Friday, October 30, 2009

Help For Independent Bookstores

There's been a lot of talk about the demise of bookstores lately. B&N and Borders have been scrambling to keep their sales up, and independent bookstores are having an even tougher time. Neither group is helped by the price war being waged by Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target.

Yesterday's book section of the Huffington Post had this statistic: "In 1993, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) had 4,700 member stores. By the start of 2009, the number had fallen to 1,600."

That means that two-thirds of the ABA's membership (largely comprised of independent bookstores) has died off over the last sixteen years (or at least dropped their membership in their own trade organization).

In June, 2007, two management consultants, Praveen Madan and Christin Evans, bought a bookstore called Booksmith in San Francisco, determined to figure out how to keep independent bookstores alive in today's hostile environment. This month, they are doing a series of blogs about the experience on the Huffington Post.

Madan claims that "Independent bookstores account for 10% of the total retail market for books, but on the internet our combined market share is less than a tenth of 1%." He believes independent bookstores need to "reinvent and reinvigorate" their businesses. He suggests the following:

  1. Literary Community Building
  2. Author Services
  3. Enhancing the Browsing Experience
  4. Print on Demand
  5. New Markets

Author Jason Pinter also offered suggestions to help independent bookstores. Here are a couple of them:

  1. Don't put the bargain books right in the front of the store
  2. Cell phone coupons
  3. Make every author event available online ASAP

Go here to read the Madan post.

Go here to read Pinter's post.,

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Talking About e-Book Royalties

Publishers Marketplace had an item in yesterday's lunch:
Macmillan ceo John Sargent wrote to agents earlier this week to present for the first time a new standardized boilerplate contract across all of the trade publisher's imprints and divisions that the company intends to introduce as of November 9, featuring a number of comprehensive changes in their basic business terms.
Agent Richard Curtis actually posted a link to Sargent's letter on his blog here (You'll have to scroll down to 10/28).

The New York Big Six have been offering authors e-book royalties of 25% of the net receipts (publishers usually receive about 50% of the list price). So on a $15 e-book, the publisher's net is $7.50 and the writer gets $1.88 of that.

Sargent said that all Macmillan imprints were going to a "single royalty rate" which would "apply to all exploitation of the content of the book in digital form." Curtis reported that Macmillan planned to go to 20% of net, reducing the author's share from $1.88 to $1.50 per e-book.

The New York Times had this to say about Mr. Curtis' stance:
Richard Curtis . . . said the difference between Macmillan’s standard e-book royalty and other publishers was not the point. “The point is whether we should be playing on such a low ballfield at all,” Mr. Curtis said, “and whether the industry should not really be thinking about a 50 percent royalty of net receipts.” He argued that because the cost to publishers of producing e-books was so low, authors should get a higher proportion of sale proceeds.
Interesting how Macmillan is in such a rush to lock in e-book royalty rates.

Read the New York Times article here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And the Winner is . . .

It's that time of the year again. Time when the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are announced.

The contest began in 1982 at San Jose State University to honor the memory of Earl Bulwer-Lytton who penned those well-known words "It was a dark and stormy night." Each year the contest looks for the worst opening sentence possible.

This year's grand winner:
Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.
The runner-up was:
The wind dry-shaved the cracked earth like a dull razor--the double edge kind from the plastic bag that you shouldn't use more than twice, but you do; but Trevor Earp had to face it as he started the second morning of his hopeless search for Drover, the Irish Wolfhound he had found as a pup near death from a fight with a prairie dog and nursed back to health, stolen by a traveling circus so that the monkey would have something to ride.
But my favorites were:
Peter shaded his eyes from the brilliant April morning sunlight as it suddenly illuminated the Bunny Trail, contemplated his handiwork, (separating all of those pearly white chicks-to-be from their mothers) and prepared for the final task to complete his mission-yes, this was a good day to dye.
As Oedipus watched his mother gracefully glide across the great hall, he felt a stirring in his loins which he immediately regretted but then quickly dismissed, for he knew if these wanton desires for his mother were wrong then someone would have named the condition by now, thus proving once again that where his emotions were concerned there was only one description for Oedipus . . . complex.
She walked into my office on legs as long as one of those long-legged birds that you see in Florida - the pink ones, not the white ones - except that she was standing on both of them, not just one of them, like those birds, the pink ones, and she wasn't wearing pink, but I knew right away that she was trouble, which those birds usually aren't.
Medusa stared at the two creatures approaching her across the Piazza and, instantly recognizing them as Spanish Gorgons, attempted to stall them by greeting them in their native tongue, "Gorgons, Hola!"
Go here and find your own favorite lines.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Interview in Poets & Writers

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for pointing to a Poets & Writers interview with Jonathan Karp.

If you pay attention to publishing, you already know that Jonathan Karp is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve, the Hachette Group imprint that only publishes twelve books a year.

I had a particular reason for being interested in this article. Four months ago, in late June, Mr. Karp gave another interview . . . to the Washington Post. During that interview, while talking about the "ephemera" on bookstore shelves today: "self-aggrandizing memoirs by recovering addicts; poignant portraits of heroic pets; hyperbolic ideological tracts by insufferable cable TV pundits" -- you get the picture -- Mr. Karp made the following statement:
Many categories of books will be subsumed by digital media . . . Readers of old-fashioned genre fiction will die off, and the next generation will have so many different entertainment options that it's hard to envision the same level of loyalty to brand-name formula fiction coming off the conveyor belt every year. The novelists who are truly novel will thrive; the rest will struggle.
Humph! As a proud writer of formula fiction and a devoted reader of genre fiction, I found Mr. Karp's humor engaging, but his comments patronizing. And I responded:
While Mr. Karp and I are in agreement that consumers today have a dizzying array of choices on which to spend their entertainment dollars, I think his hope that "the age of disposable books won't last . . ." is somewhat elitist. I suspect it is also a form of self-soothing for a man who suddenly finds himself trying to cope with a turbulent industry facing radical change.
The new interview left me with a different opinion of Mr. Karp . . . I'm sure he's relieved [grin]. I found him self-deprecating, generous with his praise for both his authors and peers, and thoughtful.

In talking about Seabiscuit, one of his non-fiction books, Karp said
"What I learned from editing that book was just how important it is for a book to actually leave you with a feeling. I had been a very analytical guy up to that point, in terms of my editing. For nonfiction, I had always assumed that if it made sense and was well written and had an important point to it, people would respect it and like it. But that isn't what it's about, ultimately. People have to be moved by it."
My love for genre fiction was imprinted on my soul at a very early age. I was a spooky little shrimp of a kid, all orange hair and freckles, and scared of my own shadow. I was also a huge fan of boys' books. I preferred the brash courage found in those novels over the pallid books written for girls. I can remember reading all of Edgar Rice Burroughs (especially the Barsoom and Pellucidar series) and all of Zane Grey.

