Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Agents Differ On Google Settlement

While I'm on the subject of my favorite agent bloggers, there was another kerfuffle (don't you just love that word?) in the blogosphere yesterday.

Janet Reid, Agent Extraordinaire from FinePrint Literary Management, took on fellow agent Lynn Chu of Writers Representatives.

Chu's position is that Google and its book settlement is a ripoff for authors. Her opinion can be found here on the op/ed page of Saturday's Wall Street Journal.

Janet's opinion differs and is more in line with that of the Author's Guild. Her counterargument can be found here.

I actually have a third opinion, and I'll talk about that in tomorrow's post. I'm in training today on yet another computer application and need to scoot to arrive for a freaking 8:00 AM kickoff. While I'm usually up by 5:30 AM, I NEVER go anywhere before 9:00, and this is messing with my circadian rhythms something fierce.

Jonathan Lyons Is Back

One of my favorite bloggers, agent Jonathan Lyons, is back after a winter hiatus to attend to his new infant son.

He had an interesting--and hopeful--post on Thursday in which he pointed out that the trend in his queries has turned.

I'll let him tell you about it himself here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scribd Under Attack

On March 20, I did an article on Scribd, a document-sharing website with more than 50 million monthly users. Anyone can post a document to the site and, according to Wikipedia, Scribd is "the world's largest library of user-generated documents."

In my post here, I quoted the Washington Post from March 17 here:
Scribd has announced that it has partnered with a number of major publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Workman Publishing Co., Berrett-Koehler, Thomas Nelson, and Manning Publications, to legally offer some of their content to Scribd's community free of charge.
Today the blogosphere was full of stories about published authors railing against Scribd for posting their works without permission. The UK's Guardian had an article here titled "JK Rowling Leads Fight Against Free Book Site Scribd." The article said Rowling was "shocked" to find her books available for free download on the website:
Neil Blair, Rowling's lawyer, said the Harry Potter downloads were "unauthorised and unlawful" and that the website had been asked to take them down. "We are aware of this and we've asked them to take them off," he said. "They are quite helpful and they act immediately, but they won't police it themselves."
The UK's Times Online here said:
Mindful of copyright concerns, Tammy Nam, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Scribd, says that it operates a “notice and takedown system”, where it removes books if their publishers demand it. She said: “If we get a request we usually respond in 24 hours.”
That policy keeps Scribd in compliance with the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Signed into law in the U.S. on October 28, 1998, the DMCA limits the liability of online service providers if immediately block access to any copyrighted material once notified by the copyright holder or his agent.

Tech Crunch's Jason Kincaid pointed out here:
Rowling and her representatives are concerned that Scribd is not proactively searching its database for pirated content . . . Scribd says that it has an automated system that can prevent content that has previously been marked as pirated from being uploaded again, but . . . I have a hard time believing the system is working very well.
I agree with Jason. Scribd is a great idea that can help publishers promote authors and books. However, after this kerfuffle, the onus is on them to prove they are good citizens of the publishing world, taking an active role in avoiding copyright infringement rather than standing by passively and allowing well-known books to be posted to their site.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two Great Things

This will be a short post--about two things that made me happy today:

1) Harriet Klausner, the online reviewer, gave Bad Boy a five-star review!! That's a nice way to start any day.

2) I found a wonderful website for people who like words: FreeRice. The site claims that it donates ten grains of rice through the UN Hunger Program for every right answer you give. Go here. I had a ball playing.

No post on Sunday. See you Monday.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Amazon Bullying UK Publishers Again

Publishers Lunch had a story on Thursday about the UK branch of Amazon:
Amazon.co.uk is offering publishers participating in its Advantage scheme an "early payment" option of 15 days, in exchange for an extra 2% on top of the current discount given by publishers.

The catch is that publishers who do not offer the extra discount will see their payments made on Amazon's "standard terms"--effectively 60 days. This means a publisher who sells a book through Amazon in April would not be paid until the end of June. Under the revised terms, a publisher would be paid on 15th May--a full 45 days earlier . . .
Book Brunch, a UK blog, broke the story:
Amazon has aroused reactions ranging from fury to stoicism with its latest move over terms for its consignment-based Advantage programme. One senior trade figure condemned the demands as "utterly outrageous" and "thuggery". . .

The changes will be effective from 1 April, and members are required to make their choice known to Amazon by that date. The email outlining the new terms arrived this week, giving publishers just days to reply.
This isn't the first time Amazon has flexed its muscle against British publishers. Exactly a year ago today, the Scottish Sunday Herald reported:
A MAJOR battle has erupted between Amazon and the UK's biggest publisher in the most public fallout yet between the powerful online retailer and the book world.

Amazon has removed several key Hachette Livre UK titles from sale on its British website in an effort to pressurise the publisher to give it a greater percentage of its profits, according to Hachette's group chief executive.
At the same time Amazon was pushing on British publishers overseas, they were giving a hard time to small American publishers. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 28, 2008:
Amazon.com 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.
On May 16th last year I quoted an excerpt from Mike Shatzkin's speech at the London Book Fair:
About three weeks ago, Amazon declared a new policy that they would no longer ship as Amazon-sold product books printed on demand by another supplier . . . The legality of this approach is not yet clear, but many of the marketplace implications certainly are. Amazon has a commanding position among online book purchasers and they can use that as leverage to compel publishers to conform to their desires . . . This latest policy is a shot across Ingram’s bow -- at the very least; maybe it is a missile into the wheelhouse -- but it is also a sober reminder to publishers that their now second-largest vendor has a whip hand and will use it.
On June 8th last year, I likened Amazon's heavy-handed techniques to the "same tactics that Wal-Mart used to gain its position of hegemony in retailing."

Amazon continued to emulate Wal-Mart. On July 24, 2008, The Bookseller reported on Audible.com (which Amazon had announced they would be acquiring seven months earlier):
Audible UK is standing by its business model and the level of discounts it demands, despite a number of audiobook publishers claiming they have been embroiled in long-term negotiations with the download specialist over unfavourable terms.

Certain publishers have argued that they accepted the high initial discounts Audible demanded as covering costs during the early stages of Audible's existence, and while the proportion of revenue from downloads was relatively small. But, as the medium grows in popularity, firms are increasingly calling for the business to rethink its remuneration structure.
Last year I quoted Tim O'Reilly's blog:
As Amazon's market power increases, it needs to be mindful of whether its moves, even those that may be good for the company in the short term, are ultimately destructive of the ecosystem on which they depend. I believe that they are heading in that direction, and if they succeed with some of their initiatives, they will wake up one day to discover that they've sown the seeds of their own destruction, just as Microsoft did in the 1990s."
A year later and Amazon is still not listening.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No More NY Stock Exchange for Borders????

From today's Publishers Lunch:
With Borders set to declare fourth-quarter results next week, expectations are grim: more multi-million dollar losses, store closures, payroll slashings and, with shares currently trading at 64 cents per share, potential de-listing from the NYSE. Shareholders will hear more about the company's strategy, including plans for a reverse stock split to satisfy NYSE conditions, next Wednesday when CEO Ron Marshall hosts a conference call with analysts and investors.

B&N Execs Won't Be Getting Raises

Publishers Weekly reported yesterday:
The top executives at Barnes & Noble will not receive an increase in their base salaries for the current fiscal year ending January 2010. The freeze was made at the recommendation of management and approved by the compensation committee of the board of directors. The execs will still be entitled to collect bonuses if performance targets are hit.

Random House Year End Results

From Wednesday's Publishers Lunch:
Bertelsmann reported annual results this morning in Germany, with sales at Random House falling 6.3 percent for the year, to 1.721 billion euros, as EBIT [Earnings Before Interest & Tax] fell even more, down 21 percent at 137 million euros. (After the first six months of the year, Random had been down almost 8 percent in sales and nearly 30 percent in EBIT.) . . . those sales are the lowest recorded in the past seven years (during which the company has made multiple acquisitions) . . .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From Duplicity to Genre Fiction

I spent most of this weekend analyzing a contract for my day job, but I slipped off for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon to see Duplicity with a girlfriend.

I had really been looking forward to the film. Duplicity stars Julia Roberts as Claire Stenwick, a former CIA agent, opposite Clive Owen as Ray Koval, an ex-MI6 agent. The movie opens with their first encounter in Dubai five years earlier where the pair met, and where Claire seduced, drugged and ripped off Ray.

Fast forward to today when the two ex-agents are now corporate spies working for rival "cream and lotion" makers. Tom Wilkinson plays the head of Burkett & Randle while Paul Giamatti is the CEO of Equikrom. Both Wilkinson and Giamatti have a splendid time playing over-the-top roles as enemies trying to steal each other's corporate secrets.

Are Claire and Ray partners, enemies or double agents? Even when working together, neither one can trust the other.

The story is byzantine and intelligent, the pace is fast, and the dialogue is snappy. My favorite lines from Ray are when Claire is pretending not to know him or to remember their passionate night together in Dubai. She tells him he must have her confused with someone else He responds:
I mean, I'm not great on names. I should be. I try. Faces, I'm definitely better. Faces, I'm like a B, B-. Where I'm good, where I really excel: people I've slept with. That's been a traditional area of strength for me.
So we've got everything to make a terrific film and there I was, every twenty minutes checking the time.

