Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Ryan Arrowsmith, Creative Commons

For your listening pleasure, here’s the late, great Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin singing Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

The answer is: millions are zooming.

Zoom is a videoconferencing service, similar to Skype but easier to use, where a number of people can see and talk to each other via their computer cameras and microphones. Until recently, Zoom has been used mostly by business.

An Authors Guild newsletter brought Zoom to my attention as an alternative for writers  to connect with readers in the face of cancelled book launches, appearances, and tours.

[BTW, if you are not already a member of the Authors Guild, consider joining. Their lawyers reviewed three book contacts for me, worth far more than the $135 annual dues. Daily discussion groups are excellent sources of knowledge and experience shared by pros. Okay, end of commercial.]

Because Zoom is live, people at meetings can interact and ask questions. It enables authors to chat with book clubs and give readings and presentations.

Zoom’s basic option is free and allows from three to 100 participants, with a 40-minute time limit. Pro options start at $14.99/month and offer unlimited meeting time and other bells and whistles, including webinars, education courses, toll-free call-in numbers, etc.

Sounds like the perfect venue for authors and readers to connect, right?

Except there’s a hitch: you must give Zoom permission to access your computer. Whenever a third party gets inside your computer, there are inherent risks.

Last year, a massive security breach was discovered at Zoom. Cyber-security expert Jonathan Leitschuh reported the flaw in this article. His analysis is highly technical and much of it went way over my head. But it’s still well worth reading for his summations.

To paraphrase in simple non-geek terms, Zoom is essentially a virus, albeit a benevolent one, that opens a back door in your computer to activate your camera and microphone, letting you see/hear others and they see/hear you.

However, a flaw enabled hackers to hijack Mac users’ cameras, obtain personal data, and insert malware without the user’s knowledge.

Jonathan expressed concern about Zoom’s slow response to patch the flaw and their rather cavalier attitude toward their customers’ security.

Additionally, even if you uninstall Zoom, the capacity remains for third parties to access your computer to do mischief. Jonathan’s article delves deeply into Zoom’s inner workings and suggests workarounds.

For those of us who are less techie, here’s an article from Consumer Reports with ways to protect your camera and mic from hacking.

Zoom-Bombing” is another problem. This recent article from Forbes describes how trolls broke into a Zoom meeting and inserted pornographic videos. When they were blocked, they simply chose new user names, joined the meeting again, and inserted more “bombs.”

Zoom’s privacy statement reveals they share your information with third parties like Google and Facebook. In other words, data mining. 

With COVID 19, Zoom use has exploded and its stock is going to the moon. This article in the Motley Fool says:

“Why Zoom is a solid long-term bet:

While Zoom stock has already more than tripled from its original IPO price, it still has the potential to create massive wealth for long-term investors. The enterprise collaboration segment is expected to top $48 billion in 2024, up from $31 billion in 2019.”

With shelter-in-place restrictions, hundreds of thousands of people are conducting virtual meetings about every subject from Aardvarks to Zumba. With many more potential targets for malicious hackers to exploit, I expect attacks will zoom up faster than the stock.

While I don’t seriously believe hackers are dying to break in on my upcoming meeting with a book club, I am concerned. When personal data is vulnerable, losses can be drastic.