As I look back on those days, I suspect I was vicariously trying on different emotional suits, learning how it felt to be brave and fearless and decisive.

Those "disposable" formulaic genre novels provided me with the hope that I would one day be able to step out of my corner and be audacious.

I've often said on this blog that readers seek specific emotions when they buy genre novels. And I don't think that need will ever go away.

The author of the interview asked Mr. Karp "about the three main reasons why people read . . ." He responded,
". . . there are three Es. People read for entertainment, education, or the expressiveness of the language. The best books combine all three . . . I was so amused that right after Seabiscuit, people began publishing all of these books about horse racing. They completely missed the point. The book didn't succeed because people were dying to read about horses. It succeeded because it was a beautifully written story that was emotionally satisfying and interesting from beginning to end."
Jonathan Karp completely won me over when, in talking about the only novel he'll be publishing next year, he said: ". . . it's one of these novels where characters reveal things that, in your own life, people never say out loud."

What a delicious thing to say about a novel.

To read Mr. Karp's June interview in the Washington Post, go here.

To read his latest interview in Poets & Writers, go here. He has some great insights into the relationship between writer and agent, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

For Every Writer I Know

Courtesy of my critique partner, Linda.

Bring Change 2 Mind

Check out this video here.

Nine E-Reading Devices

Brenna Lyons pointed the way to this link on displaying "Nine E-Readers to Gawk At."

Take a few minutes to peruse the photo gallery.

Revisiting Writers Beware

Back in mid-August, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) decided to co-sponsor the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's (SFWA) Writers Beware website.

The Writers Beware website is among the first sites newbie writers are directed to visit by more seasoned writers. According to Publishers Weekly (PW), "SFWA launched Writer Beware in 1998, and its Web site is available to all writers, regardless of subject, style, genre, nationality or professional standing."

Since reading the news item in PW a couple of months ago about the support of MWA for Writers Beware, I had not visited the website until this weekend. I was delighted to see its look had been updated, making it easier to navigate among the features.

Take a few minutes to visit the site here.

Go here to read case studies of scams.

Go here to read the list of literary agents who have been given a thumbs down. The list was updated 8/13/09.

I was disappointed that the list of publishers had not similarly been updated.

My thumbs up to Victoria Strauss for the good work she has done and is doing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Apple Changes Its Position On Free Apps

Last Friday, pointed out a change worth noting:
"Apple on Thursday made a subtle-yet-major revision to its App Store policy, enabling extra content to be sold through free iPhone apps. It’s a move that immediately impacts the publishing industry . . ."
What Brian X. Chen was saying is that Apple's previous policy had placed a burden on newspapers and magazines considering moving online: Apple did not permit content-creators to use its free apps to sell content. Apple required content-creators to use its paid apps for commercial purposes.

Consumers have grown accustomed to getting their news and entertainment online for free. Getting them to pay for content to begin with is a challenge. Adding the cost of the app to that content charge was an added obstacle.

Chen said:
By allowing commerce within free apps, Apple creates the opportunity for a free media app to serve as a gateway for readers to get hooked on a newspaper’s or magazine’s content, which could help lure them into paying for exclusive premium content.
Go here to read the entire Wired post.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

ABA Contacts the DOJ

The Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) has sent a letter to the Department of Justice, asking for its Antitrust Division to investigate the possibility of "illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers" on the part of Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target.

This move was, of course, prompted by the price war between Amazon and the big box stores. Prices for best-sellers have gone as low as $8.98.

Below please find the text of the letter as printed in Publishers Weekly:

October 22, 2009

The Honorable Christine Varney
Assistant Attorney General
Antitrust Division
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 3109
Washington, DC 20530

Molly Boast, Esquire
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Matters
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3210
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Ms. Varney and Ms. Boast,

We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation's locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.

As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week,,, and have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.

Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45%-50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

It's important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs - acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. - which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes,, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

What's so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They're using our most important products- mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market-as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.

It's also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.

While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham's agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:

"If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer's attention away from emerging writers."

For our members-locally owned, independent bookstores-the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:

"You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.

We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.


ABA Board of Directors:
Michael Tucker, President (Books Inc.-San Francisco, CA)
Becky Anderson, Vice President (Anderson's Bookshops-Naperville, IL)
Steve Bercu (BookPeople-Austin, TX)
Betsy Burton (The King's English-Salt Lake City, UT)
Tom Campbell (The Regulator Bookshop-Durham, NC)
Dan Chartrand (Water Street Bookstore-Exeter, NH)
Cathy Langer (Tattered Cover Book Store-Denver, CO)
Beth Puffer (Bank Street Bookstore-New York, NY)
Ken White (SFSU Bookstore-San Francisco, CA)

CC: Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association
Len Vlahos, COO, American Booksellers Association
Owen M. Kendler, Esquire, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

B&N Unveils the Nook

After weeks of rumors about B&N releasing its own e-reading device, the company CEO and president held a press conference on Tuesday to unveil the Nook, which has a dual screen: A six-inch gray E-Ink display on top and, according to Publishers Weekly, "a full-color backlit touch-control screen situated just below—that raises the ante on E-Ink devices."

The color touchscreen has five sections: The Daily, My Library, Shop, Reading Now and Settings. The Daily permits you to subscribe to newspapers or magazines. B&N will also provide free "articles from the best writers" according to the online video. Reading Now will keep your place in the book you are currently reading.

The Nook has two GB (1,500 e-books) of memory and offers a 16 GB SD card of expandable memory. According to Publishers Marketplace, the SD card will hold 17,500 books.

B&N is going head-to-head with Amazon, offering the Nook for $259 and selling best-sellers for $9.

You can see the Nook here. I recommend you watch the video of the device's features. It has a wireless 3G connection to B&N for which you don't have to pay. With the wireless feature turned off, B&N says you won't have to recharge the book for ten days, permitting you to take it along while you're traveling without bringing a charger. B&N will offer free Wi-Fi for the Nook in its stores.

Publishers Weekly says:
The device supports EPub and PDF as well as the Fictionwise eReader format (the e-tailer was acquired by B&N last year), and consumers can purchase titles directly through the machine. Indeed, B&N is going all out to highlight its e-book flexibility—Nook owners will be able to move their e-books from device to device and read their B&N e-books on their iPhone, Blackberry . . .
The Nook raises the bar for e-book reading devices. It permits you to loan a book for up to two weeks. During the period of the loan, you cannot access the book yourself. And, according to Publisher Marketplace, you can only lend each book one time. B&N says it is still in negotiations with publishers to permit broader lending rights.

B&N is also investigating selling a bundled p-book together with the e-book.

The Nook goes on sale at the end of November in time for Christmas sales.

Help your local B&N. Buy a Nook instead of a Kindle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Saga of Le Handbag

My three brothers are determined to keep our mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, living at home as long as possible.

Some days are better than others.

