Thursday, December 24, 2009

Point and Counterpoint

Last Friday, sci-fi and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild, saying:
. . . you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.
Yesterday, the Authors Guild responded. Here is a portion of that response:
Constructive engagement -- in this case turning Google's infringement to our advantage -- is sometimes the only realistic solution. Google's scanning project won't be the only battlefield, there are countless challenges ahead. We need the institutional resources to deal with those challenges. We need the Book Rights Registry, our ASCAP, as desperately as the music industry needed its with the advent of radio.

The settlement is a good one for authors. It will open up new streams of revenues for authors from out-of-print books, books that provide no income to authors now. The settlement allows authors to decide whether, when and to what extent to make their works available through Google.
Go here to read Le Guin's letter.

Go here to read the Authors Guild response.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009's Most Literate U.S. Cities

USA Today reported yesterday on the "most literate cities" in America with a holiday surprise. For four years, Seattle and Minneapolis have traded the first and second places in the report. While Seattle once again nabbed the #1 spot this year, Washington, D.C. wrested the #2 position from Minneapolis, forcing the City of Lakes to #3.

Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University of New Britain, Conn., announced his findings for the seventh year. He studies six indicators: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources.
This year, Miller correlated results with rankings based on other surveys by Forbes, Bert Sperling's BestPlaces, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and American City Business Journals.
To be honest, I was surprised he was still using newspaper circulation as an indicator [Shrug]. USA Today reported that Miller believes "Cities where lots of people read also tend to feature a vibrant singles' scene . . ." and that these cities "boast high rankings both as 'literate cities' and as places for single people to live."

Go here to read the entire article and go here to see the complete listing of the top 75 literate cities.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Silent Night for Borders UK

Returning to work yesterday knocked more out of me than I expected. I got home last night about 7:30, sat down in the recliner to rest for a moment and that was all she wrote. Bob the Cat woke me up hours later, demanding his dinner. I fed him and crawled into bed.

Today is the day the 45 Borders UK bookstores will close to customers. According to Publishers Lunch, the 1,100 staff will be laid off on Christmas Eve . . . without being paid (nice timing, that). No buyer has come forward for the chain so the administrator will be left trying to sell off the business' assets.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Down and Out

Sorry to have fallen off the face of the earth.

I had what I thought was just a head cold last Tuesday. It got steadily worse and, by Thursday, I was having trouble breathing.

A shot of antiobiotics and steroids later, I could breathe again but wasn't up to doing more than sleeping for a couple of days.

I'm returning to work this morning and will return to blogging tonight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Covey Sells e-Book Rights Separately

Yesterday I responded to a comment of Colleen's:
. . . the world is changing . . . I'm beginning to think the Big Six will go the way of the dinosaur . . . meaning they will die off and be replaced by smaller, faster and smarter creatures.
Brenna Lyons pointed me toward a New York Times article from Monday that reported:
Stephen R. Covey, one of the most successful business authors of the last two decades, has moved e-book rights for two of his best-selling books from his print publisher, Simon & Schuster, a division of the CBS Corporation, to a digital publisher that will sell the e-books to for one year.
Amazon will have exclusive rights to sell e-books produced by RosettaBooks of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership.

The Big Six publishing houses are operating under a delusion. They have had all the power for so long, they cannot envision a world in which they don't continue to hold the power.

The New York houses are so determined to keep things the way they are that they've foolishly forgotten they no longer own the sole means to publishing.

It's not just readers who have greater choice today; it's also authors. And authors understand that readers sustain a writer's career.

When publishing houses became subsidiaries of mega-conglomerates, books became a product . . . like lawn mowers or widgets. The product is fungible: meaning the nature of the item doesn't matter; one product is interchangeable with another. The most important thing is the corporation's bottom line. Stockholders want higher dividends and rising stock prices.

With that mindset, protecting the hardcover edition makes sense. Why release a $9.99 cheap e-book version that will compete with the $27 hardcover version?

Kassia Krozser already said it: "There seems to be an assumption that the ebook customer will shift formats when their preferred format isn’t available. I suppose some will, but most will simply skip the purchase . . ."

I've spent some time over the last year or so analyzing my book purchases, and I believe Kassia is right.

Buying books is a huge part of my budget. I usually buy one hardcover fiction and one hardcover non-fiction a month. I buy hardcover books mostly to support my favorite authors.

I used to buy at least one trade paper or mass market paperback every week. That dynamic has now shifted to include the purchase of e-books. I find I'm more likely to buy a couple of e-books a week rather than to purchase a single trade paper. So the number of units I buy per week has actually increased.

I generally buy used books when I'm wanting to sample a new author. That's how I discovered Simon R. Green's Nightside series. I also buy used books when I'm growing tired of an author or when the quality of the books begins to slip. Put Laurell K. Hamilton in that category. I still buy her Meredith Gentry books new, but have relegated the Anita Blake books (with that tiresome ardeur) to used status.

Living outside Dallas, I have easy access to four Half-Price bookstores as well as a bookstore called Paperbacks Plus (where I maintain a $1,000 credit). When I can't find the used book I want at one of these, I buy online from Abe Books. I refuse to support because of their failure to act as a good neighbor to small publishers.

Bottom line: I'm now buying more books than ever (although it takes longer to get around to reading them). When faced with a hardcover book that I'd like to read but which is not written by a favorite author, I simply don't buy it. I may find it used down the road, but the publishers' royalty is lost forever because used books pay NO royalty.

Wake up New York. You're shooting yourself in the foot.

You can read the New York Times article here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Both Sides Now

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I reported on three of the Big Six publishers' decision to delay the release of e-books in order to protect the hardcover release.

Today let's direct you to a few blogs to read very different reactions to the news that Simon & Schuster, Hachette and HarperCollins are all planning to deliberately hold back the release of the e-books on their best-selling books. And--after that--we'll visit Mike Shatzkin to see what he thinks.

First, here's agent Nat Sobel's defense of the publishers' stance on Richard Curtis' E-Reads blog last Monday:
"I suggest that the electronic versions not be made available for six months after initial publication, eventually being released when the paperback hits the market," Sobel writes. "I’d like to believe that electronic book sales can and should be the mass market of the future."
The following day, Tuesday, Kassia Krozser responded to Nat Sobel's post on her Booksquare blog here:
While you implore publishers and agents to hold back on ebooks, for reasons that make no sense, I implore those same people to think long and hard about where book publishing is going. I can assure you this: publishing is going strong and getting strong. However, publishing as you know it isn’t.
Then yesterday on the Huffington Post here, Matt Stewart had his say in a post titled Hey, Publishers, Screwing Your Best Customers Is A Mistake:
Imagine if airlines gave their biggest frequent flier customers the worst seats on the plane. If iPhone owners had to wait six months to download the latest tunes. If owners of hybrid vehicles had to pay double for insurance . . .

These are all idiotic ideas, certain to ruin relationships with each industry's biggest advocates, devastate the bottom line, and get top-level executives axed. So why do these publishers think they're exceptional?
Finally, Mike Shatzkin weighs in here:
. . . this is really about the agents and publishers trying to take control of ebook pricing, and value perception, back from Amazon . . . the big houses can . . . sell ebooks direct off their own web sites.

what the publishers can do to Amazon today, the authors can do to the publishers tomorrow. If the publishers could sell the ebooks of big books successfully from their sites, then the big authors could also sell them directly without a publisher.
Stay tuned . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

RH Trying Another e-Book Rights Grab

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg yesterday.

Random House's CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to literary agents on Friday, laying claim to digital rights on its backlist books contracted "before the emergence of an active marketplace for electronic books."
[Dohle] wrote that the "vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the exclusive right to publish books in electronic formats." He added that many of Random House's older agreements granted it the exclusive right to publish a work "in book form" or "in any and all editions."
Nat Sobel, a literary agent, responded in the article:
"I don't accept Random House's position, and I don't think anybody else will either," Mr. Sobel said. "You are entitled to the rights stated in your contract. Contracts 20 years ago didn't cover electronic rights. And the courts have already agreed with this position."
This isn't Random House's first time at bat on this issue. Back on February 27, 2001, Random House sought a preliminary injunction to prevent RosettaBooks from e-publishing RH backlist titles. RosettaBooks had obtained contracts covering e-book rights to titles by Kurt Vonnegut, William Styron, Robert Parker and other RH authors. At that time EContent quoted Stuart Applebaum, RH's publicist: "Random House owns the rights of all of the works in electronic format, even if its not specified in the clause of the contract."

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York didn't agree with Random House. In reporting on the July, 2001 decision, the Associated Press indicated that, in denying the injunction, "U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein ruled that the publisher was 'not likely to succeed on the merits of its copyright infringement claim and cannot demonstrate irreparable harm'."

