Thursday, October 30, 2014

Agents Behaving Badly

Joe sez: Super-agent Andrew Wylie, in what seems like a conscious effort to make sure he never gets another query letter, addressed the Toronto Festival of Authors and taught them all about hyperbole.

“I believe with the restored health of the publishing industry and having some sense of where this sort of ISIS-like distribution channel, Amazon, is going to be buried and in which plot of sand they will be stuck, [publishers] will be able to raise the author’s digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.”

I have a few contacts at Amazon, so I asked them for a response, but they were too busy beheading innocent people to reply.

The amount of stupid that Wylie fit into that single sentence is commendable. I'll deconstruct.

1. The publishing industry's health will never be restored. They're middlemen whose value-added services cost too much for the majority of authors.

2. Updating Godwin's Law for millennials by using ISIS instead of Nazis is proof-positive that Wylie needs to shut the fuck up. When you sink to alarmist language and the appeal to fear fallacy, you've lost.

3. Publishers are already making gigantic profits on ebooks. They could raise author royalties right now, they don't have to wait for Amazon to be buried.

4. Amazon is not going to be buried. Certainly not by the Keystone Cops-like bumbling of the Big 5.

5. Writers don't need the Big 5 to make a living, thanks to Amazon. But it's adorable that Wylie thinks an extra 15% (going from 25% digital to 40%) in royalties will be enough for authors to quit their day jobs and suddenly make enough money to live.

Hey, here's an idea. Agents charge 15%. If Wylie is concerned about the livelihood of authors, he can just forgo his commission. Then all of those poverty-row authors can move to Beverly Hills.

“The publishing industry, up until now has cowered and whined and moaned and groaned and given Amazon pretty much everything they want. Now I think that’s going to stop. …Hachette to their great credit drew a line in the sand,” he said. 

They whined and moaned and illegally colluded and got caught. Hachette's "line in the sand" is holding out to protect its paper oligopoly, at the expense of its authors.

Amazon is an innovator. They created the online store readers want to shop at, and the device readers want to use. The publishing industry, blinded by decades of absolute power, didn't think its authority would ever be challenged. The result? Impotence. Amazon doesn't need Hachette, and Hachette will never be able to take sales away from Amazon.

Wylie can throw his public tantrums declaring he's still relevant, but he's going to wind up another disintermediated middleman.

Speaking of, from agent Scott Eagan's blog: Self-published authors - Please Quit Picking Fights!

A few years ago, Scott did a stupid post supporting Harlequin on an issue which has recently become a class action.

He was torn to shreds on Passive Voice, so I didn't really need to weigh in. Though I did comment that Scott deleted his contentious post.

I've written a few contentious posts in my day. Integrity prevents me from deleting them. If I'm wrong, I apologize, I don't try to erase evidence. Especially since, with the Internet, evidence can't be eradicated. The Wayback Machine is an easy way to read the blog post Scott erased.

Scott taught me a valuable lesson. He's the reason why, when I fisk someone, first I make sure the Wayback Machine caches the post so now Scott can't ever delete it.

Don't drink and drive. Don't get into a land war in Asia. And don't post shit on the world wide web hoping you can erase it later.

So what's Scott up to?

Scott: I was talking to one of my clients this weekend and she was saying how her chapter had a guest speaker who was once again preaching the line, "Fire your agents and fire your editors! Do it yourself!" I have to say, since RWA this year I am getting pretty irritated at this mantra we are hearing from authors out there.

Joe sez: I have an agent, and a film manager, and several editors. While I have heard the "Do it yourself" argument preached a lot by writers, I don't know of any writer who feels they don't need an editor. And those with agents, assuming the agents are good (i.e. making the writer money) have no reason to fire them. On the contrary, my agent assists me in self-publishing.

There's a mantra suggesting writers fire agents? News to me,and seems unlikely, but let's pretend there is such a mantra being chanted so incessantly that Eagon had no choice but to blog about it.

The self-publishing movement, by definition, disintermediates many publishing professionals, including agents who aren't savvy enough to keep up, and editors at legacy publishing houses. Naturally, this can seem threatening. If you own a dairy farm, and all the cows decide they can sell their own milk and no longer need you (and they're treated better to boot), you're in deep trouble.

Scott: Look, there is room for everyone. If you have this desire to self-publish then go for it! No one is stopping you!

Joe sez: Stopping? No. It's a free country. Trying to dissuade with disingenuous blog posts? I see that happening. In fact, that's what Scott is doing here.

Scott is an agent. Let's say he's a good agent, with many happy clients. I can assume that many of his clients, and many writers what want to be his clients, read his blog. He's a successful industry pro. Why shouldn't they listen to him?

Well, perhaps they shouldn't listen because Scott's one-sided polemic begins with a sketchy premise (there's a lot of authors preaching a mantra that they should fire agents and editors), then yells "No one is stopping you!" in the way a parent would yell, "Go ahead and play with matches and see what happens!" Then he descends into this nonsense:

Scott: I think what a lot of these authors are missing in their argument is that not everyone wants to take this approach.

Joe sez: I agree. The Authors United signatories are an example.

Scott: Not everyone has the knowledge of the business.

Joe sez: One of the first things my agent did was teach me some basics about the business, so I had some knowledge. Then I learned more on my own, because I thought it wise to try to understand the business I was in. You know, so I could protect myself, make informed choices, and because I'm an adult and don't want to be treated like a baby who needs someone to look out for me.

Or, to put it in the world's shortest skit:

Advisor: Don't worry about money! That's what you hired me for! Better to stay blissfully unaware of the business and focus on your art!

MC Hammer: If you say so...

Scott: Not everyone has an already built in following from their careers in traditional publishing.

Joe sez: How many times do I have to debunk this tired meme?

Scott: And yes, when we talk money, not everyone has the cash to pay for: an outside editor, a cover artist, a marketing manager... and so forth.

Joe sez: Lots wrong here. First, name a start-up business that requires no money. Second, you can get some great deals on covers and editing as a self-publisher, barter for them for free, or even learn to do certain things yourself. Third, getting an agent isn't free (query letters, travelling to conferences, buying all those How To Get An Agent books) and there is no guarantee an agent will accept you, or a publisher will buy your book if an agent submits it.