My youngest brother Jack has assumed the responsibility for taking Mom to the grocery store, the bank and the doctor's office. He and Mom generally get along well, and Jack enjoys their outings together . . . with one exception.

Mom has an obsession about someone stealing her purse. To prevent this dread possibility, she hides the handbag. And then, of course, she forgets where she hid it.

This means that Jack has to tack extra minutes on the front end of any excursion to provide enough time for him to locate the purse before they leave the house.

In the beginning, it was simple. He'd find it in a drawer under her sweaters, or in the linen closet beneath the towels. During our calls, Jack would chuckle about where he'd found it that week.

Then . . . almost as if she sensed she wasn't providing enough of a challenge, Mom started to rachet up the level of difficulty. Instead of merely putting the purse under the bed, she'd hide it behind the table leaf that leaned up against the wall under the bed. Or she'd build a little fort of boxes of saran wrap and aluminum foil in the pantry with the handbag hidden inside.

The search began taking longer and longer each week, and Jack's humor on our calls started to sound a little forced.

The breaking point came the day he had to abandon the search because he didn't want to be late for Mom's 10 AM appointment with her doctor. Jack paid her co-pay out of his pocket.

When they returned home, he resumed the search. As he told it, Mom followed him around the house helpfully suggesting that perhaps she had been burgled. She was wringing her hands; he wanted to wring her neck.

If memory serves, that was the day he found the purse in a jigsaw puzzle box on the top shelf of the hall closet.

Mom occasionally provides playful moments. Jack has long since abandoned checking the "easy" places, expecting far more difficult solutions. One day she led him a merry chase until--on the verge of despair--he opened the dresser drawer where she'd kept her purses for nearly thirty years and found her handbag right on top in plain view.

I don't ask about the purse search when we talk on the phone these days. Jack is no longer lighthearted about the hunt. It's serious business.

He and Mom went to the dermatologist's office today . . . sans bourse.

Mom is always agitated when she has to leave home without the bag on her arm. Today she had day surgery on a skin cancer awkwardly placed. The surgery took three hours. Jack said a steady stream of nurses, techs and lab assistants came out from the exam room to ask him if he had Mom's purse.

In the car on the way home, she panicked, thinking she'd left the handbag in the doctor's office. He reassured her "the damn thing" was at home. However, when they got to the house, he had to stand and deliver.

During our phone call, he described his increasingly frenzied search. "I even thought about getting the ladder out and checking the roof," he said. "Until it dawned on me that the neighbors would have seen her up there and come running."

I was silent, afraid to ask the outcome of this bizarre Easter egg hunt.

"I walked into the den," he said. "You know the couch in there is too low to the ground for her to slide the bag under it." He paused
--whether in reflection or defeat, I couldn't say. "I was about to go check the Florida room when I noticed a buckled place in the rug."

You'd have to know my mother to understand the significance of this augur. Mom is a compulsive housekeeper. A buckle in one of her rugs is a world-shaking event.

"I walked back over and hoisted one end of the couch to look under it," Jack continued. "I couldn't believe it. That freaking bag was squished flat, but it was under that sofa."

"But how?" I asked.

"I have no idea," he responded. "She's five-feet-nothing and weighs about 106 pounds."

"And yet she found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!" I said with reverence.

I can't wait until next week's treasure hunt.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Random House Settles Libel Lawsuit

Random House has settled the lawsuit brought against it three months ago in London by wine expert Michael Broadbent.

Broadbent sued the publisher (although not the author Benjamin Wallace) of the book The Billionaire's Vinegar for libel. According to Slate magazine:
Broadbent, the legendary former head of Christie's wine department, alleges that Wallace defamed him in his gripping whodunit about the so-called Thomas Jefferson bottles—a trove of wines initially said to have belonged to the oenophilic Virginian but now almost universally believed to have been fakes. Three of the bottles, all Bordeaux, were auctioned off by Broadbent in the 1980s, and of the many wine luminaries caught up in this saga, his reputation has suffered the most damage.
According to the New York Times:
. . . Mr. Wallace suggested that Mr. Broadbent was too credulous in his assessments of the Jefferson wines. Why? According to the book, he was eager to please patrons like Hardy Rodenstock, the German collector who claimed to have found the Jefferson bottles, because he depended on them for access to older, extraordinarily valuable wines.
Random House issued an apology, agreed not to distribute the book in the UK and paid an undisclosed sum to Mr. Broadbent.

Wallace, the author, was very vocal in saying that Random House's decision was a business one, "in order to contain its legal costs and exposure in the UK." He reminded everyone that he, the author, had not been sued, that the settlement did not require "a single word" of his book be changed, and that the book could still be sold everywhere else in the world outside of the UK. He added that he did not think Mr. Broadbent acted "in bad faith" during the auction of the bottles.

Eric Asimov, the chief wine critic of the New York Times, referred to an email he had received from Wallace that said about Broadbent:
“Why, in his court filing, didn’t Michael Broadbent make any claim about the authenticity of the three Jefferson bottles he sold?’’ he asked. “If he thinks the bottles are legitimate, why didn’t he try to prove that in a court of law.’’
The controversy started in 1985 when a German collector by the name of Hardy Rodenstock put the bottles up for auction. Rodenstock claimed he'd purchased them in Paris where workers tearing down a house had found them behind a false wall in the cellar. The bottles were engraved with the initials Th.J., and Rodenstock insisted they had belonged to Jefferson, who'd lived in Paris while he served as America's Minister to France from 1785 to 1789. Jefferson is widely regarded as America's first great wine connoisseur. Rodenstock refused to reveal the location of the house or the number of bottles found.

Broadbent sold the first bottle--Lot 337, a 1787 Château Lafite--at Christie's in London on December 5, 1985. The New Yorker described the bottle this way:
. . . handblown dark-green glass and capped with a nubby seal of thick black wax. It had no label, but etched into the glass in a spindly hand was the year 1787, the word “Lafitte,” and the letters “Th.J.”
It was purchased by Malcolm Forbes (with his son Kip acting as his surrogate during the bidding) for $156,450--"a record price for a single bottle" according to Slate.

Rodenstock continued to sell bottles from his cache. Another American billionaire, William Koch, purchased four of them in late 1988 for half a million dollars. You may remember Koch because his boat won the 1992 America's Cup.

Koch sought to authenticate his purchase through the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. Cinder Goodwin, a Monticello scholar, had already pointed out to Broadbent two discrepancies: (1) that Jefferson recorded all of his wine purchases, and there was no record of the Rodenstock bottles; (2) Jefferson signed his correspondence with a colon (Th:J.)

Koch hired experts to validate his purchase and was not at all pleased to learn the Th.J. initials had been etched on the bottles with an electric power tool.

The vengeful Koch wanted to file both civil and criminal complaints against Rodenstock. In August, 2006, he filed a civil complaint in a New York federal court. Koch's chief investigator told The New Yorker "he estimated that since 2005 Koch has spent more than a million dollars on the Rodenstock case—twice what he paid for the wine."

