Ether for Authors: The Author Solutions Lawsuit

In What's the Buzz by Porter Anderson

13 May 2013 iStock_000009523968XSmall photog naffarts TEXTED STORY IMAGE

Table of Contents

  1. A Time for Restraint
  2. Dis­rup­tion and Inno­va­tion, Bjar­na­son and Purcell
  3. DRM: Not About Piracy
  4. The Wages of Platforming
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: Keep Calm and Feed the Octopus

A Time for Restraint

Check-In coordinators and PSA’s are instructed not to correct errors in manuscripts, even the most glaring errors. While authors are given a chance to correct fifty of their own mistakes without a fee, this often does little to address errors, made either by the publisher or the author, in the final manuscript…Authors discover that new errors appear in the final version of their work.

13 May 2013 James Foster Terry v Penguin Author Solutions opening page

From the class action complaint filing, courtesy Victoria Strauss, Writer Beware

Those lines are from Points 28 and 29 in Kelvin James, Jodi Foster, and Terry Hardy v. Penguin Group (USA) Inc. and Author Solutions, the class-action complaint filed April 26 in the US District Court Southern District of New York. They are elements of an extensive array of allegations.

We’ll stop right here to say this: Those and every other point in the complaint are allegations. They are not proven in a court of law. They have not been litigated. They are allegations. You know this. I know this. Let’s all be especially careful to remember it.

In fact, I’ve waited for some days to Ether-ize the complaint filed against Author Solutions and its publisher-ownership, Pearson/Penguin. I wanted to be sure that I took the same deep breath I’d like to counsel everyone to take on this event. It has the potential to be pivotal. Indeed, as we’ll see, it already is being used to define some aspects of authors’ relations with established, major publishers—and with publishing-news media.  

It’s a very good time to keep all pitchforks pointed downward. Only the victories of cool-headed, straightforward, intelligent debate will count, finally, here as in so many things.

For the most part, the prominent voices addressing this case are doing a fine job of remaining measured, careful, thoughtful. I’m glad of this. Because regardless of the outcome of this court action, what arrives along with it is an airing of several important questions we all need to consider.

Most especially, they involve three major areas:

Author Solutions(1) We may well learn more here about how the traditional publishing industry sees, capitalizes on, and talks about this consortium of author-service offerings operated by Author Solutions—inclusive of how seriously that bloc takes the longstanding and earnestly held complaints about Author Solutions from authors. Publishers may find they cannot have it both ways: they may find they cannot on one hand proclaim their respect and support for the author corps and on the other hand dismiss as unimportant the vehement objections coming to them from those very writers about this entity.  

(2) Already coming to light is some dissatisfaction in how various publishing-news media report (or not) on Author Solutions, and how honestly they tend to reflect the opinions of the authorial community—writers whom some of our industry media would like to have as readers and subscribers.

Publishing-news media may find that they, too, cannot have it both ways: they may find they cannot on one hand claim to be eager to have the readership of entrepreneurial authors and on the other hand “disappear” the side of a news story that represents those author-readers’ interests.

And this could in turn occasion a deeper discussion about who is being served by such publishing-news media, and why.

(3) We also have a new chance to listen to that growingly powerful community of entrepreneurial authors, to test how those authors talk about Author Solutions and about other entities widely held by many writers to be working for or against their interests. Long ago, the vulgar, strident voices, the hotheads of self-publishing, were proved noisily ineffective as spokespeople for the authorial dynamic. Let’s listen now, and see how they sound today. We have, potentially, not just another day at anybody’s office.  

There are 162 points in this 33-page document. The complaint lodges seven counts, its charges including “breach of contract,” “unjust enrichment,” “untrue advertising,” “unlawful business acts and practices,” “fraudulent business acts and practices,” and “deceptive business practices,” all alleged to violate one or more provisions of California and New York business law.

Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss

The PDF you can read of the complaint—and I hope you’ll read it so you can watch and discuss the case knowledgeably—is provided by Victoria Strauss, who created and writes the highly regarded Writer Beware Blogs of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

And in her look at the complaint, Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Author Solutions Inc., Strauss notes:

In addition to asking the Court to approve class action status, the complaint requests release of publishing rights for the class, and payment by the plaintiffs of restitution, court costs, and compensatory damages in excess of $5 million.

Jane Litte

Jane Litte

Attorney Jane Litte, in a Thursday News column at, writes:

A class action suit has been filed against Author Solutions arguing that it “cheats writers of royalties” (a very serious charge) and provides substandard services (at best a breach of contract claim but my guess is that it isn’t actionable).

Litte refers to Adam Klasfeld’s article on the filing at Courthouse News Service.

Adam Klasfeld

Adam Klasfeld

His story, Self-Publishers Want Millions from Penguin, is also the first source Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch uses in writing her Authors with Complaints Sue Author Solutions.

Weinman does us the service of obtaining a comment from Author Solutions, which I give you in full here:

A spokesperson for Author Solutions said the companies “do not comment publicly on specific legal action. We will correct the false and misleading claims made about Author Solutions in the appropriate legal forum and establish the truth.” The company adds, “We are proud of the service we provide to authors, and the quality of that service is reflected in our A rating from the Better Business Bureau.”

Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman

Weinman is also the first I’ve seen to make the connection of who’s on the bench…

Interestingly, the assigned judge is Denise Cote, who continues to oversee the multitude of ebook price fixing lawsuits.

As an aside, since we’re writers here: Judge Cote’s name, by the way, is singular: Cote, not Cotes. Weinman did not get it wrong. I’m just seeing it pluralized in many other places.

This may be a particularly trying moment for Andrew Phillips, of course, whom Penguin has just installed (announced May 4) as the new CEO of Author Solutions, replacing Kevin Weiss.

Benedicte Page

Benedicte Page

In her article at TheBookseller—Penguin puts Phillips in to head Author Solutions—Benedicte Page does not mention the court filing.

But she reminds us that it was just last July when Pearson (Penguin’s parent) acquired Author Solutions.

I covered it, myself, in an Extra Ether: Publishing vs. Authors?

13 May 2013 Jane Friedman Author Solutions story artworkAnd my write was predicated by one from Writing on the Ether host Jane Friedman, Is the Author Solutions Acquisition a Good Thing for Authors?

We’ll hear shortly some new commentary from Friedman.

The Pearson move was aggressively questioned at the time in the author community. Many members of that community have long criticized Author Solutions’ representation of its services and its dealings with author-clients.

13 May 2013 Extra Ether from 20 July 2012 on Author Solutions artworkIn fact, in that July story last year I wrote:

  • I asked one specialist…someone I thoroughly enjoy and whose work I respect, “Have you spoken to any authors about the Pearson-AIS deal?” The answer: “No, not yet.”
  • I asked a highly placed Penguin Books manager in New York, another operative I admire and whose work I follow closely, “Do you know if anybody in acquisitions at Pearson or at Penguin asked any authors about Author Solutions before buying it? Did they speak with any writers?” The answer: “No, they did not.”

Not for nothing did I subtitle that Extra Ether piece, “The Great Divide Widens.” Because the advent of this new legal action could be significant in one of the biggest segments of author-funded publication, it’s worth reviewing the scope of the company’s  presence.

Mick Rooney

Mick Rooney

Mick Rooney, at his Independent Publishing Magazine, affiliated with the Alliance of Independent Authors, describes it this way in his piece, Class Action Complaint Against Penguin/Author Solutions- Part 1:

Author Solutions (ASI) is the parent company of self-publishing imprints AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Xlibris, Palibrio, and Booktango and also partners and powers a number of self-publishing imprints with traditional book publishers like Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing), Thomas Nelson (WestBow Press), Hay House (Balboa Press), Guideposts (Inspiring Voices) and Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press).  Author Solutions reports publishing 190,000 titles written by 150,000 authors in addition to operating the Author Learning Center, the stated purpose of which is to provide authors with online education resources, access to industry expertise and an online community to connect with other writers. It also offers a suite of “book-to-screen” services intended to provide authors with Hollywood access.

