Friday, November 27, 2009

My Head Hurts: The Google Settlement (Amended), et al

PW reports on the amended settlement in the Google/Authors Guild deal. Judge Chin accepted the revised agreement and imposed a new deadline for objections to the revised deal of January 28, 2010. A final "fairness" hearing is set for Feb. 18, 2010.

Unfortunately, it still looks to me that the losers in the deal will be (surprise, surprise) the authors. I have a print-out of the redlined revised amendment. Someday when I have nothing better to do I'll read all 337 pages of it. Oy. Apparently the onus has been shifted, somewhat, off the rights holders and onto Google. And international books have been taken out of the deal (US, UK, Australia and Canada remain). But I'd love to have one of the attorneys sit me down and explain exactly how it works. When Google finds an "orphaned" work, they snatch it up, start providing it and make money off of someone else's book/writings, without ever paying a penny for it. And if the work has a rightsholder front and center? They get 67% of the income. Google and the other "resellers" split the diff?

Too much math involved (and for those who dont' know my math skills are commensurate with my nuclear physics skills - which is to say non-existent).

In one corner of the world (i.e. ROMANCE) these last 2 weeks the glare of the spotlight was squarely on Harlequin. After a previous announcement of the start-up of their YA line (all good), and after the 60th Birthday celebrations died down, HQ announced the Carina all-digital arm. Angela James, digital proponant and late of Samhain and the gone-before-it-got-started Quartet Press, was announced to be the head of the new launch(good for you, Angela!) Rather than the release of e-books that had been or were being released as print titles, and different than the Spice Briefs and Nocturn Bites (shorts) that were all e-book shorts, Carina plans full-length novels, of a variety of types and flavors, without any future print release.

This started the rumblings amid the groups who don't favor e-books. And many, many questions arose as to royalty rates, etc., esp. when the Carina site indicated no advances would be paid (I can practically hear the squeals of distress from RWA over that one) and that the DRM process would not be implemented (opening the door to easier piracy and sharing of books, meaning fewer royalty dollars for authors). But apparently there were sufficient interested parties (read: desperate authors) because the Carina site was deluged with submissions.

Then - like a precursor to a Richter-scale sized quake - after the pre-shock - Carina - came the biggest news. HQ's even newer project: Harlequin Horizons - a self-publishing operation (called a vanity press by most) - with little tantalizing bits of info that would give the rejected Harlequin submittee a new 'lease' on their writing life by paying to be pubbed by the Harlequin Horizons line. That "Harlequin" would (kind of/sort of) be their publisher. And the additional tease that, if sales were good, they might be reconsidered to be a 'real' author (the quotes aren't mine - my opinion on self or vanity pubbing is a heated subject for another time and place).

The outcry against this op began with the Romance Writers of America whose "alerts" alerted their members that HQ was now verboten. Out. Kicked to the curb. No advertising HQ titles in Romance Sells. And they banished every single ARM of HQ - not just the Horizons folk. What this meant for RWA members pubbed, or dreaming of bineg an HQ pub was not clear. (Can I be in PAN? Can I get a "First Sale" notice?) HQ pubbed authors were concerned about the diluting of the brand that they were published with (and the taint of the self-pubbed author) (note that 2009 Pres. Diane Pershing was a multi-pubbed HQ author; so is this year's President, Michelle Monkou). What might it mean for entering the RITA with an HQ pubbed book, or having HQ attendees at the National conference, and many other questions arose and with lightening speed zoomed across the Yahoo group loops, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and every other conceivable avenue of communication.

There have been few responses from National to these questions from their members. But when the Mystery Writers of America and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers joined the outcry, HQ began making subtle and quiet changes. Now the self-publisher is "DellArte Press". No sign of the vaunted HQ name anywhere. Apparently some of the other "too good to be true" bait has also been removed. Satisfying the HQ pubbed authors and, perhaps, the writing organizations who have booted HQ from their "reconigzed" (read: approved) publishers. No word that I have seen as to how the triumverate of writers' groups are responding to this change.

What I found particularly ironic is that numerous other "real" publishers already have partnerships in place with self-publishing operations (Random House, Thomas Nelson's West Bow Press and Smashwords - partners with B&N) were blithely ignored. Can't quite figure out why.

Time will tell! But the vitriol was at such a fever pitch that I was expecting word any minute that Donna Hayes and her henchwomen had been dragged from their Canadian offices and were being tarred,feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Can you say "i'ts just business"?

