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Are you ready?

Edited to add note on Apple losing its appeal. Scroll to bottom of post for more.

Obviously, I’m not. It is Tuesday morning and I haven’t clue one for a blog topic this morning. So, I let my google-fu do the walking and found several posts of interest. Well, to be honest, I let my fingers virtually walk over to The Passive Voice and, as always, PG was a trove of interesting posts and I’ve pulled a couple of them for discussion. If you aren’t already following PG, I highly recommend you do so. It is, in my opinion, the best site for gathering news and information about the publishing industry out there. You can find the Passive Guy here.

The first post that caught my eye was an excerpt from The New Yorker. In A Book Buyer’s Lamet, the author discusses how difficult it is to know where to go to buy a book these days. The stores are almost identical in how they look and in what they stock. The author looks at the decision of where to buy a book as an “ethical” decision. In other words, where would it do the most good since literary culture is “under threat from several directions,” and “every opportunity to come to its relief should be seized”? In short, the article is a love letter to independently owned bookstores.

I’ll admit, I love the indie bookstores and miss those that fell victim when Borders and Barnes & Noble came into the area and drove them out of business. I applaud those that have cropped up in recent years, finding their niche market and building a clientele to keep their doors open. These stores have, as I said, found a niche market and cater to it. They have employees who love books and love working with their customers. That is something that is all too often lacking in the big box bookstores.

However, as much as I love the local indie bookstores, I will not jump onto the Amazon is evil bandwagon that the New Yorker’s columnist dances around. As Passive Guy points out, “[t]he exquisite moral balancing described seems to ignore one big reality – most bookstore employees are working at minimum wage with little hope of being able earn enough from their employment to live in a pleasant residence, support a family or enjoy the even the most modest trappings of a middle-class life. They are the ultimate wage slaves.”  As Colonel Klink from the old Hogan’s Heroes TV show would say, “Very interesting”.

Another post that caught my eye was this one from Patricia Wrede. In it, Ms. Wrede relates an incident at a book signing when she admitted to the person behind her in line that she was working on her next book. That person, also a writer, proceeded to want to know what conferences Wrede had been to, if she was on Facebook, blogging, etc. Everything the other person was asking about were things she thought Wrede should be doing to promote herself.

Gather a group of writers in a room and ask them about promotion and you will get as many different answers as there are writers and then some. That becomes especially true if you have a mix of traditionally published authors and indie authors. As Wrede points out in her post, there are some authors who make as much, if not more, from their blogs and lectures and courses as they do from their writing. There is nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing at all.

The post is interesting in the questions Ms. Wrede asks. “What, exactly, is it that you hope to sell? Yourself? Or your books?” But the bottom line is simple and she wastes no time in pointing it out. No matter what you are hoping to sell, if you are a writer, you need to remember this. “[F]undamentally, the only thing that every writer has to do is write.” Everything else is a tool to make your work more visible. It is up to you to decide what you are going to do and how much. No one besides yourself can make that decision for you.

Elizabeth Hunter has a great post about the upcoming changes to Amazon’s payment policy for borrows/loans under the Kindle Select/Unlimited programs. Much as I said last week, there is no reason to panic yet about these changes. For one, we don’t know how these changes will impact anyone. We can speculate, especially where shorter works are concerned. But that’s about it. As she points out, no one is making you take part in the program. You can opt out, and Amazon has made it easy to do so, if you are currently enrolled in KDP Select. Or you can stay in. The decision is yours. Don’t let yourself be swept up in the panicked reactions that we are seeing from some folks about these changes. As Ms. Hunter says:

You are the one who controls your books.

You’re it. You’re the boss of your work. You.

So please stop bitching and just take the reins.

Read the post. Not only is it spot on, in my opinion, it has a GIf of Beaker. Anyone who uses Beaker in their post is all right in my book.  😉

Finally, there is this article. At some point, Amazon took down “A Gronking to Remember”. Now, the title alone is enough for me to raise an eyebrow but, well, I guess even Patriots fans need their erotica. Anyway. . . .

The issues with the book basically come down to this. First, the cover had an image of NE Patriots player Ron Gronkowski on it, in uniform. Needless to say, the Pats weren’t happy. So the author removed that “offending” part from the cover and republished. What the author apparently didn’t do was get permission to use the image of the couple seen embracing on the cover. Folks, this is why you always make sure you have the rights to all elements of your cover and any other images you use BEFORE you hit the publish button. I haven’t had a chance to read the court filings but, if the cover story is correct, the plaintiff is suing Amazon, saying Amazon should use facial recognition programming or something similar to check covers before allowing a book to go live.

