The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin
Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.
“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” —Elizabeth Eslami
Table of Contents
- In the EtherDome
Pearson Buys Author Solutions
Friedman, Gonzalez, Strauss, Gaughran, Dawson, Owen, Greenfield, Jones, et al
- Self-Publishing: Digital Dustup / Bidinotto, Bell, Preston
- Money: 2011 Trade Sales Numbers / Cader, Kafka
- eBooks: ‘Through Divorce Lawyers’ / Bjarnason, Brantley
- The Flouncing: La Trunk Speaks / Owen, Greenfield
- Contracts by the Trunkful: Tougher Times / Gardner
- Conferences: Early Bird Rates
- Competition: It’s Us or Facebook / Cyzewski
- Marketing: Why Ask YA? / Kephart
- Finding Publication: ‘Indie’ is not always it / Martin
- Books: Remember Dave Eggers? / Ryssdal
- Craft: Curb Your Spam / Friedlander, Chavez, Hamilton
- Craft: Author Quizzing Editor / Ferriss/Saller
- Books: Reading on the Ether
- Last Gas: Ferriss Wheeled Out / Bruni
In the EtherDome
Pearson Buys Author Solutions
Friedman, Gonzalez, Strauss, Gaughran, Dawson, Owen, Greenfield, Jones, et al
Since this occurred past “press time” for the Ether (how discourteous can Pearson be?), I do want to recommend to you several sources of info to follow on this.
- Our good colleague and host of the Ether, Jane Friedman, has written an important piece on the story: Is the Author Solutions Acquisition a Good Thing for Authors?
I’m sad to say I’ve heard publishing executives talk about the opportunity to “monetize unpublished manuscripts” and it’s why I left commercial publishing. Is this where the industry is headed? If so, I want no part of its future.
- Guy LeCharles Gonzalez actually comes out of blog-suspension and lays hands to keyboard on this one, in Penguin’s Modest Self-Publishing Gamble
While ASI almost definitely has more experience with digital marketing and analytics than Penguin does, those skills could easily be internalized for much cheaper than $116m, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of that work is being done by staff in the Philippines!
- Emily Suess at Suess’s Pieces has posted Calling Bullshit: A Closer Look at the Author Solutions Press Release:
Self-publishers are independent writers and artists. Say it with me: in-de-pen-dent. Sure, they pay for someone to print their book or they pay a web service to make their title available, but they don’t share their profits. They keep them. Not 20% of them, not 50% of them—all of them.
- David Gaughran looks at the track record for which Author Solutions has been infamous, in Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers
- Laura Dawson is back with another go at the topic, this one headlined: Service or tool?
- Our colleague Philip Jones weighs in at TheFutureBook with a couple of predictors remembered from the IfBookThen conference, in Penguin changes the conversation. Jones:
At IfBookThen earlier this year, Molly Barton, global digital director at Penguin USA who co-founded Book Country, an online community for writers, said the next stage in that site’s development would be to introduce “services” that the writers could buy, for example editorial, or design services. She also told me that Penguin was looking to take the site international, including a UK launch.
- The basic details are in a Reuters-London write, Penguin owner buys self-publisher Author Solutions
- Laura Dawson has contributed a quick but useful set of observations on the deal, which can supply some logical context: Penguin and Author Solutions
- Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has covered Author Solutions for a long time and has a list of questions she’d like answered: Pearson Buys Author Solutions
- Laura Hazard Owen at paid Content has listened to the conference call and files Penguin buys self-publishing service Author Solutions for $116m
- Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch has filed Penguin Acquires Self-Publishing Service Author Solutions For $116 Million
- And Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World has Penguin Buys Self-Publishing Platform Author Solutions for $116 Million
One question that comes to mind is how this might affect the BookCountry manuscript-development community Penguin operates. Greenfield, listening to the press call, has this:
“It’s early days. We haven’t thought in detail about Book Country,” said Penguin CEO John Makinson on a press conference call.
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And one more: A class action lawsuit has been announced against Harlequin, alleging that three authors, the plaintiffs, received much less in royalty payments than their agreements with the romance publisher stipulated. For this one, I recommend the early writes from:
- Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch with Three Authors File Class Action Suit Against Harlequin On Deprivation of Digital Royalties and
- Laura Hazard Owen at paid Content with Authors sue Harlequin for non-payment of ebook royalties
- Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch has a very short statement from Harlequin, saying it, “wishes to make clear that this is the first it has heard of the proceedings and that a complaint has not yet been served.” This one is Harlequin Says Authors Have Been Treated Fairly
You also can see the plaintiffs’ announcement of their action here. And the hashtag #harlequinlawsuit is following an online discussion, which includes Jane Litte of Dear Author offering tweeted summaries.
