Monday, January 30, 2012

Reading Feedback: Start me off caring

One of the things about writing is that it changes how you read. You start looking for things that other writers do that annoy you, or that you really like.

And I've discovered something with a recent book I picked up and put down: If the writer doesn't make me care right away, then I'm not going to keep reading.

Action alone doesn't get me into a story, and a lot of writers try to make it do so. But if the main character doesn't feel, there's nothing to draw me in, no matter how fancy the explosions are. Ever notice how horror movies with characters that die in the first five minutes, the movie spends the first four getting to know the characters? That way, when they die, their deaths mean something to the viewer. There's a connection.

So what are some things that help readers form emotional connections?

An emotional experience (but only real emotion.) A father-daughter moment. How about a little complaint about how much those chaps chafe, or how heavy that darn crown is? Or have the characters argue with each other over something petty, then regret it. Maybe a jealous moment, when the antagonist sees the protagonists happy together.

If all the characters are running for their lives, let them think about the things they never did. Or notice inconveniences that don't matter. Perhaps set the story in a familiar location.

All that really matters is that I can form an emotional connection. The character doesn't have to have anything in common with me to make me care about him. Some human experiences are universal. But if the writer throws me in so quickly that I can't find anything with which to identify, I'll put the book down. I need to start off caring to keep reading.

Take a moment - just a moment - and decide whether or not your own story gives the reader something to connect to. And if it doesn't, make a little time for your characters to feel.

Because part of getting people to read, is keeping them past the first few pages.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Publishing News

Publishing news for the past couple of weeks. It's been busy!

Major News:

Apple reveals a new app for authors, available for free download. iBooks Author allows writers to easily import word files and assemble them into an e-book, presumably to publish them in Apple's iBookstore. But there are a few legal issues to be aware of before using: for the most part, if you sell the work (as opposed to giving it away for free), you can only sell it through Apple's iBookstore. Selling it through any other means (such as PubIt!, Smashwords, or even traditional publishing) becomes illegal. But if you want to give it away for free, you can give it away anywhere, as long as nobody makes any money. Isn't that nice of them?

However, they also are alleviating the mandatory $500 per semester students have to pay for textbooks by offering textbooks at a must less expensive electronic rate with their iBooks 2. Anyone who has thought they'd paid tuition and then paid it again in books will rejoice over that.

Romance writers: The registration for the 2012 national conference in Anaheim, CA is now open. It runs July 25-28. If you can afford it and you're serious about publishing, go. Agents are much more likely to look at your work if you pitch in person, you'll learn a lot, and you'll meet other writers who can give you invaluable advice.
Nonmember of RWA registration price: $570
Member of RWA registration price: $495
Hotel costs:
Single/Double Occupancy: $199 per night through April 9; $219 per night after April 9
Triple Occupancy: $219 per night through April 9; $239 per night after April 9
Quad Occupancy: $239 per night through April 9; $259 per night after April 9
Don't forget travel costs when determining whether or not this conference is within your budget. Can you drive there? Will you fly? Plus give yourself a food and purchase allowance (Personally, I'm penciling myself for $200 at minimum). On the plus side, the trip would be a business expense for writers.

MegaUpload, a site that hosted pirated works including books, comics, and digital content, has been shut down and the founder and employees indicted.

The saga of the lawsuit against publishers for price-fixing continues. The newest consolidation of claims does not target either RandomHouse or Amazon; those accused are Apple, HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. The suit asserts that the price-fixing between the major publishers targeted has "driven up the cost of e-books by as much as 50%." Amazon cites evidence of being approached by the 5 companies individually with threats to unlist e-book titles if they didn't capitulate to raising their e-book prices.

NBC news announces the formation of NBC Publishing, which will specialize in digital publishing. The focus seems to be on creating 'enhanced' e-books that incorporate multi-media, such as sports clips.

Amazon's trying hard to clean plagiarized works from their e-shelves. There's a huge selection of 'self-published' writers who are publishing plagiarized works in disguise, and for every one they shut down, another pops up. It's bad PR for both Amazon and all the legitimate self-published authors out there.

Amazon releases KDP Select's 'stats.' But what do these stats mean? There are things we don't see, and probably should. Their press release only mentions, for example, the top earners. We don't hear about the average income, or what the lowest-earners get. We also don't hear about the estimated losses writers suffered from removing works from all other sites. I'd like to see a rounded report, please.

