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I know, I don't Journal. I'm a lousy Journaler. I start to think of things to talk about here and say, "that's just puffery and bull shit, Bob."

But, I'm going to try to actually do a bit this month. I'm taking part in Movember. For those of you who don't know, this means I have shaved off my van dyke (see pics of before and after) and I'll be documenting my growing Mo. In my head, this is my journey from Tony Stark to Clark Kent to Magnum, PI. Okay, so Clark probably never wore a tie-dye henley. His loss.


Anyway, the real point of Movember is to promote and raise money for men's health research and awareness. My physician back in Vegas told me a few times that he sees his female patients in the office and his male patients in the hospital. I admit, in 19 years as his patient, he only twice saw me in the office as a patient (rather than when I was bringing Janet it for her exams). I'm 45 now and I'm starting to feel what life does to a guy. I'm in pretty good shape, but the lack of specific illness doesn't entirely mean that I'm healthy.

So, check out my Movember page: http://us.movember.com/mospace/8035765. Check out the information on the site. If you feel like it and can afford to, make a donation.

Thanks for stopping by.

Check Your Assumptions At The Door

You've probably heard about the The PW piece about Joe Konrath's Amazon deal, and Joe's understated and subtle response (if not, look here). Notably, in the comments to Joe's response are a number of people repeating once again that Joe's experience spells the death of traditional publishing, just as predictably one of the agents PW spoke with said that Joe's experience was a flash in the pan we'd all forget about in a few years.

Being a somewhat scientifically minded person (I majored in physics and mathematics at college before making the brilliant decision to drop out in favor of a life in publishing), I thought to apply a bit of scientific method to my examinations. Of course, we have Joe's results on Kindle that he has been proudly touting quite heavily to the world. In addition, a couple of my clients have been doing differing experiments with Kindle and other electronic book sales.

One of these is a wonderful mystery writer client of mine, Vicki Tyley, who's from Australia. After a lot of effort, I'd been unable to sell Vicki's THIN BLOOD, in large part because most of the publishers refused to even look at the book. "Americans don't want to read Australian mysteries," I was told. At least one conglomerate appears to have this as a standing rule from Marketing to Editorial: Don't even think about bringing us an Australian mystery.

Finally, last fall, Vicki and I decided on an experiment. Starting with Smashwords, she released the book electronically, with a one-month free promotion. That received such a good response that Suspense Magazine actually selected Vicki as their featured New Author for April--for an electronic book which, at the time, was only available on Smashwords. At the end of April, Vicki made the book available on Amazon's Kindle, selling for 99¢, and announced it. Really, that's about all the promotion either one of us did. Then, we waited to see what would happen. As of today, May 25, THIN BLOOD is the #1 Mystery title among all non-free titles available on Kindle, and #20 among all paid titles on Kindle, regardless of genre. (The new Steig Larsson release may have shifted that after I started writing this.)

Now, I remember thinking when Joe started off with his stuff that certainly Hyperion having helped develop his name made a huge difference. But just the fan base from his physical books couldn't really account for his electronic sales. Now, here's Vicki, a complete unknown from Australia. No fan base. Just a damn good book, and her sales have grown each day, by huge leaps. 10 books, then 20, then 50, then 70, then more than 130 books in a single day for a completely unknown author. So, let's toss out name recognition as an assumed cause.

Is it the price? Well, maybe that helps, but look at the top 50 titles on Amazon Kindle and you'll see that there's only one other at 99¢, and that's a guide to the Kindle itself. What predominates the Kindle chart, regardless of price, is a lot of the same big best-selling names that dominate all the other sales charts. Clearly the "we won't buy books over $9.99" boycott people aren't being all that effective, as several $12.99 books are sitting quite comfortably on the charts. So, let's toss out that assumption.

However, on the other hand, I have my client David Niall Wilson who's starting to release back-list titles on Amazon from himself and others through his joint-venture Crossroads Press Digital Publishing. Dave has been publishing for a long time (I remember having an editorial argument 20 years ago over one of Dave's stories at the small press magazine I was then managing editor of). He's won two Bram Stoker awards, he's written some absolutely amazing books--books that readers have quite literally said changed their lives. The Crossroads Press titles haven't run up the charts so far, but Dave himself says that he hasn't gotten onto the Kindle boards to do much in the way of announcing them.

He has posted every new title through his Twitter feed (@David_N_Wilson), which is followed by more than 6,000 people. Joe has a Twitter feed (@jakonrath) that's followed by about 2500 people. Vicki has no Twitter feed at all.

So, perhaps it's the announcing of the books on the Kindle boards, but that alone can't be it. A lot of people announce their books on the Kindle boards. What makes Joe's books move so well? What made Vicki's book take off? And why are other books stalled? Perhaps it's the quality. I certainly don't have the time to read every new book released on Kindle (I have enough reading trying to catch up with my clients--the prolific, wonderful lot of them).

