Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Query in Review--2009

Thought it might be interesting, since 2009 is about to pass off into obscurity, to look back and cough up some helpful hints that might prove useful to those who are still seeking representation. We’ll try to be kind as it’s close to Christmas.

Seems that the query letter, whether being sent via email or snail mail, is still the primary transport mechanism device between agents and writers and the place most writers fail, so why don’t we begin there?

In the glory years, the letter carried by the faithful mailman through rain, sleet or snow in daylight or darkness of night was the way most literary agencies received their queries. However, that time has passed and most enlightened agencies (and even a few in NYC) now receive most of their queries via email transmission through some kind of Internet magic. If you haven’t, technology-wise, arrived in the 21st century, we would suggest you move rapidly forward as your contemporaries are already there. Of course, there is no competition among authors, so take your time. I wouldn’t even mention this, but we are still seeing way too many snail mail queries.

Query letter writing is boring. I don’t even like blogging about the subject anymore because it bores me, too. However, looking back over 2009, I’d say most rejections still occur at the query level. Thus my advice to authors would be to make a New Year’s resolution to learn all there is to know about writing winning query letters. That way you can get past the #1 road-block to getting your work published.

It should tick me off when I receive a query as I’ve been closed to them since July 1, 2009. But actually I’ve received better queries since I’ve been closed. Now why do you suppose that is? Weird is what I’d call it. It seems that if you’re closed to communication you’re deemed more attractive because of your bold “I don’t want to hear from you” vibe, I guess.

Enough on queries, already. Let’s talk about something else.

What does concept mean to you? Webster’s last definition of concept is it’s an “abstract notion.” You’ll also hear “conceptualization of ideas” kicked around these days when editors talk about projects. Concept is now central to just about everything publishing. So, if you, as a writer, are going to excite agents in 2010, fully recognize and understand the desirability of those abstract notions when you conceive your stories.

I’ve tried this past year to interest many of my clients in marketing and, for the most part have failed miserably. Why is that, I wonder? Yes, like query letters marketing is boring; however, it is essential that everyone who expects to be a successful author fully understand and utilize all the marketing skills available to them. The reason is there isn’t much in publishers’ budgets these days to promote debut author’s books. One would think that large portion of ad dollars would go toward helping newly published author’s career off the ground, but that’s not the case.

The real grim fact, however, is that most dollars are spent on promoting authors who make money for their publishers, and that means celebrity authors. Debut people, for the most part, are left to their own devices as far as marketing goes. So I would advise anyone who has a book coming out in 2010 to promote it. NOW. Unless it’s not due out until November or December, then you’ve got few months leeway.

If you don’t promote your work, your book might fail, and you, as an author, will fail along with it. There’s a saying on the literary street that it’s better to have not published at all than to publish and fail. One of the first things an editor does when he or she learns that someone has been previously published is to consult Nielsen Bookscan for sales numbers. If sales are low, you might not get another chance at a career, so make every book count.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Quick Update

Due to the holidays, Sharene and I will be closed to submissions until January 15, 2010. Also, her membership information at is now updated.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Selling Yourself and Other Profitable Endeavors

After reading a number of blogs and being a frequent visitor to and participant in social networking events, I realize that the information here might not be bloggy enough, so I’m turning over a new leaf. Hell, I’d probably even turn over a whole tree if it weren’t winter. As you know, though, all the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.

I’ve decided that I’m too serious, that my posts are too ho-hum and therefore unread. To quote some commenters, this makes me “uncared about” and “unloved” (and a huge wall of sadness descends upon him and smites him soundly about the head and shoulders).


So I’m trying to change. Change seems to be popular. I get my oil changed, and I change undies and socks on a regular basis. I’ve even, on occasion, changed my mind but not too often. Change is still in the air even though cold winds are blowing.

The promise of change (which scares the hell out of most people) got President Obama elected. The seasons change, though I personally would like it to stay summer all year long. At least that’s the way I feel when it begins getting cold and the weight of something beyond shorts and a tee weighs heavily on my soul, not to mention my body.

We are witnessing change as we speak with the rapidly approaching cold season. H1N1 is change as it was once called bird flu, which was way too plain. H1N1 has a resonance to it—a ring tone like chime. I like the letter and number combination better. Sounds almost like a password to get into something fun, doesn’t it?

How about Harlequin? Fooled you. No, I’m not going to wax on about Harlequin because by now that’s old news. I was sorry they backed down though, but I do understand. After all, having a huge group of women (and Miss Snark) upset at you isn’t something I’d want.

So what about e-books? They’re thinking of mating Kindle with kindling. How about them apples? Change enough for ya, big fella? I’m thinking batteries are what should be changed. My laptop fizzles after a couple of hours, but my book still works after many hours of having it open across my face as I nap. But nobody is interested in that crap, are they? I can hear the inhaling of breath and the poised waiting from here. You promised—you—you—you. . .

Okay, here goes. You’re not going to make a name for yourself unless you’re a crook or were selected to run for the vice presidency and failed. Who is Sarah Palin anyway? Where in hell did she come from and should we care? She’s an interesting study in how to create a brand-name considering she came in like a breath of cold air and settled right in our faces in such a short period of time. Some say she’ll make 10 million this year and that’s a bunch of cash. Maybe that will be enough to buy her some hunting accessories, like a new helicopter and a Gatling gun (a running moose can be a tough target). When thinking of making things up and stepping on one’s tongue, Sarah Palin will always come to mind.

Then we have Glenn Beck, the afternoon resident loudmouth of the Fox Network. How many book deals does he have now? You should take note on how to tell lies and become famous. Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know his name and mostly not in a nice way?

Hopefully, there is an easier way to build a name for yourself.

Getting known without embarrassing yourself on national television would be the way I’d want to do it. Have you considered a blog? There’s multiple instances where blogging gets one out there. The most recent was a book deal from bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. They’re considered fashion-watchdogs and their blog is Go Fug Yourself. And, of course, they wrote a YA novel entitled SPOILED about two newly acquainted half-sisters navigating a Ridgemont High-like high school in Beverly Hills, while also vying for the attention of their buffoonish movie star father. So why should a blog about celebrity fashion featuring hunks and hotties be popular with teens? Think about it!

If you don’t like blogging, consider a Web site. Be social on Twitter or Facebook. Anything else? There has to be more and there is. You need to get out more. Quit writing so much. Do something rash so others can make fun of you. You’re not full of yourself enough—go get full. Become known for something besides writing. That’s boring, you know? At least until you make a million dollars. Do something. Try to be somebody. Be known for something besides pounding out words. Reading about it on Twitter bores the hell out of most. Get a hold of public persona so you can sell what you’ve written instead of stacking stuff under your bed. Stacks of stuff, known as slush, creates dust mites. Your world doesn’t need more dust mites. It needs more visibility in today’s fishbowl society.

So waddaya think? Advice abounds everywhere, so I thought I’d try something new. I’m calling it non-advice. You’ll probably find it under the definition for nonsense. And this new blogging style is called rambling. I copied it from other blogs I’ve read. Hope you like it.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Harlequin, You're Brilliant!

“We need to be more controversial.”

This is what Robert says to me at dinner tonight. My response? Sure. Just post the following sentence:

______________________________is the greatest president we’ve ever had.

Yep. Post it once a week and fill in random names of presidents. That ought to generate enough controversy to fill a thousand blogs. That’s what I responded, but would that satisfy him? Nooo. Seems our blog is supposed to be about publishing, not politics. About the wonderful world in which we ensconce ourselves 23, maybe 24, hours a day…


Most agent blogs that get linked to over and over include information aggregated, disseminated, and a bunch of other kinds of –ateds from other publishing entities and self-proclaimed professionals worked into a posts that offer readers incredible and fascinating insights into the world of writing for publication at large. There are people in publishing, and those who pretend to be in publishing, who take their valuable time to coordinate all these ideas and put the effort into making them into sometimes remotely understandable blog posts. What do they get for it? Hits? Writer love? The intrinsic reward of knowing they’ve contributed to the cause of empowering writers and making the world of publishing a better place?

Poodle piddle.

I don’t know what they get from it. I know I get a headache. I get a headache because we constantly get people e-mailing us about why we don’t blog more like those other agents, editors, and publishing professional posers. What they really mean is “Give us some more free information about how to get published.” Blah.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Our blog’s purpose is so that writers can get a sense of who we are and maybe get some publishing tips along the way, not to provide insider information to fledgling authors looking for a shortcut to success. If we do offer information, we’re not being altruistic. We’re selfish, because we’re hoping writers will learn enough so that we’ll stop getting queries like the four I got today that made me wonder if, by ridiculous query #4, there was someone out there writing fake queries just to see what I would do. That’s how extremely low level they were.

