WRITING ON THE ETHER: In a Handbag


By

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press


Seasons in Love by Dave MaloneSeasons in Love by Dave Malone

Poems rich in romance, life, and nature, Seasons in Love journeys through four seasons and through love that breaks and sustains us.

Ozark summer heat to winter blizzards, long-lasting love grips these poems. With words and language from southern Missouri hills, Malone takes us into the romantic backwoods of moon, creek, and mountain, but ultimately leads us to life — “it’s blue light, barely seen.”

Find out more on Amazon.


Table of Contents

  1. In a Handbag: The Book-Review-Buying Scandal
  2. States’ eBook Pricing Settlement: $69 Million / Owen, Vuong
  3. DoJ Lawsuit: Guild & Kohn Get In / Owen
  4. Bookselling #1: Amazonia Expands / Cader, Owen
  5. Bookselling #2: Stores Go Kobo / Rosen, Greenfield
  6. Libraries: On Diane Rehm’s Show / Sesno, Russell, Greenfield, Adler
  7. Speaking of Libraries: A TOC-ly suggestion / Wikert
  8. Books to Come: TOC, too / McKesson
  9. Craft: Google Analytics for Authors / Atkins, Friedlander
  10. Craft: The Art of Elision / Lebak
  11. Books and Conference Notes: Reading on the Ether
  12. Last Gas: Proust Did It / Patterson

In a Handbag: The Book-Review-Buying Scandal

 

Never heard of an author before and see her book on the list? That may very well be why.

Jane Litte at the Dear Author site has been mincing no words about it, and rightly so.

As the book-review-buying scandal broke, it felt like the whole beleaguered publishing world was just heading straight to hell. In a phrase, we didn’t need this.

There’s a storm of more than 125 comments in the EtherDome, following my Extra Ether: Buying Book Reviews — Still Admire John Locke?

In the main Ether of the week here, we’re going to gather a few more observations, angles, and voices on the spectacle of people in the industry! the industry! stooping to conquer.

And then we’re going to pressure-wash several aspects of this grotesquerie. We’ll pull those points, dripping, out of the flotsam. They’re issues with which some would like to obfuscate this squalor. And that won’t work here.

 

First, a bit more from Litte’s able write:

Buying reviews is worthwhile for authors. It’s not ethical, but it works.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Jane Litte

If your heart isn’t sinking already, her wrapup’s section called Cheaters Prospering will get it riding lower in the water. This is her good follow, of course, to the work of David Streitfeld in the New York Times, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.

Author loops exist for co-dependent self-promotion like this.  Mailing list emails will go out asking for “Likes” because a sufficient number of likes will move a book to the top of a search engine result and can be included in Amazon’s email lists.  Being included in an Amazon email instantly results in success…Cheaters do prosper.

https://twitter.com/jane_l2/status/75199141269086208

 

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Suw Charman-Anderson

Both Litte and Suw Charman-Anderson (no relation) at Forbes find room in their writes — packed with the disgrace that author John Locke has made of his once vaunted first-to-sell-a-miliion career — so they can note the sorry case of another author, England’s Stephen Leather.

In Fake Reviews: Amazon’s Rotten Core, Charman-Anderson writes that Leather:

Has a network of friends and friends-of-friends who help “create a buzz” and whose relationship to Leather is unknown to the reader.

Charman-Anderson comes to this:

The mood among authors I’ve spoken to is pessimistic. No one believes that Amazon will step up to the plate unless forced, so how do we force Amazon to act? How do we create a genuine cost to unethical behaviour?

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Amazon Is Not at Fault

Here’s the first point I’d like to pull out of the murk: It is incorrect that “no one believes that Amazon will step up to the plate unless forced.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressInstead, many observers are watching to see Amazon  move on this. Its own policy has been violated by Leather and others, certainly by John Locke, who has confessed in the Times to defrauding Amazon consumers with his “store-bought” bogus reviews, 300 of them.

Author Robert Kroese at the New Wave Authors Blog writes this, in the colorfully headlined post If Opinions Are Like Assholes, John Locke’s Got 300 of Them:

Amazon has strict Terms of Service that prohibit the posting of fraudulent reviews, but that only makes the situation worse by giving the impression that Amazon proactively polices the reviews section (as far as I can tell, while they respond to complaints, they do not have any procedures in place to proactively identify and remove fake reviews).

 

If, in fact, “there are no procedures in place to proactively identify and remove fake reviews,” you can bet that Amazon’s administration understands better than anyone how much the company needs those procedures.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressChampioning the consumer review as Seattle has done, it now, surely, wants to protect it.

But further, as I wrote in my Extra Ether piece, the fraudulent review-and-recommendation activities perpetrated on Amazon’s site are not Amazon’s fault.

Yes, the company needs to respond to the problem.

But this problem is being created by members of the publishing community.

 

Not Just Self-Publishing

Erin Keane’s piece in SalonCan self-publishing buy respect? — in addition to incorrectly stating that Publishers Weekly sells reviews (it does not, and that has been corrected) — set the Locke affair firmly in the DIY context. Too firmly.

As I wrote in my Extra post:

It’s worth pointing out that self-publishing authors aren’t necessarily the only bad apples here. What’s to have stopped a traditionally published author who wanted to gin up her or his sales of a newly listed book with a splash of gushing, fabricated reviews?

Nathan Bransford

And Nathan Bransford rightly has followed up with the same concern. In What Do You Think About Authors Paying for Positive Reviews? he writes:

Some of the responses to (Streifeld’s New York Times) post, including Salon’s, aligned this practice with self-publishing, likely because most of the authors featured in the article, including John Locke, were self-published authors.  I feel like this is unfair. There’s no reason why a traditionally published author couldn’t do the same thing, and in this day and age there’s every incentive for everyone to try and generate as much attention as possible.

Bransford, himself a traditionally published author, is entirely right to call this into question.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Sam Missingham

Sam Missingham at TheBookseller does the same, in her write, The illusion of truth:

With many folk from traditional publishers using paid-for reviews as yet another stick to beat self-published authors with, in some cases it’s hard to pinpoint if publishers are more angered by the moral issues these have thrown up or by the fact that these authors have manipulated the system to propel their books above more “worthy” traditionally published books.

