Milton T. Burton, aged 63, passed away in his sleep on December 1, 2011 at 3:30 am after a brief illness.
Simple words to say that my best friend, a man of incredible literary talent and immense curiousity, compassion, knowledge and joy, has left my life.
His renewed literary success, which began with 2005's The Rogue's Game and the subsequent The Sweet and the Dead, gave us last year's The Nights of the Red Moon and his stellar anthology of Southern noir tales, Texas Noir which was published by Down and Out Books in 2011.
It will be a posthumous release, The Devil's Odds, however, in February 2012 and his last contracted book, Mortal Remains, I guess is up in the air.
A wealth of output in a few short years from this Texas native who received critical acclaim for all his writings.
I loved, and will miss him, as a wonderful person. But beyond our personal relationship, was our relationship as writers. And not just myself, but dozens of writers have had the great pleasure of meeting Milton and participating in discussions with him, and we have all come away better writers for it. He was unfailingly supportive to those of us who were his friends. He encouraged our literary ambitions, bought our books and touted them on his blog, Obscure Destinies, and had gruff sympathy for the rejections many of us incured.
He wrote from his soul. He put everything into his books, from political leanings, to romance, to his outlook on man's inhumanity to man, his reverence of women and respect for lawmen. His characters were deftly drawn - the best of men had flaws, and the worst had redeeming qualities. There was humor and thrills, sadness and poignant recollections of bygone Texas times.
I have all his books and will cherish them now that he is gone. For anyone unfamiliar with his writing, you'd be well advised to pick up all of them. They teach many lessons about story craft and characterization. But most of all they teach that a great story can only be great if your heart is in the telling.
Milton's heart was always in the tale. He was a true bard and I will mourn his marvelous stories.
To his friends and family, and his beloved grandkids, he was a friend, father and grandfather. To the world at large? He was a writer of the highest order.
Looking to surf the publishing industry tidal wave these days? The business is moving at the speed of a molecule in a particle accelerator, and getting faster and more complicated by the nanosecond. These changes cover everything from who you sell your book to (if you sell it at all or rather pub it yourself!) to how to market it, to how it is distributed, what the laws are and how you can be read.
As an example of the sound and fury, I pulled together a “highlight reel” of digital industry news from a single month’s worth of Publishers Weekly issues. Grab a life preserver and hold on tight. This is going to be quite a ride!
October 17, 2011
PW reported on sales results from the 2nd quarter of the year. Shifts in “Channel Market Share (in dollars)” showed trade bookstore chains dropped to 27.3% share from 30.6%; non-traditional and independent bookstores’ sales rose by 1.7%, and .5%, respectively. No surprise, “e-commerce” market share rose to 37.0% from 27.6%, overtaking by 10 percentage points sales at large chains (though as with everything else, nothing is what it seems – the closing of Borders’ stores may well have upped the digital numbers). And shifts in market share in various formats (by unit) showed paperback down 7.3%, hardcover down 4.7% and digital up 10.5% for the quarter.
Further fueling the digital bonfires, Amazon announced the launch of its latest imprint, 47North, for sci-fi/fantasy/horror titles. 47 joins Montlake Romance and other genre imprints that put Amazon into direct competition with their most powerful adversaries, traditional publishers and the remaining big trade chain/publisher, B&N. This is the latest of the major changes in publishing that began with digital publishers challenging the traditional houses as e-book sales began to take off. After the trad pubs got their digital ducks in a row as another format for print titles, we saw them next begin to set up their own digital imprints to capitalize on the trends – what started with Harlequin and Carina Press was just the tip of the iceberg. We saw Avon Impulse launched this summer and . . .
October 24, 2011
. . . PW reported the launch of InterMix, the digital arm of Penguin imprint, Berkley/NAL. Like Avon Impulse, and Amazon’s Montlake, InterMix will produce genre fiction, including romance. For romance authors, this continues to expand the arena of possibilities for publication – while at the same time it creates a quagmire. Digital publishers with one set of royalty rules, different publication schedules and distribution networks, traditional publishers with their own structure for print and evolving business model for ebook formats of print titles, and now traditional publishers with all-digital arms – in many cases of they are not competitive (royalty rate wise) with the digital publishers, but still bear the cachet of being a “real” publisher, in some minds. How do you educate yourself about the pros, cons, dangers, and differences? Beyond the choice in publishers, what are the differences for you, as a career author? Is it about the money, the prestige, the exposure?
