Friday, July 30, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I'm late to the mania surrounding Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. I've resisted reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (TGWTDT) for three reasons: (1) I'm generally not thrilled with novels translated from the original language. In this case, well-respected translator Steven T. Murray asked that his name be removed from the book because he was unhappy with the way the publisher had mucked with his translation; (2) I looked at the family tree in the front of the book and winced at the long list of five generations of suspects; and (3) The freaking paperback is 644 pages long.

Never let it be said that I'm ashamed to admit I'm shallow.

Last Wednesday Diane Rehm hosted an hour-long book review of TGWTDT. I was sufficiently intrigued that I bought the novel and finished it over four evenings.

TGWTDT is really two books in one. The central story is the mystery of a 16-year-old girl named Harriet who went missing in 1966. Her great-uncle, Henrik Vanger, is a famed Swedish industrialist obsessed with uncovering the answer to what he believes was her murder.

For several years before her disappearance, Harriet had given Henrik framed dried flowers for his birthday. During the nearly forty years since she vanished, someone has been sending him framed dried flowers for his birthday in anonymous packages. Henrik believes the murderer is mocking him and, furthermore, is convinced the culprit must be a member of his vast extended family.

Now 82, Henrik decides to hire a disgraced journalist named Mikael Blomkvist to review the evidence compiled in the cold case to see if fresh eyes can uncover some new clue that will lead to an answer.

The character of Blomkvist links the mystery part of the novel to the second part of the novel, which is essentially a financial crime story. Blomkvist is the co-founder and co-owner of an investigative magazine called Millennium. As the novel begins, Blomkvist has been found guilty of libel for a story he published accusing a wealthy financier of corporate malfeasance. He is facing a stiff fine and a few months in prison, but those pale beside the loss of credibility for his magazine and for him personally. He has been forced to step down from daily management of Millennium.

Henrik convinces Blomkvist to accept a year-long assignment to investigate Harriet's murder with two lures: (1) the promise of more than $350,000 for the year and (2) proof positive that Wennerström, the wealthy financier who sued Blomkvist, really is a crook.

Although Blomkvist is nominally the protagonist, the soul of TGWTDT is Lisbeth Salander, she of the title. Here is the description of Lisbeth, which doesn't come until Page 41:
... a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle ... She was a natural redhead, but she dyed her hair raven black. She looked as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers ... She had simply been born thin, with slender bones that made her look girlish and fine-limbed with small hands, narrow wrists, and childlike breasts. She was twenty-four, but she sometimes looked fourteen.
Salander is a crack researcher and a superb computer hacker with a photographic memory. She is asocial, antisocial and utterly ruthless. She is judge, jury and executioner, willing to do whatever it takes to redress a wrong. Larsson made me care about her. I found myself cheering for Lisbeth and feeling her pain. She's a terrific character.

Blomkvist enlists Salander's help, first in solving Harriet's disappearance and later in addressing the financial crime. The pair are as unlikely a crime-solving duo as you are apt to find in the world of fiction.

Blomkvist is obviously the author's alter ego, but the description of him is barely adequate. He's over forty, friendly and sympathetic and every woman he meets wants to bed him. While I understand Larsson's male fantasy, I found it extremely improbable. I also found it ironic that this man who is an absolute magnet for women pays hardly any attention to his own teenage daughter--he actually goes the six months from Christmas to mid-June without seeming to think of her once. She is forced to show up on his doorstep to remind him of her existence. And even then he doesn't immediately recognize her!

The reader is given very little insight into what makes Blomkvist tick. He moves the story along and helps Larsson expound on his themes:
  • The corrupt Swedish power structure
  • Pervasive violence against women in Sweden
  • The incompetency of most investigative journalists
  • His hatred for the right-wing extremist groups in Sweden

The structure of the novel is similar to that of a sandwich. The financial crime story is the bread surrounding the mystery of Harriet's disappearance. The mystery whizzes along; the financial crime story plods endlessly.

Larsson obviously loved the mystery genre. He gives homage both directly and indirectly to the best writers of the genre. TGWTDT is a variant on the locked room mystery. Nearly the entire Vanger clan was on a small island in northern Sweden when an accident on the bridge to the island cut them off from the mainland. Therefore, the culprit was trapped along with the family during the period of Harriet's disappearance. The people-trapped-on-an-island trope is a reminder of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, the seventh most printed book of all time, which to date has sold 100 million copies.

Salander's character reminded me of Kathy Mallory, Carol O'Connell's wonderfully antisocial heroine. She also reminds me of Andrew Vachss' Burke. Vachss once said:

If you look at Burke closely, you'll see the prototypical abused child: hypervigilant, distrustful. He's so committed to his family of choice — not his DNA-biological family, which tortured him, or the state which raised him, but the family that he chose — that homicide is a natural consequence of injuring any of that family ... he shares the same religion I do, which is revenge.
Vachss could have been describing Salander.

Larsson died at age 50 before TGWTDT was published. According to Diane Rehm, he had just turned the three manuscripts over to his publisher. When he returned to his office, the elevator was out. He ran up seven flights of stairs and died of a massive heart attack.

I plan to read The Girl Who Played With Fire, Larsson's second novel in the Millennium trilogy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pretenses and Hypocrisy

I thought of Big Daddy Pollitt several times this week.

Big Daddy is the Southern family patriarch in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. All his loved ones are gathered at the family plantation to celebrate his 65th birthday, and they've decided not to tell him he's dying of cancer ... while they fight with each other for control of his estate.

Burl Ives as Big Daddy walks into the room where his son Gooper and daughter-in-law Mae are trying to persuade Big Mama to sign a legal document giving them control of the plantation. When the couple deny that they're doing anything, Big Daddy growls, "There ain't nuthin' more powerful than the smell of mendacity!"

I've gotta say I agree with Big Daddy. Rewriting the truth to suit one's purposes stinks.

What am I talking about? All the righteous anger the Big Six and the American Booksellers Association are mustering over Odyssey Editions' exclusive deal with Amazon.

Let's recap, shall we? It started a week ago today when John Sargent, Macmillan's CEO, said here:
I am appalled, however, that Andrew [Wylie] has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer. A basic tenet of publishing is that our function is to reach as many readers as we can. We disseminate our books and the ideas within them as broadly as possible.
This is, of course, the same John Sargent who--along with HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette--announced in December a willingness to delay the release of e-books to advantage the print editions.

The New York Times specifically mentioned Mr. Sargent here on December 9, 2009:
John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, owner of imprints like Farrar, Straus and Giroux and St. Martin’s Press, said the company has already delayed e-book publication on several novels, including those by Janet Evanovich and “The Gathering Storm,” the 12th volume in the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Mr Sargent said the company was likely to delay other titles in the future.
Where was his concern about "reaching as many readers as we can" then when four of the Big Six were talking about delaying e-book releases for periods ranging up to six months?

Yesterday, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) got into the act. ABA CEO Oren Teicher said in an article here:
... from the perspective of independent booksellers one important reality is unchanged: Diminishing the availability of titles and narrowing the options for readers can only harm our society in the long run.
Even UK booksellers joined the parade. The Bookseller reported here on a quote by a spokesman for Waterstone's, a UK and European book chain:
This move has already been criticised by Waterstone's, with head of e-commerce David Kohn saying it was "very disappointing to see that some of our best writers' work is to be only available in such a limited fashion. It does not help build the market, nor does it serve readers well."
First of all, it's true that the e-books in question will only be available on the Amazon Kindle. However, the print books will still be widely available--in hardcover, in trade paper and in paperback.

Second, back in June, 2007, Borders released its first "exclusive and proprietary" title, Slip and Fall by Nick Santora. Back then, Borders Group CEO George Jones had plans to do additional proprietary books, believing that if readers could only locate these books at Borders, it would drive traffic to the company.

I don't recall hearing anyone raise an alarm about the limited availability of this or other planned "exclusive" releases.

The Good Lord knows I've had my problems with Amazon. I've thrown a lot of rocks at them from this blog. In fact, the reason I offered props to the Authors Guild this week was because they so neatly summed up my feelings about Amazon when they said:
Regardless of the exclusivity issues, any direct agreement between a literary agency and Amazon is troubling. Amazon has, time and again, wielded its clout in the industry ruthlessly, with little apparent regard for its relationships with authors or publishers or, for that matter, antitrust rules.
But the truth remains. The publishing industry ignored the changing technological landscape for too long. Now that reality has caught up with them, publishers and booksellers are trying to wrap themselves in a cloak of sanctity--motivated to protest by their desire to protect readers.


I don't like Amazon, but I don't buy the crap the industry is shoveling this week. The Odyssey Editions deal is a plus for authors ... as long as they don't ever forget that the friendly Amazon of today can as easily turn back into the bully Amazon we've seen throwing its weight around before.

