Interesting Publishing Trends to Watch in 2017

JordanDane
@JordanDane

I found these trends interesting and wanted to share them here at TKZ. As many of you know, I’ve been writing with author friends on various Amazon Kindle Worlds where they host/create a world and invite authors to write for their series. It’s been fun and I get to explore many topics and experiment with styles and research topics and lengths. Plus the group of launching authors share promotion and benefit from each other’s readerships when we cross promote. So given that, I thought you might like to explore these ideas for your writing goals.

Novellas, Anthologies & Co-Authoring – What makes this growing trend popular is affordability and the recognition of shorter attention spans. These shorter types of books are cheaper for authors to produce and affordable for voracious readers to buy. With people’s shorter attention spans, the shorter format is more convenient. The cheaper price point also allows readers to try new authors without busting the bank. Win/Win. As for anthologies, a group of authors can merge their resources to come up with a top-notch product and also save on production, distribution, and promotion costs that can be shared jointly. Multiply the aggregate authors combined reader base and it’s another win/win.

Changing Book Themes Influenced by an Evolving World – In my latest book (due out June 8th – Vigilante Justice) I explore the topic of conspiracy theories and immigration. I brainstormed my “what if” question on those topics and came up with a story that could’ve been ripped from the headlines. It’s a risk to attempt books on the edge of politics, which I leave out of the story. Instead I focused on the emotional human conflicts that were organic to such a story. Be aware of the realistic elements to our culture and society and the struggles we have to infuse them into your themes. You not only explore your own thoughts, but you can crystallize conflict in such a human way. Such themes may be the refugee crisis, climate change, LGBT issues, terrorism (both international and domestic), and drug addiction. As an author you could choose to write about the stark reality of these themes, or you could provide a Utopian escape for readers to find refuge. Give your world building a dose of reality or provide readers a panacea for what they see on TV or in the news.

Indie & Hybrid Houses – Today, authors have options on how to publish, whether it’s self-publishing or attempting to sell to indie or hybrid houses. The Big 5 Publishers are also an option, but the author would have to consider giving up creative control & handing over copyrights and still be required to promote. Many smaller houses are offering better royalty rates and could give the author a more collaborative approach with more control.

Audio Books – With the growing popularity of products like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, many consumers are gaining access to audio books in their homes, These can be techy types who liked controlling everything in their domain or older folks who (if they can remember Alexa’s name – insert my parents’ names here) like to be read a nighttime story. This kind of technology has enhanced the audio book market and authors can ‘self-publish’ their own audio book format through ACX.

For DISCUSSION:

Have any of you tried variations of these trends and found success? Please share.

Out for Blood $1.99 Ebook

After the Jaguar destroyed his world, former CIA operative Mercer Broderick targets the faceless cartel boss using the Equalizers as pawns in a deadly game to avenge the murder of his beloved wife and child. (Mercer’s War – Book 2)

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2016 Publishing Trends

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

stack-of-books

I recently received an email from a reader fan who complained about not having access to my Amazon Kindle Worlds (KW) digital books in Australia. I’ve heard this complaint before regarding the difficulty of obtaining US books in other countries. You’d think that in this digital world, it would be easier to satisfy markets all over the globe (especially with digital books), but not so. In the case of Kindle Worlds, the division is separate from Amazon and has to build upon its infrastructure and distribution resources. KW will be in Australia eventually—things are changing—but online retailers restrict certain markets because of their selling platform limitations. Yet the world is becoming borderless and more universal, so it got me thinking about trends in the publishing industry that have changed how books are created, marketed, and distributed.

1.) Publishers Optimizing Licensing Prospects – Publishers over the globe are recognizing the value of licensing and holding tightly to the rights they have under contract. Licensing, traditionally a subsidiary rights value, could become a larger contributor to a publisher’s cash flow if the house can expand its reach into the global marketplace. International borders would become less important (not an obstacle) and publishers could expand their reach in creative ways by enhancing the book experience for the reader. Plus, larger houses could continue to acquire struggling mid-sized houses to acquire these rights that they could exploit across the globe.

