Agents as Publishers

If a publisher came to me and asked to represent my novel, promising to shop it around to other publishers, I’d be stunned.  If the publisher went on to say that if they couldn’t sell it to another publisher, they’d put it up as an e-book on Amazon, collect the 70% royalty and give me half, I’d say that a serious conflict of interest existed.

Confused yet?  Meet to the 21st century literary agent.  More agents everyday are crossing the boundary between agent and publisher, and authors should be very aware.

Right now some agents are getting the e-rights to their clients’ out-of-print books and e-publishing those novels.  At a conference I even heard one older author express delight at getting a 50% royalty on net sales from his agent/publisher.  I didn’t have the heart to put my hand up and tell him he could e-publish it himself and get a 70% royalty.

Dean Wesley Smith has already written what many of us are thinking: how long before agents move on from the out-of-print novels and start putting up new work from their clients?  Will they even shop a client’s novel around to see if a traditional publisher would pay big bucks?  That’s a lot of work when the agent can just cash in on the client’s name right away by e-publishing his/her work.

It’s the Wild West in the e-pub world right now.  Authors need to be very careful about what contracts they sign with their agents, and especially what rights they sell to the agents.

See where this is going?  How long before authors need an agent to negotiate a contract with their agent/e-publisher?

If I were an established author with a back list, I’d cut the agent out right now.

Off Topic: Not My Good Side

Totally off topic but amusing nonetheless: The Globe and Mail posted a photo of me as one of eighteen “Faces of the Toronto Marathon.”  I’m photo number twelve.  What happened to all the photos he took of me smiling?  He shot at least a dozen.  Now if I had only thought of a way get that photojournalist to mention my writing, that would have been great self-promotion.

I placed 29th out of 1300 runners, 24th for men, and 3rd for my age group.  3hrs and 3 minutes to go 42.2 kilometers. Maybe that’s why I look so tired.

Busted a Deadline

People are watching the movie Priest as I write this, but they aren’t reading my vampire novel because it’s still in my hard drive.  I’ve been slogging all week through the editor’s notes, and all I can say is that I don’t pay her enough.

But I’m close.  I’m four-fifths of the way through, and my cover artist has delivered a great cover.  I’ll finish with this round of editing over the weekend and then it’ll need another copy edit to catch any typos from the changes.

It’s a lot of work, but I don’t want to be a Howett, the writer who self-published an e-book with so many typos that the reviewer, Big Al, had trouble reading to the end.

So while I wanted to launch the same day as the vampire movie, Priest, I’ll just have to accept that I’ll be a couple of days behind.  Better to publish a great book three days late than an unreadable one on time.

Kindles Everywhere

Look out Sony e-reader, Nook and Kobo, because Amazon announced this week that Kindles are now on display and available for purchase at 3,200 Walmart stores.  Since they’re already in Best Buy, Staples and Target, that means they’re everywhere, and they’re getting cheaper with the new ad version.

This can only be good news for authors, because once people get their hands on an e-reader, any e-reader, they’re going to want content–inexpensive content.

I know I keep repeating  this, but so many good writers I know out there refuse to publish because they’re waiting for the brass ring and the pat on the head from a literary agent, a publisher and the adoring public in that order.  A two year process at best.

So I’m going to try a little experiment.  By this Friday, I hope to have crunched through all of the editor’s notes on my vampire novel.  I want to publish it to coincide with the launch of the movie Priest, which as I posted before, has some very similar themes–walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.

I’ll keep track of how many copies of my e-book novel (and its sequels) that I sell in the next two years.  There’s only one prediction I can make that I’m certain will come true: I’ll make more money and have more sales than my friends who have yet to get a literary agent to start their ball rolling.

Genre Fiction Sells Well on Kindle

Genre fiction is selling so well on Kindle that Amazon is stepping further into the publishing roll.  They’ve opened up an imprint, Montlake Romance, that will publish everything from paranormal romance to suspense romance.

