Morally Complicated Y.A.

Behold, my friends, the latest storm of idiocy striking the heart of the traditional publishing industry. I present to you Exhibit A, the announcement of a new YA novel called The Cruelty bought for six figures and sold in umpteen territories and a movie deal and… yeah. Good times indeed. This book was self-published first, so this should be a feel-good success story, right?

Normally this would pass without comment, and I’d be happy for the author. But this, this is more than just a book announcement. The interview with the author on Publishers Weekly is the stuff of drama llama hell.

Who You Write For

Who You Write For

I watched a video on Youtube today from the PBS Game/Show channel about crowdfunding, and the obligations of creators to the consumers of what they create.

Crowdfunding causes users to be invested in the successful creation of media. The rise of and other crowdfunding venues changes everything, in that it reverses the normal order of how media is made, from: {creator makes media -> consumer pays for media} to {consumer pays for media -> creator makes media}. Being invested ahead of time, before the media is made, inserts the consumers into the act of creation.

More about Pay to Play Publishers

More about Pay to Play Publishers

A while back, I wrote about Tate Publishing, a subsidy publisher  that had been in the news as a result of some… rather callous business practices. I think it’s a good time to revisit publishers like these in light of a recent comment on that post.

(For the uninformed – a subsidy publisher is basically ‘pay to play’. You pay them some amount of money, usually in the thousands of dollars, and they will do the production work to publish your book, meaning they will typeset the print version, format the ebook, create the cover, and put it up on various sites like Amazon etc. This may sound like a good deal, but it’s not.)

Exotic Ebook Formatting

You may have noticed that I finally got my act together and cleaned up the website. My friend Fay was nice enough to lend me one of her themes! I did some edits on it, and I think it came out okay. Being a web designer, my site is always a work in progress.

Anyway – today I’d like to talk about something vaguely related to this – exotic ebook formatting. You can do so much with an ebook! It’s not just limited to chapters, table of contents, that kind of thing. There’s a whole world of things you can add – though it’s really not for the faint-hearted, because this stuff is very temperamental.

Hachette’s Price Hike

I can, of course, understand the need for businesses to protect their revenue streams. What I cannot understand, and likely never will, is when a business chooses a short term high revenue stream instead of a longer term low revenue stream that will be more beneficial to them.

Such is the case with Hachette’s price hike in licensing ebooks to libraries (and Random House’s hike before them).

Here’s the story in a nutshell: libraries were looking forward to being able to license more of Hachette’s catalog for their patrons. Hachette decided that they wanted a 220% increase in fees first. Here’s Maureen Sullivan of the American Library Association:

“When Hachette announced it was stepping back into the library ebook market this past May with pilots that would bring a selection of its recent bestsellers to millions of library patrons, the ALA welcomed this news,” she said in a prepared statement. “Leaving our meeting with them, we were pleased that they recognized libraries as strong partners—as direct customers and marketers of their titles, as well as integral community institutions that must be supported as a fundamental cornerstone of literacy. After these tentative steps forward, we were stunned to learn that Hachette plans to more than triple its prices for ebook sales to libraries starting October 1.”

So You Just Want to Write

I’ve heard and read this a few times. It’s what every author wants, isn’t it? They just want to write. There’s so much work involved in getting a book to market, work that cuts into writing time. Handing it off to a publisher – or overpaying an outfit like AuthorHouse to do it – probably seems like a pretty good deal if it means more writing time.

To that I have to say: if all you want to do is write, why not just start a blog and write away? No covers needed, no special formatting – just you, the blank screen, and your audience.

“But Claire, you don’t understand! We want to make money by writing!”

Well now, that’s a different story.

Hachette, what are you thinking?!

I’ve just seen the truly bizarre news that Hachette, one of the big publishing houses, is demanding that any author with titles published by Tor in some territories and Hachette in others keep the DRM on their ebooks.

Tor have recently begin to offer DRM-free books, in a move that further boosts my respect for them as one of the few publishers who know what they’re doing. Hachette, apparently, are worried that the availability of DRM-free copies of ebooks in some regions, and they feel that they can dictate terms to their authors as a result.

The arrogance of this literally takes my breath away.

danger symbol

The Moral Panic of Piracy

danger symbolAlright, if you haven’t heard the full story yet, is a small ebook lending site that has been forced offline. It was a very straightforward business model – they let users register, and users listed which ebooks they had that could be lent out to other users once. Then people traded books. It was a bit like a person-to-person lending – you know, like with paper books – that could only be done once. LendInk did not keep copies of the books themselves. It couldn’t.