How can indie authors exploit their sub-rights (ie foreign language translations, audio, film rights, serial rights, and merchandising)? They can either sell those rights themselves, or have an agent do it for them, or exploit these rights on their own, such as audio rights for independent artists and authors through ACX, Spoken Word Inc, and Open Book Audio. If the author controls the artwork for their covers or develops a series logo as a brand, they can control merchandising through service providers like Café Press, Zazzle, and DeviantArt. For foreign language rights, some independent authors have worked directly with translators, offering them nothing up front but with 20% of proceeds on the back end. If you’re not daring enough to go directly to the translators, there are ways for author right holders to be matched with publishers willing to acquire such rights through a site called PubMatch. (Pubmatch is free to join but when I input my profile, they asked for money to be paid annually since I was submitting books for consideration. I paid a nominal fee of 19.99 for a year and will see how things go.) The author would create a profile and either wait to be contacted on their offerings or be more proactive by searching the profiles of publishers listed on the site, similar to the way ACX (for audio) is set up.

2.) The Importance of Local POD Providers – There have been some out-of-the-box thinkers who see the value in “local” print on demand (POD) options as a means to get around the international obstacles of limited selling platforms. My reader in Australia could wait for Amazon KW to expand its reach into the country, or some entrepreneurial company (like a more nimble micro-publisher) could simply place an order at any local POD service providers in various countries to create a bigger marketplace. Could this lead to niche POD companies springing up to support a strengthening print sales demand across the world? Only time will tell.

3.) Print Book Resurgence – It wasn’t long ago that people were predicting the death of the print book, but quite the opposite has happened with stronger print sales being reported in 2015. Perhaps this is because publishers now have more control over pricing after the reintroduction of agency pricing through online retailers like Amazon. And with demand strong and the boutique model dominating digitals, larger publishers are optimizing their marketing strategies by attempting to manipulate their print prices up.

How? By offering fewer books for predominantly well-known authors with large readerships—books that are in demand—publishing houses can control how books are launched, pricing-wise. With ebooks priced nearly on parallel with print sales, publishers can create a value-related decision point for readers to evaluate whether they would rather own a print book versus a digital copy. At certain prices, readers will make the choice to own a print copy, even if they are paying slightly more. Would you pay an extra $2.00 to own a hard copy print book?

But it’s not all rosy for large houses, even with the glimmer of print sales being up. Overall, traditional publishers are offering fewer books to the reading public—focusing on big name authors—so they must squeeze profitability out where they can. They won the right to control their pricing through online retail giant Amazon, but Amazon is quietly expanding their reach as a service provider and/or a publisher, working with indie authors and micro-publishers with revenue from all sources. We live in interesting times.

4.) The Rise of Alternatives to Traditional PublishersAuthorEarnings.Com reports that in 2015, nearly half of all ebooks sold on Amazon (the most influential digital retailer) are either self-published, published by micro-publishers, or are generated through an Amazon Imprint. Here’s their ebook breakdown by publisher type:

Big Five Published 33%
• Indie Published 34%
• Micro-Publishers 19%
• Amazon Imprint 10%
• Misc 4%

So this is what I mean about Amazon making money off the competition of traditional houses. As a service provider, and an imprint, Amazon doesn’t have to be in direct competition with traditional houses as their only source of revenue.

5.) The Retail Gorilla – According to AuthorEarnings.Com – the overall market share of US ebook unit sales is dominated by Amazon at 74% with the balance held by other online retailers: GooglePlay, Kobo, Nook, Apple, and miscellaneous others. So if you’re an indie author with a limited budget, where would you spend your ad dollars?

For Discussion:

1.) Have you noticed any interesting trends in the publishing industry that has affected how you do business as an author?

2.) Whether you’re a traditionally published author, independent author, or a hybrid author with feet in both camps, have you been rethinking the value of sub-rights?