Uh, no. Not only no but hell no. It is not Amazon’s responsibility — or Apple’s or B&N’s or any other site where we can sell our books — to make sure we have done what we are supposed to do. It is our responsibility as authors to make sure we have the rights to use the images we’ve chosen for our cover. Not only the image but the fonts as well. If you want to call yourself a writer and you want to go the self-published route, then remember that you are also a businessman and act accordingly. This isn’t grade school where you can say you didn’t know better or no one told you you couldn’t use that image. Grow up and take responsibility for your actions.

Ms. Hunter put it best in discussing whether or not a writer should go with the changes at Amazon — and they apply to every aspect of being an indie author:

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the concept of choice. Writers have more choices now than ever before. We can chart our own path. With all those choices comes a lot of confusion. Some people want a road map for how this is done. And the fact of the matter is, in this new publishing landscape there is no road map. We’re all stumbling along. But it’s not nearly as complicated as the hand-wringers want you to believe.

  • Write a good book.
  • Present it in a professional way.
  • Find places to sell it. (There are lots.)
  • Charge whatever price you want.

You are in control. You don’t like how a retailer is treating you? Don’t sell there. You don’t like the idea of subscription services and how they pay? Then don’t enroll your books. You don’t like giving books away to readers? Don’t.

I couldn’t have said it better.

So, what do you think?

Edited to add:

Word has come from Publishers Weekly that Apple has lost its latest appeal to overthrow the decision holding it responsible for price-fixing. “We conclude that the district court correctly decided that Apple orchestrated a conspiracy among the publishers to raise e-book prices, that the conspiracy unreasonably restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act, and that the injunction is properly calibrated to protect the public from future anti-competitive harms,” wrote Debra Ann Livingston, for the court. “Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is affirmed.” 

The cock crowed thrice…

I was occupied in those delicate rural pastimes which give us country folk our reputation for sensitivity and finer feelings while thinking about tonight’s post. In other words I had my hand up a rooster’s nether end. It was warm, which was a nice change for my hand, on account of it being bloody freezing out. The rooster may have liked it less, but it was dead. My hand was bloody, but no longer freezing.

I was engaged in country art… having plucked the rooster, I was now occupied in drawing it. I could have won a Turner Prize for it, had I added a bit post-modern angst. Which kind of brought me around to the topic for to today, partly about roosters, and partly about art and the eye of the beholder.

Now, oddly, to you, for us chicken is a rare treat, which only happens when 1)my chooks stop laying, 2)Someone else gives us a chicken. Yes, I could start doing meat-chickens, and I will one day. But between writing, bits of farm work, building, fishing, hunting, growing all our veg, and raising pigs to magically transform them into bacon, I have quite a full plate, and life keeps handing me bits I’m not overly good at to learn like electronic wizardry, and auto-mechanic skills. We can eat quail, pheasant, ducks, turkeys, Cape Barren Geese – none of which I need to feed or keep alive.

I’ve learned one thing that really applies to writing from this: learn how to do simple stuff extremely well, before you venture onto complex things. I make bacon really well. Really, really well, I have been told. So why don’t I do… some really fancy-schmanzy pork product? I don’t because I’m still mastering bacon. When I’m totally confident with that I’ll move on. I do. I did Salami for the first time last year. Just plain Salami, and that was quite a job. It was good. I’m gearing up to tackle it again, better. Every time will be better, because I know and understand the basics really well. All too many people start writing the great, meaningful novel when really, they need to get good at writing a simple story that really holds audiences.

So going back to the rooster… One of my mates (that’s Australian for friend, before you jump to any conclusions) got himself an incubator, and ordered in some eggs and got given a few. His early success was pretty tepid – with the only success being one rooster from the eggs he’d been given. A cross, not a bad bird, but not what he was after. Still, that was his first successes, and got reared, while the second batch came in and hatched, this time successfully, with one rooster, of the breed he wanted.

You can see where all this is going, can’t you?

Well, not directly, you can’t.

The chicks having no mother-hen but him, followed him around, and were very tame and very pampered. He wanted eggs, and to breed. They’re not dinner chooks. They were heading for a good, long and pampered life, with every chicken treat lavished on them. They have a huge run, palatial nesting boxes, a warm roost, and cool perches for summer, get loads of fresh produce as well as grain and laying mash. Their master goes in and lets them eat from his hands and stand on him while they do it.

