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Posts tagged ‘agents’

What do you want?

That question, or some variation of it, is one we hear too many times to count during the course of our lives. What do you want to eat? What do you want to do? What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to come from X, Y or Z? It is a question each writer needs to ask at various points of their careers — what do you want to write? What do you want to be, indie or traditionally published? What do you want, money or awards? What do you want to be, a genre writer or a literary one? Read more

What to do? What to do?

As Dave alluded to yesterday, Sarah threw down the challenge gauntlet over the weekend. She tagged Dave, Kate and myself and “asked” which of us would be the first to fisk the article Dave linked to about publishers hiring “sensitivity readers”. Fortunately, Dave beat me to it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few things to say about it — hey, you knew I couldn’t let him have all the fun — as well as a couple of other things happening in the industry. So grab your morning coffee, sit back and hold on because it’s been a somewhat bumpy ride in the industry news of late.

First up, the ongoing tug-of-war indie authors face when it comes to publishing. No, not where to list their books. There are any number of outlets where we can post our books for sale. For those of us in the US, we have four major outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. If you have the right equipment — thanks, Apple — you can upload your books to these outlets yourself or you can go through a third-party like Draft2Digital. No, the real issue facing indies comes to what format(s) you are going to release. Despite what so many articles and “polls” would have us believe, the e-book market is still going strong. There are many indie authors who make more than their traditionally published counterparts.

The question we face is actually two-fold. First, do we release print versions of our books? Second, what about audio books?

The first question should probably be rephrased to “why should we re. lease print books?”. The truth is the vast majority of indie authors who release print books see no real sales from those books. We offer print copies not because we expect to make money from them but because it makes our product pages look more “professional”. Having print books also means we have copies to take with us to conventions or when we do speaking engagements. It’s an ego thing as well. So many of us still have that niggling voice of doubt in the back of our minds that tells us we aren’t real authors unless our books are in print.

But, can we really justify the time and, yes, money involved in putting out a book in print? The time isn’t that much, not once you have a good template in place and know how to use it. Then you only lose a couple of hours in transitioning from the final version of your manuscript to your interior file. Add another couple of hours to pull together your cover flat, assuming you do that yourself. After all, you need a different sized cover image from what you used for your e-book cover. You need to design the spine and back cover as well. Then you have to fit it to the template and submit it. Then you wait to see if it passes inspection wherever you are creating your print books.

But that isn’t all. To have a print book, you need an ISBN. Sure, you can go with the free ISBN from Amazon/Createspace if you want but there are downsides to that. Your imprint will not be listed as the distributor. You have just slit your metaphorical throat when it comes the very slim chance of seeing your book in a brick and mortar bookstore. So, if you think you might be able to convince a bookstore to stock your title, you have to pay for an ISBN and then hope that happens and, to be honest, it will be a cold day in Hell for most of us. Why? Because the large brick and mortar stores are told from their home offices what books to stock and there is little leeway left for them. As for the locally owned indie stores, you have to be able to show them that there will be a demand for your book. It’s one of those situations where they have to see a demand but if the book isn’t in the stores, how can there be a demand?

There is another form of “book” more and more indies are turning to and making good money from — the audio book. But it, too, has pitfalls. You have to have a file that Amazon and the other outlets will accept. You have to find a narrator who can and will do justice to your prose. That narrator has to be paid. Do you pay them a set fee up front, praying you make that money back? Or do you ask them to take a percentage of whatever you make on audio sales? Then there is, again, the time involved for the author to review the audio file, making sure the narrator didn’t go off the deep end somewhere along the way and start reading another book in the middle of yours or that the audio quality didn’t suddenly go down the metaphorical drain. I’ll be honest. I’m hoping to do audio books — I’m looking at you, D. — but won’t know for sure for a few months.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that authors need to look at their sales, their plans and what sort of impression they want their product page to make before determining what formats they release and why.

Okay, next up is a warning from Writer Beware. There was a time when you had to have an agent if you wanted to be published. Even now, if you want to be traditionally published, most major publishers require you to submit your work through an agent. However, that is often not the case if you are looking at mid-sized or small press publishers. When indie publishing really took off, a number of literary agencies opened publishing arms to “assist” their authors in their indie endeavors. Several of us here at MGC raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest then.

Writers Beware, in this latest warning, reminds authors looking for agents that there are certain things we should do before submitting to an agent, much less signing with them.