I appreciate the tack Missingham takes on this, particularly in her view of the establishment’s supposed remove from such issues:

Clearly there is no justification for authors paying for reviews—it is a fraud being perpetrated against the paying public. However, perhaps traditional publishers should pause for a moment of quiet reflection and humility? I doubt any established publisher would be as gauche as to pay cash money in return for book reviews but they do have a more subtle, codified model of rewards for reviews, from free books to parties.

However, I’m alarmed when I find folks going too quickly to the “this is nothing new” line. Pickpocketing isn’t new. It’s still wrong. So I’ll cordially decline to let anyone off the hook on a “this is just the latest form of an old problem” dodge. It’s a dodge. Fraud needs to be stopped however old or new.

What’s more, the assumption many have made — that this is a self-publishing community problem — is something worth examining in terms of the mass of material now moving on the market.

Streitfeld’s story in the times carried this information on competition:

In 2006, before Amazon supercharged electronic publishing with the Kindle, 51,237 self-published titles appeared as physical books, according to the data company Bowker. Last year, Bowker estimates that more than 300,000 self-published titles were issued in either print or digital form.

 

And Andrew Shaffer, author of Great Philosphers Who Failed at Love, is at the Huffington Post, picking up the on the odds in his post, Publishing’s Drug Problem:

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Andrew Schaffer

Visibility is one of the most difficult parts of the self-publishing equation. No matter how great your book is, it is fighting against a tidal wave of cheap ebooks on Amazon. If you can get your book into the top 100 (or even the top 10 of a subgenre bestseller list) on Amazon, it has a good chance of staying there.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressThis, of course, can lead to some desperate measures:

If you can pay enough people to buy your .99 ebook and review it positively, and crack one of Amazon’s bestseller lists, readers are going to check it out. Especially at a low price point like .99. Customers are suckers for the fallacy that the cream rises to the top.

None of which can condone the use of fraudulent reviews or other manipulative buzz-building tactics. Self- or traditionally published, no author can be excused by the community of publishing for perpetrating this kind of illegal and immoral scam.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Janna Malamud Smith’s essay, “Ruthlessness and Art-Making,” is in the Summer 2012 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review

One way to test for what’s appropriate: Who pays?

In any case of a paid reviewer, the simplest way to test whether a reviewer’s activity is correct is to ask the “Who pays?” question.

  • In the longtime, familiar setting of journalistic critics (the role I’ve held many times during my career), the news or entertainment medium pays the reviewer. This, of course, is the cleanest format because the reviewer’s “boss” has nothing to do with the artist or author being reviewed. The reviewer is writing for the medium and for its readership,.
  • As soon as it’s determined that the reviewed party is in some way paying for a review, either directly or through an intermediary like Todd Jason Rutherford in Streitford’s Times story, then something’s wrong. The party being reviewed should never pay for such a service. If she or he does, then the reviewer is “working for” that author or artist and cannot be trusted to produce a balanced and fair review.

 

One high-level view of the quandary we face now comes from Paul Laity at the Guardian, in Are Amazon reader reviews killing off the critic?

So: are Amazon et al, with their bought-and-paid-for notices, killing off the book review? Or are they rather making the traditional, commissioned book review more important than ever?

Laity makes the point that what’s happening with reader reviews in “the Amazon scandals reaffirm the importance of the much-maligned traditional book review.”

Crowd-reviewing, Laity admits, suffers in the old-school journalistic-critical settng.

Yes, there’s only one wise voice rather than the wisdom of the crowd, but these critics are convincing, independent, entertaining and trustworthy enough that, time and again, they are paid to offer their opinion. And not in the way that Todd Rutherford was paid, by the authors of the books themselves.

 

Gravity

Lastly, probably the most dispiriting comments I found coming in this week on the Extra Ether article ran along the lines of, “Why is everybody so shocked?” and “What’s the big deal?” and, from a commenter named Seeley James:

Why do people feel conned by John Locke? It’s a $0.99 book for crying out loud.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressPrice has nothing to do with this. Integrity has everything to do with it.

And James’ attitude reminds me of people who will prop open security barriers at gated communities so the pizza guy can get in — it’s fine if they want to compromise their own security; it’s unacceptable to compromise the whole community’s security.

Fraud in the publishing marketplace is perpetrated against all of us. At all price points. In all formats of production and distribution. At all career stages. Apparently, the business is so violently rocked by change today that the “wide open Wild West” nonsense some folks like to hail is also convincing creeps that fraud is fine. It is not fine.

The last thing we need is to send another signal to the world at large that publishing can’t run its house with simple, trustworthy decency. And the invasion of amateurs now sweeping the field cannot be used as an excuse to stand by as the tables of best practice are overturned.

This is a serious issue and a potent problem.

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States’ eBook Pricing Settlement: $69 Million / Owen, Vuong

Ebook-buying consumers in 49 states (all except Minnesota) and five territories are set to receive $69 million as the result of a settlement between the states and HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster.

Laura Hazard Owen’s  report for paidContent moved after 8:30 Eastern on Wednesday evening.

If the settlement is approved, the three publishers, who are also settling with the Department of Justice in the federal antitrust suit, will pay a total of $69 million to consumers who bought agency-priced ebooks between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressThe states’ attorneys general also are reported to have secured an additional $7.5 million in court fees from the settling publishers.

Watching updates from various parts of the country, Owen was able to begin piecing together some of the states’ cuts of the total $69 million settlement:

If the settlement is approved, eligible Connecticut ebook buyers would receive up to $1.26 million in total compensation, for example, while Washington ebook buyers would receive up to $2 million, Maryland ebook buyers would receive up to $1.64 million and Hawaii ebook buyers would receive up to $300,000. In addition, the settling publishers would pay $7.5 million in court fees.

Andy Vuong, writing for the Denver Post, reports, “Consumers in Colorado are expected to receive roughly $1.5 million in compensation.”

Writes Owen:

How will consumers be paid? Baltimore’s ABC News reports that “in most cases, consumers may choose to receive the value of their restitution by check or by crediting the amount to future purchases of e-books. E-book retailers Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo have agreed to identify and contact each eligible customer by email. Retailers Google and Sony will also notify affected customers. Sony will inform customers that checks will automatically be issued. Google customers will be directed to submit a claim on a settlement website.”

Payments are to begin, Owen writes, 30 days after the settlement’s approval. And more details are expected during the day Thursday on this one.