Random House appealed, and RosettaBooks reported on the outcome of that legal action:
On March 8, 2002, Judges Newman, Kearse and Rakoff, writing for the Second Circuit, rendered a unanimous decision in favor of RosettaBooks denying Random House´s request that the Appelate Court overturn Judge Stein´s July 11, 2001 ruling which had denied Random House´s request for an injunction. The three judge panel concluded that contrary to Random House´s assertions, ".....the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Random House´s motion for a preliminary injunction, and consequently the judgment is affirmed."
In December, 2002, the Associated Press reported that Random House and RosettaBooks had reached an agreement:
Under the agreement, Random House will grant Rosetta exclusive e-book rights to "mutually agreed-upon titles," both old and recently published. Random House authors include Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, John Grisham, Anne Rice and Donna Tartt.
Despite its loss in court, Random House has proven surprisingly aggressive in pursuing its agenda. Regular readers of this blog may remember my quoting from an article in the UK's The Bookseller in July, 2008:
The controversy hinges on the definition of "out of print" in the digital environment, with one agent saying RHG was "trying to power through enormous changes to the contractual precedent". . .

Society of Authors deputy general secretary Kate Pool said her major concern with RHG's new boilerplate was an out-of-print clause allowing rights reversion only if the publisher cannot supply a physical or electronic copy of a book within a month, or if there have been no royalty earnings for a year. The author body plans to raise the issue with RHG.

Pool said: ". . . this is a way that publishers can sit on rights for years on end."
Go here to read The Wall Street Journal article.

Stay tuned . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stephenie Meyer Not Dead

From MTV in the UK:

Twilight author Stephenie Meyer has been forced to deny internet rumours that she had died.

The story had spread around vampire-obsessed blogs and via Twitter yesterday until eventually the writer’s rep was forced to put out a statement.
The statement indicated the rep had spoken to Meyer, and she was alive and well.

ASI Partnering with the Espresso Book Machine

I just finished reading a press release that made me grimace.

Here's some selected excerpts:

Author Solutions, Inc., the world leader in indie book publishing--the fastest-growing segment of book publishing, is partnering with On Demand Books, owner of the Espresso Book Machine®, to provide writers with an online toolset to publish, distribute, print, and market their books in retail locations via the Espresso Book Machine.®

ASI has helped more than 85,000 authors worldwide bring 120,000 titles to market through its industry-leading self-publishing imprints AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford Publishing, and Wordclay.

"This is the first time user-generated content can be produced on the Espresso Book Machine® from Web-enabled software provided by ASI," said Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books. "Our retail customers can now offer writers a menu of services covering all aspects of the publishing supply chain, including in-store book production and distribution. It will transform self-publishing opportunities for both retailers and writers."

. . . ASI will create and operate Web-based self-publishing services that will be available to the Espresso Book Machine® retailers, who can then private-label these services under their own branded Web sites. Writers can avail themselves of these online services from remote locations or on in-store computer monitors, and have their books printed while they wait. The Espresso Book Machine,® in effect an ATM for books, is a small, patented high-speed automated book-making machine. In a few minutes, it can print, bind, and trim a single-copy library-quality paperback book complete with a full-color paperback cover.
The grimace part came when I saw ASI describing itself as "the world leader in indie book publishing."

Let's review. First we had vanity presses. Then, because of the negative connotations of "vanity press," the self-publishing operations renamed themselves "POD publishers." After that, they flirted with the term "subsidy publishers." Now we have them calling themselves "indie book publishers."

Gag me with a spoon.

Obviously this initiative is intended to offer more immediate and more local printing services to individuals seeking to self-publish. But why stop there? Surely the Espresso Book Machine's (EBM) services would also be attractive to small publishers, too.

Upon hearing the news about the new ASI/EBM partnership, my friend and fellow writer Michele Lee responded, "locks Amazon and Author Solutions in a cage for a pit match to the death."

I laughed at the image she provoked.

The thing is . . . she may not be far off. I think Amazon is overdue for an extreme death match. I'm just not sure ASI will be the one facing them in that cage.

Amazon has done a hell of a job in creating a unique and popular service. They really haven't had any major competitors in the niche they carved out for themselves.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • In February, 2008, Amazon began to notify small publishers that they could only continue to sell print-on-demand books through the direct Amazon sales channel if the publisher agreed to use BookSurge, Amazon's proprietary printing division. BookSurge's sales terms were not as favorable as those of Lightning Source, the printing service most small publishers used. Three months later, filed an antitrust suit against Amazon, claiming violation of the Sherman Act. Booklocker claimed Lightning Source paid small publishers 70% of the proceeds from book sales versus BookSurge's 50% of proceeds. In August, 2009, the Court denied Amazon's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, so it is proceeding at a snail's pace through the U.S. legal system. I personally believe Amazon is acting to restrict trade, and I hope the Government throws the book at them.

  • The last time I checked, Amazon had 17 regional distribution centers around the U.S. It's unclear whether all of them have print-on-demand capacity.
  • Wal-Mart is increasingly unhappy with Amazon's branching out into other product lines besides books. The recent $9.99 bestseller price war began because decided to attack Amazon's primary business: Books.
  • Earlier this week, Amazon denied rumors that it was planning to open a chain of shops in Great Britain to supplement its online business with a physical presence. Rumor or not, I suspect that possibility weighs heavily with Wal-Mart.
  • The dark horse in this race is Google. It is not a giant leap from having a book search engine to having a giant online bookstore. Google keeps insisting its core business is search, not sales. But they've built an infrastructure that would make it awfully easy to step across that line.

Stay tuned . . . I'm betting that cage and serious bloodletting is not far off.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Checking In On The Rest of the Big Six

Following my post yesterday about Simon & Schuster and Hachette delaying the release of e-books to advantage their hardcover versions, The Wall Street Journal reported:
The third major publishing house in two days has decided to delay the electronic-book publication of some titles next year, as the debate over the timing and pricing of e-books heats up.

In an interview, Brian Murray, chief executive of News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, said that beginning in January or February, HarperCollins will delay the e-book publication of five to 10 new hardcover titles each month. The delays are expected to range from four weeks to six months, depending on the book . . . John Makinson, chief executive of Pearson PLC's Penguin Group, noted that Penguin is watching the current situation with interest. "We may undertake trial pricing, and defer publication from time to time, but we won't systematically delay the publication of e-books," he said. Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Bertelsmann AG's Random House publishing arm, declined comment.
Read the entire WSJ article here.

The New York Times
John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, owner of imprints like Farrar, Straus and Giroux and St. Martin’s Press, said the company has already delayed e-book publication on several novels . . . Mr Sargent said the company was likely to delay other titles in the future.
Read the whole New York Times article here.

Agency to Close

Agent Jenny Rappaport announced on her blog here yesterday that she will be closing The Rappaport Agency at the end of December after four and a half years "due to economic reasons."

Time Magazine's Best & Worst

Time Magazine's new edition on Monday claims to have the best and worst of everything in 2009.

B&N's new e-reader, The Nook, is the #2 best new gadget for 2009.

Check out the best new inventions in 2009, the top ten sporting cheats, the best netbooks, the top ten conspiracy theories, the top ten regrettable e-mails, the ten ways Twitter will change American business, the top ten movie catchphrases, debunking ten myths about dieting, the top ten literary stunts, ten ideass changing the world right now and the top ten comeback tours.

Go here to read the issue.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I just passed the 1,000 benchmark for followers on Twitter!

A News Triple Header

A number of articles caught my attention last night.

First, after all the talk about streaming music yesterday, I was interested when Engadget reported here that Pandora is working on "a variety of options for in-car music streaming." Engadget quotes Pandora's Chief Technology Officer saying that "the company is now working with various car manufacturers (including Ford). . ."

Next, Galleycat asked the question "How Did Publishing Survive the Great Depression?" here. My memory is that the infamous "returns" system began during the Depression as a way to convince booksellers to accept stock for sale.

Finally, my favorite Wall St. Journal writer, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, had an article here in which he reported that two of the Big Six publishers are deciding to delay the release of e-books for three to four months in order to advantage the hard cover edition.

Both Simon & Schuster and Hachette (parent of Grand Central Publishing) are concerned that e-books will "cannibalize" the "new best-selling hardcovers, which are the mainstay of the publishing business."

Let's call it what it is: protectionism.

And let me quote Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve. He criticized protectionism because it leads "to an atrophy of our competitive ability. ... If the protectionist route is followed, newer, more efficient industries will have less scope to expand, and overall output and economic welfare will suffer."

