Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Terms to Know: Abbreviations

All industries are full of jargon, gentle readers, and publishing is no exception. To make it doubly confounding, however, many of these oft-repeated jargon-filled phrases are abbreviated or transformed into acronyms, which renders the proverbial (already murky) waters utterly opaque. I present to you, then, a partial list of common publishing abbreviations and acronyms, some of which you may know and others you may find totally foreign. (If you think of any good ones I forgot, please post them in the comments.)

Without further ado—

AAP: American Association of Publishers.

AAR: Association of Authors' Representatives.

ALA: American Library Association.

ARC/ARE: Advance reading copy (or "advance reader's edition"). It's exactly what it sounds like: an early, unfinished copy of a book distributed to reviewers, buyers at accounts, and other people who need to read a book before it goes on sale. It generally has a cover and marketing/publicity information, which distinguishes it from a galley.

BEA: Book Expo America, the premier American trade show for commercial book publishers.

F&G: Folded and gathered sheets, an unbound collection of sample pages from a book used during the sales process. Almost exclusively used for children's books.

FOS: Front-of-store, referring to co-op placement.

HC/CL: Hardcover book.

ISBN: International standard book number.

MM/PB/PPB: Mass market paperback book.

MS: Manuscript (generally unbound).

MSS: ManuscriptS.

MTE/MTI: Movie tie-in edition. A reissue of a book set to coincide with the release of a film based on that book (generally with new cover art taken from the movie).

NDA: Non-disclosure agreement.

OS/OSD: On-sale date.

P&L: Profit-and-loss statement, a measure of a book's overall contribution to the house's revenue (both positive and negative).

POD: Print on demand, a method of printing individual books meant to save cost on and increase availability for titles with print runs too small to succeed under the traditional publishing model.

TP/TR/QP/QPB: Trade paperback book.

TPO: Trade paperback original (i.e. a book initially published as a trade paperback, not as a hardcover).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

iPad, YouPad... WePad?

It's not that I haven't previously heard of this supposed savior of the European book scene, it's that I'm really questioning the wisdom behind the name. I mean, come on. "WePad"? Is that really what you want to call your iPad competitor when the name of the original has already been likened to both a maxi pad and an adult diaper?

Regardless, said WePad has recently been adopted by Germany's largest publisher, Gruner & Jahr. While the WePad (no, I will not stop saying it) does seem to have some advantages over the iPad—for example, Adobe Flash—its brand recognition (particularly outside of Europe) and full specs are still iffy, and likely will remain so until the official press release on April 12th.

It's interesting to note, however, that not only has Gruner & Jahr's involvement already been made known well ahead of the official announcement, but G&J is owned by (dun dun dun!) Bertelsmann (they hold a 74.9% stake in the company). You may recall from Friday's post that Bertelsmann is the parent company of Random House, currently the only one of the big six publishers that has not signed on with the Apple iPad. Curious, no?

Whether or not there's a significant connection here is anyone's guess, but I do wonder whether a potential WePad/iPad controversy may be part of the reason Random House has resisted jumping on the Apple bandwagon too soon. I'm not insinuating that either company would insist that Random House/G&J/Bertelsmann not do business with the other, or that translation issues would be a disaster down the road, but I do wonder how the politics of electronic publishing are going to play out as companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and perhaps even Neofonie (the company that produces the WePad) begin playing larger and larger roles in the industry.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Co-op: Redux

I haven't asked you in awhile what you'd like to learn more about, fair readers, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask you before I get started today. BookScan? Co-op? P&L statements? Just name it in the comments.

Now, I've talked a little bit about co-op in the past, but I haven't really touched on how the process can change in the mystical land of the Interwebs. In a digital environment, you won't have front-of-store promotions, aisle endcaps, or tables of discounted titles; instead, you'll have banner ads, e-couponing (those of you who subscribe to the Barnes & Noble or Borders coupon e-mails will be familiar with these), front-page splashes and placement (for example, if you go to right now, you'll immediately see promotions for Christopher Moore, Michael Lewis, Harlan Coben, and John Grisham), &c, &c.

