Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writers Despair

Writers Despair

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes:
[W]hat I've seen this past month from established writers is an abundance of despair. I got a sad phone call from a friend, had a lot of sit-down conversations with writers who were ready to give up their dreams, and a nine-page single-spaced e-mail from a hell of a writer of dozens of published books, wondering whether or not to quit altogether.
What are these writers despairing about? Lots.
Books that would have sold five years ago don’t sell now. Series that are growing are getting bounced from their publishers for not growing enough. Agents, unable to sell product, are telling their mystery clients to write romance novels and their romance clients to write thrillers. Other agents are starting backlist e-pub companies and robbing their clients blind. Still other agents are blaming the writers for the fact that nothing is selling well and encouraging them to sign terrible book contracts.

Bookstores don’t carry paper books any longer. New York Times bestsellers can’t find their backlists in stores. American authors with bestselling novels overseas are being told that foreign countries never pay the promised royalties, only advances.

Traditionally published bestselling writers look at their royalty statements, see that their e-books sell only 30 or 100 or 200 copies in six months, and wonder how the hell upstart self-published writers whose books have ugly covers and whose interiors need copy editing manage to sell tens of thousands of e-books each month.

Editors who once had to tiptoe around their biggest authors are telling those writers to change what they write because their sales have decreased, and clearly, their writing has gotten worse over the years. Writers whose rabid fan base numbers 10 or 20 or 50K get told that their books no longer sell to that fan base even though the writer is constantly getting e-mails from that base and is signing brand new books for that base.

Publisher sales figures are impossible to get. An estimated laydown of 50,000 becomes an estimated 17,000 one month later. On the royalty statements issued six months after that, that laydown then becomes 5,000 books with another 5,000 in the reserve against returns. But, that same book, tracked by Bookscan (which only covers 50%-70% of the book market [and maybe less now]), shows sales, sales (not books shipped), of 30,000.

But even if Bookscan’s numbers are true, the book’s editor says, thirty thousand is pretty insignificant for that genre or for that particular series or for that particular writer. The writer will have to take a smaller advance and accept worse contract terms. Or the writer doesn’t get offered another contract period.

And of course, of course, it’s the writer’s fault. The writer misread the numbers, wrote down the wrong amount in the initial phone call with the editor on the laydown. Oh, it wasn’t a phone call, but an e-mail? My bad, the editor says. It was a typo. I didn’t mean 50,000. I meant 5,000.

So, the writer says, if you only printed 5,000 and I sold 5,000 and the book is still in print and still being ordered, then my book is doing well, right?

Wrong. We overpaid your advance, the editor says. We never ever should have paid that much money on a book that would only sell 5,000 copies.
What's the solution?

First: Know that
It’s not you. You’re fine. Your writing is as good as ever. The business is changing and you’re caught in the crossfire. It’s not personal, even though it feels personal. You are caught in the middle of a nightmare. The rules are changing, and no one knows where any of this is headed. Talk to other writers. You’ll see. It’s happening to all of us.
Second: Read Kristine's article.

Photo credit: "Between life and death" by Kathryn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Stockholm Syndrome for Agents


Passive Guy has written another article about contracts, this one focusing on the question: Why would a good agent, one who knows how to read a contract, let their client sign a contract that contained one or more 'gotya' clauses in it?

PG writes:
Ultimately, for an agent, publishers are more necessary than any author.

When a publisher says an obnoxious clause like the Non-Compete Clause we discussed a few days ago must be in a contract and explains why the publisher needs the clause, how does the agent explain this clause to her client? Probably using much the same rationale as the publisher does. “I know you don’t like it, but the publisher needs this because . . . .”

After explaining the obnoxious clause 100 times to 25 authors, will the agent have a tendency to accept the clause as “the way things are done these days” or “the new standard?” Will describing the clause as something “every publisher is requiring in new contracts” be a better way to get a publishing deal and advance for the author and the agent than trashing the clause?

Since agents and attorneys who work for agents are not regulators, we don’t have Regulatory Capture here. How does Agent Capture sound? Joe Konrath talks about authors succumbing to The Stockholm Syndrome in their dealings with publishers. There may be something like that going on with agents as well.

Here is a link to PG's blog post, it's a good read.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pottermore: Harry Potter Digital Books and Audio Files


It looks like JK Rowling has set up the site, Pottermore.com, to -- among other things -- publish her own ebooks and audo files of the Harry Potter books.

Having an ebook copy of the Harry Potter books will be wonderful! Unfortunately, it seems as though the site won't be open to the general public before October but I'm sure we will be receiving more news about what Rowling has in store for us before then.

