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Posts tagged ‘Joe Konrath’

There are times . . .

When I wonder if I’ve been transported to an alternate universe where common sense and the ability to think and reason for oneself no longer exists. That’s especially true when it comes to what is happening in the publishing industry right now. Or maybe I’m just tired of the attacks on people I respect and care about simply because they dare to speak out against the “company” line. Whatever it is, I’m ready to wake up and find out that those with a clue are in charge (and no, I’m not foolish enough to think that will happen in the political arena. I’m talking publishing here). Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen any time soon.

For those of you who saw my post over at According to Hoyt yesterday, this is a sort-of follow on. You can check out that post here. Maybe I’m overly cranky because of personal demands that have kept me away from the house too much each day and have left me emotionally drained. Maybe it’s because there are folks out there who are calling all of MGC, as well as others I care about fascists just because we don’t kowtow to the idea that men are evil and glitter is good. Or maybe I’m just tired of authors who ought to know better attacking Amazon, saying it is purposefully hurting them in its “heavy handed” tactics in its negotiations with Hatchette.

So, what is the first piece of insanity to drive me up a wall? This article from Salon is as good of a place to start as any. In it, the author suggests that we ought to nationalize both Amazon and Google because 1) they’re large, 2) they’re ruthless and 3) they touch every aspect of our lives. He’d really like it if we treated these two corporations like public utilities. Oookay, that’s worked sooo well and is why, at least here in Texas, we can now choose what electric company to go with. Sorry, when folks start saying we ought to nationalize a company because it is successful makes me squirm and I look around to see if Wesley Mooch or Dr. Ferris or Jim Taggart are anywhere around. If they are, I am most definitely going out and looking for John Galt.

This comment says so much: “Amazon’s war on publishers like Hachette is another sign of Big Tech arrogance.”

First of all, where is the war? Oh, could it be when the publishers decided they didn’t like Amazon paying them for e-books and then selling said e-books at a loss? Why would the publishers dislike that? They still got paid. That wasn’t good enough. The publishers said the $9.99 price point devalued the e-books. Funny, those same publishers didn’t have any qualms double-dipping against their authors, claiming at one time that a book that had already been edited, copy edited, proofed, etc., had to have it done again when converting to digital format. They convinced authors that it cost them soooo much more to make their e-books available. That’s why royalties couldn’t be any higher. Finally, e-book royalties increased some but are still heavily weighted to the publisher’s benefit. Yet, Amazon is the enemy.

Or maybe the opening salvo of the war came with agency pricing. But wait, Amazon didn’t do that. Apple and five of the big six publishers did. Funny thing, even though the collusian at the heart of that action violated state and federal law and yet the Amazon haters have no problem with it. In fact, they embrace it and attack the Department of Justice for actually doing its job. Because, duh, Amazon is evil.

Perhaps the battle didn’t start until now, with the Hatchette negotiations. Let’s see, Amazon is playing hard ball and hurting authors by taking away the pre-order buttons. Hmm. Okay, I’ll admit that authors are the ultimate victims with that but that isn’t by Amazon’s choice. They aren’t buying the books from the authors. They are buying them from Hatchette. They can do so because they have, or had, a contract with Hatchette that allowed them to dos. But all contracts, if they are legally binding, have an end date. That includes this particular contract. When that contract is no longer in effect, Amazon has no legal right to continue selling Hatchette’s books. Sure, as long as Hatchette doesn’t mind, it can do so but why would it?

The more important question is why would it risk the ire of its customers by allowing pre-orders of books that it might not have the right to sell, or the ability to fulfill the pre-orders for, by the time said books are released? Unfortunately, that sort of logic seems to elude the Amazon haters, just as they see nothing wrong with Hatchette turning down at least two proposals by Amazon to set up funds, to be equally funded by Amazon and Hatchette, to assist authors who are being impacted by the continuing negotiations. I guess that, because Amazon suggested it, it must be evil.