Scott: When I talked to my author about this, it was interesting to hear a few facts that might have been missed by those in the audience:

Joe sez: Okay, so we have hearsay, and then we jump to remote viewing and mindreading what the audience missed...

Scott: The speaker WAS previously published and already had a following.

Joe sez: And many self-pubbed successes weren't previously published and had zero following before they became successful. Prove causality.

When I got my rights back from my publishers, I sold more copies than my publishers did. My "following" didn't buy my same books twice. These are new readers, and being previously published didn't matter to them.

Scott: The author was spending a lot of her own money to take care of things normally covered by a publisher.

Joe sez: I did signings, a lot of marketing, and a shitload of traveling that my publisher never covered.

Since self-pubbing, I've spent a lot less money tending to my career.

Scott: The author was spending close to 100 hours a week on the career just to keep it afloat.

Joe sez: Wow! Fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. What a work ethic!

Skepticism aside, show me ANY writer, indie-pubbed, legacy-pubbed, or hybrid, not working to keep their career afloat.

Scott: When this first idea came out, there was indeed a huge fight (or maybe just a verbal war) between those who wanted to go on their own and those that wanted the traditional approach.

Joe sez: The only fight I've ever seen is those who want choice, and those who preferred not having a choice. I blog to inform writers, not to fight with agents or publishers or other writers. But while informing writers, I sometimes need to take agents, publishers, and other writers to task.,

Scott: But in recent years, that war has seemed to shift to a more one sided approach. The editors and the agents on the traditional side have pretty much stopped. No, this is not because, what I do believe some would think, "they realized they were wrong." Instead, they realized there was a place for everyone.

Joe sez: Which is why your post is called "A Place For Everyone" and not "Self-Published Authors Please Quit Picking Fights!"

So apparently you're an agent who hasn't "pretty much stopped" taking sides in this "war". Your post is fueling the war by complaining about indie authors who you claim are fueling the war.

Scott: For myself, I have always thought of this like those people who decide to sell their home on their own vs. those who want to use a real estate company. If you have the time and the resources, and you understand property law and finances, then go for it. Sell your own house. But you know, there are still people out there who would prefer to leave the selling of their home to those in the business.

Joe sez: Well, if realtors took 15% of the sale, and they sold my home to a buyer who paid me 25% of the current market value, I'd probably look into learning property law and finances.

Scott: Now, does this mean if you sell your home one way or the other you make more money? Absolutely not! Everything is on a case by case basis. Sometimes a person selling a home on their own can indeed make a bigger profit. Sometimes they won't.

Joe sez: Actually, writers will always make better royalties by self-publishing. And they'll keep control over their rights, cover art, title, editing decisions, how often they publish, what they publish next, etc.

But you're right, Scott. Sometimes someone hits the jackpot with a big legacy deal and makes a lot of money.

If you're a writer whose goals involve landing a legacy deal, go for it. But unlike Scott, I encourage you to learn everything you can about all aspects of this business, including the odds that you'll land a huge legacy deal. Visit for lots of good info.

Scott: The issue here is that it all depends on a lot of different variables.

I don't want anyone to think that right now, I am doing everything I can to "save my job as an agent." Nope, that is far from the case. My authors are doing really well!

Joe sez: That's good to hear, Scott. We indies post our sales figures a lot. I certainly don't expect you to name names, but maybe you can encourage some of your authors to post their earnings to show how well they're doing. You're obviously doing well by them, and their disclosures would help other authors make informed decisions about their careers.

Scott: What I am saying is that if you are a person who wants an agent. If you are a person who wants to take the traditional publishing approach, please don't let those other authors discourage you from taking the approach that works for you.

Joe sez: I'd really like to see some link to some author, somewhere, saying, "Fire your agent!" because they want to self-pub instead.

My agent has assisted me in self-pubbing. On the contrary, I've seen agents drop writers when those writers began to self-pub, or agents who wanted a piece of the self-pub money without doing anything to help.

I won't name names--it isn't my place. But if you're a writer whose agent dropped you for self-publishing, feel free to leave a comment. Ditto if you're a writer whose mantra is "Fire your agent!"

Scott: Just remember to really listen to the variables the author is using when they talk of their successes taking that self-pub approach:

Are they selling their back lists from traditional publishers?

Joe sez: Doesn't matter.

Scott: Are the using this as a supplement to an already existing writing career?

Joe sez: Doesn't matter. But, for the record, when publishers still owned my backlist, those royalties were supplementing my already existing self-pub career.

Scott: Are they still bringing in royalties from those traditional publishers?

Joe sez: Doesn't matter (unless they're considering hiring a lawyer to get those rights back).

Scott: How many outside resources are they having to pay (editors, cover artists, etc.) are they having to pay.

Joe sez: This should be compared to, "How much is the legacy publisher charging you for these same services?"

Scott: I think the only thing I want to leave you with today during this slight rant is:

...There is room for everyone. You have the permission to take whatever route you want to take with publishing. And just because someone isn't taking YOUR approach, it doesn't make them wrong!

Joe sez: There are no wrong approaches. The fact that we have a choice, and we can look at the value-added services that agents and editors provide and decide for ourselves if they're worth the costs, is a good thing.

Beware anyone saying you don't have to learn this business. You do. If you were applying for a job, you'd research the company. If you were investing in a stock, you'd check its history. If you want to make money writing, you have to do more than just write. The more you learn, the more you can refine your goals, and the better your decisions will be.

Scott: P.S. And Romance Writers of American and other larger publishing groups - Please remember to continue to support those who don't just want to self-pub!

Joe sez: Writers should support one another. Period. We're all in the same boat. We all need to row.

But I'm not seeing any damaging talk or actions coming from indies. The Authors Guild, Authors United, and prominent authors like Patterson, Turow, Robinson, Preston, and Colbert are the ones spreading harmful nonsense.

Agents can also spread harmful nonsense. When writers look to industry pros like Eagon and Wylie for guidance but only see hyperbole, Amazon-bashing, and imaginary mantras, writers aren't learning the truth.

We all have bias. We all have agendas. Mine is to help authors.

Wylie and Eagon are agents. Their agenda should also be to help writers.

In the examples above, are they being helpful?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Twelve Shades of Self-Promotion

Joe sez: When I heard my frequent collaborator, Ann Voss Peterson, was involved in a new box set with a group of high-profile authors, I was intrigued. Both by the content (I just bought a copy and you should to) and by the way they've gone about promoting the set, which may involve the most marketing I've ever seen done by indie authors.

