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June 1, 2004

Looking at The Writers’ Collective
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM * 387 comments

My post on The getting of agents started life as a comment in the thread following Slushkiller. To continue the theme, this post started life as a comment in the thread following The getting of agents. I don’t believe the organization being discussed is wicked in any extraordinary way, just several of the usual ways; but the discussion of it may be of more general interest.

This latest outgrowth started with a comment posted yesterday by Charles Boyle:
You say to be wary of publishing assistance that requires payment by the author. A group called The Writers’ Collective seems to be different.
Can you provide an opinion, please.
I said:

Yes. There’s one throbbing, luminous, mindbendingly huge distinction: this particular vanity publisher calls itself a writers’ collective. Aside from that, it’s just another vanity publisher.

TWC charges you $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, and calls it membership fees or dues. There’s a further charge for having your book printed—had you noticed that yet? It doesn’t matter what TWC calls itself. You’re still paying to have your book published.

Different vanity publishers have come up with a bunch of different terms for the money they want you to pay them. That’s why Yog’s Law doesn’t specify what that payment is called. It simply states, “Money should always flow toward the author.”

(For those who want to follow along, here’s TWC’s main URL. Here’s their FAQ.)

As I said, TWC charges $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, in return for which you get an ISBN, a Library of Congress CIP number, a barcode (by which they may or may not mean you get an EAN), the right to set up a useless promotional page on their website, an optional free conversion of your text into e-book format, a listing at Baker & Taylor, and an XML conversion of info about your title for use in databases. Note: if they’re going to list you at Baker & Taylor, I believe they’re going to have to do that XML conversion anyway, so listing it as a separate benefit is a bit of a rip.

In addition, you get access to their cover template pages, where you get to design your own book cover using the resources they provide. I assume there are limited choices, because the colors on their template covers are spec’d as names—latte, goldenglo, putty, lapis—rather than Pantone shades or CYMK percentages. It looks like they had someone dummy up a bunch of generic cover treatments. You can spot the ones nobody’s wanted to use yet, because they don’t have any back cover copy.

Is this enough to get you into print? It is not. That $275 is only the beginning. You’re going to pay your own production costs. Here’s their page where you input your information in order to get a quote on your printing costs: a sure sign of expenditures to come.

You know, there are a bunch of printing companies out there who for years now have made exactly this kind of “get a price quote” page available to the public. Theirs are far more detailed and complete, and there’s no charge for using them. You input your info, you get your quote. Weeks or months after that you may get a follow-up letter from them, asking whether you ever got your book printed, and are you still interested; but that’s all. You can find out more about this and related matters in a piece called “Self-publication without Pretense,” available here, here, and here. It’s a few years old now, but the basic principles haven’t changed. To find out about getting ISBNs, CIP data, and the like, you could start here. Or start somewhere else; a little research will turn up a great deal of information. All you need is the knowledge that it’s something you can do for yourself. The biggest thing TWC has going for it is the pardonable ignorance of newbie authors.

Assimilated all that? Okay, here’s TWC’s page listing their printing charges. Don’t feel bad for not spotting it right away. That page is a bit hard to find. Normally, you wouldn’t see it until you were well along in the process of applying to have them publish you book.

Basically, TWC has a deal going with a printer called Fidlar Doubleday, of Kalamazoo, MI. I very much doubt that they’re connected with Doubleday Books. Give the page a good long look. Note all those minimum print runs and setup charges and other sobering requirements.

There are a couple of gotchas you may not fully appreciate, so I’ll point them out to you:
Prepress Charges

If Fidlar Doubleday services are required to help format, create, or make changes to the files over and above the time allotted by the Writers’ Collective package, the charge will be $80 per hour. Yet another reason to double and triple check your files before submission.

Never think they don’t mean it. Surcharges for tardiness, carelessness, poor organization, and (in some cases) naivete about the exact services for which one is being invoiced, are a major profit center for the printing industry. Don’t assume they bill by the fraction of an hour. One finds oneself wishing they’d specified how much time is allotted per TWC title.
Proof Samples: $ 0.05/page, $15/cover
Grit your teeth and pay it. If there are more than a few small corrections, grit your teeth again and pay for a second pass.
Changes To Text After Proof Approval: $9.50 per page
Woof! That provision’s a bitch. In my experience, corrections made at that stage are normally priced at a buck or two per line. Fidlar Doubleday’s being merciless. At $9.50 a page, you had better have your text proofread to within an inch of its life before you send it in, or you’re going to learn a salutary lesson about ground-level capitalism.

While you’re at it, remember not to make any late alterations that change the overall length of the page being corrected, because that will add words to or subtract words from the next page, incurring another $9.50 charge; and if that alteration keeps propagating forward, possibly all the way to the next chapter break, things could get very expensive indeed.

To put that $9.50/page charge for corrections into perspective, the last time I priced typesetting, we were paying an initial rate of maybe eight bucks a page.

(Obviously, even if you’re charging by the line, late alterations can run up the price pretty fast. I once got one of my typesetting sales reps tipsy over lunch, and he told me his next appointment that afternoon was with a client that published large complex guidebooks. “I’m giving them a beautiful rate on the first pass,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. I could give them the first pass for free, and I’d still be making a profit.”

My eyebrows went up. “They’re making that many corrections?”

He beamed. “They’re rewriting those things in fourth pass.”

I made an instant and horrified calculation, and blurted out, “With clients like that, why do you even bother typesetting our books?” And it’s true, we can’t have been paying a fraction of what that other house was cumulatively paying per page. But he soothingly explained that we were a bread-and-butter account, steady business in large volume, and thus dear to their hearts.)

Maybe Fidlar Doubleday’s offering writers a good deal. Maybe they aren’t. Personally, I’d want to check out the prices at a few other printing companies, just to see. Or, if you’ve written a decent book, you can take it to Booklocker. It still won’t be free, but their prices were quite reasonable last time I looked, and they’re straight shooters.

My overall take on TWC is that they’re a prime example of rent-seeking behavior. They’re not proposing to edit your book, or sell it, or publicize it, or design its cover and write the copy for it, or do any of that other hard work. They’re not even going to read it. They’re just going to provide you with a few semi-automated services, and broker you a few more services (some of them of a highly dubious nature), and sit back to collect an annual fee on the arrangement.

Should I be gentler in my judgements of TWC? Mightn’t they be well-intentioned but gormless newbies? They might; but alas, I have my doubts. For starters, there are too many places where they address difficult questions with a flurry of hand-waving, tapdancing, and fast talk, then move on without answering the question. To see some examples of this, look at their FAQ entries on “If writers have to pay dues to join TWC, isn’t this just another scam to part eager writers from their money?” (here), and on “But what if I don’t like having my Great American Novel sitting on the same Internet shelf as some lousy hackwork?” (here).

Sometimes they’re more obviously misleading. For instance:
Until now, writers who wanted to self-publish had to pay a minimum of $250 for ISBN numbers. About $200 for an LOC number. Another $200 in printer set-up fees. At least $300 for a decent cover. And the only other company on the net converting title info into XML (about to be made mandatory by major wholesalers) charges $150 per title. Per year. Well over $1000 before you’ve paid for a single book. The cost to join The Writers’ Collective and get everything listed above while retaining 100% of the sales price? Just $275. That’s it. No hidden charges. No catches. Your work. Your book. Your profit.
When they say “$250 for ISBN numbers”, they refer to the minimum purchase of a block of ISBNs from Bowker, which is 10 ISBNs for $225 (plus the $75 application fee). However, there are a number of outfits that will provide you with an ISBN for considerably less than that. And by the way, TWC bought theirs in a block of 100, which means they paid $8.00 apiece for them. The other figures TWC quotes there are likewise questionable. And for a newbie, those last fifteen words—“Just $275. That’s it. No hidden charges. No catches. Your work. Your book. Your profit.”—are going to suggest something which I can tell they don’t mean, but the newbie can’t. Next, check out this passage from their FAQ:
True, there’s no advance, but if your book is really good and you promote it well, you’ll make more money than with a small advance going to pay for a PR person, which new writers are expected to provide these days.
To put it bluntly: No, they aren’t. That is an untruth. I’ve never heard of a legit publishing house requiring a new author to hire their own PR person. Publishers may or may not pay for PR, but they don’t require authors to pay for it. Some writers do hire additional PR help, but by far the commonest arrangement is for the author to do their own adjunct PR work.

(By the way: one of the lines you’ll hear from scammers is that you might as well go with a vanity publisher, and take on the huge task of publicizing and selling your own book, because unless you’re a big-name bestselling author, conventional publishers aren’t going to promote your book anyway. Since you’re going to wind up doing all the work yourself, they say, why not keep all the profits while you’re doing it?

The answer is that of course publishers sell and promote their books, but most of that happens where the general public doesn’t casually see it. You don’t make most of your bookbuying decisions based on print ads, right? Well, neither does anyone else. What an expensive ad for a bestselling author is usually saying is, “You know that book you already know you want to buy when it comes out? It’s out.” Nevertheless, aspiring authors have this unfounded but persistent belief that selling a book consists of putting out a new press release every week and buying ad space in the New York Times. When they don’t see smaller books getting that treatment, they mistakenly assume there’s no selling going on at all. Scammers, evil bastards that they are, play on that perception, because despair drives aspiring writers into their arms.)

Here’s one more quote from TWC’s FAQ. This one’s not merely untrue, but has disturbing implications:
Any book not professionally edited has a fool for an author. We have several great editors whom we’ve personally vetted, and who give generous discounts to members. Use them, or use someone else who makes you happy. Use none — and you’re not going to sell many books.
As I mentioned briefly in The getting of agents, “professional editor” has become a warning sign. (As a professional editor, I resent this.) When you’re trying to size up an unfamiliar agent, catching them making the assertion that “no publisher will look at a manuscript unless it’s been professionally edited” practically constitutes prima facie evidence that they’re scammers. The legit industry has no such requirement. All that matters is the quality of the manuscript itself.

The reason scam agents do the “you have to be professionally edited” song and dance is that they’re in cahoots with dishonest book doctors. Baby authors who know they’re not supposed to be paying their agent will fail to realize that the very expensive (and not very good) editor to whom they’ve been referred is paying the agent a substantial kickback. These price for these “edits” can run into thousands of dollars. For some scam agents, it’s the most profitable part of their operation.

Maybe that’s not what’s going on at TWC. Maybe this time, “let me refer you to one of the excellent professional editors we work with” is nothing more than a helpful offer to put you in contact with an experienced freelancer. I have to believe in that possibility. Of course, it’s also possible that various mid-size mammals will sprout wings and fly. Wouldn’t it be cool if that happened? We can but hope.

(…)

When I finished posting my comment, I found Jim Macdonald had already responded to Charles Boyle’s question. Jim had cut right to the chase:
James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 03:13 PM:

“A group called The Writers’ Collective seems to be different.”

The only way it seems different from your standard PoD vanity press is that they’ve added a dollop of the Professional Editor scheme.
Bill Blum also turned up, and mentioned that he knew a writer who’d gone with TWC. When I asked him to go on, he said:
The party still involved with TWC? The last time I checked, she was still working overtime to try and come up with more money for fees.
Comments on Looking at The Writers' Collective:
#1 ::: ElizabethVomMarlo ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 11:41 AM:

These people depress me. They're like vampires, feeding off dreams.

I have a freind who is always nearly getting suckered by these kinds of scam artists--she just wants to see her novel in print so badly. It makes my heart hurt.

I noticed in the TWC FAQ section that they mention two more publishers: Mercury Print and Palace Press. I wonder if these two printers charge similar amounts to Fidlar, or if they're no longer working with TWC, or what. Maybe they're more expensive? I didn't find them on the rest of the TWC site.

#2 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 11:42 AM:

At Balticon, there seemed to be a plethora of trade paperbacks and writers thereof wherein the name of the publisher and their entire stable of writers were not ones I recognized. I started wondering how one can distinguish the vanity press/publication market trade paperback publications from ones published by small fry small publishers which actually have some commercial or literary values to them.

[I'm groping not all that successfully for some terms which denote that the publisher isn't an example of very low cost desktop publishing + low relative outlay for print runs of trade paperbacks = Gresham's Law in action, wherein the barrier to production of trade paperbacks and "getting published" are so low that anyone who's got a decent-paying job and some discretionary income and can sustain writing -something- to novel length, can get that document "published." I'm also groping for terms that indicate the publisher -is- of the ilk of "have money, have document, poof, here is a press, one or more authors, and publication credits."]

So, how does one discriminate, where are the guides and guiding factors? There were several tables full of people I didn't recognize pushing books I'd never heard of written by those people, from publishers I was not familiar with, with promotional styles that made me think "this stuff looks like paravanity press crud!" Hmm, I wonder if inventing a term like "parapress" would apply?

Having cut my book purchasing of things I really WANT way down, I'm not about to fork any money over to unknowns promoted by bombast with no indication at all that the material will be worthwhile for me to try to read more than isolated paragraphs I looked at and was not impressed by.

Some of these presses/publications may be worthwhile, but how's anyone to really find out or have some clue about?

#3 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 11:45 AM:

This is why I read Making Light. I've been working on a novel for some time now and am at the point where I'm researching where to submit. There aren't a lot of people who will tell you these little things, the pitfalls of vanity presses, or the ins and outs of the slushpile. Thank you so much.

#4 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 12:07 PM:

Paula Lieberman: the name of the publisher and their entire stable of writers were not ones I recognized. I started wondering how one can distinguish the vanity press/publication market trade paperback publications from ones published by small fry small publishers which actually have some commercial or literary values to them.

Huh. My rule of thumb is usually "if they've published or republished someone I've heard of, then browse," which is no help in the situation you describe. Maybe that's the answer, but if anyone else has suggestions, I'd like to hear it. I admit I've instinctively avoided the author with a table of his/her books in a dealer's room; maybe I'm being unfair.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 12:50 PM:

EVM, I've run into writers who've been published by three different vanity operations. They've gone past despair and are into major denial.

All I know about Mercury and Palace is that they're Canadian. Perhaps Yog or Victoria will know more.

Paula, given how long you've been in the community and how many people you know, the rule I'd suggest in your case is that if you haven't heard of at least one out of three, publisher or editor or author, there's probably a reason for it. In a pinch, browse the text.

One of those publishing outfits with a name like "nDiscriminate" had a dealer's table at a convention I attended some months ago. It would have been improper for me to harass them, as I had to tell myself over and over and over again ...

Kate, at one mass signing I just had to stop and admire a semi-published author's book, and wish her luck, because she was starting to get that hollow-eyed despairing look they get when hundreds of people walk past their much-beloved book, give it the briefest possible glance, and move on.

#6 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:02 PM:

At Baycon, this last weekend, Other Change of Hobbit gave table space to a (self or vanity published) book on spiritual aspects of SF. None sold.

Publication is about selling books. If you can't sell a single book to what you're identifying as your target market, maybe you need to think again.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Semi-published. I think that for the time being, I'm going to call them semi-published.

#8 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:18 PM:

Teresa, Elizabeth vomMarlo,

I checked The Mercury Press in the Quill&Quire Canadian Publishers Directory; they're in there, distrubuted through the Literary Press Group (a group of small Canadian publishers who distribute together. Address is a PO box, but the website looks legit. They seem mostly to do poetry. They are not however called Mercury Print (italics mine), so I don't think they're the same beast as the one mentioned in TWC's page.

If TWC chose the name deliberately, that's really slimy. However, albeit they're demonstrably evil, this instance could simply have been coincidence.

There's no Palace press listed in the Q&Q directory.

Paula Lieberman,

When I'm checking on potential clients, I look to the aforementioned Quill & Quire directory, as well as the Association of Canadian Publishers on-line directory. Is there a similar body in the States?

#9 ::: Dawn Burnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:22 PM:

There are a few small press publishers out there. One of them that I know is good is Golden Gryphon Press. One that I'm questioning is Tachyon. They have some authors I've read (David Smeds, reprints of Micheal Swanwick) but the quality of the covers is poor and I'm not too sure on the bindings. Any thoughts on those?

Zhaneel

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:28 PM:

We're very much in favor of "small presses." There's nothing predatory about perfectly reputable operations like Golden Gryphon and Tachyon.

In SF and fantasy, certainly, small presses hold up half the sky.

#11 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:31 PM:

Full disclosure: I had a book I wrote when I was twenty-two that was sitting on my hard drive for almost six years. Nosing around on the internet in '98, I found a certain print-on-demand publisher that was more than willing to take my book. (At that time, I was living in Shanghai, China, so I thought I would never have the opportunity to get it published.)

They published my book, and although it had a crappy cover and a million mistakes, it didn't cost me anything, so it wasn't a big deal. I guess they made a hefty chunk when they actually printed it, but I made my costs back for the purchases of the book and it has been online this whole time. Somehow, the whole process was never real for me. I didn't believe that they could actually publish my book for no money up front, so I didn't take the time to edit it or anything of that sort. I just did it. Sure, it was crap, but who cares? I was never destined to be a successful writer anyway.

Now, am I naive? Absolutely. I did no research. I didn't try to get my book published elsewhere. It was just sitting there. This was a book that had no market potential. It was poorly written, unedited, and pretty much crap. Yet it cost me nothing; and to have a crappy, unedited, poorly written book with my name on the cover sitting in my hands was incredibly cool. In the time since, this publisher has taken away this whole "free" option and you have to pay for what they publish.

So what am I saying? Nothing. I never would have published with them if they would have charged me. But when it was free, it was fine by me. (I recently had them take it off the market because it wasn't up to my standards and considering I'm going to try to get my latest book published by a real publisher, I think it might be best to quietly rid the world of the horror that was my writing at the age of twenty-two.)

Sorry for my ramblings and disjointed thoughts. I'm secretly typing this at work and easily distracted. HA!

#12 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 01:39 PM:

Paula's question about identifying vanity presses really does have real-world implications. There was a period a couple of years ago when I was seeing a lot of trade paperback genre fiction on my county library system's "new books" shelves (predominantly mystery, but some SF/F as well) -- and a depressing percentage of it proved on examination to be of self/vanity-published quality, as in "truly execrable".

I talked to a couple of librarians about this at the time, and the system's buying practices seem to have smartened up (whether that's cause and effect, I don't know). But somehow or other, the vanity stuff was making it onto the library buyers' radar -- and that's a trifle worrisome.

#13 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 03:16 PM:

Paula, you're not the only one to notice that particular phenomenon at Balticon. (I assume it's happening elsewhere as well.)

I had the honor and pleasure of chatting up one well-known small-press editor who mentioned that a big red flag is opening the book and finding the title page, copyright page, acknowledgements and so forth all in the wrong order. Also if the author doesn't have books with anyone else's name on the byline at their table...

#14 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 04:11 PM:

Is there no successor to Dean Wesley Smith (and others) assorted Scavengers communications?

I can remember share the wealth writers groups who sort of were an agent, or had a front, for submissions - was that a bad idea?

#15 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 04:59 PM:

Hi, Randall --

My guess is that your publisher was Xlibris.

What went on was this:

There was a time, a few years ago, when the dot-coms were flying and all seemed bright in the world, when some folks got the idea for Print On Demand Publishing where they would publish the slush pile, for free.

According to the theory, the cream would rise to the top, and sell bunches of copies all pulled by customer demand. As for the others, well, the marketplace had spoken. And if they got five sales, well, that was five sales. Any book that wasn't selling was just a file on a hard disk somewhere, essentially no cost.

Unfortunately, what happened was reality intruded. No one reads slush for fun. No one pays money to read slush. So the publish-the-slush-pile model got buried. "Essentially no cost" isn't the same thing as actually no cost. Just handling the files took time, time is money, you know the rest.

The cream wasn't rising. It was getting buried in the sewage. Bad books weren't selling. Neither were good books. Money wasn't coming in.

So -- funds had to come from somewhere.

There are only two places money can come from (once you've blown through the venture capital): the readers, or the writers.

Money from the readers was already sewn up by the traditional presses. So the money for the new-model PoD presses started to come from the writers. Those who didn't charge the writers went out of business. The survivors are following the time-tested Vanity Press model.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:15 PM:

Clark, I think I remember some kind of writers' collective where they were all going to agent each other, or some such thing. If it's the one I'm thinking of, within less than a year it had turned into a remarkably predatory scam agency operation.

Jim, one of these days we've got to do the edited best-of version of the SFF Net thread where the founders of Xlibris, which was then just getting going, showed up to defend their publishing model in the "Publishing Scams" topic. It's all there in the SFF Net archives.

That was before they'd burned through fifteen million dollars. I'm still wondering how they did that.

Jennie, have I ever mentioned that Patrick and I edited a couple of issues of the Q&Q Canadian publishers' directory? Brings back memories.

Anyway, I'm under the impression that Palace is a printing operation, not a publisher. (Smacks forehead.) Right. Printer. Far East. Various Canadian publishers use them. Probably Statesiders do too.

#17 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:17 PM:

No, what we line-edited was two issues of Quill and Quire's twice-yearly New and Forthcoming Canadian Books.

#18 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:37 PM:

John C. Bunnell: what sometimes happens in libraries is that "self-published" books are donated to the library. If they are by local residents, they are even more likely to end up in the system. In the latter case, there may actually be some demand for them, at least at first (friends and relatives).

But if the library was actually spending money to buy them, and there was no local connection, that's a much different thing and I'm glad they've wised up!

#19 ::: Mark Bourne ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:44 PM:

"fifteen million dollars"

fifteen million dollars?

I'm thwacking my monitor and hoping that doing so will unscramble those pixels to reveal what you actually typed, 'cuz doing the same to the side of my head hasn't changed the vision at all.

Nope. Still fifteen million dollars.

Lordy.

#20 ::: sean bosker ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:45 PM:

My hometown is Kalamazoo. Before this doubleday doubletalk leaves an indelible stain on your impression of this humble, midwestern town, I'd like to mention that it was once the celery capital of the world.

Not impressed?

It is also the home of checker motors, where all the cool cabs came from. And Gibson guitars used to be made there.

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:56 PM:

I was born in Lansing. Midsize Michigan cities are OK with me.

And anyway, Kalamazoo is forever matched in song to Timbuctu, which is also a plus.

#22 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 05:59 PM:

Moscow Moffia more or less led to Pulp House - Jon Gustafson RIP Gimlet Eye on Pulp House was formally set up as an agent - kidding on the square. There were some issues with advice on how to write for Paramount but I thought they were exclusively with Paramount. My only knock on Jon was that he sold his review copies pristine rather than pass them around. It was quite a different era.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:00 PM:

Hey, Kalamazoo is cool. It's got one of the great American place names.

These days, large-scale typesetting operations tend to be out in the Midwest. Braun-Brumfield's in Wisconsin. Black Dot is (was?) in Crystal Lake. When you can zip stuff back and forth electronically, you just need to be at the other end of a clean connection. The Midwest has cheap space, good phone lines, and an underemployed literate population.

Mark Bourne, I've tried that, though not on my monitor, and it never gets any better.

Patrick, you're right. Of course. So it was.

John, Lois: Just the other day I saw what I thought was pitiable conversation on a message board maintained by a vanity publisher. Some of their authors were swapping tips for getting exposure for your book, and one of their suggestions was donating copies to their local libraries. I guess it beats giving them to the Salvation Army.

#24 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:05 PM:

Fifteen million dollars

Heck, I worked for NASDAQ from the beginning of the boom through the boom until this past December, and I saw tens of millions go whoosh really fast (we, who worked for the market itself and were basically the wage-slaves behind the scenes, watched with some amount of fascination, dread, and finally horror. Some of my colleagues jumped ship during the height of the boom to take jobs at dot-coms - most were unemployed within six months).

For a different perspective, fifteen million is what a very, very frugal biotech will burn in one year in phase 3 clinical trials, hoping desperately that they have a product that the FDA will approve.

A company with no dollars coming in the door and payroll, rent, and other expenses to meet can go through a heck of a lot of money very, very quickly. This is especially true in a boom economy when payroll costs and rent are high.

#25 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:11 PM:

Every time--EVERY time--this issue comes up I am swallowed by sighs. I want to go out with copies of diatribes by TNH and Yog and Annie Crispin and every other professional writer and editor (and me) who has tried to explain to these poor benighted souls that they are being had.

And for every one you help (and who curses you for helping!) there are fifty more waiting behind them waving a mss. in one hand and discrete dollars in the other.

'Consumed by sighs' will surely be on my headstone.

Jane

#26 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:23 PM:

15 milllion dollars total burn? That's nothing.

The burn rate record that I have heard knocked about was Amazon's which around 1998 or so was 25 million dollars a month. Of course Amazon had five years cash to burn at that rate. It would not be hard for any high tech startup to go through $15M -- the insistence on high speed by dot coms not only increased the rate of spending, but the actual cost of a lot of the work done.

#27 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:26 PM:

One of my friends, an old friend, a high school friend, started working for a vanity press earlier in the year. The one and only time we discussed it in depth, he defended them up and down (and insisted they were merely PoD, not vanity, but, uh, I've been to their web site, and I sure can't tell the difference). I tried to explain to him what my issue was with the company, and his basic position is, "But these people wouldn't get published if it weren't for $company, and no regular publisher would publish x sort of book, so what's the problem?"

I told him that one of my problems was the fact that they hide their actual costs in the very end of the PDF with the contract in it -- my biggest reason for insisting 'vanity' is the right word -- and asked him if he'd looked at the costs, but that didn't help him understand my problem with the company, and we ended the conversation vaguely disgruntled with one another.

I've thought about pointing him here, but I'm pretty much afraid that he's going to say either a) the clients they have are different or b) the company itself is different.

So I've been avoiding talking to him about his job... which means pretty much avoiding talking to him, lately, because he's so excited about it. He's editing, which he really loves doing (and he is good at it), and he was out of work for months before that...

Ms. Jane, may I borrow your epitaph?

#28 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:31 PM:

Midsize Michigan cities are OK with me.

Actually, Patrick, I liked some of the smaller ones. Two years in Oscoda were some of the best of my childhood, and Frankenmuth around Christmas was fun.

#29 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 06:48 PM:

They still make guitars in Kalamazoo. That's where Heritage is. Comparable quality to Gibson, not as much money. Good deal.

#30 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 08:01 PM:

Lois & Teresa:

From my observations and what the librarians were telling me at the time, I don't think what I was seeing were author donations. Two notable datapoints: few if any of the books I was spotting were written by local authors, and Multnomah County's system is itself large enough that most incoming donations of books go directly to their used/discard retail operation.

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 08:49 PM:

Maybe those books were acquired by a semi-published author with spending authority, who was doing his or her best to help out other semi-published authors. They do that. You can find rings of them on Amazon, where A reviews B's and C's books, B reviews C's and F's, C reviews D's and E's, plus A's second book, and so on. Every review gives the book five stars. My only consolation is that they don't write the kind of reviews you get out of people who've actually read the book.

Okay, not my only consolation. My other consolation is the Amazon ranking of their sales. When it isn't nonexistent, it's astronomically low.

One of the classic forms of the fake review is where they start with an elaborately casual explanation of how they came to be in possession of a copy of this book, seeing as how it's not available in bookstores and is showing zero sales on Amazon. Most often they say they found it lying around at a friend's house. They picked it up to have a look, and found themselves unable to put it down. This explanation is the kind of review you get from people who haven't read the book. Even naked self-interest can't make fellow authors read these turkeys.

#32 ::: Mary Anne Mohanraj ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 09:40 PM:

Teresa, I had a related question for you. Over at the SLF, we've started a small press co-operative, designed to let presses share tables in dealer's room, exchange ads, throw joint parties, that kind of thing. Just did a table at WisCon, big success, lots of fun. Our table made about $900 for the various small presses who shared it (some presses made a lot, some made nothing, which is a whole interesting topic on its own). We'll hopefully be at World Fantasy too.

What I'm wondering is whether you think we ought to be selective or discriminating in some way. So far we've just let anyone and everyone join -- if you self-identify as a small press (including self-publishing of chapbooks and such), you're welcome to join us. Membership is free this year, and will probably be some miniscule dues next year (in the $5-10 range).

We've only been going for a few months, and haven't had any trouble yet, but reading this thread, I'm wondering if we ought to be trying to sift for scam presses and denying them access to the co-op? Although that makes me worry that we'd just be additionally penalizing poor authors who are already fairly screwed... :-(

Would appreciate your thoughts. Details on our co-op are here:

http://www.speculativeliterature.org/Co-op/

Thanks!

#33 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 09:42 PM:

"Jeeves, while attempting to locate the whisky decanter at Lady Fantod's house the other night, I happened upon this book, which since that moment I have been utterly unable to put down."

"Do you propose to write a review of the volume, sir?"

"Of 'Oryx and Squid, a Scientific Romance of the Aetherial World,' by someone calling themselves 'Spiritus Vivendi?' Good Lord, no. If Bingo Little heard of it, I should be obliged to review Mrs. Bingo's output until the end of time. No, I just want to put the deuced thing down."

"Quite conceivably so, sir. Here, I believe, is the difficulty; the spine has been heavily bird-limed. May I presume that you did not obtain the decanter?"

"Gosh, Jeeves, the countryside does have a knack for the cunning snare, doesn't it?"

"Quite usual among the woodlanders, sir."

#34 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 09:43 PM:

That was before they'd burned through fifteen million dollars. I'm still wondering how they did that.

These guys were in Silicon Valley, right? People were stark raving mad then. Seriously. Microbrew beers flowed like water and money flowed like, well, microbrew beers. It wasn't enough simply to pay well and have a good team spirit. No, to attract the hotshots and the public interest, your company had to be cool. Foozball tables in the break room, three-story slides in the middle of the office complex, special areas for you to bring your pet to the cube farm, memberships in cybercafes...I'm surprised they stopped at $15 million, frankly.

Ahem. What Keith said about the advice.

#35 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 10:36 PM:

And here is another sort of scam: writequickly.com

How would you feel if in exactly 28 days time, you were holding the finished version of your own book...? New CD course from best selling author Nick Daws shows how to do it in UNDER 28 days, in less than ONE HOUR a day.

I'm sure the editors around here will want to know about:

The wonder of Power Editing and how it’ll enable you to edit your entire book in under an hour!

#36 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 10:47 PM:

Claude: I think Frankenmuth is always fun, but I'm a real Christmas freak. (See here for my latest Christmas desire.) I used to live in Lansing, so it was easy to get there, but I haven't been in some time now. Hmmm. I'm going to Ann Arbor next month. Hmm.

MKK

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 10:56 PM:

Andy: Too late, I made fun of them ages ago. Are they really doing Power Editing now?

Mythago, what I know is that they had branch offices in a half-dozen cities, which seemed odd and unnecessary for an online business.

Also, a characteristic they shared with all the other e-publishing startups of that period was that I don't know of a single industry person who was hired by them, or even solicited to be hired. What's strange about that is that publishing has a sort of Oort Cloud of extremely experienced freelancers who are between in-house jobs -- a condition that can persist for years. While you're hanging on, you take two or three or four part-time gigs. They're part of what makes publishing run. Anyway, the offer of a full-time in-house job with decentish pay plus health benefits could have gotten you former heads of lines, senior editors, manging editors, production heads, acquisition & development specialists, contract specialists -- you name it. Granted, some of them would be a bit behind the curve on the latest software, but most of what you do in any publishing operation is deal with authors, manuscripts, printers, etc.; and that, they knew in spades. But they weren't hired. They weren't even wooed. The e-publishing startups hired a bunch of know-nothing youngsters -- you know, people like themselves.

I was working on a large complex post about the whole e-publishing boom and bust, and all its follies, at the moment that a large passenger jet slammed into the first tower. Somehow I've never been able to pull that material together again.

Mary Anne, a bad scammer can publish a good book; but in general, if they're publishing everyone who wants to be published, their books will be unsaleable. I think you should screen for those, not because they're scammers, but because a reader who picks up one book off your table and finds it execrable is unlikely to browse another. That's one of the things we were telling the Xlibris guys, long time gone on SFF Net: nobody will wade through slush to find the good stuff. Life is too short, and the world is full of unread books.

("Fantod! He said fantod!")

#38 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 12:03 AM:

Someone used 'bellicose' after dinner at Ruby Tuesday's Saturday night, in my car, on our way to Sheridan's Frozen custard to make up for an average meal at a chain where one or two of the folks were vegetarians who had to just eat sides, etc. (Gee, KC ii a horrid place for vegetarians.)

He was referring to how one of our group didn't act when... she asked for a burger plain with bacon and something else on it. No dressing, etc. It kept coming out wrong, and she's allergic to things like mayo, mustard, etc. It took four tries and she took the last good try with her to eat on the say. At one point it was obvious the cook just scraped it all off and re-bunned it (wrong choice with an allergic person.,..). GRR. Waitress was execellent, though. And we gave her a special atta-girl afterward. Cook needs to be flushed, though.

He said that because she didn't act bellicose that she got better treatment. I've NEVER hears an American user use that word, but Grant is from South Africa, and English-speaking.

#39 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:59 AM:

I was startled to learn that MoveOn's book had been published by a Maui press which normally specializes in what looks like New Age material. Obviously MoveOn didn't need a vanity publisher, but Maui? I suspect all the small presses here on Oahu are turning green.

#40 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:31 AM:

Back in 2000-1, a friend who was also my doctor (a D.O.) spent a good portion of our sessions together telling me about the book he was getting published, based on the WWI memoir of another friend/patient. He tried to sell me on getting my book published the same way, but I was politely noncommittal. He eventually went with Xlibris, and had a book signing at the local Borders. At one point he told me a junior agent was trying to get approval to take him on as a client, but nothing ever came of that.

A year later, my friend was dead of a heart attack right before his daughter's wedding, and a year after that, his practice went bankrupt for want of a decent replacement doctor. But that book of his is still on Amazon. At least one of the two reviews was written by one of his medical assistants.

It's sad and strange, but that little book, which made him so happy and excited at a time when he was fed up with medicine, is now Dr. E's legacy.

#41 ::: SRH ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:46 AM:

Let me get this straight: Theresa tells us that there is no really credible alternative to traditional publishers (vanity publishers usually producing crap, as was witnessed through a link from this very site the other week). Perhaps Theresa is right, but what about self publishing, where the author becomes more-or-less a traditional publisher (with or without minimum print runs)? Isn't that a credible alternative?

Full disclosure: I'm not about to use a vanity press or become a self publisher; I'm just an interested by-stander.

#42 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:14 AM:

Yes, self-publishing is an alternative.

Yes, it's perfectly honest and honorable (and at least in the case of poetry) almost traditional.

Self-publication works best with specialized non-fiction and sub-genres and micro-niches where the author is going to have to sell all the books face-to-face anyway. The local history, the church cookbook, that sort of thing.

True self-publication is a whole bunch cheaper than the every-penny-extraction process that most vanity shops represent.

The major problem that writers run into with self-publication is this: They forget to wear two hats, the writer hat and the publisher hat. They forget to pay themselves as writers regardless of what's happening on the publishing side of their desk.

To avoid violating Yog's Law, the self-publisher needs to move money from his Publisher pocket to his Author pocket. Figure out what royalties he's going to pay himself, buget them into the cover price of his book, and pay them on-time.

Like any other small business, the usual problem with self-publication is under-capitalization. Whole piles of small businesses in all categories fail; self-publication is no different.

The vanity-presses and scammers like to blur the distinction between self-publication and vanity publication (some of the vanity PoDs call themselves "self-publication services" for example), but there is one.

In vanity publishing, on the day the first book comes off the press, the money has flowed from the author and the publisher owns the rights. In self-publication money has flowed from the author and the author owns the rights.

#43 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:15 AM:

Self-publishing can be a rational and even nominally profitable exercise -- but virtually never for genre fiction, or really any sort of fiction.

I've seen it done, and done well, in two categories in particular. One is local history/memoirs; sometimes a person will put together a book in order to preserve and circulate a body of obscure but interesting material, while in other cases a local government or foundation will contract with a professional for a book project.

The other category -- and I think there's a company or two that specializes in producing these -- is the Insert Your Club's Name Here Cookbook, wherein the cookbook is sold as a fundraising project by the sponsoring organization, whose members have contributed the recipes. With the advent of Kinko's and relatively inexpensive comb-binding, these can be done pretty cheaply without seeming tacky.

#44 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:26 AM:

Heh; cross-posted with Yog.

It should be noted that in a few cases -- particularly organizational histories (i.e. churches, corporations, the local mountain-climbing club, etc.) -- the sponsor of a self-publishing project is more interested in printing and distributing books than in making money for itself.

But even in those cases, a sponsoring organization (even a nonprofit) will sometimes hire a professional writer to do the actual wordsmithing.

#45 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:05 AM:

After reading all this, I think if I ever do write that novel, I will just send it to the slush pile and hope for the best. Heh heh.

I guess if I ever did actually get it written, I would feel a lot more desperate about getting it published than i do now when it is a mere wisp of imagination, though. But I hope I would never get desperate enough to jump through the hoops and pay the fees this organization and other vanity publishers would want.

#46 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:52 AM:

My eyebrows went up. “They’re making that many corrections?”

He beamed. “They’re rewriting those things in fourth pass.”

Long ago, in another life, I worked for a large publishing company as a pre-press team leader/template goddess on a huge textbook project they had to get out in less time than they'd left themselves.

Three weeks after the drop-dead date, we were still sending corrections to the printer to be stripped in to existing plates.

The bitter joke around the office was that the books were going to go out to each school with a dedicated onsite typesetter to make corrections in the classroom for the kids to strip in with tape.

#47 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 07:28 AM:

What I don't get about these people, in their FAQ they list as separate services that they acquire an ISBN and a barcode for you -- the barcode of a book is 978 + (first 9 digits of ISBN) + check digit, which I understand is automatically allocated when your ISBN is. Why would you want another one?

