Library ebooks: All over the ice
Self-Publishing Babylon: And talking peace in the alley
A Swell new book: And how to handle criticism
Ethics in fiction: Beautiful dead girls
Extra Ether: Good stuff
So crikey. Just when you think you have it all worked out—the difference between mammals and publishers—you look up or down or somewhere and find a big surprise. Right under you. Can a Big Six publisher really lay one of those?
Well, maybe yes, maybe no.
Here we are, having our Thanksgiving picnic on the hillside of publishing. Surveying the battle below. We kibitz a little, as some of our most self-congratulatory DIY authors fight The Bird That Walks Upright Like Us. Over the territory called Book Country. We’re actually hearing from a peacemaker named Mick Rooney on that one–there could be another bird on the scene, one called a dove.
But first, boom! The pitter-patter of little flippers on linoleum. Look! Over at your library! It’s a bunch of short guys in tuxedos running away with the ebooks! Not the existing ebooks, the new ebooks. (Nothing is simple, remember, and the dew is on the decimal.)
The publishing industry makes pilgrims look like sensible dressers.
While you’re bent over double trying to unbuckle thy shoes, we’re dodging another big bird, The One Who Gobbles. By super-heating our airy bower, we hope to better enjoy the Cornucopia of Uproars with which our pioneers in digitalia have roiled themselves of late.
Going forward—and have we ever gone backward? don’t answer that—I’ll add an update or two to the Extra Ether section below and tweet it madly, as is my wont, so you might find a fresh whiff or two here, even while hunkered for the holidays. Honk if you have pumpkin pie.
Allora. To the barricades, or to the dogs, whichever comes first.
And my best wishes for the special displays of gluttony with which we annually demonstrate our collective gratitude.
Last week Penguin sent notice to OverDrive that it is reviewing terms for library lending of their eBooks. In the interim, OverDrive was instructed to suspend availability of new Penguin eBook titles from our library catalog and disable “Get for Kindle” functionality for all Penguin eBooks.
That’s how Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent in Penguin Pulls New E-Books From Libraries quoted OverDrive, the main distributor of books to libraries. OverDrive’s homepage makes it clear just how vested they are in “ebooks from your library, everywhere and anywhere.”
But newer statements indicate that Penguin has done a partial about-face.
- Existing Penguin ebook titles, we understand, are to remain available to library patrons, as before, until the end of the year.
- New Penguin titles will not be available for now.
- And during that time, Penguin, Amazon, and OverDrive are to be in touch to see if a resolution to the “security” problem–which, by the way, is not at all clear to the rest of us–can be resolved.
From Michael Kelley of The Digital Shift, a site that’s focused “on libraries and new media,” we have this from a Penguin statement:
Penguin has (subsequent to intially withdrawing its ebooks) been informed by Amazon that it had not been consulted by OverDrive about the terms of Penguin’s agreement with OverDrive. Amazon has undertaken to work with Penguin and OverDrive between now and the end of the year to address Penguin’s concerns. Penguin will, as a result, restore the supply of these titles (in current release and already in library catalogs as such) until the end of the year in order to return the availability of older titles to all its digital customers.
As for the question of “security” in earlier statements, Kelley has this from Penguin:
In addition, Penguin informed suppliers to libraries that it expected them to abide by existing agreements to offer older digital titles to libraries only if those files were held behind the firewalls of the suppliers.
What Kelley is describing, in his Penguin Restores Kindle Lending, but Still Not Providing Digital Editions of New Titles, appears to involve, then, a question of how ebooks checked out by library patrons are delivered.
If we go back to an earlier report, Michael Cader at Publishers Marketplace (which requires a very worthwhile subscription) was the first to raise a possible Amazon connection in Penguin Cancels Kindle Library Lending, For Now–Will Others Follow?
Though OverDrive had promised in April that (library) patrons’ “confidential information will be protected,” in implementation their program is an engine for turning library users into Amazon customers… they send patrons directly to Amazon’s site for processing. Some publishers believe this violates their contracts with both OverDrive and Amazon.