So-and-so just bought such-and-such! Mr. Fake Agent has his fingers on the pulse of NYC publishing! Ms. Bookbritches, editor extraordinaire, just bought three books from a new author after meeting her in a coffee shop.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Whatever.

Looking for insider information? Become an insider. I did. I fought hard for it, too.

Looking for controversy? There’s this new-fangled contraption called the Internet. Lots of controversy on there.

But Robert wanted me to come up with some controversial stuff, so I said I’d do my best. As it turns out, Harlequin Enterprises and a bunch of other agents, editors, and writers did most of the work for me, which supports the claim in publishing circles that if you wait long enough, SOMEONE will do it.

If you want the scoop, click here or here or here. Or just take my word for it that Harlequin has decided to start a subsidy publishing endeavor called Harlequin Horizons, or, by the time you read this, it will be something else as they’ve decided to drop the Harlequin name from the company to distinguish it from the parent company. To read more about that, click here.

Have you sensed the irony yet? Click, click, click. lol

A number of people have weighed in on this, not the least of which is the RWA, who revoked Harlequin’s status as an eligible publisher. People have speculated on Harlequin’s bold move, and most who are for it state so, but with qualifiers. Personally, I think Harlequin is freaking brilliant…with no qualifiers. First Carina Press is unveiled, and now this. Someone at the company has realized that status quo is dead and gone. Society has officially entered into “Jetson,” and it’s never turning back. It couldn’t if it wanted to.

Publishing is going forward, with or without the consent of those who would deem themselves the decision-makers. Readers are the REAL decision-makers, and I think too many of us in publishing have forgotten that little vital piece of information or choose to dismiss it because we know how fickle readers can be, and it is too scary to contemplate that our livelihoods might be based on the fancies of the population at large.OMG.

Let’s face it. Publishing is a money-making endeavor, but those we make money from, because it’s a creative enterprise, are notoriously unpredictable. ADMIT IT! I’m a reader; you’re a reader. Haven’t you ever had a literary itch to scratch? For example, one time I was desperate to read a Nancy Drew mystery from my childhood. Is a publisher supposed to make a living off people like me wanting a bit o’ the mystery now and then? Multiply my whim by a zillion and you’ve got yourself a dry skin condition the Hecatonchires can’t scratch (it’s a mythology reference…look it up).

So publishing aims for the middle of the Bell curve, that group that it can identify readily because there are always certain concepts that sell in entertainment (which is why you see them over and over and OVER again). Occasionally, publishers will get crazy and follow a book off the charts because it’s taking them somewhere they can make money. Eventually, however, everyone comes back to the curve and settles there until someone drags them off it again because it’s familiar. It’s the Way It’s Always Been. Because of this, along with misguided efforts of writer advocates and organizations, the industry hasn’t really been able to innovate until now, and that’s only because it had to. This method doesn’t work really well in education, and it certainly doesn’t work well in publishing, or the whole framework wouldn’t be ready to fold.

Each of us has to decide whether we want to jump on the bandwagon or let it run over us. Me? I want to drive it. Why? Traditional publishing is like traditional education—it only serves a few. Granted, they may be a brilliant few, but look at all the others who are left behind. Look at the talent left by the side of the road because it doesn’t fit some paradigm that has no logical connection to the real world and the technology-enriched society that humankind has evolved into.We can do better. And imagine the possibilities if we did.

And by the way, Thomas Jefferson is the greatest president we’ve ever had.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What's Your Name? Is It Peggy or Sue. . .

Let’s be truthful. The real reason most everyone wants write is because it’s one of the cheapest start-up businesses on the planet. Isn’t this also the reason why literally millions want to write for publication? After all, most everyone has a computer and virtually anyone can write. Writing requires little space, little money and little knowledge of the process to begin producing a product, and it’s a stay-at-home job.

This isn’t bad in and of itself; however, a bigger problem comes about when those who dabble at writing begin believing that if they can just get an agent, they’ll be published and soon after become rich and famous. After all didn’t whatshername do it? Now she has homes all over the United States, and takes trips to Europe every year!
Is it or is it is not true that most feel the road to publication goes something like this?

1. Begin writing a novel and finish it as quickly as possible.
2. Find an agent to unload said work upon and get back to the real work—that of writing.
3. Get published because what other purpose does writing serve?
4. Begin the next project.

Four/four rhythm is captivating and many dance to its beat. Some dancers feel nothing beyond this, nothing about who might be in their way on the dance floor even. Writers get caught up in a singular beat and struggle to finish their book project, never thinking about writing skill , their competition, where their book might fit in bookstores or, if it does fit, what are the odds of anyone finding it in those intimidating stacks? Marketing is assumed to be the responsibility of publishers, not something about which writers should be concerned. After all, aren’t contractual rights granted to publishers, permitting them to print, sell, distribute and license other to print, sell and distribute? So isn’t it the publisher’s job to worry about producing and selling books (big sigh of relief)?

It’s true that if you just want to produce writing you must put ink to paper. It’s also true that you tie yourself to your keyboard and you pound out a certain number of words a day. BUT, and this is a big but, if you want to write to be published, you must first think quality and how you’re going to sell what you write.

A book, after all, is just an entertainment device and, as such, is actually a product. So if writers can at least get their heads around that concept, doesn’t it also make sense to think of test marketing said product before, not after, it’s produced? Authors, to be successful, must think of themselves first as businessmen and women who produce a high quality product for the entertainment industry and after that all the other ramifications of the industry in which they want to become a player. Yes, Toto, we are no longer in Kansas.

No matter by whom one is published, he or she must think about those stacks; those silent bookstore shelves filed with books standing shoulder to shoulder, one inch apart. A few wise authors wonder how Joe or Josephine reader could possibly find their simple title when no one knows what to look for. Isn’t it a fact that readers need a name, not just a book title to find a book? But that consideration is swept aside by most in the daily toil of getting that damned book written and out there.

Very few consider that it’s just luck of the draw that an unknown author’s title gets pulled from the stacks, read and bought. Those stacks are the new writer’s enemy, a place where an author’s future lives or dies. It’s a book graveyard, where tomes standing so bravely are allowed to stay only a few short months before being returned to the publisher and turned into book soup.

Even when the Golden Fleece is within reach, little or no understanding or thought is given to returns until months later when that first royalty statement arrives and the author sees that his or her book didn’t fare well; that returns far outnumber sales. Of course, because an advance had to be paid back, there is little worry that a check didn’t arrive with the statement. Possibly a note fired off to his or her agent and this disappointment is quickly forgotten, left to agents and publishers to figure out. Along about four statements later, however, the truth finally sinks in that there probably will never be a royalty check coming with any statement. But that’s okay, right? Most writers never receive royalties beyond their advances, right?


So what happens if an author decides to let the publisher carry the marketing load? In many cases an author won’t get another publishing opportunity. If your first book fails, you fail as a businessperson, as not many publishers are going want to waste more money on your product. You’ve now been tested and your product hasn’t proven itself. After publication, if a novel has high returns it won’t pay out its advance, and novels that don’t pay out their advances are looked upon with disdain.

Put yourself for a moment in the publisher’s (also a businessperson's) position. Would you want to risk more money on a unsuccessful product? Even worse, would you risk more on an author who put forth little or no effort to keep his or her failure from happening? If you are among the more fortunate and your book does get published, work very hard to make sure your novel or book is a great success. Build yourself a name before you’re published (more on this later).

Knowledgeable authors learn that name recognition-- their name first and a title or titles later--are what readers look for in bookstores or on Readers know that nothing else matters because it’s a daunting task to find anything to read without those two identifiers.

Therefore, if you want to be a successful novelist, you must get beyond just writing. Something must be done to let lots of readers know who you are and that you have one hell of a tale to tell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eighth Annual Florida Writer's Association Conference

We wish to thank everyone; writers in attendance, organizers, and volunteers alike, at the Florida Writer’s Association Conference last weekend, October 23-26, 2009, for all their hard work and dedication to the art of writing and in making our time with you at your 8th annual conference a pleasurable and productive experience. The accommodation were restful and eye-pleasing, the weather beautiful, the food fantastic, but most pleasurable of all were those who came to experience and enjoy this celebration in the art of creation through writing. We at Wylie-Merrick wish to thank you for your creativity, your patience and most of all your friendship. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with you and among you. Hopefully we’ll meet again.

Robert Brown and Sharene Martin-Brown
Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mineral Spirits Interview

Like the proud agent that I am, I just listened to an interview with Heather Sharfeddin, my client and author of Windless Summer, Blackbeller, Mineral Spirits, and Damaged Goods all published, or soon to be, by Random House. This interview was primarily about Windless Summer, which was released in June of this year, and sprinkled with a little bit about Blackbelly, to be released in July 2010.

