Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Who’s Who In the Amazon-Hachette Debate

painting by Rembrandt
painting by Rembrandt

Overview In the very near future a group of writers, calling themselves Authors United, will place an ad in the NY Times addressing the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, Beware folks, for this little episode is about to get a whole bunch bigger. I’m not quite sure when the ad will appear, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that when it does, stakes will be raised dramatically on both sides. In the mean time here’s a short list of literary personalities and author organizations that are sounding off on the issue in question.

Amazon

Amazon is the giant online retailer that sells anything from computers and cell phones to baby dolls. Currently, they are locked in a debate with Hachette over the prices of ebooks that are published by Hachette and sold by Amazon. Basically, Amazon wants lower retail prices, while Hachette doesn’t.

Hatchette headquarters in Paris, France  from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso
Hachette headquarters in Paris, France from wiki commons, photo by Tangopaso

Hachette

Hachette is a French book publisher, headquartered in Paris, France. Recently, they entered the American market (2006) with the purchase of Time-Warner books. Their dispute with Amazon revolves around the pricing and profit-sharing of ebooks.

Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston is a popular horror and techno-thriller author, who has organized writers in support of Hachette in their feud with Amazon.

Stephen Colbert Stephen Colbert is the host of the Colbert Report, a popular program of political satire on Comedy Central (and successful Hachette author). Stephen has also been selected by CBS to replace Dave Letterman as host of the Late Show, when David retires next year. Colbert jumped into this debate big time,  (aided by Native American author Sherman Alexie) by symbolically giving Amazon the finger, not once, but twice on the Colbert Report.

Authors United

Authors United is an offshoot from an effort by Douglas Preston to get Amazon.com to help out authors during Amazon’s dispute with Hachette. In June (2014) Preston circulated a letter that was signed by several hundred writers that demanded that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) stop hurting authors during the company’s economic feud with the Big Five Publisher. Literary luminaries who have signed on with this group include James Patterson, Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, J.K. Rowling and Lee Child. About 80 of these writers have come together and purchased a NY Times full page ad, supporting their position. The ad will probably appear in late July or early August of 2014. Just a run-through of the signees will show who is making big bucks in today’s literary world.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, may be the one author, who has been most damaged by the literary stand-off. That is because her new Hachette release, Silkworm, has fallen right in the middle of this debate, causing a serious decline in online sales and orders.

Authors Guild

The Authors Guild is a literary organization with 18,000 members that tends to support Big Five or Legacy published authors. This group along with SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), The Tony Hillerman’s Writers Conference and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust have supported the Hatchette position.

JA Konrath

Not everyone in the writing community supports the Big Five publisher, Hachette. In fact, most writers, who have had any kind of online success with ebooks tend to favor Amazon. That’s because Amazon sell ebooks (lots of them in fact) and pays its authors a high royalty. Highly visible among this group is JA Konrath a mystery and crime writer, who has seen his sales soar, as an ebook writer. Interested parties can follow the debate through Joe’s eyes at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

Hugh Howey If you haven’t heard of Hugh Howey, then the best way to describe this writer might be as the James Patterson of electronic authorship. And not surprisingly he has been a staunch defender of self-publishing ebooks with Amazon or other online venues. Recently, Hugh wrote and self-published a short story called Wool. This sci-fi tale has morphed into a successful screenplay, online book and series, making the writer a very wealthy man in the process.

Chuck Wendig

For a slightly satiric digression from the self-published view, you might want to check out the irascible efforts of Chuck Wendig, a highly visible novelist, screenwriter and game designer on the internet. His blog, Terrible Minds, is always worth a visit. Be sure to check out his opinion of the Amazon-Hatchette controversy and the coming Kindle Unlimited experiment.

Another Storm On the Horizon

If you think the financially affluent writing community is really sticking it to the struggling, under-published author (like I do), you might want to hang onto your horses for a minute or two. For Amazon has just released another publishing bombshell on the literary world. This juggernaut is called Kindle Unlimited and though it’s a bit too soon to know for sure, this Amazon project could turn into the “Netflix” for ebooks…….not a great scenario for mid-list and low-list authors.

