WRITING ON THE ETHER EXCLUSIVE: ‘Rogue’ Authors on a New Route

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Table of Contents

  1. An Author’s 3rd Option: The Rogue Reader / Ashlock
  2. Brightline: Royal Rogues / Missingham, Carr, Shatzkin, Weinman, Owen
  3. Agency Pricing in Europe? No. / Cader
  4. Kindle Serials: The Nittiest of Gritty / Owen
  5. Free on Amazon: Giving It Away / Vinjamuri
  6. Amazon in the UK: Worries About Waterstones / Purcell
  7. Libraries: Another Crisis / Brantley, Weinman
  8. Craft: Legit Big Reviewers on Amazon / Grant
  9. Craft: Balzac, Our Barista / Bell, Coyne
  10. Craft: Bad Habits of Good Writers (Beyond Coffee) / Stevens
  11. Conferences: DBW’s Discoverability & Marketing
  12. Books: Reading on the Ether
  13. Last Gas: Don’t Get Beamed / Dawson

An Author’s 3rd Option: The Rogue Reader / Ashlock

What if we could make non-traditional publishing a less solitary, less exhausting, less perilous walk down the dark alley of DIY?

Today I have something new for your consideration.

Ethernauts can be among the very first to look over The Rogue Reader — a new development in “outsider suspense fiction.” It’s in soft-launch today, not yet at full power. The Champagne doesn’t hit the bow until early October, when The Rogue Reader is formally launched at the Bouchercon Mystery Convention in Cleveland.

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Jason Allen Ashlock

Before you click over to TheRogueReader.com, I hope you’ll read through this introduction. It should be worth your time to get a fix on what’s being attempted and why I think it’s worth your serious attention.

You’re familiar, I’m sure, with Jason Allen Ashlock, literary agent and president of Movable Type Management (MT Management) in New York.

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Adam Chromy

Ashlock shares MTM leadership with his fellow agent, Adam Chromy, chief of the agency’s media operations. The merger of what was Ashlock’s Movable Type agency and Chromy’s Artists and Artisans made Chromy president of Movable Type Media (MT Media).

Ashlock and Chromy are sure to be watched particularly closely by their peers in the hard-pressed community of literary agents on this new initiative they’re opening.

In our interview, Ashlock lays the groundwork this way:

Authors at our moment in publishing have two choices.

They either give away their rights and their royalties to a large multinational conglomerate, in exchange for editorial, design, marketing, publicity, all basically theoretical.

Or you go it entirely alone with a big tech company like Amazon or B&N or many others — in which case you get none of that support, none of that support, curation, design, marketing and publicity, but you get to keep your rights and your royalties. What we’re proposing is that that those are two really bad options for most authors.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeAs we’ve come to call authors “hybrids” when they publish both traditionally and independently, Ashlock and Chromy’s Rogue Reader approach may be seen as a hybrid venue, a base of operation from which authors can move their work.

Ashlock:

What we’re saying at The Rogue Reader is that this is your third option. You get the benefit and flexibility and independence of self-publishing, in that you keep your rights and way more of your royalties. But you also get all the virtues of traditional publishing — quality editorial, quality design, the sense of being curated and chosen, capital-infused marketing and publicity — all as part of a community.

Let me bullet out for you some points quickly.

  • Six authors have been chosen to participate.
  • The launch in the first week of October will focus on two authors, each of which in turn will be The Rogue Reader’s author of the month.
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Ro Cuzon

First up as October’s author of focus at The Rogue Reader is the French-born, Tremé-based (New Orleans) writer Ro Cuzon.

Cuzon will be represented by two titles coming out under the Rogue Reader aegis — Under the Dixie Moon, set in New Orleans, and Under the Carib Sun, set on St. Barts.

“We have this incredible crime writer,” says Ashlock, “beloved in the crime fiction community. The publishers we took him to wanted to publish him, but their situations didn’t result in anything. But we are confident in Ro. He’s writing at a very high level. Our conversations with him were, ‘Let us get you out into the world.”

Following Cuzon as “rogue of the month” in November will be  Cleveland-based author Michael Hogan, who has previously published with Macmillan’s Thomas Dunne and Random House.

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Michael Hogan

Hogan’s two upcoming titles with The Rogue Reader are Dog Hills and Sistine.

“This is a writer,” Ashlock says, “whose prose resonates in a literary register, he’s a lyrical craftsman. His new works are ambitious in scope. As with Ro, we feel we need to get this out into the world — and now we have the mechanism to do that.”