"My, Grandma, what big teeth you have."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Evanovich To Go With Random House

Last Monday, I mentioned the gossip that St. Martin's Press (a division of Macmillan) had reportedly turned down Janet Evanovich's demand for $50 million for her next four books.

Deadline New York reported here that Evanovich's son Peter, acting as her agent, "is expected to shop the deal to other publishers shortly."

Publishers Marketplace added that "Of the Big Six, only Penguin and Random House have no prior business relationship with her."

Yesterday's Publishing Weekly announced:
Evanovich now has a new publisher, having signed a four book deal with Random House's Ballantine Bantam Dell division.
The Random House press release said:
The publisher acquired worldwide hardcover, paperback, audio, and e-book publication rights for four new Evanovich novels from Peter Evanovich, the author's agent and son. Terms were not disclosed ... Two of the books will be Stephanie Plum novels, and the other two will be in the author's newer "Unmentionable" series. The first will be published simultaneously as a Bantam hardcover and e-book edition in Summer 2011.
I'll confess to a soft spot for Janet Evanovich. I've heard her speak several times over the last six years, but the first time in the spring of 2004 provided needed inspiration to me as a newbie writer. You can read my post on that night here.

When I left that talk at Texas Christian University, I picked up a copy of Evanovich's Hard Eight, the first book of hers I read. I can still remember sitting in my backyard reading that novel and laughing out loud. My next-door neighbor called over the fence to find out what was making me laugh so hard.

I just checked the Amazon reviews for Hard Eight. Sixty-three percent of the 379 reviews were either four- or five-star reviews. That's pretty impressive for the eighth in a series. And that was nothing compared to the 80% four- and five-star ratings on To The Nines, the next in the series, published in 2004.

Here's wishing Janet the best of luck with her new publisher.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The AG Puts Numbers to Odyssey's Model

Yesterday the Authors Guild (AG) issued an announcement here on the Advocacy section of their website with respect to the newly launched Odyssey Editions.

The AG didn't pull any punches:
To a large extent, publishers have brought this on themselves. This storm has long been gathering. Literary agencies have refused to sign e-rights deals for countless backlist books with traditional publishers ... Knowledgeable authors and agents ... are well aware that e-book royalty rates of 25% of net proceeds are exceedingly low ...

You go, Authors Guild!

The AG also voiced the same concerns I have expressed multiple times on this blog when they said: "Amazon has, time and again, wielded its clout in the industry ruthlessly, with little apparent regard for its relationships with authors or publishers or, for that matter, antitrust rules ..." The AG directs authors to this site here where they summarize Amazon's troublesome history.

The Authors Guild runs the numbers, using the agency model established by the Big Six and using the $9.99 price point for e-books that Amazon prefers. I'm going to expand on their explanation here:

First, if we use the Big Six's present system, Amazon gets 30% of the $9.99 price or $3.00. The Big Six publisher and the author share the 70% or $6.99. Using the Big Six's 25% royalty model, the publisher keeps $5.24 while giving the author $1.75. The author still must pay 15% to his/her agent or $.26 per copy, leaving the author a net total of $1.49 per e-book sold.

Next, let's see what happens when Odyssey replaces the Big Six in the equation. If we keep the price constant, Amazon still gets their 30% or $3.00. Odyssey and the author take the 70% share ($6.99). If we assume that Odyssey does not exploit its new position as a publisher and sticks to its 15% share as agent, the company would receive $1.05 while the author would pocket $5.94.

To summarize:

  • Amazon gets $3.00 in either scenario
  • The Big Six gets $5.24 in the first scenario and nothing in the second
  • The author gets $1.49 in the first scenario and $5.94 in the second
  • The agent gets $.26 per copy in the first scenario and $1.05 in the second

Yeah, I'd say Random House has a reason to be concerned.

And props to the Author's Guild.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Post-Wylie Comments & Thoughts

More voices are being heard from since the explosive announcement on Thursday that Andrew Wylie had signed an exclusive two-year deal with Amazon to release twenty e-books from the backlist of authors his agency represents.

Random House responded to that announcement with one of their own:
The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this agency as our direct competitor ... Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.
You can understand Random House's frustration. They hold the print rights to some of the twenty books for which Wylie is now separately contracting the e-book rights.

The irony of this is that it was only seven months ago when Random House tried to grab e-book rights to their backlist. I dug up the December 11 letter from RH CEO Markus Dohle, which included this excerpt:
The vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the exclusive right to publish books in electronic formats, as well as more traditional physical formats ... Our older agreements often give the exclusive right to publish "in book form" or "in any and all editions" ... Accordingly, Random House considers contracts that grant the exclusive right to publish "in book format" or "in any and all editions" to include the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats.
Naturally agents and authors challenged this self-serving view of a format that had not even been invented at the time many contracts were signed.

The Financial Times reported yesterday:
An unexpected consequence of Mr Wylie’s actions seems to have been to induce other companies to reach deals quicker to avoid a prolonged war over rights and risk missing out on e-book sales.

“We feel much more comfortable in giving our valuable backlist to publishers at very good royalty rates, which we are now winning,” said Amanda [Binky] Urban, the literary agent at International Creative Management (ICM) ... Since the iPad’s debut, Ms Urban said her agency had secured e-book royalty rates of between 40 to 50 per cent from some of the big six major publishers, including Random House.
Read the entire Financial Times article here.

Today The Bookseller reported here on comments made by HarperCollins UK CEO Victoria Barnsley with respect to the three books on Wylie's list of twenty, which are print published by HC:
"HC will vigorously protect its rights and our authors' interests by ensuring their work gets to the broadest possible audience. The only winners in this are Amazon."
I'll be honest. I think a 25% e-book royalty is too low, but I also think that if a book is currently being published in both print and e-book versions, a 50% royalty may be too high at this point in time.

Please note I said AT THIS POINT IN TIME.

Publishing is being reinvented ... but it isn't there yet. On July 16, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) reported that e-books have captured 8.5% of the total trade market year-to-date. This is remarkable when you consider in 2009, that figure was only 3.31% of total trade sales, up dramatically from 2008's 1.19% for the entire year.

But as exciting as that 8.5% figure is, the number means that print (and audio) books still have more than 90% of the trade market.

Print books will continue to be available for the foreseeable future. What is still in question is whether the Big Six will wake up and start preparing for the future:

  1. Stop their policy of protectionism for their print books. Ditch the delay "window" that holds the e-book from release to give the print books more time to rack up sales.

  2. Stop their belly achin' about how it costs as much to produce an e-book as it does a print book and begin a serious review of costs.

    The inimitable Mike Shatzkin did a post on his blog yesterday afternoon here in which he talked about the problem of setting a royalty rate in this new publishing environment. He made his own recommendation to the Big Six:

  3. "Publishers should try to make standard the lowest royalty that they can apply in the marketplace without making enemies of their trading partners. It just isn’t realistic to offer a brand name with a choice of where to go 25% in this day and age. It’s just bullheaded."
Mike brings his common sense to the problem. He recommends a variant of a common practice these days in publishing contracts for rising star authors: build in an escalator so that the more books they sell, the higher their print royalties climb. For example, the first 100K books have a royalty of 7% while the second 100K books have a royalty of 8% and the third 100K have a royalty of 9%.

In the case of e-book royalties, he suggests setting one royalty rate for pre-payout [before the advance is paid back by royalties from sales] and another royalty rate for post-payout.

Do read Mike's post. It's well worth it.

The point here is that publishers need to develop a new playbook for operating in futureworld. They need to quit trying to maintain the status quo and move forward. They need to start trying to get closer to their end-users: their readers.

Remember Marketing 101: Give the customer what s/he wants.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wylie Shakes Up the Big Six

In a room filled with agents and publishers, if you speak of "The Jackal," no one will have any doubt to whom you are referring: Andrew Wylie, founder and CEO of The Wylie Agency.

Rumor has it the nickname was first given to the well-known literary agent by the Brits after Wylie "stole" author Martin Amis from fellow agent Pat Kavanagh who had represented Amis for 23 years. Wylie promised Amis a large advance, and he paid off, snagging $750,000 upfront for Amis' novel The Information.

Wylie shook the publishing industry on Thursday when he announced the launch of Odyssey Editions. Through an exclusive two-year deal with Amazon, Wylie's new company will release e-book versions of twenty books from the backlists of authors his agency represents, including Amis, John Updike, and Salman Rushdie.

Publishers Marketplace reported on Thursday that Random House and Penguin appear to be the Big Six publishers that will be the most impacted by the new Odyssey venture because of their representation of the print versions of Odyssey's proposed e-books.

