Category Archives: Industry News

Writing, professionalism, and qualifications.

Yesterday, I hovered somewhere between amused and annoyed as Twitter reacted to a post (2-5-14: Sorry… post no longer exists) on the Horror Writers of America’s (HWA) LA site titled Ten Questions To Know If You’re A Pro.

Originally, I found the site from a link by John Scalzi along with the comment that he answered no to almost every one of the questions on this list. Intrigued, I took a look for myself. The article itself was a tad off-putting, but not extreme. Then I saw the questions. Honestly, when I read them I kind of thought it was a joke. For reference, I put my answers in brackets.

1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you鈥檇 put into cleaning it is better spent writing? [Uh, no? Once my house hits a degree of messiness above mildly disorganized, I clean. no matter what deadline I’m on]

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead? [No. Partially because most of my friends live in other parts of the country so they don’t offer nights out all too often for me to turn down, but the answer would remain the same anyway. You won’t have friends soon enough if you never see them]

3. Do you turn off the television in order to write? [TV, yes. But I have to have something in the background. If I’m at home it’s either a movie or music. If I’m out in the world the white noise of conversation around me is enough]

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise? [Yes. This is definitely part of treating your writing professionally]

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)? [No! That is NOT the point of a VACATION]

6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend? [Nope. I often chat about writing with my friends because they ask how things are going, but I’m equally interested in what’s going on in their non-writing lives]

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write? [I haven’t been faced with this choice yet, but depending on the circumstances I might say yes. Especially right now when I have so many writing projects in the works]

8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career? [Really? Way to assume that a) my writing won’t be successful or lucrative and b) that I have an alternative career option that would be better for me. I don’t. It’s not like I can just fall back on my law degree to make money. I don’t have one]

9. Have you done all these things for at least five years? [Uh, yeah? I’ve held all these views for the past five years]

10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless? [What?! Look, it’s one thing to continuously give yourself new goals and dreams as you achieve your ambitions, but to live doubting on your own ability to meet ANY of your ambitions? What kind of life is that? Why would anyone want to live like that?!]

If you answer yes to every one of those questions, chances aren’t that your a professional writer. Chances are that you’re on the verge of being committed by concerned family and friends. Or the police are about to bust through your door and find a dark, dingy apartment full of newspaper clippings and scary ramblings pinned to the walls like wallpaper.

Author Brian Keene has already done an in depth discussion of the article on HWA and I suggest reading his post to make yourself feel better about what it means to be a professional. But I do have my own little bit of opinion to tag on to this conversation.

If you want to be a writer, you have to treat your writing professionally. There’s no doubt about that. You have to network and promote and write when you’d rather be doing almost anything else. To make a career out of telling stories, you have to do all of those things. However, never, ever get so sucked into writing that the rest of your life disappears. What are you writing about if not life? If you disappear into your writing cave from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, you’ll wring yourself dry within a year. Being professional means meeting your deadlines, producing quality work, being considerate to other writers, and collecting money in some form for the books/stories/articles/scripts you create. That’s it. Everything you do in between doesn’t count when asked “Are you a professional writer?”

One of things I love about writing is that there AREN’T RULES. Sure there are grammar rules and storytelling rules and whatever. I’m not talking about that. What I mean is that there aren’t rules for how you have to work to make this writing thing happen. Want to only write one book a year and write it only on the weekends? Go for it. Want to produce three novels, four novellas, and a screen play in twelve months? More power to you if you can manage it without cracking. Enjoy writing while playing Disney movies on loop in the background? Great! Or do you prefer writing with pen and paper in the middle of a forest with not another human in sight? That works too.

One of the fabulous things about this industry is that the HOW doesn’t matter. What you do in between book releases DOESN’T MATTER. The fact that you have book releases? That’s what counts. The only qualification you need to meet to be considered professional is your work. Everything else is meaningless.

/end rant/

The view from my side of the fence.

In an industry where change has occurred rarely and at a slow pace, the past decade has brought an avalanche of new ideas, technology, and problems. Publishing as a whole has dealt with all this in ways both good and bad and, honestly, I don’t know enough about the details of those decisions to even begin to tell you which is which. One of the things I do know has happened because of these changes has been the rise of the small press both in number and in prestige.

Despite this, many people within (and outside) the publishing industry don’t know much about small presses. Or equate them all with the vanity presses of old. This is just not the case. And my editor (and fellow small press author) Danielle Ellison has teamed up with the girls from Tangled up in Words as well as various industry professionals to help shed more light on the pros and cons of publishing with a small press.