Here’s an important point Ashlock stresses in describing The Rogue Reader:

Our goal is not to scale this program. We don’t want to do 20 authors a month or 150 authors a year. In a noisy, cluttered marketplace, really good selection and putting money behind those authors we’ve selected is the way to do this.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeHis and Chromy’s  program, in fact, is designed to welcome readers who’d like to drill down for more information on its authors and their work.

  • One author each month;
  • one piece of “immersive content” each week.

That immersive content, Ashlock says, can be a long-form article in the genre, an author interview, a review, an essay, a video, something that informs and deepens a reader’s familiarity with the material and the authors.

  • Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeThe simplicity and regularity of the plan is intentional. Ashlock refers often in conversation about The Rogue Reader to a “precision” he’s going for, in everything from initial curation to the building of a community and brand.
  • And when Ashlock says “putting money behind those authors” and “capital-infused marketing,” he means that MTM, itself, is investing in the program, so there’s money behind the push for each author’s focus.

As for the publicity itself, this is what Ashlock calls “doing our jobs” for these authors:

For example, Under the Dixie Moon is a Barnes and Noble Nook Pick for October. There will be dedicated email blasts, exposure on the Nook homepage. B&N is interested in pulling people to its self-publishing platform.

Authors then get 70 percent of net revenue — “net” being after MTM’s expenses. Another way to say it, Ashlock says, is that authors get some 50 percent of list price (and on Kobo, he says, something closer to 60 percent).

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeThe Rogue Reader’s books are all-digital, not print.

  • The books are DRM-free.
  • They are platform-agnostic.
  • These authors, in fact, are self-publishers, but the program utilizes Hugh McGuire’s Pressbooks system. Ashlock:

The huge benefit there is that when you build on Pressbooks, the web and the book become one. You build once, then you spit out (editions in) EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and web content.

Many traditionally published authors don’t have what we’re offering. That’s why we’re offering it.

  • The Rogue Reader books will be priced dynamically, of course, based on analytics, but will start at $4.99 per book.
  • Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeAshlock is adamant that The Rogue Reader output be generously available — larger samples than usual, “so you don’t have to look at it through a pinhole,” he says. “The days of buying the book without knowing what’s in the box are over.”

This is aligned with the “abundance” mindset shared by many in digital publishing today and perhaps best defined in the work of Brian O’Leary. Put simply, the concept is that you attract more buyers by making your work abundantly available and affordable across as many platforms and formats as possible, thus holding down scarcity, the key prompt to piracy.

Ashlock believes that an “aggressive sampling policy” also “allows readers to engage with a large percentage of each ebook, placing the work itself at the center of the marketing.”

And one of the cool things we’re doing is a transmedia rollout for each author. We produce cocktail recipes inspired by the book, playlists inspired by the book, Google Maps that chart the course of a book’s action, we do videos produced by documentary filmmakers with our authors talking about their influences, we have artwork we’re commissioning from Brooklyn artists.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeThis, by the way, is not necessarily the interpretation of “transmedia” as an integral, developmental storytelling component of the kind focused on at the upcoming StoryWorld Conference in Hollywood in October. Instead, Ashlock is talking of surrounding each work with a “transmedia constellation” of elements running parallel to the book — always with a goal of giving the reader a point of access, a relationship with the work.

We’re using all these things as a way for people who find the books and want to dive deeper into that world of the author. And for people who haven’t found the book, we want them to have a way in. Maybe it’s the jazz playlist for Under the Dixie Moon, set in New Orleans.

And behind all this is an interesting theory shared by Ashlock and Chromy as an element of the company’s philosophy. Ashlock puts it this way:

As crowded as the marketplace is and as hard as it is to find books you want to read, I think people are even more prone to go back to the worlds that are familiar, and to the authors whose voices they trust. We default even in greater numbers than we did before there was so much choice.

So what we want to do at The Rogue Reader is create a world, we want people to come to know the anti-hero, the wounded protagonist, which is at the core of Ro Cuzon’s novels. We want them to trust him and want to read more about him and come back for more books by him, get into that world and live there for a while. Then they’ll come back knowing they like that world.

 

The Rogue Reader concept signals something for authors to watch.

This is a collective of writers being pulled together by a management at the center — MTM is the “gravity” at the heart of the effort. By developing and showcasing their work in the context of this site and community, these writers get what an imprint should provide: branding followed by engaged readers.

