Unaware, perhaps, that they no are no longer reaping rewards for their creator, used hard copies of my novels find their ways into online used bookstores and resell and resell. I am all for recycling, in theory, but not in this particular. Neither publisher nor author gets a cut of used book sales. What an author can do is buy up all the used copies, which are sometimes priced as low as a penny, and resell them at a higher price. I have tried my hand at this, but I make a lousy bookseller. I refuse to bubblewrap, doublebox or otherwise over-package books the way Amazon does (they seem to think books are potentially able to explode if jostled in the post), and I don’t get orders in the mail very quickly. Although it might be of some benefit, I’m not too keen on spending a lot of energy learning how to be a bookseller as well as a writer. Gone are the days when some publishing-house intern with nothing better to do took care of things for the pampered writer. These days most authors, be they with small or large publishers, have to do a lot of their own PR, dealing personally with book stores and reading groups. I don’t want the added responsibility of resale management. Continue reading
The greatest fault of literary awards is that they, like the review industry, are largely directed at new writing. There is no reason why the “best” books should be “new” books. Whereas commercial fiction is topical, trendy, and has a very short shelf life, literary fiction is not. If an industry supporting quality writing is to succeed in this changing publishing world, it must distinguish itself from the fashion industry where being “the latest” is every thing. A new philosophy for literary fiction publishing must focus on the maturing title as well as the new one. Continue reading
The film industry and the music industry long ago responded to technological advances that put production power in the hands of the artist. When video quality became comparable to film quality, Indie videographers could afford to make their own movies. If at first these looked a bit “low-budget,” that changed soon enough. And in 2009 the Academy Award for Best Cinematography went to a digitally-shot picture: Anthony Dod Mantle for Slumdog Millionaire. “Indie Film” is now its own genre, much in the way that “literary fiction” is a genre, whose only defining characteristics are its artfulness. Continue reading
Do you remember in the nineties, when those enemies of progress decried the big box booksellers nudging independent stores out of business? They claimed chainstore dominance would ultimately decrease the diversity of titles sold. We might have listened. They were right. Once there were thousands of thoughtful, eccentric, and qualified people choosing which books should go on shelves, but that number shot down to just dozens, and the decisions went to people with marketing degrees, not elbow patches. But—I am first to admit it—at the time I was happy to have a cozy library-ish place to sip my espresso, and, even though there was nothing on the shelves for me other than the classics I already owned, I rationalized that I could always order the books I wanted. I sold out, I now realize. I sold my literary fiction down the river. Continue reading
Hard copies can be resold and resold without the author benefiting from these transactions, but the e-book assures the author a royalty check for every single sale. There is no such thing as a used e-book. If you don’t think many people are willing to read a whole novel on a lit screen, think again. People spend hours a day staring at their phones and computers. Things change, and people adapt. Remember those who said they would never give up their typewriters? They succeeded those who swore long-hand was the only way to write. Out of habit I still continue to buy print books, but I own a Kindle and eventually I’ll get used to using it.
Almost all e-readers use energy efficient black-and-white E Ink displays, which use reflected light so they’re much easier on the eyes than backlit LCD screens. There are a number of e-readers out there: Amazon’s Kindle, Sony Reader, Cool-er, eSlick and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. Kindle uses a proprietary AZW format that only supports book available on Amazon. Almost all other e-books use the open source EPUB. All e-book readers will allow you to read PDF, HTML, text, MP3 and JPEG files, some readers are better at it than others.
I am only familiar with Kindle, but I think their proprietary software may make them more interesting to authors. Kindle books are now available on iPod, iPhone, PCs and pretty soon on Macs too, so readers won’t have to own a Kindle device to read a Kindle book. Kindle books can’t be copied, like PDF or Word files, and emailed to friends. You have to register your Kindle-reading device with Amazon to access your library.
The Open Source version e-books aren’t copyright protected in the same way. An authorized user is not strictly prevented from sharing e-books with friends, but there is a “social disincentive” to do so. The Open Source version requires a type of password that a user would be reluctant to share because it contains his/her credit card number. As an author, I’m slightly more comfortable with the Kindle procedure. As long as Kindle books are available to anyone with a PC or a Mac, I think it’s the smarter choice for authors to release on Kindle rather than Open Source. There are those who are warning writers that the ebook will cut profits in half as digitized music cut the music industry profits in half. But a Kindle book isn’t like an mp3, which I know how to copy and send to friends. Despite these warnings I am optimistic about ebooks. I don’t use Napster any more, but iTunes. You too, huh?
Whatever the format, however, e-books will be good for literary fiction. Getting literature in your pocket, purse or computer–which are with you most of the time when library is not–is one way to get people reading more. Your e-book does not come by truck to you. No gas is spent delivering it to you door. The expenses involved in producing quality hardcover copies leave an author with a royalty cut of about $2 per book. Even if an author wants to bring the e-book price down low enough to compete with a used book $4-$7, they can still get a 37% or more cut with e-book editions, with just the e-book publisher and the author splitting the profits. Authors no longer have to share the spoils of their labors with the post office or UPS or printing companies or distribution companies, etc and etc.
Fattening up the middleman was the American way for a very long time, but cutting the fat is now the way.
Lately, the government has been heard encouraging people to go out and shop in order to bring the economy back. I think we Americans already have too many things and what we really need to be doing is getting by with all the stuff we already own until it wears out. This would help keep garbage dumps from experiencing too much growth. But, if we take the advice of advocates of green such as I, our economy won’t grow. Well, let me suggest this, fellow Americans. Buy an e-book. You will be stimulating skilled labor in this country without adding to the dumps.
These posts, by the way, are reverse dated because people tend to read top down rather than bottom up.
HarperCollins has turned to “crowdsourcing” to find material to publish. Their online site www.authonomy.com invites authors to submit their novels to be reviewed by other novelists who have also submitted their work. This is a new kind of publisher slush pile. Instead of having interns or agents sift through submissions, they are having the reading public do it for them. This is, theoretically, a good tactic for commercial publishers since it should give them direct information about how the general public is likely to respond to work they are considering.
The problem with this kind of approach, other than the obvious one –mediocre readers selecting for mediocrity– is that the books that have been reviewed by other writers get placed near the top of the page, so those seeking to find books to review are offered those first. Continue reading