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Ether for Authors: Why Are the Big Six So Silent?

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Table of Contents

  1. “Seems Inevitable…Big Publishers’ Power Is Reduced”
  2. Why the Silence of the Grands?
  3. Financing Fan Fiction
  4. Those “Toxic” eBook Royalties
  5. Author Services, Not Disservices
  6. No Money in It?
  7. Conferences
  8. Last Gas: Paris in the Machine

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“Seems Inevitable…Big Publishers’ Power Is Reduced”

It’s hard for a publishing giant to catch a break these days.

Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin, longtime senior-statesman consultant to the industry! the industry! is answering reader Jack W. Perry there in a comment on Shatzkin’s article, Anybody Press is the new member of the Big Six (for ebooks, at least).

Prompted by Perry to talk about the merging Penguin Random House (PRH), which Perry sees as having a bright future, Shatzkin writes:

The others [the major publishing houses] have a lot of capabilities, but they’re in a race against time to develop additional distribution among them to match what PRH will be able to create or, alternatively, to change what they are from a general trade publisher to a multi-niche publisher with *strong* community capabilities that can be leveraged for other business models.

Feel like catching your digitally disrupted breath this week? Yeah, me, too. Shatzkin is giving us just the thing. This is the kind of walk through the park that gives you a little perspective. The Frisbees are in other hands and dogs’ mouths. We’re watching. One concept he offers: “indie entities.” He writes that those entities:

…are more likely to be disruptive on a larger scale than indie authors have been so far. So we might have Any Organization Press growing even faster in the next few years than Anybody Press has for the past few.

“Anybody Press” and “Any Organization Press” are Shatzkin’s aggregations of the rising force of entrepreneurial publishing.

Anybody Press is almost certainly growing faster in ebook sales than any of the other Big Six.

BowkerHe’s responding to the reports issued earlier this month from Bowker, indicating that some 12 percent of ebooks may be self-published. As we’ve long pointed out in Ether-eal moments together, such estimations, despite the best efforts and capability of Bowker’s research folks, are highly suspect.

Many self-publishing authors and “entities” aren’t registering their output with the ISBNs Bowker sells and uses to track active titles directly. And major retailers of ebooks, including Amazon, aren’t reporting numbers to us, they’re holding such figures close to the chest as proprietary data. This is their right, by the way, no question. It just has the unfortunate side effect of meaning that we don’t have an accurate picture of how large the ebook universe is, nor of how much of it is self-published.

Amazon 2So if 12 percent sounds low to you, you’ll find company among some of your colleagues. Nor is a better guess readily available. This is, actually, a very serious problem, in that without the full spectrum of numbers from some of the very biggest retail players, we really don’t know what we’re talking about when we try to quantify the impact of self-publishing on the business. Nevertheless, Shatzkin soldiers on, these best-latest-proposed-figures in hand, to sketch out several useful elements of the self-publishing landscape as we can glimpse it from one high point to the next.

Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler

For example, he notes:

The self-publishing or Amazon-publishing route still requires pretty much giving up on bookstore or other retail distribution.

When traditional-to-self-publishing author Barry Eisler turned that around and suggested that retail distribution is big publishing’s best, last power, he almost had his head handed to him, as you might recall from the Pikes Peak incident.

22 April 2013 iStock_000016362466XSmall photog LexanTEXTED STORY IMAGEHe was trounced by suggesting this in a keynote address at a writers’ conference. Shatzkin, reading the self-published handwriting scrawled on the outer walls of some major houses, is watching the digital-to-traditional balance of sales shift—and yes, all roads lead him to roam the endless shelves of cyberspace for best potential. Here he is, emphasis mine:

If I were the business development manager for Anybody Press (and, on some consulting projects we are working on, I am) I would see lots of target markets for growth. I’d encourage…doing the calculation of what the sales times royalty rate is for the “bought online” portion of the market versus what the sales times royalty rate is for a conventional deal that gets you the “whole” market. As the “bought online” share grows, more and more genres and authors will find that giving up the retail sale in favor of a bigger share of the revenue per sale online is to their financial benefit. 