#48 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 08:37 AM:

SRH, I neither said nor thought that. Try the link for Booklocker. They're not traditional at all. Try one of the three links to that article about self-publishing, I wrote it.

If all else fails, you can consider the fact that I've off and on been self-publishing since the late 1970s. Before I worked in publishing, certainly before the web was invented, I knew that unless fiction is unpublishable for some reason other than its quality, publishing it yourself is a very bad idea.

John and Yog both have good, practical advice on the subject. My take on self-publishing is more radical: whatever I spend on it is gone forever.

#49 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:13 AM:

Imho, the cheesiness of Writer's Collective is shown as early as their url--they're a business, but they present themselves as a .org. What's more, it's not that they couldn't get writerscollective.com--if you try that url, you're sent to the .org.

As for people not reading slush for free, the fan fiction subculture has a lot of systems of distributed evaluation. Everyone I've talked with about fan fiction says that 90% of it is awful, but somehow the good stuff gets found with no one getting paid to do the selection.

And here's a special case of self-publication: George Chesbro's dangerousdwarf.com. His publishers had been letting his books go out of print, including some which were getting high prices as used books, so he went into self-publication for all of his books, and seems to be happy enough with it.

Are their publishers which keep track of used book prices as an indicator for what to bring back into print?

#50 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 10:30 AM:

Just to give some real-life examples of successful self-publishing (where "successful" means that the author/publisher has reached their desired audience and has not spent more than they budgeted, in some instances has indeed earned money, and emphatically has not been taken to the cleaners):

My grandmother, an enthusiastic geneaologist published The Paper Chase to the Coulsons of Clarke in 2000. This modest 5 x 8 paperback contains the story of her research into thefamily, photos from the family farm, copies of the documents she has meticulously acquired, and a family tree. The book represents the culmination of decades of my Grandmom's research; she knows that nobody will ever buy the thing, but it's been distributed to the family, the historical society for the town in which the family settled, and the Archives of Ontario. When I have kids, they'll get copies. That's what she wanted from the book, and we're all happy that she did it. (It was also my second-ever copy-editing job, and I'm reasonably proud of it.)

Sarahealth.com publishes books about health issues through Trafford Press, a POD operation. The books are marketed over the Internet, thereby saving readers the possible discomfort asking at the bookstore for such titles as Women and Unwanted Hair. Again, the market for this sort of book is clearly defined, quite small, and has an interest in Internet or mail-order sales, rather than traditional bookstore sales. This preference for Internet sales allows the publisher to bypass expensive distribution and the costs of a print run.

Like the cookbooks and special-interest books that John, James, and Teresa have mentioned, these are books that have a specialized audience. In the first case, the publisher (and author) had no desire to earn any money from the book; in the second the publisher recognizes that her earnings are going to be small and slow, and that her sales are going to be in single books, rather than bulk sales to bookstores. Self-publishing works in both cases. You'll note that neither book is a work of fiction and that the readership is not a literary one.

And Teresa, you had mentioned having worked for Q&Q at some point, but not what you had done. We have a subscription at the office, and amuse ourselves by tracking all the folks who have passed through our offices (either in person in manuscript) through its pages. We've never actually done work for Q&Q, though.

#51 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 10:34 AM:

my latest Christmas desire

I love it, Mary Kay, and I can't wait to see the superhero version. Maybe you can persuade Bronner's to carry it?

*grin*

#52 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 10:43 AM:

Okay, here's an experiment. There seems to be a lot of self-publishing bashing here, all of which is reasonable and probably correct. I feel like self-publishing is a way for those without any connections to the industry to get their work out to people in one way or another, even if it is just to friends and family. I think that a lot of people here tend to know a lot about the industry in general, so their biases are a given. I, however, am not one of those people.

I'm in the process of trying to get my book published and I'm going to go about the "traditional" methods of getting it out to people. I'm anxious to see whether someone with absolutely no connections to the industry can get their work in the hands of the right people and get published. I bring this up because, being the ignorant soul that I am, I was seriously considering just self-publishing my work. Now that I've read all of the information here and the links that go with it, I'm scared sh*tless! Perhaps my little plan won't work and I'm on the verge of getting scammed.

So let's see. My manuscipt is good and it's in a genre that is hot right now. Let's see if TNH's quality credo works. If it's good enough, then it will get published. Otherwise, I'm going to have to screw myself by publishing it all by my lonesome.

#53 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:05 AM:
Are there publishers which keep track of used book prices as an indicator for what to bring back into print?

I don't know, but I don't think it's a great idea for any publisher other than a small press.

Suppose that you work for a publisher and scan Bookfinder on a regular basis to track probable sale prices for a given book. This actually requires a fair amount of work in that every time you checked you'd need to compare the list of copies for sale to the prior list, item by item, in order to add new listings and to identify removed listings as probable sales. (There might be a way to get the data from Bookfinder automatically - certainly there are ways to get the data from the systems Bookfinder searches automatically (since Bookfinder does it), but that would require a fair amount of programming on the front end.)

Assuming you're willing to put in the time to do this, after a year you might have 100 or so probable sale prices. (I persist in calling them "probable" because you don't actually know what happened to a book that was removed from its listing service - it might have been sold for the listed price, it might have been sold for less, it might have been lost, etc.) Is that useful data? If you work for a small press which is contemplating a 500-copy run, or something in that neighborhood, it might be. If you work for a larger publisher which is contemplating a 5000-copy run, it's not. If a randomly-polled set of 100 book buyers are willing to pay cover price or more for your book, that's useful data (assuming a pool of 100 is statistically significant). The data you actually have at this point doesn't demonstrate anything except that there are 100 people willing to pay cover price or more, and they already have copies anyway.

This is even ignoring the fact that many books which go for high prices on the used-book market do so because of collectibility, and a collector who is willing to pay $100 for a first edition of a book may have no interest at all in a reprint (most likely because they already have a non-first copy).

#54 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:32 AM:

More interesting to track might be how long it takes to sell copies... books that sell quickly are probably more marketable.

You'd have to account for strange things, like first editions (which will usually take longer to sell, I suspect) and under/overpriced copies (similar effects). Probably only consider books with at least (say) 10 listings, and only use listings withing 75-125% of the median price.

Could work.

#55 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:48 AM:

Fan fiction has its own mechanisms for finding the good stuff (archives with good reputations, frex). That there is "good stuff" in fan fiction comes about because fan fiction has no legal existence. If you've written the best Star Trek novel in the world, and you weren't pre-approved by Paramount, it's not going to get published. It can't. So -- you find people who have written the best Star Trek novel in the world putting out underground copies, and people who are dedicated to finding it, and passing the word to interested others. (These still aren't printed anymore, mostly, and are available for free.)

On the other hand, if you've written the best any-other-genre novel in the world, you'll be able to get it traditionally published. So, right off the bat, the books that are non-traditionally published aren't going to have the Really Good Stuff in the mix. (Very rare exceptions, and then, they're lost in the noise.)

Yes, there are review sites that review self-published and vanity-published books. Midwest Book Review for one. But -- MBR isn't very helpful. Every review there is a rave, and the reviews are written by people who aren't well known for their reviewing skills (anyone can play -- if you want to be a reviewer for them, go here). It isn't a trustworthy source.

We aren't bashing self-publishing here. Teresa's done it, I've done it, lots of other people I know and respect have done it (hi, Mike!). What we are bashing are the snake-oil salesmen who prey on naive, desperate, or deluded writers in order to put a suction hose into their bank accounts.

#56 ::: James Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:55 AM:

Somehow, a vanity press got my name as a person they should send free review copies to. Why, I have no idea. The sole positive aspect of this is that the books I get can be sold or pitched, unlike real ARCs, which are difficult to deal with if I don't want to keep them. Most (I want to say all) ARCs can't be sold, and aren't clearly my property anyway, so giving them away is not really an option. Throwing them out seems wrong, even when it's a book like _A State of Disobedience_. Happily, the aura of evil around a vanity press product allows me to overcome what few ethics I have regarding destroying printed material.

#57 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:57 AM:

Actually, I can think of a couple of cases in which authors have achieved reprints of books with very high used-copy prices -- both in SF/F. Doris Egan's "Ivory" series of paperback originals from DAW was at one point highly sought after on the used market (I saw reports of $60 a copy and up); DAW subsequently brought out a new omnibus edition of the novels. Sherwood Smith's kids' fantasies about Wren were chasing even higher single-copy prices -- and she's just now had all three reprinted by Firebird in new editions.

Teresa may have more to say about this, but I think a large part of the equation has to do with small original print runs (at most 10,000 copies of a new genre title, often possibly far fewer) for a title that generates sustained demand /after the usual publicity cycle has ended.

Much depends on how long it takes the word-of-mouth thing to kick in. Sometimes the publisher gets lucky, and it happens early enough in the product life cycle for them to keep a title in print practically forever (witness Barry Hughart's BRIDGE OF BIRDS, which Del Rey is still selling). But often, as with the Wren and Ivory books, word of mouth doesn't generate the consistent "buzz" until the publisher has run out of inventory, lost rights, dropped its fantasy imprint, or otherwise turned its attention elsewhere.

The trick is persuading a publisher that there's demand for a new edition of whatever-it-is. (Elsewhere in cyberspace, we've discovered that one of Yog's own backlist titles is going for $155.75 on Amazon -- and the only other used copy anyone could turn up was over in the UK. This looks to me like an opportunity....)

#58 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 12:23 PM:

Other data points of things reprinted after being expensive and hard to find: Pamela Dean's Secret Country trilogy. Wrede & Stevermer's _Sorcery and Cecelia_ (and a newly-written sequel coming in the fall, hooray!). The early to middle Sector General books. Possibly Lee & Miller's original Liaden novels, and the Steerswoman books (I'm not sure how hard to find they were).

Of course there are hard-to-find things that aren't being picked up; in some circles, people inquire yearly after Daniel Keys Moran's _The Long Run_ and other Continuing Time novels. (Okay, _tLR_ was republished in an expensive small-press edition. But there's a COMPLETE TRENT NOVEL sitting unpublished in his desk drawer, gnash wail tear hair. Err, sorry for shouting.) I have my suspicions about why those haven't been picked up, but they're speculations only. Anyway.

#59 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 12:51 PM:

For our other fans, another copy of that book turned up in Australia going for $139.60 USD. (Hey, smart publishers, this is the Bad Blood series. Rights available, and a fourth (unwritten) book all plotted out and ready to sweeten the deal.)

Have I thought about self-publishing that series to bring it back into print? Sure I have. Why haven't I? I don't have the startup capital, and the distribution/publicity is beyond my capabilities.

#60 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 12:55 PM:

Randall P. --

I think the distinction -- and I say this as someone hideously frustrated by the traditional publishing process -- is whether or not the form of publication will do what you want.

So far as fiction goes, self-publication trades money for some small number of copies of books; without unlikely contacts, expertise, or success, that small number of copies will not achieve wide distribution, and has in consequence no hope of significant reviews, sales, or audience.

(Vanity publication trades rather more money for some delusions of success, since the real scammers don't even provide you with books.)

If it's non-fiction, and there's already a known small audience -- the thirty years' work to produce a detailed monograph about the winter survival strategies of the bumble bees of Baffin Island -- that's ok; the other ninety people and two hundred libraries on the planet who care will be delighted to buy a copy, and the print run of 500 gives you something to sell to the next generation of grad students.

Fiction, though, fiction is art. And art cannot succeed without reaching a wide audience. (Sometimes it gets there by very twisty or lengthy means, but get there it must.)

Self-publication provides no opportunity to reach a wide audience; traditional publishing -- being in the business of selling art -- will provide that opportunity.

So, for my money, if I can't convince the representative of some publisher that my writing has enough potential friends to be worth taking a financial risk on, I should keep trying. It's not a good measure of artistic quality, but it's the one I've got.

#61 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 01:27 PM:

Graydon, excellent thoughts. I guess my debate in regards to self-publishing is in whether or not the actual chance has been given. I've read Slushkiller and other discussions related to it and I find it be to be fear-inducing. I'm not going to delude myself by saying that my fiction is the greatest thing ever written, but I know what I've got is good stuff.

I wonder whether someone like myself would even be given the chance. I wonder whether someone would actually take the time to read what I've written as opposed to just dismissing me because I wasn't "recommended" or "referred". It seems that this world is a place of connections and if you don't have the connection, you're not in the "club". I have no connections, so how am I going to break into that world?

So to relate this to self-publishing, I guess the problem for someone like me is how long do you keep trying before you say, "Hey, if no one will give me a chance, then I'm doing it myself."? Has there ever been a self-publishing success? (I mean for someone who has done the leg work themselves and not sold out to the highest bidder once a little heat has been produced by their book.) Forgive me naive postings, but these are the debates one has with themselves when they are beginning a process such as this.

#62 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 01:36 PM:
Actually, I can think of a couple of cases in which authors have achieved reprints of books with very high used-copy prices -- both in SF/F.

I'd be willing to bet that in these and the other cited cases the publishers had more to go on than just those prices, especially since before the rise of Internet used-book selling as we know it today, the pricing information would have been very hard to track.

But yeah, the number of copies already out there is certainly a consideration. If people are paying $100 a pop for copies of a book which had a run of 1,000 or so, it's not entirely unreasonable to assume that there are a bunch more people who would like to buy copies at more reasonable prices. If people are paying that much for copies of something which has 20,000 copies extant, my assumption would be that the market is collector-driven, or something along those lines (assuming the book didn't become incredibly popular asfter publication for some reason, but then the publisher presumably knows about that anyway).

#63 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 01:37 PM:

I'm pretty sure I disagree with the claim that "art cannot succeed without reaching a wide audience." I've experienced plenty of art that never reached a wide audience, but was "successful" as far as I was concerned. Heck, I've read unpublished books that I thought brilliantly successful in several ways, but I didn't think Tor Books would be any good at publishing them. That didn't mean I didn't think they were artistically "successful." When I'm evaluating submissions to Tor, my bottom-line question isn't "Is this a good book?" (Although that's an important one.) It's "Is this the kind of book we can do well?" We can't do everything. No publisher can.

To remark on a different post, I'm definitely sure I don't understand why anybody, after all times we've explained otherwise, would still claim that these conversations are about "bashing" the idea of "self-publishing." What the hell do you think Making Light is? Chopped liver? A salaried job? An organ of of Time Warner?

Self-publishing is great. Many fine things have been self-published. Once in a blue moon somebody gets rich from it. A few times in a blue moon, somebody makes a living from it. Warning against the veils and glamours of vanity presses is not the same thing as crusading against "self-publishing." If you plan to self-publish, what you want is a printer, not a vanity press. Learn the difference.

#64 ::: S. Mitchell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 01:54 PM:

CafePress has kindly set up operations as a POD, and while it's a bitch to get the typesetting correct in PDF format, if you just want to have a book in your hands, or to give to your grandma, it's ideal. I printed a copy of my first novel just to have it (I keep it on my desk for inspiration as I write out the next query letter for it,) and it cost me a grand total of 20 dollars. It seems to me if somebody wanted to go the self-publishing route, that would be the ideal way to do it. At least it doesn't cost money up front.

#65 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 01:54 PM:

Patrick,
I think part of the conversation here is someone like me actually "learning the difference". The illusion of vanity presses is very real and part of the process of reading pages like this is for me to see the pitfalls of these presses. It's hard for me as an unpublished writer to see the perils of such organizations because it is so enticing.

Forgive my choice of words when I used the word "bashing", but as I said, this is a learning process for me and it's a little bit disconcerting for a person who likes this community and these discussions to be ripped because I came in late and haven't read the other nine thousand posts. Cranky, cranky...

#66 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:02 PM:

Randall's more recent comments slipped in while I was growling at his earlier one. The role of fear and anxiety in this process is real. I'd be the last to say I think it's easy to be an aspiring unpublished writer, nor do I much care for the Panglossian notion that it's just fine that people should have to jump through hoops.

My problem is that given that the core mission of most book publishers is not to administer the perfectly-fair Slush Olympics, I'm not really sure how to make matters better. I do think we take way too long at Tor, but see previous sentence. Our actual prime directive is to do a good job at publishing what we've already got.

#67 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:03 PM:

Randall and I are clearly continuing to post almost simultaneously. Back on the Well, the term for this was "slippage."

#68 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:06 PM:

Oh, great Patrick! Post something nice just when I put "cranky, cranky" in my post. Now I feel like a jerk. Can't we put those winky-winky emoticons here so that I don't have to look like a dork?

#69 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:07 PM:

Randall P: I wonder whether someone like myself would even be given the chance. I wonder whether someone would actually take the time to read what I've written as opposed to just dismissing me because I wasn't "recommended" or "referred".

Dude, you do realize you're asking this question on the blog of an editor who, last time I saw her in person, was enthusing to me about a novel she'd bought out of the slush?

It *happens*. So put that aside the best you can and expend your energy on your *writing*.

#70 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:11 PM:

Randall P. --

So far as I know, not only has there never been a self-published fiction success, a self published fiction success is impossible, because soemone who self-publishes simply cannot get at the book distribution network in any useful way.

There have been a couple of cases of self-published works coming to the attention of people who could offer them publishing contracts (and thus access to the distribution network) and I'm personally unsure whether that counts as a success for self-publishing or not, but inclined toward 'not'.

As far as connections go, I think your mistake lies in presupposing that connections are necessarily, or even probably, beneficial.

Publishers -- and by extension those editors who are working for publishers of genre fiction -- have two serious challenges when it comes to aquiring new books, at least so far as my own highly imperfect understanding goes.

The first is that they are horribly understaffed, so that the work of getting what they've got out the door is not sufficiently encompassed by normal business hours. This leaves only narrow slices of time to consider any new works, slices of time which are not sufficient to the volume recieved by a couple orders of magnitude. (Something which seems to apply at houses which don't look at unsolicited submissions, as well as those which do.)

The second is that there is a long standing trend for individual sf books to sell fewer copies; this is in large part a side effect of the total title count exploding, since the total sales of sf books is trending up. It's just that it's taking many more books worth of sunk costs to do it.

That puts margins down, it makes the consolidating distributors complain about price points, and it causes push back from retailers who have sales volume expectations.

Which means that an acquiring editor is looking at not 'will this book sell?' so much as 'is this book likely to have the least bad sales prospects of all the books that I could buy this month?', or, 'are we going to do good enough job of helping this book find its friends to make the effort worth our while?'

You will note that this is at least a six chicken question; there's a lot of unknowable future in it, and the available means of entrail reading are quite bad. I consider it vaguely miraculous that mostly, the people and process involved get this right.

That isn't a process which connections are able to much affect. (Sales history, yes, but sales hsitory isn't connections in the sense that I understood you to mean.)

So, well, so far as I know, it's a choice between a process that might work and one which surely won't. That's an easy choice, at least if one is a purely rational actor.

#71 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:11 PM:

Kate,
That's the problem! I've been working on my writing for over a year now and now I'm done. All of a sudden I have to focus on getting published. Ugh!

Okay, everyone is now sick of me. Never meant for that to happen. I will refrain from posting for a week.

Love to all,
Randall

#72 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:16 PM:

Let me address one other comment of Randall's.

"I wonder whether someone like myself would even be given the chance. I wonder whether someone would actually take the time to read what I've written as opposed to just dismissing me because I wasn't 'recommended' or 'referred.' It seems that this world is a place of connections and if you don't have the connection, you're not in the 'club'. I have no connections, so how am I going to break into that world?"

It's possible to both underrate and overrate the importance of the "who you know" factor. At Tor, we actually look at unsolicited submissions (albeit at a glacial pace). Many other publishers say they don't, but I'm pretty sure none of them enforce their "agented or previously-published authors only" policies with anything like rigor. The fact is that editors and publishers constantly need good new writers; nobody lives off an established stable forever. The problem of needing connections is a problem of human life; everyone with a pulse makes their way in the world by extending their awareness through friends, family, and acquaintances. Yes, you absolutely need "connections," in the sense of "maximizing the chances that your work will come to the attention of those who can do you good." That's true in all areas of life. It's also true of editors and publishers. You're trying to "connect" to them; but if your work is any good, they're also trying to connect to you.

Which isn't to say that everything in the garden is lovely and everything works as it should. But the basic task of navigating human networks of affinity and information isn't as daunting as you're making it sound, and I speak as an actual shy person. You've been doing it all your life. You're doing it right now.

PS: Please don't feel you need to "refrain from posting for a week." As to your "cranky, cranky" remark, you were right--I was being cranky.

#73 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:20 PM:

Patrick --

I call success for art -- this particular chunk of art -- affecting the contents of a lot of people's heads; I call success as art working for whomever is experiencing it.

This may well be yet another manifestation of my lamentable tendency to split hairs into quarters, but I really do think that the "success for" kind of artistic success requires getting the art in front of a lot of people.

(This may be a good point to note that much of frustration with the traditional publishing process rests on my inability to write fiction which sounds like the utterance of a normal human being, and my perception of the consequences thereof.)

#74 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:33 PM:

I think there are different meanings of the word 'success' at play here. A piece of art can be a success without the artist being a success. Most painters die in poverty (or is that an urban myth?). That doesn't mean their paintings are failures as art. But they weren't "successful" art in that they failed to provide a living to the artist.

Personally, I think we're better off when art is made by amateurs in the true sense of the word - except that were that the case only the leisure classes would make art. But that's almost true now, except in music (and grafitti).

#75 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:36 PM:

Randall P: All of a sudden I have to focus on getting published. Ugh!

Yeah, it's an ugh. But, once you've sent your book off to the agents/publisher you've chosen as a good fit--you get to work on the *next* thing while you're waiting to hear. Which has to be more fun, right?

#76 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:46 PM:

Xopher, I think Graydon's usage had more to do with whether or not the work of art is able to communicate something to a public. So if an artist paints a picture, and the picture is hung in a gallery for people to see, thereby giving them the opportunity to share the artist's vision, the picture is achieving some modicum of success as a work of art, even if the artist is impoverished.

If a writer's deathless prose is not reaching a public because it's buried in all the dross of self-publishing, then the author's vision isn't being communicated at all. It's just languishing. And the book fails, not merely commercially, but also as a tool for sharing a vision.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:48 PM:

jennie, that makes a lot of sense. If I pick up such a book and read it, it may move me (thus being a success in that instance) even if no one else ever sees it (making it a failure in general).

#78 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:53 PM:

The Midwest has cheap space, good phone lines, and an underemployed literate population.

And lower overhead costs, and better transportation links. The latter is surprisingly important. We've all moved books.

I think that the next Harry Potter book may go out on rail, if not barge.

#79 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:56 PM:

We're very sorry, Mrs. Rowling, but there aren't that many owls in the whole world?

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Keep track of OP books with high continuing demand? Heck yes. Some years back I copied off a long string of reviews from Åmazon, put them into tidy format, printed them out, and presented them to my boss. They all said one or more of the following things:

"I read the book back in college, and IT WAS AMAZING."

"Never lend your copy of this to someone else, because they won't give it back and you'll never find another one."

"Somebody should reprint this book."

I said, "Can we see whether the rights are available for Steve Brust's To Reign in Hell?"

Turns out he'd also been wondering about that. They were. The book's back in print now as a trade paperback, with a zippy cover by up-and-coming fantasy artist Gustave Dore. Sales are doing just fine. Since then, we've put Cowboy Feng's back into print as well.

Nancy, the fanfic universe has evolved some remarkably innovative, effective mechanisms for generating and finding the Good Stuff: Beta readers. Cumulative ratings. Archives. And of course, the entire "Mary Sue" body of critical theory.

As far as I'm concerned, the single foolproof way to tell whether your fiction is good goes like this: 1. Get yourself some good beta readers. 2. Write stories. Pass them along. Pay attention to your feedback. 3. When your beta readers start yowling for more, passing copies along to their friends, and thinking about stories of their own set in your narrative universe, you're ready to go.

Another thing I've noticed about the fanfic universe is that when they post advice and tips for writers, it's far less likely to be either a load of codswallop, like that gentleman who thinks you ought to lie in your cover letters, or lifted without credit from other sources. It's a universe that pays attention.

Jennie, Patrick was a freelancer for Q&Q, and legally I wasn't there at all. That was because Patrick still had Landed Immigrant status if nobody looked at it too hard, but I was technically just a tourist who happened to be living and working in Canada.

Claude, that place you linked to has weird stuff, seriously weird stuff.

James Nicoll, you don't have to keep ARCs. You really can give them away. And I don't see why you can't sell them, because everyone else seems to. The scrupulous ones wait until the book is out.

Thing is, they're given to you as a gift, free and clear. Far as I know, you can alienate 'em any way you want.

Kate, thanks for remember. I continue to think it's a swell book.

Randall, I'll admit that I get more irritated than could be warranted by anything you've done personally when I hear about how you have to have connections in publishing to get anywhere with your work. Sure, you get your occasional toxic epiphytes like Plum Sykes, but they don't last. In truth, while it can help a bit to know people, it's the book that matters.

Just ask JIm Macdonald, or John Scalzi, or Stephan Zielinski, or Maureen McHugh, how well Patrick or I knew them when we first encountered their writing. The answer's the same in all cases: we didn't know them from Adam. I wasn't really acquainted with Graydon, either, when he sent me a brilliant first novel that I've been brooding about ever since I rejected it. (He's sent me another one. I'm chewing on it.)

My favorite story of late concerns somebody-or-other's new editorial assistant, who found a book she thought was ravishingly swell in the slushpile at a midsize publishing house. But alas, the book had been on submission for a couple of years, the author had gotten tired of waiting, and the book had gone to some bitty regional publisher. However! By the time the intrepid young editorial assistant came around asking questions, the author had lost patience with the limitations of the bitty regional publisher, and was ready to hear new proposals. The author got back the rights, the editorial assistant was given permission to buy the novel in question plus two more, and at last report everyone seemed very happy.

We're a ramshackle industry, redeemed only by our love for good books.

#82 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 02:58 PM:

(quiets first-post nerves)

After Tina's post, I started wondering: should I think twice about working for a press that started as a vanity press? It's reputation and sales are improving, but some of the telltale practices remain, as well as an occasionally embarrassing backlist. The job would give me experience with print buying, title management, editing and freelance hiring--all good and useful things--but is the price somehow too great?

#83 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:07 PM:

Randall P.: That's the problem! I've been working on my writing for over a year now and now I'm done. All of a sudden I have to focus on getting published. Ugh!

Hmm. Focus on that while writing the next one, and the one after that, etc.?

(Of course, all I seem to be writing with any regularity are short pieces--poetry, short stories--and I'm sure others here can give you better advice! But that's what I'd be doing in your position.)

#84 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:07 PM:
Keep track of OP books with high continuing demand? Heck yes. Some years back I copied off a long string of reviews from Amazon, put them into tidy format, printed them out, and presented them to my boss.

Now, that I can see. Perhaps I focused too narrowly on the "price" aspect of Nancy's question. What people actually say about the book seems to me to be much more informative.

#85 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:12 PM:

Eep! What I get for not refreshing the page quickly enough. Sorry, Kate Nepveu.

Graydon: We're very sorry, Mrs. Rowling, but there aren't that many owls in the whole world?

Bwahahaha! I had to admit I was wondering if the quantities of owl--what's the word, fewmets? scat? pellets?--went to fertilizing mandrakes or something. (I've read 1.5 of the Harry Potter books, and watched two movies, so I don't know if this is actually addressed. It'd be amusing if it were.)

#86 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Teresa,
I think my problem here is that this whole site has been a revelation to me. I feel like I've gone from zero to light speed in seconds. Everything I've read up to now has been "use your connections" blah, blah, blah, and then the first thing I ever read on this site was Slushkiller (thank you, cursor.org). For me, the simple notion that, while it doesn't happen often, success has come from slushpiles has made me change my way of thinking.

So, the unfortunate part about all of this is the fact that you're all having to watch me undergo a paradigm shift. (Which is why I thought I should stop posting, because sometimes I feel like an idiot!) The fact that the notion of "quality above all" might actually be a reality makes me feel a hundred times better about making an effort. Before I heard those words, a vanity publisher seemed to be a viable route because I wasn't in the mood to try to do what "couldn't be done". Then this whole thread started and I've had to reevaluate my plans.

Ah, well, never underestimate the service you provide. This website is like heroin for me. Enticing, coma-inducing heroin. Mmmm, heroin.

#87 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:29 PM:

Jim McDonald: Have you considered the reputable PoD outfits, like Wildside Press or E-Reads? I know that writers like Lawrence Watt-Evans and Dave Duncan have gone that route with their otherwise out-of-print backlist, which I at least find gratifying...

#88 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:32 PM:

Yoon --

Owls produce two kinds of post-predatory output.

Pellets are the bones and fur of prey swallowed whole or in big chunks with the flesh stripped off them by enzymes in the glandular stomach (raptorial birds don't have crops) wadded together by the stomach muscles and regurgitated. (The valve to the intenstines will only pass "finely divided matter". This is the same reason why ruminant manure tends to the very small pieces, while hind-gut fermenters like horses and elephants tend to the substantial manure, but I digress.)

Digression using inappropriate language? Is that loss of down?

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Pellets are much appreciated by naturalists because they provide such good evidence of what the owl (or other raptorial bird) is eating.

Droppings are the white splashes found around roosting sites, just like any other bird that isn't a grazer. They're too chemically concentrated to make good fertilizer. (Leeching for gunpowder, yes; fertilizer for the mandrake plants, not so good.)

Presumably whomever has to maintain the grounds at Hogwarts has some sort of magical assistance cleaning up the mess, because hundreds of owls would make a lot of mess.

#89 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:34 PM:

Randall:

Connections.

Connections can be useful, but sometimes in ways you might not think of. I connected with an agent via a friend who beta-read the novel - a friend who happens to be a creative writing lecturer with a couple of former students who have been successfully published with Real Publishers. That gave me a contact with one of their agents who was willing to consider taking on a new client. I still had to write a query letter, I was just able to say that someone he had reason to think a good judge thought my writing was worth looking at. The net result after three chapters and then another three chapters was that he liked my writing, didn't think he could successfully market a cross-genre novel (didn't help that this was shortly after the Earthlight closure was announced), but would like to look at the next one if it's mainstream. So no agent for *that* novel (yet) -- but the confidence boost from having an agent say that he wanted to see the next one is extremely useful.

What happens to it next is exactly what would have happened to it anyway. Check out potential markets, send query letters, or pick a likely-looking slushpile. (Er... our esteemed hosts might well get to see it eventually.) And the connections for that are the easy ones -- ask around for likely places to send it to. Lots of places online where you'll get good quality advice.

#90 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 03:44 PM:

Graydon: Oh! I should have looked that up. I'd read about pellets but for whatever stupid reason hadn't realized owls produced perfectly ordinary droppings, too. Consider me enlightened.

*looks at trash can of rapidly accumulating used diapers* Yeah, maybe I shouldn't think about such matters any more than I have to. :-)

#91 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:06 PM:

T.: I remember because it's on the little calendar in my head labeled "forthcoming books I want to read"! Purely selfish reasons.

Yoon Ha Lee: oh, don't worry--can't hurt to have good advice said twice, right?

Randall P.: you're all having to watch me undergo a paradigm shift : Cool. I find that very gratifying, even knowing that my contributions to that are teeny. Go forth and submit your book (after researching your targets and carefully following the submission guidelines, of course).

#92 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:13 PM:

Randall P. asked, and many people have responded to, "I'm anxious to see whether someone with absolutely no connections to the industry can get their work in the hands of the right people and get published."

Yes, they certainly can. From personal experience: my first sale, a 3 book deal, came out of the slushpile at Luna Books. I've gotten complete manuscript requests from the slushpile _3 times_ at Tor alone (hrm. One was a contest. Not exactly a slushpile, but also not at all because of any connections I had). Out of those 3, one was turned down with a "Please resubmit if you do a revision on this book," one turned into a sale somewhere else (one of the problems with the glacial pace Patrick mentioned, although to be fair to Tor, pretty much everybody responds at a glacial pace), and the third I'm still waiting to hear on.

It can happen. It *does* happen, every day. You said in a later post that part of it was you'd finished the book and now you had to face the scary attempt-at-publication process. It *is* awfully scary and it's incredibly time consuming and it's horribly frustrating, but it's also possible to accomplish it by simple dint of writing a good book. You don't have to be personal buddies with an editor or agent (that might not *hurt*, but you don't *have* to be!). You just have to write a good book, and grit your teeth and send it out and wait. It works. Against what seem to be all the odds, it works.

I'll be over here in the optimistic cheerleader section. *grin*

-Catie

#93 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:33 PM:

Jim McDonald: Have you considered the reputable PoD outfits, like Wildside Press or E-Reads?

Not attempting to speak for Yog the Eloquent -- but I suspect that Wildside at least is the wrong place for those Bad Blood novels.

Thing is, the existing professional small press/POD market (in which Wildside is one of the defining players) is geared more toward collectors and affluent readers than toward YA and popular-audience readership.

(Part of the complication with those books is that they were part of a market niche -- teen horror -- that has more or less vanished in the years since the books originally appeared, and been almost entirely supplanted by media tie-in lines targeted specifically at teen readers.)

#94 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 04:56 PM:

John, I'm certainly not especially knowledgeable about how the POD industry works, but I've always thought of it as... well, about how Teresa described XLibris' self-professed goal (only without all the hassle of publishing completely worthless dreck): Making it feasible to publish books that would sell some copies, but not necessarily enough to justify the investment from a Tor-sized publisher. That seems ideal for books that have already been written, already been filtered through professional publication, have a small but real audience of people who'd like to read them and don't feel like doing the used-book hunt, and which are otherwise just sitting in a back cabinet somewhere.

#95 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:02 PM:

Contests, and vanity publishing -- oho! My little hicktown paper recently had an announcement about a poetry contest run by some group I hadn't heard of. Since I didn't have to pay to get in and the website didn't look too ludicrous, on a lark I sent them something. The result, which came by mail, was both slightly embarrassing and hilarious. I was informed that my poem was a "semifinalist," and I could order the forthcoming anthology -- modestly entitled "Great Poems of the Western World" -- for a mere $39.95; more, if I wanted to include a dedication ($10), author photo ($20), illustration (special price, $20), bio ($20), or extra poems and a "plaque". As if all that wasn't bad enough, the sponsoring company now reveals its name as Famous Poets Society, and the main letter, with one of those fake "signatures", supposedly came from one Lavender Aurora, Poetry Editor! I hope no addled housewives or teen dopesters with literary pretensions fall for this nonsense. But it did provide me with a rueful chuckle. (One more thing: the Society's P.O. Box is in a place called Talent, Oregon. Could the whole thing be designed to fund a terrorist summer camp in that state -- as the Govt. asserts is a "real" threat? Golly!)

#96 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:11 PM:

POD is just a technology, or rather a suite of linked technologies. Tor uses POD sometimes, for low-printrun backlist reprints.

#97 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:44 PM:

A few musings on artistic "success"...

I'd rather have one person fall in love with one of my compositions than a million hear it and forget about it as soon as the next track comes up on their iPod. The surest way to gain true fans is to have lots of copies in play, but it's by no means necessary. There are many works of art with tiny print runs that have rocked my world, and I know through various means that even my modest efforts have hit a few bulls-eyes. I count that success, however minor.

In fact, my threshold is even lower: if I do something that I still like on sober reflection, I consider that a success even if no one else ever experiences it. I suppose this is Graydon's "success as," but that's good enough for me--"success for" is just gravy.

#98 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:47 PM:

Teresa wrote:
James Nicoll, you don't have to keep ARCs. You really can give them away. And I don't see why you can't sell them, because everyone else seems to. The scrupulous ones wait until the book is out
(emphasis mine)

Some of the warnings affixed to the review copies of grad-level textbooks my boss receives for review are actually quite entertaining.

(He managed to accumulate multiple desk copies of various antenna and electromagnetic theory books... we'll just say I'm well armed for grad school. )

#99 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:50 PM:

And to add to the fun, I just Googled on "American Publishing" courtesy of a thread on the Rumor Mill. Half of the sidebar ads were names I immediately recognised as vanity operations. One of the others looked vaguely respectable, a sort of CafePress type operation, until I dug deep enough to discover their charges for issuing ISBNs. $35 for the basic packages which gets you an ISBN with listing in Books In Print, and $150 for that *plus*

"Your book entered into Ingram's database, the largest US book wholesaler. This gets your book into the same wholesale channels as major US publishers."

Same old shell game - the only difference is that if you just want a print job done, you'll actually get vaguely sensible prices out of this one.

#100 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 05:56 PM:

Several things, in no order:

Patrick had already bought three of our books before someone introduced me to him. Up until then I wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a lineup. I'd never even heard of Teresa until some time after that.

We've become friends since, but that wasn't why the books sold. (And he's rejected some work too, even though we're friends.)

=======

Everyone's aware that the scammers and the vanity presses go out of their way to spread stories about how difficult it is to get professionally published? They're trying to foster fear, and they succeed. They lie. They distort. They are not your friends. Yet another reason I dislike them.

=======

For complex reasons, though this discussion was part of the mix, I bought an Xlibris book today. Perhaps I'll tell the full story of How and Why later, after I've read it.

=======

Digital printing is a technology. Print on Demand is a business model. And vanity printing is a business model all its own.

=======

We're writers here. We talk. A lot. Ask and the information will be given. You can't make us shut up.

#101 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:05 PM:

I said, "Can we see whether the rights are available for Steve Brust's To Reign in Hell?"

Teresa, I cannot adequately express my gratitude.

Let us say that... I have a thing for stories about angels and demons. And browsing in a bookstore last year I happened upon To Reign in Hell, never having heard of it; but I'd heard of Steven Brust, and fell in love with the book at first sight. It made me squee a lot. I can have no anger at all at the publishing industry when I remember that it does succeed, at least this well, at getting really good books into the hands of people who really want to read them.


