Friday, April 30, 2010

Round Up Day, Part a Lot

Welcome to Friday, and the round up, by Laura from Combreviations:

I am over this week, reader types. It has been very long, and just won’t die. It is an old hat week. Now, some old things that I do approve of include: Nancy Drew (happy 80th anniversary, buddy!), the massive number of Phillip K. Dick books being reissued, and this original, handwritten sheet of Beatles lyrics that is now for sale. You will note that this week is not on that list.

We’ve all heard by now that Laura Bush’s memoir leaked, and mysteries abound. Was she poisoned at some point? Does she like Sarah Palin? Are there tweets about it? So many questions that I don’t care about! I do care about the NY Times reporter who was subpoenaed about his sources for a book on the CIA. Also, did you know that Amazon tracks what you highlight on your Kindle? They must, because they just released the most highlighted passage. Goodbye, privacy, hello, using Apple products to pick up dates (even if Cory Doctorow would rather eat an iPad than deal with its DRM). And is the Nook really outshipping the Kindle? What a world.

In the interest of keeping myself upbeat for the remainder of this week (that won’t end!), the rest of this round up will be about things I heart. I heart these confessions of a poet laureate. I heart this list of books people read to look sophisticated. I super heart these literary characters and tabloid counterparts, and this take down of picture books that lead children astray. Also, China Mieville won a third Arthur C. Clarke award (which is for being handsome, right? Guys?), and, since I like him, I am for it.

I also kind of love this FBI warning to booksellers about a mobster who loves books. That is exactly where the FBI would find me. Maybe that mobster had absentee parents, and was raised by Radio Shack instead, which soured him on following rules for life. He should probably just stick to Twitter for book addicts or sidewalk book sellers if he doesn't want to get caught, and maybe do his food shopping at the library.

Other things I'm feeling right now include this book of Hubble photos and this book of vending machines. I've never read anything by Rita Mae Brown but, after this profile, I just may have to start. And hey, someone wrote about the concept of combreviations! But, er, called them "frankenwords." Whatever, close enough.

Well, gentlefolks, it's been real, and I am slightly more optimistic about the world. Mostly because it is Friday. See you next week, or all the time at Combreviations!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It Bears Repeating

Every once in awhile, gentle readers (read: probably once every couple of weeks), I have a conversation with a friend or acquaintance who is not familiar with the publishing industry and holds a number of misconceptions of which I must grimly disabuse them. (It's not as much fun as it sounds.) Some of said misconceptions are pretty widespread, however, so I think they warrant a post, even though I'm fairly certain the vast majority of you are more on the ball than... uh... [insert Nathan Bransford-style Sacramento Kings reference].


· Anyone can write a book. False! If that were true, there would be a lot more books out there (and the number of books out there is still mind-boggling). It's not just a question of talent, either: as I've said before, patience and discipline are crucial to the process. So is luck, but since you can't work on that, work on your writing—everything from mechanics to your work schedule (and you need a schedule).

· It's all about who you are/what the hot trend is/&c, i.e., writing doesn't count. False again! It's all about the writing, cats & kittens. Sure, if you happen to be writing about The Cool Thing of the Month, that may help you out. And if you're already a celebrity, that'll grease the proverbial wheels, as well. And, well, yes, there are some really well-written novels that get passed on every year because they're simply not salable (too long, insufficiently large target audience, &c). But fundamentals are fundamentals: without strong writing, you're almost certainly not getting a contract.

· You have to be a tortured single twenty-something to write a book. Not true! You can be a tortured fifty-something lawyer with nineteen kids, or a tortured single mom working at a truck stop in Ohio. (I kid about the tortured bit, but you get the point.) This ties into the point about writing schedules (above), but it's simply not true that you can't make time to write unless you have no spouse or dependents or twelve-hour-a-day job clamoring for your attention. Making time to write is part of being a writer. Period.

· You need an MFA to write, or at least, to write literary fiction. This myth seems to be cropping up more and more lately—probably as a result of the recession driving record-high application numbers at MFA programs across the country—but it simply isn't true. Yes, there are people who benefit enormously from graduate-level work in creative writing, and a lot of the Future Hot Shot Writers of America will likely have MFAs from Iowa, Columbia, Michigan, Virginia, &c. And that is great! I'm not saying it's not. What I am saying is: thankfully, you don't need any kind of professional licensure to write. If an MFA makes sense for you, go for it (though I recommend you go for a fully funded one, since it's nonsense to pay through the nose for an art degree that will never earn out that investment). If not, don't worry about it. Keep writing.