Since I'm not as involved in the e-aspect of the industry, I'm afraid I can't tell you much about the pricing structure for these kinds of co-op placement (or even whether they can be understood as "co-op" in the traditional sense). What I can tell you, however, is that you want this kind of attention for you and your book, and so it's worth asking your agent to look into it for you. Things I think you may want to ask (and please, any agents who are reading: feel free to jump in via comment!):

· How are we handling e-book rights? If the publisher is acquiring e-book rights as well as print book rights, will the e-book and physical book be available at the same time? Are there any marketing opportunities we can exploit for the e-book, the print book, or both?

· What kind of co-op (if any) do you think might be realistically available? (You'll want to ask this much later down the line, as publishers don't generally start firming up the co-op for a book until about five months before on-sale.) Will there be an opportunity for electronic co-op (e.g. on Amazon) and what will it be?

· What do you think is appropriate in terms of blogging/tweeting/&c? Are there any e-venues where guest-blogging might generate considerable interest? What about social networking sites like Facebook?

· What will the royalty structures look like for the e-book vs. the print book? (This may differ depending on a number of factors, including whether your e-book is available under the agency model or the wholesaler model.) Will my book be available on Amazon? The iBookstore?

And so on and so forth.

Additional comments/questions/vitriol/praise in the comments!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Local Man Rounds Up, Receives Accolades

Ms. Ombreviations is unavailable this morning, meine Damen und Herren, so I will be conducting today's round-up. Achtung, fertig, los!

Speaking of (rather than in) German, it seems Random House (owned by the German media company Bertelsmann) is still the odd (wo)man out when it comes to the Apple iPad and its digital book store. While it remains to be seen who needs whom more once the iPad begins shipping on April 3rd, it's interesting to note that Random House's cautiousness (labeled "reluctance" by some) with regard to Apple's device means they are the only major publisher who can still sell e-books through the book wholesaler Ingram. It's assumed that, barring a new deal between Ingram and the remaining big six, those publishers' e-books will not be available through Ingram after April 1st.

If all this has you worried about the future of publishing, fear not, gentle readers! Two cast members of Jersey Shore now have a book deal, virtually ensuring the health and longevity of the industry. No, really, I'm sure their book will be truly breathtaking. In related news, I am totally out of Excedrin and Maalox.

Seriously, though, the future of publishing is uncertain at best, so folks at the Wharton School of Business are holding a conference on that very topic next month. Will my myriad predictions be borne out? Only time will tell!

Finally, auf wiedersehen, Harold W. McGraw, Jr. The former head of McGraw-Hill died Wednesday at the age of 92. I urge you, readers: if you're planning on buying a textbook in the near future, please, consider McGraw-Hill. I know Harold would appreciate it.

That's all for this week, and with any luck, Laura will be back in seven days to bring you a far more entertaining (and less relevant) round-up. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Publishing in Five Easy Minutes

After an unscheduled (though happily brief) absence, mes auteurs, PMN is back! Thank you again for your patience and understanding.

Although the title of this post might lead you to believe otherwise, it takes more than five minutes to publish a book. (Hopefully it will only take you five minutes to read this post, but since I tend to go on at length, that's rapidly becoming less and less likely.) In brief(er): the logistics of getting a book published (at least, from a writer's perspective) can seem overwhelming, so I thought I'd pen a quick guide to the process.

In the inimitable Bullet-O-Vision™:

· What you know: You'll need an agent, which means after you finish writing and polishing your manuscript (fiction) or your sample pages and proposal (non-fiction), you'll need to write a stellar query letter and query as widely as possible (keeping in mind the sorts of titles the agents you're querying represent).

· What you might not know: Agents often don't read their incoming queries before anyone else; they usually have an assistant who screens out the queries that are awful, describe books that are too long, too short, or aren't in the genre the agent represents, or flat-out don't seem interesting. (This is not true of all agents, but even for those who read all their queries, why risk getting form rejected?) In order to get into that one to five percent of queries that makes it on to the final round, you must write a killer letter. Have a hook. Get to the point. Talk about the book, not yourself. Don't use a creepy subject line in your e-mail. Do format your query properly. Follow any guidelines or instructions you find to the letter.

