Friday, February 26, 2010

Riotous Round Up

Friday round up time, from Laura, who is visiting from Combreviations:

This week, reader-types, I would like to introduce you to the phenomenon of "I don't write, I help." Because hey, I don't write. I help. First, you should take this advice about the thriving writing advice industry, because maybe that could be your topic. Well, think about it, take a walk—walking leads to literary greatness, I hear. That could be because little distractions can be helpful to writing. Something that is unhelpful to writing is people who give you false information that you in turn write about. And remember: only write your own signature, because you'll get caught for forging author signatures (who, you know, aren't you). And credit your lady partners, sirs and madams!

Once you actually get down to writing, be sure to be careful about the subtext (especially in children's titles). And be realistic about (magical) British boarding schools and (fictional) representations of nut houses. If you can't read but you're writing, here's a pictorial for getting an agent (just. In. Case.). And stop by Hot Topic before trying to read a classic—it helps!

If you're more interested in reading anyway, check out the best monsters in literature, and the true story behind Kidnapped. Not that the kiddos will read it, as they don't read fiction, unless its on their parents' bookshelf. Just get them their books at a toy fair, or put them on a DS, and they'll be fine. The whippersnappers don't even know how books are made. If only we had $2.5 million in seed funding to fund my new alt-book endeavor, or could make the school books interactive.

Oh well, reader-types—the children will never learn. Besos for you, sirs and madams, and see you next week (or all week at Combreviations, where I self promote shamelessly. As opposed to what I

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Terms to Know: Frontlist vs. Backlist

You may, dear readers, in your wanderings through this blog and other industry-related Internet lands, come across the terms "frontlist" and "backlist" in reference to titles that have already gone on sale. The difference between the two is fairly simple, but their relationship and sales data are generally more complex and interesting.

Frontlist titles are titles that have gone on sale in the current year. This is a somewhat flexible definition, as I'd still consider titles that went on sale in December 2009 to be frontlist titles; for this reason, "frontlist" often refers to titles that went on sale less than a year before the current date (in today's case, after 2/25/2009). Backlist titles, then, are any titles that are older than frontlist titles, i.e. went on sale a year or more before the current date.

Based on the above definitions, it should come as no surprise to you that the majority of a publishing house's revenue comes from its backlist. This is because 1.) for any well-established house, the backlist invariably consists of more titles than the frontlist, and 2.) the backlist generally contains the "tried and true" perennial sellers upon which the house's financial durability is built. True, the frontlist is where the bestseller action initially occurs (e.g. appearances on bestseller lists such as the New York Times'), but there are only so many bestselling books and "future classics" per year; over time, they accumulate in the backlist, where they continue to slowly but steadily sell. Frontlist titles that don't sell eventually go out of print (though this often takes longer than a year, so most become backlist titles for at least a short period of time).

In terms of sales modelling, frontlist titles (if they are successful) generally peak within the first twelve weeks (often earlier) and decline predictably, assuming there are no major outside influences at work (which there often are, e.g. winning the Pulitzer Prize or being selected for Oprah's Book Club). Once a title becomes a backlist title, it generally reaches a kind of equilibrium and continues to sell steadily for years. There are some exceptions, however, for books that are seasonal/occasional (e.g. books like The Polar Express seeing a sales spike around Christmas) or are considered classics (guys like Salinger and Shakespeare see sales bumps in September, when everyone goes back to school). Again, as you might imagine, the backlist is generally more predictable than the frontlist; aside from the death of a famous author, the backlist isn't perturbed by the same market forces that can make the frontlist so volatile.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


More news on the e-piracy front, meine Autoren: a German court has approved an injunction filed by six academic publishers against RapidShare AG, a company that provides download services for a whole host of different files via the magic of the Interwebs. This is interesting, at least to me, for the following reasons.