Mind you, it’s a good moment not to run entirely to one side of the room. And yet, change is still coming:

Particularly viewed in a global context and aside from straight narrative books, the print-at-retail component has a long way to go before it becomes irrelevant. But when I say that, I mean “many years,” not “many decades.”

All in all, this is a quieter, more contemplative, and—I mean this as a compliment to our good colleague Mike—a less combative write than we may have seen during the springtime offensives of conferences and trade shows. Less defensive. More watchful. Hell, maybe we’re all just crazy from the heat.

Peter McCarthy

Peter McCarthy

And it’s not as if Shatzkin doesn’t have a confab to sell you now. His and Michael Cader’s Publishers Launch program is working with Digital Book World to produce with consultant Peter McCarthy the September 26 two-track Marketing and Publishing Services cotillion. But even for a longtime roller-with-the-punches like Shatzkin, these are new punches incoming, and I like seeing the footwork slow down every now and then to try to suss out the dynamics before going to the mat for one strategy or another. As Shatzkin puts it:

What people spend for books won’t necessarily shrink drastically, but where the money goes will shift drastically. The challenge for today’s leading revenue producers will be to find the ways their business models can adapt to the shift.

And in answering that original constant commenter, Robert Gottlieb, Shatzkin brings it into the sharpest focus yet. Note that “early days” caution. But pay attention to what “seems inevitable”:

I think it is early days from which to draw any broad conclusions, but it seems inevitable to me that the big publishers’ power is reduced as the parts that nobody else can do (putting books on shelves) become less important compared to the parts that others with much less scale can  do (delivering ebooks to the marketplace).

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Why the Silence of the Grands?

Just a note before we go on, in reflection of the ideas Mike Shatzkin has put forward here.

Molly Barton

Molly Barton

Over the weekend, I enjoyed a great discussion with some readers of Writer Unboxed, on the topic of royalty issues around ebooks. And I found myself in one response echoing what I’d said to Len Edgerly in his Kindle Chronicles podcast: I really regret the relative silence of leadership in the major publishing establishment. It’s bad enough that we all look to the Big Six-becoming-Five as “Old Publishing.” Even with the PRH merger coming in, two oldsters don’t make a new. But this is tradition, of course, and not to be dismissed lightly. A concept of what is dignified, proper, appropriate has been in place for a long time. It’s far easier for the Bermuda-shorted entrepreneurial class to yak its business all day and night than it is for those who were trained to the pinstripe and have corporate overlords who don’t want to hear their business passed around on the street. Having come from deep inside a news industry that once instructed us to “set the agenda” for the population—gatekeeping at its finest—I know how hard it is to let go of the concepts of propriety and decorum.

But as a whole, the business in recent years has been poorer, I think, for the fact that the new, more experimental, reachier elements empowered by the digital dynamic have had the luxury of talking (and talking and talking and talking) and the older guard has not. Unless a session is convened by Judge Denise Cote—who many of us probably see as an honorary member of the publishing community by now—we hear precious little from the main players.

Book Country newSure, there’s a word here or there at conferences, guarded comments on congenial panels; a carefully sanitized statement to authors or agents might arrive from one tower or another from time to time. But for the most part…silence

So I’m especially grateful for a recent bit of commentary from Molly Barton, Penguin’s Global Digital Director and an architect of the Book Country read-review-and-publish community. In New York Isn’t Book Country Anymore at the Huffington Post, Barton writes from a personal perspective of her 11 years’ experience, first in a highly centralized Brooklyn-and-Manhattan business that today, of course, is no longer sensibly defined by geography.

I edited a number of women writers who were not born or raised in Manhattan or Brooklyn, and I wrestled with how to build more inclusive, collaborative ways for writers to begin their careers. I began to think about all the writers in other places who didn’t have access to other writers (never mind agents or editors), or to the critical feedback they needed to improve their book. Who could share war stories with them, and help them learn all they need to know about the craft and the business of writing.

