Game of Tomes

TheWayWeWere

As a novelist, I have to keep abreast of the distribution and marketing issues that affect books.  Even if you aren't part this world, you'd have to have been on an extended vacation (say, to Mars and back) not to know about the creation and sale of eBooks (digital books), and how this new format has as changed the publishing industry.

In this letter to its members, Scott Turow, President of the Writers Guild, explains how the Department of Justice's suit against five major book publishers and Apple may in fact financially undercut authors in two ways.

First, should it strengthen the largest book retailer, Amazon, eventually authors may get paid even less for their books.

Secondly, they'll have less places in which to distribute and promote their books. 

For midlist authors such as myself. ePublishing is a mixed blessing. Those books which were abandoned by their original publishers can find new lives–and readers–when an author publishes his or her backlist. And those books which publishers have passed on can now find the readers we authors feel they deserve. In fact, I've had good friends make more money self-pub'ing than they ever made writing for traditional pub houses.

If you keep the book locked away in a drawer, what chance will it have to find an audience?

On the flip side, the creators shouldn't be making less money on their product than the distributor.

Competition is good for everyone: publishers, authors, readers, and booksellers. Which begs the question:

What is the fairest way to split the revenue of a book between the author (or author and publisher) and the retailer?


— Josie

 

Dear member,
 
Yesterday's reports that the Justice Department may be near filing an antitrust lawsuit against five large trade book publishers and Apple is grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture.
 
The Justice Department has been investigating whether those publishers colluded in adopting a new model, pioneered by Apple for its sale of iTunes and apps, for selling e-books. Under that model, Apple simply acts as the publisher's sales agent, with no authority to discount prices.
 
We have no way of knowing whether publishers colluded in adopting the agency model for e-book pricing. We do know that collusion wasn't necessary: given the chance, any rational publisher would have leapt at Apple's offer and clung to it like a life raft. Amazon was using e-book discounting to destroy bookselling, making it uneconomic for physical bookstores to keep their doors open.
 
Just before Amazon introduced the Kindle, it convinced major publishers to break old practices and release books in digital form at the same time they released them as hardcovers. Then Amazon dropped its bombshell: as it announced the launch of the Kindle, publishers learned that Amazon would be selling countless frontlist e-books at a loss. This was a game-changer, and not in a good way. Amazon's predatory pricing would shield it from e-book competitors that lacked Amazon's deep pockets.
 
Critically, it also undermined the hardcover market that brick-and-mortar stores depend on. It was as if Netflix announced that it would stream new movies the same weekend they opened in theaters. Publishers, though reportedly furious, largely acquiesced. Amazon, after all, already controlled some 75% of the online physical book market.
 
Amazon quickly captured the e-book market as well, bringing customers into its proprietary device-and-format walled garden (Sony, the prior e-book device leader, uses the open ePub format). Two years after it introduced the Kindle, Amazon continued to take losses on a deep list of e-book titles, undercutting hardcover sales of the most popular frontlist titles at its brick and mortar competitors. Those losses paid huge dividends. By the end of 2009, Amazon held an estimated 90% of the rapidly growing e-book market. Traditional bookstores were shutting down or scaling back. Borders was on its knees. Barnes & Noble had gamely just begun selling its Nook, but it lacked the capital to absorb e-book losses for long.
 
Enter Steve Jobs. Two years ago January, one month after B&N shipped its first Nook, Jobs introduced Apple's iPad, with its proven iTunes-and-apps agency model for digital content. Five of the largest publishers jumped on with Apple’s model, even though it meant those publishers would make less money on every e-book they sold.
 
Publishers had no real choice (except the largest, Random House, which could bide its time – it took the leap with the launch of the iPad 2): it was seize the agency model or watch Amazon's discounting destroy their physical distribution chain. Bookstores were well along the path to becoming as rare as record stores. That’s why we publicly backed Macmillan when Amazon tried to use its online print book dominance to enforce its preferred e-book sales terms, even though Apple’s agency model also meant lower royalties for authors.
 
Our concern about bookstores isn't rooted in sentiment: bookstores are critical to modern bookselling. Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online. In bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors: it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered. Publishing shouldn’t have to choose between bricks and clicks. A robust book marketplace demands both bookstore showrooms to properly display new titles and online distribution for the convenience of customers. Apple thrives on this very model: a strong retail presence to display its high-touch products coupled with vigorous online distribution. While bookstores close, Apple has been busy opening more than 300 stores.
 