· If you can't sell your first or second novel, you're probably not a very good writer. False again! This may sound like something I've said before, but nay—what I said was, "if you can't sell your book and have tried literally everything, and you've been ultra-professional about it and haven't even gotten a request for a partial based on your carefully crafted query, your novel is probably not very good. Write another." Not that you aren't good, fair readers, just the novel. And yes, as I noted above, sometimes it's a great-yet-unsalable novel, but this is relatively rare. You may get lucky and publish the first novel you ever write, but more likely it will be the second, or fifth, or tenth. Write, revise, polish, query, repeat as desired.

· Just because you can write a great novel doesn't mean you can write a good query letter. Of these, this is the one that's likely to get most of you up in arms, novelistos and -istas. However, I strongly believe that if you can write a really kick-ass book, you can write a good query letter to advocate for it. Granted, I don't think anyone naturally knows how to write a query letter—it's a kind of discourse that has to be learned—but if you're a good writer who has time to do the appropriate research and put in the necessary time, there's no reason it can't be good. (Caveat: I am a big supporter of the "submit the first few pages with the query" method to ensure that the minority of great writers who can't query worth a damn don't get immediately passed over.)

· Writing can't be taught or learned; it's an innate talent. I won't deny there's talent involved, but if writing can't be taught or learned, I'm not sure what's going on in all those seminars/workshops/MFA programs/creative writing classes being held and taught all over the country. Your writing can and will improve with time and practice, so long as you're reading good writing and are open to learning from other writers (both published and aspiring). Set time aside to read, to write, and to learn from mentors and peers. I can't guarantee it'll ever get you a book deal, but it will make you grow and improve, and that—BIG REVEAL, dear readers—is the second half of the battle.

The first half, of course, is knowing (see tag).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Terms to Know: Non-Compete Clause

Continuing my recent trend of contract-related content, today's post focuses on another aspect of the standard book publishing contract: the non-compete clause.

Those of you who have read Agent Kristin's blog may already be familiar with this clause (she's written about it here and, more recently, here). For those of you who haven't, it's like this: book publishers want to protect their interests in their authors, and the non-compete clause is an effective way of ensuring this.

Under the NCC, an author generally can't reproduce any material from the book named in the contract, since doing so would damage the publisher's sales or infringe on their newly acquired rights. Example: if Fancy Pants Publishing acquires your book, 99 Ways to Defeat A Ninja, and you try to have High Fullutent Press publish an excerpt, or a graphic novel version, or some such other work that incorporates material from the first book or competes with FPP's sales, you're in violation of their NCC.

Kristin's second post (above) raises an even more interesting issue, one I inadvertently touched on in Monday's post: namely, that if your agent has withheld e-rights (or graphic novel rights, or any other subsidiary right), the language of the newer NCCs may prevent you from exercising those rights with other companies. If Fancy Pants Publishing has your hardcover and trade paperback, they're not going to want to see you reduce their sales by publishing the graphic novel and e-book with High Fullutent Press.

Now, in the case of Styron, the contract language was too old to include e-book rights, so I imagine the NCC in that contract/those contracts isn't broad enough to include e-books, either. But if your agent specifically withheld e-rights after 1995 or so, the NCC language may be new enough to allow publishers to invoke it to prevent you from publishing your e-books elsewhere. Food for thought, at any rate, and I again invite any agents in the house to weigh in on this... well, weighty issue.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Terms to Know: Right of First Refusal

Come with me, dear readers, on a magical journey to... THE FUTURE.

In the year 20X6, you're signing the contract to publish your first book (hooray!) when you come upon a clause with the following (or similar) wording: "Fancy Pants Publishing House retains the right of first refusal on the author's subsequent book." (In retrospect, it's unlikely you'll see those exact words, unless my dream of founding Fancy Pants Publishing [FPP] takes off before 20X6.)

Back to the contract, though: when a publishing house requests right of first refusal, they're contractually obligating you to show them your second book before you show it to any other publishers. If they want your second book, they get it; if they don't, you can sell it to someone else, but they must see it and decline the offer first. Increasingly, clauses like these are finding their ways into many a first-time author's book contract.

Personally, I'm no fan of the ROFR because I generally dislike any contractual obligation that limits an author's future works or actions, and Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media agrees. In fact, he advocates that if you come across such a clause in your contract, you actually strike it out. This is for a number of reasons: what if your first book doesn't do well and you want to try your second with another publisher? What if your first book does really well with the small house you first signed with, and you want to move on to a larger house that can offer a more substantial advance and more powerful marketing push? What if you simply have creative differences with the folks handling your book?