Investigation into Rodenstock's background revealed that he was not connected to the famous German optics manufacturing family as he'd told people. His real name was Meinhard Goerke; Rodenstock was a pseudonym.

Rodenstock/Goerke refused to submit to the New York court in Koch's case. The New Yorker says he claims that, even if the court issues a default judgment, "the German courts will not enforce it."

To read the New York Times article, go here.

To read The New Yorker article, go here.

To read the Slate article, go here.

I suspect all the publicity about this case will help promote The Billionaire's Vinegar. Settling the case was probably a good business decision on Random House's part as well as cheap insurance to guarantee the publisher can continue to hawk the book around the world.

Friday, October 16, 2009 and Amazon Start a Price War

From yesterday's Publishers Marketplace:
Following the Amazon ebook pricing reset that publishers have cursed and feared, on Thursday dropped the price on their top 10 pre-orders titles (Palin, Crichton, Grisham, Crichton, Patterson, Koontz, etc.) to an even $10, with free shipping included. More broadly, they are offering their top 200 books at discounts of 50 percent or more in a program called America's Reading List.
Wal-Mart's action didn't go unnoticed by, which matched Wal-Mart's new prices.

Miguel Bustillo and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg have a story in this morning's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on the Internet price war. They reported on this ". . . battle for low-price and e-commerce leadership heading into the crucial holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart soon fired back with a promise to drop its prices to $9 by Friday morning -- and made good on that vow by early evening Thursday."

This holiday showdown was inevitable when you consider that Amazon has been steadily moving into other products besides books, music and film.

And, according to the WSJ, Wal-Mart is now selling other retailers' merchandise on its website.

The Business Insider had this to say in its post on the subject here:
Who's going to win?

In our opinion, Amazon.


Because it's better at ecommerce. And because it can't afford to lose.

This is Amazon's core business. It's a sideline for Walmart.
The WSJ quoted CEO Raul Vasquez:
"If there is going to be a 'Wal-Mart of the Web', it is going to be . . . Our goal is to be the biggest and most visited retail Web site."
Go here to read the entire WSJ article.

Buckle your seatbelts . . .

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More on Ford

I didn't realize how much controversy my post on Henry Ford would create. I got a number of emails and comments pointing out that Ford was a controlling, intolerant individual.

I won't argue that. The Ford Motor Company actually had an investigative division called the Social Welfare Department to make certain that employees were living according to Ford's moral code--being thrifty, taking proper care of their families and not getting drunk. He also disapproved of employees taking in boarders, "regarding their homes as something to make money out of rather than as a place to live in."

I'm not going to defend Ford. He doesn't need me to write an apologia for him. Like all of us, he was a multi-faceted individual. He also remains a personal hero of mine. He was constructive, enthusiastic, and he loved his work. Instead of whining when he encountered obstacles, he sought solutions.

Publishing could do worse than study his life. As an example, here are three of the innovations he put into place in his factories:

  • In January, 1914, he raised wages for qualifying employees (remember that Social Welfare Department) from $2.34 to $5 a day, more than doubling their pay.

  • In his book My Life and Work published in 1923, Ford explained his workers were now receiving $6 a day for an eight-hour day instead of the nine-hour days they had previously been working. Workers in other factories were still working much longer days.
  • U.S. employees had been given Sundays off in order to permit them a day of rest and a day on which to worship for some time. Jewish immigrant workers complained about being off on Sunday when Saturday was their day of worship. Labor unions agitated for more time off. Ford began closing his factory on Saturday in 1926--reducing the work week from 48 hours to 40--long before other industrialists did so.

While all of these innovations were pro-employee, each allowed him to solve a business problem:

  • Higher wages helped reduce employee turnover. In My Life and Work, Ford says: "In 1914, when the first plan went into effect, we had 14,000 employees and it had been necessary to hire at the rate of about 53,000 a year in order to keep a constant force of 14,000 . . . Today we keep no figures; we now think so little of our turnover that we do not bother to keep records."
  • Ford went to an eight-hour day in order to run three eight-hour shifts, raising his factory's productivity.

  • Increased productivity permitted Ford to produce his cars more inexpensively. Increased wages permitted his employees to purchase those more affordable cars. However, he realized something was missing--the leisure time to enjoy the vehicles. According to NPR's Marketplace program on September 4, 2009, Ford gave his employees Saturday off and invented the concept of the "weekend road trip" to help sell his cars.

What I liked about Ford's solutions was that everyone won: Ford, his workers and the American economy.

New York publishing today operates with a zero sum game mentality. In order for someone to win, someone else has to lose. In order for the publishing house to be profitable, the author has to take a low royalty rate, the reader has to pay outrageously high e-book prices and the hardcover has to be protected from price erosion.

In November, 2008, I heard an interview on NPR's Weekend America about the current state of the U.S. auto industry. The commentator said: "Auto makers are going to have to get more creative. They are going to have to innovate, to redesign and re-imagine the way they do things, the way they do business."

I wrote that down because I thought it was apropos of the publishing industry as well.

Publishing could do worse than think like Henry Ford.

Today's Ford quote: "I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done. "

Amen, brother.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is This Really How You Want to Make Money?

Two years ago, I wrote a post here on April 28, 2007, in which I said:
So how DOES a publishing house justify its existence in a digitized world?

. . . While anyone may be able to produce an e-book, the failure of most self-published books is evidence that merely having a book is not enough . . . What I suspect is going to happen is that the lines between publisher, distributor, bookstore and author are going to start blurring. Unusual contracts among the different parties are likely to emerge.
Yesterday a piece in Publishers Marketplace reminded me of those words--and not in an entirely comfortable way:
. . . 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."
Thomas Nelson is, of course, the world's largest Christian publisher. Mike Hyatt is the president and CEO and someone for whom I have enormous admiration.

Author Solutions, as I've described it previously, is the Mother of Self-Publishing. Among other properties, the corporation owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Xlibris. Entrepreneur interviewed Keith Ogorek, Author Solutions' director of marketing in April, 2008: "'As a company, Author House will publish about one of every 17 titles in the United States this coming year,' Ogorek says. That's about 20,000 titles."

I squirmed when I read the blurb by Publishers Marketplace, thinking "Who are we kidding here? The self-publishing industry has made millions stomping on newbie writers' dreams for money. And now Nelson is going to help lure more people into using a vanity press with the vague hope that they'll get a 'foot in the door'?"

My mood was not helped by this statement from the Nelson press release yesterday:
Titles published through WestBow Press will be evaluated for sales potential and considered for publication under the Thomas Nelson imprint.
Come on, folks. What are the odds that a writer self-publishing through a vanity press will end up with a traditional publishing contract?

