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Bring me the head of John Carter!

By Dave Freer

Ah. Good Morning. Please close and lock the doors. I’m watching you, Kate. Do not try and slide out while pretending to close the doors. You’re too astute for your own good.

I have decided to spring a surprise exam on you.

A while back Bill Swears made a comment on facebook about a friend (an agent IIRC) who hadn’t known who John Carter was. And then a few weeks back I was picking through the ignorance  exemplified by the like of Atwood and Winterson about sf .  It brought to mind my sending a proposal to a big name agent (one of the ones that I blame for the current state of the industry), and him writing back to say that I should mention the book is similar to various movies and TV serials, instead of comparing it to other genre books.

The implication was that they (and perhaps he) would recognize movies, but hadn’t actually read the books. Which, given the serious shortage of talking squids in space in sf, is a conclusion you could reach about literary ‘giants’ and critics too. There is, of course, generic sf, which often owes more to TV or Starwars than to the three laws of robotics, just as there are a lot of  generic Tolkien clones. But to assume that is all of it, is to ignore more than a century of development of the genre. One of the arguments raised for ignoring this history  is that writers who don’t have this background will come up with something different. It is possible. It is possible that those who ignore other forms of history will avoid those mistakes too.  But I have certainly seen more (too many) TV/movie inspired ‘broken telephone’ garbled tropes in the last 20 years, than I have seen original ideas. It’s resulted in agents and acquiring editors thinking they’re ‘new’ — which has inevitably led to them not working well. I get the feeling that books which sold upward of half a million copies (a dream today) in our genre are largely forgotten, but not by the readers.  If I was an editor, or an author, these are the books from the years of merit (which saw what people wanted to read) I would look at to work out what–at least then–what appealed to readers.

So I put a little quiz of pre-1980 sf together. It’s intended to be easy… if you are real sf reader.  5 marks a question. 3 for the answer, 1.5 for knowing either the book or the author, or a full 2 marks for both. And seeing as I am not really collecting marks, you don’t have to bother to Google them first. It’s just for interest and maybe nostalgia.

1) Who are Professor Von Hardwigg and Professor Lidenbrock
2)What are Eloi dinner for?
3) Where do Eddorians come from?
4) Who is Dejah Thoris?
5) Who or what is ‘Tweel’?
6) Which female sf writer, setting her stories in the American Southwest, and always using female lead protagonists, was very successful and nominated for a Hugo in 1959, long before Joanna Russ got around to complaining about discrimination against female sf writers?
7) What/who was Martak Sarno and the Dust?
8) What is an Offog?
9) Where is The Leewit?
10) Where is Liebowitz Abbey?
11) Name two sf books with Kraken (just to please Margaret Atwood) – but neither in space.
12)What is a ‘pfifltriggi’?
13)Light is the left ….?
14)In what book do the protagonists explore an alien place on a different world, where the sensory input from a matter-transmitted duplicate is experienced by the sensorially deprived original?
15) What is the Werewolf Principle? – for a bonus point, which state is it set in?
16) What kind of Rat was Jim DiGriz?
17) St Vidicon of What?
18)What was Dr Wendell Urth afraid of?
19) Mount LookItThat is where? And what is so special about it?
20) Watch out for stobor… and what are they?

OK the answers are below, if you need them. If you scored more than 75% you’re a a true sf fan.
If you scored more than 95% you’re a scary person :-). I like you.
If you scored 101% is your name Blue Tyson?
If you scored less than 65% you should not be agenting or editing sf. Go home to Modern Literary Fiction.

1)The same person, different translations of ‘The journey to the Center of the Earth’, by Jules Verne.
2)Morlocks, The Time Machine, HG Wells
3) Lundmark’s nebula – the second galaxy, Triplanetary. Doc E.E. Smith
4) John Carter’s love in A princess of Mars and later books, Edgar Rice Burroughs
5)A birdlike Martian native – A Martian Odyssey, Stanley G Weinbaum
6) Zenna Henderson – the Pilgrimage, the People, No Different Flesh
7) The Llralan Commander of the fleet which uses the ‘dust’ to put the people of earth into coma-like sleep. – Sleeping planet, William Burkett.
8)Official dog. Allamagoosa, Eric Frank Russell
9) On board the Venture 7333, James H Schmitz, Witches of Karres
10) Utah. A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M Miller.
11) The Kraken Wakes, John Wyndham; Blue Planet, Jack Vance.
12) One of three Martian species (Seroni, hrossa, and pfifltriggi – must be worst alien sp. name in sf – or at least in the running) tapir headed frog-bodied,  in Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis.
13) The left hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin.
14) Not Avatar! Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys – 1960
15) An android, able to be a skin-changer, taking in alien personas – The Werewolf Principle, Clifford Simak. And Wisconsin, of course!
16) The Stainless Steel Rat, Harry Harrison
17) Cathode!  Christopher Stasheff – Gets his first appearance in the Warlock in spite of Himself IIRC.
18) All forms of transportation. The Singing Bell, Isaac Asimov
19) On We Made It – it is a high plateaux of habitable land above the too hot to live lowlands – Larry Niven A Gift from Earth (and mentioned in various Niven tales of known space )
20) Every planet has stobor …all different. Robert A. Heinlein, Tunnel in the Sky.