From the outset, the community at large seemed doubtful about the “security” terminology of early statements from the publisher about its concerns.
Owen, in her second story on the matter at PaidContent, went to some lengths to test and show you the Amazon-looking page you land on to get your ebook in her follow-up post, Why Might A Publisher Pull Its E-Books From Libraries?
Notice anything? Yeah, it looks an awful lot like an Amazon shopping page and I have to be logged into my Amazon account to get the book… The NYPL’s Christopher Platt recently told Publishing Trends that since Kindle added library lending, “Our average new-patron registrations have more than doubled from 80 a day to 172 a day. Average daily e-book checkouts increased from 1,161 to 1,511 [23.2%]. Kindle downloads account for 33% of that use” (Kimberly Lew, Publishing Trends, November 2011).
Two more potential motivations for Penguin’s withdrawal of library books from the system were included in Owen’s observations: Perhaps “Penguin thinks people are checking out e-books from non-local libraries” and maybe “Penguin is worried that e-book checkouts from libraries will cut into sales.”
None was fully convincing, however, at least not to the Tweet Chorus of publishing observers who gathered in holy semicircle to tear a little hair and gnash a few teeth.
Like an early thespian’s nightmare in which Euripides and his lead actors all nip off for baklava at intermission, the main voice was, and is, missing. No one from Penguin, as of this writing, seems to feel she or he can engage in the debate.
Once more, as I’ve mentioned in earlier vapors here, our large best-established houses seem to be somewhat PR-deaf and unable to understand the importance of communicating with those most important of all folks, the customers.
But as several of our best heads are saying in quiet discussions, the publishing house may be responding to some serious factors the rest of us can’t see. Owen is one of the folks who has pointed out that “Penguin is stupid” is off the table. Its people are far from stupid even if they’re so far mum on deeper details of the matter.
Another new development comes in a report from Publishers Weekly’s Andrew Albanese, No Change, But Random House Says It Is “Actively Reviewing” Library E-book Policy.
Random House remains the only “Big Six” publisher to embrace library sales of e-book editions. But with the e-book market changing, and discord over Amazon’s recent moves in the marketplace simmering, is the company reconsidering its position? In a brief statement, Random House officials said that for now the company was “maintaining its current policy regarding digital library sales,” but added it is “actively reviewing” that position.
And that’s where we stand. About as unsteadily as most penguins seem to stand. On an ice floe.
I’ll leave you for now with Michael Kelley, again, in his post, Librarians Face Patrons Unhappy With Penguin Policy Change; ALA Condemns Ebook Decision. Noting that Penguin’s original decision “left librarians once again facing patron gripes,” he quoted American Library Association president-elect Maureen Sullivan doing the job of stating the public’s and customers’ interest.
And in light of the later news of a Penguin-OverDrive-Amazon huddle-to-come, it appears that Sullivan’s concept of business-model concepts creating something of a surprise among the parties may well be close to the mark.
If Penguin has an issue with Amazon, we ask that they deal with Amazon directly and not hold libraries hostage to a conflict of business models. This situation is one more log thrown onto the fire of libraries’ abilities to provide access to books – in this case titles they’ve already purchased. Penguin should restore access for library patrons now.
A new program from Penguin that made me throw up in my mouth when I read about it… Book Country, which debuted in April as a place for authors to post their work for critique, recently announced a program to turn manuscripts posted on their website into ebooks and paper books…I’m blogging about this to warn newbie authors NOT to use Book Country. This blog gets more traffic than Book Country does, so hopefully anyone looking for “Book Country” on search engines will find this post and learn what a Very Bad Idea it is to use Book Country’s services.
What is Book Country doing for you that entitles them to 30% royalties? Especially if/when you pay for the formatting?… I’ve sold 500,000 ebooks. If I’d published with Book Country, they would have taken $290,000 in royalties from me. That’s just awful.
