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Posts tagged ‘Baen’

Publish or Perish or be Condemned?

I’ve had a hard time writing this blog today. It isn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Just the opposite, in fact. The problem is that I’ve had to decide if I want to give more traffic to a site because of a post that had enough people talking about it yesterday that I saw it linked on Facebook several times as well as having several people email me the link. The problem is the link is to an opinion piece — and I’m being generous here — about the evils of self-publishing and how it is ruining, if it hasn’t already ruined, the publishing industry.

Now, you can imagine what my response to that happened to be. Not only have I long been an advocate of self-publishing (as long as you do it right and have quality control in editing and cover design as well as layout) but also small and micro press publishing. I’ve condemned legacy publishing and its gatekeepers for being out of touch with not only emerging technology but public demand. The so-called gatekeepers have abdicated much of their duty to agents and to bean counters all the while putting more and more restrictions on authors in contracts.

So, yes, my exploded when I first read the article.

When you follow the link, you will get an idea about where the commenter stands (sorry, can’t call him an author or a writer. Just can’t.). According to him, “Self-Published Authors Are Destroying Literature.” Well, I don’t know about you, but a lot of so-called modern literature deserves to be destroyed. But that’s just my opinion.

In the first paragraph of the so-called article, Kozlowski talks about self-published authors with “insistent need to spam social media and pump out a copious amount of horrible ebooks. . . .” He complains that self-published books are found right there along with what I assume he thinks are “real” books on Amazon and other online retailers. He moans about how these authors use social media to “literally beg for sales.”

Funny, I see just as much from traditionally published authors pushing their books on social media as I do from self-published authors. Talk to any author who is currently working with a legacy publisher — and who is willing to be honest about how things work — and you will find that they are “encouraged” to do as much marketing and promotion on social media sites as they can. Push for a book comes from its author now, not the publisher, unless that book has been tagged to be the next best seller by the publisher.

As for finding self-published book right there alongside traditionally published books, well, that is true. I’ll also admit that there have been other folks who have asked Amazon and other online retailers to somehow clue buyers into the fact that the e-book they are considering purchasing is being sold directly from the author and not from a “real” publisher.

My problem with this is two-fold. First, it isn’t Amazon’s — or any other retailer’s — job to do that. Besides, all you have to do is scroll down to the publisher’s information on the product page to get the information you need. Right there, it lists “published by” or “publisher” depending on what site you happen to be on. Don’t recognize the name, google it. But let’s face it, how many readers out there actually pay attention to who the publisher is?

But, Amanda, that’s the point. Most of us don’t know the publishers and you can’t really expect us to work at finding out if an author is self-published or not.

Ah, my children, you don’t have to. If you are worried that an author might be self-published and, therefore, part of the unwashed wannabe literati, there’s a wonderful think you can do with almost every e-book retailer out there: download a sample. Those free downloads are marvelous tools. They let you see not only the opening of a book or short story, but you can see the writing style of the author, if the e-book has been edited and proofread (are there a lot of typos, misspellings, etc.) and if the e-book is well formatted.

Oh yeah, those are free. Everyone — except Harlan Ellison — likes free.

But let’s continue.

Kozlowski goes on to note that Bowker reported that 12% of e-books sold are now from self-published authors. In some genres, that goes up to 20%. Of those, Kozlowski states that 95% of those e-books are “insufferable and are written to capitalize on trends in publishing, with authors trying to emulate successful writers such as E.L. James or Cassandra Claire.”

Of course, there is no statistical proof offered for his 95% figure, nor does he define his terms. As for the books being written to capitalize on trends in publishing, give me a break. What does he think legacy publishers do? How many books were contracted for by publishers during the height of the Harry Potter craze that were about boy wizards or wizardy schools? How many Twilight clones and sparkly vampires have we been subjected to as a result of that series? And let’s not forget the publisher who pulled an entire line of books after Fifty Shades of Grey took off (which, btw, was first self-published and is NOT well-written or edited, even after being picked up by a legacy publisher) to make sure all its covers told readers that these were books in the vein of FSOG?

But I guess Kozlowski has no problem with “real” publishers doing what he condemns in self-published works.

A couple of paragraphs later, he condemns Amazon because it doesn’t have anyone “proofreading or editing” the books in its KDP program. Uh, wait, is he saying Amazon should be the publisher because isn’t that what he says publishers do? The KDP program isn’t there for editing and proofreading. It is there as a platform for self-published authors and small presses to be able to get their books into the hands of readers. And why does he only point out that Amazon doesn’t do quality control? None of the major retail sellers do. So I have to assume at this point that Kozlowski is one of those on the “Amazon is evil” bandwagon.

“One thing indie authors have done is devalue the work of legitimate published authors. You know the type that write for a living, who have an editor and are considered accomplished, or at least well-read.”

When I first read that, I didn’t know whether to explode my head or his. According to this statement, you are not a “legitimate” author unless you are published by a real publisher, a legacy publisher is my guess. You have to write for a living. But what about all those writers who are traditionally published but who don’t make enough money to “write for a living”? I guess they don’t factor into Kozlowski’s formula, even though they are the vast majority of authors. And what about those self-published authors who do make enough to live off their writing?