Sigh.

So, instead of looking at what sort of business practices a publisher engages in — and does anyone really believe the sales numbers they report via BookScan? — we must wage war on Amazon. Now, before you go saying that I’m being naive, I know Amazon isn’t angelic. But it also isn’t nearly as bad as its detractors would have us believe. Remember, it isn’t the only online seller to remove buy buttons. But no one is talking about when Barnes & Noble did so. Hmmmm. Also, if we are here to protect the author, why aren’t there cries of outrage because Barnes & Noble and other stores refuse to stock books distributed by Amazon’s imprints? Oh, I know, those authors are turncoats and mustn’t be rewarded for staying in the enemy camp. Funny, am I the only one to see a double standard here?

Then there’s this video being passed around, almost as if it’s gospel. The problem is, it isn’t anything more than a spoof, at best, to demonstrate how poorly Hatchette authors are being treated by Amazon. Frankly, all it did for me was impact my respect for Dick Cavette and not in a positive manner. From the opening comments, and visuals, it is clear this is an attack on Amazon. The only thing they get right in the half of the video I watched before I had to turn it off or toss the laptop across the room is that Amazon isn’t really talking about the contract negotiations. Well, guess what, all you Amazon haters, neither is Hatchette. Why? Because it is a contract negotiation. Those aren’t usually played out in public. Oh, sure, Hatchette “insiders” who are called “people close to the source” and other fun euphemisms tell us what they want us to know — and isn’t it odd that all they tell us is how evil Amazon is and not what they are asking for in return?

Something else we aren’t hearing from Hatchette is the fact that this negotiation has come about for two reasons: it was the first of the publishers to push through an agency model pricing contract with Amazon and that contract was voided as part of the agreement not to go to trial with the Justice Department. So, if Amazon is playing hard ball after their assertions that the agency pricing model as it existed came about through illegal means, can you really blame them? Or do you believe the publishers would take the high road if their roles were reversed?

I’m not a big fan of the Author’s Guild, as anyone familiar with this blog knows. That wasn’t helped when I saw an article where the president of the Guild told Amazon that the Guild would not support Amazon’s offer ” to immediately begin offering the delayed books again and give its share of Hachette digital book  sales to the authors for the duration of the dispute — if the publisher would also forgo its share of the revenue.” However, I do understand part of the Guild’s concerns. As Guild president Roxana Robinson said, the offer would require the authors to take Amazon’s side against their publisher. The text between the lines is that, by agreeing to the offer, the authors face retaliation from Hatchette in the form of no more contracts. For those authors who still believe traditional publishing is the only real way to publish, that would be a death sentence.

My issue with the statement is that there is really no push back against Hatchette. Worse, there is at least some language from Robinson that indicates she wouldn’t be too terribly upset if the government were to step in and do something to make sure Amazon no longer ruled the market. When folks start talking about government intervention into a successful company just because it’s successful, I start wondering just how far that person is willing to go to protect their dying company/industry to the detriment of others.

Finally, Amazon has broken at least some of its silence and has reached out to Hatchette authors. You can see its letter and Joe Konrath’s response here. Note a few things, according to Amazon and — to my knowledge — Hatchette hasn’t denied:

1. Amazon reached out to Hatchette in January about the contract that would soon be expiring and Hatchette didn’t respond.

2. When the contract expired in March, Amazon extended the terms and once again reached out to Hatchette. Once again, Hatchette didn’t respond.

3. It was only when Amazon finally removed the pre-order buttons and stopped keeping large stock of Hatchette titles on hand in April that Hatchette responded and most of that was whining in public to the media and its authors about how mean and evil Amazon is.

