Monday, January 31, 2011

Bordering on Bankruptcy

And now: another post about Borders.

But first: a quick announcement!

Due to my increasing workload (and as part of the many exciting changes that will be coming to PMN in the coming months), I'll be scaling back my posting schedule to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays instead of the five days a week I've been rocking thus far. A couple of notes:

• Fridays will still feature round-ups from Laura!

• Tuesdays and Thursdays will usually be post-less, but! And here's the exciting part:

• PMN is now open to guest post submissions on a rolling basis! You heard right, cats & kittens. Whenever you happen to have a guest post that you think might be a good fit for the blog, just e-mail it along. Alas, due to predicted volume, I'll only be able to respond if I'm interested, but I should be able to get back to you within a week. And your post could go up on PMN on any given Tuesday or Thursday! Mull that over. Go ahead, mull to your hearts' content.

Okay, good. And now... the post!

If you haven't read today's Publisher's Lunch, here's the deal: in addition to (continuing) delays of payment to vendors, Borders is now delaying payments to landlords as well. That's right: they can't afford to pay rent. This is bad news bears, cats & kittens.

Borders is basically buying time with this maneuver, hoping to convince enough vendors to convert late payements to interest-bearing debt to satisfy GE Capital's new requirements and earn themselves a new line of credit.

Failing this, however, Borders will run out of money, and with landlords, publishers, and other creditors clamoring for money owed, BGP will likely have to seek refuge in the courts—that is, file for bankruptcy.

Borders' stock is now trading below $0.75/share. Financiers and publishers alike haven't been persuaded by Borders' plans to revive their business, and with the amount of exposure publishers are already facing, it's unlikely they'll convert back payments to debt while continuing to ship Borders books. In short—and based entirely on the publicly available data—I think you should think about using up those Borders gift cards. Sooner might be better than later.

Wednesday: brand management! Marketing! Other buzz words!

Friday, January 28, 2011

January Thaw Round Up

Yet another round up with Laura:

You know what's the future, friends and foes? Children. Especially children who may grow up to be Lisbeth Salander. They may get pushed along that road by having to read YA by Stephenie Meyer's publicist, or, alternately, by being in the Oliver Twist workhouse. Oh, yeah. They discovered that.

Other mysteries have been revealed as well, like the author of O, and how Nicholas Sparks wrote his first novel. Inquiring minds want to know! Inquiring minds will also get the chance to read John Lennon's letters, find out if financial types read, and see how novels come to term with the Internet. A mysterious man also got a book deal based on his academic mercenary past, although what he could have to say beyond his original article is beyond me.

Also beyond me: the future. Luckily, the future is now, as e-books are outselling paperbacks on Amazon. Everybody panic! Especially since agents and publishers have different opinions about e-book royalties. It's like dogs and cats living together (in the future). You can always trade in your used Kindle for print books. Or keep your Kindle, get some Amazon singles, and tremble at the price sensitivity of e-book readers.

So untangle those plots, read your super cool new TED books, and defend Jane Eyre to the death, gentle readers.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Terms to Know: Returns (Rerun)

A small blast from the recent past, mes auteurs. Round up on Friday and a return to the topic of marketing/brand management on Monday! — E

Episode: "Terms to Know: Returns"
Originally aired: Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

It's been awhile since I've gone back to the basics, mes auteurs, so today's post is on that bête noire of the publishing world: returns.

The book business differs from most other commercial enterprises in that stock sold by the content provider (publisher) to retailers (book stores) is 100% returnable: if a book store can't sell its stock to consumers, it sends it right back to the house.

This is a holdover from Depression-era economics designed to get retailers to take books under circumstances they normally wouldn't (i.e., by drastically reducing, if not totally erasing, their exposure to risk). With the exception of a very small number of select retailers ("special markets" that don't sell books as their primary product), all retailers are allowed to return unsold stock to the publisher.

What does this mean for you, dear authors?

Well, assuming you earn out your advance, it can (partially) explain why it takes publishers awhile to calculate your royalties, as the returns reduce their gross sales (billing, or the money they made by selling stock to retailers) to net sales. If your royalty structure takes this into account, the publisher needs to wait for returns to come back before issuing you a check.

Occasionally, a publisher will even withhold money against future returns in a kind of escrow account, which means that money that is technically yours won't be paid out until returns are calculated several months down the line.

Granted, the problem could be "fixed" by moving the industry en masse back to a firm sale model (that is, no returns), but even if something like that could be done (which seems doubtful—see below), all it would mean would be a sharp reduction in stock for début and midlist authors like yourselves. If you force the stores to take on their own risk in today's bookselling environment, they'll simply cut their orders for anything that isn't a sure thing (read: James Patterson and Sarah Palin).

The good news is, cats & kittens, that it soon won't matter whether physical books are returnable because the market will shift principally to e-books over the next decade. Problems pertaining to physical books that plague today's publishers and retailers—warehouse space, shipping and return costs, physical co-op, &c—don't and won't apply to e-books, so returns will become a thing of the past and you'll get your royalty statements faster. Some of you who have successfully published e-books already know this.

In short: yes, returns are a pain, and yes, the industry has been running on an outmoded and inefficient sales model for the past 80 years. At this point, however, it isn't worth changing: as e-books become the primary format for the written (and read) word, the issue will become more or less moot.

