Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘collusion’

Professional or not, Apple and more

Have you ever had one of those days when you look around and wonder if the world has gone mad or if it’s just you? That’s sort of how I feel this morning. It isn’t because I have some real life issues that have been persistent pains in the butt of late. Nor is it even the fact that my muse has hit me over the head again and changed how I write, at least for this current WIP. No, those actually make sense compared to a couple of other things I’ve been reading about this morning.

First things first. Brian Keene has a post up about professionalism and elitism. It seems a quiz was posted on the HWA site to determine if you are a professional writer. According to the quiz, neither Keene nor many others qualify as a “pro” writer. Here are the questions and my answers.

1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?

No. My immediate work place gets messy as I write because I have scraps of paper with notes written on them and reference material. There will also be at least one coffee cup and can of Coke. But the rest of the house will be vacuumed every couple of days as well as dusted. The immediate work area is the way it is, not because time cleaning would take away from writing but because it is how I work. The coffee mug and Coke can disappear at the end of the day.

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?

Hell no. Not unless I am in the middle of a scene that would suffer by the interruption or I’m working a deadline. Writing may be my job and my passion but I also know that to stay sane I have to get out of the house once in awhile.

3.  Do you turn off the television in order to write?

This is one of those “sometimes” answers. I usually need background noise on in order to write. That noise is often the TV because music too often pulls me into it and I find myself listening to the music instead of working. Of course, it also depends upon the project. Some of them demand not only music but specific music. Those times, however, are usually when my muse is being particularly malevolent and makes me listen to artists or songs I would normally never listen to. And, in case you’re wondering, the muse stands back and laughs hysterically at those times.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?

If I am still in the creative phase of a project — ie, the writing and editing phase — yes. That’s what critique groups and beta readers are for. It also depends upon your definition of useful criticism. My issue comes when that criticism comes after the work has been published. Then the so-called useful criticism too often falls under personal preferences. There’s too much cursing or not enough sex. Your characters can’t do that on Planet Snarf because they couldn’t do it on Earth. But then, that’s just me.

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)?

What’s a vacation? And no. I may write while on vacation but if I plan one around writing, it no longer is a vacation. At least not in my mind.

6. Would rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?

No. While I do talk about the business of writing when I get together with other writers, that is only a small part of the conversation. We also talk about our families, jobs — if we have besides writing — homes, kids, politics. We are, or at least try to act like — gasp — real people.

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?

No. I have bills to pay — some of which I’m trying to figure out how to handle right now. When I worked outside the home, the job was something I wanted to be doing and the pay was more than I needed. But, because I liked my job (until the last few months when things changed for a number of reasons), I was better able to write. Taking a job that would add more stress to my life would be counter-productive.

8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?

That’s sort of like asking, “Do you still beat your wife?” This is one of those questions that drive me absolutely crazy. First of all, it depends on what you call a “nice home”. Then you have to look at what time you spend writing. For those writers who get up an hour before their kids so they can write early in the morning before getting the kids off to school and going to work at the office, etc., you are asking if they are willing to take on a second, or even third, job. If you write full-time, then you have to take into account how much you make from your writing and how much you could make if you worked outside of the home. Finally, you have to ask yourself if you are satisfied in the home you’re now in. For me, I am. So yeah, I’m more than willing to give up the “nice home” because I’m in a home right now that I like in a neighborhood I enjoy living in.

9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?

Huh? No and no and no again.

10. Are you willing to live, knowing you will never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?

OMG! Do you know what my first ambition was? To be a writer. Then it was to finish something. Then it was to sell something. Then it was to sell enough of something to be able to buy something I wanted. As I progress in my career, my ambitions change. Why do they change? Because I am learning what this profession is and what I can do in it. I see the marketplace changing and am learning to adapt with it. Do I still have unfulfilled ambitions? Hell yeah. I still want to sell something to Baen Books. I want to write something with Sarah. I will achieve at least one of those ambitions, God willing and the creek don’t rise, in the next year or so. Selling to Baen, I don’t know. But I will keep trying. So my answer to that question is that I don’t know that I will never meet my ambitions for the simple reason that I’m not trying to be a best seller. It would be nice, but I know what it takes to be on the NYT best seller list and it has nothing to do with my craft. It has to do with the old machine and pre-orders. I can live without the sort of abuse that comes from that sort of publisher/author  relationship. I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve cracked the top 100 on Amazon on several occasions already, on both the paid and free e-book lists.

