Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Morning Mish-Mash

Last night I was lamenting the fact I had no idea what to blog about today. I've spent this week butting heads with a short story that doesn't want to be short. It wants to be a novel. Worse, it is dictating itself to me and refused to be corralled into anything manageable. I finally gave up and wrote about 5k on it and then did a general outline. Hopefully it will now murmur quietly in the back of my head while I finish the current projects on the front 50 burners. The problem, though, is the story kept me from figuring out what to do for MGC.

Thank goodness -- in oh so many ways -- for the internet. I got up this morning and began surfing the blogs I generally follow and found topic overload. So, with your indulgence, I'll link to a few, comment on a few and, hopefully, make a bit of sense.

On the Harlequin/Harlequin Horizon/DellArte Press ongoing debacle, agent Kristen Nelson comments not only on Mystery Writers of America (MWA) issuing a statement regarding the removal of Harlequin from its list of approved publishers, but also on her own thoughts and comments to Harlequin editors about this new venture of theirs. Check out her blog for MWA's full comment.

By now, you've probably figured out that one of my favorite blogs is Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Friday's post entitled HuffPo Disses Romance, Stupid-to-Solar-Power Conversion to Come was guaranteed to grab my caffeine deprived attention this morning. Basically, Alan Eisner's column for the Huffington Post dissing the romance genre for taking the romance out of, well, romance, had the Bitches up in arms. It seems Eisner went to his local library, checked out 10 romance novels and decided "The true disservice that the "romance" genre does is that it sucks all the oxygen out of the room." There's more, but you get the drift...he doesn't like it or what it does to literature, real life, etc., etc., etc. SB Sarah, on the other hand, doesn't mince words about her feelings for his column or his method of coming to his conclusion: "I had higher hopes for HuffPo’s book section but wow, they were dashed against the rocky shores of sweeping generalization and people who don’t know diddly squat talking out their asses. I mean, how else am I to judge the entire offering of a diverse selection of writers discussing all things book except by judging the whole on a limited and asinine sample, right? Right! Of course!"

Marjorie M. Liu has a great post about how writers need a routine. Check it out.

As for the future of publishing, a nail was hammered into the coffin with the closure of Borders UK. The reading public is changing how it wants to buy books -- both dead tree versions and e-versions. It's time the publishers and booksellers quit trying to hold onto old models and adapt to new technologies and new marketing plans. If not, we're going to see more and more headlines announcing failures such as Borders UK.

J. A. Konrath announced his 2010 Ebook Predictions on Tuesday. Among them are Amazon adopting Epub standard format, more publishers getting savvy to e-publishing, print versions packaged with e-versions of books and author exclusivity contracts. If he is right on even half his predictions, I think we'll see the industry start to claw its way out of the hole it's in now. At least I hope so.

Finally, the most eye-catching headline this week, for me at least, was from Dr. Syntax -- What Publishing Needs More Of: Failure. Admit it, that would make you read on. It did me. Basically, the post was about the "failure" of Rick Moody's experiment to write and post in Twitter-sized snippets a story over a three day period. The project apparently brought out a lot of negative comments and brought up the issue of whether or not Twitter can be an effective tool for book promotion. Dr. Syntax comments:

Maybe the Moody project was a failure. If so, my reaction is: HOORAY! What we need in publishing today is much more failure. The one thing people in the industry can agree on is that the current methods of doing business are showing diminishing returns. The only way we're going to arrive at new methods is by trying dozens, scores, hundreds of new ways of reaching readers, building awareness, and ultimately selling content. Of course, some, probably most of these won't work, but it's through large-scale, repeated failure that we're going to find out what succeeds. As Clay Shirky puts it, "Failure is free, high-quality research, offering direct evidence of what works and what doesn't."

So, what do you think? Does the industry need to try out new, possibly strange, methods and have a few failures along the way? What about the e-publishing predictions? Agree or disagree. Do you have a writing routine and, if so, what is it?


Anonymous said...

Yes, the Industry does need to try new things, and find out what works and what doesn't, by failing at a number of them.

The problem is that few writers or publishers have the financial resources to risk repeated failures.

Oh, publishers are used to books that don't show a profit, but they've got to jump in with more than a couple to really test each marketing concept.

And writers? There are few enough who make a living at writing. How many can afford to commit the first print rights to something new? For how many books? For their next new book?

Or are these waters going to be tested by unpublished writers, or early, unpublished works of established writers? Will that really tell us what we need to know?

Dave experimented with self e-pub, to get more immediate payback so he could move his critters. But how much of the money collected represented soft hearts for cute pups, and gifts to the Great Cat Bast?

In theory, once some momentum has built up, once advertising and word-of-mouth has gotten around, people will know where to go to get their Freer fix, and the amount paid per book will drop to reasonable levels as the number of books sold rises.

