Friday, December 16, 2011

Publishing News

On the news front, Amazon's getting scarier, and publishers are getting sued for price matching ebooks.

Big News

Amazon offered customers a discount (on things other than books) in return for spying on - um, I mean price-checking - competitors last Saturday. It was a short-term savings, but is Amazon's price-check app really a good idea? The downside to Amazon's price-check feature is that it gives Amazon knowledge of competitors' prices without creating jobs or offering discernible benefits to most customers. The app allows customers to scan prices at brick-and-mortar stores, then see what the price is on AmazonStudies show that many people look at books in person, then buy online. But, by out-competing brick-and-mortar shops, Amazon begins to build an monopoly. Is it a good feature for customers? Right now, yes. Is it good for book buyers in the long run? ... But it is certainly a great business move for Amazon.

And it's no surprise that Amazon is also trying to eliminate other e-publishers from the indie market. In this case, Amazon is offering a prize package with strings attached: For a chance at a monthly cash pool, authors must sell their words exclusively on Amazon. No Smashwords, no Apple iBookstore, no Barnes & Nobles, not even their own website may offer the material. It's a direct move to consolidate all the indie authors out there, and I'd be surprised if other publishers don't start making counter-attacks.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking at mutli-agency ebook pricing deals. That's right, a bunch of publishers suddenly moved over to the agency model at the same time, and began setting identical pricing. Price matching across companies is legally discouraged (as in, there's a class-action lawsuit hitting the publishers right now for this practice). This is based on the idea that price matching discourages competition, which is anathema in a free-market economy. The DOJ has extended the deadline to resolve this issue, so it's something that will continue to be discussed in 2012. Oh, and the EU is looking into the same thing.

Weighing in: More sides to the Amazon debate
Charlie Stross argues that the Big Six publishing groups, by requiring DRMs, are cutting their own throats and handing the market to Amazon. DRMs are supposed to help prevent e-piracy. Unfortunately, it also  "gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform." That means those ebooks can be read only on Kindles. Makes the Nook a lot less tempting, if Amazon's got a monopoly with tons of exclusive content, doesn't it? Or any other reading platform, for that matter.

Before you decide Amazon is the root of all evil, check out Farhard Manjoo's argument that Amazon, while engaging in sleazy practices, is actually good for the literary community. The problem with brick-and-mortar stores is that they're expensive. Amazon's a little cheaper. People buy books from Amazon. Lots of books.  Amazon certainly isn't a saint, but Manjoo points out that the local bookstore isn't sacrosanct, either - not when Amazon gets more people reading, and more people buying books, than their competitors.
Bookavore suggests a short list of reforms that would make most people stop hating Amazon. Allowing Kindles to download from any retailer, paying taxes, taking away the 90-day exclusivity of KDP Select, and donate to charities, they might actually lose the 'evil' reputation - and maybe even gain a good one.

Author, Agent, and Industry Blogs

Rick Daley, in a guest post on Bransford's blog, explains search engine optimization, SEO: basically, how to appear at the top of Google (and other search engine) results. You need to include key phrases relevant to your novel - not just what it's titled, but also phrases people who have never heard of you or your books might enter into a search engine when looking for a random book to buy.

Nathan Bransford says, "I don't network; I just have friends." Why are you networking? Why aren't you making friends instead? Because meeting people just to use them isn't the basis of a good relationship. You build your 'networks' by making friends, finishing things, and by having things worth saying.

QueryTracker reminds writers to make a professional e-mail account from which to send their queries. Your e-mail address is the first thing an agent sees. Make it count. And make sure the rest of the query is professional, too - no fancy fonts or weird colors. The site also offers advice on writing killer loglines: State the genre, name the main character, name what makes the main character unique. Include the inciting incident and your main character's goal. Add the major conflict and the consequences for failure. Then shrink it all down to one non-convoluted sentence.

Have you done your research? Do you know about the querying and submission process? Then you know not to call an agent's office. Agents don't have time to give you personal feedback over the phone on your query. They also don't take phone queries. And they might not remember you from a single query two months later. Janet Reid also adds that this even applies to writers who have already found a small publisher interested in them. Don't call. Just don't. That's what e-mail is for. Oh, and she explains platform for non-fiction authors.