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For the past three years, ITW has in fact welcomed self-published authors as members. We have a number of self-published authors who are full members, including James Scott Bell (which is why his book was eligible for an award).
This is Douglas Preston writing to me. He is co-president of the International Thriller Writers (ITW). And he responded very promptly to my request for a statement on the ITW’s stance on self-publishing authors as members of the organization. Preston goes on:
Since we are an honorary organization in which membership is free and for life, self-published authors need to demonstrate a high level of accomplishment and professionalism.
Speaking of a high level of accomplishment and professionalism among the members, author and writing coach James Scott Bell let me know that his novella, One More Lie, was named the first self-published finalist in ITW’s awards at the organization’s annual ThrillerFest this week in New York.
Here’s what I was getting from Bidinotto:
We continue to be belittled by many of (the traditional publishing establishment’s) denizens for choosing to publish independently. Established writers’ organizations refuse to allow us full membership privileges, regardless of our proven sales.
The “us” of that comment is self-publishing authors. And Bidinotto’s remark was one among many raised around my between-the-gases post, EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D?
And that’s how the Ether got between the self-publishing camp and the Thriller Writers in a digital dustup about who is writerly enough.
I can leave it to you to get into the subject of the original piece, if you’d like (pack a lunch). The initial mull was prompted by Eugenia Williamson’s heavily criticized write, The dead end of DIY publishing at the Boston Phoenix.com, in which she looked at the self-publishing world’s apparent lack of “R&D” — meaning blockbuster books’ revenue presumably invested in new authors and work by traditional publishers.
It was heartening that in all but one instance, our comment contributors avoided the emotional one-upmanship of so many such discussions. Right from the outset, with a smartly articulated comment from author Roz Morris, the debate was sensible, respectful, and focused.
But my curiosity was piqued by Bidinotto’s comment about self-publishing authors being shut out of writers’ organizations. I asked him to supply me with an example. I’d covered his success with Hunter here on the Ether, and appreciated him getting right back to tell me, again in our comments, that the ITW’s policy for full membership precludes self-publishing authors.
And yet Preston’s answer to me in response to my request for a statement says otherwise. And, clearly, Bell was honored for a self-published work (although it should be noted that Bell publishes both traditionally and autonomously — I wondered briefly if that hybrid status was the key to his ITW membership).
Well, I’ve found out there’s more to this situation with the ITW than was immediately apparent. And a mere change in the placement of some explanatory copy could do the trick.
When Bidinotto responded to me with the information I invited him to supply, he referred me, quite logically, to the How To Join page of the ITW’s site. And on that page is exactly the text he cited in his comment:
Active membership is available to thriller authors published by a commercial publishing house. This includes authors of fiction and nonfiction. By “commercial publishing house” we mean a bona fide publisher who pays an advance against royalties, edits books, creates covers, has a regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold, and receives no financial payments from their authors.
Where Bidinotto then supplied ellipses, we find this line, immediately following the above, emphasis mine:
There are nuances involved in all of this, which is why ITW’s board of directors is constantly aware of changing industry trends and makes every effort to accommodate writers who are not traditionally published while maintaining high professional standards for Active member status.
That’s a tad more, but oblique. And it doesn’t have to be. Because the ITW already has clearer language written.
Preston’s statement to me when I asked for an explanation contains a very interesting paragraph that I couldn’t find on this “How To Join” page. That’s because it’s not there. After spending some time poking around, I discovered that you have to make an unlikely click on a link called “ITW maintains a list of recognized commercial publishers.”
And it’s there you’ll find this additional — and much more helpful — copy that Preston sent me:
With particular regard to self-published books, where there is no publisher beyond the author, any determination of the author being a qualified publisher shall be on a case-by-case basis and such factors as the work itself, the breadth of its marketing, the extent of its distribution, the editorial process, its sales, the author’s personal history, reviews in recognized publications, and any other factor relevant to the particular situation may be considered in making such determination. Self published writers are not automatically excluded from being a qualified publisher, but they bear a higher burden to demonstrate their status.
In short, because the proof of viability isn’t supplied by a standing traditional publisher, a self-published author needs to be prepared to provide information as requested by ITW to back up a request for full membership.
Debate the fairness of this if you must. But frankly, without examining the case each time, any organization is hard-pressed to tell who’s a going, selling author and who’s a fine but unsold hopeful.
Now here are a couple of completely unsolicited comments of my own.