Publishers are less enthusiastic about ebooks this year. Mostly, the novelty is wearing off, and they no longer expect eReaders to save the world. Um, I mean, get non-readers reading.

In Canada, Random House acquires the major publisher McClellan & Stewart.

Industry Blogs

Rachelle Gardner answers the question, "Would an agent ever recommend self-publishing? If so, when?" There are some factors, she says, that affect the answer. Is the material time-sensitive? If there's not enough time for it to be traditionally published, then yes. There's also the cases of authors who aren't looking for a traditional publishing path, and some authors who are in a position to make more by themselves than with a traditional publisher. In the latter case, the author needs to have an established market, the time to invest in marketing, and the ability to reach his or her audience effectively. In most cases, however, she would personally not recommend it.

She also addresses the issue of agents taking a longer time to respond some queries than others in a two-part post. This has to do marketability and competition as much as quality. Stories with great writing, brilliant storyline, and a popular genre might get an instant reply; stories with great writing, brilliant storyline, and a smaller market may be deliberated upon. That isn't a guarantee it will sell, but it's also not a guarantee it won't. An editor or an agent might hang onto a submission they particularly like but aren't sure they can sell, just in case an opportunity comes up: for example, a publisher might be looking to fill a specific slot in a target genre, and your manuscript just happens to fit.

And should you go with an indie publisher? A reader asks Rachelle, "I was offered a contract for e-book only, but I want a physical copy of my book. Should I take the deal anyway?" It depends on what you're looking for. If you want a physical copy, then no. If you want the validation of traditional publishing, then no. But if you want to be published more than you want a physical copy, and you've verified that the indie company is valid and doesn't scam its clients, you might consider it.

Jessica Faust reminds readers to never bring a manuscript to a pitch. Editors and agents don't want to haul the paper around. You can bring a few samples to the conference just in case they ask for it, but don't plan on handing it to them. And it's typically better not to bind or staple the sample.

For writers with offers from publishers but who want agent representation first, she suggests the subject line "publishing contract offered, need representation" and a short introduction paragraph explaining, followed by the rest of the query. This will catch an agent's eye and let them know what's up.

Romance writer Roni Loren posts about what makes agents stop reading queries.

QueryTracker posts the weekly Publishing Pulse for 1/20 and 1/27. They're also holding a contest for the first 100 words and the logline. Genres to apply? Commercial fiction, especially romance, upmarket women's fiction, and children's literature. Subgenres listed, but pretty inclusive, so that science-fiction romance is eligible.

Writing a crime or law novel wherein the defendant tries to use the insanity defense? QueryTracker explains just what the insanity defense is, how it's used, and when it first started being used. The site also offers an article on world-building. How do language, culture, and geography affect the development of your world, your characters, and the story's conflicts? Details unique to your world will enrich the story.

Query Shark gets asked a question, too: Does she expect authors to fix and find their own grammar errors? For real queries, yes. It's disrespectful to the agent's time not to proofread, so errors in a query will get a toss. Has the writer bothered to have someone proof for them? Do they understand the general mechanics of writing? If the answer to the latter question is 'no,' then the agent will probably pass on them until they've gotten it more or less down. On her site, she's a little more lenient, but she isn't going to mark all the spelling and grammar things out for the writer. The writer should be able to catch those on his or her own.

Edit: Added Friday afternoon:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be distributing Amazon Publishing's books.

Agent Kristen talks about the AAR's (Association of Author Representatives) discussions on the ethics of agents publishing or helping their clients publish via ePublishers. Nothing new has been passed yet, but they reiterated a couple of things: Members of AAR may only receive money from the client for these transactions. In other words, "Agents can't be publishers and still be AAR members." Also, the agent must put the client's welfare first and must inform the client of all costs associated with the ePublisher.

Agent Vickie Motter discusses how to format your manuscript so that agents can easily read it on an eReader. These guidelines are a good idea to apply to any manuscript, by the way, so don't be afraid to use them on a manuscript that will be read in another method.

What other publishing news have you seen these past couple of weeks?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Vocabulary scramble

This week, you get 5 key words and 100 words in which to craft a story (or a scene) and use them. Can you do it? As an added bonus, make it part of your story.