· What you know: Once you have an agent, he or she will work to secure you a contract with an editor at a publishing house.

· What you might not know: You can be involved in this, too! Now, caveat: absolutely talk to your agent before you do anything, but if you have friends with agents, book deals, &c, or better yet, know a few editors personally, definitely consider reaching out to them. Make a list of editors or houses that have published work you find similar to your own and share it with your agent. Don't be a nuisance, but don't be afraid to pipe up if you think you have information or connections that can help sell your book.

· What you know: Once you've got a deal with a house, it'll be about a year before your book hits the market. You may be expected to do an author tour, book signing, &c.

· What you might not know: In this digital era, authors have more options than ever for selling themselves and their books. Blogging, tweeting, and other e-activities are definitely options, but keep an eye on the big picture, too: ask your agent about e-book rights with the publisher, any banner ads that might appear on major retailer websites (think Amazon or, e-couponing, &c. The larger your presence, the better your odds of selling well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Due to a minor crisis, PMN won't be updating regularly for the next couple of days. Not to worry, fair readers—everyone is currently fine—but I appreciate your patience as I work to get everything straightened out and this, your preferred source of publishing-related content*, back on track.


*Not based on fact, scientific or otherwise.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rounding Up St. Patrick's Day Week

Visiting from Combreviations, today we have Laura to round up:

Happy St. Patrick's Day week, compatriots! Some of us enjoyed the holiday, some did not, and some paid the price for fun, which is distinctly not sexy. Larry Flynt's White House sex project, on the other hand, is potentially sexy, as is book mechandise and fictional librarians, as chosen by librarians.

Some ladies of geek culture are also sexy, even when geek culture isn't lady friendly. Ayn Rand is a little unclear on what is sexy, and maybe should have stuck to writing about heartbreak instead. Mark Twain found baseball sexy (or, er, lovable), and some people think Stieg Larsson was Maybe this is why writers need rooms to themselves (amirite?).

Now, out of context, some of these facts are unclear. Everything needs context, friends! We can figure out a lot about the context of author lives from discussions of their day jobs, for example. And more examples. And even more examples. Lists are fun!

If you are list-ly inclined, you might be interested in these best YA books for adults, these 10 most underrated lesbian books, and 12 YA novels with Asian protagonists. Nothing says awesome like listed niche interests! If your niche interest is short novels that aren't novellas, this article might be for you. Quick, adapt them into movies, unless they are bad!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Paying for POD

Following up on my POD post from the other day, I was wondering, readeurs and readeuses: would you approve the use of tax dollars to fund the installation of a POD device (like the Espresso Book Machine) in your local library (or other municipal book-type location)?

Poll time!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

O Fortune, Fortune!

Occasionally in this oft-misunderstood (and sometimes maligned) industry, dear authors, factors beyond your control will play significant part in how many copies of your book a given account will buy (assuming they buy it at all). While I've already talked a little about what you can do to sell yourself and your book, there will be many a time in which the outcome is largely beyond your control. Examples include:

· Overcrowding. Your book may be unique relative to the overall market, but if an account's buyer has already bought five other titles that are (to him or her) essentially identical, their buy for your book is going to be lower than it otherwise would have been—doubly so if your title is designed to appeal to a very small or niche audience. (This is one reason why trend chasing can be a bad idea.) You have no control over what other people are writing, agents are pitching, editors are acquiring, and sales reps are selling, so there's no real way for you to account for this ahead of time. You'll just need to write what you want to write as well as possible.

· Publicity. Sure, you have control over your reputation as a person and a writer, but the kind of publicity I'm talking about is the pie-in-the-sky stuff about which even the publishing house can't make any guarantees: an Oprah's Book Club seal, a spot on Good Morning America, &c, &c. These are game-changing factors that will certainly boost sales of your book, but you can neither account for nor depend on them beforehand.

· The sales call. Maybe the rep isn't super enthusiastic about your book (though he or she will do his/her absolute best to seem so). Maybe the buyer doesn't like the title of your book, or hates the cover, or is simply having a bad day. Maybe the sales call is running over and the rep only has thirty seconds to sell your book. There are innumerable factors that affect the actual sales call over which you have no control whatsoever, and each of them can influence the account's buy one way or the other.

