renting out books, or giving access to only one or several chapters."

  • Almost a year ago, I did a post here about a scammer defrauding booksellers in Seattle. Now The Bookseller has a story about crooks from Ghana ripping off booksellers in the UK. The con artist claims to be Mark Donald, an employee of the Robinson Library at Newcastle University. He uses a stolen credit card to purchase medical textbooks, which he then has shipped to an address in Accra, Ghana. The Robinson Library has received complaints from seventeen booksellers, five of whom actually shipped the medical books. The library is trying to alert small independent booksellers who seem to be the prime target.

  • And, finally, yesterday I referred to Orbit Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, which is owned by Grand Central Books (formerly Time Warner Books). Grand Central is owned by Hachette Livre of France, which also owns The Mysterious Press. Hachette is, in turn, owned by the mega-corporation Groupe Lagardere. Hachette has announced its 2007 results, saying its operating profit margin rose 11.2% in 2007. "The group stated that all operating segments contributed to the profit growth. France had a good year, thanks largely to Education and Larousse, which benefited from the remedial measures taken in 2006. The United States (strong performance by bestsellers) and Spain (good year in Education) also stood out."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Borders' New Model Influence Spreading

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, my favorite writer at the Wall Street Journal, had an article this morning about another change at Borders.

On February 15, I reported here on the new model store Borders Group is testing in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

On March 5, the CEO of Borders was a speaker at the Association of American Publishers' annual meeting in New York (see here)

Trachtenberg said:

In a radical move aimed at jump-starting sales, the nation's second-largest book retailer is sharply increasing the number of titles it displays on shelves with the covers face-out. Because that takes up more room than the traditional spine-out style, the new approach will require a typical Borders superstore to shrink its number of titles by 5% to 10%.

Today's Publishers Lunch had this to say:

At the recent AAP meeting Borders CEO George Jones reported that in the first few weeks at their new concept store in Ann Arbor, more face-out and a smaller title selection than a typical superstore were producing a 'dramatic' increase in sales. Now the chain is quickly spreading those changes throughout their stores. The WSJ says 'customers throughout the country should be able to see the difference in displays within six weeks'."

Today's Shelf Awareness reported:

At a typical Borders superstore, the reduction of inventory will be between 4,675 and 9,350 titles out of about 93,500. Borders said customers at its new concept store had the impression that more books were available . . . [By contrast], the average 25,000 square-foot Barnes & Noble superstore stocks approximately 125,000 to 150,000 book titles, and the chain says it has no intention of cutting back.

The Rise of Urban Fantasies

During my workshop on Saturday, someone asked me about genres going in and out of popularity. That led to a discussion of "chick lit," and how it abruptly went out of fashion. I made the comment that I thought the voice and attitude of chick lit had morphed into the urban fantasy genre.

Someone asked what I meant by urban fantasy. I said, to me, it was taking the world of fantasy and superimposing it on the real-life world of a contemporary city. Thus early on, we had Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake in St. Louis, and today we have Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan in Cincinnati. We also have male heroes like Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden in Chicago and Mike Carey's Felix Castor in London.

Turns out that Sarah of the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books blog wrote a post here on Friday about the increasing popularity of urban fantasies.

Sarah referred to a blog here by Tim Holman of Orbit Books. Orbit is an imprint of Little, Brown, which is owned by Grand Central Books (formerly Time Warner Books) , in turn owned by the French conglomerate Groupe Lagardere.

Tim points to the fact that--while in 2004 only one of the top twenty fantasy best-sellers was an urban fantasy--this week eleven of the top twenty, including all of the top three, are urban fantasies.

While some readers gravitate to the kick-ass heroine, I'm drawn to the humor and cocky attitude of the protagonist--whether that protag be female or male. I also like the complex world backstories developed for these new fantasies with urban settings.

After reading the first book, Unshapely Things, by newcomer Mark Del Franco, I'm now midway through his second. His hero is a druid named Connor Grey, who is living in Boston and trying to come to terms with a disability that has stripped him of most of his powers.

If you haven't tried urban fantasy, think about it.