I’ll let you read the rest of Konrath’s post but I agree with him on one thing — Hatchette is trying to drag the negotiations out until September when it can try to reimpose agency pricing on Amazon. This has nothing to do with taking care of its authors and everything to do with maximizing Hatchette’s profits. But that’s okay, at least in the eyes of some folks, because everyone but Amazon can make profits and step on the little guy. In this case, the little guy are all the authors who are getting screwed, not by Amazon but by Hatchette because it is Hatchette that continues to refuse to agree to any deal to help recompense their authors while contract negotiations continue.

And folks wonder why I’m tired of most traditional publishing and those who parrot the stance of the Big Five without stopping to consider just what the impact will be if their publishers get what they want.

Now I’m going to find a cup of coffee, breakfast and get to work on everything that has piled up over the last month of emergency followed by obligation followed by emergency.

Edited to add the following:

 There is now a “new player” that is being touted as having struck a blow against Amazon. HarperCollins has now launched its own webstore. You read that right, how many years after Amazon began and B&N started selling online, a major publisher has launched a webstore. Wow, how revolutionary — not. Worse, when you go to the site, you are presented with promises of certain books offering 15% off the title plus free shipping and 20% off the ebook. Sounds good. But when you follow the link to the product page you are presented the title at what looks like full price (Stephanie Evanovich’s book comes in at $26.99) and UPS ground shipping of $7.99 and there is nothing on the buy page about the e-book. Now, maybe if I’d taken time to fill out all my particulars, including payment information, I’d have seen the discount, but sorry, that ain’t gonna happen. Unless I know I’m buying something, a site isn’t getting my address and credit card number.

Scrolling down to see the other dozen or so books featured on the home page I notice something else — there are no prices listed. Not a single one. Yeah, that’s really going to be a winning point in the battle against Amazon.

Maybe if the publishers would get a clue and actually analyze what it is that people like about Amazon, including layout and design, maybe they’d come closer to actually being able to imitate what Amazon is doing.

 

Reflections and predictions — sort of

As 2013 draws to an end, all I can say is “Finally!”. There was something about this year that had me almost constantly looking over my shoulder and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Without going into boring detail, let’s just say that on a personal level this was an “interesting” year and I am glad it is ending. On a professional level, it was a better year than it was on the personal and I’m hoping 2014 continues the good luck in the professional and brings some balance in the personal.

With the end of the year comes all the predictions for what’s going to happen next year. I’m always interested in what others think will happen in our industry. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I wonder if the predictor is living on the same planet I am. Some of the predictions are the same ones, or variations of them, from last year and the year before. Others are new. But there is a common thread in them all: indie publishing is here to stay. Legacy publishing is going to have to learn to adapt or it will continue to see authors “defecting”. Just how nasty the fall-out becomes remains to be seen but no one seems to doubt it can get bad and there will be bitter feelings on both sides as a result.

Let’s start with the predictions from Joe Konrath. You can find his complete list here. Because he also makes predictions about some personal projects, I’m going to skip those.

1. The end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. (He predicts a possible bankruptcy but definitely sees the closing of more and more stores and a possible demise of the brand.)

2. Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books or perish.

3. Visibility (for indie authors) will become harder.

4. Self-publishing will witness a new support industry grow around it.

5. Big 5 mergers and layoffs and bankruptcies.

6. Amazon will continue to blaze trails.

7. Legacy will fight back.

Dean Wesley Smith responded to Konrath’s list, agreeing with some of what Konrath said and disagreeing with other parts of it. He doesn’t think we’ll see B&N disappear over the next year although he does think the Nook and sales wings “will change in some fashion”. Nor does he think we’ll see the demise of big publishers any time soon. As long as they continue to get the bulk of monies from book sales — instead of authors — they will hang on. Dean also points out that indie bookstores can already sell self-published books thanks to changes in policy by Baker and Taylor and Ingrams regarding POD.

