Amazon, Hachette, Michael Corleone and Me

@jamesscottbell

Unless you’ve been on the surface of Saturn for the last couple of months, you have no doubt read at least something about the clash between Godzilla and Mothra.

By which I mean, of course, the strained negotiations

between Amazon and Hachette. There is a whole lot out there on the internet about this. Just tickle Google and you’ll find hours of reading pleasure.

On the macro level, this is about nothing less than the future of publishing. If Hachette “wins,” things will look brighter for the entire traditional publishing industry. If Amazon “wins,” traditional publishing will face ever-increasing challenges to its relevance and perhaps even its survival.
So this is a very big deal indeed, which is why both sides are entrenched and why so much acid is being hurled from advocates of either side. For a bit of this, consider James Patterson (Hachette advocate) versus Joe Konrath (Amazon advocate).
Which brings me to  Michael Corleone.
You’ll recall that Michael is the good son, the Army vet who comes back from the war determined not to get involved with his family’s enterprises.
That all changes when his father, Don Vito Corleone, is nearly assassinated. Michael comes to the hospital one night and foils another attempt on his father’s life. Outside the hospital he confronts the dirty police captain, McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s face.
At a meeting of the Don’s inner circle, Sonny Corleone rants and raves. Michael then quietly suggests a plan to take out the traitor, Sollozzo, and the dirty cop. He, Michael, will be the shooter. (This, by the way, is the “mirror moment” for Michael).
Sonny rejects Michael’s suggestion. After all, Michael is just a “nice college boy.” What does he know about such things? He’s mad just because a cop slapped him around? “You’re taking this very personal,” Sonny jokes.
But Michael lays it all out in further detail, convincing everyone to go along with it. Then he looks at his brother and says, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.”
And that’s what’s going on with Amazon and Hachette. It’s business. Big business. Really, really big business.
But it’s not personal. This is what businesses do: jockey for the best position in a competitive marketplace. (Of course, if a business runs afoul of anti-trust law in this competition, the Department of Justice is liable to step in).

This time, we assume everyone’s playing by the rules. How does the game look?
Amazon does not owe Hachette a profit and Hachette does not have to do business with Amazon.
If Amazon loses Hachette’s business, it will not have a huge affect on Amazon’s bottom line (one that is fed by other items than books). If Hachette walks away from the world’s biggest book seller, Hachette will suffer a major hit.
On the other hand, Hachette believes that if it accedes to the current offer by Amazon it is accepting a long, downward trendline.
But it’s not personal. Except for authors. Because right now Hachette authors are being squeezed out of the Amazon store, and that means real harm to actual careers. This week Hachette revealed just how much they are being impacted in the Amazon dispute. And several Hachette authors have gone public on said harm, often making Amazon the villain in very Godfather-like terms (“Amazon stabbed me in the back!”).
So when I see frothing and vitriol from authors over this fight, I am not surprised. I’m even sympathetic. Yet I remind myself that such fights are just business as usual, and fuming does not put steak on the table.
I am a Hachette author and I am an indie author.
But I am also a cork riding on top of the roiling sea. No matter what happens around me (most of it out of my control), my job is to keep writing and then find the best place for what I write.
Which is why, as Godzilla and Mothra decimate Tokyo, I sip coffee in Los Angeles writing my next novel.

So how do you view the Amazon/Hachette kerfuffle? Do you see villainy here or simply the free market at work?  

Amazon, Hachette, Michael Corleone and Me

@jamesscottbell

Unless you’ve been on the surface of Saturn for the last couple of months, you have no doubt read at least something about the clash between Godzilla and Mothra.

By which I mean, of course, the strained negotiations

between Amazon and Hachette. There is a whole lot out there on the internet about this. Just tickle Google and you’ll find hours of reading pleasure.