It seems to me that for now, we need to check all our assumptions at the door. There are too few data points, and they're often contradictory. I'm getting too tired and out of shape to go leaping to conclusions these days (I'll leave that to younger and more energetic types). I'm just enjoying the ride while I try to figure out what makes it run.

Firefly Rain Twitter Giveaway

So, Tuesday April 6, 2010 is the official on-sale date for the Gallery Books trade paperback edition of Firefly Rain. And Tuesday April 13, 2010 is the official on-sale date of the videogame Splinter Cell: Conviction. What do these two things have in common? A lot of words written by Richard Dansky. To celebrate that fact, Rich and I will be giving away some stuff to our Twitter followers, so tell your friends who like books and videogames - and swag - that they might want to start following us.


How will this work? Well, Rich will be locked away working on a video game for this whole launch period, but before then, he and I worked out a series of clues that you, the intrepid followers, get to solve. Each of the 8 days, I will post a clue with the hashtag #ffrgiveaway. Retweet it around. Each person can then respond using the same hashtag with the answer to the clue given in the form of a question.


Oh, didn’t I mention that Rich is also in the try-out process to appear on Jeopardy? He is, and I think this will be good karmic help for him. Also, given that Jeopardy loves categories, all of these clues and answers relate to music from Rich’s “soundtrack” that he listened to while writing the novel. It’ll help to remember that the book is a Southern Gothic, and that Rich and I are both...eclectic in our musical tastes.


Anyway, the morning after I post the clue, I will collect all of the correct responses and randomly select one of those respondents to receive an autographed copy of Firefly Rain and some swag, which Rich will select. The final day, the 13th, the videogame will be a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction.


All prizes will ship after Rich returns from crunch, which will give plenty of time for the winners to let me know where to ship them and their game platform of choice.


Note that the contest is completely my idea and I reserve the right to change the rules just because I feel like it without even a moment's notice. If you don't like it, don't play along. Neither Simon & Schuster nor UbiSoft are sponsors or otherwise involved in this, so forget about bugging them if you don't like how I play the game. Got it. Have fun. I will be.

The Soundtrack:
Down South –  Tom Petty
Copied Keys – Kathleen Edwards
Old Country Country – The Raphaels
Danko/Manuel – Drive By Truckers
I Won’t Back Down – Johnny Cash
The Ghost of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen
This Too Shall Pass – Bruce Hornsby
Boy Inside the Man – Tom Cochrane & Red Rider
Poor Man’s House – Maura O’Connell
Copperhead Road – Steve Earle 
Ghost – Eastmountainsouth
The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
Southern Accents – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Desperadoes Waiting For A Train – The Highwaymen
Tornadoes – Drive By Truckers
The Lighthouse’s Tale – Nickel Creek

Then again...

I'll be short this time. Promise. I was just contemplating another little piece of this big messy puzzle called the book business, and Macmillan's understandable concern that low priced e-books might eat into the higher-margin hardcover sales (thereby costing publishers, authors, agents, and bricks-and-mortar booksellers money).

But there's the same argument about used book sales. I know there was a lot of screaming about Amazon.com putting used books for sale (sometimes as low as 1¢ plus shipping) right on the same page as the new book. It was the end of new books. Who would be dumb enough to pay full price for a new book when they could get a used one for less?

Turns out, a not inconsiderable number of people.

Now, understand that in my previous blog I did not say that I agreed with Macmillan's pricing ideas. Those are their business decisions to make. Macmillan just wants to be in the same position as Joe Konrath, or Dave Wilson, or Apex Books in their ability to price their e-books to take best advantage of the particular market conditions at any given time. (And if you're not buying the books from the above people, what's wrong with you?)

In fact, I believe that most e-books will top out at $9.99, with a few outliers that are special cases. Pretty much what ACTUALLY exists now on Amazon.com's Kindle Bookstore (did you know there's somebody selling their e-book for over $300 on there?). And I believe this is not a bad thing. I believe that many of the people who'll be buying the $9.99 e-books are those who otherwise might have bought a used copy, just because the little bit of extra money is worth it to them to get the book right now, not a week from now. And in an e-book sale, the publisher and author actually get a cut, as opposed to the used book market.

Many, many people will continue walking into bookstores to pick up the latest from their favorite authors and hopefully stumble on new favorite authors, and the hardcover book market will continue unabated. I might have more concern for the paperback market, but I think the folks who wait for the paperback because they can't afford the hardcover probably also don't have the pocket change to drop several hundred dollars on a dedicated e-book reader.
Okay, let's make this simple.



Macmillan is not fighting to change from a wholesale model, where Amazon pays them $14 a book, to an agency model where Amazon pays them $10.47 a book (or less) because they're greedy, short-sighted bastards who want to gouge every last penny out of the customer that they can get. Publishers may do many stupid things, but basic mathematics is not beyond them. If you don't understand why that would be a stupid business decision, then basic math is clearly beyond you. Please go back to posting scathing comments against Macmillan on the site of your choice and you can safely never read my blog again.