They’re calling the series Small Press 411 and it started with a post yesterday. And now? Now there’s already a post with questions answered by agent Julia Weber! I’m thrilled by this blog series because the information needs to be out there for those still doing their research on the publishing industry–and even for those already in the industry.

Simply based on my own experiences, small presses are awesome! Granted, I’m still at the beginning of the process, but the most important part of publishing–to me–was finding an editor who understood my vision for my book and was willing to take the time to help me get there. I ended up with TWO! I call that lucky and I’m more than happy that Danielle is now taking the time to spread the small press love.

Take the time to check out what’s already up and look for a LOT more posts over the next three weeks. Even if you already know about small presses, you may be surprised by what you’ll learn!

Fabulous news is fabulous!

Guys! One of my editresses is getting published!! This is super exciting awesome news!

Danielle Ellison’s FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS, in which a girl escapes a controlled community and races through a forgotten world in hopes of saving everyone she loves before time runs out and their existence is wiped away, to Kate Kaynak and Patricia Riley at Spencer Hill Press, in a nice deal, in a three-book deal, for publication in April 2014, by Rebecca Mancini of RightsMix (World).

I’ve been super giddy since I read this this morning and the giddiness hasn’t faded!

Happy Young Woman (c) Vera Kratochvil
YAAAAAY, DANIELLE!

Go here to read more about this amazing breaking news straight from the source!

News: Coming Soon!

There are big things brewing in my world. Big, BIG things. As soon as it all is tied up all nice and pretty with a bow on top, I will be making an official announcement, hopefully next week, but I can’t resist saying now that I am so excited about absolutely everything involved in this news!

Check back on the blog in the next two weeks for the breaking headline! 馃榾

Publishing: An Internship Opportunity

Spencer Hill Press, an awesome independent house, is calling for interns! If you’re at least 13 and love YA books, you qualify! Read below or click here for more details:

A call for publishing interns! We are looking for enthusiastic, capable, organized interns to be part of our team. You must be a lover of Young Adult fiction and be able to work remotely.聽聽
We have four different internship tracks/opportunities available for interested applicants.
1. Reading interns. Do you like to read YA paranormal romance, sci-fi, urban fantasy or magical realism? Can you express what works or doesn鈥檛 work in a story? What makes it original? What potential lies under the surface?
Our reading interns will read and evaluate submissions that we receive. With a set of guidelines, you will be given a manuscript and asked to return one-page reader reports outlining your thoughts on this story. This is an ideal position for potential editors, book reviewers, or people who just love a good story.
2. Editorial interns. Do you like to read YA fiction? Do you have a passion for analysis of a story, it鈥檚 characters and it鈥檚 writing? Are you able to offer suggestions for line editing and big picture editing of a book?
Our editorial interns will work hands on with some of our editors to do editorial passes on novels. Starting at the ground floor, our goal is to help you develop your skills for critical observation and analysis of a story, and communication of those thoughts to authors and editors. We want to equip you for a career as an editor. Some of these duties will initially overlap with the reading interns.
3. Copyediting/proofing interns. Can you look at a sentence, and know how to fix it? Are you great with the small details, like grammar and punctuation? Did you notice the extra commas in those questions?
Our copyediting interns will be our eyes for the books we publish before we release them. Copy Editors look at manuscripts for typos, grammar errors, inconsistencies in a manuscript, etc. Copyeditors are an integral part of the team and we are looking for people who want to get a foot in the door.
4. Marketing interns. Do you have an interest in marketing? Are you passionate about sharing your excitement with books? Do you want to learn what it takes to promote upcoming books and events?
Our marketing interns will work hands-on with our Marketing Coordinator to help promote our upcoming and already released titles. Marketing interns need to have good organization skills and an outgoing personality. This job involves a lot of talking, so you must not be afraid to talk to strangers.
Submissions close July 26, 2012. Please allow at least two weeks for a response. Must be at least 13 years old to apply.
If you are interested in applying for any of these internship positions, please email interning@spencerhillpress.com with position(s) you are interested in applying for as the subject. (ie: Reading Intern) Include in the email:
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 First & last name
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Email (one you check regularly)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Birthday
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Blog/twitter/place we can find you on the internet (if you have any)
路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Phone number
聽Good luck if you plan on applying!

Edited to add: Because of the high volume of applicants, Spencer Hill closed their screening process early. Keep your eyes on their Twitter or Tumblr pages for other opportunities, though! 馃檪

News: What’s Happened Lately?