Well, since we don’t have a direct answer to Konrath’s “what have they done for you lately?” question, I’ll offer you the Book Country site’s Publish Your Book pages.
And here is, specifically, Pricing & Earnings, in which the afore-disdained 30 percent figure is mentioned.
I’m even adding Book Country’s chart, no extra charge.
As a matter of Ethereal housekeeping, may I point out that the proper Twitter handle for Book Country is @Book_Country? Note the underline between “Book” and “Country,” hearth and home.
Someone identified by Twitter as a Mr. John Helling has, I fear, found himself the subject of a great deal of misdirected agitation.
In this instance of barely collegial debate, there has been more response, I’m glad to say, from the penguinery. Nothing directly addressing the royalty issue as Konrath and others have energetically raised it. But in response to PaidContent’s questions, we do have this from Penguin on the second page of Owen’s initial write, Self-Published Authors Sharply Criticize Penguin’s Book Country.
As for the sales transactions after a book has been published, like many sites, Book Country takes a percentage of each sale of a book. When we distribute your book out to other sites, the third party sites also take a percentage. This is not unusual. This is how many new publishing operations function. In contrast to traditional publishing houses, Book Country offers the author a much higher percentage since Book Country is not incurring editorial, marketing or publicity costs. Book Country is incurring costs to code the professional ePub file, set-up the print file for printing, distribute the book files and the metadata out to all retailers, account for incoming sales in multiple channels, and pay out to authors on a monthly basis. Not to mention the cost of maintaining the Book Country site and all of the tools, like the Genre Map, that are meant to help authors actually find paying readers, very valuable benefits. Book Country can make your book available everywhere that ebooks are sold.*
*Except maybe to libraries? Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.
None of this mollifies some who have gone to the megaphones to condemn Book Country’s offer.
Oh, the New Vanity (of Penguin & Book Country), writes Will Entrekin. “In general, the only thing worse than ‘self-publishing,’” he writes, “at least in the eyes of corporations and those associated with them, is ‘vanity publishing.’ Paying to make your book.”
“The wall-to-wall, uncritical coverage from the likes of eBookNewser, Publishers Weekly, and the Wall Street Journal… Here’s the opener from yet another Book Country puff-piece – this time from the UK broadsheet, The Guardian (by Allison Flood): “Want to be published by Penguin, the historic press which is home to authors including Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter and Kathryn Stockett? Now you can be – and for as little as $99 (£60), as Penguin’s American arm announced a move into self-publishing.”
Agree or disagree with Book Country’s Lindsay, at least someone at Penguin did engage in the discussion this time, something I wish the corporate parties felt they could do more frequently. Here is a bit of Lindsay on whether the rights to work entered into the Book Country community are encumbered.
Of course, before the marshmallows are on the sweet potatoes, we’ve heard back from Manus in My Answer to Colleen Lindsay the Book Country Community Manager: “What I really don’t expect is for legitimate publishers to join the ranks of scammers, con artists and outright crooks in fleecing overly hopeful and desperate writers.”
And now, another voice heard from. “A good deal of the commentary I’ve seen is either inaccurate, or ignores the forest for the trees.”
That’s Victoria Strauss, co-founder of the Writer Beware watchdog group sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with support from the Mystery Writers of America. Strauss headlines her post Book Country And Self-Publishing: Why the Hate? While conceding some qualms about “potential conflicts of interest that arise when trade publishers (here, Penguin) expand into self-publishing,” she takes on several specific criticisms and fields them crisply.
Here’s some of what she writes about the biggest bone of contention, the 30-percent royalty issue:
All middleman self-publishing services keep a percentage of authors’ income. Book Country keeps more than some, and less than others. For instance, Lulu keeps 20%. CreateSpace keeps 20-60%, depending on what distribution options you pick. Author Solutions companies (iUniverse, Xlibris, etc.) keep a whopping 80%…I’m just saying that Book Country isn’t unique.