Then, there’s an entirely different arena that every author needs to know about, the . . .
October 31, 2011
. . .public library system. This issue of PW focused on the libraries, their influence with publishers, and their importance to authors. In tough times, library offerings can be very meaningful to authors when people can’t buy books, but they can borrow them and discover new authors. Did you know libraries spend billions on books? Authors can still be very successful by creating a new reader fan base – provided their books are on the “shelves”. Digital publishing hasn’t caught the library system off guard. They jumped immediately onto the bandwagon and quickly began offering digital books (yes, Virginia, there is an app for that!). But this is yet another rocky road to travel. How libraries will acquire e-books outside the traditional catalogue, the logistics of licensing digital copies, and the jockeying by publishers to get as big a piece of this new pie as they can. Macmillan, for example, playing greedy and cutting the number of “loans” allowed per digital title, ended up having their titles boycotted by libraries in both formats (and the trickle down impact of these negotiations hits the author head on). We are witnessing the rule book being re-written and until the ink is dry, we authors are all in the tumult together. From Patron Profiles, a new Library Journal quarterly survey & report, a telling figure: Library patrons read 47 books per year, compared to an average of 27 of all responders. Of this ongoing survey, says Library Journal Executive Editor, Rebecca Miller: “If they’ve (publishers) ever doubted the role of libraries in launching an author, this will set them straight. In turn, librarians get new insight into what their patrons want and need. And they are getting many of their hunches confirmed: that library users are avid readers, listeners and talkers, and that the library is an important part of a rich ecosystem of cultural exchange that is seamlessly connected to the marketplace.”
November 7, 2011
And speaking of being in the thick of things - Amazon was in the thick of a heated debate after the debut of their virtual “lending library”. Seems the titles being offered for free, to members who’ve paid a subscription fee to Amazon – with murky arrangements still unclear as to how, and how much, royalty is paid to the requisite publishers of said titles – were all offered up unknown to most of the publishers whose books are represented. (Another situation destined to impact the original creator of the product: You, the author.) As with so much of the digital arena, here’s another area, too, where evolving legal and ethical concerns impact authors. On top of the ever-shifting royalty rates (and differences between publisher-offered digital titles and those sold through third-party vendors), the conundrum of “out-of-print” and free downloads and piracy, though the thorny issue of Google “orphan” scanning is apparently now dead, there’s the issue of how and where your books are being made available by “legitimate” operations. Is your publisher aware? Are you aware? Are you being served? Or screwed?
And keep in mind that digital just keeps getting bigger. Witness this issues’ report of August Sales – Adult hard down 18.2%, Adult paper down 18.4%, Mass market down 29.6%. Electronic: UP 144.4%.
Over the past few months just about every aspect of the publishing industry has begun to morph. Successful, traditionally publisher authors breaking with their publishers, taking back their backlist rights and self-pubbing them, along with new titles, to great success. We’ve seen: ebook millionaire author Amanda Hocking go traditional (for huge advances) and option her self-pubbed series to one of Hollywood’s premier fantasy filmmakers; the first million digital copies sold authors, and perhaps most telling and disruptive, the first “big book” titles to sell more in digital than they did in print (after the industry got over the concern of simultaneous release cannibalization of the latter format by the former). Need more to convince you digital’s the word? Writers’ Digest already had self-pubbed (or “indie pubbed, the hip new term for independent authors) awards, but now PW has added the PW “Select” quarterly edition that (for a price) lists self-pubbed titles and provides extensive review of same. And while PW had hard, mass, trade and audio book sale bestseller lists, not yet jumping on the bandwagon as the NY Times did with its convoluted new bestseller lists (paper, digital, combined and more), will it be long in coming?