Another Nail in the Coffin – Part 2

Last week, I wrote about how publishers and agents were crying “FOUL” over news that Amazon would be publishing some 120 over the last few months and yet few were talking about how Perseus was going to “help” authors self-publish.  My basic points regarding these two pieces of news were that publishers wouldn’t have to worry about authors leaving them IF the publishers and agents were really doing the job they said they were.  I honestly thought that would be the end of the post and I’d move on to something different this week — of course, it is never that easy.  So, to continue from where I left off, sort of. . . .

Publishers were busy puffing out their chests and declaring that e-books were reaching a saturation point in the market when July’s sales figures were released.  After all, hard cover sales had increased 33%.  At the time those figures were made public, a number of people — yours truly included — wondered if that was an anomaly caused by the sell-off of stock held by Borders.  Well, confirmation, at least partial confirmation, of our suspicions came this week when the Association of American Publishers announced the sales figures through August.

From Publisher’s WeeklyFor the first eight months of 2011, e-book sales increased 144.4%, to $649.2 million, from 18 reporting publishers to the AAP monthly statistics program. Sales were off by double digits in all trade print segments in the January-August period, although sales in the religion category were up 9% in the year to date at the 22 reporting houses.

GalleyCat has the complete breakdown:

With regard to the August figures, for the month, hard cover sales declined 11% and adult paperback sales declined close to 6%.  According to the AAP (again from Galleycat), “Strong, continuing revenue gains from digital formats in the Trade market – both e-books and downloaded audiobooks – helped offset declines in revenue from physical formats, resulting in only nominal, near-identical decreases vs the previous year’s and YTD’s figures

So, for the first eight months of the year, e-book sales are up 144.4%.  It is this increase that kept the figures from looking truly abysmal.  The only other areas to post gains are religious books and downloaded audio books.  If you’ve been tracking the figures for the last year plus, this follows the trend.  Even I, who run far and fast in the opposite direction when someone tells me I need to do math, can see that the figures for July when hard covers posted a double digit increase were not the start of a new trend.  Instead, it was an artificial increase in sales caused by the discounting of merchandise during the Borders bankruptcy sale off.

And yet, even with the figures staring them in the face, legacy publishers refuse to admit that e-books are not only a viable part of the marketplace, but all that is keeping some of them afloat right now.  Just think how many more units they might be able to sell if they simply lowered the prices of their new releases below hard cover prices.  Oh, I know.  They tell you they have to price e-books at near hard cover prices in order to make a profit.  Bull!  Remove DRM, admit that once they have the final text, all they really have to pay for above cost of setting the book for print is the conversion price and then the cost of having someone do a check of the conversion files to make sure nothing got screwed up.  Lower the price to even $9.99 — a price point most e-book buyers will pay for a new “best seller” — and they will sell more copies and that, eventually, will lead to more profit.  Not to mention more good will for the publisher which will also lead to more sales.  More sales equal more money.  Makes sense to me.  But then, I’ve never been a bean counter, much less one in a rarified office in NYC.

Going back to the cries of anguish last week caused by Amazon, there was a deafening silence this week when Kobo announced it would now start publishing books.  For those of you not familiar with Kobo, it’s an online presence, not unlike that for Amazon or B&N when it comes to e-books.  When Borders still existed, Kobo was associated with it for e-books.  This isn’t a self-publishing venture for authors.  No, according to the article, Kobo will do editing, design, marketing and the selling of the books.  Sound familiar?  So, why no hue and outcry by the publishers?  Simply put, they aren’t scared of Kobo because its name isn’t Amazon.  It doesn’t matter that Kobo is offering the same service as Amazon.  All that matters is that Kobo isn’t the 800 pound gorilla.  The publishers have forgotten about the tortoise moving slowly and surely toward the goal.

So, does all this mean the end of publishing as we know it?  Eventually.  Even if legacy publishers were to suddenly understand the importance of e-books and reasonable pricing, the snowball has already started rolling down the mountainside.  Publishers — and agents and authors — are going to have to adapt to the changing expectations and demands of the reading public.  Just as publishers had to change as technology and society changed in the early to mid 1900’s, they are going to have to do so again.  If not, the publishers will perish.  But, in their places will be new publishers, those flexible enough to adapt to the changes.  In other words, there will always been books and short stories.  It’s just the format and pricing that may change.

Cross-posted to the Naked Truth as well as here.

Anywhere But Earth!

by Chris McMahon

I’m doing something a little bit different this week and taking the time out to spruik about the new super-cool anthology Anywhere But Earth, edited by Keith Stevenson.

It’s an anthology of space-adventure short fiction, with a great line-up of authors including yours truly.

