Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

I'll be offline for probably the next week to ten days. I'm heading off to check on my mother in Florida and am not sure how much Internet access I'll have.

I'm going to leave you with a photo a friend sent me today. You're looking outside her kitchen here in Dallas at a bobcat that wandered into her yard. You can click on the photo to get a closer look.

Things have been really, really hot and the coyotes and bobcats are coming in closer in order to find food and water.

Keep safe and happy while I'm gone.

Everyone's Gone to the Moon

Recently we had a duel of sorts online among authors either espousing or eschewing self-publishing.

The first shot over the publishing bow was fired by English novelist Ray Connolly in an August 12th article in the UK's Guardian here.

Connolly says:
... change is on the way. With Apple's iPad recently joining Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader as devices for reading downloaded books, power in publishing might just be shifting in the authors' favour.
Of course, I agreed with him. Five months earlier, on March 2, I said here:
There are three main players in this game: The author, the publisher and the consumer. New York publishing is not yet playing fair with either the author or the consumer. That's understandable because publishing houses have not yet accepted that their power position is no longer as secure as it once was when they owned the only means of production.
About ten days after the Guardian article, on August 23, Seth Godin, marketing entrepreneur, wrote a post on his blog here that attracted a lot of attention.

Seth explained that he would self-publish his next book instead of seeking a traditional publisher. The Wall Street Journal reported "Mr. Godin plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, small digital files called PDFs and podcasts."

On his blog, Seth said:
Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.

The thing is--now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn't help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive ... The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, "how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?" To be succinct: I'm not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.
I absolutely agree with Seth that self-publishing is the right model for him.

The next day, August 24, I read Philip Goldberg's piece titled "Who Needs Publishers? We All Do!" on The Huffington Post here.

Goldberg said:
My bottom line is this: when it comes to serious nonfiction especially, readers, libraries, reporters and everyone else concerned about accuracy and readability should rely only on books that have been competently edited. And long live advances: may they grow and may authors and their readers prosper.
I agree with Mr. Goldberg that the traditional route to publication is the best model for him.

In James Goldman's marvelous play The Lion in Winter, Henry II asks Philip, King of France, "What kind of courage have you got?"

Philip responds, "The tidal kind: it comes and goes."

Reading this post, you could be forgiven for thinking that my decision-making capacity appears to be the tidal kind. One minute I'm supporting self-publishing and the next, I'm all for the traditional model.

The thing is, whether you opt to self-publish or not depends on a lot of factors. I'm only going to address one here: Marketing.

I encounter at least one person a week who believes that self-publishing is a simple matter of choosing a path: (1) The Author Solutions Approach where the writer goes to an established self-publishing company that offers a full array of services, or (2) The Ad Hoc Method where the writer locates the needed resources (editor, graphic artist, etc.) and then goes to either Amazon to post the e-book or a printer to produce the p-book.

Having a book--whether a physical book or an electronic book--is not the end goal. Selling that book is. To do so, you must be able to attract an audience likely to purchase your book.

Seth Godin is a master at marketing. His blog has a huge following. He also has years of experience in the publishing industry; as a book packager, as the owner of online marketing firms, and today as an author and public speaker. His background and experience give him all the tools he needs to succeed as a self-published author.

Ray Connolly is a well-known English novelist, biographer and film director. In a different way than Seth, he has his own platform. He can access newpapers like The Guardian and command media attention. He certainly has been involved in publishing enough to understand its challenges. I was interested to see that he is serializing his latest novel, The Sandman, online. I suspect he will do well as a self-published author.

I admire Philip Goldberg for his candid assessment of himself and his relationship with the publishing industry. He clearly is happy with his publisher and his editor. He also has a full life as an Interfaith minister, teacher and lecturer. He doesn't want to self-publish. That's a rational and perfectly understandable decision. Good for him.

The bottom line to me is that writers should carefully review their options and make a considered decision as to which path is best suited for them.

And, here's my decision tree to help that process along.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Today's 2nd Post: OED3 Will Not Be Printed

Publishers' Lunch directed me to this item in the UK's Telegraph:
The next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the world’s most definitive work on the language, will never be printed because of the impact of the internet on book sales.
Oxford University Press says a team of 80 lexicographers have been working on the upcoming third edition of the OED for the last 21 years and have finished about 28%. It will probably take them more than another ten years to complete. By then, it is expected that the OED3 will be released only in electronic form because of the Internet's impact on sales.
The most recent OED has existed online for more than a decade, where it receives two million hits a month from subscribers who pay an annual fee of £240 [approximately $370]

Lippman's e-Book Outsells Hardcover

On Thursday, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal reported on an interesting piece of news:
Laura Lippman’s thriller, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” went on sale Aug. 17, and in its first five days sold 4,739 e-books and 4,000 physical hardcovers, said News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers.
A senior VP of HarperCollins speculated that this was because, when a new book gets a good review, people with digital readers can immediately order and download it.

That same VP also said this was the "first book ... of any consequence" for HarperCollins where the e-book outsold the hardcover in the first week following release.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mockingjay Review

First of all, please be aware ...

****************HEREIN BE SPOILERS*********************

I finished Mockingjay in two sittings. I would normally have read the novel in one prolonged sitting, but Collins' writing was so emotionally charged that it made for painful reading. To be absolutely honest, I needed a break before tackling the second half.

Let me say at the outset, I would not let a child under sixteen read this novel without adult supervision. And, if that pre-sixteen child had a loved one stationed in the Middle East right now, I don't think I'd allow him/her to read the book at all.

My preferences in reading tend to put me way over on the dark and violent end of the continuum; so much so that I was startled to have a friend tell me the violence in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was difficult for her to read. I actually asked, "What violence?" and was a bit embarrassed when she reminded me of Lisbeth's rapes.

I draw a distinction between what I call "comic book violence" and real-life violence. I can read fictional violence all day long and not flinch. But you'd have to drag my unwilling body toward a non-fictional book or movie containing violence because then both my empathy and imagination are triggered, and I am devastated by what those real people experienced. To this day, I have never seen Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were both sci-fi adventure novels. The werewolf muttations and the tracker jackers bordered on fantasy. They had a high squick factor, but fell into the comic book violence category for me. Not so Mockingjay.

Let's call it what it is: Mockingjay is a powerful and frightening polemic against war. The violence feels very real and bloody. The street fighting and house-to-house searches bring inevitable comparisons to Iraq and Afghanistan. What our soldiers call IEDs (improvised explosive devices), Mockingjay calls pods.

I was lulled by the symbolism of these three book covers into expecting an exhilarating YA adventure. Just look at the progresson of the mockingjay ... from an almost cowering creature confined by the gold ring to a floundering bird captured in the center of a gunsight to a soaring bird, breaking free of all restraints.

I made the assumption that either Peeta or Gale would sacrifice his life so that Katniss could survive to marry his rival and live HEA (happily ever after). Always the romantic, I wanted underdog Peeta to be the suitor who lived.

Mockingjay sucker-punched me. I didn't see the ending coming at all. All three survive, and Katniss ends up with Peeta, but the couple are terribly scarred physically and emotionally.

Collins is a superb writer who excels at "show, don't tell." Therefore, I was very disappointed in her "tell, don't show" ending. I also thought the epilogue was a bit of a cheat and wondered if her editor had asked her to add it after the fact. It had a bitter tone that left a sour taste in my mouth.

Again after-the-fact, I was surprised to realize that not once in the entire trilogy could I recall a mention of God, religion or any faith. Not one time. So obvious an omission had to be deliberate. If I could ask Suzanne Collins one question it would be "Why?"

Having said all this, Mockingjay is a suspenseful, nonstop roller coaster of a ride. The first person point-of-view makes reading it both intimate and painful. I am glad I read it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wylie and RH Kiss and Make Up

Last month, Andrew Wylie shook the publishing industry when he announced the launch of his new publishing company, Odyssey Editions.

Through an exclusive two-year deal with Amazon, Wylie's company planned to release e-book versions of twenty books from the backlists of authors his agency represents, including Martin Amis, John Updike, and Salman Rushdie.