And, of course, Owen also has news for us on that DoJ case.

I see your eyes glazing over. Wake up, we’ll make it quick.

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DoJ Lawsuit: Guild & Kohn Get In / Owen

As U.S. District Judge Denise Cote prepares to issue a verdict on the Department of Justice’s proposed ebook pricing settlement with three publishers, she has granted two parties that oppose the settlement — the Authors Guild and attorney and licensing expert Bob Kohn — permission to weigh in as amici curiae, or “friends of the court.”

Laura Hazard Owen

Knowing you can’t get through the week without a quick romp through the pleasures of the Department of Justice anti-trust case against the Big Five and Apple, Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent graciously gives you a cocktail-party-length bit of background — commit it to memory for the next time they ask, won’t you? — and then brings you up to date on the latest, incremental move in the somnolent story.

Attorney and RoyaltyShare CEO Bob Kohn, she reports, will have to limit his brief for the court to five pages, which must be filed by Tuesday. His initial brief ran to 55 pages.

Kohn will now have to choose which of his arguments are most important and can fit into five pages.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressAnd, with thanks to Owen, here are the key points of the Authors Guild and Kohn arguments:

  • The Authors Guild and Kohn both argue that the DOJ defines the ebook market too narrowly, disregarding interrelated devices like e-readers.
  • The Authors Guild also says the proposed settlement would harm traditional bookstores and destroy competition.
  • Kohn additionally argues that the DOJ’s own investigation into Amazon’s ebook pricing reveals that the company engaged in predatory pricing, and had demanded that the DOJ turn over all documents relating to its investigation of Amazon.
  • Both the Authors Guild and Kohn have called for a hearing, which the DOJ opposes.

Lastly, Owen provides you, in her last line, with a festival of court documents and proposed briefs, in case you exhaust all else on your Kindle over Labor Day.

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Bookselling #1: Amazonia Expands / Cader, Owen

Amazon New York has said for many months it was their intention to make the start-up imprint’s ebooks available for sale by other ebooksellers.

As Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch points out in Ingram to Distribute Amazon NY’s eBooks, the deal with Ingram’s Core Source services arrives just in time.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressOutside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Forrester’s Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine is just out.

Equally freighted with subtitle, Why Have Kids? – A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness from Jessica Valenti is next Tuesday’s release.

Cader makes notes inconsistency in Amazon’s pricing:

Manning’s (and Bodine’s) book has a a “digital list price” of $15.99, discounted at Amazon to $9.99, and Valenti’s book has a DLP of $14.99 but is discounted all the way down to $4.99. Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Chef has a DLP of $22 (compared to a print list price of $35), and is also discounted at Amazon to $9.99.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressIn this case, Cader followed paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen with the news of Amazon’s distribution arrangement. In her exclusive, she writes:

The deal, with Ingram’s digital distribution arm CoreSource, will make the ebooks available to Amazon competitors like Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo — though, of course, those competitors won’t be required to stock Amazon titles.

Owen notes the irony here:

The idea of Apple selling Amazon’s ebooks is particularly interesting, given the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple and book publishers for allegedly colluding to set ebook prices.

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Bookselling #2: Stores Go Kobo / Rosen, Greenfield

As had long been rumored, the American Booksellers Association announced that it is partnering with Kobo to give member stores an opportunity to sell e-books and, for the first time, e-reading devices.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Judith Rosen

Judith Rosen — recently promoted to the role of bookselling editor at Publishers Weekly — notes the background on this move, which stems from a much-criticized departure from the scene by Google.

The agreement replaces one with Google, which was to have ended in January 2013.

The idea here is to give bookstores, members of the American Booksellers Association, access to ebooks, one of many moves being made to try to align terrestrial bookstores with the digital dynamic.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressRosen’s write points out a presumed advantage in the Kobo arrangement.

Unlike Google, Kobo has experience in the bookselling environment and its products were available in Borders, which had a stake in the company. Under the arrangement with the ABA, Kobo will not only make its list of nearly 3 million e-book titles available as well as e-readers and accessories, but assist with training, in-store merchandising, marketing, sales, and logistic solutions.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Jeremy Greenfield

From Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World, and based on Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg’s initial report on the Wall Street JournalKobo to Replace Google E-Books for Independent Booksellers — Kobo’s intention is to partner with most of the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) 2,000 member stores.

The way doesn’t appear to be entirely clear, though — or maybe it’s not a private pathway for Kobo.

Writes Greenfield in Kobo Strikes Deal With ABA to Sell Devices and E-Books Through Indie Bookshops: 

There is competition for the business of these small bookshops. Zola, a new e-bookstore set to open this September, has signed up about 50 bookstores to sell e-books through its e-commerce platform. The company told Digital Book World in July that it was in talks with the ABA to replace Google Books as the association’s e-book vendor.

An informational email from Greenfield to coverage contacts indicates that the Kobo arrangement with the Booksellers Association, in fact, is not exclusive.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressThis means that the ABA can add additional partners, presumably Zola Books among them.

We’re given to understand by Greenfield that talks with Zola Books are ongoing.

Meanwhile in the Kobo arrangement, Greenfield writes:

Booksellers will share in the revenue from each e-book and device sold. Kobo has not yet returned request for comment on what exactly the revenue split will be. Kobo will also be providing support to the bookstores, in the form of training and in-store displays.

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Libraries: On Diane Rehm’s Show / Sesno, Russell, Greenfield, Adler

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Frank Sesno

For a panel discussion on the libraries situation in general — guest-hosted by Frank Sesno, a former CNN colleague of mine — check the tape of the Diane Rehm Show from Wednesday,

The panel included Carrie Russell of the American Library Association (ALA) and Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World.

Some interesting points are covered. For example, some 76 percent of libraries in the United States currently have ebook lending available, Russell tells Sesno.

“Why don’t more people know about it?” Sesno asks Russell.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Carrie Russell

“I don’t know,” Russell says. “I think it’s something that we (the ALA) need to promote a little bit more. And I think that…if you get a Kindle for Christmas or something, you kind of associate the Kindle with Amazon…you don’t really associate that device with ‘something I would do at the library.”

Russell adds that of course “it doesn’t necessarily have to be a reader” used for ebooks. “It can be a computer or an iPhone or other things” used as a reader.

