A New Year Starting With Free Stuff

I hope everyone had a great holiday and is humming along back at work. I’m doing well — could hardly be worse after 2012 — and have a couple of major goals for this year. One is to write at least 250K words of fiction. I’ve done that before, should be able to do it again, and have joined a challenge through one of the mailing lists I’m on to help encourage me along the way. On track so far, yay.

The other is to get into indie publishing this year. I have backlist stories that are sitting on my hard drive, unavailable to anyone who doesn’t hang out on pirate sites, and I need to get those back up and available. I also have stories that’ve collected multiple positive rejections — the kind that say, essentially, “Good story, well written, not buying it, enjoyed reading it, looking forward to reading more from you.” If you have to be rejected, that’s the kind of rejection you want to get, but it’s still a rejection. I have some stories that’ve gotten multiples of these, from multiple professional editors. I figure any story that multiple pro editors thought was well written and enjoyed reading would probably be enjoyed by readers too, so I’m going to start putting them up myself.

To help me along with that, I downloaded and printed out the Smashwords formatting guide, figuring that was a good place to start. Then, in a great piece of serendipity, I heard that Adobe is giving away free copies of a lot of its older-version software, stuff that it’s been using phone-home DRM on for a number of years while newer versions have been released. It’s no longer cost effective for them to maintain the validation servers for their older packages, so rather than cut off all the customers who’ve handed them money for their software packages, they’ve released free, non-DRMed copies of this stuff, and it’s open for anyone to grab. The list includes both Photoshop and InDesign, and I’ve grabbed copies of both. If you’re thinking of indie pubbing, or if you’re doing it already but have been saving up for expensive high-level software, I highly suggest you grab it too: Free Adobe Software. I have no idea how long this is going to last, so get it while you can.

And major props to Adobe for being cool about this. Plenty of companies in the same position just say, “Too bad, buy the new version, here’s a percent-off coupon,” and leave it at that. Making sure that the honest customers who’ve handed them money in the past can keep using the software they’ve paid for is a class act. Letting other people (like me) try these older versions for free is also very classy, and might make them some money in the future, if I like these tools and decide to upgrade.

Angie

Agency Pricing?

A discussion on a private mailing list reminded me that there seems to be some confusion about just what agency pricing is, and whether it benefits writers, and particularly indie writers. Some prominent folks in the industry seem to think that indie writers should want an agency model when they do business with their vendors.

I disagree, and I think the confict exists because some folks are confusing a couple of factors. From the POV of the NY publishers, agency pricing is about controlling the final sale price. They were actually making MORE money under the retail system than they were under agency. They didn’t want e-book buyers to get used to low-priced e-books on Amazon, and they were willing to take a hit on their e-book profits to accomplish this.

Under the retail model, the vendor essentially buys however many units of a product, pays a certain price for them, then sells them at whatever retail price they want. That’s what produces price competition between vendors, which is good from the consumers’ POV — the fact that some vendors are willing to accept less profit per unit sold in an attempt to sell more units, by undercutting the store up the street (or online). The manufacturer (publisher) still received the same amount of money per unit sold regardless of the actual retail price, even if the vendor chose to use that product as a loss leader, losing however much money on each sale to get customers to visit their store and hopefully spend more money on other items.

So suppose I publish a book and I’d like to sell it for $6.99. I want 70% of that as my wholesale price to the vendor, so I offer it to the vendor for $4.89. So long as the vendor pays me my $4.89 for each copy they sell, I literally do not give a damn how they price my book. They can sell it for $9.99, or for $12.99, or for $7.99, or for $0.99, or give it away for free if they want, so long as I get my $4.89 per unit they move. That’s the retail model.

Under agency pricing, the book costs the same everywhere. Buyers have no particular reason to shop at Vendor X instead of Vendor Y, and no particular reason to buy a book this week instead of next month, because it’s the same price now that it’ll be next month; the price doesn’t change. And if you’re going through a NY publisher, that price is probably ridiculously high, so you’re selling a lot fewer units; even though you’re making more money per book, you’re selling fewer books and have less money at the end of the quarter.

Agency pricing was about protecting the publishers and furthering their attempts to slow down adoption of e-books. That’s it — that’s what the whole fuss was about. Agency pricing offers nothing to the indie writer. (And actually offers even less to the NY published writers, but anyway.)

Unfortunately, what we have now, particularly with Amazon, is the worst of both worlds. We can suggest a retail price, but the vendor can change that price whenever they want to (usually lowering it) and we get 70% (or 35%, or whatever percentage a particular vendor offers) of that actual retail price, which we don’t control in the long term. All we can do is suggest a price and hope the actual sale price stays somewhere in that neighborhood.

