Friday, July 08, 2005

Friday Morning Eggs Benedict (heavy on the hollandaise)

Why is it all us folks in the publishing industry must veil our identities when we blog? There are many more besides Mad Max and me. In fact, here is yet another. Miss Snark is a literary agent who drops some interesting tidbits, via her general angst for the garbage queries that filter through her agency. There are some entertaining posts (and pathetic query letters) here.

Though most on-topic is her entry "Previously Published" (near the bottom.) You already know where she is going, don't you?

I have yet to recommend a non-POD book on this blog, but please allow me one exception. There is a book every writer (especially those not published) should read and it is this:

Pat Walsh was one of the founding editors at MacAdam/Cage, a small press with some of the most thought-provoking releases in the last few years (remember THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE?) This book brings to light everything you need to know about the industry (as a writer, that is) and delivers it with grace and humor. The sections on "understanding the publishing industry" and "understanding agents" are dead-on accurate (and, of course, so were the chapters on self-publishing.) Not only were these vignettes fun to read but they reminded me how lucky/blessed I am to be in print today.

About every five pages or so I would think to myself I wish this book had been in print before I ever tried to get published. Where did I find time to read yet another book amidst this sea of POD? Well, once I'd started, I couldn't stop. This book is compelling.

Also note: it's $14 and only 200 pages. If I didn't know better I'd think it was POD.

Am I the only person obsessed with stock photos causing some embarrassment in the publishing industry? Apparently not.
The New York Times (always a day late and a dollar short when breaking a news story *wink*) has a juicy article on even more covers with images that are (nearly) identical to others. And some are big writers (i.e. Jeffrey Eugenides.)

The NYT gives you a good look at what it costs these publishers to "borrow" the images (buying them outright is too costly, they claim. Then I guess they shouldn't complain, eh?)

Moral: Shoot your own cover or get an image that can be retired.

And here is a
mind-boggling entry from Authorhouse. From this press release:

"We started hosting our conferences in Indianapolis four years ago with the goal of supporting local aspiring authors," said J. Andy Murphy, WriteStuff Writers' Conference founder and author/literary agent. "We never dreamed that our efforts would be so successful that we would grab the attention and support of the world's largest book publisher (AuthorHouse) and the nation's most prestigious literary magazine (Writer's Digest)."

Funny. I would have bet my life that the "world's largest book publisher" was Random House and the "nation's most prestigious literary magazine" was The New Yorker. Golly, where have I been?

I'm sure the conference would have been just has worthwhile without the grandstanding.

And have you checked out the pictures from Will Clarke's most recent book signing? (July 7th) Holy Vishnu! What a turnout! That's the dream of every POD-author-who-wants-to-be-commercially-published.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's my dream, too.


And one more fun nugget: the Book Babes discuss (slam, mostly) the idea of self-publishing, specifically POD. It is difficult for people to find a new reason to hate POD (because the main ones are so convincing) but the exceptions to the rule are becoming more numerous as time moves on. I can only hope that some of the folks on the list to the right will be exceptions.

Happy eating, everyone!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Macmillan: Agents and Editors Speak . . .

Publishing certainly slows in the summertime. In fact, August brings it to nearly a standstill. Proof of this would be the two long email discussions and one IM discussion I had with my editor and agent friends regarding yesterday's post regarding Macmillan.

As a result, I asked my friends to answer one simple question regarding Macmillan and allow me to post the answer here. Wonderful folks, they are.

Question: What impact will the Macmillan New Writing program have on the publishing
industry? Will this affect POD?

Editor One: Anything Macmillan does [of this nature] gets noticed and discussed. Rumor has it that Random House is about to do the same thing. [Another editor] just told me yesterday that they were considering it at Warner at a high level. What many of my peers would like to see is an elimination of the agent intimidation. [We] take an unknown talent, nurture her and get her published and promoted, secure some good reviews, then the agent comes to us on book two and says, "we want X dollars." And if we come up short by a few grand--or God forbid it goes to auction--we get shafted. It would be nice if publishing could go back to an author sticking with a house and having a real partnership and career set up. Maybe this is the first step.

Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions, like what about the cover? Will it get the same professional treatment as the other Macmillan titles? What about securing rights to lyrics [that may appear in the book], etc? Who is handling that? We are watching closely to see how this plays out. Macmillan is being progressive here.