All they have to do is lay eggs… or fertilize them. That’s all the customer wanted, and he was prepared to put up with a bit of chicken-poop on his knees for it.

Now, usually roosters have a couple of features that tend to stick on the mind and not just the trouser knees.

One is: they crow. They crow a lot. And not just at cock-crow either. If they ain’t opening their mouths to eat, they’re crowing about how Alpha they are… especially if there is another rooster within earshot.

The second is they’re top of the pecking order. Chickens are patriarchal hierarchy in the epitome. Women’s lib doesn’t get much of a look-in. If chickens really are the distant heritors of T. rex’s dinosaur mantle, Rachel Swirsky’s dinosaur love would have told her to ‘get back into the kitchen and make me sammich’ which would indeed have been something unique and new in the annals of modern sf. I’m sorry, that’s chickens. They’re not PC. They lay eggs. They’re pretty good to eat. And two roosters in one pen… can get terminal.

Only this was not the case. The roosters got on fairly amicably… well one of them did. The second, desirable, pure bred rooster seemed to know the run was his by right, and while he was wary about making it physical, because the crossbreed was a bit bigger, he never shut up, and was a demon on the hens. The cross-breed seemed to figure he was there on sufferance, and within limits accepted being number 2. And pure-breed had to keep crowing about it.

Getting older… the pure-bred started feeling his oats, and took to attacking everything, even my mate, coming to feed him. And he crowed, all the time, to let number two know. Unfortunately, he let everyone else know too.

Now my buddy’s quite capable of killing chooks, but this one he’d raised from the egg. It knew it had as much rein as it liked. But when it finally half-killed one of the laying hens…

My friend decided he’d rather have the half-breed. He put the important one in a cardboard box, and gave it to Barbs for me.

It crowed all the way here.

And it got here, and crowed at me, three times. Once from the box, once when I grabbed its feet, and third time it stopped half way.

I gather the half-breed has stepped up to the position nobly.

I guess, besides a roast chicken dinner, there is something for this writer in all of this.

Firstly, even if you’re the best breed, and the chosen one… the customer who provides all that chicken food might decide he prefers the rooster who doesn’t behave in a way the customer finds offensive… and crows about it. As customers come from all over the spectrum – unless you’re targeting a very section exclusively – being loudly partisan about something that is bound to offend a large chunk of your readers is not bright. There are of course people who are selling to their ‘side’ and they gain by this. But many TradPub authors are not. They’re just used to being the chosen ones. The last you may see of them –metaphorically speaking– is a severed foot hanging out of a Labrador’s mouth (said Labrador looking puzzled but determined). But it does go further. None of us are that great we can afford to think ourselves above peeving our buyers.

Secondly, I guess the moral is IF you’re doing well, shut up and enjoy it. You don’t have to tell second-place Sam about it every ten seconds. He knows.

And then the subject of art? Yeah, well… One man’s art is another’s pile of drawn chicken guts. It often seems to come down to how confidently the ‘artist’ claims his painting – or book, is art.

Or some people just like chicken guts.

So now you can tell me fowl stories, but no foul language. I’m chicken, and it’s no use egging me on.

On the ground at LibertyCon

It’s been an interesting three days here in Chattanooga, TN.  Dorothy was supposed to put up a post this morning, but she came back to our hotel room shortly before 4 a.m., exhausted after several hours in conversation with John Ringo and his buddies.  I wish I’d been there, but my health wasn’t up to it, so I turned her loose to enjoy the company while I recuperated.  (I picked up some sort of kidney problem on Thursday, which pretty much pole-axed me for a large part of the weekend.  No fun.)

A particular joy was to attend the wedding of Cedar Sanderson and Sanford Begley, and the renewal of vows by Sarah and Dan Hoyt on the occasion of their 30th wedding anniversary.  Both ceremonies were fun, yet also solemn, and those who’d gathered a day ahead of the Con to attend them were privileged to attend.  Tony Weisskopf brought her reproduction of the Lady Vivamus, the protagonist’s sword from Robert A. Heinlein’s novel ‘Glory Road‘, which was enthusiastically leaped by both couples in honor of the wedding scene in the book.