Forbes also has its own predictions for the new year. Among them are the following:

1. Publishers will license or create their own e-reading apps.

2. Amazon will start playing nice with publishers.

3. Public libraries will increasingly buy access to large aggregations of e-books.

4. Publisher margins will be under pressure.

5. More publishers will start selling e-books directly to readers.

6. Self-publishing will continue to grow even as e-books sales at publishers stagnate.

7. Illustrated e-books will enter the market in greater numbers as costs plummet.

8. Amazon will continue to expand into publishing books.

9. Shift to tablets and smart phones will have a negative effect on e-book sales.

From Digital Book World come these predictions:

1. Barnes & Noble will close or sell Nook and go private.

2. Amazon will go the way of Barnes & Noble…and open its own physical stores in 2014.

3. Trade publishers will sell and acquire assets to “verticalize” their businesses.

4. The illustrated book business will become severely challenged.

5. More publishers will endorse the subscription ebook model by doing business with Oyster, Scribd and other similar services.

6. More publishers will launch magazines and websites catering to reader interests and start selling ebooks directly to customers.

7. More price experimentation.

8. The “big five” publishers will make their full e-book catalogs available to libraries for purchase.

Even Smashwords got into the prediction game. You can find the full list of predictions here. However, here a few of the more important or interesting ones:

1. Big publishers lower prices.

2. When everyone is pricing sub $4.00, price promotions will become less effective.

3. E-book growth slows.

4. Competition increases dramatically.

5. E-book market share will increase.

6. A larger wave of big-name authors will defect to indieville.

7. All authors will become indie authors.

8. Traditional publishers will re-evaluate their approach to self-publishing.

If these lists leave you scratching your head, join the club. I think one thing is clear. No one really knows what is going to happen. We can make guesses, some educated guesses and some just wishful thinking — and some that leave you wondering what the predictor was smoking (like all authors becoming indie authors in 2014). For me, my list is pretty simple. Things are going to change. Legacy publishing is going to continue to try to hang onto all the rights it can, refusing to revert rights without legal action being threatened and squeezing authors on royalties. E-books sales will continue to be incomplete and will, therefore, show a slow in growth because small press and self-published e-books aren’t included in the sales figures. Prices will fall but not to below $4.00. There is still the reader perception to keep in mind and a vast majority (in my experience) are willing to pay $4.99 – $7.99 for a novel and think that e-books priced in that range are more “pro” than those priced in the $2.99 and less range. B&N is going to change but I don’t think we’ll see it go belly up this year. Amazon is going into bricks and mortar — but this isn’t new. They announce this months ago. And yes, indie authors do need organizations to help them. Heck, all authors do. We’ve seen over and over again for the last few years just how ineffective the “professional” organizations have been to assist authors and protect their rights against large publishers.

In other words, our industry is changing and we are on the front lines of helping guide where it goes. The battle isn’t always going to be easy nor will it be pretty. But change rarely is. For me, I’m going to keep my eye on what’s happening as I write. My own writing goals for the New Year are much higher than they have been before and I don’t know if I will meet them. But I’m going to do my best.

How about you? What are your predictions for the New Year and what do you think about the predictions the others have made?

Links of Interest

Today finds my head firmly wrapped around things none-writing related. For four years, my son has lived in the Corps of Cadets dorms at Texas A&M University. The Corps has been an integral part of his college life and is now, at least officially, over because — despite the fact so many degree plans at TAMU are 5 year plans — students can only be in the Corps for four years. So, with the first summer session about to begin, the boy and some friends are moving into their first apartment. That means making sure they have at least the bare essentials until they can all go shopping for the “extras”. So, instead of something controversial or at least have some semblance of cogency, I’m going to leave you with some links to blogs and articles about the industry. I promise to have a functioning brain again next week.

Kris Rusch takes on the “Brutal 2,000-Word Day” and more. This is a must read for everyone, imo.

After all the angst and breast beating by several authors over the last week or so over how their stories had been edited and fundamentally changed by one publisher (a publisher that wasn’t even paying them in copies), Writer Beware has a post on editing clauses in contracts. Read it, think about it and read it again. Then, before submitting to a publisher, whether of short stories or novels, find out what they publish and read some of their work. Determine if that publisher is right for you before you submit.

