changes in publishing

Why an Agent Might Reject You and Why a Publisher Might Not…

I read an interesting post at literary agent Janet Reid’s blog earlier this evening. It gets into why she, as an agent, has to reject people for various reasons, one of them being “I can’t sell this.” You can get there from here.

Part of one sentence in the post resonated with me:

…and/or the only publishers taking on this kind of book don’t pay enough for it to be profitable for us.

I wanted to elaborate on that, speaking from my own experience. Just because an agent/agency doesn’t think a book will be profitable for them doesn’t mean it won’t be profitable for you…or that a publisher won’t want to take you on and publish your book.

How does that work? It’s simple. There are many excellent upstanding digital first e-publishers with good track records taking on many unagented authors all the time these days. The contracts are basic and if the books sell the author and the e-publisher make money. (The readers usually get good e-books at a fraction of the cost, too, but that’s another post.) The only problem is there isn’t enough money to pay an agent’s commission in most cases. And the authors DON’T need an agent to shop their work to these e-publishers. And that’s why it wouldn’t be profitable for agents, but it could be profitable for authors who work without an agent.

I know authors who have built good careers in the past few years with e-publishers, and without a literary agent. From personal experience, I can tell you that it can be done. And you can’t blame an agent for turning down something they don’t think will be profitable.

So while you are querying widely to agents, make sure you learn everything there is about e-publishing…not self-publishing; there’s a difference: I’m talking about e-publishing…and query a few e-publishers as well. The markets are growing daily. One of my favorite e-publishers (not one of my publishers) started out with romance and they are now getting into mainstream fiction this fall. They have authors with excellent sales, and a huge readership as well. In fact, from what I’ve seen this particular publisher is LOVED by readers.

Things are changing in publishing, so make sure you know all about those changes.

Jonathan Franzen Claims E-Books "May" Be Bad for Society


First, the article to which I’m linking sounds as though it almost wants Mr. Franzen to hate e-books. But after reading his comments in full I didn’t walk away with that impression. His comments and opinions read more like what I hear from many people about e-books: they just aren’t sure about them yet.

This is understandable. I felt the same way about e-books five years ago. Because I couldn’t hold a tangible item in my hands…a physical print book…it didn’t seem as relevant to me. From what I hear, this is allegedly a huge problem with book pirates in Russia. They can’t hold and feel the digital books so they think nothing of pirating them to see if they want to buy the print books.

Oddly enough, Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM was, indeed, one of the last print books I read, and might possibly ever read. I’m not joking when I say this either. The thought of going back and reading a print book, especially a huge print book like FREEDOM, makes my stomach tighten.

Here’s a small excerpt from the article with Franzen:

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”

Once again, I thought along these same line, too…at one time. But the moment I bought my first digital reader, a Kobo basic e-reader in e-ink, I was absolutely amazed at how much it felt like a book. In fact, for me it was almost an old fashioned experience. And, for the record, Kobo does not pay me to endorse them.

I now read everywhere and take my entire library with me. After having published over 84 works of fiction, I’ve experienced eye strain and can’t see a thing without reading glasses. I’m forty and I worry about the future of my eyes. My e-reader made a world of difference. I can adjust the print to suit my needs. I don’t have to strain anymore. Since I switched to digital books I’ve read in medical offices, hospitals, car dealerships, on public transportation, and on the beach. Before digital books, I had to set time aside to read, which always bothered me because I don’t have that much time to spare.

Here’s another comment by Franzen those who are unfamiliar with e-books often make:

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.”

People will always care about printed books. I still do. They are just going to care in a different way. I fully understand the feeling of holding a printed book in a specific time and place. However, when I started reading my first e-book on my first basic e-reader, it shocked me at how this feeling remained the same. I didn’t feel cheated. I didn’t feel as if what I was reading was anything less than if it had been printed in hard copy. And the fact that I didn’t have to take it off a shelf reassured me even more, especially when I grasped the magnitude of the fact that I can, without hassles or sitting in traffic, buy any book I want with just one simple click. I like this power as a reader. I like knowing I have this power. I also like knowing I don’t have to suffer through the screams and yells of kids running around large brick and mortar bookstores that sell toys and stuffed animals.