Oh, he does back off a little for the “hybrid” authors, but those are, according to him, authors who “cut their teeth” in legacy publishing and now self-publish for a bit more control. The problem with this is that his own arguments against self-publishing would cut against these so-called hybrid authors when it comes to their self-published work. Where is the editor and proofreader and publicist he seems to think are necessary to make an author a “real” author?

But the telling point — or points — come in the last paragraph and in his responses to the comments left by readers of the post. It becomes clear that he feels that the influx of self-published authors, and their work in genre, is killing LITERATURE. You know, all those stories you hated to read in school because they did not entertain. Sure, you can educate and inform in genre fiction. Most of us try to do that — but without preaching or using a sledgehammer on our readers. You’ll sell a lot more books if there is a good story, one that involves and entertains the reader. But that’s a point missed by Kozlowski.

As for his responses to the comments left by readers of the post, well, go look for yourself. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if he is someone who tried to submit to a “real” publisher and was turned down and has since decided that everyone should suffer as he has or if he just doesn’t get it. Maybe he’s just a literary snob. I don’t know and I don’t really care — except when it comes to such blanket statements of condemnation as he propagated.

In fairness to the site as a whole, they did publish a counterpoint article by another of their staff. You can find it here.

As for me, well, I’ll continue writing and selling on my own or through Naked Reader Press, a nice little micro press that most definitely isn’t a legacy publisher. Frankly, at the moment there’s only one traditional publisher I’d consider going with and that’s Baen because it does treat its authors like people and not cattle and it does listen to its readers.

Now go, my friends, read the comments to Kozlowski’s post and judge for yourself as you see his responses. Oh, and let me know what you think!

Baen E-Books Now Available Through Amazon

Last week, Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books announced that she’d inked a deal to bring Baen e-books to Amazon. This has been a deal long in the works and one that will broaden Baen’s digital exposure. In my opinion, this is a necessary move for Baen, the pioneer in e-books, if it wants to continue leading the digital revolution. Most of all, I applaud Toni for not only inking this deal but for increasing author royalties for e-book sales, something she couldn’t have done had she kept their digital sales limited to just the Baen e-books site.

As a bit of background, Jim Baen, founder of Baen Books, began selling e-books more than a decade ago. When he did, there was no Kindle or Nook or iPad. E-books were in their infancy and most everyone in the publishing industry not only thought Jim was more than a bit crazy to be embracing the technology so early on but condemned him for doing so at low cost per title and for refusing to infuse the books with DRM. After Jim’s death, Toni continued expanding Baen’s digital library. Not only are new titles being offered each month but so are backlist titles, including books by such “masters” of science fiction as Heinlein.

Fast forward to the age of the Kindle, Nook and tablets. Amazon opened the Kindle store and others followed suit. Most publishers, as they began realizing e-books were selling and were not going to disappear in a sudden flash, signed deals with Amazon and Barnes & Noble (and later Apple) to sell their e-books. Without going through the entire agency pricing ongoing debate and debacle, these e-books were initially offered at prices that rarely exceeded $9.99. That price was for the so-called “best sellers” and new releases. As a book went from hard cover to soft cover, the prices dropped and all were basically happy. $9.99 became the price point most e-book purchases were willing to pay for new releases, especially of their favorite authors.

Add to that the ease and convenience of simply turning on your e-reading device or smart phone with its app, going to the Kindle store (or Nook, etc) and finding a book, buying it and having it delivered almost instantaneously to your device and you had some very happy readers. Then the ability to preview a book was added so you could download a sample before having to commit any funds to buying a book. It was just about perfect.

For various reasons, and I am not privy to them, Baen Books was not able to get into the Kindle Store until now. That meant it was missing out on a resource that cut deeply into potential sales. People would go to Amazon or BN and look up their favorite Baen author and find physical copies of the books available but no e-books. Nothing on the product page pointed them to the Baen e-book store. Threads would occasionally pop up asking why Baen wasn’t selling digital copies of their books and, occasionally, someone would point the person asking the question to the Baen site where e-books could be bought.

Folks started asking Toni on Baen’s Bar when Baen would start selling e-books through other sites. For more than a year she’s been telling folks to be patient. She was working on it.

Then, several weeks ago, she warned everyone to download and back up anything they might want that was currently offered through Baen’s Free Library. Speculation started flying then about what might be about to happen. More warnings were issued, including cryptic ones alluding to a big announcement about to come. Even with all this, there were cries of “foul” when the Free Library was gutted and most of the books disappeared.

Those cries turned into roars when Toni made the announcement last week that Baen had entered into an agreement to start selling its e-books through the Kindle store. I’ll be the first to admit that the initial announcement wasn’t worded as well as it could have been. There were some points of confusion, especially about the monthly bundles. But Toni responded quickly, doing her best to answer the questions. And still the uproar continues. Why? Because Baen is dealing with “the Evil Amazon” and because prices are going up.

I thought long and hard about whether to address what folks have been saying about this latest development. After all, as I said earlier, I haven’t been privy to the negotiations. Nor do I particularly want to pick a fight with fellow barflies. However, some of the attacks on this move have been so asinine that I decided something had to be said. So, let’s start with the “sin” of working with Amazon.