Eventually, of course, a lot of the problems of author isolation have been solved by the many booming social media (still a plural word, damn it) that now create so much inter-connectivity and distraction in the publishing community that nobody can get any work done. Maybe we should go back to having everything centered in New York. Just kidding. (I think.)

But, seriously, the chance to have a major house’s executive’s commentary mixed in with the crowd-roar of the mighty marching self-publishing platoons is too good, let’s take note of it. Some will say that Barton is pushing Book Country, of course. And it’s certainly true that as Barton winds into her recitative—”I Set Out To Build a Platform Called Book Country”we’re reminded of the many times we’ve read what seemed like a wholly informative blog post from an author only to find the other shoe dropping: “So that’s why I wrote this how-to book, to help you with your writing,” etc., you know the drill.

Having spent some time talking with Barton, though, I believe her to be a genuinely thoughtful and motivated soul with that most important of characteristics we’re probably missing from so many silent, tailored suits: a sense of humor. And you know what? From an executive in one of the two merging biggies—surely the most ominously quiet Penguin in creation—this isn’t half bad:

I am happy to say that New York no longer has a lock on being “Book Country.”  Your desk, your laptop, your tablet, is book country.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Molly.
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Virginia Quarterly Review | vqreview.tumblr.com

Virginia Quarterly Review | vqreview.tumblr.com

Financing Fan Fiction

I realised that Amazon Worlds is a whole new revenue stream for aspiring writers and established writers, it’s co-opting the edge and making it mainstream and crucially introducing a revenue model that work for everyone.

Eoin Purcell

Eoin Purcell

I love how our colleague Eoin Purcell just gets right out there and tells you he missed a major part of the Amazon Kindle Worlds initiative. His post is headlined Somehow I Missed This Incredibly Important detail of Kindle Worlds: MONEY.

What has called him to have a second look at that late-spring development is the news, of course, that new licensees have been added to the program. Headliner Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga trilogy, Barry Eisler’s John Rain books, Neal Stephenson’s Foreworld Saga, and Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pine series now are fair game for the busy writers of fan fiction through the program.

Perhaps the heaviest hitter of the new additions to the program is Valiant Entertainment, which opens up Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger, and Shadowman to the avid creativity of the fans.

Amazon Kindle WorldsIt’s this part of the Kindle Worlds program that seems to have escaped Purcell and now has his admiration. I’m quoting here from Seattle’s press release:

Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to both the rights holders of the Worlds and the author. The standard author’s royalty rate (for works of at least 10,000 words) will be 35% of net revenue. Amazon Publishing will also pilot an experimental new program for particularly short works—between 5,000 and 10,000 words. For these short stories—typically priced under one dollar—Amazon will pay the royalties for the World’s rights holder and pay authors a digital royalty of 20%.

When Purcell read that, he writes: I was struck by how many of those new writers came from or were converts to the world of self-publishing and it reminded me once again how powerful and useful Amazon’s policy of accommodating self-publishers and small publishers has been in their development of a digital publishing platform.

From ValiantUniverse.com

Valiant Entertainment is one of several licensees newly added for fan-fiction work at Amazon Publishing’s Kindle Worlds. Image: ValiantUniverse.com

Like Mike Shatzkin in the previous item, you see, Purcell is looking at the ascendant power of the self-publishing movement and how integral this is looking to be to strategies “going forward.” (It’s great, the corporate world’s use of that term, isn’t it? “Going forward.” As if anyone has ever had any success with strategies “going backward.”)

Purcell is outspoken in his regard for the ingenuity of the Amazonian fan-fiction model. I’m going to give him to you at a little length here because his late understanding of how Kindle Worlds works gives us a valuable second chance to review just what’s afoot here. So bear with me and catch these cogent points:

Before I read those words, I thought Amazon Worlds was a clever piece of distraction from Amazon, a way to get more people on the Kindle platform, perhaps a mine for future talent and a stick to beat publishers with….What’s more in this model, because they own the platform and delivery system they still keep a chunk of the revenue. …Think  about this new model for a few seconds. Successful writers, who in genre fiction were already pretty supportive of fan-fiction anyway, now have an active reason to support and encourage fan-fiction that is licensed by Amazon. They have a reason to drive people onto the kindle platform because when they see stories based on their worlds and characters, they will profit from them.