As for POD, I do not see any change. Maybe they will publish 100 less titles per year. Big deal.

Editor Two: This publishing model was something of an urban legend, or so we thought. There has been talk [at this editor's publishing house] of doing this exact thing and the reason is quite clear. Spending high five or six figures on an unknown author creates a surge in demand for antacid in Manhattan. The risk is unreal. We have to create these mind-boggling P&L statements to justify the purchase. You hear about the instances of a publisher paying a crazy advance to an author like Janet Evanovich, but the truth is she is pretty low risk. On the other hand, paying $90,000 to a debut author is extremely risky and so frequently becomes a failure. Editors panic when [we] make these deals because we know we may have to move to another house if it bombs.

So, as a result, [publishers] are looking for a way to reduce risk and funnel the money to the proven authors. That is not to say that only the Evanoviches will get the cash. An author who proves himself on the first book will get a nice slice in the next project, but the days of the six-figure advance on a debut title needs to be reduced or eliminated.

If Macmillan is successful in this venture it will certainly come to the States, and quickly.

POD? No change. Macmillan, and anyone who follows suit, is still looking for top talent--in fact, it could be even harder to get picked up by this program if they are trying to find books that can bypass an editor.

Agent One: Well, I am an advocate for authors. So the idea of this is horrible from my point of view. The writer needs a guide for the publishing industry, and the agent serves that purpose. I know editors are not keen on the power-hungry antics of most agents, that we are mostly viewed as a bunch of two-faced rats who happen to carry the best product in the industry. I mean, do editors really want to go back to reading the slush pile? With regard to POD, I cannot envision this having any impact unless Random House starts printing 10,000 titles per year, in which case I am going to the movies.

The real problem (generated from my perspective as an agent) is the surrendering of world rights. It is hard to fathom justification for that. An agent might be able to sell rights to, say, China, where Macmillan might not be bothered. It is a waste, and gluttonous.

Agent Two: What turns me off the most is the lack of everything: little editing, no advance, no promotion. I would take it more seriously if they were backing the author normally but it sounds as though these books may be doomed from the get-go. If, however, one of these books takes off, I will not be surprised to see the entire industry try to climb aboard with each having a slightly different hybrid version of this publishing program. If it does work for Macmillan, what is the risk for everyone else to try it? The only losers are the authors (and I suppose the agents.)

I do not think this will change a single thing in the POD or self-publishing venues. Off -topic books will always have difficulty finding a home, as well as the terribly-written stuff.

Agent Three: So it is true. I have heard of publishers trying to work this model for years but have never seen it given life. If it works, expect a half-hearted revolution. All Macmillan has to do is get one breakout title to justify the experiment, and I bet they will get just that (at least one.) As for us agents, it will only be easier to represent proven authors; the debut writers are the toughest sale.

I think Macmillan has good intentions here. In fact, if Guardian had not written that article, I'm not sure most people would even know about it. They have kept it fairly close to the vest.

POD will remain unchanged, in my opinion. Though they may lose a handful of books that might have gone their way. That would be a good thing.


Well, thanks for answering my query, one and all. Now, hurry--the last train is leaving for the Hamptons in 40 minutes. Have a great--albeit pretentious--weekend!

As for us common folk, it's back to finding some living, breathing books among the dead titles that amass the POD world.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Macmillan or PublishBritannica?

It seems there is a good bit of controversy over Macmillan's New Writing program. I've brought it up before here at the POD-dy Mouth East Coast Warehouse and Distribution Center, but I thought it might deserve a second look, as it seems many are on the fence.

Including me.

For those who are not familiar: The New Writers program is one where Macmillan will allow unagented authors to submit manuscripts (thus, recreating the slush pile) electronically. If they like the author's book, they will offer to publish it with--and here's the rub--no advance but a 20% royalty. Oh, and they keep all the rights to the book. Oh, and you may need to find an editor to edit the thing (Macmillan will do the copyediting.)

While the Guardian Article is 75% negative and 25% positive, I would say Michael Allen (the cogent and always informative Grumpy Old Bookman) seems mostly in favor, while Sarah Weinman is clearly against.

And so is Booksquare.

And so are a lot of other people.