Toni has an obligation to the people with a financial stake in Baen to make the most money possible for the company. That means making sure Baen books are available in as many outlets as possible. No one argues with the fact that Baen’s hard copy books are in the Amazon store. In fact, if you log onto Baen’s Bar and read through the various threads, you’ll see that some of those complaining about selling e-books through Amazon are more than happy to buy the hard copy versions of the books there because they can buy them at lower than cover cost. But Amazon is evil.

The truth of the matter is, Baen needs to be in the Kindle store — just as it needs to be in the Nook store and iTunes, etc — to expand its digital footprint. Most potential customers looking for a book in one of these venues will simply look for another book and not leave the app they are using to go to the Baen e-bookstore. It’s foolish in this day and age not to have your e-books available in the same outlets where your hard copy books are being sold.

Oh, and before anyone starts screaming about DRM, there will be no DRM attached to e-books sold through Amazon. So there is no change there.

Folks are upset because this means there will be an increase in the cost of Baen e-books. Okay, I’d like to see the e-books stay at the same price, but the fact remains there hasn’t been a jump in cost in something like 10 years. It’s past time for Baen to increase the price of their e-books. The argument that the new price of $9.99 is the same, or less, than would be paid for a paperback doesn’t fly. For one thing, that $9.99 price is for new releases — exactly what the pricing used to be on Amazon before agency pricing. Toni has also assured the ‘flies that the pricing will decrease as mmpb versions of books are released. So, if you don’t want to pay that much for your e-book, don’t. Wait six months and pay the lower price. No one is saying you have to pay that price. It is up to you if you want to buy a single title when it first comes out.

Then there’s the upset about what this does to the monthly bundles. Because of the rule Amazon — and every other major e-book outlet — has about not selling e-books at a lower price elsewhere, the monthly bundles are having to evolve. Basically what is happening is you can still buy the bundles for the very good price of $18. However, those bundles disappear around the 15th of the month before the e-books become available for sale on Amazon or elsewhere (I may be slightly off on when they disappear, but this is my understanding). The impact of this is that you can no longer go back and buy a bundle for a previous month nor can you wait for the entire e-book to be available before buying the bundle.

Oh the cries of “foul” this has caused.

Look, folks, get a grip. Toni and the rest of the folks at Baen have to worry about how to expand their sales. Publishing is in a time of transition. Every publisher is fighting to find more customers. No longer is it enough to simply work to keep the customers you have. This move to Amazon, while it does mean a modest increase in prices — especially if you wait for the initial price to go down — is well worth it if it means Baen not only continues to thrive in the future but can continue to bring us quality science fiction and fantasy titles.

I guess what really got to me in the various threads attacking this move was the accusation that Toni had basically betrayed everything Jim stood for. Here is where I call bullshit. What is she doing? Expanding Baen’s digital presence. Insuring her authors have a wider platform to sell their books — which means more money for them and for Baen.

Look, you don’t want to pay $9.99 for a single title? Then find the bundle that new title will be offered in and buy it. For $18 you will get that book and at least one other new title as well as at least three reprints. That’s a pretty damned good deal in my opinion.

Before someone starts saying that I’ve changed my stance on e-book pricing, I haven’t. $9.99 has always been the price point I’ve been willing to pay for new release books by certain authors. It’s when an e-book is more than that where I have problems.

And don’t give me the “it doesn’t cost as much to make an e-book” argument. And, yes, that has been tossed out there in response to the announcement as well. No, it doesn’t. But I trust Toni to have gotten the best deal possible for Baen, for her authors and for her readers. No one likes a price increase. However, if this is what it took to get into Amazon, to increase Baen’s e-book presence and make it easier for more readers to find them, I can live with it.

As for the Baen Free Library, that’s been explained as well. Since most of the titles in the free library will be made available for sale through Amazon, they could no longer be offered for free through the Baen site. The solution is a good one: new editions of these books will be put together, something that will make them different from the “for sale” editions. Once these editions are available, they will be uploaded to the Free Library site and made available. It will take some time but, let’s face it, there was nothing mandating Baen offer these titles for free in the first place. It was a good marketing tool for them and Jim — as well as Toni — knew it. So chill and read what you already have on your reader or computer and relax. The free library will be back.

For those of you upset because the Baen CDs “disappeared”, chill out. They aren’t gone. At least not yet. You can still find the iso versions of them through Joe Buckley’s site. The only real difference I’ve seen there is that you can’t browse the books individually nor can you read them online. You can still see what each CD includes and you can download an iso or zip file. So they aren’t gone. At least not yet.

I guess what has really bothered me about all the uproar is the sense of entitlement I’ve seen in so many of the comments. There have been the Amazon haters who have said they will not be buying anything else from Baen because of the new agreement. Others who are upset at the increase on price for new releases so they won’t be buying as many, or any, more e-books. There was even one who said this price increase would lead to more piracy of Baen e-books.

Look, no one is saying you have to buy from Amazon. The Baen e-bookstore isn’t going away. That’s still where I’ll be buying my Baen e-books. You don’t like the increased prices, then wait for the prices to come down. But get the hell off your high horse and give the new agreement a chance.

Most of all, remember that this change helps the authors we have all come to love, including our own Sarah and Dave. By getting Baen e-books into the Kindle store, the potential audience is increased not slightly but greatly. So are their potential royalties.

