Category archive: Publishing

Flux and Chaos at World Fantasy Convention

World Fantasy in Toronto

World Fantasy Convention in Toronto was sparklingly well organized, and I had a great time, but I was surprised to hear these two words popping up repeatedly: flux and chaos. I first noticed them during the eBooks panel, which was packed.

I attended this panel expecting to hear the usual: eBooks are evil, they’re a fad, we need traditional publishers as “gatekeepers,” a paternalistic and condescending concept. Instead, I heard industry professionals state that eBooks are here to stay, and that the publishing industry is in a state of flux and chaos. One of the panelists expressed the desire to leap ten years into the future so that he could again live in a stable world, although I did get the impression that he would’ve been even happier to jump twenty years into the past.

But what really caught my attention was what Betsy Mitchell, a former Del Rey editor, thought of the eBook revolution. To my utter astonishment she stated that this is a wonderful and exciting time for writers and readers. She expressed delight that cross genre work that would never have been accepted by the rigid guidelines of most publishing houses was now getting out and finding audiences and success thanks to eBooks.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. An industry pro I’ve long respected and admired says she loves the eBook revolution. This is a huge change over two years ago, when the vitriol expressed by most authors and editors over the mere existence of eBooks, let alone the impudence of indie-authors to by-pass the publishing industry and its sanctified gatekeepers, was way over the top when opinions were expressed at all. Indeed, I attended the Ad-Astra eBook panel in 2010 and found that only three of the five panelists and four audience members even bothered to attend. And if that wasn’t an indictment of eBooks, two of the panelists spoke with concern about who the gatekeepers would be in this new electronic format.

The words flux and chaos continued to pop up throughout the weekend, especially at a panel on the future of cover art. Several great illustrators on the panel all expressed concern about their future in a market that is in a state of flux and chaos. A couple of them say they are looking for alternate sources of revenue since the traditional publishers are commissioning less and less cover art. When I asked near the end of the panel if any indie-pubbers had contacted them for cover art, the moderator dismissed me out of hand, stating that a whole new panel would be required to deal with that question. He added that self-pubbers have “no idea how to commission cover art.” Perhaps that was his way of saying I couldn’t afford him. To which I respond: the publishing world is in a state of flux and chaos. You can resist it or profit from it. Educate us. There are more covers out there than ever. There is opportunity.

Publishers Behaving Badly Says Department of Justice

But I disagree.

Agency pricing–the price fixing that the big six publishers conspired on for eBooks–is bad for established authors and in the long run it will be bad for the big six publishers. In the short term the Department of Justice (DOJ) is right in that it causes “unmistakable consumer harm.” But what both the DOJ and the publishers ignore is the indie publishing market.

Here’s what agency pricing does for us indies:

1) It forces readers who have jumped into the eReading future to pay more for established authors’ books from traditional publishing houses.

2) It encourages people to buy well-reviewed and relatively inexpensive indie published books.

The price fixing by the big publishers would certainly be illegal if they were an oligopoly with complete control of the writing and distribution of books (as they do with paper books) but eBooks have changed all that.

It’s not just the indie authors that the big six publishers have to watch out for now, it’s the indie-publishers. They’re already out there, some little better than vanity presses, but others will publish great books, will make a name for themselves and rise in strength to rival the big six.

Thanks to eBooks, they don’t even need the deep pockets of the likes of Amazon (a company that has also jumped into publishing) in order to start up. Like the upstart Apple back in the seventies, the next big publisher may currently have its headquarters in a basement or a garage. But they won’t be there for long.

The DOJ is doing its best for consumers, who are being jilted in the short term by the price fixing, but I believe that agency pricing will fail simply because it opens the door for competition to enter the publishing market place. The big six publishers will discover that they can only buy up their new competitors in the short term. In the long term by keeping prices high, they simply encourage more and more start-up publishers to enter the market to fill the vacuum of cheap eBooks.

