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.


ginny said...

I love your take on the whole thing e thing Lisa. There is just so much more opportunity out there if you do it right.

Lise said...

Thanks, Ginny. I just want to see that people are educating themselves - learning the pros and cons - rather than just accepting others' condemnation of this or that other form of publication. What works for you don't work for me and so forth and so on. But if you are smart and know what you are doing, you may make a big hit with a format that "they" say is "bad"! Here's to individuality, great stories and authors getting their shot.