Windless Summer is a literary novel that is actually readable without a PhD in literature. Its small time themes make one wonder if Heather is psychic, because many of the problems faced by the residents of Rocket, Oregon are being duplicated in many towns across our nation--loss of jobs, stagnant economy, business closures. . . . This book, however, as with all of Heather's novels, is so multifaceted that it's difficult to pinpoint a single area that you could say is the central theme. It contains a mystery, a couple of love stories and a strange the phenomena happening in Room Six.

Anyway, before I ruin it for those who would like to listen to Heather describe her novel, without further ado, here's the link to the audio file: Good listening from an extraordinary author and one to watch. Also, if you really want a treat, purchase this novel.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Another Perspective On POV

There is “I” and “me” and “you” and “us,” but what voice lurks beyond them? When an author takes on the task of developing his or her narrative voice, invariably he or she chooses what’s familiar. But what about what lies beyond the first-person narration? What happens when a writer wants to stretch a little and try writing something from a different point of view, one that’s possibly not so comfortable?

Two narrative voices come to mind—omniscient and limited omniscient. These two types of narration are very confusing even to accomplished authors. Bear with me as I try to demonstrate the differences, similarities, and the wisdom of attempting these narrative forms.

To help with this task, I’ve chosen some snippets from well-known authors who have written at least some of their novels using the past tense, third-person omniscient and limited omniscient forms, two possible POVs that a new author might consider.

Dean Koontz, in his novel THE HUSBAND, uses the omniscient narrator’s viewpoint throughout his book to create various distances between the reader and his characters. On page 1, we begin with a great example of what can be defined as the pure third-person, omniscient viewpoint:

“A man begins dying at the moment of birth. Most people live in denial of Death’s patient courtship until, late in life and deep in sickness, they become aware of him sitting bedside.

The first thing one might consider is who is telling the story here. No character has yet been introduced in this opening and the narrator is distant, seemingly all-knowing and almost god-like in this pronouncement. Could it be the author since there’s no one else around except him?

The omniscient narrator can be very profound and his presence deeply felt. This is why authors like this voice. However, the question arises: Who can make a statement of this depth and get away with it? Can even an author as well known as Dean Koontz? Could Joe Unknown Writer? Can anyone get away with making a statement this profound? Will readers buy into this in our skeptical society, this being an authority on the subject of death?

There was a time when authors were revered. They could, and did, get away with using the omniscient viewpoint because most were widely traveled and highly intelligent individuals. They had experiences others only dreamed about, and many readers admired them and lived vicariously through their exploits. Times have changed, however, and now authors are treated like everyone else, as commoners and not as kings of the written word. So, can Joe or Josephine Unpublished Writer be taken seriously enough to use omniscient effectively? Put another way, can authors make all-knowing, god-like pronouncements and get away with it? Wouldn’t they possibly even open themselves to ridicule by their readers and especially by critics? This is one reason why new and yet unestablished authors should be very careful in their use of the omniscient narrator’s voice, as this voice can, at times, be taken as haughty and too authoritative, something a new author should avoid. So if you’re going to open your book in the omniscient, make sure you have a character present first so you can blame it on him or her.

The second example is taken from Tami Hoag’s novel, ASHES TO ASHES. Her opening is also in the omniscient:

“Some killers are born. Some killers are made. And sometimes the origin of desire for homicide is lost in the tangle of roots that make up an ugly childhood and a dangerous youth, so that no one may ever know if the urge was inbred or induced.”

It’s easy to spot who is giving us this information. As with the Dean Koontz example, in this novel’s opening no character has yet been introduced, hence the only one present, so far, is the author. Omniscient narration is always from the author’s viewpoint. Omniscient narration is not a bad way to begin a novel and many authors do this; however, when a new author tries it, he or she might not understand how to move successfully away from the omniscient and into a narrative voice that is closer to his or her characters. Thus, the story might come across as cold and its character or characters hollow and one dimensional. But let’s move on—in closer to the character as he is introduced in this, the next scene from the same book:

“He lifts the body from the back of the Blazer like a roll of old carpet to be discarded. The soles of his boots scuff against the blacktop of the parking area, then fall nearly silent on the dead grass and hard ground.”

Although still in the omniscient viewpoint, the author does many neat things in this paragraph. Like a photographer with a telephoto lens, she zooms in closer to give us and her reader, an image of a character. But she doesn’t want to get too close, so she uses the omniscient point of view to maintain her distance. Along with sight, she now also gives us sound (boot scuffs on pavement) and gives us a location (blacktop and a parking area). Then there’s more sound as the character leaves blacktop and enters grass and earth. This is fantastic writing from a master of her craft. This is what everyone who writes should be working toward, if you’re not already there.

Ms. Hoag goes on to give us wind and fallen leaves, so that we have a sense of season, then she also throws in bare branches and the wind rattling them each against the other so we know it’s later than early fall.

Now we move in closer still, as now as the author builds us a character. We are still in the omniscient, but we are now very close to her character with author still acting as the reporter of the action.

“He knows he falls into the last category of killers. He has spent many hours, days, months, years studying his compulsion and its point of origin. He has never known guilt of remorse. He knows what he is, and he embraces the truth. He believes conscience, rules, laws, serve the individual no practical purpose, and only limit human possibilities.”

This is the author’s antagonist, so we assume this is why she has decided not to fully develop him here. The important aspect of this is that she is bringing the reader decidedly closer to fully engaging in the story.
We move on to chapter 2 where on page 4 the novel’s protagonist emerges. In this first paragraph, we are finally in the third person, limited omniscient point-of-view (POV):

“Why am I always the one in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Kate Conlan muttered to herself. First day back for what had technically been a vacation—a guilt-forced trip to visit her parents in hell’s amusement park (Las Vegas)—she was late for work, had a headache, wanted to strangle a certain sex crimes sergeant for spooking one of her client—a screw up he would pay for with the prosecuting attorney."

As you can see, we are now feeling things only one character can feel. We learn that she’s not happy and that her job (we identify people by where they work and what they do there) seems to have something to do with law enforcement. We also know she’s not feeling well (headache), and that she’s angry. As the author proceeds in this viewpoint, we learn more.

“All that and the fashionably chunky heel on a brand new pair of suede pumps was coming loose, thanks to the stairs in the Fourth Avenue parking ramp.”

Now we know she dresses up for and drives to work. We also get a sense that she’s in a city setting. One sentence—loads of information.

“No one else seemed to notice him prowling the edge of the spacious atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center like a nervous cat. Kate made the guy for late thirties, no more than a couple of inches past her own five-nine, medium-to-slender build.”

The author is steadily building her character. We now get more about Kate. She’s observant, definitely in law enforcement or works close to it, and she’s tall and slim.

“Wound too tight. He’d likely suffered some kind of personal or emotional setback recently—lost his job or his girlfriend. He was either divorced or separated; living on his own, but not homeless. His clothes were rumpled but not castoffs, and his shoes were too good for homeless. He was sweating like a fat man in a sauna, but he kept his coat on as he paced around and around the new piece of sculpture littering the hall—a symbolic piece of pretention from melted-down handguns. He was muttering to himself, one hand handing on to the open front of his heavy canvas jacket. A hunter’s coat. His inner emotion strain tightened the muscles of his face.”

Where is the author? Where is the omniscient voice? Gone. As you can see, all narration is now coming from the character and the character only. She is observing and recording for the reader what she is experiencing, not what the author is experiencing for her. Emotion is coming from her mind. We are seeing what she sees as she sees it through her eyes. We know how she reacts to what she sees from inside, not as an outside observer. This is where an author sits when writing her story—inside her character, looking out upon the world. This is closer than first-person can take a reader because now the reader can feel everything from all five senses, something not readily possible in omniscient or first-person. Now, finally, the character can come alive on the page.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Demise of Print Publishing--A Publisher's Commetary

Yes, the book business is in dire straits. Wylie-Merrick has posted lots of stuff about it, including ideas that e-books be provided free, with advertising. As an indie publisher, I maintain that books give more to life than soap or pencils.

Books have prestige. In this context, I believe that “free” generally spells garbage. Publishers cannot pander to readers whose attention spans would cause them to throw down a free book in a New York minute for a little Face Book time, and I will fight to my last breath for old-style print books with a price tag on leisurely enjoyment. Still, I realize that the advent of digital publishing makes change inevitable, and we publishers better start right now to get into the cyberspace groove, before it’s goodbye glue and ink and hello cell phone reading. Only the opthalmologist will profit from that.

As for the proposal to sell advertising in ebooks, exactly who is going to drum up this so-called financial asset? I envision a book world of Viagra ads in romance novels or hatchets and butcher knives in murder mysteries. Yucch!

Here are three ideas I believe will keep offset print books viable: 1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced. 2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors. 3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Any thoughts?