So here's Ann and her partners in crime to discuss Twelve Shades of Midnight.

Ann Voss Peterson (The School): Thanks, Joe!

I’m involved in a twelve-author anthology called Twelve Shades of Midnight that was released today, October 28th. A lot goes into a project like this one. From putting together a list of authors, a concept, and a brand, to writing, editing, and formatting the stories themselves, to finding affordable ways to promote, the process is a little mind boggling.

So I’m going to let my fellow Twelve Shades of Midnight authors tell you about some of the things we did. Here's the woman who started it all, Robin Perini.

Robin Perini (Night of the Jaguar): The amazing rise of Indie Publishing has created a dynamic landscape for writers, and a wonderful opportunity to experiment. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few friends in the writing world, and over the last few years so many have explored all the options. Be they Hybrid, Traditional or Indie, choice abounds.

While I write romantic suspense for two publishers, I had created a paranormal world that I wanted to explore. And I wanted to stick my toe into the Indie world. With the day job and contracts, time was precious, and I knew the learning curve would be steep. What better way, than to pool resources with some of my friends and work on an anthology? So I asked around, and amazingly enough, not only was there interest—there was a lot of interest. 

My goals were pretty straightforward: 

1) Learn as much as I could about Indie Publishing (the process, the business, the technical aspects, the marketing). 

2) Cross promote with other authors. 

3) Explore new and different ways to increase discoverability for all of us.

4) If we hit a list, that would be a plus.

Because Learning and Cross Promotion were the two main goals, to start, I considered a multi-genre project. In the end, that seemed distracting, so we decided to focus the anthology on Adult Paranormal Romance Novellas, but not just any novellas, never-before-released works. I also wanted to bring in several circles of readers to see if we could tempt readers to try out someone they may not have read before.

We ended up with four major circles: Paranormal Romance Authors, Urban Fantasy Authors, Romantic Suspense and Thriller Authors (Category and Single Title), and Young Adult Authors coming from the traditional, hybrid and indie world. We have three NYT bestsellers, several Amazon bestsellers, and even more award winners.

We also have a range of tones from horror to zany; as well as a range of sensuality (hot to sweet). We’ll see if this was a good idea as we gain feedback.

Mostly, we have an amazing group of generous writers who were willing to dig right in and take a chance with new and different ideas.

And we are taking a chance. We put together an anthology that is priced at 4.99 with 12 novellas between 20k and 50k words.

The stroke of midnight ushers in many things. From hijinks and mischief to danger and evil, romance is the magic that binds these paranormal novellas together. Join 12 bestselling and award-winning authors as they explore the different shades of midnight in exclusive, never-before-released stories.

Darynda Jones - A LOVELY DROP 
Dakota Cassidy - WITCHED AT BIRTH 
Claire Cavanaugh - MIDNIGHT RENEGADE 
Rachel Grant - MIDNIGHT SUN 
Trish McCallan - SPIRIT WOODS 
Robyn Peterman - SWITCHING HOUR 
Ann Voss Peterson - THE SCHOOL 

AVP: The $4.99 price is a risk. Most box sets are priced at 99 cents. However, ours was different than most in two important ways. None of the content in this set has been released before, and it will be exclusive to the set for a substantial period of time. And since our main goal was to introduce ourselves to other authors’ fans, we wanted to encourage those who buy the set to actually read some of the stories. So after a lot of debate, we decided to take a chance on the $4.99 price point. Will it work out the way we hope? We have yet to see.

There were other things we had to focus on before we began writing our individual stories, namely exactly what we were going to write and how we were going to approach selling it. Luckily we had some authors on board who were willing to take on this challenge.

Jenn Stark (Getting Wild): Participating in the 12 Shades of Midnight anthology has been a terrific experience. Although I'm traditionally published under two other pen names in YA fiction and romance, I was thrilled to have the chance to launch a new series among such amazing authors!

Branding this anthology was admittedly a challenge, as we had 12 authors each at very different stages of the publishing journey--from completely new names to fan favorites to USA Today and NYT Bestsellers. We also had significantly different "heat" levels of each romance, from mild to steamy hot. How do you make the most of what you have to offer? In our case, we opted to feature two of our most well-known authors on the cover first, then follow with the rest of our group in alphabetical order. The cover imagery was a bit more of a challenge, and we went through two versions, trying to find the right mix of "sassy" and "paranormal" while being true to all of the stories in the set. In addition, each author is creating her own cover for her story, which when viewed together really showcase the novellas' unique styles. Then, we added special features within the novellas to tie the tales together. For example, in each novella you'll find a reference to another story within the set, as well as the name "Max Midnight" and the time of midnight featured prominently. Finally, we've done promotion around the question "What shade of midnight are you?" to underscore the diversity of our stories and how each offers something different for readers.

I’ll let Shea go into more detail on how we came up with using the name Max Midnight.

Shea Berkley (Stone Cold Dead): This is my first foray into the world of boxed set that has original, never-before-seen stories. In fact, many of us had never been in a boxed set before (blind leading the blind), but that didn’t stop us. Wanting the endeavor to be a success, we asked the question that caused a bit of excitement, and it was this: How we could make the stories more interactive for our readers? One way was to use a name that would appear in each story…Max Midnight. The way the name appears and used is up to each author. Some have been very creative in its use, making it a game to find out what Max Midnight refers to. The name hunt has no ulterior meaning other than to add a bit of fun to our readers reading experiences as they move through each story.

AVP: We had extra help experimenting with branding ideas from Naomi Raine who is an artist and designs websites (like this one for author Rachel Grant). And much of this planning was done before we wrote the stories.

Now, the biggest part of project was (of course) the writing itself. We each wrote a story that included the elements Jenn and Shea described, but other than that, we could do whatever we wanted, as long as it included a romance and at least a hint of the paranormal. Sometimes a few outside requirements can actually spur creativity, as author Trish McCallan discovered.