The competition won’t have the burden of trucks or warehouses or Manhattan offices (really, couldn’t you guys find some cheaper office space in New Jersey?) or any of the other trappings of the big houses.

Competition will end agency pricing because eReaders will continue to sell, and people will want cheap books that are entertaining during tough economic times.

The market will sort them all.

Kindle e-books Rising

Amazon announced yesterday that Kindle e-books are now outselling all formats of paper books (combined) in their UK store. They passed this mark a long time ago in the US, but people in the UK have been slower to buy Kindles and adopt electronic reading.

I’ve got a few haired-brained theories as to why UK readers have been slower on the up take. Perhaps they’re a more conservative country than they think, or perhaps they’ve been enthralled watching the slow-motion train wreck of the Euro. I imagine it’s no fun to witness your trading partners’ economies crash and burn. All those Brits who kept them out of the Euro and on the British pound can now take a bow.

The good news, of course, is that even though the adoption of e-reading in the UK has been slower than in America, it is happening. Perhaps that’s why my last free day saw a surprising number of UK downloads.

So I guess I better fill in my Amazon author page for the UK store and work on promotion across the pond. There are Kindles needing e-books.

eBook Authors are Evil – or Not

I’m still amazed that the SF community around the Ad-Astra Convention continue to be so conservative about eBooks. I have many author friends with more published short stories than I have, and yet most of them have neglected to indie publish and speak of it as something only for the unwashed masses.

But this weekend at Ad-Astra I got a sense of the source of that unease about indie publishing, and it’s nasty rumors being spread by one or more established authors who have signed many times with the Big Six publishers.

These established authors are usually great about helping newbies develop their craft. At Ad-Astra they generously provide writing workshops, and they share insights into their experiences with querying, how they met their agents and how they landed a publisher.  While I’ve heard one of big name authors refer to the “poor self-published saps in the dealer room,” most are supportive of newbie writers.

But this weekend at the Publishing FAQ panel I found out that at least one author is spreading false information about the indie crowd. He wasn’t there, so this is hearsay and thus I won’t name him since he may have been taken out of context or misquoted. But someone at the back of the room used his name, and said that (Big Name Author) had informed him that self-published authors were cheating by downloading their books hundreds of times in order to push up their best-seller rank on Amazon higher than traditionally published books.

I had to pick up my jaw from the floor and, while no one wanted to hear from me, I insisted on responding. I explained that Amazon doesn’t allow you to buy your own book multiple times. I admit I had only assumed this, but I tried it this morning just in case I’d lost my mind, and sure enough Amazon told me I’d already bought my book.

I explained to the panel that if an author wanted to buy their book multiple times, they’d have to open multiple accounts on multiple browsers. So basically an author can buy books for all the credit cards and e-mail addresses they own. So that’s what? Three copies? Six? Obviously that’s not going to affect your bestseller rank for more than a day.

I stated that maybe they had this mixed up with free promotional days on KDP Select, something most of them seemed totally ignorant of. I explained how on one promo day 1300 copies of Apocalypse Revolution downloaded in two hours. They weren’t downloaded by me. It’s just one of those internet mysteries. Some website somewhere let their followers know that Apocalypse Revolution was available for free, and they all snapped it up at once. That put me way up on the FREE Kindle bestseller list but didn’t do a thing for me on the PAID Kindle bestseller list where all the traditionally published novels are found.

Everyone at the panel agreed that maybe Big Name Author had been misquoted or had misunderstood the situation himself. Wherever this rumor started, the damage is done, at least among the Ad-Astra crowd. It certainly explains why many at the con seem to hold indie authors in contempt without even reading their books. It’s going to be my personal (and uphill) battle to undo the suggestion that we are somehow gaming the system.

I have many friends at Ad-Astra, and it’s still one of my favorite cons, so I look forward to the year when there is an Indie Guest of Honour (note the Canadian spelling) But I admit I’m not holding my breath that it will happen at Ad-Astra 2013. I’ve a long way to go on that road.