Reaction from the Big Six was swift. John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, published a post on his company's blog here on Thursday. Among his comments:
I am appalled ... that Andrew has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer ... Independent booksellers across the country are making plans to launch their e-bookstores this Fall. Now they will not have these books available and Amazon will ... This move further empowers the dominant player in the market to the detriment of their competitors and creates an unbalanced retail marketplace.
The New York Times offered a statement from Random House:
"The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this agency as our direct competitor ... Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.”
Wylie's move should not have come as a surprise to anyone. During a recent interview given to Harvard Magazine here, Wylie talked about digital rights:
Wylie’s negotiations with publishers on the book industry’s version of the iPod, e-books, are currently on hold across the board. He’s dissatisfied with the terms publishers have been offering for e-book rights, which were not widely foreseen and are not allocated in most extant book contracts. In fact, Wylie threatens to monetize those unassigned rights by going outside the publishing business entirely: “We will take our 700 clients, see what rights are not allocated to publishers, and establish a company on their behalf to license those e-book rights directly to someone like Google,, or Apple. It would be another business, set up on parallel tracks to the frontlist book business.”
The UK's Guardian speculated today that: "This may be nothing but an Armageddon-style negotiating ploy" on the part of Wylie to get better terms.

But I don't think that's the case. As an agent, Wylie has always appreciated the value of an author's backlist. I found an interview he did three years ago on December 14, 2007 for here in which he said:
I'm in love with Amazon, I have a puppy crush on Amazon. . . . The business model of the [bookstore] chains is that those books that sell in the highest volume get the lion's share of presentation. The business model of Amazon is that all books are presented in one copy. So in the latter universe, quality over time is valued far more highly than in the chain model. I fell in love with it early ... Because on a per-book investment for most of the bestseller list, Amazon invests less in a bestseller than the [bookstore] chains do, and it invests more on the backlist than the chains do."
The Business Insider said here on Friday:
The dispute is partly about who owns the rights to publish the e-book versions of older books, whose contracts were negotiated before e-books existed.
I disagree. I suspect Wylie has thought about this move for a long time. I have no doubt he selected those twenty books very carefully and that Random House (or another publisher) is going to find it hard to claim the e-book rights for those twenty. Other titles on Wylie's backlist maybe, but not those twenty. That's the real reason why Random House went straight to the nuclear option. They have no other card to play in this game.

Remember how Evan Schnittman argued on his blog that the book should not be broken down into its constituent parts? Go here to read Evan saying "that successful and coherent publishing is not the sum of individual publishing rights, but rather the gestalt work presented coherently to a global audience. Viewing the ebook out of the context of the rest of the work gets us nowhere."

I didn't disagree with Evan then, and I don't disagree with him now. And, while deconstruction is precisely what Wylie is doing, I also think he's carefully selected his targets: zoning in on that grey area that presently exists in contracts for an author's backlist.

We've talked before about the publishing industry's focus on best-selling authors. When you think about it, both the Big Six and the bookchains are mostly interested in the newest and shiniest books--the latest output for which publishers pay those enormous advances. Of course, the backlist produces a nice, steady income, but publishers have become addicted to the high they get from seeing their books on the New York Times' bestseller list.

Wylie is taking advantage of publishers' astigmatism. The Big Six were so focussed on that point in the future that they didn't worry enough about digital rights in contracts for the older backlist books of their authors' oeuvre.

He's also delivering the wake-up call to the Big Six I predicted this past Monday when I said:
I may be wrong about the players, but I'm not wrong about this prediction: Sometime soon AmazonEncore is going to snag a New York Times best-selling author. And then, as we say in Texas, "Katy, bar the door."
It's no wonder Random House has responded so violently.

Stay tuned ...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forrester's Latest Report

I've mentioned Forrester Research here before. Forrester is a independent research company that provides advice on technology. According to its website, "Forrester focuses on the business implications of technology change," offering its customers "pragmatic and forward-thinking advice" on technology's impact on business and consumers.

Forrester prepares and sells reports on various technological subjects. For instance, right now they are offering a report titled "How eReaders Will Fare In A Tablet PC World" here for $499. That report's principal author is James McQuivey, a VP in Forrester's Consumer Product Strategy division.

The reports always have an abstract, summarizing the report's content. Here's an excerpt from the "How eReaders Will Fare" abstract:
...with just 3.7 million eReaders in the US market at the end of 2009, there is plenty of room for eReaders to grab the attention of the one-fifth of the US online population that reads at least two books per month. By 2015, we forecast that 29.4 million US consumers will own eReaders. We recommend that strategists ... [offer] devices that range from stripped-down $49 pocket readers to full-color touch readers that erase the gap between today's eReaders and tablet PCs.
This is in line with the quote I offered in my post of March 25 here from a Forrester survey:
... consumers find e-book readers much too expensive. Extrapolating from the 4,706 U.S. consumers questioned, Forrester found that almost 65 percent of U.S. adults online would consider a price of $98 or less too expensive for an e-book reader but would still purchase one.
James McQuivey also operates a blog for Forrester. Yesterday he talked about his new report:
... by the time we enter 2012, tablet PCs like the iPad will surpass eReaders. At that point, a healthy 15.5 million adults in the US will own an eReader ... By 2015, we see the eReader market starting to cap at just under 30 million US adults ... At that point, many bargain eReaders will cost just $49 and some of the best will cost only $99 -- a price point we believe some Amazon competitors may toy with as soon as this holiday season
Go here to read McQuivey's blog.

Last week there was a lot of talk about attracting the Holy Grail of readership: those readers who read more than two books a month. It turns out that this group is--no surprise--primarily composed of women. Some reports described them as "upscale" and "soccer moms."

While I probably fit the upscale label, I'm definitely not a soccer mom. But I do read more than two books a month. And I haven't purchased a dedicated e-reader yet. If I'm going to buy a device that ONLY permits me to read and store books, Forrester is right. I'm not going to spend more than $100.

If I'm going to spend more than that, I'll buy a device that permits me to write and go on line as well.

And I'm not in any rush. I've never been someone who burns to buy the latest new toy. I don't understand those folk who stand on line all night to buy the new iPhone, iPad, whatever ... I can wait for the prices to come down and the kinks to be worked out.

Sorry, Apple and Amazon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Conspiracy for Good

Tim Kring, the screenwriter and producer best known for creating the television series Heroes, has a new project, which got underway in London on Saturday.

Called Conspiracy for Good, it's an "augmented reality drama" sponsored by Nokia. According to UK's The Bookseller here, it's "game/storytelling hybrid." which:

blurs the lines between fiction and reality, and compels the audience to become a part of a story with real world outcomes. Participants will ... find the necessary tools and clues inside the story to move the narrative forward.
In other words, it's transmedia: storytelling across multiple forms of media such as video, text, blog posts and participatory games.

The setup is pretty simple. The villain of the piece is a fictional company called Blackwell Briggs. The heroes are part of an underground movement called The Conspiracy for Good (CFG). Here's the video which started the story rolling:

Audience members are invited to participate by attending events, the first of which took place in London on Saturday. Players register at sites like this one here on FaceBook.

The Literary Platform quoted Kring in June here, saying, "“I believe that storytelling has the power to create positive change in the world. Audiences today want to be more vested in stories.”

In order to help create "social and educational change," real-world charity events are part of the alternate reality. For example, take a look here at this International Book Drive, which asks CFG members to help by "collecting thousands of books to send to East African schools."

For its part, Nokia has this to say about CFG:

You can get involved by joining the cause at Conspiracy For Good ... From there, the path leads to other sites, videos on YouTube, Twitter channels, documents, onto your mobile device and out into the physical world. Alongside actors and celebrities, you join a cause to fight for social and environmental justice against a greedy mega corporation. You can solve mysteries online, play casual games on your phone and use applications to uncover more clues.

I mention all this because, of course, books could certainly become a part of this transmedia experiment.

The Bookseller points out:

  • Transmedia "could affect how readers expect to be told stories. For some the boundaries between books, games, websites etc will change or break down."

  • Transmedia "could be used to reinterpret or extend a book's world. Series of novels do this already, as do adaptations for film and TV."

  • "Books could be derived from popular transmedia projects, just as books are derived from successful films

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!

Shakespeare, The Tempest, (Act V, i)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Should You Self-Publish?

Tara, a reader of this blog, asked if now was the time for writers to consider self-publishing instead of going with a traditional publisher.

I dug out this post which was written on August 9, 2008 to answer her question:

Because this issue keeps coming up again and again on writers' loops and in emails, I've decided to provide my own version of a decision tree. Below are the questions I believe someone should ask a writer who is considering self-publishing:

1) “Are you a newbie or an established name with an audience?”

There is an urban legend out there that Robert James Waller self-published "The Bridges of Madison County."

He didn’t.

However, almost a decade later, Waller DID make a deal with a small Texas publisher (John M. Hardy) to essentially self-publish the sequel, "A Thousand Country Roads." Waller was able to do this because of the phenomenal success of “Bridges,” which had created a built-in audience for a sequel.