Trish McCallan (Spirit Woods): When the idea came up to have everyone include a character named Max Midnight as an Easter egg in their story, I’d just started the first draft. At first I planned to write in a throwaway character. But that plan went out the window the moment I introduced the mysterious golden retriever that Spirit Woods revolves around. From the moment the dog leapt on stage he was Max Midnight. And his name alone twisted the story in a direction I had never planned. The dog became a superhero, at least in the heroine’s eyes, saving her life not just once—but twice. But even more interestingly, the circumstances surrounding the dog’s name ended up spawning three brand new storylines in the Spirt Woods’ World. So that one little Easter egg, meant to connect all the novellas in the Twelve Shades of Midnight Box set, also ended up connecting the first three novels in my Spirit Woods’ World.

AVP: Next came editing, and each of us dealt with our own stories. Many of us already have our team in place. In traditional publishing, there are four basic steps to editing a book, and I use all four when producing my self-published work.

Developmental editing is where you deal with the big picture; character development, plot structure.

Line editing is about the writing itself, sentence structure, paragraph structure, finding the most effective way to tell the story.

Copy editing is about the details like grammar, fact checking, continuity of names, descriptions, time lines, punctuation; all the picky things that might pull a reader out of the story.

Proofreading is the final stage, a close review of everything to catch mistakes that were missed or introduced by the other editing stages.

No book is ever perfect, but it’s important to make your content the best it can be. I trade developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing with my team of experienced author friends (you might know one of them whose initials are JK). I then hire a proofreader to catch anything we might have missed (a couple of suggestions would be Blue Otter Editing and ).

Jenn Stark and Rachel Grant used Linda Ingmanson ( , Jenn says, “She offers two rounds of content editing, plus a proofreader (separate person). I was very pleased with her work!”

After editing was complete, we sent all twelve stories to the ever-so-lucky Rachel Grant.

Rachel Grant (Midnight Sun): I originally offered to format the Twelve Shades anthology because having an in-house author do the formatting meant we could be flexible with authors delivering their final files on different dates, instead of having to wait until all 12 were complete and send them off to a formatter who would need plenty of lead time. With a group of this size, sometimes plenty of lead time isn’t possible. :)

Some stats on the project:
Novellas: 12
Chapters: 165
Pages (Word, single spaced, TNR 18pt): 1,468
Words: 384,718

Clearly, formatting a multi-author set like this is daunting, and there is no way I would have considered attempting it if I hadn’t found my new love, Legend Maker. Legend Maker is for Mac computers only (sorry, PC people). Prior to Legend Maker, I did a fair amount of hand-coding, using find and replace in Word to get a document ready for HTML, which I edited in Textmate, then converted to epub and mobi using Calibre. The necessary hand-coding for a set of this size using my old system would have made my head explode. But thanks to Legend Maker, I was able to skip much of the fussy hand-coding, working with HTML in Textmate, and Calibre conversion. Tagging headings and scene breaks is a snap when using Legend Maker (and I’m especially grateful the Twelve Shades authors were FABULOUS and marked their chapters and scene breaks just like I asked them to). When a document is properly formatted, it’s simple to run through Legend Maker and create the epub and mobi files. No head explosions. I even still have hair.

Worth noting: I had issues with the italics in some files, because Word can be aggravating and pushy by replacing styles you don’t want replaced, but once I discovered the issue, I was able to run a document compare and search on italics, to see what had been lost. The problem I had was a Word issue, not a Legend Maker issue, and now that I’m aware of it, I will always run a compare as a final check when formatting.

A stylistic choice I made for the set was to use the moon from the cover to decorate chapter headers and mark scene breaks. It’s a great way to pull the set together with one image, plus it gives a nice polished look. It’s insanely easy to insert graphics (and Legend Maker handles graphics very well) but it does increase file size (and therefore delivery costs in Kindle). An added benefit when it comes to marking scene breaks is that breaks can land anywhere on an ereader, depending on the user’s settings, meaning a blank line can easily be missed if it falls at the bottom or top of a screen, causing confusion if the reader misses a cue to a POV or time shift. When choosing a graphic, make sure it will look good on black, white or sepia backgrounds, because tablet readers support all those choices. I prefer .png files because they have transparency, but .mobi files don’t support transparency (while .epubs do), so for some graphics you may want to go with a .jpg to ensure it will have a white background in Kindle. If you’ve purchased the set from iBooks, be sure to check out our title page and those moons on a black background.

AVP: Of course, after the writing was done for us (and the writing and formatting for Rachel), we still needed ideas to get the word out about the anthology in a cost-effective way. We set up preorder pages on all the retailers and promoted the project on our own, using the box set cover (more on that below) and the individual covers we had made for our stories. Here’s mine, done by the fabulous Carl Graves.

We also put together some group promotions, and I’ll let the authors in charge tell you about those.

Angi Morgan (Hit-and-Run Hallie): I’m traditionally published and always looking for inexpensive ways to promote and connect with readers, so I brought some of those ideas to the 12 Shades project. I cohost a readers blog, Get Lost in a Story, and arranged a three day blog stop with fun questions about each author. I also arranged for a week-long promotion on Just Romantic Suspense with two authors each day featuring their books and fun blog. (You can also see our advertisement that we created from pieces of our cover.) I take advantage of my husband’s professional skills as a video engineer for all my trailers. I’m very lucky that I can work with him and he has the same vision for my trailers and marketing ideas. So not only is he cheap, he keeps at it until I love it. Here’s the trailer he put together for Twelve Shades.

Dakota Cassidy (Witched at Birth): Each of us had a hand in pulling together and launching the anthology. While Robin Perini handled corralling all of us, I cornered my awesome BFF Renee George like a raccoon in a dark crawlspace and begged her to make us a hot cover, and Robyn Peterman's amazeballs buddy Debby Pence did some awesome memes for us.

Also, as a team, Robyn and I took charge of the Facebook launch party--which is no surprise because we’re the two most likely to create the loudest noise and make the most visible mayhem. We spent an hour on the phone carefully organizing (read talking over each other with our ideas and laughing), and thinking up ways to keep things running as smoothly as possible. Planning in advance is crucial.

Robyn Peterman (Switching Hour): Robyn here! I agree and corroborate everything Dakota said. Now for my two cents.

Do launch parties really work to get a book noticed?

Yes and no. Most of the time the people there are already fans and are going to buy the book anyway. The real benefit of a launch party is the sheer amount of extra marketing you get on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. Prizes can motivate fans to share out the ass and this is a good thing. Dakota and I are anal and run these suckers with military precision. If you're going to do one, you should have all your links and posts sitting on your desk top. You will most likely lose at least three fingers while typing like a maniac during the party and you will be blind for four hours after it ends.

