Friday, September 28, 2012

I saw the sine, and it opened up my pi

Ear worms: Those songs you get stuck in your head. Like Ace of Base's I Saw the Sign. And then things happen, like you're thinking about math, and then the two end up mixing. It turns into something like this:

I, I got a new graph
You would hardly recognize it
I'm confused
Why would a person like me ever use-
Why would I bother
When it's not the math for me?
Can't apply, apply

I saw the sine and it opened up my pi
I saw the sine
Class is for graphing without understanding
I saw the sine and it opened up my pi
I saw the sine
No one's gonna drag me up to get into the life where math belongs...
But where does it belong?
Under the full moon
For so many years I've wondered what it meant
When would a person like me ever use it?
JPEG compiling
Whenever I hear a song
It's applied, applied

Towards the full moon
For so many years
We wondered how to fly
and how does my GPS bring me home?
Watching New Moon
beamed from satellites among stars
it's applied, applied

I saw the sine and it opened up my pi
I saw the sine
Class is for graphing without understanding
I saw the sine and it opened up my pi
I saw the sine
No one's gonna drag me up to get into the life where math belongs...
But where does it belong?
Under the full moon
For so many years I've wondered what it meant
When would a person like me ever use it?
JPEG compiling
Whenever I hear a song
It's applied, applied

I saw the sine
And it opened up my pi
And ballistics don't go
flying without you
I saw the sine
And it opened up my pi
I saw the sine
No one's gotta drag math out
To get into life where it belongs

I saw the sine, I saw the sine, I saw the sine, I saw the sine

I saw the sine
And it opened up my pi
I saw the sine...

(As a courtesy to your ears, I have refrained from actually trying to sing this...)

What's another song that could be spoofed into math? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tea Review: Copper Knot Hongcha

Copper Knot Hongcha

Reviewed by: Juturna F.
Type of tea
Black, loose-leaf
Flavor aspects
Where I got it
$9.80 (USD) per 2 oz.
How I brewed it
Filled electric kettle with cold, filtered water. Heated to 190F. Steeped 2 scoops tea in 2 cups water (in a large teapot) for 2 minutes. Strained out tea leaves while pouring tea into mugs.
Rebrewing notes
Although we didn't brew it a second time, from the light flavor I would expect this tea would probably make a decent second brew but lose flavor by the third. Still, we didn't actually try it, so I wouldn't say for sure.
To me Copper Knot really does taste vaguely like copper. It's a classic, natural "black tea" taste, but because it's a lighter flavor than most black teas, it winds up almost tasting metallic, with a hint of citrus tang minus the citrus taste. I think it's a tea that should be drunk plain--milk and sugar would certainly be too much and overpower the flavor--but if you were going to sweeten it, a little lemon and honey would probably go very well.

I really like this tea. Even though it was named for its color and not its flavor, the name is apt for the taste, too. It's something I can see drinking in the afternoon, curled up with a good book or just relaxing on the balcony. If you like unflavored English Breakfast or Earl Grey, especially if you drink either plain or with lemon and honey, you'd probably like Copper Knot. Do remember that it's not as strong and will probably taste weak the first time you sip it, but don't overbrew it to compensate (We brewed it too long the first time and it came out quite bitter and far too dark, ruining the tea. Go with 2 minutes instead of 3 and don't use water that is too hot). The lighter flavor is part of the charm, and is what creates the unique metal taste.

Copper Knot Hongcha

Reviewed by: Nyssa Mehana
Type of tea
Earthy (loam) and sweet (honey)
Where I got it
$9.80 (USD) per 2 oz.
How I brewed it
Filled electric kettle with cold, filtered water. Heated to 190F. Steeped 2 scoops tea in 2 cups water (in a large teapot) for 2 minutes. Strained out tea leaves while pouring tea into mugs.
Rebrewing notes
Did not rebrew.
Rich copper color (From the golden and black tea leaves intertwined). The color is my favorite part of this tea, so use a clear or white cup so you can truly appreciate it!

A medium-bodied tea. (Not too in-your-face)
Slightly metallic taste from gentle tannins.
Earthy-quality, like loam
Slight hint of honey-sweetness
Not bold enough to add milk or sugar to. Best enjoyed by itself.
Smooth taste, not bitter. Very enjoyable!

Personal opinion:
Easily drinkable and quite enjoyable! Not too bold of a flavor, so can be enjoyed by itself. Don’t eat anything too bold while you’re drinking it or you’ll lose the nuances of the tea’s flavor. I haven’t tried re-brewing it, but it’s worth a shot. LOVED the copper color.

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1Part 2Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

Monday, September 24, 2012

State Fair Rides and the Fun of Fear

Every year, the North Carolina State Fair settles itself for a two-week sojourn in the middle of Raleigh (at the aptly named NC State Fairgrounds, even). I love the state fair. There’s dust, tractor smoke, giant vegetables, homemade fudge and ice cream, roasted nuts, food that shouldn’t be fried but is anyway, amazing art tucked away in strange places, hawkers to guess everything from weight to birthdays, hot tub and gazebo sale stands (for those impulse buys, you know), and $5 prizes that can be won from Midway games for $1 (but usually cost around $15-20, depending on tries).

And rides.

Oh, the rides.

We’re not talking Carowinds or Busch Gardens roller coasters. The mini-coaster the fair has is a turbulent track of hairpin turns, bone-rattling noise, and tiny interludes of forgotten gravity. It’s cute, but the portable track scarcely earns the title of “roller coaster” when compared to the permanent structures of dedicated roller coaster gardens.