First, RapidShare offers free downloads for most (if not all) the files it hosts, but makes its money by offering paid subscriptions that significantly increase the speed and number of downloads you're permitted to request. The fact that they're making money on copyrighted material (including, but certainly not limited to, books) that they did not pay for makes the whole venture suspect, and to an extent, illegal. Legal file sharing services (an imperfect, though more easily visualized, analogue is YouTube) abound; there's no reason companies like RapidShare can't filter out copyrighted material as it comes in.

Second, I've heard others express the opinion that on-line services like RapidShare (though not necessarily RapidShare themselves) are akin to electronic libraries, and since information is available for free from physical libraries, the same should hold true for their Internet equivalents. This is nonsense (again, my opinion) for two reasons: first, libraries pay for the subscriptions and books they offer their patrons, which is not the case with free download sites like RapidShare; and second, even if a website were to pay for a single e-book and then allow limitless downloads of the text (akin to lending a book from a physical library), the number of downloads per paid copy would vastly exceed the average library's number of loans per purchased physical copy. Secondary points include the fact that physical libraries can only loan out a limited number of copies at a time (equal to the number they paid for), and they periodically need to replace their books as they wear out.

Now, I'm not against the existence of e-libraries in principle; I think with proper DRM and administrative oversight, they could work out. Then again, the threat of piracy is clearly a problem for copyrighted information on the Internet. So I ask you, meine Damen und Herren: what do you think?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Website Wednesday

I was thinking the other night about what elements are absolutely necessary to a writer's on-line presence, and I have determined that it boils down to one thing: a website.

I must admit, as a reader, it's nice to have a Twitter account to follow should I want to read 140-character missives from my literary heroes at 3:00 AM, and I do like the idea of being pretend bros with my favorite authors on Facebook. When I've read a book I really enjoy, however, and I want to read more work by that author or learn more about him/her, I generally throw their name into Google in the hopes of finding an author website.

Websites are more crucial than social networking sites (or even author blogs, although many an author website sports a blog as a component) in that they provide a relatively self-contained, centralized point on the web at which readers can learn about upcoming author readings, other books by the author, reviews, the author's biography, and so on.

A few rules of thumb, in the oft-used and ne'er-gone-wrong Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Give your website a modern feel. No 1996-style frames, animated .gifs, tiled backgrounds of your dog, rainbow page breaks, &c. Hire a professional (or your teenage son) if need be.

· Less is more. You don't need to record every single award you've won or article you've written since middle school; stick to the basics.

· Choose a good domain name. Hint: "" is not a good domain name.

· If you've got an agent and/or publisher, make sure they link to your site. Also, if you do decide to rock the Facebook/Twitter frontiers, make sure those accounts link back to your site, as well.

· Use Google Analytics (or a similar service) to track the number of visits, page views, &c your site receives on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, February 22, 2010

11,000 Rejections on the Wall, 11,000 Rejections

We've talked about the long odds in this industry from time to time, bros and she-bros, and so I thought I'd use this Monday morning to 1.) give you a realistic idea of how difficult it is to get your work published, and 2.) relate an inspirational, true story of one man, his 100+ published short stories, and his, uh... 11,100 rejections.

Meet Jacob M. Appel. Dude is a doctor lawyer astronaut bounty hunter spy with seven degrees—an AB, two AMs, an MPhil, an MFA, an MD, and a JD, from places like Brown, Columbia, NYU, and Harvard. How he somehow fit thirty years of elite schooling into his life by the age of 37 is a mystery to me. (Incidentally, yesterday was his birthday. Happy birthday, Jacob!)

Sidebar: I actually don't know Jacob in real life, so I suppose my wishing him a happy birthday is somewhat creepy. Hopefully he won't be freaked out when I friend him on Facebook.

The point of this story, though: Jacob has published short stories in some of the most prestigious literary journals and magazines in the country, but he also garnered over eleven thousand rejections in the process. How many have you acquired, gentle reader? One? Ten? A hundred? If so, keep at it, because until you top Jacob's high score, I don't want to hear about you quitting the writing racket. When you're a fancy published author one, two, five, or fifteen years down the line, you can use collages of your rejection slips as the endpapers of your book, or at the very least give it a delightfully snarky title. No self-publishing, though; we all know how I feel about that.