And before anyone points to The Shack, please go here to read my previous blog titled "Should You Self-Publish?" William P. Young did not go to a vanity press. He went to a pastor friend he trusted. That friend and another former pastor formed their own company, Windblown Media, to publish the book.

In other words, someone besides the writer saw the value in the book and was willing to invest cold hard cash in it. The writer ("a former office manager and hotel night clerk" according to the New York Times) did not pay to be published.

Mike Hyatt wrote about the new Nelson division in his blog yesterday here. The post made me feel both better and worse. It also left me with questions.

Mike specifically said, "If prospective authors are convinced their book should be in print and are willing to fund it, they should be able to do so without the fear that they might be ripped off."

I worked as a licensed social worker in both inpatient and outpatient settings for a number of years. The medical field uses "informed consent" forms in order to make sure that any patient considering treatment has "a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications and future consequences of an action" (thanks, Wikipedia). In other words: the patient must understand the risks involved before commencing treatment.

So, is WestBow going to ensure that potential clients are offered informed consent? 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?

In his post, Mike offered a list of seven situations in which self-publishing makes sense. I completely agreed with four of them (the third, fourth, fifth and seventh). The first, second and sixth sounded dangerously like the pap most self-publishing companies offer.

The thing that disturbed me most about Mike's post was the following statement:
We also want to work with agents and consultants as “WestBow Press Affiliates,” so that they can help more authors realize their dream of getting published. Rather than simply send a rejection letter, they can now offer a legitimate alternative and earn a referral fee in the process.
So now we're offering agents the opportunity to pick up extra cash by making referrals to a self-publishing company.

I know things are tough in publishing today. But seriously, guys, is this the way you want to go?

Thomas Nelson enjoys a sterling reputation in the publishing business. Newbie writers are going to be reassured to see that WestBow belongs to Nelson. To me, that says Nelson has a higher obligation to provide information and assistance before taking a check from a still damp, newly hatched fledgling writer.

That's the Christian thing to do.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Henry Ford, Publishing Needs You

I've been thinking about Henry Ford a lot lately.

Ford is often credited as the father of the assembly line (he was probably more its godfather). Despite developing mass assembly factories that used interchangeable parts, he was an individualist. He was also blunt, pragmatic and optimistic--all qualities that appeal to me a great deal.

I can usually find a Ford quote to suit any occasion. Today's quote:
History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present . . .
I was reminded of that quote when I read an article in last Wednesday's New York Times here with the depressing title of "Book Sales Are Down, Despite Push."

The story focussed on the disappointing sales of blockbuster titles like Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, the late Ted Kennedy's True Compass and Audrey Niffenegger's new book after The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The Times went on to say: "And over all, according to BookScan, book sales were down about 4 percent compared with the same week last year . . ."

Henry Ford, where are you?

We all know publishing is first and foremost a business. Corporate heads roll with depressing frequency. Last Monday, Publishers Marketplace reported:
"After just five months as chief executive at the Headline group in the UK [owned by Hachette Livre, which also owns Grand Central Publishing], Kate Wilson has left the company by 'mutual agreement' according to a brief statement . . . Wilson was supposed to be taking over from Martin Neild as he prepared to retire from the company in 2010."
Two weeks before that, Steve Rubin--whose position as president and publisher of Doubleday was eliminated in December--announced he'd be leaving Random House, the parent company of Doubleday, after 25 years.

With these kind of examples, you can understand why New York is risk-adverse and very focussed on the bottom line. The problem is that this reluctance to take risks has publishers placing large bets on a small group of celebrities and best-selling authors.

Thinking that well-known names are more likely to sell than unknown names, the New York houses compete at auction, offering huge advances to obtain the rights to a few releases they hope will become blockbusters.

You can see the problem. In an effort to avoid risk, publishers gamble millions of dollars. If it works out . . . fine, they can relax next summer at that rental in the Hamptons. But if it doesn't work out . . . splat!

Because all of them follow the same (supposedly conservative) strategy, they are inadvertently contributing to greater risk for all by bidding up the price of books. Instead of offering more safety, this herd mentality is actually increasing the risk.

Last December here, I talked about the Boston Matrix as a model for assessing product lines. The problem publishing faces is that they are pouring too much money into their "cash cows" rather than investing money into up-and-coming writers who could become "stars."

While I'm at it, I also take issue with the way media reports book sales, including that New York Times quote about sales being down four percent compared to the same period last year.

According to a June, 2008 article in the New York Times, Nielsen's BookScan "usually tracks about 70 percent of sales." BookScan collects information from over 12,000 locations weekly, including bookstores (like B&N, Borders and college bookstores); discount stores (like and Target) and non-traditional stores (like Kroger and Starbucks). While they are working toward making their results more meaningful (they added the non-traditional category just last year), BookScan misses segments of the market. As examples, they don't capture either Wal-Mart's sales or e-book sales.

Even the Census Bureau, which releases retail sales each month, doesn't include used book sales. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) reported that 8.3% of all books sold in 2004 (one out of every twelve) was a used book. They anticipated that number would be one out of every eleven by 2010.

Consider. Rather than overall book sales being down, perhaps consumers are shifting venues. It's possible in this slow economy the reading public is purchasing used books or shopping for new books at Wal-Mart where they can get a deeper discount.

I'd also argue that it's possible consumers are buying e-books instead of hardcovers.

I've said it before. The publishing industry needs to pay more attention to their consumers . . . and their consumers' reading and buying habits.

And, of course, Henry Ford has a quote for that, too.

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dexter Rides Again

Last evening I finished the fourth "Dexter" novel by Jeff Lindsay: Dexter by Design, which was released on September 8 in hardcover.

For those of you not familiar with the books or with the HBO series (season four premiered two weeks ago), here's a quick summary from a post of mine in 2006:
Dexter was orphaned at an early age and adopted by a police officer and his family. When the neighborhood pets began to go missing, Harry, his foster father, was the first to put the pieces together and realize that Dexter was "different." Rather than institutionalize the teen, Harry urged Dexter to channel his energies for good. The result is that Dexter Morgan, now an adult, works as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department and kills serial killers on the side.

In contrast to the bloody details, Lindsay writes in a humorous and playful voice although--occasionally--his penchant for alliteration has Dexter sounding like a drag queen hopped up on coke.
The fourth book begins with Dexter on his honeymoon in Paris with Rita, his unsuspecting new bride. Waiting at home are Rita's two adorable children, Astor and Cody. Dexter was the first to realize that the children were "as permanently scarred as I was, forever twisted away from fuzzy puppy reality and into the sunless land of wicked pleasure."

Dexter feels a vague responsibility for Rita, whom he describes thus:
She was like a mother lamb in a wolf pack, and she only saw white fluffy wool all around her when in fact that pack was licking its lips and waiting for her to turn her back. Dexter, Cody and Astor were monsters.
Like the previous novels, Dexter by Design has the protagonist hunting down a serial killer (this one stabbed his foster sister Deb) while trying to keep the cops and FBI from guessing his true nature. Lindsay still exhibits his passion for alliteration as when Dexter describes himself as "Digitally Dominant Dexter."