O'Reilly mentions that an author's refusing the ROFR isn't generally a dealbreaker for the publisher, though I'm no literary agent and can't really comment on whether or not that's the case. (If there are any agents in the house, I'd love to hear your comments!) This, by the way, is one of the many reasons you want a literary agent on your side if you're dealing with a publishing house: contracts are tricky beasts, and if you don't have a pro on your side, you may find yourself without recourse when your publisher asks that you fulfill a half-dozen legal obligations you didn't even know you had. An ounce of prevention, a pound of cure, &c &c.

You tell me, though, mes auteurs: what do you think of the ROFR?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bicentenne-mail!... I Mean, Post

That's right, mes auteurs, today marks PMN's 200th post. And, much like Strong Bad, I feel the need to celebrate this arbitrary milestone unnecessarily. All of you, quick! Look under your chairs! That's right, you're all going home with four dust bunnies, a half-dozen stale Cheerios, and a water-stained, dog-eared copy of John Gardner's The Art of Fiction! O joy! O rapture! serious bicentennial-type business, it seems that The Big House is relinquishing e-rights to the works of William Styron. While Random House indicated last year that contract clauses like "in book form" implicitly give publishing houses e-rights to any book they publish (e-book rights weren't specifically delineated in contracts until about fifteen years ago), they seem to be reversing their decision with regard to Styron's estate. Speaking for the company, Stuart Applebaum says that the decision is "an exception" and their "understanding is that this is a unique family situation."

The question, of course, is whether there will be (to quote Richard Curtis) "a spate of 'me toos'" in which authors decide to legally challenge their publishers' implicit rights to their books in e-format (assuming those rights weren't negotiated specifically after 1995) and attempt to e-publish with other companies. While I'm certainly not a lawyer, it seems to me that a company as large as Random House wouldn't surrender rights like these unless they believed Styron's lawyer(s) had a strong legal argument that the e-rights to his works were the property of his estate. It's possible that there's something unique to Styron's contract(s) at work here, but it seems much more likely to me that his family's legal team is making the case that Random House didn't specifically acquire electronic rights to his work, and therefore they remain with the author (or in this case, the author's estate).

What do you think, gentle readers? Do phrases like "in book form" include media that didn't exist (and perhaps weren't even really imagined) at the time the contract was signed? If you were (or are!) in this kind of situation, how would (will) you handle it?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Round It Up Time

Rounding up the week, here's Laura from Combreviations:

Today we talk about literature, darling(s). Because all of our classiness derives from our knowledge, and oh, did you know fiction is dead (again)? Sad but true. Of course, it wasn't dead when Mark Twain was critiquing fiction, but, alas, Mark Twain died 100 years ago, and even séances won't bring him, or fiction, back. We can of course parse the fiction of yester-year, especially Kei$ha's references to the Bard. And did you hear? It is oh so gauche to assume that anyone but Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

Shakespeare is the epitome of class, reader types. You know who is not? Archie's trip to the Jersey Shore. Also embezzling from Danielle Steel, that whole unauthorized biography thing, and masturbation in literature. Even rock stars have literary influences, and the Random House house is inspired by Voltaire.

Things that aren't classy, per se, but are just awesome, include Mindy Kaling's new book deal (oh god I am so excited) and Abiola Abrams building a writer's platform. Her advice better just be, "Go on Tough Love," because I am sold on her as a result. I am also sold on Marc Jacobs' book store, Book Marc (ha!). Even if Book Marc were open today, though, you wouldn't find the first chapter of John Grisham's children's book, only available on the Internet, or Time magazine's Kindle-only book on birth control.

Well, besos to you, sirs and madams. See you next week, or later today at Combreviations!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Kindle or iPad?

Spurred by this New Yorker article detailing the ongoing battle between Amazon and Apple (read: the Kindle and the iPad, the status quo and the agency model), this week's Prithee, Inform Me focuses on the two most high-profile e-reading devices on the U.S. market.

Prithee, inform me, dear readers: do you own a Kindle or an iPad? If so, why one and not the other (or, if both, why)? If not, why not? Do you see the Kindle and the iPad as catering to different markets, or do you think they're both vying for the same readership and only one can emerge victorious?

Have at it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Magic of Author Photos

I'm feeling somewhat fanciful today, reader-types, so I invite you to tell me: what would/do you want your author photo to look like? What author photos have inspired/terrified you? What cool stories do you have regarding author photos?

I don't have much (which is why I ask), but I can offer this: I once saw an author photo of Danielle Steel that looked like it had been taken in the back of a mini-van.

