What were they thinking?

This past week has been odd, to say the least. Between company visiting, some medical issues for both my mother and me and trying to do a little work for NRP as well as write one handed, life has often been an exercise in frustration. And then there’s the latest round in a couple of repeat issues in publishing that had me alternately shaking my head and wanting to scream. So, I guess you could say it’s been life as usual, at least until we see exactly what Apple and company claim in their appeals of the agency pricing judgment and how the court rules. Then the fun will all begin again.

Anyway . . .

Yesterday, I went traipsing through the internet looking for something that might inspire me for today’s post. The first item I came across was a FB post by an author linking to an article on Forbes about how Barnes & Noble is “sticking it” to Amazon. In a new article, it was claimed BN was really putting it to Amazon because it, BN, refused to stock books published by BN. You see, that really hurts Amazon because it prevents the online retailer from having what it needs most for its books: a presence in brick and mortar stores.

I have a couple of issues with this. The first is that this isn’t news. BN and others made this decision a year or more ago when Amazon first announced it was getting into the publishing business. While I can’t say why the article author felt this old news was suddenly “new” news, I can say that I’m of mixed feelings about the decision by BN. On one hand, I understand that the corporate bean counters don’t want to do anything that would put more money into Amazon’s pockets. After all, they have long claimed Amazon is the “Big Evil” and responsible for the downfall of all bookstores. Common sense would have you at least considering whether or not you are causing harm to your own company if you put a competitor’s products in your stores.

The flip side to this is that the competitor might have a product that your customers want. The first key to good business is to get customers through your doors. So you have to ask if the competitor’s product is something that would do just that and, if it is, how you can then use that product to entice the customer into buying other items that are from other suppliers/publishers/etc. However, by simply refusing to carry anything that Amazon publishes, you deny yourself potential sales.

There is another facet of the decision the article — and those supporting BN’s decision — overlooks and that is the impact the decision has on authors. Here is a bookseller that claims to have the best interest of authors and readers in mind with this ban on all things Amazon denying authors an outlet for their work and readers the chance to find said authors’ work. But, because Amazon is involved, too few authors have dared question the decision.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying BN should automatically carry everything Amazon publishes and give it prime shelf space. What I am saying is that BN might be cutting off its nose to spite its face here. They can agree to sell books published by Amazon but they can negotiate a contract to do so that is advantageous to BN. That’s what Amazon has done for years with publishers. Since BN is basically the big kid on the playground when it comes to brick and mortar stores, it has the power if Amazon wants shelf space. So serve the ball to Amazon and then see who blinks first.

The second item that caught my eye was a blog post this morning. No, I’m not going to link to it. It’s not that I disagree, at least not totally, with what the blogger had to say. My real problem comes from what some of the commenters had to say. However, a little google-foo and you’ll find the post without any real problem.

The basic gist of the blog was to reframe the role of gatekeepers in publishing. The blogger stated that agents and editors aren’t looking at submissions to see who to keep out of the legacy publishing club but to find projects they liked and felt they could sell. In fact, according to the blogger, they aren’t really gatekeepers. It was a more positive spin on what we’ve been saying here, written from the point of view of a gatekeeper instead of an author.

I’ll even agree with the blogger that most agents are looking for work they think they can sell. Whether they actually like the work is up to interpretation. But they are basing what they think they can sell on what they are hearing from other agents and from editors about what is currently selling and what editors are looking for. Quality of the work does have something to do with the decision but even that isn’t always a major consideration. If it were, how in the world did Fifty Shades ever get published?

But what had my head exploding — and I really have to quit letting that happen early mornings because it is so hard to clean up before coffee — was one of the comments. This person went on about how she and her husband had been discussing errors he’d found in books he’d been reading. She specified that a lot were in the sf/f books he’d read recently and how it was her belief that writers needed to be patient and work their way through the system to be published by a real publisher. If you can’t find an agent and publisher then you have to realize that your work just isn’t good enough and should be abandoned.

Now, we’ve discussed the problems with this stance before but it continues to amaze me how people — both those in the industry and out of it — fail to grasp the realities of legacy publishing. There are only so many slots a month a publisher can fill. Of those slots, some are for reprints. That means only a few slots a month per publisher for new titles. Since a publisher is a businessman — or so they keep telling us. I still have my doubts — the publisher will fill those as many of those slots as possible with authors who already have a track record. The publisher may hold back one or two slots for new authors. But those are few and far between.

