19 Jun

Small press publisher Hadley Rille Books is crowdfunding their move to the next level

Just got an email from Hadley Rille about their IndieGogo campaign to take it to the next level:

“Founded in 2005, Hadley Rille Books is a quality small press that publishes exceptional titles in fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. Our critically acclaimed authors craft a variety of worlds with diverse, complex characters, including everyday people who face extraordinary challenges.”

(Via Support the Growth of Hadley Rille Books: A Quality Small Press Publisher | Indiegogo.)

29 May

Smashwords says “Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors”

When I write this, certain people say it’s because I’m a for-hire servant of Big Publishing and that I have Stockholm syndrome.

I wonder how they’ll explain how Mark Coker of Smashwords is brainwashed by New York publishing?

“The dispute with Hachette foreshadows what comes next for indie ebook authors at Amazon who have grown comfortable to KDP’s 70% royalty rates.

Think about my divide and conquer reference above.  Indies are already divided and conquered at Amazon, but most don’t realize this.  These indies all have direct-upload relationships with Amazon.  They don’t have the collective bargaining power of a large publisher to advocate on their behalf.  As the unfolding events indicate, it’s questionable if even a large publisher has leverage over Amazon.

If Hachette doesn’t have the power to maintain 70% earnings, how will million-copy-selling New York Times bestselling indie authors have any power when Amazon decides to put the squeeze on them?   And how about the rest of the indie community which has even less leverage over Amazon?

How long until Amazon puts on the squeeze? The squeeze may already have started. In February, Amazon gutted the royalty rates they pay for audiobooks, as Laura Hazard Owen reported at GigaOm in her story, Amazon-owned Audible lowers royalty rates on self-published audiobooks. Previously, authors earned up to 90% list. Under the new terms, authors earn from 25% to 40% list. Amazon can do this because they dominate audiobooks.”

(Via Smashwords: Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors.)

By the way, Mark nails it here.

Even if Smashwords is a UI nightmare, they’ve been working hard to increase library outreach and work hard for their authors. And Mark has always been good about offering up real data and insight.

I’m sure the usual boosters will keep explaining why the audio royalty cut was good for authors (yes, this actually happens) and why anyone who points out the above common sense is a ‘detractor’ because for them, it’s not a business discussion: it’s an ideological war with only one ‘side’ winning (watch how many times the word ‘side’ is used).

There are no sides, there are just ways to connect with readers and marketplaces. You can use more than one at once, even.

And you can criticize as well.

24 May

Amazon: it’s not being a detractor to point out a pattern of repeated behaviour

Damien G. Walter cuts to the heart of it:

“The battle between Hachette and Amazon, and the wider conflict between publishers and Amazon, is a conflict between sellers and the marketplace. Neither side is good or evil. They are business entities, which do what business entities do, which is to act selfishly in their own interests at all times and in all things. The competition between publishers and Amazon is actually very good for writers – it is raising advances and adding new income sources for writers as the sellers and the marketplace compete for the goods they supply. In the conflict between publishers and Amazon the question is not which side to take, but how to keep Godzilla and Gojira fighting as long as possible. At the point one side wins, writers will face harder days again.”

(Via Amazon is not a bookseller, and why that matters for writers | Damien G. Walter.)

We don’t need any one side to ‘win.’ Damien is right. We need a healthy, varied marketplace.

Another good point someone made is that Hachette is the smallest of the big publishers left. This is a test.

Lastly, Amazon has done this before. I’m rather surprised at the number of journalists and internet types who are acting shocked, shocked, that Amazon is doing this.

Take for example Farhad Manjoo:

Just wait, the company’s critics have always shot back. Wait till Amazon controls the whole market — then see how well it treats authors, publishers and customers.

Now Amazon is walking right into its detractors’ predictions. There are a couple obvious reasons this is a bad strategy. It’s bad public relations — if it doesn’t already, Amazon may soon control a monopolistic stake of the e-book market and its tactics are sure to invite not only scorn from the book industry but also increased regulatory oversight.