And the Thot Plickens – Updates on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia
God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900 from wikipedia

Bad News For Amazon

Currently, the Amazon-Hachette dispute seems to be leaning in Amazon’s favor (my opinion), despite the fact that a whole bunch of literary heavyweights have taken up the cause of the Big Five publisher. For those of you not familiar with the situation, Amazon and Hachette are currently locked in a monetary dispute that, as time goes on, seems to favor Amazon coming away from the disagreement in the best shape. However, all is not hunky dory in the Amazon camp. Here are a few recent news story to illustrate some of the problems the giant online retailer may be facing in the near future, not to mention their growing competition for the ebook market.

Another Federal Lawsuit

Currently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing Amazon over its children’s in-app purchases. According to the Feds, Amazon has made it way too easy for minors to make online purchase through a variety of mobile and non-mobile apps. The Feds want to make it impossible for children to purchase online without their parent’s permission. Amazon does not deny the situation, but responds by saying that they are already improving the situation.

The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song
The gardens at the Luxembourg palace in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is the official name for this tiny land-locked European nation. from wikipedia commons, photo by Benh Lieu Song

Children’s Book Author Turns Down Amazon-backed Award

Just about the same time as news of the Federal lawsuit was released, Allan Ahlberg, a UK children’s author, turned down a lifetime achievement award, because Booktrust, the giver of the award, has used Amazon funds to award the recipient. Ahlberg cites Amazon’s use of Luxembourg as a tax dodge, while selling a large volume of books in Great Britain, as the main reasoning behind his refusal. Reportedly, Amazon has avoided millions in British taxes by claiming to be a Luxemborg-based business,

My View

Despite the Hachette thing, all the hoopla from successful authors and the FTC lawsuit, Amazon’s biggest problem may be competition from other ebook retailers. Although Amazon my have dominated this new bookselling phenomena in the past, I expect other ebook publishers to make inroads on the market in the years to come. Competition is a good thing, really.

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town

 

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard
Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

The Issue

The issue is not exactly a new one, for the debate between Amazon and Hachette has been around for a while. There was even a Department of Justice settlement recently awarded to Amazon, after they determined that Apple, along with four book publishers (including Hatchette) were found guilty of colluding with Apple to set ebook prices. Incidentally, this was one of the biggest anti-trust lawsuits ever brought by US federal authorities. Since that decision, Amazon and Hatchetet are now undergoing negotiations to work out ebook prices for books sold by Amazon. At issue here is who determines the price of the ebook, Hatchette, Amazon or some combination of the two. During negotiations Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from all soon-to-be-released Hatchette books and is reportedly delaying shipment of  all hard copy books published by Hatchette.

Sound Off

Everybody who’s anybody in the publishing world has been sounding off on this feud, which may be destined to determine how much readers will pay for ebooks at Amazon.com. James Patterson, a Hatchette author and one of the most most successful authors in the world, is down on Amazon, as is Steve Colbert, another large-selling Hatchette author, who also stars in the Comedy Central hit, the Colbert report. On a recent episode of the award-winning show, Colbert joined forces with Sherman Alexie to totally trash Amazon’s dispute with Hatchette. Mr. Colbert even goes as far as to call for a boycott of Amazon. Others supporting Hatchette include John Green, JK Rowling and the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives).

 

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon
JK Rowling, a millionaire writer of Harry Potter fame, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

The Battle of Fingers

When I first read about the ensuing conflict on JA Konrath’s popular blog ( A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing) I was a bit dismayed by his visual display of his middle finger. At the time it just seemed like a lot of arrogance, displayed by a successful Amazon author, who makes over a thousand dollars a day. That was until I viewed an online video of the Colbert Report, where a distraught Mr. Colbert uses the middle appendage of his right hand to stick it to Amazon. I guess dueling it out with middle fingers is a lot better than using pistols at twenty paces, but still, there seems to be a lot of room for improving how one expresses themselve.