What's up with that?

As we left the theatre, I said to Ro, "That film had everything to make it work, but it felt cold, sterile."

She responded, "Yeah, Julia Roberts didn't have the slightest hint of vulnerability."

And I realized she was right. Not only did Julia's performance lack warmth, I just didn't care about her character. The film offered no insight into what made Claire tick, or why we should bother with her. She slept with Ray the first time simply as the most expedient way to achieve her goal. She constantly games him, like in the scene where she waves her panties at him, demanding to know who he's been sleeping with. Another time, she walks past him in Rome, intending for him to see her and follow.

Claire is a cipher--a message written in secret code.

And without some clue as to who she was and why she did the things she did, the rest was just glitz. Beautiful hero and heroine, great secondary performances, terrific dialogue and a wonderful plot, but no emotional connection.

In the forty-eight hours since we left that theatre, I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about my reaction to Claire and how that reaction impacted my whole attitude toward the film. And, because I also spend a lot of time thinking about writing, it was natural for me to conflate the two.

Readers of this blog have heard me say in the past that I believe the purpose of all genre fiction is to evoke emotion in the reader. What differentiates one genre from another is the specific emotion the reader expects to experience in that novel. Horror fiction evokes terror, mysteries evoke curiosity, thrillers evoke excitement and romance evokes a warm, sexy feeling.

I think one of the classic errors newbie writers make is focussing too much attention on details like events or descriptions to the detriment of the story's emotional landscape.

It's not necessary for readers to identify with the main characters in a novel, but it is necessary that they care what happens to those characters.

In Duplicity, Claire held both Ray and the audience at arms' length. We never got close to her. In the same way a novel without an emotional heart loses me, this film lost me. I found myself comparing it to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo. It had the same sort of plot: two very bright, very competitive individuals crossing swords intellectually and sexually. But what a difference. The fast pace and delicious dialogue are just the frosting on a sizzling romance between two strong people who reveal themselves to each other and to the audience.

You don't necessarily have to "like" the main characters, but you have to feel you know, and perhaps understand, them. Hannibal Lecter and Anton Chigurh both scared the hell out of me, but they were true to their codes. While I didn't understand those codes or their unfailing adherence to them, I had a sneaking admiration for both men for having a set of rules by which they operated--regardless of the consequences. I cared about what happened next.

My advice to writers: spend less time working on clever metaphors and intricate plots and more time creating your characters and helping readers understand what makes those characters tick. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Self-Doubt and the Writer

Mitch Wallace sent me several "writerly" questions. Today I thought I'd tackle: "What do you do when self-doubt sets in?"

Mitch is right. Self-doubt can be absolutely crippling. But as I thought about his question, I realized that the kind of self-doubt I experienced when I began writing is very different from that crippling kind I encountered when I began to share my work with strangers. And that self-doubt is different still from the stuff I experience today.

Like many writers, I started out being encouraged by teachers and my parents. I was fortunate enough to have some early success in selling short stories. Looking back, I now realize I had enough enthusiasm and desire to carry me through writing a short work. However, I lacked the skills, discipline or stamina to write a full-length novel.

For more than a decade, I followed a pattern: I'd have a great idea for a hook, start writing and run out of steam somewhere between 10K and 15K words. The unfinished manuscript would eventually go into a box under my bed where it would reside until the next great idea hit and a new manuscript joined it.

In early 2003, I decided to get serious. I planted my butt in the chair and began writing. A hundred thousand words later, I had a manuscript.

I'm going to stop here for a moment to describe a model for the learning process that I find useful. It breaks learning into four stages of consciousness. At the point when I finished that first manuscript, I was unconsciously incompetent. I was so green, I didn't even even recognize my incompetence.

The writer's job is a lonely one. We sit in front of a desk or table and pour our hearts into a manuscript. While I was writing that first novel, I didn't seek any feedback. But it wasn't so much self-doubt as it was shyness. I was embarrassed to share the fruits of my labor with anyone.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to share that first novel with my family and friends. Because they loved me, they raved about it. Encouraged, I queried my first editor.

When the rejection arrived, I was stunned. The Tor editor had written a very nice note across the top of the letter, telling me to query her again with my next novel. But I couldn't believe she didn't want THAT manuscript. I began querying agents. And querying. And querying. That's when the really crippling self-doubts set in.

I'd been so sure my novel would be immediately published that I was lost and confused. But I was also determined. Activity helped . . . a lot.

A new strategy was called for. I began joining writers' groups and seeking critiques from published writers. I've told the story here before about Catherine Spangler's critique of my first chapter. In the kindest possible way, she told me everything that was wrong with those ten pages.

I was devastated. And angry. It took a week before I could face the red ink on that chapter again. But in re-reading the pages, I saw that Cathy was right. And I buried my anger and self-doubt in more activity. This time, I sought critique partners through Sisters-in-Crime online and in local writers' groups in Dallas.

I'd moved to the next stage of learning. Now I was consciously incompetent. Although I didn't yet know what to do about it, I knew I had deficits. And I could find people to help improve my skill level. My new critique partners gently pointed out the flaws in my manuscript.

A year later, I'd ditched that first manuscript and begun incorporating all that I'd learned into a new one. Along with my second novel, as an exercise for a writing class, I'd written a novella. I entered them both into five contests where I won first place in two and second place in two. A judge in the erotic romance category of the fifth contest told me she was offended by my erotic novella. {grin} I decided I'd found my genre.

Those contest wins raised my confidence level. I was now in the third stage of learning: Conscious competence. I queried agents again and signed with Jacky Sach of BookEnds. Tracy Bernstein, an editor at NAL, asked me to expand the novella into a novel, which eventually became Bad Girl.

I'm still in that third stage of learning about writing. I still have to think about the things I've learned and work on breaking bad habits (I am the Queen of Backstory, you know). I'm not yet at the fourth stage, which is unconscious competence, where what you've learned has become second nature to you. But my self-doubt has morphed, too. These days my insecurities surround the business side of publishing . . . and my experiments in another genre. The self-doubt is no longer as sharp or as frightening as it once was. I know I can handle it.

And--as you can tell from this blog--I'm still dealing with my self-doubts through activity. I spend a fair amount of time learning about publishing and writing about it here.

I'm sure other writers have their own mechanisms for dealing with self-doubt. I'd be happy for them to chime in with what works for them.

Hope this helped, Mitch.

Monday, March 23, 2009

B&N Announces Fourth Quarter Results

On Thursday, Barnes & Noble held their Fourth Quarter earnings conference call.

According to the rules for reprinting excerpts from the Seeking Alpha transcripts, I’m limited to 400 words. Below are the 400 words I chose:
“. . . for the fourth quarter and full year ended January 31, 2009 . . . full year consolidated sales decreased 3% compared to last year’s 4.6% increase. Sales at Barnes & Noble stores were . . . down 2.7% over a year ago.

"Comparable stores sales declined 7.3% for the quarter . . . Store traffic was down throughout the quarter . . .

"For the full year comparable sales at Barnes & Noble stores declined 5.4% . . . Sales at BarnesAndNoble.com were . . . a 1.3% comparable decline compared to last year’s 13.4% increase.

". . . Controlling and cutting expenses where appropriate was a priority for 2008 and also for 2009 . . . What is noteworthy is how our entire store organization maintained and controlled store expenses, particularly store payroll.

". . . we ended the year with $280 million in cash and no debt.

"We plan on opening about 15 Barnes & Noble stores this year and closing approximately 10 stores. [Note: Eleven of those 15 new stores are relocations, leaving no net gain in stores].

". . . The year 2008 was by far the most challenging retail environment we’ve ever experienced. In fact, it was the first year in which our comparable store sales declined every quarter.

". . . the company’s continued focus on improving the efficiency of our supply chain allowed us to reduce inventory levels by 11% and improve inventory turns to the highest levels in our history.

"We . . . plan to return to the business of offering customers digital content inclusive of eBooks, newspapers and magazines. We have a large number of assets in place to enable us to sell digital content, our ecommerce platform is solid . . . We operate a world class in-house service center and our recent acquisition of Fictionwise has enhanced our ability to conduct digital transactions.

". . . we understand investors are anxious to hear more specifics about our plans in this arena and we do have a wide range of initiatives in development but due to the highly strategic nature of this fast evolving market, we will announce each of them as they launch.

". . . as electronic book devices and mobile platforms emerge, it’s . . . opening a new door for us, enabling us to sell lots of content that we’re not even currently offering . . . we think that this is a whole new exciting area for us and the range of content that we can sell is actually much large (sic) than that we’re currently offering within the four walls of the store or for our website.

". . . we attempted to . . . reduce the inventory where the sales were . . . most declining so obviously music is declining significantly and inventory came down there."
To read the entire transcript, please go here to Seeking Alpha.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Phases of Writing

I've been doing this blog since 2005. You'd think by now there wouldn't be a writing subject I hadn't touched upon.

However, this morning in answering a question on a writing loop, I realized I've never addressed the issue of the phases of writing a novel.