#102 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:08 PM:

I thought this was a cool coincidence.

I looked away from this thread to try to get some (*gasp*) actual work done, and the Classic Rock channel on Radio Netscape played the Beatles' "Paperback Writer."

There's no escape.

#103 ::: Daniel Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:12 PM:

My first encounter with Making Light was also the Slushkiller (I was sent over by Neil Gaiman's blog).

That night my wife asked what I was doing, an hour or two into my reading. I tried to explain that here were people talking about publishing fiction like it happened every day... which of course it does. She didn't understand what was so important; she's not the writer. Fiction book publishing, authorship, editors acquired the "indelible stamp of reality" for me. (Am I quoting someone? I thought so, but no Google hits.)

I work in desktop publishing (textbooks mainly), but never really connected my daily experience, from edited MS to printer, to the fiction I devour. Also, I had tried to write stories, but found it hard to believe there was a future in it, and went back to watching TV, programming, marital bliss and dinking around.

But the Slushkiller changed all that, except for the bliss and the dinking. Well, and the programming too. At least I watch less TV. And at least I know that this world of words isn't rootless; just the opposite... and I too could be discovered in the slushpile (if I ever buckle down and write something worth sending in).

#104 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:12 PM:

We're writers here. We talk. A lot. Ask and the information will be given. You can't make us shut up.

James, I do think that last statement is worthy of another t-shirt. Or at least a button.

Randall, may I commend to your attention Learn Writing with Uncle Jim? If you want even more encouragement, really good advice, and a certain amount of hard-headed professionalism, it's a good place to hang out. Uncle Jim and the other pros on the board are pretty unstinting in their advice and in the truths they mete out. Be warned, though, that if you've anything you're procrastinating, the 72+ pages are a really effective procrastination tool!

I can honestly say that I learned as much about trade publishing and the writing and editing of fiction from Making Light, Electrolite, and Uncle Jim as I did from my Publishing Overview or my Substantive Editing class.

....Editors can be pretty garrulous, too, come to that.

#105 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:20 PM:

"They're trying to foster fear, and they succeed. They lie. They distort."

For a moment there, Jim, I thought you had drifted off-topic, toward . . . well, you know.

And if I were a Great Poet(ess) of the Western World, I might indeed wish, if I could not be Julia Wollstonecraft Moore, to be Lavender Aurora. Though I would be more likely to counterfeit the work of an obscure 10th-Century Chinese sage known as Owlstuft Pong. (GUARDIAN pls copy)

#106 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 06:33 PM:

I said, "Can we see whether the rights are available for Steve Brust's To Reign in Hell?"

That was you?! If my religion permitted it I would fall down in abject worship.

On the Adventure of the Missing Fifteen Million: of course they weren't hiring anyone from the industry. That would, like, have been old-school thinking and clinging to an outmoded paradigm. The Internet revolution in business-as-usual needed hip, young, fresh minds that weren't stuck in a rut.

Hey, I'm just the messenger. I can't say I got it at the time either, but it was fascinating in a kind of "They're not REALLY going to drive straight off that cliff, are they?" kind of way. (And by 'they' I don't mean Xlibris in particular. Five years ago you couldn't swing a dead cat down here without getting decaying feline all over some twentynothing urbanista freshly hired by a dotcom.)

#107 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Teresa advises, in determining if you're any good:

" 3. When your beta readers start yowling for more, passing copies along to their friends, and thinking about stories of their own set in your narrative universe, you're ready to go."

What if you've only got 2 out of 3? :)

Seriously, reading that brightened my day, and reminds me I need to make time for the writing no matter how soul-sucking the dayjob is.

Also, it inspired this, so I must inflict it upon y'all:

Forget the fear that you will fail
Trust in your work; trust in your tale
Forget the fear that you will fall
And heed instead the slush pile's call
Just put your work into the mail

Send out your modern fairy tale
Submit the one about the doll
Ignore your inner critic's drawl
Forget the fear

Although the thought may make you quail
Perserver, for you will prevail
Submitting may take lots of gall
But you cannot forever stall
Take a chance; you could make a sale...
Forget the fear

#108 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 08:48 PM:

Digital printing is a technology. Print on Demand is a business model. And vanity printing is a business model all its own.

As usual, Jim, you are both ahead of me and much more concise than I will or can be on this issue. I am not a printer, but I was a programmer and project manager for a large diversified print firm for 7 years.

While POD is a business model, digital printing (or e-print, as we ususally called it) is a set of technologies ranging from the big brothers of HP desktops to Docutechs to Xeikons to Inidgos. All of them put image on paper working directly from digital media, generally the more recent versions of Adobe PDF files. (TIFF is great for images and stuff, and printers and service bureaus may take other media, but PDF is becoming the common format of electronic workflows inside the print business.) Docutechs are xerographic printers, Xeikons are very high end electophotographic (similar, but uses led arrays instead of lenses and works with continus rolls of paper) printers and Indigos are a strange combination of technologies -- electronic offset. There's all sorts of stuff out there, but it all has the same advantages -- almost no setup (Indigos have some due to involved chemistry), direct loading from elecronic media without plates, fast turn around and very high costs.

POD is the use of carefully integrated technologies to allow fast turnaround and short runs of specific kinds of printing. We had e-print systems carefully integrated into the workflow, but usually relied on a pair of two medium cylinder Heidelberg Speedmasters to feed the folders, cutters and very sweet perfect binder. (When we shut that facility down -- there is no decent market any more for printed documentation -- we tried to find some way to keep that German binder. But the thing was too damm big and expensive, and it was difficult to sell off.) The trick in POD is standardization of workflow -- minimize the choices of paper, size, and binding so that all the variables and settings are carefully worked out and costed ahead of time. We generally found that even with burning plates and setup (this was before we went to DTP) with careful planning the tipping point between technologies was several hundred. (Sorry -- the exact number for various combinations was and is proprietary and I really wasn't supposed to know it. The same goes for costs/prices.) What that meant is that we could charge POD rates but have litho costs, which are much lower, as in nearly an order of magnitude.

POD is a business model -- it relies much more on careful planning, facility design, workflow standardization and excellent market research than on technology. It existed before e-print, just under a diffeent name: speciality short-run printing. It usually requires a purpose built turnkey plant. Nobody has any realistic expectations that you can set up a facility that will reliably produce some people's fantasy POD book printing of a couple of books, quickly available, for a commercially feasible price. Shops like Lightning Source are as much a technology demonstration as they are a business -- in the case of LS a demonstration of IBM's e-print technology and an extension to Ingram's product line. (Nothing inherently wrong with them but I wonder if their FAQ's are a little misleading -- "printing one book at a time" for example.)

I, for one, would love to see that POD fantasy come true. But we aren't there yet, or the printing and book businesses would simply look different that they do now.

#109 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 08:54 PM:

Andy Perrin wrote:

> And here is another sort of scam:
> writequickly.com
>
> [...] New CD course from best selling
> author Nick Daws shows how to do it in UNDER
> 28 days, in less than ONE HOUR a day.

But... but... NaNoWriMo taught me how to do that for free!

#110 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:21 PM:

To my vast entertainment, I recieved the following rather apropos spam [snipped to a few lines] today:

www.poetryrevivalcontest.com

Win over $30,000 in Prizes!
Dream Street Foundation Needs Your Help!!
Enter your writings to win:
^? A One Week Trip for Two to a major European City.
^? Over $30,000 in prizes and the opportunity to have your poetry
published in a hard bound, library quality book!!

www.poetryrevivalcontest.com

In addition to your entry to the contest, the first 500 entrants will receive
these additional bonuses valued at $2,690 that include:

1. A 90 minute Teleclass on Success and Wealth Building valued at $99.00.
2. Two free tickets to the ^?Create a Millionaire Mind^?, 3 Day Life
Changing Intensive seminar valued at $1,295 per person.

It goes on and gets worse from there.

#111 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:28 PM:

S. Mitchell wrote:

> CafePress has kindly set up operations as a POD

What's the print quality and base price like? I occasionally think about producing a computer book with a very limited audience as a POD book, just as a - well, a vanity project basically - but without the starry eyed delusion that goes with actual Vanity Presses.

#112 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:43 PM:

"Dream Street Foundation Needs Your Help!"

One wonders (well, one doesn't, but one phrases it thus) exactly what they need "help" with? Most of the foundations I'm familiar with are not having a great deal of difficulty in handing money out. But then, the cons don't change, just the patter.

If you actually want to be locked in a room and lectured to, there are folks all over Las Vegas (and other cities) who will harangue you over timeshares without requiring that you hand over one lousy anapest. Most of them will actually give you something (dinner, show tickets, cheap luggage) in return. The question is how much boredom the "reward" is worth to you. (My suspicion of the Vegas version is that the takers have just blown the last of their disposable cash splitting fours against a dealer ace, and they want to take home -something- like winnings.)

#113 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:52 PM:

Patrick says:
"At Tor, we actually look at unsolicited submissions (albeit at a glacial pace)."

Seven years ago, the submission I sent to Tor was back in my mailbox exactly a week after I mailed it. That's not a glacier; that's lightning! I've always fantasized that the too-quick rejection was because one of my hairs got stuck under the tape I used to affix the address to the envelope, making the whole thing look unprofessional. I've always wondered, though, what the likeliest explanation was: a) Tor wasn't buying at all that week, b) a first reader was completely unmoved by my cover letter and therefore did not proceed further, or c) somebody actually read the first chapter or so and decided it wasn't right for Tor. No recriminations here, just curiosity!

Re the self-publishing vs. vanity publishing discussion, I'm a little shaky on where the demarcation is. Was Xlibris a vanity publisher? Is iUniverse? Is the "vanity" moniker mostly reserved for companies that fleece, or is it simply any PoD or money-flows-from-author scheme, regardless of the overall ethics of the outfit?

Thanks for this blog site and Patrick's. I'm finding them both entertaining and educational, albeit not necessarily all that encouraging!

#114 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:55 PM:

Steve, John Scalzi recently printed a couple of pieces of his on CafePress; he might be a useful person to ask.

#115 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean Durocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 09:56 PM:

Heading north on I5, to get to Hugo (Oregon) you must pass through Talent (Oregon).

#116 ::: JeanOG ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 10:30 PM:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned IBM's television commercial promoting their POD technology. "Now, everyone can be published."

#117 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 10:34 PM:

Karen, there's
a nice post by my favourite landshark
(hope that url works) on his blog, date 30 July 2003, which explains his view of how to draw the line. In plain English, not lawyerese. :-)

#118 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 10:36 PM:

A couple of random thoughts....

James Nicoll commented, muchly upstream, about review copies and the limitations they claim on what one can do with them. In the US, I'd think that most of them would fall under the regulations that say that anything sent to you via the Post Office without your request is legally a gift (which ought to mean you can toss it out, sell it, whatever). I'm not sure of the details, though, or whether similar regulations apply in Canada.

On Claude Muncey's comment about the lack of market for paper documentation: I wonder if some part of that is due to the arrival of literal desktop publishing. I have a number of paper software manuals on my shelves, many of which were printed (from PDF on-disk manuals) on the office laser printer and taken up to the copy shop for a tape binding -- with a net cost probably less than what the shipping costs would be were I to buy something similar.

#119 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:45 PM:

That friggin' IBM commercial. It's been extensively commented on (just not here) as a piece of harmful twaddle. They're trying to sell their darned machines, not tell the truth about publishing.

#120 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 11:47 PM:

Thanks for the link, Julia. (How does one enter a link into these comment thingies?) I found the decision chart confusing, but other than that the posting was helpful. I've added the site to the growing list of links on my own journal.

#121 ::: S. Mitchell ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:25 AM:

Steve- I thought the quality was actually quite good; I got a standard trade paperback, and while the cover isn't as heavy a cardboard, the printing and interior pages were very nice- good heavy paper, and very clear typesetting. That's only for the 5X8 paperbacks; they also offer spiral bindings and another kind of binding that I don't remember right off the top of my head, but which might be more applicable to what you're trying to print.

The only bad thing about it was fighting with Adobe Acrobat to get the PDF file both proportioned correctly, and with the fonts embedded- if you fail to get the fonts embedded, you can't even upload the file.

They charge by the page so a 326-odd page paperback cost me 15 dollars (plus shipping, which put it at around 19 dollars.) I thought it was really a very good deal for what little it cost.

#122 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:33 AM:

S. Mitchell wrote:

> Steve- I thought the quality was actually quite good;

Thanks for that, and also to mark for the pointer to John Scalzi. Since my main objectives would be no money up front and minimal hassle, they sound good.

#123 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:56 AM:

Graydon--

I believe there have in fact been numerous self-published works of fiction that have been "successful"--and that's not counting established authors such as Mark Twain (who went bankrupt with his self-publishing venture, but that's another story).

First of all, let's define 'successful." If an author sells enough copies of his/her book to cover costs and make a modest profit--i.e., by Jim Macdonald's definition, to have money flow to the author, even if it's a relatively small amount--I would count that as "successful." And of course a self-published book could possibly sell fewer copies than a book published by a larger publisher and achieve that, depending on the setup costs.

Second, I think that if a self-published book is picked up by a major publisher after some initial self-published sales, we must count it a success. It's the self-publishing's relative success that contributed to its being noticed by the larger publisher.

In fact, self-published fiction is occasionally picked up by larger publishers. Usually it gets a thorough editing (but then, so do most manuscripts, and it's essentially a manuscript).

If I remember the details correctly, one such book sold well locally because its author was well-known in his community. He had worked at the public school in his town for many years, and virtually everyone in the town knew and loved him. So when he wrote and self-published a novel, he had a ready-made audience. From there its fan base grew.

I think this is an uncommon but viable strategy for self-publishing. If someone is a "public person"--anyone known by hundreds of people in a community, whether through business, church, the educational system, the Internet, etc. or just for some eccentricity (the Unabomber, were he permitted to, could self-publish)--they could conceivably self-publish.

How to use Power Editing to edit your entire book in under one hour

Will someone please fill me in on how this works? I'm a bit behind with my freelance work, and this would be just the thing to help me catch up. (I suspect it involves spell check + those little green squiggly lines MS word puts under your sentences if they have too many clauses.)

#124 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:23 AM:

Karen, there's another version of the "how to tell if it's self-publishing or vanity" algorithm at the Rumor Mill, in the POD topic. I'm not sure how to link to an individual post after the Great Upheaval, but this should be the right page, at least for the moment. Scroll down to message 69944 by John Savage.

The bit about copyright registration being one of the costs that must be considered when determining if money is flowing away from the author is why I was mumbling in the earlier thread about whether it's reasonable for an ebook publisher who isn't getting exclusive rights to ask the author to pay that. There is a good reason why that should normally be considered a sign of a vanity press.

You put in urls the same way you would on a webpage, by using the a href HTML tag.

#125 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 05:50 AM:

An obvious example of a self-publishing success in fiction (for that value of "success" that includes "turning into a misanthropic religious loony from 25 years' accumulated stress") would be Dave Sim. But maybe comix doesn't count as fiction, for reasons of their even-more-bizarre-than-regular-publishing distribution & creator's rights issues.

#126 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 05:52 AM:

In today's mail came Sean Stewart's new novel, Perfect Circle, from Small Beer Press. I can't help wondering why this one is from a small press when the rest of it was from Ace. (Although when looking up on Amazon which publisher it was, I noticed that most of his backlist is described as "Out of print -- limited availability" which is a great pity if true. The only exception is Nobody's Son which has the advantage of having been repackageable as YA.)

#127 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 07:13 AM:

Comics is an unusual case, because the primary comic publishers (Marvel and DC) are very different from book publishers. The Big Two are primarily in the business of promoting their corporate-owned characters and developing their IP, so they have no real interest in publishing something that doesn't belong to them. Try and sell Marvel on a cool new idea for a comic, and they'll tell you to pitch it as a Spider Man story, and if they accept it they'll pay you a flat rate for it.

So if you have an idea for a comic that is outside of the established superhero tropes, and/or you hope to retain ownership of your characters and story (either for aesthetic reasons, or because you want to cash in on the movie deals and merchandising), self-publishing is probably your best bet. CEREBUS is the most famous example, but there are also ELFQUEST, BONE, and the various books that launched Image Comics back in the day.

Comics also has its own range of small- and medium- presses (like Oni and Fantagraphics and so on) that each have their own policies on creator-ownership. Some are pure publishing houses, some are mini-Marvel IP-aggregation factories

The "gaming" industry works much the same way - if you've got an idea for a roleplaying game or a miniatures game or something like that, pretty much the only way it's ever going to see print is if you form your own company and publish it yourself.

#128 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 07:37 AM:

Dan, I think it's possible to get a little more sophisticated about tracking used book prices. Frex, do even the ratty copies and non-first editions go for high prices? Are there sad little voices in the newsgroups asking when the book will be reprinted? You probably can't automate the process but if you've got human beings telling you about over-priced used books, that makes keeping up a lot easier, and if you're a publisher, you should know some book junkies.

I speak as a pleased owner of a $15 library copy of _Bullard of the Space Patrol_--non-library copies in mediocre condition were going for about $100. I just checked at bookfinder--there are a lot more copies available now, but the price and condition situation hasn't changed all that much.

How is the reprint of Pamela Dean's _Whim of the Dragon_ series doing?

James, good point about self-published gems being more likely in genres that have no legitmate market. I'm also reminded of a previous discussion in which it developed that self-publication is more likely to be respectable in media (comics, popular music) where the publishers are corrupt.

Graydon, in re "fiction only succeeds if it reaches a wide audience": Where does that leave _Moonwise_? Imho, it's only likely to be appreciated by people who can enjoy vivid writing with a dream-logic plot and who have a substantial background in fantasy and/or poetry. In other words, it's got an awfully small audience, but imho, it succeeded rather well for me and for a few other people.

Randall (and probably quite a few others): I'll put in a good word for _The Courage to Write_ by Ralph Keyes. The first half of the book is about the level of fear endured by writers, and how it frequently doesn't get any better, even for successful writers. The second half is about how to keep on writing anyway.

Emily: You'd probably like _Stargate_ by Pauline Gedge. It's about the Fall of a bunch of angels of invented planets. It's out of print, but there are a bunch of copies at reasonable prices at bookfinder.

#129 ::: Jen ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 08:15 AM:

Nancy:

I once sold a really ratty paperback copy of the US edition of Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett for $20 on ebay (before it was reprinted, I guess.) It wasn't even the first printing of the paperback. I was... amused. So it does happen.

#130 ::: Jen ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 08:26 AM:

James D. Macdonald wrote:

For our other fans, another copy of that book turned up in Australia going for $139.60 USD. (Hey, smart publishers, this is the Bad Blood series. Rights available, and a fourth (unwritten) book all plotted out and ready to sweeten the deal.)

Um. The paperbacks are going for that much? Oh my. You know... I read a story set in that series in an anthology years ago. I emailed Ms. Doyle and asked her if there were any other books in that series or maybe it was that they were being listed as out of print and I wanted to know if they would be available anywhere. She emailed back to tell me that a bookstore near her house (iirc) had the first two books, so I called the bookstore and had them mailed to my house. I'm not sure if I picked up the third book later, or what... I'll have to see if I have it. Obviously I should have bought more copies. :)

I loved those books. Still do.

Jen

#131 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 08:31 AM:

Nancy: Pamela Dean has reported that: "Sharyn tells me that the Firebird edition of The Secret Country is going back to press, and that if it keeps selling at this rate, will outsell the original edition."

#132 ::: JeanOG ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:21 AM:

That friggin' IBM commercial. It's been extensively commented on (just not here) as a piece of harmful twaddle. They're trying to sell their darned machines, not tell the truth about publishing.

I keep wanting to send them a copy of Eric Flint's introduction to the Baen Free Library, where he makes the case that the bottleneck is editing, not printing costs.

#133 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:27 AM:

Robert L --

In what other profession would you regard a bar well below 'can make a living doing this' as a success?

(Twain's self publishing was in another age; all the same, he didn't regard it as a success, and I wouldn't regard a venture which goes bankrupt as a success, either.)

There is the question of success as a writer -- which is, minimally, being able to make a living doing it. That means 'income sufficient for your needs and to provide against your old age' more than it means 'stave off starvation'.

There is the question of 'does this work succeed for this particular reader' -- success as art for that particular reader.

There is the question of success for the work of art; has it reached a wide audience, succeeded as art for a large portion of them, influenced other artists, and become part of the general cultural furniture of the cultural group(s) which compose its audience?

So I think that while getting the work into print is a good first step, it doesn't constitute success; it's an opportunity for success, because that way lots of people might decided to buy it.

This is just like you don't know if your musical production is a success until after you've seen who shows up to see it; you've got to put it on, stage it, rehearse, pay the cast, orchestra, libretist, etc. to have that chance of success. Similarly, while a book has to see print to have a chance of succes, print itself, like being staged itself, isn't a measure of success.

Nancy --

I think Moonwise is sometimes succeeds as art for individual readers. Success for it, as a book, has not been observed to occur.

#134 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:46 AM:
The "gaming" industry works much the same way - if you've got an idea for a roleplaying game or a miniatures game or something like that, pretty much the only way it's ever going to see print is if you form your own company and publish it yourself.

There is some truth to that, in that there are a limited number of companies publishing those specific types of games who are able and willing to publish outside work, but there are such companies. For some other types of games, the vast majority of titles are published by people other than the creators.

#135 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:48 AM:

"There is the question of success as a writer -- which is, minimally, being able to make a living doing it."

I have a problem with taking the broad word "success" and limiting its meanings to only the economic.

I'm not gainsaying the value of making a living, I'm objecting to the narrowing of a particular word.

#136 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:55 AM:
Dan, I think it's possible to get a little more sophisticated about tracking used book prices. Frex, do even the ratty copies and non-first editions go for high prices? Are there sad little voices in the newsgroups asking when the book will be reprinted? You probably can't automate the process but if you've got human beings telling you about over-priced used books, that makes keeping up a lot easier, and if you're a publisher, you should know some book junkies.

As I noted (somewhere) I took your original question a bit too literally. To me "tracking" means something fairly automated and raw-data-oriented, such as grabbing prices from online selling systems. Certainly if enough readers make it clear they need copies of something, there's a market - but I think the only way you can tell that is by doing what Teresa did with To Reign in Hell, which seems like more of an ad hoc thing to me.

As a little experiment I looked up asking prices of two books that I knew had historically commanded high prices as paperback originals, just to make sure that was still true (it was, assuming the sellers will actually get their asking prices), then looked up the books in question on Amazon. The comments for them were, shall we say, rather different in nature. One might be a reprint candidate but I can't see the other as one, even if there weren't rights issues involved.

#137 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:17 AM:

Success as art: what about theatre? By defintion it's only going to work for the people who see it, but it's still art. I suppose it would be possible to argue that if a play is revived and done again it's lasting and reaching more people, that Shakespeare is art and Wilde may be, and it's too early to tell about most plays... but I think it's art even the first time. So is live music.

As for writing a book in a month, I was feeling all superior, having written one in three weeks -- and my hands are almost like hands again, thank you. Then I saw they did it in one hour a day, which I didn't believe was humanly possible until I did the math -- a standard 93000 word novel would be 3100 words a day, which is less than sixty words a minute. I can type that fast. I can't type original fiction that fast, but that, I suppose, is my failing, which would be cured if I were to apply their methods. Run away! Run away! Or, to quote Gorey "How does one become a spy?"

#138 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:19 AM:

Patrick --

I mean the 'minimally'.

I think it's like any other trade -- a successful engineer is someone who can make a living at it. They may not design a landmark building, or produce significant efficiency improvements in turbine power plants, or something like that, but their customers, the folks who have the most immediate need to judge the merit of their work, will keep paying for it. It's better to design the landmark bridge, or the better mousetrap, or the more efficient concrete forming techniques, but it's enough to do the job.

Artistic success, the cultural kind, is a creature of long spans of time; there isn't any way to tell in the present if something that's popular now -- or obscure now! -- is going to inspire other artists or having lasting effects. (CBC Radio 2 has a weekly series, "In the Shadows", about composers who couldn't necessarily have been told from their contemporaries (of whom we have all heard) while they were alive. They've been running it for a couple-three years now, and are showing no signs of running out of such composers.)

Artistic success, the individual kind, is such an unpredictable creature, that I don't know of anything sensible which can said about it. I've certainly had enough experiences with people reading a book rather different from the one I thought I wrote, and having it work just splendidly for them as art -- it caused an emotional response they were pleased to have -- that I think it might be very much like the bits of EM physics where the general case is understood and straightforward, and the specific cases horribly complicated and difficult.

These are all (as I see it) independent measures of success; I'm really not sure they're meaningfully correlated, or at least not in any way that can be got at.

Certainly it is possible to have a work be an artistic success without any economic success accruing to the writer; I'm not sure that counts as a success for the writer, and I think perhaps one would need to ask the particular writer what they thought.

#139 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:23 AM:

Jo --

I think there's personal art -- which is measured by some one person's experience of it as art -- and there's cultural art, which is where the play you saw last week, presuming it obscure, and Shakespeare are distinct.

#140 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:44 AM:

Here's something that doesn't often get considered by those people who think they'll publish with a vanity press, promote the book themselves, and use that success to broker a deal with a traditional publisher:

A friend of mine decided (against my recommendations) to publish her nonfiction book with iUniverse. After wearing herself out for a year promoting her book (and not being able to write the second because of the promotional work she was doing on the first), she *actually did* sell enough copies to be able to go to New Leaf Distributing and get them interested in carrying the book. Then the deal fell through because iUniverse doesn't discount books to distributers. This makes iUniverse and the author herself the only sources for the book.

#141 ::: James Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:00 PM:

I can think of at least two examples of successful self-publishing, one print and one comic, both F&SF related. Dave Sim, for all his little foibles, managed to make a living selling _Cerebus the Aardvark_ for the 300 issues he planned, and Jim Munroe decided to switch to self-publishing after whichever on it was of his books [Flyboy, maybe] came out from HarperFlamingo [1]. I think Munroe sells to a US small press to get distribution down south but up here he prints his own books (and only his own books) and can be found in the main-stream sections of the Chapters/Indigo/Coles behemoth.

For non-Canucks, bookselling is virtually a monopoly affair up here. Surprisingly, in many ways this has not worked out as well as the example of The Phone Company or The Power Company might have led one to expect, due to peculiar social conventions amongst Canadian corporations.

1: What do Flamingoes and Canadians have to with each other? Is Harper supporting the tradtionally [2] accepted Canadian claim to Florida?

2: Dating back as far as 3 June 2004, 11:57 am.

#142 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:04 PM:

On the "occasional" nature of picking up self-published books for traditional publication: I'd be interested in any informed opinions about some of the recent high-profile examples like Eragon and Shadowmancer, and whether their anomalous success might contribute to any slow erosion in the status quo.

(I.e.: "Well, that was easy! Why bother with slush at all, when we can rely on authors to sell their own butts off and eventually show up on our radar?")

I don't know if that's likely to happen or not. It just seemed odd to me that there appear to me multiple blockbuster examples of this phenomenon at once, and I worry both about author morale and about what ammunition this will give to the publishing predators.

#143 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:10 PM:

James Nicoll wrote:

and Jim Munroe decided to switch to self-publishing after whichever on it was of his books [Flyboy, maybe] came out from HarperFlamingo [1].

Yes, it was Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gas Mask that got Munroe so torqued at HarperCollins. Great book, BTW. Looks like he's got the rights back and is now giving it away, so I can recommend it with vigor.

#144 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:23 PM:

I said, "Can we see whether the rights are available for Steve Brust's To Reign in Hell?"

Teresa, I just wanted to say:

THANK YOU!!

'To Reign in Hell' was one of Steven Brust's books that I could NOT find anywhere, and I was delighted when I was able to find it new a few years ago.

Except, of course, that now I have loaned it to someone and can't remember who. (sigh)

#145 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 12:56 PM:

I found Moonwise in a used-bookstore for about $5 and it was worth it just for that one sentence about the labyrinth. Mmm.

Meanwhile, I was vexed to discover that Doyle & MacDonald's Mageworlds (first book in mage-space-opera?) was not orderable through the local B&N, and Amazon.com tells me it is out-of-print, which effectively locks out the rest of the series for me. (I've read series out of order in the past, but I hate doing it.) Library doesn't have it. And I'm tempted to find a used copy online, but I am resisting that route mightily because hard-won experience tells me that once I (re)start ordering used books online, it'll never end, and we're on a Budget. Physical bookstores are better for the Budget because my husband comes with and restrains me from doing anything Foolish. (Like $48 for Creasey's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World in that used bookstore. I almost died on the spot with unrequited desire.)

Really, this is why I'm starting to dislike series: it is easier to find a first book in series here than in South Korea (in English, at any rate), but it's not always as easy as I'd like.

Anyway, I'll keep scouring the used bookstores. Occasionally I do get lucky. :-) And occasionally nice people like Meisha Merlin make it possible for me to afford things like P.C. Hodgell's Seeker's Mask, despite their generally uninspired cover art...

#146 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:00 PM:

Oh, and one more thing before I shut up, to PNH and Laura Mixon: Burning the Ice burble burble happy* stayed up past midnight burble glow thank you purr.

* I mean, some parts made me cry, but it's the good-book sort of happy.

#147 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:11 PM:

But self-publishing in comics is easy, or was a couple of decades ago when I and some friends did it. At least compared to books.

The way comics distribution worked (not saying it still works that way), we had to make contact with fewer than 20 individuals to have our comic carried by most major distributors in the US and Canada (which meant it got into most comic book stores). There were not great corporate barriers between us and said individuals; in most cases, we did not know them and merely sent them a package of information in the mail. Our comic was then listed as available for sale and in due time we received orders. We had to get an ISSN (not difficult or expensive).

We admittedly found our printer through a "connection," but had a backup in case the connection didn't work out. We drop-shipped to the distributors from the printer, except for a few small orders which we filled by hand, and only had to find storage space for the overage, which wasn't all that much.

That the comic lasted only one issue had nothing to do with economics or any difficulties in distribution or sales. Creative differences was our bugaboo.

Anyway, speaking entirely personally and assuming that the world hasn't changed all that much, I'd do that again long before I'd try to self-publish a book. I know enough about book distribution to know that the success we had with the comic (I don't remember the exact number we sold but it was nice) could not be replicated with a book, at least not with the same relative ease.

#148 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:21 PM:

Success is a float, not a boolean. Otherwise there'd be some number x such that selling x copies meant success and selling x-1 copies meant failure.

#149 ::: Contrary Mary ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:35 PM:

I think the measure of artistic success as "making a living at it" is a terrible one.

I worked on a friend's documentary video a few years back. One of the women artists we interviewed insisted that we include the various hodgepodge of jobs she did to earn the money she lived on. She railed against the unfairness of "artists" who pranced through interviews, urging others to live the creative life, belittling those who worked for a living, while not revealing the trust funds, wealthy spouses, insurance settlements, etc. that allowed them to "live for their art."

Part of how these vanity presses succeed is because of the gulf between your local creative writing class and the publishing industry. Author's earnings are kept secret (to help maintain the illusion that they are doing this entirely for love, not money), therefore, the path towards becoming a professional writer seems strange and impossible. Publication becomes the barrier and goal, not writing work that connects with an audience.

All that said, I think I will use the CafePress option to run off reading copies of my mystery when it is done. Offering voracious readers a typeset and bound book (with questionnaire) seems less of an imposition.

#150 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:37 PM:
Meanwhile, I was vexed to discover that Doyle & MacDonald's Mageworlds (first book in mage-space-opera?) was not orderable through the local B&N, and Amazon.com tells me it is out-of-print, which effectively locks out the rest of the series for me. (I've read series out of order in the past, but I hate doing it.) Library doesn't have it. And I'm tempted to find a used copy online, but I am resisting that route mightily because hard-won experience tells me that once I (re)start ordering used books online, it'll never end, and we're on a Budget. Physical bookstores are better for the Budget because my husband comes with and restrains me from doing anything Foolish. (Like $48 for Creasey's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World in that used bookstore. I almost died on the spot with unrequited desire.)

I feel compelled to point out that if you order online, you can get a copy of the Creasey book for $5 or so for a used hardcover (possibly a bit more if you want a jacket on it, I didn't look that hard). It's even available new in paperback for $14 or thereabouts.

Mageworlds, I can't help you with.

#151 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:40 PM:

I tell a lie, I couldn't find any Mageworlds books through Bookfinder (probably because of title/subtitle issues), but Amazon has a gazillion used copies of the first book listed, cheap.

Maybe you could have your husband do the used-book ordering.

#152 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 01:47 PM:

Dan Blum: Thanks! Will consider the Creasey someday if I'm very very good. Ditto Mageworlds. See, there's a slippery slope involved here. Must maintain husband as gatekeeper preventing Yoon from going into all-out acquisitions mode. ^_^

Must be very very good and clear out current reading backlog before I can get more books...

#153 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 03:00 PM:

Contrary Mary writes:
I think the measure of artistic success as "making a living at it" is a terrible one.

Sure. But we're talking about success at self-publishing, and while writing is an art, publishing is definitely a business (which happens to incorporate a lot of art into it).

I feel reasonable successful in the art; the book that went out to beta readers had a lot of good comments along with the criticisms and two beta-readers are pestering me for the sequel (which I really need to edit Real Soon Now), and while none of my stories have been accepted for publication I've gotten some good critiques and personalized rejections. I may not be as artistically successful as I'd like to be, but I'm getting there.

But in terms of publishing success, I have (virtually) none. I've made a whopping $33 for my non-fiction writing (and I haven't even "made" it yet; I gotta send back some forms first) and that's not even enough to buy groceries these days.

I think people are confounding the two goals/standards to some degree.

#154 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 03:16 PM:

Teresa: Thank you!!! What are the odds you could do something similar with _Brokedown Palace_?

Yoon: I'm almost positive that I've got the first Mageworlds, which I will lend--LEND!--to you. Email me at my non-mac address.

#155 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 04:16 PM:

"These people depress me. They're like vampires, feeding off dreams."

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

Duet between Todd James Pierce and Melanie Mills, iirc.

#156 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 05:51 PM:

I have a sticky situation to hand.

A dear friend from college (lo, these 20 years past) has just reconnected with me, and wanted to share her joy at being published (not once, but five times) with what she describes as a "small publisher."

Turns out she was sucked into the void that is known as Publish America.

Donna is dear to me. But how, how can I break it to her that she was suckered? That she is not going to be able to take these books and get a great agent (her next big goal)? That these books are not going to be reprinted by a "big" publisher? (She clearly never read the small print at Publish America.)

She thinks she has sold hundreds (thousands!) of copies, based on the "ranking" P.A. has told her she has. (Where is this ranking? I have no idea.) She thinks she is a best-selling author.

She has convinced other friends of ours that she is a best-selling romance author. They all now think that P.A. is a real small press. God. I don't want to be the bearer of bad tidings; besides, they would probably tell me that I was wrong and that I'm just jealous of Donna's accomplishments. (I wish she was accomplished as a published writer! I would dance with joy!)

I don't know if I should say anything at all. Perhaps I should just congratulate her and say nothing else. But I'm having a hard time keeping quiet.

What to do?

#157 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 08:14 PM:

wrt some comments way before this one -- Kalamazoo is also the unlikeliest place in North America in which you will find a towerful of change-ringing bells.

#158 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:12 PM:

CHip: Oh, I dunno. Any place that hosts the largest medieval-studies conference in North America, if not the world, must be allowed its eccentricities.

#159 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 09:51 PM:

On Nancy's question: I'd be interested, too, in what the proper etiquette is. I was at the local Media Play this weekend and was surprised to see an author signing there. Just inside the front door, folding table, handlettered sign. I chatted for a minute or so, and the author, a very nice lady, said this was the way she had to "prove herself" to get them to carry her trilogy of charming memoirs of Southern life. I looked at the back of one of the books, saw Publish America, and was less confused.

I smiled and wished her luck, and went on with my shopping. But it stuck in my mind. Should I have said something? She thought she was doing a good thing, after all. From a perspective outside her head or mine, would telling her otherwise have been considered sincerely helpful or just intrusive and rude?

#160 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:22 PM:

As TNH and Jim will attest, I've been helping "fight" against scams for a long time, and it almost seems as if keeping my mouth shut about Publish America, when a friend was taken in by their scam, is akin to condoning their behavior (P.A.'s, not my friend's).

#161 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:41 PM:

Nancy, how about sowing doubt? You know, mention casually that you heard P.A. is a scam, and "you might want to check it out." That approach may avoid a defensive reaction.

#162 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2004, 10:52 PM:

That's probably about the best you can do. And be prepared to run like heck, because chances are that given a choice between facing the ugly truth and shooting the messenger...

Is Moonwise back in print?

I think it's like any other trade -- a successful engineer is someone who can make a living at it.

Again, it's how you define success. The open-source programmer types rarely make a living from what they do, but they consider things like reputation and neat coding to be "success". Day jobs are for paying your bills.

#163 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 12:15 AM:

Mythago --

Many of the active Open Source programmers are paid to do it; certainly the core kernel and compiler guys are, and the trend is toward being able to do Open Source as your day job.

And yes, there is a gift economy there, and it's important, and the risk management strategy involved works really really well for a class of problem where the difficulty is the shortage of genius suitable to the complexity to be managed.

Getting someone to have an emotional reaction using words isn't that class of problem.

#164 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 01:53 AM:

Graydon -

I find that I frequently have an emotional response to the words involved with Open Source[0], whether it's the remarkable productions that some projects describe as "documentation" - or trying to read the source code.