On the macro level, this is about nothing less than the future of publishing. If Hachette “wins,” things will look brighter for the entire traditional publishing industry. If Amazon “wins,” traditional publishing will face ever-increasing challenges to its relevance and perhaps even its survival.
So this is a very big deal indeed, which is why both sides are entrenched and why so much acid is being hurled from advocates of either side. For a bit of this, consider James Patterson (Hachette advocate) versus Joe Konrath (Amazon advocate).
Which brings me to  Michael Corleone.
You’ll recall that Michael is the good son, the Army vet who comes back from the war determined not to get involved with his family’s enterprises.
That all changes when his father, Don Vito Corleone, is nearly assassinated. Michael comes to the hospital one night and foils another attempt on his father’s life. Outside the hospital he confronts the dirty police captain, McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s face.
At a meeting of the Don’s inner circle, Sonny Corleone rants and raves. Michael then quietly suggests a plan to take out the traitor, Sollozzo, and the dirty cop. He, Michael, will be the shooter. (This, by the way, is the “mirror moment” for Michael).
Sonny rejects Michael’s suggestion. After all, Michael is just a “nice college boy.” What does he know about such things? He’s mad just because a cop slapped him around? “You’re taking this very personal,” Sonny jokes.
But Michael lays it all out in further detail, convincing everyone to go along with it. Then he looks at his brother and says, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.”
And that’s what’s going on with Amazon and Hachette. It’s business. Big business. Really, really big business.
But it’s not personal. This is what businesses do: jockey for the best position in a competitive marketplace. (Of course, if a business runs afoul of anti-trust law in this competition, the Department of Justice is liable to step in).

This time, we assume everyone’s playing by the rules. How does the game look?
Amazon does not owe Hachette a profit and Hachette does not have to do business with Amazon.
If Amazon loses Hachette’s business, it will not have a huge affect on Amazon’s bottom line (one that is fed by other items than books). If Hachette walks away from the world’s biggest book seller, Hachette will suffer a major hit.
On the other hand, Hachette believes that if it accedes to the current offer by Amazon it is accepting a long, downward trendline.
But it’s not personal. Except for authors. Because right now Hachette authors are being squeezed out of the Amazon store, and that means real harm to actual careers. This week Hachette revealed just how much they are being impacted in the Amazon dispute. And several Hachette authors have gone public on said harm, often making Amazon the villain in very Godfather-like terms (“Amazon stabbed me in the back!”).
So when I see frothing and vitriol from authors over this fight, I am not surprised. I’m even sympathetic. Yet I remind myself that such fights are just business as usual, and fuming does not put steak on the table.
I am a Hachette author and I am an indie author.
But I am also a cork riding on top of the roiling sea. No matter what happens around me (most of it out of my control), my job is to keep writing and then find the best place for what I write.
Which is why, as Godzilla and Mothra decimate Tokyo, I sip coffee in Los Angeles writing my next novel.

So how do you view the Amazon/Hachette kerfuffle? Do you see villainy here or simply the free market at work?  

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?

Book Production

Nancy J. Cohen

What happens after you sell a book to a publishing house? Despite what you may think if you’re a new author, your work is far from finished. In case you haven’t had experience yet with this stage in the writing process or if you are an interested reader, let me describe it for you.

First you’ll hear back from the editor with line edits. Usually we get these as Track Changes in Microsoft Word. The editor will write comments in the margins relevant to the story and will delete/add sentences in the body of the work. You may or may not have a deadline for returning revisions, with your corrections also done in Track Changes.

editing

Assuming your editor accepts this version, next you’ll receive the copy edits. If you’re unsure about the difference between line or story edits and copyediting, see my article here: http://bit.ly/18zyJbj. You make corrections again and send them back. Often I’ll find problems like sentences that should be bumped ahead to the next paragraph, missing punctuation or dialogue attributed to the wrong character. These are formatting errors.

copy edit

Next come the page proofs or galleys. This is your last chance to make changes and to proofread your work. Again, you’ll have a deadline, often a week or two, in which to respond.

Sometime along the way, you may be lucky enough to receive an advance peek at the front cover design. Recently I got the one for my next mystery, and I immediately sent back two corrections and some color preferences. I’m lucky my publisher is so accommodating.

You may also get a glimpse at the inside cover flap (for a hardcover) and back cover copy. Once I felt the wording was too revealing about the suspects and requested changes. It’s nice when you have a chance to give your approval.

Naturally, if you are self-publishing, you have to hire people to do all these tasks. But you’ll still have the proofreading and corrections regardless of which route you take.