There were the usual genuinely funny moments in the book such as when Astor and Cody stop the bad guy from kidnapping them:
"Well," [Officer] Lear said, "anyway, the guy got away. He ran clear over to U.S. 1 and headed for the strip malls . . . Gotta say he ran pretty good for having a pencil stuck in his leg."

"My pencil," Cody said with his strange and very rare smile.

"AND I punched him really hard in the crotch," Astor said.

I looked down at the two of them . . . They looked so smug and pleased with themselves; and to be honest, I was very pleased with them, too. [The bad guy] had done his worst--and theirs was just a bit worse. My little predators."
While this book was not quite as tightly crafted as the earlier books and the climax not quite as satisfying, I have to say I always enjoy a new romp with Dexter.

If you lean toward very dark humor . . . and have a strong stomach, I can recommend Dexter by Design.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writing Lessons Hard-Learned

I've been pretty much out of touch the last month or so for a variety of reasons. I've been extremely busy at my day job . . . so much so that on my way home from the university late one evening I actually fell asleep for about fifteen seconds at a stop light (a horn from the car behind woke me up and the song still playing on the radio clued me in as to the time gap).

Anyway, I'm close to the end of my temporary duty assignment and will soon begin to train my replacement so I'm looking forward to getting my life back.

Since I missed Friday's post, I figured I'd make up for it with a Sunday post on writing. Consider the following a list of things writers need to remember. And, please know, I have learned each of these lessons the hard way . . . by making the mistakes in question.

1) The importance of continuity. When I'm critiquing a full manuscript--mine or another writer's--I keep a little list of the characters and the plot lines beside me on a pad. That way, I can spot any thread that is left unresolved. Invariably, in every full I've ever read, some detail was left hanging. It's really hard for a writer to notice these things because s/he is aware of how all the threads are supposed to end. I know this because it's happened to me. I've been shocked when a critique partner drew my attention to something I thought I'd addressed. I meant to address it . . . I knew how it was going to be resolved . . . I just forgot to put it on paper.

2) Logic holes. I'm convinced the film industry is responsible for this problem. How many times have you sat in the theatre just glued to the story on the screen? Then you and your spouse or friend walk out into the light of day, and one or the other of you points to a huge logic hole in the story. Out of the theatre, away from the thrilling musical score, the terrific acting and the fast-moving camerawork, you suddenly realize there was a plot hole big enough to drive a Mac truck through. I call it the "Don't go through that door" syndrome. The protagonist has absolutely no reason to walk into that house or office . . . except that the story stalls if he doesn't do it. In real life, you'd be a fool to do what the protag does, but on the screen, it seems perfectly logical.

Unfortunately, reading a book is not yet a multi-media event. We're close to that day, but not quite there yet. Without the actor's dazzling smile or the crescendo of musical foreshadowing, the writer's plot holes leap off the page at the reader.

3) Coincidences. Yes, I know coincidences do happen in real life. Twins separated at birth and never told about each other do meet at college years later and hundreds of miles from either's home. But that's why these stories make the news . . . because they are so remarkable and rare. Don't depend upon coincidence to resolve your plot. It's cheating, and your readers will not forgive you for it.

4) Stephen Parrish sent me a link to Maureen Dowd's review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in the New York Times here.

I need to point out that I have not purchased that book because it took me SIX . . . count 'em . . . six tries to get past the first fifty pages of The Da Vinci Code in hardcover. For that reason, I figured I'd save time and money and just wait for the paperback edition of The Lost Symbol or buy it used in another few months. (I should also point out that I purchased his earlier book Angels and Demons and really liked it, which was why I shelled out my hard-earned money for the hardcover of The Da Vinci Code).

Anyway, Dowd takes Brown to task for "metaphors and similes [that] thud onto the page." She gives the following examples:
­Inoue Sato, an intelligence official . . . “cruised the deep waters of the C.I.A. like a leviathan who surfaced only to devour its prey.” Insights don’t simply come to characters: “Then, like an oncoming truck, it hit her,” or “The revelation crashed over Langdon like a wave.” And just when our hero thinks it’s safe to go back in the water, another bad metaphor washes over him: “His head ached now, a roiling torrent of inter­connected thoughts.” You can practically hear the eerie organ music playing whenever Mal’akh, the clichéd villain whose eyes shine “with feral ferocity,” appears.
The lesson: restrain yourself when it comes to metaphors and similes. A single good one is much better than a half dozen overwrought ones.

That's it for today.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

We Interrupt Our Regular Scheduling

Back in 1988, Sly Stallone made a god-awful movie where Rambo went into Afghanistan and essentially defeated the entire Soviet army. The film was simply dreadful. said: "Rambo III is the movie that killed the Rambo franchise for the next 20 years." They were right.

But it's funny the quotes that stick in your mind. I've never forgotten this exchange from that movie, which I saw in the theatre twenty-one years ago (courtesy of

Mousa: This is Afghanistan... Alexander the Great try to conquer this country... then Genghis Khan, then the British. Now Russia. But Afghan people fight hard, they never be defeated. Ancient enemy make prayer about these people... you wish to hear?

Rambo: Um-hum.

Mousa: Very good. It says, 'May God deliver us from the venom of the Cobra, teeth of the tiger, and the vengeance of the Afghan.'
Both Publishers Lunch and Shelf Awareness directed my attention this morning to an article in the Wall Street Journal about two books, which are drawing a lot of attention from U.S. policy-makers trying to divine the path the administration should take in Afghanistan.

Both are examinations of the United States' involvement in Vietnam forty years ago. The books in question are Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam by Gordon M. Goldstein and A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam by Lewis Sorley.
Lessons in Disaster is a posthumous look at McGeorge Bundy, national security advisor in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Bundy was a well-known hawk who supported the bombing of North Vietnam. In later years, he came to regret his part in escalating the American presence in Vietnam. According to Publishers Weekly, Goldstein's book concludes Bundy came to believe "Vietnam . . . was overall, a war we should not have fought."

The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama recently finished Lessons in Disaster and that the book's message is the U.S. military viewed the Vietnam War "too narrowly to see the perils ahead."

The second book, A Better War, points to 1970 as a crucial moment in Vietnam. Late that year, General Creighton Abrams replaced General William Westmoreland as commander of the American troops. Westmoreland had focussed on a war of attrition with strategies like the Tet Offensive while Abrams sought control by interfering with North Vietnam's ability to fight. Reviews reports Abrams was "less interested in counting enemy body bags than in securing South Vietnam's villages."

The Wall Street Journal reports A Better War's message is that at the moment when the U.S. military "finally figured out how to counter the insurgency," the White House gave in to popular opinion and ended the war. The article says this book is enjoying peer recommendation by U.S. military officers.