The solution to this problem is NOT agency pricing, which petrifies the whole equation and sets up a bad situation for the buyers, our readers. The solution is a true retail model, where the vendor pays us $X for each sale they make, and then they decide how to price the item in their store, setting up promotions and sales and loss leaders as they choose. If they think $X is too high, they’re welcome to decline to carry our product, and we can decide whether we want to adjust the price, or not. If we want to have some control over our own incomes, though, while maintaining a dynamic market that encourages sales, we don’t want agency pricing — we want retail pricing. We want to know that we’re going to make a certain amount per sale (which benefits us) and that it’s up to the vendors to fight it out amongst themselves in setting their retail prices (which benefits our readers, encouraging them to buy more books).

Agency pricing is about controlling the retail sale price. Wholesale pricing is about controlling the wholesale price. If I could control the wholesale price, I wouldn’t care about controlling the retail price; let the vendor control that, so long as I get my desired wholesale price. Arguing that indie writers should fight to control the retail price is ignoring where our money actually comes from, which is the wholesale price.

Agency pricing only looks good compared with the twisted, non-wholesale model we have now, and if we consider only OUR needs, ignoring the needs of our readers. The wholesale model supports both our needs, while still giving the vendors reasonable flexibility to create their own pricing and sale strategies.

Angie

Duotrope Transitioning to Pay

For anyone who uses Duotrope and hasn’t seen yet, they’re switching many of their features over to pay-only on 1 January. According to their announcement, they’ve been trying to keep the site completely free, supported by voluntary donations, but the fact is they haven’t made any of their monthly goals since 2007. They’ve been saying for some time (at least as long as I’ve been using the site, almost three years now) that if they couldn’t fund the site through donations, they’d have to switch to charging a fee, and that’s what’s finally happened.

On another page, they talk about how the change will affect their statistics collection, and it sounds like they won’t be taking much of a hit there.

After our subscription model was agreed upon, we went back to those numbers and determined that while a significant drop in the user base was fully expected, we should be able to retain somewhere between 75% to 80% of the submission reports we normally receive.

Equally important is the fact that we will also decrease the amount of unreliable data. On average every year, 28,000 submission reports get ignored in the statistics for a large variety of reasons. Once again, looking at the type of user submitting this information, we predict the unreliable data could decrease by as much as 90%.

It sounds like they were getting most of their good data from people who were voluntarily donating money anyway, so that shouldn’t change.

I love Duotrope. I use it as a major source of my anthology listing posts, and I also use it to track my own submissions, and to find markets for my work. I’ve signed up for a year’s subscription, which cost $50 if paid all at once; paid month-by-month, a subscription is $5/month.

I encourage anyone writing, particularly anyone submitting short fiction to magazines and anthologies and webzines, to support Duotrope. They’re an awesome resource for writers, and I look forward to using their services for many years.

Angie

Kate Wilhelm Joines the Indie Publishing Crowd

Popping up all over the SF and publishing end of the internet, Kate Wilhelm announced that she’s starting InfinityBox Press with some family members. She’ll be publishing her backlist as well as at least two new novels. When her own work is all up, she’ll start in on that of her husband, Damon Knight, who passed away in 2002.

Unsurprisingly, what led Ms. Wilhelm to this decision was being offered a truly horrible contract by a big publishing house.

In the fall of 2011 I was offered a contract that was so egregious that the publishing house that sent it should have been ashamed, and if I had signed it I would have been shamed. I proposed additional changes to those my agent had already managed to have incorporated and each suggested change was refused. I rejected the contract and withdrew the novel. At that point, I could have tried a different publisher but I knew it would have been a repeat performance, because the major publishers are tightening ranks and the contract I had rejected was more or less the new standard. It wasn’t about the advance, I might add. It was about rights, especially electronic rights, not only those in existence today, but anything that might be developed in the future in any form: who owned them, duration of ownership, how they would be exploited, how and if they would ever revert, and so on. I refused to submit it to anyone else.

Good job to Ms. Wilhelm for walking away. A lot of writers would’ve muttered curses to themselves and signed, which is, of course, what the publishers are counting on. If everyone walked away from horrible contracts, they’d have to change. That’s not going to happen, though, at least not in the foreseeable future. Still, it feels good to see someone escaping. 🙂

Angie

Pseudonyms

Charles posted about maybe publishing his Westerns under a pseud, and collected some comments. I started replying, and as often happens, I ended up with a lot more verbage that is usually polite to post on someone else’s blog, especially when I’m coming from the POV of headdesking at what some of the commenters were saying. I’ve also seen similar discussions elsewhere — it’s not just Charles’s crowd — so I’m posting here instead.