AVP: Curious how a launch party works? The Twelve Shades of Midnight launch party is set for October 29th from 6pm to midnight, EDT. Here’s the Facebook page.

And that about wraps up the project. We set up preorder pages at all the retailers, and the book was released on Tuesday, October 28. Now we wait to see how it does. One of the great things about self-publishing is the freedom to try new things and determine your own career path. And someone who knows a lot about doing just that is Twelve Shades of Midnight headliner, bestselling indie author Liliana Hart.

Liliana Hart (The Witch Next Door): Ultimately, I began self-publishing because I had stories to tell and I wanted people to read them. I’d gone through the traditional hoops for several years, but things weren’t happening the way I wanted them to. I knew I could write and that there was a market for the stories I wanted to tell. So I started self-publishing and have loved every minute of it. Hard work pays off, and self-publishing is a lot of hard-work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now I love the control and the freedom it gives me to tell the stories I want to tell without limits or rules. I love being in control of my career and being able to make changes if I need to. I'd be writing whether I made money or not--I did for more than a dozen years before my career took off. Writing is in the blood and I have to tell the stories in my head, but it's nice that I can live out my dreams and make a living at it too. Not many people get to realize their passions. I'm very blessed and grateful to my readers.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Advice To Authors United

Two days after Simon & Schuster and Amazon announced a multi-year contract, David Gaughran wrote a great post about things Authors United can do next. He opined that while AU was ineffective in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, they did excel at getting media attention. Why not use that attention to address some real issues?

He's correct. But before they get to his excellent list, they still have one big thing they can help out with.

I gave my advice to Authors United a month ago. That advice is more applicable than ever before, now that S&S has proven that Amazon can be successfully negotiated with.

Some of my advice was:

1. Write an open letter to Hachette. You've stated, repeatedly, that you aren't taking sides. Prove it. Let Hachette know how unhappy you are with their negotiating tactics, and do so publicly. Which leads to:

2. Leverage Hachette. Hire lawyers to get out of your Hachette contracts. Proclaim you'll refuse to sign any more deals with them unless they fix this situation. They have failed you, so let them know.

3. Force Hachette to accept one of Amazon's offers to compensate authors during the negotiation period. Amazon has tried several times to take authors out of the line of fire, and you've dismissed this without good reason.

I know it has only been three days, but why hasn't Authors United announced its next move? I'm just one man, and I can compose and post a blog response within a few hours of breaking news. Certainly all of those prize-winning, bestselling authors that comprise Authors United could make some public statement. It's not like they're unable to get media attention.

But they haven't made a peep.

So once again I'll give AU some advice as to how to proceed.

1. Release a statement praising Amazon and S&S.

2. Openly ask Hachette why they can't reach an agreement.

3. Ask Hachette and Amazon to retroactively compensate all effected Hachette authors once an agreement has been reached.

I don't expect you to admit you were wrong. You can even continue to believe you were right this whole time, and that Amazon is a harmful, unreasonable monopoly that boycotts, sanctions, blah blah blah.

This isn't about saving face, or defending your previous position. Keep pride and ego out if it. This is about effecting change.

Contact your media lackeys. Get some inches and airtime. Demand that Hachette explain what is taking so long, since Amazon quite obviously has no trouble making deals with the Big 5. Reiterate that your goal has always been to protect authors.

If you can put some public onus on Hachette you'll be remembered as heroes, and make the publishing industry better for authors.

The wind changed direction. Go with it. You've gathered together a powerful group of authors, with a lot of access to media that's hungry to hear from you. Use that and get this situation buttoned up.

It's doubtful any journalists will ask you any difficult or uncomfortable questions, since none have before. But if some reporter with a bit of integrity sneaks a zinger into an interview, here are some examples of how to deflect.

Q: Didn't you previously take an anti-Amazon stance?

A: We've repeatedly stated we aren't taking sides. We're pro-author. We want authors to stop being harmed.

Q: Why didn't you approach Hachette at the beginning of this dispute?

A: Hachette wasn't the one making their books difficult to buy on Amazon. Amazon was doing that. Now that Amazon has shown it can negotiate in good faith, as evidenced by the Simon & Schuster deal, we want to make sure Hachette negotiates in good faith as well.

Q: You've repeatedly rejected Amazon's offers to compensate authors. Why have you changed your mind?

A: Amazon's offer to compensate authors during the negotiation period would have caused an ongoing financial strain on Hachette. We propose they settle their differences, and then each fund a pool that will compensate authors once there is a deal in place. Money, of course, would be great. Amazon also has the ability to promote books in the same way they can make books difficult to find. We'd love to see Amazon give Hachette authors some additional promotional consideration once an agreement is reached.

Q: Do you feel as if you've been wasting your time--and money--on this affair?

A: Not at all. We got involved in this because we care about authors, and we would like to think that all the attention we helped bring to the subject was one of the reasons the Amazon/S&S deal happened so quickly. We now impress upon Hachette and Amazon to agree to similar terms, ink a deal, and to do so quickly.

Joe sez: Do the right thing, Authors United. Use your power for good.

BTW, here are some wrong ways to proceed. I caution you against:

1. Releasing a statement saying Amazon/S&S has nothing to do with Hachette, and Amazon is still wrong.

2. Taking full credit for the Amazon/S&S deal.

3. Refusing to pressure Hachette to strike a deal.

4. Refusing to pressure both parties into compensating authors harmed during the negotiation.

5. Defending your past position, rather than evolving.

6. Going into hiding, hoping this whole thing will blow over.

If you did the right thing, as I've outlined above, I'd become an Authors United signatory if asked, and I'd use my blog to help spread your message.

We're all pro-author. We should all act like it.

You have the money. You have the power. You have the media contacts. Make a move.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Amazon Will Slash Your Royalties!

Barry sez: There’s a meme afloat in the publishing world, most recently articulated by Kobo president Michael Tamblyn, to the effect that, "When Amazon kills all competition, it will lower royalties. So indie authors should support Hachette and legacy publishers generally."
Even beyond the obvious (why so worried about a lion possibly eating you next year when there’s a bear in fact eating you right now), the argument above has things exactly backward.