To the ITW: Thanks again for supplying this information to me so we could hash out here why Bidinotto felt (I think justifiably) that full membership was out of reach for self-publishing authors. Can you consider placing this last bit of text (“With particular regard…”) on the “How To Join” page, instead of, or in addition to, the page that lists commercial publishers? Forgive me, but this would make more sense. You want the best mysteries to be found in your membership’s books, not on your site. And it would be a lot easier for self-publishers and Ether-stoned journalists to find that explanatory passage if it lived on the “How To Join” page.
To Bell: Congratulations on making a breakthrough for self-published work by having your novella nominated.
To Bidinotto: Go right back to the ITW and apply for full membership. Show them your excellent sale figures on Hunter, the material that’s been written about the book, the interviews with your fellow thriller authors you showed me on your site, your other work, and your Social Security card, if necessary. I’m not the ITW board (nothing so thrilling). But with Hunter’s arrival as a Wall Street Journal “Top 10″ in fiction ebooks and a No. 1 Kindle bestseller in mysteries and thrillers? — you look like a candidate to me.
And for all of us, it’s a lesson in communication. How unfortunate it is for the ITW to be subjected to complaints of shutting out self-publishers — when, indeed, they’re nominating a self-publisher for an award and simply not making their full policy findable.
If we all take a moment to think what others may need to know during this wrenching and long-running digital disruption, it can make a big difference in how things go. And it can help us hold down on the more negative noises borne primarily of exhaustion, lack of clarity, and concern about the future.
These are technical difficulties. Strange, sometimes infuriating, niggling, dumbass elements of being in basket-case transition of the industry! the industry!
Have a drink. Have another drink. There’s plenty more industry upheaval where this came from.
BookStats, a still-young tracking program handled by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), is out with a preliminary report of top-line figures for 2011, ahead of a deeper round of figures to come.
Michael Cader at Publishers Marketplace’s Publishers Lunchhas a summary of what we know now, in his writeup, generously headlined 2011 Trade Sales Fell Slightly In New BookStats Figures, As eBooks Near $2 Billion and Comprise 31 Percent of Adult Fiction.
I’ll just bullet some of the highlights here.
- eBooks vaulted to the largest-selling format for adult fiction, comprising 31 percent of dollar sales.
- Adult fiction ebooks went from $585 million in 2010 to $1.27 billion in 2011.
- eBooks accounted for almost 16 percent of all trade dollar sale.
- eBook unit sales increased far more, up 210 percent, to an estimated 388 million units.
- children’s and YA adult books comprised the “fastest-growing category” in 2011.
Cader goes on to discuss some issues of concern with the still-new calculations of the BookStats program. But he also includes a useful chart of the newly reported figures.
Note that the Publishers Lunch team handles general trade books and those in the religion sector differently from BookStats’ procedures, and this is why you’ll see some references at points in the chart below, such as “with Religion” — this means inclusive of those books, not necessarily with prayerful fervor.
Just like most media formats, the book market is still a long way from converting completely to digital: Last year, print accounted for 85 percent of the publishing industry’s general interest sales.
The report, he writes…
…finds that Amazon and other digital distributors are taking an increasing chunk of the market, and that sales of “trade” e-books — basically, everything except educational and professional texts — doubled in the last year.
This, he writes, “helped keep the publishing business more or less flat in 2011.” And that may not sound like such great news on the face of it. But:
That’s the kind of year executives in the newspaper and music business would have loved to have over the last decade. Those industries have seen their analog businesses drop off a cliff, and have spent a long time waiting for digital revenue streams to replace them. It took until 2011, for instance, for digital music sales to (barely) top CD sales in the U.S.
I discovered just how bloody annoyed I am about the farce that is today’s ebook landscape. Much to my own surprise, I found that I’m more than a little bit angry about the madness that dominates ebooks.
I’ve spent enough time in Reykjavik to know that Icelanders aren’t easily brought to such agitated states as this. They have geysers to do their erupting for them.
The emphasis in the following bit is mine:
First of all, the purpose of DRM is to limit what people can do with the files. By definition that is a loss of adaptability and flexibility right there. We can’t keep talking as if the readers aren’t a part of the publishing system: they are the point and purpose of publishing. Without them, books are nothing. Their needs are important.
Not that we weren’t headed in this direction in the last Ether, when Brett Sandusky told us Why DRM is fundamentally opposed to the book experience and Osprey Group’s Rebecca Smart restated her allegiance to the DRM-free ethos.
This, however, goes further. Brace yourself, you’re about to see what one Twitter correspondent has already complained is a “techie term,” ePUB. All it means is “Electronic PUBlication,” an open ebook standard. Try to keep your soul in the room:
Unfortunately, publishers are the only ones who have actually standardised on EPUB2 (for better or for worse), everybody else is in their own corner, doing their own thing, giving standardisation about as much time and respect as a hipster gives to Twilight fandom.