That said: if you're planning on publishing a book this decade, plan on getting a call from your agent at some point asking if you'd like to buy your returned/remaindered units at cost. And don't be surprised if your royalty statements, should you get any, take their sweet time arriving in your mailbox.

Tomorrow: Thanksgiving festivities begin, meine Autoren, so I'll be taking a short break. We'll be back with the return of genre sales breakdowns on Monday, November 29th!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Markets Are Our Specialty

As I've mentioned before, one of the many reasons the publishing industry is—well, unique, let's say—is because its product is more or less 100% returnable. If a publisher sends 10,000 copies of a book to Joe's Box o' Books and Joe can only sell off 7,000, 3,000 go back to the publisher to be remaindered or pulped.

As with all things, however, there are exceptions, and one of the major exceptions to the returns game in the publishing industry is in the realm of special markets.

Special markets are retailers that sell a fair number of—but do not specialize in—books (e.g. cooking stores, museum gift shops). Non-returnable (a.k.a. "firm") sales to these customers mean that no matter how poorly the title(s) in question do(es), that customer cannot send the books back to the publisher for credit. Just as with their other merchandise, they keep the product on the shelves until it sells or until they get rid of it at their own expense.

Because the risk is borne by the retailer and not the vendor, sales numbers for special markets are usually smaller and less flexible than they are for most book retailers. They depend to a much higher degree on price point and format, as certain retailers only do well with certain types of books, and most titles will only fit a very few niche special markets. All this to say: there is no universal "special markets book," meaning no title is immune to the spectre of returns.

As you can imagine, most titles sold in to special markets are nonfiction (arts & crafts, cooking, history, science, pop culture, and so on), so your novel is unlikely to be sold on a non-returnable basis in any significant way. However, various author events, shows, conferences, &c will require additional orders, and while these aren't "special markets" in the conventional sense, they very often entail non-returnable sales. There will be some capacities in which your books are safe from returns.

Speaking of returns, tomorrow: the return of... returns!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tip o' the Week

I've been re-reading Emerson, cats & kittens, and this quote of his caught my attention over the weekend: "The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent."

Writing is work, folks. More than that, writing is hard work, it's getting up early and staying up late, it's sacrificing doing other fun things to put another few hundred or thousand words to paper, it's spending money on printer ink and postage and conference fees when you'd rather spend it on mega sweet vacations, it's applying for fellowships and retreats when you'd rather be watching reality TV, it's spending time on your on-line platform or reviewing proofs or perfecting your backlist of e-titles on Amazon instead of hanging out with friends.

Writing requires commitment and discipline even more than it requires talent. The hungrier writer will outperform the more talented writer nine times out of ten. If you don't want to be a writer more than you want any other professional goal, odds are you aren't going to make it very far.

This isn't to say that writers don't have families or personal lives or other hobbies and interests; they have all these things. They simply want to be professional writers badly enough to put in the requisite time and effort to improve their craft and make the necessary connections. If you want to be a writer, you'd better be willing to put in all the work and jump through all the crazy hoops. If you want to be a writer, you have to be good enough and smart enough and dedicated enough. And you've got to be lucky as hell.

Nothing worth doing or learning comes easily, dear readers, but if that were the case, you wouldn't get any satisfaction from doing or learning those things. Keep working, keep reading, and keep writing, and your efforts are bound to pay off in some respect sooner or later.

Tomorrow: a lesson on special markets!

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Is A Business: Redux

I first made this point a little over a year ago, gentle readers, but it bears repeating.

The other day I overheard a conversation in which one book-loving acquaintance of mine expressed the opinion that selling e-books amounts to a betrayal of the physical book.

Let me be the first to say: this a bunch of maudlin nonsense.

The book business is precisely that, mes auteurs: a business. Yes, in many instances we're selling art, but I've always been of the opinion that the art of the book is almost always found in its content, not in its form; if a majority of consumers want their books electronically, any publisher or bookseller resisting that change will likely be driven out of business. If it sounds Darwinian, that's because it is. If you're not selling what people want, you're not going to be in business very long.

This isn't at all to say that the physical book is going extinct (though hardcover fiction may, à mon avis, be more or less gone within a few years)—I'm only saying that refusing to cultivate an electronic platform or sell e-books due to the misguided notion that you're somehow betraying an inanimate cultural medium is, well, childish. Books aren't people; they don't have feelings. Those who really love them will buy and sell them in whatever format is available.

The book is very old, cats & kittens, but before we had them we had scrolls and before that we had tablets and before that we had oral traditions. The codex—a book with a cover and pages—hasn't been around forever and it won't be around forever, and the sooner publishers, booksellers, and other industry insiders realize this and not only accommodate but embrace the changes that are revolutionizing the way people read, the better.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Round Up and Up

Yet another Friday round up with Laura:

This week was great, friends and foes. We got the top ten dead bodies in literature, the top ten best beards in books, and Joss Whedon explained WTF is up with the Buffy graphic novels (there are tons of spoilers, followers who made it past the TV show). Sure, autocorrections are a pain, and hey, maybe the Bible is influencing your speech patterns more than you thought, but Bob Dylan is putting out six books. Six! That's a lot of Dylan. I'm going to bring my homemade book handbag when I get invited to the launch party.