The good news for me and other genre fiction writers is that they intend to expand into other genres, maybe mystery and SF.  This means they’ll be looking for talent, and my guess is they’ll go looking at Kindle sales figures of indie e-pubbed authors to see who they should pick up.  It’s sort of a wiki to sort through the slush pile, no expensive acquisition editors to house and feed.

This, of course,  will have traditional publishers frothing at the mouth.  They merged into the big six over the last twenty years because they don’t like competition.  They’ve consoled themselves over the last few months that paper books are still 80% of book sales, and they’ve got their fingers crossed that e-readers will just be a fad that will go the way of the CB radio.

But now Amazon launches Montlake and says it will be for e-books AND print books.  Clearly Amazon has an eye on that 80% of book sales too.

An argument I’ve heard from authors who are traditionally published is that by e-publishing I’ll only be selling to 20% of the market while crossing my fingers in hopes that e-book sales continue to rise.  But what if my sales are good enough to get noticed by Amazon?  Maybe they could end up being my print publisher.  Anything is possible in this new publishing world, and it beats the heck out of writing query letters to overworked literary agents.

Climbing the Social Networking Ladder

Unless you’re one of the big names, like John Grisham, don’t expect your publisher to lift a pinkie finger to market your novel.  Authors sell novels, not publishers.   So how do you get the word out from your basement?

Social networking.  Sounds easy, right?  It’s a bloody nuisance, but like all things that take patience, the rewards are great.  John Locke has 20,000 twitter followers who will leap at the chance to buy his next novel the minute he tweets that it’s up for sale on Amazon.  That’s fantastic marketing.  He’s built this following from the ground up over two years.  He’s got a website, high-quality book trailers, the whole deal.  He’s a self-e-pubbed author, so he did it without any publishing company help.

But I’m down here at the bottom of social networking, late to facebook and late to Twitter.  My facebook fan page has 6 “likes.”  My tweets come straight from this blog, so there aren’t many, but I already have two followers, both apparently young hot women, which means they’re probably spam.  Rather funny, actually.

But this is where we separate the wheat from the chaff.  A lot of self-pubbed authors are going to give up when they don’t get immediate gratification, expecting their sales to just magically take off by themselves.  They’ll breathlessly check their sales figures two or three times a day until they get bored because they haven’t sold anything in a week.

So here I go, stepping up on the first rung of the social networking ladder.  It’s going to take a while, but I’m patient and determined.  Besides, maybe I’ll make some new friends.

 

The Wall Street Journal Gets It

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about how self-pubbed e-books are totally upending the e-book market.  My favourite quote is from author John Locke, who sold 369,000 downloads of his seven novels on Amazon just in March.  Locke says, “When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m as good as them.  Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

With the economy faltering and readers still hungry for books for all those e-readers they got for Christmas, the market for cheap novels is going way up.  Who wants to spend $14 for a quick read when you can get 14 novels for the same price?  If ten of them are unreadable crap, you’re still ahead if you’ve discovered four good novels.  Hey, you’re still ahead with two good novels.

But their are others out there who see this too.  F + W Media has just launched a crime imprint that will sell just e-books, no print versions.  Mystery authors who don’t want to self-pub should be getting their book pitches ready.

Those people at F + W are savvy.  I’m guessing they’ll be pricing the mysteries higher than 99 cents, but way less than $14.  I also bet they’ll offer authors better than 25% for e-book royalties.  This is the future.

Shamelessly Canadian

I had to decide whether it would bug Americans that my Sioux Rock Falls short stories are shamelessly Canadian.

Storyteller Magazine (now defunct) specifically wanted stories that could “only happen in Canada,” and like any good writer, I sent them what they wanted to publish.

But as I put these stories up for sale as e-books on Amazon, I have to wonder if American readers will think I can’t spell.  I look at those extra u’s and I wonder if I should just let Microsoft do what it wants and eliminate them.

The truth, of course, is these stories drip Canadian, and the Canadian spellings actually add to the flavour.  Yup, there’s another extra “u.”  I don’t think Americans will hold it against me.  They like Giles Blunt’s Algonguin Bay novels and they like Harry Potter, which sure as heck wasn’t set in New Jersey either.