See, if you have been silly enough to buy into the argument that this is a two-sides battle, with anti-Amazon people on one side (detractors) and pro-whatever (disintermediation, pro-independent author, pro-self pub, etc) then this may come as a shock. Much like people were totally stunned when Amazon’s subsidiary Audible’s ACX (the audio direct self publish concept) lowered author royalty rates.

However, all you have to do is actually look at a couple things.

1) How large companies behave once they have a monopoly. Wal-mart, after lowering prices to drive out competition, has been shown in studies to have prices *higher* than in the same market when there was competition. It has the whole market, it can then set any price it wants. But… people say Amazon is different. It loves readers.

2) But all you have to do is look at Amazon’s past actions to see it behaves like any other corporate entity. In 2010 it yanked Macmillan’s buy buttons in the bookstore over negotiations. It has pulled down books, delayed shipments in European markets for bargaining, and basically used its position quite handily.

Hey, if you have the whole market, it’s easy policy.

If you think corporations should, de facto, be able to use any power they have gained in any way they wish, that’s fine. Many people have held pro-monopoly positions throughout history. Brand identification often leads to loyalty of group identification over all else.

I just think historically that leads to uneven markets.

And historically, that will end up backfiring.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Amazon wants to drop puppies from drones for all of us. But historically speaking, that’s never happened when a company gains control of an entire marketplace.

Maybe people should be less worried about the awkward feeling of ‘shit, Amazon’s detractors are right’ and maybe start thinking of this as more: people who say ‘hey, historically a single company owning an entire marketplace leads to an abuse keep calling this’ is worth paying attention to.

i.e.: we’re not so much “Amazon-detractors” as much as just people who are able to take a trend that pretty much always happens when one single company gets in this sort of spot, and can do some very basic extrapolation. It has done this to Penguin. To Macmillan. To Orbit Uk. And more.

Again and again, I’ve pointed out that I use Amazon’s Prime (not right now while this is going on, and I will cancel if it gets worse) and their self publish system (same as before) and am pretty agnostic about them (I do work with their audio wing and love the sub company Audible and buy a lot of audiobooks). Again and again people think I have a vendetta.

No. It’s just simple extrapolation. We have a problem. It’s easy to call. Amazon is large enough it cannot help itself. It’s doing what ever single other company that large has done when it has the whole buffet to itself. And in the past, it has taken outcry, pushback or legal change to stop companies in their position.

So I’m shouting back. Because an unhealthy marketplace is unhealthy for us all.

09 Feb

Chocolate and Vodka talks about Dunning-Kruger effect and publishing

There is so much wisdom at Chocolate and Vodka (both in pro-self publishing and in surveying why the quality of self publishing will always suffer due to the Dunning-Kruger effect) that I just want you to rush over and read, and then read all the other posts around there. I spent an hour poking around and then followed the author on twitter because I want to subscribe to the newsletter!

“So, according to Dunning and Kruger, in order to combat the massive shit volcano, we would need to train every self-publisher who produces shit, and hope that they realise that they aren’t as good as they think they are and need to try a bit harder. Well, good luck with that one.

Now, it’s true that not every self-published author is on the wrong side of Dunning-Kruger. Some are on the only slightly less wrong side: Good writers whose confidence is shot because they understand that they could be better, and are over-sensitive to the gap between the quality of the work they do produce and the quality they want to achieve. Those people are better than they think they are and will publish less than they should.”

(Via Why the self-publishing shit volcano isn’t going to stop erupting any time soon | Chocolate and Vodka.)

09 Feb

It’s all algebra… or something

C.E. Murphy talks some math about why she won’t be continuing a series:

“I have some things to report about the Inheritors’ Cycle.