If you've got any uplifting stories of literary success despite myriad rejections, feel free to share them in the comments!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rounding Up For Friday

This week in publishing, Laura from Combreviations rounds up the week:

Hi dee ho, reader types, and welcome to the (kind of slow but that's okay) week. We found out that not only is the iPad still coming (gasp!), but Steve Jobs has okayed an official biography, which we will all distill into reasons we are not Steve Jobs. That man will endure, just like Orwell endures. Hopefully, his bio will not be mostly fantasy, like those rascally biopics, and he'll reveal his secret life, like these four secretive children's authors and not these top ten unreliable narrators.

But, as we worship Steve Jobs, we have to wonder: what is American writing? Is it that created by the Easton Ellis generation? Or that created by true lurve, like these perfect book couples? Or is it perhaps t-shirt based? On the international stage, we should laud Cuba's literary revolutionaries, and those who call to account the state of Irish literature (and those who call to account the account callers).

Well, reader types, enjoy your weekend, and try to be more dramatic next week, for round up purposes!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rerun Thursday: More on Comp Titles

I'm particularly swamped this week, mes auteurs, so I'm running an oldie-but-goodie from last October. Enjoy! — E

Episode: "More on Comp Titles"
Originally aired: Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

I've posted about comp titles before—those magical, previously sold books (sometimes yours!) that are used to ballpark the future sales of new books. And yes, I've said that you don't have a huge amount of control over what title(s) your book will be comped to when it's sold in to buyers at the major accounts, which remains true.


I've treated you all to a fair amount of doom over the past few weeks, so I feel I owe you a bit of sunshine every now and again. The truth is, you can (and should!) exercise a small amount of influence over the comp titles chosen for your book, and it begins relatively early in the process. That is, with (drumroll, please): the query letter.

If you read Nathan's blog (and who am I kidding? 99.9% of you are here because you do), you may know that when writing a nonfiction book proposal, you're expected to do market research, which partly entails (you guessed it) coming up with a list of previously published books that are similar to, but not quite just like, your book. Necessary for nonfiction, and, à mon avis, a great idea for fiction as well.

Caveat (there's always a caveat): if you choose to do this, be smart about it. Do not compare yourself to Dan Brown or any other mega-bestselling author. While it may be true that your new paranormal thriller has secret societies and child wizards in it, who's going to take you seriously if you write "Lost Symbol meets Harry Potter" in your query? No one, that's who. So do a lot of research, pick a couple of books that have been published in the last few years that are similar to your own, and only devote a small portion of the query to said books (remember, you're selling you, not somebody else. Vende te ipsum*, and all that). Of course, if your book is nonfiction, you can (and should) spend more time talking about potential comp titles and the similarities/differences between them and your book, as that's supposed to be part of the package.

And another thing: please, please, please resist the temptation to say (or even think, if you can help it) that your book is 100% unique and original, and nothing like it has ever been published in the history of publishing, because this is almost assuredly untrue. Yes, your book should stand out in some way from the crowd, but it's probably similar to a lot of other books already out there, and (counter-intuitive though it may seem) you actually stand a better chance of demonstrating the unique qualities of your book by explaining how it's similar to, but ultimately different from, the existing books in the genre, rather than coming off as ignorant/arrogant/what have you by insisting you've written something totally unlike anything that's ever been published.

Now, after all that, the upshot of including a well-chosen comp or two in your query is this: if and when you get an offer of representation, said comp(s) will already be floating around in your agent's brain when (s)he starts shopping your manuscript to editors. It's likely (s)he will mention said comp(s) when doing so (you can always ask him or her to do so if you feel strongly about it, though you may want to check the BookScan numbers beforehand). Now those comps are floating around in the editors' heads, meaning that if one of said editors acquires your book, those comps are already being talked about long before the book is ever sold in. With a little luck, those might be the very books the sales team uses as comps when they sell your book to the major account buyers.