No one likes change and I’ve never seen anyone who likes price increases. But costs do increase. Prices do raise. At least with these you know they will come down and you can plan accordingly. Sure, it would have been nice if there had been more notice so we could have grabbed past monthly bundles before they became unavailable. Yeah, there should have been a way for PT to have sent out notice to all prior e-book purchasers of the upcoming change and there could have been a warning put up on the Baen site. But, for whatever reason, this wasn’t done. It still shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for those of us who buy Baen e-books.

So, for everyone slinging condemnations at Toni and Baen, get over yourselves. This is something that needed to be done. If it means not putting off buying a bundle, then mark your calendars so you don’t forget. Don’t want to pay $9.99, wait for the price to come down. It will. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to pay a bit more if it means the authors I enjoy have the chance of selling more books because more books means that author has a better chance of getting another contract with Baen.

Don’t knock at doors. Knock down walls instead

It’s no surprise to anyone who has been a regular follower of this blog to know I’m a big supporter of small press and indie publishing. I have been for a long time, long before I actually started working in the industry. But that doesn’t mean I wish ill to traditional publishing. It has its place. What it means is that I see traditional publishing houses having to change and adapt to new tech and new consumer demands or it will become like the dinosaur. Most will die while a very few will find a way to evolve and survive. But those that do survive will not look anything like they once did.

Before someone points out that trade sales increased last quarter thanks to the Hunger Games trilogy and Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ll say this. I’m glad sales increased. But I have a warning. These books are a short-lived trend. I’ll remind everyone about the huge decrease in sales the publisher had after the last Twilight book came out. Why? Because so much was put into pushing those books that there was nothing in place to take over as the new “it” book when the time came. Also because publishers, and not just the house that brought out Twilight, were busy putting out pale imitations of Twilight and, at least in my opinion, saturating the market with sparkly vampires.

So, is there a reason to try to go with a major publisher these days? Given the difficulty in landing one of the increasingly rare slots with a legacy publisher, is it worth an author’s time — not to mention ulcer and hair — to try to go that route?

I’ll admit, I started thinking about this question again the other day while reading one of the discussion boards I belong to. Someone had asked why an e-book would become unavailable. There were several good explanations for why, including the one that was accurate with regard to the e-book in question — the rights had reverted back to the author so the publisher could no longer sell the e-book.

From there the conversation drifted, as online discussions often do, into whether or not an author should self-publish. It seems the author in question is one who has been self-publishing her backlist and has been discussing her efforts online. She hasn’t held back, describing the good, the bad and the indifferent. More power to her. The way I look at it, the more open and honest discussion of the entire publishing spectrum there is, the better for authors and for readers.

Where I started shaking my head was when an author popped into the conversation and started talking about how he could never self-publish because he couldn’t afford it. The problem is he had fallen into the same trap so many who condemn self-publishing do: he was saying what the major publishers have said without actually investigating it himself. The only thing he really had right was that he wouldn’t get the upfront advance. Yeah, I’d love to have that. It would make life a lot easier. But when you consider that most books never earn out that advance according to publishers who never let you see actual sales figures, how do you know how much that book actually sold?

Big disclaimer here: everything I’m saying about publishers doesn’t hold for Baen. Baen is a solid house that treats its writers with respect. Baen also listens to its readers. The major houses could learn a lesson from Baen.

That said, let’s look at some of the misconceptions about publishing that came out in the thread.

The author commented that if he went the self-publishing route, he’d have to give up either editors or decent cover art as well as release to known venues. The first two because of cost and the second because of distribution.

No. No to all of it. You can find excellent editors who work for a very reasonable price if you want to pay for them. However, if you are in a writers group or if you know other authors, you can find someone who will edit for you in trade. The key is knowing what you want and in getting samples of their work as well as recommendations. As for cover art, with the exception of Baen and one or two others, most cover art these days is either stock or minimalistic. At least one house has delayed the release of all its titles in an imprint so the covers can be rebranded to look like Fifty Shades of Grey. If you look at another major house’s covers, you’ll see a solid color background, a large block banner in a darker color with the author’s name superimposed. Below that is a small, maybe only 1/3 of the cover, image with large block letters below for the title of the book. All design and not art. Even if you are hiring someone to do art for you, you can get a very good cover from young, hungry artists for no more than $200. However, you can do what so many — including established publishing houses of the legacy kind — and use sites that allow you to buy a license for a photo or piece of art at a very small price.

As for getting into known venues, yes, traditional publishers can get you into the bookstores. Note I said “can”, not “will”. And even if they get you into a bookstore, that doesn’t mean your book will be there in a large enough quantity to gather attention or that it will be there long enough to be found. Take a trip to your local bookstore, especially your local big box store. Walk along the aisles and look at the books. How many copies of any book that isn’t by a best seller are there? Make a note of the titles of one or two authors you haven’t heard of before. Note how many copies of these books there are. Go back in a month and see if those titles are still on the shelves. I’ll lay odds that, unless something happened to give the books push, they won’t be. Why? Because the self life of a book is measured in weeks, sometimes in days, not in months.