At the moment, I am working on four books. Three are already written. On Book 1, I’m waiting for page proofs and final cover design. This one already has a scheduled publication date. On Book 2, I am hoping for an offer followed by line edits. These will take me a while since the story is a long one. On Book 3, I’m working with an editor toward self-publishing my first original title.

As for book 4, I’m only at the synopsis and research stage, but I need to start writing it soon to finish by my  editor’s requested date. Add in various trips and holidays within the next few months, and I’ll be lucky to have time to breathe. This requires prioritizing. The books that come in with edits or page proofs from my publishing houses will be first on the list.

So you see, until a book is actually on the virtual (or real) bookshelves, your work isn’t finished. When the book finally is  for sale, then you’ll be jumping on the marketing bandwagon. And that starts a whole new ride.

How many of you have several works in production at the same time?

More Signs of the Times

By Joe Moore

In a recent article in The Economist, it was reported that in the first five months of this year, sales of consumer e-books in the U.S. surpassed those of adult hardback books. Only a year before, it was 3 to 1 in favor of hardbacks. Amazon now sells more e-books than paper copies. It’s predicted that as more bookstores close, that will just continue to increase.

Another sign of the times: furniture manufacturers like IKEA are introducing book cases that aren’t designed to hold real books.

The publishing industry is running behind newspapers and music in moving into the digital world. But while the music and newspaper industries are in decline, many publishers feel the transition to ones and zeros will have better results. One big reason is that digitization will breathe new life into old titles and out-of-print books. Some genres, such as serialized romance novels, has a very short shelf life. This will no longer be a big factor since e-books never go out of print. Fans can access these books any time after publication thus extending the income potential for the publisher and author.

Despite this glowing advantage, the article also points out a couple of darker concerns. Number one on the list is piracy. Unlike a digitized movie or music album, e-book files are very small. BitTorrent-powered peer-to-peer websites make sharing and downloading books easy. Accessing the latest bestseller for your e-reader takes only seconds. And it’s widespread and growing like weeds. I get a couple of Google Alerts a week notifying me of new websites where my e-books can be downloaded for free.

Pricing is another threat and directly contributes to piracy. The higher the price, the better the chance that someone will go looking for a free download.

Then there’s the demise of the brick and mortar bookstore. As more stores close, the ability of a publisher to market and promote their books disappears. In the case of Hollywood, fully produced movie trailers run on TV and the Internet, and with music, radio stations are the main path to promotion. But as the number of bookstores decreases, so does the ability of publishers to promote their latest books, virtually the only cost efficient marketing outlet they’ve had up until now.

So with the steady growth of e-books, which one of these issues has directly affected the writers out there? Is your backlist being given a rebirth in digital format? Are your books being pirated? Are the bookstores in your town hanging on or vanishing? Has your publisher found other avenues to promote your work?

Book tours and signings and such

By Joe Moore

A few weeks ago, my blogmate John Gilstrap, posted Best Advice Redux in which he said, “Standard book signings are to me a waste of time. Ditto book tours.” I left a comment that I agreed and could prove it was true, at least for me. So that’s the subject of today’s blog: are book signings and tours necessary? And in addition, are the marketing efforts of the publisher important if not critical?

First, let me start with a disclaimer. My comments here are my own opinion based on my personal experience. I fully expect that others will feel different, and have equally compelling reasons to believe that the opposite is true. That’s fine. But here’s what I believe:

You can have a bestselling novel and never conduct a book signing or book tour. I know because I’ve done it—more than once.

The first book I had published was THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (2005), co-written with Lynn Sholes. It was released by Midnight Ink, a small Midwest imprint of a large and venerable house called Llewellyn Worldwide. We had modest domestic sales with TGC, earned back our advance and experienced an excellent sell-through percentage. Midnight Ink went on to publish our next 4 books including our newest, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. I don’t know the numbers on TPA yet, but the others (THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, and THE 731 LEGACY) also had modest sales, earned out their advances, and had high sell-through.

Lynn and I did many book signings through the course of the first 4 novels (the Cotten Stone series). Some signings drew impressive crowds while others drew a handful of friends and family. Sometimes we would sell 60-70 copies while other times we would sell just a few. Our number of signings fell off over the years in part because we are located at different ends of the state with over 400 miles in between. We still do a few signings a year, mostly at conferences.