In other words, the reach is enormous.

Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart GSASThe emotionally charged context that surrounds Author Solutions comes into focus in the complaint’s language, as written by Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart, the law firm mounting the complaint on behalf of its three plaintiffs. It’s worth reading the entire thing.

Strauss reports that Giskan is looking for more authors who believe they have been “the victim(s) of deceptive practices” in dealings with Author Solutions, and offers such writers this online contact form.

And in the meantime, Rooney is joining self-publishing author and frequent community commentator David Gaughran in calling out publishing-industry media that routinely seem not to mention the difficult relationship between Author Solutions and the author corps. Rooney writes:

I’m noticing an increasing trend of our publishing media like Publishers Weekly, The Bookseller and Digital Book World to recite press releases as news, rather than analyse and present this news. Whether that is a result of driving agendas, placating advertising sponsors or sheer laziness, it’s no longer good enough. I’ve no problem with recommendations based on experience, or being sold a product or service outside the margins of the piece I am reading, but I don’t want to be sold something as part of what I am actually reading. Journalism, within the mainstream media or within the publishing industry’s source of media, it should never become simply a conduit for a PR representative at a company.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Gaughran has a more pointed bone to pick on this. In The Author Exploitation Business, he looks at announcement stories of Phillips’ move to the CEO position at Author Solutions, and writes:

The Publishers Weekly piece on Penguin’s aggressive expansion plans for Author Solutions makes no mention of the company being a universally reviled vanity press that has cheated 150,000 writers out of their savings.* This is something I’ve been noticing for a while, and Publishers Weekly isn’t alone. The pieces in The Bookseller, GalleyCat, and Digital Book World also make no mention of the widespread criticism that Author Solutions has attracted, nor do they mention that the company is currently the subject of a class action suit for their deceptive practices.

*A quick point: As much as I sincerely respect Gaughran and am interested in the point he’s making about media coverage, when he writes that Author Solutions “has cheated 150,000 writers out of their savings,” I feel compelled to point out that this is the kind of unsubstantiated assertion that sends news-media people diving off the fire escape. Unless 150,000 statements from writers claiming to have been swindled can be put onto the table, journalistic principle, what’s left of it, simply can’t roll that way. Even “universally reviled” could cause one to be asked to survey every single person in the known universe. Pack a lunch.  

And that’s part of the restraint we need on this. If we’re to have a truly useful conversation about Author Solutions, we all need to avoid hyperbole, which is easily dismissed as such.

Philip Jones

Philip Jones

When it goes well?—there’s a gratifying and spirited back-and-forth between Rooney, Gaughran, and The Bookseller’s articulate Editor, Philip Jones, in the comments on The Bookseller Andrew Phillips piece, on the topic of how that medium has handled the Author Solutions issue. (In the interest of disclosure, I have written an edition of my columns, London on the Ether, for The Bookseller.) Jones writes, in part:

My view is that we try not to censor or remove comments even if they are critical, however we are legally responsible for what is said on this site so comments need to be accurate and fair. We are a site aimed at publishing professionals, so I tend to see comments through that prism. Mick I do think it is silly to imagine that every time a press release recording an important move comes into the office we get in a huddle to work out how to report it without “upsetting the paymasters”. We have covered previously (both here and on FutureBook) the acquisition of AS by Penguin, and its potential for reputational damage given how some in the author community view the company. In fact it was the first question I asked John Makinson when he announced the purchase, and I wrote about it specifically here,, and addressed the whole issue of how traditional publishers should treat indie writers in a later post.

Publishing PerspectivesOf course, many newly empowered authors will tell you they’re “publishing professionals.” You may agree, you may disagree, and on a case-by-case basis. But if you’re running a publishing-news medium, you’re finding them among your readers and subscribers. For a good example of our host site, Publishing Perspectives, answering that author interest with our colleague’s Dennis Abrams’ Putting the Brand Before the Book Produces Profits.”