These are more the Wheel-of-Fire type of ride, steel and plastic monstrosities that can be assembled in a day and night of hard work and lots of early October sweat, courtesy of North Carolina’s love affair with long summers. Rides that a piece of the soul trembles to see, not because they are the fastest or the craziest or the most amazing rides in the world, but because there’s always that little piece of doubt that wonders if anything so portable can be safe, and yet is absolutely certain that something so ephemeral must be tried, for surely the best of all adventures must not be missed for mere trepidation.

I'll stand in line for as long as it takes (generally it's best to go early, before the teenagers wake up) to experience my hair-raising moment of horror. Last year we got there so early we could barely keep our eyes open, so to wake up we queued up for the drop tower. Better'n coffee, that's for sure.

The click-click-click of the rising seats, that feeling of intense dread as I looked out over the heads of the already-a-crowd and the other rides, until I was eye-to-eye with the top of the tallest Ferris Wheel and then higher still... I once heard a woman at theme park tell her scared son that being frightened is fun. It isn't. I don't ride the rides because I like being scared out of my mind; there's nothing pleasant about the dread building during that slow ascent with a stomach-churning finality of can't-turn-back-now.

Then at the very top--that moment of utter stillness, that moment I know they build in just to taunt me, before the catch releases--and then OH MY CHERRIES I'M FALLING when my stomach stays at the top and everything else plummets with the sheer certainty of imminent doom--and then pssssh the ride slows down and I weigh a thousand pounds as gravity reasserts itself and we're cushioned by air and thankfully strong steel.

I don't really enjoy any of that. It's scary.

What I like is what comes immediately afterwards. Then, I'm powerful. I just survived a hundred-foot drop. Thanks to lovely biology, the awfulness of fear causes my body to make adrenaline, and that adrenaline makes me feel stronger, bolder, quicker.

It makes me a Superhero.

I like being a Superhero.

That is why I ride scary rides. That's what the appeal is, because for a few short minutes afterward, I am invincible. Do it enough times, and a conditioned response forms: ride=fear, fear=adrenaline rush, adrenaline rush=Superhero, Superhero=fun. Therefore, ride=fun.

Am I an adrenaline junkie? No, sorry, I limit myself to nice safe theme park and state fair rides. But every year I go back, and I go on, despite the fact that I know I'll be sore the next day. And I always have fun, even when I'm scared witless.

Although maybe I'll skip the drop ride this year. Superhero or not, that thing scares the cherries out of me.

Do you like rides, at your state fair or at a theme park? Which is your favorite?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Publishing Industry News

Publishing industry news and helpful blogs for 9/7-9/21.

Industry News

Don't be a stalker. Don't be creepy. Don't assault the agent that rejected you. I'd think that would go without saying, wouldn't you? Apparently not.

Wal-Mart will no longer sell Kindles. Apparently they're tired of the competition pressure from Amazon, too, following in Target's footsteps after the other retailer stopped carrying Kindles.

Apple, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Livre, and Germany's branch of Macmillan have settled with the European Commission in the EU e-book pricing-fixing inquiry. Penguin Group did not settle. This case is the European version of, but is not the same case as, the American Apple and Big Publishers vs the DOJ.

In another lawsuit, an American one parallel to but again not the same as the DOJ lawsuit, the States vs. Publishers settlement is on track towards its final hearing. There will be a public hearing in February, but anyone wanting to voice an opposition must apply to do so by December 12.

HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster settled with the DOJ; HarperCollins begins to fill their terms in the settlement.

Bob Kohn, music industry attorney, files a stay for the settlement in hopes of obtaining an appeal. Both the DOJ and the settling publishers urge the courts to deny the stay. Meanwhile, Penguin and Apple prepare to go to trial. Their strategy appears to be to put Amazon on trial. They try to subpoena Amazon, and Amazon resists.

In the Authors Guild vs Google case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals grants a stay until it rules on whether or not to allow the Authors Guild to have class status.

Hachette will be raising the prices of their e-books to libraries. The American Library Association is not pleased.

Back in May, the courts ruled that Georgia State University did not violate copyright laws by allowing professors to grant electronic access to students to copyrighted works. Publishers are now appealing the ruling.

In cased you missed the post on Monday, Harper Voyager will be accepting unagented manuscripts from Oct. 1- Oct. 14.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 9/14 and 9/21.

On QueryTracker, Danyelle Leafty offers an assortment of online writing resources from grammar sites to industry news to author writing pages. Stina Lindenblatt advises you to watch what you say-- don't criticize other people out of jealousy for their success, or value their success only if you have similar success, or promote yourself into spam.

Lindenblatt also posts a Cool Links Friday.

If an agent is asking about your publishing credentials, but you're a debut author, what can you do? Rachelle Gardner suggests you pitch your potential. Make your ideas new and exciting, have a list of ideas for possible projects, mention your social media and social networking abilities, and be an terrific writer in every part of the process.

Gardner also gives advice on the secrets of a great query. Make sure you include your name, your genre, your publishing history if you have one, and the name of your book. Start with your plot catalyst.

If  you have a question you think a literary agent could answer, ask New Leaf Literary & Media has a place you can ask.

On the Editor's Blog, you're told to remember to use senses other than sight.

Advice on how to write a one-page synopsis at the Publishing Crawl.

And Spunk on a Stick offers a timeline for promoting your book.

Self-published authors share the one way they got the most promotion, and the one thing they wished they knew before they began.

GalleyCat offers advice for writers' profiles following the recent Twitter update.

What publishing industry news have you encountered over the past two weeks?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Writing Exercise: NaNoPlot

November is just a month and a half away. If you're a writer, you may have heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Chances are, if you're planning on doing a NaNoWriMo project, you're thinking of what to do.