Add into that equation that those slots are being filled with authors who have written something that fits into the mold of what the publisher things is the latest trend in publishing or that fits what the publisher thinks is the current message of the day. That leaves out a lot of titles that are well written and entertaining but that simply don’t meet the subjective criteria of the editors.

Does that mean every one else who has written a book should just stop writing or stop trying to find a way to get their book into the hands of readers? Not only no but hell no. It does mean we have an uphill battle ahead of us because there are still those folks out there who believe that anything that doesn’t come from one of the Big Five Publishers isn’t a real book. However, for every one who feels that way, I can show you someone else who is thrilled with the increased number of titles out there, especially in sf/f and all its sub-genres, because of the increased number of small presses and self-published authors.

But the commenter was right about one thing. There are more mistakes slipping through. But this is happening on all levels, from legacy publishers to self-published authors. So to condemn every level of publishing except legacy publishing is wrong. Again, authors, it is a wake-up call to us. We have to take the reins of control for all our work. It means we have to keep better notes about our characters, especially if we are writing series. It means we can’t just assume that book we were lucky enough to sell to Big Publisher Alpha Dog will actually be edited, much less copy edited and proofed. We have to do it ourselves — or hire someone to do it.

All that said, the most important thing we can do is keep writing. Well, that and keep on top of what is happening in the industry and not let our heads explode too early in the day.

nocturnal interludenewIn the meantime, I have to show off the cover Sarah just designed for Nocturnal Interlude, the third novel and fourth title in the Nocturnal Lives Series. Interlude is finished and I’m waiting to hear back from the editor. This book is a bit different from the others in the series and a little darker because some of the issues brought up in the previous titles are coming to a head. It’s going to be interesting to see where the next book takes me as I write it — but that is two titles down the road.

 

And now I’m off to find some more coffee, some breakfast and painkillers. Then, maybe, I can get some work done.

 

 

54 comments

  1. I believe there’s a typo, here, at:
    “it was claimed BN was really putting it to Amazon because it, BN, refused to stock books published by BN.”
    Shouldn’t that last ref to BN actually be a ref to Amazon?

    1. Shhh, there’s a typo because Amanda didn’t have a “real” publisher and agent vet her blog post before she hit the publish button this AM. 😉 *ducks and covers*

      1. Damn, TXRed, you caught me. If I’d had a REAL publisher and agent vet this post, it would have been perfect — oh, wait, in the real world, they wouldn’t have cared except to tell me I needed to come down hard against the Big Evil that is Amazon.

    2. Phil, don’t pick on the writer who did the post one-handed, on too little coffee and after having company for a week 😉

  2. Very Nice cover, but it yells paranormal romance at me (or possibly plain erotica if the reader doesn’t bother to read the blurb and just the Interlude title).

    Realize this is coming from a reader who seldom looks at covers until after he has read the book a couple of times, so this opinion is worth about half what you paid for it. 😉

      1. Having read the ones that are out (not the one the cover is for) I would have considered one PR/UF but the other two straight UF. Actually since they were all in the same series with the same MC I considered them all UF until thinking about this when you mentioned it. The romance fits the story, but isn’t THE story in the one book that is kind of a crossover.

        1. Actually, it isn’t a cross-over because, as you said, the romance isn’t the story. In my mind, it is like a lot of mysteries and suspense novels out there. The romance is just a backdrop and a means of advancing the character development without it becoming the main thrust of the story — Sarah, quit snickering.

    1. Not enough skin — or a sexy male — on the cover for either, to be honest. But I know what you mean. When Sarah started redesigning the series covers, she talked with me about her concern that the other covers, while good and covers I liked, weren’t putting out the right cues. All I can say is that after changing the covers on the first two, we are seeing an uptick in sales. Since there haven’t been returns or negative reviews, I’m assuming they weren’t tricked into thinking it was PNR instead of UF.