There’s something else to consider. You can go the POD — publish on demand — route as a self-published author. That means you can take your book into your local indie bookstore and ask them to carry it. Yes, it may cost you a bit upfront — and we are talking however much you want to spend to buy a few copies to show, and maybe give, to the buyer for that bookstore so they can see the quality of your book. If they like it, they can then order the book and stock it. All it will cost you is the price of an ISBN to get you listed in Books in Print and a little bit of time to go make friends with your local bookstore employees.

It irritates me to no end to see authors saying they can’t put out “professional-quality” books without having a publisher. That is a load of hooey. Is it easy? No. It takes time and effort, but it can be done. The fact that this author and those who think like him are out there saying stuff like this means they are smacking every author who self-publishes in the face. The truth is, these authors who are condemning indie authors and small presses are either publishing’s darlings or they are authors who really haven’t looked into what it takes to self-publish. I’ll lay odds that they also haven’t really looked at the fine print in their contracts to see just how their publishers are screwing them out of so very much.

Again, Baen is the exception. Otherwise, Dave and Sarah wouldn’t be working with them and the rest of us wouldn’t be such vocal supporters of them.

But the list of what publishers do for you grew in further posts from other folks on the list and my disbelief continued to grow with it.

1. Editing — uh, has anyone really looked at books coming out of major publishers over the last five years or so? Have you listened to authors and their horror stories about what sort of editing — or not editing — has gone on? You have to remember that publishers have pared their staffs tremendously and now outsource or let interns handle a lot of work once done by established and respected editors and copy editors. Frankly, I’ve seen better edited self-published and small press published books than I have from some of the big publishers.

2. Cover art — see my earlier comments. Cover art isn’t what it used to be for books, with the sometimes exception of romance. But even then, if you look closely, you’ll see that the artwork is being reused by different books. Yes, the biggest way to show you are new to publishing is to have a bad cover. Yes, covers are probably the hardest for most folks to do. But to think that only big publishers put out good covers or that you have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a cover is flat wrong.

3. Printing — wrong again. Any author can go POD and little to no cost. But the issue that you have to consider is this: where will your sales come from? With the trend showing that more and more readers are going digital, shouldn’t that be where you are focused? Note also that a number of small to mid-sized publishers, and even some major publishers, are now putting out titles digitally first and only taking them to print if a certain level of sales are reached.

4. Distribution — agreed, to a point. Again, see my comment above about placement in bookstores. But again, you are working off the old business model, a model that very well may not survive in its current form for much longer.

5. Marketing — okay, that sound of hysterical laughter you hear is coming from Sarah. Every publishing contract has a clause saying that there will be marketing and push for the book. Does it happen? Not really. The book is listed in a catalog and, if the market rep happens to have read and liked the book, she might suggest it to a bookstore purchasing agent. Otherwise, unless a book has been slotted for best seller status, that is the sum of the marketing. Authors are expected to market it themselves. They are told to brand their work, to have a website, to blog and go on blog tours, to tweet and facebook and all the other social media. They are to do trailers for their book and go talk to folks and, no, usually they are not reimbursed by the publisher. So why not do that for yourself and take yet another middleman out of the equation?

6. Accounting — oops, sorry, I just fell off my chair laughing. I’m sorry, but the accounting an author gets comes to them via bookscan. This is the form of alchemy used to say how many books have been sold and is totally unacceptable. In this day of computers and  RFIDs and instant communication, there is no reason a publisher shouldn’t know exactly how many books have been printed, shipped, sold, and returned. But no, they don’t do this. They hire a company — the same company that does the Neilson ratings for TV — to estimate sales. Depending on who you ask, these figures are 1/3 – 2/3 lower than actual sales. So, who gets screwed? The author.

I know there are authors out there who will never feel they’ve made it as an author until they have been published by a “real” publisher. Would I jump at a chance to work with a house like Baen? You betcha. But I also respect what authors like Larry Corriea who went the indie route, proved himself and landed a contract with Baen because of it. He, and others like him, have proven that you can make it as an indie author and can use that platform to launch into traditional publishing — if that is what you want.

So maybe instead of beating our heads against the wall, we should do what Larry did, do what authors like Sarah and Dave are doing. We should put our work out there in the best format we can. If we don’t put out the quality our fans want, we’ll know it. We’ll hear about it through the lack of sales and through the comments we’ll bet via reviews or email or facebook posts. But at least we are trying and not sitting in our rooms, beating our breasts and wailing about how unfair it is because we can’t break through.

A writer writes. A writer finds a way to get his work into the hands of his readers. If one path appears to be closed to you, then find another. If you don’t, you’ll never know if you could have made it because you’ll continue to knock on doors that may never open.

Will another one bite the dust?

One day, I’d love to be able to sit down and do the research for my next MGC post and realize legacy publishers hadn’t just done something to make me want to bang my head against the wall. For one thing, my head hurts. For another, I have a very hard head and I’m getting tired of having to patch the sheetrock where I keep beating holes in it.

This week’s head-to-wall experience began by reading an article in one of our local papers about the trouble our libraries are having with legacy publishers over e-books. We’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating. Of the big six publishers (Macmillan, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Hatchett, Random House and HarperCollins) only Random House and HarperCollins sell e-books to libraries. HarperCollins may express devotion to libraries, yet it lets an e-book be checked out only 26 times before a new “copy” must be purchased. And, oh yeah, libraries pay a hell of a lot more for their e-books than you and I do.