If you haven't already, today's writing exercise is to come up with a couple of ideas. Later, as you investigate each, you can choose which most appeals to you.

Here are a few of my ideas, as an example:

An ordinary human woman hates the phrase "Why me?" believes that people should ask "Why not me?" instead, and becomes a hero in a world stocked with supernaturals.

Layla got turned into a frog. Now she's applying for a license to be a familiar--but when the contract ends, she'll have to choose between being a frog and staying with the wizard she loves, or marrying an arrogant prince for a kiss to be human.

Either you're born with magic or you're not. Except for Trax, that is, who used to be a rock star until his sister gave him music magic to save his life. Now a man who destroyed half the country in the name of research wants to experiment on him and steal the secret to his magic, and doesn't care if the whole world is lost in the process. To stop the mad scientist, Trax will have to master the magic that ruined his life.

What are your ideas? Which idea do you think I should try to write next?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Harper Voyager Accepting Unagented Manuscripts

Just a link today, for anyone with a manuscript more than 70K that's ready to go:

Harper Voyager, who publishes George R. R. Martin, Kim Harrison, Raymond E. Feist, Robin Hobb, Richard Kadrey, Sara Douglass, Peter V. Brett and Kylie Chan among others, will be accepting unagented manuscripts from Oct. 1 to Oct. 14 for a digital-only line, with the possibility of print release later.

So if you're looking to publish, now might be your chance. They're looking from everything from dystopian horror to YA to urban fantasy to science fiction.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The DOJ Lawsuit Debate Explained: What's the Big Deal?

The Department of Justice vs Apple and Five Major Publishers lawsuit (and settlement) is a big issue in the publishing world right now. It touches on many aspects of the industry, deals with issues that have no clear answers, and has sparked a lot of arguments.

This lawsuit claims that the traditional publishers colluded to raise e-book prices by changing their bookselling model to the agency version, all at the same time. When they changed their model, Amazon was forced to raise their prices too. That meant Amazon was no longer capable of selling the books below the cost it took to produce, store, and distribute them, which Amazon had been doing for a while with the result of taking a loss while undercutting brick-and-mortar stores that sold for profit.

Those are the basic facts of the lawsuit, but it’s also about more than that. This is a look at the different aspects of the argument, the implications and possible implications of the lawsuit, and what’s got people arguing when they talk about the lawsuit and settlement.

What the DOJ Lawsuit Is Really About

The DOJ lawsuit is about how much voice traditional publishers have in setting the prices of the books they produce. Another way to say this is that this lawsuit is a debate on whether or not Amazon (or other booksellers) should be allowed to price books below the cost of producing and distributing the book.

(Point of argument #1: Some people call this below-cost pricing honest competition, because it brings books to readers at lower prices and allows the consumer to drive the market through choosing the lowest-priced book. Others call it predatory pricing, because it undercuts competitors and pretty much forces them out business when they either have to sell at a loss or lose all their customers.)

The debate could also be described as whether or not we, as buyers, want to move from having brick-and-mortar stores such as Barnes and Nobles and Borders to buying books entirely through online vendors that sell many products, who can afford to take a loss in books (at least in the short-term) because of the profits they make in selling other things. Brick-and-mortar bookstores cannot offer the same low prices, because books are the only things they sell, and anyone with basic addition/subtraction skills can tell you that if you constantly sell all your products at a loss, you'll run out of money really quickly and have to go out of business. Especially since brick-and-mortar stores also have to do things like pay their employees to know books well enough to help customers and to keep their showrooms well-stocked and pretty, while online merchants can throw books in an ugly warehouse between "body socks" and "bungie-jumping rope" and use formulas to recommend and sell books.

(Point of Argument #2: Brick & mortar bookstores may be replaced by online-only stores. Books would then only be sold online or in places that don’t specialize in books, thereby limiting selection and possibly eliminating the bookstore experience. Some people think this is a natural progression of business, while others mourn the loss of the bookstore and the bookstore-browsing experience, which is still one of the main ways readers find new authors: by the 2011 RWA readership statistics, the 3rd most common way.)

Where Traditional Publishers Fit In

It ends up sounding like traditional publishers really have no business interfering; it's a price-war between Barnes and Noble and Amazon, right?

Not quite, because both places get their books from the publishers. And Amazon has, in the past, forced publishers to sign contracts that favor Amazon, by virtue of threatening to not offer the product. Amazon is a major source of revenue for publishers, and the publishers can't afford to have all their books removed from the site. So Amazon gets some books at a lower price than B&N or gets terms that are more favorable to it than B&N gets. (Note that publishers have successfully also used the reverse tactic of not allowing Amazon to sell their books until Amazon agreed to their terms.)

How Self-Publishing Fits In

Why would publishers keep trying to sell through B&N, when so much revenue comes through Amazon anyway? Because the publishers are already suffering due to the competition from self-publishing, with the rise of the cheap self-published e-book.

This is the only place that self-publishing is involved: the timing of the lawsuit comes at a time when publishers are already struggling.

Where Authors and Readers Fit In

Books published by traditional publishers are more expensive than self-published books because the publishers invest more in the author and the services for the author, such as professional editing and cover designs and advances. Yet, as the traditional publishers have to tighten their belts because of the increased competition, they also end up cutting corners. The tighter the belt, the less they can offer authors.

Meanwhile, Amazon, with its larger pool of resources, has begun to offer traditional publishing services. So Amazon suddenly has an interest in other traditional publishers taking a hit. If other major traditional publishing companies fail or appear to be failing, then new authors who want to go the traditional publishing route will be more likely to go to Amazon than to the struggling publishers, because Amazon--thanks to its diverse markets--can continue to offer the services the other publishers are starting to skimp on.