Word list:


Remember, 100 words or less!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Grammar Brigade: Commonly Confused Terms (2)

a while vs awhile
affect vs effect
beside vs besides
less vs fewer
between vs among vs amid

a while vs awhile

Should we stop for awhile? or Should we stop for a while?

"Awhile" is an adverb. It denotes that we do something for a while. In this case, while is a noun, and a- is a prefix that says "this is an adverb!"

"A while" is a noun. Typically, if you use for or in, you should use "a while."

So, we can stop awhile, or we can stop for a while.

You can sing awhile, or you'll sing in a while.

You also use a while if it can be replaced with a day (or another definitive length of time.)
I dropped my brother off a while ago.
It's been a while since last we saw one another.
A while later, Luke tried to ride the shark to the zoo.

Affect vs effect

Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun.

You can affect the forces of fate, but you won't feel the effect of Luke's adventure until the painkillers wear off.
There are two exceptions to this rule: effect synonymous to enact, used to mean "to make happen," and affect, which is a psychology term and a noun, meaning "a mental state."  
Luke's shark is running for Mayor. It promises to effect a change in shark-riding laws. It has already effected major political reform in Chicago's traffic laws.
The painkillers altered your affect to confusion and shark paranoia.

Beside vs Besides

 Beside is a preposition meaning "next to." I sit beside Charlene. The tooth is beside the fire hydrant. The fire is not beside the fire hydrant.

Besides means either "except" (preposition) or "in addition to" (adverb). Everyone besides Luke liked the shark's platform. Besides, Charlene was the only other candidate, and no one liked her.

Less vs fewer

Fewer is used for "count" nouns: things that can be discretely counted by whole numbers. In other words, fewer people understand the mathematical terms "discrete" and "whole numbers" than understand this example. You don't count partial people (3.5 people? Who cut Luke in half???) Therefore, a count of people is 'fewer.'

Fewer dogs chase bones than chase food.
Charlene received fewer votes than Luke's shark.
Charlene used fewer teaspoons of sugar in her coffee the next morning.

Less is used 'mass' nouns: things that aren't counted individually. There was less salt in the shaker this morning; Charlene used less sugar in the shark soup than last time.

Note that time, money, and distance use less instead of fewer. We walked for less than three miles to get to the store. It took us less than half an hour to purchase more salt. The salt cost less than $100.

Another way to think of it is in terms of number vs amount. If you're talking the number of something, you'll want to use fewer. If you're talking the amount of something, use less.

Between vs among vs amid

Between should always be used for a one-to-one relationship involving two entities. Between Luke and the shark, there was only animosity. Avery and I carried the boulder between us. The two brothers had an agreement between them.

Between can also be used for more than two entities if it is understood that in any give interaction, the between refers to only two individuals. "We traveled between China, Canada, and Chile" works because we go from one country to one country. Without time travel, we cannot go from China to both Canada and Chile at the same time.

Among is used for when the parties involved are count nouns and there are more than two of them, but there is not a direct one-to-one relationship. (Think joint ownership.) The cup sat among the seven empty soda bottles. The countries shared a mutual-defense agreement among them. We agree there would be no back-stabbing among us.

Think about the difference between these sentences:
1) Charlene walked between the desks.
2) Charlene walked among the desks.
In the first, there are two distinct desks she is directly moving between. It's an exact location.
In the second, she is moving among many desks. It's more a general location.

Amid is used for mass nouns. The cup sat amid the trash. There was a tulip amid a sea of green. There was a minute of peace amid the talk of politics.

The shark sat between Luke and Charlene.
The shark sat among the councilors.
The shark sat amid the council.

Awhile vs a while:
Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition
Grammar girl
Daily writing tips
Affect vs. Effect:
Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed
Grammar girl
Daily writing tips
Beside vs. Besides:
Learn English
Less vs. fewer:
Grammar girl
amid vs between vs among:
Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed
Grammar girl
Translegal: Common Mistakes

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Daydreams

Quote of the Week:


You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

Wednesday Writing Prompt:

What does your antagonist's methods of intimidation show about his or her own fears?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Little girls and treasure boxes

Two years ago, my aunt (who lives in California) came to visit, and I sent her home with a treasure box to give my second cousins (also in California.) The girls were 3 and 5, and little Kay was just a bit too young.