My story – Memories of Mars – is near future SF set on (you guessed it) Mars. It’s been a personal favourite of mine for a long time and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Keith for including the piece. It features an ancient AI called Mr Young, a ruthless MarsGov and a central mystery about a couple of very unusual Martians.

It’s now available for purchase Anywhere on Earth (pardon the pun). You can get the anthology from the on-line store at the link above – pbook AU $34.95 including Aus postage. The ebook version will also be available via Amazon and Smashwords for US$9.99

Anywhere but Earth will officially launch at the NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction Writers’ Festival in Rozelle, Sydney 1pm on the 5th November – as part of a one day mini-convention with panels on spec fic writing, publishing, reading and everything in between.

There will be extract readings at the launch by Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland and Alan Baxter, and a pile of very thick books (AbE weighs in at 730 pages) at a special mystery launch price.

I can’t actually make to the launch, but if you are anywhere near Sydney pop along for what I’m sure will be very enteraining readings and general writerly company.

Happy reading!

Snuff – Book Review

It’s probably more like fangirl squee, but never mind.

This weekend involved reading Terry Pratchett’s latest novel, Snuff. As usual I finished up awed by the man’s skill and wondering why I bothered when I can’t hope to ever get close to that. Then all the layered bits started clicking together, which means I’m even more in awe, especially as the man freely admits he’s an extreme pantser (he doesn’t exactly use those words, but that’s what it comes down to).

The story, which of course isn’t what the book ended up actually being about, is the mayhem that results when Vimes takes a vacation in the countryside with his wife and son – young Sam now being at the age where all things scatological are hugely fascinating, this is rather like paradise, only with all sorts of fascinating poo to examine. Vimes of course is something of a trouble magnet, and promptly finds himself in the middle of some major malfeasance, which, being Vimes, ends up cascading into Even More So. Quaint countryside habits are examined through wobbly distorted panes of glass (this being one of the hazards of quaint, it would appear), sheep and other livestock are harassed, the social order gets a jolly good shaking, and ultimately Vimes sorts it all out. Sort of. More or less.

Mixed into this is a lovely little dig at Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice (one of the sisters is a lumberjack), an author who writes children’s books about poo and wee – and is naturally immensely popular with her audience – and a lurking examination of what makes people people.

This is one of Pratchett’s best, possibly even his best so far, and it had me between laughing and reaching for the kleenex.

A word of warning. Don’t start it in the evening unless you’re prepared for a very late night. Yes, it really is that good.

What I Saw At The Revolution

As many of you know I went to the Oregon Coast to take a workshop with Dean Wesley Smith and Scott William Carter with Special Guest Appearance by Kris Rusch ;), on the whats and hows of epublishing, and – more importantly – whys.

I’ve taken other workshops with Kris and Dean in the past, and this one was both similar to those (starting with the very first master class which I attended) and completely different.

It was similar in that Kris and Dean give value for their workshops.  I’ve said this before.  They don’t have the lengthy breakfasts, the laid back chats…  No, every minute of the workshop – and often of the working lunches, when they have to let us eat before we faint (grin) – is dedicated to learning.  This makes it very exhausting even if you already know some of the material they’re teaching and, probably, near-lethal if you’re learning and thinking it all for the first time.

This is in no way a complaint.  If you’re going across the country for a workshop; if you’re a writer who is perpetually semi-broke; if you have a family you’re leaving on their own while going, you WANT the workshop to be intensive.  The last thing you need is to spend time out there doing nothing, while you know you could be working at home.

It was very different from past workshops, though, in that Dean was sharing things he learned just recently and often saying “this might change” or “this might be different for you.”

It was similar because, as with many of their workshops, a lot of what they said I have to struggle to accept – even when I logically should know it’s true.

It was different because the market portion of it was more tentative.  See, the market portion used to be on how to submit to editors.  It now is on how to submit to… readers.  Editors were a small group, living in NYC, attending the same parties, talking about the same topics, practically inhabiting each other’s pockets.  You could psyche their preoccupations and their hot buttons one way or another.  Apparently my subconscious has a long – LONG – list of “do not write this, no one will buy it” topics, and by “no one” I mean NYC editors.  OTOH, ebooks are marketed to a for all intents and purposes infinite market, which does not live in each other’s pockets.  Who knows what will find a niche audience of, say, a million people or so, and take off like a rocket?

It was similar because the emphasis was on writing, telling good stories, writing fast and well.  Okay, it wasn’t a writing workshop, but 99% of the attendees were traditionally published authors, and Dean kept emphasizing if you stop writing to do tech, you will fail.  The writing is what drives all the rest, and the tech is designed to give you freedom to create what you want to, beyond the limits of the traditional market.

The funny thing is that they didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know.  I mean, at the back of my mind, I’d already arrived to similar conclusions.  I know this, because as they presented their conclusions, the reaction wasn’t (usually.  There’s one exception) Oh, Heavens.  I Never Thought Of That!  It was more like Oh, Well, DUH.  However, they were things I knew but would never have put together, if that makes sense.  As is, some of them, though I know intellectually, will take me months to adjust my mind to.