The more quality and best-selling authors Amazon signs, the more readers will consider them a legitimate publisher. The more readers who begin to look for the Amazon Publishing releases for new, high-quality, traditionally-published writers, the more Amazon takes over the role that the Big Six of traditional publishing used to play.

Back to Competition

In my evaluation, Amazon can out-compete other traditional publishers. I don't really see any way around that outcome unless traditional publishers successfully change their business plan to something new and entirely different. Specialized companies usually do get out-competed by diverse operations; diversification is a financially sound business decision. Amazon's biggest competition worry with this business plan is that another supergiant retailer will start picking up the same tactics (although none have so far*).

*Purely personal prediction, but I'd say that Apple is probably the biggest threat, having already tested the waters of offering self-publishing and being a major retailer of devices on which people can read e-books. Other digital media companies are probably close-runners up, and I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see, say, Google stepping into the market in the future.

(Point of Argument #3: Authors aren’t sure whether or not their current publishers will survive. If there are no other publishers besides Amazon, authors may not have any choices on the terms of the contracts they sign. While the terms may be great right now, if Amazon becomes the only option, writers fear the terms will become unfavorable in the future, because there will be nowhere else writers can go for traditional-style publishing. Others argue that of course new publishers will crop up, or old publishers will finally change terms that many have felt were unfair to authors anyway.)

What the Lawsuit Is NOT

What the lawsuit isn't, is a comparison of self-publishing and traditional publishing. Self-published authors always set their own prices (within certain bounds). Amazon doesn't go around habitually offering the same self-published book on KDP cheaper than Barnes and Noble does on PubIt!; most authors sign contracts agreeing to not offer lower rates on other mediums, so the price is more or less consistent among the different markets.

Yes, the two issues are tangentially related. The coincidence of their timing makes a very large difference in the traditional publishers' resources. But it’s not the argument involved in the DOJ lawsuit.

The Real Argument: What’s Best in the Long Term?

The DOJ lawsuit is actually a case that is trying to interpret the definition of competition. Is allowing one company to offer the lowest prices by subsidizing their losses through other sales good for competition? Or does it hurt competition by cutting out other companies' ability to thrive?

I don't question that allowing Amazon to offer lower prices to consumers is better for consumers in the short-term, or that the publishers forcing Amazon to raise their prices through switching their business model was irritating. Heck, I like saving money. I certainly don't like when prices go up. But it's not the short-term consequences that have people riled about the issue.

What all the points of argument are trying to get at is this: Whether or not it benefits consumers and authors in the long-term remains to be seen.

If Amazon never raises prices, other diversified companies enter the market, or traditional publishers work together with non-Amazon book retailers to create alternate business plans that allow both to make a profit while offering prices as low as Amazon (and assuming Amazon does not lower their prices even further), then yes, the settlement and the DOJ winning the lawsuit against the publishers might be best for the consumers. Any one of those three options might turn the short-term benefits to consumers into long-term benefits. But none of those scenarios are guaranteed, and there's no hint that they are happening yet. And that's what has people up in arms about the DOJ lawsuit.

What do you think about the DOJ's lawsuit? How do you think the publishing industry will change? Would it be good for consumers in the long run if the DOJ wins, and why?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday Writing Exercise

It's always tempting to see our characters in their best light. But what makes a story interesting is when a character's worst traits cause them to get into trouble.

What is a character flaw your protagonist has that you haven't yet exploited in your plot? It could be a long-held resentment, a fear, a prejudice, or an insecurity. How can you use it in your work in progress (or your next WIP if you have a series)?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The DOJ vs Apple & Publishers: Links to date

A rehash of the DOJ vs Apple & Publishers case, just in case anyone is interested in studying how it began and how it has been playing out, or reviewing it from start to current. Snippets in block quotes are taken from my publishing news posts, which go up every other Friday, for timeline purposes and to explain what the articles are about; most links are straight from those snippets.

Plaintiff: U.S. Department of Justice
 Defendants: Apple, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette, and HarperCollins
       (*Random House not included in the lawsuit)


Feb 4, 2010
Hachette Book Group Switches to Agency Model (Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Penguin also do so in the same year. All five enter Most Favored Nation clause with Apple.)

February 28, 2011

Random House Switches to Agency Model (last publisher to do so)

August 9, 2011
First lawsuits filed. (No link)

August 19, 2011:
More Lawsuits Over Agency Model

December 9, 2011:
U.S. Department of Justice is looking at mutli-agency ebook pricing deals.
From Friday, Dec 16, 2011:
"At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking at mutli-agency ebook pricing deals. (Dec 9) 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."

January 21, 2012:
Amended Price Fixing Complaint Ramps up Pressure on Publishers, Apple
From Friday, January 27
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.

March 8, 2012
Justice Department May Sue Apple, Five Major Houses
From Friday, March 9, 2012
The Department of Justice warns Apple and Penguin, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster that they will go ahead with the anti-trust lawsuit over eBook price fixing. No surprises here - they've just now been officially warned.

March 30, 2012
E-books settlement talks advancing: sources

April 2, 2012
DOJ May Be Close to Settling with Apple (edit from September: *snicker!* Yeah, we got that one wrong.)
From Friday, April 12, 2012
The DoJ is close to settling with Apple over price-fixing. This settlement may end Apple's "most-favored-nation" status. The deal may also shift pricing control from publishers to retailers, which is a move away from the agency model publishers have been using and back towards Amazon's wholesale model. Good news for Amazon.