The exchange that occurs a bit later between Gaughran and Jones is also well worth your attention, not least because it  carries an extensive battery of informative links on the Author Solutions issue provided by Gaughran, for which Jones thanks him. What we’re seeing here is a new dialogue, and I like it: leadership figures in the self-publishing community are talking to some of the top publishing-news media about their coverage. To The Bookseller’s and Jones’ credit, the medium in question does engage in the debate, cordially and effectively.

To set aside the media question for now, and look at the publishers, themselves, return to  Gaughran’s larger post at his own site.

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Among almost 200 comments, you’ll find Jane Friedman—now with Virginia Quarterly Review and formerly with F+W Media’s Writer’s Digest—engaging in a thoughtful exchange with Gaughran. She nods to him in her first note, “Everyone on the traditional side is very silent indeed.” And then, when he asks her why, Friedman responds:

The NY publishing community is quite small; probably no one wants to publicly criticize people who are basically their friends and colleagues (or their future employer). I also believe this is being sold under the banner of innovation, and/or something that can help keep people in jobs. Probably no one can see any benefit to speaking out, but that assumes they see ASI as predatory, and I’m not sure everyone in the broader publishing community is 100% aware of ASI’s business practices or how they’re perceived by educated authors. Perhaps there’s a belief that it provides value or a needed service to certain types of authors. That was certainly the line being promulgated at F+W (not disingenuously), and it was hard to convince executives otherwise. “There’s a market to be served, so why don’t WE serve it?” Nevermind that “serving” that market in this scenario has very little to do with educating authors or providing real, long-lasting value.

ArchwayOne of the most baffling questions around Author Solutions, of course, is that once the Pearson/Penguin buy had triggered such fury among authors, Simon & Schuster nevertheless formed Archway, its self-publishing wing, with Author Solutions.

Excerpt of the upper right corner of the Simon & Shuster-owned Archway Publishing site,  indicating Author Solutions' operation.

Excerpt of the upper right corner of the Simon & Shuster-owned Archway Publishing site, indicating Author Solutions’ operation.

You can say one thing in Archway’s favor: Upper right hand corner of its homepage, “Operated by Author Solutions,” very easy to spot the connection. But Suw Charman-Anderson makes the S&S timing point well at Forbes in her Penguin and Author Solutions Sued for Deceptive Practices, writing:

It’s hard to believe that Penguin didn’t know that Author Solutions was seen as a den of scamsters before they acquired it — Emily Suess’s chronological catalogue of complaints goes back to August 2011, a year before Penguin’s acquisition. Simon & Schuster has even less of an excuse as they partnered with Author Solutions in November 2012, by which time AS were notorious in self-publishing circles.

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Here, then, is another reason spokespeople for parts of the self-publishing world may tend to run hyperbolic about Author Solutions: publishing executives may appear not to care for the completely earnest concern long expressed by good and sensible authors whom they (those publishers) are courting with such moves. Friedman, in her comments, gets at a market reality that may not be a happy thing for authors who oppose Author Solutions, but it’s real nonetheless:

I continue to be amazed that ASI can compete when so many better options exist for authors. (The inevitable confusion among beginning writers is a key problem, as you point out.) I do think, eventually, ASI will cease to exist, but publishing conglomerates are only too happy to milk what profits might be left as it declines.

Author Solutions does continue to draw customers to its many companies.

It’s interesting, since Bloomington mentioned it in the statement Sarah Weinman quoted, to look at the Author Solutions Better Business Bureau listing (BBB), where you find an “A” rating and a listing of 334 complaints, 112 in the past year, 58 categorized as “customer not satisfied with business response,” and no customer reviews.