Random House, the world's largest trade publisher, claimed thirteen of those twenty books belonged to them and responded to Wylie's announcement by saying that, since Wylie was now acting as a "direct competitor," RH would no longer enter into any new English-language deals with Wylie's clients.

Go here and here to read my earlier posts.

This Tuesday, a month after the contretemps began, Wylie and Random House issued a joint statement that said:
"We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights ... Random House is resuming normal business relations with the Wylie Agency ... and we both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us."

Although Random House refused to reveal the royalty rate Wylie had agreed to accept, Publishers Lunch reported here:
... Random House has been negotiating agreements for months with most of the major literary agencies on moving forward with ebook publication of successful backlist titles originally acquired before the era of electronic rights language, for which the rights and/or royalties are "in dispute" between the publisher and the rightsholder.

The basic terms ... provide for a sliding scale of royalties that tops out at 40 percent of net. These agreements are strictly limited to titles that are "in dispute" and do not indicate any willingness to move beyond already granted or offered rates on titles where there is no dispute.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported here:
Amazon on Tuesday began removing [the] 13 e-books covered by the Wylie pact. The titles ... will return to Amazon under Random House's control ... The Amazon deal also included seven titles from other publishing houses. David Shanks, chief executive of Pearson PLC's Penguin Group (USA), which originally published two of those titles ... said the publisher is in negotiations with Mr. Wylie, but declined to comment further.
Publishers Weekly said here:
Another insider, when asked if Odyssey Editions was, more than anything, an attempt by Wylie to raise the digital royalty rate on these backlist titles--and, moreover, to simply get them published--scoffed at that notion. "This was all about starting Odyssey Editions and taking advantage of [the marketplace]," he said. "[Wylie] never expected a company like Random House to take the position it would no longer do business with him."
That last line intrigued me. Putting arrogance aside, how could Wylie not expect Random House to go nuclear on him?

Then I remembered--Wylie is not the first literary agent to set up a book publishing company. A decade ago, a very smart man named Richard Curtis did the same thing ... although not with Wylie's in-your-face attitude.

Curtis, former president of the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR), began E-Reads in 1999. On Wednesday, he had this to say on the E-Reads' blog here:
... Random House has shifted its stance on e-book royalties and opened the door to an industry-wide raise in pay for authors as predicted here ...

Many agents have “favored-nations” arrangements with publishers entitling authors to request a new royalty rate if the rest of the book industry adopts a higher one. It is now anticipated that agents will flood Random with requests for amendments replacing recently signed ones agreeing to a 25% royalty. It will be well nigh astounding if other publishers don’t fall into lockstep with Random’s royalty or something close to it.

The big question now is, will it stop at 40%? Many observers feel it won’t ... (Full disclosure: E-Reads pays 50% net royalty and has done so from our founding ten years ago.)
Stay tuned ...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Look at e-Readers

I have a training class today that starts at an ungodly hour. Therefore, I'm going to let the Wall Street Journal cover for me.Yesterday's WSJhad an article titled "The ABCs of e-Reading."

The article had several intriguing statistics, including these from Marketing & Research Resources:

  • e-reader owners read 2.6 books a month on average versus p-book readers who read 1.9 books on average.
  • Among e-book buyers, 52% were men compared with 48% for women—a reversal of print books, where women buy more.
  • In a study of 1,200 e-reader device owners, 40% of the respondents said they now read more than they did with p-books. 58% of the respondents said they read about the same. Two percent said they read less than before.

Go here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

e-Books v. p-Books

A dialogue began earlier this month when Nicholas Negroponte was quoted at the Techonomy conference as saying that the physical book is dead, due to be replaced by digital books.

Because of who he is, people listened.

Nicholas Negroponte has been on the faculty of MIT since 1966. In 1985, he and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner founded the MIT Media Lab, which investigates how media and technology interact. Most recently, Mr. Negroponte is known for being the founder of the One Laptop per Child Association, Inc., the non-profit that is providing laptops to poor children in developing countries.

TechCrunch quoted Mr. Negroponte's announcement that the physical book is dead here on August 6th:
“'People will say ‘no, no, no’ — of course you like your libraries,” Negroponte said ... It’s happening. It not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in 5 years ..."
A week later, on August 15, Mike Shatzkin, well-known publishing consultant, wrote a post he titled "The Printed Book's Path to Oblivion," inspired by Negroponte's comments.

Mike began by saying:
The critical thing to remember is that, indeed, the book was more-or-less perfected hundreds of years ago. There have been improvements in printing, binding, typography, and paper quality that are not trivial, but that also represent no quantum leap in user benefit ...

The e-book, unlike the paper book, advances every month, if not every day.
As much as I have learned from Mike's speeches and posts and as much as I respect him, that argument makes no sense to me.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer responded to him, saying what I was thinking:
... yes, e-books ARE getting better all the time - at trying to mimic what printed books achieved hundreds of years ago: an ease of use that, despite millions of dollars to develop and more to come, still eludes e-book devices.
In his defense of e-books, Mike argues:
It is very hard for me to grasp why anybody would prefer a printed book 30 or 40 years from now ... The printed book will not “die” in our lifetimes: there are too many of them already around for that ... I’d say that in no more than twenty [years] the person choosing to read a printed book will not be unheard of or unknown, but will definitely qualify as “eccentric.”
The Seattle PI says:
This essay is not intended to be a side by side, mano a mano, book to e-book smackdown, winner take all. E-books and e-readers do have their place ... the primary need for e-books - as an adjunct and not replacement, now or at any time in the future, for printed books.
And now it's my turn to opine.

Guys, this isn't an either/or world. It's about offering more choices to the consumer. Think of the film industry. I can now choose to go to the movies, rent the film (on disk or by download), buy the film or wait for it to come to television. That's customer choice.

The film industry squawked mightily when the VCR came along, saying it meant the end of their industry. Of course, that wasn't the case. The film industry is actually more robust today than it has been.

One person reading an e-book doesn't hurt another person reading a p-book.

And, yes, I realize someone from a publishing house might argue that the e-book is going to gradually push the p-book out of business. I'd counter that argument by saying the market rules. If there is a customer base that prefers to read a p-book, there will be a retailer to fill that need. Didn't we all learn in fifth grade that nature abhors a vacuum?

Individual print-on-demand machines like the Espresso will be able to provide p-books when customers request them. The green movement will probably come into play here. I suspect what will happen is that p-books will rise in cost so that they become one of the many status symbols for the well-to-do. Or prized objects for collectors.

Trying to prove the superiority of one form of media versus the other is pointless because it will ultimately come down to consumer choice and price. [Shrug] If consumers don't value a product, it dies -- no matter how well-made or valuable its advocates believe it is.

The last thing I have to say is that Mike disappointed me with this:
Genre publishing, particularly romance fiction, has had ebook only publications for years. Maybe that’s why romance readers — which one would not expect are necessarily more advanced technologically or economically than most of the rest of us — have apparently made the switch to digital reading more quickly than book consumers at large.
I found the comment unnecessarily snarky. Note he didn't mention sci-fi readers who also embraced e-books early. He specified romance readers.

I know Mike loves baseball, and I could make a comment about men with their bats and balls, but that would be beneath me. [grin]

Go here to read Mike's post and here to read the PI's rebuttal.

Breaking News: Teen Lit Fest Cancelled

According to today's edition of Our Tribune in Texas here, the 2011 Teen Lit Festival in Humble, Texas has been cancelled.

I'm saddened that the young people who were looking forward to meeting and listening to authors will be disappointed.

But I feel even sadder to learn that the school administration could not find a way to negotiate a better ending to the story than this.

Will the Mockingjay Fly Free?

Today is the day I've been awaiting for several months: the release of Mockingjay, the final novel in Suzanne Collins' fast-paced trilogy that began with 2008's The Hunger Games and continued with 2009's Catching Fire.

To give you a sense of how big an event this will be, on July 1, Scholastic announced it was upping its original plan for a 750,000 initial print run of Mockingjay to 1.2 million copies. In addition, on July 3, they released the trade paper edition of Hunger Games in the U.S. and Canada with an initial print run of 500,000 copies. By early this year, the hardcover edition had sold more than 800,000 copies.