IMHO, one of the greatest gifts that could be made to many open source projects is one [or more] folk that are capable of writing technical documentation. I'd definitely get emotional about that[1].

[0] Not that closed source projects can't be just as annoying, or that all open source projects have this issue.
[1] But admit that I'm not about to step up to the plate. It's much more fun/sexy to write code...

#165 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:04 AM:

Randall: Hey, don't worry about it; we all feel dumb sometimes. And as a former Okie myself, I've already forged that trail for you.

P&T: Every time you start moaning about the glacial pace of slush at Tor, I have the urge to volunteer to do it for free. Then I remember I live on the other side of the country.

MKK

#166 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:37 AM:

I've tried telling a Publish America author that she was taking a dubious approach--it didn't go over well. (I wasn't especially blunt about it.) I pointed her here and at rec.arts.sf.composition--maybe it'll do some good in the long run.

Publish America does somewhat to get a sense of community among their authors--a clever strategy in the medium run, but which could blow up in their faces if there's ever a consensus that Publish America is a bad deal.

#167 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:27 AM:

Xeger --

As a general thumb rule, good documentation costs as much as the good code it documents. Open Source projects and closed source projects and every other sort of software project are generally unwilling to admit this, which is much of why I've spent most of the last three years in a terrifically precarious economic situation.

Which is not to say that I wouldn't be happy to contribute to a documentation effort; I would be. But I do need to know where I'm living next month before I worry about the gift economy.

#168 ::: Don MacDonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:28 AM:

I have a question more related to the "on the getting of agents" post. I have recently sold my first book, a graphic novel. A contract is making its way to me as we speak. My question: how does one find an agent? By that I mean I have no idea what these people's names are, never mind whether they are "real" or scam artists. According to the advice in the "agents" post, I am in a good position to get one, but I don't know where to start. Any tips?

#169 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Write to other writers who have published graphic novels. Ask them who their agents are. Don't ask for an introduction, or a recommendation, just the name.

#170 ::: JeanOG ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 12:35 PM:

Jo-

Most "book in a month" strategies I've seen involve speech-to-text software. 50+ WPM is a little much to expect of the average computer user.

#171 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 03:46 PM:

Graydon -

I empathize. I'm firmly of the opinion that a good tech writer is worth their weight in Rhodium.

I know that OSS programmers find having an OSS project on their resume helpful - is it any use for writing?

#172 ::: Henry Wessells ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:27 PM:

Self-publishing has an entirely legitimate and necessary place in American literature: the aim of the author to ensure that the work 1) is published in the intended form and 2) reaches the intended audience, while 3) allowing the author to retain control of design and production processes.
There are also some notable precedents:
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, [Paris], 1782 [i.e., 1784]. 200 copies printed. Recent retail price approx. $375,000 (fine copy with presentation inscription).
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, [Brooklyn], 1855. 500 copies in first binding. Recent price at auction $187,200 (fine copy).

To contribute personal experience to this thread:
Until June of last year (2003) I had been discussing a book project with the prime mover of an ambitious small press imprint (to whom I was referred by a sensible professional editor). When, after some weeks of indecision, he reported, I like your book but cannot publish it until 2006, I understood that I could produce the book more quickly, remain closer to my authorial intent, retain control of the design of the book, break even, and make a modest surplus. Another professional editor (equally sensible) said, you won't sell lots of copies.
I calculated a print run I thought viable, enlisted the assistance of a professional designer to accomplish nuts and bolts typesetting goals beyond my own skills, used a top-notch printer, found a hand binder for the fifteen special copies and a short-run binder for the two hundred copies in cloth. Uncorrected proofs of Another green world were distributed at World Fantasy Convention in October.
The book was published as announced in late December 2003 (physcially in the hands of subscribers and recipients of presentation copies); clothbound books were shipped to fill orders about five weeks later. With a little work I expect to be out-of-print before the first review appears.
The aims of the author were fulfilled through the timely appearance of the book. The amount of net profit is about what one might have expected to receive as an advance against royalties from a generous small press publisher (perhaps a little more when one or two deadbeats pay up -- but that is the publisher's concern).

#173 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:26 PM:

Graydon, as a software project manager I learned that including a competent techwriter on a team significantly increases chances of success, especially if the total project effort is beyond maybe 6 man-months. In my opinion that contribution is ususally far greater than the cost of the tech writer. But for all the usual reasons, it was always difficult to get the budget for one -- and don't even think of trying to hire someone full time.

Sigh. You have my sympathies and best wishes.

#174 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:55 PM:

Henry, but how can people get your book or hear about your book other than through you? Can they walk into a chain bookstore (say, B&N) and find it on the shelf as a "Oh, that book looks interesting" discovery? That's one downside of self-publishing.

I've produced (designed, typeset, prepress) some niche books that self-published quite nicely: for instance, the author who had a small niche he sold to directly (his national tour speaker gig: "And my book is for sale in the back of the auditorium!"), and he, like you, knew what he wanted and was able to maintain authorial control. I also found he, as with many authors, actually did need some line- and copy-editing, but he refused it. Not my problem; the bad grammar, misspellings, and errors of content is blamed on him by the reader. The name on the book is his, not mine.

Again, upsides and downsides of complete authorial control.

I know, as a professional author of nonfiction, that I absolutely cannot copyedit and proofread my own work. I can't check my own spelling, and often I miss easy, clear content errors. No author can see his/her own mistakes. Not all of them. That's why we let others, professional editors and copyeditors, work on our creations. Inhouse editors are there to help you, not to hinder you.

Just needed to rant about that. TNH has heard this rant many times from me, I know. :)

#175 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 01:51 AM:

Oh, for God's sake.

Nobody here has EVER said that self-publishing is automatically a swindle -- indeed, the uses of it have been quite extensively covered -- yet folks keep showing up with "counterexamples" . . . none of which ever turn out to have been printed by PublishAmerica, Exposition Press, or any of the other simulated publishers.

And comparing the price appreciation of a very limited-run work by an extremely famous person, over two hundred years after the fact, to the possible success of an amateur fantasy trilogy that has never passed an actual editor is so completely irrelevant to the issue as to be somewhere out beyond nonsense. Gutenberg Bibles are not primarily valued for their literary merit.

#176 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 02:17 AM:

Henry: your case complies with Yog's Law (qv -- see also the above discussion about being both Author and Publisher), so it's not a counterexample. Publish America and their ilk do not; the numbers I've seen suggest that a relatively lucky author may only be out low hundreds of dollars.

#177 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 03:22 AM:

Aside from any of which, it's disingenuous to bring up examples from a time when publishing and book distribution were entirely different beasts. The difference between mid-19th-century and early 21st is so vast as to be two entirely different businesses. You might as well say that since pioneer families were able to hunt and farm most of their own food, so should your typical modern-day city dweller.

And beyond that... Thomas Jefferson no longer cares what his books go for. Big whoop, his books go for hundreds of thousands now and he self-published! Great, so when I'm 200 years dead I can expect to make a lot of money if I self-publish, is that it? That'll be a great comfort to my remains.

#178 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 07:52 AM:

(Bryan, I prefer the Kirsty McColl and Shane McGowan version of that particular song....

The boys of the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay, and the bells were ringing out for Christmas day....)

#179 ::: Henry Wessells ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 07:48 PM:

Self properly chastised for including current market indicators as well as the titles of self-published books of acknowledged or enduring literary merit. Publisher grumbling at author for ill-advised candor akin to opening a vein while swimming in a shark tank. Self concedes rashness, will try to restrain impulsiveness (ultimately will not be able to do so).

#180 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 05:13 AM:

"Oh, for God's sake....................
.......................................
.......................................
..........Gutenberg Bibles are not primarily valued for their literary merit."

#181 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 06:28 AM:

And please keep mentioning small (but legitimate) publishers.

Jack Chalker's Mirage Press has put out some small-run but high-quality (archival-grade acid-free paper, etc.) books on SF/fannish topics.   Some ended up getting wider distribution from other publishers as a result.   Robert Foster's A Guide to Middle-Earth started as Foster's own index-card notations, got published by Mirage in 1971 (a run of only 750 copies), then got republished by Ballantine in expanded paperback versions, including The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth.   I believe it's done quite well.

(Incidentally, when Mirage Press publishes one of Jack's own books, does that count as "self-publishing"?   Or is that term inapplicable because Mirage publishes so many other authors' books too?)

Similar comments as above, for August Derleth and Arkham House, which holds a special place in the hearts of H.P. Lovecraft fans.

Upon moving to Wisconsin, one of my first cross-state trips was a pilgrimage to Sauk City to visit Arkham House — a tiny, tiny building, smaller than some print/copy shops I've seen.   Well, it doesn't take a skyscraper, or even a grand suite of offices, to print and distribute works of beauty.

All praise (and enough income) to the small publishers, without which so much good writing might never have been seen outside the authors' own circles of friends.

Hey, Gutenberg wasn't a mega-corp, either.

#182 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 06:37 AM:

(I should add that August Derleth himself died in 1971, but Arkham House continues.)

#183 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 07:10 AM:

Oh, for heaven's sake, Henry.

No one's said there's a thing wrong with self-publishing. No one's said there's a thing wrong with small-press publishing.

It's just that your personal story is irrelevant to the discussion in progress since what you did was self-publish, not go through a scammer.

And even if you had gone through a vanity press or a scammer ... no one's said that an individual work published by a vanity press might not be a work of literary genius. Just that it won't get read by a wide audience, and the author's likely to lose money on the deal.

The examples you give -- have nothing to do with the discussion. It's entirely possible that two hundred years from now a book published through Commonwealth by a person who later became famous for other things, in fine condition, might sell at auction for an astronomical sum. That would say nothing whatever about whether publishing with Commonwealth was a good idea.

Really, I'm happy for your success as a self-publisher. Congratulations. It's just that I don't see the relevance to iUniverse, PublishAmerica, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, Dorrance, Trafford, Vantage, or The Writers' Collective.

#184 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 11:46 AM:

Henry, your books are very fine, and I have a high opinion of your work no matter who publishes it. You also have my unending thanks for the excellent and scrupulous work you did on the two Avram Davidson collections.

Let me just check this one thing: You do realize you're in a completely different class from most of the self-publishers we've been discussing? When they say they're happy just to see their books in print, they may or may not be fibbing; but either way, they're being satisfied with far too little. You make books that are a genuine satisfaction in their own right.

The self-publishing tradition you're talking about likewise has little relation to the delusive and predatory universe of vanity publishing, except insofar as the latter's copywriters cite instances drawn from the former as evidence of their own respectability.

Don MacDonald, I neither recommend nor criticize agents. What I can say is that the two literary agents I'm aware of who (1.) do a significant amount of business with the company I work for, and (2.) also represent comics professionals, are Merrilee Heifetz and Ashley Grayson. There may be other legit agents who work with comics, but those are the two I know of.

Nancy, the community of PA authors would have more force if PA didn't delete their posts, and permanently ban the authors thereof from their boards, the minute they start expressing disenchantment with PA. The subject that's absolutely guaranteed to disappear almost as soon as the message is posted is PA's non-distribution in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Since the PA boards are where their authors know to find each other (PA actively discourages them from participating on other boards), expulsion means the banned author loses contact with the community.

They had a "convention" where everyone was herded around and tightly programmed. Some authors nevertheless managed to go off together and air their views. Shortly after that there was a huge and mysterious dustup on the PA boards, and a number of core regulars disappeared. It's hard to tell exactly what happened when the messages disappear so rapidly, but it had something to do with events in and around the convention.

#185 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 04:50 PM:

TNH: "literary agents I'm aware of who (1.) do a significant amount of business with the company I work for, and (2.) also represent comics professionals, are Merrilee Heifetz"

Spells her name wrong!

#186 ::: Henry Wessells ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Apologies for any sidetracking of this thread. The definition of terms from TNH's most recent comment, "predatory universe of vanity publishing," has greatly clairifed my understanding of this discussion.
A useful issue was noted by John M. Ford, "never passed an actual editor" -- the degree of editorial intervention is readily apparent from the first paragraph, or even the blurb. (I am now remembering the stacks of books from certain vanity publishers that were routinely excluded from the books received column of AB Bookman's Weekly -- and the imprecision of the prose.)
I'll go back to lurking.

#187 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 09:22 PM:

personally I have nothing against vanity publishing, it's just that I would like to see the other deadly sins represented as well.

#188 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 09:41 PM:

bryan -- be careful what you ask for; I found my latest SFBC shipment contained THE EMPRESS'S NEW LINGERIE in place of a book I'd ordered.

How about the rest of the sins?
- avarice: less obvious today, but I remember books falling apart as I read them.
- sloth: how many examples of phoned-in performances do you want?
- gluttony: the series has gone \how/ many books?
- wrath: "Left Behind"? (limiting this to real books; you could drown in freeperati.)
- envy: that's harder; complaints about how the industry is all who you know rather than how well you write mostly don't get printed.

you had to ask....

#189 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 10:01 PM:

bryan wrote:

> personally I have nothing against vanity
> publishing, it's just that I would like to see
> the other deadly sins represented as well.

It's only Monday, but I'm going to go out on a limb and nominate that as quote of the week.

#190 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 03:10 AM:

Chip, I don't think those are examples of sinful publishing (other than the avarice example), they are instead examples of sinful books. Indeed I hear Ashcroft is gonna go after the Left Behind series any day now.

Sinful Publishing:

Wrath: Because people have ignored the really good books we have printed I hereby order that we immediately inundate the world with hidebound copies of Ye Olde Complete Adventures of Grgnr.

So it can be quite difficult to come up with examples, unfortunately I am too beset by the sin of sloth to really try.

#191 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 08:25 AM:

I think there are several examples of Pride publishing out there -- perhaps the most egregious are the lovely creations of Joe Stefko at Charnel House or the little jewels of Roy A. Squires (in the SF field). The Grabhorn Press or Andrew Hoyem in the general letterpress field. Or, for the classically minded, the Kelmscott Chaucer. All of these folks made very, very lovely books that I'm glad to have fondled, but they're Pride publishing just as much as Vantage is Vanity publishing.

-"By damn, I'm going to make the most beautiful book the world has ever seen!"-

In its ultimate form, you end up with something as abstruse as HOUSE OF LEAVES, which combines abstruseness of typographical form with prose like an ongoing train-wreck that exercises a hideous fascination because it seems like it should be good.

Wrath publishing -- white supremacist magazines.

_American Psycho_ is an excellent example of Avarice publishing, as is the continuation of V. C. Andrews' _ouevre_ after her death. In fact, much posthumous publication done by Respectable Houses falls into the camp of Avarice. And what's previously been described here as Gluttony falls there in my opinion. To me, it's the sin inspired in the purchaser that the adjective best refers to (the Vanity of the author; the Pride of ownership of excellent or at least fascinating design; the wrath of the person who feels exploited).

In that way, perhaps much of the romance genre is actually Sloth publishing (not all, and please don't castigate me as if I'd said all!): -"Oh, I really want to read exactly that story again!"- Robeson's Doc Savage books (and much pulp adventure, again which I like in certain dosage levels) may be similar.

I could spend way too much more time on this, and it might actually make an interesting book for a literary press....

#192 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:03 AM:

"I could spend way too much more time on this, and it might actually make an interesting book for a literary press...."
A virtuous one I should hope.

#193 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:03 AM:

"I could spend way too much more time on this, and it might actually make an interesting book for a literary press...."
A virtuous one I should hope.

#194 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:04 AM:

damn, better make that twice as virtuous as anyone else.

#195 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:19 AM:

I'm a big fan of some things that count as Lust publishing...I've even written some things that would qualify, if they were published, which they won't be.

#196 ::: Mr. Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 09:38 PM:

Please do not compare legitimate business like I-Universe and Xlibris with The Writers' Collective. At least POD's give you the info upfront. I'll be amazed if the founder of TWC doesn't actually get sued up the yin/yang.

Just because all the authors who have left TWC don't spam the universe with slander, doesn't mean it isn't there. You want a soap opera? You want to see someone unethical taking advantage of the little guy? Dig deeper into TWC. And you WILL have to dig. Those who have left just want to be free, they don't spend time slandering TWC publicly. They just want to leave and find other options.

TWC is nothing. Its a fake company run by a fake woman on fake pretenses and it will last only as long she is able to sucker new people into paying her without asking too many questions. Sooner or later it will all come out on the internet and when people do a search they'll be able to know ahead of time.

#197 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 10:40 PM:

Charles Boyle wrote:

> A group called The Writers’ Collective seems to be different. Can you provide an opinion, please.

To which Theresa Neilsen Hayden wrote.... well, quite a bit - and to which I intend to reply at equal (or greater) length. I'm sure she won't mind. So... as the founder and chief cook-and- bottle-washer of The Writers' Collective here goes.

A few disclaimers first. Well, a Mea Culpa and *then* a disclaimer.

Mea Culpa: our site is woefully, shamefully, out of date. I plead guilty AND insanity since it's been my very opinionated opinion that leveling the playing field between traditional and self-publishers (which we've gone a long way toward doing; see below) was more important than keeping the web site up to date. For those who feel otherwise - I don't blame you.

Disclaimer: I'm a writer, a rather good one. Good enough so that when my agent brought me a contract a few years ago for one of my novels from a *large* mainstream publisher, and I read it, I felt fairly abused. A small advance, that I could live with. Hell, I was a nobody. But being asked to pay for my own publicist? [and oh, my dears, how terribly wrong Theresa's comment was on that not being the case these days for nearly everyone other than the biggest of the A-List - but more on that later] Being asked to accept a pittance in royalties to pay back that advance?

Absolutely not. I didn't mind doing the work of marketing my baby (and no - I don't consider the publisher sending a few dozen galleys to reviewers and taking a small group ad in PW *marketing*) - hell, I loved her warts and all. I just minded doing all the marketing (as well as all the writing) and someone else getting all the money. Call me crazy, but I felt I was entitled to more. My agent (who *knew* I was crazy) said I had no choice: accept the publisher's terms or go unpublished.

Well, maybe. Or maybe not. I began to investigate this new-fangled thang called "self-publishing" - only to discover it was mere vanity press thinly disguised because it was on the net - and whose companies were owned by the self-same publisher who'd offered me a take it or leave it contract, and another major bookstore chain. There was nothing else at that time - and nothing else really meant NOTHING. No top-notch reviews. No national distribution. No bookstore shelves at all. Forget "publish or be damned." It was self-publish and be doubly damned.

That's when I began The Writers' Collective, with a single goal in mind: to make it possible for really good writers whose books could otherwise be published anywhere - to self-publish instead and MAKE MONEY at it. That meant NY Times, Kirkus and PW reviews. It meant national PR campaigns. And it especially meant national distribution to the trade. None of which was even remotely on the horizon when we began - and all of which is now a reality for our authors. And we made it happen, bit by bit, step by step, and out-of-date web site thrown in for good measure.

How? Well, first we had to deconstruct the entire industry, and reconstruct it again (in *this* century, thank you) with as many layers of middlemen removed as possible, so that writers would at least have a chance of success not killing them - given industry discounts and returns. But try as we might, the only middleman we could safely remove was - us. The publisher. That's right, the only way our authors could possibly make a profit was if we gave them all the royalties after the other layers took their piece/s. And so we pay 100% royalties. It's why TWC became a .ORG to begin with: we were intending to file for a 501-C3 - until my accountant enumerated the paperwork hoops we'd have to jump through. That's when I said to hell with it - we'll just act like a non-profit but incorporate - and the .ORG has stuck ever since.

Second thing we had to figure out - since we were giving away all the royalties - was how to survive. That's when we came up with the idea of becoming a membership organization. Using the volume we intended to give printers, designers, etc - we'd negotiate for and assemble every single item needed to successfully self-publish in one virtual room, and we'd give all our members full access to it. And if we continued to do a good job for our members, and continued to add benefits, they'd continue to stay members and pay for renewals. We began at an initial dues rate of $175, but it was our own members who told us we were giving away far too much for far too little, so we've had two small raises in two years - though our renewal rate has remained the same.

Next thing we needed to do was find a way to lead authors out of the self-published ghetto. That meant national reviews and real distribution, including Ingram - but at a rate that left a plus sign on the bottom line.

In order to achieve that, we became the umbrella publishing organization, under which self-publishers could have a lot more control of the finished product, and make a lot more money - while being published by a company determined to build a brand _and_ a reputation for excellence.

That meant rejecting about 30 writers for each we accept (our FAQ states that every applicant must go through a personal interview process and we accept, btw, neither newbies nor amateurs), and it meant making sure those writers understood that while writing is an art, publishing is a business - and woe unto anyone naive enough to believe differently.

And it meant, for the first time anywhere, setting the self-publishing bar for pre-press production excellence so high, that our books would be the equal of any books on any bookstore shelves anywhere. Which in turn meant great editors, cover designers, indexers, etc.

It's true - we began with those cover templates on our site, and with digital printing, and with Baker & Taylor for moving books. Hell, we had to start somewhere, and I make no apology for that - it's only those who will never ultimately succeed who believe they must only start at the top or nowhere.

But we didn't stay there long. As more and more *already* successfully and traditionally published writers joined us, we were able to move upward and onward, step by step, by attracting the best freelancers out there. One of our current editors is not only an award winning editor, she's a six-figure advance author with six (traditionally published) bestsellers out there. One of our cover designers was the creative director for Random House for 20 years (and as such has designed covers for Pulitzer Prize winners). Another designer is the production manager for ForeWord Magazine - one of the most respected tomes in this industry. You won't find their contact info on our site - they work *only* with our members - and for a whopping discount they can afford to give because of the great books we're now bringing to them.

Books like just one those in our fall catalogue, _India Untouched_, whose author was written up in the Op-Ed section of the NY Times two weeks ago, and to whom an entire segment of CBS Sunday Morning will be devoted this fall when the book comes out. We've already been informed it will be reviewed by *everyone*.

And we moved on. Once we had enough terrifically produced books selling briskly through our wholesaler, I was able to negotiate a deal with one of the best national distributors out there: Midpoint Trade Books. And at a rate that costs writers and small publishers (who are also members, btw) for less than they could possibly do such distribution themselves - assuming they could get even it - which they can't. Any small or self-publisher tossed out of Ingram in the last twelve months will attest to that.

As of this fall, our books - self-published books - will not only be reviewed by the top print media in the country, they will be on the bookstore shelves of all the national chains. With a fully paid sales force taking advance orders for *thousands* (not hundreds) of copies even as we speak - just as they do for Random House, et al. And in the end, that's how TWC will grow and thrive, because in exchange for doing that negotiating, and pre-press production liaison, and inventory management and fulfillment control and royalty accounting and payments, we take a very, very tiny percentage of the net, net, net. But that's okay. Even though we may only get .50 a book where we pay our authors $6.50 a book *after* print costs -- fifty cents times 50,000 (which we expect several of our titles to each sell) -- starts adding up to real money. Which we will have earned many, many times over, because....

We did this for writers. And no one else has even tried. That it took us two years to get here, and that it meant no updating our site during that time seems a bit beside the point, at least to us.

And now..... onto the errata of the initial post. Specifically:

Theresa wrote:

|| Basically, TWC has a deal going with a printer called Fidlar Doubleday, of Kalamazoo, MI. I very much doubt that they’re connected with Doubleday Books. ||

Of course they're not. They're just one of the best digital printers out there. And digital is the *only* way to go for inexpensive galleys, or short runs. Which is why, btw, Doubleday Books uses them for THEIR digital printing.

|| Give the page a good long look. Note all those minimum print runs and setup charges and other sobering requirements. ||

Yes, there's a minimum run of 25 books. Barely enough to cover galleys if you're serious about a national run. As for set-up charges - our members only pay $12.50 for galley set-up and only $50 for short run set-up -- and that *includes* an EAN bar code. And it means an automatic upgrade to 12 pt C1S cover stock and 60# text at NO charge. For TWC members, that is. If you can find a great digital printer who'd charge anything but double that price while including far less for it, let me know. I'm always on the look out for great member bargains.

Theresa wrote:

|| My overall take on TWC is that they’re a prime example of rent-seeking behavior. They’re not proposing to edit your book, or sell it, or publicize it, or design its cover and write the copy for it. ||

That's right. We only spend mega-hours monthly seeking out, vetting, and negotiating with the top folks in their field to provide those services - at a discount. So that writers can do for themselves exactly what traditional publishers are still sort of willing to do for them (at an outrageous price; for make no mistake, once a writer has paid back that loan of an advance, it is THEY, not the publisher, who is really paying for the editing, cover design and printing - even if it is a year or two later) --- and the writers can do it better, because they finally have choices. And so the writers, who are now taking 'all the risk' as Teresa quite rightly points out - can also KEEP ALL THE PROFITS. Which TWC helps maximize for them.

Theresa wrote:

|| and sit back to collect an annual fee on the arrangement.

Um... yes. That ten bucks a MONTH we get for our annual fee sure does let us live large on that particular writer. My share of it goes directly into the upkeep for my yacht. {g}

Theresa wrote:

|| When they say “$250 for ISBN numbers”, they refer to the minimum purchase of a block of ISBNs from Bowker, which is 10 ISBNs for $225 (plus the $75 application fee). However, there are a number of outfits that will provide you with an ISBN for considerably less than that. ||

Really? I'm sure Bowker would love to hear about them, because it's quite illegal to sell ISBN numbers, singly or in any other way. And your comment, I'm afraid, shows your lack of understanding of how the ISBN system works in the real world. ISBN's don't belong to a book, or an author. They belong to the publisher. The publisher who is legally and financially responsible for all returns of that prefix - even if they didn't sell the book to begin with! And even if they 'lend' a number from that block to a writer silly enough to accept it.

Theresa wrote:

|| And by the way, TWC bought theirs in a block of 100, which means they paid $8.00 apiece for them. ||

Actually, we brought ours in a block of 1000, which means we paid less than $2.00 apiece for them. The price of ISBN blocks is common knowledge. But your argument entirely misses the point. Sure, writers can easily buy their own block of ten for the same cost as joining TWC. They _can_ buy a not-so-secretly coded block, in other words, that will keep them from national print reviews, keep them from national distribution (without which, btw, they cannot get a top publicist), and keep them off the bookstore shelves. Wow, what a bargain! I'll take two.

By joining TWC instead, writers get a genuine shot at what made them want to publish in the first place: SALES.

Theresa wrote:

|||| check out this passage from their FAQ: True, there’s no advance, but if your book is really good and you promote it well, you’ll make more money than with a small advance going to pay for a PR person, which new writers are expected to provide these days. ||||

|| To put it bluntly: No, they aren’t. That is an untruth. I’ve never heard of a legit publishing house requiring a new author to hire their own PR person. Publishers may or may not pay for PR, but they don’t require authors to pay for it. ||

This is about as disingenuous a tautology as I've ever heard. "Publishers may or may not pay for PR, but..."

Oh. So if the publisher doesn't pay for it - as they do NOT today for all but the most A-List writer - who WILL pay for it if not the writer? Or are you suggesting that some sort of mind meld between writer and reader will occur that allows readers to know that a particular book has landed at Borders on a certain day so that they may run and purchase it? Please. Publishers don't pay - so writers must. Unless they want to have 5 copies of their book show up at Borders for the 45 days it takes for no one to buy them, and have them boxed up again on day 46? The latest PW figure states that 90% of all new titles don't even pay back their advances, let alone earn royalties.

And let me tell you a bit about how the SALES part of the book biz works. Book chain buyers get visited semi-annually by publisher and distributor reps (all paid via commission only) carrying catalogs and sales kits. Think those kits contain a copy of the book, which the buyer avidly reads to find the very best work for their customers? Think again. Those kits contain the following:

-- Author bios

-- ToC and first chapter

-- Cover

-- PR CAMPAIGN WITH $$$$$$ ON IT

No campaign assuring feet coming into stores with buy-signs in their eyes - no sale. Period. So, do publishers MAKE writers pay for PR? Hell, no. They just gently "suggest" it - and if the writer is smart, and wants to develop legs (after which the publisher *may* toss in some PR bucks) he or she will most definitely take the hint. Or be prepared to haul a large truck up to the remainder tables in six months.

Theresa wrote:

|| publishers sell and promote their books, but most of that happens where the general public doesn’t casually see it. ||

No one else sees it either, except for the reviewers who get the galleys, for which publishers still do pay. Invisible PR. Interesting concept.

Theresa wrote:

|| Maybe that’s not what’s going on at TWC. Maybe this time, “let me refer you to one of the excellent professional editors we work with” is nothing more than a helpful offer to put you in contact with an experienced freelancer. I have to believe in that possibility. Of course, it’s also possible that various mid-size mammals will sprout wings and fly. Wouldn’t it be cool if that happened? ||

It would indeed. When are you planning to take your maiden flight? {g}

In all seriousness, however - I'm glad you wrote your piece, however ill-informed. It wasn't misguided - it was right on - for all the places out there that do want to (and succeed in) parting writers from their money. The places TWC was created to *fight*. Our telephone number is right on our Contact Us page. And had you called to ask a question or two before making a fair number of incorrect assumptions, I would have been happy to answer. Still am, for anyone reading this.

Cordially,

Lisa Grant
Publisher
The Writers' Collective

#198 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:23 AM:

People who can't even spell their hostess' name shouldn't try to teach her to suck eggs.

#199 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:48 AM:

Marilee wrote:

||People who can't even spell their hostess' name shouldn't try to teach her to suck eggs. ||

If I spelled someone's name incorrectly, Mea Maxima Culpa - however - all I did was respond to the link here from another list, which said:

|| Theresa Neilsen Hayden's Making Light blog has a new thread on TWC: Looking at The Writers' Collective ||

From the sound of your post it seems like the original poster got it wrong, and I picked it up from there.

Sucking eggs, however, is a skill that can be learned by anyone, regardless of how they spell their names. {g}

#200 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:48 AM:

Perhaps I am missing something here, but do most books these days need the services of a publicist? Most books seem to be publicized chiefly through reviews and print ads, which publishers certainly take care of (although smaller publishers rely mostly on reviews, as far as I can tell) - even Ms. Grant admits this with respect to reviews.

Books on current events, other hot-button topic non-fiction books, and potential bestseller fiction books get publicist treatment (or the equivalent), but the (modal) average book that I buy isn't one of these, doesn't get that kind of treatment, and seems to do well enough anyway for the most part (at least, the authors move on/continue to be published in hardcover).

I suspect that the subtext of the contract that upset Ms. Grant so was along the lines of "you don't need a publicist, so of course we're not going to pay for one - if you feel you must have one, fine, but it's on your nickel."

I see that Ms. Grant has managed to get a New York Times review for one book she has published, which is something, but I feel compelled to note that TWC has published a number of books which appear to be science fiction or fantasy, and I have heard of none of them. Considering the number of such books I have heard of, and read reviews of, many of them from small publishers, this is not impressive.

#201 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:57 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote:

|| All I know about Mercury and Palace is that they're Canadian. ||

Er... no. Mercury Print is an offset printer in NY, and Palace Press is a broker for overseas full color offset printing with offices in S.F. and NY.

Our current offset printers (90% of all our books are now printed offset, aside from galleys) are Bang and Central Plains, with Interpress the broker we use for overseas color print. Last time I looked none of them were in Canada either.

#202 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 01:15 AM:

Lisa, that's quite an excuse: "I wanted to slag off a well-known editor so I didn't bother finding out how to spell her name or who she is, I just relied on a link in another blog. tee hee"

I think it's reasonable to assume that people who read your diatribe here will notice how slipshod it is and stay far away from TWC.

#203 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 01:19 AM:

Dan Blum wrote:

|| Perhaps I am missing something here, but do most books these days need the services of a publicist? Most books seem to be publicized chiefly through reviews and print ads, which publishers certainly take care of...||

Dan,

This is true, but only to a point. Random House alone publishes 3500 NEW titles a year, and they're one house among many. Most of their titles will never get a print review (among the select print media that really count toward selling books, like NY Times, Kirkus, PW, etc), and ads simply do not sell books.

That's where publicists come in. The big guys have their own in-house people of course, but aside from celebrity and A-lists books, the most they'll do for new or midlist writers is send out galleys. A freelance publicist will do everything an in-house colleague will do for the lucky few: get articles (hopefully with byline) in major media, arrange city tours and signings, use their connections to exploit a book/author's "hook" for talk radio and TV. These are all things that really sell books - and publishers no longer pay for them.

|| Books on current events, other hot-button topic non-fiction books, and potential bestseller fiction books get publicist treatment (or the equivalent)...||

Yes - when the average writer pays for it and hires their own firm. Otherwise, no. There's a reason most new books arrive on the bookstore shelves one week, and are pulled only a few weeks later - and PR (or lack of it) is it.

|| I see that Ms. Grant has managed to get a New York Times review for one book she has published, which is something...||

For a new publisher it was exceedingly gratifying, but even more so was then selling the mass market rights to the book to Plume, which brought their own version out a few weeks ago.

|| TWC has published a number of books which appear to be science fiction or fantasy, and I have heard of none of them. ||

Well, I did say the site was woefully out of date. We haven't published a single S.F or Fantasy (though we have a major S.F. coming out this fall) - and 90% of all our books are non-fiction. I'm not surprised you haven't heard about our books (yet) - aside from only being in business two years this month, and aside from the fact that it takes nearly a year to bring out a book (half the time for the big houses, but still) - we only obtained national distribution a few months ago. Our first real catalog will be debuting in the fall, and judging by the advance sales now coming in, you will hear about several of them then. The proof is in the eating, as they say, and I'll be happy to have our reputation fall, or rise on that occasion.

#204 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 01:26 AM:

Marilee wrote:

|| that's quite an excuse: "I wanted to slag off a well-known editor so I didn't bother finding out how to spell her name or who she is ||

Hmm. Interesting lack of logic here, or is it lack of consistency? After all most of Teresa's assumptions about TWC were incorrect, yet she certainly didn't bother to find out the facts before she wrote her opinions. That doesn't excuse me for spelling a name wrong, but in the scheme of things I guess I'd rather be accused of that than talking about things about which I know very little. You, of course, are entitled to pick your own priorities.

|| I think it's reasonable to assume that people who read your diatribe here will notice how slipshod it is and stay far away from TWC. ||

I think it's more reasonable to believe that most people who aren't of the "I never let the facts get in the way of my opinion" will be more interested in content than in spelling.

#205 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 01:30 AM:

>For a new publisher it was exceedingly gratifying, but even
>more so was then selling the mass market rights to the book
>to Plume, which brought their own version out a few weeks ago.

I seldom post on these boards, but read them as frequently as time permits. But I'm delurking because I feel the need to point out that this particular action seems to go against your mission statement, as posted upstream.

Selling mass market rights to Plume, an imprint of a publisher that will a) not promote books (by your own generalization) and b) offer pitifully small royalties for that lack of promotion, would be what an author could expect from an imprint of its size. In this case, the benefit to the author seems -- to me -- to be exactly what they would otherwise accrue should they go the traditional route that you've chosen to speak so strongly -against-.

Why, then, would this sale be so gratifying?

#206 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 03:24 AM:

Please tell me more about those ISBNs, Lisa.

All of the ISBNs for The Writers' Collective that I've located, from your earliest in '02 through the end of '04, seem to fall between 1-932133-00-3 and 1-932133-99-2. That's a block of 100 numbers. I don't see any reason to believe that you have a block of 1,000.

You've left remarkably few other facts that can be checked. Names, dates, titles (with the exception of India Untouched), those sorts of things just aren't in your post. You hint around that your novel was accepted by Random House and that you turned down their pitiful offer so that you could self-publish. Was Random House the publisher? What's the title of your novel? I see that you've published Play Checkers With Me, a 32-page kid's book where you have co-author credit, and Woodstock '69: A New Look, forthcoming, on which you also have co-author credit, both through The Writers' Collective. Did you publish the novel under a pseudonym?

Oh, another matter. I've been a full-time professional writer since 1988. I've been published by half-a-dozen major houses. Not one has required that I hire my own publicist. Nor have I ever hired a publicist. I suppose people can if they want to. I've never seen the need.

Now India Untouched. It's not yet listed at Amazon. Nor does Dr. George's web page mention a publisher. So ... we'll have to wait until it comes out to see if y'all published it, eh?

#207 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 03:57 AM:

Oh, on reviews, and Random House.

I just did a quick random sample of one month's releases from Random House.

100% of them had a review in one or more of the following:

Library Journal/School Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus
Booklist
New York Times Book Review

So the claim "Random House alone publishes 3500 NEW titles a year, and they're one house among many. Most of their titles will never get a print review (among the select print media that really count toward selling books, like NY Times, Kirkus, PW, etc)..." seems a bit off.

Could you list the names of some of the "*already* successfully and traditionally published writers" who joined you?

"As of this fall, our books - self-published books - will not only be reviewed by the top print media in the country, they will be on the bookstore shelves of all the national chains."

Does this imply that up to this moment your books aren't being reviewed by the top print media, and that they aren't stocked on the national chains' shelves?

There are a number of other inconsistencies in your post(s) here, Lisa, and on your web page. But I'll leave them for another time.

#208 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 08:49 AM:

Michelle Sagara wrote:

Lisa wrote:

|| a new publisher it was exceedingly gratifying, but even ore so was then selling the mass market rights to the book to Plume, which brought their own version out a few weeks ago. ||

> feel the need to point out that this particular action seems to go against your mission statement, as posted upstream. Why, then, would this sale be so gratifying?

Michelle,

Because in this case the authors got the best of both worlds. When the NY Times review came out we sold a *slew* of books, for which the authors got an enormous amount of money. And because the book was then a known commodity, the advance from Plume (every penny of which went to the authors) was quite hefty as well.