The underlying concern is legitimate: without meaningful competition, a publisher is free to lower royalties. We know this is true in no small part because a lack of competition is what has enabled the Big Five oligopoly to keep author royalties lockstep-low for decades. In fact, if the long reign of the Big Five has taught us anything, it should be that in the absence of meaningful competition, the dominant system will abuse authors. Given that the Big Five has long abused its power, it makes perfect sense that should it acquire similar or greater power, Amazon, too, could become abusive.
But then isn’t this an argument for getting Hachette to compete with Amazon’s far better royalties? How can it possibly be an argument for protecting Hachette and enabling it to keep its royalties low?

Distilled to its essence, the conversation on this topic goes something like this:

Legacy author: You indies need to side with the Big Five because if Amazon crushes its Big Five suppliers, its indie suppliers will be next.

Indie author: You mean that, in the absence of meaningful competition, Amazon is likely to start abusing its author suppliers?

Legacy author: Yes.

Indie author: Because if the alternative to Amazon royalties is effectively zero royalties, authors will have no choice but to take whatever Amazon offers them, no matter how low.

Legacy author: Exactly.

Indie author: So the lower the royalties offered by alternatives to Amazon, the more room Amazon has to lower its own royalties?

Legacy author: Correctamundo.

Indie author: In other words, without meaningful competition, the dominant player can be expected to offer authors only low royalties. Take it or leave it, because there’s no other game in town.

Legacy author: That’s what I’m saying.

Indie author: But then shouldn’t we all be pressuring the Big Five to increase its royalties?

Legacy author: Huh?

Indie author: I mean, right now, the Big Five typically pays somewhere between 12.5% and 17.5% digital royalties. Amazon typically pays at least double that. For self-published authors, Amazon typically pays 70%.

Legacy author: I don’t follow.

Indie author: Well, if a dearth of high-royalty alternatives is what could enable Amazon to lower its own royalties, it seems like the current legacy low rates are a real problem. That disparity is exactly what creates room for Amazon to lower its own royalties.

Legacy author: Still don’t follow.

Indie author: Okay, here’s a thought experiment. What if your legacy publisher lowered its royalties to 1%. Would you be tempted to publish your next book with Amazon?

Legacy author: Hell, yes.

Indie author: Of course you would. You’d want the high-royalty alternative. Now, what if your legacy publisher increased your royalty to 70%. Would you be tempted to publish your next book with Amazon then?

Legacy author: Of course not. Like you said, I’d want the high-royalty alternative.

Indie author: Right. Now multiply your calculus across thousands of authors. If the Big Five started offering 70%, what would happen if Amazon tried to lower its rates?

Legacy author: Authors would desert Amazon in favor of the Big Five. Amazon could never do it.

Indie author: Correct. Now do you see how the best bulwark against Amazon lowering royalties in the future is getting the Big Five to increase them today? How the greater the gap between Amazon’s high royalties and the Big Five’s low royalties, the more room Amazon has to follow the legacy lead and lower its royalties, too? Do you see how if we protect the Big Five and enable it to keep its royalties low, we worsen, not mitigate, the danger of Amazon abuse?

Legacy author: So you’re saying… you’re saying it’s crazy for authors to settle for low legacy royalties. Not just because low royalties suck for authors, but because low royalties from one player enable lower royalties from another player. So we should be pressuring the low-royalty system to compete with higher royalties, not giving it a pass.

Indie author: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean, if you think about it, it’s pretty counterintuitive that between a high-royalty system and a low-royalty system, authors would reflexively protect the low-royalty system and attack the high-royalty one.

Legacy author: Because higher royalties across the board are better for authors, and the existence of higher royalties in one system discourages competing systems from lowering royalties.

Indie author: That’s the idea.

Legacy author: Holy shit, I can’t believe I didn’t see this.

Indie author: It’s okay. You’re deep inside that system and subject to all its self-serving propaganda. Makes it hard to see the forest for the trees.

Legacy author: I guess so.

(Joe sez: Or you're fully aware of it because you're a rich author and a shyster.)

Indie author: The main thing is, we both want the same thing: a healthy publishing ecosystem, which means publishers competing for authors, not being protected from having to compete.

Legacy author: I love you, man.

Indie author: Kumbaya, baby.

Barry sez: I know there are authors who might reasonably respond to this post by saying, “Barry, I get what you’re saying, but I’m afraid the Big Five can’t compete. I’m afraid that if we don’t support the Big Five, therefore, Amazon will crush them. At which point, we’ll have a new monopoly even worse than the old one. For this reason, I support the Big Five.”

While I don’t share this worldview, I do understand it, and don’t believe it’s an unreasonable or incoherent way of approaching events. In fact, I see it as a version of the “lesser of two evils” approach. Distilled to its essence, it could be expressed as, “I know my way is unlikely to make things better, but I’m more concerned about making them worse.”

I have a number of friends, for example, who consistently vote Democratic even though they know the Democrats are cynically screwing them with a version of, “Vote for us or we’ll turn the keys over to Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.” These voters know voting Democrat no matter what means the party will never reform and better represent their interests. But they’re less afraid of things not getting better because they always vote Democrat than they’re afraid things will get worse if they divert their vote to a third-party (really second-party) candidate.

My own default personality settings are somewhat different. First, I tend to react badly when someone presents me with a fait accompli, or game of chicken, or other brinksmanship dynamic where I’m expected to blink first. My attitude in such circumstances tends to be, “You just chose the wrong contestant for your game.”

That’s the emotional aspect of my worldview. The more intellectual one is, “I’ll take the risk of things getting worse for the chance to make things better.” Which is why it makes me sad to see so many people throwing their votes away on the the Democratic and Republican wings of America’s duopoly. Sure, doing so arguably prevents things from getting worse. But it also ensures things will never get better. And naturally, the duopoly cynically exploits these fears, ensuring its continued monopoly on power.

Sound familiar?

When publishing’s chattering class frets about Amazon being a “monopoly,” what they really mean is they’re afraid Amazon could become a monopsony -- that is, “a market form in which only one buyer interfaces with many sellers.” With its lockstep crappy terms -- forever-term contracts, twice-yearly annual royalty payments, lockstep low digital royalties, outlandish rights grabs, and draconian non-compete provisions -- isn't that how the Big Five cartel has always functioned with regard to its author suppliers? We have ample evidence that, without competition, the dominant publishing player is free to present a “take it or leave it position” to authors. Don’t we want the Big Five to face competition for authors, rather than enabling it to  continue to exercise “take it or leave it” negotiating leverage?