Each of us must decide if the risks outweigh the benefits of using Zoom.

~~~

TKZers: Have you used Zoom or other videoconferencing tools? What has been your experience?

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Last day to download Debbie Burke’s thriller, Instrument of the Devil, for only $.99 here.

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LinkedIn Tied to Book Piracy

By Debbie Burke

Photo credit: dolldreamer

A hot topic recently caught fire at the Author’s Guild discussion site: the embarrassing connection between social media giant LinkedIn and book piracy.

LinkedIn owns Slideshare, a knowledge-sharing site. Slideshare is also a popular venue for free downloads of books without the permission of the authors.

In other words, book piracy.

In September, 2019, Margaret Atwood’s highly-anticipated sequel, The Testaments, appeared on Slideshare for free, covered in this article.

Screenshot of my book on Slideshare without my permission

 

 

Thousands of other books, from famous to obscure, show up on Slideshare without the author’s permission or approval, including my own thriller, Stalking Midas.

 

How, you ask, do pirates make money from free book downloads?

They don’t…directly.

If you click on those teasers, you’ll likely wind up at phishing sites that contain malware and viruses. Their purpose is to mine credit card data and personal information. You might get free books but lose your identity or worse.

The Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) made such copyright violations illegal. Authors can demand illicit copies of their work be taken down. The procedure to file complaints is described here.

Photo credit: sasatro on Visual Hunt

 

 

But pirates aren’t exactly quaking in fear of punishment for their theft.

 

 

 

The fastest way for authors to find if their books are listed is to search Slideshare.net, using book title and author name. 

LinkedIn, of course, is facing criticism for their tacit enabling of the crime. Here is their policy, which includes a complaint form to report copyright violations.

Although the form asks for the copyright number, that number is not necessary to register a complaint.

The form also requests URLs of the offending sites. Some books appear in hundreds of places. Tracking them all down further burdens authors, taking precious time away from writing to search for pirates.

Authors Guild members report mixed results after filing complaints with Slideshare. Some say the illicit links have been removed within a short time; others claim that, despite repeated complaints and takedown requests, the links remain up for months; still others report the links are removed but new ones pop up again.

Many authors believe LinkedIn–owned by tech giant Microsoft–should be sophisticated enough to flag repeat offenders and block pirate sites.

Romy Wyllie, author of several architecture books, was shocked to find those books as well as her memoir, Loving Andrew – A Fifty-Two-Year Story of Down Syndrome, on Slideshare. “I never thought of LinkedIn except as a professional social media site.  I am considering cancelling my membership in LinkedIn.”

Whack a Mole
Photo credit: Eric Parker, Visual Hunt

Author Chris Dickon was dismayed to find four of his books on Slideshare. “I can deal with the problem as prescribed, though others have reported it to be a game of whack a mole, but my real question was – Linked In?? which purports to exist to help us all to develop and realize our professional and creative goals, economic progress, etc. but is corporately involved in the theft of our creative product and income, Linked In!?!

Chris didn’t simply fill out the standard complaint form—he went straight to the top and contacted the CEO and co-CEO of LinkedIn. That resulted in a long phone conversation between LI representatives and Chris: “Linked In…presents itself as a friend and supporter of our professional well being, its very raison d’etre, [but is] involved in stealing from us.”