True story.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Middle Way: The Indie Publisher

I was reading the newest issue of Poets & Writers, cats & kittens (yes, I do occasionally fancy myself a poet or writer, depending on the time of day and the number of rejections I have received that week), when I happened upon an article by Steve Almond in which he discusses the merits and drawbacks of traditional publishing, self-publishing, and—in a surprisingly zen moment—the "perfect compromise" (I'm calling it the Middle Way) of going with an independent publisher.

To quote Almond, you don't get the "bloated marketing departments and built-in publishing delays" of big-six publishing, and to quote me, you don't get the "one-(wo)man marketing department and stomach ulcers" of running the whole show yourself. I'll reiterate: every good writer needs an editor. It's in your best interest to have someone who has experience editing, marketing, and selling books on your side, regardless of how big (or small) the operation.

Now, to be fair—and I strongly suggest that you DNTTAH* unless you, like Almond, have a proven record of writing ability and are only "cut[ting] the cord with traditional publishing" (again, Almond's words) because of a question of salability, not ability in general—Almond does decide to pursue self-publishing in this article. However, Almond also has a huge amount of experience in this industry and is making a well-informed decision that 90% of authors (not necessarily you, gentle readers) are not well prepared to make due to lack of experience, research, &c. This is why I'm raising the possibility of the independent publisher as an alternative between The Publishing Machine™ and the (oft perilous) road of self-publishing.

Independent publishers are generally more open to experimental fiction, literary fiction, and poetry than most big-time publishers, so if it's simply a question of readership as opposed to quality of the MS, an indie may be right for you. You'll almost certainly still get a dedicated editor, a marketing department, an art department, and even a sales rep, and many indies sell books to retailers like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon via distributors like Baker & Taylor. You'll have a lot more control over the finished product than you would at a larger house, but neither will you have to go it alone with regard to the business side of things. Many smaller houses offer higher royalty rates in exchange for lower advances, so if your goal is to someday land a publishing deal with a larger company, it may look better if you take the indie route and earn out your advance rather than struggle to earn back a larger advance from a larger house or struggle to demonstrate profitable sales figures via self-publication.

You tell me, though, fair readers: would you consider an independent publisher a good compromise between the big houses and self-publishing? Would you prefer a more close-knit group of industry professionals backing your book to a larger one, or to the oft-solo adventure of selling your book yourself?

* "Do Not Try This At Home"

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Democratization of Publishing

I know we've been discussing the coming e-pocalypse (or possible e-velation) over the past several months, fair readers, and so I present to you the following poll:

Edit: Also, please forgive the typo in the above poll. This is what happens when you stay up late to blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Round Up, Oh Such Fun

Visiting from Combreviations we have Laura to round up the week:

Ladies and gents, a lot of things happened this week that were important (check Nathan Bransford's round up for those). And a lot of other entertaining things happened, which is what I care about. Orbit is launching a short fiction imprint for sci-fi, a book on the history of Wonder Woman is out, and a lady in her 90s won $100k for poetry (so don't worry about personal writing success, reader types, unless you are at least a century old). Memoirs are big now, with Portia de Rossi (bulimia and then Ellen!) and Sarah Silverman (bedwetting!) writing. I know they didn't learn to write from writing manuals, but maybe Sarah learned from these 10 seafaring novels.

You can also get help from Agatha Christie, or follow Isabelle Allende's Sunday, or even read up on the path Tinkers took to the Pulitzer. Of course, it's not all sunshine and unicorns in publishing (or in life), which is why Elizabeth, Jessie Spano is writing a book on self esteem. And we can overlook her onetime addiction to caffeine pills because hey, all good writers have addictions (conveniently listed here). Sadly, writers have vices because writing is a lonely endeavor. Writing also makes you suffer from diseases like serial novelization, and forces us all to live in a world where Twilight vampires top the list of richest (fictional) people. And, after all that, art might not actually make you a better person and everyone will be a jerk to you because of your divorce memoir.

Now, before we get all angry, and start telling Cormac McCarthy he doesn't know the Southwest from a Taco Bell, we should all take deep breaths and decide: who would you rather do? Celebrities versus fictional characters edition! Or, alternately, if you are of a sweeter, less sex driven disposition, look at this edition of The Jungle Book Kipling inscribed for his little girl, and this original Alice manuscript. As Shirley would say, that's nice.

So hey, maybe Twitter isn't that novel a concept, and the Internet is toxic to your writing and fiction writ large, and maybe Yoko Ono's rare book collection is better than yours and JK Rowling on a political rant is a better writer than most of those agonizing over their work, and yes, almost all women on crime novels are cliches. But chin up, sirs and madams—you never know what good things you'll find in your next book, and it is officially weekend time.