Hello, techie friends. Have you learned your Amazon ABCs? If not, here are some tips for Kindle newbies (not n00bs, heaven forbid), and a how-to for Kindle book publishing. Did we all see the Kobo reader on The Office? Reading: it happens on TV sometimes. There's also some debate about ebooks impacting territories and the usual book piracy and sales convo, but I was watching television and totally missed all of that jazz. I didn't miss the new excerpts from the Obama fictionalization, which is making people ask: why are Washington novels so bad? Maybe the answer can be found in JFK's application to Harvard.

I'm off to do "other things," reader types, but besos to you, and see you next week!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Death of (Another) Format (Rerun)

One more rerun from the PMN vaults. Enjoy!

Episode: "The Death of (Another) Format"
Originally aired: Monday, August 9th, 2010

A couple of months ago, I mentioned my belief that e-readers will quickly make large print paper books obsolete. After careful analysis, mes auteurs, I'm comfortable predicting the death of another format (although I think this one will take much longer): the mass market paperback.

For those not familiar, the mass market paperback is that chunky, newsprinty $4 to $8 paperback you find in airports and grocery stores (in addition to traditional independent and chain bookstores). It's especially popular with genre fiction (fantasy, mystery, romance, science fiction). Historically, they've sold well because they're cheap, lightweight, and don't take up a lot of space; not many people buy them to display on bookshelves or coffee tables.

E-books are already relatively cheap, and they have no weight and occupy no physical space at all. As the cost and heft of e-readers steadily declines, there will be (in my opinion) no reason to buy a mass market paperback rather than an e-book, and I think this will lead to the format's demise.

A lot of people are currently worried that e-books will kill the hardcover, but I find this relatively unlikely. Hardcovers have been status symbols and conversation pieces for centuries, if not millennia. People like having bookshelves full of hardcovers. They like having them signed. They like physically perusing a library rather than flipping through a list of titles on a screen. For these reasons (among others), I think hardcovers will survive the conversion to e-books, although I certainly expect print runs to be reduced and POD to become a more tenable option for smaller publishers.

As for the mass market paperback: granted, the lendability factor will definitely keep it alive for a few more years, and it will probably take decades beyond that before the second-hand market begins to fold. As soon as solid lending or renting protocols are established by the e-book industry, however, I don't see any reason why consumers would rather have a physical, low-quality paperback than a non-physical, high-quality e-book. Can you?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This is Why You Always Meet Your Deadlines (Rerun)

Meetings abound this week, mes auteurs, so I'll be posting reruns today and tomorrow. Enjoy!

Episode: "This is Why You Always Meet Your Deadlines"
Originally aired: Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

In case you hadn't heard, Yahoo! sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski (say that three times fast) has been sued by Penguin Books for failure to meet his deadline regarding a book about former North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano. The original manuscript delivery date? August 1, 2007.

Wojnarowski was originally offered a cool $400,000 (of which he received $140,000), but his repeated delays caused Penguin to reduce the total advance to $325,000. Now, over three years later, they've canceled the book and are taking Wojnarowski to court to recover the $140,000 they already paid him.

I wish I could say this kind of story was uncommon, but honestly, the only unusual aspect is the filing of a lawsuit. Books are delayed by months (sometimes years) all the time, and failure to meet deadline (sometimes more than once) is not unheard of. I think, however, that publishers' patience is particularly short in the midst of the recession, so I wouldn't be surprised if they were to become even less lenient about missed deadlines, particularly for books bought for six- or seven-figure advances.

The reasons for delays can range from author laziness to the publisher's disapproval of various drafts (that is, sending them back for rewrites) to changes in current events that warrant substantial revisions (generally affecting only nonfiction). Remember, too, that most advances are cut into pieces: often one installment is paid on signing, another on receipt of the manuscript by the publisher, and occasionally a third on or around the date of publication. If you're getting $400,000 and you've already gotten $140,000 just for signing a piece of a paper, one can see how your motivation might be temporarily shot.

That said: this business is slow enough as-is, so as début writers who always want to make the best of impressions, it's in your collective best interest to get your manuscripts and revisions delivered on time. Always be professional, always be on time, and always ask your agent or editor if you have any questions about deadlines, timelines, or any of the other myriad -lines to which you might be subject.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Incomplete Education

I love web comics, mes auteurs, more than I love most people and some varieties of whisk(e)y. It should come as no surprise, then, that the intersection of books/grammar and web comics in the Venn diagram of my life is a most wond'rous and magical place.

I therefore present to you my top ten grammar pet peeves—in web comic form!

1. "Alot." "Alot" is not a word. Or, if it is, it refers to an animal that's better than you at everything.

2. Semicolons. I'm not a big fan of them; Kurt Vonnegut once labeled the semicolon a "transvestite hermaphrodite representing absolutely nothing," insisting that "all they do is show you've been to college." If you insist on using them, however, here's how to do it.

3. Mondegreens. Here's a definition; here's a visual guide to some common ones pertaining to English idiom.

4. Misuse of the word "literally." If you're guilty of this, I'll literally send you a strongly worded e-mail/figuratively explode.

5. Confusion of its/it's. Especially on the Internet.

6. Misuse of apostrophes in general. Thankfully, there is a cure: flowcharts.

7. Misspellings. Here are ten you should avoid.

8. Internet comments. This is more of a video than a comic, but it gets the point across: 99.9% of the people on the Internet are functionally illiterate, some of them hilariously so. (I've spent countless hours laughing at seething, near-incomprehensible rants on YouTube.)

