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The Cuttlefish – Learning without having to do it the hard way

The trouble with always having to learn the hard way, is that it’s sometimes terminal – whether you’re talking about the dangers of high voltage, rock-climbing (and trust me, if I’d learned ALL my lessons the hard way, I’d be dead) or business.

For some years I’ve been saying that the publishing industry was mad to let their personal issues and politics stand in the way of common sense, and the odd practice of making as much of a profit as possible. And that said common sense showed that too much greed wasn’t good, except in very very very short term. My example has always been Baen who for example, invested in a public forum, listened to what their readers commenting on that forum had to say, and acting on it. Setting that up and maintaining it was not cheap in time or effort. Co-opting authors to do a lot of it was boxing clever. The ‘free labor’ thus obtained did strengthen the brand to the point where Baen is probably the only publishing house to have one. Of course, there was a trade-off — various authors built their own names into brands – which allows them to be more independent, which is not something most publishers regard as a good thing. (This is the product, IMO of short term bonus seeking CEO culture, instead of the independent owners who take a longer term outlook, that mutual goodwill is an asset – but that’s another debate.) They de facto pioneered e-books, and e-ARCs. They did things other publishers scorned — published outside their ideological box. They had the Free Library. All of these are good ideas, forward looking, profit-seeking business sense.

Any company who was in this business with a profit seeking mindset should and would have been imitating and innovating on these ideas. Instead it almost seemed that if Baen did it (with the tiny resources they had at their disposal compared to big 6), the others would balk from it, on principle.

Curiously I’m now in the process of dealing with another small and seemingly innovative publisher. Pyr is bringing out two YA books from me — THE CUTTLEFISH, and THE STEAM-MOLE. It’s been a steep learning curve for me too (and a good one). And there are things they do which make such good business sense, and are so obviously intended to increase their profit (and thus benefit me too – but really the publishers and retailers do get most of the income, so this is mostly for their financial benefit)

(if you click on the cover it takes you to Amazon… amazing really)The editor not only interacted a lot with me about the story and cover, but asked me to hold off on the image until it was released on Amazon AND THEN TOLD ME IT WAS UP.


This took the editor – who was presumably notified of this by Amazon or his staff – maybe 30 seconds to e-mail me about.

In terms of labor value, that’s about the best return you’re going to get on 30 seconds work. Firstly, he’s generated a lot of goodwill, both from me and the artist. Secondly, I am now advertising the book – and it’s a corker, you should read it, I know the author and writes some great yarns, and he believes if it isn’t good enough for adults it’s sure enough not good enough for anyone else. In his case YA means no graphic sex, so if that’s what you wanted, you’re out of luck. The advertising costs Pyr 30 seconds of labor, which also had another payoff, and it is, fair enough, mostly them and the retailer who benefit. At the very least, that was a few hundred dollars for them for 30 second courtesy. But I am happy to do this because it also benefits me and it _was_ courtesy.

On the other hand Baen – who I cited as an example in other areas, just waste this. I’m always the last to know when my books are available. ‘Up on Amazon now.’ doesn’t take long to type and send. DOG AND DRAGON is now up and has been for some time

I am very pleased with the cover, and delighted to have the book out there. I’d have been telling everyone to buy it – and CUTTLEFISH – if I’d only known. And I’ve asked. I’ve even begged. I have asked everyone I can think of… Never happend. Not once. It’s obviously just not a good thing to do for some reason. The first I knew of E-ARC being available – instead of me pushing it, principally to their benefit, was from fans commenting to me. I’ve been fortunate to get some great coverage for it, here and here Of course Patrick told me after he put them up. And in both cases I’m happy to point readers back at them. Everyone wins, which is the ideal situation.

So the point I’m making here is that if you’re profit-seeking that bit of courtesy – seconds of time invested – and communication pays handsome dividends. It’s a step that I wish everyone would learn from those who figured it out. I’m not sure how it would lose you anything. Perhaps authors might tell their readers not to buy it? Likely. Or the book would prove its strength better by having to be discovered?

Talking BTW of the opposite of profit-seeking behavior – rent-seeking, which in the long term serves everyone badly except the CEO who collects his bonuses and leaves it would seem hard for me to interpret HarperCollins resort to law as anything positive. But then, building new business, and building the sort of relationships authors _want_ to stay in is a lot harder (if far more rewarding) work than resorting to law to protect your oligopoly. To let my rather wild and woolly ideas out briefly — if I was the law-maker I’d ask how come, as Hollyweird (and it seems publishing is being imitative) always manages to run at a ‘loss’ and thereby avoid paying royalties to creators or taxes… they still want to extend their monopoly on copyrighted work? Especially if the ‘copyrighted’ work is so often derivative and they pay the now dead creator or heirs a round fat zero.

And on that rebellious thought, I bid you all a happy New Year. May 2012 be a good one for writers and readers, and a poor one for those who add little value.

  1. Dave, it really does sound like Pyr is doing things right, at least when it comes to communication with you. And congrats on Dog and Dragon. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait to read Cuttlefish.

    It is interesting to find that the link re: Harper Collins has been taken down. However, The Passive Guy has a post on it. You can find it here:

    Reading it, I wonder if Harper Collins understands that their argument that “in book form” includes e-books may also undermine their argument that e-books aren’t books but licenses only. That’s been one of their justifications for including DRM.

    January 2, 2012
  2. It almost makes me glad to have never sold a book! Having what might be half of one’s life-work tied up in a contract dispute would be infuriating, to say the least.

    Following links to the Copyright Act termination clause was an eye opener. I wonder how it will effect some of the new, predatory, Agenting contract clauses. Although those are so recent we probably won’t know for another 35 years.

    January 2, 2012
  3. Melvyn Barker #

    Dave, congratulations on selling both The Cuttlefish and The Steam Mole. I look forward to reading them in due course.

    January 2, 2012
  4. We have a huge agency problem, in that the interests of managers are often not aligned with those of long term owners of the company. Especially in publicly traded companies where a rational CEO would pump and dump.

    I suspect the stock market has a large share of the blame. Not sure how to fix it, though. We need huge enterprises, you can’t fabricate chips or run an airline on the cheap.

    January 4, 2012

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