So, without further ado, let me give you some things I learned at the Think Like A Publisher workshop.

1- The market is infinite for all practical purposes.
Qualifications – of course it isn’t infinite.  There is a limited number of readers in the world.  Also, for now ebooks only reach into about four countries (easily and from the US, that is) and are way behind the US in most of those countries.  BUT in terms of “there will be enough people in that group that like any given thing that you could not just make a living but become a millionaire” the market is infinite.

1.a – This is an answer to the “tsunami of sh*t” complaint about how indies will ruin publishing.  You see, with that vast a market, what you have to remember is that there are a lot of people in the group you can now access who LIKE sh*t.  (This reminds me of the quip in Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment “I just said it was horse p*ss.  I didn’t say I didn’t like it.)

1.b. – by the law of statistics this creates a curious “flattening” of the market.  Yeah, some things will sell better than others, but not that insanely better.  Look, the thing about our “names” in publishing (by which I mean bestsellers.  For the benefit of the audience, no, I’m not a name.  I’m barely a name in my OWN household.) is that lately there have been so many of them they’ve become “niche names.”  Unless you’re talking of J. K. Rowling – and even then you might have to add “Harry Potter, you know?” – chances are any of your non-writing friends will give you a blank stare at the mention of any bestseller.  Heck, I’ve had people in the business give me a blank stare at t he mention of a bestseller in UF.  Part of what causes this is that there are so many books/authors out.  Now multiply that by a bazillion (yes, this is an exact figure!  Shut up.)  And throw in every writer who ever lived and whose work can be scanned in.  Compared to Rowling, I have a name in my own household.  Compared to, oh, Kipling, I’m “who is she?” even to my own kids.  But the thing is this is NOT a problem.  Why not? Because some night people might not want to read Potter or poems, and they might type in keywords that kick up my books – like Shifter.  Or Dark Ships.  And given an almost infinite market, there will always be a baseline of those enough to keep me in roof and meals and possibly even assistant.  Also, with luck and a little care on my part, they’ll come back because I give value.  And I’ll have an expanding audience that does not rely on gimmicks or publisher push.

2 – The supply is infinite for all practical purposes.  There’s every author who ever lived out there.  If you read a new author every day of your life, you’d never run out.  It’s reader’s paradise.  It’s also writer’s paradise.

2.a This creates the next answer to the tsunami of fecal matter thing – in the enormous pool of the market, no matter how much er… waste splashes in, it will be negligible.  Think of the difference between peeing in your bathtub and peeing in the ocean.  (This is not, btw, an encouragement to put out randomly generated stories, based on an algorithm that scrambles sentences and creates the equivalent of Atlanta Nights.  Peeing in the ocean is still bad manners and if people pay you for it, they’ll get upset.  At you, personally.)

2.b.  The doors have been thrown wide open.  You want to write about people who have a fetish for hydrogen peroxide?  There are probably enough of them out there to make you a very rich writer.

3- Chinese Math applies.  Sort of.
(Chinese Math states that if you sell something for a dollar to every Chinese person, you’ll still be rich beyond the dreams of avarice.)

3. a But Sarah, you say, you are unlikely to produce something that EVERYONE out there wants to read. [Stop.  Just stop.  You’re giving me the shakes.  I’m visualizing billions of dollars flowing in.  (Moans.  Clears throat.  Sits up straighter.)]  Right.  So, I am.  But I don’t need to.  Even if any given piece of my work appeals to say 1000 people on any given month, I’m making a living.  And if it appeals to 10000 people, I’ll be making a GOOD living.

3.b. It has a multiplier effect.  If one piece of my writing appeals to a thousand people a month (these numbers seem to be unrealistic, btw, unless you’re very good or very lucky.  Or both – hi Ric!  If a story is doing well it will sell maybe a few hundred a month) then why don’t I have ten pieces out?  Or twenty?  What am I, stupid?  At the level of criminal stupidity?  Agatha Christie used to say she sat down and said “I think I’ll write myself a house.”  Midlisters, in a way can now do that.

3.c. It REALLY has a multiplier effect, because readers are creatures of habit.  What in heck do I mean by that?  Well, once we find a writer we like we will keep reading him/her.  Sudden, for us, that author has stood up and is beyond the random selection thing I talked about.  Oh, it’s unlikely he/she will be an author “everyone is talking about” – look at that near infinite supply thing – BUT he/she will have a growing share of the market and enough to be very rich indeed.  So, have books out there under the same name/in the same style, etc, enough to make a living.

4. Book launches are irrelevant.  So is most other publicity.

4.a. All they do is speed up the process of finding an audience.  Okay, so perhaps not totally irrelevant, particularly very early on, when you want to start seeing some money for a proof of concept on your indie efforts.  But ultimately, say two years in the future, you’d be in the same place.  This means, if you can wait, you don’t need to publicize. Your book is not going to age or fall off the shelf.