And, yes, I said Scholastic. This is a YA book. I read it because of a great review by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly in September, 2008.

Lionsgate has already optioned the movie rights, and the first film is expected to be released next year.

The Hunger Games combines an extreme version of today's reality TV with a post-apocalyptic world ruled by an indifferent totalitarian government.

North America is now the nation of Panem ruled by the Capitol. The book's protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, lives in District 12, the poorest of the dozen districts of Panem.

As a reminder that rebellion comes with a price, the Capitol holds an annual televised series of games to which each district must send one boy and one girl randomly selected by lot. The twenty-four "tributes" then fight to the death with television viewers betting on them. The last tribute standing is declared the winner.

When her younger sister is picked for the 74th Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The male tribute from District 12 is Peeta, who once saved Katniss' family from starving. During televised interviews promoting the upcoming games, Peeta reveals to viewers that he has been desperately in love with Katniss since they were five years old.

Katniss is torn between her suspicion that Peeta is just trying to gain sponsorship and her anger over her sense of indebtedness to him. And she is already more than half in love with Gale, her eighteen-year-old hunting partner.

The novel takes familiar tropes and revitalizes them. Katniss is a defiant David with a bow-and-arrow instead of a slingshot, facing bigger, stronger opponents. In her relationship with Peeta, she is more dominant than Peeta, who is a baker's son with no knowledge of woodcraft or hunting.

Katniss' first person account is spare and unflinching with hints of humor. "Sitting at Prim's knees, guarding her, is the world's ugliest cat ... He hates me ... Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home ... The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed."

Katniss' pluck and Peeta's apparent devotion to her attract a huge television following. Their fans are angered that one of the "lovers" will need to kill the other to win. For the first time, the Games foment real unrest in the nation.

The second book, Catching Fire, has the Capitol struggling to put down the rebellions which sprung up as the result of Katniss' defiance. In the 74th Games she wore a gold pin decorated with a mockingjay bird. The mockingjay has become the rebels' symbol.

An angry President Snow sends former Games' winners back into the arena to compete to the death for the 75th Games. All of the former winners are Panem's best-loved heroes. Their fans are furious, and the heroes find themselves torn between fighting each other or defying the Capitol.

Now we come to the final book in the trilogy. Here's one of the trailers for Mockingjay:

Can't promise when I'll be posting this week [grin].

Monday, August 23, 2010

2nd Post For the Day: Mockingjay Is Coming

The Los Angeles Times releases the first review of Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, the conclusion to The Hunger Games trilogy, due out tomorrow:

Unfolding in Collins' engaging, intelligent prose and assembled into chapters that end with didn't-see-that-coming cliffhangers, this finale is every bit the pressure cooker of its forebears ...

Mockingjay takes readers into new territories and an even more brutal and confusing world: one where it's unclear what sides the characters are on, one where presumed loyalties are repeatedly stood on their head ...

More maudlin than the first two books in the series, "Mockingjay" is also the most violent and bloody and, based on the actions and statements of its characters, its most overtly antiwar — though not so much that it distracts from a series conclusion that is nearly as shocking, and certainly every bit as original and thought provoking, as "The Hunger Games."

Yeah, wow!

Read the entire review here.

Who Were the Top Earning Authors?

Forbes had an article here last week on the world's highest-paid authors in the twelve months ending June 1.

Here they are:

1) James Patterson (thriller)
2) Stephenie Meyer (fantasy)
3) Stephen King (horror)
4) Danielle Steel (romance)
5) Ken Follett (suspense)
6) Dean Koontz (horror)
7) Janet Evanovich (mystery)
8) John Grisham (legal thriller)
9) Nicholas Sparks (romance)
10) J.K. Rowling (fantasy)

Six men and four women, and they're all unabashedly commercial fiction writers. They range in age from 36 (Meyer) to 67 (Evanovich). During the past twelve months, they earned a combined 270 million dollars with Patterson at the top with $70 million (one out of every 17 novels sold in the U.S. is his) and Rowling at the bottom with a mere $10 million (her last book came out in 2008).

When Patterson was criticized by Stephen King for being a terrible writer, Patterson responded, "I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller."

Storytelling sells.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Target: You Need to Make This Right

About a month ago, The Awl--a political/social commentary blog run by two former Gawker editors--did a piece on Minnesota House of Representatives member Thomas Earl Emmer Jr.
"Called 'Minnesota's most conservative GOP gubernatorial candidate in decades,' it's no surprise he likes to play with guns ... he introduced the Firearms Freedom Act, exempting Minnesotans from federal rules or regulations on their arsenals ...

Emmer wants to cut government services by at least 20 percent ... He authored bill HR857, which mandated drug screening for Minnesota Family Investments [Welfare] Program eligibility ...

But he can be fun too. Emmer also authored bill HF1131, which greenlights surgical or 'chemical' castration of sex offenders. ... Most eye-opening is Emmer's support of an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that makes way for federal laws to be ignored at the discretion of the state."
Go here to read the entire Awl post. It's downright scary.

I'm assuming it's Emmer's pro-business stance, not his social agenda, that made Target donate $150,000 in hard and soft money to the candidate's campaign to be the next governor of Minnesota. Best Buy contributed $100,000.

Some customers of Target took offense. Especially the gay and lesbian community and the unions.

Then they took action.

I don't know what I liked more: the flash mob's homage to the Village People or the conga line.

Readers of this blog know I'm not a fan of Wal-Mart. However, I have been a huge fan of Target. I just checked the receipt/budget file on my computer. In the last six months, I've spent slightly under $1,000 at Target.

No more.

Target, you need to make this right. I appreciate that your CEO Gregg Steinhafel wrote a letter of apology on August 5 to your employees. I also watched a video that read portions of Mr. Steinhafel's apology here. Be aware the last minute and a half of this video is blatantly promotional:

The Young Turks advertising aside, the apology wasn't enough. Target needs to find a better solution than mere words to make this right.

And not a sneaky or slimy solution like giving $150,000 to all of Emmer's opponents to split among the group.

A real solution.

And this thing isn't going away. Yesterday the Los Angeles Times reported here that:
A few Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. institutional shareholders weighed in Thursday on the flap over the companies' political donations in Minnesota, urging the boards of both retailers to increase their oversight of campaign contributions ...

A good corporate political contribution policy should prevent the kind of debacle Target and Best Buy walked into," said Trillium vice president Shelley Alpern. "We expect companies to evaluate candidates based upon the range of their positions — not simply one area — and assess whether they are in alignment with their core values. But these companies' policies are clearly lacking that."
The ball is in your court, Target. As hard as it will be, I won't set foot in any of your stores until you fix this.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hmmm ... Where Have I Heard This Before?

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal contained an article titled "Get Ready For Ads in Books" here.

Ron Adler, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and William Vincent, a former book editor at Houghton Mifflin, predict that publishers are going to turn to placing ads in books in order to stay profitable.
... physical books can't compete with other print media for advertisers. Digital books can ...

Google has taken the first steps in this direction. Its Google Books archive--a collection of over 10 million scanned books from the world's largest libraries--displays advertisements next to search results. It's a small step to imagine Google including advertisements within books ...

What would the world look like with ads in books? For consumers, the free samples of digital books now available would surely include ads ... Seeing ads in the sample may also convince a reader to pay for a premium, non-ad version of the full-length book. The old market segmentation of paperbacks and hardcovers will be replaced by ad-supported or ad-free books.
I might have been more impressed by the article if Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired) hadn't said the same thing over three years ago. In my post of June 10, 2007 here, I described a talk that Anderson did for Book Expo America:
... radio, magazine and newspaper content is given away for virtually nothing because they make their revenues off advertising. Books are an exception to this. Books charge readers a price. However, [Anderson] points out that it would be possible to offer a physical book supported by advertising. A book can cost $19.95 for an advertising-free copy or nothing for a copy that includes advertising.