This wasn't just any treasure box, either. It was a box full of real treasure (for little girls, that is).
There's a great gem-mining place up in the NC Mountains where you can buy buckets of ore and sift for gems. Most valuable gemstones don't look like much to start with, but any variety of quartz will look pretty awesome, and so do some garnets and some of the younger emeralds. So I took the "fishtank" rocks (stones too small for value but still pretty) and all of the amethyst and quartz.

Then I found my own girlhood treasure box, emptied it out, scraped the half-disintegrated stickers off the old wood. The most interesting (and durable) of my own old treasures went back into the box. I added the gemstones from the mountains, and threw in souvenirs from some of the trips I've taken since then. Quartz crystals, amethysts, pieces of citrine, tiny chunks of garnet, small milky emeralds, pyrite, old marble chess pieces, a silver spoon from Switzerland, real coins from foreign countries. There was also some of my own old jewelry from when I was their ages, rings and necklaces and charms. It was the treasure chest I'd dreamed of when I was a little girl, after watching Shipwrecked a few times too many. It was like packing away my own secret girlhood dreams, a box of all the adventures I'd wanted as a kid and some of which I'd gotten as an adult. I tied it all up with a bright red satin ribbon, and sent it away with my aunt.

And mostly forgot about it, of course, except to occasionally wonder if the girls had gotten to it yet and if maybe they were enjoying it. Or maybe they were still a little too young, and it would be next year, or the year after.

Last night, I got a call from my aunt. In the background, I could hear little Kay and Em squealing and discovering their new treasure.

I could hear them interrupting my aunt to show off a new discovery: "Look! A ring!" and "It's a cat statue!"

Somewhere in the great expanse of California, right now, two little girls have just found a box of dreams. And I know, even as the jewels and gems and coins get scattered to the winds of time and playgrounds, that the little treasure box of dreams will only become more full.

The best gifts are the ones we get from giving.

What's the best gift you've ever given?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Industry News

Major News

Barnes & Nobles considers whether or not to make Nook into its own business. They'd be taking their name off the product and making the e-reader stand on its own, as a way to potentially decrease losses due to the book/e-book conflict of interest. This means they'd probably be investing more into the Nook - building it as its own brand name, advertising, etc. - while divorcing the costs of the brick-and-mortar stores from the device.

The saga of HarperCollins vs. Open Road over Julie of the Wolves e-rights continues. No conclusions; both parties are just continuing to state their cases.

Against e-lending? You might want to rethink your stance: Amazon authors participating in Kindle KDP e-lending program are seeing their royalties up 449%.

Industry blogs

Thinking about hiring a PR service? Writer Beware cautions that some services are a poor use of your money. They'll offer to send your name out in a printed catalogue, or over e-mails, or both. But the recipients (bookstores, libraries, newspapers, etc.) throw out the spam-style periodicals these companies send out. If you do hire a PR service, do research beforehand to avoid wasting money. You'll spend more, but you might actually get what you paid for.

Jane Friedman offers a list of twelve articles related to publishing that she calls "must-reads."

Janet Reid provides four questions for non-fiction that need answering. And she answers a question directed to her, on what how long agents have to wait when they submit a manuscript to publishers. The time period it takes them to hear back is highly variable, depending on the agent's relationship with the publisher and how many people in the publishing house read the manuscript.

Rachelle Gardner has switched agencies. She is now part of Books & Such Literary Agency. She also offers advice this week on dealing with deadlines: make a writing a schedule and ask for help from your family when you need it.

Jessica Faust answers the question, "If I received a request for a full manuscript from both an agent and an editor, and one asks me to make changes, do I need to alert the other before making the changes?" She says no: there's no guarantee that the other will even make an offer. Complete the changes first, and then offer the revised manuscript to the other party.

She also answers the sometimes tricky question of "What genre is my book?" for books that have multiple genres. The goal is to choose the genre whose audience the book is written for: a paranormal romance YA time-travel would be YA, because it's written for the young adult audience.

Thinking of submitting Lauren Ruth at BookEnds, LLC? She's posted a list of what she is and is not looking for. Read before submitting! When an agent lays out her wishlist on the table like this, it's a gift - don't turn it down.

QueryTracker offers its weekly Publishing Pulse: 1/06 and 1/13. You can also find a short summary of different kinds of rights on a post about thinking of writing as a business and not just as a hobby. These include copyright, first serial rights, electronic rights, Internet rights, all rights, exclusive rights, and reprint rights.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Ghosts?