So you can see, according to this quiz, I’m not a professional writer. Funny thing though, as John Scalzi pointed out, the one question that isn’t asked on the quiz is if you get paid for your writing. I do. In fact, my last novel has made more in one quarter than SFWA requires as an advance to qualify a writer as a “pro”. But since it is an e-book and there was no advance, SFWA doesn’t recognize me as a “pro” any more than this quiz does.

Sorry, but a pro is someone who works at her craft, improving and learning and pushing forward. This bit about having to put writing ahead of every other aspect of your life makes about as much sense as having to suffer for your art. Give me a break. Writing is a profession as well as a passion for most of us. If you treat it as such, well, you are in all likelihood a professional. Just because you have to work at another job doesn’t take away from that. Neither does having a life outside of writing.

As if that wasn’t enough to get my hackles up this morning, there’s the ongoing Apple/DOJ battle. In case you’ve been visiting Pluto or Io over the last month or so, Apple lost the price fixing suit filed against it by the Department of Justice. Since then, the DoJ has filed a motion seeking what Publishers Weekly calls a “comprehensive injunction” against Apple. Now, I’m no fan of government interference in business. Even though Apple’s track record is anything but sterling, I’d probably have been willing to side with them when it came to the DoJ’s proposal simply because the DoJ wants a much stricter oversight and punishment than it agreed to with the publishers it also charged with price fixing. The only difference was that Apple went to trial and the others opted to settle.

But where Apple lost my support was with its response to the proposal: “Apple does not believe it violated the antitrust laws, and, in any event, the conduct for which the Court found it liable has ended and cannot recur as a result of the publishers’ consent decrees,” the brief concludes. “In light of these facts, no further injunction is warranted.”

So, Apple is basically saying that because five publishers have agreed not to engage in the conduct which caused the DoJ to go after them and Apple, Apple won’t act in the same or similar way in the future. Does that mean Apple only wants to deal with these five publishers? Or that Apple was a victim of these publishers and would never, ever have done anything wrong? Sorry, but the evidence pretty much shows that Apple, and Steve Jobs, instigated the collusion between the parties and not the other way around.

Does this mean I think Apple should be punished more than the publishers? I’m not sure. Even when the judge in the case made it clear in pre-trial motions that she wasn’t sure Apple could prevail, Apple refused to settle. When the named publishers settled, Apple refused to. Throughout the trial, Apple refused to settle. Instead, it tried to play smoke and mirrors, attempting to put Amazon on trial. At the very least, Apple should be required to pay all the costs entailed in the trial. If the judgment does show Apple was the instigator, it should receive a more stringent punishment than the settling parties. I’m not sure the DoJ’s solution, especially the 10 year oversight, is appropriate. But Apple chose to take part in an activity that went well beyond MFN pricing. For that, it needs to be punished.

But then I’m just a writer, maybe a pro and maybe not, depending on whose definition you use. The fact that Apple makes it more difficult than it should be to get into iTunes than any other outlet does probably has something to do my attitude. Of course, I’ve never had much patience for those who think themselves better than the rest of us and that is the attitude I get from Apple on this particular issue. It, and Steve Jobs, wanted something and either you agreed or you would be tromped upon, no matter what the fall-out down the road.

Well, that attitude sometimes comes back to bite you in the butt — something Apple may soon discover.

So, in order to prove I am a pro:

 

Nocturnal Origins Book 1 of Nocturnal Lives

Nocturnal Origins
Book 1 of Nocturnal Lives

Nocturnal Origins

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

serenadecoverthumbNocturnal Serenade

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

nocturnal hauntsNocturnal Haunts

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

 

 

And now we wait

The Department of Justice has published the 868 comments in response to the proposed settlement with three of the five publishers named in the price fixing suit it filed earlier against the original Big Five publishers and Apple. I’m not surprised to find that the vast majority of responses were opposing the proposed settlement. After all, the average reader isn’t even aware of the lawsuit. Beyond that, most authors who will be impacted by the outcome of this and who are still under contract with the named publishers aren’t going to say anything for fear of having their contracts dropped by the publishers. To publicly come out and say your employer — and, yes, that’s exactly what publishers are to writers under the current set up — is full of crap is to commit what some (publishers and agents) might see as professional suicide.