Also, e-books cost close to zero to re-produce and could be offered for close to zero. You could also offer a page view model online that runs advertising alongside content for free. Or you could offer a downloadable book that is locked to all but specific readers.
Chris Anderson is a very, very smart man. Prior to working at Wired, he worked for The Economist. Although I think he occasionally stretches a bit too hard to make a point, I keep both his books on my shelf. The first is, of course, titled The Long Tail and the second is Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

I've said repeatedly that the publishing industry's focus is too narrow. Publishers need to think beyond the four corners of a book to the wide world beyond.

As an example, imagine tying an e-book, GPS and advertising together. Facebook and Twitter users can now tell their friends where to find them in the physical world. Imagine an advertising campaign that tied an ad in an e-book to the reader's immediate proximity to a location selling the item being advertised in the ad.

Imagine a time-limited ad that promised a 40% discount on fall boots to a teenager and five interested friends at a store near her home. I guarantee you my 18-year-old niece could produce her entire drill team in an hour for a deal like that.

The possibilities are endless.

Instead of fighting over the date of release of an e-book versus a p-book or about digital rights management (DRM), publishers need to be forming alliances and figuring out how to take advantage of the latest technology.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Update to This Morning's Post

I speculated this morning that there were only three authors remaining on the TLF speaking roster for January, 2011.

Publishers Weekly listed the names of those three YA speakers: Sharon Flake, Brian Meehl, and Todd Strasser.

Todd's blog says he plans to go ahead and attend. Sharon's blog doesn't address the issue, but her calendar of forthcoming events doesn't include the TLF date. Brian has a website, but no blog that I could find.

Attending or not attending is a tough decision. Although this will only be the TLF's fourth year, it has a very good reputation. Authors attend these events in order to attract new readers and grow their careers.

I feel enormous sympathy for everyone involved in this contretemps. No one is coming out of it on top.

A Humble Moment

Over the last few days the Internet has been abuzz with the news that Humble, Texas, a small town outside of Houston, had dis-invited a popular YA author from an upcoming Teen Lit Fest (TLF).


Because, according to author Ellen Hopkins on her blog here on August 10:
Apparently, a middle school librarian saw my name on the roster and decided my presence would somehow negatively affect her students ... Anyway, she went to a couple of parents with her concerns ... They went to the school board, and the superintendent, Guy Sconzo, decided to uninvite me ...

I hope if you live in or near Houston, you will choose not to attend the event. Censorship only wins if we let it. And wherever you live, I hope you’ll drop an e-mail to Mr. Sconzo, telling him why you think my books are important ... Keep a respectful tone ... But please make it clear ... that you don’t believe in censorship. Here is his email address: Guy.Sconzo@humble.k12.tx.us
Hopkins, a popular YA poet and novelist, writes contemporary fiction in verse that addresses tough subjects like drug abuse (Crank) and teen prostitution (Tricks).

Hopkins contacted the other authors scheduled to appear at the Teen Lit Fest. The first to respond publicly was Pete Hautman who wrote this on his blog for August 16 here:
When I was invited to be one of the featured authors at TLF 2011, and offered a generous honorarium to do so, I was thrilled.

Then I got that email from Ellen.

What is important is that a handful of people ... took it upon themselves to overrule the vast majority of teachers and librarians and students who had chosen one of the most popular YA authors in America to be their headliner.

That is a form of censorship as damaging and inexcusable as setting fire to a library ...

And so, as one of the other participating authors, I felt that the right thing to do was to withdraw from the festival, and so I did.
I encourage you to read Pete's entire post. It is honest and thoughtful and had me scribbling his name down so I can locate one of his YA books to read.

Melissa de la Cruz also withdrew from the TLF, saying here:
I was scheduled to be one of the other YA authors at the festival, and I was very honored to be invited. I was very much looking forward to attending the festival and meeting my readers and partaking in all the fun. So I’m really bummed that this happened. It only takes a couple of angry people to ruin it for everyone. I’m very sorry to everyone in Humble Texas and to the very nice librarian who invited me, but I can’t go now ...

I believe that as a writer, we have to stick up for each other, and against censorship, and against people who want to tell everyone else what to think, what to read, what to watch.
Melissa's post touched me because she spoke movingly of growing up in a country with a dictator. She talks of how excited she was to come to America and experience our freedom from censorship.

I believe--although I could be wrong--there were eight authors scheduled to attend TLF. Tara Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena have also withdrawn. That means that, instead of eight authors, TLF now has only three still scheduled to appear.

I went to the Humble Independent School District website here, looking for some promotional info on TLF. The only thing I could find was a calendar with a notation that TLF was scheduled for 8:00 AM on January 29, 2011 at AHS. It didn't take me long to translate that AHS into Atascocita High School.

I visited the AHS webpage and found a link to TLS' Blogger site. I clicked on it and got this message:
This blog is open to invited readers only


It doesn't look like you have been invited to read this blog. If you think this is a mistake, you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation.
How sad is this?

Authors who were "thrilled" to be attending TLF now have withdrawn. Kids who were looking forward to hearing ... and meeting ... their favorite authors will now be disappointed. And a school district has been forced to close its blog site to the public.

THAT's the real cost of a kneejerk reaction by an administrator whom I'm sure was trying to do the right thing for the children in his school district.

Now Mr. Sconzo and his district have a great teachable moment. They can admit to a hasty, poorly-thought-through response, apologize and re-invite all the authors involved. And I hope Ellen Hopkins can put aside her righteous anger and be gracious.

I've lived in Texas a long time. I KNOW how generous, sincere and caring Texans are. And I'm confident they will do the right thing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Flexible Pricing Model for Books?

There was an interesting little item in Publishers Weekly yesterday. It referred to an article in the UK's The Bookseller on Tuesday:
Le Bélial Editions, a French sci-fi specialist, is to launch an e-book platform on 1st September. The four-year-old independent will sell all its books at between nine and 11 euros, about half the price of the print versions, according to c.e.o. Olivier Girard, and will offer buyers the possibility of paying more out of solidarity with the author or publisher.
At present levels, one U.S. dollar equals .7763 euros so ten euros for the e-book would be $7.76 with the print version costing around $15.50.

The article goes on to say that, if the reader wanted to buy both the print and e-book versions, an additional two euros ($1.55) would be charged. There will be no digital rights management (DRM) or DRM fees. The reader can download the book again if needed.

As I thought about that article, I realized how customer-friendly this approach is, and how readily I would go along with a flexible pricing model.

I started to say I'm speaking here as a reader, not as an author, but realized that I might be able to live with this model as a writer, too. The article indicates the publisher pays a 30% royalty. If the royalty were in the 33% to 35% range, I could live with this model as a writer, too.

When I think about reading, authors fall into three categories for me: (1) unknown writers that I test-drive; (2) writers I've read before and would like to read again; and (3) authors I love and for whom I eagerly await the next book.

For unknown or debut writers, a $7.75 e-book would be perfect. That price point is close to what I pay now at a used book store. I generally go to used book stores when I'm looking for something new or different. Even if the book is awful, at that price, I don't mind taking the risk.

There are any number of authors who fall into my second tier. Usually they have two or three books under their belt and I'm eager to help support their careers. I'd be happy to pay $10 or $11 for a DRM-free e-book I could download to several devices (or loan to my best friend).

And--finally--for my favorite authors, in the short term, I'm still going to want both the e-book and the print books. I'd willingly pay $17 to have both an e-book and a trade paper version. I say "in the short term" because I can see a day when I'll walk away from physical copies of books. Probably not until e-readers are more flexible and user-friendly than they are now, but I can see that day coming.

I understand that publishers cannot count on the good will of readers and wouldn't mind if this flexible pricing were set in stone with book sales being the indicator of when the pricing changes. By that I mean, when an author reaches critical mass in terms of sales, the pricing changes.

I'm interested to know how other readers would feel about a flexible pricing model.

Go here to read the entire article in The Bookseller.

By the way, the publisher indicates that "Anglo-Saxon agents" charge too much so this model will only be available for French books. [grin]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Libel Tourism

I thought we'd start today's post with a clip from Nightline. This piece was first broadcast in September, 2006 and describes the practice called "libel tourism."