  1. Check sales from the agency. In other words, look at who they say their clients are and what titles they have sold for those clients. See who the publishers are. If the agency seems to have sold more titles to mid and small-sized publishers, check the publisher pages to see if they require submissions to come through an agent. Heck, check the major houses as well because some do have imprints that allow for direct submission. In other words, if the agency is mainly selling to publishers that do NOT require agented submissions, thing twice before going with that agency. Ask yourself if you would be happy selling to these same publishers and, if so, ask why you would want to pay someone to do something you can do yourself. (that someone being the agent)
  2. If an agent offers to represent you but says your manuscript needs editing and says they know a freelance editor you can hire, check to see what sort of relationship might exist between the agent and editor. In the situation presented by Writer Beware, the agent in question and the recommended editor apparently have some sort of personal relationship. This relationship wasn’t revealed to the potential client. That is a huge red flag for me. Always remember that the agent is supposed to work for the author and put the author’s interests ahead of everyone else.
  3. Look at how long the agency has been in business and how many books they have sold to publishers — and look at who those publishers are. You want an agent with a track record that shows not only sales but sales to reputable publishers.
  4. Probably most important in the long run, if the agency contract includes the “interminable agency clause”, run away. Run far and run fast. This is the clause that grants the agent representation of the book for the life of the copyright. In other words, basically they hold the book — and get to collect on royalties, etc — for as long as the book is in copyright. You do NOT want this.

Finally, on sensitivity readers, let’s be honest. Most writers aren’t out there trying to appropriate anyone else’s culture. Nor are they out there trying to insult their readers. What has happened is publishers are now so worried they might put out a book that will upset a single reader that they are bending over backwards to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt. The result is that they are instead putting out books that are turning away readers. Why? Because these publishers are trying to be so “diverse” that they are sacrificing plot to make sure no one is upset.

As writers, we are told we can’t write what we don’t know. For example, if you weren’t raised in a certain certain economic condition, you can’t write about it. If you aren’t the same race or sex or gender of your main character, you shouldn’t write about it. Yet, on the other hand, we are told we need to diversify our characters and plots. It is a catch-22, one that is currently bringing many writers to a screeching halt because they don’t know what to do.

My advice is to quit worrying about what these folks are saying. Write your book. Write it the best way you can, using the characters and settings you feel best suit the plot. Do your research. Talk to people. But put your butt in your chair and write. Then send your book out to your beta readers. Workshop it in your local writers group. Listen to what they have to say. Then decide if the book is good enough to send to traditional publishers, if that is the route you want to go, or to release as an indie.

What publishers forget is that there is a market for everything, good and bad, offensive and inoffensive. That is the great thing about the reading world. The only difference is the size of the audience. So write the book you want to write and then , once you have released it into the wild, sit down and write the next book. That is what writers do. Write the story you feel needs to be written. No one else will, at least not in the same way you will.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Now available for pre-order.

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

It is a business. . .

So treat it as one. Yesterday, as I was looking at FB, I came across a post from someone I respect a great deal. He also has one of the most unverifiable jobs there is in publishing. No, not reading the slush pile, although that is part of his job. He has taken it upon himself to do what so many publishers don’t do. He responds to those who send something in, letting them know whether or not their work has met the minimum threshold to be passed up the line for further consideration. Believe me, that is definitely more than a number of publishers do. Too many simply never get back to you unless they are interested.

What caught my eye with his post was how unprofessional someone had been in response to his email letting them know their story had not been passed up the line. Now, I know how it stings when you get a rejection. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. But it happens and we have to accept it with grace and move on. Yes, we can kick and scream and curse in public but you do not send a note back telling the editor how wrong they were. Nor do you tell them that the title has been published during the time the editor was considering it, especially if the editor has gotten back to you in less than half the time they say it normally takes.

And that is where this particular author screwed up. Not only did they send back an unprofessional note to the editor, insuring he will remember the author and not in a good way, but he went ahead and self-published the book without removing it first from consideration by the publishing house. That is two very big strikes and, in this case, the author doesn’t get a third strike before he’s out.

There there is this post from over at The Passive Voice. Yet another author powering up his computer when he should have been walking away from it. In this case, he submitted his work for consideration to an agent, said agent rejected it and then made the mistake of not remembering the work when she and the author met for a face-to-face pitch session. Never mind that the agent probably receives thousands of submissions each year. Never mind the agent had been seeing other authors with other pitches that particular day. She obviously hadn’t read his earlier submission or she would have remembered it. How dare she!