· Plain old luck. I've said it before and I'll say it again: good luck or bad, it's going to affect your career in some capacity. Maybe you got that Oprah's Book Club pick! Maybe you've had to change editors six times since acquisition. Maybe you wrote that killer bio of Millard Fillmore right before they discovered he was secretly a space Nazi!* Maybe your book gave Stephen King a terrible papercut, prompting him to write a scathing public review. The list is endless.

The point of all this, author-acquaintances™? Many aspects of your career will be difficult to predict or control. Everything from having your partial MS passed on to the agent by his/her assistant to the final sales call to winning all kinds of fancy literary awards will inherently contain an element of randomness or luck, and it's up to you to make the best of it, regardless of the circumstance.

*The author has no reason to believe Millard Fillmore is, was, or ever has been a space Nazi. Sorry, Millard.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's A Popularity Contest

Remember all those times you heard "it's not a popularity contest" with regards to things that clearly are popularity contests, such as American Idol, presidential elections, and... uh... popularity contests?

Well—to a certain extent—it's true of the publishing biz, as well. According to Mobclix, a mobile ad company that tracks this sort of thing, books are now more popular than games in the Apple iTunes store. Although I have been heralding the rapidly approaching e-pocalypse for some time now, even I'm surprised by this. Granted, e-books only comprise about 3-5% of the current book market (see John Grisham, below), but at this rate, how long will it be before they reach double-digits? (On a related note, e-book insider Michael Serbinis predicts a $99 e-reader will hit the market in 2010. Pray tell, dear readers: if this comes to pass, will any of you change your tune?)

Some well-established authors are also getting in on the e-book act; John Grisham's publisher announced today that all 23 of his books are now available electronically. I can't imagine it will be long before any other megabestselling e-book holdouts follow suit, which means I'm officially moving my e-pocalypse date from 2029 to 2020. (Consumption of egregiously low-end fortified wine optional.) That's right: I think it will only be ten years before e-books become not only a major player in terms of sales figures, but quite possibly the major player.

Think about it: when was the last time you bought a CD? (I can't remember, either.) Yet the glory of the iTunes music store is only seven years old this April. With e-readers, e-books, and even e-book stores rapidly entering the market—coupled with the prospect of faster, cheaper, full-color technology looming just over the horizon—I just don't see how electronic formats won't rewrite the book on publishing in the years to come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

POD: The Future of Print?

Again, sorry for my unforeseen silence last week, lords & ladies, but I've returned from my... what did Laura call it? Spiritual retreat? Arctic expedition? Whale-watching cruise? Voyage through the seventh dimension? Anyway, I'm back, and it turns out that the publishing world continues to turn regardless of whether I'm trying to insinuate myself into the center of it.

Today's news comes out of Rice University, where it turns out their academic press is switching over to print-on-demand. The reason for the move? It saves them a ton of cash.

The print runs of academic titles are only fractions of the print runs of most commercial titles, so (generally speaking) academic publishers pay more per unit than commercial publishers do when having their books printed, bound, and shipped. This is for two reasons: first, there are a number of flat-rate costs (e.g. typesetting) that are unaffected by the number of copies produced, and are therefore diluted as as the size of the print run increases; second, many printers will offer better variable rates as print runs increase, so it may be disadvantageous for an academic publisher to produce print copies traditionally (as they'll either be forced to print more copies than they can sell or to produce relatively few copies at a high price). This is where POD comes to the rescue.

With POD, publishers only produce a copy of a text when it's requested; while this may not be feasible for high sales volume titles like Twilight, it's ideal for smaller titles (e.g. most academic titles or volumes of poetry). As the technology becomes better refined and the speed with which individual copies can be produced increases, it may become a more reasonable option for commercial midlist titles, as well. Not only would this save publishers the higher per-unit cost of publishing traditionally, but it avoids the high-cost tango of shipping and returns altogether.

While it seems to me that e-books are going to become a major force in the industry over the next decade or so, I'm certain of two things: one, people will still be attached to print in some capacity, and two, if this introduces a tiered print structure in which the megabestsellers are published traditionally and as e-books, then I think any non-electronic presence that smaller titles will have will have to be through some kind of print-on-demand setup.