      1. Well I went and scrolled through the Erotica section of the Amazon’s free kindle site (since that site is in my favorites and the easiest way for me to look at a lot of book covers fast) and unlike the grocery line romance shelves a lot of the erotica covers have just a half nekkid or nekkid woman on the cover. I still probably wouldn’t have picked out the cover as erotica EXCEPT for the title. Nocturnal Interlude combined with a woman stripping off her clothes on the cover says erotica to me. But again I don’t pay a lot of attention to covers, so if it sells better, without complaints go with it. I know the author, so I’m going to pick it up whether it has a plain blue cover, or a woman spread eagled on it, and honestly probably won’t look at the cover at all in ebook format, I have no idea what the covers of the other titles in the series look like. 😉

        1. stripping off her clothes? Interesting, I thought she was putting on her shirt. I wonder which way most people interpret that picture…

  3. I had to laugh back when Borders went under, and was busy blaming Amazon and not their own issues (The photo of the Chicago store especially with the sign stating “No Restroom! Try at Amazon.”). I used to prefer Borders over BN, and spent much time in the Metairie store, and when I wanted a book they didn’t have, went to Borders.com … that they stopped doing and made me sign up for an Amazon account, as when you typed Borders.com in it then went to an Amazon page. When the split off again and went on their own, I already had the Amazon account, so why register for another at Borders .. again, as Amazon had usually better prices, and more selection? Soon, the bricks were full of stuff I wasn’t going to buy, and the last few times I went into the local Borders here in Texas they didn’t have what I was looking for. I noticed too that where once the line at the registers was full with people holding stacks of books, at the end, it was more people talking to the customer service desk and leaving … empty handed.

    1. Your reaction was much the same as mine. I always loved Borders over BN but the debacle with their website and then other decisions they made had more to do with their demise than Amazon ever did. BTW, it was a Borders in Fort Worth that not only had never heard of Baen Books but also didn’t know about Simon & Schuster. And that was from one of the managers there.

      1. I used the Burleson one once I moved here. The Metairie one was very good when I used to go there. Also it contained that ultra rare Flaming Gay Conservative Lifetime NRA member (with a class 3 ffl and several machine guns) who was pretty good with knowing what was on hand without needing to look it up.

        1. I used the one on Hulen in Fort Worth, just off of I-30, because my son went to high school just across the street. Initially, it was very good and well stocked. But then they got new managers who thought it necessary to keep students out — yes, they actively tried to throw students out even if the students were spending money — and socializing amongst themselves than keeping shelves stocked or actually knowing their stock.

          1. It wasn’t very good when I used it once. That would be some time between 2004 and the B’son store opening. The other I used here was down near the Hulen mall south of I-20 and it was not much better. The worker I talked to once complained the store was too small and wasn’t happy with the way ordering being done due to that.

          2. oh, and the Metairie store was a huge dedicated build of two stories, so I guess I was quite spoiled before moving here. I haven’t been in another that was as well organized, but then I didn’t get to visit in the waning days so it too may have GTHIAHB.

  4. Like the legacy publishers, the brick and mortars are victims of their own previous successes. Successful businesses trend toward conservative business practices and become less and less responsive to the market. Then they die and somebody else takes over.

    BN refusing to stock Amazon published work? Pure petulance. Your competitor wants to sell you their product at wholesale and let you make retail profit on it? Um, okay? Your competitor is chewing up increasing market share, but has no physical retail presence, so they want to invite their customers into your store to do business? Um, sure? Your competitor wants to help make you money and drive customers to your door and you’re saying no?? Idiots. Petulant idiots.

    Imperfect analogy, but visit a new car dealership and check out their used car lot. It’s all used versions of their new cars, right? Well, no. It’s used versions of everybody’s cars. Because that’s advertising for them (people traded these in for ours) and because they’ll make money off of them and MOST IMPORTANTLY, they’ll pull people onto the lot. You like that brand X truck, yeah? Pretty nice. Have you looked at ours? No shed skin cells in that one…

    Or grocery stores. Most stores have a store brand sitting beside the name brand on their shelves these days. They don’t kick the name brands out because now they’re selling their own. They use the name brand to draw people in the door and offer them a deal on the store brand. Whatever people pick the store MAKES MONEY!

    Unless BN is convinced their product offering is inferior and people won’t shop outside of the Amazon shelves (which would logically be dispersed amongst the other books) they’re just proving on the market why they don’t deserve to continue in business.

    Petulant idiots.

    1. Agree with you completely. BN seems like the kid in the playground stomping his foot and refusing to share because he isn’t getting his way.

