Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Marries Goodreads: What does it Mean?

I'm usually not real savvy about figuring out what things like yesterday's Amazon acquisition of book review site Goodreads means--at least until somebody draws me a picture.  But after a day or so of watching the boards and reading blogs and getting the sense of the Twitter zeitgeist, a few things have become clear.

One consensus emerging is that Amazon will *probably* not mess with GR too much; this has been their M.O. in the past in the M & A space, and doing so will run counter to the spin that's been coming out of Amazon and GR in the past 24-plus hours, such as "It’s incredibly important to us that Goodreads remain a platform for all kinds of readers to use, whether they’re reading paper or on their Nook or Kindle or whatever." (GR CEO Otis Chandler)

Authors and readers on the Kindle Boards seem split about the union.  One powerful voice that falls squarely in the "this is a good thing for books" camp is ground-breaking best-selling Indie-turned-traditionally-published WOOL author Hugh Howey, who blogged on his site : "I can think of a dozen ways this acquisition might make my life better as both a reader and an author. Right now, I spend a lot of time on both sites in both capacities. My guess is that we won’t see many changes at all. I’m betting that the real acquisition here is all the data behind the scenes. The algorithms that tell me what to buy (and almost always nail it) are going to get better. The social networks that feed my reading habit are going to get stronger. The people who helped make Goodreads awesome are going to get richer. And the people at Amazon, who I have gotten to know this past year and who to a man and woman love the fuck out of some books, are going to keep trying to get the right ones in the hands of readers."

What this seems to be about is discovery.  Goodreads and Amazon were the top two web presences for both review and discovery, and now they've moved into the same house; the synergy should be powerful.

And another theme emerging is that this is another brilliant body-shot-to-the-gut at Barnes and Noble. Digital Book World passed on this assessment from a publishing consultant named Thad McIlroy this morning:  “Out of all the commenting about books, Goodreads was the most powerful ecosystem for recommending what you read next and Amazon was a close second. Now it’s just Amazon . . . [w]ith the collapse of the Nook [B&N's] lost the online game and we just have to count out the final steps.”

Big gorillas make people uneasy; rightly so.  But authors that have inside knowledge and long experience with Jeff Bezos and Amazon seem comfortable and assured that, yes, it's just business, and business is cold-hearted sometimes, but in the end the culture at Amazon is strongly pro-reader, pro-book, and pro-author, and unless you collect your paycheck from BN, the pluses will likely far outweigh the minuses.

Time will tell.  Film at 11.  All that good stuff.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

. . . That, and 3 Billion Will Buy You a Cuppa Joe

Random House's daddy Bertelsmann released its annual report today, which included a piece on the stunning success and corporate bottom-line impact of last year's runaway best seller Fifty Shades of Grey (you may have heard of it.)

The report served up three lessons learned from the Fifty Shades event: new strategies, speed, and, (I'm not making this up) "blocking and tackling" (“Instinct and intuition will continue to play a forward role in book publishing, but they go hand-in-hand with personal relationships, response time, maximizing digital and print delivery, operational excellence, and having strong creative teams.”) Whatever.

The "strategies" lesson acknowledges that the publisher must "look beyond traditional routes and consider different strategies when it comes to acquisitions.”   In other words, take a harder and closer look at up-and-coming Indie authors as they start to demonstrate some success--like Fifty Shades author E.L James did--and recruit them as corporate assets before their competitors do, or before all the profits go in the authors' pockets.

"Speed:" The report called this "an instance where a publisher acted swiftly to arrange a meeting with the author and her agent, and then just as quickly we structured a deal to bring the books to market as soon as possible.”  (Holy Shit!  This dirty little piece of Indie trash is selling like hotcakes and we want a piece of that!  Quick.  Git 'er, Ray.)

And we already covered the "blocking and tackling" corpo-jabber.  ("Personal Relationships."  Please.  That one cost me a nose full of Starbucks French Roast .)

It's important to note that these lessons were not humble acknowledgments of the paradigm shift taking place in the publishing world, and a bugle call for RH to lead the charge of the Big Six into a Brave New World, but rather a wake up, a strong cup of coffee intended to sober up the troops.