Good ways to read will eventually rise to the surface. But there's going to be a financial drought of unknown length as everyone raggedly shifts from one mode to another. Generally dragged kicking and screaming, unwilling to switch.

How many writers and publishers will survive?

Anonymous said...

I liked the "Failure" article -- it's this stark, utter terror of failure that I believe is the driving force behind the stagnation of publishing, as well as the entertainment industry in general. With the exception of some of the smaller players, nobody wants to take a chance. Minimizing risk is no longer a means to an end; it's the end in and of itself. Yet, when it comes right down to it, in the long run, the whole concept of risk management is the biggest risk of all.

Simple fact: when industries fail to innovate, they stagnate, deteriorate, and die. The customer base actually wants innovation, and will flock to whoever is willing to offer it. The major TV networks stagnated; folks went to cable. Cable stagnated; now folks are either buying the DVDs or turning to places like Hulu, Fancast, and even YouTube to watch the shows they like.

I also liked the SBTB article as well. And while I'm not a romance fan, I am a fan of a genre that's seen more than its share of scorn, contempt, and out-and-out cheap shots from self-important douchebags making sweeping generalizations based on a very small sample and a lot of preconceived notions. My take is that the HuffPo dude went into this just looking for something to hate, and, go figure, he found it. I imagine Eisner would have done exact same thing if he grabbed ten SF books off the shelf instead -- "How Science Fiction Novels Take The Science out of Science," or something equally lame. IMHO, Eisner was just trying to score some cheap snob points by kicking around a genre that, like SF, gets plenty of kicking around as it is. Consider me firmly entrenched in the Smart Bitches corner.

As Forrest Gump would say: "That's all I have to say about that."

Kate said...

For my money, Konrath's 5th point hammers the nail in with one shot: Copyrighted work that is only available used is the key to success, because ebooks can make these vetted, professional books available again. It's a gigantic, viable, untapped market.

I have a huge collection of treasured "oldies" that I've bought over the years, most of them in copyright and out of print.

When you've got new titles cycling insanely, titles that are selling well if not spectacularly going out of print because they've earned out the advance and someone thinks the peon... er, authors... will be easier to control if they never, ever earn out their advances (I really don't want to know what the accounting in the places doing that looks like. I think it would be terrifying), a third party eStore selling reissues of out of print books in an open ebook format would do very nicely indeed (assuming no DRM and reasonable prices).

Anonymous said...

You are so right Kate. That's yet another thing I like about Baen's Webscriptions -- unless they're really top-heavy with new releases, they try to include at least one title from their backlist with each month's offering. Plus, they'll occasionally release separate bundles for other backlisted items (like Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium series, along with Lee and Miller's Liaden series).

Downside is, Baen's only one publisher and there's only so many books they have the electronic rights to e-publish. So, backlists with other publishers just sit and collect dust, lost and forgotten. And even if they do make it out of backlist and into e-format, nine chances out of ten they'll be overpriced, crippled with DRM, and released in a single "proprietary" format that shuts out a sizable percentage of the readers :-(

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, if I had the answer to your questions, I'd be ruling the publishing world...bwahahahaha. All I know is the next few years are going to be interesting in the Chinese proverb sort of way. The issues Harlequin has run into with HH now renamed DelArte Press are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm still wondering how RWA and SFWA will react to the DelArte announcement.

There are so many baby steps publishers, distributors and sellers could take to help bring them into the current century. There could be a general agreement on a standard e-book format. I don't look forward to a betamax v. vhs sort of battle with ebook readers. More than that, they can finally get rid of DRM. Backlists could be released in e-format. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As for who is going to survive, who knows. Publishers willing to try new and different ideas will have a better chance. No one likes change, but sometimes you just have no choice.

Amanda Green said...

Robert, not only it is utter terror of failure that's driving the industry right now, it's also a foolish sense of stubborness. I'm reminded of those cartoons and old movies where the businessman stands in his office telling everyone that it's always worked this way, so why change. Then, when they do change, they go overboard and do stupid things thinking no one will call them on it because, duh, they're big name publishing house. Harlequin is a prime example of this. Worse, it isn't Harlequin in the short term that's going to suffer from this whole BS over HH/DellArte. It's their authors and readers and -- and here I cringe -- those folks foolish enough to fall for their vanity press promises.

As for Smart Bitches, I love 'em. And they called it with regard to the HuffPo article. Eisner didn't name the books he read, didn't tell his readers the method he used to pick them out. Heck, we can only take his word for it that they were actually "romance" books. Frankly, there is a difference between paranormals and historicals and romantic suspense and pure romance. Besides, the very way he started his article sounded to me as if he went into his "experiment" with a jaundiced eye. So....

Amanda Green said...

Kate, you're absolutely right. What worries me is that the publishers will try again to tie up the rights to books by wording it that, because of e-rights, the book is never out of print. The only way around that is to put a time limit on how long a publisher has the e-rights, perhaps giving them an option to renew the rights for X-years (a number less than the original option).