Greenfield tells Sesno:

About one in five people have borrowed an ebook in some way…Those readers are what we call “power readers.” They read a lot more, they borrow a lot more from their library, they buy a lot more books and ebooks. So they are the best kind of library patron and the most interesting kind — and they’re also the best kind of customers for publishers.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressThe way Allan Adler of the Association of American Publishers describes ebook availability via libraries to Sesno on the show will — no fault of Adler’s — make your head spin in a gentle, NPR-ish way.

He notes that two major publishers don’t make their books available for lending; two others make books available, but just through pilot programs (mentioned in our earlier item); other member-publishers of the association make some but not all books (backlist) available to libraries; and there’s a publisher that makes a book available only for 26 loans “before the library has to re-up its licensing arrangement.”

(That 26-loans limit is HarperCollins’ sometimes derided regulation, as in this Benedicte Page write from March, Fury over ‘stupid’ restrictions to library ebook loans.)

Adler:

Publishers are trying to replicate to some extent the business model involved with print books, but it’s a very different one.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press“Why don’t all publishers make ebook lending available?” Sesno asks.

Adler says the situation is:

A bottom-line competitive issue amongst publishers in the marketplace so it’s not an issue they can get together and discuss among themselves — nor does AAP as the trade association discuss this with them for anti-trust purposes.

That may be a wave to the Department of Justice, in case you didn’t catch it.

Adler speaks to the often cited issue of publishers fearing piracy as a result of ebook lending, a concern pooh-poohed as a sham issue by many critics of publishers on this matter.

Sesno then asks Greenfield a question that he assumes is on the minds of publishers — “If you can download a book free” from a library as a patron, “why own it?”

 

Greenfield:

I think that’s something publishers are wrestling with right now…’How will this affect my business?’ At the same time publishers, themselves, are book people..they love books and they love libraries and they want to find a way to support libraries…The publishers that are lending to libraries…don’t want this to undercut their business.

Greenfield goes on to raise a question of author compensation in the scenario of library lending, too.

It’s really unfair to authors, as well. If their work can be widely distributed for little or no money, how does an author get rewarded for spending months or years of their life producing something if hundreds or thousands of people can look at it and the author gets no remuneration?

 

When asked for the library association’s response to the issue of ebook lending and profits, Russell tells Sesno:

The libraries, we’re kind of confused — we don’t understand that argument at all. If you talk to somebody in the general public and you tell them that some of the major trade publishers don’t sell ebooks to libraries, they wonder why and we wonder why, too, when we have evidence that library users are the same people who buy books, and we have data that proves that. Jeremy talked about the “power patron.” And we have new readers coming into the library excited about digital content. And, in addition, the publishers are doing pretty well financially.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressMore good questions and comments follow on the show, which includes questions from listeners, including:

  • Can Amazon can be considered competition to libraries?
  • Can libraries be seen as taking on the traditional role of bookstores as browsing sites for discovery of books?
  • How do you download ebooks from libraries?
  • How has reading changed in the last decade?
  • Are libraries endangered by the digital dynamic?

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Speaking of Libraries: A TOC-ly suggestion / Wikert

My friends who try to borrow ebooks from the local library seem to have one common complaint: The wait list is ridiculously long.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Joe Wikert

Maybe it’s all that clean white space. It makes the freshened-up O’Reilly Media Tools of Change site a welcome oasis online.

And Joe Wikert seems to make especially good sense these days. I’m going to point out a couple of instances to you.

First, take libraries. Please. We still haven’t had a major breakthrough in the standoff between the Bigs in traditional publishing and ebook-starved lending libraries. There’s the Smashwords development, of course, which we Etherized here and occasional noise about ebook pilot programs with two New York City library systems (scroll down for this, it’s the fourth element).

But Wikert, in How libraries can help publishers with discovery and distribution, shows us that knack he has for voicing the “can’t we just cut through this?” exasperation we all feel about a lot of thorny situations in the industry! the industry! these days. Wikert asks:

Why are we making the publisher-library relationship so complicated?

And he answers himself with the logic traditionally ignored in the debate:

Publishers are apparently afraid of lost sales. Why is this any more an issue in the ebook world than in the print book world? It’s really an opportunity for discovery and, more importantly, distribution.

 

Look at this — Wikert’s suggesting that if the book isn’t lend-able, sell it:

Turn the library site into an ebook sales platform as well. If the wait list is too long let’s make a special offer to encourage the patron to buy that ebook through the library.

We know, as he reminds us, that library patrons are known to be great buyers of books. So why not put that buying opportunity right on the virtual shelf where the checked-out ebook should be? It’s a clean, elegant thought. As Wikert writes:

Libraries have always been a wonderful place for discovery. Ironically our industry is mired in the challenge of discovery, especially as more and more ebooks are published and self-published. Let’s find a way to leverage the rich history of library discovery in the ebook world.

 

As it turns out, the Diane Rehm Show discussion from the last item includes mention (at about 47:45) of just such an arrangement being made in some library settings. Carrie Russell talks about it:

Some libraries offer…if the ebook is unavailable and the library user wants it right away, they can choose to purchase the book right then and there, and some of the profits go right back to the library.

Some great minds, clearly, are thinking alike.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressAnd that’s good because, as Mercy Pilkington points out at GoodEReader in Ebook Lending an International Problem:

The problem is far from isolated to the US libraries. A document by New Zealand’s Association of Public Library Managers pinpoints the libraries’ main obstacle, namely the DRM status that limits how many times a book can be borrowed, breaks down the compatibility across different devices, and forces a waiting period on ebooks, therefore treating them like their print counterparts.

And while I’m not fond of citing The Economist because of the papers’ traditional refusal to credit its writers with bylines (no one gets credit for their work there), I’m reminded of the very apt “lede” (do you know this term and spelling?)  to a story there, Libraries and e-books: Literary labours lent on these problems back in July:

Like a tired marriage, the relationship between libraries and publishers has long been reassuringly dull. E-books, however, are causing heartache.

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Books to Come: TOC, too / McKesson

Much of the way authors present content is based on what they know is possible with the printed page. But the page has changed—it’s no longer the rigid, rectangular object it once was.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Nellie McKesson

As I’ve written in the past, the thinking going on at O’Reilly Media Tools of Change is some of the most important material that our writers may miss at times. Here’s a great example from Nellie McKesson, Responsive eBook Content.