B. Phillips
Co-publisher, Editorial Director
Bridge Works Publishing

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Digital--Not As Easy As It Seems

An argument for and against digital text books--mostly against. Some parts of this same argument could also include the publishing e-books in general.

Comments please!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Writing is. . .Work!

It’s amazing that most writers whose books are poorly written blame publishing for their writing ineptitude. To them it’s an unfair system. They decry a structure that allows them to work an entire year on a project for which there’s no apparent market. Surely anything that took that much effort deserves publication, doesn’t it? Surely someone wants it and is willing to pay the going rate for it. After all, everyone who has read it has loved it.

From a writer’s perspective, this makes sense. But those who have been around writing for awhile realize that writing anything is a gamble—that everything that’s written is written on speculation, that we all work for nothing until something is published and that nothing deserves publication unless it fits a ready market and someone can make money by publishing it. That’s writing.

What’s even more disconcerting is that many who query WMLA have no idea what they’ve written, have no platform on which to build a writing career, nor do they know if there’s a market for what they’ve written. These same individuals become angry when informed of these failures. They should realize that we check these things because we don’t enjoy working for nothing either.

Those who someday wish to be published should understand that publishing is a business enterprise. Books are products in an industry whose main consumers are readers. Readers buy the vast majority of books to escape the rigors of everyday life or to make their lives better. So a writer’s job is to write well enough to entertain, educate and build vast and steady reading audience year after year. Good professional writers are entertainers, educators, and self-promoters.

Most first-time novelists buy into the adage, “Write what you know.” However, it’s not what you know that’s important. It should be, “Write what you care about.” You can learn what you don’t know through education or, at a minimum, through an interview or by in-depth Internet research. Not caring is hard to fix. Caring forces you to always make your writing better. So learn to care enough to make others care about what you write. Besides, if you write what you care about, it makes a difficult, unrelentingly ego-busting job seem much less like the work that it is.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Book vs. the Kindle

To add another log to the Demise of Publishing bonfire, here is a must-see for anyone who is seriously considering a Kindle. Remember--THEY ARE COMING! Heh, heh, heh. Enjoy!!!

The Book vs. the Kindle Round 10: A Seriously Unfortunate Event

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

When The Talking Stops, The Doing Begins

Scott has informed me that this will be his final post in this series. He's now off to test his theory. He's a brave man and, if he's successful, his work could possibly change the way we receive our reading material. Win or lose, he talked the talk now he's set out to walk the walk and we have nothing but respect for anyone who does that. He's already a success for trying it.

As for anyone who didn't understand how we could post something like this and discuss it, please remember this quote attributed to Voltaire...

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Isn't this what public discourse is all about? Enjoy!

Scott Wrote:

I think I have gotten about as much as I can out of this discussion. Unfortunately, I see two camps forming and arguing here. Arguing over a theory. I won’t label these camps since that would just add fuel to the fire. What I do suggest is that if you like my ideas, go ahead and try them. I don’t own them. They cannot be copyrighted. Or if action isn’t your thing, you can sit back and watch me try them.

Now if you dislike my ideas, you’re free to have that opinion. However, it won’t stop me from testing my theory. Nothing said here by anyone here so far will likely stop me from going forward, so if that’s your goal, save your breath. Robert, acting as a devil’s advocate, so far hasn’t swayed me in the least. Although he made some good points and I thank him for his effort, I feel energized about pressing forward.

Presently, my novel is finished and has moved out of the alpha reader stage into the beta reader stage. It will be there for a bit since I plan to have more than one beta reader read it. How long will this stage take? Possibly a month. Maybe more. My plan then is to get some endorsements from a few scientific experts on the theories my science fiction novel explores. Three of those endorsements will appear after the title page to get readers in the frame of mind that what follows could happen. I’m expecting acquisition of these endorsements to take another month or two.

Then the first and most crucial test of my plans (a.k.a. business model) will be done. Can I acquire thirty-odd advertisers for my novel? This is how I will measure success or failure for my business model. Anything beyond that is pure gravy. And none of the advertisers need to be major advertisers for this to be declared a success.

And if I do acquire thirty-plus advertisers, I will build on that success with the mystery novel I’ve now started while my beta readers do their thing. Unlike the science fiction novel, the mystery is designed to be the foundation of a series so what relationships I develop with ad firms will be regularly tapped with each sequel of it I pump out. That and, as I go along, I will be seeking more ad firms with which to develop relationships to increase my hopefully big pile of gold as much as possible.

However, if I cannot acquire thirty-plus advertisers, I will not publicly release the book as a free ebook and will likely ask Robert to look it over to see if he thinks it is marketable to a major publisher. While this means a failure, I won’t consider it a critical failure for my business model. I will likely try again with the before-mentioned mystery novel I’ve started. Hopefully, I will have learned some lessons from such a failure so the mystery novel has a better chance at succeeding.

Now I could speculate more about what might happen to the publishing industry, authors, and agents if my business model succeeds, but I have already done that in earlier posts and I now don’t see the point of elaborating further. Nor do I see any point in arguing with people that don’t like advertising or dismiss free entertainment since I don't really believe I will change their minds or they change mine. Instead, how about I just do it and report back later?

Wish me luck!

Scott Jensen

Saturday, August 01, 2009

People is Publishing

I realize that I’ve sort of dropped out of this discussion, but running the agency and selling books demands much of my time, as it does Robert’s. Saturdays can be lighter for us, so I thought I’d try to get some thoughts out there while I can. We are continuing to explore this topic because we think this is an important discussion, which is why we’ve made time for it. So far, it appears to have gotten some ideas out there, and we are glad of that, especially if at any point it somehow makes a difference.

There are so many points to cover that I’m sure I’ll miss some of them. This is a complex issue and only parts of it can really be addressed adequately in the short amount of space we can allot at any given time. I suggest that anyone interested in the subject continue to read a variety of sources online and in print to keep up with the changes in publishing that will affect not only readers, but writers and other members of society as well. As we go through this, please keep in mind that “people is publishing and publishing is people.” It all comes down to that, to the human aspect, and this is the fundamental reason why there is no one perfect publishing model that suits everyone.

If this discussion has shown one thing, it’s that there are different perspectives on the future of publishing that are somewhat filtered through each poster’s wants, needs, and background. I know my experiences as an agent/writer color how I perceive Scott’s concept. I’ve published in both print and electronic formats in about 3-4 different areas, and basically feel writing for publication is very much about convincing someone or some entity to invest in a product—your story—which is why you target what you write to publishers who handle that type of project. What most writers, especially new ones, object to is that “getting in” seems like a random and completely arbitrary process controlled by inaccessible people making decisions about your work based on who knows what. Even with Scott’s plan, though, there’s still that element there, although they would be ad execs and marketing people. You might be trading one perceived set of bozos for another perceived set of bozos, but in all of it, some set of perceived bozos has a hand in the writer’s destiny. That is not going to change. If a writer doesn’t like that, there actually ways to get around it that are available now. Scott’s idea will open another venue for writers who have a certain skillset and predilection for a certain type of writing, but that person’s work will still have to be approved by someone. I see it as another venue, but not the only one. Society is too diverse for only one model to meet all its needs.

For any change to work, as Robert mentioned, you have to get current popular writers to buy into it, and so you’re asking people who’ve been successful in one type of system to give it up to perpetuate a new paradigm that might not work in their favor, and, until proven, may not be good for the reader. That’s asking A LOT in any industry. One of the basic drives in humans is self-preservation, which is why even someone who does nothing but complain about his job will fight like a cornered Chihuahua if there’s a chance that job will be taken away. Self-preservation says that swapping the known and successful for the unknown and possibly disastrous is not a good idea unless someone has a really, really good reason. Unfortunately, for most humans, the greater noble cause, as history has proven, is not good reason enough. And even for those writers who care about readers, why would they switch if the new plan isn’t proven to help their audience yet? No one takes a pill without it having been through years of study, so why would publishing, which does reflect our culture, be any different?

That being said, as I mentioned before, I think Scott’s idea can work, but I don’t think it will take over publishing completely. E-books, at some point, will have a larger share of the market and perhaps reach 75% of it over a course of years. I agree with Robert in that respect, but I am more apt to encourage those who want to try new things to do so more quickly. The sooner we get started trying different ideas, the more quickly we get to the ideas that have the best chance of actually being sustainable. You have to be prepared for a lot of failures, though. History doesn't remember them, but for every incredible, mind-blowing success, there were dozens of failed ideas that made the way for its rise to greatness.