This is not Purcell’s only view of the Amazonian approach. On Medium, in Ebooks & The Exclusivity Factor (written before he picked up on the licensing/commercial factors of Kindle Worlds), he writes about Kindle Direct Publishing’s exclusivity arrangement with authors, KDP Select.

From Amazon’s perspective KDP Select is a clever program. It gives the company a chance to see how self-published material performs before anyone else or at least during the period while it is exclusive to Amazon. Such data is surely valuable in determining whether an author might be a profitable acquisition for Amazon Publishing and what genres perform best among readers. Maybe more important than that though is the power of the exclusive content the program generates to drive new readers to the Kindle ecosystem (after all, readers can only buy those titles enrolled in KDP Select from Amazon) or in convincing new members to sign up for Amazon Prime or indeed in convincing existing members of Prime to stay on the package, reducing churn as the industry puts it.

MediumIn both pieces, Purcell—himself, a publisher, by the way—is showing you something even more valuable than several elements of Amazon’s successful understanding of consumer appeal. He’s demonstrating a willingness to learn, to study, to sort out why something is working and how it was conceived. Rancor isn’t hindering him from analyzing. Nor is he entirely impressed. His comments at Medium include misgivings about the exclusivity involved in Amazon’s offer:

I think the issue of exclusivity is less attractive than Amazon believes and it is here, I believe that Amazon has misstepped. The offer Amazon makes would be a decent one if Amazon still controlled 80-90% of the ebook market but when you know that Amazon controls less than 60% in some markets and even in the US, its dominance is not what it used to be, allowing the company exclusivity sounds like a recipe for smaller sales and reduced exposure.

Looking especially closely at subscriptions and their potential for Amazon and others, Purcell produces this and his newer piece on Kindle Worlds with respect, clarity, and a calm eye. These posts are well worth your time.

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Those “Toxic” Ebook Royalties

Publishers have put themselves in an interesting position. Ebook sales are rising against paperbacks, and many authors are becoming – encouraged by their editors – their own best advocates in the online setting. On the one hand, such authors may be less willing to carry this weight if they’re not being properly remunerated for digital sales. On the other, those who are most effective in this arena may feel less and less interested in being published by a major house.

Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway

Author Nick Harkaway handily has picked up where we left off in that weekend look at ebook royalties I’ve mentioned at Writer Unboxed. In Get Your Geiger Counter Out (ebook royalties are back, and this time they’re toxic), he lays out the authorial view of Old Publishing’s negotiating tone:

The red lines drawn by publishers – we MUST have ebook rights, you WILL accept 25% – start to look both shaky (as they are crossed by writers coming into a publishing deal from a self-publishing success) and demonstrably unfair.

In the WU piece on the subject, in fact, A Major Publisher Jumps the Shark, I quoted agent Brian DeFiore asking what I think is the very pertinent question here about

The author who gets a reasonable advance and whose book sells much better than expected (is) the one who suffers the greatest loss. How can anyone in this industry see that as defensible?

Brian DeFiore

Brian DeFiore

As was pointed out helpfully by DeFiore in WU discussion, the HarperCollins demonstration of ebook profitability for News Corp backers that touched off the debate is “a simplistic look at a complex issue” because it represents one profit scenario devised for investors’ eyes, an example that can be affected and changed by “all kinds of pricing experiments and price points.” This is important, as is DeFiore’s assertion—with my agreement—that a good publisher still has a lot to offer an author in many if not most cases. Nevertheless, the overall e-trend indicated in this academic model is greater profitability for publishers and lesser royalty revenue for authors. In DeFiore’s original example, without fixed costs and many other conditions factored in, he parses the potential this way:

$27.99 hardcover generates $5.67 profit to publisher and $4.20 royalty to author. $14.99 agency priced e-book generates $7.87 profit to publisher and $2.62 royalty to author. So, in other words, at these average price points, every time a hardcover sale is replaced by an e-book sale, the publisher makes $2.20 more per copy and the author makes $1.58 less.

