Ether for Authors: Can Turning Publishing Into a Competition Pay?

In Discussion by Porter Anderson

Rizzoli Lab You Crime artwork starter texted story image 2

Table of Contents

  1. RCS Libri: Can Turning Publishing Into a Competition Pay?
  2. “How To Publish in Germany”
  3. Traditional Contracts Without Print?
  4. Craft: When It’s Time To Give Up
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: How Does Transparency Look?

RCS Libri: Can Turning Publishing Into a Competition Pay?

The future cannot be predicted but it can be invented.

Marcello Vena

Marcello Vena

That’s Marcello Vena, who directs RCS Libri’s digital effort, describing to me what he terms “co-publishing,” a hybrid’s hybrid that’s getting a lot of attention in the run-up to The FutureBook Conference in London.

“You Crime has by far exceeded our expectations,” he said when I reached out to him this weekend. “Four ebooks out of four in our top 50—out of 4,000+ ebooks—is an incredible result. And in their category they have been competing head-to-head, during the summer, with the global blockbusters of 2013.”

This is a story about a clever way of bringing established, big-selling authors together with emerging writers, and about choosing those emerging writers not only for their literary chops but also for just how digitally savvy they might be in the marketing department.

Rizzoli Lab logoAs Vena has written in a FutureBook blog post, Co-Publishing: The Third Way between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing?:

Authors are expected to self-promote and self-sell their own books on the usual e-retail channels, as if they were self-publishing.

You Crime collection Rizzoli Lab Paolo RoversiTrue, not every author is going to love that key element of this unique project, which was active in the Italian market between July and September: the twelve writers who stood to benefit the most from it were chosen in no small part for their likely ability to generate social-media heft. But even writers who feel pressured to platform might want to have a look at this unusual approach. The payoff might be worth it.

Briefly, a dozen emerging noir writers were matched with four well-known Italian authors in the genre—Paolo Roversi (the author, not the fashion photographer); Sandrone Dazieri; Simone Sarasso; and Enrico Paniani.

Each of these four major-selling authors contributed a previously unpublished story. And each of those four stories was published seperately with stories from three of the newer, lesser known writers.

Four You Crime Lead Authors

The bestselling noir authors leading the Rizzoli Lab You Crime books are, from upper left clockwise: Enrico Pandiani, Paolo Roversi, Sandrone Dazieri, and Simone Sarasso.

So there were four books of four stories each published in the Rizzoli Lab “You Crime” series debut project for 2013. Like chicks following a mother duck, the lesser known authors moved into the marketplace on the strength of the established authors’ good names.

As readers went through the four volumes, they were invited to vote online for their favorites of the twelve newly introduced authors.

And, Vena notes, the books are all DRM-free.

“Rizzoli Lab is about maximizing reach and visibility in friction less fashion,” he said to me. “DRM doesn’t help anybody if we want to launch new authors and attract as many readers as possible.”

He and his associates have published a free ebook as well, capturing explaining the competition and how it was put together. The Best of You Crime 2013 (in Italian, as are the four volumes) includes everything but the stories, which are, of course, for sale.

Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin

Consultant and Digital Book World 2014 Conference chair Mike Shatzkin has written up the initiative in Now here is an experiment that looks like it worked and is worthy of replication. He zeroes in on the digital dexterity required of the 12 emerging authors whom Vena and his associates selected for the pilot program:

The twelve fledgling authors were charged with driving traffic, awareness, and sales of the book their work appeared in. Meanwhile, RCS Libri worked with the powerful national newspaper in their corporate family, Corriere della Sera, to promote the You Crime series generically and run its web site.

In other words, Vena’s Rizzoli Lab imprint for RCS Libri provided a “bed” of marketing and publicity for the overall series, keyed on the known authors’ prominence and umbrella-ed under the “You Crime” branding moniker. The new authors agreed to push their own stories, vying for votes. (To some English-speakers’ ears, the “you-something” formulation is unusual, but it’s not an uncommon bit of phrasing. When I lived and worked in Copenhagen, my cable television and Internet service provider was a company called YouSee.)

You Crime collection Rizzoli Lab Enrico PandianiThe “emerging dozen,” if you will, those new writers in the You Crime project, were set loose trying to outdo each other for their capacity to gather community support. Shatzkin:

In addition to judging the writing quality of submissions [for the 12 emerging-author slots]…they [RCS Libri/Rizzoli Lab] tried to evaluate the authors’ attitude toward digital and their past experience with self-publishing. They refer to what they did as “digital editorial selection.” Since RCS Libri is investing in the entire initiative (and marketing of the series, but not author marketing) they wanted to be sure they had good content to offer to the readers and strong marketing efforts to let them know it was there. Of course, their editors knew how to judge quality content. What was new was the evaluation of the fledgling authors’ digital marketing potential.