Despite health issues, I was able to attend the panels and workshops for which I was scheduled.  Dorothy and I presented a two-hour ‘Indie marketing workshop’ on Friday evening.  We were surprised to see so many people interested in the topic, particularly on the first evening of the Con when parties were ramping up and the social life was getting moving.  It seems there are a lot of people interested in the field.  I hope we were able to share some lessons learned from our own experience, and encourage those who are interested, but hesitant, to take the next step.  Come on in!  The water’s fine!

The ‘Baen Traveling Slideshow and Prize Patrol’, presented as usual by Toni Weisskopf, was a delight.  Toni has a very casual, relaxed style, but she’s also a very astute businessperson.  She kept us all alert with her description of what was coming up in Baen’s publication roster.  I’ve already made mental notes about at least a dozen books I want to read.  Her (and her authors’) descriptions of the collaboration between writer and cover artist were very informative.  I’m going to try to apply some of those lessons to my own interaction with cover artists, because we’re rapidly running out of suitable royalty-free art of the quality I want for my books.  I think I’m at the point where I can contract with an artist to produce up to a dozen images of high quality, and ‘bank’ them for forthcoming volumes.  The discussions should be interesting.

Other than that, it’s been a fun weekend.  Normal works of genius will resume tomorrow.  Until then, we have some final panels to attend, a two-hour drive to get home, then a long, loooonnng sleep to catch up on our Z’s!

Live From LibertyCon 28!

This is Cedar, coming live to you from the beautiful metropolis of Chattanooga, where the Choo-Choo hotel has been taken over by swarms of Fans, and the chatter is all about science fiction, books, fantasy, and just plain science!

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Registration, where all the badges were pre-sold out.

The day started out beautiful, with a little science project in the consuite, although it was later moved out of the way. James Schardt demonstrated his 3D printer and fascinated passerby with the little machine (photos to come later). People began to gather in conversational groups, and talk about mutual interests.

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Howard Tayler emceeing opening Cermonies and introducing David Weber

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A group of like-minded fans

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The Dealer Room

L Jagi Lamplighter and John C Wright at the autograph table with fans.

L Jagi Lamplighter and John C Wright at the autograph table with fans.

Libertycon 28

The Wedding Reception room party. So many people it spilled into the hall and outside.

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Our own Kilted Dave and the family, looking spiffy.

Libertycon 28

Our own Kate Paulk and Sarah Hoyt on a panel discussing Social Justice for the Undead.

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There seemed to be a drinking game every time the word ‘privilege” was used. Mad Mike won…

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Subspike and his family were there in the audience.

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The audience was having a lot of fun with the ‘transvital’ concept for the undead. Or is it differently living?

So for today as I am running around the con, what do you all think? Should those souls who are made up of many different body parts be called Assembled Americans? Do films discriminate against vampires, as they cannot be caught on camera? For that matter, should the DMV hire sketch artists to make ID pictures? And if they do, they should be psychic sketch artists for the Noncorporeal Americans. Free Ghouls from the horror of Baths!!

That’s all for now, folks, I will see you next week, hopefully with some sleep to restart my brainnnnzzzzzzz

Tech Friday

The finished Rig.

The finished Rig.

First things first. This is not a method for cheap and easy computing. The Raspberry Pi can be that, but it was never my intention. I tell a lie: that was on the list of priorities, but it wasn’t at the top. Said lofty goal was (and continues to be) a computing platform that allows me to use my Das Keyboard (there are many like it, but this one is mine) mechanical wunderkind on the road. )Which, now I think on it, would be a little strange. I mean, I’d be all crouched down and uncomfortable, the screen would subject to glare, I might get gravel in my keys. To say nothing of the honking of passing cars.)

It needed to be portable. Admittedly, a three pound 101-key input device is not precisely an easy object to carry around, and if I ever try to take The Rig on an airplane, I fully expect a lot of pointed questions and raised eyebrows from the security theater players. Portable: the RasPi is tiny. The marketing copy calls it the size of a credit card. Sure, if you strip off the ports. As is, with case, it’s about the size of forty or fifty credit cards, though has the footprint of one. So it’s small. Really small. Already portable, really.

On the other hand, it doesn’t have a screen. It does have a handy-dandy HDMI port, and AdaFruit sells any number of screens. So I bought one. Hey-presto, I have a ten inch 1080 screen. It’s not too shabby, but it’s just the screen, a circuit board with some buttons and a status LED, and another with the controlling bits and bobs and input ports. And the Vault, my two terabyte external hard drive. And the necessary HDMI cable. And the power supply for the screen. And the one for the Pi.