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Writers as Casualties of Commerce


Since 2009 or so, the so-called midlist at traditional publishing houses has dried up faster than a mud patch in the Serengeti. The bleached bones of writers who did not earn out are scattered around in random configuration. On the parched ground near a scorched femur can be seen a message scratched in the dirt, a last call from a thirsty scribe: Help! My numbers suck!

I’ve heard from many friends and colleagues about traditionally published writers––some who have had relationships with a house for a decade or more––seeing their advances drop to record lows, or not being offered another contract at all.
And then what? What happens to these foundering careers?
Two writers give us answers. The first is Eileen Goudge, a New York Times bestselling author. She had a soaring career in the 1990s, and even a power marriage to super agent Al

Zuckerman. That’s how I became aware of her. Zuckerman wrote a good book on writing blockbusters where he recommended reading Goudge’s Garden of Lies. I did and loved it, and read another of hers a bit later on.

So I was gobsmacked last month when I read a post by Goudgeabout her travails as a casualty of commerce. She describes what happened to her and many other writers this way:
I know from my husband, the aviation geek, that when a plane goes into what’s called a death spiral, as it reaches a certain altitude and succumbs to the pull of gravity, it can’t pull out. The same holds true for authors: fewer orders results in smaller print runs, a smaller marketing budget and lackluster sales, then a smaller advance for your next title, and the vicious cycle continues. In short, you’ve entered the “death spiral.”
The cold, hard truth is this: If the sales figures for your last title weren’t impressive enough to get booksellers to order your next title in sufficient quantities to make an impact, you’re basically screwed. It doesn’t matter if your previous titles sold a combined six million copies worldwide. You’re only as good as your last sell-through.
What’s even more dispiriting is that you’re perceived as a “failure” by publishers when your sales haven’t dropped but aren’t growing. You become a flat line on a graph. The publisher loses interest and drops the ball, then your sales really do tank. Worse, your poor performance, or “track” as it’s known, is like toilet paper stuck to your shoe, following you wherever you go in trying to get a deal with another publisher.
Goudge details some of the things that happened to her, personal and corporate. One of them is fairly common: a key executive or editor who is your champion leaves or gets laid off or moves to another company. You become an “orphan” at the house and your books don’t get the attention they used to.
All these things were “crushing” to Goudge. She says she felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Every time she got close to something good the ball would be snatched away.
A writer friend of hers told Goudge she should go indie. She resisted at first, but the friend simply asked, “What’s the alternative?”
So Eileen Goudge jumped into the indie waters, more than a bit nervous about it. But then discovered something wonderful:
My creative wellspring that’d been drying up, due to all the discouragement I’d received over the past few years, was suddenly gushing. An idea for a mystery series, something I’d long dreamed of writing, came to me during a walk on the beach in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California, where I lived before I moved to New York City. Why not set my mystery series in a fictional town resembling Santa Cruz? … I immediately got to work. I was on fire!
Goudge is pro enough, and has seen enough, to know that nothing is rock-solid certain in a writing career. But she concludes:
Was it worth it? Only time will tell. Meanwhile there it is, beating in my breast: that feathered thing called hope. Something I thought I’d lost, regained. Something to celebrate.
Hope. I like that. Worth celebrating indeed.
Another casualty of commerce is a friend of mine, Lisa Samson. I’ve known Lisa for fifteen years. She is one of the

most naturally gifted writers I’ve ever met. She’s won numerous awards. She has the respect of critics and a loyal following of fans.