Because of my crazy schedule the past month or so, there are a lot of posts I wanted to do and haven’t gotten around to. My list of links to direct you to is getting kinda long, so I decided to do a roundup of articles that might interest you. Browse at your leisure!

Oh, and don’t forget to enter my giveaway! There’s still a couple of days left!

Leaked Document: Hachette Explains Why Publishers Are Relevant: I wonder if this was leaked or leaked, but it’s still an interesting read.

Industry Issues Aplenty at Last American Booksellers Association (ABA) Forum: With the way the industry is changing, this is definitely a good one to keep on top of.

Tor/Forge E-book Titles to Go DRM-Free: A bold move by Tor! Will other publishers follow suit?

Barnes & Noble, Microsoft Ink $300million Deal on E-Reading: BIG news. Will this change the landscape as much as some expect? It’s definitely a possibility.

Big Six Publishing Is Dead–Welcome The Massive Three: A reaction to the news from Microsoft and B&N, blogger and author of We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide To Social Media Kristen Lamb talks about what this move could mean for the NYC legacy publishers. It’s long, but worth reading.

Can Publishers Stay Relevant?: Another blogger talking about the future of the traditional publishing model. Can it survive if it doesn’t start adapting fast?

Kay. I have to go to work now or I’m going to be late… again. Hope you enjoy the readings for the week! 馃槈

Technology: The Publishing World After The DOJ Lawsuit

I have already posted on this subject a couple of times (specifically here and here), but Nathan Bransford (who I’ve quoted on this blog) posted an update on the lawsuit against several major publishing companies over ebook pricing. Nathan’s experience in the industry gives him a good knowledge of the subject and a thorough understanding of the many variables to this equation. So, for anyone who doesn’t follow his blog (and if you’re a writer or in any way interested in publishing, you really should), here is what Nathan has to say about the digital landscape:

I guess there was some teeny tiny publishing news this week.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: I work for CNET, which is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of Simon & Schuster, one of the companies named in the lawsuit. All opinion here is entirely my own, does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CBS and/or Simon & Schuster and/or CNET, and is based mainly on my time in publishing as a literary agent where I was not privy to the inside discussions at publishers, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of my old agency Curtis Brown Ltd. either. Cool?

So here’s what: The Department of Justice sued five book publishers and Apple for allegedly colluding on e-book prices. Yeah, wow.

How we got here

Here’s the elevator pitch summary of what happened:

In the beginning of the e-book era, publishers sold e-books according to the “wholesale” model. Every e-book had a retail price, publisher got roughly half the retail price, bookseller got half, bookseller could sell the e-book for whatever they want. Amazon discounted deeply, taking a loss on some titles, built early market share, made publishers nervous as they were running away with the e-book market.

Along came Apple and the “agency” model: They gave publishers the ability to set their own prices and receive 70%. Publishers jumped at this and raised prices, but actually received less money per copy sold than in the wholesale model. (The difference between agency and wholesale also is the reason behind why some e-books cost more than their print counterparts)

What the DOJ alleges is that some of the publishing executives met around this time and explicitly discussed moving to the agency model and raising prices. This, the DOJ says, amounted to illegal collusion.

Three of the publishers, HarperCollins, S&S, and Hachette, have already settled without admitting wrongdoing, and will allow variable pricing. Macmillan, Penguin Group, and Apple have not settled and apparently will fight the charges in court. The case against Apple in particular, my colleagues Declan McCullaugh and Greg Sandoval write, is unlikely to stick.

For a completely comprehensive look at everything, Shelf Awareness has a great summary (via Curtis Brown). I also summarized the issues in more detail a few weeks back in the post Why the DOJ’s Potential Lawsuit Over the Agency Model is a Really Big Deal.

And if you’re curious about why e-book prices are so high and why publishers would like to keep them that way, I wrote an article for CNET that goes a bit more in depth.

Were publishers right or wrong?

I blogged about the switch from wholesale to agency in real time in early 2010 and called it The Kindle Missile Crisis, and frankly I’m pretty darn proud of that post because I guessed at the issues that are still at stake now in 2012.

And to be totally honest now that I’m out of the business: I didn’t agree with the publishers at the time. I didn’t think the agency model was a good move.

But I don’t (and didn’t) think publishers were crazy either. As the iPad was just about to come out, publishers were fearing that Amazon would build a de facto monopoly in the e-book market. They were hearing from other companies that they couldn’t get into the e-book game because they couldn’t compete with Amazon on price, and Amazon was busy locking consumers into their proprietary e-book format. Publishers were likely worried Amazon would use their position to tighten the screws on terms and use the low e-book prices to hasten the demise of brick and mortar bookstores, which are hugely important to publishers.