All we have to do is look at the top 100 downloads for the Kindle. The majority of them are either out of copyright or they are books the publishers or author are offering for free as promotion for other books by that author. And guess what, sales of that author's books generally go up as a result of the free offer.

It's the same with "re-issues" of books that are hard to find or out of print. The argument that it is difficult to do an e-book layout is a smokescreen. Oh well, climbing off my soapbox now.

Brendan said...

The people who I think would show the best results with experimentation with new publishing models are mid list authors. Many of these people have small(relatively) but devoted fan bases who may be perfect test subjects for new models. These authors are already somewhat under pressure from publishers who are looking to cut costs and unfortunately one of the ways publishers do this is by asking authors to prune their works.

A real life example is Katharine Kerr. Her latest book had one section removed due to publisher demands on word count. What if she offered this up for $1 somewhere, I know she has a large enough fan base to show at least some profit and it would be an indication of how best to market outside the current system

Amanda Green said...

Robert, Baen got me started on e-books. Nothing will ever replace the feel, etc., of a real book in hand but that doesn't mean e-books aren't going to be a permanent part of publishing from now on. With the growing number of different e-book readers/computers/smartphones out there, something is going to have to give regrading DRM and e-book formats. Publishers are going to have to realize they can't "alienate" a group of readers just because they don't have the right e-book reader and the same with e-sellers.

Pricing is another matter. I'm one of those who refuse to pay HB prices for an e-book. But that's my choice. If enough readers do the same, publishers will bring the price down. What gets me are the folks who complain about the e-book sellers charging too much when they aren't the ones who set the price (in general, that is. There are exceptions like Amazon saying it will only charge 9.99 for NYT bestsellers). Instead of moaning and groaning, the purchasing public needs to exercise its right NOT to buy if they don't like the price. Of course, most of the dinosaurs in publishing will say that means they don't want e-books and will hold that as true until their houses are in even worse shape than they are now.

C Kelsey said...

IMO the best way for a publisher to survive is to actually connect with their readers. Baen's done this for years and it's a primary reason why I identify books I want to read not only by the author's name, but by that little starship logo as well. And I really like my free samples of books from the free library. Take Tor on the other hand... They try the free stuff in a half-arsed sort of way. And they have a blog in which they try to connect with readers (extremely poorly). But I don't identify Tor as a publisher that produces books that I *have* to read. In an era where avid readers are dwindling, and publishers are dropping like flies, it's the connection with the audience that is most important IMO. Experiment. If one fails, try another one. It's that, or die. Speaking as a reader, I really don't want any publisher to die. (Note to Tor though... enough with the Steampunk crud on your website. You have taken it way too far.)

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, good point. The problem is, her contract with the publisher might preclude her doing something like that. However, I'm seeing more and more authors offering up their books that have reverted back to them on their own websites, on Amazon, etc., at discounted prices to build interest in their current books. It's a good tactic, but it does mean that author has to do a bit of internet marketing at the very least to get the word out.

That said, there are more and more folks who search Amazon, Fictionwise, and other e-book retailers on a regular basis, limiting their searches for books under a certain dollar figure. That's where getting the backlist books out can really help an author build a following.

As I said in an earlier comment, the next few years are going to be interesting for everyone in the field and those watching from the sidelines.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, good examples. I think we're preaching to the choir when we talk about Baen. Webscrptions and the Free Library are models others in the field would do well to study and adapt to their own needs. Tor's site isn't one that seems all that reader-friendly to, mainly because Baen has spoiled me. I like being able to purchase the month's webscription for a very reasonable amount -- or just a single book. The ability to see more than a few pages or chapters of a book before purchasing it is also a plus. Multiple formats with no DRM and no limit on the number of machines/readers/etc., I can download my e-books to, well, is cool.

Del Rey has their own free library ... if you can call it a library. Right now, they are offering four books (two of which are Star Wars books that have been up for some several months) and a dramatis personae for Star Wars. It's a start but not, imo, enough.

The ones that really get to me are those publishers who offer books free to read...if you stay online at their site. No downloading of the books allowed. Well, I'm not always where I want to stay online and I'd rather read an e-book on my Kindle than on my eee or PC.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I admire and applaud Jim Baen and Arnold Bailey and everyone else involved in first bringing us Webscriptions. I thank Toni Weisskopf for continuing and doing her best to improve Baen and Webscriptions.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree, Amanda -- I'm a firm believer in "vote with your pocketbook." If someone like Harper-Collins (I use them as an example since they jacked up the price on pretty much every Discworld e-book to over $10) wants to be unreasonable about their pricing, I'm perfectly happy to click over to Webscriptions and put my cash in Baen's pockets instead.

As long as Baen/Webscriptions is willing to sell their e-books in multiple formats, DRM-free, and for a reasonable price, I'm willing to keep giving them my money.