Harkaway gets the hypothetical nature of the example, and its implications, writing:

Let’s assume for a moment that this holds roughly true across the industry. Absent some really powerful, clear, and unhedged explanations, authors are going to be miserable and furious. The question is how they will respond.

Writer Unboxed by Kristy CondonI appreciate the personal context in which Harkaway looks at the issue, too. You may find resonance in what he’s saying here:

I’ve been wrestling with a sense of confusion for a little while now. It all seemed to be going so well for the traditional trade, and yet so many of the things I think are important in the digital transition remain completely untouched. I would have expected to see publisher-branded ereading software by now, direct sales and reading clubs, bundled digital and physical copies with deals on audiobooks, loyalty schemes, communities, discovery engines, price experiments, more DRM-free books, a faster transition of manuscripts to books and a partial end to the seasonal nature of the trade, with at least some books coming to market when they’re ready. These things just don’t seem to be on the menu.

And he positions what we must consider to be a serious potential:

If the industry is achieving this happy stasis through a perpetual blood transfusion from its authors, that would explain a lot, but it would also leave open the possibility of a sudden collapse as disenchanted creators demand a better slice of the action or find other ways of doing their thing.

Harkaway is careful here, as DeFiore is, as we all must be. “That sounds a bit over the top, perhaps,” he writes. Indeed, the author corps at this point may not be so organized or unified in its understanding of its potential. A spacious fragmentation still is in place as newcomers to the industry retrace each others’ steps toward publication and replicate both successful and unsuccessful formulas. But in Harkaway’s view, that means the situation needs attention in the present, not the future:

It is now time for that 25% to shift, and shift properly. Taking a bite out of authors is neither a long term answer nor an acceptable one.

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Author Services, Not Disservices

Here is one of the most interesting points you’ll encounter this week about author services:

Not all authors want to self-publish, but in order to maximise their chances of getting picked up by an agent, authors who want a traditional deal should make sure that they produce the best quality manuscript they possibly can — the less work an agent or publisher thinks a manuscript needs, the more positively they will view it. For traditional authors, it’s worth considering working with a literary consultancy which focuses on the editorial side of things.

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

In An Introduction To Author Services, Part 1 at Forbes, Suw Charman-Anderson has comments from several players in the field, including the highly regarded whitefox group in London.

While the good whitefoxers can’t seem to find a capital W on their keyboards (is it really so clever to write your company name all-lowercase? Maybe they just want to be seen as German…), its principals include Peter Collingridge, formerly of just about everything and now with Safari.

Charman-Anderson is getting at an important point in this time of entrepreneurial author development: even the surest-looking walk to a traditional contract now needs to be all but camera-ready. Good author services, especially in the area of developmental edits and copy-editing can be indispensable.

But, needless to say, the quality and ethical foundations of author services—let alone the outright author fury encountered in conversations about some vendors such as the Author Solutions companies (now facing an attempted lawsuit)—surrounds every consideration in this field. The mere mention of pricing for editorial services can get you an hour or two of hair-tearing tweets these days.

Charman-Anderson’s Part 2 is a look at “Choosing Who To Work With.”  Pack a lunch.

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No Money in It?

“There’s a whole generation of kids who are really bright and who are interested in this work. None of them have been trained as reporters and it’s disastrous. Reporting is a craft. Like other crafts, you learn it through apprenticeship and by doing the job. You can’t substitute blogging on the Huffington Post for writing long reported pieces for magazines or working your way up from the Quad Cities Times to the Chicago Tribune.”