I believe the rise of e-books will take this long because of simple numbers. Different types of readers will migrate toward what is comfortable for them, and this is generational. As long as there’s a demographic out there made up of readers who want print books, there’s going to be some publisher who wants to make a buck exploiting that market. That’s just good business, ala P.T. Barnum. Unless there’s a strain of flu that wipes out my generation and a couple or so before it, those readers are going to be around for a long time. I think my generation is a bridge in that some will demand print, others will demand electronic, and others, like me, function well with both. These generations also have very definite feelings about advertising. Older generations tend to hate and not trust it; newer generations are so used to it that it’s more white noise than anything, and others, again like me, have a love/hate relationship with it. For example, I just bought a pair of shoes I saw advertised in a magazine, the kind I really had been looking for. However, if a commercial comes on during my TV program, I start flipping channels until the barrage of ads is over and I can return to my show.

This is why I think there will continue to be different publishing models flourishing in the future, much like now but each with a larger share of the market except traditional publishing, which will have much less of a share than it has now unless it responds adequately to the changes in reader needs.

Technology, as it has done, continues to move us forward and the industry is slowly changing (NOTHING happens quickly in publishing). We have been and are on the path forward, and what Scott is doing is what many people are currently trying to do—innovate. Many publishing innovators will fail. Some will succeed. At least they’re trying to do something. Scott is putting his time and energy where his mouth is; he’s not just offering a suggestion, he’s putting it out there and DOING it. It might fail miserably, but he’s taking that risk. If it fails, then that’s one publishing innovation to mark off the list, so that in itself is a success. I respect that, as does Robert, because, believe me, starting a literary agency in Kokomo, Indiana, has been nothing but a risk. We are an anomaly, and one that statistically shouldn't exist. I don't think there are any other agencies out there like us, at least not still in business. We constantly strive to innovate by the books we take on. Yes, there is the commercial aspect of it that sustains the business. However, we can sneak in books that challenge current norms, whether mainstream publishing is quite ready for them or not, and nurture those careers because we have that luxury, due to our location. This is how we can work within the current paradigm but also be open to other ideas. Do all these efforts result in publication? No, but some do, and we are upfront with the authors about their chances. It's a risk we take together, and every time this happens, every time the magic works, we're all the better for it.

I think I should mention something here: Robert is the “nice” one in the family. Writers get waaaaay more sympathy from him than from me. He’s the one who really got me firmly entrenched in technology with his love for computers and music-related gadgets (he got his IPod first), he comes from an entertainment family, and he worked in advertising as a young man. He loves to innovate and try new adventures, and I love him for it. Needless to say, it’s been strange to see others perceive him as an inflexible technophobe reluctant to change. He’s playing devil’s advocate and voicing his opinion as someone who’s worked in the field for over a decade. He's simply reserving judgment until the method can prove itself viable. If anything, he represents exactly what anyone with a new idea in any business is going to face and should face. Just because an old way is flawed doesn’t mean you jump on the bandwagon to crush it and see what arises from its destruction without first giving some thought to all the possible outcomes, at least not unless you really don’t care if the new system is successful or not. Do I look forward to the changes? Yes, whole-heartedly, mainly because I don’t think the current model works for all readers. Do I think Scott’s is going to be the only change if it works? I doubt it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value and can’t make a difference.

I think e-books with ads could definitely have their own place in the market, just like manga and graphic novels, but I think they would appeal to a certain demographic. I could see some writers really getting into the challenge of producing a book with parameters set by advertisers just for the fun and challenge of it. As an agent, though, I have to be aware of my clients’ goals, as is Robert. If they don’t include experimenting with different types of writing, then we focus on the goals at hand. I can advise my clients as to the latest advances in publishing, but Scott’s idea isn’t a latest advance yet. It’s still in prototype mode and not quite viable yet. He’s not the only one trying something new. There are exciting changes going on all around us. This is, oddly, a great time in publishing, even though it’s also a tough time for many writers, agents, editors, and publishers. As opportunities arise, we advise our clients of their viability and our ability to assist them in the development of such endeavors.

I can see some writer who loves extreme sports creating stories about extreme sports for those readers into that lifestyle, and those e-books with ads being offered by some sport shops. The readers would welcome the ads and the new reading material because it would serve two purposes: offering them exposure to new products of interest and offering them a reading experience geared toward their interests. The YA market would be especially open to this, given many kids download music and read online. It’s natural to them, but I don’t think that this would be the only way they’d get their reading material. Scott’s example of a cruise ship partnership hit home because we love to cruise, and many people who do are returning cruisers, and if you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you know there’s lots of young and old readers (most cruise ships have print libraries). Could this be modified into Scott’s model? Probably.

So what happens next? Let’s go back to the extreme sports example. Who do you think advertisers are going to want to write these books? You or Shaun White? Who will get more downloads? You or Shaun White? You might get hired to write the book, but whose name will appear on it in an effort to get the ads out to more consumers? So what has changed?

Something else to consider: Consumers know they can download a good book in their area of interest with ads that might be of use to them, probably written by Shaun White, so maybe now they want the sports shop to have a reading area, just like a bookstore or library, where a bunch of people can hang out, read free e-books, and drink over-priced beverages filled with legal stimulants. Now you have to convince brick and mortar shops, places where people converge, to change the way they do business by dedicating space and personnel to the reading area. I can hear it now…

“What? Dude? No, wait. Dude! Duuuuuude. Ah, dude.”

So this goes back to my original point that changes in publishing will have far reaching effects. It’s up to people to decide why and how they want to participate in the coming changes. Responding to change isn't easy, but one thing is's worth it.--Sharene

Caution: No Mud,

This will be a very short post (pause while waiting for the cheering to subside). Sharene will be posting here in a bit, but we wanted to post this to address some of the comments we’ve been receiving that are off topic and very unpleasant. This is more of a cautionary post than informational and is addressed to those whose comments are beyond the realm of the discussion at hand—that between Scott and me. It’s fine if you disagree. In fact, we welcome disagreement. Because this is a discussion from two opposing views, we expect that and we also expect some of the comments to be heated; that’s what makes a good forum. However, what we don’t like is personal mud-slinging and name-calling. Most of those who comment here are highly engaged in the discussion at hand; however, there are some who come here for other purposes. We believe that all sides of every issue should be explored, and this is why it’s always been our policy to post almost every comment we receive. If those who wish to comment here want to see us continue that policy, then please limit your remarks to the discussion. If we receive any more of the viciousness that we have been receiving, we will cease to have these discussions and will begin deleting those who choose to use our blog to throw out insults.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ad-Based Publishing--The Debate Goes On

Below is Scott’s reply to Robert, with Robert’s reply to Scott’s reply to his reply just after each point of contention or agreement. We apologize for the length, but everyone seems to prefer it posted this way. Sharene was going to contribute her input as well, but that will have to wait because she’s doing agency business as we speak. Plus, it would have enlarged this post even more and it’s already very, very long. Plus, she’s a girl.

Here we go…

Scott: There will still be printed books in the future. After all, you can still buy LPs and even have current hits put onto LPs. You can also buy buggy whips. However, once ebooks come into their own, having a printed version of an ebook will be viewed as a luxury and an oddity. It is all about economics. If there isn't enough demand, there won't be a supply. Additionally, some books will only come out in ebook format and the author and their agent won't even bother considering coming out with a printed version.

Robert: Scott and I agree on many things and we agree about e-books possibly coming into their own. In fact, I wrote a blog post about print publishing possibly being replaced by internet content of which e-books are a part, although I didn’t specifically mention them . Pundits have been predicting that e-publishing was going to replace conventional print publishing ever since there’s been an internet but so far it hasn’t happened. As an agent, I have to think about today and what’s happening right now. My clients expect that of me. They won’t sit around waiting for e-books to start paying enough in advances against royalties to make them worth considering. They like to being paid an advance against royalties and not many e-publishers do that, so until they do, most of my clients would rather stick with conventional print publishers.

Scott: As for Amazon stubbing their toe with ebooks, I've covered this before in Part Two.

Robert: I was referring to Jeff Bezos stubbing his toe when he chose to remove books that readers had paid for, then taking from their Kindle readers without notifying them he was going to do so. See:

Scott: As for major publishers surviving by somehow buying the electronic rights to ebooks, what? Ebook writers will be giving their ebooks away for free to get larger download numbers.