LI personnel indicated to him that, although they were aware of the problem, they didn’t realize the level of outrage it is causing among authors. 

It really should come as no surprise to LinkedIn that authors are angry our work is being stolen via a supposedly legitimate platform. 

LI followed up with Chris and invited him to stay in touch. At this point, he is satisfied with their handling of his complaint.

Other authors are publicizing the problem through social media.

William H. Reid, MD, MPH, tweeted: “SHAME on LinkedIn & subsidiary for letting book pirate scum distribute many of my books and thousands of others with no royalties to authors or publishers. Thanks for buying A Dark Night in Aurora from Amazon, B&N, & local bookstores! #LinkedIn #authorsguild”

Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, is in discussions with Microsoft and urges all affected authors to file complaints to put LI on notice.

At this point, LinkedIn is hiding behind the safe harbor provision in DMCA, a loophole that protects online service providers (OSP).  There are “two ways in which an OSP can be put on notice of infringing material on its system: 1) notice from the copyright owner, known as notice and take down, and 2) the existence of ‘red flags.'” 

If an OSP ignores repeat offenders, they can lose their safe harbor status. Many aggrieved authors believe LI no longer deserves that protection.

Five days after filing my complaint and takedown notice with LI, I received an auto-reply of their action. Stalking Midas has been removed…for now.

As an aside, LinkedIn proudly touts their executive who holds the position of Head of Mindfulness and Compassion. The question is: when will LI become mindful of widespread, blatant copyright violation and show compassion toward authors who are being victimized?

When supposedly legitimate corporations like LinkedIn and Microsoft enable theft, all authors suffer.

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TKZers: Do your books show up on Slideshare? If so, what action did you take? What were the results? 

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Debbie Burke will be watching to see if her new thriller, Eyes in the Sky, shows up on pirate sites. Publication date January 23, 2020, now available for pre-order here.

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Mystery Publishing News – Recent Shakeups

Adrian Midgley captures “Pekoe” defying gravity to catch that $&#% dot.

 

An author in search of a publisher often feels like a cat trying to catch a laser pointer. The target moves up the wall, down the stairs, sideways, backwards, and spins you around in circles. Even when you’re lucky enough to catch one (either a laser dot or a publisher), it can vanish without warning.

What’s a cat—or an author—supposed to do to keep up to speed?

In a constantly changing market, below are several recent developments affecting mystery presses:

Midnight Ink – The October, 2018 announcement that Midnight Ink would shut down came as a big shock to authors and employees alike. The respected crime fiction imprint was established in 2005. According to a Publisher’s Weekly article in November, 2018, the Minnesota-based publisher Llewellyn withdrew from the fiction market to concentrate on nonfiction, leaving MI out in the cold.

Spokesperson Kat Sanborn said:

“We had good reviews, but the sales just weren’t there for [Midnight Ink],” Sanborn said, noting that the 250 backlist titles will remain in print, and that frontlist will be marketed and promoted as usual. “We’re just not accepting new manuscripts,” she said.

Twenty titles that were already in progress will be rolled out during spring/summer 2019.

Three MI editors were laid off, including Terri Bischoff, who didn’t stay unemployed for long, landing on her feet with a new gig at Crooked Lane Books. She is now Senior Editor at CLB, a crime fiction publisher founded in 2014.

Several orphaned MI authors have found new homes at Crooked Lane, Severn River Publishing, and Seventh Street Books.