But last month, on or about the same day as Goudge’s post, Lisa posted to her Facebook page:
Dear Friends,
All good things must come to an end, the saying goes. I, however, like to think that all good things continue to evolve. For twenty-two years I have been writing for the inspirational (read: evangelical Christian) market, and it has been an honor and a privilege. True, with the artistic strictures and the increasing necessity for a platform, it has had its share of frustrations for a novelist who simply wants to explore an artform, but sharing stories and getting to know readers as friends, hearing how these words have been used to encourage, inspire, affirm, and even challenge, has been a thrill….
Lisa talks about the changes in the publishing world, how authors are now expected by their houses to do most of the marketing themselves. And then there is the cold, hard economic part:
I was recently offered a contract that was insufficient for me to support my family. A real step down from the previous one. And that is all I will say about that matter. It wasn’t personal, I realize, but it was severely disappointing to have worked faithfully for two decades only to have your work go down in value to that point. I wish money didn’t matter, but it has to, and that saddens me. I’m still intensely grateful for the time I spent writing for that house and the people there who are, quite simply, wonderful. But traditional publishing is a business and I’m no good for the bottom line no matter how much I’m personally loved, and good feelings don’t keep the lights on over here at my house.
Lisa admits to discouragement (as any writer at this point would), but she has a response. She has enrolled in a massage therapy program with the aim of bringing relief to cancer, hospice, and Alzheimer’s patients.
In other words, there is life away from writing. There are other ways to serve in the world. That’s a crucial lesson for all writers to learn. Heck, for any professional.
Will Lisa write again? She isn’t completely closing the door, and my prediction is yes. She’s too good and has too much inside her not to share more stories. But she’s not brooding over it. She is too busy giving of herself to others.
Thus it turns out these two writers are not really “casualties” at all. They are strong and resilient and have chosen brave paths.
So can you. When discouragement hits, as it will, know that you are not alone and that life still offers you options.
Grab one, and go for it.
Have you had a similar experience with discouragement in this crazy writing business? How did you handle it?
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Toward a Fair Non-Compete Clause

 

Recently, a friend sent me the text of a non-compete clause to have a look at. It was from the contract of a New York publishing company. My gob, as they say, was smacked. If there was a contest for the most one-sided non-compete clause ever, this would take the crown.

I say this in love. Truly. I love traditional publishing and want it to survive. But contracts that contain clauses like this one are not going to aid the old cause.

Due to confidentiality I am not at liberty to reproduce the text verbatim, but I can give you the gist:

The clause prohibits the author from publishing “material” that is “similar” to the Work. So what if your crime novel is coming out from Publisher, and you want to self-publish a mystery short story? Or sell it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine?

Too bad. Because a short story is “material.” And a mystery usually has a crime in it, so it’s “similar.”

Or suppose you’ve had the foresight to reserve audio rights. You have a mellifluous voice, and spend twenty hours recording the audio version of your book for ACX, Amazon’s platform for indie audio works.

No go, because the clause in question prohibits the author from “exploiting” any reserved rights that may “conflict” with sale of the book. And who gets to decide if there is such a conflict? Not you.

And there isn’t even language in the clause suggesting the author might seek the “prior written consent” of Publisher! Message: Don’t even ask, dude.

Further, how long do all these restrictions last? There is no time limit (though the overall agreement is for “life of copyright.”) Which leads me to believe that the wet-behind-the-ears law grad who drafted this needs to be flogged with a hardcover copy of Calamari and Perillo on Contracts. This clause is clearly unenforceable without a time limit. Courts will not allow a company to tie up someone’s economic future ad infinitum.

But the burden of challenging the clause is, of course, on the author. Or, should the author go ahead and publish a work the publisher deems to be “competing,” the publisher may task some associate at their retained law firm to put down his coffee and make life difficult for the author.

Who is going to be the big dog in that fight? Let’s compare the status of our respective parties:

Publisher = deep pockets.

Author = pockets with holes.

Now, before I move on, let me emphasize that the traditional publisher absolutely deserves to have a fair non-compete clause in the contract. Here’s why.

The publisher takes a risk with an author, puts up capital (in the form of advance and production costs) with the hope of return. A significant part of the return is from bookstores (remember those?) Bookstores do not want to stock competing titles from the same author during the same season.

Thus, the standard non-compete was to keep John Grisham from publishing The Firm with one publisher and The Pelican Briefwith another, and having them both come out at the same time. The books would “cannibalize” each other, so the saying goes. One, or more likely both, publishers would be harmed by this.