Despite their protestations to the contrary, the Big Six publishers have done nothing to promote the growth of e-books. Even today, when electronic readers seem to be at a tipping point, New York is trying to treat them like a paperback--just a lesser version of the hard cover.

I find myself thinking of the British troops when they came to the New World to defend their colonies against revolution. They fought in traditional style--in strict line format with their bright red uniforms screaming their location. Meanwhile, the ragtag American revolutionary troops fought in commando style, hiding behind trees and thinking flexibly. The new thinking replaced the old.

New York publishing cannot seem to think outside the box in which they reside. Jane Friedman thinks an e-book should be priced at $14.95--simply because that's the price of the trade paper. That's a knee-jerk hidebound approach without a single thought to the notion that the price should reflect--in some way--the production expense.

I know there are lots of smart New York publishing people. Maybe they need to get out of New York for a while. It might clear the cobwebs out.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Writers Salon

I'm trying something new.

I've set up a Yahoo group, which I've titled The Writers Salon. I'm hoping it will be a place where writers (and wannabe writers) can meet and talk about things that interest us.

If you'd like to join, please go here.

Thanks and regards,


Apple Rolling Along

On Friday, we heard that Apple had decided to buy Lala, a four-year-old Palo Alto company that permits users to stream music directly from the Internet rather than downloading the tunes.

There was lots of speculation over the last couple of days as to what Apple has in mind. Here are the two polar-opposite theories:

  • Conspiracy theorists believe Apple purchased Lala because it was a competitor that they plan to put out of business.
  • Others among us are convinced that Apple is getting ready to move away from the iTunes store to streaming tunes from a cloud environment.

Let's talk about the differences between Apple and Lala's business models.

Apple uses a traditional proprietary model. Users pay small fees to download music tracks from the iTunes store. The user owns the tunes and maintains them on a device (a PC or iPod or similar Mp3 player).

Lala's model is different. Instead of a proprietary model, it is more of a subscription model. Users don't own the tunes; they pay 10¢ for unlimited use of a tune whenever and wherever they want. They can stream the tune on their computer at work or on their PC at home or on an Mp3 player at the beach. Lala uses a cloud computing environment to store the user's tunes and can even duplicate the user's iPod playlist.

If you are not familiar with a cloud computing environment, go here to read about it on Wikipedia. Essentially, it's a way for companies (or individuals) to move away from large expenditures in hardware and software. Instead of making huge investments in technology, the customer uses another company's hardware and software and only pays for what s/he uses.

The first time I ever heard of a cloud environment was in November, 2006 when I wrote about Amazon's initiative titled EC2 or Elastic Compute Cloud here.

According to Business Week, EC2 "potentially make(s) a profit center out of idle computing capacity needed for [Amazon's] . . . retail operation. Like most computer networks, Amazon's uses as little as 10% of its capacity at any one time just to leave room for occasional spikes." EC2 allows users to use the Amazon infrastructure by renting out that excess computing power, starting at 10¢ an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer.

Users have to get used to the idea of storing their data on someone else's servers. One of my brothers--a computer programmer--said that the U.S. government has been leasing secure data space from high tech companies for years.

I'm in the process of reading Googled: The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta. He says:

"A 'cloud' of servers could store a consumer's information and hold a suite of software products, including spreadsheets, word processing, and calendars."

"Google has dozens of data centers all over the world . . . and within these data centers are housed what may be the world's most massive computer system, millions of PCs that have no keyboards or screens and are arranged in stacks and have been repurposed as servers to process searches. The servers in these data centers provide an array of software services that users can access from any device."
So we have both Amazon and Google getting into the cloud computing business. It should, therefore, not come as a surprise when I tell you that, in June, Data Center Knowledge reported that North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue had announced "Apple Inc. has selected North Carolina as the location for a new data center and will invest more than $1 billion in the project over nine years."

The article went on to say:
The size of the project raises interesting questions about Apple’s ambitions for its online operations. The $1 billion price tag is nearly twice the $500 to $600 million that Microsoft and Google typically invest in the enormous data centers that power their cloud computing platforms.
Yesterday, the Edible Apple suggested that "Apple made the [Lala] purchase not so much for Lala’s technology or business, but more so to acquire the talent behind the company and their cumulative expertise with 'cloud-based music services'.”

Friday's New York Times reported that, with the purchase, "Apple would primarily be buying Lala’s engineers, including its energetic co-founder Bill Nguyen, and their experience with cloud-based music services."

If Apple moves to a subscription model, their iPhone could leave its smartphone competitors in the dust. And who's to say they have to stop with music. With that large a facility, Apple could also begin streaming novels.

Stay tuned . . .

Monday, December 07, 2009

Surprised Kitty

This video has already been viewed over nine million times, but I'm adding it here just so I can find it again someday.

Amazon Offers A Few Statistics

You're going to have to bear with me as I catch up on a week's worth of reading material.

I was interested to see Jeff Bezos of Amazon actually offering some statistics on the Kindle--something the company has steadfastly avoided doing for the past two years.

Last Wednesday, in response to a question from The New York Times regarding the percentage of digital books Amazon is selling, Bezos said:
For every 100 copies of a physical book we sell, where we have the Kindle edition, we will sell 48 copies of the Kindle edition. It won’t be too long before we’re selling more electronic books than we are physical books.
In response to a follow-up question about how quickly paper books are migrating into their digital equivalents, Bezos said:
When we launched Kindle two years ago, it was 90,000 titles, and today it’s more than 350,000. We’re adding thousands of titles every week. Our vision is every book ever printed in every language, all available within 60 seconds.
My favorite question-and-answer seemed targeted right at Wal-Mart's bow:
Initially, Amazon sold books exclusively, but it has since expanded into a retail omnivore that sells basketballs and vacuum cleaners and hamster food and everything under the sun. What is your goal, exactly?
We want to have earth’s biggest selection. Earth’s biggest river, earth’s biggest selection.
Go here to read the entire interview.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Do A Good Deed Today

Go to this website here and play a trivia game called "Name That Toy."

For every correct answer you give, Toys for Tots gets a 10¢ donation.

I played for about five minutes and donated $5. That's the maximum donation per player.

If you get an answer wrong, the question comes around again, and you can answer it right.

Do something nice for kids today.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Joe Lansdale's Latest

Even though I had tons to do this weekend--what with the 605 emails awaiting my return at my office and the Holidays rapidly approaching--I took time off. After a week in Florida, I was plumb out of steam.

I diddled around on the Internet and spent the better part of today reading Joe R. Lansdale's latest Hap and Leonard outing: Vanilla Ride.

I've been reading Lansdale since his first H&L novel Savage Season back in 1990. He's a local boy, born in Gladewater, Texas, and he's won an Edgar and seven Bram Stoker awards. His novella Bubba Ho-tep was turned into a 2002 cult film favorite.

Lansdale is an acquired taste. His novels are full of raunchy humor, foul language and enormous amounts of violence. I think of his Hap and Leonard characters as the flip side of Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Hawk characters. Where Spenser and Hawk live in Boston, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine live in East Texas. Where Spenser and Hawk lead upscale lives, Hap and Leonard are down-on-their luck day laborers. The traits the characters share are that all four are hard, tough men with a strong sense of honor.

Both duos include a white protagonist who narrates the first-person stories (Spenser and Hap) and an African American best friend and long-time partner in crime (Hawk and Leonard). Both Parker and Lansdale specialize in smart, humorous dialogue juxtaposed against violent and very dark situations.

Oh, one major difference between the two duos is that Leonard is gay, although perhaps the most macho gay character in literature today. Hap's casual acceptance of his friend's sexuality runs counter to the stereotype of the rigid Texas moral code.

The first five pages of Lansdale's fourth H&L book Bad Chili remain one of my all-time favorite story openings. Go here to read that first chapter on Amazon. I have read it dozens of times and still laugh out loud at every reading.

Let me know what you think.

100 Best LAST Lines From Novels

Go here for a list of the one hundred best last lines from novels.

My favorites:

"He waited for someone to tell him who to be next." (Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain, 2006)

"And he couldn’t do it. He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here." (Philip Roth, Sabbath’s Theater, 1995)

"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." (A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, 1928)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Catching Up With Harlequin's DellArte

I've been catching up tonight on a week's worth of publishing news.

While I was busy interviewing home inspectors and plumbers, Harlequin was busy doing damage control following the announcement of their new self-publishing imprint (see my post of 11/19 here).

Last Wednesday, Publishers Weekly reported:
In the wake of widespread criticism over its self-publishing imprint, Harlequin has changed the imprint’s name from Harlequin Horizons to DellArte Press. As Harlequin publisher and CEO Donna Hayes said it would, the company renamed the imprint to a designation “that [does] not refer to Harlequin in any way.” There is no mention of Harlequin on DellArte’s Web site.
Today, Lee Goldberg printed here the announcement of a decision by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) "to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately."