 

Don’t Mentioned the Ebook Thing

I’m a big fan of the SF Convention, Ad-Astra, which is described on its website as a “literary fan-run convention” with panels on writing, publishing, media, creative works, comics…you get the idea.

But today I decided to try a little experiment: I went to the panel schedule and did a search for the word ‘eBooks.’ My concern is that the emphasis of the conference seems to be totally on the old publishing model, and since ad-astra is a reference to a latin phrase that translates as “through hardship to the stars,” I think of this as a forward looking convention.

So guess what my search turned up? Nada. It’s as if the very word eBooks has yet to be invented. I am happy to see that there is a panel on marketing for indie-authors, so you could fairly claim I’m nit-picking. Yet the panel description could have been written to attract self-published authors long before eBooks even existed.

The Publishing FAQ Panel does pose the question “on-line versus print, independent publishing versus publishing house?”  Since Susanne Church, a friend and great SF writer, is on the panel I’ll definitely go, but I’m bracing myself for more of the “don’t indie-pub an eBook or it’ll destroy your career” meme that I heard at SFContario.

I’ll be tweeting from the con, something I’ve never done before, so I’ll keep you posted. You can follow me (McPherson_Mike) if you want the inside scoop. Maybe Ad-Astra will surprise me and truly be reaching through hardship to the stars.

 

The Agent Query Letter of the Future

The horror! The eBook horror!

At last year’s Ad-Astra Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Convention, I went to the eBooks panel and was surprised to find only two of the five panelists in attendance. Even more bizarre, there were only three audience members, including moi. I thought that was weird given that mystery conventions around the same time were having packed panels on eBooks.

I’m happy to report that this year there are a few panels that give a nod to the eBook industry, but I still sense a conservatism, a reluctance to accept change. For instance, one panel is Now What: How to Get an Agent, How to Query, and Publishing Options.

Here’s the description:

Book written, and now what do you do? Just what does one do to get an agent? How necessary is an agent? Join our panelists and learn some effective ways to navigate what comes after.  How are you going to get someone to READ  your book, what options are available for getting your book to your potential readers.

What surprised me about the description is the lack of reference to eBooks. In fact, this panel would fit very well in the program book of Ad-Astra 1995 or even 1985.

Then I thought of the agent or publisher query letter of the future, or as I like to call it: now. It goes like this:

Dear Agent or Publisher:

My novel was downloaded over 2000 times in the last month on Amazon. It has earned over 80 five star reviews and 150 likes. I am currently in the market for a print publisher to take this novel into the bookstores.

But my wife has an even better query letter. It goes like this:

Dear Author:

I notice that your novel is currently at 433 in the Amazon Best Sellers Rank, which indicates that you must be selling 30 0r 40 eBooks per day. I also see that it has been well received by readers, earning over 80 five star reviews and 150 likes.

I’d be very interested in representing your novel for print and movie rights.

That’s right. Her theory is that even as we speak, smart agents are trolling the Amazon Best Sellers Rank looking for talent.

Last month my vampire novel, Apocalypse Revolution, was downloaded over 2000 times, but a big chunk of those were promotional freebies on free days. I did earn three five-star reviews and a bunch of likes, but I’m not expecting New York to come bashing down my door just yet. However, with each new review, with each new reader, I’m building a following. Fans e-mail me now and I e-mail back. I’ve started a mailing list to help promote book two when it comes out in June.

If I’m good and I’m lucky, perhaps by next year I can write the agent query letter of the future. But if my wife is correct, they’ll write me.

My Boycott of Agency Pricing

My library card had expired.  Gasp!

I’ve been reading eBooks for the last few years, either on my ancient Sony ( two year old technology) or on my spiffy new Kindle, but thanks to agency pricing, I have renewed my card and started borrowing dead-tree books again. That’s right, me the big eBook fan, has had to crack open some weighty volumes to get all the information I crave.  But the publishers made me do it.