Franzen added this:

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

Once again, I “get” it. This is something I would have said, with both pride and attitude, five years ago. And at that time, I was actually writing digital books. You can imagine my own personal dilemma. Here I was writing them and getting them published and I didn’t know the first thing about how people were reading them. After reading the quotes in this article by Franzen, I have to admit that I do take a small amount of satisfaction in knowing I once felt the same way he feels now. In other words, I can’t blame the guy. (But this could also be due to the fact that I love his work so much he can do no wrong.)

I’ve read both FREEDOM and THE CORRECTIONS by Franzen. I posted about FREEDOM, here, last February…almost a year to the date I’m writing this post. I loved both books. I love the way Franzen writes. I’m not going to get into anything else because this isn’t a review. But the one thing I regret is that I didn’t read FREEDOM in digital. I would have enjoyed it more because I wouldn’t have had to deal with a huge bulky book in my hands. I did, however, buy the digital version for my digital library at a later date. I might not read it again for a long time, but I know it’s there and I can whenever I want. I now have three digital reading devices that range from e-ink to a tablet. They are all hooked up together and I now have three digital copies of FREEDOM. I can’t take them down from a shelf; all I have to do is press a button.

I have no regrets about joining the digital age of publishing, as a reader or a published author who’s been around for a long time. It’s only improved the quality of my life. But I would have argued that point to the bitter end five years ago.

Published Author Self-Publishes…An Experiment?

This is interesting on many different levels. But the main focus for me was how I think this author isn’t totally getting the concept of digital books…and the people who read them. I get the feeling he’s using self-publishing as a vehicle to promote his hardcover/print release. It’s more like an experiment than an author taking digital publishing seriously.

I could be wrong. But if I’m not, the author is underestimating people who read digital books. People like me. I don’t even consider buying hardcover books anymore. I only buy and read digital. I prefer the digital reading experience. And so far, I’ve never met anyone who has switched to digital books and said they can’t wait to go back to reading print books, especially not after they’ve spent so much on e-readers. They ain’t cheap!! Once you get used to your e-reader and find out how it improves the reading experience, it’s almost impossible to go back to print.

And the day I spend a buck per chapter for any e-book is going to be the day I stop reading altogether…or the day a book has no more than ten long chapters.

I applaud what the author is doing. But I can’t help wondering how it’s going to turn out.

Despite having publishing deals with four major houses, bestselling African-American novelist Omar Tyree is experimenting with technology, self-publishing his latest novel, Corrupted, a feverish portrayal of power and ambition in the book industry, as a serialized Kindle edition e-book, releasing a chapter every week. Since July 15 and each Friday thereafter, Tyree has posted a chapter for readers to download for $1 each on Amazon.com, on his website omartyree.com, or at other e-book retail sites.

If this author had been checking out online retail web sites where e-books are sold, he’d know that most offer entire chapters for free. People who read e-books read more often and shop more often, therefore they want to (expect to) spend less. And I see nothing wrong with publishers and authors making money in volume.

Corrupted examines what Tyree calls “the dark side of the publishing industry,” through the actions of his protagonist Vincent Biddle, a power-drunk African-American editor at a fictitious major New York City publishing house. The novel, he said, was inspired by the way both the current economy and new technology are affecting the publishing world.

This sounds interesting to me. I’d love to read it. I’m dying to read it. But not for a buck a chapter. I’ll pass until he lowers the price to at least 9.99 for the entire e-book. For e-books, that’s where I personally draw the line. And I think I’m being generous. I know people who draw the line far lower and complain about 9.99.