~~~~~

Seventh Street Books – SSB is undergoing changes as well with a new owner. Formerly owned by Prometheus Books, in November, 2018 SSB was bought by Start Publishing. Dan Mayer remains as Editorial Director.

Publisher’s Weekly reported:

“Prometheus Books sold its two genre imprints to Start Publishing. Publisher Jonathan Kurtz explained the sale by saying he wanted to return the publisher to its nonfiction roots. Prometheus expanded into fiction in 2005 with the launch of Pyr, which focuses on science fiction and fantasy novels. In 2011, it added the crime fiction imprint Seventh Street Books. Pyr has a backlist of 170 titles, and Seventh Street’s backlist stands at about 90.”

~~~~

Poisoned Pen PressIn December, 2018, Publisher’s Weekly announced the acquisition of PP by Sourcebooks:

“Sourcebooks has announced that it has acquired most of the assets of Poisoned Pen Press and that the award-winning crime and mystery publisher will become Sourcebooks’ mystery imprint.”

The staff, including PP’s founder Robert Rosenwald and Editor-in-Chief Barbara Peters, will reportedly stay on and become Sourcebook employees. The offices remain in Scottsdale, AZ.

~~~~

Kindle Press – The Amazon imprint stopped accepting new submissions in spring of 2018, leaving me and a hundred or so other authors orphaned.

~~~~

I’ve been looking for a new house since then and have received offers from several well-known publishers like Fly-By-Night Press and No-Advances-R-Us, LLC.

Which raises the question: how does an author find a reputable house that’s likely to be in business for longer than it takes the ink to dry on the contract?

The answer is research. Vetting publishers sounds daunting but here are three shortcuts:

#1  Mystery Writers of America – MWA regularly updates their list of approved publishers. To be included on that list, a press must adhere to “professional standards of good business practice and fair treatment of authors.”

Here’s a partial list of qualifications:

  • Must be in business for at least two years;
  • Must have paid a minimum of $1000 within the past two years to at least five authors who are not owners of the company;
  • Must have published at least two works of crime-related fiction or nonfiction in the past two years;
  • Must meet other standards outlined in MWA’s Approved Publishers Guidelines.

#2  Writer Beware – a great watchdog website that alerts writers to scams, cons, questionable business practices, and outright fraud. Although affiliated with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), their investigations and warnings cover all genres. Writer Beware is the first place I research a publisher.

#3  Ask other authors – Gone are the days when an author stayed with the same house for his/her entire career. In the past couple of years, Big Five houses decided to focus on blockbusters, pretty much to the exclusion of mid-list authors. As a result, many popular authors were dropped even though they had successful series.

Fellow writers/orphans are often willing to share their war stories about publishers.

Some authors have gone on to work with smaller presses. I know a few who now have contracts with several different houses at the same time.

Others decided to indie-publish or go hybrid.

The Authors Guild features a Back-in-Print program for previously published books where the author has gotten the rights back. For a fee, AG will assist in converting to new formatting for re-release as ebooks and/or print on demand (POD) hard copies. They also help with distribution.

When a publisher makes you an offer, the legal department of the Authors Guild will review and analyze the publishing contract. That single service makes their $125 membership fee worthwhile. Fly-By-Night and No-Advances-R-Us offered me contracts which I sent to AG’s attorneys. They helped me make the informed decision to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go chase that little red dot that just flickered across the ceiling . . . . . . . .

 

TKZers, do you have a favorite news source that keeps you up to date on the publishing industry?

 

 

Even though Debbie Burke is an orphan, her thriller Instrument of the Devil is still available here.

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Book Expo America 2018

MONTANA AUTHOR TAKES A SMALL BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE

The population of my Montana home town is around 25,000—about the same number of people I encountered during six days at Book Expo America (BEA) and BookCon in New York City.

BEA is the biggest annual convention of book publishers, booksellers, distributors, librarians, and authors in North America. With 840,000 square feet of exhibit space at the Javits Center and nearly 500 exhibitors, the show is so big that Publishers Weekly covers it with daily tabloid reports of 70-100 pages each.

The event is open to industry professionals, not the public. I was fortunate to be invited to check out the inner workings of the business. What a learning experience it was!

Big names draw big crowds. Celebrities launching new books stayed busy autographing advance reading copies (ARCs). Some wait lines rivaled Splash Mountain at Disney World. This year’s stars included a couple of guys named Patterson and Clinton who co-wrote a thriller, along with Nicholas Sparks, Sally Field, Barbara Kingsolver, Trevor Noah, and more.

Debbie Burke and Hank Phillippi Ryan

 

I was delighted to meet the charming Hank Phillippi Ryan at the signing of her new book Trust Me. A few weeks before, I’d watched Hank teach a great online class sponsored by International Thriller Writers (TKZ’s own James Scott Bell also taught a segment of the webinar).

One Librarian’s Bounty

 

 

Librarians from all over the country flock to BEA to pick up bagfuls of free ARCs to help them decide what to order for the coming year. Their biggest expense must be the charge for overweight checked baggage!

Important lesson to authors: librarians are your best friends. If librarians get behind your book, their efficient network can put millions of eyes on your work. See, not all librarians are there to ruin your mood! I guess we all had that one librarian who thought they owned the place, but thinking about it now, knowing that they have way more to do than just sitting behind a desk, maybe it’s time to cut them some slack. You may want to do some research into schools like USC Marshall to get a better understanding of what the essential roles are these days of a librarian.

 

 