First, a disclaimer. This post is obviously based on my writing process. Other writers may have completely different experiences.

As I began to think about the subject, I realized my connection to a manuscript roughly follows the pattern of some of my real-life relationships.

The Honeymoon Phase: This is always how it is when I start a manuscript. I'm in love with the idea of the novel, with the characters, and with the story. I want to write 24/7. I get up early to write, I write during my lunch hour, I rush home from work to write, and I wake up in the middle of the night to write. If I'm lucky, this burst of creativity carries me through the first third of the novel (somewhere between 25K to 30K words). It also helps to establish the voices of the main characters so that they start to help direct the action.

Ennui: Lots of writers are familiar with this phase of a manuscript. It's often called the "sagging middle." It's a particular bĂȘte noire for pantsers like me . . . people who do not plot novels out beforehand, but who approach a novel organically, allowing it to grow in a non-linear fashion as the individual responses of the characters dictate.

I always know how my novel will start and how it will end but, as my characters develop, their unique personalities help to mold the plot. The problem comes when that initial bubble of creativity bursts, and I find myself saying, "Okay, what happens now?"

For me, the middle of the novel always involves experimentation. Keeping in mind the classic structure of Western novels (the three-act format) I try different paths, exploring where each will lead me as I head toward the climax.

When it works, it's magical. The characters learn and grow and the tension builds. When it doesn't work, it's like slogging through a bog of mud with a heavy backpack weighing me down.

In Bad Boy, the cross-cultural nature of the relationship between Leah Reece and Quin Perez has each introducing the other to their very different worlds. I decided to experiment with turning the stereotype of the possessive Hispanic male on its ear, giving Leah a moment when she acts very possessively of Quin. He allows it to pass without comment. Later when he responds negatively to a grab-ass friend of Leah's, she doesn't like it and lets him know in no uncertain terms. Quin calls her on the double standard. That interaction between the two is an important step in their developing relationship.

When I started to write that scene, mutual jealousy was the farthest thing from my mind. However, as the couple interacted with a crowd at a party, the incident simply evolved.

The rough part of experimentation is when nothing seems to go right. I write for hours and then, the next day, end up moving all that output into a "overflow" folder because it just doesn't work.

Another problem with sagging middles is when I write myself into a corner. Or when I think I've "lost" a character's voice. Or when I just can't stand these characters one more minute. I call it manuscript fatigue.

Invariably, somewhere between 33K and 65K words, I have to put the manuscript aside and take a break for a few days. Walking away gives me the distance to look at the manuscript with fresh eyes. But it's hard to do. I'm stuck in the middle . . . caught between wanting to write and knowing I need to stay away from that work-in-progress.

I'm not much of a shopper, but while I'm trying to stay away from my manuscript, I usually call my BFF and ask if she wants to go shopping. She almost always responds the same way: "Who are you, and what did you do with Maya?"

After five days or so, I go back. I ALWAYS start by re-reading the entire manuscript. By doing so, I fall back in love with my characters and regain their voices.

Almost every time I have written myself into a corner, it began two or three chapters before I stalled. During my re-read, I can usually spot that moment immediately. Time and distance permit me to be objective.

The Dash to the Finish: The last thirty thousand words present a different challenge for me. I'm getting close enough to smell the finish of the manuscript. I'll soon write "the end" on the story.

Inevitably, I begin to procrastinate. I avoid writing on my W-I-P. I avoid even thinking about it.

It took me a long time to figure out the cause of this problem.

I'm back in love with my hero and heroine and don't want their story to end.

Silly, isn't it? I am generally pretty goal-oriented and pragmatic. This emotional reaction completely surprised me, but it happens every time. Once I identified the problem, I was able to come up with a solution.

When I near the end of any manuscript, I start something new. For a month or so, I work on both the last third of my W-I-P and the first third of another. Initially, I don't want to leave my nearly finished novel to mess with the new one, but--before long--I become anxious to concentrate all my attention on the new one and am, therefore, willing to wrap up the old one.

I know it sounds goofy, but it works. I satisfy my emotional needs and trick my own brain into success.

The whole point of this lengthy post is to encourage you to identify the phases of your writing and, more importantly, to recognize the barriers your brain or your process erect in your path.

Once you identify the obstructions, you can begin to overcome them.

Good luck!

Taking the day off tomorrow to play in the dirt and go see the film Duplicity. See you on Monday.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Do You Know Scribd?

Tuesday's Washington Post had an article titled "Major Book Publishers Start Turning to Scribd."

Scribd is a document-sharing website with more than 50 million monthly users. Anyone can post a document to the site and, according to Wikipedia, Scribd is "the world's largest library of user-generated documents."

The company started in March, 2007 on a shoestring. In 2007, a group of investors put together a $3.7 million package. This past December, Charles River Ventures together with the original group of investors provided another $9 million in funding. Scribd hired Bebo's ex-chief operating officer as its president.

Tuesday's article reported:
Online document sharing site Scribd has announced that it has partnered with a number of major publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Workman Publishing Co., Berrett-Koehler, Thomas Nelson, and Manning Publications, to legally offer some of their content to Scribd's community free of charge. Publishers have begun to add an array of content to Scribd's library, including full-length novels as well as briefer teaser excerpts.
Scribd's website describes its services this way:
With Scribd's iPaper document reader, anyone can easily upload and immediately share their original works on Scribd.com or any other website. iPaper transforms PDF, Word, PowerPoint and many other file formats into an elegant web display. Your work can be shared with Scribd's community of passionate readers, and because every word of your document is indexed for search engine optimization, your screenplay, novel or even sheet music and recipes also can be discovered by the world.
Check out the Scribd site here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Warning: Rant Ahead

It happened again.

A writer went off on a rant on one of the loops I belong to.

You know the kind of tirade I'm talking about. It's usually the same one or two people who periodically go off on the subject: Writers complaining about the short shrift agents give to query letters. I'm paraphrasing here, but I've heard the same complaint often enough that I've got it down pat.

"I'll bet there are great works of fiction being tossed aside because the agents refuse to spend enough time on them. It's just not fair."

News flash: Life isn't fair. I'm sure if we could speak to Natasha Richardson or her family right now, they'd agree.

Why, therefore, do we expect publishing to be different from the rest of life?

And while you're throwing rocks at agents, let's look at life from their side of the street. Kristin Nelson estimated she got 30,000 queries last year. That means she had to read 600 queries every week to get the eight clients she signed last year.

Yeah, I'm gonna bet agents run through those query letters pretty darn fast. Otherwise, they'll drown in those suckers.

You want to get an agent's attention? You have to give him something that grabs his attention. Don't blame him. It's the price of admission. If you don't like the rules, find another game.

You want to know who I have sympathy for? I mean . . . besides Natasha Richardson's twelve and thirteen-year-old sons and her husband?

A writer I know is waiting for a response from a well-known publisher. They told her they LOVED her protagonist, LOVED her writing style, LOVED the quirky plot line and LOVED her fabulous sense of humor. They want to publish the book, but they're worried that the plot line (corporate greed) is "too 2006."

Think about getting a rejection for THAT reason. You're being told you did everything right, but the timing is off.

Damn straight, life is unfair.

And, yes, I'm fully aware there's luck involved in getting published. There's luck involved everywhere and every place in life. It's luck that keeps one person alive and kills another when some idiot throws rocks at cars on the freeway.

Every one of us has been disappointed at some time in our lives. But sometimes life balances out. We get lucky in some other area. That's why we have sayings like "Unlucky at cards, lucky at love.

But it's how you handle what luck throws at you that matters.

You can take a look at what you're doing and try to do something different in case the problem is with you and not with the evil empire that seeks to toss you aside for whatever reason YOU attribute to them (their impatience, their greed, an inability to recognize your genius . . . whatever).

Or you can decide that the game is rigged and move on to a different game. Self-publishing, anyone?

Or, you can accept it and continue to plug away. Thomas Jefferson said: "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

Or you can continue to whine.

Do I whine sometimes? Of course, I do. I whine to the people who love me until I hear myself and realize I'm doing it . . . or until they point it out to me.

Because, after a while, whining gets reaallly old.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Counting Crows Go Off-Label

Tech Crunch had an interesting tidbit this morning:
The Counting Crows have ended their eighteen-year label relationship with Geffen Records (now part of Universal Music Group) . . . The band joins Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and others who’s explored releasing music outside of the normal label/distributor world, and more are sure to follow. Labels are pushing all of their artists to sign 360 music deals.
About.com defines a 360 music deal this way:
360 deals are contracts that allow a record label to receive a percentage of the earnings from ALL of a band's activities instead of just record sales. Under 360 deals, also called "multiple rights deals," record labels may get a percentage of things that were previously off limits to them, like: Concert revenue, mrchandise sales, endorsement deals and ringtones . . . In essence, the label will function as a pseudo-manager and look after the artist's entire career rather than only focusing on selling records.
The New York Times did a lengthy article on these deals in November, 2007. Here's an excerpt:
Like many innovations, these deals were born of desperation; after experiencing the financial havoc unleashed by years of slipping CD sales, music companies started viewing the ancillary income from artists as a potential new source of cash . . .