Wednesday writing exercise: Choose a character from your story to encounter a ghost. Where and when does this happen? Whose ghost pops up? How does your character react?

My example:

Laurie's sitting at her desk, doing the homework Alex brought her home. "What's the point?" she asks the air, dropping her pencil on the inexpensive fake cherry her mother hates so much. The words swim before her eyes, tears promising to overflow in another round of self-pity. "I can't even make it to class." The panic attacks struck hard and fast, stalling her in her tracks a few hundred yards from the door.

A chill wind blows through. The guys always try to turn the apartment into a living fridge. Shivering, she turns to grab a blanket from the bed. But there's something on the blanket... The air shimmers and condenses.

"Giving up?" A voice she never thought to hear again. She barely heard it in the few hours she'd known him. Laurie jumps out of her chair and braces herself to run.

"You can't be real," she orders the apparition.

It chuckles.

"You're not real," she rationalizes with herself, and forces her body back into her chair. "Just another sign that I'm falling apart." A groan. "That's it; I'm cracked." She shoves the notebook off the desk. "I give up."

Sergeant Duke scowls at her. "I didn't die so you could goof off."

She doesn't answer. It's not real.
Sgt. Duke doesn't care that he's not real. "Some civ shows up under my guard, and I die to keep her alive, and what does she do? Throw a hissy fit because she's a little scared. Give up on life. Great. What a worthless death I had."

Laurie drops her head between her knees, linking her hands over the back of her head to keep it down.

"Can't wait to tell Lieuson about this. She's still got the world, and she's wasting it. Stupid chit. This is why civs don't belong in a war zone. First taste of combat, and they fall apart. You wouldn't make it through basic training, would you?" His foggy eyes drift around the room, taking in the cheap furniture and elegant, expensive decor. "A rich stitch, at that. You could have anything, girl."

Her hands migrate to clamp over her ears. She starts to hum.

The ghostly figure circulates the desk to stare down at the notebook on the floor. "You signed up for classes, didn't you? You were trying. Trying to make your life worth something." The foot he kicks at the downed binder passes right through. "But you're giving up. Not willing to bear with a few months, a year, of getting over it; no, you're just throwing in the towel. All week you've been moaning. You know, I've gotta listen to you?"

She gasps at the final revelation. Turns out, a ghost's words can't be blocked with humming. He smiles. He knows this.

"Stop your whining, woman. Get yourself together. I don't have a year, and neither do my men. Everyone's scared the first time they almost die. So deal with it. Learn to deal with it. Live the life I don't have anymore. Dying for you? That was my job. But here's the price: Now, you've gotta live for me."

The room is silent. Laurie looks up. She's alone.

Her hands tremble as she picks up the notebook, puts it back on the desk. She goes and gets herself a coffee. Watches a movie, buried beneath Alex's arm and a pile of quilts. Eats the dinner Jake puts in front of her.

But before bed, she finishes the assignment, and hands it to Alex to turn in. 'Just in case' she doesn't make it to class tomorrow.

Because she's going to try.

Friday, January 6, 2012


No post today. I was distracted by Choice of Games. Unsurprisingly, Choice of the Dragon is my favorite, but I've also spent a few too many hours in Choice of Romance and Choice of Broadsides. Yes, you get to pretend you're the dragon in Choice of the Dragon. No, you don't have to be a nice dragon. No, you don't have to burninate the countryside. Unless you want to, that is.

They're all text-based games in which the player gets to choose from several options what the character does. No Flash required. But you might want to bring your sense of humor.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Favorite Toys

Every kid has a favorite toy - even if the toy isn't really supposed to be a toy. What was your villain's favorite toy when he or she was a small child? (If your conflict has no clear villain, choose an antagonist or a foil for your character.)

My example:

He had a long but fairly dull dagger made of pure gold on his 6th birthday. His parents figured he couldn't cause too much damage with such a soft metal, and he wanted very badly to be just like his big brother, who got to have a real sword. His father was known as a brilliant swordsman (as well as a cruel tyrant and a vicious conquerer), and he wanted his father to be proud of him.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Visions of the Future

I think traditional publishing houses bring value to the market. I don’t want to see them disappear. But I think there’s a few things that will need to be revised in order for them to stay in the now-evolving publishing game. With the advent of the e-book, the market is changing rapidly, and old methods of business need to be revised to keep up. With a new year beginning, I’ve written down what I think needs to happen in this year (okay, and probably in the next few years) for authors, agents, and publishing houses to all obtain the most favorable long-term outcomes. These ideas aren’t set in stone – a well-structured, well-supported argument can change my mind on any point. But right now, this is the model I think would work best.