Not irregularly, people ask me if I’ll be doing more of them. I’ve been seriously considering pursuing that, but I just got royalty statements on them, and it’s clear that unless I could be absolutely certain of getting the books into bookstores, it would be a waste of my time. THE QUEEN’S BASTARD has sold about 1800 copies in e-book and THE PRETENDER’S CROWN has sold about 1000. Assuming that at the best I’d match TPC’s e-sales, I’d be looking at maybe $6K in income, all of which would be eaten by cover art and editorial costs. Not worth it.

‘But Kickstarter!’ people say, which, yes, but perks! rewards! etc! are costly and it kind of appears from royalty statements that in e-book terms, the people who might support an Inheritors’ Cycle Kickstarter (ie, the ones who are aware of my internet presence and pay attention to it) are very possibly the ones who might also buy the e-book, which means I wouldn’t even have as many as 1K sales to count on.”

(Via The Essential Kit | Inheritors’ Cycle update – The Essential Kit.)

Man, this is something I was hammering at the last convention I was at. The equations of each project differ, even sometimes from project to project with the same author. Focusing on Kickstarter, or 70% royalty, obscures the question: which method makes me the most.

In some cases, it might be one way, in some another.

I mentioned that, in the modern marketplace, the money offered to me for short story collections is way less than what I can do via self publishing and Kickstarter for a collection. But for novels, the other distribution method is more lucrative.

The equation is that there is a mix of Royalty times Price of product times Size of your individual buyer pool. Let’s call the equation: R times Pop times Pool.

So while a larger publisher might increase the price of the product, if the buyer pool that they give you access to (via shelves, stores) increases sales, it can offset and beat the lower royalty.

I’ve seen writers do well in moving series to direct publishing. I’ve seen writers make almost nothing and leave confused.

The best way to get an idea for what leverage (if any) the different methods give you is to be a hybrid: experimenting with methods so that you have an idea of how the personal equation works for you.

03 Jun

Do we need to reinvent pulp? I’m not so sure

In referencing my post about survivorship bias, a long essay about how eBooks could be the new pulp. More comments below.

“So, what’s the big deal about Pulp? Why should Ebooks aspire to that?

Right now E-books are the new Dime Novels. In the late 1800’s, on the back of new publishing technologies and the rise of mass literacy, there was a ‘Publishing Revolution’ (actually several) in the form commonly called Dime Novels. The name came from the first series, Beadle’s Dime Novels, establishing the norms of the format: 100 page paperbacks, roughly 6½’ by 4¼’, lurid adventure tales with breathless titles.”

(Via Ebooks need to re-invent Pulp! | Voices on the Square.)

Yeah, the biggest issue I see with this is a comment referenced but not truly appreciated in that blog post, which is that pulp serials were ‘like the TV’ of their day.

While I think eBooks are going to create a new low-cost market (and have, really), the evidence is more that they’re eating up the cheap paperback of the 70s and thereabouts, than pulp.

Pulp was ‘like the TV’ of the day.

Only, we *have* TV today.

And videogames.

Reading is not a dominant entertainment activity. Which is why any reading today is never going to exactly mirror reading of the past. This is the hiccup with paying too close attention to models of the past. The ecosystem has changed.

That isn’t to say that I think serials or shorter books aren’t a good thing. I’d like to see more of a realization that novellas are a compelling read and John Scalzi just showed us the potential impact of serials.

Addendum, both Bruce and Philip Brewer think I miss the point. Their comments here and here.

In an email to Philip I wrote:

What I think you both miss is that it’s beside the point. It’s next to impossible to get the investment needed to replicate that model because fewer people read as primary entertainment to such a level that a structure can develop around ‘new pulp’ that can replicate any of that.

Most of the ‘new pulp’ and directions we are going are leaner. More freelance, more picking up editor or copy editor as fellow freelancer as needed, more author central.

All the things you’re focusing on are replicated in TV and video game media. Team-centric, highly collaborative, heavily invested in. I don’t see signs of that coming back into print, it’s going the other direction with text.