Here’s another reason publishers need the clause. Suppose Publisher is coming out with your debut thriller, and pricing it as a $14.99 trade paperback, and a $9.99 ebook. But, at the same time, you bring out a self-published thriller and price it at $3.99 in digital and the same $14.99 in POD. And then you unleash your social media marketing efforts to emphasize the book that’s brining you more money per unit (i.e., your self-pubbed effort).

That’s not cricket. You are hurting Publisher’s investment in you. That’s why the non-compete clause exists.

But by now that clause should have morphed into something more equitable than the specimen I reviewed. Publishers have to realize that the times are not a-changin’––they’re a-changed. Permanently. They should not play hardball with contracts as if it’s still 1995.

Authors (and agents) should not accede to a “standard” non-compete clause. One like this should be a deal breaker.

Here’s an idea: negotiate!

So what isa fair non-compete clause? Very simple: a time-limited clause that specifically defines the type of material covered. For example:

For one year from the date of publication of the Work, Author will not publish or authorize to be published, in either print or digital media, any work greater than thirty-thousand words in the thriller, mystery or crime genres.

This leaves open the publishing of short-form work which, I might add, the publisher should encourage. This is how the writer attracts more readers, many of whom will then seek out the author’s trad-published books. It’s a classic win-win.

In this era of suspicion, vituperation and even paranoia, here is a way for publishers and authors to actually do what is in their mutual interest.

Imagine that.

 

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Predicting the future

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

In a recent article in THE TELEGRAPH, the founder of the famous Waterstone’s London book store, Tim Waterstone, stated that the “printed word is far from dead” and gypsey-with-crystal-ball (Small)the “so-called e-book revolution will soon go into decline.” He joked that insiders were generally “apocalyptic” about the book industry’s prospects but said he refused to believe the traditional physical book was under threat.

I tend to agree with Mr. Waterstone in as much as most bookstores I visit are packed with books and people buying them. I know it’s a simplistic measure of current trends, but when I start seeing large sections of empty shelves in book stores, I may change my viewpoint.

I disagree with him about e-books. So does Gaby Wood, who also wrote an article on the subject in THE TELEGRAPH. She states that “Booksellers are the group most threatened by the possible death of the printed book, and they have a reason to think wishfully of the digital book’s demise.” She also said that publishers have got to stop thinking of their digital products as “books”, and start imagining more expansive ways of communicating information. Until then, the digital revolution hasn’t even begun.

I think Gaby Wood has it right—this whole electronic publishing wave has just gotten started. The possibilities for industries like publishing, education and entertainment are endless. To say that e-books will soon go into decline is a prediction that may become laughable in the future.

To put this prediction business into perspective, let me share with you some famous visionaries of the past whose predictions carried a great deal of weight when first put forth, but didn’t stand up to the test of time. Enjoy.

"This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a
means of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us."
— Western Union internal memo, 1876

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
— Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
— Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
— Bill Gates, 1981

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the
best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t
last out the year."
— The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

"But what… is it good for?"
— Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
— Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay
for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
— David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible."
— A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
— H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

"I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper."
— Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With The Wind"

"We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."
— Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
— Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895

"So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us?  Or we’ll give it to you.  We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come
work for you.’  And they said, ‘No.’  So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’"
— Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer

"Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."
— 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is named after Professor Gaddard.

"Drill for oil?  You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?  You’re crazy."
— Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859. Drake was the first man credited to drill for oil in the United States

"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
— Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre

"Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
— Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
— Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

How about you? Any predictions on the fate of the printed book and the electronic book revolution?