Joe Konrath helps take some of the smoke and mirrors out of the pricing debate with this post. If you have any questions about the difference between the wholesale pricing model and the agency pricing model, check out what Konrath has to say.

While I don’t agree completely with everything in the list, here is a list of 10 things to do when proofreading.

And then there is the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Farewell to Novels by David R. Slavitt. Part of me understands what Slavitt is saying and why. But part of me looks at his post and shakes my head because he is among those who believe — or at least he appears to — that legacy publishers will get you reviews and other things that, on the whole, they simply don’t bother with any longer.

Any way, these are just a few of the links relating to publishing this week. Do you have others you’d like to share? What are your thoughts on the links above? The floor is now yours.

Saturday Links and Open Floor

Here are some links that may be of interest.

Kris Rusch has a great post on “Scarcity and Abundance” and how publishers are still trying to operate under the scarcity model, doing things like adding non-compete clauses into authors’ contracts. This is a must read, as are all her posts.

Dean Wesley Smith has a few words to say on the Scott Turow Authors Guild letter. (If you haven’t seen the letter, I discussed it here last weekend.) Dean doesn’t mince words about his feelings for Turow regarding this issue. He also links to Joe Konrath’s post about the Turow letter and to Turow’s response. I recommend you read them all. Then decide for yourself just who is in the wrong.

If that isn’t enough to think about and discuss, we’re throwing the floor open–no, don’t go too near the center or you’ll find yourself falling into the dungeon–to your questions, comments and future post suggestions.

The floor is now yours.

Who is the keymaster and where is the gatekeeper?

by Amanda S. Green

No, I’m not talking about Ghostbusters.  Although it might be time to watch the movie again.  This post has been bubbling around, trying to take form for several weeks.  Kate’s post this past Sunday, and the comments to it, brought it to life.

A little background first.  When I first got my kindle, I was a skeptic.  I love books.  I love the feel of them, the look of them, etc.  I couldn’t imagine reading on anything like the kindle.  For one thing, I spend so much of the day sitting before the computer that the thought of reading on some sort of device simply didn’t excite me.  Then I got the kindle and very quickly realized that I preferred it to physical books — at least when reading for entertainment.

It didn’t take long to realize something else.  The errors in spelling, punctuation and formatting I’d started seeing in hard copy books seemed to leap off the digital page.  There is something about reading on my kindle — or on my tablet — that seems to accept the errors that have gotten past the copy editors and proofreaders.  Was it because there were more errors in ebooks than in hard copy books, or was there another explanation?

A figurative stroll through different e-reader related forums quickly revealed I wasn’t the only one asking these questions.  Even now, two years after receiving my kindle, the question is asked in the kindle forums almost weekly.  Speculation runs from laziness by legacy publishers to too many people thinking they are the next great writer waiting to be discovered and who are taking advantage of the ease of self-publishing digitally.  The truth of the matter is a bit more complex.

When it comes to problems seen in e-books put out by publishers, the first occurs when titles are scanned and then digitized.  This process often creates OCR errors where letters are altered.  This usually occurs near the margins and is easy enough to spot — if the file is proofread.  Unfortunately, it appears that many of these titles aren’t proofed before being put on sale. I’ve seen a couple of examples where the OCR errors were so bad, the text was almost unreadable.

The bulk of errors in e-books seem to come from the lack of proofreading and, to a lesser extent, copy editing.  This occurs, despite what a lot of the complainers in the different fora believe, in both indie and legacy published titles.  It occurs in indie titles, especially those that are self-published, because authors are, on the whole, their own worst editors.  It occurs in legacy published titles because they have cut back on their employees so much that they now rely on the authors and agents to do much of the editing and proofreading that editors used to do.

So, how does this relate back to Kate’s post and what are we, as authors, supposed to do?