Are there technological effects that can come out of this? Yeah, I see teams that form around a single book that everyone is passionate about forming. I see more communities forming. There are opportunities. But pulp got its benefits from scale, fewer channels, lack of competition from other media, and we’re in a rapidly nichifying, high media competition environment. I really don’t think looking towards its structure as beneficial, though I do like the form factor of smaller, leaner novels and the return of the novella, which I’m investing in myself.

But Crowdfunding, building your own list serv of passionate fans, using single-project technologies to gather and create art together, then disband, etc etc, which are becoming the needle of our new secondary industry here, these don’t map very well to pulp as far as I can tell.

20 May

5 things that I expect (or at least hope) will change in publishing

As a hybrid author I’ve often expressed my fears of Amazon and its use of its large size. I’ve encouraged people to sell eBooks direct on their site. I’ve lauded Kickstarter as a way to balance the eBook channels. It’s led some to claim I’m a print cheerleader, but I’m actually just interested in forward looking disaster mitigation.

That being said, watching the changes in publishing come down the pike, I do think there are a few things, well, actually five, that print publishing (or competitors popping up to replace it) will need to focus on to keep hybrid authors interested:

1. Monthly royalties

Publishing is set up on a six month system. It does this to simplify accounting, of course. There is also the fact that books take time to go out to bookstores and then come back. It takes time to sort out what all has happened. There is a lot of invested infrastructure aimed at catering to that system. It was how you made business for a hundred years, it’s not surprising.

However, monthly payouts are a big deal. For budgeting and planning, it is really, really helpful for writers to see more constant payouts.

Also, it’s tough to put in a ton of work in one month, and then never see the fruits of your labor for (at times) a year down the road.

Monthly payouts would help writers move from the famine/sudden-lump-system that swings this way and that.

I doubt publishers will move the print component over to this, but a parallel track of paying out your digital royalties makes sense, even if it involves work up front. If you want to keep your authors, it’ll have to happen because the alternative is just too interesting (half the reason many hybrid authors are attracted to digital direct sales via Amazon KDP/Nook Press/iTunes Bookstore is monthly compensation for monthly activity. We also live in a world where Kickstarter pays out the same month it funds. Our expectations may not be fair, but they’re there now, for better or worse).

Also, digital royalties have no reserve against returns (the returns system is a system where in books are given to bookstores at a credit, and are returnable. You can imagine the accounting headache) so the money doesn’t need to be held in case bookstores suddenly return a tranche of unsold books. The money is there.

2. Stepped digital royalties

In my contracts for paper, on hardcover, they stipulate if I sell X number of hardcovers I get a certain rate. After I sell X, the percentage goes up (because the house has recouped investment, and we’re sharing more of the royalties). Some step clauses can get pretty high and be very lucrative, the idea being that after expenses are recouped everyone can enjoy a good deal.

Sadly, legal and administrative people in large corporate publishing companies have decided to fight that for digital royalties and only a few high profile authors are getting steps in their digital clauses.

This is one, however, that will be fought. Why? I recently have seen some contracts going to authors that specify that the publisher gets to keep the book as long as it sells a few hundred digital copies every six months (which is easy to do, drop the price temporarily to 99 cents, sell your few hundred, then pull the price back up and you own the author’s rights for another few years of the contracted period). That means some people who are selling books, if the company is un-ethical, are entering into a very long term relationship indeed (if you assume the worst, which is never a bad thing, it could be for life). So what is the value of your digital rights over a lifetime?

If hardcover rights can be stepped, why not digital?

If the publisher has figured out how many books equal recouping costs, and steps the clause after that, contracts will look a lot fairer.

3. Sharing data

When Amazon announced that they’d be sharing BookScan data I saw a lot of publishing insiders I know and love shaking their heads and saying ‘that’ll drive authors crazy.’

Trust me, I know authors are crazy. I’m one. And I know a lot of them. We can be neurotic, twitchy, and overly imaginative. Creatives aren’t encouraged by society to be business-oriented.