As such, The Rogue Reader ties into some great conversations I think we’re all going to be having as our new season of major publishing conferences kicks in — I’m looking forward to to exploring with you the kind of promise this “rogue” holds for digitally empowered authors in the deep-noir of its potential.

As Ashlock says:

All the values we’re talking about are in line with the word “rogue.” These authors are outsiders. They’re often rebellious in a way. It’s crime, suspense, thriller work done in really fresh ways — so close to the edge of their genre that it’s really why traditional publishing wouldn’t publish them. We think this is why people will love them.

This is outsider fiction.

| | |

The formal launch event for The Rogue Reader is a party scheduled for the evening of October 5 during Bouchercon 2012 at Cleveland’s The Map Room.

Ro Cuzon’s Under the Dixie Moon has an October 1 release date. His Under the Carib Sun releases October 16.

Michael Hogan’s Dog Hills and Sistine are to release on November 5 and 19, respectively.

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Brightline: Royal Rogues / Missingham, Carr, Shatzkin, Weinman, Owen

 

Let’s not underestimate how input and support from the world’s largest discoverability tool (Google) could help Brightline/Atavist on their way.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Sam Missingham

In her post, Brightline, Big City, Sam Missingham of The Bookseller’s TheFutureBook is reading the digital tea leaves with the best of us on this one.

It’s David Carr’s story in the Times, Media Chiefs Form Venture to E-Publish, that she’s responding to.

Carr wrote:

Two powerful entertainment moguls, Scott Rudin, the film and theater producer, and Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp, are joining together to enter the turbulent world of book publishing.

Mr. Rudin and Frances Coady, a longtime publishing executive, have formed a partnership with Mr. Diller in a new venture called Brightline. It will publish e-books and eventually physical books in a partnership with Atavist, a publisher based in Brooklyn with expertise in producing electronic books and articles.

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David Carr

Here is the key line from Carr’s story, emphasis mine:

Mr. Rudin, who frequently works with authors like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jonathan Franzen to turn their books into films, said he had heard a steady stream of complaints about the opaqueness and resistance to change in the publishing business.

Brightline is a team of players able to woo the people Thomas Eakins called “the big artists,” the major authors.

So far, the advantages of self-publishing have apparently seemed too cumbersome or risky or time-consuming — or too much like vanity-press operations — to prompt one of the “bigs” to walk across the street and leave a traditional publisher behind.

The Brightline powerhouse could change that.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Charlie Redmayne interviewed at paidContent by Laura Hazard Owen, May 23.

And in a salute back at Missingham in the UK, let’s not overlook another potential turn in the road of this kind — Pottermore.

The operation built as a vehicle to JK Rowling’s work in digital format will be represented at the Frankfurt Book Fair by its personable CEO, Charlie Redmayne.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeAnd in a preview of his and Michael Cader’s Publishers Launch program there — Innovators and circumstances: the Frankfurt Publishers Launch showMike Shatzkin has a couple of intriguing lines on this.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Mike Shatzkin

He writes:

Charlie Redmayne…believes they’re building the digital publisher of the future and that a key element of that is to go where the audiences are: every device or channel that commands eyeballs is in his sights. Of course, Pottermore was built on the back of one writer’s amazing fictional brand and world. Redmayne believes what they’ve built might be applicable to other worlds from other authors. And that part of his presentation might get a lot of publishers and agents in the audience thinking what they have that might apply.

Still, we’re standing in a garden of good ideas that are springing up like weeds all around us. It’s early.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Sarah Weinman

At Publishers Lunch, Sarah Weinman writes Frances Coady Launches Brightline, With Backing from Diller and Rudin, and Collaboration from the Atavist, pointing out that none of the potential Brightline books has been acquired yet.

She also catches an interesting contradiction in how Carr’s write presents it. Weinman writes:

On the one hand, the Times says, “they are hoping that a brand new enterprise, without the legacy costs and practices of traditional publishing, can find traction.” And yet “Brightline will pay big advances to compete for big-name authors.”

For all the vagaries of the announcement, Laura Hazard Owen gets at what may be the most cogent point of all, in her paidContent write, Barry Diller and Scott Rudin launch book publisher with startup Atavist:

One thing seems clear: Barry Diller is willing to spend a lot of money on the venture.

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Agency Pricing in Europe? No. / Cader

 

HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster have joined with Apple in offering to settle with the European Commission over the introduction of agency ebook pricing in Europe, “with a view to seeking an early resolution of the case.” The Commission is “still investigating Pearson’s conduct” (parent of Penguin) and its “compatibility” with EU regulations.