In an effort to fight the rising tide of eBooks, the Big Six publishers adopted the agency pricing model, where they set the price and no one is allowed to discount, and they’re setting the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks.  So an electronic download, which doesn’t require logging companies, pulp mills, trucks, printing presses, more trucks and heated bookstores are now priced higher than dead-tree books.  Let’s not even get into the incredibly environmentally unfriendly paperback returns policy, which sees the cover of an unsold book ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit, and the rest thrown into the recycling bin so that more trucks, pulp mills and trucks can get rev up their engines.

But what really gets me steamed is that great authors are being squeezed by the new “industry standard” on eBook royalties.  This cartel of six has decided that they will not sign a single contract that pays an author more than 17% of the list price of a novel.  Their stated claim that they must have this deal in order to make a profit on eBooks doesn’t ring true when you read Publishers Marketplace, which reports on each publisher’s financial statements as they’re released, and it turns out they’re all making a good profit on eBooks.  It’s reduced hardcover and paperback sales that are hurting them.  So they’re using eBook sales to subsidize the old industry at the expense of authors.

So I’m boycotting agency priced books, and it’s really easy to tell which books are subjected to this policy.  If it costs more than $9.99, and more than the paperback, it’s an agency priced book.  If Amazon can’t sell you a discounted copy, it’s an agency priced book.

For instance, a friend recommended The World Without Us as essential reading for all apocalyptic fiction authors.  Amazon’s  price for a Kindle version is $11.20, but the paperback is $10.20.  I’ve seen far more glaring examples, where the Kindle edition is near $14 and the paperback is around $10 dollars.

This won’t last, of course.  Someday one of the really big authors will say goodbye and indie-pub (or worse, sign with Amazon) so that they can collect the 70% royalty.  When that happens others will follow suit, and the publishers claim that they have the best authors will melt away.  Then they’ll want to lure someone like John Grisham back, and they’ll offer him a 35% eBook royalty, and every publisher after that will not be able to claim that 17% is the “industry standard.”

Meanwhile, out of the millions of indie-pubbed books, some cream will rise to the top.  These authors will keep selling under $9.99 to get the 70% royalty, and as they build their careers and become in demand, they’ll eat into sales of books from traditional publishers.  The only solution for the Big Six will be to lower the price of eBooks in order to compete.

But for now, I’m off to the library.  I got an e-mail notice that the hold I placed (via the library’s website) on The World Without Us has been filled.  Oh, and I’ve been loaning eBooks from the library too for my Sony eReader.  Thank you public library.  You’re a forward looking institution.

Publishers Should Be Watching Kodak’s Bankruptcy

Kodak or Fuji?  Whenever I landed a gig as a camera assistant back in the 90s that was the first question we’d ask.  Which film stock would we be shooting for a TV show or a movie didn’t really matter because both products were essentially the same, although some camera assistants swore that Fuji was louder in the camera.

But the real difference between the two companies became obvious as HD video came online.  Fuji’s response was to dive deep into this new technology.  Kodak dug in their heels.

Now as a lowly camera assistant, I shouldn’t have been more tuned in to the future than Kodak executives, but apparently I was able to see from the ground floor what they couldn’t see from the boardroom.  At the end of the work day on a TV show like Due South, I’d hand off ten $800 rolls of film.  The production still had to pay to process this film and then pay again to transfer it to video for editing.

So imagine my surprise when I got a daily on Earth Final Conflict, which was shooting HD.  I walked onto the camera truck, took one look at their rushes on the HDTV and said, “Oh, oh.  That’s the end of film stock in television production.”  That wasn’t the half of it.  At the end of the day I handed off two $100 HD videotapes, all ready for editing–no processing required.

Kodak reacted to this new technology by pouring R&D into the old film technology under the mistaken assumption that if film was still much better quality than HD that producers would continue to use it.  Kodak churned out one fantastic new film stock after another, culminating in the amazing 800 ASA film stock.  But the problem is that the price differential between HD and film was just too great, and the average TV viewer didn’t care if the blacks were crisp.  Film is still used on feature productions, but the majority of TV has switched to the much cheaper HD video.  That is a big chunk of the film stock market.