So as I formatted the stories for Kindle I decided to leave them as they first appeared in Storyteller Magazine: shamelessly Canadian.

E-books Get More Like Paper Books

The crowd that clings to paper books has a standard set of excuses as to why they prefer dead, pulped trees over electrons as their delivery system for words.

Excuse # 1: I can’t lend an e-book to a friend like I can with a paperback.

That argument fell apart when Amazon introduced their share function, which allows readers to share e-books the same way you would with paper: you electronically lend it to a friend for three weeks, during which you can’t access the book (just like with paper books) and at the end it reverts to you, and your friend no longer has access to the book.  Hey!  That’s even better than a paper book because I don’t have to go chasing down my friends to get my books back.

Excuse # 2: I can’t borrow e-books from the library.

Actually libraries have been loaning e-pub format books (think Sony E-reader) for ages, although the lending systems have been plagued with the challenges you’d expect from a new technology.  But this morning everything changed again: Amazon is going to partner with Overdrive to bring Kindle format e-books to 11,000 US libraries.  This is going to dramatically improve the current delivery system, and it’s  going to put more pressure on publisher’s like Macmillan and Simon and Schuster, who have yet to allow lending of e-versions of their books, and HarperCollins and the others who have placed many restrictions on e-book lending, much to the consternation of librarians.

Excuse #3: I can’t take an e-reader into the bathtub.

Put an e-reader into a large ziplock bag and it’s actually better in the bathtub than a paper book.  Turning pages is a simple press of a button rather than fumbling with wet fingers on dry pages.  Better yet, if you drop your ziplock-bagged e-reader in the tub it’ll stay dry and unharmed, unlike a paper book, which will require a long drying period that may still fail to prevent mold.  This assumes, of course, that you don’t fall asleep, roll over onto your e-book, shove it to the bottom of the tub and sit on it for an hour.  I can’t help you there.

Excuse # 4: But I like the smell and feel of paper books.

That smell is printing chemicals, binding glue, and if it’s an old book, mold and mildew.  Most people like the look and feel of candlelight too, but how many people stuck with candles as their primary light source after  electric light bulbs were invented?  I’m sure there were hold outs who didn’t trust the new-fangled electricity, and I’ll bet they had a long list of excuses as to why they didn’t want anything to do with that new technology.

The reason e-books will become the standard is that rather than being as good as paper books, they’re actually better.  The publishers who accept this first will be the most successful during the next ten years.

My Editor has My Other Baby

Fogel and I have been debating how e-books will affect freelance editors.  I’m guessing that people who want to indie e-publish will be swamping freelancers’ in-boxes with edit requests.  Fogel argues that freelance cover artists will get a lot of business, but freelance editors won’t.  She says:

“Most self-published e-books will fall into the same categories paper books do. There’ll be the professional writers who rerelease books that are out of print, and haven’t the rights to the original cover, or hated it. Then there’ll be the rank amateurs who have no business calling themselves writers and self-publish because no legitimate publisher will take them on. The former don’t need editors because the book’s finished; the latter won’t use them because they think they can write, but know they can’t draw.”

I’m sure some indie authors will fall into the Howett category, writers who simply can’t believe they need a substantive editor let alone a copy editor.  But Joe Konrath keeps pointing out that indie writers need two things: a good editor and a good cover artist.  I’m not the only indie author reading his blog.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone through the editing process so many times with my short stories, but I can’t imagine publishing without an editor.  So I’ve sent Fogel my other baby, the vampire novel, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that she won’t totally gut my heart out.

The good news is that she’s already read the first two chapters and written back that there are “no show-stoppers.”  From Fogel that’s high praise.

Fogel’s launched a website, but don’t hire her if you’re looking for the sort of praise you’d expect from a mother, cause you won’t be getting it.  You’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.  She doesn’t care about your feelings.  It’s why I chose her for my editor.