Before we go on to the next portion of my commentary, let's have a show of hands for all of those people who believe that Amazon will be perfectly happy to go on indefinitely paying publishers $4 more per book than they're getting from customers?

Okay. Moving on.

Now, what is this fight really about? It's about a BUSINESS MODEL.

So let's look at where the publishing model is right now.

1) A publisher licenses a book from an author (note that they do not "buy" the book; the publisher does not in fact "own" the book, they have licensed the right to reproduce the book in specific formats for either a predetermined time or until certain marketplace conditions exist).

2) A publisher then publishes said book. As pointed out elsewhere, the process of publishing a book does not mean "they put it on paper." Actually publishing a book starts with the editorial process, wherein the editor from the publishing house works with the author to make the book as salable as they can reasonably make it in the time they have before they need to get it into "production." In the production phase, a copyeditor is hired to go through the manuscript to look for any logical inconsistencies missed by the editor and author, check all that pedantic grammar and spelling and whether a word is a trademark (requiring capitalization) or not and all sorts of other minor little annoyances that can make an author nuts and sometimes save said author from looking like a complete moron (what do you mean that baby was a girl in chapter one and a boy in chapter 25?). While the copyeditor is working with the author, the art director is busy deciding what sort of cover the book should have and hiring the appropriate professional to execute said cover (will it be a painting? a photograph? graphics only? plain text?). When the copyeditor finishes with the author, the text is then passed on to the interior designer who actually typesets the book (and I'm not going to go into the fact that typesetting is more than just picking a font) and does other interior design elements (will chapters be run one after another or start on new pages? Will there be a graphical indication of a scene break or just an extra space? and so on). Then a proofreader goes through the book to make sure that no errors were introduced between the copyediting and typesetting stages (one client's book was typeset by an alcoholic--can you say "I wrote electric, not eclectic!"). Then all of the elements are put together and sent off to the appropriate places to be turned into a physical book or an electronic file in each of the various formats for the different sellers. This is where the cost of physically printing a book comes in, but you can see that the costs of production include a lot of people's time and effort before that stage, so a professionally produced book is not just the cost of ink and paper. Got it?

3) Now we get to the stage of the business model where Macmillan and Amazon are having their pissing match. In the physical world model, publishers "sell" books on the consignment model, meaning they ship a big pile of books to various wholesalers (and Amazon, like Barnes & Noble, is large enough to act as its own wholesaler, as opposed to the wonderful people struggling at your local independent bookstore). The wholesaler then ships the book on to retailers (or in the case of Amazon, etc, they sell them to consumers directly). All of this is with the understanding that in a given period of time the end seller will either pay the publisher an agreed sum or give them back the physical book. These are returns.

Now, let's look at the world of e-books. As all of you people screaming at Macmillan that they just want to gouge the consumer so they can keep scooping their plates full of caviar at the Four Seasons (and arguments about that alternate universe can be saved for later) keep pointing out, unlike physical books, with e-books you're SELLING ACCESS TO AN ELECTRONIC FILE.

At what point in SELLING ACCESS TO AN ELECTRONIC FILE does the wholesale/consignment model above make sense? I've seen lots of people point out Apple's model of selling songs (and for those of you paying attention, they're not all $.99, but varying prices depending on format and any special offers the musicians or record labels want to offer). This is the model that Macmillan wants, with the addition of the ability to adjust the price more dynamically in response to the behavior of consumers.

Let's say that again: Macmillan is trying to become MORE consumer centric, not less. They understand that the model is shifting. That publishers' customers are not just bookstores anymore, but actual readers.

At the same time, they're trying not to alienate their longstanding bookstore customer base, because WHEN Amazon decides they've sold enough Kindles that they're tired of losing $4 on every bestselling book they sell for the device and argue for a lower price from Macmillan (and all the other publishers), the publishers will be well and truly screwed. They can't adjust the WHOLESALE price for Amazon without offering the same or a similar change to all of the other accounts.

If they don't untether the e-book price from the wholesale physical book price, they face a situation in the not too distant future where they simply can't afford to publish any books but ones guaranteed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Goodbye to all those lesser known writers you love. They'll be trying not to drown in the massive pool of author-sold product teeming with self-published crap with no production values.

So, if you think Macmillan is the big evil corporate juggernaut (and I may agree for completely different reasons on any given day depending on recent royalty statements and contract negotiations), and Amazon is the crusader for customer's rights, think again.

First novels

So, this is my first LJ post, and it won't be a long one. Just to let you know that my client, Hank Schwaeble, blogs about what it's like the day your first novel hits bookstore shelves.


Have fun, and read the book. It's a lot of fun, and I'm not just saying that because I'm his agent.