Hyping the novel as “raw and unedited”—the book has been proofread by Tyree but not yet professionally edited—he invites his readers to post critiques and comments to either his website or his Twitter account @OmarTyree. He said he is open to revising the work if he considers the critiques worthy. He told PW that he expects the book to contain between 23 and 27 chapters.

This worries me. As I’ve posted before, there are already too many unedited digital books out there filled with poor quality. Do we really need another, and for a buck a chapter?

“Authors with the old traditional contracts can’t make the numbers,” Tyree said referring to sales. “In one day, an editor can be fired and if you were signed by that editor, you get a new editor who does not necessarily understand your work. Here we have a black editor trying to keep his job and move up to become a senior editor, when African American [sales] numbers are not doing well,” he said. “So [the editor’s] African American authors are getting dropped. How is he going to navigate? Editors are in positions of power, but they are scared to death too because if they pick a book that doesn’t fly, they are out the door.”

Again, this sounds fascinating. I’d love to read it. But not at a buck a chapter. I can’t help wondering if it’s mentioned in the book that so many publishers still don’t “get” digital books…or how to price them.

Tyree has published more than 16 books and has book deals with four publishers. But he didn’t believe that Corrupted would have been an easy sell to any of them. “Most of my books are with Simon & Schuster,” Tyree said. “I have a business book with Wiley, two with Urban Books–a subsidiary of Kensington–and Scholastic is printing and distributing 12 Brown Boys,” a short story collection aimed at black pre-teen boys originally published by Just Us Books.

“I didn’t bring [Corrupted] to a publisher because it’s brand new and experimental—it’s my own individual project to connect with my readers,” he said, pointing out also that, “this book does not fit a genre.” Tyree explained that, “If I’m locked into a genre like African-American, or street, or crime, then I have to put certain things in it. A traditional publisher would [look at Corrupted and] warn, ‘Omar, you are getting away from your base!’ But this way, I can connect with a new set of readers.”

This sounds interesting, too. I’d buy it. But lower the price.

Tyree mentioned that another reason he’s self-publishing is that he didn’t come up with the idea until May, but still wanted to get the book out in the summer to catch the summer reading season. The project also works to fill in the gap until his next hardcover release, scheduled for 2012. “But I wouldn’t have been able to rush it, even as an e-book,” Tyree said, “So I thought, anyone who’s going to download it is someone who probably downloads all the time. So that’s an advantage to me–just give them a chapter a week.”

He’s on the right track. Anyone who’s going to download it is probably someone who reads digital books all the time. But not at that price. People who read e-books do, in fact, read a lot more these days, which is even more important to consider how a book is priced. People have reading budgets. They draw lines.

Tyree said Kindle Edition has a 90-day royalty period and he will not have sales figures for the book project until mid-October. Even then, he added, he isn’t planning to be affected by them. “Back in 2001 I was so focused on sales numbers–-but I learned the hard way that the numbers game can drive you crazy,” Tyree said. “So [for Corrupted] I decided I’m not even going to break down the numbers when the royalty statement comes. I’ve already learned: don’t think about the numbers; just think about the book.”

I could be wrong here. But I can’t help wondering how many books he would have sold if he’d priced the book like other e-books instead of at a dollar a chapter. I know that sounds cheap to some. But if the book has 27 chapters, or more, that’s going to add up.

Tyree promised lots of drama and intrigue in upcoming chapters, “You will see the behind-the-scenes action: the meetings at the publishing house, the bidding wars, the decisions about which authors the editors have to cut loose. It’s going to get vicious!”

Once again, for the last time, absolutely fascinating content. I’d love to read this book. But as my grandmother used to say, “He’ll die with his secret as far as I’m concerned.” I want a quality e-book at a fair price, not an experiment in publishing.

Nostalgia From 2006 About E-books

I remember reading articles just like this five years ago. And five years before that I was at a dinner party with an art director from Random House who lives in Bucks County and he was talking about how e-books would one day become very popular.

And, just for the record, this is when everyone else in publishing was saying e-books would never “take off.”