It’s important to think about how best to present your content given these new boundaries—one of the key aspects being that these boundaries change. The same reader might look at your content on a large monitor at work, and then switch to her mobile phone on the train home.

 

What McKesson goes on to discuss is the fact that tables can render beautifully in one platform’s format, not so well in another’s. As she puts it:

Large tables are hard to replicate on the digital page. Cutting down the pagecount is irrelevant, and even if the device allows horizontally-scrolling tables or other hacks to fit the content on the screen, the original benefit of having content that is easily absorbed at a glance is lost.

Her suggestion?

What if you included both a tabular and non-tabular display of the same information in your file, and then used media screens to dictate which version to display on which device (or, in an html5 world, on which screen size)?

 

McKesson demonstrates, with screenshots, how a tabular and a non-tabular element can co-exist, with coding that causes the correct one to show up according to which device a reader is using.

Both of these presentations exist side-by-side in your text. For the displays where you want the tabular version, you use media queries to set div.nontabular to “display: none;”, and vice versa.

Even if you don’t have a project that can use this suggestion right away, thinking through the situation and the response help ease open your mind a little, so the next step you encounter in what books are — or aren’t anymore — won’t be quite so jarring.

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Craft: Google Analytics for Authors / Atkins, Friedlander

In only a few moments, you can research how effective an advertising campaign is for your book, what articles people read most and where the bulk of your readers reside. It is a fantastic tool and getting analytics data for your WordPress blog is very easy.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Tracy R. Atkins

Tracy R. Atkins guests at Joel Friedlander’s site with a keen piece on data revelations offered to writers by Adding Google Analytics Tracking Code to WordPress.

What Atkins does here is highly actionable, a hands-on walk-through of the process you use to generate your Google Analytics tracking code and drop the snippet onto your site.

This is the kind of perfectly straightforward post that wastes nothing on embellishment and gets a seriously useful job off your author-platforming list.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Joel Friedlander

And, by the way, note that Friedlander has written a post addressing the paid-review scandal, himself, well worth your attention. In Should Authors Pay for Book Reviews? he writes:

I’ve always advised authors not to pay for reviews. I can see doing it as a marketing ploy, but I don’t like it, and here’s why:

  1. It’s dishonest to your readers, who will assume the review is an honest and unsolicited commentary on your work, while you know it’s anything but that.
  2. It cheapens the entire review process, injecting a lot of cynicism at the same time.

And Friedlander touches on the cost issue of buying reviews, something few have done:

I would hate to think that authors believe they can somehow short-circuit the work required to get book reviews, because it’s not that hard.

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Craft: The Art of Elision / Lebak

How much can you remove without losing the reader?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Jane Lebak

Jane Lebak at QueryTracker’s blog gets into a sweet little disappearing act in Overtelling, Overshowing, Overselling.

Does this require your reader to pay attention? Yes. Does it require you to place a great deal of faith in both your skills and your reader? Yes. Will some people miss a point until they’ve read the story twice, and therefore many will never get some of your finer details? Yes.

But considering all the show-don’t-tell-ness any author hears from all sides…

Is it worth it anyhow? Absolutely yes. Sometimes the writer’s most important job is to get out of the way of the story.

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Books and Conference Notes: Reading on the Ether

For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com. You’ll see that the upcoming F+W Media conferences have opened registration for Digital Book World in January (in New York).

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.

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: Proust Did It / Patterson

Proust did it. Sterne did it. Luther, Whitman, and Pound did it. Dickinson, Hawthorne and Austen did it. So did Walcott and Woolf.

No word on their preferred platforms.

And what Marcel Proust, and Laurence Sterne, and Martin Luther, and Walt Whitman, and Ezra Pound, and Emily Dickinson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Jane Austen, and Derek Walcott, and Virginia Woolf all did, at least according to an exhibition newly opened in York, was publish, or pay to publish, their own work.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Christina Patterson

This is Christina Patterson at The Independent in How the great writers published themselves.

The exhibition, which first appeared at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, is called DO or DIY. …In glass cases, you could see original editions of some of the writers’ self-published works. You could, for example, see Pound’s A Lume Spento, which he sold at 6 pence each, Woolf’s Between the Acts, published by her Hogarth Press, and a poetry book by the 11-year-old John Ruskin, published by his doting dad.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressThe show now is at Shandy Hall in Yorkshire, where, Patterson tells us, Sterne wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

And it seems to send Patterson into something of a litany of questions.

They take us back, if not quite to the problems of modern marketing skullduggery, to issues of how to navigate the digital dynamic that suddenly makes self-publishing an option far deeper and wider than it was during the lives of most of the historical figures in the DIY exhibition in Yorkshire.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressWe’ll let Patterson play us out here, with some of the musings the show has prompted for her.

  • Most of us are good at some things – for example, writing – but not always at the marketing, publicity, and relentless self-promotion you seem to need to make a book sell.
  • We might be good at writing little pieces, and not at structuring something over several hundred pages.
  • We might find that something that sounds easy isn’t.
  • Some of us might think Tristram Shandy is one of the best novels ever written, and that some of the work it inspired is also quite interesting, and that experimental, interactive work can be, too.
  • But we might also think that a little experimental work goes quite a long way.
  • We might think that the sometimes-too-brave new cyber-world that has replaced the traditional literary landscape has a lot of interesting things to offer, some nicely written things, and some really good things, but that it also has an awful lot of dross. We might feel that when time is short, and life is short, we don’t want to wade through dross.
  • We might also feel that we’ve been very, very lucky to be alive at the time of the greatest invention since the printing press. We might see that this gives us possibilities to read, and write, and publish, that no generation has had before.
  • And we might feel grateful for the Prousts, Sternes, and Woolfs, who took a risk to publish work the world took up.
  • But we might also remember that most writers, and certainly most writers who publish their own work, don’t write like Proust.
  • And that the odds of being successful on either side of the publishing divide are…very poor.

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Seasons in Love by Dave MaloneSeasons in Love by Dave Malone

Poems rich in romance, life, and nature, Seasons in Love journeys through four seasons and through love that breaks and sustains us.

Ozark summer heat to winter blizzards, long-lasting love grips these poems. With words and language from southern Missouri hills, Malone takes us into the romantic backwoods of moon, creek, and mountain, but ultimately leads us to life — “it’s blue light, barely seen.”