And no way to carry and protect all this fine technology. To Amazon!! Pelican cases are awesome. Tough, rugged, a certain adventure-chic, and – for the smaller ones, at least – reasonable prices. Also, they really protect the stuff you put inside ’em. I picked up one of the 1200 cases, suggested use: camera case. It came with pick-apart foam inside, which is great. I love this stuff. Very easy to use, and to customize for whatever you’re doing with it. (Aside: Plano makes similar cases for much cheaper. I haven’t checked if they have one in the right size, but I imagine they do. Also, you get what you pay for.) There’s plenty of space inside for the RasPi, the screen, the power supplies, and a nifty Belkin travel strip with three grounded sockets and two USB ports for powering all the things.

Wait, let me back up. I have a bare case, and a bare screen. No enclosures, no handy-dandy places to attach things. Back to Amazon!! Pelican also makes panel frame attachments for their various cases. It’s a bit of a frame you screw to the case, with sockets for attaching some form of panel (see what they did there?) , and a foam rubber gasket for shock absorption. It’s inexpensive, and gets the job done.

Sort of. Not only did the attachment tabs on my AdaFruit provided screen not conform to the holes on the panel frame, but the frame itself is designed to go in the base of the case, and I wanted it in the lid. So I had to get clever. The frame fits just fine in the lid, but using it as an enclosure for the screen was … going to be tricky. First, I fiddled. I fiddled a bunch. I tried things. Stepped back. Frowned. Drank coffee. I even measured stuff, though mostly with the Mk. 1 Eyeball. (Yeah, that should about fit. I hope.) Then I took a hack saw to the panel frame, and cut about six inches out of the long side that was to go nearest the hinges. I needed some place to put the button strip for the screen, and space for the power and HDMI cords to pass through.

Rig Lid

That done, I screwed the thing in place. Yeah, turns out I maybe should have measured again. There are two holes in the panel frame on each of the long sides of the rectangle, and when I got all hacky and sawy, I cut through two of them. I had just two attachment points for mounting my screen. Not the most awesome thing I’ve done, I’ll admit. To the Internet! My solution (and one of my new favorite things) was double sided foam mounting tape. This stuff rocks. A couple of judiciously applied strips held the panel frame firmly in place. I then used it to attach the button strip and the screen control board to the case lid.

I still had to figure out how the screen was going to stay firmly attached to its new home. I though about using more of the foam tape. But. I fully expect to have to fiddle with The Rig, at least once in a while. The simple reality is that this is a home-built thing, and I’m not exactly trained in fabrication (though I expect home manufacturing to solve that in the next decade or so. Next five years, if we’re lucky) or machining. There were plenty of options for – more or less – permanently attaching the screen to the case. I did not – and do not – want a permanent solution.

Fortunately, I had pretty much all the tools I needed. The screen is just wide enough that the foam rubber gasket, when installed, provides a certain amount of pressure, holding it gently in place. But this is a travel Rig, and needed just a little bit more. A few minutes with a mason jar lid, some metal snips, a pair of pliers, and a file left me with a pair of brackets that are proving sufficient to the task.

image

My Raspberry Pi Travel Writing Rig is, more or less, set. I’ve got a case for all the bits, a screen, and input devices. I can rock some wifi, and I’ve got plenty of back-up-

Oh, speaking of back up, the Raspberry Pi runs any number of operating systems, but all of them live on a microSD card. These things aren’t the most stable of memory platforms, and can become corrupt. I’ve done that once, already. My solution is to keep a disk image on the Vault (and sundry other locations) and a set of cloned microSD cards. If the one I’m using dies, pop it out, pop in another, and forge ahead. All of my work is saved on the external drive, and I’ve lost nothing. Or just a little bit. (Save early, save often!)

All of that aside, this is not an easy thing. This is not convenient. I like it, but I’m an inveterate tinkerer. Most writers are likely to prefer the ease and convenience of a traditional laptop. I wanted to use my awesome keyboard of awesome, and play with a new (to me) form of portable tech. I get this won’t appeal to everybody. It’s a project, and I expect to fiddle with it for a while to come.

Now, most of the Mad Genii (next year, Brad) are here in Chattanooga for LibertyCon, so comments may well be a little thin on the ground. As you read this, I’m likely working on an applied ballistics study, and this afternoon the convention officially gets underway. I know most of us are going to be might busy. That said, I expect we’re going to have an amazing weekend. I’m thrilled to be a guest for the first time. I’m going to be on panels, and blowing hot air, I mean pontificating, er, waxing eloquent on … something. I’m not sure; I need to check my schedule.