Noah Davis

Noah Davis

That’s writer David Samuels quoted by Noah Davis in a revealing, candid essay at the AwlI Was Paid $12.50 An Hour To Write This Story. At issue is not only the Internet’s “democratization,” which has flooded the industry with unprepared and frequently unpaid workers. There’s also the alarming collapse of pay rates which teeter between the still-questionable models of digital-only publications and what one speaker in the story, Ann Friedman, describes as unwise management of resources in print magazines. She says to Davis:

“I actually think it would be possible for old-school print outlets to pay better if they wouldn’t over-assign or if they didn’t have super-fancy real estate in Midtown. The notion that media is both a struggling industry and a glamour profession is totally ridiculous. If you’re a struggling industry that’s worried about declining advertising revenues, fucking pack up, move to Brooklyn, and stop triple-assigning every issue.”

This is a complex and well nuanced write, worthy of some time in a quiet moment.

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Conferences

If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term.  Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion.

Jackson Hole Writers ConferenceJune 27-29 Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Jackson Hole Writers Conference: “Each year distinguished speakers, editors and agents join our resident faculty to deliver a weekend of active and engaging dialogue, collaboration and the opportunity for all of us to raise the stakes on our work.Manuscript critiques are an important part of our conference, providing a way for you to discuss your work one-on-one with experienced writers, editors and agents.” The program also features a pre-conference writing workshop.

June 29 San Francisco: digi.lit: Litquake’s Digital Publishing Conference: “Litquake’s digi.lit is a full-day conference that will explain and demystify the new digital publishing landscape.digi.lit will put you in the same room with authors, publishers, editors, marketers, agents, and booksellers who are defining the future of reading and publishing.” Note speakers include April Eberhardt, Jon Fine, Laura Miller, Neal Pollack, John Tayman.

July 8 London Southbank: The Bookseller Design Conference: “Great design is a collaborative effort. The conference will focus on effective use of design across every element of the book business. We’ll explore ways in which we can all be braver, have more fun and escape the trap of the copycat cover into which we are all forced far too regularly.” List of speakers.

July 9 London Southbank: The Bookseller Marketing & Publicity Conference: “The Bookseller Marketing & Publicity Conference launches as a full-day event (Tuesday 9th July 2013 at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre), for the first time. The programme will reflect that the lines between publicity and marketing are blurring. The aim of the conference is to provide inspiration and practical tips to drive sales and reader engagement. We’ll be bringing marketing, publicity and brand leaders from outside the industry to give us some time to look up from our books and understand the wider trends.” List of speakers.

July 14-19 New Haven (Greenberg Conference Center): Yale Publishing Course – Leadership Strategies in Magazine & Digital Publishing: “The Yale Publishing Course is designed for mid- to senior-level professionals from all over the world. Our mission is to provide participants with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be more effective leaders and advance their careers.” List of speakers and topics.

July 21-26  New Haven (Greenberg Conference Center): Yale Publishing Course – Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing: “The program provides a mixture of overviews of the current and future state of the industry and in-depth explorations of specific topics in editorial content, design, marketing, circulation, advertising, finance, and management. The carefully-selected industry experts and distinguished faculty from the Yale School of Management present real-world business models and case studies from both large and small publishers.” List of speakers and topics (including Publishing Perspectives’ Ed Nawotka, Perseus’ Rick Joyce, Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah, and Craig Mod).

July 25-28 Seattle: Pacific Northwest Writers Association: “This annual summer conference is an opportunity for writers of all levels to meet other writers, attend sessions focused on different aspects of the craft, and pitch your ideas to agents and editors. Sessions led by industry experts are crafted to address many aspects of the publishing industry. From keeping track of your expenses to crafting the perfect pitch, sessions give you a chance to interact with experts and ask questions in a friendly and open environment.” Speakers include Donald Maass, Debbie Macomber.

September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. ThePublishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin).

September  27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.”

October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco.

November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available.

February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops.  An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents.  And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.”