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Good. I
n case you’re wondering, the majority of ebooks are produced in ePUB, even those going to the Kindle. Bjarnason clarifies: “Amazon provides a conversion tool called Kindlegen that creates Amazon MOBI files from EPUBs.”
Here’s a bit more context on what we’re talking about.
Bjarnason was in Milan earlier this month for the summer edition of the IfBookThen conference. There, our colleague Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive filed a report for Publishers Weekly, Milan’s If Book Then Summer Edition Conference Tracks the Digital Transformation, and included a helpful summary of where Bjarnason keeps his professional head.
As Bjarnason noted, online publishing supports authoring in a manner quite different from traditional publishing: design, layout, and authoring are intermingled in a fashion contrary to the linear nature of previous workflows. Furthermore, writing for the web means that we will never finish technical specifications and formats; as the web evolves, so too will the things we produce. Web-based production enables platform-based publishing that focuses not on journals or books, but on tools and services.
No reading system today renders an EPUB without major problems, not unless your book sticks to plain text, a few italics, and maybe a header or two.
What does Bjarnason want?
Standardisation should mean that you could author a basic ebook using the specification as your only guide and have it render the same across all platforms…Kobo and B&N, e.g., can’t maintain a consistent rendering within their own platform, across their many devices.
The problem here is cost, as well as problems of interoperability and disregard for consumers — readers — represented by the status quo. Bjarnason:
Before disposable coffee cups became a standardised commodity, any coffee shop that wanted to sell coffee to go had to make a massive investment to set up a custom production of paper cups…After they became a standardised commodity, any coffee shop that wanted to could order a box of paper cups and offer coffee to go. The cups cost less. The coffee shops can offer better service for less. The makers of disposable cups earn more. Everybody makes more money and consumers have more buying power.
I’ll leave you to peruse Bjarnason’s write at your own pace. Particularly for those of us who aren’t up to our keyboards in code every day, the post is important for understanding that as ebooks become ever more central to publishing (see the sales report above), factioning within the field will continue to dog us.
As he gets to the advent of ePUB3, the newly arriving version which Adobe’s DRM system doesn’t support (and won’t for some time, Bjarnason fumes), he gets off this lovely passage about what’s going on in the backshop of digital publishing:
Theory and practice in the ebook world are not just separated, they’re setting each other’s stuff on fire, throwing clothes out onto the lawn, taking sledgehammers to the Porsche, and communicating only through divorce lawyers and thinly veiled death threats.
“I see that it would be surprising that someone would rip their publisher to shreds,” Penelope Trunk said, but the argument for self-publishing seems obvious to her. Of course, she noted, “not a lot of authors are in the position that I’m in” — with a very large online following.
You’ve just read a rare thing, too rare: original reporting.Laura Hazard Owen
Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent got in touch with Penelope Trunk and interviewed her about her widely discussed post, How I got a big advance from a big publisher and got self-published anyway. I was glad to see The Atlantic Wire pick up the piece from paidContent, it deserves the extra play.
So vociferous an attack on an unspecified traditional publisher was Trunk’s commentary that even the more militant members of the self-publishing community seemed inclined to sit this one out. In fact, Owen gets at that in a part of her story that might surprise some — Trunk isn’t part of the self-publishing community, such as it is, they don’t know her:
I told her about the community of outspoken self-publishing advocates like J.A. Konrath, who blogs almost exclusively about self-publishing and often riles up the publishing community with his opinionated posts. Trunk hadn’t read those posts and doesn’t see herself as part of that community. “I don’t want to be one of those self-publishing gurus,” she said.
Already we get a clearer look at this volatile event. This isn’t the person we usually expect to find trying to storm the pinstriped barricades.
As Owen explains, Trunk is an icon of the Brazen Careerist she founded. Its About section positions it as “a career-management site for high achieving young professionals and ambitious college students. The site helps you meet new people, find a job, and build relevant relationships to advance your career.”
My own unsolicited comment: The Brazen Careerist name is in line with a lot of popular current online parlance, in which one speaks of one’s motivated self as “badass.” You may have noticed this. Well, of course you have. Awful lot of self-styled “badasses” running around the Web right now being badly asinine, usually. I’d just like to say, take courage, good asses, your time will return and some of us still appreciate you.
Trunk to Owen:
“What really blows my mind is people talking about how I’m making stuff up,” Trunk said. “It’s like fiddling while Rome burns.”
But the string section, despite Trunk’s impatience, has been restless.
I'm still having trouble understanding how a major publisher could drop a book 3 months before pub date without anybody noticing.
— Ron Hogan (@RonHogan) July 12, 2012
@RonHogan holes, holes, holes. in that story.