Better Business BureauYou’d think that disgruntled authors, being writers, after all, would have besieged BBB with eloquent and scathing reviews, wouldn’t you? Not one is listed. Many authors, apparently, are not yet operating in the same space as business folks who point to these long-established Better Business ratings. And this is a symptom of the transitional difficulty the industry! the industry! is experiencing with a rising creative force at its door: its business people work in a sphere that cites BBB ratings, while its writers, many of whom may be its customers in these self-publishing outfits, don’t seem to have discovered such tools. Where, at BBB, are the 150,000 complaints to which the good Gaughran alludes?

One of the most vexing points mentioned in the court complaint, as a matter of fact, comes up in its Point 23, in which it refers to and  as sites “designed to resemble independent websites that help authors understand their publishing options. All of these sites lead to the same place: an Author Solutions imprint.”

Excerpt from the site, with the reference to Author Solutions at the bottom of the page: fine print.

Excerpt from the homepage, with the Author Solutions reference at the bottom.

I went to those two. In both cases, Author Solutions is cited at the very bottom (see my illustrations) and in a 3- or 4-point font. Tiny. And, of course, how many first-time authors—think of your grandparents getting ready to roll out their big memoirs—are going to find that ID at the bottom of a page, or know what it means if they do? But that same point in the complaint also lists as a third such Author Solutions-run site. That link isn’t valid at all. But if you take out the first s and go to, you reach?—, “book publishing specialists,” not Author Solutions-related and, I’m told, a company that’s been around for a long time. There, then, is what certainly appears to be a mistake in the complaint’s Point 23. Those who are enthusiastic about this lawsuit effort may find a qualm in that.

Excerpt from the homepage, with the Author Solutions reference at the bottom.

Excerpt from the homepage, with the Author Solutions reference at the bottom.

What’s more, Mick Rooney’s careful reading of the complaint might surprise those who think he’s an unquestioning soldier for all things authorial. In the second part of his postings, Class Action Complaint Against Penguin/Author Solutions – Part 2, he writes:

The plaintiffs’ allegations against the defendants reads to me more like a general test case than a specific case brought by one client. We should remember while reading and analysing the three claimants’ cases that Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart (GSAS from here on in) openly canvassed for other author clients to joint this case and make it a class action suit. My opinion…is that this suit specifically and purposely sets out to carve out a precedence for future suits against publishing service providers, with the added attraction that it includes a major traditional publishing house.

Rooney gives the complaint a good, hard look and comes up wishing there were “a lot more detail.” He goes on, “My early concern for the three plaintiffs is whether GSAS can provide the considerable evidence and testimony needed to prove many of the allegations.” He concludes:

While I think the cost of damages at $5,000,000 is excessive, Penguin may be ruing the real cost of $116 million when its parent Pearson took a punt on ASI as a way of moving into the author service sector and raise revenue. Many observers hoped that Pearson/Penguin would improve the practices at ASI and it might in the long term prove to be an asset. That was an opportunity missed a year ago and it might just be one of Andrew Philips’ biggest tasks over the coming months.

We don’t know where this effort in litigation may end up, of course. But if it simply opens up more dialogue about the actions of major publishers acquiring “author service” operations while newly surrounded by authorial scrutiny—and about the reportage that publishing-news media deliver into the teeth of that scrutiny—we may have made some hay worth those pitchforks. Back to Table of Contents

Dis­rup­tion and Inno­va­tion, Bjar­na­son and Purcell

Self-Ether-ization is at hand. How good. Our fine colleagues Baldur Bjarnason ( and Eoin Purcell ( have engaged in a keen debate, not only in posts but—at my inadvertant prompting—on Twitter.

Baldur Bjarnason

Baldur Bjarnason

Bjarnason wrote first, in Which kind of innovation? His central point: when it comes to what we think of as innovation, “ebooks have stalled.”

Instead of iterating on ebook formats and features based on customer adoption and needs, ebooks are leaping headlong into complexity. They are sustaining to the current order—a disruptive innovation hijacked, controlled, and directed by the incumbents. It could have been truly disruptive but is now instead a discontinuous sustaining innovation. So what makes people think ebooks are a disruptive innovation?