The understatement of the article appears when the reporter comments, “The publishers won’t come out directly and say it, but the reason may be that they believe that people who can read a book for free won’t buy it.”  I have no doubts this is exactly what the publishers think. They are scared of e-books, even as they see e-book revenue increasing. They are scared of them because e-books mean a change in their market shares and a change in their business plans and, let’s face it, no one likes change, bean counters and ivory tower sitters least of all.

But what publishers miss by taking this stance with libraries is that there is no difference between borrowing an e-book and borrowing a hard copy of that book. If people try a new author — or go back and try a new book from an author they used to read and stopped reading for whatever reason — and they like what they read, they will buy other books by that author. Libraries are a revenue driver for publishers. By hamstringing libraries regarding e-books, these same publishers are hurting themselves and this, ultimately, hurts their authors.

This takes on an even greater importance when you look at the latest survey out of this year’s BEA. There was a 100% year-over-year increase in publishers reporting that at least 10% of their annual revenue comes from e-book sales. Add to that the fact that four out of five publishers are now releasing e-books and it is clear e-books are not only here to stay. Yet, legacy publishers continue to shoot themselves in the foot by doing their best to keep a major outlet for e-books tied up and out of the hands of readers.

Okay, I know. Someone’s going to point out that Tor/Forge is going DRM-free and is even opening its own e-bookstore soon. With all the hoopla that surrounded the initial announcement, you’d think no publisher had ever gone DRM-free before. Well, this is where I call bullshit. Sorry for the language, but it’s the truth. Baen has been selling their e-books free of DRM for more than 10 years. Ten years in which all the other publishers, and more than a few authors, condemned them and told them how wrong they were. Those who are active on Baen’s Bar remember the failed experiment with Tor several years ago where Tor books were offered for a very, very, very short period of time in Webscriptions (Baen’s online store) before being pulled because upper management at Tor’s parent company got cold feet. So pardon me if I’m not exactly as thrilled about the announcement as some of the others. Nothing new, nothing groundbreaking.

Look, let’s be real. There is absolutely no reason for a publisher, big or small, not to have its own webstore. Not in today’s computer age. But, being the paranoid skeptic that I am, all I can see from the Tor store is yet more issues with keeping an accurate count of the number of e-books sold. Look, legacy publishers can’t give their authors an accurate count of hard copy books sold even though they should be able to track without any problem the number of books printed, number of books sold to bookstores, number of books returned. But they can’t handle that simple accounting issue, relying instead on a third party they pay big money for and that only estimates at the number of books sold. Of course, the fact that those estimates run in the publisher’s favor instead of the authors’ may be why.

And then there’s the response to the price fixing lawsuit the Department of Justice filed against Apple and five of the big six publishers. BN argues that the proposed settlement will not only cause prices to increase for e-books, but that it will harm just about everyone who ever considered an e-book and will void agency agreements in use in other industries. The problem with this is that the proposed settlement doesn’t void agency agreements as a whole. In fact, it is noted that agency agreements can be entered into, immediately by non-defendants in the suit and ultimately even by the named defendants. No, the problem with agency agreements in this instance is the alleged collusion that took place between the defendants. Once more, those who see Amazon as the great evil that must be destroyed, are doing their best to play smoke and mirrors, hoping beyond hope to confuse the issue.

Folks, I’m tired. I’m tired of the legacy publishers treating readers like criminals. What other reason is there for the continued use of DRM, something that doesn’t work to begin with and that only adds to the cost of an e-book?

I’m tired of legacy publishers treating their authors like dirt, and worse. The inclusion of contractual clauses that can tie an author to a house forever and never let them write for anyone else smacks of the old studio policies in film in the 30’s and 40’s. I have visions of publishers trying to be paid by other publishers to “loan” out an author, whether the author wants it or not. And let’s not forget that the author, the creator of the product, gets paid less than minimum wage for their work and will never get an accurate accounting of his sales without demanding an accounting and being willing to take the legacy publisher to court to get it. Frankly, until a group of authors band together and file a class action law suit to do just that, it’s not going to happen because of the expense of litigation these days and because so many authors still operate under the belief that they will be blacklisted if they dare question their publisher.

Folks, wake up. Authors have other avenues available to them now. Instead of authors being worried about being blacklisted by publishers, it should be the other way around. Publishers should be worrying about what’s going to happen to them when the authors they’ve relied upon for years to make them money suddenly taken control of their own publishing lives and wave goodbye to the legacy publishers. THAT is what should have the publishers shaking in their boots instead of the growing popularity of e-books. Without the mid-listers that have been consistent money-makers for them, and the best sellers who have the name to bring in sales even if the book is only mediocre (at least until word of mouth gets around), publishers can’t survive with newbies and unknowns.

I’m tired of authors acting as sock puppets for their publishers, especially with regard to the DoJ law suit and the proposed settlement. Instead of parroting what their publishers and agents tell them, they need to read the pleadings for themselves. Yes, your eyes will cross. Yes, it’s boring because it’s legal writing. But until and unless you read it, and read the responses to it, all you are doing is parroting what others tell you to say. I don’t care if you are for or against it afterwards. But for Pete’s sake, make an informed decision and quit doing the knee-jerk thing just because you want to please your publisher.