In return for that bigger share, labels might give artists more money up front and in many cases touring subsidies that otherwise would not be offered. More important, perhaps, artists might be allowed more time to develop the chops needed to build a long career. And the label’s ability to crossmarket . . . merchandise might make for a bigger overall pie.

Not everyone is sold on the concept. Many talent managers view 360s as a thinly veiled money grab and are skeptical that the labels . . . will deliver on their promises of patience.
This morning, Cory Doctorow had this tweet:
Labels can demand musicians hand over (c) for a deal: "artist's copyright" ends up "label's copyright," so stronger (c) makes artists weaker
Read The Times article here and the Tech Crunch post here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Clowns to the Left of Me; Jokers to the Right

There's been a lot going on in the publishing world over the last few days.

What I find most interesting is the increasing sense of urgency, the feeling that some action must be taken.

If you read Len Vlahos' presentation to the American Bookseller's Association here, you saw his recommendation to his Board of Directors:

". . . we now find ourselves at a critical moment. We can either build on the knowledge base that we have established and use the collective power of our trade association to facilitate the sale of digital content through our member stores, or we can cede this business to other channels . . .

So how urgent is this issue? With a sputtering economy, with an unsettled supply chain, do we really need to worry about this right now?

The answer is yes."
I don't think there can be any question that the present state of the economy is playing into the high anxiety that seems to pervade all quarters of the publishing industry.

Can you blame publishers for feeling jumpy? I don't. They're at the heart of a pincer movement with dying newspapers on one side and exuberant e-book publishers on the other.

It's scary watching what feels like the death knell of the newspaper industry. The closing of the venerable Rocky Mountain News after nearly eighty years of existence was sad to watch--despite the fact that it was inevitable. Two-newspaper-towns are already almost extinct. I learned this seventeen years ago when The Dallas Times Herald shut down, leaving The Dallas Morning News the victor. [Note: As I'm editing this post, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has announced it is shutting down its physical paper operation.]

In 1920, there were over 550 cities with two dailies; now there are only a handful.

Earlier this month, the New York Times quoted a source from Fitch Ratings, which analyzes the newspaper industry, saying, “In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets.”

Meanwhile, it has to be galling to traditional publishers when a infant industry like e-publishing keeps getting all the press. Especially when the stats served up last week by Publishers Lunch are taken into account:

Based on our rough estimate of Hachette Book Group's total US sales for the year, . . . even with the exponential growth, ebooks comprised less than 0.75 percent of sales. [This] conforms with Penguin USA's recent declaration [that] ebook sales . . . has yet to comprise one percent of revenue . . .

At the same time, think of the proponents of e-books. For over twenty years, they've been telling themselves, "Next year will be our breakout year. That's the time e-books will come into their own." That next year never seems to come.

Advocates of traditional publishing snipe at fans of e-books, who in turn lash out at these masters of the universe. Each side is convinced the other is wrong. The truth is everywhere you look, you see disappointment and disillusionment--whether because things are changing too fast or because they're not changing fast enough.

Saturday afternoon the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) hosted a panel titled "New Think for Old Publishers." According to Kassia Krozser of Booksquare, about 300 people attended. It was an ugly scene. In a blunt post on Sunday, she described it this way:

Let me be clear. Absolutely clear. Not one word spoken in that session, either from the panelists or from the audience, was new or innovative. The panel, well, we’ve all heard job descriptions before [Note: go here to see a description of the panelists]. The audience? That was one very long line of people saying the same things we’ve been saying to the publishing industry for ten years. And yet the publishing people treated our comments as if they were items to be added to a list.
It's ironic that at the same time the SXSW panel (including Clay Shirky) was taking heat, all over the Internet people were urging each other to read Shirky's terrific post on "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" here. I'm going to quote Shirky again today:

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.
Readers of this blog know that I am a HUGE fan of Mike Shatzkin. I think the man is simply brilliant. Even so, he said something on Friday that stopped me in my tracks. In reviewing Len Vlahos' presentation to the ABA, Shatzkin said:

“the book business ain’t the music book.” And the subtitle is “anything you think you learned about media consumption through the iPod doesn’t necessarily apply to the Kindle.”
He expanded on this point:

There is almost no benefit to carrying every book you’ve ever read around with you in your pocket.
Obviously, for most of us, Mike is absolutely right.

But not for all of us.

I can think of three exceptions of which I've personally heard:

  • A young writer serving in Iraq. His wife planned to send him a Kindle last Christmas loaded with all his favorite books
  • A physician who moved up to Alaska, planning to work there for three years. Before leaving, he loaded his e-reader with copies of the books he loved most
  • An elderly friend whose daughter hopes her move to a nursing home will be made easier by the fact that she'll have a Sony Reader containing copies of the books she holds most dear

Of course, I recognize these examples are both anecdotal evidence and a very small sampling. But this gets to the point I wanted to make.

Advances in technology are allowing readers to customize the way they access books and periodicals to fit their own lifestyles.

Take me as an example. I'm still buying p-books (physical books). But, after dithering over which e-reader to buy, I decided instead to go with a smart phone. That way, I don't have to carry another piece of equipment, but can still read wherever I am.

As a reader, when I buy a book, I want to have access to the p-book, the e-book and the audiobook so that I can "read" that book in the car, standing on line at the DMV or in bed at night.

There is no way in hell I am going to pay three times for the same book. I'd probably be willing to pay extra for having the book available in all mediums, but I'm not going to pay two or three times the current cost. I can't afford it for one and, more importantly, the very idea offends me. {Shrug}

The publishing world at present is centralized. We talk of the "Big Six" publishers.

However, the world of readers is very diverse . . . and decentralized.

Technology now makes it possible for the reader to devise the experience that's right for him/her. For people like me who want to read all the time, we want the broadest possible experience. That's not true for everyone. For some readers, a personalized experience may mean p-books only. For others, it may mean e-books.

Instead of arguing over which medium will succeed, the publishing industry needs to focus on meeting their readers' needs.

To paraphrase Shirky, the rest will shake out over time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Clay Shirky Has a Gotta-Read Post

Clay Shirky is a a professor at NYU's graduate program and a consultant on Internet technologies. He also has a blog and a Twitter account.

On Friday, he had a terrific blog post titled "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable." Every single person involved in the publishing industry should read this post, cut it out and tape it above his/her desk. Although Shirky is talking about newspapers, his words have a much wider impact:
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
Perhaps the most pithy line of Shirky's post is this:
“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model.
Go here to read Shirky's post. It's long, but well worth it.

I'll talk about this and Mike Shatzkin's post some more tomorrow.

The ABA Seeks a Direction

At the March Board of Directors meeting for the American Booksellers Asssociation (ABA), Len Vlahos, the ABA's Chief Program Officer, made a presentation. The presentation was titled "Opportunities in the Digital Arena for Independent Bookstores: An Action Plan for the American Booksellers Association," and is now available on the ABA website.

Vlahos started out by discussing the book industry's history with digital content. He then moves into talking about the music industry's experience with Napster.

As an aside, Mike Shatzkin had a post on Friday in which he argues that the parallels being drawn between the music industry and the publishing industry are not viable.

Vlahos finishes his historical summary by saying:
Given all of this, we now find ourselves at a critical moment. We can either build on the knowledge base that we have established and use the collective power of our trade association to facilitate the sale of digital content through our member stores, or we can cede this business to other channels.
Vlahos answers his own question this way:
New technologies start slow, finding their way through R&D trial and errors, consumer education, and the building of a manufacturing base and necessary infrastructure . . . new technologies need time to mature and grow. Many such technologies -- maybe even most of them -- ultimately fail. Consider telephone pagers and eight-track cassettes. These were stepping stone technologies. But these technologies failed in their execution, not their concept. People wanted mobile communication and portable music. It took cell phones and the WalkMan to get the concept right. When an increase in utility meets a decrease in production cost, the line curves sharply up, and adoption explodes.

E-books, it would seem, have arrived at that bend in the road.
Vlahos then offers a list of recommendations. Go here to read what he is suggesting the ABA do.

Go here to read Mike Shatzkin's post for Friday.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Social Networking For Books

On March 3, I posted quotes from Robert Stein, the director of the Institute for the Future of the Book and a Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics. One of the things he said in his presentation at the TOC [Tools of Change] Conference was his new definition of a book:
"A book is a place where readers, and sometimes authors, can congregate."
Stein believes that, in the future, reading will be a social experience. He further believes the principal role of publishers in the future will be to build and nurture vibrant communities for authors and their readers.

I was reminded of Stein when reading Thursday's The Bookseller this morning. Jayne Ramage, co-owner of The Watermill Bookshop, talked about her children's reading groups.

Of course, this isn't a new idea. I can remember taking my six-year-old niece to a reading group at a bookstore twenty years ago.

Ramage acknowledges those early efforts here:
Initiatives of this kind will be familiar to other booksellers, but it has been incorporating them into an ongoing programme, with an active membership, that has given the Watermill's reading groups a unique character. Over three years the programme has mushroomed into several groups, attended by 50 children weekly.
The Watermill groups are also targeted to a wider range of children, including older kids.
Nor does it end there as we find that titles studied by a group of five or six children can go on to achieve amazing sales through word of mouth. Finally, be passionate,­ it rubs off!
This is a case of a bookseller utilizing a primitive form of social networking. Publishers and booksellers should use the power of the Internet to do a more sophisticated version, incorporating an enhanced ebook initiative.