4. b. Yes, this means that books don’t “age” – that relates to shelf space, etc.  If anything, since the best publicity in the new market is word of mouth, older books have an advantage.  Stop thinking of your books as bananas that will spot and spoil.  Now.

4.c. If you’re the sort of writer who wants to sit down and write furiously, your time has arrived.  (Thank G-d almighty, free at last.)  Oh, okay, you might need to learn some basic coding, but I’m now where I can see how to do it, sort of.  And if I can do it, ANYONE can do it.  Including people who’ve never seen a computer before and for whom chipped flint is the height of technological innovation.  (Yes, that’s how techy I am.)

4.d. There is no such thing as a “big book.”  Oh, sure, some of your work will sell better than other work.  But the difference won’t be enough for you to think in “big book” terms.  What I mean is for most of us, the editors have got in the back of our head and made us think things like “Oh, this next book is going to be huge.”  Now you don’t need to let that happen.  Just make each book the best it can be, and enjoy the process.

Now, for the one thing that is still hard for me to accept: It is still very early days on this.  Dean said it over and over again.  And I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, intellectually I know it’s true.  The very cumbersomeness of the software proves it.  You have to spit and duct tape things.  When it becomes more main stream, it will become easier, and eventually there will be a push-button solution.

But that’s INTELLECTUALLY.  Emotionally, it seems like everyone got there before me.  I have to tell myself this is not true and to calm down.

Anyway – these are the general impressions from the workshop.  Of course I can’t tell you everything they said over three days.  Even if I could, I’d miss little points, which would mean something for you that they don’t mean for me.  This is all filtered through my mind, of course, and I might have drawn conclusions the presenters never intended.  However to me, it is what I’ve seen.

I went to the revolution and took some snap shots.  And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to write me a house.

Cross Fertilisation of Genres

Or are Hybrids Hardier?

Tara Moss, Narelle Harris, PD Martin, Alison Goodman, Marianne Delacourt (And Kim Westwood who turned up late after I took the picture)

I was at the SheKilda crime convention a couple of weeks ago and attended this panel on Cross Genre Writing. It is amazing how many speculative fiction writers also write mysteries. Or you could say, how many crime and mystery writers include a bit of the paranormal in their books.

With plants and animals, if you cross breed the off-spring are hardier. If you keep inbreeding the off-spring develop weaknesses. Not sure if the analogy holds true for books.

The panel talked about whether their die-hard (sorry for the pun) crime and mystery readers were turned off by the paranormal element. For some of them like PD Martin the paranormal element was very slight while, for others, it was a major factor in the plot and world building. They all agreed that it was the story itself that dictated whether to include a paranormal element.

Everyone enjoys a good mystery. Asimov was writing SF-mysteries when he coined the Three Laws of Robotics. Each of the Harry Potter books is based around a mystery (or at least they were when I was reading them to my kids. We stopped after number 3 or 4).

Do you think that combining elements from the mystery genre with the speculative fiction genre makes for a hardier hybrid?






by Dave Freer

“Come gather round people wherever you roam And admit that the waters around you have grown…”
Bob Dylan, The times they are a-changing.

And I am painfully aware that the waters out there are very full of ‘sharks’, some of which do good cryptozoological imitations of literary agencies, publishers etc. All suddenly very keen to ‘help’ you self-publish…

I was going to quote Amanda’s NYT article of yesterday at you, but she beat me to it.

However I will riposte with this one . Please note just where it comes from.

I’m going to deconstruct a little of Brian DeFiore’s rage…

” Publishing folk remember that over a year ago Amazon punitively stopped selling all books, print or electronic, from Macmillian Publishing when Macmillian was the first to change its selling terms to stop Amazon from pricing e-books below cost. Amazon was choosing to lose $2-5 per copy on the most popular books it sold, which gave it a virtual monopoly on e-book sales. No other book retailer could have afforded to lose so much money on e-books, so Amazon was on its way to becoming the only player in the game. Until Macmillian did a little David vs. Goliath act of its own—and Amazon blinked.”