I’m tired of media and blog coverage that crows loud and long when something like the Tor announcement comes along, proclaiming it a major new development in publishing. Nope. It’s not. Not when Baen has been doing it for more than ten years. Not when other publishers, publishers that might be smaller than Tor but publishers nonetheless, have been doing it as well. Tor isn’t breaking any new ground here. All they are doing is following in the steps of others before them. And yet, to read the coverage of it, you’d think no one had ever sold a DRM-free book before, much less had their own webstore.

I’m tired of publishers treating me like a crook because I want to read my e-books across different platforms and in different formats and the only way I can do it is to either buy multiple copies of the same book in different e-formats or break DRM. I won’t tell you what I do beyond saying I have all the apps on all my devices.

Basically, it all comes down to this: there are a handful of publishers that have controlled the business for decades who are now running around like Chicken Little, scared the sky in falling. Instead of embracing the new technology and trusting their customers, they are digging in and doing their best to resist change. They are being enabled in all this by the media, which is facing much the same challenges and is even more scared than are the publishers, and authors who have their own reasons for not embracing the changes. Until these publishers either pull their heads out of the sand, tear up their current business plans and start forward-thinking instead of not thinking, and until they start treating their authors as partners in the venture, things will continue to look dark for them.

And it doesn’t have to.

Publishing will survive this upheaval called e-books. There will always be print books, but their market share will continue to fall over the upcoming years as more and more people turn to digital formats and as the price of print books continues to increase. They will become a niche market like e-books used to be. What may not survive, at least not in their current configurations, are the large publishers. They have some very hard decisions to make. It’s up to them to decide whether to make them now or to wait until it is too late and they go the way of other companies like Borders.

Until then, I’ll stick to small presses and self-publishing.


A Real Change of Heart or Just More Smoke and Mirrors

Earlier this week, it was announced that Tor/Forge was going to go DRM-free by July 2012. Normally, I’d view such news as very good news indeed. However, I’ll admit I’m still playing Scrooge about it. Maybe it’s because of who owns Tor/Forge — Macmillan. You remember them. They are one of the Big 6, those major publishing houses that believed it was better for their companies to adopt the agency pricing model and make LESS money just because it might stick it to Amazon. Macmillan is also one of the five publishers, along with Apple, to be sued by the Department of Justice for price fixing.

Anyway, here’s what Tom Doherty had to say: Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time. They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.

While I have to admit, it’s nice to see that Doherty and company finally realize that DRM is “a constant annoyance”, there is one thing I find glaringly absent from his comment or from the TOR announcement: a decrease in price. Remember, the application of DRM has been a convenient excuse for publishers charging higher prices for their books because DRM is expensive. So, if they are going to do away with DRM, will they be lowering prices? Somehow, I’m not holding my breath.

Another point of irritation comes from reading the Publishers Weekly article about the TOR announcement. It’s no secret that I am an e-book fan. I wouldn’t work for an electronic press if I wasn’t. It should also come as no surprise that I have brand loyalty to Baen. Under Jim Baen’s leadership, Baen pioneered the e-book industry. Toni Weisskopf has continued and expanded the work Jim began. Yet the only publishers PW mentions in the article are those who once had DRM and dropped it, not those — like Baen — that recognized from the outset what a bad idea DRM happens to be.

One more point about all this: don’t get too excited about the announcement. Macmillan has not yet expanded the announcement to other imprints/houses under its umbrella. In other words, St. Martins and Henry Holt, among others, will continue to add DRM to their titles. In other words, this is an experiment. Macmillan is trying to see how much of an impact removing DRM will have on its sales. My fear is that the experiment is already set up to fail. If TOR doesn’t lower its prices, there will be no dramatic increase in sales. If there is no dramatic increase in sales, I doubt (and that’s putting it mildly) Macmillan will decide to remove DRM from its other titles.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic. What do you think?

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Book 1 in the Nocturnal Lives Series

Now for the promotional spiel. Nocturnal Origins (Book 1 of the Nocturnal Lives Series) can be purchased through Amazon. Nocturnal Serenade (Book 2) and Nocturnal Haunts (a novella set in the Nocturnal Lives world) can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Naked Reader Press webstore. And, because RES rightfully chastised me for not making it clear in yesterday’s promotional post, authors get a larger slice of the pie if you buy your copies from the NRP store. Finally, as always, there is no DRM added to any of the Naked Reader Press titles.

Welcome to the real world

by Amanda S. Green

For those of you looking for Sarah’s workshop, she sends her apologies. Between not feeling good this past week and having to leave earlier for Denver this weekend than she expected, she wasn’t able to polish her post for today. She said to tell you that she will put the next installment of the workshop up Wednesday and will then get back to the Sunday schedule.

Yesterday I wrote about why I’m a Human Waver. I want to thank everyone who has so whole-heartedly jumped into the conversations this week about the new Human Wave Science Fiction, starting with Sarah’s post, Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, over on According to Hoyt and continuing with What is Human Wave Science Fiction here on MGC.