More shoes falling, that clatter you hear.

Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch writes up the European Commission’s preliminary assessment, as it’s called, of its investigations into agency ebook pricing.

The proposed settlement closely mirrors conditions that three of those publishers have already agreed to in the US.

 

But Cader also notes:

So far, the EC’s finding is less aggressive than the cases in the US as well…”the Commission took the preliminary view that, by jointly switching the sale of e-books from a wholesale model to an agency model with the same key terms on a global basis, the Four Publishers and Apple engaged in a concerted practice with the object of raising retail prices of  e-books in the EEA or preventing the emergence of lower prices in the EEA for e-books in breach of” EC provisions.

Of course, observers in Europe are worried about ebook pricing, as are many of their counterparts in the States. See the last section of today’s Ether for some insight into that from The Bookseller’s Philip Jones. And if you have a subscription, Jones has a new write on the potential timeline ahead: Implementation of EC price-fixing deals ‘could take months.’

 

And author Nick Harkaway is at TheFutureBook with Price War Could Kill Industry (And Indeed So Could Industry):

If publishers were prepared to sell direct to consumer, for example, they would gather data on who bought what books. They would know more about what sold, when, to whom, and even maybe a bit about why. They would be in a position to offer bargains, loyalty deals, tailored ads, and all the things which are the lifeblood of modern commerce. But they cannot do these things because they have yielded control of things they need in order to do them.

 

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Kindle Serials: The Nittiest of Gritty / Owen

 

What’s new this time around is that Amazon is using a pay-once model: A user who buys the first installment in a serial automatically gets all of the others for free.

Laura Hazard Owen

Greeted with a lot of hubbub — some of it ours, in Extra Ether: Serial Iterations, and in a followup in Writing on the Ether: It’s WarAmazon’s new Kindles Serials initiative gets a detailed look-over now from Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent.

In The serious business of Kindle Serials, she points out that “longform journalism site and e-singles publisher Byliner launched Byliner Serials last month,” and that other serializations have been ongoing on the web for some time. For distinctions in Seattle’s model, she writes, you look at the business model.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeFor example, we had commentary in last week’s Ether with Kindle Serial writer E.V. Anderson, author of The Many Lives of Lilith Lane. Anderson is one of three serial authors brokered to Amazon by Plympton, a publishing house that specializes in developing digital serials. From Owen, we learn:

Prior to the Amazon deal, Plympton had planned to pay its (serial) authors $500 an episode plus a bonus, but that changed with the deal — which was lucrative enough, Lee says, the company is “profitable, for now,” and will be able to pay those authors five-figure fees. There’s also a revenue split on serials sold. Amazon pays Plympton royalties directly, and Plympton then splits them with the author.

We also learn that the revenue split Amazon offers Kindle Serial authors may or may not be the same 70-30 that most Kindle Singles and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) authors get.

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Although the opening eight Kindle Serials are set at $1.99 — a price point that has riled some observers who seem to keep missing the term “introductory price” on that amount — new entries will presumably be costlier, than what you pay for one KIndle Single. As Owen writes:

It seems that Amazon will have to invest more money in this format than it has in Kindle Singles: It has to pay authors more because they are writing more, and it either has to sell the Serials at a significantly higher price accordingly or take a loss.

She also notes that Byliner’s serials, sold in the Kindle Store, currently go for $2.99 — per installment.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Yael Goldstein Love

And as to why and how serials become more work for authors, there’s an interesting comment from Plympton co-founder Yael Goldstein Love on what she terms “the third episode problem.”

Owen quotes Love this way:

“It’s a lot easier to write a brilliant first episode of something. In your second episode, you’re continuing that. In the third episode, you realize you have no idea where this is going. It’s a real danger with writing serially. We won’t sign anyone on fully until we see how the first three [episodes] go.”

Such writerly challenges, as well as the evolving economics of the Serials, give them something of a serial interest of their own. I’m sure we’ll be getting in and out of the topic.

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Jeff Belle, VP, Amazon Publishing

The reading audience is presumably well prepped for the idea by commercial television’s episodic character. On the surface, serialization sounds like a logical bookish extension of that context.

And in testing and cultivating the approach, Kindle Serials, operated by the West Coast publishing division, are backed by a formula we’ve seen work for Amazon many times.

Here’s Jeff Belle, Amazon Publishing vice-president, saying to Owen:

In the end, if you focus on the best possible customer experience, the revenue will follow.