Of course, three months after this piece was broadcast, Britney Spears filed for divorce from Kevin Federline.

The L.A. Times defined libel tourism here as "the practice of bringing a defamation lawsuit against an author or publisher in a country with less robust protections of free speech than those afforded Americans by the 1st Amendment and Supreme Court decisions."

Boiled down to its essence, in the U.S., the burden of proof in a libel suit is on the plaintiff, who initiated the case against the defendant. The plaintiff must prove (1) that the so-called libel is not true and (2) if the defendant is a public figure, the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant acted with malicious intent in writing the so-called libel.

We often say, "The truth will set you free." If what you wrote is true, you are protected under U.S. law.

In the UK, everything is reversed. First, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Second, British law presumes the defendant is wrong and demands that the defendant prove that s/he is right.

As you saw in the video, the UK has become a popular place for plaintiffs to go in order to sue American writers and publications.

Probably the most most famous case of libel tourism is that of Rachel Ehrenfeld, an expert on terrorism and terrorism financing. According to the Boston Globe here, Dr. Ehrenfeld "pioneered investigation into the financial roots of terrorism, first in her 1990 book Narcoterrorism and, most recently, in Funding Evil -- How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It."

According to Publishers Weekly:
Libel tourism came to international prominence in 2005, when Saudi billionaire Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz sued New York-based author Rachel Ehrenfeld in a British Court over her book Funding Evil. Even though the book was not published in the U.K., 23 copies purchased via the Internet provided Mahfouz with enough grounds to sue Ehrenfeld in England ... Ehrenfeld refused to participate in the proceedings, was ordered to pay £10,000 and legal costs.
According to the New York Times here, Dr. Ehrenfeld was ordered "to pay £10,000 each to Mr. Mahfouz and his two sons, and more than £100,000 in legal costs."

Following that verdict, five U.S. states (New York, Illinois, California, Florida and Louisiana) passed laws to make it hard to enforce a foreign court's judgment against an American who was legitimately practicing his/her constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.

However, that still left 45 states where a foreign libel judgment might be pursued against an American citizen.

Last week, Yahoo reported:
President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed a law to shield US journalists, authors, and publishers from "libel tourists" who file suit in countries where they expect to get the most favorable ruling ...

The measure prevents US federal courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the first amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

And it bars foreign parties in such cases from targeting the US assets of an American author, journalist, or publisher as part of any damages.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Karp Reorganizes S&S

Two months ago, on June 14, Jonathan Karp took over the publishing reins at Simon & Schuster. I reported on the change here.

Karp left Twelve, his imprint at Hachette where he published about ten books a year, to take over an imprint that releases over 100 hardcovers annually.

The big question was how Karp, who had previously had a staff of four at Twelve, would manage S&S with its much larger staff and more complicated corporate structure.

Last Wednesday, Karp answered that question.

Publishers Lunch reported here:
... in early 2011 S&S will reorganize into "small teams of editors, publicists, and marketing specialists." Each team will comprise approximately two editors, two publicists and a marketing specialist. Karp writes that the teams "will propose, develop, and execute their own publicity and marketing plans, from the moment of acquisition through paperback publication, in consultation with associate publisher Aileen Boyle and me."
Publishers Weekly added here:
Victoria Meyer, executive director of publicity, will be leaving the company. Noting the changes ... Karp writes that “It became clear that we could not maintain the role of an executive director of publicity within this new structure.”
GalleyCat explained here that current "Director of publicity Tracey Guest will serve as the primary media contact for the imprint."

One of the most often-heard complaints of mid-list authors at the Big Six publishers is that the publicity department focuses most of its attention on those A-list authors at the top of the pecking order. This reorganization decentralizes both the publicists and the marketing specialists so that each book has its own team.

This new approach puts the editor who acquired (and hopefully loves) a book together with the people who will be promoting it. The team approach will also allow S&S to more directly tie a book's expenses to the revenue it generates. The P&L statement will be a team scorecard.

Back in June when Karp was named publisher, the Associated Press' Hillel Italie had quoted S&S's CEO Carolyn Reidy as saying: "Sometimes a change is just needed because the world has changed and a fresh approach might help reinvigorate an imprint ..."

S&S is in need of reinvigoration. In the first quarter of this year, its sales fell 6.2%.

I've been looking forward to the release of last book in The Hunger Games trilogy on 8/24. Back in March when I talked about the first two books in the series, I said:
The book's protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, lives ... in District 12, among the poorest of the dozen districts ... the Capitol holds an annual televised series of games to which each district must send one boy and one girl randomly selected by lot. The twenty-four "tributes" then fight to the death. The last tribute standing is declared the winner.
I'm marking my calendar for August, 2012. It will be interesting to see how many of the S&S teams are still standing two years after Karp's arrival.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Closed for the Weekend--Gone Guest Blogging

Tomorrow I'll be guest blogging over at Novel Spaces where two writers I like very much--Kaz Augustin and Liane Spicer--hang out.

Come visit me there.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Business Models in the Digital Age

My original plan for today was to do a post about the New York Times story on Wednesday titled "Quick Change in Strategy for a Bookseller." However, there was nothing new in the article so I'll let you read it on your own here.

Instead Teleread here pointed me to a more interesting item.

Mark A. Lemley, a professor of law at Stanford, has written a 15-page paper in draft form titled, "Is the Sky Falling on the Content Industries?"

In his abstract, Professor Lemley says:
This short essay traces the history of content owner claims that new technologies will destroy their business over the last two centuries. None have come to pass. It is likely the sky isn't falling this time either. I suggest some ways content may continue to thrive in the digital environment.
Lemley reviews the claims of various content providers (artists, musicians, writers, etc.) throughout history who complained that new technology would ruin their livelihoods, wipe out whole industries and destroy the culture.

He mentions John Philip Sousa's opposition to the player piano and the gramophone. I did a post on this last September here in which I said:
Not satisfied with his tirade against phonograph manufacturers, Sousa railed again the "cultural emptiness that mechanical music would create." He dramatically declared that human vocal cords "would be eliminated by a process of evolution."

Sousa's histrionic tirade seems quaint today. But his fears were very real to him in 1906. Although he succeeded in changing U.S. copyright law, he was unable to stop technological progress.

And I guess that sums up my thinking on the state of publishing today. I believe the following:

1) U.S. copyright law is antiquated and needs to be overhauled.

2) Writers and publishers need to stop trying to stop the new technology and figure out how to make it work for them ... while I acknowledge that the ground under the publishing world is shifting, instead of working on stopping the earth tremors, I'm focussed on learning how to locate the footholds and practicing how to hop nimbly from rock to rock.
Professor Lemley agreed with me. He said:
I think it is pretty clear that shutting down the technology doesn’t work. Whenever you succeed in shutting down a technology that people want, companies develop a different technology that responds to that market demand ... digital rights management fails because the controls are inconvenient and they get in the way.
He went on to say that new business models will evolve to provide a revenue stream for content providers in a digital age.

Among the advantages content providers seeking new business models have in the new digital age is "lowered production costs." Lemley points out that "... the digital revolution in the last decade has led to the largest-ever increase in the amount of content available in the world ... We get that new content because it is much easier and cheaper to make and distribute it."

Lemley reminds us that:
"Business models can also build on the experiential relationships that people have with content ... People want to be engaged with their content. They want to have connections with the musicians they like. They want to go to concerts and experience music live. They want to engage in an ongoing relationship, and there’s revenue there to be had by meeting that demand."
Professor Lemley goes on to say:
"Companies can also make money by providing convenience to users ... People who have substantial means often pay for things – even things that they could get for free."
Go here to read Professor Lemley's other suggestions.