      1. And the remarkably silly thing about their petulance? The impact on Amazon will be negligible, the lost sales opportunities (on non-Amazon products) could be significant for BN.

        I think there’s some folks coming out of business school these days with some remarkably short-sided thinking. Maximize profits in the short-term and then leave. The long-term success of the enterprise is not even on their radar. How else explain GM dumping one of their most profitable divisions (Saturn) in the reorganization? Borders, Circuit City, Montgomery Wards, Sears… Big-name properties being driven under by odd business decisions.

        1. Do NOT get me started on the loss of my beloved Saturn division. I have one now and will drive it as long as possible. Why? Because it was well made. What I miss is the great customer service at the service center where I knew I could send my 80+ year old mother and not worry about her being taken advantage of. Now I have to be the one to go in because the Chevy dealership that handles the Saturn repairs in our area not only tries to get one over on my mom but even tried to with my 22 year old son (at the time). If he hadn’t called me about it, they would have taken us for several thousands of dollars on what turned out to be mainly warranty work.

          But you are right about the short term goals overtaking and eclipsing the long term goals. It is sad, when you consider how many good products and companies have suffered because of it.

          1. I hear you. I had to ditch my 2001 Saturn in 2010 because the reorganized GM had conveniently forgotten it ever had a Saturn division, and refused to sell me the parts I needed to keep it on the road. (Front bumper mount needed replaced: bumper fell off.) It was a perfectly good car in every other respect – never gave me any mechanical trouble. But I won’t buy another GM product, because they have proven to me that they cannot be trusted to support the product after the sale.

            Funny how that resembles publishers who won’t support a series by keeping the earlier volumes in print when a new book comes out, and brick-and-mortar joints like Ignoble Barns that won’t stock the earlier books if they are in print. Those guys have been losing my business too – and driving me straight to Amazon.

            It is a damning thing when you can say about a business, ‘This decision is so stupid, a publisher could have made it.’ But it was true of GM.

            1. I hear you. I am not looking forward to the day when I have to get rid of my Vue because I know it will be for much the same reason as you’ve said. And, yes, it does seem like GM and publishers have gone down much the same road when it comes to the lack of good business decisions.

              1. I looked at a wrecked Vue a short while back, with thoughts of fixing it up and selling it. The price was right, but the hassle of finding parts (unlike some Saturns do not have a plethora of aftermarket parts available) made me pass on it.

    2. Same thing with traditional publishers wanting to restrict you to only working for one of them — notice Baen never does this. I mean, why would they? My Berkley readers, running out of mysteries, come over to try the sci fi. Like it. Go “Um, maybe I’ll like Correia.”

      1. I was baffled when I first heard that publishers do this. I knew the music industry did, and always thought it stupid and irritating. And a significant impediment to business on something like collaborations.

        Is it more zero-sum thinking? Belief that they’re chasing a limited number of dollars and every one somebody else gets is one out of their pocket? Authoritarian impulse?

        Short-sighted, whatever the root.

        1. Yep. I think because the print runs keep falling they’ve convinced themselves FEWER people are reading (as opposed to they’re not publishing what people want to read) so they think they’re chasing fewer and fewer dollars each time, and… well…

          1. Hmph. Good content generates sales. Good content producers generate interest and sales for those associated with them. The magic does rub off…

            I’m not telling you anything new, but maybe somebody in need of a clue will wander by.

            As an aside, I have this fantastic image of somebody wandering over from Berkely looking for “more from that Hoyt woman!” doing the “Um, maybe I’ll like Correia” thing and later learning that Baen is a crafty dealer in addictions.

  5. Love the cover. (Can’t wait for the book.) Are you going to go back and re-do the earlier covers? Some time, if you have a minute, could you offer your take on whether it’s important to maintain a brand look for a series?

    M

    1. Sarah has redone the covers and has then fine tuned them. So the answer to your question is yes.

      I’ll not go into detail here because Sarah or one of the others might want to blog on it — if not, I will later — it is very important to maintain a brand look for a series. You want your readers to be able to look at the cover and see right away it is part of a series they are reading or interested in. Branding in books is important, imo.