What does surprise me, and pleasantly so, is that the DoJ is sticking to its guns. Without going into politics too much, this is an election year and, well, you get what I’m saying. I won’t say more because this isn’t a political blog and I’m not going to make it one.

Without rehashing — too much — what I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the agency model. However, I also admit that there is nothing inherently wrong with it. My issues come with how the agency model was put in place by the original Big 5 and Apple. Long before the DoJ filed its lawsuit, rumors had abounded about how Steve Jobs had required the publishers adopt the agency model if they wanted to be included in the new iBookstore. (Remember, all this came about at the same time the iPad hit the market). It was just all too coincidental to my mind. Five major publishers all demanding the same pricing model at the same time? And at a time when Amazon’s newest and potentially biggest competitor in the e-book market, comes online? Hmmmm.

But I had another issue with the agency pricing model as well. Publishing was already in trouble. Book sales had been declining for awhile. The economy wasn’t as strong as it could be and that meant there was less money available for people to spend on “extras”. So, in response to this, these publishers demanded a pricing model that would put less money in their pockets? A struggling industry shouldn’t be finding ways to cut their revenue. It should find ways to maximize revenue. But then, that’s just me. I like making money.

My biggest issue with agency pricing was that it was a knee-jerk reaction by the publishers not only to Steve Jobs’ demand for it (assuming he actually made that demand) but also to their fear of Amazon. Instead of realizing that the decline of brick and mortar bookstores began long before Amazon even existed, they saw Amazon as the big evil. They forgot about how the big box stores moved into the market in the 1980s and 1990s and drove most of the smaller, locally owned bookstores out of business. They forgot how these same big box stores then used their clout to demand changes in their purchasing contracts with the publishers, redoing things like return policies, etc. They didn’t look at how these same big box stores — and the publishers themselves — failed to embrace the e-book market from the beginning. In short, they let the market get away from them and now, panicked, are trying to stop the flood.

If you read the responses to the DoJ’s proposed settlement, you’ll find a number of them talking about how there might have been collusion and, okay, that’s not nice, but it was necessary. Something has to be done to stop Amazon before it monopolizes the e-book market. Amazon was undercutting the competition. It was killing the e-book industry and now, with agency pricing, we have competition.

Sorry, what we have isn’t competition. Competition would be giving us a market where we can shop around for the best price for our dollar. Under agency pricing publishers set the price for their titles and, guess what, it is the same price everywhere. Where is the competition?

Another argument put forth by those opposed to the proposed settlement is that the settlement will mean an increase in e-book prices. They postulate that the removal of agency pricing will give Amazon a monopoly and that Amazon will then implement its evil plan to raise prices.

The problem with these arguments, and all arguments saying Amazon might do something at some unspecified point in the future, is that it is speculation. There is no proof to support these arguments. The United States is based on laws and, fortunately, we don’t tend to punish people or businesses based on something they might do at some unspecified point in the future.

Another problem is that these arguments ignore the fact that Amazon is not by any means a monopoly yet. There are a number of different e-book outlets available to the public. It isn’t Amazon’s problem that Barnes & Noble and other booksellers didn’t climb onto the bandwagon as early as they could have when it comes to e-books and e0-book readers. I understand the fear these folks have. They are playing catch up now and grasping at straws to do so. However, instead of paying millions of dollars in legal fees to fight Amazon, they should be investing these dollars in finding ways to reach out to the public and win them over to their own e-book platform or e-book reader hardware.

Publishers Weekly has the right of it here: Observing that “there is no mistaking the fear that many of the commenters have of the prospect of competing with Amazon on price,” the DoJ noted that low prices and fierce rivalries are among the core ambitions of free markets and that contrary to many commenters views, “the goal of antitrust law is to use rivalry to keep prices low for consumers’ benefit. Employing antitrust law to drive prices up would turn the Sherman Act on its head.”