— Kassia Krozser (@booksquare) July 12, 2012
At Digital Book World, Jeremy Greenfield wrote a blog post, I Don’t Buy Penelope Trunk’s Story, in which he called out Trunk on several points, including her assertion that “More than 85 percent of books sales are online, mostly at Amazon.”
While some of our industry observers have said they’re tired of the long Trunk of this story and wish people would stop talking about it, Greenfield is right to have gone back and added a follow-up, Trunk Debunked: Online Is Not Where ‘More than 85%’ of Books Are Sold. As he points out in a tweet, allowing bad numbers to hover in the charged atmosphere of publishing’s digital disruption is counter-productive.
He sets things straight using those newly released top-line statistics from BookStats (produced by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group) to prove just how far off Trunk is:
According to the latest numbers from BookStats…publishers derived 18.5% of book sales through online retailers. That’s a far cry from 85%.
Maybe Trunk was just being “brazen,” but she seems to have pulled that number out of her bad…
In her interview, Owen gets an interesting bite about Trunk’s initial decision to publish traditionally.
“I ran numbers,” she said. “I thought that, if I do no work, the advance that I get is probably commensurate to what I could sell on my own — but it would be a lot less work. But what I really thought was that I would learn a lot because I know that I’m going to have to be an ace at the publishing industry and I thought when you’re publishing a book, you’re partners with the publisher.
Setting aside the “do no work” interest (have you had your vacation yet?), she speaks of knowing she’s “going to have to be an ace at the publishing industry.” One wonders, first, why. One wonders, second, if there aren’t better options.
Owen’s feature with Trunk is easily worth the read on other levels, too, including comments about what ideas are right for the Internet (“small ideas,” quoth she) and what ideas are right for books. Hugh McGuire had some things to say about such assumptions in his TedxMontreal talk, which we covered recently in Ether Extra: eBooks Gone in 5 Years?
Answering one of the questions many people had after her peculiar Flouncing post ran (see the next section of the Ether), Trunk confirms to Owen that she did indeed get her entire advance from her publisher, now reportedly thought to be Pearson’s imprint, Que.
“When’s the last time you heard about a publisher going after someone in court?”
This is becoming more difficult, because in these days of massive changes in the industry, the publishers are doing their best to make sure their own interests are covered, which frequently means new contractual language we haven’t seen before.
After Penelope Trunk told everyone how she’d flounced out of her publishing deal (see the section above with Laura Hazard Owen), you might have seen a lot of “can she do that?” tweets flying back and forth.
A lot of us scrambled for friends and colleagues familiar with contracts — those would be agents — to ask several questions, some of which are touched on in Owen’s report:
- Could Trunk have been paid her entire advance before publication?
- Can she leave a contract with that advance intact without publishing?
- Can she leave with rights over her manuscript? — or does the publisher that paid for it own it?
- How is it that what Trunk has published at Amazon is so short? It’s listed as running only 46 or 53 pages, respectively, depending on whether you look at the paperback or Kindle editions at Amazon. And those editions aren’t linked to each other. This means that when you’re on the paperback page, you’re asked to “Tell the Publisher” (ahem) that you want to read it on Kindle … although there is a Kindle version. And its listing is similarly walled off from the paperback.
- As some observers have pointed out, the book doesn’t appear to be moving very fast, either. Those supposed fans of what’s brazen and careerish seem to be walking, not running.
Gardner’s post doesn’t address the Pandora’s Trunk of questions many of us would like answered. It does, however, land a couple of key issues in a time when, as she writes, “publishers are doing their best to make sure their own interests are covered” — who wants to be the victim of a Flouncing?
We’re advocating for our clients’ interests; but it’s more than just that one client we’re thinking of.
Precedents could be problematic.
We’re thinking beyond the one client (whose name is on the current contract) to all our other clients who may eventually want to work with this publisher. If we see a contract provision we don’t believe is in the best interest of an author, we don’t want to let it go without discussion because it’s going to come up again in later contracts.
What I hope Gardner can do, being a steadfast educator of authors in demystifying the ever-murkier process, is offer us some theoretical examples of what sorts of new clauses, new language, she and her colleagues are seeing in contracts.
No names or companies are appropriate or necessary, of course. (“Entertainment Purposes Only!” as Nathan Bransford likes to say when he has a poll on his blog.)
But aren’t there trends? Aren’t there drifts in one direction or another in certain areas of these contracts that can be pointed to?
Indeed, is there a post-Flouncing effect hitting contracts? A Trunk Clause? “We will send out the company station wagon and pick you up at your house in whatever Midwestern state you reside if you try to Flounce Out on us as certain parties unconnected in any way whatsoever to this contract have done to other parties, here unnamed.” Etc.?