So, in trademark Bullet-O-Vision™:

• Admittedly, you don't have a lot of direct influence over those pesky comp titles, but there are some things you can do: namely, include a couple of well-chosen comps in your query and spend the appropriate amount of time discussing them (less for fiction than for non-).
• Be smart about the comps you choose—don't go crazy comping yourself to mega-bestsellers and don't go around telling everyone you've got nothing to compare yourself to because your book is that groundbreaking.
• Don't be disappointed if they don't stick, but if they do, talk with your agent (once you've got one) about mentioning them to the editors they're shopping your MS to. Consider checking the BookScan numbers (your agent may be able to do this for you) to make sure you're not inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot.
• Whether or not the comps you prefer are used, it can't hurt to have your agent ask the publisher what titles are actually being used as comps. If you're sufficiently hands-on/neurotic, feel free to read these books, check their BookScan numbers, &c to get an idea of to what and to whom you're being compared.
• At the end of the day, your writing is your writing, and you're selling yourself and your book, not the guy next to you clutching his. Write well, work hard, and take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. And good luck!

*Not bad for a guy who never took Latin, no?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: What Makes a Good Story?

Confession time.

I was a holdout on Lost for a long time. I watched the pilot and the first few episodes and wasn't hooked. Over the past few years I've seen a handful of episodes from different seasons and, though I enjoyed speculating about what that crazy smokey dragon is or whether Richard Alpert is wearing guyliner, I still didn't get the appeal and was not drawn into the byzantine and myriad plots or the strange mythos of THE ISLAND ZOMG. I kept thinking to myself, "What, Gilligan's Island meets Myst? Surely you jest, J.J.!"


I did watch the "summary" hour before this season's premier, and now I feel I've got enough information to really enjoy the show. Some people have derided me for doing this, since I apparently lack the patience and focus to watch a show that generates ten questions for every answer it provides for five. Whole. Years.

This got me thinking, then, author-acquaintances (thanks, Le R!): would you read Lost if it were a book? (Sidebar: I really enjoyed Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, which is the closest thing to Lost-as-a-book that I can think of.) In the case of Lost, however, you'd have (in my opinion) a book with an infinitely long introduction, a well-paced (though brief) climax, and a rushed and unsatisfying denouement (my prediction, based on Alias), not to mention a cast of characters that is way too large and unwieldy. Yeah, The Simpsons can pull it off, but they've been on the air for twenty years. Baby steps.

Therefore, prithee, inform me: what, in general, makes a good story (apart from—or perhaps in spite of—the oft-heard elements of "rich characters, engaging plot," &c)? What about a book makes you read it, re-read it, love it, recommend it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Apple a Day Keeps the Pirates Away

If you missed me yesterday, 1.) you read too many Internet blogs (or, at the very least, too much of this one—not that I don't appreciate it!), and 2.) it was because much of the industry (unlike most used car salesmen) had President's Day off, so I wasn't in the office.


As we all probably figured would be the case, publishers are already becoming wary of Apple's shiny new iPad and iBook store. Some are wary of Apple's hesitance to share consumer data, but most of those publishers are newspaper publishers, so their opinions don't really matter. I mean, come on, I don't even remember the last time I read a physical newspaper.

All kidding aside, though, there are some hang-ups in the real (read: book) publishing world as well. (Okay, now all kidding aside.) Apple plans to employ its tried-and-true FairPlay DRM in the iBook store in an attempt to ward off piracy. Whether this will be a permanent affair or whether it will eventually be phased out à la Apple's game plan for music remains to be seen.

What do you think, gentle readers? Should book DRM be run the same way as music DRM? Would (or do) you subscribe to e-magazines and e-newspapers? And when Apple and Amazon engage in the clash of the titans that will PROBABLY END THE WORLD, whose side will you be on?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Romantic Round Up

For all of your Valentine's Day publishing news, Laura is visiting from Combreviations to round up the week:

Happy last day of work until after Valentine's Day, reader types! Eric has already marked himself a staunch advocate of the "read and eat candy" V-Day plan, which, although not bad, does not even hold a candle to my plan: watch Tyrannosaurus Sex on the Discovery Channel and eat candy on the 15th, when it is on sale. Gen. Ius.