April 11, 2012
Justice Dept. Files Suit Against Apple, Publishers Over E-book Pricing
DOJ Announces Three E-book Settlements, But Not With Apple
The Broad Strokes of the Hachette, HarperCollins, and S&S Price-Fixing Settlement President John Sargent issues official statement on Tor blog

April 12, 2012
DOJ is Likely to Lose E-book Antitrust Suit Targeting Apple 
 From Friday, April 20, 2012:
The DOJ has officially filed an antitrust lawsuit over e-book pricing against Apple and 5 of the Big Six publishers (but not Random House). HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Group will be agreeing to a settlement in the DOJ vs. Big Five and Apple case. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin will be fighting the antitrust charges in court. The terms of the settlement are quite a hassle, although they don't necessarily mean an end to the agency model - just the ability of publishers to set the prices, which is why the publishers wanted the agency model in the first place. CNET analyzes the case and suggests that it's not likely that the charges will stand against Apple, even if they do against the publishers. CEO of MacMillan, John Sargent, posts his statement on the issue on Amazon intends to lower prices on eBooks again....

The Short Version of DOJ against five major publishers and Apple:
When Amazon began selling eBooks at a loss, they gained almost 90% of the market. Shortly thereafter, five publishing houses and Apple each approached Amazon and pretty much said they wouldn't let Amazon sell their books if Amazon didn't switch to the "agency model" of pricing. This raised eBook prices, because it meant the publishers would be setting the prices instead of the retailers. Ironically, this earned the publishers less money per book than the "wholesale model" that allowed retailers to set the prices, as Amazon was absorbing the initial loss under the wholesale model. But since Amazon could use sales from their other markets absorb the cost of selling eBooks at a loss, Amazon began to dominate the market. Since the implementation of the agency model, Amazon has declined to about 60% of the eBook market, allowing other sellers (such as Apple and Barnes & Noble) to compete. Then the Department of Justice filed a antitrust lawsuit against Apple and the five publishers who demanded the agency pricing, on grounds that they colluded in an anti-competitive way to raise the price of eBooks. Amazon has come out and said the first thing they intend to do is lower prices on eBooks as soon as they can.

More related articles: US sues to lower prices of best-seller e-books, E-book antitrust suit against Apple a win for Amazon, and Speculation abounds that Amazon triggered e-book lawsuit. All three have a bias against Amazon (which is something to keep in mind when reading them), but they do give implications on how the ruling may affect the industry as a whole.

Amazon does give grants to independent booksellers and publishers adding up to a total of about $1 million. There's a long list tucked away on their page of their beneficiaries. Recipients say the grants are crucial to staying in business, but critics speculate on the possibility of Amazon using the grants to buy off independent publishers. It can't be denied that Amazon has been crucial to keeping some of these independent publishers in business, though.

 May 15, 2012
Apple Loses Motion to Dismiss Ebook Antitrust Suit
 From Friday, May 18, 2012
The DOJ rejects the motion to dismiss the class-action suit against Apple and 5 publishers for price-fixing. This is despite the settlement the DOJ has already reached with 3 of the publishers. (There's a shorter article here; these are not two separate cases but simply a motion to dismiss this single one, which I felt wasn't quite clear in the first article.)

May 31, 2012
Penguin and Macmillan Reject Price Fixing Charges 
From Friday, June 1, 2012
Penguin challenges the DOJ's claim that they conspired with four other major publishers and Apple to set prices, pointing out flaws in the DOJ's arguments and the weakness of evidence against them. Macmillan and Apple also intend to go to fight the lawsuit in court.

June 7, 2012
Barnes & Noble Urges Court to Reject DoJ's Price-Fixing Settlement
From Friday, June 15, 2012
Barnes & Noble urges the DOJ to reject the settlements of 3 big publishers over the price-fixing lawsuit, saying that the settlements are not in the public's best interest and that there is no factual basis that the settlements will actually address the issues raised by the lawsuit.

 June 25, 2012
Indie Publishers Push Back Agency Model, Criticize DoJ Deal

June 26, 2012
Readerlink Predicts DoJ Deal Will Lead to the 'Systematic Elimination of Competition'
Authors Guild Sees Return of Predatory Pricing if DoJ Deal Stands
From Friday, June 29, 2012
The Authors Guild, nine indie publishers, and Readerlink (a wholesaler) all submit protests to the DOJ against the settlements with Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster, based on the idea that the settlements will encourage predatory pricing by Amazon and will eliminate competition.

July 12, 2012
DOJ Misses Deadline to Post 800 Public Letters
From Friday July 13, 2012
The DOJ misses the deadline to publish 800 letters on the proposed e-book pricing settlement. With a stack this large, it hasn't been possible to read them all. They expect to have them posted by July 20, but question has arisen as to whether the delay violates the Tumney Act that gives the public the right to weigh in on decisions before the decisions are accepted by court.

July 23, 2012
Department of Justice Responds to Public Comments
Response of Plaintiff United States to Public Comments on the Proposed Final Judgement (Scribd file)
DOJ Highlights Letter from Self-Published Authors
DOJ Reviews Comments, Says E-book Deal to Go Ahead

July 26, 2012
Penguin Lodges Appeal in E-book Consumer Case 
From Friday, July 27, 2012
The DOJ begins responding to the letters from the public on the price-fixing lawsuit. Standing by their decision, they respond to Barnes and Nobles letter of protest and a letter from self-published writers in agreement, among others, and is generally dismissive of all claims that the settlement might be a bad idea, pointing out that claims that it will hinder competition are highly speculative. Penguin launches an appeal on the case, but is denied. 