What I want to see:

I want see authors’ work continue to have value, with the market accepting that e-books costing more than $.99 are worth purchasing.

I want to see e-books less expensive than paper-and-ink books.

I want to see traditional publishing houses stay in the game, because I feel the houses offer substantial services to writers and force us to improve ourselves through setting high standards for entry into the market, and because I feel these houses offer the most formidable competition for Amazon’s book trade.

I want to see more people buying books, and a growth in the overall book market, encompassing both e-books and print-and-ink books.

I don’t want Amazon to successfully become a monopoly.

This is the e-book industry approach I think is needed to obtain these goals:

E-books costing at least $1 less than paperback versions, but no more than $2 less

Looking only at traditionally published books here, and not self-published books, I feel that e-book versions should be offered between $1-2 less than paperback versions.
A virtual book is less inherently valuable than a physical book. It’s a virtual asset versus a tangible one, and the e-book is actually license to possess and read the book, which is not true ownership. It can't be traded back and forth; it can’t be resold at a used book store; you can’t dunk it in the tub and shrug it off with an, “oops; time to buy a new copy.” It can’t be signed and propped on a shelf to display. And while you can carry more at once in less space, if you lose one, you loose them all.

Add to that the actual cost of an e-reader. At minimum, we’ve got a $79 Kindle, a basic system that lets someone download and read e-books without many extras. I’m not going to make an investment that won’t save me money in the long-term, especially if the asset I’m getting is of less value than the alternative (again, I consider virtual books to be inherently less valuable than physical ones.) At $2 less a book, that’s at least 40 books before my investment pays for itself (assuming I don’t get a nicer e-reader!). Yes, I could read that many in a year or two. Most people who read for pleasure would read that many in 2-4 years. That’s a reasonable time period for an e-reader to pay for itself. But if e-books cost the same as physical books, I’m not going to invest, because then I’m losing money. An Aug 2011 survey shows that only one in five Americans owned e-readers or tablets in May 2011. The other four must therefore rely on print.

The cost of actually printing a book (ink, paper, etc) really isn’t that much. Most of the money goes to paying for intangible benefits – editing, branding (the Publisher’s mark), advertising, etc. Therefore, the prices should be relatively close, because the reader is paying for the work, not the paper and ink. We’re talking a year or more of writing, editing, and rewriting. Years of a person’s life. I’m paying the writer’s salary by purchasing her or his book. I don’t mind stocking a writer’s cabinets with food – writing is a job, a hard job, and a writer deserves to be able to eat from it. Maybe even buy Christmas gifts for the family, and go to the doctor once in a while when little Johnny gets sick.

Discounts on e-books when a physical book is bought, and visa versa

Recently, Barnes & Nobles had the great idea to offer a James Patterson e-book free when two physical books have been purchased. Great advertising for e-readers! Will the concept of buying a physical book and getting the e-book free last in the long-term, or get extended to all books? I don’t, honestly, think that this would be a sustainable dream. Buy the book, download the free copy, hand off the paperback to a friend as a gift. I don’t see the current industry accepting this as a rule.

On the other hand, I do think that steep discounts would fly in a long-term situation. If you’re buying the paper-and-ink version first, it makes sense that the less valuable, economy version would be offered as a bonus at a steep discount. Because you’ve already bought the words. You just want a more portable version. So, for $1-2 more, you can buy the e-version that usually costs $5.99.

Now let’s look at it the other way around. You buy the e-book, and love the book. You’ve already bought it – why waste money getting another copy when you can read the original again on your Nook? Why will people continue to buy paper-and-ink books, even when they have an e-reader? Because books then become the luxury item, a physical embodiment of a favorite book that can still be read while visiting the relatives out in the electricity-free boondocks, that can be shown off in a shelf with the first page opened to show off the author’s autograph, that can be prettily wrapped for Cousin Sharon’s birthday. The likelihood that a person will invest in a hardback book will go up. I suggest, therefore, that proof-of-license (i.e., a receipt or bringing the book in on the e-reader with a “I bought this, not borrowed it” mark that publishers would need to develop) would earn a consumer either a $2 or a 20% discount, whichever is larger.