And on that note, let me clarify that I have never said that traditional publishing is dead or unworkable for everyone. There are many circumstances under which it works quite well, such as if you're a celebrity or if you're already a bestselling author, or if, like our authors (or Christopher Paolini of Ergagon fame, for instance) your self-published book has done well enough to garner the type of advance, royalties and written-into-the-contract fabulous PR that will sell millions more books and make you even more money. Then, as we say in our FAQ, we'll throw you a great going away party. {g}

We founded TWC to give authors more options, not fewer. And those options now include successful self-publishing - and it's important that writers know about the legitimate venues for it. It's why the National Writers Union commissioned Jennifer Lawler and me to write a series of articles on the subject for their magazine, _The American Writer_. You can read them in the archives at www.nwu.org, Fall 2003 edition.

For mid-list writers (about 50,000 trade cloth sales) who can get a $100k advance, a typical royalty of $2.50 a book will earn them, after advance payback, a total of $125k. That same author with the same book and sales at TWC would get no advance, but would earn (after pre-press production, print and PR costs) a total of $250k. And that's before selling off any of the sub-rights, like mass market.

Is self-publishing for everyone? No. Is it a viable option for many? Today, I believe it is.


#209 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 08:56 AM:

I am sorry I am late to this thread, but I'm still on the road.

Lisa forgot to mention a few things. First, she does get a percentage (10%) from her vendors.

She also charges $95 per hour for phone calls, with a four-hour minumum. This is for her expertise. She has no experience in marketing, printing, publishing or anything else for that matter, that I have ever found, relating to the industry, prior to her TWC project.

I'd also like a little more information on her claimed CV (specifically contact names), because I've had no luck confirming any of it.This is what she claims:

LISA GRANT, Founder and Executive Director of The Writers' Collective holds an M.A. in International Political Economy;(NOTE: FROM WHERE? AND WHAT YEAR DID YOU GRADUATE?) was a Fellow at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Holland; (CANNOT CONFIRM. WHAT YEAR? WHAT NAME DID YOU USE?) worked for The Evening Standard in London & The Irish Times in Dublin (CANNOT CONFIRM. PLEASE GIVE YEARS OF EMPLOYMENT AND DEPARTMENT).

As for her claim she takes no money from writers: HA! She actually takes money every step of the way. Read this paragraph from the top secret unwelcome letter you get after you pay her fees (and if you don't like the new rules that are suddenly thrust upon you in the unwelcome letter, too bad. Once you get the unwelcome letter you cannot get a refund).

"TWC/****** will also collect shipping and handling for you on these orders, based on method of shipping, charge and zip code. Pick, Pack & shipping fees apply. Example: A customer buys 2 copies of a $15.95 book, and pays $6 ship/handling for a total of $37.90. TWC’s back office fee is 7% of that: $2.65. Credit card fees: 2.25% x $37.90 = .85 +.20 transaction fee = $1.05. Phone fee: $0.50. Pick/Pack: $2.25. Actual shipping: $4.50. Total fees: $10.95, leaving net of $26.95 to author. Total % net to author: 84%. This costs you less than doing the work yourself!"

Maybe Grant can also shed some light on a point I am confused on. Don't at least some of TWC's fulfillment options prevent authors from selling books directly on their own? Isn't this the complete opposite of what TWC claims to stand for? In fact, isn't TWC then making money on the sales of the book since they have an agreement both with the fulfillment house and the author to pay percentages on everything?

I would like to point out that Lisa Grant is not new to internet promotions. If you do a Google search you will find that a few years ago she was quite active there, however at that time she was a "well connected" screen play writer offering to help other people.

If you want to see someone fly with one wing and not know how to land, check out her posts to this group: http://www.writers.net/forum/read/13/2574/2512Vf#2574

She apparently doesn't even know who Crispin is, although Crispin is a well-known writer in Grant's own genre. So much for Grant's background research for her own book.

#210 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:08 AM:

James D. Macdonald wrote:

|| All of the ISBNs for The Writers' Collective that I've located, from your earliest in '02 through the end of '04, seem to fall between 1-932133-00-3 and 1-932133-99-2. That's a block of 100 numbers. ||

James,

Well, the math is right, but the research? Not so much. We have not one but two blocks of 1000: 1-59411 and 1-59590 (which is for our new division, Books2Go).

|| just did a quick random sample of one month's releases from Random House. 100% of them had a review in one or more of the following...||

Nice week for them. It won't be repeated another 51 times, nor will it be for the other houses that also publish thousands of titles a year. NY Times alone would need to review nearly 70 books a DAY, every day of the year - just to handle the traditional houses alone.

||Does this imply that up to this moment your books aren't being reviewed by the top print media, and that they aren't stocked on the national chains' shelves?||

My words _implied_ nothing. It stated it quite clearly. Our books are not yet on the bookstore shelves, since we only signed the distribution contract a few months ago. As I said in my original post, we didn't begin where we are today, and I make no apology for getting better as we've gone along.

|| Now India Untouched. It's not yet listed at Amazon.||

Wish I had the power to control their database feeds, but I don't. The book will be listed on ipage sometime next week - will probably be on Amazon a week or two later. Would you like an advance reading copy for a review?


#211 ::: Lisa Grant ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:28 AM:

worddude (who sounds amazingly like Ben of Mythic Studio, some of whose exact words are in an email he sent me a few months ago - gotta love all these 'set the record straight' folks who refuse to post their real names or email addresses) wrote:

|| First, she does get a percentage (10%) from her vendors. ||

Let me be perfectly clear: I believe in TWC making money as much as I believe in vendors and authors making money. We're not saints or philanthropists. And we earn every penny of that management fee from our designers, with whom we work daily on all covers, interior designs, etc. It seemed a far better way to be compensated for the hours we put into building every book with the vendors - who pay, btw, not a penny for advertising or for all the business we give them -than to charge our members for it. I don't know anyone willing to work for free.

Not that you'd know - since you still haven't paid your bill.

|| She also charges $95 per hour for phone calls, with a four-hour minumum. ||

For those who hire me as a consultant apart from TWC, that's true. We have a few authors who prefer to pay others for every step of the self-publishing process, and who far from wanting a hands-on experience want a turn-key operation.

:::: restatement of the fact in my first post here that we take a miniscule part of the net for handling all back office duties snipped ::::


|| Don't at least some of TWC's fulfillment options prevent authors from selling books directly on their own? ||

Of course. Distributors take a rather dim view of folks going off to sell books from their van, and rightly so.

|| I would like to point out that Lisa Grant is not new to internet promotions. If you do a Google search you will find that a few years ago she was quite active there, however at that time she was a "well connected" screen play writer offering to help other people. ||

ROTFL! There's also a Lisa Grant on Google who's a porn star, one who's an environmental expert, and even a lesbian from Europe who sued the national rail system for discrimination against giving her partner the same travel discounts married hetero couples received. Last time I looked though - they weren't me.

#212 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:33 AM:

First of all I need to make clear I am a writer and I AM NOT "BEN AT MYTHIC STUDIO" I have never used that name or that company, I have never worked with a person using that name, nor have I ever met a person using that name. I guess it's just another cheap trick for Grant to throw stones at yet another person she has problems with.

#213 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:59 AM:

Lisa Grant wrote:
> We haven't published a single S.F or Fantasy (though we have a major S.F. coming out this fall)

According to this interview with Lisa Grant, Lisa wrote the "SF epic" The Last Bastion under the pseudonym Barbara Wellesley. The Amazon page for that book says it is published by Writer's Collective, due out July 1, 2004. Congratulations!

Here's a fragment:
As she went to receive her visitor she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. It had been years since she had conducted a dream but even now, a woman midway through her fourth decade, she looked as she did then. Almost. Her red diaphanous robe revealed gleaming dark butternut skin beneath two thick braids of chestnut, but there was a tightness now around her mouth that showed she was no longer the heedless girl she used to be. She looked solemn, less accessible. Good.

Read an Excerpt from The Last Bastion.

#214 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:59 AM:

Lisa Grant:

Good job. You've just alienated several hundred (if not thousand) readers of this website.

#215 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:59 AM:

So, Lisa, you were not the same person claiming to be a screen writer using a prodigy.net eMail address? This is what you're saying and you're sure you want to stick with that story? Okay. ;)

That's a heck of a coincidence considering shortly thereafter Lisa Grant on the same Google lists announced she too was opening a company called The Writers' Collective.

Let's set that aside for a moment. Can you be so kind as to respond to the question of your CV and why none of it can be confirmed? I'd also like to see a little more information on the reviewers for your own book. Professionally published books usually offer a little more identifying information than simply a name. The reason for this is that if you include only a name, it might appear as if you wrote them yourself. So, it's better to say "John Reviewer, Manager, Tesco, Inc., Barrhead, Scotland." That way, those of us who may not know you as the honest, wonderful woman we are sure you are, can check on that personally.

#216 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:19 AM:

Damn! This is better than c-span. Please, please, please, keep entertaining me with this wonderful banter all day long. Dee-licious!

#217 ::: Marion Gropen ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:14 AM:

Let me say up front that the Writers' Collective is a client of my consulting practice. (I do financial and operations managment.) This may well lead you to take what I say with a grain of salt. Fair enough.

I believe that results are the only valid way to judge performance. It might be fair to judge TWC based on their results after a year or two of distribution by Midpoint.

Technology is profoundly changing this industry. The results can be seen in the litter of dead independent bookstores and distributors, and enormous increase in small, independent and self-publishers. Someone needs to find a way for them to compete with the increasingly tiny number of large houses. (And do remember how very many of the old, prestige names are now owned by larger corporations, from Viacom to Holtzbrinck to Bertelsmann.) To keep our intellectual climate healthy, we need to find ways for small publishers, and self-publishers, to level that playing field.

How does this relate to your discussions? Well, let's look at one issue: the need for publicity. Many of you seem to believe that the campaigns provided by traditional publishers are adequate to all needs. Here's my take:

Margins for publishers and middlemen are plummeting. The chain bookstores are vertically integrating, and using the extra clout they get from consolidation.

Because of the drop in margins, I have seen a steady drop in the marketing commitment to mid-list and smaller titles. The demand that publishers meet corporate EBITDA targets has driven the publisher to put money into developing winners, only after they begin to show potential.

There are 180,000 new titles per year. The average superstore can stock no more than 50,000 (new and backlist). You are going to be noticed how? One of scads of reviews? Maybe the bookstore buyer notices, but how do you get the reader to notice you? The end result is that an outside publicist is a very wise use of the fledgling author's advance. Reviews just don't do it anymore. And the author also needs to be out there plugging his/her/its book.

A complicated answer, but this isn't a simple business. That's just one of the issues you raised, but to fully consider the others would be annoying, I think.

On the other hand, there are at least four email discussion groups where we thrash these things out regularly. It was a post to two of them that drew my attention to this discussion. If you would like to tell the small publishers how to do better, please do feel free to join us.

In sum, do I think that the average subsidy publisher is a good deal? NO!

Do I think that all of TWC's members will make more this way than any other? No.

Do I think that the comments that have been posted here are generally a fair assessment of TWC. No, I'm sorry, I don't.

I completely understand where your opinions are coming from. I sympathize with your desire to cleanse the world of sharks. I spend a fair bit of time doing it, too. I just think you are a bit off target this time.

Let's suspend this argument for a year or so, and then re-visit it. By then, Lisa should be able to show you real results, and that's the way to decide.

#218 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:27 AM:

I would still like a response to my questions concerning her CV. Are you vouching for the accuracy of the CV and the legitimacy of her book reviewers, Gropen?

I am also not sure why Grant is constantly on the internet insulting other people, putting down other companies and anyone else who asks her a straight forward question. She saved me the trouble of providing further links to back up my statement by doing it here when she accused me of being someone I definitely am not. That being done on the tail end of posts where she herself accuses others of making statements they have not verified.

#219 ::: Steve Lieber ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:59 AM:

David Goldfarb wrote:
"In today's mail came Sean Stewart's new novel, Perfect Circle, from Small Beer Press. I can't help wondering why this one is from a small press when the rest of it was from Ace. (Although when looking up on Amazon which publisher it was, I noticed that most of his backlist is described as "Out of print -- limited availability" which is a great pity if true."

Good news: Two of Stewart's titles, Mockingbird, and The Night Watch, are coming back into print in 2005. Details are at his publisher's page.

#220 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:31 PM:

worddude said:

So, Lisa, you were not the same person claiming to be a screen writer using a prodigy.net eMail address? This is what you're saying and you're sure you want to stick with that story? Okay. ;)

This was in response to Lisa Grant saying:

ROTFL! There's also a Lisa Grant on Google who's a porn star, one who's an environmental expert, and even a lesbian from Europe who sued the national rail system for discrimination against giving her partner the same travel discounts married hetero couples received. Last time I looked though - they weren't me.

Note that LG does not explicitly deny being the same one who did the screenplay scam, if scam it was. She denies being three particular people: 1) a porn star, 2) an environmental expert, and 3) a Lesbian from Europe. Her statement is clearly designed to make you think she's denying being the screenplay scammer (if scammer she was).

This sort of dodging should be familiar to anyone who's been watching Bush administration news conferences lately. It won't fool anyone here. Having read it I would also like to hear a direct answer to the direct question "Are you or are you not the same Lisa Grant as the one mentioned in connection with the screenplay scam (ISIW)?" Also the direct questions about her CV.

Marion Gropen:

Let's suspend this argument for a year or so, and then re-visit it. By then, Lisa should be able to show you real results, and that's the way to decide.

This could be exactly what it seems, a plea for a later sample. Or it could be a fairly lame attempt at delaying until TWC can scam a bunch more would-be authors. A year from now, LG could be saying "See? I told you I was legit!" But she could also be saying "So long, suckers!" as she boards the plane for Rio. There's no way to tell from the information we have; verifiable information on her CV would go a long way toward convincing me of her legitimacy.

#221 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 02:09 PM:

For mid-list writers (about 50,000 trade cloth sales) who can get a $100k advance, a typical royalty of $2.50 a book will earn them, after advance payback, a total of $125k. That same author with the same book and sales at TWC would get no advance, but would earn (after pre-press production, print and PR costs) a total of $250k. And that's before selling off any of the sub-rights, like mass market.

That's wonderful! Could you name two or three of The Writers' Collective wirters who've earned $250K through your company?

For that matter, could you give the typical out-of-pocket costs of a typical TWC author on the day that author's first book rolls off the press?

On the question of major reviews.

Nice week for them. It won't be repeated another 51 times, nor will it be for the other houses that also publish thousands of titles a year. NY Times alone would need to review nearly 70 books a DAY, every day of the year - just to handle the traditional houses alone.

Actually, it was a nice month for them. But maybe it was a fluke. So I just checked another month. Same results: 100% reviewed by one or more of Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal/School Library Journal, Publisers Weekly, New York Times. But maybe Random House has better luck with reviewers than other major publishers, eh? Just to make sure I repeated the experiment with Doubleday. Same results from a random sample. Maybe it's just that Bertelsmann gets better reviewed than anyone else? I tried again with a random sample from Viking. Same results. Everyone's getting reviewed.

In light of that do you care to revise your earlier statements?

Well, the math is right, but the research? Not so much. We have not one but two blocks of 1000: 1-59411 and 1-59590 (which is for our new division, Books2Go).

Well, since you don't mention "Books2Go" on your web page (sadly out of date, I know -- why not revise it so it doesn't give the impression of a skanky vanity press?) I don't know as the research was all that bad.

What determines whether you publish under the "Writers' Collective" imprint with its Scarlet-A block of one hundred ISBNs or under Books2Go? When I take those ISBNs you gave over to the Library of Congress, the first yields ten books, the second tells me that "Books2Go" is Red wheelbarrow literary magazine out of Cranston, RI. It's a college literary magazine. TWC is located in Cranston, RI. Maybe there's a connection.

Right. So let's look at that first block: 1-59411. Are you quite sure that's not really 1-594110-? No matter.

America, Here I Come: A Spiritual Journey
Amazon.com Sales Rank: 2,644,539

Seeds of Luck: The ABCs of Creating Your Heart's Desires
Amazon.com Sales Rank: 1,859,466

The Legend of Katama: The Creation Story of Dolphins
Amazon.com Sales Rank: 1,337,599

The Heart Chasers: A Tale of Twin Flames
Amazon.com Sales Rank: 2,143,374

Buds: A Story About Friendship
No Amazon sales rank

Thing With Feathers: A Different Romance
No Amazon sales rank

Turning It Around
No Amazon sales rank

Now & Again: The Ecstatic Doggerel of Samuel Beast
No Amazon sales rank

Sea Changes
No Amazon sales rank

Total Stanley Cup: 2003 NHL Playoff Media Guide, the Official Encyclopdeia of the Stanley Cup
(Not to be confused with Total Stanley Cup: Official Publication of the National Hockey League)
Amazon.com Sales Rank: 1,105,901

As we know, Amazon ranks by themselves don't mean much. But we know some general things about them: An Amazon rank in the 2-million range means that Mom bought a copy. An Amazon rank in the 1-million range means that Mom get her bridge club to buy copies too. And no Amazon sales rank means no sales at all through Amazon. That's a dipstick of sorts. Maybe those authors didn't have the money to pay for publicists? Or maybe their publicists fell down on the job. How to tell? How did their bookstore placement with the block-of-a-thousand ISBNs go?

Now the Total Stanley Cup book is interesting. Rather than being listed as published by The Writers Collective, it's listed as being published by Midpoint Trade Books. I'm sorry I didn't pick up on that being another of your imprints -- but the phrase "Midpoint Trade Books" doesn't appear anywhere on your web page. Could you expand on your relationship with Midpoint?

I think that answers all of your specific questions directed to me, Lisa. I have a few to you still unanswered both in this post and the posts above. I'd appreciate hearing from you.

========
Now let's look at misc.writing.screenplays

Lisa Grant the screenwriter with the Prodigy.net address says (2000/03/04): "I'm a freelancer who lives in New England." That might fit with Cranston, RI. Need more. On 2000/02/07 she says she's in RI. Need more. Lisa the screenwriter has a novel that she's sold (2000/04/14) though it doesn't appear to have ever come out. About the same time(2002-04-08), we hear from another Lisa, awriter@NOSPAM.com (awriter@NOSPAM.com), where a she says "I've been a 'member' of this group for a fair number of years..." and announces the start of The Writers' Collective. Seems that she too had a novel, but didn't like the contract terms offered. Her novel doesn't seem to have come out either. Same Lisa? Both awriter@NOSPAM.com and LGrant***@prodigyNOTSPAM.net (sometimes LGrant***@prodigy.net) are very interested in the trailer to What Lies Beneath. Same person? I don't know. Both of them claim to be screenwriters. Coincidence? Both of them are fond of signing off as "Lisa ([TEXT STRING HERE])" Coincidence? Both of them have a son. Coincidence? The Lisa from TWC who posts here seems to be named Lisa Grant and come from Rhode Island. Coincidence? Must be, because our Lisa Grant says, just above in this thread, "last time I looked they weren't me."

Oh, and The Last Bastion has an interesting publishing history, including a version in 2001 as an e-book, right? Who's Barbara Wellesley?

Too many questions. I do look forward to the answers.

=======

Oh, and this is going to make everyone smile. The lurkers support me in email! I'm not kidding, really. I've been hearing privately from people I've never heard of, who are ... let's say less than enchanted ... with Lisa Grant and The Writers' Collective. I mean, no reason anyone should believe me, but I couldn't stop laughing when I realized.

#222 ::: adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 02:12 PM:

I've never quite understood the "major publishers don't promote their own books" argument. I'd appreciate it if some kind soul could cogently explain to me why the frick any publisher who intended to stay in business would pay for both the rights and the printing of a book, then not promote it only so that they can lose all of their investment. It just doesn't make sense. Publishers want to make money. Not promoting your product--no matter what the business--won't make you money. Ergo--publishers are promoting their products fairly well if they're still in business, yes? So how on earth could anyone make the argument that any given publisher isn't doing promotions? Are they just printing books for the heck of it? Just printing the books of their friends/families/drinking buddies, even though the publisher will lose large amounts of cash? I doubt it. Books are generally published by a real publishing house because they think they can sell them, not because they take divine glee in letting the book languish on a shelf, then get returned.

Sheesh.

#223 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 02:15 PM:

I will vouch for 2 things;

TWC does reject manuscripts. This pretty much closes the "vanity press" theory. Don't believe me? Send her your slush. "I only want bestsellers". By conventional definition, a vanity press will pretty much publish anything given the author's ability to pay.

Secondly, Marion provides excellent financial guidance and advice. I doubt Marion would risk a solid reputation by knowingly supporting a scam. Thus I do not believe Marion is trying to help TWC scam money.

Beyond this, I cannot comment on the discussion intelligently.

Mike

#224 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 02:56 PM:

That they reject (some) submissions doesn't in itself make TWC benign, though. The issue is not whether TWC accept anything that is submitted to them, but rather whether it exploits "their" authors through violations of Yog's Law. Besides, the only evidence extant that TWC is, in fact, selective is the Lisa Grant claim you cite, which is contradicted by the sales figures that James MacDonald found. I'd be interested to see if Ms. Grant can show how that contradiction might be resolved.

I'd also be interested if Ms. Grant could explain to us how the TWC policy of not accepting submissions from "newbies and amateurs" (what, pray tell, is an amateur?) is in the best interests of authors in general? Would it not make somewhat more sense to help new authors find their footing outside of the confines of the publishing world (and their business practices) that Ms. Grant professes to deplore? Also, the implication here seems to be that novelists in the early stages of a career cannot produce the kind of quality novels (such as _The Last Bastion_) that TWC needs to build its brand. I think Maureen McHugh and Cherie Priest, among others, might disagree.

As for the rest: Mike, you'll forgive me if I find an essentially anonymous, very vague testimonial to Marion Gropen's smarts and integrity less than dispositive. Care to provide some more details?

#225 ::: BethB ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 03:08 PM:

Jim: You are my hero.

#226 ::: ElizabethVomMarlo ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 03:20 PM:

Okay, as a reader and a bookseller and library worker, this argument makes me laugh:
"The end result is that an outside publicist is a very wise use of the fledgling author's advance. Reviews just don't do it anymore. And the author also needs to be out there plugging his/her/its book."

Let's do some math.

Pick a time-frame, say six months. What books have you personally bought, advertised in these specific methods (outside publicity, radio interviews, and personal appearances) that you otherwise would never have heard of and not purchased?

What grand total of books have you personally purchased or borrowed from the library in that time period?

Now divide.

#227 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 03:32 PM:

Elizabeth: that's easy: 0%. I'm willing to bet that's 0% for my lifetime, too, because being on panels at cons or being a nice person on Usenet doesn't require a publicist.

#228 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:00 PM:

Adrienne, the explanation is that it simply isn't true. Major publishers do promote their books. Day before yesterday, purely out of sympathy for the interns, I helped them stick mailing labels onto two and a half kazillion promotional pieces that were getting mailed out to bookstores -- in support of a book that's by no means top of the line. The kids had already spent a big chunk of their day stuffing and mailing more elaborate promo packets that were going out to a different mailing list.

Sales and marketing is an entire department devoted to selling our authors' books. Advertising and promotion is an entire separate department that also devotes itself to selling our authors' books. And Publicity is a yet another department that -- guess what? -- spends all its time selling our authors' books.

These aren't the kind of "departments" that consist of one or two people who share an assistant with another department. Tor doesn't stint on editorial staff, but sales & marketing and ad/promo and publicity have us outnumbered. I'm not sure, but they might still have us outnumbered if you threw in production and the art department. Selling books takes a lot of work.

Mike-who-likes-TWC, I believe you're sincere, but they're unquestionably a vanity press. The authors pay to have their books published. That's the defining characteristic of the species.

#229 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:10 PM:

Although not in the ISBN blocks described, there's also:

Bird Song Ear Training Guide: Who Cooks for Poor Sam Peabody? Learn to Recognize the Songs of Birds from the Midwest and Northeast States, by John Feith. Amazon ranking 19,473 (but "not available at this time")

The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All, by Tom Atlee, Rosa Zubizarreta. Amazon ranking 46,123

The 8 Myths of Making a Living (and the Truth of Making a Life), by Mary Lyn Miller. Amazon ranking 51,846

Brushless Permanent Magnet Motor Design, by Duane C. Hanselman. Amazon ranking 263,922

Sign Language of the Soul: A Handbook for Healing
by Dale H., Dr. Schusterman. Amazon ranking 347,640

Find the Love of Your Life After 50!, by Alice Solomon. Amazon ranking 870,856

These are respectable sales numbers, especially for backlist.

It's hard to judge without seeing the books in person, but the prices on some of these feel a little steep, perhaps a clue in figuring out TWC's business model.

The next question is whether any of these books are stocked at national chains. I couldn't find any evidence that Borders or B&N stock these, using the in-store inventory feature of the respective websites.

Geoff

#230 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:41 PM:
There are 180,000 new titles per year. The average superstore can stock no more than 50,000 (new and backlist). You are going to be noticed how? One of scads of reviews? Maybe the bookstore buyer notices, but how do you get the reader to notice you? The end result is that an outside publicist is a very wise use of the fledgling author's advance. Reviews just don't do it anymore. And the author also needs to be out there plugging his/her/its book.
If I were a fledgling author, I would want to see some numbers to support that before I spent my money that way. Specifically, I would want to see:
  • Average sales for books similar to mine (same genre, for example) where the author did not hire a publicist (and none was provided).
  • Average sales for books similar to mine which did get the services of a publicist.
  • The approximate cost of hiring a publicist.

Such numbers wouldn't tell the whole story, but with a reasonable sample size I could get a good idea of the likely return on my investment.

And for all that everyone associated with TWC goes on about how unlikely it is that a book without a publicist will get noticed, I seem to notice a great number of such books. I can think of exactly one book I have purchased in the last year (out of a largish number) which had one, namely Guy Gavriel Kay's The Last Light of the Sun, and I only know about the publicity tour for that because I saw his tour journal online - I didn't actually see any of the publicity.

#231 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:45 PM:
Well, I did say the site was woefully out of date. We haven't published a single S.F or Fantasy (though we have a major S.F. coming out this fall) - and 90% of all our books are non-fiction.
Amazon seems to think that a number of your other books are fantasy, such as Rick Just's books (and they sure look like it). Maybe you should explain their error to them.
#232 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:53 PM:

For Mark:

http://www.gropenassoc.com/TopLevelPages/DoItYourself.htm

I bought this a few months back, to help plan a self-publishing project. I found the templates helpful and insightful (if not perhaps depressing...) I've run an ISP for a number of years, so I appreciate the pragmatic approach. There are alot of people touting how you can get 40-100% royalty by self publishing is disingenuous at best because the normal cost of publishing are not factored into the equation. Marion provides some of the tools required to get an honest assesement of your revenue and expenses. So take that for what it's worth.

As for TWC, I cannot say whether their a scam or not. I'm not a customer and conclude that if your going to self-publish you should handle all the details yourself anyways, once you've learned what those details are. Self publishing is chiefly an exercise in outsourcing, you do the writing then outsource all the "Major House" required details to professionals.

I'm not posting a full name to avoid getting dragged into a heated discussion. I chimed in because I felt you could not call something a vanity press if they screen manuscripts for marketability (or at least their tastes). But obviously everyone has a different definition of Vanity/Subsidy press.

Mike

#233 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 05:34 PM:

If you pay someone to publish, it's a vanity press. There are plenty of sub-categories these days, the names seem to change according to what extra services they **sell** you. Co-op publishing, self-publishing, POD publishers, book packagers, self-publishing, and of course Lisa's slightly new twist: "collective." I just checked out a few of these places online and dollar for dollar the company that charges the least, gives the best royalties, keeps no rights and seems to be respected, is the one our hostess mentioned: Booklocker.com They seem to be straight forward in what they offer and don't sell upgraded packages or even sell promotional packages of any sort, as far as I can see on their site. I know a while ago they were mentioned in Oprah's magazine and several of their authors have been on national talk shows and have sold books to traditional publishers.

There are success stories in self-publishing. Eragon by Chris Paolini was a self-published book that was picked up and became a best-seller. It was featured in People Mag a few months ago. Paolini was only a teenager when he wrote the book and his parents helped him publish.

#234 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:11 PM:

Book packagers vs. Vanity?

I noticed people mentioning iUniverse and Xlibris as if they are any different than Trafford or Vantage. They accept virtually any manuscript, collect money from an author and pay some kind of royalty. And the author gets the luxury of buying their own books at a discount. Whether you wish to call it a Vanity, Subsidy or Co-Publisher, sounds like the same thing to me, only their alot cheaper than their older brethren due to the use of digital printing over traditional offset. In all cases, the publisher owns the ISBN, not the author.

Book packagers on the other hand, the author owns the ISBN and is hence the publisher of record. Some packagers apparently screen manuscripts, most do not. However, the author is of course still paying for the work to be done, usually involving editing, layout and cover design. I get the sense that some vanity presses try to make themselves appear to be book packages, the easy way to decern the truth is to verify who owns the ISBN.

Mike

#235 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:18 PM:

Well, I did say the site was woefully out of date. We haven't published a single S.F or Fantasy (though we have a major S.F. coming out this fall) - and 90% of all our books are non-fiction.

Except for Sea Changes by Linda Grant De Pauw, of course, which is SF, and Rick Just's Wizard books and Windchaser by Victor Digenti which seem to be fantasy ...

I get 53 books when I search on Writers' Collective at Amazon (this includes some listed as from Midpoint Trade Books).

Of those 53, 28 are fiction/drama/poetry. 25, or 47%, are non-fiction. There's a bit of a difference between 90% and 47%, wouldn't you say?

Every time Lisa has given a fact that can be checked, what she's provided appears to be misleading or false. That doesn't give me a happy feeling about the details that I can't check -- the claim that the very top people are working with TWC (sorry, can't give their names...) for example.

#236 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:51 PM:

I plead guilty AND insanity since it's been my very opinionated opinion that leveling the playing field between traditional and self-publishers (which we've gone a long way toward doing; see below) was more important than keeping the web site up to date.

Nice false dilemma.

#237 ::: Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:59 PM:

I feel like a rabbit in headlights, reading through this today. So much happened while I was off with lupus-related stuff (again), and setting up a new Mac (hurray!).

I await Lisa's responses with anticipation of more wonders to come (or at least illumination as to what is really going on), but fear we may never hear from her again. Too bad. I was enjoying her posts so very much.

I was amazed to see her try to pick apart TNH's knowledge of publishing, publicity, and distribution. I admire our hostess's restraint. It's a good thing Lisa Grant didn't second-guess me -- and I'm a few years' shy of TNH's experience in the field (though I have some marketing and distrubtion experience she never had, having run major bookstores, too, in my youth, before going back to the bosom of a publishing house) -- but I'd have not been so restrained in any of my responses. In fact, Teresa may have had to disemvowel me.

TNH and Jim, you are my heroes this week.

Lisa -- why no response? The questions really were standard ones, and not at all flame-laden, if answered honestly and openly.

#238 ::: Marion Gropen ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 07:11 PM:

The point of my post that you should judge performance in a bit, is that TWC has just signed with a serious distributor, Midpoint. They have just set up a program which will allow books that meet these more rigorous standards access to a distribution network similar to that of larger publishers. This means that prior Amazon results aren't going to be similar to future ones, for books accepted into that program.

Note that this program and all of TWC's programs, are available to other publishers as well. Not all of their members are self-publishers.

I know about this, and what it requires and offers, because I vetted the contracts involved for operational complications. That doesn't mean that I will always side with my clients, only that I will always speak up to offer information, if given permission by my clients, that can contribute to the knowledge base of small and independent publishers.

That said, I must add that I appreciate Mr. Macdonald's attempt to ground the discussion in facts.

As for the old canard that publishers don't invest in publicity, that's not quite what I said. I said that publishers limit the amount they put into books unless the book begins to grow legs. That amount is carefully calibrated to maximize their profit. As an author, it is in your interest is to shift that calibration with your early books, in order to establish a track record of solid sales.

I must add that I think Mr. Blum's questions are exactly the right ones to ask. Unfortunately, the data mining in this industry hasn't been adequate to the task of answering them until very recently. It is still very hard for a small press or an outsider (like an author) to lay hands on that kind of data.

I would also like to thank Mike (whoever you may be) for the testimonial. I try very hard to make sure all my clients, even the ones for the Do It Yourself products see a full picture of the demands publishing makes. Rose colored glasses help no one.

Lastly, I think I should add that I am surprised at the level of emotional involvement in this discussion. Are things always quite this lively here? I may need to tune in more often.

#239 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 09:30 PM:

I have to throw in another oar.

Very often, when authors speak about PR or publicity, they start talking about publicity budgets. Having some limited experience sitting across from sales reps, I can cheerfully say that as the person placing the orders, very little PR had much effect for -fiction- ordering. I didn't particularly care to have things shoved down my throat, and often the most important element when considering novels by a new author was the cover.

But. Buried in some PR budgets are one thing -- possibly the -only- thing -- that I think are really of value to most published writers: placement money. Which would be the money that publishers pay bookstores to display your titles prominently. End-caps, front store displays in multiple pockets, etc., etc.

Very few authors get good placement dollars. Tor is sort of in a special position in that their SF/Fantasy -is- what they do, so if there -are- placement dollars, it's going toward genre books. But at the bigger houses? Not so much. Very not so much.

I've heard any number of complaints about lack of promotion. And the only one that I think is reasonable in an abstract way is the one that addresses lack of placement funding. (For fiction. In fact, all of this is about fiction. It's a lot easier to get media interest in non-fiction because it can tie in with various newspaper or news reporting needs, and that media interest can be valuable, especially for odd self-help books),

Teresa, out of curiosity -- if you're allowed to answer this one -- how likely is it that someone in TWC would be able to put down the kind of placement money that would get their books front of the store full end-cap displays?

Because as an author, if I had a choice between review copies, print ads, interviews, NYT coverage etc. etc. etc., and placement dollars, I'd beg and plead with the publisher to sink it all into the bookstore.

#240 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:14 PM:

If I see a book promoted or read a good review, or a friend recommends it, I'll buy it. The cover doesn't really influence me.

I was under the impression that bookstore sales were not the breadwinners for book selling success. At least that's what self-publishing guru Dan Poynter says, and I have no reason to doubt him. He usually backs up his statements with enough references. Maybe it's just self-published books that don't sell as well at bookstores. That would make sense. They are often far more expensive.

But even so, don't a large percentage of books gets sent back as unsold from bookstores?

How many people go as browsers planning to make a choice at the store? Do more people buy online now? Do they go to the bookstore with a particular purchase in mind? If so, how did they hear about the book in the first place?

Why do birds fly? Why is the sky blue?

#241 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:14 PM:

Let's talk very briefly about the publicity for TWC, such as it is.

I'll take Lisa at her word that things are going to pick up in the next few months, as far as getting reviews in major review venues (Booklist etc).

I'll take her at her word that so far bookstore placement in the major chains hasn't happened, for all that she's planning to change that soon.

So, what's left? The on-line bookstores.

Look at those TWC books at Amazon and Barnes&Noble. See how many of them -- books that have been out for a year or more, along with recent releases -- that have no cover pictures. Books that have no editorial matter, nothing talking about the book. Nothing giving a possible buyer a reason to plunk down cash.

Look at The Phoenix by Ruth Sims. You can't even tell what genre it is, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. And if it's fiction, is it a romance, a mystery, a fantasy? If it's non-fiction is it a learned discussion of legendary birds? The life a politician? Something to do with a city in Arizona?

So, tell me. What have those fancy publicists, without whom no new writer can hope to survive, been doing? Putting up cover scans and blurbs on Amazon is so cheap and easy that even PublishAmerica does it.

Here's another: Pandemic: A Novel by J. A. Lourenco. At least the title tells us it's a novel, otherwise someone might think it's a medical textbook. If it weren't for the customer review, there wouldn't be a hint what this book was about. Where's "About This Book"? Where's "About the Author." Who fell asleep on the job here?

Where are the covers? They're designed by Really Top Designers, right? Covers are supposed to help sell the book, right? Those covers are one of the selling points for TWC, right? Why aren't they being displayed?

So... just on a very minimal level, what happened to TWC's publicists? What kind of sales are these books getting?

#242 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:37 PM:

For midlist authors, the bookstore sales -are- important. You can make a living as a midlist author. There are returns from bookstores, yes, but they're less by a lot than the returns from rack jobbers (the people who are responsible, generalizing, for the books that are sold in supermarkets, drug stores, etc.).

Covers in this case make a difference. Perhaps they don't make a different to you, as a reader - but they can make a difference to buyers (as in, the people who order the books for the stores from the publishers).

Getting widespread distribution through non-bookstore channels can be important; if you can get a solid mass market order from the rack jobbers, your initial laydown is much higher. So far so good. For certain books, however, the -cover- presentation really makes a difference. Lets take... romance. Romance covers with the infamous "clinch" will find their way into a rackjobber's heart with far more ease than more restrained covers.

But... more and more bookstores prefer the more restrained covers. In some cases, it's worth experimenting, to see if getting a much higher -initial- order overall is worth the higher returns. In one case I can think of, the orders were higher, the shipping numbers higher -- and the returns, also, much higher, when the jobbers weighed in; the garish cover was underbought by the bookstores, which have a better sellthrough, so the midlist author actually fell behind by going for the higher initial numbers and the theoretical broad exposure.

I confess that I'm very, very out of the loop, and will now have to go and google on Dan Poynter, so I can't speak to that at the moment. And I'll do that right, ummm, after the page proof misery is over. Which is what I'm doing here, now. Working on page proofs. Yep.

#243 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:43 PM:

Yeah, WordDude -- bookstore sales aren't where it's at for self-published authors. Dan Poynter is right about that. You'll notice that every one of Dan's own books is non-fiction.