With the major players in the technological end providing better, faster, and cheaper gadgetry to read upon, digital is destined to keep growing. Industry insiders can only guess at how long digital will soar, when it will begin to level off – or if it will. With Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and tablets giving Apple’s iPad a run for the money, with Barnes & Noble and their latest releases – cheap dedicated e-readers along with a B&N tablet to compete with the big 2 (and don’t forget all the other technology entities working on their own gadgets and apps and software for readers and digital books) it certainly seems that there is one guarantee: If you, as an author, are not keeping abreast of this revolution, you will be left behind, left out of the running behind authors who have educated themselves to ensure their best sales, best venue, and their equitable treatment as a vital member of the business community that is publishing.
Do not forget your local public library! Talk to the librarian about their acquisition process and how you can enhance your visibility (RWA "Romance Sells" catalogue, for one). Know how you and your librarian can work together to your mutual benefit. Can you hold a reading or panel discussion there? Offer a workshop? Getting readers to the library helps them, and when they stock your books it helps you!
Librarians have ferociously embraced the digital revolution as well and are generating apps that can allow you to download to your e-reader books via the library system.
Libraries have been helping us learn, read and enjoy books all of our lives. Now with funding issues they are struggling for theirs.
With the ups and downs of the stock market, the wild weather (here in the NE, anyway with 10 inches of rain on Sunday), and a similar level of upheaval in the publishing industry, here are few new stories to flesh out the day:
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White will be transformed into a film directed by Ray Kay, a music video director. (Is it just me or does it seem as though the film biz is betting the farm on YA paranormals?). I have to wonder, though about the choice for screenwriter. Adapting the novel will be Mitch Klebanoff. His credits (as per Variety) include “Beverly Hills Ninja” and “Disorderlies”. Don’t strike me as the kind of film normally pitched to teen women, huh?
When it comes to book-to-film successes/failures, however, count The Help a huge success. In particular the performance of Viola Davis, who (in my opinion) truly carried the movie and anchored it in the bitter reality, particularly in comparison to some of the more light-hearted moments in the film.
Of course, with Harry Potter now wrapped up, the Twilight saga set to take its final bows on screen, and no other series “hot” you can bet your OWN farm that the film folks are scouring the countryside looking for likely candidates to put the ka-ching back in their cinematic coffers.
Also from Variety (a perk of my day job), there was an article that discussed film advertising. For those of you wondering about advertising on-line for your books, note that the film industry spending on internet advertising rose from 89.1 million in 2008, to 115 mill in 2009 and up to 142 million dollars in 2010. So they are obviously thinking it is worth the bucks (though in film they are still far more heavily into TV and print ads). Certainly no one can ever tell you (with any certainty) which advertising works better than another. Really, they can’t. But if every industry, business, arena is heavily into internet? Have their own blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages? Pretty convincing to me that social media is – if it isn’t already – going to be where it’s at to get your message out to the public.
Hot genre watch: While vampires rule the night, lots of different paranormal and supernatural types are seeing press these days. From weres and shifters to demons, gods, fallen angels, wizards and all manner of other, will the publishing trend follow the film trend that is seeing lots and lots of fairy tale retellings and super hero vehicles? There are a few out there, but I’m betting that folks who can find a new twist on a Grimm tale can stand out in the crowd. And seriously, folks, if you want your romance hero alpha, why not give him the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Guaranteed to make a heroine’s heart go pit-a-pat, no? What genre(s) are YOU seeing emerge these days?
And speaking of romance genres, the formerly taboo World War II era seems to be slowly, quietly creeping into a bookstore near you. While espionage and military thrillers set in the 2nd World War have always been popular, the success of Pam Jenoff’s The Kommandant’s Girl and her subsequent novels have paved the way for other women’s fiction novels that rely heavily on the romance. After The Postmistress we saw Kristina McMorris’ Letters From Home, Lisbeth Eng’s In The Arms of the Enemy and the popularity of novels like Sarah’s Key, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Soldier’s Wife, and Next To Love among others, along with high-profile non-fiction WWII coverage, could a burgeoning new genre of historical romance be far behind?
There has been some sad news of late, as well, including the recently reported death of Debbie Macomber’s son Dale, and the passing of the luminous L. A. Banks following a valiant battle against cancer. The romance community once again showed their true spirit and organized numerous benefits to help Ms. Banks and her family during a most difficult time.