Kodak eventually got with the program and moved into digital, but they’ve had to go through some gut wrenching reorganizations while Fuji’s CEO was busy collecting an award for leading one of the best managed companies in the world.

I thought Kodak had survived, but on Friday their stock dropped by half after it was announced that they’d hired a law firm that specializes in bankruptcy.  Oops.  Too little.  Too late.

The publishers should be watching because they’re making the same mistake.  Kodak believed it was in the film stock business, but in reality they were in the image capture business.  Fuji understood this, and when a better technology came along they simply began hunting for ways to profit from this innovation.  I know purists will argue that film is better quality than HD, but some people also argue that a vinyl record album is better quality sound than an ipod–just try to go running with a record player.

Publishers believe they are in the printing industry, but they are in the book industry.  Books no longer need to be delivered to customers in the form of dead pulped trees.

I’m not saying paper books are going away forever.  Film is still used to shoot major Hollywood movies, but how many people use a film camera for their family photo albums?  I can tell you that very few TV series still shoot film, but back in the 90s they almost all did.

Publishers–rather than resisting e-books by trying to artificially hold the prices high and offering authors pathetic e-book royalties–should be looking at how to profit from e-books.

I’m on the ground floor of publishing, like when I was a camera assistant, but I’ve got that same feeling that I had back in the nineties when I wanted to run up to Kodak’s boardroom and scream, “Don’t you guys see what’s happening out there?”

Today I want to do the same in the boardrooms of the six major publishers.  I want to scream, “Don’t you guys see what’s going on out there?”

Is the Writers Union Living in the Past?

Sometimes little birds speak to me at this blog.  The latest nugget that dropped in my lap concerns the Writers Union of Canada, a great organization that provides its members with contract advice and more.

What surprised me is that apparently the Writers Union believes a 17% royalty on the retail price of an e-book is a fair royalty, even though the author will only net $1.70 on a $9.99 novel.

Now what I don’t get is that any author who indie publishes their novel on Amazon at $9.99 will get the 70% royalty on the retail price, which means we’re talking about $6.99 per copy sold.

How can the Writers Union think that $1.70 on the retail price is fair compared to $6.99?  I understand that a publisher doing a print run is adding a lot of value to an author’s novel by getting the paper copy out into the Walmarts and Targets of North America.  That’s actually good advertising for an e-book, and I can agree that the publisher should earn a nice cut of the e-book sales as a result, but I would suggest that the author should at least receive 40% of the retail price, so $4 bucks on a $9.99 novel.  That still leaves the publisher picking up $3 bucks a copy, and they don’t have to hire a truck driver or pay for ink each time an e-copy sells.

I know I’m just dickering about numbers here, but the spread is big, which is why I’m shaking my head in disbelief at the Writers Union.

I tried to confirm this stand at the Writers Union website, but my search only produced some out-of-date warnings about e-book publishers offering only 10% of net.  I’m not a member so I can’t ask advice myself.

My source, however, is very reliable.

So I’m left to wonder: when will the Writers Union change their tune?  Because they will.  They can’t live in the past.  Their members won’t let them.

How to Publish Your E-book

I’m at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention this weekend in lovely Victoria, and I’ve been surprised at how many authors, both newbies and established, have come to me asking about how to format and publish their e-books for Kindle and other platforms.

The established authors have figured out that their back lists are worth more than the 15-25% e-book royalty most publishers are offering, and the newbies just want to get their novels out there for the world to judge.

So starting this week, I’m going to do a series of articles on how to format and upload your novel for Kindle, Smashwords, etc.  It’s pretty simple, except for the clickable table of contents, and even authors who are technophobic don’t need to worry that it’s beyond them.

I’m also open to questions and am willing to help.

I’m off to a panel now, so the first “How to” article will appear tomorrow, and I’ll put up a menu item for anyone who wants to reference it in the future.