August 13, 2012
Attorney Asks DOJ to Release Findings on Amazon's "Predatory" Ebook Pricing

August 15, 2012
Apple Says DOJ's E-book Proposed Settlement is "Fundamentally Unfair"

August 16, 2012
Apple, Publishers File Opposition to Proposed DOJ Settlement

August 23, 2012
DOJ Defends Settlement Against 'Ruinous Competition' Charges
 From Friday, August 24, 2012
Music industry attorney Bob Kohn asks permission to weigh in on the DOJ vs. Apple and Publishers case.. He includes the fact that even the DOJ admitted that Amazon was using predatory pricing, and asks the DOJ to release its findings.
Apple protests the DOJ's proposed settlement as unfair, including pointing out that the DOJ is attempting to rewrite their contracts with the affected party before even hearing any evidence, despite Apple never participating in the settlement. It also accuses Amazon of being a monopolist and driving the DOJ's investigation. (Also see PW article for more.)...

The DOJ defends its settlement, comparing publishers to railroads and other companies.

August 29, 2012
Court Will Allow More Five Page Amicus Briefs in E-book Case

August 30, 2012
Publishers to Pay $69M in eBook Pricing Settlement (Not DOJ but separate state lawsuits)

August 31, 2012
Checks, or Credit: The Broad Strokes of the States' E-book Settlement (Not DOJ but separate state lawsuits)

September 4, 2012
A Work of Art: Bob Kohn Submits DoJ Amicus Brief as Comic Strip

September 5, 2012
U.S. Attorneys Are Not Impressed by Bob Kohn's Comic Brief

September 6, 2012
Judge Approves E-Book Pricing Settlement Between Government and Publishers 
From Friday September 7, 2012
HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette are to pay $69 million in a settlement with state attorneys. This lawsuit parallels the DOJ vs Apple and Publishers one, but is not the same suit, because it's between the attorney generals and the publishers. Breakdown of who will pay what, for which books, is here. The money will be paid to the customers, not to the state attorneys.

Bob Kohn, music industry attorney who weighed in on the DOJ vs Apple and Publishers lawsuit, was submitted a 25-page amicus brief. The court decided this was too long and required him to resubmit it as a 5-page brief. So Kohn resubmitted it in comic form. The US attorneys were not impressed, responding in 5 paragraphs without addressing all of Kohn's points, and are urging the judge on the case to hurry up and submit a final judgement.

And, on Sept. 6, the judge did formally approve the settlement entered into by Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins with the DOJ. That still leaves Apple, Penguin Group, and Macmillan going to trial next summer. 

 Okay, as of Monday morning that's the current run-down. (Also, if you thought you noted that "e-book" comes in every capitalization/hyphenation imaginable, you were correct. I tried to keep the articles' spellings. I myself switched from eBook to e-book over the course of the year before settling on the latter, so you may see that, as well.)

What are your thoughts on the case?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Publishing News

Publishing industry news for 8/25-9/7. There's been lots of news these past two weeks, so I included fewer blogs than normal to balance things out (and hopefully avoid the massive overload I had last time!).

Industry News

HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette are to pay $69 million in a settlement with state attorneys. This lawsuit parallels the DOJ vs Apple and Publishers one, but is not the same suit, because it's between the attorney generals and the publishers. Breakdown of who will pay what, for which books, is here. The money will be paid to the customers, not to the state attorneys.

Bob Kohn, music industry attorney who weighed in on the DOJ vs Apple and Publishers lawsuit, was submitted a 25-page amicus brief. The court decided this was too long and required him to resubmit it as a 5-page brief. So Kohn resubmitted it in comic form. The US attorneys were not impressed, responding in 5 paragraphs without addressing all of Kohn's points, and are urging the judge on the case to hurry up and submit a final judgement.

And, on Sept. 6, the judge did formally approve the settlement entered into by Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins with the DOJ. That still leaves Apple, Penguin Group, and Macmillan going to trial next summer.

In an EU antitrust lawsuit against Apple and several publishers, Apple may be considering an agreement to settle. This investigation is very similar to the American, including involving many of the same (European branches) of the same publishers.

Marilyn Ducksworth files lawsuit against Penguin for age discrimination. After working at Penguin for 28 years, her suit claims she was marginalized and that she saw the company systematically replacing experienced members with younger ones, resulting in her decision to resign.

No additional delay will be issued in the Author Guild vs Google book-scanning case. Google had requested that the trial be delayed until the ruling that classified the case as class action was reviewed. However, the delay due to the plaintiffs' health concerns will still be upheld.

A book-scanning service, 1DollarScan, digitizes any scanned item and returns it as a PDF. The customer signs a form stating that the PDF will not be shared. Because of the ease of which this service could be abused, especially to aid e-piracy, the Authors Guild is taking note of the company.

The Hugo Awards announces their 2012 winners.

It's no new news that authors have been caught purchasing fake reviews on Amazon. One group of authors unites against the "sock puppets."

Author Solutions was caught with a number of fake social media accounts, all under the name of  fictional employee Jared Silverstone. It's removing them.

E-book retailer Kobo releases several new, upgraded e-readers.

Self-publishing? Kobo is offering an additional 10% royalties on books released through Kobo Writing Life this fall (that's 80% royalty instead of 70% royalty) to drive membership. This deal runs from September 1 through November 30.

And Amazon also releases a new set of upgraded Kindles, dropping prices on older versions (such as marking the Kindle Fire down to $159, even after adding more memory). Guess the Nook can forget about last month's attempt to undercut the Kindle, huh?

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 8/31 and 9/7.

GalleyCat offers a collection of Union & Guild resources for writers. Basically it's a list of guilds that writers can join.

