Monday, July 26, 2010

E-merging Markets a Boon for 20th Century Writers

With all the controversy about e-book readers and the Kindle (including accusations that the e-book has killed numerous bookstores) most authors look at e-books as a 'gravy' sales item. The numbers are hard to come by – but the estimates say there are 3 million Kindles and several million smart phones with applets that allow people to read e-books on their cell phone.

E-books are currently just a niche market for genre books and independent authors who are brave enough to self-publish. If you have the sales volume of a J. K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers – e-book sales would be chump change.

However, there is a genre left out – deliberately, perhaps? – of the e-book market – modern literature. The heavy hitting writers of the 20th century: Updike, Rushdie, Bellow, Ellison, Mailer and Nabokov; writers didn't have e-rights mentioned in their contracts.

These guys aren't genre writers who kick out a book every few months. They live on royalties for book sales. If they are lucky, it's 25% of the discounted price, minus all the charges taken from the book's gross. Bookstores, returns, warehouses, publishers and agents all get their cut before any money goes to the writer. They must take out taxes, insurance and pay monthly bills but only get paid once or twice a year.

I bet some of them are badly pressed for cash.

Enter Wylie (E. Coyote) Agency, home for 700 of the world's best selling literary writers and e-publishing company Odyssey Editions. Wylie (E. Coyote) started Odyssey to get his stable of the 20th century's finest a piece of the 21st century action.

Guess who is screaming bloody murder?

Random House expects them to starve like good little artists, instead of cashing in on a niche market that just might pay some bills. When Amazon.com gave e-books a 70% royalty (for those between $2.99 and $9.99) paid monthly, they handed writers the opportunity to finally make a living at writing.

Of course there is still the question of payment. Will the 20th centuries finest get a monthly pay check – or will Wylie (E. Coyote) keep them to twice a year? Logically all the money will go to Odyssey Editions on a monthly basis, while the writer's are left with a cut, minus their agent's cut, of the profits.

The coyote's share is going to be a lot bigger than the writer's share.

Too bad they didn't post their e-books on their own.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kitty Bought an E-book Reader

Since June my family has suffered a series of illnesses, I've been spending a lot of time in waiting rooms and ERs. Usually this drives me crazy, I'm not a patient person. So I decided to buy myself a gift that would ensure I don't pace and drive people crazy.

I bought an E-reader so I will not be caught without something to read. I don't like buying things that I can't touch before hand. That left the Kindle out because you have to buy it to try it. Then too you can only buy books from the Kindle store. Too limiting with all the e-publishers out there. Plus the Kindle is still pretty expensive.

Mom has a Sony, and I like it alot but it doesn't have WiFi. It needs to be hooked up to the pc to download books. That said, I used it for the first week of hospital visits and really like it.

Which leaves Nook and the iPad. iPad is too expensive and it's a first generation device. I don't do first generation anything, not software, not cars, not electronics. I'm not an early adopter. Knock the bugs out of it for a while.

There is a Barnes & Noble in E-town, so I went down to take a look at the Nook. I bought the WiFi version because I have WiFi in my house and it saved me $50. Now for some reason the salespeople didn't think I could connect my Nook to my WEP secured WiFi.

The only problem I had was finding where I hid my WEP key.

What I like is the WiFi and the fact that it will surf to different book sites. The touch screen is handy. (Easier to use than my stupid touch phone.)  I like having different fonts and font sizes. The operating system is Android - that means the possibility of apps in the future. (Kindle App anyone?)

The book selection isn't bad at http://www.bn.com/, prices are a bit high and there aren't a whole lot of back listed books. But unless we are talking Project Gutenberg there aren't going to be a whole lot of back listed books anywhere.

I can pick up Joe Konrath's book from his website. I haven't tried Smashwords or http://www.fictionwise.com/ yet. The magazines and newspapers are all big city, nothing local is available.

Then I tried to go to the Project Gutenberg to fill it up. No luck with that. The books should have downloaded, but I couldn't find them. Same thing with documents. I'd like to try to read one of my novels to see what fonts work the best.

I didn't buy a memory stick for it. I did buy a silicon case and the warranty. Trouble has developed a taste for electronics - notably the cordless phone and my idi10t cell phone which were stashed under the bed.

One of these days I'll rant about my id10t phone. I'm sure that it will be amusing. Meanwhile I've got a series to finish - Karen Moning rocks!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another Look at Changes in Publishing


I was reading a couple of author blogs this week, ones that really "spoke" to the questions running around my brain on the topic of the changing publishing industry. Thanks to Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Mary W. Walters, Holly Lisle and the agent blogs - I am starting to see the publishing industry as not one system but two.

Publishing 1.0 is hard hit by the economy, subject to sweeping changes in personnel, but very much bound by tradition business practices. The Big Six are media conglomerates; a "Twilight" type of book is what they live for, and live on. Spin off merchandise, music sound tracks, items that saturate the market. The feeding frenzy has to be proportionate to the size of the conglomerate. It needs to have the whole hog, not just a bite of it.