For me, part of my desire–no, my need–to embrace this new movement, for lack of a better word, goes far beyond just wanting to be able to read books like those I enjoyed so much when I was younger. It is a reaction to the legacy publishing industry, the same industry that has told so many of us that our stories aren’t deep enough or socially relevant enough or don’t carry the right message.

I’ll admit, part of the reason for this post today is because several of us involved with Mad Genius Club have been told that we are getting too serious on the blog. We’ve been asked if we are trying to cut off any chance we might have to work with the NYC publishers. In short, we are questioning the status quo and that just isn’t done.

Then, earlier this evening, I read a comment on a discussion board I frequent–several comments actually–where the posters made sweeping condemnations of authors who are taking paths that don’t lead through legacy publishers. According to them, there is a cache that comes with being published by these folks (And, for the record, I am exempting Baen from this conversation because I know their process and it isn’t that of the “big” publishers). This cache includes things like editing and copy editing and promotion and support for authors, etc., etc., etc.

All of which is bull. But we’ve discussed that before. In fact, I’ve been accused of harping too much on it. So I simply suggest you go back and look at our earlier posts about just how much push and promotion all but a few big name authors get. Compare the level of editing and copy editing and proofreading of books, paper and digital, today as opposed to twenty years ago. Ask most authors about what sort of support they get from their publishers. After they stop laughing, be prepared for a lesson in real life publishing.

Again, Baen does not fall into this category.

No, this post is aimed at those who feel we are being too negative and confrontational in our comments about legacy publishers. What these people don’t understand, mainly because they aren’t living the writer’s life, is that this is how most of us feel.

Publishing is changing and the many of the players are running scared. Publishers are trying to hold onto business models that should have evolved years ago. They are grabbing for rights to books that weren’t even dreamed up at the time contracts were signed. They are refusing to relinquish rights for books that have been out of print without the threat of litigation. They are insisting on non-compete clauses in contracts that can prevent authors from not only submitting work to other publishers but from also self-publishing something, even if it isn’t the sort of book the initial publisher puts out.

Worse, you have publishers fighting for a pricing scheme (agency pricing) that they admit makes them less money than they made under the earlier pricing policy. WTF? At a time when they are struggling to survive, they are fighting to make less money. Why? Because it would, in their minds, screw with Amazon. They aren’t looking at the bottom line for their companies or what this means to authors. And, authors, if the publisher makes less money, you’ll make less money.

Then there are the agents who are now acting as publishers or assisted publishers or whatever. Agents who are supposed to be representing their clients’ best interest are now going into a part of the business that, at least on the surface, looks like it could be a direct conflict of interest.

But it’s worse. There is what I am tempted to call a conspiracy of conformation taking place. We saw some of it last week on Sarah’s post, War is Hell. The trolls came running to the blog to beat her over the head because she wasn’t toeing the correct line. Her facebook page was hijacked when all she did was repost a Heinlein quote.

Folks, like it or not, but there has been a movement to keep writers in line. If you don’t believe me, listen to what editors and agents say at cons when they think they are in “friendly territory”. It hasn’t been more than a month since someone I know overheard an editor talking about having to drop someone because they’d found out this person was, gasp, conservative. If they are dropping friends for not being of the “right” political bent, believe me, they are dropping writers for the same reason.

Why else are writers having series dropped by editors with such questionable reasons as the series never caught on with the readers when that series is still on the shelves in bookstores more than two years after publication? Go ask anyone who works at a bookstore if they keep books in stock, much less on the shelves, if it isn’t moving. They don’t. And yet editors seem to think writers aren’t smart enough to check for themselves if their books are selling.

For years, writers have bitten their tongues and have made changes to their manuscripts in an attempt to keep their editors happy. That ought to be a red flag right there. Keeping the editor happy instead of the buying public. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

Writers are frustrated and, to be honest, we’re just as scared as the publishers. We don’t like change any more than the rest of the world. Worse, we’d really just like to be left alone to write. But we also want, and need, to make a fair wage for our work. That means publishers need to adjust their royalty schemes–or once more give that cachet of benefits that reader thought they still did. It means agents need to adjust their mindsets as well and remember there are legitimate options for their clients that don’t necessarily mean going with a legacy publisher.

Have I wound up severing any chance I had of landing a contract with a big publisher? Possibly. With an agent? Again, possibly. But I couldn’t get one to accept me as a client or author before Naked Reader Press. I’ve had agents forget I’d sent back edits they’d asked for and, when I did finally ask about it, they asked me to send another round of edits, WITHOUT FIRST SEEING THE INITIAL EDITS and without offering representation. I’ve had editors give me great feedback but tell me my books just “weren’t right” for them. That’s fine. I’ve found other outlets and I make pretty good money from these outlets. So, much as part of me would like a contract from a legacy publisher, I’m not going to cry if I never get one. (Of course, I still want a contract with Baen, but that’s because it is the only “major” publisher that consistently publishes books I like to read.)

So, have most of us at Mad Genius Club been negative? You bet. We’re human. We’re writers. And, like so many other writers right now, we have had enough. We want to be able to write the books we want to write. Books and short stories that fall squarely into Human Wave Science Fiction. We want to be able to bring these books and short stories to our fans. More than that, we want to be able to expand the Human Wave from sf to fantasy, mystery, romance, etc. Is that so wrong?

(Cross-posted to According to Hoyt)