At Friday Night at the Question Emporium, a writer asks Janet Reid if she should be heartbroken that her dream agent just signed someone whose manuscript description is exactly like her own. Reid gives a tough-love answer: stop worrying; your dream agent is the who signs you and is enthusiastic about your book. Now go write! Another question asked is what agents are looking for in the 3-5 page sample they have authors send. Reid says there's no checklist: it's just to see whether or not she'd read more, just the same as any reader picking a book up in the bookstore.

Ever worried your husband by reading a book about fixing broken relationships? Jane Lebak explains how reading self-help, do-it-yourself, and how-to books are the path to being a good a writer: because writers need to know everything their characters know, or at least know enough to pretend to. And sometimes that means reading books on relationships. Meanwhile, also on QueryTracker, Ash Krafton suggest we give our villains "flaws" that make them likeable--just a little bit of good to make them interesting. Just like heroes, villains have to be well-characterized.

And Carolyn Kaufman talks about how to write realistic romances. Remember that real romances aren't just physical, and they're usually messy.

Rachelle Gardner offers 6 tips for successful networking. Kristen Lamb expounds upon the points of thinking long-term and not using social media for marketing by explaining the process of "social clear-cutting," or how telemarketers destroyed the usefulness of the landline (so don't be a Twitter telemarketer!)

When an independent bookstore went out of business, they posted on Ask Me Anything on Reddit. It's an interesting look at the economics of the independent bookstore.

What industry news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Guest Blog: How to Make the Best Cup of Tea

Nyssa Mehana returns with more about tea. In her first guest blog, she told us about the types of tea and how they are made. Today she tells us how to get the perfect cup of tea.

Where to Start

Though I have grown to truly love tea and it’s many nuances of flavor, I believe it’s the RITUAL of preparing tea that attracts me the strongest. Throw out your belief that tea comes in little bags with strings--we’re going back to the basics, and preparing tea the way it’s supposed to be done.

We start with a quality loose-leaf tea. You can buy loose-leaf tea from a variety of vendors. Some tea-vendors I frequent in the Raleigh area are Whole Foods Market, Tin Roof Teas, and Teavana. They all offer quality, loose, “full-leaf” teas that have been handled and packaged properly. Lower grades of tea are often the crushed leavings of other teas, and are swept into the oh-so-popular tea bags in the hope that people just won’t know any better. We call lower grades of tea “tea dust,” because that’s basically all it is. It lacks the complex qualities of whole, loose tea leaves.

If you want to brew one simple cup of tea, you might be interested in finding a single cup brewing basket. I don’t like “tea-balls” or any tea-holding contraption that keeps the tea leaves too confined. Tea leaves need room to expand in order to release their full flavor potential. Find a metal mesh basket that fits inside your cup. (Don’t use a plastic cup or plastic tea basket!--it leaches harmful chemicals into your beverage and can ruin the taste of your tea! I recommend using a ceramic cup and a metal basket.) Scoop one or two teaspoons of tea into the basket.

How to Steep

The next step is to pour hot water into your cup and let the tea steep. This is more complicated than it sounds! The water MUST be at the correct temperature for the type of tea you are brewing. More delicate teas require a lower water temperature. Black teas are less sensitive and can be brewed after bringing your water to a boil. Most teas you buy will have instructions on the correct brewing temperature.

Brewing temperature basic guideline:

White tea: Everyone’s opinion differs, but from my own experience, I brew white tea at 170°F-175°F.

Green Tea: Green tea can be even more finicky that white tea! The correct brewing temperature varies widely according to the type of green tea, but it’s definitely better to brew at too low a temperature than too high. I brew anywhere between 140°F and 170°F. Try 160°F if you’re not sure, and adjust future brewing temps accordingly. Green tea should be delicate, grassy, and even a little sweet at times. It should NOT be bitter. Brewing at too high a temp will make it bitter.

Oolong tea: Between 180°F and 190°F.Black tea: Anywhere from 190°F to boiling.

Telling Temperature

How do you know the temperature of your water? You could have a fancy electric kettle like I do that gives me a digital readout of my water temp every second. Or you could use a thermometer. Or you could just keep an eye on your water, and when it starts to get tiny little bubbles on the bottom, it is about 160-170. Small strings of bubbles rising to the top indicates a temperature of 180-190. After that you’ll have a full rolling boil.

So you’ve got the water temperature right. But how LONG do you steep your tea? If you let it steep too long, you risk your tea becoming bitter.

Steeping time guidelines:

White tea: Around 4-5 minutes.

Green tea: Again, it’s finicky. Anywhere from 1 1/2 minutes to 3 minutes--but no longer! I brew most of my green tea in 2 minutes, and there is one in particular (Gyokuro Imperial--my FAVORITE) that is ruined if I wait longer than 90 seconds.

Oolong tea: Between 5 and 8 minutes I’m told... but I need to do more personal experimentation with Oolong.

Black tea: I always steep mine about 5 minutes, but black tea is not too finicky, and you can leave it longer if you like.

Once you’ve brewed your tea and the correct temperature and for the correct length of time, lift the basket of tea out of your cup. This strains the leaves out of your cup and leaves you with a beautiful cup of tea! There are tea pots that come fitted with brewing baskets if you want to brew a whole pot, or if you’re brewing black tea (in other words, you don’t have to worry about the tea steeping too long) you can leave the leaves loose (alliteration!) in the pot, and strain the tea only as your pour it into your cup.

Caring for your equipment

I have a separate tea pot for green tea and black tea. The pot itself, when used frequently, can retain some of the tea flavor, which is why I don’t want to use the same pot for my robust black teas as I do for my delicate green teas.