Even so, I find it telling that Waller returned to traditional publishing for subsequent releases.
Maya here in 2010, not 2008. I do believe that a New York Times best-selling author with a solid brand name might be better off today self-publishing an e-book on Amazon. No distribution issues to speak of and a bigger piece of the publishing pie. Amazon can even print hardcover editions and mail them out through their self-publishing arm.

2) “If you are a newbie, are you writing fiction or non-fiction?”

It is much easier to sell a non-fiction book than it is a fiction, especially if you have a legitimate platform.

When a reader goes looking for a non-fiction book, she usually has a very narrow frame of reference, which makes it easier to direct her (and other traffic) to your book. If someone can find your book by Googling the subject, you have a huge advantage.

As an example, Dr. Ken Blanchard had a training and consulting firm out in California in the late seventies. In the early eighties, he co-wrote and self-published a small non-fiction book titled "The One Minute Manager." The book immediately found a home with corporate America because it taught beginning managers three simple lessons.

When a New York publisher came calling, Blanchard opted to go traditional because the publishing house could market the book while he turned his attention to writing additional books in the series. However, he could as easily have continued self-publishing the book because he'd connected with his niche market.

3) “If you are writing fiction, do you have a niche market ready and willing to buy the book?”

This is where a lot of fiction writers get tripped up. When I ask, “Do you have a niche market?” I am not talking about genre readers—-i.e. “I write sci-fi and there is a huge market for sci-fi; therefore, I’ll self-publish.”

A genre market is a huge territory. It has lots of members, lots of well-known names and lots of websites. In order to harness the power of a genre, you must have an established name (see question #1 above).

A niche market, IMHO, is a much smaller venue where you will be readily recognized, welcomed and accepted. In other words, where you have credibility--either earned on your own or borrowed from someone who HAS earned credibility.

A perfect example of what I’m talking about is the recently published best-seller "The Shack." Author William P. Young wrote the small book as evidence of his Christian faith and to inspire his family and friends. He showed it to a well-known Christian writer who introduced him to a well-known pastor. The three decided to self-publish the thin volume after Young could not interest a major publishing house.

While Young had no credibility in the Christian market himself, his two partners did. They sent copies of "The Shack" to influential Christian friends, tapping into the niche market to which they were already connected. Word-of-mouth spread and book sales grew. People bought copies for their friends who, in turn, referred the book to their own friends. The book has been a phenomenal success, and the Hachette Book Group has now secured the rights.

4) If you do not have a niche audience ready for your fiction, do you have specialized marketing or publishing industry skills (and the money to invest heavily in your book)?

There are a number of examples that come to mind, but the most recent is "The Lace Reader." Brunonia Barry’s husband owned a software publishing company. He was willing to invest $50,000 in publishing/marketing her book. They started locally and built from there.

5) If you don’t have a niche audience, don’t have specialized marketing skills and don’t have publishing skill, what are your personal expectations? Do you want to just hold a book of yours in your hands, or do you want to see it on the shelves of libraries and bookstores?

If all you want is to have a book of yours to hold in your hands and to give to your family and friends as a memento, by all means self-publish. If you want to just break even or make a modest profit, by all means self-publish. However, if you want a commercially successful book, understand the odds are heavily against a self-published writer—-especially in a world of many more releases every year. Even if you write a great book, luck will be against you, simply because there are so many books competing for attention.

Add to that the terrible reputation that self-publishing has, and it is 95% certain you will not be able to place your books in bookstores or libraries. A few self-publishing operations now have deals with certain bookchains in which you, the author, pay for placement in bookstores for a short period of time. But that's not the same thing.

The self-publishing industry offers the names of successful writers who self-published, although they rarely offer the specifics of the stories to explain why writers like Waller, Blanchard, Young and Barry did succeed.

I hope this post will help writers decide whether to self-publish or not. Or at least to slow down before jumping into the deep end of the pool.
I've said this before on this blog, but it bears repeating. The traditional publishing company's end customer is the reader who pays for the book. Therefore, a great deal of time and effort are put into producing the best possible reading experience.

When a writer goes to a self-publishing press, that company's end customer is the writer who pays for the book. The self-publishing company is focused on producing a good-looking physical book. As long as you pay for the book, they don't care about the quality of the writing. They're trying to please you, not the reader.

That difference is crucial. It makes it tough for the self-publishing industry to police itself to keep the crap out of their books.

Until and unless the self-publishing presses begin to monitor for quality, their terrible reputation will continue to dog their industry.

I would not self-publish until both these problems: (1) Poor quality/poor reputation and (2) Marketing and distribution are solved--unless, of course, I was a best-selling author with a very established audience.

Warm regards,


The Tipping Point?

Yesterday Amazon issued a press release with some pretty interesting numbers.

Amazon says that sales of its Kindle e-reader have tripled since they lowered the price from $259 to $189.

In addition, the press release indicated e-book sales have surpassed hardcover sales on Amazon:
Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books. This is across's entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
Another really interesting statistic. Hachette reported two weeks ago that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. The Amazon press release took credit for selling 76% or 867,881 of those e-books.

Go here to read the press release.

UPDATE: Teleread had an interesting story by David Rothman here in which Paul Story pointed out something I missed. Jeff Bezos did NOT say sales of the Kindle device had tripled. What he said was "the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189."

The two are very different.

Only In Dallas

WFAA, ABC News' affiliate in Dallas, is agog this AM with news of two tigers seen roaming downtown Dallas.

Apparently a group of people ran into Union Station screaming there were tigers outside. A security guard looked outside and then called the police, confirming the sighting.

So far the Dallas Zoo has not responded to requests for a big cat headcount.

You may recall, the Dallas Zoo has had four escaped apes in the last eleven years.

I'd earlier heard that a film crew is due to start a shoot in downtown Dallas at 9 this morning.

Film crew versus tigers???

Update: The 7:30 AM news says it was two people who ran into Union Station and two security guards who confirmed the tiger sighting. The tigers are described as small--about fifty pounds each. That sounds more like someone's exotic pets than missing zoo tigers. I had wondered because the tigers would have had to cross a lot of concrete to get to Union Station from the Zoo while there are more woody areas in the other direction.

The Rest of the Story

In April, I did two posts on the case of Professor Orlando Figes, a professor of history at Birkbeck College, London.

One of Professor Figes' colleagues--Dr. Rachel Polonsky--accused him of writing savage and anonymous reviews of her work and the work of others on Amazon using the name Historian. She first suspected Figes when she noticed Historian's profile included the username "Orlando-Birkbeck." She also noted that Historian praised Figes' work while trashing other historians.

Dr. Polonsky went public with her charges and then went so far as to hire law firm Carter Ruck to establish the identity of Historian.

Professor Figes initially denied being the anonymous poster known as Historian. His attorney threatened to sue anyone defaming his client.

On April 16, the UK's The Guardian quoted a statement by Figes' attorney, Price:
"My client's wife wrote the reviews ... My client has only just found out about this, this evening. Both he and his wife are taking steps to make the position clear."
On April 23, The Guardian printed another story in which Figes took responsibility for being Historian:
[Figes] described a state of panic when he first saw the e-mail ... which made him instruct his lawyer "without thinking this through rationally.

"This escalated the situation," he said, "and brought more pressure on myself by prompting a legal response. My wife loyally tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried about my health. I owe her an unreserved apology."
Last Friday (July 16) The Guardian had a follow-up to the Figes affair:
One of Britain's leading historians, Orlando Figes, is to pay damages and costs to two rivals who launched a libel case after a row erupted over fake reviews posted on the Amazon website ... praising his own work and rubbishing that of his rivals ... As part of the agreed settlement Figes, who has been on sick leave since the scandal broke, has circulated an apology and retraction.
Read the latest story from The Guardian here.

Read my earlier posts here and here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Turn As Dear Abby

I promised to give the Big Six publishers some advice today.

None of what I'm about to say is new. Lots of people have offered variations on this theme. This is my cover on the tune.

I'm going to start with a familiar refrain. In his post on Friday, Evan Schnittman chastised the British authors who recently suggested that e-book royalties should be calculated at 50%. He asked,"What kind of message is this sending to publishers? Is there a new willingness to explore new models and new ways of doing business?"

My response to Mr. Schnittman is to suggest he review the kind of messages about e-books the Big Six publishers have been sending to authors:

  1. Last year, Jane Friedman--former executive vice president of Random House, former CEO of Harper Collins, and current CEO of Open Road Integrated Media--was asked what she thought was a fair price for an e-book. Her response was that the value of the e-book to the reader was the same as the value of the book in any other form. Therefore, she felt the appropriate price point was around $14, the price of the trade paper.

  2. In December, Simon & Schuster told the Wall Street Journal that, "Rather than making the e-book editions available on the same date as the hardcover editions, ... it will publish the e-books four months after the official hardcover publication date." In the same article, David Young, chief executive of the Hachette Book Group, reported that Hachette would "delay the e-book publication of the vast majority of its titles for three to four months. 'We're doing this to preserve our industry,' Mr. Young said."