Simple, we follow the guidelines, especially the one that almost every publisher includes: make sure your work is as close to publishable as possible.  That means more than having a good story.  It means making sure it is formatted according to guidelines.  It means having beta readers who know to look for more than misspelled words and comma faults.  It means, if necessary, hiring an editor to go over your manuscript before submitting it.

There are reasons for guidelines that go beyond making it easy for the editor to read the submission.  First — and this is very important — your ability to follow the guidelines is the editor’s first impression of your work.  Take the guidelines for Naked Reader press for example.  The very first thing listed under “guidelines” is the fact that we have set submission periods.  So, if you send something outside of the submission periods, I know you haven’t read the guidelines.  The same goes if you fail to send a synopsis of your novel or if all you send is the synopsis.  We want both.

Now, back to Kate’s post and some of the comments.  Part of any publisher’s guidelines are how to format your submission.  NRP uses standard manuscript format:  double spaced, one inch margins, 12 or 14 point Courier or Times New Roman.  Simple, right?

Apparently not.  We get titles that are single spaced.  We get titles without first line indents.  We get titles where there are additional spaces between paragraphs.  We get submissions that don’t have a cover email with the information asked for: name, contact information, publication credits.

NRP hasn’t gotten to the point yet where we are refusing to look at submissions that don’t meet our guidelines.  I know of a number of other publishers and agents that have.  I will tell you, though, that a manuscript not formatted according to guidelines starts with a strike against it.  Why?  Because I have to wonder about an author who doesn’t care enough to follow them.

So, it is up to the author to make sure he’s followed the guidelines just as he’s done all he can to make sure he is submitting the best story he can.  Frankly, this is true whether the author is submitting a title to a publisher or he’s publishing it himself.  If there is a reason for not following the format guidelines listed by a publisher, tell them.  Or at least send an email and ask if it’s okay.

I hear you saying that you have decided not to submit to a publisher but are going the self-publishing route.  After all, you have a great novel.  You’ve done your homework and know there are free programs out there to help you create your e-book.  So why worry about format guidelines and submission processes when you can take your e-book directly to the public?

As an author, I understand the sentiment.  It’s hard to get a publisher these days, especially a legacy publisher.  It’s even harder to get an agent — something you need to get your foot in the door at most legacy publishers.  It really is easy to understand why so many writers are choosing to do it themselves.

What many of them seem to have forgotten is that the same rules for submitting to a publisher apply to self-publishing.  You have to have a well-edited, proofread manuscript in a format readers are used to.  That means beta readers, proofreaders and, if necessary, professional editing.  It also means cover art and GOOD cover art.  Readers will tear you apart on the boards for bad cover art, or for generic cover art.  If they don’t like the font you use for your title, they will let you know.

Despite what you hear from a lot of bloggers, despite the fame of some indies like Amanda Hocking, there is still an onus about self-published work.  If you doubt it, read the boards.  See how many people won’t buy a novel originally priced at 99 cents because they know it’s by an “indie” and won’t be any good or will be so poorly formatted as to be unreadable.  Check out threads like those asking why indies keep shooting themselves in the foot by not having their novels professionally edited or formatted for e-books.

Don’t get me wrong.  As quick as they are to condemn a poorly written or poorly edited/formatted book, they are just as quick to praise one.  So, what does that mean?

It means he writer is not only the keymaster — the creator of the story — but is also the gatekeeper.  It doesn’t matter if the novel is going to a legacy publisher or is being self-published.  It needs to be as clean — as well written, edited and proofread — as possible before submission.  You are the master of your story.  Don’t be afraid to act the role.

In other news around the industry, check out what Kris Rusch and Joe Konrath have to say about the future of traditional or legacy publishing.

What do you think about the keymaster/gatekeeper roles and about the future of publishing?

Oh yeah, everyone be sure to wish Dave a happy birthday!

Cross-posted to The Naked Truth and to my blog.