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Posts tagged ‘class action’

Of slush piles and indie and tigers and bears, oh my!

Sorry for the delay this morning, everyone. I have had an upper respiratory infection for the better part of a week that is laying me low. Because of that, I’m taking a break from the formatting series. I will pick it up again, hopefully, tomorrow on my blog. Today, however, I’m going to take my cue from JL Knapp’s comment earlier about his friend who had made it through the slush pile but who did not make it to publication.

As most of you know, there are very few publishers (other than small and micro presses) that still have a slush pile. Most of those who don’t, require submissions through an agent. I’m convinced a big part of this is because they are using the agents as the first guardians of the gate. After all, by using the agents to winnow out those manuscripts not worthy, the publishers don’t have to hire as many readers, editors, etc. It also makes the agents more of an, well, agent for the publisher than for the writer. That sort of incestuous relationship can lead to some questions of where loyalty lies. But that’s not where I want to go with this post.

For those publishers that still have a slush pile, publishers like Baen, you don’t have to have an agent. In fact, if you talk with some of Baen’s writers, you will find a number of them no longer work with agents. After all, why give an agent a percentage of their money if they don’t need to? Tor/Forge is also open to unagented submissions. There are others but most require an agent and, as JL Knapp said, that adds time to the submission process and takes money out of the author’s pocket if a contract is signed.

So what is the submission process for a publisher like Baen. Our own Pam Uphoff can probably discuss it in more detail than I can but here’s what I remember from my own forays into the slush pile, both as an author and as a slush reader.

The first step is having your manuscript in the best shape possible. Baen offers various slush conferences where an author can post their work for critique before submitting to the slush pile. Once you are ready to submit your work, you fill out the online form, upload your work and wait. There are volunteer slush readers who, if they think something is worthy of publication will send it up the chain where, iirc, Gray Rinehart takes a look and decides whether it needs to go further up the chain. If you are lucky, you manage to make it through all that and your book lands on an editor’s desk for consideration.

All of that can happen in a couple of months, if you’re lucky. It is longer for other houses. But, once your book hits an editor’s desk, there is no solid timeline in which to hear back. That’s the truth whether you are with Baen or Tor/Forge or some other publisher. Your book may sit there for a few months or a few years.

So, do you go indie, even if your heart is set on traditional publishing?

There is no easy answer. My immediate response is to say, yes. Go indie and never look back. But that’s the course I chose and, yes, I would still go with Baen if the opportunity presented itself. Why? Because I respect the house and, more than that, I respect Toni Weisskopf. That isn’t something I can say about most other publishers.

So, here’s my response to that person who is set on traditional publishing but who doesn’t want to sit around waiting months and years to find out if they have made the cut. Submit that one work, consider it a sort of throw-away novel, and move on to something else, something unrelated. Indie publish that second work. Then continue writing and publishing until you either hear from the traditional publisher or you decide that isn’t the path for you.

What we all have to remember is that there are several different paths open for us now and we aren’t tied into one path only. Just remember if you are offered a traditional publishing contract to check the terms very closely. Some of those contracts include a right of first refusal clause — often without a solid time period in which to respond — for any of your work for as long as you are contracted with that can prevent you from shopping your work anywhere else, including indie publishing.

There are a couple of other items to keep an eye on. Thanks to the Passive Voice for the links:

The first deals with author’s payments and, in a roundabout way, whether those e-books we’ve been buying are really only licenses or actual e-books. A class action lawsuit has been filed against Simon & Schuster because S&S is reporting those purchases as “sales”, which mean a lower royalty rate for authors, instead of as “licenses”. Funny that, if you read what most publishers say we are buying as readers, it is licenses. We don’t “own” the e-book.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The second deals with Elora’s Cave. There have been rumblings for some time now about whether or not EC is paying its authors what they are owed. Some months back, EC filed suit against the blog Dear Author for reporting on this. If I remember correctly, the suit was decided in Dear Author’s favor. Now, it seems, EC is threatening RWA for taking action to warn its members about the problems EC is apparently having. If true, things are going to get interesting — and entertaining — before it all plays out.

Of Apple and Amazon and e-book sales

Sitting here this morning, wondering why I dreamed about having to bug-out because of an invasion of man-eating spiders (which, btw, are a lot worse than zombies because spiders can hide in much smaller places), I scanned the publishing news for the last few days and found myself wondering if we’ve stepped back in time. No, a quick glance at the calendar confirmed we haven’t. So I guess it is just more of the same-old-same-old while everyone waits to see what happens with the public hearing on copyright (and, yes, I will get to that but it will be next week. There’s a lot of material to wade through and I’m just now starting to feel well enough to do that sort of heavy reading)

The first example of how there are some in publishing that just don’t want to give up even in the face of overwhelming odds, is Apple. Even after losing the price fixing suit filed by the Department of Justice — and this after being abandoned by most of its named co-defendants when they settled the case instead of going to trial — Apple continues to fight. It now is trying to get the class action law suit against it dismissed. Now, most of the time, I wouldn’t think twice about this sort of thing. This isn’t one of those times. Apple is basically using the same arguments it used in the price fixing case to get this suit dismissed — arguments that obviously didn’t work. If you’ve already been told by a judge that your actions were not “pro-competitive and beneficial to consumers,” why are you still arguing it?