Interesting points, Bjarnason clearly has a viewpoint worthy of consideration, with a general conclusion that might be found in this line:

Ebooks are a sustaining technology that are being mismanaged into devaluing an entire industry…while the true disruptors get to work in peace. (In the long run, Google is the real winner here.)

Eoin Purcell

Eoin Purcell

But hang on, says Purcell. In On Innovation & Disruption, he acknowledges Bjarnason’s “great question’ and concedes “he supports it well”:

But I think he’s wrong in his assessment for a number of reasons. Firstly his premise is mistaken, ebooks are not the disruption, merely the manifestation of the disruption…and secondly even if we are to accept his categorization of ebooks as the disruption/sustaining innovation, he misses a key point about the nature of the trade publishing industry that undermines his argument.

Oh, but: In Why does it matter? Bjarnason returns, not ready to sit down, but conceding that “the most eloquent of…counterarguments (to his original post) was made by Eoin Purcell.”

And I do agree with him that booksellers are being disrupted by ebooks which in turn is making a hash out of many major publishers…That still doesn’t mean I was wrong in my earlier post. If you think that, then the fault is mine for not explaining myself properly.

In reductio-ad-Ether tradition, we jump right to his “parting blow,” but I hope you’ll set aside these three posts for a full reading, you’ll enjoy them, including Bjarnason’s late observation:

Booksellers were blindsided by online retail because online retail is one of the canonical examples of a disruptive innovation. It has all of the characteristics of its species. That’s what disruptive innovations look like. But the industry should have been able to deal better with ebooks, and it’s my belief that booksellers would have if they hadn’t been weakened by online retail. That still doesn’t answer the question why publishers (that is, not booksellers or authors) haven’t managed deal well with the arrival of ebooks.

And the “parting blow”: While I don’t think ebooks are a disruptive innovation, I do think the web and apps are potential disruptive innovations for the media industries. Hence my Google remark in my earlier post.  Back to Table of Contents

DRM: Not About Piracy

Determined pirates will defeat any DRM, or simply scan/OCR a print book, and consumers determined to partake in piracy will readily find pirate sources.

What DRM is really intended to do, although publishers hate to admit it, is reduce “over-sharing.” Any of us can easily copy DVDs but even (the) world’s weakest DRM means that (software) that does so is illegal in many jurisdictions so if we install and use such (software) from shady sources we know we are doing something “wrong” and are arguably less likely to share a DVD with our 10 best friends via copying than to share an unprotected song. Ditto hacking our eBook DRM.   …But publishers hate to admit that DRM is really about limiting over-sharing because that highlights the reduced bundle of rights that they grant with digital sales, and there are lots of gray areas where consumers and publishers might not agree on what precisely is “over-” sharing.

Bill McCoy

Bill McCoy

That’s Bill McCoy of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF, and its one-and-a-half-day Digital Book 2013 Conference is May 29 and 30). I asked McCoy for his permission to use some of his comments from a private email chain which, as I write this, has gone to 59 entries.

There’s a potential, needed pivot in how the debate is framed, and it’s the main point of what McCoy is saying.

What got things rolling was David Pogue’s column at the Times, The E-Book Piracy Debate, Revisited (and revisited, and revisited, and revisited), in which he noted the Tor commentary on its first year of sales without DRM. (We carried a segment about this on the Ether here, “No Discernible Increase in Piracy.”

As Pogue wrote:

The thing is, the Tor experiment isn’t a perfect stand-in for other publishers. Its results don’t constitute solid, transferable proof of much of anything.

David Pogue

David Pogue

As the McCoy follow-up and its long discussion develops and subsides, the reason that Tor’s experiment may not tell us “much of anything”—aside from what Pogue writes—comes down to this, and I’m paraphrasing, mind you: DRM among professional publishing people isn’t really about piracy; it’s about readers.

It’s about “casual sharing,” one of the business’ terms for what customers do, what readers do (as so music lovers, film lovers, etc.). The old “Don’t buy it, I’ll lend you mine” kind of sharing.