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Free on Amazon: Giving It Away / Vinjamuri

 

Does free sampling work for authors? And what are the best ways to employ free samples?

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David Vinjamuri

When David Vinjamuri at Forbes refers to “free samples” in EXCLUSIVE: Hard Numbers For Successful Free Book Sampling On Amazon, he’s not talking about the downloadable first-chapter samples available on most Kindle books.

No, he means whole books — he’s referring to the limited number of free days that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows an author to use as a promotional tool.

The data I am reporting comes from the new Freebooksy survey.  Freebooksy is a website which catalogs some of the top free books available on the Kindle Store each day.

“Freebooksy.” Have I mentioned how much I dislike cutesy corporate names? Oh, I have? OK, I’ll spare you that rant, then.

What Vinjamuri makes of the survey results reported by Freebooksy is interesting, although the survey comprises the self-reported details of only 74 respondent authors.

in median two-day promotions of ebooks, the number of free downloads that a given title might get came out to a median 4,004.

  • Sales of a book prior to the free promotion were at a median five copies weekly.
  • Sales after the free-day promotion, ran to 49 books weekly on the median.

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Of key concern is an apparent fall-off of effectiveness for free-book offers after April. Writes Vinjamuri:

Every author using free book days that I spoke with…mentioned that the effectiveness of these promotions had declined markedly since April.

The explanations offered by Freebooksy’s CEO are not convincing: more people using free-book promotions (what? suddenly since April?), and summer doldrums. But, as Vinjamuri concludes:

The best advice coming from this survey puts the burden back on the author to try to wait for at least fifteen strong reviews of the book to be posted before offering it for free.

“Freebooksy.” I mean really.

If you ever think publishing isn’t getting the respect it deserves? Guess why.

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Amazon in the UK: Worries About Waterstones / Purcell

 

Nook & B&N…had they entered the market via Waterstones would have done so as a fresh and potentially big arrival on the scene.

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Eoin Purcell

Our colleague in Dublin, Eoin Purcell, in Some MORE Thoughts On Amazon & Waterstones, is making the interesting point that British bookstore chain Waterstones‘ baffling-to-many decision to partner with Amazon on the Kindle in-store might mean:

Waterstones, in choosing Amazon were choosing the partner who already has the most exposure in the market and the one least likely to make a dramatic splash in store. After all, what Waterstones customer hasn’t heard of the Kindle five years after launch?

So could choosing Amazon have been the safest of several potential partnership perils?

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Mic Wright / The Telegraph

Purcell is prompted to revisit the subject by journalist Mic Wright, also in Dublin, who writes in the Telegraph a commentary headlined Amazon is inviting Waterstones to top itself.

You have to love the classic internationalist caricature Wright conjures of Amazon’s visionary leadership:

“Nice bookshop you’ve got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”  It’s hard not to picture Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, sauntering up to Waterstones with a cigar between his lips and a tommy gun hidden behind his back. The deal between the internet giant and the bricks-and-mortar retailer has looked unbalanced ever since details were first revealed in May.

Wright and Purcell are responding to those “bear traps” comments that Waterstones’ chief James Daunt (always good copy) made recently. They were picked up from The Bookseller’s write (subscription) by Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent in Waterstones CEO: Amazon partnership great, except for the “bear traps.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeWright goes right to what appears to be the most perilous trap of the Waterstones-Amazon deal:

Unless the customer buys e-books on the company’s own in-store WiFi network, Waterstones gets no cut of future sales. Effectively, the book chain is shepherding customers over to Amazon.

This is where any good, sauntering American, cigar between her or his lips, will remember Borders, which consigned its online presence to Amazon. Wright goes on:

The sheer convenience of being able to shop for new titles directly from their Kindle means most of them are unlikely to darken the doors of a real-world bookshop very often in the future.

It’s hard to doubt what Wright’s saying: Would you go trundling over to Waterstones and hook up to its in-store wi-fi each time you wanted to buy a new book on your Kindle? — just so Daunt-among-the-bear-traps could get the sale? As we say here in the wild, wild States, c’monson.

And Wright’s entertaining write gets all too colorfully to the point at the end, depicting Waterstones as “selling an arsenal to customers who will help Amazon put it out of its misery.”

High streets without a decent book shop will be a desperately sad sight, but Waterstones is just hastening its own irrelevance.

And so here is Purcell (they’re so busy in Dublin, aren’t they?), trying to parse this thing in a somewhat less Telegraphed way, if you will (no offense to Wright, his column is awfully good).