  3. And, of course, we have five of the Big Six (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) going with the so-called "agency model" where the publisher decides the retail price of an e-book and pays distributors like Apple a commission for each sale.
From my side of the negotiating table, it sure looks like the Big Six are only interested in new publishing models if they preserve the old power structure where the publisher had all the clout. In politics, that policy is called protectionism.

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

Publishers' power was based on the fact that, in the past, they owned the sole means of production of books: those big, expensive printing presses. Authors were forced to go to publishers in order to see their work in print.

I actually find it ironic that the printing press--the invention that democratized reading--is being pushed aside by a new technology that will democratize publishing. Digital files plus print-on-demand technology (not to mention e-books) will end the hegemony of the Big Six publishers by making it possible for anyone to become a publisher.

At last we come to the advice portion of this post:

Big Six, you've painted yourselves into a corner. Okay, you were able to bully Apple into accepting your agency model, but only because publishing is a side business for them, not their core business. They were just trying to enhance sales of their iPad.

And, yes, Amazon was forced to go along with you in order to maintain its position as the largest e-book retailer in the U.S. while Apple and Google nip at their heels.

But if you think you've regained control of the situation, you're deluding yourself. Nothing remains static.

Last week, Bank of America/Merrill analyst Justin Post cut his rating on Amazon's stock from "buy" to "neutral." One of the reasons he gave here to Barron's for doing so was "Increasing competitive pressures in digital media which could continue to impact headcount."

Two months ago, Amazon issued a press release that said:

AmazonEncore, Amazon's publishing imprint, will release the newest book in bestselling author J.A. Konrath's Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series, "Shaken." The AmazonEncore Kindle edition of "Shaken" will be available in the Kindle Store ... in October, and the print version of the book will be available in February 2011.

That announcement provoked way more coverage than a mid-list mystery writer would usually expect. Even so, IMHO, Publishers Weekly was a lot more snarky than they needed to be. After some snide remarks about Konrath's sales numbers, they published a quote from agent Ira Silverberg who PW said "was more blunt about how uneventful Konrath's move was. 'Certain authors ... flip off the publishers who rejected them, claim new technology will support their career, and they get attention they never had before. Let's see if we remember who those authors are in a few years'."

As much as I like Joe and his gutsy self-promotional style, my attention was on Amazon. Look at how much press Konrath brought to AmazonEncore. Just imagine how much bigger the shock wave would be were he a New York Times best-selling author ... say like Janet Evanovich.

Last week, the publishing industry was agog with the news that St. Martin's Press (a division of Macmillan) had reportedly turned down Evanovich's demand for $50 million for her next four books. Last Wednesday, Deadline New York reported here that Evanovich's son Peter, acting as her agent, "is expected to shop the deal to other publishers shortly." Publishers Marketplace reported that "Of the Big Six, only Penguin and Random House have no prior business relationship with her."

Imagine how much attention AmazonEncore would get if they snagged a fish the size of Evanovich.

Maybe Evanovich doesn't go with AmazonEncore. Maybe she goes with the Mother of All Self-Publishers, Author Solutions. Or maybe she blinks and takes a lesser advance. Out of 242 reviews, her latest novel Sizzling Sixteen is only rated 2 1/2 stars by readers at Amazon.

I may be wrong about the players, but I'm not wrong about this prediction: Sometime soon AmazonEncore is going to snag a New York Times best-selling author. And then, as we say in Texas, "Katy, bar the door."

The bigger names in publishing will be able to make money self-publshing through AmazonEncore or Author Solutions because they already have a brand that readers will actively seek out.

The Big Six have been wanting to back off from big advances for a long time. Wouldn't it be ironic if the big name authors help them do so ... by leaving those publishers.

Big Six, instead of looking backward at the world that was, start looking forward to the world that will be. Evan Schnittman encouraged publishers and authors to work together for a "win-win" solution. I agree.

The path you are presently on will lead to failure. Stop and take a look around. You still offer value to authors. Your editing expertise and your knowledge of marketing and publicity are huge pluses. Capitalize on those assets. Quit trying to dominate, and start being a good partner. Otherwise, before long, your offices are going to be awfully lonely places.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Queen of the King of Sports

This morning on NPR I listened to an interview that started with the question of who is the best athlete in the world. Scott Simon posited that the racehorse Zenyatta should be given the title. After all, the mare remains undefeated in her sport and was the runner-up last year to tennis player Serena Williams in the voting for the Associated Press' Female Athlete of the Year.

To help support his argument, Simon brought Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, to Weekend Edition Saturday.

Zenyatta is a six-year-old mare owned by Jerry and Ann Moss. Jerry is the M in A&M Records, which he co-founded with Herb Alpert in 1962. Jerry and Ann have been married for 32 years, and they bought Zenyatta as a yearling for $60,000 in September, 2005. To date, she's won more than $6 million in purses, paying her owners back 100-fold.

Zenyatta is the winningest thoroughbred of all time. She remains undefeated after 17 starts. To put that into perspective, Laura pointed out that during the entire 20th century, only two American thoroughbreds went undefeated. Colin, a brown colt who died in 1932, was unbeaten after 15 races. Personal Ensign, a bay filly who died earlier this year, was unbeaten after 13 races.

Scott Simon asked why Zenyatta began racing so late. In thoroughbred racing, horses often begin to race at age two. The best then meet as three-year-olds during the Triple Crown. Zenyatta did not begin racing until the end of her third season.

Laura believes that her trainer wanted to give Zenyatta time to grow into her body. At 17 1/2 hands (5'9" at the withers), the mare is enormous. Laura described her as "possibly the biggest great horse in history." Here's a clip showing a comparison. One of the horses shown is Rachel Alexandra, who beat out Zenyatta for the 2009 Horse of the Year, but who dropped out of the Apple Blossom Handicap after the 2010 purse was raised to $5 million in order to entice both horses to run in order to see which mare was best.

Of course, Zenyatta's huge size gives her an enormous stride. Her jockey Mike Smith's favorite strategy is to hold her back in last place during races before turning her loose to bypass the entire field and win.

Here's a breathtaking clip of Zenyatta winning the 2008 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, the championship race for fillies in North American thoroughbred racing. Mike Smith held her back until they were ten lengths behind the leader. Mike is in turquoise and pink silks. Zenyatta has a purple saddle blanket and wears #1.

A year later, in 2009, after having won the distaff version of the Breeders' Cup, Zenyatta went on to become the only filly in history to win the Breeders' Cup against a field of colts. Winning that race also made her the only horse in history to win both the male and female Breeders' Cup races. That race was almost more fantastic than the Ladies' Classic win. Watch it here. Zenyatta is #4 with Mike dressed in turquoise silks on a yellow saddle blanket.

Zenyatta continues to race this year and continues unbeaten. Her last win was at the 2010 Vanity Handicap last month in Hollywood Park, California. That's the third year a row she's won that race.

She's scheduled to run in the 2010 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes on August 7 in Del Mar, California. She's won that race the last two years in a row.

Stay tuned . . .

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hey, Evan Schnittman!

Let me start by saying that I am second to none in my respect for Evan Schnittman.

If you're not familiar with the name, until very recently Schnittman was the vice president of global business development for Oxford University Press. Earlier this month, Publishers Marketplace reported that Schnittman was joining "Bloomsbury in [the] newly-created position of managing director, group sales and marketing, print and digital, starting August 2."

I've mentioned Schnittman on this blog several times. On March 22 here, I said: "I was enormously impressed by Evan Schnittman's grasp of the industry. I've added his press' blog to my list of blogs-to-read."

Schnittman also has a personal blog called BlackPlasticGlasses where he's been conspicuously absent for the last couple of months. Perhaps to celebrate his new position, he posted to that blog yesterday here.

His blog is in response to the recent comments made in Great Britain that authors should seek a 50/50 split on e-book royalties. See my blog on Wednesday here for that story.

Let me start by saying that I am not arguing for a 50/50 e-book royalty split. I am merely responding to Schittman's comments.

Schnittman believes that you can't separate the e-book from the "overall" book. He says: "Viewing the ebook out of the context of the rest of the work gets us nowhere."

While I don't disagree with that view, I think his post presents a remarkably publisher-centric view of the situation. It is THAT approach which I am commenting upon.

The first point he makes is that an e-book does not fall under the purview of subsidy rights in which new works are licensed. He points out that subsidy rights (which do get a 50/50 split) "enable the publisher to license the work to a third party for the purpose of that party creating a new work." Since an e-book is not a new work, by definition, it doesn't fall under subsidy rights.

Okay. But, let's face it. That argument applies to existing contracts where the e-book rights are already defined and determined. Who's to say that the current groundswell of dissatisfaction among authors might not result in a different future contract with some kind of exceptional treatment for the e-book?