The distinction is important in understanding the value the traditional industry sees in DRM.

Think “piracy” with a lowercase “p.” Not the big marauding Pirates of grand cyberspace, but you-and-me “pirates” (not that an Ethernaut would ever touch a pixel that wasn’t his or hers, of course). 

DRM is only a deterrent to customers sharing unpaid-for copies of things with other would-be customers. And it’s probably not so comfortable for publishers to say this too clearly, as in: “Dear readers, it’s really you we don’t trust, so we’re DRM-ing the stuff you buy from us.”

Ursula Mackenzie

Ursula Mackenzie

At one point in the debate, The Bookseller’s Philip Jones reminds us of this useful, published quote from Little, Brown’s CEO Ursula Mackenzie in Hachette UK: DRM ‘working very well’

We are fully aware that DRM does not inhibit determined pirates or even those who are sufficiently sophisticated to download DRM removal software. The central point is that we are in favour of DRM because it inhibits file-sharing between the mainstream readers who are so valuable to us and our authors.

McCoy says he feels that the clarity with which Mackenzie addresses the point in that statement is rare among pro-DRM folks, and I fear he’s right. It’s easier to say you want to stop “pirates”—and let those parrot-shouldered knife-eaters go swashbuckling through laymen’s minds—than to say, “We really want to deter our everyday customers.”

As McCoy tells the group: 

It’s not just the anti-DRM side that’s confusing things. It seems clear that many pro-DRM folks would much rather associate DRM with “anti-piracy” (which sounds principled) than with “anti-sharing”, even if they have realized that DRM at best only curtails casual sharing. 

By near the (probable) end of this email exchange, I see one participant asking if a British member’s reference to “DRM ‘on the can'” means “DRM on the toilet.” So surely the conversation is winding down.

But this is a good clarification in the ever-churning DRM quandary.

Back to Table of Contents

The Wages of Platforming

Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers

Two new commentaries on what the business side of a contemporary author’s career can do to the creative side. We are in what I think can be termed a period of pushback against the initial rush to platform.

The wisdom of having a way to present yourself to your readership and communicate with your following doesn’t have to come into question for us to concede as professionals that the toll of marketing rigors on creative work can be very high.

You read this, for example, in author Robin LaFevers at Writer Unboxed.

In Clawing Our Way Back to the Creative Center, she renders a deeply felt explication of what authors may go through in a wonderfully successful moment—not in a bad moment—of platforming.

LaFevers has been on a two-week book tour (imagine that), while also teaching, hitting a New York Times best-seller list and being nominated for an award.


While my work IS about connecting with readers—it’s about connecting through my fiction first. If I don’t write anything, I will have little to connect with them about since most of them don’t follow me simply to hear me share silly anecdotes about daily life. All this connectivity can end up sucking all the creative oxygen out of my brain and starving my muse. Or distracting her. Or focus on external metrics that don’t feed her. The truth is, when I’m connecting with the real world in big chunks, I find it much, much harder to connect with my work. I need to disconnect with one in order to be present in the other. It’s like I only came equipped with a one way flow valve.

Donald Maass

Donald Maass

Another Writer Unboxed regular, the agent and workshop instructor Donald Maass is in the comments on LaFevers’ post, with some helpful clues for where the platform-weary writer can look. (He writes these questions pretty much as he might say them, pacing back and forth at the front of a workshop classroom, I’ve seen him do this:)

Whom do you most want to write about right now? What do you like the best about that person? What’s the biggest thing that person does, or that happens to him or her? Why is it a special problem for that person, an entirely different experience than for anyone else? What’s the scene or story moment you can’t wait to create? What’s the most fun, or the most frightening (to you), in this world? What experience  will bring this character the most joy–and the most pain? What in this story world makes you the most angry?