Peeps, Random House has raked in over three billion in revenue (four-hundred million profit) from Fifty Shades.  Imagine the corporate bottom line without that title and its sequels.  These lessons don't spring from concern for authors or an interest in making the publishing model more equitable for all the players in the industry.  Don't make it out to be anything more than it is.

Maybe I'm a cynic.  Maybe I'm the only one not eagerly watching for their "strong creative teams" to re-evaluate and establish warm and fuzzy "personal relationships" with authors with better contract terms for the writers who sweat blood to bring their marvelous stories to life for readers.

Yeah, like maybe the contract terms their new "digital imprints" tried to slip on us before John Scalzi told 'em where to stick 'em?

Sounds personal to me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Other Side of the Coin

My last few blog posts have centered around the dark side of the new Indie publishing world, the predatory practices of the new imprints that are popping up and trying to lure aspiring Indie authors into the woods, notably Random House's new "digital imprints" whose horrible contract terms were called out by John Scalzi, head of the SFWA in an open letter that went viral and brought down an f-ton of public wrath on RH.  RH quickly capitulated, offering somewhat better terms, but I warned that we all need to stay vigilant for these sharks, have our heads on a swivel, and look out for ourselves and fellow authors.

In this post, I want to call out the other side of the coin, one of the inspiring success stories that the new publishing model facilitates: the stunning home run hit by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Indie (well, hybrid) author Armentrout's Wait for You, a young adult book which she self-published under the pen name J. Lynn, hit number 1 on the best seller lists a few weeks ago, and kept that position for two consecutive weeks on Digital Book World's eBook best-seller list.

Peeps, if you don't know this you should: Armentrout's book is the first self-published work to hit number 1.

Riding that wave, she signed a "high six-figure" deal for three books with HarperCollins.

If that doesn't inspire, I don't know what will.  Her book was rejected as "too risky" by traditional publishers, but she knew in her heart an audience existed for it, and she plugged away on her own and now she reaps the rewards of that work and determination.

In a few guest blogs last year I wrote about the new publishing model, and the demise of the gatekeepers that stood between the author and the reader.  I urged then, and I urge now, to write for yourself, stick with it, finish your project, edit it, get a great cover and draft a great book blurb and put it out there.  With a little marketing and word-of-mouth, it will find its audience and it it's good you'll gather some success.  No one can stop the reader from judging your works anymore--except yourself, if you don't publish.

Not everyone is going to see the success of a JA Konrath, or an Amanda Hocking, or a Hugh Howey, or a Jen Armentrout.  But your writing will find an audience if you publish it.  And no one can stop you--but you.

Now, while that fire burns bright, go write.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Well, We Might Have Chopped Off *A* Head . . .

Earlier this week, I posted a blog about the public letter wars between Random House and the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) over RH's new "digital imprint" and their horrible contract terms for eBook authors. I had an opportunity to ask best-selling Wool author Hugh Howey his thoughts on the conflict on Reddit, where he was hosting an AMA--Ask Me Anything--and he replied "Scalzi is a badass. Those contracts were bullshit. Good to see the power of some internet outrage making a change."

The change he is referring to is the public capitulation of RH to the pressure brought forth by SFWA and other authors. (John Scalzi is an author and president of the SFWA.)

As reported on Thursday, "In the face of such upset, Random House announced on Tuesday that it would change its contracts, offering prospective authors a choice between a 50/50 profit share with no upfront money and a more traditional advance-plus-royalty model where authors receive some money prior to release, as well as 25 percent of whatever profits the title generates upon publication.

Whichever option is chosen, the Random House imprints will cover production and promotional costs  – although promotional costs above $10,000 will be shared between publisher and author in the profit-share model — and will receive publication rights throughout the world in all languages for the duration of copyright unless the digital release falls beneath a particular sales level — 300 copies in 12 months — in which case the author can request rights reversion."

Scalzi went on to say, "The goal here is not to be able to lift the bloodied head of Random House and boast we have taken a hit,” he said. “The goal here is to make sure that writers are being compensated fairly for work they have done and will do."

So this is good thing, right?  Yes it is.  Fist pump.


As I said in my post, Random House's foray is just one sample of the many predators looking to lunch on new authors anxious to break into digital print.  SFWA later in the week reposted YA author Victoria Strauss's similar salvo on Writer Beware against PublishAmerica.