And credit where due, the competition that publishers were seeking did end up taking place. B&N’s Nook, Apple’s iBooks, Sony, Kobo… there are viable alternatives to the Kindle. E-booksellers have up until now mainly been competing on consumer experience rather than price. High e-book prices have likely slowed the adoption of e-books and preserved the print world a bit longer.

But would that e-book competition have happened anyway without the agency model? Did publishers really have to switch to agency to open up the marketplace?

That is literally the billion dollar question because publishers left a huge amount of money on the table when they switched to the agency model. They actually gave up money to raise prices.

And that’s what I always thought was misguided. I believe Apple and B&N would have found ways to viably compete with Amazon even with variable pricing. It’s not as if Apple in particular doesn’t have the resources to go toe-to-toe with Amazon.

It seemed to me that this had much more to do with trying to keep e-book prices high to hold onto a print world as long as possible. Publishers were compromising their future revenue stream and were risking alienating their most valuable customers and lending a huge opportunity to 99-cent e-book upstarts in order to preserve their diminishing stream as long as possible. Does that ever work?

I love bookstores. I want bookstores to survive and really think they will. But they need to adapt to compete in this world as well rather than relying on publishers to preserve high e-book prices. The future is like a giant perpetual wave. You can either surf it or get washed out to sea.

Though I also recognize that it’s much easier said than done. And another thing I know for sure: I’m glad I wasn’t the one making these decisions.

So where do things go from here?

The terms of the settlement are confusing. Essentially, publishers can still use the agency model, but they can no longer dictate prices and have to allow a variable pricing model and booksellers can discount, but not more than the 30% publishers are allowed to… yeah, you get the picture. There are actually things called discount pools. Whether publishers continue to stick to agency or try and re-summon the wholesale genie remains to be seen.

But regardless, we’re about to enter a very chaotic phase in the e-book marketplace where suddenly price is going to be an important part of our e-book choices when it comes to which apps we use and which devices we buy.

And of course: e-book prices are coming down.

So here are some “ifs” about where things can go from here:

If publishers are able to recapture the revenue per copy that they had in the old e-book wholesale model they might have just bought themselves some valuable time in the past two years to soften the blow from the Borders bankruptcy, to help make Apple and B&N viable contenders in the e-book space, and they’ll be happy they took the agency gamble while they could, DOJ lawsuit or no.

If, however, publishers find themselves stuck in a situation where they have the agency model but variable pricing, it could mean the worst of both worlds: less revenue per copy and little ability to hold the line on prices. In that case they may well regret letting Steve Jobs sweet talk them down the agency model rabbit hole.

We’ll see. I do know one thing for sure: The e-book world is going to keep on changing fast.

Legalities: A Follow-up

Not too long ago, I wrote a post talking about the power-plays companies like Amazon and PayPal have been making in recent years. This morning I stumbled across more information on two of the specific cases I mentioned in that post.

Nathan Bransford talks about the DOJ investigation into ebook pricing on his blog, specifically how the decisions made in the case could impact the publishing industry as a whole. It’s an interesting insider look at the big picture and I highly recommend heading over to his blog to check it out. Jut in case you don’t have time to do that, here’s just a little bit:

Up until now, conscious or not, consumers have grown accustomed to the idea that e-books cost what they cost. The decision of what e-reader to buy or which app to read on has largely been driven by user experience preferences.

Do you like the feel of the nook? The ease of the Kindle app? The pretty iBooks page animation? Those are the decisions people have been basing their decisions on – the reading and buying experience.

But if the agency model is dismantled in whole or in part and Amazon and others can go back to pricing as they see fit, suddenly price is going to be at the forefront of consumer choice.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Amazon and their deep pockets are going to have a big advantage in that environment.

And, just an fyi, he explains the difference between the agency and the wholesale model in the post.

In my previously mentioned post, I also talked about how PayPal was using its leverage against ebook distributors like Smashwords to ban certain types of erotica. Apparently, they’re backtracking fast. [[edited to add: article no longer up]] Their new policy is much more reasonable and will only refuse the sale of books containing graphic (and potentially illegal) imagery and anything hinting of child pornography. The new rules will also look at books on a case by case basis instead of making sweeping statements about entire genres or topics. Mark Coker, founder of e-book distributor Smashwords, said:

“This is going to be a major victory for writers, readers and free speech. They are going to build a protective moat around legal fiction.”

I have to agree with Mr. Coker. It’s fantastic PayPal was made to see reason because otherwise this could have been a dark day in the annuls of literary history.