As for Tech Friday, my Raspberry Pi build is done. For now. Kinda. This one, at least.

Unringing the Bell — A blast From The Past From ATH October 2011

*I won’t lie.  I’m putting up BPFs because I’m still finishing packing and we must go to the airport, but it occurred to me sometimes it’s important to remember where we came from, and how we came so far so fast.  I still hear my colleagues talk like it’s the nineties.  It’s not.  You can’t unring the bell.*

Those of you who haven’t read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Writing Like It’s 1999, do so.

For those of you who read my blog this might seem like I’m harping on a theme, or like I’m getting repetitive.  Well I’d think so too, truly.  Except…  Except…whenever I’m at a con, someone – usually someone much less published than I am – comes back with a variant of “I’m going to keep my eyes shut tight and in the morning, this will all go away.”

Disruptive change is very scary and most people would rather pretend it will all go away, and we’ll be back to the familiar landscape and the familiar certainties.  Even if those are horrible.  Freed lions will often pace as though in the confines of the cage.  Those few of us who are awake and exploring every possibility, looking in every corner, searching for the way things will be are a small minority.

At cons, I still run into authors who look down on self-published authors.   I still run into authors who parrot the line about how much the publisher is investing in them: when it is patently obvious they’re lost in mid-list hell; I still run into authors who say “if you want to make a living at this, you have to publish with the big six.”

I had the dubious privilege of hearing a mid-press published author telling a self-published author whom I happen to know makes more in a month on one book than the mid-press published author has made for any two or three of his books that “most of what’s self published is crap and no one would buy it.  The future is finding a publisher and convincing them to accept you.  In two years, all this e-book stuff will be gone.”

It was breathtakingly bizarre.  Kind of like, in a fantasy novel, standing next to the hidden prince and watching the false king parade down the street looking down on everyone.  Like Saturnalia, with the fools reigning.

And then I catch myself – occasionally – thinking the old thoughts, too: “Well, what does he/she know.  He/she is small press published.”  Or perhaps thinking that some of my fledgelings will of course, eventually, follow the route I have.  And then I stop.  Because there are few things I know, but I do have some certainties.

These are the things I know:

Even if e-books all went away tomorrow, it wouldn’t go back to the way it was
Not the way it was in the early nineties, or even the way it was in the late nineties when I came in.  No way, no how, never.  Because there’s this thing called Amazon.  The publishers no longer control what’s on the shelves and what gets seen.  And even if Amazon died tomorrow, there would be other e-tailers.  Trying to control shelf space is not a winning strategy.  That bell has rung.

E-books aren’t going away
You can’t put the e-book genii back in the bottle.  I’m reading on kindle.  My kids are reading more on kindle than on paper.  So is my husband.  So are most of my friends. Barring some planet killing type of event, this is not going to go away.  No, the economic crisis won’t kill it.  Kindle books published by indies are cheaper.  The tighter life gets, the more likely we’ll buy those instead of the agency-modeled-to-death.

The hierarchies of prestige are gone
Because the big six no longer control access to shelf space (except in Barnes and Noble, and it no longer has the influence it once had) the safe hierarchy of self-published, small press, medium press, big press is gone.  We used to assume someone who self-published hadn’t even been able to get a small press to accept him/her.  We approached their work expecting it to be awful.  It often was.  That certainty is done.  A savvy author with time on his hands can decide he has a better chance going it alone.  Be careful how you talk to other authors.  That person with a single indie book out might have a larger readership than you could dream of.

Most authors have had a taste of freedom
I’m one of them.  Look, I’ve done next to nothing Indie.  A Touch of Night and a few short stories through Naked Reader Press. Interesting results but inconclusive.  However, just knowing I can write whatever and if it doesn’t sell I can put it up on Amazon and it will sell a minimum of x – plus be in print forever – has given me massive freedom.  I no longer feel like I’m blindfolded in the cattle car of a train over whose destination I have no control.  Even if indie proves to be less than half of my income, the ability to put out there what I think should be out there is slowly molding me into a different person: a much less fretful and worried one.  It’s likely to lengthen my life.  It will certainly make me easier to live with.  I don’t know how it’s taking other authors, but I don’t think it’s that bad.