The mantle of late crime novelist, Robert B. Parker, beloved author of the Spenser and Jessie Stone novels, as well as his western novels will now be borne by other authors picking up the storyteller’s job. Three authors will each carry on a torch of the respective series.
Others who passed away in recent days include sci-fi author William Sleator, fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, and some publishing stalwarts, including 92 year old Ruth Cavin, a 22 year Thomas Dunne veteran, with 900 edited books in her career.
And I just know you're all asking, "So, how’s digital doing?" Publishers Weekly reported that the AAP and Book Industry Study released their comprehensive report that shows e-book sales “across all categories” “accounted for 5.8% of industry revenue”. Because of digital, trade unit sales actually rose. They were “driven by a 215.5% increase in book sales during the period of the study, 2008-2010. Looks healthy to me.
Pretty much the big story of the day, week, month – right now – is self-publishing. It all started with successful authors taking back their back-list rights and self-pubbing older titles. Then came the push with authors self-publishing new titles. And with the uber-deal garnered by million dollar self-publishing phenom Amanda Hocking from a traditional print house, it seems as though every story in every venue is all about self-publishing. Writers Digest had self-pub contests. Barnes & Noble started up Pub It, their self-pub arm. And I’m thinking Smashwords is having a field day with the crowd rushing their virtual doors. When Publishers Weekly took the step to have special issues devoted to coverage and review (for a price) of self-published (or as I’m hearing these days “indie” published) titles I’ve pretty much decided they’ve been anointed as another option for the eager author. The caveat being that if you don’t treat your self-published book like a business endeavor that requires outlay of funds, professional consultation and an acknowledgement that you, no matter how talented you are as a write, cannot do it all and do it all well -- well, you may well be disappointed in the outcome.
And where would the biggest story of the day be without the perennial news topic? In between the publisher and the self-publisher there’s the new “publisher” on the block: Amazon. They’ve begun their genre-specific imprints to publish titles digitally. They started with AmazonEncore, added Montlake Romance, their romance imprint, and their fifth imprint was Thomas & Mercer, a mystery line. Is it just me or is Amazon looking a little bit like the Manchurian Candidate of books? Especially since they are offering a number of their new titles for the Kindle for … get this … free. Not to mention that industry biggie Larry Kirshenbaum opened Amazon’s first NY office. Is that shaking I hear the nervous knocking knees of the big 6?
Well, I’d like to give you a quick list of some of the interesting new releases reviewed by PW, but other than on-line I can’t read them because for some reason my PO isn’t delivering my pricey subscription. 2 weeks and counting. Grrrr.
But on the subscription front, for all you authors out there, especially the folk who attended RWA National in NYC and grabbed a free copy of the Library Journal publication? It’s got a new subscriber discount coupon inside, and having perused this magazine, I can tell you it is a definitely worthwhile investment for keeping up with the industry and one of the pillars of books: Librarians. They buy books, people. Don’t forget them!
Class Action suit filed against Apple and numerous "big 6" NYC publishers for the agency model, over the pricing of e-books, claiming Apple & the pubs are "in voilation of a variety of federal and state antitrust laws, the Sherman Act, the Cartwright Act and the Unfair Competition Act". I was fairly sure it would only be a matter of time . . .why do I sense Amazon's presence lurking behind the scenes? Being it is a "class action" suit anyone who bought e-books for what they consider to be an unfair price are invited to join in. I sense yet another judicial donneybrook looming.
Valiant author Leslie "L.A." Banks succumed to cancer. Her imagination and beautiful smile and soul will be missed.
Washington Post has eliminated their book editor. The book section will remain, WP says. Oh really? We'll believe it when we see it. I'm holding out faint hope that they do - and that the last bastion of book review in newsprint, the NY Times, doesn't follow suit.
Borders has gotten court approval to auction off their intellectual property. Guess you don't need a shopping bag, huh?
Books A Millions has open arms for Borders employees, an upbeat note for all those ladies and gents now scrounging for work.
The bestseller list game is a wild and wooly one. Every list is put together from different sales sources. USA Today has added Costco book sales to their compilation which also includes Amazon, B&N, BAM, as well as Sony Reader Store and Kobo. Since non-traditional book sellers are the new big thing, it will be interesting to see who follows suit, especially with Borders now out of the picture.