As we creep up on the end of the year (a tough business year, for sure), the holiday gift-giving season and no new Twilight, Harry Potter, Dan Brown or other mega-mega title coming down the pike, what does 2010 hold in store? (Adult hardcover sales were up 2.9% for the quarter, but all thinking is that this was a Dan Brown phenom, rather than an upswing in the sales game overall.)

Well, Kensington's doing that little Snoopy dance, having had a stellar year. But they seem to be one of the few bright lights in a continuing tough year.

Fewer mall stores than ever before (Barnes & Noble & Borders) planned. B. Dalton and Waldenbooks stores being phased out. Will 2010 improve the bleak brick & mortar picture? The big three of non-bookstores: Target, WalMart and Amazon continue the "how low can you go" game of lowering prices on books to $8.97, undercutting publishers, hurting the dedicated booksellers and, naturally, the authors. (Lower publishers' profits and that will become fewer titles purchased, lower advances, etc.).

Barnes & Noble is making sure that they don't have all their eggs in one brick and mortar basket, however. They re-launched their e-book store, and its partnership with Google to sell digital books was expanded by its launch of the NOOK e-reader (Count 'Em! 700,000 titles!). Orders were such that the ship date was pushed from Nov. 30 to Dec. 18 (still in time for Christmas). Admittedly not a subject I'm all that well versed in, techno-phobe that I am, but I'm intrigued by the Nook's wireless capabilities (what always kept me from the Sony E-Reader). With lots of little perks - like "sharing" a title with a friend, free downloads while in-store to read as much as you want, and - for those who care - designer Nook covers by such heavy hitters as Kate Spade, it looks to put a crimp in the Kindle holiday stocking of profits.

December's just days away. NaNoWriMo is in full swing as writers the world over seek the elusive 50,000 word MS. The turkey's just a memory (well, not in my house...) and holiday titles are sweeping onto the shelves. "New Moon" is breaking box office records (no dearth of goodies under the tree for Stephanie Meyer, eh?) and somewhere out there is an author deciding how to best get her book into print. Print? Digital? Self-publish? Chisel and stone tablet?

It's a tough business. And every author has to make their own decision as to what process suits them best. Make sure to educate yourself - don't be sucked in by the advertising, word-of-mouth gossip, or the lure of cash. Only you can know what is best for you. Whether you are able to market yourself, or want to rely on someone else to do that. Whether you want to hie to a prescribed formula for a genre novel, or break the rules, break out of the box and tell your story your way. Whether you want your words available in as many formats as possible so you can share your story, or whether you want to hold that physical thing that is a book in your hands (or put it in your parents' stocking). Whether you want the cash up front or are willing to put in the work to get the royalties coming to you over time - or even paying up front to get the book published and then be your own sales person. Many decisions to make. And as a creative professional, only you know what is going to work for you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


OK. So we've been inundated in recent months with all sorts of digital news. The good, the bad, and the truly ugly. But what seems to be the ugliest is often the response to the various changes in the publishing industry. IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion), people really need to get a grip.

A few months back, Amazon made a "mistake" by suddenly removing a huge number of titles from their lists, losing those titles their rankings, and in many cases, the authors' pages were deleted as well. Twitter-rage was all that got a response, in the end (after a long and obvious silence) from Amazon. "Whoops", was essentially their response. Nothing meant by the fact that the books so slighted were all the sort of gay, erotic, or banned titles that have so frequently been maligned. They lost their rankings but it was just a mistake. That furor died away.

Then fast on the heels came the 1984 debacle. Having purchased and sold an e-edition of 1984, it turned out the seller did not actually have the rights to the title, and so Amazon - WHOOPS - yanked it back from all the customers who bought, paid for, downloaded and in some cases not just read but notated it. One must wonder what, exactly, is Amazon's vetting system that they were unaware of the rights issue. Secondly came the hue and cry (and lawsuits) from folks who felt it was inappropriate that the books they bought could be - at Amazon's whim - taken away. Sure, they were reimbursed but the ironic "big brother" feeling left a bad taste in many Amazon/Kindle customers' mouths. So Amazon suffered a period of tarnished rep. What happened to those lawsuits? How is Amazon rectifying the problem? What happened about those banned books? Investigation? Anyone take responsibility? Anyone still wondering if it was as innocent as it sounded?

So, on we go. Digital books are selling like hotcakes. Ibid the new technology, applications. Ditto ibid the willingness of every concievable publisher to jump on the digital bandwagon. Traditional publishers are all vacillating, but after the Dan Brown hold-your-breath moment, when the e-book was released simultaneously with the hard copy edition (and sold like the proverbial e-hotcake), notices began being released that all the pub folk were all going to release simultaneously. They were going to investigate digital "arms" for their business operations. Yada Yada.

