Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

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

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

Update on Borders UK

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

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

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

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

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

Get Fuzzy

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jane Friedman Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Open Letter to Bishop Thomas Tobin

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

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

The Associated Press article reported the following here:

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

How dare you?

How dare you question someone's faith?

How dare you engage in character assassination?

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

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

And Luke 4:23: Physician, heal thyself.

Kangaroo Tried to Drown Dog

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

Who'd a-thunk?

The New OpenRoad Venture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Move with technology. Embrace digital development.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She describes "Revolution, not Evolution."

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

SFWA Joins RWA and MWA

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

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

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

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

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

Go here to read about Nelson's initiative.

Go here to read the SFWA statement.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harlequin Horizons Provokes Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, wait!! Another county heard from.

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

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

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

Three cheers for MWA!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Barnes & Noble Creates a Poison Pill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gag Me With a Spoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lies Told By the Self-Publishing Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a quote that I have always liked:

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Point and Counterpoint

Another Author Strikes Back controversy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Note to My Readers

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

The Web of Domination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manufacturer => Wholesaler => Marketing => Retailer

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Amazon Tries a New Tactic

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

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

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

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

Read The Slog here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harlequin Announces Carina Press

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

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

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

Carina Press' website had this to offer:

Both the contract and distribution channels are very different:

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

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

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

Monday, November 09, 2009

Something For Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Honor Roll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Heaven on Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 06, 2009

Borders Accelerating Store Closures

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

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Harlequin Reports Another Strong Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Slicing Up the Book

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Just Another Day in Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stephen King in the New Yorker

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

Thanks to Publishers Lunch for the tip.

Maybe We All Need a Little Ubuntu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to the point of this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try offering your fellow writers a little ubuntu today.