I have one other idea for a business model which Professor Lemley did not touch upon. I mentioned it in that previous post which I quoted earlier in today's entry:
The developed world needs to move outside its own egocentric needs and recognize how the new technology can advantage those who are not as well off as we are. As I've previously stated, according to the World Bank's Poverty and Growth blog, the print-on-demand technology of the EBM [Espresso Book Machine] "offers the opportunity to deliver development knowledge and content to students, practitioners, media, and simply interested individuals in a way they could not be reached before." The prohibitive costs of printing, shipping and warehousing books for underdeveloped nations limits the amount of printed material that can be provided to poor areas of the globe.
Maybe it's the social worker in me, but I believe that developing a business around raising the educational/awareness levels of people in the poorest parts of the world would be a worthy enterprise that would probably attract significant donor dollars ... and offer a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Revisiting Dorchester

An article in yesterday's Publishers Weekly (PW) gave a moment's peek into things over at Dorchester.

PW quoted Leah Hultenschmidt, Dorchester's editorial director, indicating that the headlines last week "overplayed the digital aspect." Leah said, "It's true Dorchester is going digital, but only for the next six months."

My first thought on reading the article was that Dorchester--fearful of losing both their staff and their authors--might be downplaying the seriousness of their situation.

If that's the case, it would be a MAJOR mistake.

Right now, one of the publisher's main assets--along with quality staff and authors--is its reputation. The fact that the company has been unable to pay advances or royalties in a timely manner has already put that reputation on the line. On a go-forward basis, Dorchester executives need to be as above-board as possible in their interactions.

Sure, if they put their situation out on the table, they run the risk that their authors or staff will choose to leave. That's the price they may have to pay for the mistakes they've made. However, talking out of both sides of their faces will result in the very consequence they're trying to avoid.

Although she's too polite to say so, my good friend Kaz Augustin obviously thought I was being a Pollyanna in my previous post on Dorchester. See her post on Dorchester here.

Maybe she was right.

However, during the nine years I worked for the brokerage house Smith, Barney, I saw many companies caught flatfooted during sea changes in their industries. In almost every case, failure to accept the morphing landscape slowed the companies' ability to respond. Call it what you will: denial or corporate immobility. Failing to act has consequences.

But Dorchester isn't alone. We've been watching the Big Six playing out their own version of that same dynamic except that the larger publishers have been actively trying to control an industry they no longer own.

And you don't have to be a stockbroker to recognize the pattern. By now, everyone knows someone whose job was sliding into jeopardy--maybe in the dot com industry, in the automotive industry or in the financial industry. These employees worked hard to get to where they were and simply couldn't imagine a world in which they would have to start over. So, instead of thinking ahead, some of them continued living as they always had ... only to discover they were one crisis short of a disaster.

Money shortages invariably lead to a narrowed world view for both corporations and individuals. We become so focussed on dealing with today's disaster (car repairs, a sick kid, Wal-Mart cutting our shelf space) that we don't have time to think ahead ... much less think more broadly. At the very moment when we need to be pro-active, we slip into a reactive mode: "Let me just get through today. I'll worry about that other problem tomorrow."

I have no doubt that the selling of the frontlist/backlist of their top authors was Dorchester's attempt to be responsible and to make good on the payments they owed. But, no matter how embarrassing that process was, they should have told the authors involved ahead of time. By not doing so, they just scared people more.

I'm going to play both financial advisor and social worker for the rest of this post. Here's my advice to Dorchester:

  1. Starting immediately, no matter how hard or embarrassing it is, you MUST respond to your authors and staff with transparency. Don't sugarcoat the situation. That doesn't mean you become purveyors of doom and gloom. Everyone knows the publishing industry is in flux. On the bright side, as a small independent you can turn direction much faster than the large Titanic vessels of the Big Six. Enlist your staff and authors as partners in the changes you have to make. Don't let them learn what you're doing through press releases along with everyone else.

  2. Kaz was absolutely right in saying that your website is outdated. You need to find the best director of digital operations you can afford. Going digital isn't like bringing your lunch to work for six months in order to save money to go on vacation. It's more like changing both your diet and the way you approach food permanently.

  3. The good news is that both romance and sci-fi readers made the shift to e-books with relatively little fuss. I think this is because both groups are such prolific readers. You'll need to find ways to attract them to your website (and your books). I remember back in the spring of 2006, you had some fun initiatives here. And you've run other contests for writers, too.

  4. Are you working with the companies producing the top-selling e-readers? You should be.

  5. Look to your strengths. What do you do that no one else is doing? What do you know about your readers that can help you chart a new course? Although I read the entire Zane Grey collection as a teenager, I know nothing about the Western market today. What are your reader demographics? Are they older readers who are unlikely to buy e-books? Are they part of a foreign market that prefers a monthly book club? Each part of your business may require a separate solution unique to its readership and content.

Hindsight is 20/20. It's always easy to see where you went wrong afterward. But I continue to have a special affection for independents like Dorchester (and Kensington). I'll continue to send good thoughts to Dorchester and to pray that they can pull out of the current tailspin.

Again, best wishes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Day, Another Scammer

It's been a while since we've talked about literary scams and all the scammers out there waiting to prey on eager newbie writers.

Publishers Marketplace pointed me toward Friday's Indy Star here, which reported that the Indiana Attorney General's office is investigating a number of complaints against New Century Publishing of Indianapolis. At least seven writers trying to get books published have claimed to have been ripped off by New Century for between $1,500 and $10,000.

Turns out that New Century's publisher, David William Caswell, is an ex-convict who has served 14 months in prison on federal fraud and income tax evasion charges.

Nor is this Caswell's first run-in with the Indiana Attorney General. The State sued him in 1990 and again in 2005 over consumer complaints related to his employment service companies.

And if that wasn't enough, the article also says:
The Indianapolis Star reported in 1990 that Caswell had been posing in the 1980s as an attorney, when he isn't. And in an extended tape-recorded interview at that time, he acknowledged that he had been a bigamist -- married to two women at the same time for two years during the 1980s.
In a follow-up story here the following day, the Indy Star interviewed writers who had been scammed by Caswell and New Century.

Three years ago I did a pair of posts on how to spot a literary scam. Go here and here to read them.

The sad thing is that the red flags were out there. I googled New Century Publishing and immediately found where a writer had asked Yahoo Answers for help. A response here:
Red flag, a huge one, popped up when I read their website. They have a clear conflict of interest. While they insist they are not a self publisher or vanity press, because they offer all services of a traditional, mass market publisher, their authors are required to pay for their editorial and design services.

If that's not enough to convince you to avoid them (and it should be), I checked two of their featured titles and neither is sold at Amazon or Barnes & Noble's websites.
I then googled David William Caswell Indianapolis. I ignored anything dated in the last six weeks because of all the recent news coverage, but still found multiple red flags. On the first page of Google results, I had four indications of consumer complaints or legal filings related to ripoffs or fraud.

Back in junior high, I learned the phrase caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

Newbie writers are often so eager to see their books in print that they forget to remember that simple Latin phrase.

One of the first things I learned about publishing is that the money should flow TO the writer, not FROM the writer.

I'm sorry for all those writers who were scammed by Caswell and New Century Publishing. The publishing industry needs to publicize these kind of cases so that a new generation of writers won't get taken in.

A Clear Case of Racial Profiling

For the past three weeks, I've been fostering a dog looking for a home.

Frankie came to stay when his missionary family couldn't take him with them on their latest assignment. I agreed to provide a home until the end of August while his owners' church tries to find him a permanent home.

The friend who called to ask if Frankie could stay with me said he was a three-year-old bulldog, good with children and other pets.

I pictured a short dog with stubby legs, a pushed-in face and an English accent. Instead I got:

I'll admit it. My first reaction was pit bull.

While I was trying to formulate the words to dis-invite him, Frankie turned on the charm. He sat in front of me, wagging his rope of a tail and bumping my thigh with his massive head.

What sealed the deal though was his reaction to Bob-the-Cat. Bob immediately went into ninja mode, waving his claws in the air, dancing around and hissing like a demented serpent.

Frankie chose not to acknowledge Bob. Instead he focussed his red-rimmed eyes on me as though to say, "I've been raised to ignore bad manners."