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to become familiar to large numbers of readers, the disappearance of bookstores is deeply troubling, but it will have little effect on our sales or incomes. Like rock bands from the pre-Napster era, established authors can still draw a crowd, if not to a stadium, at least to a virtual shopping cart. For new authors, however, a difficult profession is poised to become much more difficult. The high royalties of direct publishing, for most, are more than offset by drastically smaller markets. And publishers won't risk capital where there's no reasonable prospect for reward. They will necessarily focus their capital on what works in an online environment: familiar works by familiar authors.
 
Two years after the agency model came to bookselling, Amazon is losing its chokehold on the e-book market: its share has fallen from about 90% to roughly 60%. Customers are benefiting from the surprisingly innovative e-readers Barnes & Noble's investments have delivered, including a tablet device that beat Amazon to the market by fully twelve months. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are starting to compete through their partnership with Google, so loyal customers can buy e-books from them at the same price as they would from Amazon. Direct-selling authors have also benefited, as Amazon more than doubled its royalty rates in the face of competition.
 
Let's hope the reports are wrong, or that the Justice Department reconsiders. The irony bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition.
 
This would be tragic for all of us who value books, and the culture they support.
 
Sincerely,
 
Scott Turow
President
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The Housewife Asassin's Handbook

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What writers should do when they are in the 99% (of publishing’s many norms): stay in the game.

Sfarwabook[1]Because of a very fortunate turn of events this year in my writing career, I was asked to speak to other authors who had been my support system in the ups and downs of my 7-year career: the San Francisco chapter of the Romance Writers of America. This group is filled with an even mix of aspiriting and already published successful writers, all of whom have been there for each other with inspiring words, great advice, and a shoulder to cry on.

Yes, it was my turn to give back.

Here's what I told them (in the few moments when I wasn't dithering off-topic, on such things as house renovations from hell, book promotion, instore co-op and other necessary evils of success for the chosen few–

But then caffeine on a belly of oatmeal will do that to you. Next time: fill the ol' belly with pancakes first. Oh yeah: and look at your notes every once in a while…)

_____________________________________

The year 2011 did not start out well for me. I was one of many midlist authors who had a novel under contract  with publishing house, but then it was dropped as part of a loss-saving attempt in light of the Borders bankruptcy.

I made sure that my own private pity party was short and bittersweet, then turned my attention on promoting the novel which was due out in April. I was proud of the buzz I'd already built prior to its release, which turned into a 10-market tour hosted by women who had the same career as Katie, the heroine in my book The Baby Planner.

As far as my editor was concerned, it paid off — enough for her to ask me to lunch. As we nibbled lady-sized salads at the Bergdorf-Goodman Restaurant high over Central Park, she asked, "So what can I see next?"

This is why it's always a smart idea to promote promote promote your books, no matter what your publishing house is (or isn't) doing for it.

Knowing that you need to publish or perish, I was also smart enough to take the great advice of my writer pal, Bella Andre, who has hit it out of the park indie-pub'ing her re-acquired backlist and some new books. She convinced me that a novel which had had four editors salivating for it- (until it got shot down in committee) was the perfect test for me to indie-publish. The first book in that series, The Housewife Assassin's Handbook, is out now.

Thus far I'm loving the sales. The second in the series, The Houswife Assassin's Guide to Gracious Killing will be out by the end of the month. So yes, authors: Independent publishing is one way to watch your orphans thrive.

Writing novels is not for the faint of heart. I truly believe you need a wonderful agent to match you with the right editor: someone loves your writer's voice and your story, and wants to help make it the best book possible before showing it to the world.

But even a great agent and a superlative editor can't do the one thing that keeps an author writing for a living wage. For that, you need a legion of readers who fall in love with your characters, and wants to see more of them, and of you.

Thanks to my wonderful agent, Holly Root, who saw the potential in my books to translate into different media, my novels were shown to a talent agency which felt that they did indeed have the potential to be adapted into movies or as a TV series.

Secret Lives400Well, they were right. One of Hollywood biggest producers, Jerry Bruckheimer, has optioned one of my books, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, for a television show that will run on ABC.

So yes: this year has been a rollercoaster. But I was one of the lucky ones.

I'm making  a living wage as a writer.

These readers are out there. I know authors who exhaust themselves trying to find them: touring, social networking, responding to comments and emails.

I strongly feel that, with the changes that are occuring in the distribution of books — the surge of online book sales, coupled with the decline in the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores, not to mention the number of books they take on — will also change the role of publishers:

They will have to  get more agressive — and smarter — in how they promote the books they publish.