If you are going to celebrate in a more traditional, less dinosaur sex way, be sure to follow these rules of love according to romantic comedies and read Slate's love poetry anthology while steering clear of these favorite literary cheaters, or you will end up listening to this playlist of break-up songs and pontificating on the problem of ending novels (and probably relationships).

To see a true act of love, look no further than Kirkus being bought by the owner of the Pacers, or past the author who can't write because of her admiration for another. If you're looking for something other than romance, and you live in Philly, you should check out this literary salon for erotica (this is not-so-brotherly love, unless you happen to be a Jolie), and the new adult version of the Sweet Valley novels, which may not be so sweet. Either way, don't forget these good wines under $20 or that beer is good for your bones, as these facts will help you get through the weekend of love (or the rest of this post).

As we celebrate a holiday that may or may not have been made up by Chaucer, I think we should take a moment to appreciate the many forms books can take. Sometimes you need to hear 3 minutes of fiction, or The Great Gatsby read aloud, or even some guy reading to you while you do your yoga (before yoga devolves into snack time). Or maybe you need your Anne Rice vook, or to go to a bookstore to stop yourself from reading, or even worship your new author-god. And if you're a little tech-y, you can hack your netbook into an e-reader and feel really, really productive. Sometimes you've got to give your reading eyes a break and give your weird-but-fun-book-experiences brain a chance to shine.

I wish you all weird-but-fun weekend experiences, which I am keen to hear about (if they are not too emotionally disturbing). And remember: candy on the 15th is super cheap! Don't be a fool and buy before then!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Books > Diamonds

Okay, this one's kind of a stretch. Books may be generally less expensive, less shiny, and less physically enduring than diamonds, but since I won't have another opportunity to mention Valentine's Day before it shatters the hearts of the lonely unites the hearts of couples around the globe (or at least the country) this Sunday, I figured I'd make my case for books = gifts now.

I think buying any book your boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife / mistress / mister(?) / favorite prostitute (male or female) would enjoy is a great idea for Valentine's Day, though there are a few books that are specific to the holiday. as I've said before, buying someone a book is a great way to show them you care and know something about them without having to make something yourself or go totally broke.

So, while I humbly submit that books are The One True Gift this coming weekend, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you, dear readers, what you plan to be up to. Me? I'm going to eat my weight in Necco candy hearts and re-read Cat's Cradle.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Les Réponses

As promised, ladies and gents, my answers to your questions from yesterday:

christicorbett writes:

How much does author initiative for marketing and promotion matter to a first book deal?

As with everything, it's secondary to your writing, but authors who are willing to do more for their book absolutely have a leg up over authors who aren't. MORE TK.

Lydia Sharp writes:

Define "midlist."

According to Wikipedia:
Midlist is a term in the publishing industry which refers to books which are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication (and likely, further purchases of future books from the same author).
According to Wikiquote:
Unlikely to be more than modestly successful.
According to Bookjobs:
Midlist: Books with a strong intellectual or artistic bent which have a chance of significant success but are not assumed to be likely bestsellers.
According to me: an author with potential.

Scott writes:

Has the vampire thing about run its course?

Who knows? In my opinion: yes, unless Stephenie Meyer releases a new book in the next year or two. Zombies already seem to be the next cool thing, followed by (ostensibly) steampunk.

-30- writes:

If I were to publish my book, and in the course of my travels to visit friends and family wanted to stop in at my favorite old book shops and retailers to sign some copies, would I have to coordinate with the publisher or just give the store a call directly?

You generally want to run these sorts of things by your agent, as (s)he will be in touch with your publisher and will be aware of any media opportunities that may arise from such visits, but if you're a debut author, you'll probably be able to call the store directly (if you want to schedule a signing event). If you just want to sign some stock, you might be able to just drop in, but again, best to check with your agent.