For those romance authors who did not attend RWA's 2011 National Conference in NYC, or who didn't sit in on the Spotlight on Avon, Avon spent the entire session focused on their bright and shiny new e-imprint, Avon Impulse. The digital only line has attracted a lot of attention from would-be authors for Avon, one of the largest publishers of romance among the big traditional houses. Be forewarned however, if you submit to Avon, you will either get a response that they are interested - or you'll get nothing. If they are not interested, there isn't going to be a response at all. This smacks of disrespect, in the publishing business, where I'd like to think we are equal partners in the process. Guess I'm alone in that thought. I've heard rumors of another house doing similar, but haven't gotten a confirm on who that might be.
In addition to Carina Press (HQ digital imprint), and Avon Impulse, Ballantine Dell has an e-imprint launching too. Seems like they've got their finger in the wind and are climbing on the e-book wagon.
"The Help" will be the subject of a court hearing next week when they hear the case of the woman who claims she is the model for the maid in the book. This will be an important case both for authors and the film community - since the movie based on the book opened Wednesday to glowing reviews. Will that mean $ in compensation? Will it mean authors need to be more diligent in disguising those characters drawn from real life? We'll wait and see!
What's the hottest genre going? YA paranormal. Can I borrow somebody's teenager? (Don't rush the podium, parents!).
And speaking of RWA - Romance Writers of America for those unfamiliar with the largest non-profit organization for authors and aspiring authors of romance fiction - the jungle drums are beginning to beat from chapter to chapter and loop to loop with grumbling of dissatisfied members. Rising prices for membership, hints of changes of member status and the ongoing debate over the validity of authors' digital publication are apparently particular bones of contention. Some members are opting to give up their membership in National, despite their fondness for local and on-line chapters, because they simply can't see they are getting their money's worth. With luck RWA will address these concerns, particularly the new President stepping up in October.
Oh, and one last thing. If you have been following the market, it's obvious the world is in flux, financial speaking. But while the publishing industry is watching the numbers crawl downwards for every aspect of print, what's not going down? You got it. Digital.
The numbers are in for e-books: 2010 saw $838 million in sales. And that ain't chump change, folks.
And on a personal note, I'm looking forward to attending the NYC Chapter of RWA's Golden Apple Awards in September. The chapter is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and at the September 15 event we are honoring: Sherrilyn Kenyon, Lifetime Achievment Winner (and moving National Conference speaker); Author of the Year, Elizabeth Kerry Mahon, author of "Scandalous Women", Editor of the Year Leah Hultenschmidt of Sourcebooks, Publisher of the Year - Grand Central and Agent of the Year Kate Folkers.
The year is winding down, it’s time for that annual activity known as “looking back at the year that was while we’re all waiting for the old mirror ball to drop in Times Square” so let’s see what we remember about the year in publishing:
Amazon. Nook. iPad. Kindle. Kindle. Kindle. iPad. Google. Barnes & Noble. Dorchester. Digital. digital, digital. Then there was Riggio vs. Burkle. RWA vs. Harlequin. BEA vs. Tools of Change. Wiley vs. Random House. Rowling vs. Meyer. Salinger vs. Colter. E-book pirates against everyone.
Need a bit more to refresh your memory?
I think it is safe to say the word of the year was “Digital”.
Contrary to the predictions of all and sundry, digital did not begin a slow, steady march toward the expected “10% of sales by 2012”. It put on its boogie shoes and made a mad dash for double digits, leaving folks in a state of shock and awe as month, after month, the e-book sales went through the roof. (as reported by PW, digital showed a 171.3% year-to-date increase in digital sales).
One reason? It was the year of the e-reader wars. Sony was already lagging far behind when the Kindle began really heating things up. Then came the newer Kindle. Then came the Nook. And the iPad. And Kobo. Now the playing field is rife with e-reader gadgets and dozens of apps and while Kindle still reigns supreme, the iPad is nipping at its heels. B&N’s bookstore and sales of its original Nook and now the hot and well-received Nook Color, have been managed beautifully and their strategy is paying off (unlike Borders whose dismal third quarter is raising new speculation that they risk “liquidity issues” [PW, 12/13/10], B&N’s 2010 third quarter sales were up 64.3% over last year, based in great part on sales of the Nooks, the success of their new B&N on-line store and digital book sales). Much-anticipated books like Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Ken Follett’s monster Fall of Giants were reported to have sold more in digital copies than hard copies. Other bestsellers did similar business, lending weight to the publishing fears that digital was going to cannibalize print.