More links:

JK Rowling Will Self-Pub Harry Potter Ebooks
(Post by Joe Konrath at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.)

Scholastic Statement on J.K. Rowling's Pottermore Announcement
(Scholastic's Press Release.  Thanks to David Gaughran for the link.)

Physical bookshops frustrated with Pottermore
(Thanks to JM Cornwell for posting this link.)

J.K. Rowling, Indie Author – Roundup
(Passive Guy's Links on this topic.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Non-Competition Clauses in Contracts


Passive Guy goes over the non-compete clause in a contract an author sent into him. Here is part of his analysis:

PG thinks a reasonable interpretation of authorize publication would prevent the author from signing a publishing contract and receiving an advance for an entirely unrelated book until six months after publication of the first.

So, even if you’re writing up a storm, either make that advance last or go back to being a barista until you’re free to sell another book.

Passive Guy makes contracts interesting, I would encourage anyone interested to read his blog post.

Selling Stolen Books on Amazon.com


Two of Ruth Ann Nordin's books have been stolen and are, as of this writing, currently on sale at Amazon.

Here is a link to Ruth Ann Nordin's website and her blog where she is keeping readers up to date on her attempts at getting the fraudulent copies removed. She also wrote an article for the Self-Published Author's Lounge that gives the details of the thefts.

It is my understanding that the thief uploaded a copy of Mr. Nordin's books onto Amazon using Ruth Ann Nordin's name and is now receiving royalties on the sale of those books. 

My sympathy goes out to Ms. Nordin and I hope that this situation is resolved quickly. I will keep this blog post updated as more information becomes available.

Thanks to Passive Guy for blogging about this.

Edit (June 22, 2011)
Ms. Nordin has left an update on this situation at the Self-Published Author's Lounge.

It is well worth the read but, as I understand it, Ms. Nordin says that, as of today Amazon has taken down the copies of her stolen books.

This is excellent news and I am glad that Amazon acted so quickly on Ms. Nordin's behalf.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Contracts


I have been enjoying reading about contracts lately. I know, I know, that claim may seem less than plausible, but I think that book contracts may be infinitely more fun to read about than to read.  At least, if you're not a lawyer.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Passive Guy (from The Passive Voice) -- a retired lawyer -- have been blogging about book contracts and, generally, helping to raise the awareness of new writers on the subject.

In that spirit, here are some links to posts about contracts that made my jaw drop.  I had no idea what rights certain agents were trying to retain for themselves.  On that note, if you are a writer who has signed a book contract lately, Passive Guy is collecting them, trying to get an idea for what's going on in the industry these days.  I'm eagerly awaiting that series of blog posts (or, hopefully, ebook!).

From the blog of Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
- The Business Rusch: Writing Like It's 1999
- The Business Rusch: Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks, oh my!

Kristine Rusch has many more excellent articles on the business of writing, but her website is well laid out so if you go there they should be easy to find.

From the Passive Voice Blog
- How to Read a Book Contract - Agency Clause
- How to Read a Book Contract - Agency Coupled with an Interest If you are a writer with an agent and, like me before I read this blog post, you have no idea what agency coupled with a interest means, this is a must-read post.

Here is what Kristine Rusch had to say about these two posts:
If you have an agent, please read these two posts even if you think you understand the agency clause. It is my experience that most writers do not understand what they’re signing in their book contracts, and some agents have been misleading writers as to what these clauses mean.
Also of great interest to me were:
- How to Read a Book Contract - Somebody's Gonna Die
- You Just Signed with a Big Agent? Oh, I'm So Sorry.

See also:
- Self-Publishing Basics: The Copyright Page

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Podcasting on the iPad


After writing my last post, How to record an audiobook at home, I came across a link to Steven Lewis's Taleist blog, a blog I'm now subscribing to, and read his terrific post 5 ways to stuff up your author podcast.

In his article Steven Lewis recommends a program called Hindenburg. I went over to nsaka.com to take a look at what Hindenburg can do. It looks impressive but costs $66.50. For what the program does I'm sure that's cheap but right now I don't have $66.50 to spare. Then I noticed they have a version out for the iPhone called the Hindenburg Field Recorder.

Now, I don't have an iPhone but I do have an iPad (which I think is completely awesome and that I am in love with) so I went to have a look. The app seemed great but cost $29.99. That's more in the ballpark of what I can afford but I didn't want to pay $30 for a program that I hadn't taken for a trial run. Enter the Hindenburg Field Recorder Lite. It has all the functionality of the Hindenburg Field Recorder but is free. Yay! Free is good.