The paragraph that will most impact Harlequin authors is this one from the MWA release:
Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration.
I was completely in agreement with the MWA's reasoning: MWA doesn't have a problem with Harlequin's owning and operating a self-publishing imprint. "The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin's traditional publishing business."

Goldberg also published the letter that Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes sent to the MWA Board before their meeting and vote on December 2.

I was unimpressed with Hayes' explanation that (1) "self-publishing has emerged as a new force in the publishing industry" and Harlequin feels "compelled to respond to new publishing models" or that (2) Harlequin wishes to expand the writer's "range of options."

It simply is not kosher for Harlequin to reject writers while at the same time referring them to its self-publishing arm. Furthermore, it is inappropriate for Harlequin to imply that their editors will be "monitoring" the self-published releases with an eye to possibly offering a contract with a traditional Harlequin imprint. This is not an arms-length relationship. It offers false hope to writers while benefiting the Harlequin bottom line.

I have huge admiration for Harlequin and its sensitivity to an "evolving" business landscape. The company has proven far more flexible and willing to think outside the box than other traditional publisher. I have admired Harlequin's support and respect for emerging writers.

If Harlequin wants to experiment with self-publishing . . . fine. But maintain that arms-length relationship and do not tease or entice writers with the bait that self-publishing a book with DellArte will bring them closer to a traditional contract with Harlequin.

Rant over.

Home, Sweet Home

I'm back.

As good as it was to see my mom and two brothers, I'm really happy to be home. I worked my tail off in Florida.

After 30 years with Liberty Mutual and only a couple of small claims during that time, my mother's home insurance had been cancelled as of December 15. Liberty Mutual refused to give a reason so I was forced to conclude it was because (1) The house's age, (2) my mother's age, or (3) the fact that we'd cancelled her auto insurance with the company.

No new insurance company would accept her application without a four-point home inspection (air conditioning, electricity, plumbing and roof). I managed to get the inspection done on Monday, interview companies on Tuesday and to contract with a new company on Wednesday.

I also discovered the house has a hot water pipe leak in its foundation (the inspector didn't find it; the lack of hot water cued me to start looking). Major clues were the fact that the thermostat and a heat element had already had to be replaced on a two-year-old water heater. I spent the rest of the week interviewing plumbers. Rather than repairing a single leak in the 48-year-old house (and tearing my mother's bathroom tile up), I opted to repipe the place. In exchange for letting the plumber have the old copper pipes, he's replacing all the faucets, too.

So, it was great to get back to Texas . . . to relax after my working vacation.

I'll be back later today with a new post.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

I'll be leaving on Wednesday for Florida to spend the holiday with my family. Although I'll have my laptop with me, I don't know how much access I'll have to the Internet.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I'll be back on December 4th.

Update on Borders UK

The London Times had a story on Sunday indicating that: "Struggling book chain Borders UK is on the verge of collapse this weekend after WHSmith walked away from a rescue deal on Friday."

Back on August 10th here, I reported "The Bookseller had an article in which the accounting firm Ernst & Young raises "concerns" over whether Borders UK will be able to continue trading."

A little more than a month later, The Bookseller reported here:
Borders UK and Ireland has been sold to . . . Risk Capital Partners for a £10m up front cash payment plus an additional deferred £10m cash consideration. Borders Group will retain an equity interest of around 17% in the business. The transaction includes all 41 Borders superstores in the UK, the Borders superstore in Ireland and all 28 Books Etc stores in the UK.
The Times story yesterday indicated that the new owners of Borders UK have been holding talks with the company's competitors who--while interested in buying specific stores in the chain--are not interested in buying the entire chain.

If the company goes into bankruptcy, it is probable the individual stores will be sold off.

The Times' article said the bookchain's challenges include reduced credit insurance (making it difficult to get buy stock on credit), increased competition from supermarkets and from

Get Fuzzy

I have to confess one of my secret passions is a comic strip by the name of Get Fuzzy. The strip recently celebrated its tenth anniversary in syndication.

Get Fuzzy follows the ongoing antics of the pets in the household of a Boston man named Rob Wilco. Rob has a dog named Satchel Pooch and a Siamese cat named Bucky Katt. Rob does not appear alarmed by the fact that both animals can talk.

Satchel is sweet and dumb while Bucky is cynical and mean. Much of Bucky's malevolence is directed toward Fungo, the ferret who lives next door. Bucky is constantly hatching plots to destroy Fungo, who always outwits him.

Here are two recent strips featuring Bucky's ongoing battle with the ferret. Click on each one to enlarge it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jane Friedman Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

I was both interested and impressed with Jane Friedman's concept for her new venture, OpenRoad, which I talked about in a post yesterday.

Two things Friedman said during the Q-and-A caught my particular attention. She said OpenRoad is not trying to remove the agent from the equation. However, she did say her contract has "the traditional agent's clause for agents who've brought us the estate."

The estate. Friedman is thinking mostly in terms of her author-branded backlist business when she talks about agents. Does that mean she is planning to plumb the releases at Lulu for her
e-Riginals publishing arm?

The other thing Friedman said, which simply blew me away, was that OpenRoad was entertaining the notion of releasing 1,000 e-books in their first year in business.

And THAT wasn't even the part that struck me upside the head.

Almost immediately she was asked about the pricing of her
e-books. Her response was that the value of the e-book to the reader was the same as the value of the book in any other form. Therefore, she felt the appropriate price point for OpenRoad's
e-books was around $14, the price of the trade paper.

For months, we've listened to publishers nattering on about how an e-book is as expensive as a p-book to release.

And then--in one fell swoop--Jane Friedman, the doyenne of publishing, veteran of two of the five biggest publishers, inventor of the book tour, stands in front of a room and says her new company is thinking about releasing ONE THOUSAND e-books in their first year of business and charging $14 apiece for them.

Whew! That's some brass balls. How complicated and expensive can it be to release an e-book when she's proposing to release ONE THOUSAND of them in a year???

Let me put that into perspective for you. If we take two weeks off during a year for vacation, and only count the remaining fifty weeks, we have approximately 250 workdays in a year. One thousand books divided among the 250 workdays is the release of FOUR e-books a day, every day for the entire year.

Yeah, that's a lot of effort and expense, all right.

What that one statement tells me is that--for all her talk about innovation and flexibility-- Friedman is still thinking like a traditional publisher. Instead of pricing from the ground up, she starts with a price she knows and is comfortable with and goes on from there.


Less interesting were these other details about her plan for OpenRoad revealed during the Q-and-A:

  • The business model is currently based strictly on the sale of e-books. OpenRoad is a marketing company
  • No advances, but a very good profit-sharing deal for authors/copyright holders (50/50)
  • The videos OpenRoad will produce are strictly for marketing purposes although they may also be used as value-added features for the e-books
  • Code and Theory is the Manhattan firm helping to build the marketing platform
  • She wants to collaborate with traditional publishers
  • The strength of OpenRoad is its ability to be flexible; to be able to change course and try a new direction
  • She believes it will be very difficult for the mega-publishing houses to go forward (the large advances and returnability of books are huge problems) while they push the front list to the exclusion of the back list
  • OpenRoad is in discussions with Lulu about having their self-pubbed authors use OpenRoad's marketing platform AFTER the books go through an editorial process
  • The marketing platform is intended to be long-term, not just a six-week window
  • OpenRoad will be weighted toward fiction, but will not be exclusively fiction

It remains to be seen if OpenRoad is truly a creative new venture or just another old-time publisher in mod new clothes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Open Letter to Bishop Thomas Tobin

Dear Bishop Tobin: I read with enormous dismay recent articles in the news about your dispute with Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

I am an American Catholic born in New York City and raised in a large Italian-Irish family (how more Catholic can you get?).

The Associated Press article reported the following here:

  • You asked Rep. Kennedy not to receive Holy Communion because of his political views on abortion
  • You did an interview with the AP in which the subject of Rep. Kennedy's past substance abuse was raised and in which you described him as acting "erratically." Then, you claimed you "don't go out picking these fights."
  • You questioned Kennedy's faith
  • You instructed diocesan priests not to give Kennedy Communion

How dare you?

How dare you question someone's faith?

How dare you engage in character assassination?

How dare you impose yourself between a congregant and his God? Your job as bishop is to help shepherd His flock, not to assume the role of the Lord Almighty and to presume to know a man's conscience.

Your arrogance and presumption offend me. I suggest you remember James 4:6: Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

And Luke 4:23: Physician, heal thyself.

Kangaroo Tried to Drown Dog

I found this story deeply disturbing . . . maybe because I once had a red heeler named Molly.