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The Most Important Thing Literary Agents Owe Their Clients

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood and put it into a gnat’s navel, and still have room for two caraway seeds and an agent’s heart. 
                                 – Fred Allen
Mr. Fred Allen was a famous curmudgeon who labored in the entertainment (mainly radio) business. I would note that the Hollywood agent and traditional literary agent are largely different species. But that doesn’t stop me from using the quote to tease my agent friends.
And I do have friends who are literary agents. Is that so odd? When I was a lawyer, people still befriended me. It can be done!
Seriously, those agents I know are good ones: caring deeply about the success of their clients, hurting when they can’t place a project, or when a client is dropped by a publisher. But they know this is the duty they signed up for. They are professional about it.
That’s a key word, professional. In any business relationship, no matter how warm, there are duties. So it’s proper to ask what each party owes the other. 
What do writers owe their agents? I think they owe them productivity, optimism, partnership and patience. There will be times, of course, when concerns must be expressed and details hashed out. Time for phone calls and complaints. But these should be rare in comparison to the positives.
A writer needs to listen. Part of a good agent’s job (we’ll get to bad agents in a moment) is to guide a career, and the writer (who ultimately makes the decision about direction) ought to consider and attend to an agent’s wisdom.
And just plain not be a “pill” (slang, 1920s, “a tiresomely disagreeable person.”)
I said we’d get to bad agents, and here’s all I have to say: it is better by a degree of a thousand for a writer to have no agent than to have a bad agent. A bad agent is one who will make you pay fees up front before reading or submitting something; who will slough you off to an editorial service which kicks back a finder’s fee to the agent; who provides no feedback on projects or proposals; and who throws up anything against several walls to see if it sticks. How does one find the good and avoid the bad? The SFWA has a postthat’s very helpful in this regard.
Now, what does an agent owe a client? Honesty, encouragement, feedback. But I think there is one thing above all, and that is what prompted this post today. Over the years I’ve heard from writer friends who are frustrated and sometimes “dying on the inside” because of lack of this one thing:
Communication.
When I was an eager young lawyer I took a course on good business practices from the California Bar. One item that stood out was a survey of clients on what they most wanted from their attorneys. At the very top of the list, by a wide margin, was communication.Whether it was good news or bad, they wanted to know their lawyer was thinking about their case or legal matter. 
Writers are the same way. Even more so, because the insecurity of the business is an ever-present shadow across their keyboards. So if a writer sends in a proposal or list of ideas to his agent, and the agent doesn’t respond within a few weeks . . . and writer sends follow-up email or phone call, and stilldoesn’t hear from agent . . .this is not a good thing. In fact, for a writer, it is close to being the worst thing.
So I would say to agents what the California Bar says to young lawyers: just let the client know what’s going on from time to time. Especially if the client has sent something to you.
Now, I know from my agent friends that there are times when they can’t drop everything to communicate immediately. They have other clients, and things may be popping for one or more of them. It may be that the writer has submitted something that is going to take a lot of time to go over and assess. The agent may be off at a conference or maybe, gasp, needs some personal family time. All understandable.
But communication can be brief, even if it is just a short email acknowledging receipt.
If I may be so bold: if a client submits a proposal, it shouldn’t take more than two months to get back to said client with substantial feedback. If the client submits some ideas, or communicates about another concern or quandary, I would think a couple of weeks is the outside limit, even if it’s brief.
I think there is one area where an agent, being human, is reticent about communicating: the area of bad news. It may be that a proposal or manuscript has failed to land. It may be a publishing house dropping a series. Perhaps the writer has sent the agent a proposal that, for the agent, falls flat, even after notes and suggestions from the agent have been incorporated. It may even be that the agent has lost confidence in the writer’s long term prospects.
At times like these it is tempting to put off communicating with the client. My plea: don’t do it. As hard as it is, as painful as it may be, this is the time the client needs you most.
And authors, remember, it’s a tough time out there in the publishing world, for agents and everybody else. So give them something good to talk about—namely, killer fiction from a productive writer.

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Help! I’m Published and I Can’t Get Up!

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Today’s post is brought to you by Self-Publishing Attack! Nine out of 10 doctors who self-publish recommend it to their patients who self-publish.

***

Over the past year I’ve heard from a number of writing friends, all of whom have been traditionally published. They are facing some harsh realities, like being dropped by their publisher. Or being unable to land another contract because their sales record follows them around like a bad smell. They are good, solid writers who made it into the Forbidden City. But the gendarmes have tossed them outside the gates without so much as a fare-thee-well.