So, instead of asking himself why he had just received rejection #319, this author decided it was a good idea to go onto his blog, name the agent and then proceed to try to shame her for her actions — or should I say inaction?

As I read his post, all I could think of was a situation five or so years ago where an author went on a tirade on his blog against his editor who had sent back edits he didn’t agree with. By the time his agent saw, or heard about, the post, it had gone viral. Yes, he finally took it down, but the damage had been done. I have a feeling that author is still trying to climb out of the hole he dug for himself.

In this instance, the author was so tied up with his own ego, he didn’t realize that he was shooting himself in the foot when it came to doing what he wanted — getting an agent. This time, the agent he was attacking took screen caps of his blog and then did her own post about what happened. That post has been picked up and is making the rounds of social media. The author now has the reputation of being, at worst, an online bully and, at best, someone who can’t control himself.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If you are a writer, you have to treat your writing as your business. That means you have to be businesslike in your dealings with others in the industry, especially if you are trying to get them to buy your work or act as your agent. Ask yourself before writing that scathing blog or tweet or FB post if you would be doing this if the person in question was someone you had interviewed with for a mundane job (something not related to writing). Is it something you would want a perspective employer reading before your interview with them?

Remember, the internet is forever. Just because you take a post down, it doesn’t follow that the post hasn’t been memorialized elsewhere. So pull your head out of your ass and think before hitting the send button. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you find you have just killed your chances for a traditional publishing career.

Water, water everywhere and more to come

I swear I am growing webbing between my fingers and toes. After a couple of years of the government in the form of the water districts telling us that we have to conserve water because we are in “the drought of the century”, we’ve had enough rain in the past week to fill the lakes. We’ve had so much rain that some lakes are actually releasing water to prevent flooding. What all the rain means for me is that I’ve spent the better part of a week cleaning up and drying out after three floods of the house — nothing major but nothing dries when we keep getting more and more rain — and now they are forecasting more rain for today and tomorrow. The result is that I’m tired — exhausted, really — and half-sick. Worse, my mother is sick and that amps my stress meter up even further.

All of this is a way of saying that I don’t have the brain cells left today to do a real blog post. Sorry, guys. However, I do have a couple of articles/posts that are of interest and that I’d like to hear your comments on. I will be back in a couple of hours — after I’ve gotten some sleep — and will answer comments and maybe be able to put up a real post. In the meantime, what do you think of the following?

The Top Five Dumbest Business Practices in Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith

Dean pretty much sums it up with this quote: “From the real world perspective, publishing is really, really, really known for its head-shakingly stupid business practices. But inside of publishing, these practices have become so common and set in “the way things are done” as to be defended by otherwise sane business people.” Go read the rest of the post and let me know your thoughts.

Inside Traditional Publishing: A Tale of Two Authors (A Cautionary Tale)

I know. I don’t often link to HuffPo without having much snark and laughter involved. But this article actually has some good information in it and does bring up several things every author should think long and hard about. “In a perfect world, every literary agent would be a fearless negotiator, working tirelessly to get the best possible book deals for his or her clients. . . But the world isn’t perfect. And sometimes an author’s career goes off the rails because their agent doesn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tenacity necessary to negotiate well on the author’s behalf.”

Then, finally, there is this article, Authors Debate Digital-First Publication.

Publishing digitally first can help authors to learn about the publishing process, make writers more critical of their own work and help reinvent an author. However, the author Stark Holborn warned that the format should only be used in the right context as there is “a difficulty in marketing something that has no physical presence”.

So, what are your thoughts? I’ll be back after a nap to see what you have to day.

Do you need an agent?

There is no doubt that publishing is changing. E-book sales continue to grow by triple digit percentages each quarter. More and more authors are wading into self-publishing, something that used to be the kiss of death. Imprints are being killed off by publishers or merged with others, even as publishers are looking at mergers with other publishers. Caught in the middle of all this are the agents who must be feeling more than a bit shell-shocked as they try to figure out what their role will be in the new world of publishing.

Several of us at MGC have written about agents before. Like many writers, I’ve tried to get an agent. I’ve worked on my pitch and followed guidelines to the letter. I’ve had the infamous three minute later rejection — from an agent who said she was not only taking new queries but that it would take at least two weeks to hear back from her. My only conclusion: she was putting out false information and sending auto-rejections. There was no way she could have received, opened, read and responded to a query in three minutes, especially not when the query was for a novel of the sort she was asking for.