Who'd a-thunk?

The New OpenRoad Venture

In June, 2008, after ten years at HarperCollins, Jane Friedman announced she would be leaving her job as CEO prior to the end of her contract and prior to the reporting of another year of lowered profits at HC.

In June, 2009, Friedman announced she'd raised $3 million for her new start-up company, OpenRoad, devoted to "developing a platform for eBook marketing and publishing."

Earlier this month Friedman talked about her new venture at her alma mater, NYU. The video is available online and worth watching.

She begins by talking about the "traditional tenets" that she still clings to:

1. Publishing is a business of relationships; a publisher must foster relationships.

2. You must hire the right people and ensure the right people are in the right position.

3. Authors are your best asset; make them your most important focus.

4. Know your market; concentrate on the consumer and what motivates him to purchase.

5. Move with technology. Embrace digital development.

Friedman then talks about the origins of OpenRoad and explains that it began with her efforts at HarperCollins to digitize not just the front list, but the back list as well. She wants to "Go back to the future" and publish the great authors of the past.

She describes OpenRoad as a "layer cake" where each layer impacts and blends the whole. She then went on to explain each layer of her publishing cake:

  • The base is the author-branded backlist which includes William Styron (of Sophie's Choice fame), Dame Iris Murdoch (Under the Net) and Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides).
  • e-Riginals: Original titles that are "born digital" with a POD capability as well as titles whose rights have reverted and which do not have a physical presence in America.
  • OpenRoad will also consider doing non-returnable print runs (either licensing print rights to legacy publishers or publish the works themselves as a p-book, using a distributor)
  • Discovery: A self-publishing arm offering existing self-publishers OpenRoad's marketing expertise and perhaps offering an OpenRoad self-publishing option.
  • Forming marketing partnerships with legacy publishers, particularly those who operate in niches. Already working with Kensington (romance, African-American, gay & lesbian and mystery) and Grove Atlantic (independent literary). She pointed out there are 80,000 independent publishers in America.
  • Producing marketing videos in the space between book release and the film version of the book.
  • DigiEnt (Digital Entertainment): Option and produce full-length features based on e-books.
The plan is to "push out content" to social communities like FaceBook and Twitter and to blogs related to the content of a book.

Probably the most interesting comment of Friedman's talk was her statement that OpenRoad's platform will be offered to EVERY author and genre on their list to increase the author's exposure "to the broadest audience possible."

Friedman believes that, because OpenRoad does not have the "overhead and ibidem" of traditional publishers, they can be more flexible and quick to market. As a data-driven company, they can "access what is working in real time."

OpenRoad will embrace technology, profit-share with authors (no advances), treat content as king and treat booksellers as partners.

She describes "Revolution, not Evolution."

Watch the video here. The questions-and-answer videos are interesting. I'll talk more about them later in the week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

SFWA Joins RWA and MWA

Last night at 11:07 PM, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) posted their comment about the new self-publishing division of Harlequin.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) finds it extremely disappointing that Harlequin has chosen to launch an imprint whose sole purpose appears to be the enrichment of the corporate coffers at the expense of aspiring writers. According to their website, “Now with Harlequin Horizons, more writers have the opportunity to enter the market, hone their skills and achieve the goals that burn in their hearts.”
SFWA asks that Harlequin:
  1. Admit that the Horizon titles are not going to be on bookstore shelves
  2. Acknowledge that no editor will be reviewing the Horizon manuscripts with an eye to publishing them.

SFWA believes that money should flow TO the writer, not FROM the writer and warns that writers publishing with Horizons may "injure" their writing careers.

So now we've heard from the romance writers, the mystery writers and the sci-fi and fantasy writers. Everyone is dogpiling Harlequin.

Once again I ask, "Where are the Christian writers?" Why did they NOT greet the news last month that Thomas Nelson was launching a self-publishing imprint with the same amount of outrage?

In my mind, Nelson deserves more criticism than Harlequin for their statement that they will pay a referral fee to agents who send newbie authors to Nelson's WestBow.

Go here to read about Nelson's initiative.

Go here to read the SFWA statement.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harlequin Horizons Provokes Controversy

On Tuesday I reported that Harlequin had announced it would be launching a "self-publishing partnership with Author Solutions, Inc."

That announcement has provoked comment and reaction across the publishing industry.

First, Romance Writers of America (RWA) issued a letter to its members from its president, Michelle Monkou. Here is a portion of that letter:
Dear Members:

Romance Writers of America was informed of the new venture between Harlequin Enterprises and ASI Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity/subsidy press. Many of you have asked the organization to state its position regarding this new development. As a matter of policy, we do not endorse any publisher's business model. Our mission is the advancement of the professional interests of career-focused romance writers.

One of your member benefits is the annual National Conference. RWA allocates select conference resources to non-subsidy/ non-vanity presses that meet the eligibility requirements to obtain those resources. Eligible publishers are provided free meeting space for book signings, are given the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and are allowed to offer spotlights on their programs.

With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints.

Sometimes the wind of change comes swiftly and unexpectedly, leaving an unsettled feeling. RWA takes its role as advocate for its members seriously.
According to agent Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants, "Harlequin was very surprised and dismayed" by the action RWA took.

In an effort to silence its critics, Harlequin has decided to remove its name from the previously titled "Harlequin Horizons" imprint. The company clearly hopes that this move to rename its self-publishing arm will mollify both RWA and the Harlequin authors.

Apparently neither Thomas Nelson nor Harlequin sees any conflict of interest in newbie authors being lured into spending significant sums of money in the hope that the parent company will offer a publishing contract.

But, wait!! Another county heard from.

Kristin Nelson also posted a letter from Mystery Writers of America (MWA), expressing concern over "the Harlequin Horizons self-publishing program and the eHarlequin Manuscript Critique service (aka 'Learn to Write')."

MWA had already written a letter to Harlequin, demanding a number of changes to put the critique service at arms-length from the publisher when the new Harlequin Horizons was announced.

My favorite line from the MWA communique was this: "We are taking this action because we believe it is vitally important to alert our members of unethical and predatory publishing practices that take advantage of their desire to be published."

Three cheers for MWA!

Corporate greed is a cliche these days. Ethical conduct by companies is now so rare that we remark upon it when we happen on a business with scruples.

I was unbelievably disappointed by Thomas Nelson's plan to pay a "referral fee" to any agent that steers a newbie author toward Nelson's WestBow self-publishing unit.

Where are the Christian writer trade organizations or networks? Why are THEY not concerned about Nelson's obvious conflict of interest issues? I find it fascinating that the romance writers and the mystery writers are speaking up, but not the Christian writers.

You can read both the letter from Harlequin and the MWA message on Kristin's blog here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Barnes & Noble Creates a Poison Pill

In early January, billionaire investor Ron Burkle disclosed in a filing to the SEC that his Yucaipa Companies had purchased 8.3% (over 4 million shares) of Barnes & Noble stock. According to Publishers Marketplace (PM), two days later, Goldman Sachs upgraded its rating of the bookchain's stock from "sell" to "neutral."

Last week, Burkle filed new papers with the SEC, revealing that he had more than doubled his stake in B&N. Publishers Marketplace says that while Burkle's 16.8% holding is enormous, it is "still only about half as much as the big block of stock controlled by [B&N] chairman Len Riggio":
[The] question is how Burkle hopes to cash in on what has become a large position in Barnes & Noble. Together Burkle and Riggio truly control the company. Given Burkle's investment history, expect renewed speculation on the possibility of BN going private.
Then on Monday, Burkle announced yet another SEC filing revealing a further accumulation of B&N stock, raising his stake to 17.8%.

B&N's response was rapid. On Tuesday, the world's largest bookseller issued a press release announcing that its Board of Directors had approved the adoption of a "poison pill," which would be "exercisable if a person or group, without Board approval, acquires 20% or more of Barnes & Noble's common stock or announces a tender offer [hostile takeover] which results in the ownership of 20% or more of Barnes & Noble's common stock."

A poison pill is a strategy a company employs to ward off an unwanted suitor. The goal is to make the target company so expensive that the acquirer gives up its attempt to take it over.

B&N's poison pill is a very common approach called the shareholder rights plan. In this strategy, B&N announced its "stockholders will receive rights to purchase shares of a new series of preferred stock in certain circumstances."

If Burkle should acquire 20% of B&N or if he announces a hostile takeover that gives him 20% of B&N's stock, the shareholders will be permitted to convert their rights into common stock. The press release explains:
If the rights become exercisable, all rights holders (other than the person triggering the rights) will be entitled to acquire Barnes & Noble's common stock at a 50% discount.
More stock dilutes the value of the acquirer's holdings and makes it more expensive for him to continue trying to buy the company.