Find out more on Amazon.


 

Images: iStockphoto / Main: Michael-Merck; Malone excerpts: Zaharov

  • Bob Mayer

    Okay. I get it about the paid reviews and agree.

    I’m just wondering where the similar outrage is over the settlement with these states from traditional publishers? It seems a tacit acknowledgement that they price gouged customers, doesn’t it? Yet no howls, no blogs, no condemnation of these large corporations doing that? Isn’t it unethical, if not illegal, to do what they now admit doing? How many more people are affected by this than these paid reviews?

    I’m really seeing the piling on against indie authors yet even the so-called Authors Guild (a misnomer if there was one) is still desperately trying to protect the Big 6 who seem to care very little about their customers, called readers.

    Who screwed the readers over more?

  • Amy

    “But we might also remember that most writers, and certainly most writers who publish their own work, don’t write like Proust.”

    Don’t, don’t, don’t. That’s all anybody says. I think it’s too negative. Sure, most Kindle “indies” are writing teenage erotic vampire mysteries, or espionage vigilante thrillers, or something equally dismal. But there has to be SOME writers doing something very different, unheard of, even great. Why not try to hunt that down that super literary incredible masterpiece and celebrate that, instead of saying “Yeah Proust did it but let’s face it most writers aren’t as good as Proust.” I understand the thought, but personally would LOVE to see somebody out there helping out the invisible Prousts of the indie world. Because they’ve got to be out there, even if it’s one book in a sea of a million KDPs. Who’s even looking for that right now?

  • AJ Sikes

    Elsewhere around the Ether, I’ve commented that Montag, et al, (Ray Bradbury’s firemen of Fahrenheit 451) were, in some small way, doing a good thing. With the deluge of dross piling up around our ankles? knees? necks? it’s easier to imagine a world where people just get fed up with books.

    Then this news broke and I had to quickly change my tune. Because it is becoming all to frighteningly real to me. Maybe we aren’t in a world (yet) where people are fed up with writers and their filthy, subversive, unethical, seditious ways. Let’s see how long that tolerance lasts if someone else pulls a stunt like the Rutherford-Locke scandal. This is going into the history books, for sure. I just hope they’re still around to be read 100 years from now.

  • Anne R. Allen

    Most of us agree that using Amazon’s customer reviews as a spot for paid advertisements is wrong, and Amazon IS acting to deal with the problem. The NYT article said that particular review mill’s work has been taken down, as have others. The Zon elves may be slow, but they do respond to reports of abuse. I know many authors who say their reviews have been removed if there’s even a suspicion the reviewer ever worked for a review mill.

    But I’d like to point out it’s also wrong to use Amazon’s customer reviews for vigilantism. The people who gave John Locke one-star reviews to punish him for abusing the review system were, um, abusing the review system. As Chuck Wendig put it, “Bad author behavior in response to bad author behavior is still bad behavior.

    The way to combat abuse of the system is 1) write honest reviews yourself 2) accept negative reviews with grace if you’re an author (they’re now a badge of honor) and 3) Support independent book review bloggers! These people get no money except the few pennies they get if you click through their on-site ads. They often are challenged and threatened by badly-behaving authors. Let’s stop whining and do something positive.

  • http://twitter.com/La_Raconteur Lisa Myer

    Well, hmm. AG Abbott can keep my Amazon “refund” and earmark it for a worthier cause, like perhaps the state exchange. I do wish that ebooks cost less, but I don’t feel held hostage by the Big Six. If I thought the ebooks I purchased were not worth $9.99, I wouldn’t have bought them. I would have borrowed the hard copy from the library instead.

    As for the pay-for-review kerfuffle: as a former print reporter, I am most disappointed in the media. Yes, you read me right. The media, with its sloppy, one-sided reporting and zero fact-checking. One of the first things that any reporter should have done, instead of extolling the miracle luck of people like Locke, is to ask the question, “Okay, what *really* happened here?” It would have taken a couple of days to investigate, tops. When a product — any product — goes crazy-haywire viral, the seller employed a limited number of “black hat” means. This isn’t just common sense, it’s simple fact. Instead, the NYT is reporting this long after the fact.

    Makes you hope and pray that we never have another Watergate.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Agree, Lisa, and especially on the scant attention the media have paid to this phenomenon of consumer-review driven retail. What’s really worrisome now is whether there’s anything in terms of agitation that can cause Amazon to really work on some major detection elements to find and neutralize fraudulent activity.

    And I think a lot of us have been concerned about the “rush to the bottom” on ebook pricing. Certainly in some settings, such as the DBW eBook Best-Seller List, it appears that a surprising number of pricier ($9.99-$12.99) books are leading in popularity over much cheaper entries. (I never bought books as bargain items, myself, so I’m not a good gauge of the dynamic here).

    It’s a tough period, but it can be helped a lot if Seattle will engage in some open, aggressive efforts to protect its plaka en l’air. While publishing is getting past the brunt of our bumps on this now, the rest of the marketplace may still have some nasty surprises waiting.

    Thanks fore reading the Ether and commenting!
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Very good points, Anne, particularly the fact that one-star vengeance just doesn’t wash. The retaliation impules escalates way too fast online in so many cases.

    I do like your approaches to handling this, too. I’d add that it wouldn’t hurt to advocate critics be maintained on the staffs of traditional media, too — as Paul Laity is saying, there’s an argument in all this for more preservation of the old form of news-based criticism than many have realized.

    Really appreciate your reading and commenting, thanks so much!
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

  • James Scott Bell

    Something got me at the tail end of this Ether stream! That is the statement by Ms. Patterson, to wit:

    the odds of being successful on either side of the publishing divide are…very poor.

    In point of fact, the odds are decidedly GREATER now for the self-published author who has desire, a work ethic, a modicum of talent. The field is wide open for real, substantial income made by producing quality product in a wide variety of forms. It’s being proved every week.

    Contrast that with the very real odds of getting a ticket inside the Forbidden City. There really is no comparison here, no equivalency.

    Instead, this the golden age for writers. Truly.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Nice point about the history books, Aaron (may they survive).

    And yeah, there really is a point at which I have to question how we deal with a slush pile as deep as Loch Ness. It can, indeed, be tempting to think of a time when we might be able to more forthrightly cull the good and search for ways to boldly separate it from the rising tide of mediocrity.