Robert: I agree that free sounds good. But disagree that free will always win the day. Many people have been burned by freebies, so they are liable to distrust things that are given away free. Behind FREE they perceive a gimmick. For example, nine out of ten computer users bitch about Microsoft’s operating system and have been complaining to high heaven since MS DOS (most of you probably don’t remember that). But there is a solution. It’s a completely free operating system called Ubuntu produced by Linux, see: The Linux operating system has been around for some time and because it’s FREE you’d think one would be on everyone’s machine. But not even 1% have changed over. Where Microsoft is a buggy, expensive and closed proprietary software system, meaning it’s copyrighted and users are blocked from decompiling the software and revising it, Ubuntu is open, meaning it’s not copyrighted and open to anyone who wants to improve it. However, Microsoft is still king. Why is that? I believe it's because free stuff makes people nervous. It’s perceived there’s something wrong with it, there’s some hidden charge or, in the case of free software, it's going to harm their machine. Isn't it human nature for folks to think that expensive is good and free is cheap crap. "If it's so good, then why are they be giving it away?" So the first thing that has to happen, in my opinion, for the free e-book system to work consistently is to somehow change the perception of FREE. There’s even a saying that you get what you pay for. By the way, giving away ebooks free isn’t a new idea, but there’s always been some gimmick tied to them. See:

Scott: As for people being sick of advertising, like it or not, it is just part of life. It has been part of life of magazines for centuries. Been part of life on radio and TV for decades. Now if you want to talk about what people are really sick of, let us talk about the ever-increasing retail sticker prices of printed books.

Robert: I agree that books are expensive and the most expensive are hardcover books. We are by far the richest country in the world. Avid readers with money still buy hardcover books because they don't want ads in their reading material. I say this because of what's happened in television quite a while ago and more recently in radio. People who don't mind advertising view commercial television, which because must of it is hooked to cables is no longer free. The same with radio--commercials for some, but a vast number of listeners have switched to satellite radio, especially in their cars. I also envision packagers taking care the labor intensive parts of publishing in the near future and I see these packagers being based in India and China. If this vision is true, then packagers will hire writers and pay them on a work for hire basis. So we reach the first point of contention—will writers be willing to give up fat advances for work for hire contracts?

Scott: As for why ad agencies haven't done this already, you have to understand about the world of advertising. In the world of publishing, an average book sells 12,000 copies. That's just too small peanuts for most advertisers to consider. And unlike magazines, there's no certainty that average will be reached by a book. On top of this, inserting a full-color print ad into a printed book is expensive. However...

Robert: I disagree. I understand quite a bit about marketing books as I have to help my clients do that. I also understand that marketing departments run large publishing houses, from the CEOs, on down. So when you speak about the world of publishing, you've stepped into my world. In this world, you have to include Random House, Penguin Putnam, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and Hachette (formally Warner). This is big publishing. When we speak of publishing in general, we are talking about 300,000 PRINTED titles produced a year—no small potatoes here when looking at some single titles that sell over a million copies their first print run. Most mega bookstores stock 80,000 titles on their shelves. As a side note, part of the economic problems encountered by most publishers these days is because mega-bookstores strip shelves every three months of books that didn’t sell and return them to publishers for a 100% refund. Bookstores increase their bottom line at publisher’s expense—not a good system. Just thought I’d throw that tidbit in. The problem as I see it that most publishers don’t see e-books as a threat. They don't see them producing the kinds of numbers mentioned above, that of millions of downloads--not in the near future at least. Maybe in twenty years or so. Ad agencies are well aware of these numbers. These numbers and the huge profits generated by publishing came to the notice of those European corporations who acquired publishers in the 1980s so you have to know that ad agencies have been aware of these huge profits for years. Wouldn’t this be an advertiser’s dream come true? How come they haven’t been taken advantage of it ? If this hasn’t been done in the past, then there must be a reason. Point of contention two--why haven't ad agencies seen the profit potential of ad based books?

Scott: With ebooks, things change and become more attractive for advertisers. Giving away the ebook for free will greatly increase its download numbers. In fact, charging people for ebooks will reduce how many see an advertiser's ad. That happens and advertisers will pay you less for the ads in your book. It is then to your profit advantage to give away your book so your download numbers are as large as possible so advertisers will pay you as much as possible. This is not possible with printed books but totally possibly with ebooks.

Robert: Before this can happen, you’ve got to convince some superstar writers like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, etc., to start writing e-books that are going to be given away. When authors of this caliber are talked into doing this, publishers will see the threat and I’ll be convinced this will work. Until then, I don’t see enough of a draw to get the volume that will convince large advertisers this is going threaten their existance. Nothing said so far convinces me this will work—nothing yet. If I can’t be convinced, how can big companies be talked into puting advertising dollars into free ad-based books?

Scott: Secondly, putting in a full-color ad in a printed book is expensive. It isn't in an ebook. There is no printing cost with an ebook.

Robert: I agree that full color e-books might be something to consider. This was thought to be a great idea for children’s picture books because it would cut out the huge printing costs. However, the idea didn’t fly because parents, if they wanted a hard copy, still had to print them and the expense was just trickled down to them. So this idea never took off. As far as color ads, the same problem exists as to how to get readers to want free e-books in the first place. As stated in the paragraph above, the problem of getting quality authors to buy into this is where this whole theory falls apart. Solve that and this might have merit. Writers, writers who are good enough to demand good advances from standard print publishing houses, don’t have to resort to ad-based, free e-books to make a buck. They do okay the old fashioned way. Convince good authors first to give up their print publishing contracts in lieu of a possible work for hire one and you’ve made some headway. Or convince them that they aren’t going to get paid until you sell some advertising and then they might not get paid until you get enough of their books out there somewhere down the road so that advertisers will pay for content advertising. In the meantime, when you put content ads in books, the author has to be very careful as to how trademarked and brand names are used. Using them wrong can land the author in court. There are some very good hints online as to how to do this, but I have to say that use of brand names and trademarks are highly restrictive. Also, small publishers can get away with no advances because they aren’t getting top-notch authors. See what the RWA has to say about publishers who don’t pay at least a $1000 advance. Also check with the Author’s Guild on that too.

Scott: And why this hasn't been done yet is simply this is all still new. The internet is new. Less than twenty years old. We are still getting used to it. We are still experimenting with it. We have yet to tap its full potential. Ebooks is the newest wrinkle of the internet. Ebooks haven't even take its baby steps yet. Read up on the history of print and you'll see it took a VERY long time for print to become a success. Cut ebooks some slack.

Robert: As I’ve said before, e-books supposedly were going to put print publishers out of business ten years ago. It hasn’t happened and I don’t see it happening in the near future. Yes, the book replaced the scroll…eventually. But it didn’t happen overnight. Actually, when you get right down to it, books, because they're advertisement free are cheap. Yes the price would come down if ads where placed in them, but would readers rebel? By the way, books used to be much more expensive than they are now. I fact less than a hundred years ago, you couldn't afford a book unless you were rich. So things have improved, not gotten worse. There’s a great story as to how New American Library (NAL) came into existence and put books into the hands of average people.

Scott: As for editorial review, advertisers will not put their ads into just anything that comes along. They'll be selective. None ... not even Microsoft ... has an unlimited advertising budget. They have to pick and choose where they spend their ad dollars. If you're a writer (or an agent representing a writer), your sales pitch to advertisers or the ad firms representing them will be partly about how great of a writer you are (or represent). And advertising executives won't just take your word for it. They'll read the book (or have one of their underlings do so), they'll want to see what critics say about the writer, what other successful writers say about the writer (and/or the book in question), and so forth. It will be just as hard ... if not harder ... for a new writer to get sponsorship as it is today to be published. On the bright side, writers can seek smaller sponsors initially and build up to the Coca-Colas, Exxon, and such of the world.

Robert: My question is what exactly is in this for the new writer, whose biggest complaint is that he or she can’t get in because the system is stacked against new writers? Isn’t this proposed system supposed to let everyone in? What’s being advocated above seems to me to just be a swap of one set of gate-keepers for another. I don’t see the big switch here. Also, I see large overhead in hiring acquisition editors, copy editors and a publisher to get the publishing part accomplished. Someone has to filter stuff that's going to turn those readers off who might tolerate ads in their books, even if they are free. I see the cost of this being a barrier to free e-books, so this is another problem area, as I see it anyway.

Just because you go to an e-book format doesn’t mean that you do away with publishers. The only difference between a print and e-book one is paper and binding. There’s still a cover artist involved. The books are set up so e-readers can read them and very expensive software is involved in the whole process. One big savings is that you do cut out distribution costs if books are given away, but there has to be some sort of storage and downloading capability no matter which way the author goes—another cost. So publishing wouldn’t be dead, it would just be transformed, so to speak. Whether you put ads in books and give them away, books still have to be published.

Scott: As for the "large" area that you (Robert) disagree with me being about the future role of agents, I don't have a clue what you're disagreeing with. I've read that paragraph over a few times and still don't see it.