Nobody doubts Gardner on her bottom line:
There are numerous changes happening with publisher contracts these days.
So what can be shared with us in generic terms about changes going into contracts amid digital disruption? Come and sit by me.
Just a note that we’re in a spate of closings on early-bird discounts for several major conferences.
But today (Thursday, July 19) is the last day for early-bird pricing on StoryWorld Conference + Expo, Writer’s Digest Conference West, and Screenwriters World Conference, while Friday (July 20) is the final day for early-bird rates on DBW Discoverability and Marketing 2012. Using promo code PORTER will get you an additional discount on any or all of these four.
Here’s information on all these and several more.
Facebook offers info-graphics about political controversies, YouTube videos of kittens and rabbits wrestling, and unmatched drama from that friend who can’t use a toaster properly. What are you offering?
For a writer in Christian literature — and I’m pulling special rank here as a minister’s son – Ed Cyzewski is awfully good about not kneecapping you with a hymnal.
Yes, he talks about “brokenness,” which seems to be a fave of the faithful at the moment. So, what the hell, the industry! the industry! could probably benefit from a prayer or two, being nothing if not broken.
It’s tough to compete with Jon Stewart or cute kittens on Facebook—if someone ever combined the two, the internet would probably explode.
See, Cyzewski seems gratifyingly confident that if he just exhorts you to work on your writing, your soul will take care of itself. He asks for “truth,” not donations; “honesty,” not missions; and “our ponderous phrases, picky poems, and pushy prose” instead of status updates.
Writers are among the few who have the power to serve up the nourishing power of the truth in a world starving to death on entertainment and distraction.
I get that when I hear or read a little Shakespeare done well, meaning without a lot of modern gussying up. The driving beat of those iambics reminds me that we all had something more important on our minds once. It had, actually, precious little to do with any faith, too. It was more humane than that. And it seems so long ago.
O, that our night of woe might have remember’d
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you, as you to me, then tender’d
The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits!
That’s not Ed, though it may be Edward de Vere. See what I mean? You get that weird sense of longing, don’t you? All human.
And lo, Cyzewski has something on Amazon called The Tweets of the Apostles. I won’t be caught RT-ing that, myself, but Cyzewski has to be at least semi-high-church to pull it off. So he’s OK.
Think of this one as a little meditation and see what you get. Because whether you like yours with organ music or straight up, he’s right: We’re all laboring in the Valley of the Shadow of Digital Distractions.
If you don’t like it, read Sonnet 120. Fix you right up.
What, indeed, would happen if the “young adult” label suddenly (in fantastical, whimsical, utterly surreal fashion) vanished?
I recognize that I’m being naïve. I know that labels help commerce, labels help committees, labels help books find their way onto shelves.
But in Removing the YA Label: A Proposal, a Fantasy, she makes some points worth remembering:
- Certainly the YA label is not “protecting” teens from scandalous reads (however readers choose to define scandalous these days); it’s not the equivalent, in other words, of a PG rating.
- And certainly the YA label doesn’t tell us much of anything about the story we’re about to encounter, or about its relative artistry.
- “YA” tells us only that a teen or teens is involved. But so what, really, because at the end of the day, that’s the case for many an adult novel, too.
Maybe this is just what gets on an author’s mind near the release of her 14th book. Small Damages releases this week. But I like the question, just for its own sake.
I can’t stop myself from wondering, every now and then, if all this either/or-ing does book lovers, and those who write for them, any redemptive good.
For me, this crucial difference of opinion regarding I Know It’s Over became a definitive turning point. I’d previously believed my chief ambition was to be published as a young adult author, but in the space of a few minutes I discovered it was much more important to be true to the novels I wanted to write.
I think instances of authorial integrity like the one related here by C.K. Kelly Martin are good to note. There’s a compelling case made here for a situation in which it seems to have been right — at least from the author’s point of view — to hold out for her material when an agency asked for more change than she felt was correct:
I didn’t agree with their suggested changes, particularly about the cutting of what amounted to twenty percent of the book…There were no arguments and no bad will between us—it was just a classic example of “artistic differences” with no objective wrong or right.
As part of Nova Ren Suma’s series of guest posts on authors’ turning points at distraction no. 99, the short essay doesn’t get a headline of its own, but it’s worth your attention, and I’m glad that Livia Blackburne flagged it this week.
Here’s Martin, showing an even hand:
It’s quite possible the changes my agent suggested may have led to a sale also—an even quicker one maybe—but if so, they would’ve led to the sale of a book I didn’t want to write. What would be the point?