9. People who think they can out-grammar me. Sometimes I lay traps for them just for fun.

10. People who smugly correct other people's grammar. It's just kind of a jerk thing to do. Me? I'd do it subtly via blog post.

Also, in case you were curious:

How many Justin Biebers could you take in a fight?

Created by Oatmeal

Many thanks to Hyperbole and a Half, Dinosaur Comics, and The Oatmeal for their fantastic comics.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

I'm off today, mes auteurs, and I hope you are, too. Come back tomorrow for another brand-new post!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revenge of the Round Up 3: Rounduppance

For the first time in 2011, round up day with Laura:

It's a whole new year, friends and foes, and the best way to celebrate that is by judging others for things they've done and opinions they hold. Yes, I know: welcome to America.

Are you a parent? Well, you're probably doing it wrong! Is your 7-year-old reading? That could be terrible, or just okay. Are you a Chinese mom? You may be the devil, or the most supportive parent out there. Are you an aspiring biographer? Here's how you should do it. And please, don't forget to manipulate Amazon's rankings.

In addition to being judgey-judgersons as we enter this brand new year, we should also be tech snobs. Noses up! Time to realize how e-books will help publishing. Be sure to share your snootiest Kindle books, but don't run out to buy a new reader—it seems like a new iPad and a new Nook are coming our way soonish.

Now, some old things are nice too. Like this crazy "book" format. There's a lot of book nostalgia floating around, which you can assuage with a literary dinner party menu. All that paper sure is delicious. Or, if you're eating alone, you can eat and read the first mystery novel, or do some crowdsourced transcription. Hell, you could even pull a Jack Kerouac and write to Marlon Brando. Or, you know, someone alive. Either/or.

But enough about the past. On to the future! The future filled with neuronovels, and empty of columns by Tiger Woods. A future with a new Huck Finn, which some people like and a lot of people don't. A future with a completely necessary Julian Assange memoir, because what that man needs is more attention. A future with Gatsby in 3-D, a Salma Hayek-backed Wicked miniseries, and Eric Bana as Abraham Lincoln: vampire hunter.

So far so good, 2011. Keep up the good work, and see you all next week!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Lesson on Brand Management

As I've mentioned a few times before, mes auteurs, publishing is a strange industry in many ways. One of the ways in which it differs from other enterprises is that the author of the work, not its physical manufacturer, is the brand name. For the most part, no one cares who publishes a given book; they only care about who wrote it and what it's about.

Part of this is intrinsic to the industry: just like with movies and music, the writer(s)/actor(s)/artist(s) is/are the source of the desired material, so regardless of whose label is affixed to those names, consumers will make their purchases based principally on the artists involved. As a culture, we care about Johnny Depp more than Lionsgate, Jay-Z more than Def Jam Recordings, and Suzanne Collins more than Scholastic.

Another part of it, however, is due to publishers' treatment of their own brands. Many include their logos on the spines and back covers of their books, but never the front (Penguin Classics is a notable exception), and publishers with myriad subdivisions and imprints further confuse consumers by including those logos but not the logo of the parent company.

How many of you knew that Dutton, Gotham, Prentice Hall, Riverhead, and Viking were all part of Penguin? That Knopf, Crown, and Ballantine are all Random House (and that those groups contain their own smaller imprints)? That Grand Central (with its imprint, Twelve) is Hachette's, as is Little, Brown & Co.? I could go on, but you get the point.

I think a significant problem for publishers in the industry today is a lack of brand consolidation. A lot of it is because individual imprints have their own specialties and want to maintain their identities apart from their parent publisher: Threshold (Simon & Schuster) specializes in conservative politics and nonfiction, Tor (Macmillan) in science fiction and fantasy, &c. This is all fine and good—or at least, it has been—but with companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble beginning to dominate the market, publishers will have to change the way they play the game.

As Sarah Lacy at TechCrunch notes, Amazon is preparing to take over the role of publisher in the world of tomorrow. And in that hypothetical world, I think Amazon's name would be just as important as most of its authors'.

Unless traditional publishers can reinforce their names and reaffirm their relevance over the next five years, I don't see why anyone will prefer a Random House book or a Penguin book over an Amazon/Kindle book. Authors will always be major brands in publishing, but I think publishers will need to increase their visibility as well. If they continue to bank on running the show from behind the scenes, it's my opinion that it will be to their long-term detriment.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Two Households, Both Alike in Dignity

The sample sizes aren't quite identical yet, folks (232 votes this round compared to 342 last round), but currently 54% of those of you who responded own an e-reader, as opposed to only 42% in June 2010. Granted, this is an entirely unscientific survey, but it seems to me that e-reading is on the rise. Not that we couldn't have guessed this already.

Speaking of e-books, I thought I'd take a moment to rehash the two primary ways they're sold: via either the agency model or the wholesale model. How does this affect you? Well, let's just say it's in the area y'all have in common with Queen Elizabeth II. That is, your royalties (/royal teas).

With jokes like these, I will be the best/most awkward dad ever.

The Agency Model

The agency model of e-book sales is the one you've heard about most recently. As opposed to the previous model (see below), the agency model assumes that the publisher is selling directly to consumers, with retailers like Amazon serving as intermediaries. Therefore, the publisher sets the the price the consumer will pay, and the retailer gets a cut for each copy sold.