See you on Monday.

Pet Store Gets Unexpected Delivery

Okay, this Wednesday news story from Yahoo just appealed to my dark side:

Employees of a Pennsylvania pet store expecting a shipment of tropical fish and salt water got a man's dead body instead. Mark Arabia owns the Pets Plus store in northeast Philadelphia, where the mix-up was discovered Tuesday. He says he learned the body was that of a 65-year-old San Diego-area man who died of early onset Alzheimer's disease.

The body was supposed to go to a research laboratory in Allentown, a 70-mile drive away.

US Airways Inc. released a statement saying the air cargo problem was caused by a "verbal miscommunication . . .

Friday, March 13, 2009

AuthorHouse: The Newest "Indie Publisher"???

I had another subject planned for this morning's post, but saw an item in yesterday's Publishers Lunch that changed my mind.

IMHO, the self-publishing industry includes some of the most creative marketing in publishing. Every few years, the industry changes its designation.

This habit probably started in an effort to get away from the derogatory "vanity press" moniker. In the past three years, the self-publishing industry has co-opted the POD (print-on-demand) technology to call themselves "POD publishers." Recently they tested out "hybrid publishing."

The latest is inspired. AuthorHouse--home of iUniverse and Xlibris--issued a press release yesterday in which they renamed themselves as an "indie publisher."

Here's the press release:

Author Solutions Leads 'The Next Indie Revolution'

Indie Book Publishing, Like Indie Film and Music, Makes the Dream Available to Everyone

BLOOMINGTON, Ind., March 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Author Solutions (ASI), the world leader in indie book publishing - the fastest-growing segment of book publishing, has released a white paper outlining "the next indie revolution" - indie book publishing. The white paper:

  • compares the emergence of indie book publishing with that of indie films and indie music.
  • summarizes the advantages available to authors who publish with an indie book publisher.
  • outlines the new criteria for determining a book's quality - letting the reader decide.

EDITOR'S NOTE: ASI's white paper about the indie book publishing revolution is available . . . [here]

"While traditional publishing has been struggling, indie book publishing is expanding at an astonishing rate. As the leader of the new indie revolution, ASI is telling every author that you can publish your book now - no more rejections, no more obstacles - publish your book and get it out to the marketplace," said Keith Ogorek, ASI vice president of marketing.

ASI, through its leading self publishing imprints AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Wordclay, brought to market more than 19,000 titles in 2008 - six times the number of titles published by leading consumer publisher Random House. The 12 percent increase in titles published year-over-year resulted in ASI brands bringing to market about one out of every 20 new U.S. book titles in 2008.

For more information about Author Solutions, to download ASI's white paper about the next indie revolution or to begin publishing a book today, log on to authorsolutions.com, or call 877-655-1722.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

From Vampyres to Nazis

USA Today has an interesting article titled "Nazi Novel Gets Few "Kindly' Reviews, But Debate Fuels Sales."

The debate is over The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. The book was first released in France in 2006 where it garnered a prestigious book award and sold 700,000 copies. It has now been released by HarperCollins in the United States. The publisher reportedly paid a million dollars for the rights.

USA Today says the book "is narrated by a remorseless former Nazi SS officer who's gay, incestuous and possibly matricidal."

Ohhh! Get me to Barnes & Noble.


In a book review posted last Wednesday here, Entertainment Weekly described The Kindly Ones this way before giving it a B-:
Littell maneuvers his character Zelig-like past a rogues' gallery of Nazis, culminating in a trip to Hitler's bunker. It's like Dante's Inferno written by Reich historian.
The publishing world has been a little schizo in reviewing the book. The New York Times said here:
Reviews in Britain, where the book was published last week, have been . . . divided. In The Times of London, Anthony Beevor deemed it “a great work of literary fiction,” while in The Sunday Times, Peter Kemp described it as “bloatedly inept.”
And then the New York Times said something that prompted this post:
For now, the publisher and booksellers are hopeful that the strong reviews — in either direction — will spur rather than deter sales.
I can only speak for myself. Positive or negative movie and book reviews rarely influence my decision to sample either a film or a book. The description of the work can prompt me one way or the other, but I mostly ignore the professional reviewer's opinion of that work. When it comes to reviews, I am far more inclined to trust a friend whose reading tastes I know than a stranger in a magazine or newspaper.

And, apparently I'm not alone. Many newspapers and periodicals have cut back on their book review sections because readers are turning more and more frequently to the blogosphere for such opinions.

At nearly 1,000 pages, The Kindly Ones is not likely to tempt me to invest the time or effort. Had the protagonist been someone more likeable, I'd be more inclined to check it out. Then I would have been interested in exploring the dichotomy of my distaste for his job and my sympathy for the character.

USA Today said:
After a negative New York Times review cited the novel as "an example of the occasional perversity of French taste," its Amazon sales ranking soared from No. 1,700 to No. 55. Karten says, "A lot of people must have wanted to read it for themselves."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Vampyre Finishing School

Like most people who love to read, I have a TBR (to be read) pile of books. Actually, I have several stacks of TBR books.

During the time I was off for surgery, I made a significant dent in that pile. This was a good thing because I received a LOT of books as gifts during that month.

Among the books I received were four YA novels. Because I dearly love the friend who gave them to me, I managed to suppress my wince when I opened the gift bag: young adult vampire novels. FOUR young adult vampire novels.

While I love the paranormal genre, I gotta say I'm pretty burned out on vampire stories. Of course, I still purchase favorite authors like Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison, but I'm not in the market for new vamp novels.

My friend assured me I would love the House of Night teen series by P.C. and Kristin Cast. I thanked her and, when she left, put the stack of mass market books on my nightstand with the other gifts.

The following night, at 3:00 in the morning, I couldn't sleep. As wonderful as the staff of Presbyterian Hospital was, I hate hospitals. In desperation, I picked up the first of those YA books: Marked.

Two and a half hours later, when the nurse came in to take my vitals, I finished the book. During the time I was reading it, I was totally absorbed in the story.

The book is written by a mother/daughter team. P.C. Cast, a Tulsa author, called upon her daughter Kristin to provide the authentic voice of the first person narrator, Zoey Redbird, a teenager who has been singled out by the Vampyre goddess Nyx to become a follower. Here's the copy from the back cover:
Enter the dark, magical world of The House of Night, a world very much like our own, except here vampyres have always existed. Sixteen-year-old Zoey Redbird has just been Marked as a fledgling vampyre and joins the House of Night, a school where she will train to become an adult vampire. That is, if she makes it through the Change--and not all of those who are Marked do. It sucks to begin a new life, especially away from her friends, and on top of that, Zoey is no average fledgling. She has been chosen as special by the vampyre Goddess Nyx. Zoey discovers she has amazing powers, but along with her powers come bloodlust and an unfortunate ability to Imprint her human ex-boyfriend.
Part of the charm of the series is the terrific dialogue and ever-present humor. In the fifth book (a hardcover titled Hunted released yesterday), Zoey and her vampyre friends are hiding from a fallen angel in the dark and scary tunnels built beneath downtown Tulsa during Prohibition. Here's a sample of the dialogue:
"Hey . . . How did you guys get this stuff down here?" I asked Stevie Rae. "Not that I'm trying to be mean, but this bed and your table and fridges and other things are a serious improvement over the dirty rags and other grossness I saw down here a month or so ago."

She gave me her cute Stevie Rae smile and said, "That's mostly thanks to Aphrodite."

"Aphrodite?" I asked, lifting my brows and staring at her along with everyone else.

"She bought this stuff."

"I stayed down here for two days. Did you expect me to live in a hovel? Not hardly. Have credit cards, will decorate. I think that's on my family crest along with a very dry martini," she said. "There's a Pottery Barn in Utica Square right down the street. They deliver. So does Home Depot, which is also not far from here, although I wasn't aware of that until one of the red freaks [a new breed of vampyre fledglings with red markings instead of the traditional blue] enlightened me because I do not shop at appliance stores."

"Home Depot and Pottery Barn delivered down here?" Erik said.

"Well, not technically," Stevie Rae said. "But they do deliver to the Tribune Lofts which are practically next door. And with a little, uh, friendly persuasion they brought the stuff here and then totally forgot once they left. So, ta-da! New stuff."

"I still don't understand. How could the humans have been persuaded to come down here?" Darius said.

I sighed. "Something you should know about red vampyres. . . They have a mind-control thing they can do with humans."

"That sounds a lot meaner than it is," Stevie Rae assured Darius quickly. "I just tweaked the delivery guys' memories. I didn't mind-control them. We don't go in for using our powers to be all hateful and stuff."

"They can control the minds of humans. They cannot bear direct sunlight. Their powers of recovery are excellent. They need to commune with the earth to feel truly comfortable," Darius said. "Am I leaving anything else out?"