We’re scared, but we’re not stupid
I know, I know, Dean says we’re stupid.  And he’s right in a way, but we’re a very specialized kind of stupid.  Also, he’s not seeing the pressures on my generation – those who came in after 2000 when the publishing houses looked at things ONLY through agents, and the publishing houses’ decisions could make or break your career, regardless of how good your book was.  We had to learn to shut up, no matter how stupid we felt what was happening was.  Not anymore.  And we’re losing the habit of silence – slowly.  The chances of a mass exodus back to publishers on the old terms because we don’t want to do everything ourselves is about … oh, look, do you see that flying pig?  Yeah.  Some of us will go back, of course – most of us who have made our name and can dictate terms, or the really small ones who couldn’t make it on their own.

And I’m not saying publishers are going away
Of course they’re not.  Though a few of the houses will vanish and almost certainly a few of the imprints will vanish.  What I’m saying is that the majority of the writers are NOT going to go back on the old terms.  You want us back, you’re going to have to do things for us that we can’t do for ourselves or hire someone to do for us.  I’m thinking this is the true “demise of the midlist” and not in the fake way you tried to do it before, where you simply announced the midlist was gone and kept changing midlisters’ names and paying them as beginners and not allowing them to build a following.  No.  I think the “midlister” the “shelf filler” the “person we print but don’t do anything else for” is gone.  You’ll have to treat every author as if he/she matters.  You have to make it better for them than they can do by throwing it up on Amazon.  I’m thinking good covers, publicity, limited contracts.

Make it worth my while
Or at least, don’t use aversion therapy on me.  You can’t keep me in the dark and feed me on shit anymore.  If the book is not selling, sure, I need to know, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s not a good book, when I know you did nothing to market it, not even get it on shelves.  And don’t, then, treat me as if it’s all my fault.  Because if you make things unpleasant enough and treat me like a serf, I’m going to think “well, I don’t need to work for you anymore” and I’m going to go Indie.

Give me a public
I’m thinking more publishers should look at Baen books, instead of turning up their noses.  Baen commands loyalty among its writers and gets dedicated readers who look for the brand.  Some of this is (good) marketing gimmicks: buttons saying “I read baened books”, book bags given out at cons, a slide show where upcoming releases are announced, a forum where fans can meet and geek out on their favs.  Part of it, though, the most important thing, is what none of the rest in sf/f or mystery has (I don’t know enough of Romance): a brand.  A unified taste.  For the big houses with multiple editors, this is difficult, of course.  But you can no longer be all things to all people.  Baen chose and does plot.  It does plot really well – whether it’s in sf/f or any of the variations.  “Things happen in Baen Books” would be a great tag line.  Mind you, if it’s one of my books (or Dave Freer’s, too, or a half dozen others) the books also have characters and feelings – but the “things happen” and “adventure” aspect MUST be there for it to be a Baen book.  When I started being published by Baen I immediately “slotted” into a pre-made public.  This, as a newby, gave me something to put my back against, as I grow the rest.  So, what can the big houses do.  I don’t know.  I don’t know under what constraints they operate.  BUT if I owned one, I’d give each editor an “imprint” and then give them the resources to publicize that imprint.  “Okay, Jane likes craft mysteries.  She can specialize in that.  We’ll call it Golden Brush books, and…”  Have them appeal to a segment of public, but appeal to them very powerfully.  It’s better to command 50k loyal readers and grow them slowly than to have most of your books bomb, except for a mega ultra blockbuster a year – which these days might not materialize.  (No power to push, remember?)  And meanwhile tell the editors that the house does… oh, pick one.  Beautiful, doomed adolescents.  Or perhaps more generally “character” or “angst” or “Beautiful language.” and unify that across your “imprints” which will maximize the chance of people reading the brand, not just the imprint.

Will there be a new equilibrium?  Of course there will.  And I think it’s about two years out, too.  But will things be the way they were?

E-books.  E-tailing.  Soon, the book printing machines in every bookstore.  Writers who’ve taken the bit between their teeth.  Will all that vanish?

No way.  You can’t put humpty dumpty together again.  And you can’t unring a bell.  So publishers and writers both will have to stay alert and change to survive.

UPDATE:  Ask not for whom that bell won’t unring…  I think what you’re hearing today, loud and clear, are funeral bells.  Or perhaps the woosh of the meteor falling to Earth.  The dinosaurs will never be the same:  http://www.thepassivevoice.com/09/2011/amazon-launches-79-kindle-and-99-kindle-touch-ereaders/

And Panic Ensues

Eight days ago, Amazon announced a change to their Kindle Unlimited Program. For those who aren’t familiar with KU, it is a two-pronged program. For readers who pay $9.99 per month, you can borrow e-books enrolled in the KU program. This also includes a number of audio books as well. There is no time limit on when you have to return the books except you can only borrow 10 books at a time. If you are a voracious reader, KU can be a godsend for you because of the money you can save. As an author, KU is simply another method to help promote your books. Under the current rules, you get paid a share of the global fund put aside each month by Amazon, once 10% of your book or short story has been read. Simple so far, right?