I'm not recommending that course of action. I'm merely pointing out that you can't argue an e-book's definition in contracts that have not yet been written.

Schnittman goes on to say:
Is there a new willingness to explore new models and new ways of doing business? A new scheme that replaces high advances with high royalties? The answer is, of course, NO WAY! The advances on new books are as immutable as ever and one would be laughed out of contention for any book where such a trade-off is proposed.
This is where I really have a problem with Schnittman's post. He says that authors (or their representatives) are taking a "win at all cost negotiation" stance.

That's a lot of baloney. It completely ignores the reality of recent history. Writers have been asking about higher e-book royalties for several years. I know I questioned my agent about it in 2006 when I signed my first contract with a Big Six publisher.

The Big Six flatly refused to consider a higher e-book royalty. I actually believe they did everything they could to slow down the growth of the e-book market even while they built their digital warehouses. Remember that Big Six publisher who priced the e-book HIGHER than the price of the trade paper version? Remember the argument that they hardly saved any money at all when releasing e-books despite lack of printing, shipping and warehousing costs?

e-Book royalties climbed to the present 25% standard when publishers realized they had no choice, not because they were being reasonable and striving for a win-win with authors.

My final problem with Schnittman's post was his statement that the practice of separating the rights for the e-book from the rights for the print book creates problems:
The net result of this practice is that no one can create anywhere near a coherent marketing and publicity program for trade books as no one knows who owns what. Furthermore, it is impossible to align efforts, as competing publishers often own different portions of rights to the same work. It’s the authors who suffer in the end.
I'm sure that statement is true for Janet Evanovich or James Patterson, but the vast majority of authors are not getting a lot of marketing or publicity from their publishers. I'm not knocking the efforts of sales reps visiting bookstores; those guys ain't pushing e-books. I'm saying most authors get table models of their covers, bookmarks and books shipped to bookstores for the signings they've arranged for themselves--not a "coherent marketing and publicity program."

I have enormous respect for Evan Schnittman. I've learned a lot from his comments on panels or his quotes in the press. As I said earlier, I'm not arguing that royalties should climb to 50%. I'm certainly not arguing against publishers and authors getting together to develop a new model. I am, however, saying that the first part of understanding another person's viewpoint is to think outside the box of your own viewpoint.

On Monday, I'll try to return the favor ... with advice for publishers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Garage That Keeps On Giving

About a month ago, a co-worker and I left the university around 6:00 PM, headed toward our cars which were parked in the garage attached to our building. As we walked to the vehicles, I noticed a gala pot with a four-foot-tall Norfolk pine, still decorated for Christmas standing forlornly on the sidewalk. In the Texas heat, it looked pitiful.

My co-worker said, "Leave it. It's dead."

I said, "Maybe it isn't."

She said, "I promise you, it's dead."

We got into our cars and left.

I felt badly for the little pine which closely resembled Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

The next morning, the pine was still there and I picked it up, took it with me up the elevator and into the kitchen on my floor. I put the tree into the sink, filled the pot with water and left it in the sink to drain.

A few minutes later, my co-worker stuck her head into my office. "You took that tree, didn't you?"

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

She laughed. "I followed the trail of pine needles up the elevator, down the hall and into the kitchen. You are such a sucker."

That tree is now out on my patio at home. It's nearly dead, but there is still a tiny bit of green left so I'm leaving its fate up to God. I fertilized it and water it every morning.

A couple of weeks later, another co-worker hung a notice in the ladies room: "Free Kitten to Good Home." It got back to me that my friend had called her and said, "Leave the kitten in the garage one night. Maya will take it home with her."

I thought to myself: "Wiseacre."

Yet another co-worker of mine has been under siege this week. Her husband went from the Emergency Room to ICU and into surgery when he developed a lung infection. He's back in ICU now. On Tuesday, I called to ask her to dinner. We agreed to meet after work on the garage level where I park.

As we walked out to the car, she said, "Oh, look! There's a dog."

The dog was the sorriest sight I've seen in a while. Under all the mange and filth, he was probably a six-month-old yellow lab mix. I could see some Chow in his black tongue and some pit bull in the way his eyes were set in his head. Every rib was outlined on his starving body. He was licking at dust balls and leaves on the floor of the garage. One side of his body showed damage as though he might have been struck by a car, and his back legs wobbled. He was wearing a way-too-tight collar, which suggested he'd been on his own long enough to outgrow it.

Both of us called to him, but he wouldn't come. He was clearly conflicted, wanting to draw nearer, but fearful of us. On impulse, I walked toward my car, calling, "Come on, boy! Let's go for a ride." He ran to me and allowed me to pet his head.

I suggested to my friend that she wait with him while I went to get some water. I ran back upstairs, found a bowl and filled it. I checked the refrigerator. My stock of food included blueberries, raspberries, an apple, four plums and a large container of blackberries. The thing I thought the dog might like best was a large round of fresh mozzarella cheese I'd bought the previous day. I grabbed the cheese and returned downstairs.

When I say he inhaled $5 worth of cheese in one breath--believe me--I'm not kidding. When he was finished, I removed the collar. He wasn't happy about me messing with it, but he waited obediently until I got it off. He heaved an enormous sigh when his throat was free. My friend fed him a power bar, we wished him well and took my car to dinner.

Two hours later, on the way back to the garage, we stopped at a 7/11, where I bought an overpriced can of Alpo. When we got back to the university, I dropped my friend off and returned to the garage to see if the dog was still there. I parked in the middle of the enormous--and dimly lit--space and called out: "Hey, Toby. Are you still here?"

A head popped up from the center of a decorative grass-and-dirt accent area. When I walked toward the now-christened Toby, he came right to me. I popped open the can of dogfood, which he once more swallowed without chewing. I petted him and returned to my car. He followed, but stopped four feet from the car door. I said, "I'll be back tomorrow," and left.

It was nearly 9:30 by the time I got home after stopping at the supermarket for more cans of dogfood. I walked into the house to face an aggravated Bob the Cat, who'd been waiting for fourteen hours for my return. I dropped my nylon bag, fed him and headed to my bedroom to change.

When I returned to let him out the back door, Bob was standing next to my bag with the forgotten dog collar in his mouth. He looked for all the world like a cuckolded husband who had gone through his wife's handbag searching for proof of her infidity and found her panties.

Of course, I laughed, which made the situation worse. He dropped the collar and stalked past me to the front door.

It took me a minute to realize he didn't want to go out the back door for fear of meeting the owner of that collar. Bob knows my habit of taking in strays. I let him out and haven't seen him since.

The one thing that bothers me is the fear that the co-worker who made the crack about leaving the kitten in the garage will hear about the dog. If she finds out, she'll never let me live the story down. [Sigh]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

e-Book Royalties in the UK

On Monday, the UK's Guardian had an interesting article about e-book deals in Great Britain:
The chair of the Society of Authors, Tom Holland, has hit out at publishers' attempt to seize control over electronic rights, calling ebook deals that lock authors in for the duration of copyright "not remotely fair."
The RWA's alter ego in the UK is the Romantic Novelists' Association. Holland was speaking at their annual conference. He encouraged writers to seek e-book royalties that are "considerably higher" than the current 25%.

Of course, he reiterated the same arguments U.S. writers have been making about publishers' printing, warehousing and distribution costs being greatly reduced when releasing e-books. Holland believes a fair e-book royalty split would be 50/50 between author and publisher.

But then Holland introduced an interesting twist. He talked about the high expense publishers face when setting up their "digital infrastructure" and suggested that authors help to defray that expense by accepting a 25% royalty for two years. His concern is that publishers seem to be wanting to tie down a 25% royalty for the duration of the copyright.

One of the things that is worrisome to me about copyright in a digital world is that, if an author is not careful in the contracting process, s/he could get into a world of hurt. Make sure that a contract does not trap you with language about the book being "in print" indefinitely because of the availability of print-on-demand technology and a digital file. A limited contract term like Holland's two years is one way around that pitfall.

The article also offered other opinions like this one:
Katie Fforde, bestselling novelist and chair of the Romantic Novelists' Association, agreed that a 25% ebook royalty "would be perfectly fair if it was for two years, or a limited period, and then could be renegotiated". "We don't want to go on and on paying for the set-up costs," she said. "I think a 50/50 split is greedy, but if you don't ask you don't get, and I imagine that might raise the negotiations."
Go here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trouble in The Shack

Several times over the last few years when talking about self-publishing, I've mentioned The Shack as an example of a novel that owes its success to niche marketing:
A niche market, IMHO, is a much smaller venue where you will be readily recognized, welcomed and accepted without judgment. In other words, where you have credibility—either earned on your own or borrowed from someone who HAS earned credibility.