These writers tremble now in the dark forest, wondering about the band of scofflaws who are self-publishing. It’s not something they thought they’d ever want to (or have to) do.

They always thought they’d have that comfortable room in the City, and maybe even get a place at the A List banquet table if things broke right.


But things haven’t broken right. And now they don’t know what to do. So here’s an amalgamation of the advice and encouragement I’ve been handing out:

1. Know Thyself

Are you a writer? Yes, that’s the first question. I mean the kind of writer who can’t not write. If you can do anything else and it improves your quality of life, by all means, do that thing instead. It reminds me of Lawrence Block’s counsel: If you think you want to write a novel take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

If you get out of that dark room and know you have to do this, no matter what, take further stock. What type of writer are you? I see four general categories:

Hands off

This is where the author gives everything, including most of the rights and income, over to a publishing house. It must be pointed out, however, that such contracts are increasingly rare, especially for midlist writers whose previous books did not sell. Indeed, several agents I’ve talked to recently say it’s easier to place a new writer than a midlister with poor numbers. And advances are down so low they are starting to feel like retreats. 

Yet many writers continue to pound on the gates of the Forbidden City because of the “prestige” factor. They also hold to the hope that they might make it to national and international bestseller status. If that’s you, just understand that the odds of moving from published to mega-bestselling is an Evel Knievel jump over the Snake River. So wear a helmet. 

Fingers in

There are new ops springing up in the digital world, where the author can contract with a company providing a menu of services. These companies are innovative and fast moving. You share the income, but in terms that are more favorable to the writer who takes the hands off approach. At the Writer’s Digest Conference last week in New York, I heard about one such company, Booktrope. There will be more, many more, down the road. Look over the terms each company offers, and see what other authors say about them. Keep track of the fakes and phonies by looking at Writer Beware every now and then. 

Hands on

This refers to the pure self-publishing writer, who knows writing is (and really always has been) a business. He puts writing as job #1, but places strategic planning as job #1a. He breaks down his publishing career into three parts: a) production (which includes short form and long form work); b) design; c) marketing. He puts in research up front to get his own freelance team in place and, once there, works a plan, works a plan, adjusts, works a plan, works a plan. And, as I say in Self-Publishing Attack, they repeat this over and over the rest of their lives.

More and more we are hearing about even New York Timesbestselling authors who have been crunched by current reality. The aforementioned Mr. Block, who once could find two shelves of his backlist at a Barnes & Noble store, now sees only three or four titles, one copy each. A few years ago he never would have thought he’d recommend a hands on approach, but that was then. In a recent blog post he writes:

“[M]y default response, when someone asks how to get an agent, or how to find a publisher, or any writerly version of what-do-I-do-now, is to suggest publishing it oneself. That’s a course I never would have recommended to anyone, except perhaps the occasional dotard who’d penned a memoir he hoped his grandchildren would read. And now I’m urging it upon everyone—writers whose publishers have dropped them, writers who never had publishers in the first place, writers whose early books have gone out of print.”

Arms around

This is the writer who embraces change and all the opportunities out there. He does not shun traditional publishing, for example, but is open to the right deal (and that means knowing publishing contracts and what terms to walk away from). This writer does not throw flames at bridges. Instead, he builds them—to readers, mostly, but on occasion to the industry, too.

So the very first thing, if you’re a writer who has “fallen,” is to know what type you are. Are you entrepreneurial or highly risk averse? Can you think like a business person, or does the thought of doing so give you the cold sweats?

Since I’m an “arms around” writer, I try to counsel those of the opposite disposition to at least try to know more, do more, take more responsibility for their own life and career. The days of Emily Dickinson are over. I liken the current climate more to the pulp writing days of the Great Depression. Those guys knew it was a business, and had to produce the work to eat.

Get busy, learn, and remember . . .