Over the past seventeen days, Frankie and Bob have achieved detente. Frankie defers to Bob, allowing the cat first access to me and avoiding the temptation of fragrant Fancy Feast catfood. In return, Bob shares our huge backyard and permits Frankie to sleep on the floor next to our bed at night.

I've always had herding dogs--border collies and heelers. People seeing them instinctively reached out to the dogs. Frankie is a whole 'nuther story. He can clear an aisle in Petsmart in record time. Neighbors who have known me for years cross the street when they see us coming.

I've decided it's racial profiling. People assume he's a pit bull and respond accordingly.

The only exception are people who are actually familiar with bulldogs. Those folk invariably say, "Wow, what a handsome bulldog," and approach to pet him.

In almost three weeks, I've only heard Frankie growl once. We'd gone for a walk around midnight. My neighborhood is dark and heavily wooded. Without warning, Frankie began to growl. I stopped and looked to where he was staring. A man stood nearby watching us. I called out a greeting, but he didn't answer. He was standing near trashbags, and I realized he was probably carrying his garbage to the curb for next-day pick-up. I tugged at Frankie's leash. The dog came obediently, but continued looking over his shoulder and growling.

Until Frankie, I have to admit I thought of all dogs as having relatively similar personalities: eager to please, excitable and wanting attention. I could look at Lucy or Molly and know exactly what they were thinking: "I want to eat." "Let's go for a walk." "Throw the ball ... again!"

Frankie isn't like that at all. I have no idea what goes through his mind. He is polite but quiet, agreeable but slightly distant, friendly but not obsequious. He doesn't fetch or chase after frisbees. If I give him a treat, he'll take it, but doesn't wart me for more.

When I leave for work in the morning, he walks me to the gate, but doesn't try to force his way out past me. When I return in the evening, he's waiting at the gate. He remains no more than three inches from my knee when we go on our daily walks. At night, he hops up on my tall bed and lets me pet him for several minutes, but then takes his place on the floor beside me.

Frankie has forced me to do some self-examination. What is it I want in a dog? Certainly it's pleasant to put him in the backyard and not have to listen to him whining for thirty minutes afterward, wanting back inside the house. To be able to leave him in the car for two minutes with the windows open and not be afraid he will jump out. To return home in a business suit and not have to say "Down" to keep him from jumping up on me.

Frankie is a good companion, content to remain at my feet while I'm writing on my laptop or to sit beside me in the car as I run my errands.

But I have to admit ... I kind of miss all the jubilation when I return home, having to throw a ball until my arm is ready to fall off, and having a dog snuggle closer to my feet in bed.

I hope we can find Frankie a forever home. He deserves it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Dorchester Moving to a All-Digital Format

Dorchester Publishing has been around for nearly forty years. It is a well-respected independent publisher best known for its romance lines although it also publishes Westerns, horror, mysteries, and thrillers.

Its sister company Dorchester Media publishes the romance magazines (True Love, True Confessions, True Romance, etc.) that gave me my first writing paychecks many years ago.

According to Dorchester's website here:
Founded in 1971, Dorchester prides itself on being the oldest independent mass-market publisher in the U.S. Its efficient size affords the company the freedom and flexibility to adjust quickly to market changes, as well as take a chance on projects that don’t necessarily fit into neat categories within the various genres. For more than thirty-five years, its dedicated staff has worked tirelessly to discover and promote new talent.
For the last year, there have been rumors that Dorchester was having financial difficulties. Back in January, DearAuthor reported here that Dorchester had sold both the frontlist and backlist titles of some of their top authors to Avon, a division of HarperCollins. That author list included titles by Christine Feehan, Marjorie Liu, Nina Bangs and Lynsay Sands.

According to Marjorie Liu's blog here, she hadn't known anything about the sale until after it was completed.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for the investment firm Smith Barney. Back then, the prime directive was "never touch the principal." That precept's meaning is simple: Clients were encouraged to spend the interest on their investments, but warned never to whittle away on the main investment itself--the principal. When a client requested that we sell an investment to free up cash, it usually meant one of two things: either their income had suffered, or they were living beyond their means.

Dorchester's sale of its most valuable assets suggested two things: (1) They needed cash fast and (2) They were unable to produce that cash any other way (like through a bank loan).

Last month, right before their 2010 convention was scheduled to begin, RWA announced that, because Dorchester was unable to pay author royalties in a timely manner, the publishing house would not be permitted to participate in any editor appointments, workshops or spotlights (meetings in which the publisher describes its services and the type of manuscripts they are interested in acquiring) at the Convention.

Last Friday, Dorchester dropped the other shoe. They announced that effective today they are moving away from a mass market paperback format to a totally digital format with selective print-on-demand.

Publishers Weekly reported here:
Dorchester will continue to do print copies for its book club business and has signed a deal with Ingram Publisher Service for IPS to do print-on-demand copies for selected titles. According to [Dorchester president John] Prebich, some e-books that are doing well in the digital marketplace will be released as trade paperbacks with IPS fulfilling orders; the company, however, will not do any more mass market paperbacks for retail distribution.
The Wall Street Journal reported here:

Dorchester Publishing Inc., a closely held book and magazine house, said it is making the switch after its book unit sales fell 25% last year, in part because of declining orders from some of its key retail accounts, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart declined comment.

Teleread reported here:
Prebich conceded that Dorchester will have lower revenues, but he expects margins to improve. He said the company is working out a new royalty rate with authors that he expects to announce next week. Editors are talking to authors now about the changes. “We hope they’ll stay,” Prebich said.
This sounds like a wise and timely move for Dorchester. The decision will dramatically cut both their exposure to loss and their expenses during a very uncertain time in the industry.

As an privately held company, Dorchester has more freedom to make needed changes rapidly.

Dorchester also has a lot of years of publishing experience and some of the best-respected editorial staff in the industry. Just think of all the authors who got their starts at Dorchester. I once submitted a partial to Chris Keeslar (which he savaged) and would be happy to do so again. I've also talked to a number of authors who have raved about Leah Hultenschmidt as an editor.

During the years I was in graduate school, I worked on Dallas County's Mobile Crisis team. A friend gave me a sign for my desk. It consisted of the Chinese word wēijī, which he told me stood for both "crisis" and "opportunity."

A Chinese visitor to my office later told me that the characters have multiple other meanings besides "opportunity."

Nothing in life is simple. That sign still hangs over my desk today. I find it helpful to remember that every crisis in life holds some danger as well as great potential for positive outcomes.

Best wishes, Dorchester.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Zenyatta Goes 18 for 18

Zenyatta won her 18th race this afternoon in California, continuing her unbeaten streak.

To understand how important Zenyatta is to horse racing, let's compare her to the greatest thoroughbreds in the sport.

In 1999, The Blood-Horse magazine commissioned a panel of seven horse-racing experts to compile a list of the 100 best thoroughbred racehorses of the 20th century.

The top ten horses on that list include names even people unfamiliar with the racing world would recognize.

Only eleven horses in history have won all three of the U.S. Triple Crown events (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes). Four of the top ten horses of the 20th century were Triple Crown winners: #9 Seattle Slew (1977); #5 Count Fleet (1942); #3 Citation (1948); and #2 Secretariat (1973).

Secretariat actually set new race records for two legs in the Triple Crown--the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Nearly forty years later, those records have not yet been broken.

Even so, Secretariat still came in #2 on the list after the most famous racehorse in history: Man O' War.

Man O' War never won the Triple Crown because he wasn't entered in the Kentucky Derby. Like Zenyatta's owner, Man O' War's owner believed the Derby was too early in the year for a large three-year-old horse. Man O' War was 16.2 hands (compared to Zenyatta's 17.5 hands).

Man O' War did, however, win the other two legs of the Crown. In his lifetime the horse won 20 of 21 races. The #2 horse on the list, Secretariat (also 16.2 hands) won 16 of his 21 races. Both horses retired at three years old.

Zenyatta has now won 18 of 18 races and, unlike either Man O'War or Secretariat, is unbeaten. She is also six years old.