I’ve had the agent read something I sent, then make suggestions — several times — and then forget about my book until I removed it from consideration. I’ve also had agents show interest and give good comments and suggestions on my work. Nothing came from these, for various reasons, but these agents at least had the business-sense to keep in contact with me until one or the other of us decided no business relationship would be formed.

So, yes, there are a few agents out there who, if they offered representation, I’d at least give it serious consideration. Why? Because I’d like to have the option of going with a major publisher as well as with smaller publishers and self-publishing. Those major publishers, with very few exceptions, require submissions to come from agents and not directly from an author. But it isn’t something I’ll put my career on hold for.

What brought all this up was an article I read last week on the role of agents in publishing today. I’ll let you read the article for yourselves. No, I’m not going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph shred. For one, I’m not in a shredding sort of mood today. I know, I know, you’re surprised. (yes, that is my snark meter going off) Actually, I’ll admit that Tim Bates, the agent in question, raises some good questions. Unfortunately, from what I’m hearing, Bates may be the exception and not the rule.

Can you answer the following questions?

Should you sell world rights in all languages to your UK publisher, or sell the rights directly to individual foreign publishers? What is the industry standard author share for sub-licensed audio rights? What royalty can you expect for special sales? Is 52.5% a reasonable starting point for high-discount royalties? How should you word an out of print clause when the usual threshold of 150 or so copies in the warehouse is meaningless in a digital era?  Is it sensible or fair to sell e-books for 20p? Should my publisher control the merchandising rights to my books?

My first thought as I read through these questions was that they don’t really apply to self-published authors. Sorry, but there is a stock contract we agree to with Amazon, BN, Smashwords or Kobo. That means we agree to certain royalties, pricing levels and that we won’t sell our titles for less anywhere else. A couple of these outlets let us choose where our titles will be sold — whether it is to select online outlets or countries. But merchandising, audio, special sales, etc., don’t come into play.

So, why would the self-published author need an agent?

By second thought was that even if I was signing a contract with a major publisher, I’m not sure I’d leave it to my agent to determine all that — much less reversion of rights, non-competition clauses, etc. Why? Because these are legal obligations and agents aren’t, on the whole, attorneys. No, I’d want an IP attorney who is experienced in publishing law to make those decisions.

But there’s another reason why I wouldn’t necessarily want an agent advising me on this. Why? Because I’ve heard from too many authors how, when they’ve questioned a clause — say the non-competition clause — agents tell them to suck it up, this is industry standard. Say what? Someone who is supposed to be representing my best interests isn’t willing to fight for my right to shop my work around to the publisher who will pay me the most for it? When an agent refuses to try to strike the non-compete clause, that’s what she’s doing. She is agreeing to tie you to a publisher that knows it doesn’t have to offer you as much as it might if you could shop your next book around.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t get an agent if you want to be published by a legacy publisher. As I said earlier, almost all of the major houses require it. But you don’t need an agent if you are going to self-publish — and, if you already have an agent, be sure you read your contract with them very carefully. I’ve been hearing of late how some agents are claiming their standard percentage of sales from self-published works they had nothing to do with. Why? Because their contract reads they get their cut on all your titles, no matter who publishes them and how they were “sold” to that publisher.

You also don’t need an agent if you are going to go with most small to mid-sized publishers. Check their guidelines and see what they say.

Most of all, if you do have an agent — or if you are offered representation by an agent — don’t sign a contract with them without having an IP attorney look at the contract first. Why? Because some agents are now including a clause where they maintain their cut of a title even if you fire them. Yep, that’s right. You can fire you agent for cause and there is the potential that they will continue to get money from that book they sold not only for the term of the contract but for the length of copyright.

Will literary agents fall by the wayside? Not as long as traditional publishers continue to exist and require an agent for manuscript submission. But agents are as worried about the changes going on in the world of publishing as are publishers. Because of that, some of them are changing contract terms so writers may as well be working for them instead of the other way around.

Remember that non-compete clause I mentioned regarding publishers, a lot of agents have similar clauses. Say you write in multiple genres but your agent doesn’t represent all of them. Used to be, you could have one agent who represented your mysteries and another who represented your children’s books, as an example. Under some contracts, you can’t do that any longer. You either have to rely on your agent to try to place a book of a genre or type they don’t normally deal with or you try to place it yourself — and you may still have to pay your agent his usual fee, or you self-publish and, oops, have the same result, or you don’t write it at all. How does that help you?

I guess what I’m saying is this: first, have an IP attorney read any publishing-related contract you are considering; second, remember the chain of command. You are the creator. The agent represents you and your best interests, not the other way around. Third, if you want to self-publish, go for it. It is now a viable option and not the kiss-of-death it once was.