Now, let’s shift gears. THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY was bought by a publisher in the Netherlands (same company that publishes Dennis Lehane, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Stephen King, and others), dutchtranslated into Dutch and released. They bought it solely because they liked the story, not because it was a bestseller with high numbers in the U.S. In fact, TGC had no significant domestic track record. The only factor that affected the sale of the Dutch version was the efforts of the publisher to market it. Lynn and I never held a book signing in the Netherlands. We never did a book tour. In fact, to this day we have never communicated with our Dutch publisher. THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Het Graal Complot) spent 9 weeks on their national bestseller list and earned us more money than our domestic sales for the same book. And all we did was write the book.

sholes_moore_kyotovirus_08Our Dutch publisher went on to buy our next 4 thrillers. Our 4th book in the Cotten Stone series, THE 731 LEGACY (Het Kyoto Virus), also hit the bestseller list in the Netherlands and brought in more earnings than the domestic version.

The same thing happened in Poland. With no track record, our Polish publisher (Grisham, Cussler, Cabot, Tolkien) promoted THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Spisek Graala) right onto the bestseller list where polishit sat for weeks. No signings or book tour or any communications from us. Nothing.

Over the years, our books have been translated into 24 languages including Chinese, Russian, Greek and Thai, even Serbian. The majority of the foreign publishers have bought all our books. Almost half were hardcover deals. Many were later republished in paperback. Our foreign royalties have far exceeded all our domestic sales many times over. All done with no book signings. No tours. No communications with these publishers. How can you have a bestselling novel with no personal author involvement? I believe it’s starting with a good book combined with aggressive, savvy publishers who know how to market to their audience.

So, are signings useful? Should writers conduct book tours? Are the publisher’s marketing efforts important? I can only speak for myself, but my answers are, probably not much, no, and definitely yes.

What do you guys think. Do you tour? Do book signings work for you? Does your publisher do a decent job of promoting your books?

———————-

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES is “awesome.” – Library Journal. Visit the Sholes & Moore Amazon Bookstore.

Feeling Bookish?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

News that three major publishing houses, Simon & Schuster, Penguin group and Hachette) have combined forces to create a new online retail and ‘social’ website, Bookish.com, comes at an interesting time for the industry. Clearly publishers, worried about being marginalized in the ebook revolution are trying to gain some ground – but is a website like this really the answer?

Bookish is not up and running as yet but it is being touted as a place where readers can buy books and recommend them to others. Hmmm…so what’s new about that? There are already a myriad on online sources for purchasing physical books and ebooks as well as social networking and book related sites that enable people to make recommendations and connect with like minded readers…so what will make Bookish any different? Is a website like this really the answer to publishers’ woes? Until the website is up it is difficult to know how it will be different to what is currently available, or whether it will be able to draw in the audience the publishers are obviously eager to embrace.

In the publicity materials for the upcoming site a lot is being promised including ‘real time conversations around content’, but will these promises be enough? If there is a strong emphasis on recommendations (which is what the press release suggested) how will the site differ from something like Goodreads.com? How will the publishers ensure editorial independence in the face of potentially negative reviews for their authors? (and there have been enough flame wars to know that there are sensitivities on all sides when it comes to online reviews and their authenticity/validity.) Bookish also hopes to become the destination for purchasing physical and digital books…but why will people go there rather than Amazon? Will the publishers try to undercut Amazon’s prices? How else will they convince people to buy from Bookish rather than other sites?

So what do you think? Will a website like Bookish really have any impact? More importantly, is it the kind of website publishers should be investing in?

Me, I suspect that publishers need to regain an upper hand here in terms of content and access. As a reader I am unlikely to bother going to Bookish unless there is a really compelling reason. For me that reason would be exclusive content I can’t get anywhere else (this could include author interviews, essays, short stories etc.) or that connects me with readers in a way other social networking sites cannot (if I could participate in a really cool book group session that combines video links with authors maybe). Until the website is launched it’s hard to know if all the hype surrounding it will live up to expectations, Unfortunately, I suspect Bookish won’t contain anything very novel or exciting and I doubt the Internet is hungry for yet another online bookseller.