I have no doubt that they will soon publish less authors. But in order to thrive, they'll have to make the books they do publish as profitable as possible. This means focusing on marketing and promotion as well as distribution. They need to recognize niche markets for specific authors and their books, and court them…

Something that authors do, now, for themselves…if they're smart.

And could to even better if they had the financial resources and personpower of their pub houses.

Every author writing for that imprint is a brand.

Every book is a product under that brand.

This is, simply, Marketing 101.

Which brings me to you, the author:

If you're a writer, be prepared to spend most of your career in the 99 percent.

Everyone in this room writes, because we must write. This need to write comes from the depth of our souls.

Ninety-nine percent of the world doesn't have this desire. (Thank gawd! Aren't there already enough of us, in this very competitive field?)

So, consider yourself in the one percent.

Already, I applaud you.

A reality we all know: ninety-nine percent of aspiring writers will not get published by a New York publishing house. All the more reason I want to applaud the many I see this room who have made it into the one percent who have been traditionally published.

Of all traditionally published writers, how many have been able — or will be able – to make writing a fully-fledged career that pays the bills and puts food on the table? How many will still be published ten or twenty years from now?

I'm guessing that number is closer to one percent than 99 percent.

And of those who are lucky enough to make writing their vocation as well as their avocation, I'm guessing that 99 percent of them will never have the joy of learning that their book has been optioned and produced in an entertainment medium, such as film or television.

But here's the thing: If you ever want to be in THE 1 PERCENT (of the 1 percent who write; of the 1 percent who get an agent; of the one percent who get a publishing contract; of the 1 percent who can make a living writing; of the one percent who may enjoy watching their characters come alive in the small screen or the silver screen) you have to stay in the game.

You have to write.

Afterward, you have to edit, and re-edit, and edit again, until your manuscript is a page-turner.

Then you have to query a large, well-researched list of agents with your manuscript.

Once you get that agent, you have to to listen to him or her as to what else has to be done to it so that s/he will be enthusiastic when it is sent out to editors (remember: agents work on a commission, so they don't get paid until your book sells; they are putting sweat equity in you as well).

And once your book is published, you have to promote it.

And you have to write more books.

So, yeah: writing is the easy part.

Staying in the game is the hard part.

Last. Author. Standing.

 – Josie

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.

The top photo is the book cover for Writing Romance: The Ultimate Guide on Craft, Creation and Industry Connections, which is published by the San Francisco Chapter of the Romance Writers of America

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How the Publishing World Has Changed…or Not

Kirk-scotty While Googling myself (Hey, 'fess up! You do it, too!) I came up with this article, in LiveWires.com, dated April 3, 2009. In it, I was asked: "How do you see the world changing from a writer’s point of view?"

 My answer is below.

Do I still feel it hits the mark? Hell yeah. In a nutshell, my two cents: as online distribution of digitial books grow, the roles of publishers, agents, and book retailers will have to change, in order for these functions to survive. I the article, I  give my suggestionsas to how these change will benefit authors.

Warp speed, Scotty: has anything changed in the year and a half that's passed, to validate my predictions?

Nah. But then again, we all know that the book publishing industry moves as slow as a Ferengi returning a lost wallet. I hope that doesn't get lost in translation.

I'm givin' it all I got, Cap'n,

–Josie


(ISBN: 9781439173176)

In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it TODAY!

"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in the bedroom community of Paradise Heights, who have the secrets, sex, money and scandal of an OK! Magazine cover story. Josie Brown is a skilled observer whose clever dialogue and feisty style make for truly entertaining reading." –Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives

 

JOSIE BROWN ANSWERS OUR QUESTION

LiveWires.com

We are asking a few author friends a question: How do you see the world changing from a writer’s point of view?

Here is Josie Brown’s answer –

“The literary world is beginning to look a lot like the music and entertainment industries, at least as it pertains to the future distribution of its products: online sales and downloads, as opposed to instore CDs and vinyl (music industry), DVDs (film/TV entertainment), or paper (book industry.)

As technology moves by leaps and bounds, all these media are struggling to establish a viable revenue model that fairly compensates those who create the product (writers, musicians, directors) and those who bring it to market.

That said, short of having your book written on Charmin toilet paper, I’m guessing most authors will welcome any and all new media that allows their stories to reach new and or loyal fans–

That is, if the fair compensation model can be upheld.

Aye, there’s the rub.