Until next week! (Or until Monday at Combreviations, whichever comes first!)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Exceptions, Rules, Et Cetera

Happy Tax Day, mes auteurs! I hope you've settled your debt with (or gotten your refund from) Uncle Sam by now, but if not... well, if not, what are you doing here? You should probably be filing your taxes or something.

Now, regardless of whether I'm talking about self-publishing, the chasing of trends, or the industry in general, there are always going to be exceptions to the "rules" I discuss. (I do my very best to distinguish between "rules" set by industry convention and "rules" I suggest to try to help you out.) Yes, there are self-publishing success stories like Oscar Wilde and William Young (the dude who wrote The Shack). Yes, there are people who write runaway bestsellers by trend-chasing or writing silly mash-ups or publishing a bunch of pictures of cats in stupid outfits. These things, regrettably or not, do happen.

However, they are the (often exceedingly rare) exception(s) that prove the rule(s).

There's an interesting phenomenon I learned about many a year ago while working in a psychology lab at Ye Olde College, and that's confirmation bias. In keeping with psychology/psychiatry's practice of giving fancy names to things everyone already knows, confirmation bias simply refers to the (often unconscious) act of selecting information that confirms theories you already hold. If you are writing a teen vampire romance and believe that it is ultra awesome, you will probably gather information to support that theory, even if the preponderance of data indicates otherwise; this applies to everything from ideas about self-publishing to political and religious beliefs. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else.

The number of successful authors is, relative to the general population (or even the population of living writers), vanishingly small. The number of successful self-published authors, regardless of how august or prosperous those authors are, is far, far smaller. Just because William Young or Christopher Paolini went on to great success (via traditional methods, by the way) after self-publishing only proves that it is possible, not that it is likely (in the same sense that a lottery ticket earns you the possibility of winning, not the likelihood). This applies to anything in your life that you want to do but for which the shots are long: publish a bestselling teen vampire romance, win a gold medal in the summer Olympics, become CEO of a major company. The odds are longer for some of these than others, and certainly factors beyond luck are involved, but you have to understand that just because someone tremendously talented, hardworking, and/or lucky managed to do it does not mean there is even a decent chance you can do it, too. It just means there's a chance.

Now, I don't mean to discourage you. And to be straight with you, the odds are long in this business whether you write about vampires or alcoholic fathers, whether you self-publish or embrace the traditional agent-querying model. All I can do is try to give you a feel for how those odds change depending on the choices you make, and to encourage you to write the best book you possibly can. You may have to write more than one novel before you're published. You may have to write more than twenty. Whatever you do, stay committed. It's a long road to publication, and there are no shortcuts. There are some paths that are less thorny, though, and with any luck, I'll be at least of some help to you in finding them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shelf Wars Indeed

A busy day today, my friends, so I'm going to redirect you to a great post by Alan Rinzler on bookstore visibility and this primer on co-op by the inimitable Mr. Bransford.

I've oft waxed co-opetic here on PMN, and I think these posts provide more of the booksellers' (or at least, non-publishers') side of the process. Can a bookseller create a bestseller? Who determines in-store placement? What are the prime (and not-so-prime) locations?

Read and find out!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Don't Try This at Home

Inspired by Le R's recent post (see "working-class men, alcoholic" and "working-class men, familial and interpersonal problems of") and the fact that her acerbic, high fullutent wit will be missed this week, I've decided to compile a small (highly subjective) list of themes, topics, and trends I think you'd do well to avoid.

          thinly veiled

          supernaturally inclined
          titles including the word
          troubled relationships with

How-to Guides,


          alternate histories of
          romantic relationships with

Self Help,
          any variety of*

          see Daughters

          ridiculous pompadours of
          super hot

          see Daughters

Working-class men,
          familial and interpersonal problems of
          mid-life crises of
          road trips of

*Ignore if you are a D-list celebrity or have survived some unspeakably terrible life event.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Piece of the Proverbial Pie

One of the interesting aspects of working in publishing sales is that, unlike sales professionals in almost every other industry, we don't work on commission. Whether we sell ten thousand or a hundred thousand or five million copies of a book to an account, we make the same salary at the end of the pay period (although arguably if you were to consistently sell five million copies of your titles to your account, you might qualify for a pay raise or a bonus or something, because holy hell, that is crazy).

I was intrigued, then, when I read this Galley Cat article in which Ann Patty (formerly of Poseidon, Crown, and Harcourt fame) argues that book editors, as well as agents and authors, should get a cut of a book's overall sales (she suggests 1 to 3%, with the caveat that they not kick in until after the advance is earned out).