Under the terms of the Rights Plan, the rights will expire on November 17, 2012.
The ball is back in Burkle's court.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gag Me With a Spoon

Regular readers of this blog know that there are two publishers I routinely mention when talking about creative and cutting edge initiatives: Thomas Nelson and Harlequin.

Both houses have shown resilience and a remarkable willingness to "think outside the box" in order to reinvent themselves in this tough publishing environment.

Last month here, I reported on Thomas Nelson's latest initiative:
. . . Thomas Nelson has launched a self-publishing imprint, WestBow Press--though they are outsourcing the bulk of the operation to self-publishing giant Author Solutions. AS will design, publish and distribute the books. Nelson's primary roles appears to be sharing revenue and promising customers an "opportunity to be discovered by parent company Thomas Nelson.... For authors who hope to one day be signed by a traditional publisher, this is an opportunity to get your foot in the door."
I was not happy:
If the book in question is the typical self-published mess and the writer is entertaining the fantasy that Nelson will soon be offering a contract, will WestBow disabuse the writer of such notions? Is WestBow going to offer a reality check, or are they simply going to collect a check?
Yesterday Harlequin followed Thomas Nelson's lead with this press release:
Harlequin Enterprises Limited . . . announced Tuesday the launch of Harlequin Horizons; a self-publishing partnership with Author Solutions, Inc. . . . Harlequin, Book Business magazine's 2009 Publishing Innovator of the Year, regards the self-publishing venture as an accessible opportunity for emerging authors to bring themselves to the attention of the reading public.
Like Thomas Nelson, Harlequin is waving the lure of "possibility":
Harlequin will monitor sales of books published through the self-publisher for possible pickup by its traditional imprints.
At least Harlequin didn't promise to pay a finder's fee to agents referring newbie authors to their vanity press the way Nelson is doing.

My girlfriends and I often joke about our jobs, saying there has to be easier ways to earn a living. Periodically, after a rough day, one or the other of us will groan, "Maybe I ought to just go down to Harry Hines and set up shop."

Harry Hines Boulevard is the Dallas street notorious for its prostitutes and hot sheet motels.

Although we joke about it, none of us would actually do it.

But I guess some people simply don't mind screwing others for money.

At least down on Harry Hines, BOTH partners in the transaction know what to expect and what each is getting from the deal.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lies Told By the Self-Publishing Industry

One of the many obstacles facing newbie authors is that of overcoming their own impatience to be published. Lying in wait to use writers' hunger to see their works in print against them is the vanity press industry. Taking advantage of all the buzz about print-on-demand, the vanity presses have redoubled their efforts to lure unwary writers into paying to have their novels published.

Self-publishing does make sense for certain segments of the population. If you are wondering whether you should self-publish, go here to read my post from August, 2008, which will walk you through the decision-making process.

There are lots of "entrepreneurs" out there, looking to capitalize on newbie writers' naiveté by giving a few facts and a half-truth or two and then leaving it to the reader to infer something that never happened.

Example: On the website titled "Self-Publishing Resources" here, it says:
Many famous authors and their books were rejected multiple times. Publishers turned down Richard Bach’s Johnathan (sic) Livingston Seagull no less than 140 times; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind received 38 “no’s,” while Stephen King’s Carrie was turned down 30 times. J. K. Rowling’s original work was pooh poohed by 12 publishers...guess who’s kicking themselves now that they passed on Harry Potter? And E. E. (sic) Cummings first work — The Enormous Room, now considered a masterpiece — was ultimately self-published...and dedicated to the 15 publishers who rejected it.
Yes, many famous authors were rejected multiple times. However, Bach and Mitchell were first published by Macmillan, King was first published by Doubleday, and Rowling was first published by Bloomsbury. And note the half-truth: e.e. cummings' first (and only) novel was The Enormous Room, but it was published by Boni and Liveright. It was his manuscript for No Thanks in 1935 that his mother financed. According to Emory University, "With characteristic sarcasm Cummings named the 14 publishers who had rejected the manuscript of No Thanks in the volume itself and said 'Thanks' to his mother, who had financed its publication."

On a website flacking his book about self-publishing here, John Kremer lists the following fifty famous authors who have self-pubbed:
Margaret Atwood, William Blake, Ken Blanchard, Robert Bly, Lord Byron, Willa Cather, Pat Conroy, Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Thomas Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Robinson Jeffers, Spencer Johnson, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L'Amour, D.H. Lawrence, Rod McKuen, Marlo Morgan, John Muir, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Tom Peters, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Carl Sandburg, Robert Service, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, William Strunk, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoi, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf.
The list above is sorted alphabetically, which is a bit misleading. Commercial publishing as we know it today did not really get its start until the middle of the 19th century. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, until 1750, Britain produced only 100 new titles a year. It wasn't until 1850 that mass production brought down the costs of books, and it was 1900 before that 100 titles a year became 6,000 titles a year.

A number of the famous commercial publishers we still recognize had their start during the 19th century: Harper & Brothers (HarperCollins) in 1833; Houghton Mifflin & Company in 1880; McGraw-Hill in 1888 and Macmillan in 1896. Prior to 1850, there was NO traditional publishing as we know it today. The business model was totally different with self-publishing being the norm. Therefore, it's comparing apples and oranges to list historical figures together with modern authors.

A quarter of the above authors were writing before the advent of modern commercial publishing and have no business being included on the list: William Blake; Alexander Dumas; Benjamin Franklin; Nathaniel Hawthorne; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Lord Byron; Alexander Pope; Thomas Paine; Edgar Allen Poe; Percy Bysshe Shelley; and Henry David Thoreau.

And finally we have what I call "The Big Lie," the one everyone has heard: Stephen King owes his success to self-publishing.

In late October, 2005, I wrote about King's experiments in self-publishing. I called it bold, brave and inspired. Here's a portion of that post:
King first burst onto the public consciousness in 1974-75 with the release of his books, "Carrie" and "Salem's Lot." He tapped into readers' desire to be scared out of their wits . . . By 1995, he had become an icon, and e-publishing
was still in its infancy.

In early 2000, King proposed selling his novella, "Riding the Bullet," online through his publisher, Simon & Schuster. No one was prepared for the onslaught of fans trying to download the new release. In no time at all, he'd sold 400,000 copies of the novella online. Even though e-publishing had been around for more than five years by then, one estimate claims King's sales figures were greater than all the e-books sold on line collectively to that point.

Emboldened by his success, King came back a few months later and tried a second experiment. This time he left Simon & Schuster out of the equation--and I'll bet they weren't happy about it. King decided to sell his novel, "The Plant," directly to readers via Amazon. In a quixotic gesture, he opted to sell the serialized novel on the honor system for $2.50 per installment. He was forced to pull the plug because readers were downloading the installments without paying.
Again, I think there are legitimate reasons to self-publish. However, if you are thinking about it, please take the time to educate yourself. Don't let your impatience justify forking over several thousand dollars. Having a physical copy of your book is the start, not the finish. Remember: Even with a website or a listing on Amazon, you still need to find a way to drive traffic to your book.

Here's a quote that I have always liked:

Three hundred years ago a prisoner condemned to the Tower of London carved on the wall of his cell this sentiment to keep up his spirits during his long imprisonment: 'It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.'

Friday, November 13, 2009

Point and Counterpoint

Another Author Strikes Back controversy.

On October 15, George Packer reviewed Mark Danner's book Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War for the New York Times Book Review. Read that review here.

On November 4, Danner wrote a 1,400-word Letter To The NYT Editor, protesting the review. While it's not news for an author to protest a review, it is news for the Times to print such lengthy letters in their entirety. Read it (and Packer's response) here.

Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher wrote an article on the point-and-counterpoint duel here. And The Huffington Post picked up on the story, reprinting Mitchell's article.

I have come to believe that responding to critics and criticism is not a useful pastime. Below are my favorite quotes about critics:

Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea. --John Updike

Do what you feel in your heart to be right. You'll be criticized anyway. --Eleanor Roosevelt

Abuse if you slight it, will gradually die away; but if you show yourself irritated, you will be thought to have deserved it. --Tacitus

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Note to My Readers

I wrote my post for Thursday at about 4 AM when I got up to take my scheduled antibiotics. When I resurfaced and re-read it at a decent hour, I made some changes, including to the title.

The Web of Domination

Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist philosopher and socialist, once said: "The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself, and this society is fatally entangled in it."

The irony of tying this post to a socialist is not lost on me.

Back on May 13, Amazon announced a new program called AmazonEncore. Here is the description of the program from their press release:
AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon uses information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales. Amazon then partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.
You can read the entire press release here.