You Crime is a case in which a publisher seems to have demonstrated just how valuable the digital reach of some good platforming could be to the authors involved.

You Crime collection Rizzoli Lab Simone SarassoAs Shatzkin reports:

As it turned out, all four books in the You Crime series sold quite well…RCS Libri promoted the series as a competition, like X-Factor. The fledgling authors were expected to add their title-promotion efforts to the series branding done by Rizzoli and Corriere della Sera. And now at least some of those writers will have their own full-length novels published by Rizzoli, having been introduced to the reading public through this vehicle.

Vena, himself, has been chosen as one of seven “Big Idea” speakers in a session of London’s November 21 FutureBook Conference, a session to be chaired by Faber’s Stephen Page.

In his blog post, Vena refers to the effect of You Crime as “a talent show,” the emerging noir authors competing “to become an official Rizzoli First author in 2014″—worthy stakes for a new author, whose career in the Italian marketplace can be made through such exposure.

The lucky new author? Gabriele Santoni, a journalist and flight attendant, has been announced in Milan to be the winner of the competition. Santoni’s story, “Die Twice,” was published in the You Crime volume led by Pandiani’s “Karima.”

A report of the win in Corriere della Sera notes that “Die Twice” captures not only the spirit of the You Crime collection of work but that the author’s “capacity for self-promotion, communication, and collaboration among the [other] writers in the race.”

An awards ceremony for the top three You Crime authors was held in Milan. From left: Igor De Amicis (2nd place), Christina Anagnos (3rd place), Gabriele Santoni (winner), Marcello Vena of Rizzoli, the evening’s moderator Luca Mastrantonio, and Rizzoli’s Chief Editor Michele Rossi.

Here, then, is something new. As Shatzkin puts it:

Italy’s RCS Libri has come up with a really imaginative use of no-inventory publishing — also in a genre — as a way to test not only the appeal of a new author’s work but also the ability of fledgling authors to promote it.

You Crime collection Rizzoli Lab Sandrone DazieriVena’s interest is in the “co-publishing” element of the project, the emerging writers functioning as partners to the publisher in commercial digital marketing as well as providers of the texts.

The wider message, however, for many will lie in the precise nature of the partnership RCS Libri’s Vena established as the gold standard for the authors: digital outreach.

Vena is hinting that RCS Libri is gearing up for more in 2014, telling me, “We have already started working with the winner, Gabriele Santoni, with a preliminary target of a release in the first half 2014. While we don’t generally communicate our plans ahead of time, in this case one shouldn’t be surprised to see You Crime again in 2014 and perhaps some other initiative towards other genres, authors and readers.”

And he captures the sense of the leap of faith needed for a company like RCS Libri and its Rizzoli division in an effort like this:

Everyone knows that something is impossible to achieve until you get a naive that does not know it and invents it… So far in Italy we have been “naive” (or open minded if you like better) enough to give it a try.

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“How To Publish in Germany”

Matthias Matting

Matthias Matting

An interesting initiative from Munich-based journalist author and journalist Matthias Matting is the subject of an audio interview with London’s Joanna Penn. He has produced an ebook in English, How To Publish in Germany, expressly for entrepreneurial authors interested in tapping into that country’s market. Matting tells Penn:

Actually, Germany has a pretty solid book market…We have 80 million Germans compared to more than 300 million [citizens] in the US, but the book market in Germany is at 40 percent of the US book market. There’s a substantial part of this market that’s already in the ebook area.

Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn

More than 3 million e-readers are in play in Germany now, Matting says, along with many more tablets (some 5 or 6 million, he says). By many assessments heard last month at Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany is expected to be the next digital-breakout nation in Europe. Matting, author of The New Biography of the Universe and other books, tells Penn:

If you look at ebook markets, we [in Germany] are already third, just behind the US and UK. Amazon is very good at convincing people that e-reading is a good thing…improving the acceptance of e-reading.

This is a good discussion, in which Penn and Matting talk about finding and evaluating translation services. Penn notes that a translation on an average size book (say, 80,000) might run between $3,000 and $5,000. Matting says common pricing should come in at between four and eight cents per word.

How to Publish in Germany by Matthias Matting @MMatting (active cover)More discussion on Penn’s podcast involves the market penetration of Amazon (Matting puts it at 60 percent), some device presence for Kobo, and and the presence of the German e-reader, the Tolino Shine. Publishing Perspectives Editor in Chief Edward Nawotka wrote up the launch in march of the Shine in German Powerhouses Launch Tolino Ebook Platform to Take On Amazon.