Other Viewpoints

Not everybody is jumping to the defense of Hatchette. One of the most adamant Amazon supporters is JA Konrath. You can read his rant and check out his middle finger to Colbert, here. Other interesting opinions have been expressed at the  Huffington Post, the Washington Post (also owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos,) and the Slate.

In 2015 the host spot for the Tonight Show will go to Steve Colbert
In 2015 the host spot for the Late Show will go to Steve Colbert

Not Yet Ready For Prime Time

One of the most surprising and disgusting outcomes of this whole episode is the veracity with which Steve Colbert has defended his own publisher. It is hard for me to believe that soon this guy will have be hosting one of the major night talk shows at CBS. This not bode well for the health of our national TV industry or our political discourse.

My Take

Unfortunately, most of Hatchette’s biggest defenders have been those who make the most money with their writing. Sometimes it seems like the 1% analogy that permeates our current political discussion has trickled down to the literary world. In recent years, breaking into paper publishing has gotten more difficult, even though the Big Five are finding it more difficult to make money or just survive. For mid-list and low-list writers who depend on ebook sales for this livelihood this dispute is most unwelcome. Despite its size and aggressive business practices, Amazon provides much-needed income to writers, who would receive next to nil, if ebook sales didn’t exist. Presently, I see the various ebook markets as a way in which unrecognized writers can find a voice in the world.

P.S.

One much-needed beneficiary of this running debate are the independent booksellers, who are presently seeing a surge in their tree book sales.

It Takes More Than Good Writing Skills To Be An Author

The joker as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger
The joker as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger

Bad Morning

I thought I was not having a very good day until I saw the mug shot of Greg Jarrett, the Fox news anchor, who got arrested in the Twin Cities airport. His picture wasn’t so bad, but Huffington Post decided to add a little insult with a  slide show of  Bad Mug Shots. Sad as some of them were, I did manage a robust chuckle, at viewing other peoples’ misery. Maybe Mr. Jarrett should check out some of these mug shots. It might make him feel a little bit better, but I bet he’s got a hell of a hangover this morning and most likely doesn’t feel like doing too much. I guess this whole story is a little bit like reading the newspaper to see if your name is in the obituary.

The Original Nipper from the RCA Victola add, photo from wikipedia
The Original Nipper from the RCA Victola add, photo from wikipedia

Goin’ Audio

The other day I visited one of the more popular writer/bloggers, Jeff Goins. And to my surprise Mr. Goins had transcribed his post to an audio podcast. I clicked on it and about five minutes later I heard a strange voice come trailing out of my computer, describing the three steps to launching a writing career and also extolling the virtues of being a writer.

What this little episode underscores…… is that it just got a whole lot easier to convert your short story or novella to an audio podcast and then market the recording along with your ebook and /or tree book. The company that is spearheading this movement is called ACX. To learn more about creating your own audiobook, you can visit Joanna Penn’s informative post.

Slideshare

Another option for budding and energetic authors is to create a slide show describing and detailing your book. Nowadays online slide shows are routinely employed by large, popular websites such as Huntington Post, Yahoo and CNN. Now there is a startup company (it’s called Slideshare) that can help you put together your own slide show. Fortunately they also have a large website where you can post you series of pictures and hopefully direct visitors to your ebook or whatever. This site is called Slideshare and if you want more info, again go to one of Joanna’s posts to learn more.

very few writers still use a typewriter, from wikipedia
very few writers still use a typewriter, from wikipedia

 

It’s Still All About the Writing

If you’re serious about your writing, who has the time to deal with all alternative ways of promoting and selling your story. Both Slideshare and ACX seem like they could be of great benefit to the indie writer/self-publisher. The only problem is that each venue requires a learning curve and a level of involvement that would exhaust the average writer. The only solution here is to recruit a small circle of talented artisans who can help you get your story out……..Writing just ain’t what it used to be.