What do you think?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

ISHTAR II and the Slush Pile

Almost from the beginning of words chiseled in stone, there has been a slush pile—literally the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts that accumulate in the offices of publishers. And for decades, it was the hope and dream of unknown writers to have their hidden gem plucked from the pile and go on to be a bestseller. Despite the ishtar odds, which are slightly worse than Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty remaking ISHTAR, there have been a few slush-pile hits, or at least career starts. My friend Kris Montee tells me that she got her first break in 1984 when her manuscript THE DANCER was plucked from the Ballantine slush pile. Kris and her sister Kelly went on to become NYT bestselling authors as P.J. Parrish.

In a recent WSJ article by Katherine Rosman, she noted that CARPOOL by Mary Cahill was the last book published by Random House that originated from their slush pile. That was back in 1991. Today, most major publishers have a strict policy of not accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

There are a number of reasons for the death of the slush pile, the biggest being shrinking budgets. Now you’d think that having an unending supply of material at your disposal without even asking for it would be a plus, right? No. First of all, the publisher has to pay employees to weed through the slush. They simply can’t afford it anymore. The rare chance of finding a winner is greatly exceeded by the waste of time reviewing unpublishable work. Let’s face it, there’s usually a good reason why unsolicited work goes unpublished.

Another reason for the demise of the slush pile is the fear of being accused of and having to defend against allegations of stealing someone’s work. Again, it’s all about money. Why even take the chance.

And believe it or not, the anthrax scare after 9/11 became a major reason no one wants tons of unsolicited mail sitting around their offices. Even with no shrinking budgets, money can’t defend you against toxic death.

So how can a new writer hope to get their toe in the door? Get an agent. Next to writing the best book you can, it’s crucial that you find a literary agent. With few exceptions, publishers will only consider material sent to them by an agent. The agent is the primary filter and first line of defense for the publisher. And in some cases, it not only has to be an agent, but one they already know and have an established relationship. Today, there’s much more responsibility placed on the writer/agent than ever before.

A bit of good news: despite all the drawbacks to the slush pile, publishers are of a belief that a diamond might still be hidden among the mountain of coal. As long as there’s even a slight chance, there needs to be a way to find it. So some publishers are creating virtual slush piles. For instance, HarperCollins introduced a website called Authonomy that allows writers to upload a manuscript. Visitors can read the work and vote on their favorites. The HC editors will then review the five highest scoring submissions each month with an eye for publication. How are your chances? Over 10,000 manuscripts have been uploaded so far with 4 bought.

We should be seeing more of these virtual slush piles popping up as time go on, especially with the public doing all the work and only the overhead of the site being the primary cost.

So how did you get your start? Did you submit cold or acquire an agent first. If you aren’t published yet, have you ever sent in an unsolicited manuscript? What was the result?

BTW, anyone know when ISHTAR II will be released?

The Dan Brown flagship

By Joe Moore

tls-brown The waiting is over. THE LOST SYMBOL by Dan Brown hit the store shelves yesterday. Love him or hate him, this is a big deal in the world of publishing.

First there was the long 6-year delay. Then the street talk that Brown would never write another book. Then the possible title: THE SOLOMON KEY. Then the revealing of the anticipated cover. And now the day has come. It’s here—all 5 million, first-print-run copies. Now the big questions are: Will it sell as many copies as THE DA VINCI CODE(80 million)? How long will it sit in the number one slot of every bestselling list on the planet? And is it as good as TDC and ANGELS AND DEMONS? Here are two advance reviews:

The Los Angeles Times calls it “. . . like any roller coaster – thrilling, entertaining and then it’s over.”

The New York Times calls it “sexy” and “impossible to put down.”