If you have a book that would reasonably do well nationally in a bookstore, it's easier, and a whole lot more profitable for you, the author, to let a traditional publisher pay you for the privilege to sell your book.

Self-publishing works best for books that get sold out of classified ads in the back of specialty magazines, or for people who sell books face-to-face: poets at readings, inspirational speakers selling their book from the back of the hall after the lecture.

That's still specialized non-fiction.

If I'm after general fiction, I'll head to the bookstore and look on the shelves for something that looks interesting.

#244 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:44 PM:

I see your point. The store buyers are in indeed the first line in the customer chain and naturally the book cover would be a major influence. They don't have time to read about every book and they want their stock to look attractive and not offend anyone I am sure.

If you're a self-publisher, the name Dan Poynter (www.parapub.com) is not far from your thoughts. On a personal note, he's a wonderful human being and a gentleman, as evident by his always polite posts to various writers' groups and my own experience through e-mail conversations with him. While I did not meet him myself, I do believe he was at the BEA conference in Chicago. He gives talks all across the country.

#245 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:46 PM:
I must add that I think Mr. Blum's questions are exactly the right ones to ask. Unfortunately, the data mining in this industry hasn't been adequate to the task of answering them until very recently. It is still very hard for a small press or an outsider (like an author) to lay hands on that kind of data.
Er, that's why I was asking you. You made the recommendation - do you have data to back it up? Assuming that hiring a publicist to promote a book costs on the order of what I am assuming, that's a fair amount of money to drop just on your say-so.
#246 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:46 PM:

It occurs to me that I should make it clear that everything I've said, in however stumbling a fashion, refers to fiction.

#247 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:50 PM:

Good point to make Michelle because my mind is in non-fiction and niche markets, so we might be comparing apples and oranges with our research. I have no doubt ample cleavage and a hot looking guy will sell a romance book. Not sure what it would do for a math book though. Ha!

#248 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:16 PM:

worddude said:
I have no doubt ample cleavage and a hot looking guy will sell a romance book. Not sure what it would do for a math book though. Ha!

Oh, please, please let this happen! From your mouth to Springer-Verlag's ears, worddude. I get so sick of those yellow covers.

#249 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:39 PM:

Not all of the books published by TWC lack editorial reviews. Personally, I'm all aquiver for
Voices from Beyond: The God Force, the Other Side, and You by Isaac Nwokogba.

New Age Journal calls it an "Engrossing book . . . could not put it down. I highly recommend this book . . . Definitely a must read!"

The specificity of this review is encouraging.

#250 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:59 PM:

Andy Perrin wrote:

Oh, please, please let this happen! From your mouth to Springer-Verlag's ears, worddude. I get so sick of those yellow covers.

Hey, there are some nice constants in this world: e, pi, and yellow covers from Springer Verlag.

( Some of their non-math specific imprints have different colors, IIRC. I could be wrong, as most of my radar books come from Wiley or Artech House.)

#251 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 12:11 AM:

You know, it would do a lot to spruce up those tedious CEB legal practice books, too. I know I'd be more inclined to plonk down a stack of cash for California Rules of Court--State--2004 if it had a hot babe or two on the cover. Oh, and some nifty ad copy.

#252 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 12:51 AM:

There's an annoying practice for engineering books where editors will pick an arbitrary graph from the book, and use it for cover art. In most cases, it can look good, and is the rough equivalent of flashy cover art for SF titles...

Unfortunately, one of my radar systems books has a 2-d ambiguity plot on the cover. When I look at it, I see an ambiguity plot-- or at least I did, until shortly after I purchased it, when my wife looked at it, and wondered why there was a line drawing of a hygiene product on the cover.

#253 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 01:33 AM:

You know what this thread has lacked to date?

Politics! What's a Making Light thread without politics?

So, without further ado, take it away, Newspaper of Record!

HARTFORD, June 10 - A state employee and longtime confidante of Gov. John G. Rowland solicited a $32,000 loan from the nonprofit foundation that supports the governor's residence so the governor's wife could publish a children's book, "Marvelous Max, the Mansion Mouse," according to documents released on Thursday by the House committee investigating whether to recommend impeaching Mr. Rowland.

The foundation's lawyer rejected the idea as inappropriate. But the chairman, Wilson Wilde, later wrote a series of personal checks totaling more than $41,000 to have the book illustrated and published. In a telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Wilde said that at the time he expected profits to benefit both Patricia Rowland and the Governor's Residence Conservancy.

...

According to an affidavit submitted to the committee by John Tucker, president of Norfleet Press, the book's publisher, the book has not even sold enough copies to repay Mr. Wilde in full. "No profits have yet been made and I would be happily surprised if there were any profits in the future," he wrote.

Wow. You can't buy publicity like that. (Or maybe you can.) She did everything she could, went and did the bookstore signings like she was supposed to, did the whole Published Author thing. But it wasn't enough to earn out. So, guys, who wants to step up and help out Mrs. Rowland, poor old Mr. Wilde, and the nice folks at Norfleet? Buy a copy of "Marvelous Max, the Mansion Mouse" now! (Soon to be a collector's item.)

The illustrations are really nice (they're by Wendy Rasmussen).

So.... I guess publicity isn't everything, is it?

#254 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 01:35 AM:

Thankfully, my field, fluid dynamics, tends to produce many beautiful pictures. These make their way onto book covers*. It's the math books I can't stand.

* Disclaimer: Dr. Cohen is one of my professors, and I made some smallish contributions to the 3rd edition of this book. This cover is for the second ed.

#255 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 11:27 AM:

The S-V book that kept me up all night reading had a blue cover (Serge Lang's THE FILE, if you care).

There are undoubtedly differences between specialty bookstores and general bookstores. Covers definitely make a difference in specialty stores (butch women sell!); so does one of the people in the store falling in love with a book. Our hardcover bestseller for three months was a YA anthology (FIREBIRDS edited by Sharyn November) because both Dave and I were blown away by the quality of the stories and pushed it unmercifully on any of our customers who we believed had an inkling of taste (and this was the busy Nov-Jan period!). Did it make a difference nationally? Probably not, but it made a serious difference in our bottom line!

How do people know what to buy in our store? We tell them, doing our best to match what they've liked before to what they might like now and sometimes helping them move to a new level (like reading Melissa Scott when they're tired of David Weber).

#256 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 11:39 AM:

Second what Tom said - and apologize for not mentioning it earlier; that handselling is very important to our specialty store and its bottom line, but I've no clear idea of how its influence extends beyond that, and for the purpose of discussion, it seemed very specific. Personal, even. But certainly it's my favourite part of the store work .

Oh -- and I absolutely refuse to take any responsiblity for the comments about how SV's covers could be ... improved ...

#257 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 02:22 PM:

For the curious, this is the cover I referenced in an earlier post.

#258 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 02:27 PM:

Oh yeah, with wings, too. This is what happens when you get a department that's too male-dominated. Any woman would have noticed that in a minute. Reminds me of the time Addidas (or was it Nike?) came out with a women's running shoe called "Incubus"

#259 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 02:50 PM:

Bill:

Thank you for the link to the dubious cover, fortunately I was not eating or drinking at the time.

They put *that* on a textbook cover?

Bwahaha!

#260 ::: Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 03:24 PM:

While my 2003 book title was unerringly on target (book about lupus titled LUPUS has little questions attached to it), it would have been soooo much better with a hot dude or chick on the cover. Dammit. Targeted sales be damed, I want a hot dude!

Wrapping back to publicity: sitting in the author's chair for once (and what a weird trip that was), I witnessed a midlist nonfiction publisher (Marlowe) get this series (of which I was a part) not only end-cap placement in B&N for a month, but a review in the NY Times for my title. Am I unhappy about their publicity? No. Did I work with my own publicist? Yes, for local talks and signings. (More on why, below.)

Would I pay for a publicist to do that again? Probably not, but I would "hire" a friend with a good speaking voice (hi, Jim -- you're it, if I do this again) to do the calls to hospitals (medical, in my case), bookstores, etc. to book gigs. Why? Because at least in medical nonfiction I ran into a glass wall when trying to book gigs as the author myself. A third party booking, based on my own research, though, does the job perfectly. Weird, but true in my case. Again, this is only one person's experience, but I'm curious as to whether this is pandemic in the industry from an author's POV.

I know fiction writers don't necessarily get the brush-off when trying to book their own gigs -- or do they? Is this a fiction/nonfiction phenomenon? Or perhaps genre/nongenre?

I know we have booksellers (hi, Tom) as well as authors here. Anyone?

#261 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2004, 07:00 PM:

Nancy H: Your friend has delivered up five books to the Moloch that is PublishAmerica? That's heartbreaking. They hate letting their books go anywhere else, and if they do let them go, it's only after charging the author a substantial ransom. Meanwhile, their contract has no reversion clause. Authors who've publicly criticized them have found that their books had become unavailable for the duration of the contract.

Karen FB, your one-week manuscript turnaround can be easily explained: you must have sent it just in time to catch the young doing one of their slush-reading marathons. Did it come home smelling faintly of pizza?

That's not our fastest turnaround on record. You know how the Post Office will occasionally deliver a letter to its intended recipient at barely sublight speeds? One writer's manuscript caught one of those waves on its way to Tor, arrived just in time for a major slush party, was read and returned the day it came in, and caught another one of those waves going home. The turnaround time was measured in hours, not days, and the total number of them didn't make it into triple digits.

We became aware of this when he sent a bemused follow-up letter asking whether that had really happened. I phoned him to confirm that it had indeed, and that it didn't mean his book was exceptionally dislikable.

Contrary Mary, the industry has no interest in luring young writers into a starvation lifestyle. Writers do that to themselves. I have exactly twice seen an editor or publisher suggesting than an author might quit their day job to write full time. In both cases, the author had written several bestselling books. Furthermore, the reason authors' earnings aren't publicized is simple: that's their private financial information. If they want to talk about their advances and royalties, fine. It's just that it's not our place to do it for them.

Bryan, glory upon you for "Personally I have nothing against vanity publishing, it's just that I would like to see the other deadly sins represented as well."

I wouldn't nominate any examples of prideful publishing, on the grounds that that's subsumed under "vanity".

Sloth is the book with obvious uncaught logical errors, a stock art cover, cliche-ridden back cover copy that was hacked out in three minutes by someone who hadn't read the book, and an index in the back whose page numbers refer to the hardcover edition, not the reset and repaginated mass market edition in which it appears.

Gluttony is the needlessly over-elaborated, needlessly prolonged novel that stretches out to 512 pages what could easily have been done in 288 or 320.

Wrath is the novel written during a painful and messy divorce in which the excptionally evil villain is a thinly-disguised portrait of the author's soon-to-be-ex-spouse.

Envy is the snide, psychologizing, underhandedly dismissive review an author writes about a colleague's book that has had the temerity to outsell his own not wholly dissimilar book by an order of magnitude.

Lust is the desire for a Hugo, Nebula, Pulitzer, Newbery, Booker Prize, et cetera.

Finally, greed is the overpriced third-generation tie-in nonbook aimed at the readership of a particularly well-beloved book or series.

Mr. Anonymous, things like that are best said under your own name. If that's not an option, they should be concrete and specific -- and, if possible, documented. I'm not saying you're wrong or right, just that there's a proper form to these things.

Lisa Grant: That's a lot of words from you, but the simple fact remains that you're running a vanity press. Sorry. That's just the way it is. Authors pay to have their books published = vanity operation. Like certain other professions, being a vanity publisher is defined by the fact that you're charging for it. Talking about the circumstances that led you to take up this line of work, or how picky you are about your clients, is just haggling over the details.

More on this anon, and on the interesting matter of Marion Gropen. My husband has a gig tonight.

#262 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 11:34 AM:

For mid-list writers (about 50,000 trade cloth sales) who can get a $100k advance, a typical royalty of $2.50 a book

Since when is 50K hardcovers a "midlist" book? Does "midlist" cover everything short of the Clintons? (And even if it does, 50k hardcovers sounds very much above the \median/ sales; can any of the professional editors comment on this without breaking confidentiality?) And what is the chance of a book from WC breaking into that precious midlist?

Of course. Distributors take a rather dim view of folks going off to sell books from their van, and rightly so.

AFAIK, the distributors who take a chunk of NESFA Press's volume don't object to the sales tables NESFA runs at 3 conventions per year, or the direct sales to bookstores and other dealers. I don't know if NP has ever had an author ask to buy a box of books to sell on their own, but I'd be astounded if anyone fussed. (For "author", read "author or heirs" -- much of NP output is material that was out of print because -"Dead authors don't sell."-)

wrt to the license-plate-style display of ISBN size: NP has 2 6-digit prefixes; I doubt it has hurt. I have my doubts about 5-digit prefixes being much better for access to sales outlets; "real publishers" seem to start at 4 digits (?DAW, Mysterious?) and go down from there (e.g. Tor 812, Penguin 06).

Disclaimer: I've done a lot of work for NP over the last 25 years but I do not speak for them. (And the mathematicians who are giggling over my abbreviation can just....)

Marion Gropen: Lastly, I think I should add that I am surprised at the level of emotional involvement in this discussion. Are things always quite this lively here? I may need to tune in more often.

-"That depends on what the meaning of 'emotional' is..."- For instance, do you think Houdini was "emotional" about exposing fraudulent spirit mediums? I expect that everybody on this list knows successful writers, borderline writers, second-income writers, hobbyist writers, never-made-it writers, should-been-a-contenda writers, might-be writers, and never-had-a-chance wannabes. At every level you'll find saints, ordinary people, and SOBs, not to mention people who can be all three depending on how you approach them or the phase of the moon -- but the permanent SOBs are a pretty small minority. Most of them have something they think is worthwhile that they want to share with the world; they don't deserve to be the prey of scammers. (Dope-slapped, maybe, some of them, but not victims.) Even the ones who want to get rich deserve the same honesty we'd give a ghetto kid dreaming of a professional sports contract, not the lies that are legion from the just-give-us-money people. It may be that there are new models that would give authors a bigger share -- but all of us have lived through the 1990's and the endless claims that the old paradigms were irrelevant; even something that doesn't look like traditional vanity press will get a long hard scan from people who are in the business. (Like Nancy, I am impressed by Teresa's forbearance at Lisa's you-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about line.) And yes, you could say most of us have an emotional attachment to books -- but that's combined with knowledge of how hard it is to write something that's worth money out of other people's wallets.

#263 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 11:40 AM:

That'll teach me to post without 6th thoughts. "Real publisher" in my comments about ISBN size was inexcusable; DAW and Mysterious Press are both widely known and commonly found in bookstores. (And there are some three-digit ISBNs that start with a serious deficit in my buy/no-buy decision.) I'd comment more on 5-digit numbers if I were at a system that let me get under the hood so I could see which of them are in my own library -- maybe tomorrow....

#264 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 09:40 PM:

Lisa says:

"It’s a small world after all. That block of ten (least expensive) ISBN is secretly coded in a way that lets everyone from reviewers to wholesalers know you’re small fry, or worse."

Y'know, I was just casually looking at The Writers' Collective pages, specifically at their Titles Scheduled For 2002/03 Publication (I know, I know, page hasn't been updated in a couple of years). I couldn't help notice that some of their books had that supposedly kiss-of-death Block of Ten ISBNs on 'em.

Specifically:

Back To Life, by Kent Messer
ISBN: 0-9716734-0-3

Laughs: Breaking Into Standup Comedy, by Ed Moltzen
ISBN: 0-9716734-7-0

The Big Purple, by Robert Jonez
ISBN: 0-9716734-4-6

Wizard Chase, by Rick Just
ISBN: 0-9716734-5-4

America's Heartland Remembers, by David Marcou, Teacher
ISBN: 0-9716734-3-8

From the Hearts of Children: Letters to President and Mrs. Bush by Kathy Hoorn, Teacher, and The Students of Richland Elementary School
ISBN: 0-9716734-2-X

Feed My Sheep, by Allen Brewer
ISBN: 0-9716734-9-7

------------

The other ISBNs from that block are on the Current Release page.

THE 8 MYTHS OF MAKING A LIVING MARY
LYN MILLER
ISBN: 0-9716734-1-1

THE PHOENIX
RUTH SIMS
ISBN: 0-9716734-6-2

-------

0-9716734-8-9 is still missing.

I wonder if Lisa explained to those authors that those ISBNs were the Kiss of Death that meant no bookstore would ever handle their books and no reviewer would read them? Or ... was she talking through her hat?

--------

More on that:

Y'see, I've read her article in the NWU magazine. Lisa provided the article gratis, BTW. Big hearted of her.

Then we come to paragraphs like this one:

"You reap what you sow. Self-publishing may make you richer in the end -- but be prepared to spend it on quality production. The New England-based Writers’ Collective, for instance, requires a commitment from writers that they will "do for their book everything Random House would do if publishing it." That means hiring professional editors, interior and cover designers, and indexers. It means sending out galleys with media kits three to four months prior to actual publication, and it often means hiring a publicist."

In the interests of full disclosure, I think that Lisa should have mentioned somewhere in her article that she owns The Writers' Collective, don't you?

Tell me, Lisa, does "often" mean "always"? Are the editors, designers, and publicists picked from a list that you provide? Is it true that you maintain a blacklist of people that writers aren't allowed to use?

#265 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 10:09 PM:

Following the above link to TWC's Current Releases, we find at the top of the list, Lisa Grant's own The Last Bastion. Nice to get top billing!

It was "rated five hearts," that sounds pretty good. Follow that link through to http://www.heartlandreviews.com/, which I must say is the creepiest and sketchiest sounding book review site I've ever seen.

Just for instance, the reviewer's credentials are:
This copywritten process was developed by our chief reviewer, Bob Spear, who spent almost nine years of his twenty-five year career with the military testing and evaluating highly complex military systems and concepts.

Well! Aside from what seems to be a misunderstanding of what can be copyrighted, this just sounds plain odd.

Let's scan some reviews
Bloodline
Publisher (wait for it...): The Writer's Collective
"High Four Hearts"

Is Nothing Sacred?
Publisher: The Writer's Collective
Four Hearts

Alter Sphere Megamorphis
Publisher: The Writer's Collective
Three Hearts (ouch!)

Flight From Eden
Publisher: The Writer's Collective
Four Hearts

Legacies
Publisher: Tor Books (hey! Tor Books! I've heard of them)
Three Hearts (Too bad, Patrick)

Desperate Measures
Publisher (believe it or not): PublishAmerica
Five Hearts

Fire Logic
Publisher: Tor Books
Three Hearts

The Rock Rats
Publisher: Tor Books
Three Hearts

In this guy's defense, he also gave Michael Chabon's _Summerland_ five hearts, so perhaps he can't be all that bad.

I note in passing that HeartlandReviews also offers professional editing services.

#266 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 10:12 PM:

Postscript:
I see that a Dr. Mark Draper is both a member of The Writer's Collective and a satisfied customer of HeartlandReview's editorial services.

#267 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 11:52 PM:

Nancy, at Other Change of Hobbit we treat requests for signings the way we treat a lot of things. If someone whose book (or books) we know and love is going to be in town, we'll make an effort to get them to come by. If someone whose books fly out the door is coming through and we're offered a stop on the tour, we'll either jump up and down with delight or grit our teeth and accept it (this may not relate to quality but to our experience of the author as a person). If it's someone we've never heard of, with a book we've never heard of, from a publisher we've never heard of, we will either ignore them or politely explain that we don't think anyone would show up.

Locals have a better chance than non-locals, in part because we're more likely to have read their books or their books are selling to their friends.

Unfortunately, we've fallen off the radar of many firms' publicity agents for several reasons: we buy most books from Baker and Taylor, rather than direct. We tend to have small but intensely interested parties: if you're used to 300 people as a minimum for Neil Gaiman and the store only gets 100, that looks bad even if the customers all brought the books they'd already bought or buy them there. Some people, like Neil, have insisted on doing at least some specialty stores during their tours, and we deeply appreciate it!

We've set up things for authors who've called. We won't stop. We try to do a cost-benefit analysis that includes the emotional "nobody showed up and I'm totally bereft" measurement.

Just to name an author that most of you haven't heard of that we're excited is coming in July: Leah Cutter, who has two books out from Roc, both paperback originals and both books we've pushed at great length. It's not because I've met her: I'd do the same for Susan Lowachee, who I don't know from Eve. Their books are good, and they sell: and our customers want to meet those authors.

Our customers want to meet them: that's the primary thing that makes a good author appearance. If nobody's heard of your book, the customers probably don't want to meet you. I bet we'd get a _lot_ more people for a Karen Joy Fowler signing now than we did a few years ago (a subtle recommendation for the brilliant and critically acclaimed THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB by KJF, her serious breakout novel: may it give her output and backlist legs!).

#268 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 11:58 PM:

"Just for instance, the reviewer's credentials are:
This copywritten process was developed by our chief reviewer, Bob Spear, who spent almost nine years of his twenty-five year career with the military testing and evaluating highly complex military systems and concepts."

Hey, I've done that, I could be a reviewer, too!

(assume the lecture on the difference between testing and evaluating software, hardware, and concepts vs. reviewing literature)

#269 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:43 AM:

James Douglas Ignatius, whatever would I do without you? And CHip, that was very well said, aside from the part about NESFA authors mostly being dead writers who don't sell.

Which is not to slight any of the rest of you who've made perceptive and apposite comments. Michelle Sagara, for instance, who when it comes to bookselling is a woman who surely knows what she's talking about. (The same goes for James Nicoll and Tom Whitmore, aside from the gender-specific bits; which is not the end of the list, but if I started reciting everyone's qualifications, we'll be here all night.)

Michelle, I don't know whether TWC is mechanically incapable of making deals for endcaps, display allowances, corrugation, and all the rest of that pound-of-flesh-nearest-the-heart stuff; but I tend to think that a publishing house that can't pay its own printer is not going to be ladling out placement money in the required amounts. To be a little more judgemental about it, I also tend to think that a company whose model depends so heavily on online booksellers, but which hasn't ported its cover images and cover copy to Amazon and B&N, probably doesn't understand why placement allowances are worth the gouging usurious prices charged.

It's late. I have to go to bed. I have two things to say before I do. The first is people like Michelle Sagara have a depth of expertise that's far beyond the kind of facile nonsense you get from Lisa Grant, Marion Gropen, M. J. Rose, and all that ilk. Listen to her. She's saying stuff that's worth remembering.

The other thing I have to say is that no one should give me any moral credit for my forbearance in the matter of Lisa Grant. I haven't been forbearing. I've been snowed under with other stuff, and I have one of my best and oldest friends visiting this week, and -- okay, I might as well say it -- Lisa Grant's said so many dubious things that I didn't want to get started on them, because I knew it'd be a long time before I stopped.

#270 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:50 AM:

Are there any legitimate organizations of any manner in this industry outside the big trade organizations? From the sound of this group, the answer is a resounding no. Interesting....

#271 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 02:27 AM:

Alex Cohen wrote:

Just for instance, the reviewer's credentials are:
This copywritten process was developed by our chief reviewer, Bob Spear, who spent almost nine years of his twenty-five year career with the military testing and evaluating highly complex military systems and concepts.

Well! Aside from what seems to be a misunderstanding of what can be copyrighted, this just sounds plain odd.

Actually, it doesn't say the process was "copyrighted", it says the process was "copywritten".

So... hmmm... that would simply mean he wrote the text of the process?   But then the word "copywritten" would be redundant, because — even without it — the rest of the sentence still says he "developed" it.

Or perhaps "copywritten" is intended to connote "written in the manner of advertisers' 'copy'"?   That is, it's not simply a process that would meet military systems' standards (no doubt it's field-tested under simulated battle conditions) — but it also has a snappy, catchy style!   Memorable slogans!   Jingles!   Not sold in any store!   Order now!   Supplies are limited!   Operators are standing by!

#272 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 05:24 AM:

Mike asked,

"Are there any legitimate organizations of any manner in this industry outside the big trade organizations? From the sound of this group, the answer is a resounding no. Interesting...."

Define "this industry" (publishing as a whole? science fiction publishing? self-publishing?) Define "big trade organizations." (SFWA? Major publishing houses? NWU?) That's one hell of a wide brush you're painting with there, and I haven't seen _anything_ that would justify you in picking it up.

On the one hand, this thread has been largely devoted to TWC and other organizations that make authors pay to publish them. _That's_ what the publishing and creative people on this thread consider illegitimate: organizations that violate Yog's Law, that money flows _toward_ the author (cited in TNH's initial post, as it happens).

The discussion of the failings of TWC has _not_ focused around the problems with an organization dedicated to attacking some of the problems with the modern publishing industry and the way it treats midlist or unconventional authors.

It has focused around the idea that TWC (and all the other vanity presses) charges authors handsomely for the privilege of...what, exactly? A website that hasn't been updated in two years? "Professional-quality" graphic designers and editors, who just happen to remain nameless? Placement in major review journals like Heartland Reviews, unlike those evil major publishing houses who never get books reviewed in Kirkus (James MacDonald, call your office!)? The ability to gain lots of publicity for TWC's mission (as opposed to gratuitously insulting experienced industry pros when they ask some basic questions)? The basic bookselling element of getting a picture of your book up on Amazon and BN.com? Where exactly is this money _going_?

But you claim that the pros who hang out at Making Light don't believe in the legitimacy of any other industry-related organizations. Let's talk science fiction, since that is where the focus of many of said pros lies. Does the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America not count? (how about the NWU, for that matter, which I don't notice anybody here criticizing). How about SFRevu, or SFSite, or NESFA, or LASFS? What about small presses like Tachyon, Small Beer, Golden Gryphon? Hell, do you think the people in science fiction publishing on this weblog have a problem with _conventions_, for Ghu's sake?

Let's make this very explicit so as to avoid claims of misinterpretation. The people you are criticizing have no inherent problem with organizations in the publishing industry outside of major publishing houses, etc (even the web community discussed in Slushkiller wasn't criticized for its existence or mission, but for the way that it went about things). They have a problem with organizations in the publishing industry that charge authors for the privilege of publishing them (outside of some very narrow, carefully defined circumstances), rather than the other way 'round. If you are going to use implication and innuendo to accuse them of doing otherwise, you're going to have to bring a _hell_ of a lot more evidence than you have adduced thus far.


#273 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 07:45 AM:

I'm not convinced charging someone for publishing is always a scam or anything bad. These are adults. Anyone with an IQ over 80 can visit Xlibris, Booksurge, iUniverse and Publish America and see them for what they are. It's the writers' money and their business. Ten minutes on Google will give anyone a good overview on the downside of vanity publishing.

What I do think is dishonest is a company that tells you their fee is X amount of dollars and once you've paid and signed a contract, you disover the fee will be significantly higher because the "publisher" is refusing to publish your book as agreed, unless you jump through a series of hoops. Hoops that were never mentioned in the orignal contract. The selling point authors controlling their own book soon flies out the window. Your book is being held hostage. The demand for money for services the author may not want never stops and you either pay or "you can't have your book published through us" which means you've lost the money you've already spent. Quite often several thousand dollars. The fact that the publisher receives a percentage of all the fees authors pay to these outside "experts" makes the entire process rather dubious IMHO.

#274 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 08:09 AM:

Teresa: sorry about the dead-author phrasing; I was being too compact in pointing at this as belief rather than fact -- and that is itself a (common?) belief about ]Marketing[, from whom we hear directly (e.g. at conventions) much less than we hear from ]Editorial[.

Mark: good answer to Mike; my mind (on too little sleep) locked when trying to come up with other examples of small organizations that obey Yog's Law (except for Old Earth, which is also reviving neglected authors).

worddude: how many of these sites tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; how many misrepresent either commercial publishing (cf above points about TWC, or the classic "You'll never get in the door of a major without having had your manuscript edited by a pro") or the amount of publicity/sales/distribution they will handle? I haven't looked at this in detail and have seen reports of some that are honest about the little they do; others have had their misrepresentations dissected here and elsewhere.

#275 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 09:19 AM:

worddude wrote:

What I do think is dishonest is a company that tells you their fee is X amount of dollars and once you've paid and signed a contract, you disover the fee will be significantly higher because the "publisher" is refusing to publish your book as agreed, unless you jump through a series of hoops.

It's really just the Spanish Prisoner/Nigerian Scam. "Just a few more dollars, then your novel is free/we both make millions!"

#276 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 09:21 AM:

Regarding advertising, does it really make a difference for the Science Fiction and Fantasty market?

I ask because I've never bought a book because of a book review, or in store signs, or books at the end of the aisle. When I enter a bookstore I go singlemindedly to the Fantasy section, and there I browse from A to Z. I will buy things on recommendations from people I know, or from the guy who runs the bookstore, and that's about it.

So does a publishing budget made a huge difference? Or am I an atypical reader and book purchaser?

Tom Whitmore:
I loved 'Paper Mage' but haven't read her second book, because I wasn't sure if I'd like it as well. Are you saying her second book is as good as her first?

#277 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 09:27 AM:

For the most part they do offer the basic services they say they will. You will be supplied with an ISBN number, have your book formatted and some will provide a cover. The professionalism of the last two services varies from one company to another. The fee to get an actual book in your hand, using POD to print, ranges from $200 to approximately $3000 using one of these companies. Interestingly, the least expensive company is also the company with the fewest complaints and the best reputation.

Some companies offer other services that they try to sell you. Like any sales pitch, it's best to sit back and take a good look at what the offer is and check around to see if you can get the same service less expensively somewhere else. Or, do you even need the service? For a writer who is self-publishing, postcards and other promotional items may be necessary tools.

There are problems from time to time even with the best of companies. This is publishing. There are problems at times at Random House now and then. Quite often novice authors go on the internet and complain from hell to heaven about the company, when in fact it was nothing more than an unfortunate happenstance during the process. Sometimes bindings crack, pages are crooked or even missing. People mess up. In general, the POD books do look good if they're formatted and designed correctly.

If you are planning to sell a self-published book to the public, then editing is obviously essential. As noted here though, editing is not required for manuscript submission to a traditional publishing house.

At the moment, the self-publishing industry has two forms of vampires in its midst. The first is the company that takes your money and your signed contract and has you by the short and curlies. They demand you purchase other services or they will not produce the book as promised. People don't seem to read these contracts very well. Some companies tie up your book for years. Some will allow you to leave, but the cover design, edited version and the interior layout belong to them and they will not give you the files. You get to start again.

Some of these companies are much more generous. You still own everything and when you leave you can take it with you.

One thing many writers get confused about is the ISBN. Since the company supplied the ISBN, you must also change that and relist your book everywhere.

Some self-publishing companies will allow you to use your own ISBN and logo if you choose. This is spelled out in those contracts people don't seem to read.

The second type of vampires are the Wannabe Publishers. These people probably aren't dishonest, just inexperienced. Since many writers have no idea what constitutes a good book layout or binding, these companies continue to thrive with low-quality products. If everyone is happy then I guess this is O.K..

#278 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 09:40 AM:

Michelle: it's 2004. Advertising is everything. What you are responding to is the next link in the advertising chain.

John sees a book advertised, is sent a review copy or reads a review about the book. John reads it. John likes it. Now John is giving verbal testimonials (called advertising) to you. You buy the book. Something convinced that first person to read the book.

Once an author has a following, the advertising becomes less necessary because readers are waiting, and the advertising becomes more subtle. At this stage, it's a brand. One example is that the book covers will have a recognizable look for years. Check out Daniel Steel's books to see what I am talking about.

#279 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 09:51 AM:

worddude,

I'm not 100% certain about that; the last book recommended to me at my local bookstore was 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing' by Francois Place. (Although it's a kid's book, I loved it and highly recommend it.) Before that it was a mystery author that he particularly likes.

#280 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 10:04 AM:

For sure there are exceptions. Low-budget projects making it big. Low-budget projects that are worthy of Pulitzers but forever go unnoticed - due to lack of promotion. In general however, there is no other way for Random House to let us know their newest titles are out if they don't post on the Internet, send out ARCs and advertise. A plug in People Magazine would surely make a self-publishing writer a few bucks. Hell, if you've written a book you can murder someone and the resulting publicity will sell books. People cannot buy it if they do not know it's for sale. Advertising works. If you don't think so take a look at the shoes in your closet, the CDs by your bed or think back to the last new television program you watched. You didn't just stumble on those brands, those artists or that show.

#281 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:22 AM:

Actually worddude, books don't always work the way shoes do. And heck, even shoes don't work just because of advertising the way you seem to imply.

I am a boot addict. I don't just go to Dillards and say to the clerk, "I'd like a pair of size 8 1/2 Doc Martens in black leather, just like I saw on TV."

Nope.

I wander the aisles, picking up shoes and looking at them. I own many different brands, most I'd never heard of before. It's pick up the boot, eye it, try it on, admire in front of mirror, jump up and down to see how that works, wince at the price, hand over the credit card.

I only know those boots are for sale because I see them on those little riser doohickies in the store.

Books are much the same.

Cover art and blurbs sell more initial books (at least in the genre fictions and based on my own experiences) than anything else. Then it's word of mouth. (Once they're in the store.)

If you go to a B&N or Borders and watch people in the fantasy section, I think you'll see what I mean. (Ditto the library.) There's lots of picking up books, reading the book jacket and first chapter, etc.

Ever wonder why the bookstores installed coffeehouses? It's not just to sell coffee. It's a way to get people to sit down and look over books. (And many are lost due to staining, so it's not risk free.) The more people get a chance to try out books, the more they'll buy. Because they're making new choices, trying out new books, etc. In this instance, the advertising is the text itself.

Michelle's experience matches my observations as a bookseller, buyer, library worker, etc. Nonfiction...different animal.

#282 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:35 AM:

worddude - I agree with most of what you're saying about advertising, but I think you're combining two different concepts. When X Book Co. advertises in "Bookdude Weekly" which bookseller John then reads, X Book Co. is purchasing the space, writing the copy and exhibiting the best graphics to sell the book. Advertising in this format enables them to control the message and emphasize the bits of the book they think will sell the best to the largest group of readers. Bookdude Weekly is reproducing that message faithfully because it is being paid to - their motivation is to satisfy their customer, X Book Co.

When John sees the advertising and makes a recommendation to Michelle, X Book Co. has lost control of the message somewhat, even though they may have started the ball rolling. He may tell Michelle about a part of the book that X Book Co. thinks is the weakest bit - something they wouldn't advertise if their printing presses depended on it. His motivation is different from X Book Co's - he wants to sell more books to his good customer Michelle in the future, and isn't just going to regurgitate a rosy marketing message (if he's smart, that is). He will hopefully give her his honest opinion in order to retain her trust in his judgment. As a result, I would call that Public Relations. John's endorsement seems less like an advertisement and more like a review or article.

Put more succinctly, I once had a PR flack say to me - "If I tell you I'm a great lover, that's advertising. If someone else tells you I'm a great lover, that's PR." Crass, but has did stuck in my mind after more than 15 years.

#283 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:39 AM:

has did? oy. Sorry. It has stuck in my mind.

#284 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:39 AM:

Elizabeth, I will repeat what I said earlier: My entire focus is on non-fiction and on niche markets. So, let's make sure we're comparing apples with apples.

As for advertising. It depends on the product. Self-publishers have to advertise. Ninety-per cent of them will never see their books on book shelves. The nicest cover and best written blurb on the planet will be of little use.

On the other hand, advertising will sell any book. Dr. Phil's books are walking off shelves faster than you can stock them in some areas. Those sales are the direct result of publicity and they would not be seen if they depended on the purchases of casual browsers. The same for South Beach Diet and dozens of other titles.

Large publishing houses advertise. They would not be spending millions on it if they didn't see a return on their dollar.

Each day, how many librarians hear: "do you have that book they were talking about on television last week? The one about the kid who saved his family?" Or, something very close to this?

#285 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:58 AM:

Teresa -- thank you! -- it's been years since anyone has actually made me blush (as opposed to cringe ).

I wanted to say a couple of things about ISBNs. DAW now has a 4 number pub prefix -- but so does Tor, and one other company that escapes me at the moment. As an example, the new Caroline Stevermer novel, ISBN 0765303086 is printed as a 3 block number, but is actually, by the various forumlae used to determine ISBNs, a -four block- number; it should be printed on the book as 0-7653-03038-6 (don't ask me why I know this, because I might actually answer ). The fact that it's printed as a 0-765-303038-6 on the book is an error.

When my husband turned 40, I wanted to do something special, and in my egocentricity, I thought I would write a novelet for him. We printed it here, hand cut it here, folded it into signatures here, and then went to a hand-binder, handed the signatures to him; he was very surprised because it was the first time we'd done this, and the signatures were very neat. For 60.00 Canadian, he clothbound the book and made a cloth-covered slip-case as well, and I had a pleasant time choosing end-papers.

However... one of my friends, who actually runs a very, very small press for Scrabble related books, could not -bear- the idea that I would actually have a physical book in my hands that did -not- have an ISBN. So... this edition of -1- book, which will never be reprinted, has an ISBN, and is now technically a publication of that press .

In Canada, however, ISBN numbers are free.

Tom> When you mentioned Susan Lowachee, did you mean Karin Lowachee? Author of WARCHILD and BURNDIVE? (I adore her writing, but there could be a Lowachee I haven't been exposed to yet)

Michelle> Your point is well-taken, and it's kind of what I meant when I said that mid-list authors and bookstores worked together well without the big PR budgets that are often talked about. Even the books I handsell to readers like yourself, I've picked up pretty much the way -you- would; if they come with a cover, it's often the cover that first catches my eye and causes me to open the book; if it's a galley, it's the author or the blurb. The only difference between us is that I'll try desperately to remember what you did and didn't respond well to when I made previous recommendations, and adjust accordingly. [I won't actually recommend a book to a customer based on one gush. Thus, if someone comes in and says "Loved Orson Scott Card! Give me someone else!" I'll ask for at least two other authors the reader -also- liked.]