Robert: You’re right, Scott. I did kind of go off on a wild tangent after I said that there was a large area of disagreement as to the future role of agents. What I was trying to express is that the role we now have is actually new and not the role literary agents originally played, which was being contract experts and going head to head with lawyers that publishers hired to write very complex contracts. I love contracts and I love negotiating them, but I also love books. I’m in awe of authors—the real ones—the ones who write books that are marketable. They are my heroes. So if books aren’t in the mix in the new agent’s role, I will no longer be a literary agent. I’m not interested in anything that doesn’t involve books and authors. I don’t want to interest ad companies to invest in putting their ads in books. I don’t like advertising and have no desire to be retrained to do this. I doubt that any agents would be interested in this new world. One big drawback that I see is that large literary agencies make large amounts of money. For instance, Stephenie Meyer’s agent made tons of money in the last few years. Could she, Stephenie’s agent, be convinced that your idea would pay her as much?

I also wouldn’t want to be part of trying to convince good authors that they should morph into ad-generated or work for hire instead of royalty-based paychecks. I’m a pretty good salesman, but I’m not that good. For another, I have to believe in the product that I’m selling before I can convince others to buy it, and, as you can see, I don’t believe strongly enough in this theory to buy into it, but I’m still open to being convinced. 

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Perspective on Ad-based Publishing

Well, well, well…I leave for a second and what happens? Chaos! And I didn’t even get to start it. Hmmph. Someone owes me a banana split or butterscotch sundae (raises eyebrow at spouse).

Seriously, for those readers twisting and turning about the whole ad-based, print-is/isn’t-dying, why-did-you-post-it-this-way-instead-of-that-way discussion, please do keep in mind the key word “discussion.” That’s what we do at the agency, at conferences, with family, and pretty much everywhere. It’s the heart of why people are attracted to the Internet. Discourse, discovery, the sharing of thoughts and ideas, and also an easy way to get pictures of Russell Crowe. But I digress.

Even between agents at the same agency, you will find matters in which they agree and disagree. We here at WMLA often have lively conversations, some heated, about all things publishing-related. I believe I have mentioned the ongoing mainstream versus genre argument that we regularly engage in, the irony of it being that we fundamentally agree but somehow Robert is always wrong and I am always right. At the end of the day, though—and I mean this literally—everything ends up with snuggles (between me and Robert, not Scott). Yes, literary agents snuggle, at least we do. I know. Take a moment. Try to wipe the image from your mind and we’ll move forward.

Okay. This post is about where I agree and disagree with Robert and Scott, or my take on the whole ad-based publishing endeavor and the future of publishing in general. I should warn you that I’m a change junkie. Born that way and I don’t know why. Change is good. Change is normal. Change is the way of all things. For some reason, I never go into a situation without thinking about how it could be changed to be better in some way. Do I welcome the changes in publishing and in my profession in general? Oh, yes. I can't wait. I can't wait to see what the literary Phoenix looks like as it rises from the ashes. I think current publishing is irrevocably flawed and needs, at the least, freshened up a bit. How that plays out has yet to be seen, but promises to be very, very entertaining.

As you can guess, this hasn’t always worked in my favor in the publishing industry, but sometimes it’s put me ahead of everyone else. Such is the nature of things and how I operate. To that end, my views on the industry extend across the spectrum, because with change comes many unknown factors and change junkies are always aware of those tiny unknowns that can throw the whole course of your prediction(s) off.

My response includes not only my thoughts on Scott’s post, but some of the commenters as well. First, do I believe all books will become e-books? No, not all of them. I think there will always be a niche population who desire or need them, so I don’t think that we can say e-books will be the only type of reading material in the future. Earth’s population is too diverse for that, and we have to take into consideration human limits and human physiology. There will be some people who simply can’t use e-books, just as there are those who function better with them.

I think Scott’s idea of ad placement has potential, but I believe that it would only evolve as its own branch of publishing rather than being the only publishing paradigm. I think that is key. I don’t think there is going to be one publishing model, because that doesn’t work for everyone, and in reality, there isn’t just one publishing model now. Some are just more familiar than others. I agree with Robert that some people will just turn off completely if ads are introduced, but I also think there will be generations of readers who are so used to ads, due to Google and Facebook and such, that they won’t care. This actually works against Scott’s idea in a way, but in a way it doesn’t. I still pay attention to ads I see in magazines and on Facebook, if they aren’t ridiculous come-ons, so I think it will be a generational thing. I think different demographics will be attracted to reading material presented in a variety of ways. Again, this is actually true now, but no one is really doing anything about it because the old model is so absolute. That, I think, is going to change in the next decade. And that’s a GOOD thing.

Robert is absolutely right about corporations, which is what book publishers are. Some are greedy. Some feel they are bastions of culture. None are going to go down without a fight. No new technology is going to be accepted until it proves profitable or inevitable, and anyone who’s been making money in an industry is going to have to choose whether to cut losses or grab a stake in the future mula-making. The current war between open source versus proprietary is only going to heat up. For every entity that believes individuals should be able to create their own fun, there’s an entity that believes they can provide a better experience based on their expertise.

I have more to say, but this has rambled on too long. I invite any questions or comments and will, as time permits, add more of my thoughts on the demise of publishing. Happy reading!--Sharene

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ad-based Publishing---Agents Respond

I want to thank Scott Jensen for allowing me to post his ideas here for our discussion about the future of publishing. After letting others comment for a while, I would like to add my thoughts and perspective as well. I feel that, although there is some merit in these ideas, I can also see some very big holes.

For one thing, although I agree with Scott that publishing will change, I don’t ever envision the complete death of print publishing. Yes, the cost of printing using current methods is growing prohibitive, but I believe that technology can and will solve most of these problems. As stated before in other posts, I see the e-reader as a great invention, but I don't see it as a replacement for the book, however, I do see books themselves changing. For instance, paper is expensive; therefore, the print industry, to stay alive, will look for alternatives such as chargeable plastic paper in which print in introduced to the page much in the same manner as laser and ink-jet printers do; however, with this type of page, when the charge is removed or changed, the ink washes out, making the book rechargeable. So far, the cost-to-profit ratios haven’t reached that point yet, obviously. There’s much that’s done in publishing that’s not obvious to the layperson and this is one of many hundreds of innovations that are being explored.

The e-book reader works very well for those who transport large numbers of raw manuscripts in digital format. However, Amazon and some of the others are rapidly stubbing their toes in this area, making uploading of books in manuscript form more and more cumbersome as they seek to force readers to download works only from their stores. Then you have Amazon’s recent major boo-boo, which made it quite obvious to readers who actually controls their e-book purchases and how easily they can be removed. Readers like the independence that print books give them. They can buy them, sell them, trade them or do whatever they want with them. Not so with digital materials, where extra restrictions in the form of profit above everything else has always been the case. So I don’t see much of a future for the e-book reader, especially since the mini-laptop is comparatively priced and can do so much more (if you ask Sharene about hers, she’ll tell you this in no uncertain terms lol).

Also, major publishers are not going to sit on their hands and watch their industry morph into nothingness. In case e-books actually make a mark in the next few years, major publishers have been buying electronic rights along with other profitable rights, and, as digital readers and the mini-laptop have become more popular, they have been reprinting and publishing e-books for them. Also, in the same way that majors have bought smaller print publishing houses in the past, as smaller electronic publishers become more profitable, they will continue to be purchased by the majors.

I disagree with Scott in that I don’t see a switch from publishing as we currently know it to an advertising based e-publishing nirvana. For one thing, people are sick of advertisements of all kinds. We have had ads poked at us through every tricky way imaginable over the years, so I don’t look for readers to take kindly to anyone who tries to put ads in their serious reading material. If that’s tried, there might actually be a real death of not only publishing, but reading in general. Another thing is that as resourceful as ad agencies are, if there were any merit in this it would have already happened. For some reason, books have been left alone and probably for good reason.

There’s a system in place in publishing called editorial review. Some people call it filtering or gate-keeping, but it does actually work as it tends to protects readers from being deluged with sludge. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have to read some of what’s self-published, you begin to see what a reader would have to plow through to find something readable. The sad reality is that not everyone can write at a level that’s interesting or in many cases even readable. Of course, in a free country such as ours, everyone has the right to write whatever they wish. Not everyone, however, should be tricked into buying everything that’s written.

I'm sure Scott will agree that at the present time everyone does have the opportunity to write whatever they wish and have it instantly published. This wonderful invention is the blog post. Blogs have been around for a number of years and some are doing very well even though others languish. Some are brilliantly written while others are not so. Some even have advertisements in them, so I don’t see anything different in what Scott is proposing as opposed to what’s already here and readily available to anyone who has access to the Internet.

One large area that I find disagreement with is Scott's view of the future role for literary agents.
Our role expanded because print publishers ceased wanting to mine their slush piles and I don't see that role diminishing in a future world where half the population believes that the quickest way to fame and fortune is to write something and get it published. Every year the number of query letters have increased to a level that's become unmanageable without hiring a large staff. Agents work on commission and thus derive no compensation for reading query letters. So this task is relegated to an after work activity. Many agents have, in the past, handled this chore as a training ground for new agents. What better way to find out if a person can handle utter boredom than subjecting them to mining mind-numbing ramblings? These days, however, most agents have taken a clue from publishers and are limiting unsolicited queries or manuscripts, having found, as publishers before them, that there’s not much in slush piles that’s worth the effort (of course, there are exceptions to every rule so please no comments mentioning all the books that went on to glory after being pulled from the slush).