A perfect example of what I’m talking about is the recently published best-seller The Shack. Author William P. Young wrote the small book as evidence of his Christian faith and to inspire his family and friends. He showed it to a well-known Christian writer who introduced him to a well-known pastor. The three decided to self-publish the thin volume after Young could not interest a major publishing house.

While Young had no credibility in the Christian market himself, his two partners did. They sent copies of The Shack to influential Christian friends, tapping into the niche market to which they were already connected. Word-of-mouth spread and book sales grew. People bought copies for their friends who, in turn, referred the book to their own friends. The book has been a phenomenal success, and the Hachette Book Group has now secured the rights. (post from August 8, 2008)
Sarah Weinman has an article in today's Los Angeles Times here about the not-so-happily-after-ever ending of The Shack's success.

In November, William Paul Young went to Ventura County State Court where he sued his partners, Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, who counter-sued him. Young also included Hachette and Windblown, the partner's self-publishing company, in his lawsuit. And Hachette has gotten into the act, filing its own lawsuit in federal court. Hachette argues that the proper venue for these suits is federal court. I assume this is because federal law governs copyright.
For nearly eight months, the trio have been mired in a series of lawsuits, accusations flying over improper accounting practices, millions of dollars in missing royalties, contract breaches and copyright disputes. Hachette, meanwhile, just wants to know to whom it owes money — and how much.
Young's deal with Windblown gives him an author's royalty of a dollar each for hardcover copies of The Shack and 50 cents for paperback copies. This is a lower-than-usual author's royalty. However, he also earns a third of the net profits of Windblown.

According to Weinman, Young is complaining that Windblown, Hachette and his partners "got 'more and more creative' in determining his royalties, including an attempt to exclude nearly 40% of sales by designating them 'high discount sales,' such as those earned from book clubs or giveaway programs."

For their part, Jacobsen and Cummings are claiming that they had to do so much editing of the manuscript they originally saw that they deserve co-author credit.

Stay tuned ...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fun With Words

Like all writers, I love words. I collect words, I play with words, I delight in words.

In today's post I'm going to share some of the places I go to celebrate words.

Every Friday at 1 PM Central Time, I listen to NPR at work. The station is 90.1 KERA and the show is A Way With Words. For an hour, Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk about word origins, play word games and answer questions about word usage.

As an example, this past Friday, Martha and Grant talked about a word I was not familiar with: Mountweazel.

A mountweazel is a deliberately fictitious entry put into a reference work like a dictionary or a map. Mountweazels are used by copyright holders to catch plagiarists who are stealing content.

The origin of the word mountweazel was a fictitious entry in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia (NCE). The NCE contained a phony biography for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel. Wikipedia described the entry this way:
Lillian Virginia Mountweazel (1942-1973). Her biography claims she was a fountain designer and photographer, best known for her collection of photos of rural American mailboxes, "Flags Up!" She was born in Bangs, Ohio, and died in an explosion while on assignment for "Combustibles" magazine.
The New Yorker outed Lillian in an article here on August 29, 2005 and coined the term "mountweazel" in the process.

Also on Friday, a listener contacted Martha and Grant asking if there was a word for when you find you need something that you've already thrown away. Listeners pitched in with ideas. My two favorites were also Martha's: "schadenvoide" and "premature evacuation."

You can go here to listen to the entire show from Friday or here to find stations in your area that play A Way With Words.

If you love to enrich your vocabulary, Free Rice is the site for you. I've mentioned it here before. The non-profit site is operated by the United Nations World Food Program together with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

According to the website, FreeRice has two goals:

1. To provide education to everyone for free.
2. To help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

The site has a vocabulary test with 60 levels of difficulty. For every right answer you give, they donate ten grains of rice through the UN Hunger Program. Go here to play. I always set the meter for difficulty of play to the first level and usually run out of steam around levels 53 or 54. I've never gotten beyond 55. You can also change the subjects to chemistry or capitals of the world or other areas of interest.

Finally the game site Pogo has all kinds of word games. Word Search, Scrabble, and Word Whomp are among the games the site offers. When I need a break, I go there for five minutes and come away refreshed. Go here to look the site over.

Have fun!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Borders Giving Away Free eBook Downloads

The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch had an interesting story on Friday:
Borders is ... offering five free top-selling books valued at more than $40 to anyone who downloads a free Borders application beginning today, Friday, July 9 through Wednesday, July 14.

These popular titles include Dean Koontz's "Frankenstein: Prodigal Son," "One Shot" by Lee Child, "The Alchemyst" by Michael Scott, Julia Child's " Julia's Kitchen Wisdom" and "Master your Metabolism" by Jillian Michaels.
Tech Crunch had this to say:
The promotion comes right off the heels of the launch of the Borders-branded eBook store and the release of BlackBerry, Android, iPad and iPhone eReading applications, all powered by Kobo.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Ten Things To (Dis)Like About Cats

  1. I've never had a cat who would sleep facing my back. All of the cats I've known insist on facing me in bed. I sometimes make a game of waiting until Bob is settled and then I flip over to face the other direction. Each time, he sighs, gets up laboriously and moves around to my other side. Of course, I then flip back. When he's had enough of the game, he reaches a paw out to tap my cheek. I can almost hear the words: "Do it again, and the claws come out."

  2. Cats are flexible. Before my surgery last year, I removed the screen from the bedroom window closest to my bed. When Bob asked to go out, I'd lean over and open the window for him. He very quickly learned to stand next to the window and howl when he wanted out. He also began jumping up on the window sill outside to howl when he wanted back inside.

  3. Cats can be very innovative. Bob decided that, since I could let him go outside with a minimum of effort, if he took a notion to go prowling at 3 AM, I should just reach across and open the window. This inventive approach did not have a happy outcome.

  4. Cats like routines. Bob had a particular flavor of Fancy Feast (Sliced Beef) that he loved. He ate it every day.

  5. Cats don't like cheap roommates. Shortly after I bought 24 cans of Fancy Feast Sliced Beef on sale, he suddenly decided he'd like to experiment on a different flavor.

  6. Cats communicate well. Bob left his daily dish of Fancy Feast untouched for several days in a row to indicate that he was ready to experiment with a new flavor.

  7. Cats are better than an alarm clock. At about two minutes before my alarm goes off every morning, Bob begins to purr. If by some chance, I've set the alarm for later than usual, he purrs for several minutes before upping the ante. Because he knows I will be VERY unfriendly if he whines or complains, his new strategy is to lean over and--as if overcome by devotion--he licks an exposed body part of mine. Just one little swipe of that sandpapery tongue, and then he waits to see if that was enough to get me up. If not, he repeats as needed.

  8. Cats love a challenge. Early one morning, I watched from my bay window as Bob slinked across the blacktop road outside my house, moving so slowly he looked like black roadkill. When he disappeared below the other side of the road, I thought he might be stalking a vole or mouse. However, when his ears popped up again, I realized he was making a stealthy approach on my neighbor's property. In the time it took me to locate my robe (I was wearing a slinky nightgown), he'd found a place where he could slip under my neighbor's fence. Realizing he had decided to try his hand at nabbing a chicken, I ran for the front door. I raced down my front stairs to see Bob sneaking up on a white hen. Suddenly, an enraged rooster came flapping toward the intruder, screaming a challenge. In one smooth move, Bob leaped straight into the air, turned, landed on a fence post and jumped out of the yard. He didn't stop until he met me on the front walk where he began to saunter, pretending he didn't hear the rooster's rage behind him.

  9. Cats anticipate. As we walk through my house, Bob takes point. He slows down at each door in the hall and looks over his shoulder for a signal as to which room I am headed toward. When I turn, he turns so that he'll be there ahead of me.

  10. Cats love to share. During July and August, I love fresh peach ice cream. A couple of times a week, I'll forego dinner and substitute a dish of ice cream. On the nights I don't prepare dinner, Bob stretches out in front of the refrigerator, waiting for me to open the freezer. When I prepare my dish of ice cream, he follows me around, whining for his share. I give him a dab no larger than the tip of my small finger and he purrs while he licks it up.

Rub your pet's head for me today.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sex, Lies ... And Publishing

Today's post has everything: sex, lies, and office politics ... all wrapped up inside a literary gift box.

The story starts with a publishing super-star. David Davidar is a fifty-ish man who was born in southwest India. He began his career as a journalist and then studied publishing at Harvard. In 1985, he helped establish the Penguin division in India.

In addition to editing a number of well-known Indian authors over the next two decades, Davidar himself wrote two novels, the first of which was published in 2002. The House of Blue Mangoes was a New York Times (NYT) Notable Book. Here's the NYT blurb:
THE HOUSE OF BLUE MANGOES By David Davidar. (HarperCollins, $26.95.) A polished first novel by the C.E.O. of Penguin India, the book tracks three generations of the Dorais, a Christian family from the south of India, across the first half of the 20th century, ending just before independence.
The year after his book was published, Davidar transferred to Canada where he was first president of Penguin Canada and later, in October, 2009, was named CEO of Penguin International, a division which included Penguin Canada, Penguin India, Penguin Arabia and Penguin South Africa.