But this may be why people do shop in specialty stores, and I'm perfectly willing to admit that we're dealing with a specific segment of the reading audience. There are at least three authors who do not sell for our store in hardcover, but, significantly, sell far better overall than authors we can't keep on the shelves.

(next rock)

#286 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:03 PM:

wordude> I didn't even know that shoes -had- brands that were attention worthy if they weren't running shoes. I listen to music my brother foists on me. I watched Firefly because Tanya and Chris carefully told me that I would find "Out of Gas" structurally interesting (which was true, but it was evil). You can make generalizations, but they are that, and in the case of books, I lean more towards Michelle in my experience with our customers.

The exception? Baen readers. I don't know why. If more is wanted on this, I can go on a bit.

But... I originally stopped by because I spent yesterday at BEC, which I still call CBA (gah), and I decided to ask a couple of small presses about end-caps and front store displays. Nobody answered the question about how much it would cost, mind, but I did find out something significant. The small press can be willing to -pay- the money, but it's highly unlikely that they'll -get- the space; i.e. not only do you have to have the money to spend, but you -also- have to have the clout to be -allowed- to spend it.

Thus, Tor could push someone like Jacqueline Carey. KUSHIEL'S DART -is- a first novel, but it had great cover quotes, and it is published by the people who -also- publish Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, etc., etc. Because Tor has their NYT bestselling authors, and is perceived to be putting "weight" behind Carey, the chain can easily believe that -this- book they're being asked to place heavily could be the -next- NYT bestseller. So they'll take Tor's money, thank you very much.

But a smaller press that was in every other way legitimate? Not for fiction. Just... not for fiction. It's not just about the money.

And a publisher that isn't a publisher, like TWC? I just can't see it happening -- not for fiction. I don't understand how non-fiction works in that regard.

>>Once an author has a following, the advertising becomes less necessary because readers are waiting, and the advertising becomes more subtle. At this stage, it's a brand. One example is that the book covers will have a recognizable look for years. Check out Daniel Steel's books to see what I am talking about.

As you can see from the example above, wordude, it's not quite as simple as that. In fact, books like the King or the Grisham, etc., are -more- likely to get that kind of money for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the chains are most receptive to taking money for -those- authors. The authors at that level are their own investment, and they -have- to get that kind of coverage if they're to remain that high flying asset to the house list. They do, otoh, often have a "big book" look, which will be regularly changed with the release or launch of a new title -- but that look, imho, is side-effect, not advertising per se.

And I have seen disaster covers for High Fantasy authors -- covers that were treated like "big book" NON FANTASY covers, and just failed to reach the audience that was buying hundreds of thousands of the books otherwise. One author whose name I tactfully won't mention had two covers done. In a dump, the publisher used the hardcover art; for the singles, they used a cover that -- like a Grisham or a Steel -- was mostly type; huge name of author, slightly smaller title type, small illustration that served as a graphic design element.

We sold out of the books in the dump in two days. And thereafter, although we double-pocketed the damn "big book" book, we -still- had people, every day, come up and ask us where the new paperback by that author was. After -that- book, though, the author's paperbacks were done in the usual High Fantasy style associated with his works. Some things have to be tried, and at least this was intelligent; they did both. I often wonder what the difference in sell-through for the two covers was, because I'm not sure that could be tracked separately as most databases tend to be based on ISBN. Anyway, big digression, sorry.

Next down, are those who have demonstrated a following with plain numbers. Laurell K. Hamilton is an NYT bestseller for a series that, at inception, got the usual Ace promotion, which would be, to Lisa Grant's eye, none at all. When it was noticed that the books had some momentum, the -sales force- began to get behind them. The sales force has a fair amount of clout when it gets together to speak. If your sales force, for instance, is clamouring for the next "series" book by an author because they can sell that, there is a certain pressure. And they do; when people say "the publisher wants", it often means "the sales force asked".

#287 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:11 PM:

On the other hand, advertising will sell any book

I think you're overlapping publicity and advertising a bit. If Dr. Phil were an unknown, advertising wouldn't have helped him.

#288 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:14 PM:

worlddude said:

On the other hand, advertising will sell any book. Dr. Phil's books are walking off shelves faster than you can stock them in some areas. Those sales are the direct result of publicity and they would not be seen if they depended on the purchases of casual browsers. The same for South Beach Diet and dozens of other titles.

Who is Dr. Phil? If he's some sort of diet guru, it seems to me that you're confusing "celebrity book" and "advertising unknowns". Most of the diets seem to make their way into the public eye via the "some celebrity" is on the "latest woo-woo" diet route, not the "I saw this book on a billboard" method.

#289 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Advertising can lead a bookseller to water, but it can't make him drink. I won't personally recommend a book based on an ad; I'll often say "this book has been selling well to people who like Terry Brooks" or recommend something I think is total dreck because it fits my understanding of what the person I'm recommending it to likes. That's what I see as professionalism in bookselling: learning to match the person and the book independent of my personal beliefs. Yesterday someone who loves the complexity and depth of the Martin _Song of Ice and Fire_ series asked me about Robert Jordan: I steered him to Dorothy Dunnett instead. If he'd mentioned Piers Anthony's Xanth as something else he loved, I'd probably have suggested he try Jordan. Context is everything. Readers' mileage varies.

/reviewer mode Michelle, I don't think _The Caves of Buda_ is quite as good as _Paper Mage_ - it's a bit too much of a romance novel for me - but it's completely different, quite interesting and if I'd read it as a first novel I'd read the author's second. It's possible she'll follow the Robert H. Greenan model of never matching her first novel's beauty and power again, or the Tim Powers model of having high and low points for me (I don't count his Laser books as in his Main Sequence -- they're more like practice books, so I start at _The Drawing of the Dark_). Give it a try: the idea of having a viewpoint character with something like Alzheimer's isn't new (see Dickinson's marvelous _One Foot and the Grave_), but she does it very well. /-reviewer mode

#290 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:19 PM:

wordude> If Michelle was talking about fiction, which she clearly was, then replying with points that are valid for non-fiction is beside the point, and defending the points as valid for non-fiction when, again, it's clearly fiction that was being discussed, almost silly.

Nancy> What Tom Whitmore said about signings. Sometimes, you just do them anyway, even if no one is going to show up; it's a lot easier, for a first time author, to get people -to- show up when they've had a chance to read the book (which is not usually when the tour is done, but I digress). We had a great time yesterday for R. Scott Bakker, and sold a lot of books -- but this was our second signing for him, and for the first signing, it was... not very crowded.

Authors: In the above situation, where the store is -not- crowded, there are two approaches to take. The first is to be uncomfortable, unhappy or even annoyed. The second is to be laid back, "up", cheerful, friendly -- with the staff, with the harried publicist, etc. My advice: if you can't do the second, you should probably avoid going the signing route at all.

But if you can do the second, you'll be remembered fondly, and the human element in wanted to push and support the books of a nice person can't be quantified, but certainly does exist.

#291 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:33 PM:

Michelle: While I did want to make that point clear, I guess I misunderstood. I thought she was responding to me with fiction when I was discussing non-fiction, and not the other way around.

I thought the entire thread was about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. For self-publishing with companies like TWC, advertising is essential. Again, sorry if I misunderstood. I'll gracefully bow out now and allow the experts the floor.

#292 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:37 PM:

Let's simplify everything. From Preditors and Editors:

Writers’ Collective, The: a vanity publisher. Requires membership. Not recommended.
#293 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:49 PM:

worlddude
If you don't think so take a look at the shoes in your closet, the CDs by your bed or think back to the last new television program you watched. You didn't just stumble on those brands, those artists or that show.

Well... I rarely purchase shoes. When I do they are purchased SOLELY on the basis of being comfortable, coming in black, and looking like they were made to last. I couldn't tell you what any of the brands are. The last CDs I bought were artists I heard on Mountainstage, and I don't get any TV stations, so we watch no TV. The last TV shows I watched (on DVD) were Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (all seven seasons) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both we watched initially because they were loaned to us by someone who knew our tastes and thought we'd like them. (Okay, we'd actually first watched DS9 years ago, but it was loaned to us then.)

So, I can think of very little that I have purchased that was due to advertising, books or no books.

But I may be an unusual case.

#294 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 12:58 PM:

worddude> I kind of thought that the initial thread was about Vanity publishing, which is different from self-publishing; the segue into PR was in response to Lisa Grant's posts here -- which did make no distinction between fiction or non-fiction. I find the comments about non-fiction enlightening.

Given the entirely different creatures that are fiction, non-fiction and children's books, it would make sense that there would be different responses. In Michelle's case, though, she specifically asked about relevance to fiction, which is why I mentioned it.

#295 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 01:01 PM:

Michelle: When I say "you" I am saying that generally. I don't mean Michelle specifically. But I have to wonder if Nike would be a top-selling shoe (running shoe) brand if not for advertising. Is a Nike running shoe really that superior to Brand No Name X? Aren't many of the generic brand products actually produced by the big name companies and sold without the label?

And the same goes for Dr. Phil. Once again I'm using these examples generally. I am obviously not in the same geopgraphic area as some of you, so my advertising and branding experiences will be much different than for a guy living across the country or in England or Australia or Canada.

I don't think there's any doubt the big publishing houses spend a large amount of money on advertising. So Michelle, and this is to you directly, do you really think they'd do so if it didn't pay off? I'm not sure. I don't think so but stranger things happen.

#296 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 01:02 PM:

Tom,

Thank you! I'd been contemplating getting her second book, but I just wasn't sure about it (I tend to avoid fantasy books that are based anywhere near current reality) but I think I'll pick it up next time I come across it and have spending money.

#297 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 01:04 PM:

My problem with this thread is that there's just too much interesting stuff I want to respond to, and some of it goes back a week and a half. For instance, there's this comment from Tracina:

Here's something that doesn't often get considered by those people who think they'll publish with a vanity press, promote the book themselves, and use that success to broker a deal with a traditional publisher:

A friend of mine decided (against my recommendations) to publish her nonfiction book with iUniverse. After wearing herself out for a year promoting her book (and not being able to write the second because of the promotional work she was doing on the first), ...

This is an underrated problem with the self-promotion model. Marketing and writing are separate talents. Some authors (say, Carole Nelson Douglas) have a real knack for self-promotion. The rest are to a greater or lesser degree going to be plodders who'll get a poor rate of return for their hours invested.

An appeal to common sense: If authors working on their own were an adequate mechanism for selling books, do you think publishers would go to all the trouble and expense of maintaining a sales force?

I've seen both scammers and honest (if in my opinion misguided) defenders of self-publishing preaching the idea that if you really believe in your book and in yourself as a writer, you ought to be willing to get out there and sell it. Naturally, this leads the more susceptible writers to think it's all their fault that their self-published novel hasn't sold. (I sometimes find myself imagining what it would have been like if young Greer Gilman had had to go out on her own to try to hawk Moonwise to her regional bookstores.)

Authors who have day jobs aren't oversupplied with writing time, and doing your own sales and promotion can eat all of it. This is particularly painful to see when a writer's at that point where their work is nominally publishable, but hasn't yet made that last jump into being really compelling. It's a confusing, frustrating, and vulnerable stage for them. What they should be doing is writing other, better books. Instead, self-publishing sidetracks them into throwing everything they have into supporting books that belong in the trunk.

As any experienced editor can tell you, it's the books that don't quite work that'll eat you alive. A book that's obviously broken can be set aside. Books that do work may require some fixing and twiddling, but it's a finite process. Books that don't quite work are a bottomless pit of time and energy, and that holds true whether you're editing, rewriting, or hand-selling them.

If writers wanted to spend all their spare time laboriously selling products for which there's no great demand, and doing it outside normal sales and distribution systems, while being exhorted to Get Out There and Try Harder by people who all seem to have gotten out of the business of trying to sell the basic product, and into the business of convincing other people to try to sell it, they could have saved themselves the trouble of writing their books in the first place, and gone straight to selling Amway.

But more about Tracina's friend:

... she *actually did* sell enough copies to be able to go to New Leaf Distributing and get them interested in carrying the book. Then the deal fell through because iUniverse doesn't discount books to distributers. This makes iUniverse and the author herself the only sources for the book.
That's a problem with a lot of these operations. They don't offer bookseller discounts, or they don't take returns, or both; which makes it extremely unlikely that their books will be showing up on anyone's bookstore shelves.

It's a bigger problem with the PODs. Since their books are produced by Lightning Press, they couldn't offer a full bookseller discount if they wanted to. And if one of their titles were to start to take off on the strength of word of mouth, as sometimes happens with books from small conventional publishers, they'd have neither the production capacity nor the distribution to feed the demand. All those potential readers would find some other book to read. Maybe a few would remember the recommendation. Fewer still would hunt down a distributor and buy a copy sight unseen. And that, mind you, is only if it's that great rarity, a book that sells itself.

What's the minimum a general-interest publishing house needs if it's going to sell books in quantity to the general public? Roughly speaking, they have to have a distribution deal that involves pallets and trucks as well as pixels. They have to offer a standard standard discount to booksellers, and take returns. They need to be represented by a sales force that makes calls on bookstores and distributors. (If the publishing house is small, they're going to be sharing that sales force with other houses. No prob. It's a very common arrangement.) Finally, they have to be capable of producing books via conventional printing and binding methods. They don't have to produce every book that way, but they have to be able to do it when it's appropriate. Miss out on any of those, and you're in the land of the semi-published.

(...)

Okay, okay, just a couple more things.

Worddude, if your book goes out of print at one conventional publisher and is picked up by another equally conventional publisher, the design, packaging, art, and typesetting don't go with it. Those legitimately belong to the publishing house that devised them. If the new publisher wants to use them, they have to pay the old publisher whatever amount they agree on.

I don't know whether this is still going on, but there used to be a quiet little game of Gotcha played by production departments. As I was taught it, if one of your editors buys rights to a book that's already been in print from another house, and the typeset pages of that edition are good enough to use as your originals for offset reproduction, you don't have to ask for permission to use it. However, if the other house spots it and sends you a bill, you have to pay them two or three bucks a page. If you spot them using your repro, you send them a Gotcha note and a bill. Overseas publishers were the exception. They were so unlikely to see your edition that it was unsporting to use their repro without telling them.

Michelle: Congratulations. Not many people notice the actual length of the Tor ISBN prefix. That one was Tom Doherty's ideas, back when we were a scrappy little startup. A week or so after we get a new head of production, they'll notice the creative hyphenation and become alarmed. Then someone (most often me) explains that bookstore scanners and distributors' databases don't notice the difference.

Of course advertising works for SF and fantasy titles -- if you bear in mind that a lot of our advertising is wrapped around the books. It's only our habit of thinking of those things as book covers that keeps us from seeing them for the little advertising posters that they are.

A more arcane form of advertising consists of paperbacks that wind up getting stripped. Tom explained this one to me. He said that part of the cost of stripped paperbacks really ought to be accounted as an advertising expense. He said that one of the main ways we advertise our books is by physically having them out where people can see them, which inevitably is going to mean some copies will be wasted. Then he grinned and said, "But since we're printing so many copies, which drives down our per-unit cost, we really do make it up on volume. ... Well, some of it, anyway."

#298 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 01:18 PM:

So much for bowing out gracefully.

I guess I can be forgiven since most people in this discussion have not self-published or work within that industry.

Lighting Source is not the only POD printer. They are an attractive option for these companies because it means the books can slide into Ingram's distribution system with less hassle. Fidlar-Doubleday, Bang, Princeton Books, Seridan Books, Central Plains, and the list goes on, will all print a POD book and most of these companies also offer offset printing. Many legitimate offset printers have gotten into the POD end of things because it's lucrative and almost essential in today's marketplace.

Some self-publishing companies do take returns and some do have distributors. TWC has Midpoint. Small, perhaps, but Midpoint seems to be a legitimate company.

A good way for a self-publisher to make the most with the least it to publish through someone who works with Lighting Source/Ingram. That gets the book into the ordering system and on Amazon, etc. The author can then also print 2000 books offset and distribute those himself. Depends on the contract with the self-publishing company as to whether you can do this or not.

#299 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 01:29 PM:

The lines between true vanity publishing, book packagers and self-publishing are skewed in 2004. Some self-publishing companies are serving more as book packagers. The author uses his own ISBN and imprint, and the company is used more as management than anything else. The books are still sold through the publisher and royalties paid to the author. Booklocker will allow authors to use their own ISBN and logo.

There are others that offer their collective clout to negotiate lower prices with printers so a self-publisher would be wise to check them out. Booksjustbooks.com is one such example. While the author may be self-publishing they've now hired a company to either do some of the work for them, or negotiate a better price. The deal may include a portion of sales or it may not and the same company may offer all of these options to authors.

#300 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 04:19 PM:

I suspect I'm being either hopelessly naive, or missing the obvious (or even both), but why go to a vanity publisher if you just want to get your book out where it will be read? Why not just make a free download? Not even my mother would ever want to buy a copy of my diss, (knock on wood, I should live so long, etc.) but for the three people who might want it, I see no reason to make them pay for it, nor any point in paying someone to publish the wretched thing. (And yes, I know about University Microfilm, but that still costs too much.) I'll put it online. I'll likely at least put it in .pdf form, making future plagiarists have to do a bit of work, but I see no value being offered by vanity presses, and though scholarly publishing does have added value, the books, while worthwhile, are too much for the average scholar to afford.

Why bother with a vanity press? I very much doubt that their sales would match the numbers of downloads, and it's much much cheaper, if you really just want to be read, to go digital. And no, based on what I've seen, the editorial services of Publish America or The Writer's Collective (yes, I've looked at books from both) are not worth paying for.

So why?

#301 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 04:40 PM:

Why? Well there are niche markets and if you are willing to promote you can sell a few thousand copies of a book. No, Penguin won't be interested, but most writers wouldn't refuse an extra two or three thousand dollars.

Digital media isn't available to or accepted by everyone. I would never read a book on a computer. I read in the bathroom. The e-book format has never been determined and all e-books are not available for all portable readers.

Some authors do sell more. Angela Hoy at Booklocker.com, MJ Rose and Dan Poynter have been successful through self-publishing. That success can be measured by the amount of money made or by the fact that the book was picked up by a traditional publisher. Depends on what you want.

Ego. Some guys just want to tell their friends and associates they have a book available on Amazon.

#302 ::: Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 04:59 PM:

Michaelle -- I believe the other publisher you're thinking of that now has four-digit prefixes is Pocket. We (Baen Books) get our ISBNs from Pocket (who is our distributor): our current prefix is 0-7434. Used to be 0-671. Before that ... gods, I'd have to go look. They seem to change about every year, now. I've been warned we're getting a new prefix from Pocket any day now. Someday they'll change so fast for us that I won't be able to remember them in my sleep. Gah.

(~~Baen's production manager, freelance wrangler)

#303 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 05:01 PM:

Lisa, my guess is that the majority of people who "just want to be read" actually mean "I want to have a physical book, because that's what everybody agrees makes you a Published Author." Never mind that going to a vanity press so you can say you are published is like getting a certificate by mail that says you are a minister. It may *technically* be true, but...

#304 ::: Tim Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 04:19 PM:

"Why bother with a vanity press?"

Hi Lisa, the reason I went the self-publishing / vanity press route (I did both and am a former Writers' Collective member)was because I truly believed in my message of teen violence prevention, and simply did not know how to get it published by a large publisher. Though there have been many trials and tribulations that I've endured, (and a fair number of shark infested waters in the self-publishing world I swam through blind-folded), the good news is that to date my book has been credited with preventing two Columbine-style school shootings.

Without self-publishing / vanity presses, there would no doubt be parents grieving over their dead children in a high school somewhere.

While preventing those senseless acts of violence are reward enough, I can't help but wonder if these accomplishments good enough to garner the attention of a larger publisher?

Smile often,

Tim Hutchinson, Author, "Battle Scars"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Teens Know How to Get INTO Trouble
I Show them how to Get Out and Stay OUT
tim@americanyouth.net, 651-340-2089
http://www.AmericanYouth.net
Seminars & resources to *stop teen violence*
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

#305 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 05:59 PM:

Hi, Tim --

Did you try going the traditional route?

#306 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 06:03 PM:

Why bother with a vanity press?

If you want a slightly fancier version of taking a book to the printer, they're fine. Yearbooks, club cookbooks, books on local history, family trees, that kind of thing--you might want one of them bound nicely and book-iferous-ly. Of course, in those situations you probably don't have illusions about your book becoming a bestseller.

#307 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 06:25 PM:

Without self-publishing / vanity presses, there would no doubt be parents grieving over their dead children in a high school somewhere.

Tim, I wonder how many more people you could have reached with the resources of a conventional publisher behind you, promoting your information in venues you didn't even know about and so never knew to promote yourself in? Conventional publishers have entire departments for promotion -- getting the word out about your book. They're good at it; it's what those people do for a living.

Kudos for taking action on an issue that meant something to you. Now what you need to be doing is evaluating your course of action and seeing if you can do better.

#308 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 06:33 PM:

Well, mythago, those are all examples of specialized non-fiction with an identified niche market. Price isn't the main consideration where a member of that audience is concerned.

If you can reasonably expect that you'll be looking every one of your book's purchasers in the eye at the time the sale is make, self-publishing makes more sense than anything else.

#309 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 08:15 PM:

But even in that case you don’t really want a “vanity press” in the traditional sense (that is, the sense of “we pretend that what we’re doing is either equivalent to or the Next Step Beyond traditional publishing, and because you’re naive, we can clean out your wallet by doing this”) — you want a book manufacturer. You might as well go straight to Lightning Source. Heck, if you don’t ever expect to make any money, and just want your book nicely bound, you can go to Cafe Press and pay them fifteen bucks.

#310 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 08:47 PM:

Ligtning Source is the last place you would want to go directly. They charge to upload a file then charge again to upload any changes you might have made from the galley. Every time you upload a file you get charged. A good printer will not do that. That is not how they make their money. That is how companies that cater to the POD crowd make their money. Booksurge (formerly Digitz) and Lightning Source and Phoenix Color all make their money on the mistakes of novices. One way to spot these companies is that they ask for PDF files only. Most pride-in-work printers want all the native files, that way they can check each element of the cover and book text to ensure it is formatted correctly.

Another reason not to go to Lighting Source directly is that unless you have several titles,I think the magic number is 10, you cannot easily get into Ingram's distribution system. For self-publishing writers that distribution system is important.

#311 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 09:45 PM:

>>>I don't think there's any doubt the big publishing houses spend a large amount of money on advertising. So Michelle, and this is to you directly, do you really think they'd do so if it didn't pay off? I'm not sure. I don't think so but stranger things happen.

The problem with this question is that the definition of what constitutes advertising is not a universal one. In the event that a publisher puts a lot of money behind a book (the amount of money spent on the "advertising campaign" becomes an integral part of the campaign, and a high advance for an unknown is very effective advertising because it makes people curious if you make certain it's widely know. I digress) the money goes to many different things, any one of which might actually be -the- important thing. Or any combination of things.

This is about *fiction*, though. Without doubt, the advertising does pay off. But -which- of the many different types of PR that went into the campaign were the successful ingredients can be argued for at least as long as numbers-of-angels-on-pin-heads. And, as I mentioned above, to my eye, given that I'm bookstore trained, it's the tens of thousands of placement dollars that are critical (for fiction). Many authors fixate on the publicity tour, the NYT ads, etc. Personally, you would have to pay me a lot of money -- I mean a LOT OF MONEY -- to get me to do a publicity tour. Many weeks in hell. A friend who was sent on tour asked, "How will I -work- at my -job-?" to which there was a very long silence. Again, I'm digressing. I'm not at all convinced that publicity tours are useful for fiction authors.

If, however, covers are part of advertising (I don't think they hit the P/L that way, but that's a quibble), then I would amend my comment. I would beg and plead for all the money to go into the -cover- and then I'd put what was left over into the placement.

I did not understand the idea of "clinch" or "genre" covers until I was at home with my first very fussy child. I understood it much better then. I actually bought books -at- supermarkets for the first time in my life, ever, because they were targets of opportunity, period. I had -- if I didn't want to deafen the store and give myself an ulcer -- about three minutes to -find- a book in the racks that might do. All the advertising in the world didn't make a difference. Brand names did -- because that's what most jobbers rack, so there wasn't exactly a huge amount of choice -- but there were a number of SF titles and mystery titles that did also make their way onto the racks, recognizeable immediately by, yes, the more garish or illustrative cover. 3 minutes. Easy.

It seems, otoh, that much of the fiction PR is aimed at, and to, bookstore patrons/buyers (by buyer, I mean the person who places the order with the publisher).

So, TNH's comment above, that the advertising is the cover, is very, very true for venues like drug stores and supermarkets -- books are a target of opportunity, not something that can be browsed at length. Actually, I'll take that back. It's true in the store as well, but in a different way.

Does anyone remember USHURAK (I think that was the title -- I'm being amazon.com lazy at the moment, but the Hildebrandts had their name on it in the '70s or very very early '80s)? It got promoted like -crazy-. Where is it now. Or DRAGONWORLD? Ditto. In genre, I can think of a significant number of titles that -got the money- and the -ads- and the format, and the sales push, and even the reps behind it for one reason or another, that then failed to -sell-.

So... to answer your question, worddude: It depends. Yes, as an answer, that sucks rocks. But there is a tendency in this business to remember -only- the successful campaigns; a tendency to say "if my book had been promoted -exactly- like so-and-so's, I would be Rich Rich Rich". I've seen books that -were- promoted that way, and the authors aren't. Rich, I mean.

It can never -hurt-. It's just no guarantee. It's like hedging your bets. But the more money you sink into it, the more you have to make in order to have a P/L that won't get you up in front of a firing squad (or at least that's my understanding of things). Shipping a lot of books is great -- but if they don't sell, and the sell-through is bad, and the expenses were high, it's just all around bad for everyone. Except -maybe- the agent of record.

I hate to beat an old drum -- because there is no way of actually using this or bottling it -- but word of mouth is still very important in the business. What's much, much more tricky these days is giving an author time for word of mouth to reach a point where momentum kicks in and numbers go way up. If you've got word of mouth, but the book is out of print, it doesn't help you at all. And I've seen a number of authors build that way.

#312 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 10:27 PM:

I believe someone once said: "I know half of my advertising budget is wasted. The problem is that I don't know which half."

(remembering it as Urshurak, but equally unwilling to look it up)

#313 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 10:46 PM:

Without looking it up, I'm sure it was URSHURAK, and like DRAGONWORLD a Byron Preiss production. Despite those (and many other!) obvious failures, Preiss appears to remain someone who delivers a sellable book Often Enough that he keeps being a viable packager for many publishers. Either that, or he's one of the best schmoozers in the world, and knows what buttons to push on top publishers.

It's very clear that a packager doesn't need to bat 1.000; but I have actually no idea what batting average keeps someone in the game. Has anyone ever measured this? What's the rule of thumb at (e.g.) Tor? Is this mentionable information?

#314 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:00 PM:

Well, mythago, those are all examples of specialized non-fiction with an identified niche market. Price isn't the main consideration where a member of that audience is concerned.

Sure. I was just offering examples where it would, indeed, be reasonable to seek out a vanity publisher rather than a for-profit publisher. That, to me, is on a different scale than going to a POD company that promises to make you a famous author.

#315 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:01 PM:

Well, mythago, those are all examples of specialized non-fiction with an identified niche market. Price isn't the main consideration where a member of that audience is concerned.

Sure. I was just offering examples where it would, indeed, be reasonable to seek out a vanity publisher rather than a for-profit publisher. That, to me, is on a different scale than going to a POD company that promises to make you a famous author.

#316 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:19 PM:

A breakdown: why people buy books, in order from most to least important:

1. The reader read and enjoyed another book by that same author. This is hands-down the most important factor.

2. Someone to whom the author gives credence spoke well of the book. This could be a friend, your local bookstore owner, Oprah, a reviewer you're inclined to believe, or even a blurb from a favorite author of yours who doesn't normally do quotes.

3. You liked the cover and the rest of the packaging. You know that business about not judging a book by its cover? It's nonsense. The cover is there precisely for that purpose. Think of it as a complex mating signal meant to match the right book with the right reader.

4. You saw an ad for it. By now we're talking about a bitty percentage of sales. But you already knew that, right? All you have to do is think about how seldom you buy books on the basis of advertisements. Even people who drearily creeb on and on about how delinquent the industry is for not doing more advertising will, if they open up, admit that they don't buy many books on that basis either.

Where do placement allowances, encaps, and other subsidized displays come into that list? They don't. They're a multiplier for all those other factors. Good placement brings a book to your attention. How you react after you've noticed it is between you, the book, and the artist and copyrighter.

This is why I sometimes get irritable with people who go on and on about how they know the publishing industry only supports the really big-name authors, because those are the ones for whom they see magazine and newspaper ads. So just remember, grasshopper: when you hear them talking like that, what they're really saying is, "I don't know jack."

#317 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:32 PM:

Tom, I'm stumped for an answer to that. I'm also unable to identify the source of that deep, quiet, yet unmistakably heartfelt snarling sound that can be heard on the soundtrack immediately following any mention of a packager's name. Except for Swordsmith, that is; that one sounds more like a small, inoffensive sigh.

Must do something about the drafts around here.

#318 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:38 PM:

Teresa, where would plot blurbs fit in your list? I know very few people in non-computer life who read science fiction or fantasy. I give thanks once a year (at least) for Peter Woodring who donated scifi books to our school library. The librarian threw them away and I rescued them from the trash and found a whole new world. I find most of my new books by reading plot capsules in magazines, book jackets, and in the SFbook club magazines. Those few sentences really help when a favorite author writes two different styles of books and sappy romance set on a distant world isn't the kind I want.

#319 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 11:51 PM:

worlddude, actually all printers do charge you every time you make a change. And all real printers (the only kind I've ever worked with are real, large [or semi-large, in comparison] printers for real, large [ibid.] publishers) ask for PDF files nowadays.

Asking for and/or demanding the native files is not the sign of a "good" printer versus a bad or only-prints-for-vanity printer. It simply means you have a printer who would like the option of making the changes for you, instead of letting you make your own changes that you saw in bluelines/silverprints. And this is why they really want the native files: if you let the printer make the change, you're going to pay a minimum one-hour fee based on (usually) about $75/hr. Making your own changes, sending them new PDF(s), will save you a heck of a lot of money in the end. This is how even very legitimate printers boost their bottom line. The same can be said for letting the printer do many things for you, including color corrections, separations, stripping in art by hand, etc. But making few changes in bluelines is even better: you shouldn't ever be making changes other than "Oh-My-God-We-Spelled-the-Author's-Name-Wrong" sorts of changes at that stage. There is a reason most changes to bluelines cost you about $50/page: it's a pain in the butt to reimpose the new page, even in this direct-to-plate age.

I apologize if that's nitpicky of me, but I nitpick production for a living, and have done so for more than 20 years now for various publishers. And I had a migraine that lasted the last 1.5 days, so I may sound more nitpicky than usual. My nits feel picked over.

P.S. The Phoenix Color I know is a big, publicly-traded company that is actually the largest jacket cover printer in the U.S. Perhaps you are referring to another "Phoenix Color" in your comment?

#320 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:34 AM:

mythago -- Just to make some (longish) notes about self-publishing nonfiction.

As "Windhaven," the few people I've agreed to produce for their self-publishing schemes have been nonfiction writers with premade, preselected niches. For instance, a venture capitalist who wrote the book, When Venture Capitalists Say No, sells it not only to his own mailing lists, but to his attendees at the lectures he gives. For the record: I talk fiction and non-niche nonfiction writers out of the idea of self-publishing -- and I hope they take my advice.

Do I recommend self-publishing for every identified-niche nonfiction out there? No. I still think everyone should do their damnedest to publish with a standard publishing house. Why? No one can do a better job with print production (at least costwise for this), marketing, PR, and distribution. No one. Not even Lisa and TWC. (Note: sarcasm dripping off that last sentence.) This is why in 20+ yrs. in the field, I've only taken on a handful of people who came to me for help self-publishing. I've successfully shooed away, and/or shooed towards standard publishing, everyone else, because they were going to fare far better either not publishing at all or going via "regular" publishing route.

We also need to make the distinction between identified-niche nonfiction and just plain, old regular nonfiction. If you know who, where, and when you can sell your book, with little or no effort (do you give lectures? do you have classes? do you have a following for some specialty?), then you have an identified niche in nonfiction. Then you have to think: Can I market my book? Can I tell people about it without blushing and wishing I wasn't marketing my own book? Can I/will I send out mailings to my classlist/mailing list/lecture list? If the answer is that you can indeed market your book and you know how and when, and you think the sales from the book will exceed your marketing, production, and print costs, then you have an identified niche. The venture capitalist I mentioned above fit just that bill, which I why I agreed to produce his book for him. To take on a customer who couldn't answer the above questions in the positive would be to take money from the innocent and naive. That's exactly what scammers do.

There's still a vast difference between vanity publishing -- where someone else is still taking money off the top (visibly or not so visibly) from you, the author -- and self-publishing, where the author is taking all of the profit, not just some of it. Most book production companies who work with self-publishers will take the authors' hands, walk them through the process of producing their book from manuscript to bound copy, as part of the fee they're being paid for editing, typesetting, proofreading, and prepress-producing the book. The fee isn't inflated for the advice: it's part of the service. At least, it certainly should be, and is for all the legit book production companies I know who work with self-publishers. There are a number of short-run printers who do the same, advice-wise: Thomson-Shore comes to mind.

(Remember, always, I'm talking here about nonfiction niches, like venture capitalism, not fiction -- fiction is a completely different ball of wax, and I would never encourage someone to self-publish fiction if what they care about is sales or that anyone, anywhere, ever saw their book beyond their immediate family and friends).

All this is to say, we must keep bearing in mind that we, here in this thread, need to keep vanity publishing and self-publishing as separate entities -- which they are. People like Lisa try to blur that distinction: what TWC is, and continues to be, is a vanity press posing as a self-publishing "group."

#321 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:40 AM:

I, in the non-publishing world, have only heard those terms used interchangeably. Thanks.

#322 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:40 AM:

TNH -- Packager snarls. Yes. It seems universal. Yet we (publishers) all continue to work with them. It boggles the mind. I know why certain contracts with certain packagers get made (I have no Tor stories, of course, only stories for other publishers who shall -- with their stories -- remain nameless), yet it still continues to confound reason.

Packagers arose to prominence during the Great Outsourcing Flow of the late 80s, yes? At least, that's when I started to really notice them.

#323 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:01 AM:

"I know half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. I just don't know which half."

I've heard this credited to Lord Nicolson, as in Weidenfeld &.

#324 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 02:18 AM:

T and Nancy: Why, then, do certain packagers continue to flourish? They seem to be midway between the vanity publishers and mainstream publishing. What do they do right, and (on a serious bottom line basis, for the people you deal with) are they worth it, or are they scamming? I honestly don't know, and would like to, which is the main reason I ask questions.

Most of what I've seen indicates they're scum that doesn't really pay. That's an uneducated personal opinion, not intended as libel against any hardworking packager that may read this.

#325 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 03:19 AM:

A breakdown: why people buy books, in order from most to least important:

1. The reader read and enjoyed another book by that same author. This is hands-down the most important factor.

2. Someone to whom the author gives credence spoke well of the book. This could be a friend, your local bookstore owner, Oprah, a reviewer you're inclined to believe, or even a blurb from a favorite author of yours who doesn't normally do quotes.

3. You liked the cover and the rest of the packaging. You know that business about not judging a book by its cover? It's nonsense. The cover is there precisely for that purpose. Think of it as a complex mating signal meant to match the right book with the right reader.

4. You saw an ad for it. By now we're talking about a bitty percentage of sales. But you already knew that, right? All you have to do is think about how seldom you buy books on the basis of advertisements. Even people who drearily creeb on and on about how delinquent the industry is for not doing more advertising will, if they open up, admit that they don't buy many books on that basis either.

This is also, of course, why people borrow books from libraries. So it's also why libraries buy books, or put some donations in the collection but not others. And so why savvy publishers get their books reviewed in publications for librarians such as Library Journal and Booklist.

We may be more likely to buy nonfiction on the basis of ads than nonlibrarians do, and somewhat less likely to choose on the basis of cover art, but the other criteria -- especially good reviews and a credible (and preferably well-known) author *and publisher* -- help a lot there too.

Though I think most people tend to look at book ads as reminders, until the next visit to the bookstore/dealer's room/online bookstore site: "Oh! There's a new book by X! Want!"

#326 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 07:39 AM:

Speaking of why people buy books...I just bought Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold (sp?) because I remembered reading Teresa rhapsodize about the galleys for another one of Ms. Lindskold's books, and I happened upon one of the sequels in the library, recognised the name, checked it out, and realized, "Whoops, this is book two." Library didn't have book one, so I went off and bought it. (I guess that puts me in Reason Two camp.)

Most of my fantasy and sf reading when I was younger was strictly off the shelf, chosen by cover at the library. My parents who read fantasy, didn't inhale books with the fervor I did, and once I'd gone through their recommendations, I kinda felt things out for myself. Dragons on the cover used to be an immediate yes, which led me to the Anne McCaffrey books. And I used to pick primarily by cover blurb and jacket copy until fairly recently when I became rather burned on two different stories that I didn't like or couldn't get into. So I've finally transitioned back to a mostly "by recommendation" person.

#327 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 08:19 AM:

The publishing industry is world wide. Many American publishing houses and self-publishing authors print in Canada and Asia. Asia mainly for color printing. American printers may not be typical of the way things are run in other areas so uploading charges and the like may not be a universal experience for all.