Suffice it to say, our role is changing as I type this and will continue to change. The only constant in publishing, and in life, is change, which is why it makes such a darn fine catalyst for novels. As we continue to watch publishing morph and evolve, please understand that these are actually exciting times. Instead of being fearful and holding on the old ways, those who try to adapt, at the very least, will learn a great deal and quite possibly may become part of a new and much improved reading paradigm.

We find this whole phenomenon fascinating, so if you have something to say on this subject, please share.

Here's Part Three.

Now if I'm correct with all the above. What I believe will result is the death of ALL publishers. Every single one of them. There's no need for them. You can convert your e-book manuscript into an e-book-reader-ready/cellphone-ready format with little trouble and possibly with a mere click of a button. No printing needed. No forest need die for you to read your romance novel.

But I do NOT think this evolution of the written word will spell the death of agents. Agents will "simply" operate differently in the future. Today, agents pitch novels and non-fiction books to publishers. In the future, agents will pitch novels and non-fiction books to advertising firms and possibly directly to major advertisers. In the future, the most sought-after agents will be those with established relationships with major ad agencies, major advertisers, and countless minor ones.

So as publishers die off and leave the scene, they will be replaced with advertisers coming onto the book scene. Writers and agents will remain. The change is only in who pays them and the final introduction of ad pages in books ... as has been done for centuries with magazines.

This will not mean that if you get accepted by an agent that you're assured a fat check every month. Not at all. Just as they do today with publishers, your agent will still have to pitch your novel to ad firms. Convince them that your novel is the right one for their clients' products and/or services. And just like today, the hardest novelists to pitch will be the first-time novelists. Agents will have an easier time pitching established novelists since they can point to download numbers of their previous books.

Anyway, the above is what I think will be the future of writing. Publishing will be dead but writing will continue on and I believe be an even greater success than it has ever been in history.

Unfortunately, no agent is doing the above. Due to this, I think I'll have to be the one to do the pitching of my e-novel to advertisers. Someone has to blaze the first trail. Being a marketer myself, I'm probably the right one to do it. On the bright side, not having an agent will enable me to do barter deals with advertisers that agents might not be so interested in procuring since many barter deals don’t lend themselves easily to an agent’s cut.

Now I'm sure that if I succeed, all but the most resistant-to-change agents will follow suit and eventually I will be able to turn over the pitching of my novels to ad firms to one of them. :-) I’ll then do what I hope I do best and that’s work on my next novel, do mindless banter with talk show hosts about my current novel, and feed my ego by meeting fans at conventions. ;-)

Wish me luck!

Humbly yours,

Scott Jensen

Friday, July 17, 2009

Extra--Extra, Get Your Free Ebooks. . . Part Two

This post continues to elaborate on Scott Jensen's theory about a possible way in which e-books might change the way our reading materials come to us in the future. This was written, also, in part, as an answer to Mr. Atkin's comment in Part One. Please understand that this only one theory as to how publishing, as we know it today, could change. Part of Mr. Atkin's question involved what will happen to literary agents if what Scott suggests were to come to fruition. Here's Scott's answer:

What advertisements would be in the literature you read would be up to the writer, agent, and the advertisers, publishing as we know it having died. The control (thus power) will be with the writers and possibly their agents, which means mainly with the writer. Some writers will care about what ads appear in their novels. Some won't. Some agents will point out how one advertiser will pay more than another advertiser and some writers will listen. Some won't. And I'm sure there will be plenty of agents pulling their hair out because the writer won't agree to big-spending Advertiser X running an ad in their novel. And I could see some agents doing likewise with writers that "just must have" Advertiser Y in their novel but when the agent approached them, they weren't interested and whereupon the writer throws a temper tantrum because they "must" have that advertiser for their novel to be all that it is meant to be.

As for myself and as I'm writing my current novel, I making notes of what kind of an advertiser should be between chapters and even what I want shown in their ad. The job (my or my agent's job) will be to find these advertisers and convince them to create their ads in the way that would enrich my novel and pay me something for this advertising.

Then there is Amazon that is taking possibly a step between the above two extremes. The ads inserted into their e-books are very likely like ads you see by Google. They are related to the subject currently being discussed but not selected by the writer. And I think this is about the only thing that Amazon can do to survive. They must be able to offer the writers (and their agents) more than the agents are able to independently get. If Amazon can, agents will recommend to their writers to go with Amazon. However, any agent worth their salt (their cut) will laugh at the money offered by Amazon since they will be able to get their writers FAR more due to their own direct relationships with ad agencies and major advertisers. Given this, I think the only way for Amazon to survive would be to try to cut out the agent! In other words, writers directly submit to Amazon (probably by way of an automated submission and acceptance system) and then Amazon inserts their ads and pays the writer a percentage of the ad revenue generated. [In fact, what surprises me is that Google hasn't already been doing this since they already have all the technology and advertiser base.] But this agent-less Amazon route will VERY likely be the option of beginning writers only. Once you're an established writer, agents should easily be able to get you more money than Amazon will be able to offer. Then again, this might just be the route that starting-out writers will have to take. Agents might not consider a writer until they have proven themselves with Amazon.

And anyone that is opposed to advertisements in books ignores magazines. Some of the greatest short stories in history were first published in magazines. In fact, some of the greatest novels were serialized in magazines. Sir Arthur Canon Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures (both short stories and full novels) first saw print in the Strand Magazine.

As for bookstores, I'm sorry but they'll go the way of horse stables. E-books don't need physical bookstores. And once e-books take hold, many writers (and their agents) won't bother with coming out with a printed version of their work. No, bookstores are dead men walking right now.

To Be Contiued:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Extra--Extra, Get Your Free Ebooks. . .

The following was submitted by Scott Jensen as a comment, but we decided, with his permissions of course, to post his words of wisdom here instead:

Part One:

Here's my take on the future for the professional writers and their agents.

1) All books will be e-books.

2) Advertising will be inserted in between chapters ... possibly chapter segments ... possibly on one half of the screen while the novel runs on the other half in a sort of fat column.

3) E-books will be given away free. No more book sales. Borders, Barnes & Noble, and even Amazon will die. And why books are given away free is because a) copies cost nothing to make and b) #2 above. Advertisers will pay more if the book is more popular. The best way to get a book to be more popular is to freely give away the book. This will result in bigger download numbers and thus bigger payments from advertisers.

And I'm exploring the above ideas with the novel I'm currently writing (presently at over 72,000 words) by telling what kind of advertiser should be between the chapters as I write it. What I'm finding is that the ads are a great boon to the novel itself. They can help set the scene, mood, or single something out for special attention that the following chapter talks about. And speaking as a marketer, I know advertisers will MUCH prefer this since readers will then not ignore such advertising but really look at it since it is essentially part of the story. This combines product placement with print advertisements for a lot of things. But not all things. Especially when you, the writer, just want to set a mood for a chapter that won't have any product placement mentioned in it. Or at least that's I'm finding out as I write my novel.

And being an e-book, the ads can be in full-color and inserted anywhere without any trouble. No bunching all the color photographs in the center of the novel. Not that e-book readers can presently handle color. In fact, there is only one (Fujitsu’s Flepia) that presently can handle color and it costs a whopping $1,000. But I think it is only a matter of time before all e-book readers do color. After all, if any e-book reader maker wants to actually get parents of toddlers to use them to read books to their kids, they HAVE to have color. No young tot will tolerate black-n-white picture books.

And that's saying e-book readers are the main medium for novels and non-fiction books. They very well might not be. People can read e-books on their computer screen and now cellphones. Cellphones are themselves going through a HUGE revolution in their design. Until just recently, their design goal was "smaller is better", but with the advent of text messaging and digital cameras in cellphones, that is no longer the case. Cellphones are now becoming bigger so people can have a bigger monitor to look at text messages, photographs, and even video sent them to by other cellphone users. That and the most desired way to text message is the thumb keyboard. Slide the monitor up and the thumb keyboard is revealed and ready for service. What this means for novels is that cellphone screens are getting larger and larger and thus more enjoyable to use for reading. I can easily see people reading books on their cellphones as they take the bus to work, sunbath on the beach, drink an espresso at a cafe, cool their heels in clinic waiting rooms, etc. No lugging around a paper novel or even an e-book reader. Just take out their cellphones, call up their current novel, it will load itself where they last left off, and away the reader goes.

To be Continued. . .