  6. To fill in a little here – I believe the Amazon/B&N post refers to the fact that Amazon are seriously down-scaling their traditional publishing venture. I suspect that putting this down to B&N is wishful thinking. I suspect Amazon worked out that there was no future in it, and are getting out, rather than chasing it down the drain.

    1. Dave, you may be right. Even so, the mind still boggles. As for what Amazon is doing with their publishing side, I think they are scaling it back. I’m not sure they are giving up on it. I do know they’ve named a replacement for the current head who is leaving at the end of the year.

      1. It does seem that Amazon is scaling back its New York operation. I haven’t heard that it was doing the same with the genre imprints run out of Seattle.

        1. Tom, I haven’t heard anything about the genre imprints either. I’m assuming that means they are doing all right.

          BTW, welcome to MGC!

  7. Future topic — can group editing/readers feeding back typos and whatnot make a difference? E.g., over on Baen’s Bar people regularly volunteer to proofread (and get turned down because the coordination costs are too high), Gutenberg and others use volunteer proofreaders, can self-pub authors use that model somehow? (note: pre-morning tea, but something in your posting reminded me of this fascinating notion, so I thought I’d pass it along)

    1. Mike, from a writer/editor standpoint, I’d say not only no, but hell no to it making a difference. There are several reasons why, not the least of which is the problem with coordinating all the suggestions. Then you have to make sure that they are actually valid suggestions. You’d be surprised the number of times I’ve seen folks comment that a word was misspelled or the wrong word was used and they were wrong.

      There are also issues that tend toward the legal end of it as well. There is always the chance that someone will make “editorial” suggestions and then take the author to court when they think the author took their suggestion yet didn’t pay/give acknowledgement for their “work”.

      Thanks for the suggestion and one of the others might take it up as a topic.

      1. You’d be surprised the number of times I’ve seen folks comment that a word was misspelled or the wrong word was used and they were wrong.

        Indeed. If you have the skills to vet the contributions of a bunch of volunteer proofreaders, you have the skills to do the proofreading yourself.

        There ought to be a resounding epigram to express this important principle, preferably in Latin. (Everything sounds more impressive in Latin.) How about ‘Quis corriget ipsos correctores’?

        1. I’m faint but pursuing here, Tom. I’ve been sending my books out to first readers and second readers – who inevitably do some proof-reading and sometimes even structural edit comments – for about 20 years and about 30 books, and a shed of short stories, novellas etc. I am a far better than average proof-reader, and reasonable structural editor… but NOT of my own work, unless I was prepared to wait 5 years or more, because I read over my own errors, and know what I was trying to say. And because every book gets 2 passes, before it goes to the publishers, who give it a third… make that 15 years :-). I would guess that this is highly subjective, depending on the number and type of proof corrections, but I don’t find going through their suggested proof corrections hard – for me it’s usually left-out words, and occasional spelling disagreements. Sometimes it’s ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘WTF’? Which I read at – one reader re-read and consider, 2 + readers re-phrase. I just don’t get why you see this as a potential copyright issue, and would like to know, if you don’t mind explaining.

          1. It’s a potential copyright issue if the proofreaders claim that they made changes of actual substance to the work, and therefore ought to be regarded as coauthors. Absent a contract, they can in theory drag the author into court with a nuisance lawsuit. And if the work is highly profitable, ‘in theory’ turns into ‘some fathead almost certainly will’. At that point, the author can either settle out of court or pay a big chunk of his profits to lawyers.

            It isn’t really an issue of copyright law; it’s just that copyright law provides an excuse for greedy or hot-headed people to be insanely litigious.

      2. I got downgraded in a context for “having too poor a vocabulary” once. The judge’s marks on my manuscript included changing stolid to solid… and others. So second on the “oh, my. What a mess that would be.”

    2. Amplifying on the above: Gutenberg can use volunteer proofreaders for the same reason FOSS developers can accept code from volunteer programmers. The works are in the public domain, so there are no copyright issues for anyone to get snippy over. Crowdsourcing anything for a copyrighted work = instant legal quagmire. Pity.

  8. to publishers not keeping books – not sf but went to a bookstore today to get an apparently older book – but not that old or at least not ancient – 2003 – and they couldn’t even order it from their distributor; didn’t say it was oop but just didn’t have it…

  9. I wonder when’s a good time to start whining about when _Nocturnal Interlude_ will be available? [Wink]

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