The first book to be re-released by the AmazonEncore program was Legacy, written by fourteen-year-old Cayla Kluver and self-published by her and her mother a year later. The book was released under the AmazonEncore imprint on August 18.

Yesterday, AmazonEncore issued a second press release, announcing they would be releasing three new books in February, 2010. All three books had previously been self-published by the authors using Amazon's BookSurge unit. According to the new press release, the three books are:
“Perfect on Paper: The (Mis)Adventures of Waverly Bryson” by first-time novelist Maria Murnane; “A Wish After Midnight” by Zetta Elliott, an American Library Association 2009 Notable Children’s Book author; and “They Never Die Quietly” by former book editor Daniel Annechino.
Read the press release here.

It would be easy to hail this initiative simply as an opportunity for deserving self-pubbed authors to get broader exposure. Unfortunately, I don't see it that way. Amazon has now crossed the line into publishing books under its own imprint instead of merely providing print-on-demand services to other publishers and writers.

Talk about vertical integration [See 10/20/06 post here for definition of vertical integration]. Amazon is using feedback from its customers to identify the most popular or well-received books printed by its own BookSurge unit to then make deals with authors to market their work through other Amazon units (i.e. Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,

Back on 6/5/08, I did a post here that included this:
I have said repeatedly . . . I think Amazon poses a threat to the publishing industry. But, increasingly, I believe that threat stems from Amazon's vertical integration of the book market, not because I think the Kindle will become the dominant e-reader.
Now let's talk about the carrot-and-stick approach. Remember yesterday's post here? Amazon brought a dozen well-known agents to Seattle to "open a dialogue." There was supposition as to whether Amazon was trying "to do an end-run around publishers and make direct e-book deals with major authors." That was the carrot.

The new Amazon press release is the stick. Let me translate what Amazon was really saying during those cozy little talks with agents in Seattle:
"We are now poised to publish p-books (through BookSurge), e-books (through Kindle), and a-books (through and Brilliance Audio). We can both distribute (CreateSpace) and sell those books ( And we can even sell used books (AbeBooks, Bookfinder and Gojaba) and soft-market the books we want to push through our social networking sites (LibraryThing and Shelfari). We have a hand in every point of the chain leading to the customer:

Manufacturer => Wholesaler => Marketing => Retailer

"Bottom line: We at Amazon are the future of publishing. Get on board while you can because otherwise you'll be left in our dust."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Amazon Tries a New Tactic

Crain's New York Business had an interesting report about Amazon on Monday afternoon.
The online retailing giant flew out a dozen of New York's top literary agents last week for a day of meetings at its Seattle headquarters. Steven Kessel, senior vice president of worldwide digital media, led the all-day presentations and discussions, which centered on Amazon's wildly successful Kindle e-reader and the future of the e-books business.
In the words of one agent, the day-long event apparently was intended to convince the group that Amazon is "not trying to destroy publishing as we know it.”

Some publishing insiders speculated whether Amazon might be planning to ask the agents to act as middle men to make "direct e-book deals with major authors." Amazon was quick to deny this charge.

It turns out this wasn't the first feeler Amazon had put out to literary agents. Lynn Nesbit of Janklow & Nesbit acknowledged meeting with Amazon on a previous occasion in New York.

While Crain's article did not name any of the agents at Thursday's meeting, Paul Constant of The Slog website in Seattle did. In pointing out that this approach is new to Amazon, Constant said:
They usually don't play ball with the New York big-shots, and putting agents like Melanie Jackson, Ira Silverberg, Charlotte Sheedy, Nicole Aragi and Melanie Jackson at the Hotel Andra is a big deal for the company.
Read the Crain post here.

Read The Slog here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harlequin Announces Carina Press

Yesterday Harlequin announced "the launch of Carina Press(TM), a digital-only publishing house that will operate independently of their traditional publishing businesses."

Carina Press will sell its e-books direct-to-consumers via their website here.

Angela James, well-known editor from Ellora's Cave and Executive Editor at Samhain--and most recently associated with Kassia Krozser's now defunct Quartet Press--will be the new venture's Executive Editor. Angie also announced her new gig on her blog yesterday here.

Carina Press' website had this to offer:

Both the contract and distribution channels are very different:

  • The Carina Press contract does not include an advance or DRM, and authors are compensated with a higher royalty.
  • Unlike Harlequin there is no guaranteed series distribution (no standing order, no direct mail, no overseas translation markets).
  • Carina Press titles will be sold direct to consumers through the Carina Press website, and we’ll be securing 3rd party distribution on other
Go here to read the press release.

Earlier this year Harlequin celebrated its 60th anniversary. I remain impressed by the company's think-outside-the-box mentality. They've accepted the crumbling of their book club empire, but revived the direct-to-consumer sales with an e-book division. AND they are moving to a straight royalty, no advance approach which has the potential to make the author a true partner in the deal.

I'll be curious to see what kind of royalty rates Harlequin offers their new "partners."

Monday, November 09, 2009

Something For Everyone

I'm going to direct you to a variety of articles so you can pick and choose which ones to read.

If you're interested in self-publishing, USA Today had an article titled "Publish Your Own Book For Fun and Profit." Go here to read it.

If you've always wondered how other writers write, the Wall Street Journal has the article for you. Titled "How To Write a Great Novel," it describes the writing habits of seventeen well-known writer. Read it here.

The Tennessean has an article updating us on Thomas Nelson's new self-publishing arm. "Thomas Nelson said its twin goals are to boost revenues and search for up-and-coming writers to add to its roster." Grrrrr. Read the TWO-PAGE article here.

The New York Times slams Publishers Weekly because PW's Top Ten List of the best fiction and non-fiction for 2009 is an all-male list. Read the story here.

I was actually more disturbed by PW's reaction to the dustup over their all-male list. They published an expanded list, adding genres AND females. I'd have felt better about it if they'd had the courage of their convictions to stick to their original list. The expanded version is clearly a sop to political correctness. See the expanded list here. (If you can't read it, would someone please let me know).

The New Yorker has an article on the current Wal-Mart, Amazon, Target price war over books. Read it here.

Happy Reading.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Honor Roll

This morning, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram printed the names of the people killed at Fort Hood.
Michael Grant Cahill, 62, of Cameron, a physician’s assistant who was working on the post as a contracted civilian

Maj. L. Eduardo Caraveo, 52, of Woodbridge, Va.

Staff Sgt. Justin M. DeCrow, 32, of Plymouth, Ind.

Capt. John P. Gaffaney, 54, of San Diego

Spc. Frederick Greene, 29, of Mountain City, Tenn.

Spc. Jason Dean Hunt, 22, of Tillman, Okla.

Sgt. Amy Krueger, 29, of Kiel, Wis.

Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, 19, of West Jordan, Utah

Pfc. Michael Pearson, 22, of Bolingbrook, Ill.

Capt. Russell Seager, 41, of Racine, Wis.

Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, of Chicago. She was pregnant.

Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, 55, of Havre de Grace, Md.

Spc. Kham Xiong, 23, of St. Paul, Minn.
I didn't realize until I read the list that there were fourteen deaths. While I believe in a woman's right to choose, I also believe that the mass murderer took a child's life.

Whatever your belief system, take a moment today to remember these innocents . . . whether in prayer or simply in recognition of their sacrifice.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Heaven on Earth

Niccolò Paganini was a noted Italian pianist and composer. He wrote 24 "Caprices for Solo Violin" between 1802 and 1817. He is best remembered for his Caprice No. 24 which has been used as the basis for other works by many composers ranging from Brahms to Benny Goodman to Andrew Lloyd Webber. The most famous of these variations is "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini" by Sergei Rachmaninoff, which is one of the best-loved pieces in all classical music.

Paganini's No. 24 is considered a very difficult piece for a solo violin player. Below is a short segment of Hilary Hahn playing No. 24 at a 2007 music festival--just so you can get a taste of it--before we get to Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody.

Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody has 24 variations on Paganini's Caprice No. 24. By far, the most famous of these variations is No. 18, which is often played by itself. You have probably heard it many times in films and as part of other musical recordings. John Barry (known for the James Bond theme) won a Golden Globe nomination for his use of No. 18 in the 1980 film Somewhere in Time.

No. 18 is played slow and upside down. Instead of using Paganini's A minor, Rachmaninoff plays it in D flat major. Supposedly he immediately recognized the appeal this variation would have for audiences. Stories claim he quipped, "This one is for my agent."

I've had tickets to the Dallas Symphony for over twenty years. Last night I heard Stephen Hough play Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody--all 24 variations--in 23 minutes. It was simply glorious. The audience stood and cheered for several minutes afterward. I plan to go back either tonight or tomorrow afternoon to hear it again.