There seems to be a line of thought that says that you *should* publish everything under your own name, that if you write multiple genres, then the real readers, or your real fans, or anyone worth considering, will read whatever you write, or at least give it a try and then figure out for themselves which of your genres they like and only buy/read those. Or something. The thought seems to come from some principle of Writer Against the World, or Artiste Refusing to Sell Out, or some similar ego-war where giving in means losing. Or something.

In actuality, this is about marketing. Sorry, I know I just lost all the artistes, and most of the fierce individualists, but I’m talking to the writers who want their work read (and maybe even paid for) by lots and lots of people.

Anecdotal data, collected from a wide range of sources as opposed to just one writer and their close friends, as well as info from the big NY publishers (who do a LOT of things badly, but do have a buttload of marketing trends data) shows that a large fraction of the audience reads only one genre, or maybe two, and does not want to read another genre. I’ve run into people like this who will get angry about feeling OMGTricked! into reading a genre (or subgenre, or whatever) that they don’t like because one of “their” writers (as if they own them) decided to write something different under the same name.

As a reader, I’ll at least try just about anything by a writer I like a lot. So will a lot of other people I know. Strangely enough, most of these folks are writers — people who are just that interested in fiction in general, and who are constantly aware of skill and style and craftsmanship, enough so to be able to appreciate a good story no matter what type it might be. There are many readers, however, who aren’t like us.

Saying, “Well, I personally am different, therefore that’s not true,” or “I know hordes of people (which is actually like six or ten) who disagree with that, therefore it’s not true,” is an argument centered around ego, not data. Sorry, but it’s true. Your or my personal feelings, or experiences with our friends, don’t constitute a valid data sample.

Now, if there’s something that strongly ties your work together — frex., if all your fiction is pulp-style adventure, even if some is Western adventure and some is horror adventure and some is heroic fantasy adventure — then you can build your name brand on that, because your target audience is fans of pulp-style adventure fiction.

If you’re writing deeply scary horror, and rollicking adventure Westerns, and funny-ironic heroic fantasy, though, those are going to appeal to different audiences, for the most part. It’d suck of someone who loves funny-ironic fiction read one of your sleep-with-the-lights-on scary horror stories, and mentally crossed everything published under that name off their list.

This is marketing, folks. It’s about getting your stories in front of the people who’d enjoy reading them, and be willing to hand you money for them. You’re not in a battle of will with your readers, it’s not an ego-fight, and publishing under multiple names doesn’t mean that you lose, or you’re selling out, or you’re letting Those People dictate to you, or whatever. It means that you’re taking action to make it easy for the folks who’d enjoy reading a particular group of your stories to find them. There you go, that’s it.

And depending on what-all you write, it might also be about sequestering one or more of your genres from people who disapprove of those genres and would cross your name off their list because of that. Anything erotic is going to lose audience for your non-erotic adult fiction, and forget about children’s or YA. Even within the same genre, people who write erotic romance and inspirational romance use different pseuds, because writing one will interfere with selling the other.

Saying, “Well, any reader worth having won’t think like that,” is… well, fine. If you’re okay with chopping a chunk off of your target audience, then go for it. But realize that’s what you’re doing, and don’t gripe about how your sales numbers never look like those of your friend with four pseuds, or like the more popular writers in your genres. (Unless you hit the big-time and become the next Stephen King or something, but counting on that is ridiculous as a business plan.)

If you write more than one genre, or more than one subgenre with distinctly different audiences, and there’s no one strong style that ties it all together, give serious consideration to multiple pseuds. This isn’t about ego — it’s about readers and sales. People who think there’s some awesome heroism about being a starving artist sticking to his principles to the end can, well, do that. Me, I want to make it as easy as possible for people who’d like my stories to find them. Using multiple pseudonyms isn’t any kind of failure, or selling out. It’s a tool available to help you achieve your goals. Use it or don’t, but be aware of what you’re doing before you throw away a useful tool.

Angie

Survey for Writers

Michael J. Sullivan is conducting a survey for writers. This includes writers of long fiction, short fiction, poetry and non-fiction, and who’ve been published traditionally (New York or small press) or indie, or not published. From the intro:

The publishing industry is in great flux and traditional publishing paradigms are breaking down. The recently released Taleist Survey looked at self-published authors but ignored those published traditionally (both through big-six and small press) and also didn’t take into consideration “hybrid” authors who have feet in on both sides of the door. In order to get a better picture about the CURRENT publishing landscape, as well as what paths writers are pursuing I’ve created a survey and need writers (both aspiring and published) to help bring some clarity to today’s publishing climate.