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Last Gas: Paris in the Machine

When you leave the guide books behind, you experience a place not as a checklist of sites to see, but a continuous flow of the details that define it – architecture, typography, color, doorways.

Paris in Color by Nichole Robertson @ObviousStateIs there anything more fulsome and yet more compelling than travel writing? It’s not unlike the potency Noel Coward attributed to “cheap music.”

Still, if you find yourself not in Paris this summer and would like to be—before August when everyone will be not in Paris, of course—The Paris Journal is an app that might interest you. It’s not available for anything but iOS now, of course. Insert the usual Sigh of the Inconvenienced here, my fellow Android-ians. “Coming soon.” Hold your breath.

It’s based on the work of Nichole Robertson and her book Paris in Color, described as a digital book, and:

Combines fine art photography and minimalist video into visual stories of Paris neighborhoods. Each volume covers one neighborhood over the course of one day, from morning to night.

The offering’s product page promises:

It was important to us that the visual narrative was uninterrupted. There are no technological distractions, travel tips or editorial comments – just a tranquil, virtual escape to the city’s streets.

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Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com.

Main image / iStockphoto: Sculpies

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6 Comments

  1. Posted June 25, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Re: Any Organization Press. It has long been part of publisher business models to publish books backed by organizations that would then buy back many copies and/or give access to their constituent lists for easy direct sales.

    When I was a young editor at Doubleday, my soon-to-be wife introduced me to her uncle who ran a non-profit and had published a book a few years before with the company for which I now worked. He shocked me by referring to my colleagues as, “A bunch of whores.” I’m not sure he had the terminology right, but his overall point was that he thought they would be “publishing” his book — i.e. finding readers for the book and by extension his cause (which happened to have been handgun control) — when in fact all they seemed to want to do was sell books back to him at an easy profit.

    This kind of behavior — I have no doubt he was being truthful both with regard to the way he was treated and his anger about it — has been standard operating procedure for a long time. Now, with the ease of self-publishing, that low-hanging-fruit business is going away, as more and more organizations (and individuals who know exactly how to find their audiences — hello, Seth Godin) increasingly opt to publish themselves.

    The sad news is that this gives publishers one more incentive to make their profits through exploitation of real authors, as sketched in plain numbers by Brian DeFiore (my former agent, by the way). Reports of Big Pub’s death may be greatly exaggerated, but one does have a sense that the thing is hollowing out. Maybe Random House is so silent because those little buildings have become a Potemkin village.

  2. Posted June 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    All factors aside, the reason I chose to self-publish is that I had spent a lifetime honing my craft in a sea of badly written and designed books and saw that I could have more control over the content and presentation of my work. I had seen where authors’ intent were completely destroyed by an editor’s preference for removing commas, when a comma can change the whole structure and meaning of a sentence; and cover designs so bad that I would have been ashamed. Another published author posted a terrible cover design on Facebook yesterday, asking if the author of the book was to blame. She was aware that the publisher has a responsibility to present a book as effectively as possible. I said that since it was the publisher’s choice, the author could hardly be to blame. I certainly would not have accepted it. Very often we are told that the only way to be published is to take on an agent and go begging to the Big Six (now 5). Not anymore, and I am happy with my choice not to get swept under the rug by houses who rarely speak. I learned what it takes to publish through experimentation, trial and error, not by capitulating to someone else’s tastes. And I will never go back.

  3. Posted June 26, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I remember Mike Shatzkin castigating me for not having print distribution at Cool Gus. Again and again he seemed to want to impress on me that without print I wasn’t really a publisher. Regardless of us growing a seven figure business model in 10 months, without the overhead of print and distribution, not having print was a real handicap in his opinion, while in my opinion it’s what made us extremely agile and capable of change (BTW, we do have print, it’s called Createspace and it does generate revenue, and from talking to the excellent folks there, give it another year or two and see where that mode of sales stands, especially given recent news on B&N).

