Over at the SFFWorld.com forums, an author looking at different ways of proceeding in fiction book publishing asked for information regarding a number of basic questions about book publishing. You can check out that discussion thread here, and the conversation is not necessarily done as I’m sure more questions may come up, but I am also going to reprint my responses to various questions here. While many may find the info basic, it ended up being a decent foundational outline of things authors have to understand and consider in business decisions in fiction publishing. And so it may be of some interest to writers navigating the waters or those simply curious about how the odd industry of fiction publishing operates. Part 1 below:
Tag Archives: e-books
First up, a very succinct explanation of the e-book price developments from Salon.com. I had thought that Amazon did not have enough juice to get the DOJ interested in blocking agency pricing and that it was other factors. But apparently it actually was Amazon, trying to keep their virtual monopoly on the field.
Second, I am constantly dealing with new writers who are obsessed with grammar and who seem to believe that book and magazine editors are too, as if trying to publish was like sitting for an English exam. There seems to be difficulty understanding that there is not just one working grammar for the English language and that fiction writing is not concerned with grammar at all, but with sound, rhythm and flow. Stephen Fry tackles this problem head-on with some lovely graphics in this video. (You have to go to the article to get to the audio/video recording on this one, but it’s worth it.)
Third, the Orchard Gardens school in Massachusetts got themselves a principle who decided to stop treating his troubled elementary school like a prison, as has been the wont the last few decades as far right politicians continually slash and steal from school budgets, releasing the security guards and hiring art teachers instead. It has created a remarkable turnaround in the school. My favorite part is this quote from the article, which I intend to drag out during people insisting that there are rules for fiction writing despite all evidence to the contrary:
Eighth grader Keyvaughn Little said he’s come out of his shell since the school’s turnaround.
His grades have improved, too. Keyvaughn says it’s because of the teachers — and new confidence stemming from art class.
“There’s no one particular way of doing something,” he said. “And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there’s not one specific way you have to do something.”
Lastly, not so much interesting as potentially disastrous: Pearson Penguin and Bertelsman Random House got approval by the DOJ to merge (meaning the Big Six are now the Big Five.) This creates the largest publishing company in the U.S. out of the two largest, completely foreign owned, a global behemoth that will put out 15,000 books a year through various imprints, educational and retail. It means that authors have fewer places to sell to if they want partner publishing (which still brings in a lot more money to a lot more authors than self-publishing and will for quite a long time.) It means that they have fewer recourses if a particular title doesn’t do well, creating a black mark in the not very astute sales computer systems. (And as the article notes, Hachette bought Hyperion — which had been owned by Disney — also increasing their size.) Overall, it will mean more opportunities for more title licenses, but fewer resources given to each title, meaning fewer sales possibly per title.
Random House already had 3o percent of the U.S. market. I’m guessing that this takes them near 50 percent at least. And yet the DOJ okayed it, after pinging all the publishers for the agency price contracts. So this is exceedingly strange, but the deal has been in the works for awhile now. This is likely to have a far greater impact on book publishing than e-books did in the long term.
So I’ve been down in the depths and now coming upwards, how about you?
Things that have happened recently:
1) The Oscars, which I did not watch on the grounds that I never remember who won the year before anyway, though I’ve seen some clips. Show host Seth McFarlane, ordered to bring in the young male viewers, satirized sexists by using incredibly sexist humor, which mostly just made him look sexist, (when he wasn’t forced to pay tribute to musicals because the Oscar show producers wanted to put on a Chicago number because they also produced that movie and apparently were annoyed they didn’t get to go onstage when the film won the Oscar years ago.) So in a year in which women rocked the house, we got “We Saw Your Boobs” as the Oscar musical opener, and jokes that George Clooney was waiting on a 9-year-old black girl to grow a tad older for sex as the definitive commentary. I am choosing to view this as a sign of the trickle effect. The females may have scared Hollywood just a little bit there, as they emerge as a more powerful force in the industry.
2) Random House has apparently launched several e-book only imprints (Random House is owned by Bertelsmann.) Contracts for these imprints have been coming to light, and they are a cross between a vanity press and a scam artist. The contracts offer no advances against royalties, which isn’t an enormous surprise as bigger publishers have been running various no advance “experiments” for years, looking for ways to get out of that particular business arrangement. The bigger surprise is that there doesn’t seem to be any royalties to base an advance on. The publisher’s contract seeks payment from the author for production costs, marketing costs, editorial services, cover art, etc. — all the things that publishers are suppose to be putting up as the partner in a licensing deal, while demanding well and above the usual licensing rights of a standard publishing contract. The model appears to be borrowed from the more predatory side of the music industry, an industry that has actual money and that has to produce actual varied physical products and placement services, not just an e-file as with e-books. The goal seems to be to horn in on Amazon’s various turfs. Now, Amazon hasn’t exactly been a friend to new authors. They take way too big a cut of the profits for doing little for self-publishers, they charge for various services, and their contract is vaguely worded enough to give them something of a rights grab. But even Amazon didn’t conceive of pulling this sort of operation on new, desperate authors who don’t understand the weird business of book publishing. So the author groups are very upset. Tune in here for what’s happening from the SFWA on that. If this is the new business model that’s going to emerge more widely, then yes, publishers are sending themselves out of business.
3) My t.v. show Grimm finally came back on the air, to finish out its second season, after being taken off for three months by the stupid NBC network. The show got a special debut for several episodes on Monday nights, but that was not a permanent change, as I’d thought, and it’s remained on Fridays, at 9:00 p.m. in North America. The last episode back in November was the first installment of a two and a half parter, leaving us with a cliffhanger. SPOILERS: The break left us with the magical, deadly romance spell ensorcelling Nick’s amnesiac ex-girlfriend Juliet and Nick’s police boss Cpt. Renard, who is a Wessen illegitimate prince involved in various schemes including an alliance with a Wessen rebellion force, and the discovery of that problem by the rest of the gang, which was rather hard on poor Nick. A showdown emerged, back at the big bad wolf’s ivy covered cottage where the show originally started off, leading to a big new plot direction for the series going into their back half and another cliffhanger for the episode ending involving counterspells and political intrigue with the European royals. All in all, it was a satisfying if soapy return for the gang, with some great comic moments, the full return of Rosalee, and the chance of Juliet being brought finally into the fold of knowledge and even getting her memory of Nick back. The actors playing Juliet and Renard had great fun playing psycho steamy and we got to meet a new type of Wessen — an owl one — who was a locksmith. Claire Coffee also did beautifully as scheming, de-powered Wessen sorceress Adalind.
The episode did very well in the ratings, pulling a number one position for its slot in the desired demographic and doing better than its last mid-season return despite the longer break. So loyal fans stuck it out and came back to watch. Since NBC has been having shows end or tank all over the place and they need to have something on Friday nights, here’s hoping Grimm will get a renewal for a third season and they will really get to rock out. If you want to jump in, again, they do lay things out for you and mostly it’s a police procedural show, so next week’s episode on March 15, “Natural Born Wessen,” which finishes off the big storyline and starts a new crime problem — bank robberies — would be a good one to dive into. If the show gets a third season, then I’ll recap blog that one.
We’ll see if I make it to the surface for spring!