The survey is designed so that you can skip sections that don’t apply to you (for instance if you are not yet published). As a way of saying things, I’ll provide my analysis AND raw data to all those who participate (minus any identifying information – such as email address).

I thank you in advance for helping myself, and other authors, get a better handle on what to expect in regards to publishing in 2012.

I think this is a great idea. The Taleist Survey is being discussed pretty widely, but as Michael points out, it had a number of blind spots. If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take this survey and toss your data into the pot.

Angie

What’s Up With the Lawsuits?

Dear Author’s Jane (who’s a lawyer in her day job) put up a great post about the lawsuits against the publishers and Apple. She explains what’s going on, what the complaint actually is, who’s in trouble and for what, and who’s not in trouble and why. There’s some legalese, but the explanations are clear and very readable. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the business of publishing.

Angie

More Harlequin Shenanigans

Harlequin is the single biggest publisher of romance, which is the single largest genre in the MMPB world. Harlequin has always courted newbie authors, famously taking unagented new writers when other New York publishers were (theoretically) requiring agent submissions more and more. They’re also one of the most predatory of the publishers, and always have been; even when I was poking around on the het side of romance, I never had any aspirations of writing for Harlequin, and what I heard from other romance writers just reinforced that aversion.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I hung out on RomEx, a roundtable on GEnie that was the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA’s) online home at the time, and it was a great place. Lots of readers and writers — both published and aspiring — were members, and there was a lot of talk about writing and publishing, among other things. There were even published writers from other genres who hung out on RomEx because the writing talk was valuable for everyone.

One of the things I learned there was that, at the time, Harlequin’s standard contract included a clause saying that you had to write under a pseudonym, and that Harlequin would own it. What that meant was that if a writer wanted to move on to another publisher, she had to start over with a new name, back in the days when communicating to all your readers that you were now writing under Jane Newname was even more difficult than it is now. This kept a lot of writers tethered to Harlequin, since moving on would most likely mean taking a sharp pay cut while they rebuilt their audience.

I heard a few years ago that Harlequin doesn’t do that anymore. Well, okay, that’s good. I don’t know when they stopped, but the fact that they ever did it was enough to keep me away; corporate culture doesn’t change that much over a decade or two, and a corporation willing to do something that skeevy, even in the past, is a corporation I’d just as soon not do business with.

Then last June, we heard that Harlequin was unilaterally changing royalty rates, notifying its authors via e-mail, and giving them a deadline to reply if they objected. Wow. So Harlequin might not be kidnapping your pseudonym anymore, but they think they can modify every active author contract they’ve got with a single e-mail and nobody’s signature. Umm, sure. Definitely not interested in writing for Harlequin.

Now, Harlequin author Ann Voss Peterson is explaining why she can’t afford to write for Harlquin anymore, despite great sales — one book sold almost 200,000 copies, and she’s never failed to earn out her advance in their first royalty period. And yet she can’t afford to stay with them. It turns out that she’s earning an average of 2.4% royalty on each copy sold.

Two-point-four percent? Seriously? We all know the New York publishers’ royalty rates are predatory, especially on e-books, but Harlequin makes them look downright generous. Click through and read what Ms. Peterson has to say if you’ve ever considered writing for Harlequin, or even if you haven’t. The math is horrifying. :/

Angie, still not at all interested in being a Harlequin author

New Contracts and a Sale

I just sent back the contract for Emerging Magic, the full length sequel to A Hidden Magic. At the same time, I signed a contract for a paperback edition of A Hidden Magic, which is awesome. 🙂 I’ve been hoping for a paperback for a long time; I’m looking forward to signing a copy and handing it to my mom. I’m also interested to see whether there are any differences in the process, from my POV, for a paperback. I don’t know whether Torquere does paper galleys, frex.; I never had a reason to ask before. I’ll find out now.

Hidden Magic took almost exactly six months from acceptance to publication, and Emerging Magic is about 50% longer, so I imagine it’ll take at least six months. At least it’s in the pipeline, though. I haven’t had anything new out in a while and I’m looking forward to getting back into it.

While I’m on the subject, Amazon has two of my books at 20% off:

A Hidden Magic is $5.59
A Spirit of Vengeance is $3.43

I have no idea how long these prices will last, but if you’ve been thinking of getting one or both, this is a good time.

Angie

A Good Negative Example

So I was clicking links from blog to blog and I came across something that was posted a year ago. It’s okay that it’s not current; the point I want to make about it is general rather than specific, so timing is irrelevant.