The consumers’ benefit. That is what the publishers and those opposed to the DoJ settlement have forgotten. Oh, they make lip service to it, but if you really look at what they are saying, they are worried about the publishers and big box stores. They want things to continue as they have for years. The problem is that things have been broken for years and no one was doing anything about it. No one in the industry wanted to change business models because this one worked — once. Now, instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — and that just isn’t going to happen — they should be looking to embrace this new tech and the new demands of it instead of playing Chicken Little.

From The Bookseller: Responding to Barnes & Noble’s comments, the DoJ asserted that Barnes & Noble was “worried that it will make less money after the conspiracy than it collected while the conspiracy was ongoing” and that that was not a matter for the court to consider. Many of the benefits B&N attributes to collusive pricing could be achieved in other ways, such as lowering costs, the DoJ said.

Like I said, change the business model and cut the fat from the budget and see what happens. But no, they’d rather break the law themselves in order to hamstring Amazon and not worry about anyone else (the consumer) who might be harmed in the process.

But I think the most ludicrous comment against the proposed settlement comes from the Authors Guild. Basically, it argues that price fixing should be allowed in publishing because of the “cultural role books play in society.” WTF?!?!?!

It is important to remember that the basis of the DoJ’s suit isn’t that agency model pricing is wrong. It is that colluding to force agency model pricing onto the market is. It is also important to remember that breaking the law because you are scared of what might happen sometime in the future isn’t justified, not in a case like this. Finally, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was written to protect the consumer, not to protect businesses from poor business practices.

And now we wait to see what the court says. While we do, you can read the DoJ’s response to the comments here.

 

 

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.

 

Who am I to decide?

I asked Sarah if I could have the blog today because, frankly, I’ve been sitting on my hands and biting my tongue most of the week. What started as a simple and heart-felt response on Sarah’s part to a non-fiction author’s blog post turned into a war between fiction and non-fiction with a troll to-boot. The non-fiction author couldn’t understand why Sarah had seen fit to post about what she’d said on her own blog. All she’d done, you see, was lament the state of publishing and how those of us who are predicting the end of the industry just don’t understand what that will mean to non-fiction authors or readers. Okay, I can understand the fear. It’s the same fear many authors on the fiction side of the equation have been feeling. But what this author didn’t get — or wouldn’t get — is that in the process of all her lamenting and cries of outrage, she insulted fiction writers. According to her, and I am paraphrasing here, we can pull plots out of our butts and we don’t research. And that, my friends, is where the line was drawn in then sand and things got heated over a series of different posts on different sites.

But that isn’t what had me wanting to put the metaphorical pen to paper today. No, it was the fact that this author simply didn’t understand the options now available to her. She had already decided that the self-published or small press route to digital simply wouldn’t work for “serious” non-fiction. In other words, just like the guard outside Project X in Atlas Shrugged, she didn’t want to make a decision that could, in the author’s case, save her literary life.

In this, she isn’t alone. Authors from fiction and non-fiction have been facing this decision with increasing frequency. They have been told by their agents and their publishers for years that self-publishing is the kiss of death to their professional careers. They’ve bought into the fiction that legacy publishers add value to their work and that is why publishers get the donkey share of monies from each sale. They’ve turned a blind eye to the creative ways of reporting royalties because legacy publishing was the only game in town. They jumped on the bandwagon of condemning Amazon for the KDP program and snickered when some of their peers decided to go that route.

Now, with advances shrinking faster than a cotton t-shirt in hot water and indie authors starting to make money, these same authors who had been so comfortable on the legacy publishing bandwagon are getting scared. They have bought into the company line for so long, they can repeat it verbatim without thinking or blinking an eye. They are starting to see the problems in the industry, but they simply can’t, or won’t, look to see how the new opportunities presented to authors can help them.

And that is where I want to just shake them.

Don’t get me wrong. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. Not every writer wants or can handle every aspect of publishing a book, be it digital or hard copy or both. But for those who don’t want to do it all themselves, there are small presses out there, presses that will give the author a much larger cut of the pie than the legacy publishers will. And yet authors are still buying into the line that going small press is as bad as self-publishing. It means you are no longer a “pro” author.