    Of course, what we’re talking about is … gatekeepers. Almost as soon as they start to fall away, you begin to see where they can mean so much.

    Thanks, as ever, Aaron, we have to keep thinking on this one.
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

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  • CG Blake

    Porter,
    As a former newspaper reporter I am right with you. This is an egregious breach of ethics. What I struggle with are the more subtle quid pro quo arrangements in which authors tell their friends to post a five-star review of their work. When I self-published my novel on Amazon I asked my friends to review it, but I did not tell them what to write or how many stars to give. There is a tacit, unwritten agreement in the writing community, however, that we will not post negative reviews of fellow writers’ work. I’ve been guilty of that myself, but it doesn’t fall into the same category as what Locke did. My reviews are honest and I take the time to articulate why I liked the book and cite specific examples. I hope Amazon can figure out a way to police reviews because I do rely on its reviews in some cases when making purchasing decisions.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Yo, Jim,

    And leave it to you to spot that line from Christina at the very end of her “litany” of thoughts on the DIY-through-the-ages issue. I found that a surprise, actually, feeling that she’d probably come away from the Shandy Hall show with a more positive outlook than maybe she did, and I included it in her comments, for exactly that reason, to see if anyone — as I say, leave it to you — would be sharp enough to find her sudden swerve to the cliffside perspective.

    I think she may be — I’m speculating — close to something more along the lines of, “believe it or not, it may have been easier for these folks we now see as the greats” than it comes off.

    I’m thinking, for example, that in their own era, it was harder for Leonard and Virginia to KNOW what overall competition they were up against with their Hogarth Press than we encounter now. I mean, in those days, Bowker counted nothing. Laura Dawson wasn’t able to see ANY books active in Books in Print. UL approved nothing. Know what I mean? There could actually be a subtle difference in that in those days, if Proust had a book run up and walked around Paris with it in his hand and gave it to buddies in bookstores to sell and whatnot, the numbers he might have to hit to be “successful,” the positioning he might need to get in a given bookshop to catch eyes, and the relative ease with which he might get into enough influential hand-sold hands probably was nothing LIKE what we face today, all wrapped up in the word “competition.”

    With Kelly Gallagher at Bowker now talking 300,000 self-published books, for example, and Laura talking 32 million (before you add in ebooks or international material), we’re in such a different mix and terrain that I have to agree with you, there’s no comparison, no equivalency.

    You’re right that the digital lever is a massive one, and beneficially is available to writers. And you’re proof of this, no contest. And yes, I think that Christina Patterson probably fell into too dark a night of the soul as she finished her piece that way.

    On the other had, my friend, I fear this “golden age” talk. In part, because I think it attracts so many, many, many folks who might make great bankers and waiters and rocket scientists but not authors. We really are overrun right now by people whose main core of skills and talents probably do not encase the writing personality, but these folks have jumped onto this raft during a bad economic moment as they heard such clarion calls as “golden age” and your famous (in my writings, anyway) “ebooks — just throw ‘em up there, throw ‘em up on the Internet.”

    Whatever staggering around New York Whitman had to do before he got Leaves of Grass going, at least he wasn’t facing 32 million other titles and a world in which the restaurateurs of the world seem to be convinced they’re authors … AND have access to the same digital capabilities you do.

    So I join you in saying that Ms. Patterson went too weak in the knees in her final moment. But I’m going to hold back on declaring this a golden age simply because I think that competition has grown exponentially to match and, maybe, outstrip the opportunity you celebrate. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying we don’t know yet. It’s too early to know if the capability is enough to stare down the barriers. We need to wait.

    Golden ages are really only apparent after they occur. Usually. Some exceptions. But usually. And a lot of them are declared every day by lots of people in many walks of life. Let’s hold up on the gilding of the era. I’d like to see a bit longer play-out of just what happens when competition is just as digital as capacity.

    Wish we had Proust and the Woolfs and Whitman here right now to test things out — how would they have fared if they self-published into this cyber-cyclone of confusion.

    Remembrance of things future. Not even Proust tried that one. :)
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Bob, sorry for the late reply, things in Tampa have been a bit … crowded. Finally beginning to see our city streets again this morning, eagerly offering rides to the airport,”Right this way, ladies and gentlemen and have a good trip out of our way.”. :)

    To the matter here. I join you, particularly in the reviews-buying issue, in being sorry to see self-publishers tagged with this. As you’ll note in my write, I keep going to the mat to say, “Who says this is all indies?” I don’t think it is. And I wish there were a way to know how many traditionally published authors have bought reviews. We could be surprised.

    The Authors Guild, like city hall, I do see and get your point, I share your concern as many of us do and i have asked in the Ether, who’s side is that outfit on?

    The implications of the states’ settlements — particularly as the DoJ’s master case still hangs sleepily in the balance — are so clear, as you say, that this may be the reason there are fewer howls than there are. Also I’d say wait until the checks start arriving. People will then become more aware. They’re bombarded with news, Bob, and it’s very, very easy to see the word on the $69 million settlement as yet another shoe falling in an endless clatter of confusion. People are less confused when an amount of unexpected money, even small, comes to them. Amazon, for example, is charged with totting up how much each customer is due and delivering. Hm. That will get folks’ attention. It is supposed to happen about 30 days after approval of the settlement, after the last ink dries. Try to be patient. The story will be told in small emoluments that suddenly appear in our accounts, our mail, our credit card statements…then people will realize what has happened.

    Blood pressure, man. It’s important. :)
    p.

  • James Scott Bell

    I appreciate the dialectic here, Porter, so let me expand my argument a bit.

    In the “old days” (i.e., before November 2007!) it was not only extremely difficult to get published, it was a virtual certainty that even getting published would not make you a living (I’m speaking specifically about fiction writers). I think there was some stat along the lines of five grand a year being the AVERAGE a published fiction writer made. A few were able to break into the top tier, but not many. The midlist was the largest population of professional fictioneers.

    But a lot of talented writers never got into the walls of the Forbidden City, or, if they did, weren’t able to hold a place there (or were consigned to wandering minstrel duty). The money counters made the decisions inside the walls, not the writer.