LendInk was still taken offline by hundreds of lawsuit threats.

Normally I hear this kind of story and assume the worst; that some big media company has taken notice of an up and coming site, and proceeded to lay the smack down in a poor attempt to protect their copyrights. I was wrong in this case. The authors did it, and they did it because someone told someone else that LendInk was a pirate site.

All I can say about this is that I am disappointed. And angry, yes, on behalf of LendInk’s owner, who seems like a nice enough small businessman, but mostly disappointed.

On the Subject of Special Snowflakes

Recent news has lead me to believe that there is something very odd going on in the halls of the major publishers. I think there’s a psychology aspect to their business that hasn’t been explored all that well up to this point – that of industry exceptionalism, or the idea that publishing, in and of itself, is deserving of special treatment when it comes to the online world.

I got thinking about this mostly as a result of reading various articles about the price-fixing scandal still in the works. I had to ask – why did the publishing industry think this was justified? They must have known it was illegal.

Words on paper

How a Traditional Publisher Can Harm an Author’s Career?

Words on paperMark Coker, the owner of Smashwords, does make a good point with his article on traditional publishers. Okay, him running the main source for independent authors is something of a bias, but I think his argument has merit: that trad publishers move too slowly and price too high for the marketplace, and this represents an obstacle for authors during their career when they’re faced with indies who can release their books on a much faster schedule at a more attractive price point.

This is a problem of the marketplace, of course. Today I’d like to look at some examples of how a traditional publisher can just harm an author’s career outright.

The Author as Customer

So, Penguin’s parent company bought Author Solutions. And now, BookCountry’s services page has been taken down for an “upgrade”. I’m going to draw the obvious conclusion and saw that BookCountry’s services are going to be Author Solutions’ services, as served through their various imprints.

Once everyone got over the shock of a company like Penguin being mentioned with Author Solutions in the same press release, the opinions started to fly thick and fast. I, unfortunately, fall into the camp of people who are less than impressed with this whole thing; it looks like a money grab to me, if anything. There’s a lot of cash in getting authors to buy overpriced services with an option to snatch a chunk of their profits if their book is a success too. David Gaughran over at IndieReader sums up my opinion on it all, with an extra side helping from Emily Suess over at her excellent blog.

I got to thinking about one aspect of it after reading Porter Anderson’s article over on Jane Friedman’s blog – that of the author as customer.

Research and Development

How does DIY publishing pay for research and development?

This is the question posed by Porter Anderson over on Jane Friedman’s blog this week, and I find it fascinating on many levels. The general idea of the article – and I do recommend reading it all – can be summarized in Porter’s closing:

Do you see a natural investment opportunity and apparatus in place for supporting new talent and the new works of existing authors in a self-publishing setting? Aside from the individual trial-and-error that each self-publishing author funds for him- and herself, where’s the R&D in a DIY industry?

This leads on from another article that raised any number of hackles from Eugenia Williamson in the Boston Phoenix called The Dead End of DIY Publishing, whose main point was exactly this. New authors are (apparently) nurtured by the money that comes from bestsellers; indie publishing has no such process. So why is this so interesting? Well, to me at least, they’re asking the wrong questions.


The Business and the Art

keyboardI think we all know that there’s two halves to making a living as an author: the business and the art. The art, of course, is the basic skill of writing; the forging of narrative out of raw inspiration, which takes years of practice to truly master. The business, however, seems to be far more neglected of late.

I spend a lot of time talking to independent authors. Traditional authors have the advantage of being more ‘hands off’ when it comes to the business side of things, but the indies have no such luxury. The problem I see, very frequently, is that indie authors have absorbed a lot about writing as an art, but not so much about writing as a business.


The Brave New World

keyboardThe reaction of traditional publishing to the Internet has always been somewhat lackluster. Faced with a new medium that renders 90% of their services obsolete, they struggle against the tide and thrash around like fish out of water. It’s only recently that Nick Morgan at Forbes said the Big Six should reach out and connect with readers, for gods’ sake – anyone who didn’t know that much doesn’t deserve to be in business, in my opinion, but apparently it’s something of a revelation in New York.

Somehow I get the feeling that the large publishers are already close to dying off. Tor, Baen and Harlequin have the audience and the savvy to survive, that I can see. The others? Not so much. This is what happens when your decades-old business model revolves around being a gatekeeper to a finite resource (shelf space) that nobody needs any more.