Because of this, Publishing 1.0 has dropped the midlist book (with the notable exception of Harlequin.) Therefore, the agents that procure the manuscripts that feed the beast have dropped it as well. The push is for more of the same – more "Twilight," more "Vampire Slayer," more "Killer Thriller" books fed into the maw of the media.

You know, I'm going to put Harlequin in the category of Publishing 1.2. They are more advanced than Publishing 1.0 in so many ways. Harlequin publishes books in paper format – but they have a very large following of reader and writers that are online and active. They e-publish many books – on their website and on http://www.fictionwise.com/.

Publishing 2.0, anchored by Amazon.com, surrounded by multiple iterations. Small publishing companies – often genre specific – notably romance, romantica (sexy stories for women) and erotica.

The quick-minded in Publishing 2.0 have gleefully swept up the midlist. Some of them are making serious money. Ellora's Cave, Black Lyon Publishing, Wild Rose Press and Liquid Silver are all major players in e-romance.

Then there is Amazon, the Kindle e-reader and Amazon Encore Publishing, which looks like Publishing 2.3 to me. Amazon has gone from a bookstore to something bigger and more amazing, into e-books, a venue for self-publishing and now a book publisher.

Each version of publishing has its own rules.

Publishing 1.0 has 'gatekeepers' to keep out the unworthy: Agents troll the sea of manuscripts – looking for the next 'big one' to deliver to one of the Big Six. Lately, the word on the blogosphere is that agents aren't making money like they used to. (Who is?) Either the days of the big advance are over or there are too many agents in the small pond.

Publishing 1.2 has strict guidelines on story structure – but supports their writers and the community of prospective writers. No agents are required for entrance, but some writer's have them. The downside here is that once they buy a book, they own it. Still there are hundreds of writers who work for Harlequin and they write lots of books.

Publishing 2.0 has a bit of an image problem with the Pub 1.0 crowd. They don't pay advances, or too small an advance for agents to shop them, but they have writers and readers galore. There is a lot of money in e-publishing, Ellora's Cave took in 5 million in one year.

I suspect the Pub 2.0 crowd cries about their 'image' all the way to the bank.

Amazon, Pub 2.3, is the Big Player – they have plenty of cash to experiment and lots of bright young men to come up with new ideas for expansion. While they didn't invent the e-reader, they've taken the idea and run with it. Along with Sony and Apple, they are pushing the e-book/e-reader market as far as they can. With several million smart phones that read Kindle – the market is lucrative to say the least.

The Kindle market has thrown open the doors of e-publishing to everyone. An avalanche of writers has come to test themselves. E-publishing has gone from a small pond with six big fish to one of the Great Lakes. The water is deep, and very cold.

The Pub 1.0 predicts that the 'slush pile' (an ocean of manuscripts 99% of it being poorly written) will take Amazon and Kindle down – and e-book sales with it. They insist that only their vigilance has kept this unruly tide from swamping the market with sewage.

If the 'average' Pub 1.0 book only sells 16 copies – while the average self-published book sells 150 copies – what does that tell you? Pub 1.0 is full of bullshit.

E-books are selling at a phenomenal rate on Android App phones and e-readers. Indie authors are surfacing as major players, while midlist writers are scrambling to post their backlists. The Project Gutenberg is posting out of copy write books free. Google has scanned every book they can get their grasping paws on. Market share is soaring by percentage points every quarter.

One (wo)man's bullshit is another (wo)man's compost.

We live in interesting times – get used to it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Agent Debate – Part III

New fodder for the agent debate is the pay structure.

A number of agent blogs are kicking around ways for agents to make more money in this dicey economy. Billing for hours and hiking the standard percentage to 20% are ideas kicked around on a number of blogs.

It seems that with fewer books published through traditional means, and lower advances for the books published, agents are also scrambling for ways to pay bills.

Now, my mind comes up with a snappy come back: "don't reject so many books," right off. After all, in my business (IT) the cry for more money is met by: "work harder, stupid." The next thought that crosses my mind is a quote from Peter Cox of Litopia "I went to a conference and there were more agents than writers." That's going to be a problem, too many hungry agents and not enough writers to go around.

Not enough writers? Eh?

Hold it! I don't know about that – the agent blogs lament the sea of manuscripts that wash through their email.

Maybe, it's like the saying "too many lawyers, but not enough good ones."

No matter what my mind conjures up – this Writer's Digest article on the future role of agents caught my attention as a nice sane attitude in a chaotic time. Here's the opening:

"Given the magnitude of change underway in publishing, some have questioned the future role and necessity of the literary agent. Will agents continue to be the middlemen between publishers and authors? Do authors still need agents if they can get discovered or published on their own? Will publishers rely on agents when they can uncover talent through websites like HarperCollins' authonomy.com?"