And to critics who cry “vanity publishing!” Strauss says:
This is absolutely correct. So what? Publishing through Lulu, CreateSpace, or any other middleman service that charges a fee is also vanity publishing–yet authors who use these services routinely identify themselves as self-published or (shudder) “indie,” and no one challenges them.
Basta. In calling a truce long enough to get to the next item, I’m turning to Mick Rooney of Dublin, at the Independent Publishing Magazine.
“I’ve a mixed opinion on this,” Rooney writes, immediately winning me over. (You mean everything isn’t black and white?)
I’m going to quote Rooney at some length from his Book Country – For or Against Self-Publishing? For an Irishman, he sounds like he knows a thing or two about the American concept of Thanksgiving.
Konrath, Gaughran, Hoffelder, Linda Welch, Katie Salidas, Manus, Entrekin, yea, and Penguin’s newly promoted (congratulations) Molly Barton and Lindsay, Dasher and Dancer, as well: Everybody hold your fire. And have a look.
For so long the self-publishing community has fought for acceptance and recognition within the publishing industry. Just when we have eroded some of the stigmas, and proven that some self-published authors and their books can compete at the forefront of publishing, it would be a shame to start to show a divided front in self-publishing. I understand Joe Konrath’s ire because he came from a foundation within traditional publishing, did an about turn, and embraced the changes and benefits for the author as an individual business concern by self-publishing. So, I can understand him having a pop at one of the Big Six when they ‘cream’ it off the little guy. I’m just offput by Joe’s ‘Harry Enfield’s Loads a Money’ approach to highlighting his success, and that that should be the underlying perception of self-publishing to new authors entering the precarious field of self-publishing. Because the reality of self-publishing is far from the world of Konrath.
One of the greatest strengths of self-publishing over the past few years has been its adaptability, using online communities to celebrate, disseminate and promote books, as well as passing experience on, author to author. Crucially, it’s no substitute for connecting with readers, unless all your readers are authors themselves! Readers congregate on forums like Amazon and Goodreads – hybrids of publishing/sales platforms. The biggest challenge for the self-publishing community is to stretch beyond selling books to its own community, and it’s important we are as critical of ourselves as we are so openly to criticize the broader publishing industry.
Divided we fall – united we conquer.
“Towel,” she said. “Orange, close your mouth, and go get me a towel.” I wondered why I should take orders from this woman. She was as vulnerable as someone gets; she had been very mean to me; and she hadn’t yet even said hello. So I fetched her a towel.
“Ericson has every reason to be proud of his knack for worldly wordplay,” I wrote. “When he summons up the courage of that intelligence, he sings to his reader in chanteys of bunk-bed bunkum, flattering you with his assumption of your savvy.”
It’s rather fun quoting oneself. What else did you write, Porter?
“Such quick arcs of spin and recognition,” quoth me, “are what make Swell swell, and they work when Ericson trusts you to keep up.”
Now, as part of this critique, I knew I had to run aground the pleasure pontoon briefly and hash out some problems of production, “in this Moby on the way to .mobi.”
Among them, I wrote:
- the opening two words of chapters are stuck together
- there are repetitions of articles, as in this phrase (underline mine): “Korean Ill John, was wearing a a black nylon jacket”
- curious gaps open in the text from time to time
- one character’s answer frequently is stuck in the same paragraph as another character’s question
I would like to let you know a little bit on what happened in the transition to the e-book edition. As a small publisher with a limited budget, we were “taken for a ride” on…the final version of the electronic copy. We did not catch all of the mistakes that you so graciously pointed out but we are hurriedly re-connecting with the people that made the electronic version to amend any and all of the mistakes at their cost. As for the standard of our editor and our team, I stand by our work and I know how much time went into making it as perfect as possible. Unfortunately, things were missed and they will be sure to also go into being fixed as well. It is not a standard we live by and I openly apologize to anyone whose reading experience was affected.