I’m not going to repeat their arguments. I’ve talked about them before, as have Sarah, Dave and Kate. Just check the MGC archives.

No, what gets to me is how these authors do their imitation of that guard in Atlas Shrugged. When faced with having to either let Dagny Taggart enter the building or have her shoot him, he cries out, “Who am I to decide? I’m not supposed to decide!”. He was more terrified of facing the possibility of having to think and act on his own, without someone telling him what to do than he was of losing his life. This wasn’t a case of a man doing his duty. Far from it. He had become one of those for whom it was much easier to simply let another do the thinking for him and who simply couldn’t come to a decision on his own without guidance.

That is what so many authors remind me of right now. The non-fiction author lamenting what would happen to her career and the careers of all non-fiction authors if legacy publishing should fail is one. Instead of looking at how the new interactive e-books and e-book apps could help spread her work among readers, she was huddling in her chair, saying we had won. We, the fiction authors who don’t have to work at writing a book the way non-fiction authors do, who were destroying the industry through our push toward self-publishing and small press publishing.

Then you have the fiction authors who continue to cling to the myth that legacy publishers actually add the majority of value to a book. Why else would they continue to sign contracts where they, the creator of the work, get less than half the monies paid for that title? You’ll find them parroting the publishing arguments about how Amazon has destroyed the bookstore business and how e-books have destroyed the hard copy sales, etc. You don’t find them talking about how the influx of the big box bookstores destroyed the locally owned bookstores or how the poor business management and over-expansion of the big box stores then caused their own downfall.

But it is the arguments we are seeing now against the proposed settlement in the price fixing collusion case against Apple and five of the big six publishers. Between the “well, even if they did collude, it was for the greater good” and the “but no one was injured” arguments, I find myself wondering how these supposedly intelligent people can figure out how to put one foot in front of the other without tripping. These are the same comments and arguments we have seen from the heads of the publishing companies named in the suit. All these writers are doing is parroting what they have been told by their editors and agents. They aren’t thinking for themselves, much less weighing their own options and making informed decisions about what is best for their careers. Instead, they are asking “Who am I to decide?”

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this sort of group mind-think. After all, many of these are the same authors who have written what their editors and agents have told them to write because “it’s what is selling”. Of course, what sells today, may not sell in two or three years, the length of time it would take to write, edit and then bring out in hard copy via a legacy publisher. These are the same authors who haven’t screamed to high heaven when their publishers started adding clauses into their contracts requiring them to write only for that publisher, or to at least give that publisher the right of first refusal. These are the same authors who have sat by and watched their royalties be estimated based on inaccurate figures from BookScan.

For me, I at least want to retain the right to decide what route I go. To do that, I have to educate myself to what the possibilities are and what the advantages and disadvantages of the various options happen to be. To blindly follow a route simply because it is what someone has told me to do isn’t something I have ever been able to do, at least not easily. I ask questions and “just because this is how it’s always been done” or “this is what has worked in the past” isn’t reason enough to do something.

So, when I ask myself the question that guard asked Dagny, “who am I to decide?”, I know the answer. I am the only who can decide and to do so, I need to know the options and the pros and cons of each. It is up to me and me alone to make sure I’ve gotten the information I need. I can go to other sources, but then I have to weigh the veracity of those sources and determine what their bias might be when giving me the information I’ve asked for. My bias in giving you information about self-publishing is simple: I believe it is a viable option for any author who is willing to put in the time and effort it requires. But, as I’ve said a number of times, it isn’t for everyone. For those who are looking for an alternative to traditional publishing but who don’t want to do all the “business” of publishing, then you should look at the small presses. But if you want the cachet that some still assign to traditional publishing, then by all means go for it. But make a decision based on information, not emotion. And, for your sake as well as your family’s, before signing with a traditional publisher, make sure you have an IP attorney vet your contract. Otherwise, you may never see the rights to your book again.

Who am I to decide?

The only one who should.