The advantage to technology is also its Achille’s Heel: pirating copywritten material is very easy to do when it’s put online. The Google lawsuit  and settlement opened up a Pandora’s box of legal issues that we all will be struggling with for quite some time,

The current compensation model used by the original eBook publishers is as follows:

(1) to attract readers, offer  books for a price cheaper than printed ones. This was something they’re able to do since they don’t have printing expenses. And because eBook publishers sell primarily online and promoted their books there as well, they have no shipping expenses, retail discounts, or returns: all of which gouge a publisher’s return on his investment .

(2) To entice authors, pay higher royalty rates: 40-50%,  as opposed to the print standard of 8-15%, depending on formats and formulas–albeit small or no advance. (“We’re all in this together, right? And besides, since New York won’t publish you, we’re your BFF….”)

(3) Pay authors on a monthly basis, as opposed to twice a year. (That’s the real advantage to the digital era.)

Now that eBooks are predicted to be the norm as opposed to the anomaly, traditional print publishers are seriously reconsidering the eBook’s role in their business model. However, this sea change change in product distribution will affect print publishers’ role in an even more profound way:

They will no longer serve as the gatekeepers of what is printed. Their role will shift to that of brand manager: that is build, promote, and manage the brands of their authors their books, both the front and the backlist.

Ideally, promotion will begin much earlier – perhaps even the minute the book’s contract has been signed – and continue much longer than 60 days beyond the launch date. This is a model used in both the music and entertainment industries (both of which have much more expensive production costs) – so why not for books?

(Oooooh…..sorry! I got tingles just THINKING about this!)

And much of this promotion will happen online as well – because much of the traditional media previously used to promote books  – newspaper reviews and magazine excerpts – is also disappearing.

Or going online.

An promotionally aggressive media-savvy author can use this to his/her advantage. Blogging daily and uploading content to your blog that entices daily visits from your fans, utilizing social networks to reach out to them, offering contests and excerpts, posting events  – all of these marketing endeavors define your voice and your brand.

And in partnership with a publishing house which see you as a viable brand and treats you as one, this brave new world will be a great place to sell our books.”

I Want My Book TV! Using the AMERICAN IDOL Model in Publishing

If the publishing industry is to survive, it has to promote it's products (books and authors) and its brands (imprints — and again, authors).

That's the wave of the future.

And the eBook — the fastest growing distribution method in the publishing industry — ia taking us there, at warp speed.

Sure, technology is the lead horse, but shouldn't publishing houses be grab the reins — and the bulk of sales?

That means more promotion.

And creating more impulse sales.

And opening up point-of-sale in more venues.

Not just publishing houses, but bookstores, too. If they want to survive (let alone thrive) they must must get on the bandwagon . . .

Or go the way of the buggywhip store.

I'm talking bread and circuses here.

Yep, the more, the merrier. Make it a happening, a be-in.

I'm talking a book slam. In person, and in a BIG way.

Big venue, big crowds. 

Then invite the world.

Some booksellers get this.The town in which I was born and raised (as we say in the South) puts on a world-class book fair. The Decatur Book Festival (in Georgia) is something that the independent book stores in the area should be proud of. I know I am.

If the world can't be there in person, take them there, via TV and radio.

Podcast it. YouTube it.

Forget about "American Idol." What about "American Novelist?"

But big ideas take big bucks.

Which brings us to the pub houses — many of which are owned by media conglomerates. So CBS (Simon & Schuster) or ABC (Hyperion) or Fox (HarperCollins), why not devote a
few hours of TV programming each week to promoting your publishing subsidiary, and showcasing
your authors?

Make it an elimination contest. Each week, have the novelist contestants do round-robin reads of 2-3 chapters.

The audience can vote for their faves (via online, where they can also download .pdfs of the chapters they just heard).

You could have your bestsellers serve as judges–and showcase trailers of their upcoming books.

Bestselling_Novelist_Judges

Like most readers, I love any venue that helps me visual what I'm reading. More to the point, I want the readers of my books to visualize my characters and my plots.

But let's be honest: most authors read like frightened 5th graders giving book reports.

Solution: hire up-and-coming actors that act out scenes, or to give table reads.

Afterward, the host talks with the author about plot and character.

The requisite "video bio" of the author will help endear him/her to new fans.

And of course "American Novel" will culminate in a "grand prize": a bigger advance, multi-book contract, and front table status for mid-listers.

Talk about a way to build the brands — and the sales — of your authors

Then branch out: AMERICAN NOVEL: ROMANCE. AMERICAN NOVEL: MYSTERY.

You get the picture.

And yes, I am ready for my close-up,

—Josie




BestSLHW Josie's Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

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