What do you think, author-acquaintances? Will smaller-run titles be permanently relegated to the digital world, or will POD rescue them from print oblivion?

Friday, March 12, 2010

E-Round Up

I know you missed the PMN updates, amigos and -as, while Eric was on his spiritual retreat in Arkansas. He was going to go to Texas, but the textbooks there keeping getting more conservative, and the airline he was traveling didn't have a book deal, so he had to rethink and change his plans. (Note: So sorry for the lack of posts, everyone; Blogger seems to have jammed up at some point early this week. Don't be alarmed, however! I shall be back with brand-spanking-new content on Monday. — E)

But, never fear, he has left you alone (and with me) for another day and the whole weekend. Please cry away from your computer. Tears are bad for electronics.

No, really, tears on computers short out electronics, and could electrocute you. And then who will control your digital legacy? Especially the logins for your Hachette social networking page—because nothing says "productive, money-making work" like social networks! Being plugged in means you probably also have an opinion on e-books: either you're an e-book skeptic, or you embrace them as the future. Either way, you're probably cranky about publishers and booksellers having all sorts of types of DRM. And although there are ecological arguments to make for e-books, some booksellers have to wean you onto them with bundled print and e-books. But hey, free e-books have been shown to correlate to increased print sales, so bundling might be in the best interest of the environment down the road. Even academic e-books have e-sploded, which I never would have guessed in a million years, which clearly shows what I know. (I've been telling you that for MONTHS. — E) Thank goodness we have Farmville to show publishing the way to safe e-sales.

Is Farmville not your thing? Then maybe Hilary Duff's YA series is, or you can check out the Radiohead scored soundtrack to the movie of Murakami's Norwegian Wood. You can also check out the recently purchased David Foster Wallace archive, or the video history of Spot the Dog, for your other pop culture needs.

I know, I know, what a short round-up. More info at Combreviations, as per usual. Have a good weekend, ladies and gents!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rerun Week

I'm going to be out of the office this week, cats & kittens, so I've set Ye Olde Venerable PMN to post a few reruns for you. Laura will be back with a fresh round-up this Friday; until then, enjoy! — E

Episode: "On the Importance of Negative Reviews"
Originally aired: Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

A slight departure from sales today, mes auteurs. I've been discussing the virtues of negative book reviews with a few friends lately, and as we have differing opinions, I figured laying everything out in the Court of Public Opinion™ might help each of us see things from the other's point of view.

There are some people who subscribe to the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" school of reviewing. I am not one of those people. I've written my fair share of book reviews, a few of which were less than favorable (the word "scathing" has been suggested). Although I generally ended up reviewing books I disliked simply because they were assigned to me by an editor, I've occasionally written reviews of books I detested because I felt they were so flawed that they deserved public treatment rather than silence. And that's one of the principle reasons why, à mon avis, the negative review should be written: to help correct the bias generated by solely positive reviews, since such reviews are oftentimes met only with silence by those with dissenting opinions. The fact that we so often don't finish books we dislike only compounds the problem.

More importantly, though, is this: rarely do we question a positive or even neutral response to a book, but as soon as someone indicates that they didn't like—or even flat-out hated—that book, we immediately want to know why. What didn't the reviewer like? What worked and what didn't? Was it the writing? The pacing? The characters? The list is endless, and a well-written negative review is often just as illuminating as a positive one, if not moreso. Think of it this way: you rarely question what it is that makes your car or refrigerator or laptop work while it's running properly, but as soon as it breaks, you want the nitty-gritty on what's gone awry. The same goes for books: we don't know what makes good fiction until it's missing.

There are a couple of caveats here, though, and I hope they're somewhat intuitive. First, the review should be about the book and not about the author. As I've said before, a bad review is (or should be) an expressed opinion of a given book, not an indictment of the author's character. To cross the line and malign the author of a book for what he or she has written—even if it's clear from the writing that the author is a raging misogynist, a blatant racist, or worse, a member of Congress—is beside the point. All reviewers (myself included) have strayed from this point from time to time, but it's important to remember that book reviews are exactly that: book reviews. Not author reviews. Not ideology reviews. Book reviews.