Here’s the link to the 2006 article, and the beginning is below.

Digital Books Start A New Chapter
Lighter devices, better displays, and the iPod craze could make them best-sellers

Slide Show >>Richard D. Warren, a 58-year-old lawyer in California, is halfway through Ken Follett’s novel Jackdaws. But he doesn’t bother carrying around the book itself. Instead, he has a digital version of Follett he reads on his Palm Treo each morning as he commutes by train to San Francisco from his home in Berkeley. He’s a big fan of such digital books. Usually, there are around seven titles on his Treo, and he buys at least two new ones each month. “It’s just so versatile,” he says. “I’ve tried to convert some friends to this, but they think it’s kind of geeky.”

Geeky? For now, maybe, but not for much longer. Many experts are convinced that digital books, after plenty of false starts, are finally ready for takeoff. “Every other form of media has gone digital — music, newspapers, movies,” says Joni Evans, a top literary agent who just left the William Morris Agency to start her own company that will focus on books and technology. “We’re the only industry that hasn’t lived up to the pace of technology. A revolution is around the corner.”

Are Literary Agents Going Country?

I’ve been reading a lot about literary agents “thinking” about changing things around. Some are posting on blogs they are coming up with new ideas with regard to self-publishing, and it’s all top secret and no one’s making any announcements until they are sure about what they are doing. I’d add links, but I’ve always thought that posting nothing but links is just a lazy way of blogging that takes little creative effort.

I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about what these agents are doing. I think it’s wonderful that all these changes are taking place in publishing and I applaud anyone who is willing to move forward. Change is a good thing.

But I also can’t help smiling (just a little) when I read these agent blog posts. In some, I’ve read that even though they are “making” changes and “thinking” about helping self-published authors, they will still be gatekeepers to a certain degree. In other words, the hint of polite arrogance is still there. The same hint of arrogance, I might add, that laughed at self-publishing and e-publishing a few years ago. Or it could be they’ve been the gatekeepers for so long they aren’t ready to relinquish the control. And, they very well may keep the control and remain the gatekeepers. It’s still too soon to tell.

Either way, I do applaud anyone who decides to change and move forward. But I can’t help thinking about the Alan Jackson country song whenever I hear about a literary agent embracing self-publishing and offering services to “help” authors self-publish e-books.

She’s been playin’ in a room on the Strip
For ten years in Vegas
Every night she looks in the mirror
And she only ages
She’s been readin’ about Nashville and all
The records that everybody’s buyin’
Says ‘I’m a simple girl myself
Grew up on Long Island’
So she packs her bags to try to her hand
Says this might be my last chance

She’s gone country, look at them boots
She’s gone country, back to her roots
She’s gone country, a new kind of suit
She’s gone country, here she comes

Well the folk scene is dead
But he’s holdin’ out in the village
He’s been writin’ songs speakin’ out
Against wealth and privilege
He says ‘I dont believe in money
But a man could make him a killin’
‘Cause some of that stuff don’t sound
Much different than Dylan
I hear down there it’s changed you see
They’re not as backward as they used to be

He’s gone country, look at them boots
He’s gone country, back to his roots
He’s gone country, a new kind of suit
He’s gone country, here he comes

Well, he commutes to LA
But he’s got a house in the valley
But the bills are pilin’ up
And the pop scene just ain’t on the rally
And he says ‘Honey I’m a serious composer
Schooled in voice and composition
But with the crime and the smog these days
This ain’t no place for children
Lord it sounds so easy it shouldn’t take long
Be back in the money in no time at all’

He’s gone country, look at them boots
He’s gone country, backt to his roots
He’s gone country, a new kind of suit
He’s gone country, here he comes
Yeah he’s gone country, a new kind of walk
He’s gone country, a new kind of talk
He’s gone country, look at them boots
He’s gone country, oh back to his roots

He’s gone country
He’s gone country
Everybody’s gone country
Yeah we’ve gone country
The whole world’s gone country

Literary Agencies Offering Other "Services" Now…

This particular post on the Dystel & Goderich blog explains what their agency is doing by offering new services. In this post, and the one below it, they explain it far better than I can explain it.