Now, from the beginning, a number of authors have had issues with the KU Program. Initially, there were the Amazon haters who saw this as a way for Amazon to make money while not paying authors. That was the knee-jerk reaction. The real issue many of us had with the program was that every title received the same share of the pot, no matter how many “pages” it might be. In other words, a short story that regularly sold for 99 cents that would receive a 30 cent royalty for a sale would, on average, receive $1.40 for a borrow. That is the same amount per borrow that the $4.99 full length novel received. It didn’t matter how long your story was or how many words you wrote. You got the same amount out of the global fund per borrow.

And that led to the system being gamed by a number of authors. It was a very well-known “secret” that certain authors would put out short, very short works and put them into the KU Program because they knew they would make more per borrow than they would per sale. Hitting the 10% mark in a short story often happened before getting past the legal page at the beginning of the story. So they would get paid before the reader even knew if they liked the story or not. Conversely, for a novel, several chapters — or more — had to be read before payment would be accrued.

Folks complained and Amazon listened. Eight days ago, the company announced changes to the KU Program that will take effect the beginning of next month.

One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.

For novel and long non-fiction authors, this is a very good thing. But there have been a number of authors panicking over this announcement. It hasn’t been helped by articles such as the one posted by The Telegraph with a headline shouting “Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read.” The misrepresentation continues in the first two paragraphs:

If you are an author whose book fails to grip in the opening chapter, it could prove costly.

Amazon is to begin paying royalties to writers based on the number of pages read by Kindle users, rather than the number of books downloaded. If a reader abandons the book a quarter of the way in, the author will get only a quarter of the money they would have earned if the reader stuck it out to the end.

I can’t blame any author reading that for worrying. It is an example of not only poor journalism but lousy research, not that it surprises me.

A couple of paragraphs down the author of the article then notes that such a change in policy brings into question just how much data Amazon can mine from its customers. Give me a break. Every time you sync your Kindle or your Kindle app, or any other e-reader for any other vendor, you are giving them information about what you have been reading and how far you have been reading. This is nothing new. If you read the terms of service you agree to when you sign up for their services and the FAQs, you will see this. But, this particular journalist has to reach for the most sensational non-issues possible. Don’t believe me, it isn’t until the fifth paragraph before she clarifies that this new payment method applies to the KU program.

This sort of reporting is fanning a flames of fear and Amazon hate simply because folks aren’t reading the e-mails sent out by Amazon.

Will this impact the bottom line for authors? Absolutely. How much, one way or the other, we won’t know until we see the new rules in action. However, it will do exactly what many of us have wanted — it gives novelists the opportunity to earn more per borrow than short story writers. I say it gives us the opportunity to do so because we still have to hook and hold a reader. If we can’t do that, then we need to know that. And guess what, we will be able to have an idea if we are doing our job because one of the new items to come out of the program is we will be able to see how many pages of an enrolled work were read.  Something else to think about, we no longer have to hit that 10% threshold. So, if someone reads 15 pages and decides that book isn’t for them — and it will happen — we will still get paid for those 15 pages. That is better than nothing.

And I convinced that this new program answers all the concerns I’ve had about the program? No. One question I have is when we get paid for pages read. Say John borrows a book in June and starts reading it in July but doesn’t finish it until September. Do we get paid for the number of pages he read each month? Or do we get paid after he finishes the book in September? Or do we wait until he turns the book in? And what about if he reads the book again? Do we get paid a second time?

Still, instead of doing as so many are threatening and pulling my books out of the program before the changes go into effect, I’m going to wait and see what happens. Frankly, I am more concerned about folks finding new ways to game the system than I am about the change in payout levels. Amazon has already taken steps to try to prevent one way of increasing the number of “pages” an e-book has. It will implement a system of “normalizing” type. That should prevent folks from having a single word or two per page. (Not to mention how readers would react to that sort of thing. I can see the negative reviews now.) But, where there is a will, there is a way.

So, what are your thoughts about the changes to the program and are you going to stay in or pull your titles out until you see what happens?