35-40% royalties for authors through e-books

That’s a lot more than most publishers are currently paying (the standard seems to be around 25%), but much less than most self-publishers get per book. Why the increase? Because there’s a growing industry of self-publishers, and I want traditional publishing houses to be able to stay in the game. I don’t think traditional publishing houses will continue to be able to compete in the e-book market if they don’t offer a higher royalty rate than they currently do with the growing competition. But, it’s unreasonable to give authors a 70% cut. Why? Again, writers are paying for things like editing, advertising, use of the publisher’s brand, and marketing. Those are valuable services, and worth taking the royalty cut.

Transparency in industry costs

If publishing houses are going to continue to take a cut, they’re going to have to justify it to both authors and consumers. Emerging authors are faced with the choice of self-publishing or traditional-publishing. Why take 35% instead of 70% royalties? If traditional publishing houses don’t want to get cut out of the market, they’re going to have to market themselves. So it only makes sense that they shout from the rooftops all the services they offer – or, more importantly, shout from every book’s purchase page. That’s what’s going to keep authors coming to them, instead of going it alone.

Why is this e-book worth $5.99, when that one is $2.99? Publishers will also have to justify to consumers the difference between a higher-priced, legacy published book and a self-published, cheaper book. Consumers want to know what extras they’re buying. Everyone likes extra. Everyone likes quality. When a publishing house says “These are the services you’re paying for, and this is where your money is going,” the consumer feels like they’ve paid just a little more for a bunch of extra services. This may require renaming some services (“brand licensing fee” instead of “company profits,” for example), but if the publishers are completely honest about where the money’s going, then they should see both authors and consumers drop some of the questions raised in recent months (“Are publishers worth their price?”)

Branding – logos on e-book cover art

With traditional publishing houses explaining all the services they’ve provided, consumers who buy an e-book from a traditional publishing house will feel they’ve gotten a better quality product than if they’d spent less on a self-published book. Maybe they haven’t. There’s lots of really good self-published books out there, and there always will be. But if traditional publishing houses are smart, they’ll make their mark – they’ll make it big, and they’ll put it on the cover. With prominently displayed logos on the cover art of their e-books, readers will begin to associate the logos with quality. It’s pure marketing. Make it easy to see who published it, and readers will start paying attention.

Self-published e-books will never lose their market. There may be a hit in sales, but consider: The books are usually cheaper; there are many, many high-quality self-published e-books out there; self-publishing is easy to do; and there are verified accounts proving the ability to be successful through self-publishing.

Call it branding. Call it building snob-appeal. Call it building a market. Call it anything, but if traditional publishing houses want to stay in the game, they’re going to need to sign up now. Publishers have traditionally been relegated to the background of books: when asking for a recommendation of a good book, do you ask who published it? So if publishers want in on the action, they need to take steps to change the consumer mindset. Make purchasers recognize the logo first. And that means making it obvious.

50-60% royalties for e-book-only contract extensions

Eventually, the services offered by publishing houses (editing, cover art, formatting, initial advertising, possibly even advances) will be bought out. Contracts usually come with time-out clauses, because after a while, print copies cease to earn significant revenue. If a publishing house doesn’t make money off an author, they’re not going to continue publishing them. Therefore, when an author’s contract is finally completed, the author usually gains back full rights (and full royalties, for those who then self-publish or republish the book). On the downside, the author is no longer in print by that publisher, and subsequent books will no longer have that publisher’s name on them.

What if, however, the author wants to continue having the publisher’s brand but doesn’t expect enough sales to succeed in a second print run? In the e-book industry, if traditional publishing houses are smart enough to start “branding” themselves, I expect there to be a market division between traditionally published works and self-published works. What if the publisher’s brand mark increases a book’s sales?

I’d suggest publishing houses offer a “contract extension” for authors for contract-expired e-books only. Most authors I have personally met, when their rights revert to them, self-publish the novels in e-format. In exchange for another 2-3 years of using the publisher’s mark in e-books, the author gives the publisher a cut of the earnings. Most e-books show higher profitability the longer they’re on the market, while physical books show the most profitability in the first couple of years.