Oh, and, in completely unrelated news,

THIS IS MY 200th POST!

Go me! 馃榾

Look for a giveaway of a bracelet I made to celebrate this milestone.

Technology: Digital Power Plays

Have you ever met someone so sure of their own power over the world around them they could hold up their hand to block the sun and swear they’d created an eclipse? I have and sometimes it feels as though certain digital entities are beginning to see themselves this way.

Amazon has been facing charges of monopolistic action for some time now, even before they deleted copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from customers’ Kindles back in 2009. The furor of this action (supposedly taken because the copies were from a pirated version of the book) was not any less despite the company granting ever customer a full refund of the purchase price, which I completely understand. It’s just an unheard of proposition! No one ever had to worry that Borders employees were going to break into your house and steal back a copy of the book (leaving your refund on the kitchen counter, of course) just because a publisher no longer owned the rights to that book. We expect that once paid for, the book belongs to us. Apparently, we were wrong. And it’s not the only time they’ve been accused of this. But this is old news and now customers aren’t the only ones dealing with Amazon’s power plays.

In February, CNET reported that Amazon shut down the sale of over 5,000 Kindle titles in a pricing/discount dispute with distributor Independent Publishers Group. The President of IPG suggested this was a strong-arm move by Amazon to increase their margins and get better terms from the publishers. Amazon refused to comment, but the sudden disappearance of those titles does kind of speak for itself. The article also mentions an issue with major publisher MacMillan over pricing when the internet giant refused to price ebooks higher than $9.99. This reminded me of an article I read a couple months ago about an official investigation into ebook pricing by the federal government.

According to the LA Times, “A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed that the probe involved the possibility of “anticompetitive practices involving e-book sales.”” Major retailers have been controlling the prices of ebooks and despite their price being lower than the paperback or hardcover versions, prices have been rising steadily until there’s barely a difference between buying a physical copy and downloading the ebook version. One of the major draws of ebooks (at least for me) is the price drop. If that goes away, they may see sales start declining across the board.

But pricing isn’t the only issue. Apparently PayPal has taken it upon itself to become a moral compass and content censor as well. Ebook distributor Smashwords was threatened by PayPal in February that the company would revoke it’s account unless Smashwords banned certain types of erotica from their site. While the content banned would all be considered by most immoral (and in some cases illegal), Smashwords spokesman and founder Mark Coker said,

“it鈥檚 a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy鈥 A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved,鈥 he writes. 鈥淲e do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica.聽 Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection.”

And he’s right. Letting a third party who is essentially unconnected with the production of content dictate what you are and are not allowed to print is ridiculous and probably unconstitutional. However, because PayPal is literally written into the code of the Smashwords site, switching to another payment provider is not a feasible (or fiscally responsible) option.聽

What does this all add up to? I have no idea. These are all pieces of the still shifting publication puzzle. All it seems to me is that digital self-publishing may not be as free form as it is currently for much longer. The major players are taking control.

Publishing: Since We’re Kind Of On The Subject…

I jumped onto the subject of self-publishing yesterday and this morning found another related post. This one, written by author and blogger J.A. Konrath, specifically talks about how legacy houses (the big names people normally think of) treat non-blockbuster level authors. Konrath has experience on both sides of the fence and is a strident, vocal, and sometimes angry proponent of self-publishing. His love of DIY publishing has some pretty strong support, like the $500,000 he’s made off a book the publishing houses didn’t want to print.

His posts always send me straight into the whirlpool of doubt and indecision about whether or not self-publishing is for me. There’s no doubt about its viability or the possibility of creating a huge following, the doubt is whether or not it’s a good fit for me.

Like most fields, there’s no clear path to success with self-publishing. There are some ways to make things work for you, but it’s a trial and error process. There’s also no filter between what people are writing and what they’re selling. No editorial reviews, no slush pile. I’ve read some books off Amazon that had the promise of a good story, but the writing just didn’t deliver. They didn’t invest in an editor, or maybe hired one who isn’t worth their salt, and put out a final product that won’t carry them as far as it could have. I don’t want to be one of those authors. I’m not looking for perfection in my story because, really, there’s no such thing, but I want my debut novel to be the best I can make it before I release it to the world. For that I need editing. And editing services without an agent and publishing team to provide them are EXPENSIVE. At least, the good ones are and why would you spend less money on something this important?

So, yes, Konrath, I get your point. I agree and can even honestly say that I would like to have some of the creative control self-publishing offers, so I’m thinking of the middle ground. Anyone know of an indie house that publishes young adult paranormal novels and is taking submissions?