Well, let’s put the record straight here. 1)Macmillian were on the canvas and ready to cave… when their authors (and their author’s fellow author-friends) rode to the rescue. And Apple.  The authors and their call to readers, not Macmillian, forced Amazon to blink. And the threat of Apple in the wings making deals with the publishers (not the authors) to cut Amazon out allowed the agency system in. So: no the publishers did not David Goliath. They left that to the spear carriers/meat-heads/cannon-fodder. Macmillian wasn’t rescued by its own courage, skill or acumen. It was rescued by a consumer backlash against AUTHORS being delisted. Amazon could have penalised Macmillian in any other way they liked and won, but it chose to do it by delisting authors, which was a mistake. The big 5 publishers then rode into the breach, slapping each other on the back… counting their profits and celebrating their power. Then the publishers thanked the authors for their rescue by taking 70% of the gross… increasing their take by 25%… and giving their rescuers an offer of a 4.8% increase.  Doubt this version? Well, consider then the Amazon counterattack. They made no attempt to subvert or browbeat the publishers. Instead they subverted the force that laid them low: the authors.  First they GAVE authors – for free, gratis, for nothing the bookscan sales data that publishers had actively prevented authors or author-groups from even being allowed to buy, let alone given. And then they offered them a chance to cut out the middlemen, offering 70% of gross as opposed 15% of gross.  Now, to be sure, Amazon isn’t doing this for love of the common author. Or for the benefit of readers… but then, neither was the publishing industry. The trick is going to be keeping it worth Amazon’s while to treat authors and readers as well as possible, for their own benefit. Actually there is a balance, it works, it’s just that the publishing industry became an oligopoly where their interests and the interests of most authors and readers diverged. And as an oligopoly they could push it their way for a while… it damaged the customer base a lot,

2) “No other book retailer could have afforded to lose so much money on e-books”.  Really? The big players in e-ware – Apple and Google, both now entering the fray (as are many others) can match and raise Amazon… if they choose to. The difference is Amazon has shown them that they don’t have to do so with PUBLISHERS, but writers.

“There is enormous value to writers—and to readers—in the professional job that publishers do: the selection, editorial development, packaging, distribution, publicity and marketing of books. Those are the things that turn manuscripts into the prize winners and best-sellers that we all hear about and want to read.”

Welllll…. let’s start with saying that yes, there is enormous value in these things. But really, Brian, the question is: do publishers actually do all of them for their authors?  And the answer is: no. For a start, they outsourced selection to agents, who charge their authors 5% extra for this (agency fees went from 10% to 15% when publishers stopped reading slush).  So: not only do publishers not do it, but the producers pay for it. Is there really any reason why authors shouldn’t still just pay 5% (a realistic fee on 70% of gross, still more than 15% of 15% of gross) for the same service? “Ah, but they select the best from the agents…”  Really? That explains the many perennial best-sellers who got rejected by house after house before finding success. But anyway, they only get it right 25% of the time (1:4 authors makes past 3 books), and of that 25% only 25% survive to make a career. So: 95% wrong. Or there is something wrong with the rest of the list of things they do. And yes, there is. But ‘selection’ is not something that publishers can claim they alone  do, or that their small role in this is singly successful. Part of this is that they have not systematised selection, and this would require a new statistic, which, as far as I know no-one collects. And that is ‘sales per unit effort’ – because this would measure quality-to-readers.  ‘Sales numbers’ without a measure of effort is near meaningless.

So what of the rest of rest of DeFiore’s ‘you will lose’ list? Well, these
are the ‘effort’ per book which no-one bothers to quantify. Publishers have
finite resources, and the amount of effort allocated is not equal.  Better at some publishers than others, of course, but not equal. Now: for
the best value for the reader and author, these resources need to be
allocated in such a way that as many readers get as good a book as possible.
However the perceived best value for the publisher has been to maximize
profits by a ‘best-seller’ strategy, which means spreading cost allocation,
and narrowing effort so the fixed costs per best-seller unit are low as
possible. Which means, de facto, you empty the butter-boat on the chosen few
(which as we have established are not chosen effectively, and often have no
need of spend – publicity on say Gaiman for example) and chuck-and-chance
the rest – which have to be there, for their capacity to carry costs -with minimal
spend. There are varying degrees of this, some publishers far worse,  some

As you can imagine this is not the same ‘best value’ as readers and authors
want. It’s not even in reality good value for publishers. BUT _ALL_
publishers to a greater or lesser degree still indulge in it. As they’re
doing this on guesses, which have repeatedly proved quite inaccurate (or
no-one would have vast print runs and loads of remainders) this is
intrinsically a form of gambling. And like the banks, it’s a kind of
gambling where they privatise their profits, and socialise (to their midlist
and new authors) their losses.

It’s a gamble in which there are very few real winners, and most of the
responsibility for the situation falls on publishing, not authors, agents or
retailers. For example: If you’re a butter-boat author and they ordered a
huge print run, and did the works, and there are large numbers of remainders
of that book to be bought, then they either did their selection wrong —
mis-guessing the popularity, or failed the marketing and distribution – also
their responsibility.  If the book sells out (especially if it does so
rapidly) and they fail to reprint – they also got it wrong. If they cheated to make this not happen or appear to happen, well that’s even worse.  In all cases,
at the expense not only of that author, but all the other authors in their
stable. The other new authors and midlisters, who got the chuck-and-chance,
and very likely the minimum advance, and very little editing or marketing
etc. are the worst victims.