Since several people believe the cover is a determining factor in some book sales, and quite a significant one it seems, maybe someone could go to the NYT best sellers' list and tell me what books on there have such a great cover that you'd actually take out your wallet? I've been through the nonfiction, fiction, hardcovers and softcovers and saw maybe three I liked.

#328 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 08:35 AM:

For specialty bookstores, the cover is much more important than whether the book is on a bestseller list. For airports, the opposite is probably true. And a lot more books get sold in airports than in specialty bookstores.

Point 2, above, in relation to the average buyer: if enough people thought this book was good to put it on the NYT bestseller list, then I ought to buy it too to find out what they liked (the "X million Frenchmen can't be wrong" theory, which is the only theory that I know that explains why THE DAVINCI CODE has sold as many copies as it has).

The influence of bestseller lists has actually been ignored here, probably because for almost all self/vanity publications -- it's completely irrelevant. You're not going there. That's a megabux lottery win.

#329 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 08:44 AM:

DaVinci had a slightly more precise marketing plan due to the nature of the book and the times in which we live. It had the potential to feed equally well into the Christian, agnostic and anti-Christian sectors if handled properly. It was handled properly. It's a best seller. Advertising works.

The beauty of that marketing scenario was that the initial campaign needed to be directed at only one of those three groups. The surrounding controversy that was sure to come, did come and the spin from that pretty much guaranteed the other two groups were going to buy it. Link two advertising works.

#330 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 09:30 AM:

worddude,

For me, covers tend to tell me what type of fantasy book I *don't* want. Scantily clad women--no way. Dragons and elves--probably not. Female on the cover dressed in reasonable clothing and looking competent--you've got my attention.

#331 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 09:34 AM:

worddude, the Da Vinci Code was handled in a way that many book in the past have been (and in future will be), in fact, handled; there was something about that book and the popular imagination that made the spark between the campaign behind it & the book itself strike the public imagination. As I've mentioned, there have been books pushed in similar fashion that have tanked -- people remember -only- the ones that worked, and then say ab; but it's not an if and only if statement. In fact it's not really an a=>b statement either; lord knows (pick one, I don't care which one) that Rowling's first book was not originally published with a huge push of any note at all, and you don't get bigger than she is.

Two: a bit of your question about bestseller list has sort of been addressed sideways. At the moment, Robert Jordan doesn't have a new book out. There aren't many SF/F novels that hit the NYT list in the single digits. The Jordan books have recognizeably fantasy covers, rather than Big Book covers, because the -fantasy- covers work better for the Jordan audience. At Eddings' height, they tried to somehow do the big book look, and Eddings books -also- sell better with Big Book covers. When Timothy Zahn's first Star Wars books hit the NYT lists, way up in the numbers (second at least), -it- had a genre cover.

But -- and I may have said this elsewhere, and not here -- bestseller is a genre of its own; other genres do hit the list, but given how the list use to be compiled (things may have changed a lot since then), it's not so frequent. I remember, when a "big book" look was developed for a fantasy author was selling hundreds of thousands of hardcovers, I kind of looked at it blankly and then asked the sales rep who'd presented what they were thinking. He blinked, and then said, "We're trying to push him up a level. it worked with xx (mystery author whose name actually meant nothing to me, even then)" and I said, "And that Mystery writer and this fantasy writer have -what- in common?"

So if you randomly pick up any NYT list, there's a smaller chance that you will find SF/F on it. Given that that's what many of our specialties are, that's what many of us feel most comfortable speaking about with any sense of authority; given that for the bookstore browser of our experience, the covers -- as many have chimed in to point out -- for those books are the draw, absent recommendations from trusted sources, our experiences obviously widely differ from yours, as do our publishing interests and experiences.

And it depends as well on the reader. I know people who read in excess of 300 books a year on a slow year. Their answer to your question about what draws them to a book's cover is probably vastly different from your own. Do you read a lot of fiction, out of curiosity?

#332 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 10:50 AM:

Why, then, do certain packagers continue to flourish? They seem to be midway between the vanity publishers and mainstream publishing.

The packagers are a variety of that annoying person who shows up at conventions and says "I have a great idea for a book! You write it and we'll share the money!"

The difference is, this particular annoying person has already sold the book to a publisher, and he's got his checkbook open right then, ready to pay you to write the book. (At least his first check usually clears.) So that's why it isn't vanity publication -- the writer gets paid, rather than the other way around.

If I had it to do over, I'd not have spent so much time in Packager Gulch, but the money's easy and that's a seduction.

#333 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 10:55 AM:

Again, we're walking the line between elements here so the conversation does go off track it seems: Self-publishing and nonfiction and niche markets on one side and traditional publishing and fiction and mass markets on the other.

I think the problems begin when one of us assumes the other is discussing the same thing. Misunderstands arise from there.

I realize science fiction is what is usually discussed on this site but the spectrum widened a little when the thread about self-publishing began and I finally had a publising topic I knew something about. A lot about. I also have had my own experiences with the company first mentioned.

Yes, cover art is a far more significant in science fiction and romance genres and rather than use symbolism to illustrate the deeper meaning of a book these genres use specific and precise illustrations of a scene and characters in the book. If the characters and scene or setting appeal to you then it would likely work the same as a blurb would, I suspect. Since these characters and settings are all foreign to me a dragon is as a good as a nearly naked woman to me.

I believe you asked what I read personally. I do read some fiction. I have read fantasy and science fiction. I read about 3 books a week so sometimes I'll take anything I can get. Given a choice, I choose nonfiction most of the time although a good, well researched medieval mystery such as "The Name of the Rose" will make me happy.

My job requires that I read a lot of technical and how-to books to keep abreast of the industry.

#334 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 11:51 AM:
Michelle wrote: For me, covers tend to tell me what type of fantasy book I *don't* want. Scantily clad women--no way. Dragons and elves--probably not.

Some books I own you'd have missed out on, just off the top of my head:
Heinlein's Friday
A.D. Foster's The I Inside (Can't find an image of the cover I have in mind)
Forward's Dragon's Egg

...that's just for starters. I could go on, and on. SF books just got those kind of covers for a couple of decades, and I can only presume they kept getting those kinds of covers because they sold that way. So if you're shopping, like I usually do, in the 2nd-hand bookstores, don't let those crazy covers put you off!

Frankly, "The I Inside" really deserved a much different cover, the one I have doesn't suit the book at all, nor does it depict anything remotely like the events in the book. The new one is better, although it errs to the side of being too generic, IMO.

#335 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:06 PM:

worddude: I don't think there's any doubt the big publishing houses spend a large amount of money on advertising.... do you really think they'd do so if it didn't pay off? I'm not sure. I don't think so but stranger things happen.

I doubt that the efficacy of advertising has been proven at the level demanded by (e.g.) the FDA looking at a new drug.

I expect part of your answer is "Because everyone else does it", as a sort of arms race -- if other firms advertise and you don't, are you sure you aren't losing ground? There's also "Because we've always done it"; would \you/ want to be the person to be pointed at for cutting the advertising budget if sales aren't what someone on top believes they should be? (cf "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment" -- unlikely to be true any longer, but it was a mindlock for decades.)

Advertising might be a matter of interactive belief: if you advertise, retailers might believe the book will sell better and so order more, shelve them face-out instead of spine-out, make space for a signing, wait longer before clearing the shelf space for a newer book, or any other step that result in the book having an edge. (I've read about a movie-studio flack bringing a million in case into a theater owners' meeting just to impress them with how much his employer was spending to promote a film.) It sounds here as if specialty-store owners aren't impressed by such a display, and I don't know whether generalists are beyond the level of "they're spending so much we can give them one of our standup-display spaces", but I've seen advance catalogs from publishers describing the advertising efforts books will get, suggesting that publishers believe retailers believe advertising is a factor.

TNH: Self-promotion as an outright cost is obvious after somebody points it out -- which I'd guess is why it's never mentioned on vanity-press documentation -- as are clashing skill sets. Your mention of Greer Gilman is particularly apt; I've known her a long time (ask her about "The Song of Roland, or, Franks Incensed and Moors") and can't imagine her doing publicity. Writing and publicity look like they require opposite personality types; even if the writer isn't the sort of naturally solitary person who lives for long hours alone with a pile of paper, someone who can \stand/ to do that isn't as gregarious as I'd expect a publicist to be.

#336 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:13 PM:

Skwid,

Those are just my criteria for browsing. I'll read books with horrible covers if someone recommends them to me, but if I'm browsing the shelves, I won't buy something like that.

The other exception is for an author I already know and like. I have books by Charles DeLint that I can't recognise by the cover, because I never bothered to look at it. (I'm already opening it to start reading (or re-reading) when I pull it off the shelf)

And I know I should read science fiction, but I just don't. My dad got me to read SPider Robinson's Callahan series, but that's about the extent of it.

#337 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:25 PM:

Your mention of Greer Gilman is particularly apt; I've known her a long time (ask her about "The Song of Roland, or, Franks Incensed and Moors")

Tell! Tell! (Not all of us are so lucky)

#338 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 12:28 PM:

What are some books produced by packagers? Are these tie-in things like Star Wars books? Are they the slightly-less-tie-in "Isaac Asimov's Robotworld" sort of thing? Something else altogether?

#339 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:05 PM:

Me, I think Friday deserved its cover.

#340 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:06 PM:

worlddude wrote: Many American publishing houses and self-publishing authors print in Canada and Asia.

Actually that's not true of most American publishing houses that do hardcovers. Why? To qualify for the CIP program through the Library of Congress (Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication), you have to print your book in the United States. It's the LOC's form of "keep money for publishing flowing in America," like Ireland's "Buy Irish" program you see all over the place (or at least I did when I lived there in the mid-80s). Note all those hardcovers from American publishers that say on the copyright page "Printed in the United States" (a requirement for the CIP program).

This is why Quebecor World (the largest printer in the world) has bought most of America's midsize printing facilities, such as what used to be Bookpress Vermont, in Burlington.

All of Simon & Schuster is printed in the U.S. Same for St. Martin's, which owns Tor. Same for Random House. Same for Putnam Penguin. Same for Harper Morrow. Same for ... You get the idea.

#341 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:13 PM:

Mike K.: I can only speak from experience with handling books from packagers at Baen. For that, I tend to see anthologies (way easier to have someone else put together an anthology, wrangle all the authors, etc.), shared-world anthologies (ditto), and, yes, tie-in books (let someone else - the packager - handle the rights, etc., and then wrangle with the rights-holder for the details on which hand the hero's brother's sidekick holds his sword in the original computer game on which this book is based).

What packagers actually do -- how much work they put into a deal, once it's inked and they have the authors writing the book -- differs from packager to packager. I have worked with packagers that do damn near everything, including produce the book so all I have to do is make sure the pages aren't upside down and then send it off to the printer. Others simply ink the deal and work rather like agents; they don't even bother to proofread the galleys we produce. Some here can recognize both beasts.

#342 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:17 PM:

Yipes, teach me to not check this thread for several days...

Okay. Here's me. Wannabe fiction author (where I define 'author' as 'someone who has published', as opposed to 'writer', which is 'someone who has written'; YMMV). I am reading this 'blog in part because of this fact; Teresa publishes entertaining and interesting looks at the industry. I've found her advice tends to be sensible and in line with what I have heard via other professionals, and where it disagrees, it rarely contradicts. Therefore, I put a lot of stock in what she says. Plus, I like Tor, which also puts a check in the plus column.

Just so you know where I'm coming from.

Teresa says: "Authors who have day jobs aren't oversupplied with writing time, and doing your own sales and promotion can eat all of it."

This sums up, as well as I could but in fewer words (which is probably why I'm the writer and she's the editor), a sufficient objection to self-publishing — regardless of any other titles you want to put to the types of companies under discussion — to rule out self-publishing for anyone who wants to try to make a living as a writer, without even getting into any other objections. Forget whether or not it'd be okay to pay to see my words in print. Forget whether or not XLibris or PublishAmerica or TWC are legitimate publishers. Forget whether or not they represents themselves truthfully, what the actual cost of producing a book is, and how likely it is to sell in the first place.

I am not a saleperson. I am a writer.

(I feel as if I ought to preface this with "Dammit, Jim...".)

And I really have a hard enough time making time for writing as it is. A full-time job writing would just about cover the ideas I have that I can't find time for; adding a full-time sales and marketing career to that would not be pleasant, just like trying to do this job I have now and trying to find time to write is not pleasant.

So I don't care what other arguments you have. Yes, I expect that ifwhen I get published I will do a certain amount of self-promotion, but only a certain amount, and when I have time, not as my main focus. I expect any publisher I feel comfortable submitting to (or, *dream dream*, having my putative future agent submit to) would do sufficient promotion as to leave me free to do what I do: write. And if you can't take care of the promotion angle for me and ensure reasonable distribution as part and parcel of being published by you, we sha'n't be doing business.

#343 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:34 PM:

The discussion of packaging dynamics makes me feel like I'm a member of an increasingly irrelevant book-buying demographic.

In Teresa's breakdown, only the first two factors (author name-recognition and reader/reviewer recommendations) have much influence over my book buying habits.

As far as packaging, I've learned to pretty much disregard the cover as non-relevant to content, except when it sends a message that the book is supposed to be like other books I know that I _don't_ like. I appreciate the aesthetics of cover artwork as a separate experience from reading the book. I may be attracted to a particular piece of cover art -- but I probably won't pick the book up on that basis, most of the time. This wasn't always true for me; which may say something either about me growing older or about paradigm shifts in the last twenty years in the design of s-f cover art. I'm attracted to intricate line-drawing, cartooning, and surreal artwork, or "outrageous" collages that send a message of non-conformity. I rapidly build up an immunity to other types of artwork used as branding tools. Thomas Canty, for instance, is beautiful -- but it doesn't make me pick the book up, anymore, unless the cover also says something like "Ellen Kushner" or "Ellen Datlow."

Author, title, and word-of-print/mouth recommendations are what get me to pick the book up. Name brand recognition for about five or six authors will get me to the front counter without any further steps.

If you count the content of the front-flap synopsis and the author biography as part of the packaging, it has a greater influence on my book buying than the cover. But the real determinant, for me, is first page and random interior page prose sampling. Prose sampling is what drives 90 percent of my book purchases.

#344 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:54 PM:

Michelle Sagara said:

And it depends as well on the reader. I know people who read in excess of 300 books a year on a slow year. Their answer to your question about what draws them to a book's cover is probably vastly different from your own. Do you read a lot of fiction, out of curiosity?

I'd be one of those people that read in excess of 300 books a year on a slow year (a number of them bought from a certain store, and on a certain persons recommendation *grin*).

How I pick those books depends on a few variables:

Entertainment value:

Here I'll typically fall into TNH's sections 1-3. I'll buy a book by an authour that I've read before and enjoyed. I'll buy a book that's recommended to me by the staff in the store. I'll look through the section most likely to have what I want [sf/fantasy], and look for attractive cover art and a good blurb/first few pages.

It gets -really- frustrating when I've run through the currently available crop of interesting books - it's hard to bring myself to buy a book that I can't muster more than an "If I must" about. Unfortunately I'm awful about getting books back to the library on time - and after a while it starts to be just as reasonable to buy a book as pay a fine. I don't remember the last time I actually bought a book on the basis of advertising or an endcap.

Most of the best-seller list isn't interesting to me - I typically move from the sf/fantasy section over into non-fiction if there's nothing in sf/fantasy that attracts my attention [airport bookstores end up being an exception to this, due to limited selections].

For non-fiction glossy books, it's typically about the cover art and the publisher. For more academic books, it's about the publisher and the content.

Knowledge:

I buy technical books based on the apparent content, by knowing the authour either by reputation or personally, or via recommendations from a friend. With the decline of excellent specialty bookstores for computer books, I seldom ask for bookstore staff input.

#345 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 01:57 PM:

Can't speak for Tor. I can tell you the company I work for prints very American, very traditional publisher, big name, well recognized imprint, books in Canada and ships them back over the border to the U.S.. Thank you NAFTA. We don't deal with books with interior color. I learned about the Asian connection from those wonderful industry seminars and meetings and brain storming sessions we regularly have with publishers and printers.

#346 ::: worddude ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 02:04 PM:

Re: Simon and Schuster. I believe you'll find their U.K. books are printed in the U.K.

#347 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 02:32 PM:

One other thing packagers can do: help a publisher move into a new genre/type of publishing, if the publisher is not successful at otherwise attracting properties in that area.

In the younger days of Tor's young adult department, we published a good number of titles brought to us by a packager--we simply couldn't convince agents to send us good young adult stuff because we had no rep. in the area, yet knew it was an area we wanted to expand into.

I'm not saying that the books we got from the packager were fantastic, though some were pretty good, but they did make agents and authors take us more seriously in terms of publishing for younger readers.

#348 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 03:27 PM:

#1 and #2 are usually enough to get me out the door with a double armful. But if I'm shopping at a used or remainder store I try to be open to #3 as well. I've discovered a lot of cool stuff this way (remember when The Big U was going for $1.99 at remainder tables across the land?), and it's a cheap gamble.

I don't think I've ever bought a book by an author unknown to me based on an ad, but I can remember a few occasions when an ad tipped me off that a new book by a favorite author was coming out.

#349 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 04:49 PM:

remember when The Big U was going for $1.99 at remainder tables across the land?

Yup. Bought it that way from my college bookstore. Laughed and laughed and laughed, and pressed it on all my friends, and made a mental note to catch anything else by this Stephenson Guy.

---L.

#350 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 07:12 PM:

... an ad tipped me off that a new book by a favorite author was coming out.

That's exactly the purpose of ads, and a reason why ads for first-time authors are wasted money regardless of who pays for them.

#351 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 10:52 PM:

I thought of another criterion that I use to evaluate unknown books: size. Most books these days are longer than they should be, and the fatter one is, the more inducement is required for me to take the plunge.

#352 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2004, 11:21 PM:

Oh, and trilogy-ness. If a book says it's Part X of [insert saga name here], I put it back.

#353 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 12:49 PM:

I can see it now: The Placeholder's Dilemma, Part 2 of Insert Saga Name Here, by Mary Sue Writer. Being a sequel to Adventure's Choice, with an excerpt in the back from part 3, The Self-Insertion Insertion. According to rumors, the author wanted to call the 4th and final book The Localization Factor, but her editor has changed it to Tokens Tuckerized.

---L.

#354 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 12:53 PM:

Part 3 should be just The Self-Insertion. The Self-Insertion Insertion was the original title, but the salescritters complained about the confusing repetition; unfortunately, the old name didn't get changed in all the promotional material.

---L.

#355 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 01:35 PM:

Okay. I have to ask.

Is there an equivalent of "Mary Sue" which refers to a male writer who writes about himself in the same ridiculous manner?

#356 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 01:59 PM:

Is there an equivalent of "Mary Sue" which refers to a male writer who writes about himself in the same ridiculous manner?

"Tom Clancy"?

#357 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 02:01 PM:

Michelle --

I've seen "Marty Stu" used. I don't know if there is a canonical term.

#358 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 02:16 PM:

Marty Stu and Gary Stu are the two I've heard. Now go and re-read Kim.

#359 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 02:31 PM:

Why, is the main character's name Kim Rudling or something? (kidding)

#360 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 03:49 PM:

What about that brand of female character, written by a male author, who is an obvious stand-in for the male writer's every fantasy in the way she looks, talks, and behaves?

Perhaps Horny Sue?

#361 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 06:47 PM:

I like to call that Gor Syndrome. Or, occasionally, the Chalker Effect.

#362 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 08:05 PM:

The only time that brand of female character drives me around the bend -- any bend -- is when I've read critics and intelligent people (not that these are mutually exclusive) raving about how 'realistic' those portrayals are. Because inevitably, the people who are struck by the realism are, so often, men.

If I insisted on realistic portrayals of men, instead of the fantasy equivalent of same, it would kill whole genres of writing, and cause great pain among millions of readers, world-wide. It would destroy all anime, most manga, and come to think, I'll stop right here.

But I do consider books which are people everywhere by that perfect woman to be either Heinlein novels or the male equivalent of Mary Sue novels, which is why I was asking

#363 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 08:07 PM:

er, that would be "peopled everywhere".

Ummm, and Chad Orzel? I was drinking when I read that. Silicon keyboard protectors are good, but the poor screen...

#364 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2004, 11:31 PM:

Jill Smith asked:

What about that brand of female character, written by a male author, who is an obvious stand-in for the male writer's every fantasy in the way she looks, talks, and behaves?

I tend to think of that as the "Heinlein Effect."

#365 ::: JeanOG ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2004, 09:27 AM:

Is there an equivalent of "Mary Sue" which refers to a male writer who writes about himself in the same ridiculous manner?

I've also heard Maury Sam.

#366 ::: Nao ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2004, 09:54 AM:

I've also seen Gary Stu or Marty Stu.

#367 ::: Tim Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2004, 10:30 PM:

Hi James & Tracina,

I have thought about being published by someone larger, trouble is I don't know how to go about doing that. I'm just a guy who had a story to tell and knew it could save lives. This is my first venture into the publishing world and I've learned that there are *many* sharks in the self-publishing world - including my former publicist who took *my money and used to to promote *her book!

How does one go about getting the attention of a larger publisher? Is it too late now that Montel Williams will be doing a show on me this September? (What's cool about doing the Montel show is they are letting me pick my own panel of guests!) Any info is appreciated.

Smile often,

Tim Hutchinson
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Teens Know How to Get INTO Trouble
I Show them how to Get Out and Stay OUT
tim@americanyouth.net, 651-340-2089
http://www.AmericanYouth.net
Seminars & resources to *stop teen violence*
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

#368 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 12:09 AM:

Hi, Tim:

What you do: go to your local bookstore. Find books like yours. See who published them.

Get a copy of Writer's Market. See what those publishers want (three-and-an-outline, query, whatever). Submit your work to the publisher that you'd most like to see publish your book. All "no unsolicited manuscripts" means is "send a query letter first."

Be honest about your current contract.

Meanwhile, find out who agented those books. Write to those agents (Jeff Herman's book lists agents). Again, follow their guidelines explicitly.

While you can only submit your book to one publisher, you can query many at once. You can query many agents simultaneously.

A useful agent is one who has sold books you've heard of. A useful publisher is one that can get books into bookstores.

An agent who asks you for money isn't your friend. (Not to worry -- none of those guys have sold books that you've heard of, or that are in bookstores.)

The Montel spot is something to mention in your query letter.

#369 ::: Tim Hutchinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 11:16 AM:

Hi, James;

Thanks for the advice :-) I'm heading to the bookstore this afternoon!

Tim

#370 ::: Alphabeter ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2004, 04:48 AM:

Is there an equivalent of "Mary Sue" which refers to a male writer who writes about himself in the same ridiculous manner?

The term I've most often heard is Wesley for Gene Wesley Roddenbury who modeled Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation after his own youthful dreams.
That would seem a rather ultimate male 'Mary Sue' to me.

#371 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2004, 10:22 AM:

When I glanced through my new copy of Newsweek last night, I came across this article about Marilyn Ross, described on her website as a self-publishing guru. In a brief glance around the site, I note that Ms. Ross and her staff do sell what is described as “counseling/mentoring” services. However, much of what I see seems aimed at publicizing, promoting, and distributing the published work. Does anyone here, more expert than I [that would be almost everyone], know anything about Ms. Ross and her enterprise? I ask because an article in Newsweek counts as pretty high profile for exposure to the public. From the little that I’ve seen—the FAQ’s, for example—it seems aimed at niche non-fiction, and they don’t appear [at least up-front] to be offering publishing services. The Literary Links page gives links to a variety of well-known sources, such as the ALA and US Copyright Office, as well as Writer Beware at sfwa.org. I’d assume, if they are honest, the latter link was a sign of good intentions; if they aren’t, it’s amazing chutzpah.
There are, of course, the obligatory slams at the World of Big Publishing—but there are suggestions on getting your book picked up by members of same, once it’s an established success.

In case of dead links, the site address is selfpublishingresources.com.

#372 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2004, 12:31 AM:

....Let's simplify everything. From Preditors and Editors: Writers’ Collective, The: a vanity publisher. Requires membership. Not recommended..

Jim, you are so right. Preditors and Editors is always on target and should be taken as the definitive word on these guys:

...Writers’ Collective, The: a publisher. Requires membership. After considerable investigation, P&E has concluded that this is not a vanity publisher as it earlier stated. Additionally, this publisher appears to have a publishing model that is different, favors authors, and works...

That should settle it once and for all. These guys are absolute... oh. Wait. Never mind. {G}


#373 ::: Andy Perrin finds spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2004, 03:04 PM:

Umm...pregnant gay men? How?!

#374 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2004, 03:13 PM:

Gone, all gone, she said, turning the switch back from "full automatic" to "single shot".

#375 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2004, 11:19 PM:

Alphabeter: I've heard "Marty Sue" used.

#376 ::: Harry Connolly finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:26 AM:

.

#377 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 08:08 AM:

"Perhaps Horny Sue?"

dammit!

the first few pages follow:

MARY SUE EARNS HER FORTUNE

Some years ago there was a mean horrid old woman who had three wonderful daughters; Mary Ellen, Mary Beth, and Mary Sue.

These three were as different from each other as night and day and strong ale; Mary Ellen loved Good Advice, Mary Beth loved Good Morals, and Mary Sue loved Good Times.

Well one day the horrid old woman died, and if I were to tell you some of the stories about her you'd say "Good Riddance!"

The three girls being very poor, the eldest, Mary Ellen, decided to go off and make her fortune.

She announced her plans to the other two with many kind words as to how they might gainfully make use of their time in her abscence.

"When you've made your fortune will you send for us?" asked Mary Beth.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be" observed Mary Ellen piously.

"Oh sister, I will pray for your speedy success!" said Mary Beth.

"And you sister" asked Mary Ellen of Mary Sue "will you also pray?"

"Fat Chance. I might enjoy getting on my knees from time to time but it's not over the likes of you"

"Oh sister, you know that no one wants to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free."

"Yeah, yeah, don't let the door hit you on your way out and the knob get stuck"

And so Mary Ellen went to seek her fortune.


She had gone barely a day from her village when she found herself in a dark, spooky forest "There is nothing to fear but fear itself" she noted and set staunchly forth on her path. At that moment a ferocious wolf jumped in front of her, snarling and foaming at the mouth.

"Well!" exclaimed Mary Ellen "I really do think you could have better manners"

"People like you turn my stomach!" said the wolf, but he ate her anyway.


After some time had gone by and Mary Ellen still not returned Mary Beth decided she would set forth to make her fortune, of course before setting forth she went to all the sinners about town and prayed with them and wept, and wept and prayed, and generally made them miserable which Mary Sue said was extemely boring, especially when a pair of brothers over whom Mary Beth had prayed most forcefully were kept from pleasing Mary Sue for unto a whole night by the inhibitor of religion - such is the weakness of man, or even a pair thereof.

So Mary Beth set forth, after about a day she found herself in the same spooky forest as Mary Ellen before her. "The Lord is my Shepherd" she intoned happily and continued on her way. Suddenly the wolf jumped in her path, snarling and foaming at the mouth, with its fur bristling all over.

"Tell me Brother Wolf, have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

"Can't say as I have," said the Wolf who had a great fondness for mutton "but I would dearly love to be."

"Well two hours back in that way I passed a little chapel where they can help you out."

"Thank'ee kindly," said the wolf and ran off without eating her so as to not spoil his appetite.

Mary Beth went some ways further into the forest, as for the wolf he soon found out how he'd been tricked but could do nothing about it but return to his usual station and hope that another fortune-hunting girl might pass for him to devour.

When Mary Beth had nearly forgotten all about the wolf what should happen but a wild ferocious tiger jumped in her path. "Oh my!" excalimed Mary Beth "Tell me Brother Tiger, have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

The tiger, who had just easten lamb a couple of hours before replied "yes" and with that swallowed her immediately.


Some weeks went by, back home Mary Sue was getting dreadfully bored, there was not much to do in the little village most of the men being plumb tuckered out. When she spoke of how bored she was getting to one of the fellows in her bed he said plaintively "I suppose this means now that you'll be setting forth to seek your fortune?"

"Screw setting forth" said Mary Sue "I'm going."


When she got to the spooky, dark forest she thought "I'd best keep my wits about me"

Just then the wolf jumped in her path. He was snarling, foaming at the mouth, his fur was bristleling and his eyes glowed a weird wicked green.

"Well now," she said "I like your style."

The wolf stopped.

"Not to mention that you're as big and bad as a wolf could be" she said, peeking avariciously beneath his hind legs.

Of course the wolf was prone to masculine vanity, and it was not long ere Mary Sue was riding him like a stallion. Unfortunately wolves are not made to be ridden like stallions and as a consequence the poor creature soon dropped dead of the exertion. Heart attack.

"Well," said Mary Sue "you may not have much of a ticker, but you're a hell of a dicker." She then got our her knife and skinned him like a rabbit, making a lovely fur coat and fashionable hat, after which she cut open his belly revealing her sister in there, alive and whole. Mary Ellen jumped right out "Oh sister!" she exclaimed "surely you know that violence begets violence?"

As Mary Ellen was in the habit of rolling her eyes towards heaven when offering Good Advice to the extemely recalcitrant she didn't notice Mary Sue's sweet little fist until it connected with her moving jaw, causing her to quit that jawing and to nap posthaste, that being a sound plan of action under the circumstance.

"Been meaning to do that for years" remarked Mary Sue and continued on her way.

--------

part of a story actually prompted by the whole Mary Sue thread, didn't think it was polite to post it here, but I thought a fragment would be acceptable, especially as the horny sue comment related to the conception of the first part of the story.

#378 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 08:10 AM:

"Perhaps Horny Sue?"

dammit!

the first few pages follow:

MARY SUE EARNS HER FORTUNE

Some years ago there was a mean horrid old woman who had three wonderful daughters; Mary Ellen, Mary Beth, and Mary Sue.

These three were as different from each other as night and day and strong ale; Mary Ellen loved Good Advice, Mary Beth loved Good Morals, and Mary Sue loved Good Times.

Well one day the horrid old woman died, and if I were to tell you some of the stories about her you'd say "Good Riddance!"

The three girls being very poor, the eldest, Mary Ellen, decided to go off and make her fortune.

She announced her plans to the other two with many kind words as to how they might gainfully make use of their time in her abscence.

"When you've made your fortune will you send for us?" asked Mary Beth.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be" observed Mary Ellen piously.

"Oh sister, I will pray for your speedy success!" said Mary Beth.

"And you sister" asked Mary Ellen of Mary Sue "will you also pray?"

"Fat Chance. I might enjoy getting on my knees from time to time but it's not over the likes of you"

"Oh sister, you know that no one wants to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free."

"Yeah, yeah, don't let the door hit you on your way out and the knob get stuck"

And so Mary Ellen went to seek her fortune.


She had gone barely a day from her village when she found herself in a dark, spooky forest "There is nothing to fear but fear itself" she noted and set staunchly forth on her path. At that moment a ferocious wolf jumped in front of her, snarling and foaming at the mouth.

"Well!" exclaimed Mary Ellen "I really do think you could have better manners"

"People like you turn my stomach!" said the wolf, but he ate her anyway.


After some time had gone by and Mary Ellen still not returned Mary Beth decided she would set forth to make her fortune, of course before setting forth she went to all the sinners about town and prayed with them and wept, and wept and prayed, and generally made them miserable which Mary Sue said was extemely boring, especially when a pair of brothers over whom Mary Beth had prayed most forcefully were kept from pleasing Mary Sue for unto a whole night by the inhibitor of religion - such is the weakness of man, or even a pair thereof.

So Mary Beth set forth, after about a day she found herself in the same spooky forest as Mary Ellen before her. "The Lord is my Shepherd" she intoned happily and continued on her way. Suddenly the wolf jumped in her path, snarling and foaming at the mouth, with its fur bristling all over.

"Tell me Brother Wolf, have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

"Can't say as I have," said the Wolf who had a great fondness for mutton "but I would dearly love to be."

"Well two hours back in that way I passed a little chapel where they can help you out."

"Thank'ee kindly," said the wolf and ran off without eating her so as to not spoil his appetite.

Mary Beth went some ways further into the forest, as for the wolf he soon found out how he'd been tricked but could do nothing about it but return to his usual station and hope that another fortune-hunting girl might pass for him to devour.

When Mary Beth had nearly forgotten all about the wolf what should happen but a wild ferocious tiger jumped in her path. "Oh my!" excalimed Mary Beth "Tell me Brother Tiger, have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

The tiger, who had just easten lamb a couple of hours before replied "yes" and with that swallowed her immediately.


Some weeks went by, back home Mary Sue was getting dreadfully bored, there was not much to do in the little village most of the men being plumb tuckered out. When she spoke of how bored she was getting to one of the fellows in her bed he said plaintively "I suppose this means now that you'll be setting forth to seek your fortune?"

"Screw setting forth" said Mary Sue "I'm going."


When she got to the spooky, dark forest she thought "I'd best keep my wits about me"

Just then the wolf jumped in her path. He was snarling, foaming at the mouth, his fur was bristleling and his eyes glowed a weird wicked green.

"Well now," she said "I like your style."

The wolf stopped.

"Not to mention that you're as big and bad as a wolf could be" she said, peeking avariciously beneath his hind legs.

Of course the wolf was prone to masculine vanity, and it was not long ere Mary Sue was riding him like a stallion. Unfortunately wolves are not made to be ridden like stallions and as a consequence the poor creature soon dropped dead of the exertion. Heart attack.

"Well," said Mary Sue "you may not have much of a ticker, but you're a hell of a dicker." She then got our her knife and skinned him like a rabbit, making a lovely fur coat and fashionable hat, after which she cut open his belly revealing her sister in there, alive and whole. Mary Ellen jumped right out "Oh sister!" she exclaimed "surely you know that violence begets violence?"

As Mary Ellen was in the habit of rolling her eyes towards heaven when offering Good Advice to the extemely recalcitrant she didn't notice Mary Sue's sweet little fist until it connected with her moving jaw, causing her to quit that jawing and to nap posthaste, that being a sound plan of action under the circumstance.

"Been meaning to do that for years" remarked Mary Sue and continued on her way.

--------

part of a story actually prompted by the whole Mary Sue thread, didn't think it was polite to post it here, but I thought a fragment would be acceptable, especially as the horny sue comment related to the conception of the first part of the story.

#379 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 08:16 AM:

double dammit, then after I cut it short to not overuse your bandwidth I double post.

#380 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2005, 01:48 AM:

A ways upstream (and a year ago) we heard from Tim Hutchinson.

Now imagine my surprise when found another page that quotes him. This is from "The Publishing Game," a set of books that purport to explain Publishing to the new and hopeful writer. This is from the page called "Bestseller in 30 Days."

Here's Tim:

“I just finished reading the book The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days! Wished I had the book a long time ago... I've spent $21,000 so far and haven't generated any sales. (What an expensive learning curve!) Thanks to your book I'm on the way to my first bestseller.”

— Tim Hutchinson, author of Battlescars, and teen violence expert

$21K. "Haven't generated any sales." Boy, the Writers' Collective sure is the thing, isn't it?

But wait! Who's this who's giving high marks to The Publishing Game? Our chum Lisa Grant herself!

“A great guide to help you through the marketing maze. I thought I knew a lot until I read it: a day-by-day marketing plan that can help you launch your book professionally. Fern, who authored five other books in The Publishing Game series (and who gives workshops on independent publishing and book publicity) will teach you step-by-step how to create a publicity plan for your book. She covers selling to bookstores, libraries, corporations, book clubs, and catalogs, explains how to get featured in national magazines, how to create a print and broadcast publicity campaign, how to organize a profitable speaking tour, and a lot more. The Publishing Game is one of the best books I’ve ever read for independent publishers and I’m planning to follow the game-plan for my own book.”

— Lisa Grant, The Writer’s Collective

A few of the others leapt out at me: Midwest Book Review. Publishers Marketing Association. Maybe tomorrow I'll go through the list and see what best sellers the folks blurbing this book have written.

#382 ::: JTR ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:12 AM:

One more thing: the Society's P.O. Box is in a place called Talent, Oregon. Could the whole thing be designed to fund a terrorist summer camp in that state -- as the Govt. asserts is a "real" threat? Golly!

I grew up there in Talent Oregon. It's a town of (when I left) just over 1000 people if you've ever been to Oregon it's just north from Ashland off I-5, but before you hit Phoenix (Seems almost like a hoax with just the names of the towns Ashland->Phoenix(the town was called something else until it burned to the ground early 1900s), next town is Medford, dunno how you fit in fording the middle of a river though, apparently U.S. Grant crossed there and named it before he made it to Grants Pass in the mountains-which after THAT is Hugo ;}).
As far as I know nothing has come from that place [Talent] worth noting, and nothing has gone in except a Wal*mart.. which is about the only reason you would stop there. The only thing they would be funding out there would be eco-terrorists! I don't think "muslim" is a combination of letters often used out there and if you said "mosque" people would think you were telling them they forgot to put on deodorant :) It has a volunteer police force and fire department, some of them are teachers in the high school in Phoenix. I think whoever is running that P.O. Box must be from out of town .. unless it's Joe-bob from the trailer park, he were alweys da smarty keind!

Ashland on the other hand has a Shakespeare festival and could be called a mini San Francisco in character and liberal atmosphere (especially since all the rich people from Cali have vacation homes there). Everything north of that is a logging town until you get to Salem.

/end useless geography lesson

#383 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 07:57 AM:

Re: #372 (Emily)

What P&E currently says about The Writers' Collective:

Writers' Collective, The: Not recommended. A subsidy publisher.
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advertising scraper software, it says.

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