Additionally, the review needs to explain why the reviewer didn't like the book. Going back to my earlier car/fridge/laptop example, it doesn't do you any good to simply know that your property is broken; you want to know what, exactly, is wrong. You can't fix something without knowing what's wrong with it, and authors can't avoid their previous pitfalls (or the pitfalls of others) without knowing what reviewers find lacking in their work.

I'm curious to know what you think, though, auteurs and... auteuses? (My French isn't as good as it used to be.) Do you think the negative review has a place in contemporary criticism? How would you react to a negative review of your own work?

Friday, March 5, 2010

How-To Round-Up

For your edification, Laura is here from Combreviations to round up the week:

Hello, reader types, and welcome to the week. Given Eric's post yesterday about the things you need to do to be a writer, I thought I would run you through my writerly process for putting together posts. It is very complicated. But first, stand up—sitting all day is bad for your health. Step one is collect links, and step two is to split them into categories, because otherwise it gets boring to keep scrolling around. This week the categories were "adorable lit," "the joys and pains of reading," and "history is effed."

Step three is to find some almost natural but pretty awkward way to string it all together. And you know what's almost natural? Collections of mini books! They are adorable. If you like to make choices instead of being told what's adorable, you can pick between these UK and US covers. Also attractive are these hand models, who show us everything from the Kindle to the Twilight apple.

Yes, there are adorable joys, but there are also book pains (did you see that segue there? This is why topic headings are important to my craft. Such a serious craft). Some find joy in unconcluded series. I am not one of those people. Some might be conflicted about lying, while others might find joy or pain (or both) in taking Tina Brown's book suggestions. And seriously—dead and dying protagonists? Can be so good and so bad.

To deal with these conflicting emotions, we need to look to history. And seriously: history is effed. Apparently Nietzsche wasn't just a philosopher who may have died of syphillis—he was also a composer. He may have lied to himself about his talent, but at least he didn't lie about the happenings of Hiroshima, which is, in a word, awkward. And if you thought you knew Eva Braun? You should think again (dum dum duummm). Also, Hilary Mantel thinks 14 year old girls are fit parents, and archaeologists think that vampires might be real.

Please, hold your applause at the brilliance of my methodology (and you can sit down now, if you haven't already). And remember to take web-reading-while-standing breaks today!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Having What It Takes

As I've mentioned before, I'm something of a writer myself. Due to this (and due to my habitually sharing my opinions regardless of whether they've been solicited), I occasionally pontificate on what I think it takes to succeed in this industry, or at the very least, what's necessary for setting oneself up for success. Luckily for you, I can only think of four things.

1. Discipline. You can be the most talented writer in the world and still utterly fail as a professional author if you don't maintain a writing schedule and treat your writing like a business as well as an art form. It's important to set aside time to write each day, even if it's only fifteen minutes. Consistent progress is also key; if you write for a half hour here and there and never commit to a formal schedule, you'll probably never finish your novel.

2. A desire to learn and improve. If you aren't reading, you aren't learning how to write. And, as much as I want you to buy books and keep me employed, it bears repeating that you do not need to spend money to improve your craft. Borrow books from your local library, join a critique group, attend free lectures and readings in your area, and practice, practice, practice. If you ever reach a point in your career at which you're convinced you can no longer improve, it's time to retire.

3. Skill. I do believe there is an element of skill involved in writing, but as in most endeavors, discipline and a deep desire to learn and improve can often make up for a lack of innate talent. Some people are naturally excellent writers; some people are not. If you fall into the latter category, you're going to have to work extra hard to raise your manuscript to publishable quality.

4. Luck. Unlike skill, which (though largely uncontrollable) can be made less crucial through hard work and dedication, luck is a factor in your career as a writer that you generally won't be able to affect or account for. It's often a very large factor, but there are a few things you can do to minimize bad outcomes and increase the likelihood of good ones:

· Network. The more people in the industry you know (from fellow authors to agents to editors), the better. Attend conferences if you can. Even if none of them directly lead to the sale of your manuscript, someone may think of you and refer you to an agent/editor who may be perfect for you and your work.