Every Sunday morning, I watch George Stephanopoulos' news show This Week on television. At the conclusion of each show, a list of the soldiers who died overseas that week is run. Every Sunday, I read the names and ages of Americans who gave their lives so I can continue living mine in peace. The overwhelming majority of these heroes were between the ages of 20 and 25. It breaks my heart to watch, but each week I force myself to read the names. Then I say a prayer for their souls.

I don't want to see more of America's youth die so far from home and their loved ones. But I don't want to see those 5,215 deaths (4,351 in Iraq and 864 in Afghanistan as of October 7) have no meaning either.

I'm not smart enough to say whether we should continue in Afghanistan. But--by God--I want President Obama to make the right decision.

My prayer today will be to give the president the wisdom to discern what we need to do and the courage to do it.

Go here to read the entire Wall Street Journal article.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Sign of the End Times???

A week ago Monday, the New York Times reported on an innovative publishing joint venture by the Perseus Books Group and the Daily Beast: A new imprint called Beast Books.

One of the people behind Beast Books is Tina Brown. You probably know her as a magazine editor. At varying times over the years, she has edited Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. A year ago yesterday, she hopped online with the launch of the Daily Beast, a news aggregating site here that includes original content.

With The Daily Beast under her belt, Brown is ready to enter the world of print publishing . . . with a twist. Beast Books seeks to tighten the time schedule in bringing books to release. The plan is for an author to spend three months writing a non-fiction book on a topical subject, which Beast Books will then release as an e-book a month later and then follow up with the paperback release shortly thereafter.

This model for publishing is exactly the reverse of the model currently being pursued by the Big Six publishers. Most of the New York giants are releasing the print book BEFORE the e-book, hoping to protect the p-book sales.

Kassia Krozser described this protectionism approach as a "stupid publishing trick" in her post here. Kassia argues that "There is absolutely no evidence that withholding the ebook will encourage ebook readers to purchase the hardcover instead."

The New York Times reports the first release expected from Beast Books will be Attack of the Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America by John P. Avlon, a CNN commentator. It will be released as an e-book in December and as a paperback in January, 2010.

I was initially appalled by the three-month writing term. Then I saw this paragraph in the Times article:
She [Tina Brown] envisioned most of the Beast Books titles as being 40,000 words, or about 150 pages. They would cover touchstone political and cultural topics first addressed on the Web site, as well as more personal memoirs.
That's 160 manuscript pages. Most writers would not have difficulty producing 53 manuscript pages a month for three months. That's 2 1/2 pages a day on weekdays only, taking the weekends off. {grin}

All the hoopla in the press was about the quick turnaround to release. But what I find really interesting is this: Brown is proposing not a full-length book, but a demi-book, which should really appeal to today's busy multi-taskers. If you think about it, it's sort of a super-size expanded version of those in-depth articles you find in Vanity Fair or The Atlantic now. Something you can read while waiting in an airport or on a plane flight. Easy to read on your iPhone or your e-reading device.

Brown herself told the Times "there was a gap between online writing and full-length books that was no longer being fully met by a dwindling market for magazines."

A terrific niche market to capture the burgeoning e-reading populace.

She's aiming to capture those hot topics that have a short shelf life. Everyone talks about them for fifteen minutes--or three months--and then forgets about them. By the time traditional publishers produce a book, no one cares any more.

I couldn't find any mention of the pricing of the e-book. And there was no listing for Attack of the Wingnuts on Amazon, B&N or Borders.

I'm wondering if Beast Books will price the e-books at or higher than the price of the paperbacks in order to cash in on the topicality of the subject matter. It's a safe bet they'll advertise on The Daily Beast. But I'm wondering what distribution channels they'll use.

This is really interesting. Stay tuned . . .

To read the New York Times article, go here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

FTC Changes the Rules on Endorsements

Yesterday the FTC announced new changes to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Yeah, with a title like that, it has to be a government publication.

The Guides addresses "endorsements by consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities, as well as the disclosure of important connections between advertisers and endorsers."

If you aren't familiar with it, don't feel alone. The Guides haven't been updated in almost thirty years.

The Guides are responsible for a phrase you're probably familiar with in ads: "Your results may vary." That "safe harbor" phrase permitted advertisers to describe their product in glowing terms as long as they indicated that the consumer's experience might be different.

The new Guides pulls the plug on that dispensation. Henceforth advertisers "will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect."

The revised Guides also addresses celebrity endorsements outside of ads. We're all pretty clear when we see a celebrity like Dennis Haysbert flacking Allstate Insurance in an ad that he's being paid to be the company's official spokesman. But what if he flacks Allstate while he's a guest on Jay Leno's show?

Under the new Guides:
. . . both advertisers and endorsers may be liable for false or unsubstantiated claims made in an endorsement – or for failure to disclose material connections between the advertiser and endorsers. The revised Guides also make it clear that celebrities have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media.
The thing that caught my attention was that the new Guides also talks about endorsements by ordinary people like bloggers:
The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
I read the Federal Register Notice in which consideration was given to two types of bloggers, making a distinction between "blogs that are just personal communication spaces, and those that are essentially commercial communication spaces."

The question becomes "although an 'advertising message' is intended by the latter – making it subject to the Guides – no such message is intended by the former." In those cases, the FTC had to struggle with whether the Guides should apply to that first blogger. The decision was made that, if a blogger received any kind of compensation, including a free copy of the book to review (and certainly monetary compensation as a reviewer), s/he needed to disclose that fact.

The Register continued:
An advertiser’s lack of control over the specific statement made via these new forms of consumer-generated media would not automatically disqualify that statement from being deemed an “endorsement” within the meaning of the Guides.
According to Publishers Marketplace:
In other words, bloggers as well as "reviewers" posting to sites like Amazon and LibraryThing who are writing about a book after receiving a free reviewer's copy are expected to disclose that information. And publishers who "sponsor these endorsers (either by providing free products - directly or through a middleman - or otherwise) . . . should establish procedures . . . to monitor the conduct of those endorsers."
These new rules will go into effect on December 1, 2009.

Go here to read the FTC's notice on their website.

Go here to read the Federal Register Notice.

It's the Economy, Stupid

Publishers Weekly reports:
All citing economic reasons, the Association of American Publishers postponed its Small & Independent Publishers Annual Meeting scheduled for October 9 in San Francisco; the California Writers Club canceled its Jack London Writers Conference scheduled for Oct. 10-11 South of San Francisco; and Book Group Expo decided to take a hiatus this year for its annual fall event in San Jose. Those cancellations followed the news that the Stanford Publishing Course for Professionals has shut down.

Monday, October 05, 2009

On Prologues (and Backstory)

Among the issues that seem to cause writers angst is the question of prologues. At one time or another, agents like Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bransford and the inimitable Miss Snark have all advised against including a prologue in your novel. And they all said the same thing: "We're not opposed to prologues. It's just that we've rarely seen one done well."