So Martin stuck it out. And in the surprise of the piece, we learn that it took, apparently, at least a year or two — not to self-publish the book it in a fiery fit of “take that!” but to secure the representation of another agent, who successfully marketed I Know It’s Over (for Grade 9 and up) to Random House.
By the time it was released in the fall of 2008, I Know It’s Over’s journey had been so long that the fact that it was being published didn’t feel so surprising, but it did feel right. More than worth the wait.
Her own point in the piece, by the way, is not that she opted to stay within the structure of traditional publishing on this book, but that she opted to hang onto what she felt strongly was the original book’s rightness.
As good as that message is, all by itself, I think that these days when understandable impatience, let alone artistic differences, is so readily answered by the quicker fix of, “Hey, just DIY!” it’s also good to recall from time to time that the self-publishing route isn’t necessarily the answer to each roadblock.
You know, I guess I’m a publisher, so we create our books and we manufacture our books mostly in the U.S. now, but we experimented and still do here and there with books made in China. And so it was on my mind, sort of the difference in unit costs, and the advantages of shipping things over there.
I guess he is a publisher, yes, and an author. And Eggers’ sixth book, A Hologram for the King has been out in hardcover since June 19. It will be out in a Kindle version August 1, from his McSweeney’s Books.
Eggers is interviewed, quickly, on American Public Radio’s Marketplace by Kai Ryssdal, who points out that the hardcover edition of the book as rather ornate, as you can see in the photo by Matt Berger on the Marketplace site.
As it turns out, this has relevance to the theme of the book, which — starting with the old Schwinn bike company — turns on global economics. When Ryssdal notes the printer’s credit in the front matter, “First printing, manufactured at Thomson-Shore printers, Dexter, Mich.,” it turns out that Eggers has a point to make with this.
Yeah. They’re a medium-sized printer right outside Detroit, and so they were on my radar just for this nice local printer. And this was done at a totally regular unit cost, competitive with anything else you make in the U.S…If you can work with what you’re envisioning and make it work with the machinery they’ve (a company like Thomson-Shore has) got, you can come up with something great.
This, in opposition to what his protagonist experiences in the drive to move manufacturing offshore.
A lot of the outsourcing of this manufacturing, it’s done by a little thousand cuts. And before you know it, you’re shopping out everything.
Are authors so desperate they need to conduct business like Nigerian princes looking for a quick $75,000 loan, or that cousin of yours writing from their hotel in London about their lost passport?
Maybe these authors haven’t heard of the idea of permission marketing, where you engage people and offer something that’s interesting enough that they give you their permission to communicate.
Jeff Goins had a recent piece on salesmanship in general, focusing, in part, on that same element of permission, Why Your Idea Isn’t Spreading (The Salesman’s Problem).
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing.
Of course, Dan Blank and others have recently wondered aloud just whose permission Godin thinks he needs to put out a book. Here are Blank and Roz Morris on the Ether in Tribal Drums/Seth on Kickstarter.
I got an e-mail from Twitter that led me to a Kickstarter campaign page…I think Seth is the product here; the book is secondary. I’m not convinced Seth ever needed $40K, much less $265K. It feels more like he is—cynically, perhaps—trying to prove a point to people like me who refuse to get on board…I’m relinquishing my spot on Seth’s list of True Fans. I’m sure he won’t have any trouble replacing me.
Maybe for some, permission is as permission does.
But I’m on Friedlander’s side. And Blank’s and Morris’ and Chavez’s.
What’s more, here’s April L. Hamilton in a post at Publetariat headlined Indie Authors: Stop Promoting To Other Indie Authors. Hamilton writes:
Spam is spam is spam, regardless of whether or not the person on the receiving end is a fellow indie author. If anything, indie authors should be even more hesitant to bombard their fellows with promotional messages and pleas than they would be in dealing with the general public, because they should know very well what those fellows are up against every day.
— Livia Blackburne (@lkblackburne) July 13, 2012
And Friedlander clearly is as fed up with this amateurish behavior as the rest of us:
I get these pitches all the time and I bet you do, too. I get them whether or not I know the author, and it doesn’t matter to them that I never buy or read the kind of book they are pushing.
Yep, me too. Friedlander:
Here’s my advice: When you’re itching to just let every single person in your email account know you’ve just published a book, DON’T. Try to find the readers who are actually interested.
I’m down with that. What about you? Have you had it up to you-know-where yet with this?
Lucy: Hyphens and two-word nouns seem to be going the way of the dodo bird. In a 20-page stretch, my copy editor rendered back yard into backyard, bird cage into birdcage, picnic ware into picnicware, mud room into mudroom, family-planning notions into family planning notions, high-school chum into high school chum, re-jigger into rejigger, semi-circle into semicircle.