No one has relaxed his or her guard.  And no one should.  It's going to get worse before it gets better, and authors need to continue to stand their ground and fight these battles for themselves and fellow authors.

These victories are a good beginning.

Or, to paraphrase the late Robert Jordan, it's not the beginning, but it's a beginning.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Many-Headed Beast Rises

Anyone in the writing or publishing business keeps a close eye on trending in the self publishing business (or "Indie" publishing, the current popular moniker), especially Indie authors like myself, and if they do, they should be aware of the disturbing events taking place in the past week or so, manifesting themselves in the public letter-war between the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and Random House.

To recap, RH has launched four new "digital imprints," dedicated to eBook publishing: Loveswept (romance), Alibi (mystery/suspense) Hydra (SF/fantasy) and Flirt (college-age readers).  This is the latest poisonous mushroom to pop up in the fertile grounds around eBooks, digital publishing, and the Indie writers' movement.  They propose to "partner" with authors to publish their eBooks, taking on the traditional publisher role of editorial services, cover art, promotion, etc. You supply the creative content, sit back, we'll do the rest.

Hey.  Here'a lollipop--wanna go for a ride?  Get in.

Reading more closely--and this is what SFWA and a growing mob of horrified authors are objecting to--RH offers no advance on sales, and proposes to split net profits 50/50 with the author . . . after production costs.  So the services they're "offering" actually come out of the author's pocket, and it's pretty well acknowledged in the industry that accounting practices on those and other publisher costs are pretty fluid and fuzzy.  In case you missed it, I'll say it again: RH's offering to provide the traditional publisher services, but it comes out of the author's sales.  They call that "sharing the risks."  As SFWA states it: "[your] attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious."

Ya think?

SFWA goes on to say that RH's Hydra branch, despite its SF / F content, does not meet their requirements for a qualifying market for membership.

But wait, folks; there's more.  They are also proposing to basically keep the rights to the works for print life of the work.  Peeps, eBooks do not go out of print.  That means, they hold the rights to your stuff until you die, and after.  That means if they don't do a good job of promoting, or your sales lag, or the cover they stick you with sucks, you don't have the freedom you have now with KDP or CreateSpace or Smashwords or Kobo or any other self-publishing medium to revise, price, tinker, repackage, offer a free promo period, or publish in any way.  You do not own your work.  You have no say.  Rights never revert back to you.  Never.

Again, the Dick-and-Jane version: RH wants you to write a book for them, to pay them to edit, format, publish and promote it, and you will trust them to count the beans and split the profits with you after they skim out their costs.  And they keep the rights forever--your baby belongs to them.

Snake oil, anyone?

This may sound fair to an author aspiring to break into publication, but to those of us who have already gone the Indie route know that there it's not that hard to format your work using everyday word-processing software, that eBook conversion software is free, there are many artists eager to do a book cover for a reasonable fee, and good editorial services are becoming more and more economical as the traditional publishing houses continue to implode from poor decisions and the pressure of the eBook / Indie movement.

The costs of publishing an eBook are minimal, running at most to the hundreds of dollars--why on earth would you give up your child for that price?  And why would you give the publisher half--after costs--when Amazon lets you keep 70%, and you can do what the hell you want with your stuff whenever you want?

This looks like an isolated incident, but it's not.  It's part of the growing trend of predatory practices around the eBook and self-publishing explosion; everyone wants a slice of the pie, but not everyone wants to earn it.   Self-pub authors deserve every penny for their works, for as long as they live; they are doing the heavy lifting.  But new authors drawn into the business by the publicity of the industry's success may not be savvy enough to avoid the pitfalls that are starting to spring up, traps laid by greedy publishing houses that missed the first wave of success because they had their heads . . . in the sand, and want to get on the board now--at your expense.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  I urge all of you to mentor new authors entering the biz, and to watch your own backs as well.  There are some legitimate digital publishers out there, and some successful Indie authors have signed careful contracts with the publishing houses, and the so-called hybrids; but Hydra and friends ain't one of them.

Let's cut off every one of the monster's heads, before we're playing Whack-a-Mole