One of the many advantages to the commission model is that it rewards higher achievement and harder work while simultaneously solving the principle-agent problem—that is, getting employees to do what's in the company's best interest (i.e., sell more books) by aligning them with employee's best interests (i.e., make more money). Arguably, agents work hard for the books they acquire not only because they love their work, but because the better the deals they can make for their authors, the higher their remuneration. Likewise, editors and sales people at publishing houses would likely work harder and go the extra mile more often if their paychecks were directly tied to the books they were selling.

What do you think, mes auteurs? Would you want your editor to work on commission for you and your book?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friends, Readers, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Eyes

Welcome to Friday, friends and country(wo)men, and to Laura's visit from Combreviations to round up the week:

Life is a tricky thing, reader types. No matter where we are now, we have to look back and think on the adults who helped to get us here. That is, of course, unless you live in a YA novel, in which case your parents are absent or evil. Yes, folks, bad parents are taking over your books. But it gets worse! Adults are no longer the voice of reason in real life, as they become obsessed with Twilight characters and let proper nouns into Scrabble (but only in the UK, thank goodness). They have forgotten their preppy roots, and need another Preppy Handbook, and I totally bombed this quiz of literary first lines (although I did pretty well with the Judy Blue quiz), which has nothing to do with adults, but adds to my general crankiness. Plus, some adults have trouble with technology, when even a two year old is an intuitive iPad user.

With all this distressing information, I think we should play a little game called "Faith in Humanity: Restored or Destroyed?" I'll list some things that happened this week, and you let me know where your faith in humanity stands.* We all read the NBrans' take on the NYTimes Ethicist's support of pirated e-books (or should have! Click click if you have not). Turns out, John Scalzi doesn't mind you pirating his books, which I'm sure his publishers loved to hear. So that kind of blows, but George Carlin's widow is going to release his letters, and Keith Richards is a secret librarian, which is adorable, and...very rock and roll? J.K. Rowling might be coming out with a new book (hurray!), but the iPad won't save publishing (boo). And angels are the new vampire, so that's...I actually don't know how to feel about that. Perhaps a bit queasy.

You can visit Jules Verne's world, but you have to do it in Second Life, and you can read some great memories of rock stars, but only as characterized by their "ladies." Writers quit the internet, an iPad boxes a Kindle, and a publisher is jailed (you keep up that Emergency Rule, Mubarak--almost three decades and counting!). And why are all these Nicholas Sparks posters the same? I'm so confused. St. Augustine, show me the annotated way!

So, what think ye, reader types? Faith in humanity restored or destroyed? I remain decidedly on the fence. Let me know what to believe!

*The right answer is, "Who cares, it's the weekend!" Right-o, sirs—lift a glass to leaving work at lunch and reading a book in the park.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Don't Go Down That Road

For those of you who haven't seen Pet Sematary or the South Park episode that references it, I am comparing self-publishing to reanimating the dead: sure, it sounds cool (especially if you've run out of other options), but 99.9% of the time it's not a good idea. (Whether or not self-publishing will get you murdered by zombies remains to be seen.)

In Monday's comments, akashina asked what I thought of an author's opening his or her own press to publish his/her books, and how this might compare to self-publishing via large companies like Lulu. While I do think that going with a company like Lulu is the lesser of two evils, there are a number of caveats attached.

First, I strongly suggest that you not self-publish unless your book is not intended as a commercial endeavor (i.e., you don't expect anyone beyond your friends and family to read it), you're catering to an extraordinarily small niche audience (e.g. people who want to learn how to make vegan, gluten-free cupcakes using only ingredients available in North Korea), or you intend to simply disseminate it for free on the Internet (in which case, why not just save your money and make a .pdf e-book out of it?). While it's true that the traditional publishing model screens out a fair amount of good, salable material, it also screens out the most abominable garbage you've never seen. The quality of self-published material is, on average, unequivocally far inferior to the quality of traditionally published material. Almost without exception, every writer benefits from a good editor.

Second, I can't stress this enough: you should not self-publish out of frustration or the belief that your book is "too good" or "too smart" for the average agent or reader. Most people are not as good writers as they think they are. I'll reiterate: if you've done literally everything humanly possible to publish your novel in the traditional sense and haven't even gotten a nibble (no requests for the full MS, no personalized rejections, nothing), it's probably not very good. Keep working, keep learning, and write a better novel.