Matting points out that the Tolino platform isn’t yet open to direct self-publishing. An author must go through distributors to get ebooks into the Tolino store at present.

There’s more highly practical information on this market in this 50-minute recording, including, for example, a German translator’s report that ebook promotional offers in Germany are running more frequently at 99 cents than free (a trend that reflects some of what we see in the States.)

Matting also reports that German-based print-on-demand services (POD) tend to run as much as 20 percent higher in cost than Amazon’s CreateSpace. The downside there, he says, is that “no German local bookseller will order a book from Amazon,” meaning, he says, that he’s selling about one print copy for every 10 ebook copies at the moment.

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Traditional Contracts Without Print?

A handful of agents, all of whom spoke to PW on the condition of anonymity, said they’re worried that contracts from print-first imprints will increasingly come with clauses indicating that the publisher makes no guarantee on format. The agents say this is a new twist to the standard way of doing business.

Rachel Deahl

Rachel Deahl

Publishers Weekly’s Rachel Deahl and Jim Milliot’s report Agents’ worries mount over contracts that don’t guarantee print editions carries its own autumnal chill. Where once a traditional contract meant print above all, now the shifting balance of digital books to print—and sales revenue with it—may mean publishers want to hedge their bets.

A story like this is hard to report because contracts are negotiated on a case-by-case basis and held in strict confidentiality.

But there’s enough concern that, as Deahl and Milliot write, “The agents speaking out [on condition of anonymity] said they feared that if vague language about format begins to crop up on a regular basis, they will need to start advocating for a format they were universally guaranteed in the past.”

Jim Milliot

Jim Milliot

If anything, Deahl and Milliot point out:

Agents and other insiders who spoke to PW said they were not necessarily surprised by the move, given the current marketplace. There is growing pressure on publishers to release books quickly, and to do so in the formats that will bring in the most revenue.

It’s worth understanding that agents looking at this situation have a directly vested interest in its implications. Deahl and Milliot write:

Agents fear the change would mean less money for them, and their clients. Contracts that are vague on format give publishers the wiggle room to opt out of costlier-to-produce print books, which generally have higher price points than e-books and, in turn, bring authors higher royalties. One agent said a move like this would be terrible for retail booksellers and added that it would “further erode the revenue streams for authors.” Another said the big concern is that “e-books will become the dumping ground for books that publishers are losing excitement for.” This agent added: “To us, this is a very slippery slope, considering the fickle nature of the business.”

Publishers Weekly PWAgent Richard Curtis is quoted in the story noting that major publishing houses could be risking “the most prominent aspect of their identity and their reason for being.” And as Deahl and Milliot write:

Because so many book deals are made well in advance of the titles’ release dates, publishers have always had to gauge the future relevancy of topics and authors. Now publishers also have to attempt to anticipate the future bricks-and-mortar landscape when signing contracts. As some insiders explained, it’s a very different situation when the question goes from, “How many copies will Barnes & Noble take?” to “Will Barnes & Noble be around?”

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Craft: When It’s Time To Give Up

Giving up on a story is kind of like giving up on a relationship. It hurts, it can make you feel like a failure, and it can leave the near future seeming like a pretty blank place. It seems like it’s an entirely negative experience. The only good thing about it is the sudden lack of all the bad things the experience was putting you through.

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland

As regular readers know, the Ether rarely highlights craft-of-writing articles, mainly because they’re so plentiful in the blogosphere and because—no one’s fault—there’s so much replication. The occasional unusual instructional piece is almost one of those things you can’t imagine until one goes bombing by on your Twitter stream and you realize you’ve seen something out of the ordinary.

Editor and author K.M. Weiland’s piece, Three Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story, is just that. The author, most recently of Structuring Your Novel, can be trusted to know a thing or two about what she’s looking at when a book is going pear-shaped.

And, of course, the general tone of writerly instruction online is foamingly upbeat, inspirational, motivational, get-back-into-that-chair-and-do-it-baby…you know the drill. I call a lot of it the “Lena Horne Idiom” because it reads very close to the late singer’s hit lyric, “You have to belieeeeeeeeve in yourself.”

Structuring Your Novel by @KMWeilandI’m glad to see Weiland doing the largely unthinkable and discussing a case of her own in which an attempted novel simply wasn’t coming together despite the fact that the completion of the first draft went all the way back to October 2011.

After the last rewrite, I realized something: although there is so much that is right about this story, its plot problems are so deeply entrenched that, in order to fix them, I would have to completely change the story. Rewrites I can always handle. But when a story gets so far away from you that it no longer resembles your true vision for it, you have to stop and reevaluate what you’re doing.

So, in this situation (in which no one wants to find him- or herself), Weiland took the time to seriously assess what to do.