(For a nice example of an otherwise learned columnist bleating about how Amazon could become a monopsony while ignoring the current, actual cartel that’s abusing its suppliers right now, today’s Paul Krugman column is a must. Like others more afraid of the future than concerned about the present, Krugman shows some understanding of the principles of monopsony (though curiously, he fails to mention any relevant law on the topic), but seems to assume those principles apply only to hypothetical future situations and not to real existing ones. Joe and I have more on Krugman below.)

Besides, where at all possible, I prefer to believe the best of people and even of institutions. So why insult the Big Five with automatically low expectations? Suggesting the Big Five can’t compete and therefore has to be coddled is to expect so little of it. I say, let’s believe in the Big Five, believe in its ability to innovate and adapt and compete, and let’s encourage the Big Five with our confidence to be better than it’s ever aspired to be before. If we demonstrate to the Big Five that we’re not going to be suckered with its pleas for protection, the group will realize it has no choice but to improve. And within that dynamic, is there any reason to believe it won’t improve? How can we know the Big Five can’t do better if we constantly indicate with our rhetoric that we don’t believe it can?

I’ve said many times: when someone is sick, you don’t want them to die; you want them to get well. Well, I believe the Big Five can and will get well. But not if we keep indicating to it with our policy prescriptions that we believe the organization is inherently sickly. The Big Five needs our confidence, not our doubts. A hand up, not a hand out. Our help, not our enablement.

How can we have a healthy publishing ecosystem with a sickly Big Five at its center? Competition is the definition of a healthy publishing ecosystem, as a single buyer is the definition of publishing pathology. Amazon is providing the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen. This is a good thing, not something to try to stop. So let’s not enable the Big Five to stay sick. Let’s help it get better.

Joe sez: I really like Barry's answer to the oft-heard Hachette apologist whine: "When Amazon kills all competition it will lower royalties. So we need to support Hachette."
This is a classic example of misdirection. While the magician directs your attention with theatrics, he's clandestinely pocketing your coin.
The problem is that in the absence of competition, Amazon has more cause to lower royalties and take a bigger cut for itself. As Barry points out above, a lack of meaningful competition is exactly how the Big Five (formerly Six) oligopoly has been able to keep its royalties uniformly low for decades. It's also how Amazon was be able to become a publisher; by offering authors things the Big Five didn't. Namely: no barrier to entry; full control over your intellectual property rights; higher royalties.
So rather than supporting Hachette's greed, authors should be demanding Hachette increase its low royalties to levels competitive with Amazon's high ones.
Right now, Hachette's major benefit over Amazon--getting paper books into physical stores--is being negated by the fact that their book sales are floundering in the LARGEST BOOKSTORE ON THE PLANET. It's easy to understand why uber-rich authors are sticking with Hachette; they can still plug into this paper network and make assloads of money. But why are midlist authors following the lead of the rich ones?

Because they are being misled.

If authors demanded higher royalties from Hachette, and Hachette complied, then Hachette would remain a vital, viable alternative to Amazon. This would force Amazon (Hachette's competition) to keep author royalties high.
And if bigshot authors really wanted to help their midlist peers, as they repeatedly claim, they would be in talks with Hachette to demand royalties comparable to Amazon’s. That would lessen the chances of Hachette authors leaving to self-pub on Amazon, and maintain pressure on Amazon to stay competitive by keeping its royalties high.
Wouldn’t what I just described be the quintessence of the “healthy competition” and “healthy publishing ecosystem” Authors United and the Authors Guild and their mouthpieces keep publicly insisting upon?

The Big Five and its enablers in Authors United and the Authors Guild are the parties who are actually stifling competition. After all, they’re in favor of the low legacy royalties that create a danger of Amazon lowering its royalties, too. Amazon is actually the first competition the Big Five has ever had. Amazon should be lauded for introducing competition into the publishing ecosystem, and for the higher royalties they're using to compete.

Authors should also be insisting that Hachette explain why it won't accept Amazon's terms. If the dispute is truly about discounting, with Hachette wanting to control the price of ebooks and keep them high, Hachette’s position doesn't serve the interests of the majority of non-bestselling Hachette authors who don't get the widespread paper distribution of Preston and Patterson. Hachette capitulating on both issues would ensure that most Hachette authors would make more money than ever before, and ensure Amazon royalties remain high. It would also force every other publisher to match those terms. That's what Authors United and the Authors Guild should be focusing on.
As it stands, they're enabling Hachette to remain greedy and self-serving and non-competitive. A handful of bestseller authors are saying, "We'll support Hachette because it made us rich, with the understanding that if Hachette gets its way, a few of us will stay rich."
If they truly cared about their peers, and competition, as they say they do, their stance would be; "We need Hachette to increase royalties and lower ebook prices, because that's the only way to deal with a tough competitor like Amazon--to actually compete."
That's the approach all authors should be taking. We want third parties to compete for our books. We want real choice. We want competition.

Authors United doesn't want competition. They've escalated their efforts to get Amazon to back down (recently Douglas Preston and Stephen King were on CBS repeating the same one-sided nonsense we've repeatedly debunked) while admitting they haven't even talked to Hachette.

Both Authors United and Hachette immediately rejected Amazon's three separate offers to compensate authors monetarily during this negotiation. Preston called the offer "blood money" because he believes it would harm his publisher.

Unfortunately, if Hachette is unwilling even to temporarily compensate its authors during this negotiation, I don't see it raising royalties, either. And allowing Amazon to discount ebooks means a quicker end to the current iteration of Hachette’s paper distribution oligopoly.

Hachette, and the other members of the Big Five, has to understand this. But they're acting as if they'd rather go down with the ship than try to restructure it, because restructuring would cost them too much money.

Let's delve a little deeper into that analogy. Once upon a time, the only way to get from Europe to America was via ship. People had no choice. Some, with money, travelled in style. Some were relegated to steerage.

Then the Wright Brothers obliterated that oligopoly. Now there was a new, faster way to cross the Atlantic. And now that travellers had a choice, many chose to fly. When it became cheaper to fly than sail, the balance of power shifted.