"Yeah," Aphrodite said. "They bite."
And, yes, I purchased the new hardcover released yesterday.

According to yesterday's USA Today:
Mother and daughter writing team P.C. and Kristin Cast will set out on their first national book tour next week promoting Hunted, Book 5 in their increasingly successful House of Night teen vampire series, and the first published in hardcover.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Article on e-Books From The RAND Corp.

The RAND Corporation, founded in 1948, is one of the most well-known think tanks in the world. It's title comes from Research AND Development. According to Wikipedia, more than thirty Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with the RAND Corporation over the years.

The think tank introduces itself this way:
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world.
The RAND Corporation recently released a copy of one of its journal articles titled "Innovation and the Future of e-Books" by John W. Warren.

According to RAND's staff bio:
John W. Warren is Director of Marketing, Publications, at the RAND Corporation . . . John has nearly two decades of experience in the publishing industry, with special focus on marketing and digital publishing.
Here is an excerpt from the abstract for the journal article:
This paper examines three examples of innovative e-books in order to illustrate the potential and pitfalls of electronic publications. The first is a history e-text that includes 1,700 primary-source documents—such as Presidential memos, reports, and even audio and video clips—linked from footnotes, providing a treasure trove of research material to readers. The second is a novella in hypertext form. The third example examines digital textbooks that include multimedia, assessment, and other digital tools. Each of these cases demonstrates creative approaches, business models, and methods of review that point to the enhanced, interactive, interlinked future of the e-book.
Read the entire article here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

More Cuts At Borders

Friday's Publishers Weekly reported that Borders, which had previously had two rounds of cuts to administrative staff, has now announced they will cut 742 positions, or 3% of its staff, in their superstores and their Waldenbook stores.
Most of the superstore cuts came at the manager and supervisor levels, although the company said it was retaining all general manager spots. Sales managers, inventory managers, training supervisors and merchandisers were among the jobs eliminated.

At its 385 Walden outlets, 63 positions were eliminated in a variety of management and supervisory roles, although no general manager spots were cut.
Ironically, we stopped at a Borders at about 8:00 PM on the way home from dinner Friday night, and I was shocked at how busy the store was. There were people in every aisle (especially sci-fi and fantasy) and four people in front of me on the line to check out.


On Thursday, literary agents and editors had fun with a Twitter thread in which they described query letters they'd rejected.

Agent Colleen Lindsay (of The Swivet) started the #queryfail thread, but others quickly picked up on it.

Here are my twelve favorite tweets in the thread:
Don't send me your manuscript and tell me to start reading at page 312 because that's "where it gets good."

"I know you don't represent children's literature, but I hope you'll make an exception in my case."

"My heroine just mustard her courage."

"My book is about a friendship based upon mutual vomiting practices in high school."

"THis is not representative of my best work."

"My book is the first in an imagined autobiography of my tragedy."

"I'm actually interested in making a lot of money off my writing. Please let me know if there is money to be made in this field"

"I've queried more than 50 agents and have gotten nowhere and now I'm querying you."

"It’s about unicorns. They’re the protagonists."

"While enjoying the pleasures of Bob and his truck, Johnny confronts his own sanity."

"I dont have any new material to share so Im attaching an already contracted novella"

"I am writing a book. What is the going rate for literary agents?"

Go here to read the entire thread. However, be forewarned. There are a hundred pages in the thread as of this writing.

Excerpt from BAD BOY

Although she couldn’t make out the words, the hushed conversation below her on the stairs aroused Leah's journalistic instincts. She moved quietly down the stairwell. When she was ten steps above the two men, she cleared her throat.

“Hey, Zeke, I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

The two men had been so intent on their conversation, they hadn’t heard her approach, and they looked up, startled.

Leah drew closer. As her gaze rested on Zeke’s companion, her breath caught in her throat. Damn, he’s hot.

The stranger looked Latino; he had a dusky complexion and high, sharp cheekbones. A thin scar ran down his left cheek from temple to jaw. That’s a knife scar, a tiny voice inside her brain whispered.

His black hair was combed straight back from his forehead, and he had a five o’clock shadow that made him look disreputable and a little dangerous.

Great! A bad boy. Just my type. While Leah’s brain screamed warnings, her pussy twitched with approval. After all, it had been over three hundred days. And he looked so damn sexy.

Although she had difficulty judging his height from her position, he appeared to be as tall as Zeke, which would make him at least six-feet-two.

A black T-shirt and dark jeans emphasized his broad pecs, tight stomach and narrow hips. Tattoos decorated the muscles on both arms.

Mr. Sex-on-a-Stick stared at her, his gaze intense, penetrating and . . . hungry.

The breath she had been holding since first seeing him whooshed out in a soft exhalation.

Hold it together, girl. Don’t drool right in front of him. Embarrassed by her thoughts, she glanced at Sandy’s husband.

Zeke frowned, not pleased by her sudden appear-
ance. “Leah, this is Quin,” he offered in a grudging tone, giving the name a Hispanic pronunciation so that it sounded more like “Queen” than the English Quinn.

Leah moved closer. “Hi. I’m Le—”

The stranger interrupted. “Leah Reece. I know. I read your column in Heat. Your picture runs above it.”

His voice was dark and husky. But he didn’t seem to be trying to match her face with the head shot from her e-zine. His gaze roamed up and down her body, and he didn’t appear to care that she knew it.

Leah felt warmth flood her cheeks, but she refused to look away. Instead, she challenged him, staring boldly at the bulge at the juncture between his legs. “I’m so glad to hear you read Heat,” she said. “I hope you enjoy it.”

She raised her gaze to his face, and his smile turned her legs to rubber. Gleaming white teeth raised his sexiness quotient from a ten to a fifteen . . . minimum. She grabbed the banister with one hand.

Quin smirked as if he understood his impact on her. “I enjoy Heat, all right. You’ve got a great imagination.”

She swallowed to clear the lump clogging her throat. When she was certain her voice was under control, she said, “Oh, all that imagination isn’t mine. The credit goes to the writers and editors.”

He quirked one eyebrow. “I said I read your column, not your whole magazine. After I finish with you, I’m not interested in anyone else.”

The innuendo rocked her. She moistened her suddenly dry lips with the tip of her tongue. Realizing the gesture might signal nerves—something she’d be damned if she’d show him—Leah transformed the act into a come-on. Slowly and deliberately, she licked her lips like a cat tasting cream.

His eyes darkened and his torso stiffened, making him stand a tad straighter.

Her turn to smile. A direct hit.

He shifted his feet, spreading his legs a bit farther apart, as though his jeans were suddenly too tight.

She flicked another glance at the juncture between his legs. Let’s see how Mr. Macho likes being treated like a sex object.

Now that she’d made her point, she looked at the man beside him. “Where do you know Quin from, Zeke?”

Zeke opened his mouth, then hesitated. “I . . . he . . . ah . . .” His voice trailed off.

Surprised, Leah narrowed her eyes. Zeke Prada was one of the most self-assured men she knew. She’d never seen him at a loss for words before.

Quin broke the silence. “He’s trying to tell you that he’s the cop who arrested me.” His voice was neutral, carrying no anger.

“Arrested you! For what?”

Quin’s lips twitched with amusement. “Ask him. He’ll tell you all about it.” He nodded toward Zeke. “Catch you later, man.” Looking back at Leah, he smiled again, a lazy, sensual smile that made her stomach leap.

“I’m sure we’ll see each other again, Princess. I’ll look forward to it.” Touching his right hand to his forehead, he offered her a small salute before he opened the door and stepped out of the stairwell.

Cocky bastard. Leah grinned at her unintended pun, but watched him leave with regret.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Experience on Twitter

I have a confession to make: FaceBook and MySpace just aggravate me. Too much work for too little return.

Hoping that Twitter would suit me better, I joined that social networking site last July. But, after two posts, I walked away from it, too.

In early February, I decided to give Twitter another try . . . and to take the time to figure out how to make it work for me.

Some information may be helpful to people thinking about joining Twitter. First, your posts are limited to 140 characters, about two sentences. I find it a useful limit.

Second, Twitter is asynchronous, meaning that messages are posted, but not necessarily read by people at the same time they are posted.

Third, it is useful to remember that information spreads virally on Twitter, using the disease propagation model I described yesterday here. Information spreads on Twitter like a cold, passed from one person to the next via personal contact.

Twitter has its own language, which is cute enough to give you a sugar overload. A message is called a Tweet. When one person picks up on another's message and spreads it to others, it is called ReTweeting (abbreviation RT).

A retweeted message will be in this model:

RT @MyBestFriend She says to read Mike Shatzkin's blog. Here's the URL.

When you join Twitter, you have both a "following" and "followers." Your following are those persons whose posts you read. Your followers are those persons who read your posts.

When I abandoned Twitter last year it was because of the massive overload of messages I was receiving. This time around, the sheer volume of messages forced me to look for an app to help manage the flood. I took Mike Hyatt's recommendation and downloaded TweetDeck, which allows you to sort your followers into groups. I created about six groups for My Friends, Fellow Authors, Publishing Insiders, News and Info, etc.