Purcell harkens back to a phrase or two of his own from May, in which he speculated that Waterstones was buying time to observe the digital dynamic.

Now, he stresses that any partnership, not just this one with Amazon, could be seen as potentially dangerous to Waterstones:

Waterstones’ other potential partners are either currently or would become by way of a partnership, direct competitors in the ebook marketplace. Enabling any one of the major players (or even a smaller scrappy rival) would make the marketplace more difficult for Waterstones.

And here may be the rather sad denouement ahead, in Purcell’s estimation:

If the ebook market does grow to more than 50% of all book sales, then perhaps the best they can hope for is a graceful decline towards a rump of the former chain, but a profitable and sustainable one if they can adapt and change.

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Libraries: Another Crisis / Brantley, Weinman

 

It may be time to encourage Congressional hearings that would entertain the possibility of legislation to support public libraries.

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Peter Brantley

Peter Brantley — whose post about the Douglas County Libraries of Colorado and their pricing report in the last Writing on the Ether — now goes into his Publishers Weekly blog on the news that Big Six publisher Hachette is raising its prices on backlist prices to libraries by as much as an average 104 percent.*

*Note that 104 percent is a new number.

At Digital Book World, there’s a note without byline but presumably by Jeremy Greenfield. As its headline tells you — Hachette E-Book Price Increase to Libraries Initially Overstated: 104%, Not 220% — DBW reports that a Hachette spokesperson has announced the publisher miscalculated the increase, and that it now comes to an average104-percent increase, not a widely reported 220-percent increase.

Meanhile, the price hike is still a doubling of costs on Hachette backlist titles to libraries.

And in Moving Up a Level, Brantley writes:

Rather than rely on a private sector that clearly does not always align with public needs, maybe the best long-term strategy will be to require the deposit of published books with one or more national digital libraries that would then provide ebook hosting services for the nation’s public libraries.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeA telling element of this story is the distrust Brantley voices of Hachette’s intentions.

He notes the publisher’s assertions that in exchange for its higher prices, libraries will face no limits on how many times an ebook copy can be borrowed:

I would really appreciate hearing from Hachette as to whether they are therefore guaranteeing that their ebooks will never become inaccessible and unusable as a result of future ebook format shifts, retailer platform changes, DRM transitions, and evolution in HTML standards and rendering conventions. Or, perhaps they see those as “acts of God” and not their responsibility.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeIn Higher Hachette Library eBook Pricing Draws Attention at Publishers Lunch, Sarah Weinman writes that the news of Hachette’s price increases was to have reached libraries earlier. The distributor to libraries, OverDrive, failed to tell libraries until now via the ONIX, or “online information exchange,” electronic catalog info.

Writes Weinman:

HBG says they “revised ebook prices” as “part of an experimental pilot to find out more about the digital library marketplace” and writes that they “are working with libraries, Overdrive, and several other partners to gather information and explore various options for making HBGs ebooks available to readers in a rapidly changing digital world.”

OverDrive, Weinman reports, “declined to explain their delay in passing along the price increase.”

Of course, now we know that as Hachette complains the libraries were supposed to have been informed by the distributor of these price hikes back in February, it took the publisher’s people until September to realize that it has been passing around a significantly incorrect figure about its own increases.

Hachette authors may want to check their royalty statements.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeAnd in a followup, Hachette Further Clarifies Higher eBook Library Pricing, Weinman writes that regardless of how well known Hachette and/or OverDrive consider the price increases for these books published before April 2010, “The American Library Association…reacted as if this is a brand-new price increase.”

The ALA said they are “weary of faltering half steps and even more so of publishers that refuse to sell ebook titles to libraries at all…Libraries must have the ability to purchase a wide range of digital content at a fair price so that all readers have full access to our world’s creative and cultural resources, especially the many millions who depend on libraries as their only source of reading material”

Brantley, like the ALA and many others, seems to be running out of patience.

Whether you believe that the digital dynamic really does expose publishers to new dangers of piracy (because lending ebooks, so this thinking goes, is less secure than lending physical books) or that publishers simply don’t believe that the library model serves their bottom lines, the problem seems, if anything, to get only worse.

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Brantley:

Clearly, library engagement on these issues must move to a new level. An organized economic boycott of ebooks by libraries would have little impact because it is painfully obvious that many publishers would be happy enough for libraries not to have access to ebooks at all.