 

Good Writer, Here’s a Cracker

by Amanda S. Green

All right, guys, I’ve just about lost patience with the whiners, the clueless and the traditionalists who simply can’t be bothered to explore the new opportunities offered by changes in the publishing industry. There are times when I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or theirs and, frankly, I’m tending toward theirs. It might be the only way to get them to at least consider they might be wrong about what’s happening in the industry. It would, at the very least, cause them to complain about something else, at least for a bit.

A little background. Over the weekend, Sarah wrote a wonderful blog about the attitude of some of those in the industry about the Department of Justice’s suit against Apple and the five publishers. That attitude is basically that books are fungible and we, the writers, are mere tinker toys to be manipulated the way they, the publishers, want. Then yesterday, Sarah posted her “response” to a non-fiction writer’s blog about what will happen if the publishing industry fails. I’m not going to rehash what Sarah said mainly because she said it much better than I ever could.

But what has my blood boiling. especially with regard to the first post, can be found in the comments section. It seems that whenever anyone posts something negative about the publishing industry, especially if it has to do with the agency pricing model, the trolls come out. We’ve seen it happen here. It’s happened a number of times on Sarah’s blog and several times on my blog as well. I’ve come to expect it. What I can’t wrap my mind around is when authors who should know better come to stir the waters but never offer anything to support their position or to really add to the conversation.

I could name the author whose responses to that first post left me wondering if we lived on the same planet, much less worked within the same publishing industry, but I won’t. You can go look it up if you want. Frankly, I have no desire to do anything more than necessary to direct traffic to this person’s website or blog. However, I’ll quote enough of their comments that you can find out who I’m talking about by simply going to the blog and searching.

In one comment, this author asked why publishers should be “legally obligated” to keep Amazon’s promise to offer best sellers for $9.99. This is a clear indicator that the author is in the camp that believes agency pricing is a good thing. That publishers, who are in financial distress, made a good decision to adopt a pricing model that brings in less money per title. This also means authors are getting less money per sale.

But there is more to the comment. It shows that the author is clearly ignoring, purposely or not, the fact that the DoJ’s suit isn’t against agency pricing. In fact, the DoJ notes in the filing that there is nothing inherently wrong with agency pricing. What is wrong is the collusion that is alleged to have taken place immediately prior to the big five publishers and Apple entering into the agency model agreement, an agreement that then had to be made with other retailers or those same publishers would be in violation of their contract with Apple.

But let’s go on.

This author later asked if it’s been proven the collusion took place. It is obvious that she is either a fan of The Paper Chase and thinks the only way to get your point across is to employ the Socratic method. For a moment, I was back in my Torts class in and my professor was asking questions so we’d think. The only problem is, her questions show that she hasn’t really read, or thought about, the law suit. First of all, the collusion is alleged and it will be up to the DoJ to prove it should the case ever see the inside of a courtroom. Second, her follow up questions about who decided what e-books could be lent is easily answered: the publishers. At least for those e-books not part of the KDP or PubIt programs. Those same publishers she is trying to defend. Then she wants to know who decided that e-books could be returned. That is probably the retail outlet. But who cares. E-books are still a commodity that can be bought — and should be able to be sold, but that’s another post all its own — and returned if there is a problem with the formatting, etc. I know she is trying to show that there are a lot of things in life that could “smack” of collusion but aren’t really. However, she doesn’t serve herself well with that argument, nor does she offer anything other than the picture of a kid stamping her foot and saying “I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s that!”

I think the best example of a disconnect comes when she asks what would happen if Best Buy decided to sell iPads for $20 without Apple’s okay and then the DoJ sued Apple for not giving Best Buy the iPads for that price.

WTF?!?

Talk about apples and oranges. To begin, if Best Buy decided to do that, it would be in violation of its contract with Apple. Apple would react quickly and swiftly, in my opinion. Best Buy would have to stop selling the iPads at that price. It would probably have to then recompense Apple for any lost profits. In fact, it would be remarkable if Apple didn’t pull Best Buy’s status as a certified reseller.

Now, tell me this, why in the world would the DoJ get involved? This argument is nothing more than the typical smoke and mirrors I’ve seen all too often whenever this topic comes up. Substitute Amazon for Best Buy and one of the Big Six publishers for Apple and you have the fall back argument these folks always come up with. Amazon bad. They were selling too low. Publishers didn’t like it. If there was collusion, it wasn’t that bad. After all, Amazon bad.