Roz Morris

Roz Morris

And London-based author Roz Morris, just out with a second Nail Your Novel guide for authors, is facing the same hurdle in Only connect: how to wake a dormant muse:

This is what going to press – and e-press – does to your mind. These last weeks have been an orgy of pedantry. Crossing ts and eyes, making an index, hyperlinking cross-references, obeying format rules for the kingdoms of Smashwords, Kobo and Kindle, typesetting the print version, reading onscreen proofs, tweaking bloopers and doing it all again. Oh and I updated the typography in the original NYN too, so that was an extra dose of proofing. Now, my muse is on strike. I need to win it ’round.

Few will say that platforming is wrong. Most of us agree it’s mandatory. Many realize, however, that its demands can damage core-creative time and energies (even when you take care to let your creativity inform your platforming activities). And it’s not likely, in my opinion, that many of the platform-for-your-life! instructors are going to be the ones to help authors learn to re-engage with their creative drives after major sprints in marketing.  Back to Table of Contents


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.

Reaching Readers confabMay 28 New York City: Reaching Readers: Book Marketing Conference 2013 is a production of our Ether-eal host here, Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurt Academy. An early-bird rate of $365 runs to April 15. After that, regular price is $415 for the day that features expert commentary from folks including Ketchum’s Nancy Martira, Scholastic’s Morgan Baden, Wiley’s Jeanenne Ray, Edelman’s Steve Rubel, and many more.

May 29-30 New York City IDPF Digital Book Conference at BookExpo America (BEA): “IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) Digital Book 2013 at BEA is a two-day conference focused on all the key issues we face in advancing publishing in an increasingly digital world.  In-depth sessions will analyze key opportunities and pitfalls, highlighting compelling business strategies and actionable solutions.”

May 29 New York City: Publishers Launch BEA is May’s installment of the series of daylong conferences programmed by Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical and Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch. Speakers on tap so far include agent Brian DeFiore, Enders Analysis’ Benedict Evans, Trident Media’s Robert Gottlieb, Aerbook’s Ron Martinez, consultant Peter McCarthy, Hachette’s Ken Michaels, and more.

BEA Bloggers ConferenceMay 29 New York City BEA Bloggers Conference at BookExpo America (BEA): “Attend BEA Bloggers Conference to learn, be inspired, and connect with book bloggers, authors, and publishing industry professionals. You will benefit from a jam-packed day of education, extreme networking, and the passion and fun that surrounds book blogging. Session topics include: blogging in today’s world, critical reviews, making money with your blog, creating community, and how publishers and bloggers work together.”

BEA 2013 againMay 29-June 1 New York City BookExpo America (BEA): “BEA continues to evolve each year by adding new and exciting features to keep pace with the industry and in direct response to customer feedback to ensure you get the best return on investment by participating in North America’s premier publishing event.”

uPublishUJune 1 New York City uPublishU at BEA: “Are you ready to take the leap and transform your manuscript to a published book and/or ebook? Aspiring writers and authors will learn from industry experts tips and tactics and all about the tools and technology to help them self-publish a print book or an ebook.”

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.

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Last Gas: Keep Calm and Feed the Octopus

The massive renovation-site artwork for Foyles in Charing Cross is by artist Rebecca Hendin.

The massive renovation-site artwork for Foyles in Charing Cross is by artist Rebecca Hendin.

The intrepid Miriam Robinson at Foyles in London—deeply into its bookshop of the future safari—has been kind enough to supply me with a copy to show you of the not-at-all-busy creation of artist Rebecca Hendin for the construction period of the new store in Charing Cross Road.

From the Underground arrival at the new Foyles with jellyfish and trumpets to something Camille Saint-Saens might have recognized as a carnival of many animals, the vision, may just belong under the delightful classification “weird”—as we say about H.P. Lovecraft, not about your strange neighbors.

Robinson and I have agreed that, of course, the blue octopus over entrance is the crowning achievement here, and I’m left wishing only that one of her extraordinary shoes was on each of those eight, no nine, arms.

That’s what I get for counting the arms on this, um, nanoctopus. Somebody call Hendin.

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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 Mondays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read Thursdays at and he is a regular contributor to His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at

Main image –  iStockphoto: NaffArts

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.