Mostly because they are looking at it from the top down. The Guardian interviewed published (well-established, no less) authors who turned their nose up at it. Well, duh. But for the people who frequent this blog, is it as bad as it sounds?

The whole point of this blog, the reason I sometimes skip exercising and eating correctly is to read more PODs and publish this blog (I will, of course, look into getting a Lithium prescription.) But look at how many good books are listed on the right column that may never get anything more than, well . . . a mention on this blog. Would these people be willing to surrender rights (which, by the way, does not mean you get nothing if Macmillan sells rights to Japan or the U.S., it just means they control what they are sold for, and when.)

In the Joshua Cohen article, it seems the POD leaders also think it is a scam--and they are basing that argument on the loss of rights. And they would have to. Certainly Macmillan is not going to take any of Authorhouse's customer base. Unlike PublishAmerica, Macmillan only plans to publish one or two titles per month, not countless hundreds. So, let's say they release 18 novels a year. That is way less than any imprint coming to mind. So to think they would upset the POD world is hard to imagine.

Unless every publisher decided to follow Macmillan's model.

The publishing world does not like change. And when a publisher as respected and well-known as Macmillan throws a new option for publishing out there, the other majors (Random, S&S, etc.) have no choice but to pay attention. Will this publishing model work? Who knows. But if it does, expect every publisher in the world to follow suit.

And expect to see a lot of agents turning to freelance editing.

My take? It is not as good as the deal I got, for certain. But it's a lot better than the deal, say, Jamie Boud got (aka none.) There is never a downside to being published with a powerhouse like Macmillan. Simply being listed in their catalog is better than most small presses can offer. Further, I can think of ten authors off the top of my head that got almost no better: all were published by imprints at major publishers except one, and none of them got anything more than a listing in the publisher's catalog and the hope that the sales reps would push the book. Okay, they did get advances (most in the low mid figures) and that is a difference but not a major one. One close friend got a $15,000 advance, lost 15% to her agent, lost half of what remained to taxes and lost another $1,000 to recoup her expenses in trying to find an agent--she had just over $5k left (and she had to sponsor her own book tour!) Ultimately, advances that low mean the publisher is unlikely to spend anything on promotion.

So do I think it's fair? Well, I don't think it is a scam. (Imagining that Macmillan would be interested in getting kickbacks from freelance editors is silly.) I do think it is an excellent option for books that are exceptional, and where the author has already filled a three-ring binder with rejection slips. The world looks differently when you stand at the POD level and look up.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

DÉJÀ VU by Ian Hocking (UKA Press)

What do you get if you combine Primer, The Matrix, A.I., and Memento into a single, cohesive plot? I mean, besides a headache? Well, you get one mighty potent story, my friends.

I had received Ian Hocking's novel,
DÉJÀ VU , (a soft science-fiction thriller in the manner of Crichton) a few months ago and it wasn't until he posted a comment here that it jogged my memory. (In the past two months I've received 480+ .pdf manuscripts; I never thought I'd fill that gigabyte on Yahoo's free mail service, but there you have it.) I'd started reading his novel and put it aside to take care of editing [my own novel]; don't forget I'm a writer, too. When I finally (re)found it (took me fifteen minutes) I kicked myself because I remembered being enthralled at the time. But the story line is so involved, so complex (and admittedly confusing; I blame my own slowness) that I had to start over.

Let me put some things out there for you to ponder:

(1) It is 2023. Wait, sometimes it is 2012. And some stuff happened in 2002. But don't worry.
(2) The book is a murder mystery (David Proctor has been accused (falsely) of causing his wife's death) and he is out to solve the puzzle of what actually happened. However--it is really about identity (Hocking is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Exeter's School of Psychology.) Enough said.
(3) It's British. Take it with a grain of salt.
(4) Think about this for a moment: digital minds.

If you like puzzle-esque novels or really enjoyed (oh, God, forgive me) the DA VINCI CODE, this is one for your bookshelf. Save this book for when you can isolate yourself and dedicate some time to a thought-provoking experience. This is good stuff.

I must disclose: UKA Press is, for lack of a better term, a real publisher (designator: edits free of charge) and as a result had a leg up on the other titles I have reviewed here. Also, it's been released in the UK and I have no idea how you can buy a copy but I am sure Ian Hocking can give you an idea.

Get ready to to have mind-blowing experience.