But we writers are running small businesses. When the creative cap is off, the business needs to come on. And part of the reason writers are a pain in the ass on the publisher side is that we’re actually coming in ignorant, in the dark, worried about validation, and very very nervous.

As a result, we’re fire walled off so that we don’t cause too much damage.

Boy do I understand the impulse. I’ve seen some spectacular author idiocies in my time. I know how wearying it would be on the other side to deal with neurotics asking questions all the time.

But, part of that is the opaqueness of a process that isn’t made transparent.

Share the data, and the process openly, provide FAQs and upfront information about the hows and whys, and I’m betting you’ll have a less neurotic author.

We didn’t all fall apart when we got free access via Amazon to our Bookscan results. A lot of questions were asked up front, but over time wisdom was imparted, and know there are more knowledgable authors. We’d traded up obsessing about Amazon ranks for obsessing about Bookscan results (we’re going to obsess about something, it might as well be real figures).

This is helpful because it allows authors to see the impact of various efforts to promote books (if at all). If things are successful, both being rewarded faster (monthly payouts) and seeing the data confirm it, more authors will be able to tweak their outreach strategies as well. This benefits everyone. The upside is that it can show authors what works and what doesn’t (they won’t have to take someone’s word for it) and might allow some authors to figure out some stuff that maybe wasn’t obvious to anyone else.

Addendum: the genesis for this point came from the fact that Random House has done this for their authors, and the system is pretty cool (not all the way there yet, but certainly useful!).

4. Different out of print clauses

I’ve seen contracts recently that define out of print as something like the following: if the book has been out a few years, and sells less than $100 worth of royalties for the author in all types (print and digital), for a few publishing periods (each period being that 6 month stretch publishing works on), then the author can ping the publisher, and the publisher has X amount of time to try and raise sales.

As far as I can tell, this is one of the more troubling developments in the last two to three years in ‘traditional’ publishing. While self publish-only people talk about other things, this should be the item they laser in on. Because what this allows is a situation where authors are basically giving their intellectual property to a company forever.

In the past, once the book ‘went out of print,’ a clause like this worked and was fair to both parties. If the book stopped selling, and the print versions all faded away, this clause meant that after a year of it not selling the writer could ask for the rights back. The publisher could take a look at the title, decide whether to invest in a new printing (a not insignificant burst of activity and money), or whether to let it go.

But with the new reality, it’s hella easy for the publisher to print on demand enough copies to keep the book out there. It’s even easier for it to drop the price on the book to 99 cents for a temporary sale. That juices the copies sold up to the minimum, they keep the rights. I sell my own ebooks direct, so I can see how easy it would be to do this.

Have I seen this happening? No, right now publishers seem to be dropping projects back to authors when they realize things aren’t working out.

But the fact that lawyers are working so damn hard to put this in there is chilling as hell. It’s not happening that publishing companies are squatting on IP, as far as I can tell in my own experience, but with these new contracts the *mechanism* is there.

I expect to see agents fighting to increase that minimum way up, or putting in a clause that says firesales on the intellectual property negate the X dollars in royalties per period out of print clause.

Alternatively, I admire that in Europe there are time term limits placed on the agreement, to allow the author to get out after five or seven years. American contracts really need that.

I’ve already had one hybrid author express to me a desire to stop selling paper rights in the US as a result of this clause and to begin by selling their work internationally only in print, and handle the ebook themselves in the US.

5. Better project management integration

Cory Doctorow wings this point in a recent article:

Many of these publishers are separate divisions of the same company, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that none of the different departments are coordinating with one another. Most contemporary sales, marketing, and PR organizations outside of publishing use some kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to coordinate their activities. Fundamentally, these are just databases that record all the different interactions that the company has with the people with whom it does business.

That being said, I don’t think Cory goes far enough. He’s focused on the publicity side, I think an entire system that lets anyone in publishing assigned to that book check in on a book’s project management status would be killer.