For example: a publisher prices an e-book at $10.00. They sell it to consumers via an on-line retailer like Amazon, and Amazon gets a 30% cut. Each time a book is sold, Amazon gets $3.00 and the publisher gets $7.00. Those $7.00 are used to pay the publisher's overhead (everything from utilities and the purchase of new software/equipment to employee salaries and marketing budgets) and to pay you, the author.

Depending on your royalty agreement, which may range anywhere from 25% to 50% of net receipts, you'll get anywhere from $1.75 to $5.00 per book (depending on the royalty rate and the publisher's definition of net receipts). As far as I know, the going royalty rate is stuck down at around 25%, but many organizations (including the Authors Guild) are trying to increase it.

The Wholesale Model

The wholesale model of e-book sales is the method that has been used almost exclusively in the industry for the past infinity billion years and is ported directly from the world of physical book sales. In this scenario, publishers sell e-books directly to retailers, who then have the right to re-sell them to consumers for whatever price they want.

Again, let's imagine a $10.00 e-book. The publisher sells it to an on-line retailer like Amazon at roughly a 50% discount, at which point Amazon can sell it to you for whatever price strikes their fancy. Amazon could sell it for $5.00 and make no profit, they could sell it for $10.00 and make a $5.00 profit, or they could sell it for $0.99 and take a $4.01 loss.

Regardless, $5.00 flows back to the publisher to cover overhead and pay you your royalties. This time, however, there are $2.00 fewer floating around to cover those expenses, and depending on how your royalties are calculated, you'll only get between $1.25 and $2.50 (there's no question about whether the retailer's commission figures into net receipts, since under the wholesale model no such commission exists).

Granted, your royalty rates will probably come in closer to the $1.00 – $2.00 per book end of the spectrum for a $10.00 e-book, but $0.75 to $1.00 difference per book adds up quickly if you're moving a lot of units.

While I don't imagine a lot of publishers do this, it's possible for them to get into trouble if they're selling physical books via the wholesale model and e-books via the agency model. Because the publisher controls the price of one and the e-retailer controls that of the other, you can get into situations where the e-book costs more than the physical book, and in those situations consumers are (rightfully) angry.

Not that it costs $0.00 to produce an e-book, mind you, but it does cost substantially less than producing a physical book.

After hearing this and e-self-publishing success stories like that of J.A. Konrath, your first reaction may be: "Eff it, I'm putting my novels up as e-books on Amazon right now!"

Not so fast, Speed Racer. Unless you're a near-professional cover artist, e-book designer, and editor (in addition to your authorial skills), you're going to need help producing a quality e-book, and you're almost certainly going to have to price it below $9.99. Without the seal of approval of a traditional publisher—which, contrary to popular belief, is still useful social currency—you'll have a hard time selling your 150,000-word fantasy e-epic at $12.99. Especially if no one knows who you are yet.

So: while I encourage you to explore all the e-options available to you, keep these two models in mind when seeking traditional representation for our newest and least traditional format.

Tomorrow: a lesson in brand management!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prithee, Inform Me: Return of the E-reader

The last time I polled you on your e-reading habits in June, 42% of you indicated you owned an e-reader and 58% of you said you didn't. With Christmas come and gone and a variety of new and improved readers on the market, I thought I'd revisit the question.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Books Without Borders?

Happy 2011, mes auteurs, and a big thank you to all the guest posters from the last seven days. You guys rock.

But alas and alack, faithful readers, it's not all sunshine and lollipops in the land of publishing. As you by now surely know, Borders is (still) in trouble.

On the last day of 2010, BGP announced it would be delaying payments to vendors (i.e. not paying publishers for books). This caused some publishers to stop shipping them books, and Borders' stock tumbled (insofar as one can tumble from under a dollar per share) as a result. After a low of $0.83/share, it's trading at heavy volume at a shaky $0.88/share. Borders' market capitalization hasn't budged much from $60 million (that's "million" with an "m"). For reference, Barnes & Nobles' (BKS) is $930 million and Amazon's (AMZN) is $82 billion ($82 thousand million).

After two top executives resigned, Borders management traveled to New York City for a meeting with major vendors, which (one assumes) included the Big Six publishers that comprise Borders' largest source of books (and therefore income). Borders is apparently asking publishers to convert delayed payments into interest-bearing debt while simultaneously trying to renegotiate their loans with GE Capital and Jefferies Group. In short: they're out of cash and trying to find a way to keep the doors open and the lights on.

With staff apparently being advised to seek employment elsewhere, however, I don't think that's going to be much longer. In my opinion, Borders will be lucky to survive the month, much less the first quarter. They're strapped for cash and straining their relationships with suppliers, and it would be the understatement of the year (granted, it's early yet) to say they're poorly positioned for the ongoing digital shift in publishing: their website is inferior to their competitors', their continous couponing and deep discounts don't seem to be slowing the decline in their sales, and without a dedicated e-reader, they're nowhere near in league with the Kindle or the Nook.

That said, gentle readers, I'm afraid (barring divine intervention or acquisition by another company) Borders is more or less finished. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and (to a lesser extent) Apple will be left to determine the future of publishing when the dust from BGP's fall clears. I can only hope some of those empty storefronts become independent book stores.