First, take a moment to appreciate what a big “small” publisher it takes to let me enumerate the flies in this ointment so gracefully. This is one of the most responsible and cordial responses I’ve encountered to criticism, and I’ve been reviewing one poor victim or another since the 13th century or so. I stand by Dark Coast, too. No fly-by-night, after all, takes on the saltwater stirrings of Ericson’s prose without meaning to get it right.
Second, Talwar is right to mention the travails encountered by anyone, especially small houses on lean budgets, in outsourcing conversion work, the formatting it takes to “go digital,” as all books must now go.
A company with the good intentions of Talwar’s Dark Coast Press, an author with the surface-breaking panache of Ericson, all your kingdom’s horses and a few of the best women in computers anywhere still cannot overcome the fact that precious few technical folks in format-conversion shops have the editorial chops to hit the high-water mark of quality publishing.
Do I have a solution? No more than Ericson’s Candide, one Orange Whippey, has a clue to how he’s going to get home to his cat Rover tonight.
But I know that’s what we’re dealing with. Unless you can sit with your conversion people and collaborate on turning this screw, we’re going to see such writers as Ericson and such producers as Talwar slipping and sliding across bad patches of seaweed they didn’t put on the beach, themselves.
What’s the remedy here? Tell me in a comment below.
We’ll push off on a high tide, courtesy of Ericson.
It was subtle theater, each of us trying to outbore the other through shades of inaction, and I supposed I was a mere spear-carrier in the production. I locked my knees and pretended I was getting paid. That which doesn’t kill me only makes me older.
Dead girls in water, dead girls in bathtubs, dead girls in forests, dead girls in pretty dresses. Girls who might be dead, or might just look dead. Dead girls in so many pretty dresses…. Most of the images aren’t blatantly violent or overtly sexual. It might be more appropriate to call them glamorized—they seem less the product of overt “male gaze,” and more the product of teenage girls’ morbidity. Rather than presenting the idea that violated and dominated women are sexy, these images present the idea that it is beautiful and dramatic and—as Poe would have argued—poetic to be dead.
Rachel Stark in Cover Trends in YA Fiction: Why the Obsession with an Elegant Death? argues that “this book cover trend—and the larger obsession of teenage girls with the concept of beautiful death—is at least in part the product of internalized misogyny.” Without leveling blame, Stark defines a trend in young people’s literature that’s anything but beautiful.
I admire Stark’s courage and agree with her assessment, especially when I see female authors churning out undead romance peopled with women begging guys to bite them to death. When Bram Stoker wrote his 1897 kill-me-you-handsome-vampire shtick, we knew exactly who was victimizing whom. Sadly yes.
In Stark’s compilation of covers, I see three men named as authors. I see twelve women. “Anecdata?” Maybe. Would I be wrong to assume that the majority of these YA works of the Beautiful Dead Girl genre are written by women?
Stark calls attention to another writer’s shorter piece on the topic, the Californian teen services librarian Allison‘s A wee rant for Halloween: I see dead people. Allison’s collection of covers adds three more female authors’ names to the mix. Here’s a little of what Allison writes:
I’m really tired of seeing books covers with dead-looking girls on them. It’s kind of misogynistic, honestly. I mean, are there any covers out there with dead guys on them?… By no means do I intend to criticize the books with these covers, or their authors. These are some great reads! I know authors don’t typically have input on their book covers, and to be fair, most of these books actually do feature females who have died, so it’s not like their covers are totally off the mark. But just– isn’t there anything else that could accurately represent plot elements from these books besides some poor girl’s lifeless eyes staring out into space or limp, pale body flailing in an awkward position? It’s, like, the opposite of empowering.
I’ll say it before you can: What do I know? Rather than judge these authors by their covers, I’m asking. What do you think of Stark’s and Allison’s misgivings? Especially when it comes to women writing for young women, what is this Beautiful Dead Girl stuff?
We need not spend time here on the authors-have-no-control-over-book-covers fact of life. We all know that.
I’m more interested in the message that generates those covers, the message that these books convey to young readers.