Now I only glance down the complete list of messages about once a day. The rest of the time, I go directly to my groups where I have far fewer messages that I can scan in less than a minute, mark them as read and erase them.

I've learned to try and mix up the kind of tweets I post: I offer information/news in some and personal impressions in others.

In less than a month, I've picked up 117 Twitter followers. I can also see about a 10% to 12% increase in traffic to my blog.

Twitter now has a search feature and a trends feature. You can see the top ten subjects being followed on Twitter at any one moment.

I am quite happy with my Twitter experience. I get quick messages from people I like, I get up-to-date news very quickly and . . . to top it off . . . I got a great Lentil Rice Pilaf recipe from Gina Black. Thanks, Gina. Made the recipe last night with brown rice. It was fabulous!!

Taking Sunday off. See you on Monday.

Friday, March 06, 2009

What We Can Learn From Newspapers

Shelf Awareness (SA) advertises itself as "daily enlightment for the book trade." It is primarily a newsletter for booksellers and people like me who are interested in what booksellers are experiencing.

Yesterday, SA showcased both sides in the free ebook debate. You need to subscribe here to read it.

In one corner, the Chief Operating Officer of a bookstore described Thomas Nelson's new NelsonFree program as "offering the trifecta, the compass that will guide the market."

On the other side, an author said:
Nelson's offer of free e-books as a bonus to the purchase of a book is like a carcinogenic snack. It undermines the established logic of pricing . . .

Surely book publishers can learn from the newspaper industry's bad tactical decision to offer their content free online. When a large sector of their paying content consumers went online, the newspapers tried in vain to assess an online subscriber fee. Consumers don't like paying for what had been free.
IMHO, the author completely missed what the newspaper industry's dilemma taught us.

Newspapers were slow to respond to the digital age. And the vacuum they created was quickly filled by lots of new players.

Newspapers report the news. Newspaper publishers were able to keep the price of the daily paper low because they were supported by advertising dollars.

Readers migrated online NOT because news was free; they migrated because the news they found there was more immediate and up-to-date than what a daily newspaper could offer. When I used to open my newspaper at 6:00 AM, I was reading the news as of six hours earlier. Today when I open my laptop at 6:00 AM, I am reading what has happened in the last hour.

Of course, once the readers shifted their locus, those advertising dollars followed them online.

I've told this story before. Last month, following my surgery, I was not permitted to drive. Since my friends and loved ones all work for a living and were not available to chauffeur me around during the day, I decided to advertise for a driver. At 9:00 AM on a Monday morning, I went online and, within fifteen minutes had posted my ad on Craig's List. Within three hours, I'd had 33 responses. That SAME afternoon, I took a test ride with the college student whose email I selected from the group of responses.

There is no way my local newspaper could have competed with that immediacy.

As I mentioned earlier, to compound the problem, lots of new players came on the scene. The news reporting industry decentralized as individuals began to jump in with their first-person accounts bolstered by cell phone photos of events in progress. Social networks like Twitter are only too happy to pass along news as it occurs.

Way back in April, 2006, I did a post called "Are You Infected" here. The point of that post was to talk about the viral fashion in which information is communicated on the Internet. I likened it to the spread of disease described in Bernoulli's disease propagation model:
Bernoulli postulated that an epidemic begins with an infected host. The host comes in contact with other persons. Those persons will either be susceptible to the disease or resistant to it. Those who are susceptible become infected; those who are resistant do not. The newly infected persons then go off to interact with a new generation of people, and the process is repeated again and again, spreading the disease.
Again, it's tough for an industry that depends on correspondents getting to the location in order to report the news to compete with that immediate local "reporter" who speaks the language, knows the people, has his own cell phone camera and a social network only too happy to "publish" his news and spread it.

A couple of weeks ago here, I quoted an op/ed on the newspaper industry that said the "challenge for papers today is to determine what content readers will value enough to pay for it online."

If newspapers cannot compete on reporting the news, maybe they should sell different content . . . in-depth analysis, popular columnists, etc.

Newspapers ignored (or more accurately, "dithered over") the growing crisis they faced for too long. My personal belief is they were so confident of their "professional" status winning out against "amateurs" that they didn't take action. By the time they began to shift their focus, they were already fighting a losing battle.

If you want a parallel to the book publishing world, that unwitting arrogance is where you need to look. The Big Six publishers are so confident of their dominance in the industry, that they are failing to adapt to consumer's changing habits fast enough or dramatically enough. Unless they begin to "hear" their customers and meet those customers' needs, they are going to find competitors popping up all over the place, willing to offer what they refuse to give.

There are publishers who are adapting. I've written about Thomas Nelson and Harlequin previously. Although on the surface they are very different (Nelson is the world's largest Christian publisher and Harlequin is the best-known romance publisher), they share some similarities. First, they own a specific corner of the market, their niche, if you will. But they've also shown a remarkable willingness to think outside the box--trying new initiatives and abandoning industry truisms. And, finally, they listen to their customers and pay attention to what they learn.

I had a friend who opened a store about ten years ago. When I had the time, I'd go over to help him. I quickly noticed a worrying dynamic. Customers would come in, asking for a specific item, and he would try to convince them to buy what he had in stock . . . which was MUCH more expensive. Over several weeks, a lot of potential customers asked again and again for the same item. When I asked why he didn't put in a supply of what they kept asking for, he told me that HIS product was a much better one.

Six months later, he closed the shop.

More on Looking to the Future

On Saturday, I reported here that Amazon had backed down from the debate over the text-to-speech feature of their Kindle 2.

While I'm not a fan of Amazon, I agreed with them that t-t-s was legal. I thought the Authors Guild stance was regressive. Back on February 13, I said:
If history has taught us anything, it is that technology cannot be stopped . . . . IMHO, the Authors Guild does writers no favors by encouraging them to cling to a model that is ultimately doomed to failure . . . Writers need to learn to straddle both worlds--print and e-books--and to move forward with their readers, not against them.
Two bloggers I respect agreed with me.

On Sunday, Seth Godin, an author, had a post here titled "Beware of Trade Guilds Maintaining the Status Quo." Godin said:
Whenever a trade association raises the barricades and tries to lobby their way into maintaining the status quo, they are doing their members a disservice. Instead of spending time and insight and effort reinventing what they do and organizing for a better future, the members are lulled into a sense of security that somehow, somehow, the future will be just like today.

The key takeaway isn't that the lobbying doesn't work (though it usually doesn't). The problem is that the lobbying takes your attention away from the changes you can actually control and implement.
The following day, Monday, Michael Hyatt, a publisher, said here:
As Amazon itself has argued, no audio is recorded. In principle, it is no different than me handing my book to a friend and asking him to read it aloud to me. Nothing is recorded. Nothing is performed . . . From my point-of-view, this feature is actually an added value that serves to make reading more accessible by more people in more situations.
Of course, a few days later, Mike and his company Thomas Nelson put their money where their opinions were, announcing NelsonFree, an initiative in which they will offer the physical book, the audio book and the ebook . . . all for the same price.

It's an exciting time in the publishing world.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Breaking News: B&N Acquires Fictionwise

Teleread offered a scoop this morning:
Fictionwise has been acquired by Barnes & Noble in a stock deal today . . . Fictionwise will still be managed by its current team as an independent entity under Barnes & Noble. Scott said that Barnes & Noble was fully behind Fictionwise’s philosophy of “platform neutrality and eReader everywhere”.
Go here to read the whole story.

Random House To Offer Free EBooks

Random House, the world's largest trade publisher, issued a press release yesterday, announcing its new Suvudu Free First Book Library.

The initiative will offer fantasy and sci-fi readers access to free ebooks of the first book in a series, hoping to entice them into purchasing later releases in the series and build the author's fan base.

The press release said:
The books will be made available through Random House’s science fiction/fantasy portal, Suvudu.com, as well as on other content services, including Scribd.com and the Stanza ebook reader application for the iPhone.
The first five free books are:
“His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik
“Assassin’s Apprentice” by Robin Hobb
“Settling Accounts: Return Engagement” by Harry Turtledove
“Red Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson
“Blood Engines” by T.A. Pratt
Go here to access the Suvudu First Book Library.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Amazon Strikes Again

Serendipity all over again.

Hours after my post about the Iceberg Reader app for the iPhone, I heard a news report on ABC that Amazon is offering a free Kindle application for the iPhone and iTouch.

The New York Times has the article today:
The move comes a week after Amazon started shipping the updated version of its Kindle reading device. It signals that the company may be more interested in becoming the pre-eminent retailer of e-books than in being the top manufacturer of reading devices . . .

With the announcement, Amazon appears to be hedging its bets.

Analysts had also thought Amazon was closely following the template Apple had created with the iPod and trying to dominate the market with a ubiquitous, must-have consumer electronics device. Now it appears Amazon is more interested in selling as many e-books as possible on its site, and collecting the royalties, while strengthening its ties with customers, many of whom will buy other products from Amazon if they start buying e-books.
The article has a consultant indicating that Amazon is smarter than everyone thought.

Not only smarter; more ambitious.

Go here to read the New York Times article.

Seeing The Iceberg eReader In Action

I decided to stick with my "future of the book" theme again today.