Third, if you are dead-set on self-publishing, I recommend you do your research and go with a company like Lulu that specializes in this sort of thing. While self-publishing via an outside party can signal to industry professionals that you're (potentially) impatient or overly confident of your abilities, it at least earns you the opportunity to have your work showcased in a somewhat professional manner (and we do hear the very occasional story of a self-published novel being picked up by an agent). Opening your own press to publish your work (and no one else's), on the other hand, will not only be perceived as the height of hubris and ignorance of how this business actually works, but will probably cost you far more money than a basic Lulu-type package (assuming you actually shell out the money to do it right). A $9.99 domain name and a bunch of .pdfs of your novels available for paid download does not a professional press make.

In short: if you don't have a very good reason for self-publishing, don't do it (at least not in print; the e-book revolution may change things in the next five or so years). If you feel you must self-publish, do it right. Printing your own material without anyone else's help—no editors, no publicists, no marketing directors, no advertising budget, no nothing, nada, zero, zilch—is not only likely a tremendous waste of your time, but your hard-earned cash, as well.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


As you can see, I've yet to grow tired of title gags. In the case of the former, a (tongue-in-cheek) reference to the UK's Tree Preservation Orders; in the case of the latter, a trade paperback original. Trade paper original! No hardcover! Trees saved!


Holloway McCandless asked me in Monday's comments why literary fiction seems stuck on the hardcover-then-paperback model of publishing (which has dominated the trade book scene for the last century) when it seems that issuing these books as trade paper originals might make more sense. The answer: it seems we're moving in the TPO direction, Holloway, but as with everything in this industry, it's going to take a little time.

Ever since books have been—well, books, I guess, rather than scrolls—they have been hard-bound. Hardback books are significantly more durable than their paperback counterparts, meaning they are more often retained in public and private libraries. (This sort of dates back to those magical "book as sacred object" days of yore.) Because the market will support (or, rather, has historically supported) a higher price for these superior quality books, publishers produce (or, rather, have produced) them because they will earn them more money. Fancy McPublisher sells Fancy McBook ($35.00 RP) to House o' Books at a 50% discount ($17.50), House o' Books sells it to you at a 30% discount (off the original $35.00, or $24.50). House o' Books makes $7.00 and Fancy McPublisher makes a profit that varies depending on the print run of the book.

Let's now assume the book in question is a trade paperback original. Because the RP of the book will be lower (almost certainly between $12.00 and $20.00), Fancy McPublisher will make less money per book. While it's true that the costs incurred for a hardcover book are slightly higher than those of a paperback (e.g. printing/paper/binding, shipping, co-op) a lot of the costs are format agnostic (e.g. employee salaries, art, permissions) and so the publisher won't be paying that much less to print trade paperbacks vs. hardcovers. Since costs aren't a lot lower for paperbacks and profits are down, publishers reason (correctly) that they should sell a bunch of hardcovers, earn a higher profit margin on them, and then get a second wave of (smaller) profits a year later when the trade paperback comes out.

They reasoned correctly, that is, until the one-two combination of a recession and a major shift to e-books hit. With consumers now less willing to purchase hardcovers, I believe publishers are now realizing that they can actually increase profits by reducing per-book margin and moving a larger number of units—that is, hypothetically sell 20,000 trade paperback copies at a $0.75/book profit ($15,000) rather than 7,000 hardcovers at $2.00/book profit ($14,000). While steep discounting on hardcovers by retailers like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble has kept publishers from moving more aggressively toward a TPO-oriented publishing model, the number of incentives are, I think, mounting.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

I'll be responding to your questions over the next several posts, mes auteurs, but I thought I'd start off with the topic of book covers and—in a rare two-for-one!—how covers are/may be affected by The Rise of the E-Book™.

As I've mentioned before, the process of designing a book jacket is largely beyond the author's control (especially if you're a debut or mid-list author) and you'll have relatively little input. It's unlikely that a cover you absolutely loathe will be selected, but it does happen and you'll need to keep the lines of communication with your agent (and, by extension, your editor) open so that any problems you might have can be identified and dealt with as soon as possible.

There are a few systemic problems in the art of cover design that invariably rear their ugly heads (for instance, the fact that they are occasionally super racist), and in the event you encounter one of these issues, I strongly suggest you talk to your agent and editor immediately. A bad cover may hurt your sales but probably won't seriously damage your career; a brouhaha over a racist or offensive cover could be a total disaster. (There is such a thing as bad publicity.)

On the e-book front, it turns out the cover question is a little more complicated than you might think. I generally find Motoko Rich's e-book articles douchey and annoying, and while this one is no exception, it does elucidate some of the issues endemic to e-publishing (namely, when you're reading your Kindle or Nook in a public place, no one can see what you're reading/how high fullutent you are). This doesn't spell the end of the flashy book cover, however: as the article itself notes, these covers 1.) are still used on the print versions of the books, 2.) are effective at catching the eye of both e- and p-book browsers on websites like Amazon's, and 3.) will be just as (if not more) effective in e-venues like Facebook or the iBookstore as/than their print counterparts are on store shelves and in subway cars.