Rely on Authonomy? (Ascending soapbox, begin mini-rant.) Well there was a shot that went over the bow – so to speak. Okay, four books gleaned from the slush-pile in two years is a 'huge success' to Harper Collins, yeah, yeah, I quoted them myself. Early on there was real talent on the Editor's Desk, unfairly dismissed, (for the record, I'm talking about 'Heart of Rock') which should have been snapped up. (End of mini-rant.)

On the other hand, Dean Wesley Smith posted another viewpoint on his blog. Dean reports hearing more and more "career killed by agents" stories; which prompted his latest post. The comments to his posts are often as enlightening as the article, so do read this one all the way.

The comment below by Laura Resnick illustrates a new trend – more publishing companies are now openly accepting UNagented submissions. (The implied thought is publishers are not finding the fresh voices they want and need, because agents are marketing 'same old, same old' because "it sold last year.") Italics below are mine.

  1. I browsed around Pyr Books website, I was intrigued by what I read – which, SciFi wise, hasn't happened in a bookstore in many years.

    So what's my point? I'd like to say that there are too many agents and not enough writers to go around; but I'd be blowing smoke out my – rump. Instead, I shall say that the current business paradigm – the 'Agency model' isn't working for many people in the business. Writers, agents, even publishers appear to be chaffing at the constriction of the old – and warily eyeing the new, like a kitty eyes its first moving bug.

    (What is that? Does it bite? Could I swat it? Is it tasty?)

    Meanwhile, the likes of Dean Wesley "100-books-&-counting" Smith is dusting off his backlist and posting them on Kindle and Smashwords – priced to sell – so his "Magic Bakery" will kick into a MUCH higher gear. (Do the math with the 70% royalty, 50 books selling 10 copies a day at $2.99.) Joe Konrath will rack up over $100k from Kindle, on books he couldn't sell to NY publishers. (Bad economy? What bad economy? These guys are as happy as a duckling in a puddle!)

    One man models that "writers don't need agents," the other models "writers don't need publishers." Both are right, because this appears to be the start of a new age.

    Do you have a niche picked out yet?

    I do.

Monday, July 5, 2010

High Summer

The grass has faded from brilliant green to sun-washed. The horse's shine is muted as well in the glare of the mid-day sun.

It is the time of summer when the lack of rain is felt keenly, even as the air is humid. There are no half-measures in Kentucky weather. This far south of the land of my birth there is no breeze off the lake to temper the heat. The river provides humidity enough to make it feel hotter. The breeze has a hot edge to it that nips the skin.

The rains of early summer are gone. The haying season is in full swing, bales dry in golden rolls or are transported like giant fraying pumpkins in wagons and trailers.

Yet it is beautiful. The trees thrive in this heat - they spread their graceful limbs and their leaves shudder in the hot breath of the wind. Shade is dear, the flies busy and even the rooster is silent in the heat.

I watch the chickens scratch and sunbathe, quarrel and pace the fence, wanting out even in the heat. But I'm going to protect my flowers from their digging. If they would stay in the pasture I'd let them run, but they like my flower garden. They dig at the feet of my day-lilies - the only blooming flower - hidden in the arching leaves.

The steady hum of the AC tells me that it's too soon for evening stables - the chores would be miserable, even the open barn stifling.

But I have errands to run, I must brave the heat.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day - Hold the Fireworks, Please!

Being in the country, everybody and their...brother has to set off fireworks. Once again I had to stall up my horses so they didn't run themselves to exhaustion.

My horses handled the booming of tank fire from Fort Knox for years with barely a swat of the tail. But the whistle/pop of fireworks drives them crazy. For many years I was not able to offer them the safety of a stall, away from the lights and the noise. They seem to have developed a phobia.

Since we moved here, I've had to lock them down because the damn things were right over their heads. Otherwise they spend the night milling and racing from one side of the pasture to the other in a vain quest for relief.

Once I open the barn door and yell for the old mare, she makes a running dive for her stall. All I have to do is get out of her way, and close the gate. The young mare will stand just outside the barn - snorting and staring at the lights. She doesn't like the fireworks, she twitches and spooks as they go off. I can rattle the feed bucket and after a few false starts she'll go in her stall.

However, the old gelding will stand in the door, looking inside like he's never seen this barn, ever. Mind you, he's the one kicking the door down, insisting he get inside well before noon each day. He's also the one who charged into the barn, stomping my foot and breaking my toe, a couple years back. Maybe the old mare beating him to the barn hurts his dignity so he must stand outside until I put a rope on him. It's not like I have to (or could) drag his 1400 lb carcass into the barn. Any old piece of string will do - preferrably with a bucket of grain shoved under his nose.

It must be the principle of the matter.

Even a sway-backed, knock-kneed old hack has his pride.