The Growing Popularity of Self-publishing

Soul_Nebula
The Soul Nebula from Wikipedia

What’s Up With Kindle’s Direct Publishing Select Program?

Kindle’s Direct Publishing Select seems to be gaining popularity with a growing number of authors and more importantly…..also with readers. However, it should be noted that various publishing companies and some literary agents do not share the same opinions.  Following is a quick glimpse at a few writers who have opted for participation in the Amazon e-book program and how they have done with their literary titles.

DutchMasters-adjusted

 

Submitting to Curtis Brown

As a literary agent for Curtis Brown LTD, Nathan Bransford developed one of the most widely read literary blogs around. Large numbers of prospective authors followed followed his timely remarks and comments, hoping to obtain the right piece of advice that would propel them into the fast lane of literary success. I was one of those people and I even went as far as to submit a query letter concerning a completed manuscript. All I got was a “Not For Me” rejection, but the general insight on the submission process that he provided was most helpful.  This was information published on his blog that could be read by everybody.

SF_From_Marin_Highlands3
San Francisco as viewed from the Marin Headlands, from wikipedia, photo by Paul.h

From Literary Agent To Sub-published Author

While a literary agent, Nathan began  publishing his Jacob Wonderbar series of sci-fi space travels aimed for younger readers. Not long after Mr. Bransford left the West Coast agency and took a job writing for CNET. He still writes the Wonderbar books and blogs as an author instead of an literary agent. As a result his posts are less frequent but still very informative. The development that has caught my eye was a recent announcement that he is writing a novel which will be self-published in the near future. This is a most interesting turn of events that illustrates how quickly digital self-publishing is making inroads into the mainstream publishing world. This is just one example, but I think it shows how important digital e-publishing is becoming to authors.

Who’s Using Kindle’s KDP Select?

DutchMasters-adjusted

What Is KDP ?

KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. In a nutshell any ebook that is formatted for electronic publication and then published on Kindle e-readers through Amazon is part of  Kindle Direct Publishing. To be part of KDP your little e-book can be available on other venues (i.e. Nook, Smashwords, Apple, Sony etc.)…..but there has to be uniform pricing. Many authors have opted for this route in the brave new world of Indie publishing, especially those with a high online profile and a good marketing plan.

Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouched
The Mona Lisa, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci

How About KDP Select?

In addition to the basic Kindle publishing platform, Amazon now has a special option for self-pubbed writers that offers 90 days of exclusivity on the Kindle. To participate in this relatively recent program, the author has to remove the e-book from all competing markets and only have the electronic item available on Kindles. After the 90 days is up, the author has the option of renewing the Select program for another 90 days. In exchange Amazon makes the title available to its Amazon Prime members. Membership in Amazon Prime must fork out 80 bucks a year, but in exchange, they receive access in the form of free downloads at any time to any title published on the KDP Select program. In return the author receives a fee directly from Amazon that comes out of a separate fund. I know this may seem hokey, but so far in 2013, each Amazon Prime download (or borrow as Amazon calls them) is worth about 2 dollars US. In other words, a popular writer with a 1,000 borrows would receive approximately $2,000 for those downloads.

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Is It Working?

Though there seems to be some skepticism about the long term future of this arrangement, many authors seem to be content with the KDP Select program so far. Some of the advantages of this program appear to be its ease of entry,Amazon’ts prompt tracking of online sales and the possibility of high volume sales for popular authors. As a result Kindle millionaires is a new buzzword for those who have been following the rise of e-book Indie authors.

It should also be noted that Amazon has some pricing guidelines for those who participate in KDP Select. Also they allow the author to choose 5 days of free promotion during each 90 day period. These free promos are available to anyone with a Kindle E-reader or compatible computer program, and not just  those who signed up for Amazon Prime. On these chosen days prospective readers can download the ebook for free. This results in a large number of downloads on the free days. These free downloads may or may not  result in sales after the free period has ended. The main drawback for the free promotion days is that the situation creates a large body of e-readers who expect every electronic title to be free……. More about this later.