It isn't the job of passengers to keep that ship sailing. It's the ship owner's job to make the ship appealing to passengers, so they'll buy a ticket to board.

It also isn't the job of ship-loving passengers to launch a media campaign condemning the Wright Brothers, blaming them for being immoral and unfair, and asking for the government to intervene.

These days, people take cruises as a vacation, and cruise lines often partner with airlines and offer passengers package deals. The ship owners changed with the times and partnered with the enemy. Maybe they aren't making as much as they did in their heyday when they were the only game in town, but they survived because they had something different to offer: Shuffleboard.

Okay, I was kidding with that last line, but cruise ships remain popular because they do offer a lot that airplanes can't, such as gambling, entertainment, food, and activities. Most cruises are round-trip, bringing passengers to the same spot they departed from. Once ships only existed to get from Point A to Point B. They adapted and changed and survived.

If publishers want to survive, they need to offer authors something Amazon can't. Paper distribution, advances, editors with magic wands that bestow rich literary culture and nurturing, etc.

Authors worried about their own futures should be demanding that their publishers reform. If I were a Hachette author, I'd be mad as hell at my publisher for not being able to come to an agreement with Amazon, and even madder that Hachette rejected three separate offers to compensate me.

That's who I'd be going on CBS to pressure. It seems obvious.

Instead, perpetuating the "Amazon is harmful" meme is nothing but misdirection, and we've just revealed the trick. Authors United doesn't care about all authors. It cares about continuing a beneficial relationship that rewards the few and harms the many.

The sad part is, these celebrity authors could be using their wealth and vast media contacts to improve the health of the whole publishing ecosystem for the good of the vast majority of authors.
But instead, Authors United is shouting at airplanes. Which is about as effective as it sounds.

Now rather than fisk Paul Krugman's surprisingly naive NYT article, since Barry and I have already debunked most of its points and positions, I'll respond to four of the main ones..

Amazon is not hurting America. It may be squeezing its suppliers, which Americans are benefiting from. Consumers with more choice and lower prices. Authors with new opportunities. Middlemen… well, if you care about propping up an archaic, abusive oligopoly so it continues to exploit writers, by all means say Amazon is hurtful.

Amazon is not a robber baron. According to Wikipedia, the term was typically applied to businessmen who used what were considered to be exploitative practices to amass their wealth. Amazon amassed its wealth by innovating, not exploiting. The Big Five are the robber barons, controlling the paper distribution cartel, price-fixing, making hardcovers luxury items, windowing, and exploiting authors with unconscionable contracts.

Barry sez: Hachette books weren’t “banned outright” from Amazon’s site. Why is he using the word "ban"? If, for example, Wilson Sporting Goods can’t come to terms with Sports Authority regarding the proper price of Wilson’s tennis balls, and Sports Authority stops giving preferential aisle placement to Wilson's tennis balls, no reasonable person would claim that Sports Authority was in any way “banning” Wilson’s goods. The notion that in failing to offer preferential treatment to Hachette’s books -- when Amazon doesn’t even have a contract to sell them -- Amazon is in any way “banning” those books is an atrocity upon plain English and a violation of common sense. It's name game nonsense.

Joe sez: But the stupidest thing Krugman writes is; "And what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz." No, Paul. Amazon cannot prevent consumers from finding books. It is a publisher's, and an author's, job to make books discoverable. They have done this, historically, by working with bookstores. Bookstores do NOT work for free. If you want preferential treatment in a bookstore--signings, discounts, end cap displays--you pay a coop fee for that. Bookstores have NEVER treated all books equally. Amazon, which has no contract with Hachette, is not "buzzkilling." Hachette has failed to reach an agreement with Amazon that give its titles greater visibility.

Krugman's comparison of the different treatment two Hachette titles received from Amazon is woefully ignorant. Paul, no two books EVER get the same treatment for retailers. Even the simplest understanding of the bookselling world would reveal this. Some books get special treatment. Mostly because publishers pay for it. Sometimes because booksellers like certain titles over others and push them.

Barry sez: Another thing that interested me about Krugman’s post is the lack of evidence behind his claim that Amazon is hurting America, authors, and readers. The only thing he really says in support of his whole argument is that “what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz.” Well, if that’s true, it’s really bad news for legacy publishers. It means they’re totally powerless to do the primary thing authors pay them about 85% of revenues to accomplish. Krugman is arguing, in effect, that legacy publishers are nothing but vestigial appendages.

Of course, if legacy publishers really were that useless, it’s hard to imagine any author ever signing with one of the Big Five. And yet thousands of authors do indeed continue to sign their books with the Big Five in the belief that the Big Five will deliver the buzz and all that. If Krugman really believes the Big Five is as feckless as he claims, he ought to explain why so many authors continue to go that route.

Joe sez: An appeal to emotion, in lieu of facts or common sense, is a fallacy. Krugman claims Amazon abusing its power. Watch out, or they'll buzzkill you! (I hope buzzkill becomes adopted with the same derision as whale math.) And Stephen King says Amazon isn't fair or moral.

Well, I'm pretty sure the DOJ cares more about the law than how people feel about a particular company. Ask me how I feel about Hobby Lobby and Chik Fil A. At the same time, I defend their right to run their companies as they choose to. I endorse freedom, and capitalism, even if corporations do things I don't agree with.

Amazon isn't hurting America. But celebrity authors and so-called reporters with axes to grind are potentially harming authors with misinformation. At times, to me, it seems like Authors United has a monopsony on slanted media coverage; this one group can appear in any newspaper or TV show they like, while authors who oppose them get little press attention.

Authors United does have one indisputable monopoly: during the entire Amazon/Hachette negotiation, Authors United has held a monopoly on stupid. That the media wants to report stupidity as news is their right. Newspapers like the NYT are allowed to be wrong, just like I'm allowed to cancel my subscription and read something else, just like I don't have to eat at Chik Fil A or buy crafting supplies at Hobby Lobby, and just like Krugman doesn't have to shop at Amazon anymore, even though he says, "I have Amazon Prime and use it a lot. But again, so what?"

So what, Paul? If you don't see the hypocrisy of continuing to support Amazon with your dollars while writing a screed condemning Amazon, then I weep for the integrity of the modern journalist.