There’s no (or at least few) new costs incurred by continuing to offer the house’s endorsement. What this is, is a mutually beneficial arrangement: The author gets the publisher’s endorsement (see ‘branding’), and the publisher continues to make a cut from the author while being able to say the author is part of their company. And, if the book gains enough sales, it makes it easier to print a targeted second run (With the current market-research internet tracking programs out there, do you really expect me to believe that the industry won’t know who bought which books?).

Amazon prevented from becoming a monopoly

Monopolies, historically, are bad. I want brink-and-mortar bookstores to continue to thrive. I want publishing companies to continue to exist because Amazon is very much set in a position from which it could undercut all competition. What’s to stop them from opening their own publishing house? Oh, wait, they already have. They’ve also already got Smashwords. There’s a lot of talent on that site. While many self-publishers bash traditional publishing, I don’t think they’re looking at the whole picture

I can see Amazon becoming a monopoly (both a horizontal and a vertical monopoly, at that). This is one way I think it might happen:

Amazon would love to make Smashwords the best, and biggest, and then only, legitimate site for self-publishing. Now say they begin printing paper-and-ink books from their best-sellers, recruiting new publishing deals from the self-published established writers. Amazon doesn’t need brick-and-mortar stores to sell books – it mails them. They offer books at discounts to grow readership, and with their price-check app, they can easily price-match or undercut brick-and-mortar stores. Authors do most of their own marketing (welcome to self-publishing!). So over time, brick-and-mortar stores start to phase out, because Amazon can cut costs and offer a cheaper product. Good-bye, B&N; hope I can buy as many cheap books as I did when Borders closed.

Then Amazon begins to pressure traditional publishing houses into offering large numbers of books at cheaper and cheaper rates. They’re already doing this; without brick-and-mortar stores through which to sell their products, publishing houses will have no choice but to comply. They become unprofitable and, one-by-one, let themselves and their existing contracts be bought by Amazon. Now the only places to buy books are from Amazon or small, local publishing houses that Amazon deems fit to continue existing to satisfy the Department of Justice that there is sufficient ‘competition’ for them to not be considered a monopoly.

This sets Amazon up to become the final say in how much authors earn. Authors either go to small publishing houses, and hope they’ll be one of the two or three authors each year that Amazon discreetly makes internationally successful as proof that the small publishing houses are a legitimate ‘threat’ to them (while the majority of authors sell less than 10,000 books over the book’s lifetime due to limited market), or go to Amazon and have a larger chance at becoming reasonably well-known and decently profitable. Amazon will pay authors just more than they’d on average earn with a small publisher, which is what will stop any of the small publishing houses from emerging as a new Big Six.

Forget advances. Forget agents. Amazon might, in a move of good faith, hire on agents to scour the ranks for self-published geniuses, just to say they’re not putting the agents out of their jobs. The agents would still be talent-hunters, and they would still get to read for a living. Only, they’d be looking for already self-published geniuses to become the new paper-and-ink generation.

I don’t think authors will come out better from this model. Nor do I think consumers will. When Amazon obtains its de facto monopoly, it can raise book prices to just below small-press level. And that means books will cost more than they do now. Authors, meanwhile, will find their royalties slowly getting squeezed smaller and smaller, and advances disappearing entirely. Writing becomes a vanity hobby, but because people like to write, it continues. Only because fewer people make survival-level money from it, it’s a hobby. Less money is spent on editing, since writers are responsible for finding their own editors, and thus, less editing is done. While good writers and great books continue to exist, refinement begins to be lost in the majority of the market, and the average quality of new books goes down.

I don’t like this vision of the future. I want Amazon to run into a few solid walls in lieu of achieving this world. Traditional publishing houses are one of the walls they might run into, so I want traditional publishing houses to continue to succeed, even if it means taking a new approach. There are enough great self-published writers for that side of the market to continue being profitable, even if branding occurs and somewhat diminishes self-pub sales, but I don’t think writers (in the long-term) will be benefited by elimination traditional publishing.

To sum up:

Personally, I feel like e-book and physical book sales complement one another. As e-books gain popularity, their convenience turns reading into a daily habit - even in people who were formerly non-readers. This means that the market will grow. But how it grows has a lot to do with how the industry presents itself. Will new readers purchase only cheap, self-published works? Or will traditional publishing houses continue to have appeal to the next generation of readers? I believe some changes are necessary to continue competition, and while some of them may be, in the short-term, less value for writers, in the long-term we'll benefit.

That’s my six cents. What’s your opinion? And why? What future do you see?