On the afternoon of June 8, Quill & Quire (Q&Q) reported here:
Penguin Canada president David Davidar – who took over the firm in fall 2003 and has been widely credited with returning it to good health – will soon be leaving the company and returning to India, his homeland ... Davidar will not be continuing on with Penguin India, either. He is leaving the company altogether to pursue his writing career and other projects.
Three days later, on June 11, Publishers Weekly reported here:
With questions swirling in Canada about the surprise resignation of Penguin Canada president David Davidar, the company issued a statement Friday afternoon announcing that Penguin’s former rights and contracts director Lisa Rundle charged Davidar with sexual harassment in an action yesterday.
Rundle not only sued Davidar. She also sued Penguin, claiming she had been wrongfully terminated by the corporation. Penguin denied this charge, saying Rundle chose to leave her position "to pursue career opportunities within the organization."

The following day,Q&Q, which has been all over this story, printed both a statement from Davidar and some background on Lisa Rundle here. Davidar was quoted as saying:
I had a friendship with my colleague which lasted for three years. I am utterly shocked by the allegations. I am dismayed that Penguin Canada chose to respond to them by directing me to leave Penguin. I intend to defend the allegations vigorously in the courts, and I am certain that the truth will prevail.
Q&Q offered this insight into Rundle:
On Oct. 31, 2005, Rundle announced that she was leaving [Penguin] for a position as rights and contracts coordinator at Random House of Canada. Almost immediately after that announcement, however, Rundle’s superior at Penguin, contracts manager Catherine MacGregor, left the company for a position with HarperCollins Canada. Consequently, Rundle changed her mind about leaving Penguin and stayed on to fill MacGregor’s role ... when Davidar became CEO of Penguin International ... Rundle was promoted yet again, this time to director of rights and digital management. It is not clear when Rundle took leave of the company.
Canada's The Globe & Mail reported the following on June 12 here:
A former employee of Penguin Canada has launched a $523,000 lawsuit alleging that company CEO David Davidar sexually harassed her repeatedly over the past three years, culminating in outright assault at the Frankfurt Book Fair last fall, and that she was fired after complaining to superiors about Davidar’s “twisted treatment” of her.
Rundle sued Penguin for $423,000 and Davidar personally for another $100,000 in a suit filed in Ontario on June 9. She included quotations from emails in which she claimed Davidar said he “could do very little except think of [her]" and "that she should not be 'stubborn' or 'fight' him."

On June 14, Q&Q raised the stakes again here, saying:
[Penguin's] human resources department was aware of prior sexual harassment by Davidar of at least one other employee, former executive assistant Samantha Francis. (Francis, who still works in the industry, gave Q&Q permission to run her name in this article.)

According to the claim, in summer 2008 Francis filed a complaint against Davidar ... Rundle goes on to state that Davidar showed her a copy of Francis’s complaint and told her that Francis had since “come to her senses” and recanted. Shortly after this conversation, Francis was promoted to paperwork editor ... Approximately six to eight months following the promotion, Francis left the company.
On June 20, Davidar's attorney released a lengthy (three full pages) and creepily detailed statement, which The Times of India provided here. It said in part:
David Davidar had a consensual, flirtatious relationship [with Ms. Rundle] that grew out of a close friendship with a colleague. He deeply regrets the hurt this has caused his wife ... Samantha Francis was David Davidar's executive assistant in 2006 and 2007. Mr Davidar engaged in flirtatious banter with her for a short period of time. He did not engage in any conduct toward Ms. Francis that he knew or should have known was unwelcome.
Yesterday Canadian Business Online reported here:
... a lawyer for former Penguin Canada president David Davidar, says in an email that "all allegations have been addressed and all matters resolved to the satisfaction of all parties."

He says none of the parties will be commenting further to the media ...

Penguin Canada spokeswoman Yvonne Hunter confirmed in an email that a settlement has been reached.
Q&Q had this to say here:
Penguin Canada will announce a new company president on Wednesday after reaching an out-of-court settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit involving it and former president David Davidar. The announcement will end weeks of speculation about who will replace Davidar at the helm of the troubled firm and turn the page on a regrettable chapter in the company’s history.
The National Post of Canada reported here:
In subsequent interviews, [Davidar] announced that he and [his wife] Rachna, who managed the McNally Robinson bookstore in Don Mills until its closure in December, would be returning to India in the near future.
The person in this mess who has my most heartfelt sympathy is Mrs. Davidar.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Microsoft Stumbles Over Its KIN Phone

Although the main focus of this blog is publishing, periodically I post about major computer companies because of their potential to impact the publishing industry.

On May 13, Microsoft released its two new KIN phones, intended to appeal to the youth market. The problem was Microsoft couldn't loosen up enough to really engage the market it was targeting.

Six weeks after the KIN's release, Microsoft decided to kill the product. On June 30, Microsoft announced:

We have made the decision to focus exclusively on Windows Phone 7 and we will not ship KIN in Europe this fall as planned. Additionally, we are integrating our KIN team with the Windows Phone 7 team, incorporating valuable ideas and technologies from KIN into future Windows Phone releases. We will continue to work with Verizon in the U.S. to sell current KIN phones.
Engadget reviewed the KIN here on May 5 and reported:

What [the KIN] was designed to do ... was work really well doing a couple of key tasks, most of them centered around social networking, photos and video, and some overarching concept of capturing your mobile/digital life in a whole new and easy manner. Lofty goals indeed for a product like this, and unfortunately for everyone, Microsoft misses the mark by a long shot. It's not even close.
Gadgetell also reviewed the phone here and had this to say:

Here’s the part that gets us mad: the phone checks in for updates every 15 minutes and sometimes not that fast. For teens and others on the go, how is this acceptable? How is this not plastered on the box as a warning? ... Social doesn’t happen ever[y] 15 minutes, social is in the moment and Microsoft has missed this fact.

And here comes the insulting: Verizon will charge you the full data plan price - even though the phone is throttling usage. That’s right a full $29.99 per month just for the data that is given to you in 15 minute intervals. I’ve gone back and read this 4 times now as I was sure I misunderstood it.
On June 30, Wired opined here as to why the KIN failed:

  1. The Windows 7 Phone is scheduled to be released in time for this year's holidays. "KIN's OS isn't exactly Windows 7 Phone but it's not entirely a new operating system either ..."
  2. "The KIN isn't a smartphone, but it sure had a monthly cellphone plan priced like one." Even though Verizon dropped the monthly cellphone cost from $50 to $30 (with a two-year contract) soon after the launch, the KIN still required users to have a data plan, too. "That means a $70 a month minimum on the bill."
  3. The KIN isn't really a smartphone because "... Microsoft crippled the overall functionality of the device by not allowing apps or games on the phone."
  4. The KIN lacked a "cool factor" and "Microsoft's marketing of the KIN seemed to make it worse."
In one of the early posts I did on this blog back on October 6, 2005, I said:
This morning's Search Engine Journal [SEJ] talked about the newly announced distribution partnership between Google and Sun Microsystems. Google's Toolbar will be distributed with Sun's Java. This deal brings Google into direct competition with Microsoft.

What it also does is bring open source software in direct competition with proprietary software.

Bill Gates' Microsoft is the prototype for a proprietary (closed source) company. We all know that Microsoft's programs only run on Microsoft's operating system. However, "an application built on Sun's Java can be run on any platform regardless of the architecture." (SEJ 10/4/05) Java's operating system fits Google's open source philosophy to a tee.

Rob Sullivan is quoted in the Search Engine Journal as saying: "Google could become a viable alternative to Microsoft. And not just Microsoft applications, but Microsoft as a whole . . . This is the true power of the deal today . . . this is all in line with Google's mission of making the world's information universally accessible."

Google is pitting its open source philosophy against Microsoft's proprietary culture.

Start placing your bets.
Sunday's New York Times here summed up both the KIN and Microsoft's problems:
... the Kin debacle is a reflection of Microsoft’s struggle to deliver what the younger generation of technology-obsessed consumers wants. From hand-held products to business software, Microsoft seems behind the times.

Part of its problem may be that its ability to intrigue and attract software developers is also waning, which threatens its ability to steer markets over the long term. When it comes to electronic devices, people writing software have turned their attention to platforms from Apple and Google.

Meanwhile, young technology companies today rely on free, open-source business software rather than Microsoft’s products, so young students, soon to be looking for jobs, have embraced open-source software as well.

“Microsoft is totally off the radar of the cool, hip, cutting-edge software developers,” said Tim O’Reilly, who publishes a popular line of software development guides.
Take that leap of faith, Bill Gates. Lighten up on the proprietary philosophy.