Why is that? Bear with me, and I'll explain.

Years ago, I was a volunteer for Dallas' Suicide & Crisis Center. We were taught to intervene using a specific model of crisis intervention. One step of that model was to make an early determination as to whether the caller was in crisis or not. This was because crisis intervention does not work unless the caller is actually in crisis.

We were taught to look for the precipitating event (PE)--something that happened in the six weeks prior to the alleged crisis. PEs don't have to be big events although they often are: "My wife left me." "My mother died." "My youngest son left for college."

Sometimes the PE can be a small thing . . . the straw that broke the camel's back. "My husband left his boxers on the bathroom floor for me to pick up . . . for the hundredth time. I called a divorce attorney."

The important thing is that callers in crisis can generally point to the exact moment when things went haywire.

Why six weeks? Because, in crisis, our bodies produce a "fight or flight" reaction, pumping adrenaline so that we can either fight or run like hell. And our bodies cannot sustain that "fight or flight" mode indefinitely. After about six weeks, we begin to adapt, and the situation becomes more of a chronic one. The crisis resolves itself. We may be operating at a lower functioning level than previously, but we adapt to the circumstances.

So let's get back to that prologue. IF your prologue includes a precipitating event in the RECENT past that is the catalyst for your novel, you may be able to pull off a prologue.

However, the precipitating event MUST be the springboard that puts your novel into action.

And in most novels with prologues, this is not the case. The prologue is often about an event that occurred many years before. It is backstory, the story that happened before the real action begins.

Backstory is important, but it is static. It sits there without moving. And that's the problem. It's not part of the story. It is what helped to inspire motivation and goals and helped to create a character's personality, but it isn't going anywhere. It is usually presented in narrative form.

Narrative form. TELLING.

Do you see why most prologues don't work? They include backstory, too much narrative and "telling" instead of "showing."

Do you want a test of whether your prologue is necessary? Try taking it out of the novel altogether. Does your novel hold together? Is is possible to dribble that backstory into your manuscript one line at a time?

If you can remove the prologue and the story still works, you have your answer.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Remembering a Miracle

Four months from now, we'll celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice."

Veteran Olympic watchers will remember when the United States team, composed of a motley group of amateur and college players defeated the Soviet Union team, the best hockey team in the world, in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Sports Illustrated named that win the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Sportscaster Al Michaels called the game for ABC, and his words that day are now sports history: “ Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow [defenseman], up to Silk [right wing]. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES! ”

That call led to the nickname of "The Miracle on Ice."

I mention that today because of a video I just saw on Yahoo.

In 2004, Walt Disney released a film titled Miracle. It starred Kurt Russell as the team's coach, Herb Brooks. Go here to watch the video clip of Brooks' motivational speech to his dispirited team.

After you've watched that speech, go here to watch a four-year-old recreate the speech. It's precious.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming

Like most published writers, I get a number of emails a week from newbie writers asking questions . . . a few want to know where I get my plot ideas, more want to know how to find an agent and still others ask about things like promotion and marketing.

By far, the most emails I get are from writers whose first novel has been repeatedly rejected. They are depressed, uncertain and asking me what they should do next.

On my journey to being published, I was helped by many kind people. Because I was completely unfamiliar with the publishing industry when I began, I spent a fair amount of time on the Internet, reading and trying to learn the ropes. I sent emails to people like Jodi Picoult and Miss Snark, asking questions for which I had been unable to find answers anywhere else. I don't recall an instance when I did not receive a courteous and helpful response.

Now I am trying to pay it forward by offering the same help to newbies.

This post is prompted by a couple of emails I got this week from newbie writers.

The first was a pretty common occurrence. I received an email from a woman I don't know, including her forty-one-page first chapter and asking for a critique because she has received over twenty rejections.

I did what I always do in such cases: glanced over the entire chapter and then gave her a critique on the first three pages. I always start with the good comments first. Her manuscript pages were articulate, and she had a nice way with descriptive phrases, using out-of-the-ordinary analogies that fit the tone of her manuscript.

But then I had to tell her the other stuff: her opening pages were pure backstory, and the rest of the chapter was bloated with unnecessary information dumps. In addition, she "told" more than she "showed." I pointed out that these were common newbie mistakes, which could be corrected easily and suggested she find a critique partner. All told, reading her email/chapter and responding took me about thirty minutes.

I was dismayed to receive an email back, arguing with my comments. She essentially said, "Thanks for nothing."

I resisted the urge to respond and simply deleted her two emails.

The second encounter was a 1,652-word email from a man I do not know. If the email had been in manuscript format, it would have been seven double-spaced pages.

The man started out complimenting me and saying he'd like answers to some basic questions. He is still in the process of writing his first novel and working with a freelance editor to get it to a manageable length. Based on his email, I immediately pictured a 175K-word manuscript.

He wanted to know about the industry, agents, how to write a query letter, and what promotional tools he needed to use. In addition, he sent me his 50-word pitch and asked me to critique it.

Normally, I would have commented on his pitch and referred him back to this blog and others for the answers to the rest of his questions. I'm not looking to take anyone on to raise. Nor am I looking to write customized handbooks on publishing for strangers.

But what really bothered me was his running commentary on the industry. He'd found agents hostile to newbie writers, he believed a one-page query letter would be unable to capture the richness of his manuscript, and he railed against publishers who would not provide promotional support to first-time writers. The overall tone was his concern that his "genuine talent" (yes, he described himself with those words) would not be appreciated by the industry.

He may be a very nice man, but he came across as a pompous, arrogant jerk.

As a public service, here are some tips for newbie writers:

1) Remember: Publishing is a business. Your communications with agents/editors should be in the form of business correspondence. That means brief and to the point. In general, a query letter should be one page. (And that doesn't mean with half-inch margins and a 10-point font).

2) If an agent/editor is kind enough to offer you specific comment beyond a form rejection, do not assume that response is an invitation to open a pen pal relationship.

3) If you write an author or agent with a question, limit it to one question. And limit your response to "thank you." Better yet, ask the question on their blog so that others can benefit from the response.

4) There are no shortcuts. Don't expect anyone else to supply you with a list of agents, a list of likely publishers who would be interested in your genre or a list of promotional tools. There are enormous amounts of information on the Internet. Do your own homework. If there are specific questions you cannot find the answers to, feel free to ask. But don't ask for material that you are simply too lazy to look for yourself.

5) Agents use the query letter to cue them as to what kind of a client the writer would be. They are looking for positive, hungry-for-success people who are willing to do whatever it takes. No matter how good the manuscript is, no agent wants a pain-in-the-ass client. Agents will suggest writers make manuscript changes . . . just to see how the writer responds. Over time, each agent has honed his/her screening mechanisms to eliminate those writers who are going to be problems. It may seem incomprehensible to you, but their methods have proven surprisingly effective in separating the wheat from the chaff.