Here's today's race:

In reviewing the races left to run this year, it's probable Zenyatta will be entered into the Zenyatta Stakes, formerly known as Lady's Secret Stakes, but which has now been renamed. That race usually runs toward the end of September in Santa Anita, California. Zenyatta has won that race for the last two years.

After that, the two championships in thoroughbred racing--The Breeders' Cup Classic and its sister race, the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic--are both run in early November. This year, they will be held at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. It's likely Zenyatta would be entered into the November 6th Breeders' Cup Classic for a second time.

If she wins both the Zenyatta Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic, she would tie Man O' War's twenty wins and would still be the horse with the longest unbeaten streak in thoroughbred history. Not a bad note on which to retire.

Oh, and by the way, it would make her only the second horse in history to win the Breeders' Cup Classic twice AND the only horse in history to win both the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

Watch her spectacular previous wins here and here on my blog.

And stay tuned ...

Late Breaking News on Zenyatta

The North County Times posted an article online this afternoon, saying that as of 3:15 PM PST on Saturday, Zenyatta was still scheduled to run in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes.

The trainer has until 5:05 PM Pacific Time today to pull the mare from the race, but "[d]espite concerns over a 'separation' issue with Del Mar's Polytrack ... the undefeated mare Zenyatta would run in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes."

The report said:
Three horses have been euthanized in the first 13 days of the meet as a result of injuries on the Polytrack. Two came as a result of racing and a third, Friday morning, came as a result of a training accident. A fourth horse had to be euthanized due to an injury on the turf course.
The trainer discussed the "clumpy" track with a track executive who assured him it would be fixed."

Zenyatta To Try For 18th Win Today

Two weeks ago today here, I talked about the fabulous mare Zenyatta, who remains unbeaten after 17 races.

I've been watching the news to see whether Zenyatta would race today in the 2010 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes in California. Her owners waited until Wednesday to announce she would participate.

This morning's Lexington Herald-Leader reported:
On Saturday, five challengers will line up to try to put an end to Zenyatta's 17-race win streak in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar ... trainer John Shirreffs wouldn't commit to running the 6-year-old ... until he was satisfied with how she ran over the track's Polytrack surface.
I thought I would revisit the mare in order to share her playful side with readers.

She is known for her "dance." Here's a sample of what I'm talking about. This is the pre-race color to the 2009 Breeders' Cup. At 1 1/4 miles, it was the longest race Zenyatta had ever run and pitted her against an all-male field:

As you saw on my earlier blog, Zenyatta made history by winning that race last year, the first mare to ever do so.

She is likely to run in the Breeders' Cup again this November.

And--just to whet your anticipation for today's race, here is Zenyatta's heart-stopping last race in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, California on June 13. Zenyatta was 12 lengths behind in the backstretch:

Today's race will be run at approximately 6:15 PM Pacific Time.

You go, girl!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I was enjoying a bout of self-indulgence. Yesterday evening I finished the The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second book in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

When I got through the cliff-hanging ending at 9:40 last night, I jumped into my car, raced to B&N, (arriving just five minutes before they closed) and bought the hardcover of the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest just so I could see what happened next.

If you read my review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo here, you probably figured out that I wasn't crazy about the novel. I described it as two books in one: half locked-room mystery and half financial crime novel. I found the financial crime story to be pretty derivative and the plotting and pacing of the entire novel wildly uneven. In my view, the nominal protagonist Mikael Blomkvist was a place-holder rather than a fully-fleshed-out character.

What kept my interest were the two things at which Larsson excelled: the vivid, atmospheric descriptions of a cold, dark and lonely Sweden and the terrific character of Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo.

I feel very differently about the second book in the series.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is also two books in one. On one hand, it is a suspenseful thriller while on the other, it's a police procedural. However, IMHO, Larsson matured enormously as a writer from the first to the second book. While a bit pokey in the police procedural sections, Fire is nowhere near as deadly in pace as the financial crime sections of Dragon Tattoo. And the thriller part of Fire is terrific. I didn't want to put the book down.

In Dragon Tattoo, the mystery was like a chewy nougat, sandwiched between the two halves of the plodding financial crime. In Fire, Larsson is far more skillful, weaving the police procedural in and out of the thriller.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is set two years after the events in Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth has been traveling around the world, going wherever the urge takes her.

Blomkvist has been focussed on his magazine Millennium, which has prospered over the past two years. He and his partner Berger have struck a deal with another journalist who has been writing an expose on the sex trade in Sweden. As Bloomkvist did with the Wennerström scandal of Dragon Tatto, the plan is to first issue a magazine article that exposes the shady dealings of the powerful people (including politicians, judges and cops) who are exploiting teenage girls and then follow up by publishing a book that goes into even more detail.

Before the article or the book can be published, the young journalist behind the story and his researcher girlfriend are murdered, execution-style. On the same night, Lisbeth's guardian, who horrendously abused her in the first book, is also murdered with the same gun. The weapon--with Lisbeth's fingerprints all over it--had been left at the scene of the double homicide, making her the prime suspect.

One of my few quibbles with the book is its heavy reliance on coincidence. Lisbeth had been in the young couple's apartment shortly before the murders, and Blomkvist is the one who finds the bodies. That was a little too neat for me. However, I forgave Larsson because of the great ride the thriller took me on.

While the police initiate a nationwide manhunt for the "Lesbian Satanist" madwoman Lisbeth Salander, Salander herself is searching for the one man from her past with whom she still has unsettled business.

The novel goes into detail about Salander's past life, explaining much of who she is and why. And although she seems very alone, the few friends she has are marshalling their efforts to help her.

The two villains of the novel are satisfyingly evil. The mysterious Zala, whom Salander is pursuing, is a Russian spy turned Swedish criminal. And Ronald Niedermann, Zala's enforcer, seems to be a combination of two of my favorite James Bond villains: Red Grant, the blond giant in From Russia with Love, and Oddjob from Goldfinger.

But even those villains could not overshadow Salander. A friend of mine just read Dragon Tattoo for her book club. She said to me that Lisbeth Salander pushed protagonist Mikael Blomkvist out of the way just like Hannibal Lecter shoved Will Graham off center stage in Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs. I thought that was a terrific insight. I don't know what the authors' intentions were in either case, but I do know they created fabulously vivid characters that could not be kept in the background.

Where Salander was a secondary character to Blomkvist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the two exchange places in Fire. The second book belongs completely to Lisbeth.

And when I realized where the title The Girl Who Played With Fire came from, I forgot how to breathe for several long seconds.

I went on line to Amazon to look at the reviews for both books. Seventy percent of the reviews for Dragon Tattoo were either four- or five-stars. Eighty percent of the reviews for Fire were four- or five-stars.

I am now reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Connecticut AG Looking Into e-Book Pricing

Back on June 2, I reported here that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office was looking into the possibility that the large publishers were stepping across a legal line when it came to e-book pricing.

On the same day I did that post, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg did an article in the Wall Street Journal here. He said:
State antitrust authorities tend to be overshadowed by their federal counterparts. But some states have been particularly aggressive in enforcing antitrust laws—including Connecticut, New York and Texas.
Well, yesterday, the Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a press release here, announcing he was investigating agreements between the publishers, and Apple and Amazon:
Both Amazon and Apple have reached agreements with the largest e-book publishers that ensure both will receive the best prices for e-books over any competitors -- contract provisions known as “most favored nation” (MFN) clauses.

These agreements appear to deter certain publishers from offering discounts to Amazon and Apple’s competitors -- because they must offer the same to Amazon and Apple. This restriction blocks cheaper and competitive prices for consumers.
AG Blumenthal has sent letters to both Apple and Amazon. Here is the letter to Apple, asking the company to schedule a meeting with his office to discuss their agreements with five of the Big Six publishers (only Random House--the biggest of the Big Six--has not entered into an agency model contract).

In late May, the New York Times reported here that the Justice Department was looking into Apple's involvement in the digital music industry:
... people briefed on the inquiries also said investigators had asked in particular about recent allegations that Apple used its dominant market position to persuade music labels to refuse to give the online retailer Amazon.com exclusive access to music about to be released.
Time will tell whether the Justice Department expands the federal investigation to include e-books.