What about you, meine Autoren? How would the demise of Borders affect you and your reading habits?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Guest Post: Is "Kindling" For You?

by C.J. Lyons

The publishing industry is in an era of upheaval, forcing authors to flex their entrepreneurial muscles, searching for new avenues of income and ways to keep their books in the public's eye.

One way of doing this is to self e-publish your backlist or other books that you hold the rights to. With more and more readers embracing e-books and e-books becoming the fastest growing segment of publishing, the idea of cutting out the middle men and keeping profits for ourselves is tempting.

Here are a few things to think about before walking the path of electronic self-publication:

Why self e-publish?

Like many authors, once I was firmly established with NYC publishers, I never thought about e-publishing or self-publishing, much less doing both!

But I found myself with four manuscripts that were previously in the hands of NYC publishers but for a variety of reasons never made it to publication. Then I saw a blog by multi-published thriller author JA Konrath discussing his own experiment with electronic self-publishing. His argument was logical and the numbers impressive, but I was still skeptical.

I wanted these books to find an audience but I didn't want to tie them to contracts I might later regret, especially as these four novels were all romantic suspense/thrillers and my career has moved to more mainstream suspense/thriller. So, I decided to perform my own self-publishing experiment.

I realized that I could use these books as promotional products as well as money-makers. Since I was in control of when they were released, how long they were available, and what their price was, I had a greater freedom than I do with my traditionally published works.

This turned out to be an unexpected bonus as by the time I had them formatted and ready for publication it was December, 2009. Then a few weeks later the earthquake in Haiti hit. Since I'm a pediatric ER doctor as well as a thriller novelist, I wanted to raise money for Doctors Without Borders.

What better way than using my experimental self e-pubbed books?

I sent out a newsletter and posted on my website and a few blogs that I was donating the proceeds of my Kindle sales for the month of February to DWB. I chose the Kindle format simply because it is exceptionally easy to track Kindle sales on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis through my Amazon DTP (digital text platform) account.

What I discovered was: Kindle readers read… a lot! I ended up raising over $1600 for DWB, which translated to almost 1700 books sold in one month on Kindle.

Possible Pitfalls

Anyone deciding to self-publish should have a good grasp of their target audience. You want to build an audience who will stay with you and help spread the word of your books—and that means making a promise to always deliver a high quality read.

In other words, just as in mainstream publishing, self e-publishing is still all about the reader.

It's not about clearing your closet of dusty manuscripts just because you can. Unless you plan on giving your work away for free, your goal is to attract paying customers. Which means the books you self e-publish need to be just as good as any book a NYC publisher is selling.

If you have a backlist that you own the rights to, they've already been professionally edited, you're good to go. Do be aware that publishers own the cover art, so you'll need to create a new cover for your e-book.

If you're planning to publish a book that hasn't been previously published, make certain it is professionally edited. The four books I chose for my experiment were all edited prior to my self-publication—three by NYC editors (before their road to publication went astray) and one by a professional freelance editor. Do not rely solely on your critique partners or your Great Aunt Martha who gushes to her bridge club about your writing!

Remember, not only are you competing against NYT bestsellers, you're also selling a product to a consumer. If you expect to win their hard-earned money—and more importantly, their time, attention, and future sales loyalty—then you need to create a worthy product.

What about the money?

Some authors are focused on the income they can earn from self e-publishing. I choose to use these books as promotional devices, a way to keep my name out there in between traditionally published books. But that still meant finding the optimal price points.

I did my own experiment, setting various price points for my four novels. The first, NERVES OF STEEL, is a romantic suspense that includes a cover quote from Sandra Brown as well as endorsements from a dozen NYT bestsellers, so I set it at the highest, $3.99.

The next two books, CHASING SHADOWS and LOST IN SHADOWS, were romantic thrillers, the first two of a series, and were a bit shorter in length than my other two novels, only around 80,000 words. I priced them at $2.99.

The last novel, BORROWED TIME, was the oldest manuscript of the group, and I priced it at $1.99.

My results? In the first week, with no advertising or promotion, the most expensive, NERVES OF STEEL, sold 42 copies on Amazon and 4 on Smashwords.

CHASING SHADOWS sold 85 copies on Amazon and 10 on Smashwords. The second book in the Shadows Op series, LOST IN SHADOWS, sold 49 copies on Amazon and 9 on Smashwords.

And the least expensive of the four, BORROWED TIME, sold 37 copies on Amazon and 4 on Smashwords.

After that first week, when I began to advertise my program to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, my sales increased dramatically to an average of about 50-55 sales a day on Amazon alone.

Bottom Line

It's not a huge amount of money, but I'm on track to make more in a year than I would if I took any of the offers from NYC publishers that I'd received for these particular manuscripts. All with no expenses incurred other than my time and a few dollars for the copyright, ISBNs, and the stock art I used in the cover design.

I now have seven e-books and am experimenting with new ways to use them as promotional tools. Since I'm also traditionally published, I like to use my e-books as reader appreciation gifts. I've incorporated one novel as a free giveaway to anyone who "likes" my Facebook fan page at

Amazon and Barnes and Noble don't allow self e-pubbed books to be given away for free (at least if they do, I haven't figured out how), so I also plan to have special "sales" pricing a title at $0.99 for a limited time.

As with all of my e-book efforts, I won't do any promotion except letting my newsletter readers and perhaps a tweet or post to Facebook or a group. So far, that's working.