Rolls eyes.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m more than happy to discuss the matter with those who don’t agree with me. But the key word here is discuss. But please, don’t think those of us who don’t jump onboard the Amazon is Evil wagon train lack the ability to google. We do google and it is all too easy to discover that there are a handful of authors who seem to be trolling the blogs saying the same thing over and over again, as if by doing so they can either score points with their editors or convince the rest of us that we really should bend over and take it in the rear from legacy publishers, giving up the larger royalties we can get by self-publishing or going with small presses that realize there would be no book, hard copy or digital, without the author.

Then there were some of the responses to Sarah’s post yesterday. Mind you, I understand the author’s fear about what will happen to non-fiction books if legacy publishing goes belly up. This is a scary time for anyone in the business. But it is up to each of us to decide how we are going to face the changes that have happened and that will happen. Are we going to sit there, wringing our hands and doing nothing? Are we going to think about what we should do and yet never do it? Or are we going to figure out how we can make these changes work best for us?

Frankly, as a non-fiction author, I’d embrace the changes. Digital books offer so many possibilities never offered by print books. You can have interactive sections within the e-book that lets the reader see what would happen if a certain army unit moved here instead of there. You can link to external sources. You can embed video or audio. Just think of all the possibilities.

But what this author did and didn’t realize — and I’m not sure she has realized it yet — is insult fiction authors. In her mind, those of us who self-publish simply sit at our computers and write. We don’t research. We just crank out books every few months and rake in our royalties. We aren’t, in other words, real writers. Sorry, but I know how much research I do. I know how much authors like Sarah do when writing a period piece. Working with Kate as one of her editors for Impaler and Born in Blood, I know how much research she does for her alternate history.

Writers, at least those who care to be accurate, research. It doesn’t matter if they are writing fiction or non-fiction. If a writer wants to be successful, he’d better research. Believe me, if you don’t, you will be called on each and every mistake you make. But to simply paint with broad strokes that fiction writers don’t research drives me batty.

So here it is, guys. There has been no finding of collusion yet. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And, if it did exist — and I believe it did — you can’t overlook it just because you think the bigger evil is the entity that the collusion was aimed against. The fact that Amazon — or any other reseller — MIGHT do something in the future isn’t reason enough to penalize them now. Dig your heads out of your publishers’ backsides and actually study not only the DoJ’s filings, but what has been going on in the industry for years. Maybe then you’d realize why others are upset about the creative bookkeeping that is called royalty statements. Maybe then you’d understand that books aren’t fungible and authors aren’t interchangeable. Maybe then you’d realize that harm has been done by raising prices of e-books. If fewer books are being sold, that means less money in your pocket.

BTW, the number of states joining the suit against Apple, et al, has just been increased to 31.

I guess the easiest way to say it is this: Think and quit parroting the party line given you by your legacy publisher.

Who Cares?

That was the question raised yesterday in one of the responses to yesterday’s post over at Nocturnal Lives. Who cares if publishers collude to keep their prices high? Who is hurt?

I’ll admit, the question took me by surprise. For me, the answer was obvious. If publishers collude to keep their prices high, a number of people are hurt. Readers are hurt because they can no longer afford to buy the books they once did. If readers can’t buy as many books, that means authors are hurt. Lower book sales mean fewer books earn out their royalties — not that publishers really want that to happen in most cases — and that, in turn, is used as justification by publishers not to buy their next book. Publishers are hurt because, duh, they aren’t selling as many books. Add into the mix the fact that publishers have admitted they make less money per title under the agency model than they did before and you have the answer to who is harmed.

But what needs to be discussed more is the suggestion that authors can just do whatever they want, publish whenever and wherever they want.

For new authors, that may be the case. I say “may” because if that author happens to be under contract with a publisher, even if their book hasn’t actually been published, there very well may be limitations on when and where they can publish their next book or short story. But let’s take a look at what options are available for authors at different stages of their careers.