The only explanation I can come up with is that Apple simply isn’t used to losing. A company with very deep pockets, it rarely comes out on the short end of the stick. I have a feeling Apple will soon find itself on the short end again. Judge Cotes has already ruled once on this assertion and I don’t see her accepting it now. But Apple being Apple, they will keep trying and we will keep watching. More than that, considering how slowly cases proceed through the courts, the supervision period set out by Judge Cotes will probably have run its course before Apple exhausts all its appeals and then everything will be moot anyway.

Then there’s this article in Publisher’s Weekly about how the slowing e-book sales are a “mixed blessing”. When I saw the blurb for the article, I almost didn’t click over to the full piece. Part of me expected it to be another post extolling the fact that e-books really are nothing more than a flash in the pan and now that the “ooooh shiny” has worn off, folks will get back to buying print books. Fortunately for the continued existence of my laptop, it wasn’t all about that. The article does point out that you can’t keep up with triple digit sales increases over a long period of time. It also notes, as several of us here at MGC have, that the initial leap in sales had a lot to do with people buying e-book readers and tablets and getting books to go on them. That’s the sort of thing you see with any new tech. Just watch the increase in sales of video games over the next few months as the PS4 and XBox One — and the associated new gen games — hit the market.

However, this article — like so many others — is hampered by the fact that it is using figures that are no more accurate than BookScan sales numbers. That means whole markets are being left out as are a huge amount of indie and small press titles. Does this mean e-books sales haven’t slowed? Probably not. What I would bet on, however, is that they haven’t slowed as much as the study alleges and that means the gap between print sales and digital sales probably isn’t narrowing as much as is being assumed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying e-book sales are continuing to rising at triple digit levels. Nor am I saying the print section of the industry is doomed. My issue is that articles like this, based on data provided by third parties hired by interested parties in the debate, never give the full story. We don’t know what sources were used to determine sales. We don’t know if they used only sales from major publishers or from only members of AAP. We all know that studies like this can be manipulated and being the suspicious person that I am, I need to know the background information before accepting such a study at face value.

Then I came across this article from Dear Author and I thought that, for cone, I was going to have to disagree with them. But I can’t because I agree. The basic set up is this: a new e-book comes out and you buy it right away because you like the description or you’ve read other things by the author, etc. Being an e-book and (probably) written by an indie, you don’t mind dropping $4.99 or so for it. After all, you know the author’s work or you checked out the preview and it is less than that half-caf venti mocha you planned on for the afternoon.

So you click the pretty gold button on the product page and wait for the e-book to be downloaded to your e-reader or tablet and go off happily to read your new book.

Only to discover a few days later that the author has put the book on sale for 99 cents.

Now, $4.oo isn’t going to break me but, I guarantee you, I’m not happy to discover that I have just been penalized for being an early purchaser of the book. We’re not talking about a book that’s been out for months or even years. We’re talking about a book that has been out just a week or so. As Dear Author says, “Those on the pricing side can use price promotions to drive sales, but to do so at the cost of alienating loyal fans for not much long term gain seems counterintuitive.”

And that brings up the whole question of just when and how to promote your work which, in turns, brings up the question of do you go exclusively with one retailer or not. Amazon offers some great promotional programs for indies and small presses — if you go exclusively with Amazon for at least three months. If you ask three authors what they think about “limiting” yourself this way and you will get three different answers. One author will tell you that to go exclusive is to cut out sales venues and that means fewer sales. The next author will tell you that you should consider it but only after you’ve had your work out for at least six months or a year on all outlets to see where your best sales are. The third will tell you to definitely do it because Amazon is the gorilla in the marketplace and you can choose to not have DRM which means your buyers can convert their e-books into whatever format they want.

The correct answer is there is no correct answer. You have to decide for yourself what works best and, to do that, you need to know where your sales come from. You also have to consider how quickly you get paid. Then there is how quickly sales channels are updated so you can see what your sales trends are. But to simply discount an option because it comes from “evil Amazon” is to potentially cut off a viable promotional tool that can increase your sales.

Now, if the other outlets want to compete, they need to offer similar tools for authors. Frankly, I don’t want to write my book online using a retailers interface. I don’t want to wait weeks and months for a book to get through the review process (which I’ve been doing on a couple of titles and have finally pulled them and am resubbing them with some strategic changes in tagging and descriptions). I don’t want to risk having my books pulled from sales because someone thinks they are erotica based on a tag someone besides me put on them.

In other words, it is still up to us to keep on top of what is happening in the business. We have to educate ourselves about trends and programs and apps and all other things that can make our job easier and bring us into closer contact with our readers.