· Earn yourself a good reputation. This sort of ties into the above, but you don't want any factor apart from your work itself to give an agent or editor a reason to say no. Having a reputation as a likable author who's easy to work with won't get you representation by itself, but having the opposite reputation may make it hard for you to find an agent.

· Follow agent guidelines. Simple. Don't get your novel thrown in the proverbial circular file because you couldn't follow directions.

· Don't give up. Remember Jacob Appel? Yeah. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Terms to Know: ISBN

This term probably isn't as dire to your success as authors as some others I've gone over, bros and she-bros, but I figure a little knowledge isn't a dangerous thing.

The ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a 13-digit (formerly 10-digit) number that is unique to every book published in the world. The breakdown for said number is as follows:

• The first three digits denote the type of publishing. (They're either "978" or "979"; "978" is book publishing.)

• Here it gets tricky, but for American books (and UK, too, I believe), the next digit is a group identifier and indicates in which language the book is published. (The group identifier for English is either "0" or "1.")

• The next three or four digits are assigned by the national ISBN agency (in the United States, that's R.R. Bowker) and are specific to the publisher. Many large publishers have several sets of publisher codes for their various divisions and imprints.

• The next four or five digits are the item number for the individual book and are selected by the publisher.

• The final digit is a check digit, which is the result of a mathematical formula being applied to the previous twelve digits. This is an error detection and prevention measure employed to prevent the ISBN data from being corrupted, mis-copied, &c.

The big, fancy book of publisher codes will set you back nearly $1,000, and there's really no free way of looking up publisher codes on the Internet, but a partial catalog of the group-0 and group-1 publisher codes (read: English language books) can be found here and here, respectively. This is only for those of you with way too much time on your hands.

Questions? Comments? Invective? To the comments with you!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: The Face of the Industry

In a follow-up to yesterday's post, I feel obligated to mention this snarky article in The Atlantic detailing what, exactly, the breakdown behind a book's overhead costs looks like. Suffice it to say, Michael Kinsley is incorrect; he has allocated far too little money towards alcohol.

All joking aside, author-acquaintances, I do sometimes wonder whether the public perception of publishing is that the average industry professional does nothing but chomp cigars, swill martinis, and go to fancy parties on the house's dollar. While this may be true of certain individuals and may have been the case in the past, I don't think it really applies to the industry today, especially given the recession and the cutbacks that have been necessary to keep many an operation afloat. We're not exactly giving out million-dollar bonuses over here.

Therefore! Prithee, inform me, gentle readers: do you think publishing professionals are viewed as entitled, possibly wasteful elitists by The Average Jo(sephin)e? Or are we recognized as the dedicated, oft-underpaid champions of literature we generally are?

Monday, March 1, 2010


I was thinking a lot about the math behind the sales of e- versus p-books this weekend, mes auteurs, and it just so happens this very timely New York Times article does a much better job explaining the situation than I would.

In short: while it's true that it's less expensive to produce an e-book than a physical book, there's still substantial overhead on the publisher side (read: everything from author royalties to marketing). The combination of the agency model (including the retailer's 30% commission) and the overall lower price point of e-books renders electronic formats only slightly more profitable; in the article, a $26 print book would generate $4.05 for the publisher (note that this is contribution, not net operating profit) whereas a $12.99 e-version of the same title would earn the publisher between $4.56 and $5.54.

Yes, this is a 12.6-36.8% increase in profit, and these numbers would be substantial if sales of e-books were a sizable portion of the market. Since they currently only constitute 3-5% of all book sales, however, their higher profit margin isn't enough to make a real impact on the large trade book publishers entering into agency model deals with Apple. As e-reader technology improves, though, and the prices of the devices themselves come down, it's inevitable that electronic books will begin to assume greater and greater market share. Whether e-books will eventually strike a natural equilibrium with print books (or displace them entirely) remains to be seen.

What do you think, friends & bros? (I like to believe I don't have any actual "foes.") Do you think the current price point for e-books is sustainable? Do you think we may be doomed to a (not so distant) future... without print books?