YouTube has Mikhail Pletnyov (or Pletnev) playing the entire Rhapsody over three videos. He begins the third video playing No. 18. You'll immediately recognize when it ends because Pletnyov looks to the orchestra and the tempo picks up as the 19th variation begins.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Borders Accelerating Store Closures

Borders announced yesterday that it "is accelerating the pace of closing stores in its Waldenbooks Specialty Retail group."

According to Publishers Weekly:
[Borders] will shut approximately 200 outlets in January. The retailer has been steadily closing its mall-based stores since 2001 and will have about 130 mall stores after the downsizing is completed. Stores to be closed fall under the Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet names. Superstores are not part of the downsizing nor is the company’s mall kiosk business and airport stores.
Borders CEO Ron Marshall described the initiative as "right-sizing" Borders' presence in the communities it serves. The press release also said:
With the store closings in January, approximately 1,500 positions--the majority of which are part-time jobs--will be eliminated. Employees have been informed of the right-sizing plan and efforts will be made to place qualified individuals in other positions within Borders Group. Displaced employees will receive severance.

The mall-based right-sizing initiative has been ongoing at Borders Group for a number of years as the retailer has closed underperforming Waldenbooks Specialty Retail stores annually as part of its overall turnaround strategy. The company shuttered 112 stores in the segment in fiscal 2008 and from fiscal 2001 through 2007, closed an average of 66 stores per year within the Waldenbooks Specialty Retail segment.
You can see the tentative list of stores to be closed here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Harlequin Reports Another Strong Quarter

Harlequin's parent company Torstar announced its latest quarter results yesterday morning. Here are the portions of the press release relevant to Harlequin. Direct-to-Consumer used to only mean the book clubs. However, it now includes the sale of e-books. All dollars being reported are Canadian:
Book Publishing operating profit was $22.9 million in the third quarter of 2009, up $4.2 million from $18.7 million in the third quarter of 2008, including $2.0 million from the impact of foreign exchange.

Year to date, Book Publishing operating profit was $63.1 million, up $9.9 million from $53.2 million in the first nine months of 2008, including $5.1 million from the favourable impact of foreign exchange.

Underlying results were up in North America Direct-To-Consumer and down in North America Retail for both the third quarter and year to date. Overseas was down in the quarter but up year to date.
Note that North American Retail [bookstore sales] are down but North American Direct-to-Consumer is up.

Late in the first quarter of 2009, Harlequin announced the decision to close its direct-to-consumer distribution centre in the U.K. and to outsource that function. This will result in annual savings of $0.6 million and a reduction of approximately 16 positions. Approximately $0.2 million of these savings will be realized in the fourth quarter of 2009.
I'm reading between the lines here. I think they are closing a p-book [print book] distribution center because Direct-to-Consumer is now more focussed on e-books.

Harlequin has done a terrific job of reinventing itself in the digital world. Back in February, I did a post on all the changes they've implemented. Read it here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Slicing Up the Book

Back in November, 2005, shortly after I started this blog, I reported here that:
Amazon Pages "will 'un-bundle' . . . buying and reading a book so that customers can simply and inexpensively purchase and read online just the pages they need. For example, an entrepreneur interested in marketing his or her business could purchase the relevant chapters from several best-selling business books.
In that same post, I said:
Random House . . . announced "its intent to work with online booksellers, search engines, entertainment portals and other appropriate vendors to offer the contents of its books to consumers for online viewing on a pay-per-page-view basis."
Earlier this year, I told you about a new e-book app called Shortcovers. The Wall Street Journal described the app this way:
It will allow readers to get free samples of blogs, magazines and books -- say, the first chapter -- and then buy either the entire work or other individual chapters or sections, which the company calls "shortcovers."
From Monday's Publishers Weekly:
Simon & Schuster has started to sell individual e-chapters to its bestselling You series of titles written by Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz . . . For answers to questions that appear in one of the You titles, S&S created an e-commerce widget that will allow consumers to purchase just the chapter in which the answer was found as well as providing the opportunity to buy the complete book in digital, physical, and audio formats.
According to PW, prices for those chapters will be between $2 and $3. You'll have to go to Oz's website here to purchase the book slices. I visited the site, but didn't see reference to this program yet.

I can think of a number of non-fiction titles where I might only be interested in a chapter or two of the book. If I could download that chapter for $2 rather than shlep all the way to the library where I have to pay parking, I'd do it in a minute.

I'd be less inclined to pay for fiction this way. I use the "Search Inside" kind of features to sample fiction to see if I would be interested in buying them.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Just Another Day in Paradise

Sorry for the delay in posting today. I got sidetracked.

I've mentioned before that I have a redhead's fair skin. As a result, I also have more than a nodding acquaintance with skin cancer. I visit the dermatologist the same month I visit the dentist twice a year. Getting my teeth cleaned is the cue to set up an appointment with the dermatologist.

This morning my dermatologist advised he was referring me to a surgeon to have a basal cell cancer removed from my right temple. He'd removed the lesion a couple of weeks ago and the biopsy was positive.

I could choose to go to a plastic surgeon or a dermatology surgeon. My doctor said the plastic surgeon would do a general anesthesia while the dermatology surgeon would use a local. The decided me. After my major surgery back in February, I'm not looking to have another general anesthesia any time soon. The hell with worrying about the scar.

So, next Tuesday, I have a 8:40 AM appointment. They said to allow four to six hours for the Mohs surgery.

I'm familiar with Mohs from previous experiences. The surgeon draws a circle with a cross inside it. He removes one quadrant of the lesion at a time. The goal is to keep expanding outward until he finds a clear margin with no abnormal cells in it. He moves from quadrant to quadrant, sending each tissue sample off to be biopsied until all four margins are clear.

The last time I had a basal cell cancer removed (June, 2007), I wrote a PSA on this blog. The husband of Maureen Reagan wrote me after that blog to say thank you.

Please go here to read that post. I care about you.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stephen King in the New Yorker

Stephen King did a fiction piece for the New Yorker. You can read it here.

Thanks to Publishers Lunch for the tip.

Maybe We All Need a Little Ubuntu

This post was prompted by two events that occurred last week:

First, last Monday, agent Janet Reid did a terrific post here about what makes a writer.

Then on Friday, a couple of writers on a loop complained about the "poseurs" who self-publish and then go around "bragging" that they've been published.

The thing is, I can remember how irritating it was while I was still querying agents to have someone who had self-published offering me advice about writing in general and publishing in particular. This was especially grating because, deep in my DNA, I am extremely competitive.

My three brothers and I were raised by a father who pushed all of us to succeed. To Daddy, everything was a contest, and he weighed our worth by how well we did. If I came home from school with five "A"s and one "B", rather than celebrating the "A"s, Daddy would berate me for the one "B".

It took some years (and a bit of therapy) for me to overcome my need to be perfect. I'm still incredibly competitive, but now I channel it.

A fair amount of my time as a management analyst is spent encouraging teamwork or "collaborative work" among employees. Periodically, I pull whatever group I'm working with into a large room where we can play games that force them to work together. Afterward, we debrief, talking about what led to either winning or losing in the game. Fortunately for my purposes, more often than not, everyone agrees that working together as a team was the chief key to success.

Now to the point of this post.

Publishing is a brutal business. Writers compete for agents. Agents compete for editors' attention. Editors compete for slots on the publishing schedule. Publishers compete for manuscripts. Everyone competes for readers. It's one big dog-eat-dog world.

While Amazon and Wal-Mart are slugging it out for online market share, this is a great time for us to remember that, as writers, we're all together in this leaky fleet of boats flying the "Publishing" ensign. We may take different routes to the fabled City of Gold: traditional New York print, indie publishing, university press, online publishing, self-publishing. But whatever direction we take, we're a band of fellows, a community of adventurers. As such, we need to watch out for each other, pass along warnings of pirates and offer encouragement to our peers if they begin to flounder.

I think I've pushed that metaphor as far as it will go.

John Donne said, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind..." I would argue that another writer's success does not diminish me for precisely the same reason.

There is a Bantu philosophy often voiced by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is called "ubuntu." The Archbishop described the concept this way:
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished . . .
As I drive into work every morning, I try to spend a few minutes focussing on unbuntu, with the goal that I will affirm at least five people I meet during the day. And not with phony or shallow compliments. I will find something genuinely good in what they are doing and offer each a valid affirmation.

Why should I feel diminished or insecure by another's success (or perceived success)? That's a losing proposition. Instead I seek the company of constructive, successful people. They encourage me to strive harder. They teach me. And they support me.

And I do everything I can to pay the favor forward.

Try offering your fellow writers a little ubuntu today.