Even if you were the lucky one, that means little, unless… you were lucky
AND they got it perfectly right, and there were no vast amounts of
remainders, and, in fact, you stay in print for a long, long time, meaning
that profit is real and would have been so even if the company had not
published another book in that month.  This seldom happens (most
‘best-sellers’ would be loss making under these circumstances, and are only
profitable because they are not the only book), or publishing would be
vastly more profitable. In the meanwhile the new authors who got
‘chuck-and-chance’… if they succeed (usually by their own effort and skill)
their publisher reaps the bulk of the benefit.

The actual number sales needed to make this a _real_ loss (ie where the
publisher would have been better off to not publish the book at all, as
opposed to a paper loss, where, due to the accounting used, the book loses
money, but the publisher is still better off publishing it than not
publishing) are fairly small. It’s really not much of a gamble for them,
especially when you work out that for that 6% royalty, and minimum advance,
the author had to have a day job, or a supporting partner, de facto
subsidizing her publisher’s gamble (by allowing them to pay far far below
the ‘cost’ of the work), and the ‘lucky’ author who was therefore able to
get all the resources.

So: I am afraid that claiming publishing has done all these wonderful things
that we’ll lose now, is rather like saying Ben Ali/Gadaffi/Mubarak’s
governments were wonderful,  because the state was generous to those their
rulers favored – some of whom were indeed deserving of favor. True for those
people, but not plausible in its entirety. And yes, some of these countries, and
some publishers, were worse than others. What follows in those countries,
and in publishing, may very easily be far worse still. But like the curate’s
egg, you can’t really say the industry is good… in parts.

After the Amazon bashing it’s quite… interesting to quote from DeFiore’s last paragraph: “and I’m eager to work with them [Amazon] and see what they can do.”

So: Having talked about serious things, I thought I’d make you laugh.  Firstly because it funny to see a monkey’s advice being followed (even by accident).

My favorite quotes have to be: “Publishers didn’t realize the frustration that authors have.”

Closely followed by

“While book publishers say that they openly share information with authors and agents”

and the weasel spin on this, assuming that authors don’t talk to each other, and think it was only them that had trouble getting this blood out of a stone: “,they will sometimes hesitate to do so if a book is not selling well.”

So you only beat us for our own good, because you love us? Really?

For their next trick quarterly payment, at the end of each quarter not years later, would be good to repair those bridges.

In other interesting times developments  .  I do wonder what they’ll offer to pay?
As Bob said: “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone…” I guess.

Another Nail in the Coffin

by Amanda S. Green

I’m a little late posting this morning and I apologize.  I’d really planned on putting up an open thread today, but a couple of articles caught my eye during the wee hours of the morning as I was trying to convince the scaredy dog (yes, that is a word and the nicest I could call the drooler at the time) that we weren’t about to be tossed into the air only to land in Oz.  In other words, the big, bad dog is scared of rain and kept the household up during the night because we had storms.

Any way, a couple of articles caught my eye.  One has been in the news for a week or so.  There have been the typical knee-jerk reaction from the legacy publishers and those who still believe they are the only hope for the publishing industry.  Another has been sort of ignored because it doesn’t deal with Amazon even though it is yet another example of how some agents are potentially getting into a conflict of interest, or at least a very grey and murky area of fiduciary duty to their clients.

But the Amazon story first.  On the 16th of this month, the New York Times published an article about Amazon bypassing publishers and signing authors to contracts to publish through Amazon.  For some months now, Amazon has been introducing “imprints”.  Several well-known authors signed exclusive publishing contracts with Amazon.  There were a few ripples when that happened, but nothing like the response to the Times’ article last week.  The specifics are pretty simple.  This fall, Amazon will publish 122 titles.  These titles will be across a variety of genres and some will be digital and some hard copy.  Among the authors will be self-help guru Tim Ferrias and actor/director Penny Marshall.And the cries of foul were heard far and wide from legacy publishers.

According to the Times, “Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.”

So let’s look at that statement.  While I can’t speak to whether or not Amazon is “aggressively wooing” top authors, it would be a fool not to.  The same publishers who are crying foul are the ones who backed the agency pricing plan for e-books.  This is the plan that lets the publishers set the price for their e-books so there is no competition across the different e-book retailers.  Worse, the general reading public doesn’t understand that Amazon can’t control the prices for those books from the agency model publishers, and it is the one on the receiving end of the bad customer feelings.

But more telling is that these same publishers are crying because Amazon is “gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.”  Used to provide is the key phrase here.  Past tense.  As in, these are services that were once provided by publishers, critics and agents and are no longer.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  And, frankly, can you blame an author for signing with Amazon if it does offer the editing, copy editing and proofreading, promotion and placement legacy publishers used to and no longer do?  I can’t.

I also think it’s rather disingenuous to have an agent, who also happens to be a publisher, complaining about Amazon taking money out of the hands of agents.  What about putting money into the hands of writers, especially when so many agents these days are either turning into publishers themselves (which brings up the question of just how hard they are going to work to place their clients’ work with another publisher when the agency could be the publisher)?  I’ll be honest, those who are crying “foul” the loudest are those who have enjoyed telling the writer to bend over and cough, forgetting that, without the writer, they wouldn’t have a business.