Most of all, write. If you don’t write, none of this will matter. Now, taking my own advice, I’m off to write.


Is it time for Atlas to Shrug?

Over the last few weeks, my posts here have focused on the Department of Justice’s antitrust filings against Apple and five of the big six publishers. It’s hard to think about the state of the publishing industry and not wonder how the suit, the settlement three of the defendants have already agreed to as well as any subsequent trial will change publishing. The last five years have already seen major changes in the industry, many of those changes driven by Amazon and the rapid adoption by the reading public of dedicated e-readers and e-books.

It is also difficult, if not impossible, to think about the DoJ’s case and not consider the business practices of the publishers, and big box booksellers, over the last decade or more. Again, you have to throw Amazon into the mix because the growth of Amazon pointed out that, despite what we’ve been told time and again, people do read. I know, I can hear Amazon’s detractors saying that the only reason Amazon has grown the way it has is because it undersells the physical bookstores. That is part of it. But let’s be honest, folks. Most of us are impulse buyers. We loved bookstores because they had row after row of books we could browse through. Sure, we might have gone into the store with a book or two in mind. But how often did we leave with more books than we were originally going to buy?

So what impelled the mass exodus to Amazon?

Part of it is the lower prices Amazon offers. But there is more. Amazon customer service, especially its Kindle customer service, is second to none, at least in my opinion. Then there is the selection. E-books aside, Amazon has BOOKS. You know you can go to the site and find just about anything you want.

But that’s still not enough to drive most bibliophiles from physical bookstores. After all, we love getting recommendations from knowledgeable staff. We love walking up and down the aisles of a well-stocked physical store, our fingers lovingly caressing the spines of books as we look for authors whose work we enjoy. The only problem? Well, problems? Over-expansion by the big box stores saturated the market. Prices for books increased until most readers no longer bought as many books as they once did. They — gasp — started returning to their local libraries (or became real traitors and switched to e-books). In an ill-advised attempt to cut costs, a number of these big box stores let a lot of their full-time employees go and went with part-time employees, many of whom simply looked at it as a job and who didn’t share the love of books with their customers. They didn’t know the stock.

Then came another cost-cutting measure. Shelf space for books decreased and toys, knick-knacks and other, non-book items took over more and more floorspace. Most genre fiction and a lot of non-fiction took big hits there. Guess what, by decreasing the number of books in the store, the sellers decreased the reason for book lovers to come in. Add to that the fact that special orders often went astray or weren’t taken and, well, readers started looking for alternate sources for their books.

Amazon was off and running and oh the hue and cry that went up. It was much the same as it is today. Now, I can hear you asking why this rehash of the situation? That’s simple. I read a post over at The Passive Voice yesterday that had me shaking my head. It seem World Book Night is coming. Thousands of free books will be handed out for free to encourage reading. Among the underwriters for the event are Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. But where’s Amazon? Is Jeff Bezos as evil as legacy publishing would have us believe? Not at all. It seems Amazon wasn’t invited to participate.

“[T]he philosophy behind World Book Night has been about physical books in physical places, handed out person to person,” said [Director Carl] Lennertz.

Wait, an event to promote reading is keeping out the largest single player in the bookselling field because it doesn’t have a physical store. Besides, doesn’t Amazon have warehouses of physical books that can be handed out just about anywhere? Maybe Jeff Bezos said they wouldn’t go to the local library or mall or shopping center to hand out books to those wanting them. Oh, wait, he couldn’t have because Amazon wasn’t even asked to participate.

Is it just me or does it sound like the event organizers are more interested in making a political/economic statement than they are in actually getting books into the hands of those who might actually need them, much less want them?

This sort of thinking reminded me of the quote I had in a post a week or so ago where a publishing executive commented that there were already too many e-books out there. How in the world can there be too many books of any format? Who decides? Then I remembered this quote from Atlas Shrugged:

There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies. This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing. If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books. … Only those whose motive is not money-making should be allowed to write. … Ten thousand readers is enough for any book.

Think about it, folks. Doesn’t this, in so many ways, represent what we are seeing from legacy publishing now? Other than these same publishers wanting that one big blockbuster a year or so, I really do wonder if they don’t want to move away from genre fiction. Think of how much easier it would be for them to get their message, the “right” political or social message out. Of course, you’ll never convince me that legacy publishing, as it exists now, wants new talent and fresh ideas. Not when we are still getting rehashes of Twilight and that is the sort of book getting pushed. Don’t believe me. Check out the latest “it” book, Fifty Shades of Gray.