Professional editor Alan Rinzler talks about when you need an edit, and how he evaluates cost and suitability. Are you thinking about hiring an editor? Because you need to know at what point an editor should be brought in. And there are several stages, as well: brief consultations in the beginning for developmental help, in the middle of a first draft for getting past writers' block, or a full edit at the end.

Author Deborah Niemann talks about overcoming her fear of public speaking. Just because she's done it frequently, doesn't mean she doesn't get butterflies. The trick is to control the fear.

Rachelle Gardner answers the question, "I write multiple genres. How do I find an agent?" She suggests sticking to one genre if you're still building your name, because you have to invest in building your market to two different audiences - and it's hard to build even one. She also addresses the issue of trying to sell a novel that will appeal to a foreign audience - either find an agent in that country, or find a way that it will appeal to Americans and then mention "will probably have high international appeal" as an additional thought.

Rachelle Gardner points out obstacles to avoid when trying to break into publishing. Sure, some authors make it work, but it doesn't really make agents want to represent you. If you can't stay within the recommended word count, are strongly political online, or have no online persona... you're making it harder on yourself.

Her guest blogger, Chuck Sambuchino, editor of Guide to Literary Agents, gives advice about publicity after publishing a book. My favorite take-away? Always carry "autographed" stickers with you, and sign your books whenever you see them. Bookstores can't return signed copies, so it's a 'garunteed' sale. Oh, and it's easier to get an interview on the radio than on television.

And Janet Reid answers the question, "Should I follow the market, or should I follow my heart?" Her answer? Writers who write to write, should follow their hearts. Writers who write to publish should do both.

Edit: Added Friday Afternoon
Because sometimes I don't find links until Friday.

Hachette Group leaks a document explaining why they think publishers are still relevant. What do they offer authors? Talent discovery, funding for writers in the form of advances, sales and distribution help (publicity!), and brand building and copyright watching.

And the Authors Guild files for class certification in hopes of taking on Google for Google's book scanning project. The basis of their rationale is that individual authors cannot practically expect to single-handedly take on the giant that is Google, and that Google's been using authors' works for commercial purposes. Working against them is the fact that, as a guild, there are questions on whether or not they can adequately represent all authors, including those not in the guild. Also, Google will probably be using a fair-use clause against them. Publishers are not part of the action - they've got their own settlement talks going on with Google.


  1. Believe it or not, the thing that's helped me most with public speaking is belly dance. I've performed both choreographies and improv. At one conference I gave a talk at, they hadn't updated to Windows 7 or Vista, so the new font I had used for the type in my Power Point came out as rows of boxes. Thankfully, I had spent time rehearsing my talk so I had associated phrases with pictures on each page. But had I not performed improv belly dance before, I probably wouldn't have been able to shrug it off so easily and go with the flow.
    In other words, I strongly encourage anyone so inclined to take up a performance art in low-key situations to help them deal better with public speaking. :)

  2. I always love your posts. So much information that I wouldn't have a clue to go looking for, much less find on my own.

  3. Lady Arite: That's a great idea! Performance arts really do force a person to get over her stage-fright, don't they? And it's good exercise, too, which most of us writers really need...

    Adris Bear: I'm glad you find them helpful. WIth so many industry blogs out there, I've been trying to make it easier for everyone to keep abreast of current news. It's good to know that I've been successful! :)

  4. A couple of notes: I checked the Amazon exclusive and their 'pot of money' and rejected it because I need more than one marketing outlet. I assume most writers are smart enough to determine if it works for them.

    Second: I must admit if not for Amazon, I wouldn't have any market share. I sell more books there than anywhere, despite prodigious efforts to change that.

    Oh well...

  5. @worddreams: I'm glad you opted out of money pot! While Amazon does have a big market share, there's a number of other platforms that do offer some sales. Although people often do say Amazon is most of their sales, no point in cutting out 10% of your income for what's essentially a lottery.