I’d like to hear from writers in this genre. That’s why Jane Friedman gave us the comments section below. You’ll find me down there, being gnawed to pieces in the twilight by toothy self-publishing authors as I hand the stake back to Stark for the last word:
I don’t fault YA publishers or the covers above for this trend. As I said, I see those covers and the demand from which they stem as the product of, not the force behind, internalized misogyny. But, looking at them as a reflection of teenage girls’ psyches, I’m saddened by what I see and left feeling helpless in the face of forces that seem unstoppable. In the apt and succinct words of my good friend Jenny, “I know that we have to trust teenage girls to cope and persevere and come out of this fight kicking, but honestly I’d rather make all this shit go away.” This time around, I pretty much agree.
Extra Ether: Good stuff
PA supports Penguin e-lending bar by Charlotte Williams at TheBookseller.com (this is Penguin USA’s British counter-fowl taking a similar library/ebook stance)
The Publishers Association has spoken out in support of Penguin UK’s move to withhold the supply of its new e-book releases to library suppliers, with a new round of talks set to begin between the PA, the Society of Chief Librarians and The Reading Agency in an attempt to resolve the issues surrounding digital lending…The move echoed the stance taken by Penguin US earlier this week. PA c.e.o. Richard Mollet said: “Today’s announcement [by Penguin UK] underlines what the Publishers Association has been saying for some time about the risks around e-lending. Whilst publishers are and always have been fully supportive of libraries, it also has to be recognised that in this still developing area, it is right to be concerned about the security of digital files in the supply chain.”
The Day in Which We Give Thanks (and High-Five Diabetes) by Chuck Wendig at TerribleMinds (This is our Chuck? #kidisdoinghimgood)
Baby’s first Thanksgiving, then. That’s what I’m thankful for. Thankful for the whole baby experience, obviously. The boy’s a weird little wonder. He sings weird baby whale songs at night. He squeaks and laughs when you do unexpected things (a couple weeks ago, it was tearing celery, yesterday it was my mother-in-law tipping over a toy giraffe). He bounces. He tries to walk. He’s half-crawling now, dragging himself across the floor. He can sit up by himself for three seconds. Can stand up by himself if you give him something to hold onto. He grabs everything. He flings it to the floor or — in a true choose-your-own-adventure-mode — pops it in his mouth. He eats a bucketload of baby food now — he just keeps opening his mouth waiting for more to be delivered to his nom-nom unit. He’s cute. He’s weird. He’s our son. And I’m thankful for him and for my wife and the dog and my whole wonderful family unit.
248 million: The number of turkeys expected to be raised in the United States in 2011. That’s up 2 percent from the number raised during 2010. The turkeys produced in 2010 together weighed 7.11 billion pounds and were valued at $4.37 billion.
Three Keys to Success: Show Up, Be Present, and Hope for Serendipity from Dan Blank of We Grow Media. (He came, he saw, he crossed his fingers.)
As many of us celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am considering…those who have made the effort to show up, to care. Those who push, who expand what is possible. Those who make me a better person simply by being present in my life.
US Bookseller Experiments With Online Handselling, Subscription Model by Rachel Aydt at Publishing Perspectives on Roxanne Cody (Hand-selling across the Ether. Hm.)
So far, the relationship between the website and the bookstore has been synergistic, and the online experiment has fed the bookstore with new ideas. Not only is the stock being more thoughtfully chosen, but the events are as well. R. J. Julia Booksellers regularly hosts heavy hitting writers who stop over on their book tours between NYC and Boston, but now instead of having traditional readings and signings, they’re shifting the events to “A conversation with…” the author format. “The author likes it, the audiences love it, and it takes on an air of theater,” says Coady.
Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, and a producer and consultant formerly with the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome and INDEX: Design to Improve Life in Copenhagen. As a journalist, he has worked with media including CNN, the Village Voice, and the Dallas Times Herald. He reviews literary fiction at Reader Unboxed, and is based in Tampa.