Self e-publishing has its place in an author's career path, whether to keep a backlist alive, to try new genres and markets, to use as a promotional tool in conjunction with traditionally published books, or to generate a little income on the side.

Thanks for reading!

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker. Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Guest Post: A Sale is a Sale—Hard Copy or E-Book

by June Ahern

Both my self-published books are now also e-books. I like having this option to sell my self-published books. Selling and marketing books has greatly improved since I self-published a how-to booklet, in 1990. Through the use of the web and e-books I’ve sold more of my second book, a novel published in 2008, than the first did in five years.

Not being particularly technical or overly ambitious (a trait needed to sell a lot of books), I wasn’t sure at first if I could figure out how to sell e-books on Amazon. But since I was already selling hard copies of my novel there, I gave it a shot.

I began the process by registering at and following the easy enough instructions. I researched the middle-priced novels and picked an amount, then uploaded my novel’s PDF (sent to me by the publisher). My only concern was what authors were saying on the site about royalties not being paid. I vowed to keep an eye on my account and am glad I did.

After seeing some sales had taken place and receiving no payment, I revisited the site and found the error was mine. I hadn’t put the correct information about where the royalty payment was to be made. Both the uploading and royalty problems have improved since I first started.

I sent an email announcement that my novel was now available as an e-book. My first Kindle sale was from a woman who had bought several copies of my hard copy novel as gifts. She now wanted the first book on her newly acquired Kindle to be mine. She was the first but not the last.

As Kindle sales of my novel increased, I decided to also sell my first book, which had to be retyped because the old floppies had gone asunder and I had no copies left. That proved a bit more challenging format-wise. At first I tried .doc and .docx, but neither translated well (although Amazon is improving what formats can be uploaded). Jimmy jacking a .pdf, I finally let it go as that. The information is there, but I don’t like the way it turned out. I haven’t received any complaints to date, though.

I’m told that for traveling purposes, e-books on Kindle (or other electronic devices) are the best way to go. Even at a few book reading events guests have proudly displayed their Kindles, happy to show off the book on screen. My Facebook page has secured even more Kindle sales (in addition to the hard copies.)

I’m happy my books sell—no matter how many or by which outlet—whether my own stock, through Indie bookstores, Amazon, hard copy or Kindle. After all, who am I to judge how people enjoy reading? Personally, though, I still like the book in hand.

June Ahern is the author of The Skye in June and The Timeless Counselor-A Professional Psychic Reading. You can find her at

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Guest Post: Print is Killing Publishing

by Joseph L. Selby

Whether you love the smell of paper books or not, digital distribution will be the primary means of accessing text-based media within your lifetime (unless you die in the next couple years; if so, my condolences). Three years ago I was in a meeting of department heads and vice presidents and all the people that make decisions on things. We were discussing the company's ebook strategy. Three years ago, Flashpaper was relatively new and xml-ebooks were in their first iteration. We were on the precipice of massive change, not that such changes were noticeable in the market.

We're now over the precipice, in case you're wondering. We're falling. Argue all you want that you prefer paper. We'll hit the bottom soon enough and paper will become the minority distribution method for published media.

Flashpaper seems like old hat now. XML is realized (not fully, as we continue to experiment with enhanced ebooks). HTML5 and CSS3 are the vanguard of the mobile revolution, where computers play second hat to smart phones and tablets. The entire publishing paradigm is shifting and those companies that deal with text-based media are trying to figure out how to handle such a rapidly changing market.

At this meeting of mine, standing at the precipice, we discussed the marketplace, the challenges of digital sales, and most importantly, the challenge of pricing. I asked what I thought was a simple enough question: Why don't we just sell content directly to the consumer?

Now at the time, ebooks represented less than 1% of total sales. MUCH less. The industry moneymaker at the time (and currently, though not for much longer) was paper books. Paper books sold in stores and online at Amazon. A book's marketing budget was much smaller than what was needed to force any one particular title to the forefront of the consumer consciousness. So much of the business depended on customers finding the books while looking for other items. (You know the "people who browsed this item also looked at X, Y, Z" suggestions on Amazon? Those are a big deal.)

The answer was as simple as the question: We can't sell directly to customers because it will upset the market. Cutting out the middleman would rock the boat for the much larger revenue generator.

In truth, the answer isn't so simple. The excuse was simple. There are too many challenges to selling directly that publishing isn't willing to tackle. How do you set up a marketplace? Which department owns it and maintains it? Will this require new staff and the costs that go along with them? How does a marketplace work? (I cannot express to you the number of meetings I had to have with directors and VPs explaining what meta-text and catalog searching is.) How do you handle international sales? How do you draw users to your market without the goods of other publishers that are offered in the collective of a place like Amazon? How do you establish industry market standards without provoking (more) anti-trust accusations? How do you sell books?

Did you catch that last one? How do you sell books? Publishers are really good at selling books to the market. Publishers are not very good at selling books to the consumer. The industry grew up in cooperation with the marketplace, not in opposition to it. Publishers do not have the staff, the institutional knowledge, or the will to bring anything but a marginal effort to bear when it comes to direct selling.

How does that affect you and me? You get the agency model of ebook selling. Ebooks cost as much as their hard-back brethren because the cost still accommodates the middle man. Rather than a 50/50 split between author and publisher, the whole thing is muddled by including a third party to act as a literary fence.