Jodi writes:

If I were to sell my books at a signing—say at a library—do I have to charge tax, have a tax ID number, or what?

I don't recall anyone charging tax at any of the smaller signings I've attended (and I've attended several), but you'd want to check with your state government regarding applicable tax law. Some states will require that you have a state tax license (and this may change depending on how much revenue you're generating), and others won't.

Eric (not me!) writes:

When I sent out my nonfiction book proposal, I had two publishers interested. As one consideration in selecting the publisher, I went to Barnes and Noble to see how many books from these publishers were on the shelves. Turns out quite a lot for one of them. I went with that publisher, considered a leading religious publishing house.

Now that the book is published (this past November) I don't see any books from this publisher in my local Barnes & Noble. Including mine. Has there been some sort of re-organization or winnowing of publishers by Barnes & Noble bricks-and-mortar over the past couple of years?

No, not to my knowledge. It's possible something specifically occurred between Barnes & Noble and your publisher, but without knowing who they are, I really couldn't say. Feel free to e-mail me if you want to discuss further.

writingstudio writes:

How do you find out what books were/are considered successes within a publishing house? Years ago I asked an editor at a conference about a book that I had thought was a success and he just shook his head and said 'it didn't earn back its advance.'

And, as an adjunct to that question, is there a place to find out what books took off with the buying public versus those that disappointed when both were on the bestseller lists?

Without talking to someone in-house, it's pretty difficult to tell. You would have to know the author's advance, royalty structure, the number of units sold (and at what discount), and a host of other details that you would probably only find in the P&L or in-house POS data to know whether a book, regardless of how many copies it sold, was profitable.

As for a place where one might find out which bestsellers outperformed others, your best bet is our old friend BookScan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Q&A Tuesday

Do you have a lingering question about the industry that I've thus far neglected to answer? A definition of a term (this industry is rich with fancy jargon, if not actual money)? An explanation of a process? A query about... queries?

I won't really be of much help to you on that last one, but if you've got questions... well, that's understandable. Ask in the comments before the stroke of midnight tonight, and I'll answer in tomorrow's post!

Monday, February 8, 2010

And Then There Were Three

(Image courtesy of Gizmodo)

In the continued battle over the price of e-books, Hachette has joined Macmillan and HarperCollins in adopting Apple's agency model over the existing wholesale model. (You can read their letter to agents here.) That leaves Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Random House (not pictured) as the odd men (and women!) out.

First, I've received a few e-mails from you asking what, exactly, the agency model is. In short, it's a sales model predicated on the theory that the publisher is selling directly to consumers, and that any agent (oftentimes a retailer like Amazon) conducting a sale on the publisher's behalf is entitled to a commission on that sale (under Apple's model, roughly 30%).

The wholesale model, on the other hand, is based on the theory that the retailer is the only one selling directly to customers, so publishers are essentially out of the picture once they sell their goods to said retailer (usually at a 50% or so discount). This means that the retailer can then turn around and sell their books at pretty much whatever price they want (in Amazon's case, $9.99). Amazon lost money under this model because they were buying new e-books from publishers at roughly half the retail price ($15 or so). This was fine with Amazon, since they were selling books as loss-leaders for their Kindle devices and building significant mind and market share while doing it.

While there are some, like TechCrunch blogger Paul Carr, who believe the agency model is an anti-competitive throwback to the UK's Net Book Agreement of 1900, most believe that with publishers earning more money per sale and shelling out less in terms of overhead (printing, binding, shipping, &c), the agency model could translate into significantly higher profits for houses and, in turn, higher royalties for authors (no guarantees as yet, though).

What do you think, mes auteurs? Is the agency model the way of the future?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Superbowl Pre-Game Round-Up

To my consternation, Ms. Ombreviations has snagged the 150th PMN post from me. Alack! From Combreviations, we have Laura to round up the week:

Hello hello, reader types, and welcome to Friday round-up. Things I should talk about include Macmillan and Amazon, but I'm really kind of bored of the discussion, and have said what I have to say about it (as has Eric, as have you), so I think we can safely skip.