Instead:

A public education and communications campaign must be initiated that highlights how large international media- and publishing conglomerates are turning their backs on our communities, steadily eliminating the opportunity for all readers to have full and equal access to the world’s learning and literature.

Hence his interest in attracting Capitol Hill’s inquiry: “to obtain a comprehensive national solution to enable publicly funded libraries to meet the needs of the citizens they are chartered to serve.”

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Craft: Legit Big Reviewers on Amazon / Grant

In the wake of the bought-reviews-and-sock-puppetry scandals, I’ve been asked several times if it’s OK to approach some of the legitimate reviewers on Amazon designated as Top Reviewers for their levels of activity and following.

Yes, it is OK. You do it cordially, respectfully, carefully.

As in approaching an agent, you take a look at what a reviewer tends to cover — sort out whether the person you’d like to flag down is going to be interested in covering your book. The Top Reviewer who critiques only lawn mowers may not be the one.

And then you make it clear in a short note (some of them offer an email address in their bios) that you understand that in asking for permission to send them your book you understand that you may get no review at all or one that doesn’t go the way you’d like.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Alexis Grant

You send your book only if they respond and request it. And then you stand down.

Meanwhile, Alexis Grant has some elements of advice on this in An Amazon Reviews Tip That Will Help You Sell Books. (I’d have had that headline say a tip that might help you sell books, but don’t quibble, Sybil.)

Grant gives you the link to reach the site’s list of Top Reviewers and she puts you on to some work on the subject done by Mike Michalowicz.

 

When she gets into suggestions (or Michalowicz’s suggestions) for automating contacts, I’m less happy than when she offers this idea:

And know what would probably be even more effective? Personalizing that form letter ever so slightly to include the reviewer’s name and maybe even a reference to that person’s reviews and why you think he’d want to review your book. In other words, writing an effective email pitch the recipient will actually read.

The overall point is that there are people you can legitimately, respectfully approach with review requests, endorsed by Amazon and able to respond, if they choose to, with fully viable critiques of your work that carry the weight of their standing. It’s worth exploring.

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Craft: Balzac, Our Barista / Bell, Coyne

 

(Balzac’s) practice was to wake up around midnight and have his servants cook up the thickest coffee imaginable. Think tar with a little sugar. He’d down brew after brew, for up to fifteen hours, letting the stimulant feed his imagination. He died of caffeine poisoning at the age of 51.

Please use the stuff responsibly.

 

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell has a venti-sized respect for the magic bean. In Writers and Coffee, he tells us:

Personally, I have found coffee to be as Kipling found a good cigar: Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes.

Now, Balzac’s peculiar schedule and java-jacked drive were prompted, it’s said, by a whole lot of debts. In an economy like ours, we may not want to throw any stones that way — we could all be going to sleep “with the chickens,” as Balzac described it, so we can get up at midnight to start work.

By coincidence, Shawn Coyne over at Steven Pressfield’s site, has just favored us with a Balzacian moment in his Cafe Society, Part One. He writes about the effect that Balzac’s Lost Illusions had on him, calling the author “the Stephen King of his day.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Honoré de Balzac at 15. His hair already is standing on end.

Coyne honors Honoré for critical editorial insights.

Balzac wrote about from 1837 through 1843. It’s taken me twenty years to finally figure that out. The guy knew his shit.

Unfortunately, he was up at all hours in that nightgown in which Rodin sculpted him — with the coffee, Mr. Bell:

A companion for every novel I’ve ever written.

I’ll second Bell’s toast to the roast.

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https://twitter.com/unbounders/status/248735742317170688

Craft: Bad Habits of Good Writers (Beyond Coffee) / Stevens

Without wasting time on unnecessary preambles, Theresa Stevens rolls through The five bad habits of good writers, an article with which she guested recently for Jane Myers Perrine.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Theresa Stevens

Each of these “bad habits” is elucidated in a paragraph of its own in the write. Here, I’ll just top-line them.

  1. Thinking that you have only one book in you.
  2. Writing 3-chapter proposals, one after another. (Here, Stevens is talking about “serial quitting,”
  3. Deciding you’re good enough and have nothing to learn.
  4. Making business relationships personal.
  5. Forgetting that this is all about the reader.

Each of these points is worth a quick read, for Stevens’ discussion on it. But maybe No. 6 should be “Getting too attached to this list of five bad habits.” As Stevens writes

The publishing world is changing radically, and we have to change with it. So next year, I might have five different bad habits to report!