Carol: First, it’s a rare writer who is consistent in styling these words throughout a long article or book…Second, in following a style manual, your editor probably doesn’t care about those compounds any more than you do… and might even personally prefer the forms you used.
In two articles, writer Lucy Ferriss and editor Carol Saller go back and forth with the sort of questions writers well may have (but not feel they can ask) and answers editors could offer (if they were asked).
These stories are:
- Help Me Understand My Copy Editor: a Lingua Franca Dialogue, Part I, written by Ferriss, and
- Help Me Understand My Copy Editor: a Lingua Franca Dialogue, Part II, written by Saller (AKA The Subversive Copy Editor at the University of Chicago Press).
The excerpt above is from Part I.
Here’s part of an exchange from Saller’s installment, Part II.
Lucy: Must we keep capitalizing words like Internet, Linoleum, and Dumpster? When do we get to decide they’re become generic? Changing these to proper names introduces a distraction, in my view. And who decides that, for instance, in speaking of Catholics, Masses is capped whereas sisters is lower case?
Carol: Publishers might claim that there are legal issues that dictate uppercasing trademarks, but ultimately one’s style manual or house dictionary determines capitalization. I know it’s frustrating and difficult to understand the reasoning behind the styles listed in a manual—often because there isn’t any.
Quite a number of such frequently encountered gaps between a writer’s and an editor’s view are in play in these two companion posts.
Feel free to drop a few of your own quandaries in the comments below, I’ll be glad to put them to Saller or Ferriss.
The books you see in our Flash graphic and in the list that follows have been mentioned 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. As challenged as we all are for time, reading remains the point.
- The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin (Exciting Press) | Ether sponsor
- Perfect Skin by Nick Earls (Exciting Press) | Ether sponsor
- Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing by L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press) | Former Ether sponsor
- Allies at Dieppe by Will Fowler
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
- Coffeehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski
- Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris
- Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us by Andrew Keen
- A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
- Hunter by Robert Bidinotto
- I Know It’s Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
- Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford
- Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe by Nathan Bransford
- Jacob Wonderbar and the Intersteller Time Warp by Nathan Bransford
- MetaWars: Fight for the Future by Jeff Norton
- The New American Dream by Penelope Trunk
- One More Lie by James Scott Bell
- Small Damages by Beth Kephart
- Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
(Tim) Ferriss apparently jets around a whole bunch, a guru being only as good as his frequent-flier status, so his dominion extends to the heavens… One of the tips he shared in The Times was this: if you must a check a bag, pack an unloaded starter pistol in it, so that the Transportation Security Administration will flag the piece of luggage, thus diminishing or altogether eliminating the possibility of its loss.
It’s extra work and fretting for them (the TSA) but, hey, you get peace of mind. Isn’t that what counts?
Bruni is willing to call out Ferriss for “his emphasis on personal advantage over the public good.”
Selfishness run amok is a national disease (and, to judge by Greece, Italy and a few other European countries, an international epidemic). Too many people behave as if they live in a civic vacuum, no broader implications to their individual behavior.
Bruni’s short write gets at several areas of routinely selfish behavior — in corporate protection of loopholes, in dodging of every personal tax possible, in resistance to “necessary changes to Social Security and Medicare.”
Ferriss, in this bright light of intelligent criticism, becomes a very peculiar member of the publishing community. This is an author whose book sales begin to look like notches on a money belt.
Don’t pay for airport parking, Ferriss advised in The Times, if the accrued tickets from leaving your car on the street won’t be as expensive. Sure, you’re unlawfully hogging a space someone else might make legal use of; maybe you’re thwarting street sweepers, too. Not your problem.
If I do no work, the advance that I get is probably commensurate to what I could sell on my own.
When Owen was reminded by Trunk’s fondness for recycling old blog posts as books of the Jonah Lehrer incident (of so-called “self-plagiarizing”), Trunk was pretty Ferrissian in her “brazen” way:
Jonah Lehrer’s doing great, so anybody who’s going to criticize him for not being the right kind of journalist is a joke.
Gaming any system always costs someone something. Not being the one who pays is cheap, not smart.
And having the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Bruni gets our last word in this hot-weather edition of the ever expansive Ether, when he writes that for people like Ferriss:
A conscience is for chumps.
Writing on the Ether now can be followed not only here at JaneFriedman.com (free) but also via RSS at the Publishers Marketplace’s Publishers Lunch Automat, in the section, ePublishing and the Future. (A subscription is required for Publishers Marketplace and its many services — easily worth the cost.) The @PublishersLunch industry news service is led by Michael Cader and Sarah Weinman.
Main image: iStockphoto / jfberge
The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin
Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.
“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” —Elizabeth Eslami