From our particular perspective, the recent NY Times article supported what we already knew – that romance has always, and continues, to drive digital sales. Something Ellora’s Cave, Samhain and others could have told NYT! The powerhouse Harlequin has the Carina e-book imprint and the print houses are all on board with simultaneous (or nearly) release of digital formats for all their romance titles, making it not too farfetched to expect similar supremacy, and an even more massive rise in sales for next year.
Several publishing heavyweights have predicted that by 2012 digital will represent 25% of all book sales. No wonder everyone in the industry is scrambling to adjust those business models!
Beyond the issue of sales, comes the other big one-two punch for authors when we’re talking e-books: Changes in contracts regarding the digital format release of books and how it compares to print release, particularly as it pertains to the definition of “out of print”. Agents and publishers are already haggling over how to tweak this definition. It will be a vital issue for authors who are looking to regain rights over titles so that they can utilize the digital format for re-issuing backlist titles. Definitions too favorable to the publishers may mean an author can expect to NEVER see rights to those titles revert. The second sticky wicket as far as authors are concerned is even more contentious: Royalties on e-books. Right now, they are all over the place but generally not favorable to authors. We get 40% from some digital publishers. 25% from print publishers (against an average of 4 or 5% for print format). Arguments that lower production costs to publishers mean they should be paying a higher royalty to authors have so far fallen on (apparently) deaf ears. And the pricing tug of war between sellers like Amazon and publishers, and among publishers themselves over pricing of digital versus print, adds another wrinkle to the problem. As advances shrink, print runs get smaller, shelf-space for midlist titles continues to decrease, and marketing funds are chopped, for authors not in the top tier, might this make digital a more appealing option, if only for the higher royalties available? Except for the bestselling authors who get the full-page print ads and TV interviews, the rest of the pack of authors are out scrambling for ways to market and sell themselves anyway, so the smaller print advances, against higher digital royalties, may well make it a more appealing option.
Beyond the digital news, sadly, the world of books lost some major authors, and, by extension, some much loved characters. Robert Parker died at his desk, leaving one last Spenser novel to enjoy. J. D. Salinger slipped away, but we’ll always have Holden to remember him by. Belva Plain, whose epic romantic novels swept us away died at 95. Genre authors Dick Francis, Philip Carlo and popular romance author Elizabeth Thornton passed away, as did Eric Segal, author of that iconic three-hanky book of 1970, Love Story.
In our little corner of the world, we saw RWA quietly back away from their hard-line stance against Harlequin. Further, they have made baby steps toward studying the issue of digital and how it affects – and stands to benefit – the 10,000+ RWA members. We found some new confidence in the Dorchester situation as the independent publisher changed commanders at the helm. As authors of genre-blended romance and romantic fiction that doesn’t quite fit in the “box”, we saw our stories being accepted in greater and greater numbers by the e-pubs who are willing to give us – and our readers – a chance to embrace more diversity. Erotic romance and its steamy brethren continued to surge ahead, and Amish and Mennonite romance became a “thing”, but the real story was the continued rise of YA paranormal. We saw Publisher’s Weekly begin a romance review section (what were they waiting for?) and there was increased coverage of our genre by the news media, as well as a starring role for romance novels in the film RED.
What will 2011 bring? Obviously – more discussion and debate. More jockeying for supremacy on line and in the hearts of readers. Perhaps a Google settlement, once and for all. There’s bound to be new readership figures, contract quagmires, store closings, higher digital sales, new apps (by the dozen), better and cheaper e-readers. New strategies by the old-timers, and more innovation by the new kids on the block. There’s sure to be a “surprise” bestselling hit that makes a new star out of someone (perhaps even a digital-only novel!), and no doubt we will see the slew of books optioned for films resulting in yet another blockbuster motion picture.