Read the article and let me know what you think.

Then there’s the second article, which sort of falls in with my last set of comments.  The Perseus Books Group has announced a new venture to “help” authors who want to self-publish.  The catch:  these authors have to be represented by certain agents who have signed agreements with Perseus.  So, that’s how some agents are getting around the somewhat murky ethical issue of literary agents also being publishers.  They don’t.  They just sign agreements with companies like Perseus to “publish” and “distribute” the books.

The article notes that one of the “benefits” of doing it this way is the breakdown of authors getting 70% while Perseus will only get 30%.  Guess what, boys and girls, an author can get that from Amazon now by self-publishing through them.  More than that, any author is capable of putting their e-books into the outlets mentioned in the article.  Even if the author doesn’t have the required Mac computer for iBooks/iTunes, it can be easily done through Smashwords.  Again, quick and easy and without the middleman.

But there’s more.  At least I have more concerns.  Question one, if Author A is represented by one of the agencies that has an agreement with Perseus, does Author A owe a commission to Agent B if he goes through Perseus?  Question two, if so, how does the agency build the proverbial Chinese wall (no insult intended here.  It’s a phrase learned in law school.) to make sure there is no undue pressure put on the author/client to go this route instead of the traditional publishing route?  Conversely, what sort of pressure would the agent put on Author A if the author came to him and said he wanted to self-publish and Agent B really wants to take the book through the traditional route?

I know legacy publishers and agents are scared about where the industry is going.  Or they should be.  Heck, anyone in the business, including authors, should be at least a little scared.  But it really is those who have made their livelihoods on the backs of authors who are the most scared and who are doing their best to find new and imaginative ways to maintain the status quo.  My advice, whether you are shopping a book around right now or thinking about doing so in the near future, decide what route is best for you.  Most of all, if you are offered a contract by either an agent or a legacy publisher, hie thee to an intellectual property attorney forthwith.  Do NOT sign it without first having someone very familiar with the industry looking it over first.  And please, note I said legacy publisher AND agent.

(Cross-posted to Naked Truth and here)

Welcome to ConVent: a tour of Convention society with a hefty side of Kate-weird

In the tradition of very small presses, ConVent has gone from being released Real Soon Now to being released Any Time Now. Needless to say I’m excited. And I have a cover!

Multitalented multifarious Sarah Hoyt has graciously provided cover art that captures the multifold complex layering of this unique literary tour-de-farce. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Anyway, snippetses are available here and here (in that order), and there will be more, so keep watching the Naked Truth for more hot undercover angel (that doesn’t sound quite right somehow).

Oh, yes. The disclaimers. Everyone except those who asked (and in some cases begged) for it is a combination of original character and pastiche of observations from multiple sources. The people who asked got to decide what I was going to do to them, and how. You know who you are. Also, the management is not responsible for any sprayed keyboards, liquid inhalation or other laughter-related ailments induced by reading ConVent. Really. If you’re silly enough to read it with anything in your mouth, that’s your fault.

And for the persistent a wee snippetses from somewhere middle-ish, just for fun:

We drifted past a couple of editorial types — both smelled of demon — discussing a third in terms that were libelous at best, or would have been if they hadn’t been totally accurate. Had the subject of their discussion chosen to greet them, they would have been instantly best friends until they parted ways and could slip the knife in again.

Welcome to the publishing industry. The only business in the world that uses Machiavelli for its code of ethics — and uses him incompetently at that.

Nested Goals

by Chris McMahon

I was reflecting recently how having a submission on an editor’s desk can really fire you up in terms of motivation. It can also really twist the knife when things don’t go as planned – gutting your urge to apply yourself. My initial thoughts here were to disconnect from the outcome, investing in yourself and the work instead. That’s hard to do though, on some level you always seem to latch onto that potential outcome.

In terms of goal-setting, people have always talked about the importance of setting overall goals, then sub-goals. With writing, the advice has always been to get lots of things out there i.e. get the ‘hot potato’ back out onto the market as soon as possible. On a conscious level I guess I have always understood that – in fact my planning has often been an impeccable development of this line of thinking. Yet the reality has always been different.

I have passed through a phase of ‘scatter-gun’ marketing, but found it not only exhausting but also ineffective. With short work I have had much more success just sitting on pieces until the right sort of market has opened up.

So I’ve tried to go with the general principle – to keep things in motion – but gone for a simple idea of ‘nested goals’. Basically I have one market active for one piece, enough to motivate me and keep me running. The difference is that if this market comes back negative, I have another option for that manuscript in place, ready to run.

In the light of Goal-setting 101, it might sound basic, but it seems to work for me (this whole field seems to be full of things to relearn you knew 10 years ago, but get rediscovered in a new way). It allows me to keep my momentum, and also allows me to focus on the selected markets and think about what they are really looking for. In a strange way it also frees me up to explore different concepts because I know it might take longer. Weird, but true.

How do you plan the marketing strategy for your work?