The blog post was called L.J. Smith Got Fired From Writing Her Own Novels. (For anyone who doesn’t know, as I didn’t, Ms. Smith wrote the books from which the TV show Vampire Diaries was made.)

Well, that perks up one’s interest, particularly if one is a writer. Then I read the post, which purports to contain an actual e-mail written by Ms. Smith herself.

First a caveat: there’s been some discussion as to whether this is authentic. Someone who linked it opined that, seeing as how no one — not Ms. Smith herself and not her publisher — had jumped up to refute it in the year since the post went up, it’s probably authentic. I’m willing to buy that, so far as it goes.

Anyway, what actually happened was that Ms. Smith was approached by an agent (?) who worked for a book packager, with an offer of a job — writing a series of books that’d already been created, as in the idea and characters and such had already been developed and they were just looking for someone to do the writing itself. It was a work for hire contract, so the packager owns the series and characters and such, not Ms. Smith. So when (about a year ago, I suppose) Ms. Smith was fired from writing “her” books, well, they were never actually her books.

Ms. Smith, in the e-mail which she supposedly wrote, said:

When I was called by an agent and asked to write the vampire trilogy, that agent wasn’t from a publisher, but from what is now Alloy Entertainment, Ltd. And they are a book packager. A book packager sells books, already made with covers and all, to publishers, like HarperCollins—my publisher for The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle. And both these series were written “for hire” which means that the book packager owns the books the author produces. Although I didn’t even understand what “for hire” meant back in 1990, when I agreed to write books for them, I found out eventually, to my horror and dismay. It means that even though I have written the entire series, I don’t own anything about The Vampire Diaries. And from now on, the books will be written by an anonymous ghostwriter, just as Stefan’s Diaries are. It will say “Created by L. J. Smith” on the cover, but I am not allowed even to change a word in the ghostwriter’s book.

She describes the work-for-hire process as though it’s some sort of alien concept — strange and confusing and clearly unethical — she says, “You might wonder why the book packager and Harper would do this to me,” as though the whole point is to Do Something To Her, as though it’s obviously personal. They’re being incredibly mean to her because they’re mean people and they do mean things for no reason. And at the bottom of the letter, she says “I’ve worked so hard to make Vampire Diaries a good series, only to have the unthinkable happen to me. And I have no one but myself to blame for not being submissive enough.”

[headdesk]

Ms. Smith’s problem isn’t that she’s not submissive enough. Her problem is that she was incredibly ignorant of the business in which she works. Note that an agent of the packager approached her — she had enough of a track record to draw that sort of offer. No one contacts a random unpublished newbie and offers this kind of opportunity, and looking through her Goodreads listings, there are a couple of books that came out before the earliest Vampire Diary book. So she wasn’t a complete newbie, she was multi-published already, she’d been around — and yet she’d never heard the term “work for hire?” Seriously?

And when she ran across a term in her contract that she didn’t understand, she didn’t ask anyone about it? I wonder if she even read her contract, or whether she just signed where the nice agent (who, from how she’s described, worked for the packager and not for Ms. Smith) told her to? [sigh]

(I also wonder whether that agent got 15% of everything, despite representing the packager’s interests and not Ms. Smith’s.)

When I went to Oregon to take a workshop in March with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, there was a sign on the wall of the workshop room that said “You Are Responsible For Your Own Career.” Dean and Kris both emphasize, in their workshops and on their blogs and in personal conversation, that writers need to treat writing as a business, to learn the business, to behave as businesspeople do in every other business. That means reading your contracts, it means getting a knowledgeable advocate on your side if you don’t understand everything in your contract — and that means an IP attorney, not an agent — and it means being ready to walk away from a contract if the publisher (or packager, in this case) won’t give on a contract clause that you personally consider a deal breaker. People who sign contracts they don’t understand have no one to blame but themselves when those contracts turn around and bite them on the ass. Not understanding her contract was Ms. Smith’s mistake, not being insufficiently submissive. On the contrary, she was far TOO submissive toward whoever it was who told her she should sign the contract without understanding all the terms in it.

What happened was Ms. Smith’s fault and nobody else’s. The packager and/or publisher didn’t mistreat her — she was hired to write their series. She apparently fought them on edits and disagreed with them on the direction the series should take, so they fired her and hired someone else who’d do the work as instructed. It was business and there was nothing personal about it; no one did anything “to” her.

Hopefully Ms. Smith will hire an IP attorney to go over her contracts from now on, and explain to her what they say and what it all means. If so, then she’ll have learned something, and that’d be a positive outcome to an unfortunate episode. From everyone else’s point of view, at least she can serve as a good negative example — if you’re a writer, don’t do what she did.

Angie