For the new author, that author without a contract, there are a number of choices. The author can try to go the traditional route of finding and agent and submitting to a legacy publisher. This is still the route advocated by some of the the professional groups. This is the old way and the slow way. Not only do you have to send your work out to find an agent — there are very few traditional publishers who accept unagented submissions — but then your work has to make the rounds to find a publisher. IF you’re lucky enough to get a contract, you are still looking at months, or years, before your work ever sees the light of day.

There is a potential problem with this route, beyond the fact that a number of traditional publishers are in trouble. Most traditional publishers have been including a clause in their contracts that require an author to publish only with them during the course of the contract. That means you can’t publish with another house, even under a different pen name, and you can’t self-publish unless Publisher A gives you permission to. Guess what, guys, it isn’t a given that you’ll get that permission. Also, the way they write the contracts, especially with regard to e-books, there is a chance that they will say your books never go out of print. Talk to writers today and see how hard they are having to fight to get their rights back. Add to that the creative bookkeeping these same publishers use to justify a title not earning out its advance and, well, as far as I’m concerned this is no longer such an attractive alternative (For more on the royalty situation, check out Kris Rusch’s post which you can find here)

The next route writers can take is to go small press. This is where the author has to be a bit more vigilant. Not only does he have to read the contract closely to make sure he isn’t going to be tied to that house — and I highly recommend getting an intellectual property attorney to do that — he needs to be sure there is nothing else hidden in the contract that might come back to bite him in the butt. There are horror stories out there about small presses that had the best of intentions but went out of business without there being a clause in the contract detailing how rights would then revert back to the author. That can leave a title in limbo for a period of years. As an author, you also have to watch how royalties are figured for some of the smaller — and larger — publishers. There are some creative ways to figure royalties based on “net”. If you see this in a contract, make sure it is spelled out what this means. Otherwise, you, as the author, may not see anything until every expense, real or imagined, incurred by the publisher in the process of bringing your book to the public has been paid for.

The newest, sort of, path for writers to take is to be self-published. It’s no longer a no-no to be a self-published author — sort of.

Why do I qualify the above? Very simple. I’ll lay you odds that legacy publishers are looking twice at authors approaching them if that author is self-published. Oh, I know, they’ve signed contracts with folks like Hocking. But, how many of those self-publishing darlings have you heard from since they signed with a legacy publisher? How many of you know that Hocking has not one but several legacy published books out now? That sort of leaves me believing that her numbers aren’t even close to what the legacy publisher hoped they’d be. And that means they will think twice before signing a self-published author, no matter how well their books have sold.

But there is also the wary eye some readers are starting to look at self-published authors with. Readers want more than just a good story. They want a good story that has been edited and is in a visually appealing format. A lot of e-books that have hit the retail outlets are anything but. So readers are starting to be a bit more discriminating than they were when Amazon first opened its doors to self-published authors.

Add in the fact that a self-published author has to basically do everything himself, from writing to making sure his book is edited to cover design to conversion to promotion and it is more than a lot of people want or can do. If the author can do it all himself, and not have to pay someone to do one or more of the steps required to publish an e-book, that is a lot of time away from the keyboard, away from the day job and away from family. It’s that or pay someone to do one or more of the steps and, frankly, most of us want to save money and not spend it.

So, I guess the commenter is right. There are more ways for authors to get their work out there — if you are a new, unpublished and non-contracted author. But for the author already under contract, you have to work within the confines of your contracts and you have to decide if you are ready to possibly sever forever your ties with legacy publishing. That’s the question authors are facing now when they try to decide whether or not they want to question their very imaginative royalty reports or if they want to fight to get the rights back to books that should have reverted to them years ago, at least if they were to go by their royalty statements.

So, to get back to the question from yesterday’s post of why should the Department of Justice spend money on this investigation, they should do it in order to enforce the antitrust laws because consumers, authors and shareholders in the companies involved are being damaged by the price fixing, assuming the DoJ can prove its case. If, during the course of the investigation, proof comes to light of other misdealings by the publishers that’s their problem. It is time — no, it’s past time — for someone to look at how royalties are reported and paid.

#  #   #

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 I was rightly chastised by someone for not pointing this out, 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.