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Conferences: DBW’s Discoverability & Marketing

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeOn Monday and Tuesday, September 24 and 25, I’ll be live-tweeting from the new F+W Media Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Conference in New York. Our hashtag is #DBWDM. Please join us and follow along, the agenda is a strong one, crowded with key folks — all out to discover as much as possible about discoverability.

For an updated list of other planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com.

Frankfurt-bound folks may want to give special consideration to the Tools of Change (TOC) Metadata Goes Global program with Brian O’Leary and Laura Dawson, and a very promising-sounding Publishers Launch event from Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader.

Ed Nawotka has announced that his Publishing Perspectives will host a free two-hour session in in Frankfurt on the morning of October 13, an “ignite”-style round of presentations on the subject of self-publishing. You’re asked to RSVP to warmuth@book-fair.com

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Books: Reading on the Ether

The books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our fine Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.

 


Writing on the Ether Sponsors:


 

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Last Gas: Don’t Get Beamed / Dawson

 

“Like a fist when you open your hand.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Laura Dawson

Laura Dawson — metadata specialist and Mme. Defarge to the industry! the industry! — has been reading Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

In a post, Beams Not Falling, Dawson finds an application to in what she describes as “probably the strangest interlude” in the book.

It’s known as the Flitcraft story or parable, and Dawson does a handy job of recounting it.

Essentially, Flitcraft was a very ordinary man living a very ordinary life, who one day just up and disappeared, “like a fist when you open your hand.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable TypeSam Spade, hired to track down Flitcraft, finally catches up with the long-missing man — who has set up another very ordinary life for himself, still a very ordinary man. Spade asks Flitcraft why he disappeared from one ordinary life, only to set up another.

Dawson writes:

And Flitcraft told Sam about how he was walking past a construction site the morning of his disappearance. A girder beam fell from the site and nearly killed him – missed him by an inch. This close brush with death terrified him, and he bolted. Gradually, it dawned on Flitcraft that this was an isolated, bizarre incident and he resumed his ordinary life.

Now, I’m going to give you Dawson’s final line a little early:

I’m thinking about ebook pricing.

She links to Alison Flood’s write at The Guardian, Ebook prices under more pressure after European Commission statement.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Philip Jones

Flood speaks with The Bookseller’s editor, Philip Jones, and quotes him calling the European Commission’s preliminary anti-trust assessment against Apple, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, “a major victory for Amazon and its philosophy of low prices.”

As Jones summed it up for Flood: “Good news for ebook readers in search of a bargain, not great news for publishers, and pretty worrying news for high street bookshops.”

Jones’ own, perceptive write-up of the EC’s assessment is here: Publishers reach agreement with EC over agency.

In it, he notes, as we all should, that the four publishers and Apple have contested the EC’s findings. “However,” Jones adds, “they have offered commitments in order to meet the commission’s competition concerns.”

“But…” writes Dawson, “beams can’t fall forever from the sky – we are not in turmoil all the time. When Flitcraft reached emotional equilibrium, he found himself adjusting to the beams not falling. To the everyday.”

 

What Dawson is doing, surely, would deserve a handshake from Hammett if he were still around. She’s making more sense of his Flitcraft story than he did, and in an arena — book publishing — that meant a thing or two to him, as it does to us.

Dawson:

We generally return to a state of beams not falling. And as we do this, we are (like Flitcraft) in a different place than we were initially. The falling of beams causes movement, causes adjustment – and then things begin to seek their own levels.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, RogueReader.com, The Rogue Reader, Jason Ashlock, Movable Type

Peter Turner

And when another of our good colleagues, Peter Turner, asks in a comment whether Dawson is referring to “the downward-racing pricing that we should be looking for?” she gets down to that Flitcraft-ish tendency to panic, something we see so much in publishing.

She writes back to Turner:

I don’t know that there’s anything to look out for, I guess is what I’m saying. There was $9.99 pricing. That beam fell, and everybody flipped out – their adjustment was agency pricing.

For two years, everyone adjusted to beams not falling. Agency pricing held. But:

Now the jettisoning of agency pricing is the falling beam. And everyone will adjust, just as they did when the paperback came on the scene – which became normal over time. It has always been thus; it will ever be thus.

And wouldn’t it be good if publishing could do better than Flitcraft did and not run screaming out into the street each time a beam falls?

Do you feel tired already? Here, at the beginning of the season? Guess why, Flitcraft.

Dawson:

The trick is to keep one’s eye on the long game – why are we publishing? If the human urge to shout something meaningful and/or fun from the rooftops remains with us, we will all be okay.

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Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

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Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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