As for the part of the quote about letting only those whose “motive is not money-making” being allowed to write, these same publishers are already trying to enforce that now. As Dave and Sarah have so eloquently pointed out in earlier posts, writers are the creators of the books. It is our words, our creativity, our blood, sweat and tears that make up the product being sold. Yet we get the smallest portion of the sales price. To look at it in another light, we are the debtor who has been forced into bankruptcy and the publishers are the sharks coming in and buying our assets for pennies on the dollar. Worse, we have been letting them do it.

We’re told there is no way to determine the actual number of copies sold. Sorry. I don’t buy it. This is the day of computers, of instant world-wide communication. Stores accepting credit or debit cards have readers that can instantly send that transaction to the credit card company, making sure the store gets paid. It’s the same with checks. Then there are those wonderful new cash registers that scan the bar codes of items being bought and automatically deduct that item from the inventory and can even let you know when you need to reorder an item.

And yet publishers and distributors can’t tell an author how many copies of his book have been sold.

Let me throw one more factor into the mix. If the publishers can’t tell us how many books have been sold using traditional print and distribution methods, how in the hell are they going to give us accurate numbers as expresso print machines become more and more prevalent in bookstores?

Add to that the creative way of reporting royalties — again, something we’ve let them get away with for far too long. Royalties are determined not by the actual number of books sold. Oh no, that would make too much sense. Publishers rely upon Bookscan numbers. Bookscan doesn’t report every sale made by every bookstore or online retailer. Not even close. Yet these are the numbers royalties are based on. And we have let them do this. Worse, our agents, those men and women who have a fiduciary duty to look after our best interests, have let them do it.

Authors are being screwed out of second printing payments because publishers are now doing what’s called micro-printings. These don’t qualify as second — or third, etc — printings. So, no additional monies to be paid out to the writers, the creators of the book.

Then there are the cancellations of series that “just didn’t connect with the readers”, series that have books still on the shelves of bookstores years after they first came out. In case you don’t know already, most books don’t stay on the shelves of a bookstore more than six weeks. To have a book on the shelves a year, much less two or more years, after it came out means that book is selling. But publishers are reporting few to no sales and not thinking authors are smart enough to 1) read their fan mail which often includes photos of the books on the shelves of their local store, or 2) go to the bookstores themselves to look for — and sign — their own books, or 3) to take advantage of Amazon’s offer of free bookscan numbers.

And our agents do nothing to stop it. Oh, they may put up a bit of a fight, but not much. Instead, they remind us that we still want to sell to these same legacy publishers that are figuratively, if not literally, screwing us. So we mustn’t rock the boat. Now, I’ll give you that agents are between a rock and a hard place: they have a duty to represent their client in that client’s best interest. But they also have to work with these same legacy publishers for all their clients. So rocking the boat for one can have negative implications for their other clients. But what those agents don’t seem to realize is that the negative implications are short-term. That’s especially true if the publishing industry changes as I expect it to over the next few years.

So why are so many authors afraid of jumping off the legacy publishing ship? Some of them because they’ve been thedahlings of the publishers. Others, the majority in my opinion, because they are scared. They know the pitfalls of legacy publishing but they’ve come up through the ranks at a time when small press was bad. It meant you were at the end of your publishing career. Self-publishing meant you were no good. After all, it meant you couldn’t get past the gatekeepers. That is no longer the case, especially when it comes to e-books.

But there’s another reason. Legacy publishers, like the looters in Atlas Shrugged, have been on a years’ long campaign of disinformation. They have conveniently rewritten recent publishing history to forget how the big box bookstores put the smaller bookstores out of business. Instead, Amazon is the root of all the ails of publishing. What else would account for one of the publishers saying the reason for entering into the agency model was to help insure the success of a new e-book retailer? Remember, we aren’t talking about Joe Blow e-books. We are talking about Apple. Sorry, if that isn’t one of the most insane comments I’ve heard in a long time, I don’t know what is.

Perhaps it is time for authors, especially genre authors to take a page from their academic counterparts. Perhaps it is time for us to consider doing something like Journal publishing reform. Or perhaps it is simply time for us to remember that we are the creators of the word on the page and it is time we took control of our own futures and not rely upon outdated business practices and executives who are not considering our best interests in the distribution, marketing and reporting of our sales.

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)