    It could take years for a writer holding a full time day job to work on his project and maybe get a chance at going to market. Still, the overwhelming majority of such projects never found a home. The Forbidden City can hold only so many within its ramparts.

    But now, what ho, out in the dark forest there are campfires all over the place, and people finding storytellers there. All sorts of them. And they are more than willing to shell out ducats to the ones they like. The really good tale spinners do not have to wait years for a chance at the City. They can get get paid right now, and some may even make what begins to resemble a living. And note: That number is larger than was ever possible before under the old system.

    More writers than ever are making real gold from their writing. Thus: a golden age!

    Now, it is quite true that there are those who will not be filling their money purses even though they’ve got several fires going. Some of these are not true “writers,” but those seeking quick bucks or just think anyone can do this. Such may seem to overrun the forest. But they will soon leave, discouraged or dissuaded.

    But for real writers, those who care about their craft, what is not to like about this? As I point out in my book on self-publishing, a steady income stream can be created if one melds talent, craft and a modicum of systemization into a continuous output. It’s happening every month, for more and more scribes. And here’s the bonus: the gates to the Forbidden City may open yet! An invitation may still be issued (i.e., self publishing no longer carries a stigma).

    Now the storyteller has a choice. Take a deal from the FC, or continue as he is doing, telling stories for ducats, making up new ones as he sees fit and offering them up right away. Perhaps it will be a blend of the two systems, a real creative partnering. But the point is it’s now a true choice, a real choice, something that was not open for writers under the old system.

    There is gold AND opportunity, in other words, for writers, unlike anything we’ve ever seen since old Gutenberg monkeyed with his winepress. Yes indeed: a golden age!

    Now I have to go work on my novel.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    With you entire, CG, and thanks for commenting.

    It has to be to Amazon’s advantage to put its considerable data-detection capabilities on this and I think we all need to make it clear that we expect to see that happen.

    I agree with you, even the author “arrangements” — you’ll see Jane Litte in my post calling these “author loops” — are bogus, as well. It’s pretty sad when so many folks are into this kind of wrongful behavior (and in denial about it, in many cases). Unfortunately, it’s part of the age.

    When was the last time you heard the phrase “honor system?” Not in the vocabulary anymore, is it?

    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Amy, thanks for commenting –

    I, actually, am looking for a Proust (or a Joyce or a Woolf or a DeLillo) in that terrible sea of mediocrity. I think a lot of us are. It’s easier for me because I simply will not read vampire stories, zombie romances, siren crap, etc. I’m not interested in angst-ridden teens, as a reader.

    But I find that there are very, very few strong literary fiction entries turning up as self-published work at this point. That does NOT mean they CAN’T turn up. I’ve found one. I’m sure there are others. I’m willing to look, as are a lot more people than you may think.

    The “don’t, don’t, don’t” negativity you hear is the natural reaction of a community that finds such a massive pile of muck obscuring better things in the literary world. Remember, there are 32 million titles active in Books in Print. And Bowker also sees 300,000 self-published works out there. That’s a stunning amount of material made possible only by the digital dynamic’s ease-of publication without “gatekeepers” in place to sort or parse the avalanche of work.

    I’m not at all sure it’s a healthy situation right now, regardless of how many folks like to say that self-publishers have it made.

    But rest assured, when you asked who’s looking for “one book in a sea of a million KDPs?” Me. And a lot of others.

    Don’t worry about negativism, we have too much to do.
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

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  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Jim, thanks for this colorful expansion, all of which I appreciate — especially the fires in the forest. Let’s hope everybody’s safe with those flames, lol.

    I get what you’re saying. I think I will need some time to be persuaded that the caliber of writing, for the most part. Of course we have to expect some hacks (both in- and outside the Forbidden City).

    But I think the stigma is still more in force than some might want to believe. Is that fair? Of course not. Doe sit mean that a campfire-lighter shouldn’t follow exactly the route you describe? Certainly not, we can all say “go for it” with conviction.

    And yet.

    You get to a point in your lovely retort at which you write:

    “And here’s the bonus: the gates to the Forbidden City may open yet! An
    invitation may still be issued (i.e., self publishing no longer carries a
    stigma).”

    Putting aside the “stigma” reference — you mean publishers will not dismiss something that has done well in the wild (God help us, 50 Shades, etc.), I get that.

    I’m more interested in the idea — only implied here, don’t let me put words into your mouth — that self-publishers are still hanging onto the hope of that traditional contract. I get this everywhere. In fact, at BEA, as you might recall, Viki Noe found a whole self-publishers’ conference, the point of which seemed to be people clawing their way toward traditional contracts.

    I must be fair and say that you haven’t said that a traditional contract is NOT still attractive. But many, many self-publishers have. They like to pose self-publishing as the nirvana for which they’ve waited, the best of all possible golden ages. When, in fact, it appears as soon as you scratch the surface of one of these DIY-ers, that you’ve got a contract-hopeful in there, just in self-publisher’s clothing.

    Know what I mean? Something isn’t ringing true these days.

    Has the brass ring never moved out of the Great Houses? Is that what everyone still is reaching for? Only in the cases of some of the more bellicose Kon-wrathful exemplars, do I see people declaring that self-publishing is the way, the truth, and the life.

    I’m not sure those are campfires in the forest.

    I think an awful lot of self-publishers are actually torching for the Big Six.

    And yes, I, too, very much appreciate the dialectic here, bracing and founded on trust and high regard.

    And I have to go work on mine, too. :)
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/jenniecoughlin jenniecoughlin

    OK, now I’m curious. What’s the strong literary fiction book you found? I could make a guess, but I’m only about 40 percent sure I’d be right.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Sorry, I don’t feel I should say — I’d rather not be thought to be showing some sort of favoritism to a self-publisher at this point. Since I’m not in book-review mode on the Ether, that’s how my praise for this one effort would come across in the minds of some, and that’s not a position worth putting myself into. Hope you understand. Old critics like me are very good at dodging these pitfalls. :)
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/jenniecoughlin jenniecoughlin

    Fair enough. I was wondering if it was one you’d reviewed at Reader Unboxed. I’ll keep wondering. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Ah, actually I was thinking of another, but you’ve reminded me of how terribly promising Corwin Ericson’s Swell is ( http://ow.ly/dqTMx ), that being one of the books I reviewed at Reader Unboxed. A very strong debut with a keen voice.

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