Not surprisingly, Amazon isn’t exactly the most popular kid on the BEA playground. The headline of one daily report read: “Amazon’s Actions Remain a Problem,” a quote by the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. The article talked about the impact of “lost jobs, stores, and uncollected taxes” due to the online giant.

The Big Five (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) had large showy booths on main aisles. In contrast, Amazon’s booth was in a distant corner, far from the entrance.

Since Amazon’s Kindle Press had published my thriller Instrument of the Devil, I trekked all the way to the rear of the exhibit hall to visit them. But when I got there…..

Black curtains surrounded all four sides of the booth. Through the gauzy fabric, I could see people moving inside. But there was no entrance.

Hmmm.

Upon further investigation, I was told Amazon specifically requests a private booth for book publicists to meet with major media to pitch upcoming titles.

Oh.

In addition to the Big Five, scores of indie publishers had booths, representing niche markets for religious, ethnic, political and social issues, health and fitness, food and cooking, short fiction collections. No matter what off-the-wall subject you imagine, chances are someone has published a book about it that shows up at BEA.

Children’s and YA book publishers were out in force, introducing thousands of new products: print books, graphic novels, puzzles, interactive 3D devices, plus tie-in merchandising like costumes, cuddly stuffed characters, sports equipment, etc. There were even quaint retro items like pens and stationary. Could writing actual letters be making a comeback?

Waiting for autographs from their favorite authors

 

BEA runs from Wednesday through Friday for industry pros. BookCon follows on the weekend and is open to the public. Thousands of readers crowded the Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday. They pored over new releases, waited in line for autographs from favorite authors…

BookCon 2018

 

…and posed for photos dressed up as popular book characters.

Older folks (like myself) often complain about young people zombie-walking through life with bent necks, mesmerized by their smartphones. Yet at BookCon, I didn’t notice a single example of that disconnection. Kids engaged with each other and were excited about new adventures in reading. Witnessing that gave me hope.

 

 

Audio book sales continue to grow by double digits, 30+% increase in the last year alone.

A major BEA sponsor for 2018 was Blackstone Publishing. In 1987, the family-owned independent audio publisher started producing cassettes in a garage in Ashland, Oregon. They tapped into the town’s renowned Shakespeare Festival for narrating talent.

Three decades later, Blackstone has expanded into a full-service publisher of print and e-books in addition to audio, employing more than 200 people. Still headquartered in Ashland, they’ve increased their presence in NYC with acquisitions editors, audio narrators, and a sound studio that’s second to none.

Blackstone also showed me firsthand what a debut author’s dream launch should look like.

Excited debut author Susan Purvis with the banner of her new book

Last April, I wrote about cadaver dogs and mentioned Susan Purvis’s upcoming memoir, Go Find, which Blackstone is publishing. At BEA, they rolled out the red carpet for Susan, including a 10-foot-tall banner at the entrance of the Javits Center.

At their booth, lighted signs showcased new releases. Book covers were displayed on video screens. During signings, representatives guided people through the waiting line, graciously giving out swag including postcards, book bags, and ARCs.

This contrasted sharply with some author signings sponsored by bigger houses where I wondered if cattle prods might be in use!

 

Blackstone’s good treatment of authors has resulted in them picking up bestsellers like Orson Scott Card, cozy queen M.C. Beaton, and mother-daughter fantasy writers P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Despite BEA’s gargantuan scope, it offered opportunities to make personal contacts.

A couple of hours into the first morning, I sank down at a vacant table, already exhausted, eyes glazing over. A woman with a similar dazed expression sat across from me and we commiserated about feeling overwhelmed. Her name was Bee Kapitan, a designer from Vancouver. She had just received an Independent Publisher Award for her interactive e-book How To Say Cheese. I showed her the proposed cover for my new book, Stalking Midas, and she graciously made suggestions. She introduced me to the burgeoning world of interactive book design. We’ll be keeping in touch.

I’m learning from Umair Kazi (l) and Francesco Grisanzio (r)

Another valuable connection occurred with the Authors Guild. I knew of their excellent advocacy for writers but hadn’t gotten around to joining. At their booth, I talked with staff attorney Umair Kazi and digital services coordinator Francesco Grisanzio about rights reversion. Their guidance helped me make a career decision I’d been putting off. Needless to say, after their assistance, I signed up to become a member.

Another service they offer to authors is contract review. Before you sign a publishing contract, AG attorneys will review it and clarify the Byzantine maze of legalese. That alone is worth the $125 annual dues.

Authors Guild has also forged a communication channel into Amazon to register author complaints. Hopefully AG’s advocacy will temper Amazon’s review policies that, to authors, often appear capricious and arbitrary.

BEA gave me amazing insight into the publishing business. If I included all the adventures and interesting people I met in the Big Apple, this post would run into next week!

I’ll stop now and turn it over to TKZers for questions and comments.

A final post script: on the trip home I was privileged to meet a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. That story is too long to add here but it can be found on my blog.

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