I downloaded the app and started playing with it. My first impression is that it was very easy to use and extremely fun. I'm not sure what the quality of the sound would be like but I think it would be exciting to take my iPad out into the city and do interviews, sort of podcasting on the go.

I'm not sure if I ever will do a podcast, but it has been fun learning more about them, and I've discovered a great blog in the process!

Oh, before I close this post, I would like to share a link to Steven Lewis's podcast of his interview with Karen McQuestion. Karen was (at least this is my understanding) the first indie author most folks heard about who made a good living off self-publishing her books. It is a great interview and Karen gives many tips to new writers concerning marketing and promotion. Also, it is interesting to compare the quality of Steve Lewis's audio (I'm assuming he has set up a home studio) and Karen McQuestion's (I'm assuming she hasn't).

Cheers!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to record an audiobook at home


For months I have been toying with the idea of making an audiobook, but I didn't know how much work would be involved, or whether I could do a recording with the equipment and programs available to me. I started to research the subject and then thought, "Hey! I could do a post about this!"

The first place I looked for information was ACX.com. (If you would like to learn a bit about ACX, here is a link to their FAQ.)  ACX has a great section entitled: Video Lessons and Resources.  On that page are links to five video tutorials that will take you, step by step, through everything you need to set up a recording studio in your home.  The downside for me was that if I followed the advice in these videos I would have to spend hundreds of dollars on new equipment. :-(

My search continued.

The next place I went for information on making an audiobook was podiobooks.com. After clicking various links pretty much at random I came to a page titled: Postcast101 - Creating and Hosting an Audio Podcast. The information on this page is for people intending to transmit their books via an RSS feed so it contains a lot of information not applicable to me, but from what I can tell one can record an audiobook using only:

Your current Mac or PC
A Microphone
Audacity
Levelator
iTunes

If you want to include music anywhere in the audiobook here are some sources:
iodapromonet
Musicalley
ccMixter

Here are tutorials that give the nuts and bolts of how to record an audiobook:
Step 1: Creating and Editing an Audio Recording
Step 4: Levelating the Podcast
Step 5: Encoding to MP3 Format

I think I would like to try making an audiobook one day, but it looks like a lot of work. I have a new appreciation for all the folks who have done it.

UPDATE (February 25, 2013): I've written another article that builds on this one:
- How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

Other articles you might like:

- Podcasting on the iPad
- How To Write Short Stories
- Michael Hauge On How To Summarize Your Novel

Friday, June 10, 2011

Self-Publishing Tips


Here's a great article by Marie Force on how to format a manuscript for Amazon: Self-Publishing Tips for the Uninitiated.

Also, I would like to recommend Zoe Winter's book, Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author. I have read this book and use it now as a reference.

Although not about the nuts and bolts of formatting, etc., Joe Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, is a must read for anyone thinking of independently publishing their work. Not only will it introduce you to other indie authors but Joe gives excellent advice on how to market your book(s).

Although not directly related to self-publishing, Dean Wesley Smith's blog, especially his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series, contains invaluable information about the business of writing. After reading his blog posts, I'll never think about writing the same way again.

Dean's wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, has her own blog where she discusses, among other things, the business of publishing (contracts, etc.)

Another blog I have found a wealthy of information on is The Passive Voice, especially when it comes to anything to do with contracts.

There are many more blogs I want to include here but I need to run or I will be late for my day job! Cheers!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dean Wesley Smith Kills Cows


And by cows I mean what he calls "the sacred cows of publishing," so no actual bovines are in danger.

Dean Wesley Smith's latest post is brilliant. I highly recommend it, and his book, "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing," to any writer but especially to new writers like myself.

Here is an excerpt from his post:

Writers, especially newer writers are hungry for set rules.

This business is fluid and crazy most of the time, and the need for security screams out in most of us. So in the early years we writers search for “rules” to follow, shortcuts that will cut down the time involved, secret handshakes that will get us through doors. It is only after a lot of time that professional writers come to realize that the only rules are the ones we put on ourselves.

Writers are people who sit alone in a room and make stuff up. The problem we have is that when we get insecure without rules, we make stuff up as well.

When we don’t understand something, we make something up to explain it. Then when someone comes along with a “this is how you do it” stated like a rule, you jump to the rule like a drowning man reaching for a rope. And when someone else says “Let go of the rope to make it to safety,” you get angry and won’t let go of that first safety line.

In all these chapters that’s what I will be trying to tell tell you to do: Let go of the rope and trust your own talents and knowledge.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Writers are Odd


I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and saw paradise. The sun was shining (and in Vancouver that is a rare a sight), birds were flitting, Disney style, between trees, flowers were blooming and the scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns wafted up to me from the bakery down the street.