Think of a system that holds not just the PR stuff Cory is talking about, but information about the book as it’s being developed so that we solve some of the neurotic author issues. A place where the book as it exists can be read by publishing people in house to get excited about it. Where editorial, art, marketing and sales have appended comments to the cover that the author can see (oh, that’s why they’re changing this, or like this, or hate this). Yes, it’s annoying to have other people in and commenting, but with designated project leaders, it’s okay. It’s done in other orbs. The book’s details (expected pub date, author turn in date) are all on there.

As the book is being developed, there’s one central location for author to add ‘don’t forget reviewer X’ and email updates that flag everyone assigned to the book.

Yeah, hi publishing experts, I know it’s a naive thing to expect existing infrastructure to do these things because the existing systems already move along a path of their own. But someone will design it, and it will be a major feature for attracting authors away.

Addendum: for a glimpse of how some groups are doing this now, take a look at Booktrope.

Besides, this was 5 things I expect (hope) will change, not 5 things I know will change!

Interestingly, pieces of each of these 5 things are things that I’m seeing independently start to form up at smaller publishing venues (two of the contractual issues I’ve spotted have been addressed by some smaller publishers, so while not widespread, I find it intriguing that some nimble minds are seeing it as a way to attract authors. We can’t offer you money, but we can offer you fair contracts/monthly payouts, or digital royalties that escalate once we’ve recovered our losses).

Addendum: By the way, point #2, if adopted, probably solves #4, it occurs to me…

04 May

HarperCollins’ digital-first mystery imprint offers monthly royalty payments — paidContent

Amazon Publishing switched to offering this. Now HarperCollins:

“In another move to compete with Amazon, HarperCollins announced that as of August 1, authors who sign with Impulse will receive monthly royalties. ‘There is a true financial benefit to signing with our Impulse imprints,’ said Liate Stehlik, SVP and publisher of William Morrow. Amazon Publishing recently started offering monthly royalty payments to its authors.”

(Via HarperCollins to launch digital-first mystery imprint, with monthly royalty payments — paidContent.)

There are handful of things I expect to see change in order to properly compete with the benefits that the new distribution system is offering, this is one of them.

03 May

Cory Doctorow on improving book publicity

Cory is wise, here:

“Many of these publishers are separate divisions of the same company, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that none of the different departments are coordinating with one another. Most contemporary sales, marketing, and PR organizations outside of publishing use some kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to coordinate their activities. Fundamentally, these are just databases that record all the different interactions that the company has with the people with whom it does business.”

(Via Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: Improving Book Publicity in the 21st Century.)

The number of writers I know who are told to not share their covers on their blog because it’s being kept secret for a big reveal, who then see it on Amazon and link to it, who then get yelled at, is actually depressingly high.

Among other things I overhear that demonstrate left hands not talking to the right…

09 Apr

Nook Press announced

I find the collaborative features interesting, but that’s assuming I would use Nook for my primary book creation process. I’m going to have to look to see what kind of ePub quality it makes, and whether I can take them with me once made easily.

Seriously though, it seems they might want to focus more on making the readers happy with features. I still can’t find half the titles I know exist by just typing the title into the search bar at BN.com.

That’s kinda a bigger deal, guys.

“NEW! One-stop Publishing Solution: Write, edit, format and publish your eBooks in our web-based platform, instantly reaching millions of NOOK customers within 72 hours.

NEW! Easy ePub Creation and Editing: Upload your manuscript file and make changes directly in NOOK Press. Editing and previewing in one session saves you time and effort.

NEW! Integrated Collaboration: Collaborate with editors, copyeditors, and friends, allowing them to review and comment on your manuscript without ever leaving NOOK Press.”

(Via nook press™.)

Addendum: you know what, I look at something like Pressbooks here and wonder why B&N just doesn’t buy them or engage in some coopetition with them instead of just doing something that can already be done pretty well elsewhere.