So what does this publication mean for us thriller authors? The way I see it, if all of us are ships in a naval battle group, THE LOST SYMBOL is the admiral’s flagship aircraft carrier pulling us in its wake, setting the course, and identifying the potential destination. When TDC came along, it created a whole new cottage industry of thrillers that contained secret societies, lost treasures, relics, scientific and religious conflicts, and other like-minded themes. I know that for me, it helped build interest in four of my novels. But in the bigger picture, it created a hunger. Just like Indiana Jones movies renewed an interest in the dark side of the 1930s-1950s, the Nazi, religious antiquity, and archaeology, Dan Brown and his books have continued to feed that hunger. A hunger that will potentially spill over to other books and writers. Because, once readers finish THE LOST SYMBOL, hopefully they’ll be hungry for more. The void must be filled.

Here’s an example from Library Journal where one of my books is mentioned.

I’m excited not only for Dan Brown, but for all thriller authors. This guy is shooting full-court 3-pointers, but the thriller team is ultimately the winner.

Do you plan on reading THE LOST SYMBOL? Do you consider it a thriller genre-boosting event or just another high profile novel by a famous writer?

Playing Fair is Overrated

By John Gilstrap

No, I know it’s not my usual day, but Michelle and I are switching blog dates this week . . .

At the Midwest Writers Workshop last week, I taught a session called, “Quit Whining and Send Another Query,” in which I shared what I know about the mechanics and emotions of finding an agent and dealing with rejection along the way.

Students expressed huge frustration with the snail’s pace at which the process unfolds. You submit a query and you wait weeks for a response. Sometimes the response never comes, so the wait stretches out interminably. I suggested that they just forget about that one and send another query. Oh, no! they cried. At a previous conference a visiting agent said that when agents request sample chapters or an entire manuscript, they expect exclusivity; they expect that no other submissions will be made to other agents until the requestor makes up his or her mind. If you send out other queries during the exclusive period, you’d be breaking the rules.

Huh? When did business become such a genteel sport? When did it become one party’s responsiblilty to make the other party comfortable during a negotiation? “It’s only polite,” a student told me. Okay, I can buy that. It’s certainly more polite than waiting five or six weeks to finally send a form rejection letter that might or might not have a hand-written signature. If the manuscript is rejected, how has the writer benefitted from losing momentum on his submissions? It it’s accepted, how has he benefitted from not knowing if there’s another agent out there who’s even more passionate about his work?

Sorry, folks, but this is business; an “implied exclusive” means as little as an “implied million-dollar advance.” Implications, like assumptions, have no place in a competitive marketplace.

Please understand that, as I told the class, my word is my bond. I unfailingly deliver what I promise. I never lie. I’m a terrible liar anyway, and I jealously guard my integrity. That said, where there’s silence in a business negotiation, there’s also a poker game in progress. Agents know that, and publishers know that, and they play the game accordingly in every negotiation.
So where is it written that the writer is supposed to sit politely and observe implied exclusivity? Did I miss a meeting? A memo?

Maybe—maybe—if the implied arrangement included a 5-day turn-around, I could buy into it; but I’ve heard too many horror stories of eight-week responses and year-long silences to see anything but a woefully stacked deck.

“But publishing is a small community,” someone said. “If you break the implied rule and submit partials to more than one agent, won’t they get angry?” In a perfect world, hell yes someone will get angry. Well, maybe not angry, but at least disappointed. That’s what happens when you’re rejected. Welcome to our world, Mr. Agent.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that three prospective agents have requested manuscripts from you. There are only three ways for the scenario to play out, and all of them are either neutral or they play to your benefit:
1. All three reject you. No one’s the wiser, so no harm, no foul.
2. One accepts you, the others reject you. No one’s the wiser, so no harm, no foul.
3. More than one accepts you. Woo-hoo! Now you get to go shopping. You get to decide which agent is your preferred choice. You accept one, reject the others. You don’t have to tell the losers why they lost, but even if you do, and the rejected agents get pissed, what do you care? You got the agent you wanted.

Let me emphasize that I am not talking about deception. If an agent asks for an exclusive and you agree, then you honor your word, pure and simple. Short of that, I think you’re free to submit at will. Want to really play hard ball? Consider this: if the prospective agent tells you outright that he expects an exclusive and you say nothing, he might assume that the deal is closed, but there’s still no contract. There has to be an offer and an acceptance. One does not guarantee the other.

I would love to hear from people who think my position is unreasonable. What am I missing? Are we writers truly honor-bound to play politely in an industry that fights dirty?