With the inclusion of self-publishing arms like CreateSpace and fourth-party catalogs like Smashwords, marketplace e-bookshelves are less accommodating than ever for browsing. There aren't enough ways to hone searches aside from direct keyword searches. If you want to see fantasy, you get sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. And a LOT of it. And a lot of that, self-published. Sure Tor might not represent 100% of the fantasy market, but when you trace so many of the imprints up to their parent corporations, you'd be surprised how many of them are owned by the same people (Penguin owns at least four different fantasy imprints. Macmillan at least three, and so on). Bundle all these titles into a top-notch database driven search engine, slap a nice marketplace on the front of it, and all of a sudden you don't need to charge $17.50 for an ebook. You can charge $10 and make more money than you ever did before.

With the rapidly changing distribution paradigm, the obligations of playing nice with the market because of print will soon be meaningless. The problem is, by the time that happens, the publishing industry will have given up any opportunity it had to establish itself as a market option for readers of its work, will have allowed Amazon to muscle its way to control the industry despite spats with Macmillan (which I still contend Amazon won despite [or because of] the application of the agency model to ebook pricing [something that will bite publishers in the ass]).

The game is being played while we fall. When we hit the bottom, the game ends, the new era of publishing begins. The question is, who will get up and walk away? If things remain as they are now, Amazon WILL be the victor. If decisive action is not taken, publishers, authors, and customers alike will lie broken and bloodied at the foot of the Cliffs of E-sanity.

But do not despair. Others have seen the chess match being played and have begun to work toward an endgame. Do you remember that huff on Black Friday/Cyber Monday when a major publisher offered 50% off direct online purchases? It undercut any sales independents might have made on the same day. While the uproar was in defense of the independents, this sale was a critical step in the outcome of the ePocalypse. Publishers need to not only attempt but succeed at selling their product directly to consumers. While there are plenty of horror scenarios of publishers maintaining their own marketplace (same pricing, same piddly author e-royalties, and no middle man?), the risk is necessary for the fruitful transition of the industry from paper to electrons. It is necessary for publishers to treat authors fairly by offering a reasonable royalty rate. It is necessary for publishers to treat customers fairly by not charging $17 for an ebook or by attempting to explain why an ebook is worth $17 when they already lost that battle (twice in fact, but that's a separate blog post). It is necessary for publishers to maintain themselves in a world of reduced revenue and growing publishing alternatives.

Joseph L. Selby is a fantasist seeking representation. From 9:30 to 5:00 he works as a media project manager for one of the big 6's education division (translation: he makes the ebooks). He blogs at

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guest Post: The Joys of a Threesome

by Beck McDowell

For many years, I’ve been in a monogamous relationship—with paper. Paper books have satisfied my urges, helped me escape, taught me to love. There’ve been too many meaningful encounters to list—from one night stands to ongoing commitments that lasted for weeks. I love the smell of paper books, the heft of their spines, the feel of tender pages against my fingertips. Many are with me still—flashing their graphics from my bookshelves, reminding me of special nights spent together.

But I’m expanding my definition of a relationship. Don’t judge me; it’s a very personal choice that each of us must make. I’m going public today with the news: I’ve found happiness in a threesome. It’s a highly satisfying, infinitely entertaining, rewarding and stimulating arrangement that enriches my life immensely. That’s right. From now on, it’ll be e-books, tree books, and me.

Some of you will say I’m unfaithful. I’ll be accused of cheating on the very tomes that introduced me to my lifetime love of literature. But I have passion enough to go around. My eyes have been opened to a new world, and I’m embracing a new chapter in my life.

My first love moved me in ways I can’t describe, but please understand that e-books take me places I’ve never been before. They fly with me to faraway cities, they lie with me beside sparkling pools; they love to travel in a way that paper books never could. They come to me at any hour of the day or night. They calm me in long lines of traffic or grocery shopping. They rescue me from boring doctor’s office magazines and meager dental offerings of Highlights for Children. And in bed at night, they whisper to me in the dark, leading me to dramatic climaxes and happy endings.

My e-books invite me to taste freely of new adventures, sampling 50-page portions of journeys I might wish to take with them. They let me choose which memories I’ll want in hardback to keep and savor, and which I’ll file away on a cloud full of memories of pleasant but ultimately unfulfilling forays.

E-books welcome non-traditional relationships. They’re eager to link with videos, websites, and photos in a way that some might call promiscuous. It’s true they can’t compete with the velvet touch of a leather-bound classic when I want to curl up in a soft chair by the fire, but they do have their own special glow and, I have to tell you, it speaks to me. I’ll never leave my first love. I can’t be happy unless I’m surrounded by books I can fondle and caress, but readers who close their minds to the possibilities of a new love are missing a life-changing opportunity. My paper books, e-books and I enjoy a beautiful threesome that I recommend to book lovers everywhere. Find a cozy Nook at your iPad to Kindle a new relationship. You’ll be glad you did.

Beck McDowell demonstrates her dual devotion by publishing LAST BUS OUT in enhanced digital form AND paper. She blogs (from Huntsville, Alabama) at, and tweets at @BeckMcDowell.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Guest Post: So You Want to Write a Novel

by David Kazzie

David Kazzie lives in Virginia with his wife and two kids, and by day, he works as a lawyer for the state. In addition to working on fiction, he writes a weekly humor blog ( He's also the author of the "So You Want to Go to Law School" video, which has received more than 1 million hits on YouTube.