While we've discussed Salinger some, I think we can do it some more, as interesting things are still coming out. I already highlighted the pitfalls of responding to Salinger's fan mail, but there was a reason the man was so popular. While young narrators often sound phony, a lot of teens still find something to love in Salinger's work. I bet if we re-did this list of books most read by college students a month from now, it would include some Salinger works. So let us all sing these Salinger songs, and hope that the books he may have written don't get shredded.

You know what we might have to shred? The Bible. Because apparently, the Bible is way raunchier than we were led to believe. The book about John Edwards, however, is just as raunchy as we were led to believe. And, speaking of politicians doing questionable things, Sarah Palin apparently spent $63k of donations on her own book. But don't worry, she's not a politician anymore, so it's not illegal. Maybe we should keep her off this list of writing ladies and their processes, some of whom were hypochondriac writers. It's too bad they didn't have distraction-free, ambient noise writing before now.

While we're on politics, I should mention this article about Terry Pratchett's stance on euthanasia, and this new book about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. There's also the coal company co-opting the Lorax, and this list of great literary stepmothers—they're not all bad, you know. Don't be a hater.

See you all next week, and don't eat too much Superbowl junk food (unless you are inviting me over, of course).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Good Idea/Bad Idea

If you ever watched the '90s cartoon show Animaniacs, you probably saw a segment in the program called "Good Idea/Bad Idea." If you've never seen Animaniacs, here's a two-minute compilation of some of the Good Idea/Bad Idea sketches (courtesy of Youtube). Hilarious!

Now then: in the publishing world, there are very often scenarios in which what would otherwise be a great idea is actually a terrible idea due to one or two crucial detail(s). As part of your (and, frankly, my) continued education in this industry, I present to you the following examples:

Good Idea: Venting to your friend, spouse, significant other, &c about a negative review of your book.
Bad Idea: Venting to Twitter, Facebook, the Internet at large, &c about a negative review of your book.

Good Idea: Following an agent's guidelines when submitting your novel.
Bad Idea: Following an agent to his or her office/car/home to submit your novel.

Good Idea: Reading industry blogs to improve your writing and querying.
Bad Idea: Reading industry blogs instead of writing or querying.

Good Idea: Selling yourself in order to promote your novel.
Bad Idea: Literally selling yourself in order to promote your novel.

Good Idea: Setting aside a specified block of time to write each day.
Bad Idea: Setting aside your family, friends, and day job to write each day. (May lead to the above scenario.)

Feel free to create your own good idea/bad idea in the comments!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If They Use These Names, I Want Royalties

A quick run-down of the numbers as they currently stand, ladies and gents: about 70% of you think that Macmillan won the first round of what will soon come to be known as the First Battle of E-Book Run; 20% of you think neither Macmillan nor Amazon won; and the remaining 10% of you voted for either Amazon (around 7%) or "Other."


As was mentioned in yesterday's comments, however (thanks, Bron!), there is one major player whose motives and strategy we have yet to discuss: Apple.

The computer company is pushing for an agency model that will 1.) help them undermine the tremendous market share that Amazon currently holds in the e-book universe and 2.) allow them to participate in the market while actually turning a profit. While some have questioned the wisdom of the iPad device (and in many instances, rightly so), I think there's a market that is being seriously overlooked by various critics. One that involves young eyes that have grown up on and are unafraid of backlit screens. One that involves diagrams and photographs that come to life in brilliant color. One that involves one of the biggest rackets in the industry.

Textbooks. (Or, as I like to call them, Nextbooks™. See title of post.)

Yesterday, Apple Insider reported that publishers have tapped ScrollMotion to help develop textbook applications for the iPad. Personally, I think this genius. If Apple moves to develop applications for textbooks quickly and manages to shut other e-readers (black-and-white dedicated devices like the Kindle, Sony's e-reader, the soon-to-come Skiff and Que) out of the market, they're golden. Maybe they'll even make a model aimed at the educational market (the ePad™*?) equipped with only the basics and priced even more affordably than the current models. Apple makes bank, textbook publishers make bank, and school districts save a lot of money in the long run.