With a lot of thought and prayer and deep regret (but also a surprising amount of relief), I’ve made the decision not to proceed with the book. It won’t be published (although I may end up offering a free version on my website for those über-devoted readers who still want to read it).

Weiland classifies the warning signs into three telltale signals: (1) You’re losing focus (2) You lack passion for the project (3) Your gut says stop It’s a useful, forthright piece that may help writers whose best efforts may be going into the wrong initiative. As Weiland writes:

And here’s the best thing about these often sad experiences. They really aren’t failures. They’re just stepping stones.

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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. As a service, I also list any discount codes that might be of use to readers.

Get Read conferenceNovember 13-14, Online: Get Read – Marketing Strategies for Writers: Dan Blank’s We Grow Media presents this two-day Internet conference for authors, “focused on helping you ensure your books get read.” Speakers are to include Rachelle Gardner, Kristen McLean, Eve Bridburg, Roz Morris, James Scott Bell, Bethanne Patrick, Kate Rados, Rebecca Schinsky, Jeffrey Yamaguchi, Joanna Penn, Ashleigh GardnerJason Ashlock, Claire Cook, Elizabeth S. Craig, Jane Friedman, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Ami Greko, Rachel Fershleiser, Richard Nash, MJ Rose, Therese Walsh, Chuck Wendig, and more. (Hashtag: #GetRead) Use code “porter” to save on registration.

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. Announced speakers include Brad Stone, Charlie Redmayne, Ziyad Marar, Dale Peters, Charlie Campbell, Patrick Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Frank Chambers, Joanna Penn, Richard NashMatthew Cashmore and Stephen Page. (Hashtag: #fbook13) ** See our story at Publishing Perspectives on the shortlisted FutureBook Innovation Awards candidates Now open for bookings.

DBW Conference 2014January 13-15, 2014, New York City: Digital Book World Conference & Expo: “Digital Book World’s sessions strive to offer you the most practical, relevant and actionable programming on everything from eBook publishing and internet marketing to digital solutions for selling and marketing your books. While we’re still building the final program, registration is officially open.” Speakers include Brad StoneTim O’Reilly, Simon Lipskar, Peter McCarthyDominique RaccahMike Shatzkin, and more. (Hashtag: #DBW14)  Best prices end November 8.

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.”

Yale Publishing CourseJuly 13-18, 2014: New Haven: Leadership Strategies in Magazine and Digital Media: “The Yale Publishing Course [YPC] 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. YPC tackles the most important issues facing publishers in this time of ever-accelerating change….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.

Yale Publishing CourseJuly 20-25, 2014: New Haven: Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing: “Yale Publishing Course [YPC] tackles the most important issues facing publishers in this time of ever-accelerating change. The curriculum concentrates on: best practices in business and management; understanding and utilizing the latest advances in technology; implementing innovative strategies for discoverability, audience development, and brand extension; ways to increase revenue in a global economy in which print and digital publishing co-exist profitably; managing organizational change and finding new sources of revenue. Speakers confirmed include Craig ModMarcus LeaverKirsty MelvilleLiisa McCloy-Kelley, and Carolyn Pittis.

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Last Gas: How Does Transparency Look?

Promises of transparency are so fashionably common these days that they land with the featherweight impact of such phrases as “synergy” and “brutal murder” (as if there were any other kind—have you ever heard a news anchor read a bulletin about a “gentle murder?”).

ScratchBut I felt it was worth briefly revisiting the newly launched Scratch, an online magazine from Jane Friedman and Manjula Martin, just long enough to show you transparency. Our original mention of it is here.

Can one “see” transparency? Let me spare you that headache and just point you toward Friedman’s How Much Money We Made in Our First Week — not an article I can recall seeing in anything from the Time-Life or Conde Nast families of periodicals.


The grand total we’ve earned since launch:

  • $2,545 gross revenue
  • $1,913.68 net revenue, or what Manjula and I are able to put against our start-up expenses

Where this revenue came from:

  • 110 Scratch subscriptions to our app and website ($15/year) = $1,650
  • 25 Scratch subscriptions to our PDF/EPUB version ($15/year) = $375
  • $520 in donations

Along with some commentary and a handy chart, Friedman quickly goes over how things have gone and how the response stacks up against initial costs. At the least it’s educational. And compared to the wall of silence usually maintained about a financial issues in publishing, it’s remarkable. Scratch Mag week 1 If nothing else, this makes it clear (transparent) that although the early response to this magazine about money and the writing business looks robust, Friedman and Martin are probably not ready to abscond to Acapulco with the funds just yet.

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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, and he is a regular contributor to His London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at Find him at Google+

Main image – RCS Libri’s Rizzoli Lab, Marcello Vena

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International,, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.