It was heaven.

What did I do? Did I go for a walk? Did I go for a (much needed) run? Did I make myself coffee and sit by my open window to enjoy the sights and sounds of spring?

No. Of course not. I'm a writer.

I booted up my computer, drew the curtains, and picked up editing a scene I'd been editing on and off for the last three days. I did, eventually, take a coffee break and, when I did, got to thinking about writing and its relationship to good mental health ... and whether there was one.

Who but a writer would spend a beautiful sunny day locked in her apartment punching away at little black buttons for hours on end? I guess a case could be made for writers, necessarily, being a bit ... let's call it eccentric.

Okay, that's my self-reflection for the day. :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Contracts: Avoiding the Gotchas


The writer of The Passive Voice blog, a lawyer who no longer practices, has written a must-read blog post about how to avoid getting stung by nasty little clauses that a publisher or agent may try to sneak into your contract. Passive Guy calls these clauses "gotyas". Here is an example of a gotya clause:

“For services rendered and about to be rendered, the Author does hereby irrevocably assign and transfer to said agent and said agent shall retain, a sum equal to 15% as an agency coupled with an interest….”

That example comes from Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog post: The Business Rusch: Agents. Here is Kristine's commentary:

Oh, my God. I wouldn’t have signed that as a twenty-one year old newly birthed nonfiction writer. It sounds scary because it is. It means that the writer has assigned his agent—irrevocably—15% of the book. “An interest” is a legal term and (lawyers, you can correct me), it means that the agent now has a piece of that property. 15% worth to be exact.

I am not a laywer and nothing that I say in this post is legal advice. Having made that clear, the way I read Passive Guy's post, he is saying that if you aren't sure that you or your IP lawyer have ferreted out every single last gotya clause in the contract you're thinking of signing, one way to smoke out these dastardly clauses is to add an avoidance of doubt clause (or two, or three, or ...) to your contract.

The Passive Guy gives a great explanation of what an avoidance of doubt clause is, so I'll just refer you to his blog post for that. As I understand it, though, the basic idea is this: Explicitly state what rights you seek to retain and if the publisher or agent who gave you the contract demands that one or more avoidance of doubt clauses be removed then you know that there are hidden gotya clauses in the contract and which ones to look for.

Here are Passive Guy's examples:

For the avoidance of doubt, no provision of this contract shall:

1. Give Publisher any rights to any present or future work of Author other than new books with the same characters as the Work.
2. Prevent Author from publishing any of Author’s present or future books with another publisher or self-publishing such books except for books with the same characters as described above.
3. Give Publisher any rights to electronic versions of the Work except for an ebook version of the Work with features substantially identical to those being sold at retail by Publisher on the date of this contract.
4. Give Publisher any rights to versions of the Work in electronic or other formats that are not being sold commercially at retail by one or more major book publishers on the date of this contract.
5. Give Publisher any rights to past, present or future creations of Author that are not books, including adaptations by Author or others of the Work into a form that is not a book or ebook.
6. Give Publisher any rights to modify the content of the Work as initially accepted for publication by Publisher without Author’s express written consent in a document separate from this contract.

I believe there is a lot of truth to the old saying, to be forwarned is to be forearmed. I highly recommend reading Kristine's three part series on The Business Rusche:

The Business Rusch: Surviving The Transition (Part One)
The Business Rusch: Publishers (Surviving the Transition Part 2)
The Business Rusch: Agents (Surviving the Transition Part 3)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Publishers are under-reporting electronic book sales


This is what well-known and respected agent Kristin Nelson wrote yesterday on her popular blog, Pub Rants:

Publishers are under-reporting electronic book sales in any given period on the royalty statements we are seeing.

That's a fact.

Wow! This is big. 

(By the way, Kristin's post wasn't primarily about publishers under-reporting ebook sales, it was about one of her authors, Courtney Milan, deciding to turn down a deal from Harlequin to self-publish. For more on Courtney's decision see her blog post on the subject as well as her interview over on the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.)


A few weeks ago I read Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog post, The Business Rusch: Royalty Statements Update, where she wrote that publishers are under-reporting their ebook sales. (I also blogged about it.) I talked to a few of my friends after I wrote that post, they weren't writers, and they flat out did not believe that any reputable publishing company would under-report sales.

Well, it looks like publishers are indeed under-reporting ebooks sales.  I respect Kristine Rusch but she was just one person saying it.  Now it's two.  Two very respected people in the book industry.  I have no doubt that neither of these women would make this claim publicly if they weren't sure and if they didn't have proof.

It will be interesting to see this subject develop.