What do you think, gentle readers? Are you as enamoured of e-book covers as you are of the "real" ones?

Monday, April 5, 2010


I've noticed PMN has a few new followers, so I thought I'd once again open the comments to general questions & requests for posts about various topics. Do you want to hear more about comp titles? Co-op? Book covers? E-books? Print on demand? Profit-and-loss statements? Or even... self-publishing?

Let me know in the comments, and don't be shy! No question is too basic or too complex.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Weekend Round-Up

Friday round up means more Laura time, in her weekly visit from Combreviations and the asylum:

Guten morning, you guys. Or should I say, happy pre-iPad launch mid-Passover almost Easter welcome to April? Holidays are fun, folks! Although is the iPad launch a holiday? It might be more of a pilgrimage opportunity. There are theories that the iPad could make books go viral, even though its apps are so much more g-d damn expensive than the iPhone counterparts. I'm excited because 19 vooks have been launched specifically for the iPad (and Deepak has signed on with vook!), which could be very cool. Once Ina Garten has an iPad vook, friends, I will become the biggest iPad sheep you have ever met, and not care that Apple is telling publishers what they are allowed to charge for their books. Team Ina!

Perhaps the worst facet of early April is April Fools Day (Eric was in the spirit yesterday. What a jerk). I find the holiday bad, and not only because it encourages my college-aged brother to convince my mom he impregnated someone (true story!). So, in that spirit, I ask you: are the next four links April Fools Day tricks or not? First, a sequel to Treasure Island: tricky? Second, a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, by Cory Doctorow, someone less rape-y than Ayn Rand. Third, Glenn Beck's new novel not only exists, but has a title. ...Ech. And fourth, are these creepy children's books titles real or jokes? Unfortunately, I think most of these links are not tricks, but are rather supposed to be treats.

Another treat, that I've been holding in trust for you, reader types, is the new book by JWow and Ronnie of the show "Jersey Shore." Don't fall in love at the shore, people. Some of you might not find the Jersey Shore case lovable, but in that case, I point you to this post on unlovable fiction characters. They are important! And Jersey Shore is nothing if not fictional. What, you thought reality TV was real? There there, check out this article on the literature of betrayal. It'll salve those wounds. At least it's not as bad as what Byron's lover has to say in a recently found memoir. And, oh look, distraction—Streisand is going to be at Book Expo America! Find a way to go, folks.

Now, I realize this is week old news, but please bear with me, because I wasn't around for last week and I find this so exciting: Reading Rainbow might be coming back for adults! I would absolutely watch that show (er, probably webcast) for book recommendations as well as to reconnect with Levar Burton, Kunta Kinte, and Lieutenant Commander Geordi La the SAME TIME. This video properly encapsulates what the show would be like. We wouldn't even need these modern mash-ups for entertainment with some good old Reading Rainbow. And, since it would be for adults, kids could choose their own books, which apparently makes them happier. Everybody wins!

That's all for me, fellow rainbow readers. Have a happy April/Passover/Easter/no longer April Fools Day/hopefully nice spring weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Lady Sings

Well, it's been nice, writers and writeresses, but I'm afraid I've run out of things to say here at PMN. I'll of course leave the blog up as a shrine to the indispensable knowledge I've... well, dispensed to you over the past several months, and I thank you (as always) for reading. Adieu, and may our paths cross again someday!

April Fool's!

Man, I hope at least one person fell for that.

In reality, mes amis, today is a wonderful (or at least not terrible) day in the land of brick-and-mortar book sales. Borders has repaid its loan to Pershing Square, increased its net profits, and financed a brand-new line of credit, giving the tried-and-true number two a new lease on life. It's not all sunshine and lollipops—Borders' Q4 sales are still down and they'll need more than loans and credit to continue fighting their uphill battle against the Kindle and the Nook—but I think it's now safe to say they'll be around for awhile longer. (Hopefully this isn't some sick April Fool's Day joke, like the one I just played.)

This whole business concerning Borders' financial health, however, has me wondering yet again about the long-term success of the company. I suppose what I'm asking is: what does the typical Borders shopper look like? Do most people who prefer Borders to Barnes & Noble take part in the Borders Rewards program? Does Borders' aggressive e-couponing system work? &c, &c.

Prithee, inform me, Borders acolytes (or sworn enemies!): what is it about the company that keeps you coming back (/makes you catch on fire whenever you get within a fifty-foot radius)?