I want to revisit ScrollMotion, an app developer who made news back in December with their iPhone ebook application, the Iceberg Reader. The company had landed deals with half the Big Six publishing houses and were talking to the rest.

The New York Times reported here on December 23:
Scroll Motion, announced this week that it would begin selling e-books for the iPhone from major publishers like Simon & Schuster, Random House and Penguin.
Wired wrote about the Iceberg Reader here on December 22:
Having these big names is a big step forward for iTunes itself in becoming an e-book shop and the iPhone in becoming a legitimate e-book reader and competitor to products like the Kindle and the Sony E-Reader . . .

Each book is a separate application using Scroll Motion's new reader technology called Iceberg and is wrapped only in the FairPlay iTunes DRM, putting Apple directly into the e-book business by allowing them to pick up a certain percentage of each sale.
I first mentioned the company in my blog of January 16th here.

To be honest, I kind of blew the Iceberg reader off when Publishers Weekly said here on December 23:
Like the Kindle, books can be downloaded wirelessly, though unlike the Kindle which sells most titles for $9.99 or less, prices for the Iceberg-formatted books are the same or more as retail list -- $27.50 for the Paolini [Brisingr], $23.95 for the Kneale [When We Were Romans], $12.99 for the Westerfeld [Extras] ($2 more than the paperback).
Yesterday Publishers Lunch reminded me of the Iceberg Reader when they said about it:
. . . a new app [from ScrollMotion] shows what makes this technology different from popular text readers from Stanza, eReader and Shortcovers: the graphics. They have adapted James Patterson's graphic novel DANIEL X into a paid iTunes app that "plays" the book more like a video (and gets around the lack of Flash for iPhone/iPod Touch).
Here's a link to the promotional video on YouTube.

The video is impressive . . . even if pricing the ebook higher than the paperback is absurd.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Announcing NelsonFree

Still on the subject of the future of the book: Got a tweet from Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson, the world's largest Christian publisher.

He said: "We just announced, 'NelsonFree,' a program that allows readers to receive content in multiple formats for one price."

Publishers Weekly (PW) has an article on NelsonFree:
Thomas Nelson announced today the launch of NelsonFree, a program that allows readers to receive content in multiple formats—physical book, audiobook and e-book—without making multiple purchases. With NelsonFree, the price of the hardcover book includes both the audio download and the e-book . . .

Joel Miller, v-p and publisher, business and culture, said Nelson currently has plans to release a dozen format-free books in this and related categories, and will monitor consumer response to determine whether or not it adds more titles. He also said Nelson will not raise the price of hardcovers in the NelsonFree program . . .

Nelson president and CEO Michael S. Hyatt said, “I believe that the industry is shifting and we, as publishers, need to explore new methods of getting our content into the hands of customers.”
Thomas Nelson continues to impress me with their forward thinking approach to the business of publishing.

Go here to read the entire PW article.

Another Post On The Future of Books

I seem to have a theme going here today: the future of books.

Check out Mike Shatzkin's blog for this morning. Titled "Enhanced EBooks, Part I," it's addressed to authors. I also found this comment interesting:
I also want to stress that I’m thinking this through in here from the perspective of the general trade publisher: one not yet focused on niches and one whose brand is not a consumer brand. I don’t expect houses like Wiley, O’Reilly, or Harlequin to see as much of a gap between what is said here and their present practices as those houses that dominate the bestseller lists and have the most high profile authors.
Mike presents three ideas relating to the cost of ebooks, the pricing of ebooks and what an ebook is.

Go here to read the entire post.

Checking In On The Future of the Book

Almost three years ago on April 7, 2006, I did a post on the Institute for the Future of the Book (IF:B). Since then, I've done two more posts on the IF:B.

The Institute is a project of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California and is based in Brooklyn and in London. The Institute is funded by the MacArthur and Mellon Foundations.

The mission of the IF:B includes this statement:
Starting with the assumption that the locus of intellectual discourse is shifting from printed page to networked screen, the primary goal of the Institute for the Future of the Book is to explore, understand and influence this shift.
The IF:B called its project Sophie.

Sophie was a social engineering experiment, an attempt to create documents that could live and breathe on the Internet, where readers could interact with each other and with the author. Publishers Lunch said Sophie "will make it easier to create electronic books that incorporate today's technologies to 'present a reading environment' and 'enable readers and writers to have conversations inside of books.'"

Last month, I did a post saying how sorry I was not to be at the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference in New York. Suzanne Axtell of O'Reilly Media made a comment to that post giving the link to video clips from the conference.

I was hugely grateful to Suzanne for the link. Since that time, I've been having a great time watching the video clips.

Today I'd like to talk about the presentation given by Robert Stein, the director of the Institute for the Future of the Book and a Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics.

Stein begins by saying that he started the Institute five years ago "to basically think about how publishing would evolve in the digital era."

He describes the evolution of his understanding over the past thirty years of what a book is and describes his breakthrough moment. That moment came when he stopped focussing on the physical form of the book and--instead--focussed on how the book is used.

Stein points out that, when he began thinking about this around 1980 after a demonstration at MIT, he began to call books "user-driven media." He recognized that the reader was in complete control of the sequencing and the pacing of how and when the book's material was accessed. This made books unique when compared to movies, television and radio--what Stein started to call "producer-driven media."

He realized:
". . . when the micro-processors got involved that these traditionally producer-driven media would be transformed into user-driven media."
Stein began "publishing" books on CD-ROM, DVDs and floppy discs.

When the Internet came along, Stein had to again separate his understanding of the book from the physical object itself. His new definition became:
"Books are what humans use to move ideas around in time and space and that the locus of that effort would shift from pages to screens."
Eventually when he started the IF:B, he came to understand that--more important than people getting data and content off the network--would be connecting those people to each other on the network.

The IF:B experimented with authors posting their research online as they write, permitting interested readers to read along and comment as they read. Associate Professor Mitchell Stevens of NYU and Associate Professor McKenzie Wark, author of Gamer Theory, were the first two experiments. Stein calls this process "public reading" and says it completely changes the boundaries of a classroom, essentially liberating students from the physical boundaries of their class, permitting them to comment wherever they are.

Stein's latest definition of a book is:
"A book is a place where readers, and sometimes authors, can congregate."
Then Stein said my favorite thing of his entire talk: He believes an old-school author's commitment has been to engage with a subject matter on behalf of future readers. But a new-school author makes a commitment to engage with readers in the context of a particular subject.

Stein believes that, in the future, reading will be a social experience. He further believes the principal role of publishers in the future will be to build and nurture vibrant communities for authors and their readers.

See Stein's presentation for yourself here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Revisiting the Class Action Suit Against Amazon

All the interest in Amazon backing down on the text-to-speech initiative (boy, don't you know the folks at Audible.com had a thing or two to say to their boss Jeff Bezos?) reminded me to do an update on the class action lawsuit filed by Booklocker.com against Amazon.

This goes back to last year when Amazon informed publishers who used print-on-demand technology (POD) that they would need to use Amazon's BookSurge POD unit if they wanted to sell their books directly on Amazon.com. You can read my post from last March here.

Two months later, on May 19, 2008, BookLocker.com filed a federal class action lawsuit against Amazon.com in the U.S. District Court of Maine, claiming improper conduct on the part of Amazon. The lawsuit alleged:
Amazon’s improper conduct has presented Plaintiff and members of the Class with an untenable choice: either continue to lose business due to the improper restriction of the Direct Amazon Sales Channel or be forced into signing with BookSurge.
Earlier this month, on February 10, BookLocker's attorneys filed an amended complaint to address issues the judge raised and to reiterate their request for a jury.

I found the new complaint much more direct in its language:
Plaintiff BookLocker.com, Inc. (“BookLocker” or “Plaintiff”), on its own behalf and on behalf of the class defined herein, brings this antitrust action to obtain injunctive and monetary relief against Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) with regard to an anticompetitive tying arrangement that violates section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 . . .

Amazon’s practice of requiring POD publishers to use BookSurge’s printing services in order for Amazon to sell those books through the Bookstore constitutes an illegal tying arrangement that has caused, and will continue to cause, damage to Plaintiff and the Class. Specifically, Amazon’s unlawful tying arrangement prevents POD publishing companies, such as Plaintiff, from selecting a printing service on a competitive basis, but rather coerces publishing companies into using BookSurge’s printing services, even though those services are both more expensive and result in an inferior product than the printing services offered by BookSurge’s competitors.
Last spring I took a lot of grief from other authors and bloggers because of my extreme negative reaction to this move by Amazon. A common response was that this was only going to affect the small POD publishers and why should anyone else care?

I tried to point out in a post here that I saw this initiative as the first of a series of moves Amazon would take in what I believe is a much larger scheme to dominate the publishing industry.

Two weeks after that post, Tim O'Reilly wrote the following on his blog here:
Amazon has seemingly embarked on a number of strategies to lock-in both consumers and publishers.

It is a free-market economy, and competition is the name of the game. But as Amazon's market power increases, it needs to be mindful of whether its moves, even those that may be good for the company in the short term, are ultimately destructive of the ecosystem on which they depend.
I'll be watching this lawsuit with enormous interest.