What do you think, gentle authors? Does Apple secretly (or not-so-secretly) have its sights set on the e-textbook market? Will it, like the music industry and the shiny-things-I-can't-afford industry, soon be in their spotless white pocket?

*Again, see title of post.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Amazon vs. Macmillan

Based on the comments on yesterday's post, it seems we are not in agreement over who "won" the Battle of E-Book Pricing Hill—Amazon or Macmillan. Generally I determine winners and losers by divine fiat, but in this case, I think I'll conduct (you guessed it): a poll.

Have at it!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Round One: Macmillan

If you haven't already heard, a small war broke out in the publishing biz over the weekend. It went something like this: Macmillan had a round of talks with Amazon about increasing the price of their e-books from $9.99 each to somewhere between $12.99 and $14.99 each. When Amazon said they wouldn't do it and it was clear Macmillan wasn't backing down, Amazon responded by pulling all Macmillan titles from its e-shelves on Friday. Macmillan cried foul and, late yesterday, Amazon caved. Macmillan titles sold through Amazon will, starting next month, be priced between $12.99 and $14.99.

[EDIT: Apparently only hardcovers and new releases will be in the $12.99 to $14.99 range; Macmillan titles may appear on Amazon for as little as $5.99, as reported by Macmillan CEO John Sargent.]

What do we make of all this?

It's important to understand that Macmillan's move is based on the long-term goal of keeping e-book prices in the same ballpark as print book prices (as well as their recent deal with Apple), whereas Amazon's goal is to deflate the price of e-books to 1.) sell more Kindles and 2.) gain enough electronic market share to be able to dictate to the publishing industry what books will cost. As we've just seen, Amazon doesn't (yet) have that kind of clout, but that doesn't mean that day will never come.

To quote the Times article: "Book publishers, meanwhile, are volunteering to limit their digital profits. In the model that Amazon prefers, publishers typically collect $12.50 to $17.50 for new e-books. Under the new agency model, publishers will typically make $9 to $10.50 on new digital editions." Publishers are willing to take a short-term loss in order to maintain the status quo; their fear is that if consumers become accustomed to a $9.99 price point for new books, they'll eventually believe that's simply what a book costs, which just isn't true for their print counterparts (hardcovers). Whether this will be the case remains to be seen.

Some are concerned that Macmillan will start seeing a drop in sales if their e-books are priced in the $12.99 - $14.99 range while the rest of Amazon's e-books are sold for $9.99. Although Macmillan may see some shortfall due to lower rate-of-movement and lower profits per book (see above), I don't really think they're going to be hurt by their pricing model in the marketplace. This is chiefly because, unlike vegetable oil or aluminum foil or ball bearings, books are not fungible—that is, one book is not more or less identical to any other and therefore readily exchanged for another. Sure, individual copies of the same title are fungible—you would trade one brand-new hardcover copy of The Help for another brand-new hardcover copy of the The Help—but books in general are not (you wouldn't buy The Help for $9.99 on Amazon simply because it's cheaper than The Gathering Storm at $12.99).

Buying books is not like buying tupperware; consumers do not automatically go for the cheapest product that will get the job done. For this reason, I disagree with anyone that believes Macmillan's breaking Amazon's $9.99 standard will hurt them or the sales of their books; after all, they've competed just fine in brick-and-mortar stores where prices vary significantly from title to title already.

Finally, it's important to realize that neither publishing companies nor Amazon are charities. While both are looking to provide consumers with goods they will purchase (thereby earning profits for the companies involved), none of them believes that they "owe" customers low prices or that they should lose money to keep everyone satisfied. Most importantly, Amazon's imposition of a uniform price should not be misconstrued as the result of market pressure. Regardless of whether the market could tolerate, or even favor, a higher price point—and we'll soon see whether it will—Amazon has made its position clear. We'll see whether their predictions bear out.