It’s best not to scrub your tea pots with any kind of soap or detergent. That can also linger and ruin the flavor of your teas. Just make sure you always immediately rinse out your pot thoroughly with hot water when you’re done using it.

Okay, Tea Jedi! You have the Force of tea knowledge within you! Feel it flowing, and go MAKE SOME TEA!

My Favorite Teas! 

White: Peach White

Green: Gyokuro Imperial

Oolong: Milk Oolong

Black: Rose Amandine (with milk and honey)

I've had the chance to enjoy three of these teas with Nyssa, and I can say the Gyokuro Imperial, Milk Oolong, and Rose Amandine are all just as good as she says! Many thanks to our tea expert for dropping by and teaching us the proper way to make tea. Next time you'll see her, she'll be helping me do tea reviews.

What kind of tea do you prefer? White, green, oolong, black, or other? Where do you usually get your teas?

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1Part 2Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Motivation: What Keeps Me Showing Up

It's why we show up to work every day. (Motivation: paying rent.)
It's why we eat dinner at night. (Motivation: hunger.)
It's why sometimes we make dinner even after a 10-hour day instead of nuking a bowl of oatmeal. (Motivation: delicious food.)
It's why we skip dessert. (Motivation: still fitting in pants.)
It's why we start writing. (Motivation: quieting the stories in our heads so they'll leave us alone.)
And it's why we finish writing.

But where does that motivation come from? Sometimes we do things just because we want to. Other times, we have to drive ourselves by finding external drivers.

External vs Internal Motivation

I blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I do this for the motivation of establishing a routine, in hopes that when I am published, I will continue this good habit. Blogging regularly (theoretically) will increase my readership and show my readers I appreciate them. This is a reward-based motivation: external. It's my long-term motivation.

I also blog because I enjoy it. Every blog I post gives me a chance to put my words out there. This is an internal motivation: I do it because I get an emotional reward.

I began researching publishing news because I thought it might be helpful to the other authors I've networked with, and continued researching because it also helps me grow, too. That's also an internal motivation: I like the feeling of knowing I'm improving.

And when I've posted blogs, sometimes I see the page views go up. Post, look at page views, go away, come back later and see the numbers have gone up. (Squee!) That's an external motivation: post, and see readers visit (reward-based.)

Most things we do provide both external and internal rewards. I water the plants on my balcony every day so they don't die (external), and I have plants on my balcony because I like smelling flowers and having live plants (internal). The same goes for writing: no matter how much we love it, we also get rewards for it.

Choosing Rewards

An important factor to motivation is figuring out what is rewarding for you. Do you blog because you like seeing your audience grow and leave replies? Then you may be more externally motivated, and your rewards should probably be external motivations. Or do you blog because you like the feeling of having posted a blog, even before someone reads it, because it gives you a sense of accomplishment? Then you're probably internally motivated.

Okay, probably both. So how to tell the difference? Ask yourself, "How do I feel when I make a post no one reads?" (In other words, how do I feel when I don't get the reward?) If the answer is "Frustrated, because what's the point if no one reads it?" then you're probably better off rewarding yourself with external rewards. If the answer is "Disappointed, but whatever. I posted it and that's what matters," then you're probably internally motivated.

For people who respond better to external motivations, you'll want to give each of your short-term accomplishments some kind of external reward. These don't have to be expensive or even indulgent. "I get to post on Facebook what kind of progress I made" is a good example, because it's a reward you cannot get without achieving your goal (I suggest joining a group of writers who encourage each other, so you don't annoy non-writers or slow writers with constant posts about your word counts!)

Reaching your goal may usually seem like reward enough. But sometimes it isn't, and when you're bashing your head against a writers' block, a little external motivation can go a long way. Don't be afraid to use it. We're human, and that means sometimes we get frustrated and need an extra push.

Choosing Motivators

"One day I'll publish and make a million dollars" might seem like a great motivator, but in actuality, it's not. Why? Well, for one thing, it's unrealistic. It implies that writing is easy (it isn't), and that an author is likely to make millions (we're not). So when the motivator is proven fallacious, the desire to keep writing falls.

The long-term motivation for a writer may be to publish, may be to say "I finished what I started," or might just be to finally find out what happens at the end of the book. But a long-term motivation is a long-term goal, and we write in the short-term, on a day-to-day basis. "One day I will publish" turns into "One of these days, I'll get around to writing."

So we need to make motivators for ourselves to accomplish our goals. Often the internal motivation "writing is fun" isn't enough, because writing isn't always fun: it's hard work, and sometimes leaves us pulling out our hair or making forehead-friends with writers' blocks. And there are days where we're just too busy to lend an ear to the storylines that chase us, so that doesn't fill the bill, either.

What we need are short-term motivators with sharp, clear-cut guidelines. First, decide what needs to be accomplished. Then choose definable steps to accomplish them. Every time you reach one of these mini-accomplishments, you get a reward.

Sometimes the motivation is a short-term goal. Sometimes it's the possibility of getting a reward (or punishment), and sometimes it's just the desire not to look like you've been lazy. But what it always is, is something that holds us accountable.

Motivator Examples
  • Daily or Weekly Word Counts
  • Deadlines
  • Joining a weekly writers' update group
  • Feeding your hungry beta-sharks readers
  • Making a promise
  • Getting a provisional offer
  • Being accepted as a member of a group
  • Allowing yourself to read a book for meeting a goal
  • Telling your mother what you did in the last week
  • Competing with a rival
  • Telling someone else you're going to do something

What motivates you to keep writing? When do you find yourself needing an extra push, and what rewards do you give yourself?