2. Don’t Give Up, Ever

You have the talent and the craft. That was proved when you signed with a publisher once upon a time. You can still write, so do it. Produce the words. Spend some part of your week, whatever you can spare after the writing is done, studying the new landscape and applying what you learn.

Finally, get rid of all expectations. Expectations are for chumps. The only thing you can control is the work you do today, and then tomorrow. If you are a writer, you write, even if you never sell another thing. But you will. As I told my workshop in NY, your Ficus tree will make something, if it follows the right plan. It may just be enough for a specialty drink at Starbucks (assuming your Ficus likes coffee). But it will be something, and something is better than nothing (I took high school math).

Get up and write, friend. You are not alone. And you are not down for the count. The future is bright for the writer who won’t give up.

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Will Immersive Reading Save Publishing and Kill the Traditional Novel?



In the digital book world these days most of the talk is about whether the big publishers will survive, and what the relative merits (or demerits) of self-publishing are. But simmering in the background is another issue, one that could affect all fiction writers forever. And that is whether the simple reading experience itself is on the way out.
I’m talking about “immersive reading.” Recently PW reported on Apple’s iBooks Author development initiative. This is a program intended to produce multi-media and interactive reading experiences, primarily for tablet users and the educational market. But its reach is potentially far greater than that. As the story reports:
Since iBooks Author was released, hundreds of books created with the authoring tool are being sold through the iBookstore in a variety of categories, including travel, children’s, cooking, music instruction, gaming strategy, biography, entertainment and other categories. The books are coming from a variety of sources, including big six publishers, self-published authors, small publishers, app developers and TV networks.
Thus, publishers are using iBooks Author to create “an impressive selection of enhanced e-books with everything from photographs, sound, and animation to video footage.”
Meanwhile, Hachette announced it is committing to the EPUB3 format, which allows “greater flexibility in representing enhanced content, including interactive covers, embedded multimedia and interactivity, pop-up screens for end-notes, and melded audio and text, as well as improved navigation of reference content, creating a high-quality digital reading experience.”
A few thoughts here. First, this may be the salvation of the big publishing corporations. Why? Because they are the ones who have the resources to do immersive to the max. They will become like mini-studios, putting together multi-media experiences of all types. Or becoming a content partner with other media companies.
Second, this will be an increasing challenge for indie authors, who may have to become what Hollywood calls “hyphenates,” that is, producers who do more than one thing. Which requires skill sets most writers don’t have and don’t care to learn. They want to tell stories. They don’t want to have to shell out big bucks to get a hyper-enhanced “book” out there. But will they have a choice if they want to make new readers?
The cost of producing a book that can compete in an immersive world is daunting. A new start-up specializing in enhanced books, Orson & Co., is spending 20k on its first app! How can an indie author afford to do anything like that?
Which brings up the third, and perhaps most disquieting issue: what about the future of the plain old novel? As kids grow up fully immersed, will they have the patience for a simple black-on-white book anymore (Joe Hartlaub’s wonderful granddaughter notwithstanding)? Will future generations expect some kind of multi-layered sensory experience?
I was in Best Buy the other day and saw a four-year-old pounding away at an iPad, his little gaming soul oblivious to his mother telling him they had to go. Is this our future audience?
Think about it: how many live, black-and-white TV shows do you watch? We moved from B&W to color, from live to tape, from scripted to reality, from 2-D to 3-D. 
Once immersive reading becomes the norm, at home and in schools, will the very notion of what a book is be changed forever? Will the simple reading of ordinary text go to the elephants’ graveyard?
It’s like when I try to tell young people about great films of the past, and they say they just don’t like black-and-white movies that move so slow. Ahhhh!!!
The buggy whip industry did not disappear overnight. But certainly many a tanner looked at the sputtering fruit of Henry Ford’s assembly line and began to lament the passing of the old ways.
So, novelist and reading friends, I ask you: Will there be any such thing as the simple, traditional novel in fifty years? And if so, who besides the monthly book group at Leisure Village in Boca Raton will read it? 

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