With reports citing 200-400% increases in sales of digital titles, it is no wonder that everyone's looking to the e-book for salvation from the tough economic times. Big bookstores are hurting (some more than others), publishers are looking anorexic, and the future is rather bleak (if not downright apocalyptic in some quarters). But we've got the Kindle, the Sony Reader, and a variety of other dedicated e-reader machines, and VOILA just in time for the gift giving season, THE BARNES & NOBLE NOOK! It's sold out, delivery dates are being pushed back and since it's partnered with Google (and how's that settlement thing going, guys?) it's got a gazillion (give or take) titles available for wireless download (take that, Kindle!)

Then we get the news that Macmillan has issued a new boilerplate contract. Bad news for authors (I mean, really, when do authors really get any GOOD news?) - Macmillan is lowering the standrad 25% digital royalty rate (25% of NET, mind you) to 20%. Hue and cry from agents, and authors, but in the end, what clout do we have, actually? If other publishers get the feeling they can make the same change, they will - in a heart beat. (Don't believe it? Hold your breath. You probably believe in Santa Claus, too.)

Things are looking all topsy turvy. Being an author is like being Alice in Wonderland stuck in the middle of a slice-and-dice terror film where the Red Queen is armed with razor-sharp fingernails. Can you say "Oh, My Goodness!" (oh, wait, that was Shirley Temple! But I digress...)

Then mere days ago, that big old behemoth in lipstick, Harlequin, announces Carina Press. All e-books, all the time. After going digital with HQ titles(simultaneous e-book releases of all titles) and short fiction offerings (Spice Briefs and Nocturne Bites) they've plunged into the profit pool big time. Within days they were so overwhelmed by submissions from hopeful romance authors that the site froze up. (Writers, desperate? Say it ain't so!).

There was grumbling, mumbling and all manner of dire forecasts. But - as someone famous once said - hold onto your shorts, you ain't seen NOTHING YET!

Today came the announcement - eliciting a Richter-scale response - that HQ - the grand mere of romance fiction, the be-all-and-end-all of romance publishing (happy 60th bdy, BTW) was (gasp) GOING INTO THE "VANITY PRESS"/SELF-PUBLISHING BUSINESS!

Within nano-seconds the airwaves (rather, the internet) was awash in communications riddled with despair, fury, disgust and any number of other responses to this dire news. Because, of course, self-published authors would immediately destroy romance.


OK - let's get a grip, folks. First, let's give it a chance. The self-publishing game ain't cheap. It also is not always a disaster (anyone heard of Eragon? The Shack?). Sure, some crappy titles will get published if people - in this tight financial world we live in - have the spare cash to toss out to get themselves in print. But hey, there are some crappy e-books out there, too because it is so easy to get a start-up publisher and get into the e-book game and not everyone is looking for quality product. Instead they're looking for quality ka-ching. And be honest - there are some (many?) crappy print books out there, too. I've bought some of them and have, in a moment of pure disgust, thrown them away (for those who know me, you'll get how astounding that act is).

Secondly, if everyone else is in the self-publishing game (including Amazon), why shouldn't HQ be able to cash in? And as their site indicates, they'll be keeping their savvy little eye on the authors whose books do well through Harlequin Horizons. Once you've plunked down your cash and gotten through the publishing process if you actually have the wherewithal to market your book, promote yourself, get your brand going and SELL the freaking thing, you might just get the attention of the old girl herself, and get a book deal with a "real" publisher. (I just hate that!)

From the RWA (I haven't heard much from the non-RWA types yet, but it's coming, I have no doubt) I can only imagine there was a collective gasp of horror and universal plotzing. If e-books are the ugly, redheaded, step-child of the organization, can you IMAGINE how they'll take the bastard kid, self-published books?

What I want to communicate with all this is that the industry is a' changing, folks. Digital, internet, branding, Espresso Machines, bookstores folding, publishers merging, and self-publishing growing - the old-fangled publishing model is getting arthritic. It's changing and technology is moving at light speed. Instead of sitting around pouting that the industry is embracing new ways of getting stories and writing to readers, why not investigate? Why not get active on these fronts? Why not learn as much as is possible about how these things are going to work before you get all het up about them. Instead of bitching, grab the bull by the horns and make it work for you. Don't buy into the furor. New things always get trashed.

Look at rock and roll, for heaven's sake.