The publishing industry is changing, no doubt about that. And digital publishing seems to be the catalyst. I’m glad I saw the signs a few years back and made the switch when I did. At first I was apprehensive about signing on with e-publishers because I didn’t understand what e-publishing was all about. I’ll never forget my first phone call with Claudia Regenos at love you divine, where I pretended I knew what she was talking about and didn’t have a clue…she’ll get a laugh out of that one. But I have no regrets at all. And knowing what I know now, the only thing I would change if I could go back in time is that I’d have made the switch a few years earlier than I did.

But with all these changes, I do think authors need to be aware of certain “things” nowadays that aren’t explained very well on some publishing blogs. I don’t think the bloggers are doing this on purpose. I just don’t think they know any better…yet. And one of those things is the difference between self-publishing and e-publishing.

Self-publishing, which I support all the time here on this blog, is not the same thing as e-publishing. When you go the route of self-publishing, you are taking on all the responsibility, making all the decisions, and paying out of your own pocket. It’s business venture that takes courage and conviction.

Now, e-publishing isn’t that much different from “traditional” publishing, except that the books are all released as either e-books or print on demand…and they are usually priced far lower than with “traditional” publishers. If you decide to pursue a career in e-publishing (not self-publishing) you still have to query, submit a manuscript, and wait to hear a response from the e-publisher. But if you are accepted, you won’t have to pay to have your work published. Some even offer advances.

I’ve often thought about self-publishing a few things myself. Like I said, I love the concept and applaud those who take the plunge. But I don’t want the responsibility of making all the decisions, and I don’t want to have to manage everything from initial concept to final product. I’ve done that twice before in my life with other businesses and right now all I want to do is write and communicate with my readers.

So there are new opportunities popping up everywhere for new authors. And looking into these literary agencies who are offering new services might not be a bad idea. I’ve heard good and bad. But I hear good and bad about everything these days and only time will tell. Five years ago everyone was laughing at e-publishers and e-books, and look what happened there.

Self-Publishing: Another Well Known Romance Author Going Rogue

I just read an interesting blog post where another fairly well known romance author is going to start self-publishing her own books. She walked away from a nice book deal, with a well known romance publisher, to do her own thing.

Of course I’m a little cynical when it comes to these blog posts. There are too many little things not mentioned in the post and I start thinking twice. On the surface it seems like an explanation as to why the author is going rogue. But I’m one of those who read between the lines all the time, and I have a funny feeling the post was more about promoting the new self-published book than it was about letting readers know the true reasons why the author decided to self-publish. I could be wrong. Maybe the author I’m talking about is branching out on her own because of the reasons she posted. But I’d be willing to bet there’s more to the story.

And even if there isn’t, I do have to admit I admire published authors who decide to self-publish. Especially authors with good book deals from large publishers who have already established a fan base…even if they are full of shit most of the time (smile). There have been times I’ve thought about doing it myself. But I have just as many reasons for not going the self-published route as some authors have for going the self-published route. One reason is quality of life. I love my publishers and depend on the collaboration. If I had to do it alone, I’d never stop working and I’m already working six and seven days a week writing. I need to know Holly at ravenous romance likes the title, or hates the title. I need to know Claudia at Loveyoudivine thinks something will work…or won’t work. I don’t do crit groups and I need the publisher’s input all the time.

There are so many things changing in publishing these days no one can predict the future and no one can say who is right and who is wrong. But it should be interesting to see how it all turns out in the end. I do know one thing for certain…and this is because I’ve been around long enough to see how things repeat themselves over and over again…not everyone will be Barry Eisler or Amanda Hocking. It doesn’t work that way, in life or in publishing, and I’d hate to see a lot of good authors leave viable publishers with dreams of becoming Barry Eisler or Amanda Hocking.