    Once more I find the experts and gurus singing a different tune from a year and two years ago when those of us in the vanguard of what I assume Shatzkin is calling “Anybody Press” were already saying and DOING these things. Actually, they are once more behind, because we don’t consider ourselves a publisher any more. We are Publishing Partners, where our authors self-publish with our assistance. Our authors get final say on the decisions that affect their career and bottom line. We give them one point of contact for everything and do the vast majority of work in-house and running literally in-my-house idea and story editing workshops helping our authors on their next projects, utilizing an editor who has worked with several NY Times Bestselling authors. We also, as importantly and what so many of the new start-ups don’t have, give them our hard-earned advice on all the various options, paths, and decisions an author must make these days. We also give them our personal contacts with the major players on the platforms that sell their book.

    For years I’d been suggesting that the Big 6/5 look outside of NY for answers, but they rarely do. They believe they can fix their own mess by themselves. I’m happy to let them do it now. Because another thing we decided at Cool Gus is we’re not giving away our knowledge and expertise to agents, publishers and authors for free. This is a business. We treat is as such. If the various conferences can charge so much and make money, well then . . .

    In the next year, based on conversations I’ve had with quite a few bestselling trad authors, we’re going to see “urban flight” and some of them move away from NY and go with innovative so-called “Anybody Presses”. One only has to do the math on their royalty statements.

    And, once more, it’s all happening so much faster than most predict.

  4. Posted June 30, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    J.E. Fishman,

    Many thanks for your input here, your perspective and background are appreciated, and it’s good to have you reading the Ether and commenting.

    All the best,
    -p.
    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  5. Posted June 30, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Hi, Theresa Moore,

    Good to have your input here, although I regret the negative experiences you’ve had.

    There certainly are instances in which the best-laid plans and efforts of even the biggest and most sophisticated publishing houses go awry. Polly Courtney, the British author, in fact, speaks very openly about the “girlish” covers she found her books being given by HarperCollins, which played a role in her decision to break with that publisher there. (There is material from Courtney in our Writing on the Ether of last week, here: http://janefriedman.com/2013/06/20/writing-on-the-ether-95/

    I think I can caution you only in remembering that in many cases, traditional publishing has produced outstanding, enviably good work, both in editing and in cover design and other elements of presentation. There will always be horror stories, in other words, and there will always be the glowing opposites.

    And if anything, we’re in a transitional period at the moment in which many, many self-publishing authors don’t understand fully what is required for highest-quality output, and/or are unable to find or afford the professional help they need to achieve high quality. This is damaging to the whole enterprise, of course, and a point of concern to all of us.

    So while I applaud your obviously adroit and capable approach to the high standards you know are right, I’d just remind you that that many newcomers to the field do not know those standards and may not even care.

    There is reason for caution and care on both sides, in other words. To focus entirely on disappointments in the traditional sphere is to overlook tremendous struggles still playing out i the younger self-publishing movement.

    Many thanks again for being with us.
    -p.
    On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

  6. Posted July 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Porter,
    Just getting to this because I was at the writer’s conference you so generously helped us publicize. Thank you! The editor panel could have been given in the 1990s, except that these editors would have been in grade school. Three very intelligent women, none over 40. Two work at Penguin and had what they would probably describe as refined tastes. One quit a PhD program to become an editor. Someone asked if they accepted unagented works: No. Self-published works: Absolutely not. One Penguin editor mentioned Book Country but she didn’t really know how it worked. NOBODY mentioned the Random House merger or Author Solutions. Definitely getting instructions from the pinstriped crew about what to say or not to say. Either that or they live in a bubble.

    Afterwards a writer said to me: “Why bother having editors at these conferences when all the attendees are unagented?” I know some are agented but it is a good point. The editors sat up there on the stage and proclaimed that they would like more Jonathan Franzen (or some author you never heard of). One editor of YA was more open to submissions, especially if kissing was involved in the story. :-) But you have to wonder of the entrenched nature of The Industry. I agree completely with Bob (above, who has come to Jackson Hole several times for the writer’s conference) that change is not happening and is unlikely to happen until Chapter 11 looms.

    Lise McClendon

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