Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Funnies

STATUS: Another quiet day as NYC gets socked by snow. Our marketing director who is based in New York hasn’t had electricity since midnight. In Denver, it’s sunny and supposed to be 50 degrees tomorrow. Gotta rub it in when I can.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MODERN LOVE by David Bowie

My husband forwarded this link to me and it’s perfect for a Friday. I’ve been chuckling all morning.

It’s urban dictionary.

My favs so far?

that’s crazy!

It's the perfect response when you haven't been listening at all.It works whether the other person has been saying something funny, or sad, or infuriating, or boring....
Them: 'my girlfriend’ dumped me last night' You (thirsty, not paying attention): 'oh man, that's crazy'

dead cat bounce

Wall Street expression describing the phenomenon of a stock or share bottoming out to near zero and then recovering with a sharp buying spree from bargain hunters: the notion being that even a dead cat will bounce if dropped from a high-enough point.

darth breather

One who breathes loudly, sometimes unknowingly, sounding like Darth Vader.

TGIF! I'm out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Redefining Net Receipts Where eBooks Are Concerned

STATUS: Lots to tackle today so getting the blog entry out early.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE BLACKEST LILY by Corinne Bailey Rae

And the fun of how electronic books are changing the publishing contract continues. Today, boys and girls, we are going to talk about net receipts in Ms. Kristin’s neighborhood.

In light of this new agency commission model where Amazon and Apple will no longer carry the product per se but have an agreement to sell titles via their site in exchange for a 30% commission on the sale (see earlier post to get up to speed), suddenly agents need to re-examine the whole definition of net receipts in publishing contracts.

The definition of net receipts (or amount received) for an electronic book is not the same as the definition of amount received for a physical book.

With the agency commission model, the biggest question is this. Will publishers deduct the 30% commission paid or will they absorb it when calculating net receipts and determining what is the total used to pay authors their 25% of net receipts? One major publisher has stated that their current thinking is that the royalty would be calculated BEFORE deducting commission. In current negotiations for contracts in play, I’m not seeing publishers as excited about redefining net receipts this way.

So what does redefining net receipts mean to the author? Let’s do a little math!

Let’s say a title will sell on Amazon or Apple’s iPad for $10.00 (might as well make it easy math).

Now let’s look at the difference between net receipts if the publisher absorbs the cost of the agency commission versus if they don’t in defining and calculating net receipts.

If Publisher absorbs commission:
eBook price: $10.00
25% of net royalty (all the rage with publishers as of late)
Royalty to author: $2.50 per title sold

If Publisher does not:
eBook price: $10.00
$7.00 received by publisher (after 30% sales commission to retailer)
25% of net royalty
Royalty to author: $1.75 per title sold

Yep, definitely worth the time to find out exactly how this term is going to be defined in the contract when it comes to electronic books.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

eBooks and Royalty Statements

STATUS: Remember when I said we were reading a lot? Yeah, that was before the Olympics began. Bad Kristin but I can’t tear myself away from the TV in the evenings!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOLDING BACK THE YEARS by Simply Red

As you know from a previous post, I’m not all that enthusiastic about this move by Publishers to switch an eBook royalty rate based on retail price to a royalty percentage based on net amount received.

As I ranted about this topic previously, my issue is the lack of transparency on the statement. It’s impossible to track actual amount received by the publisher unless you can get more detailed accounting info

So what have we been doing? Asking Publishers to included language in the agreement that contractually obligates them to provide more accounting information upon request. The only way to verify the accuracy of the Publisher’s stated amount received is to get info such as a list of customers purchasing and disseminating the electronic product, the business model used (wholesale or agency commission or maybe something not even invented yet), the actual retail price, the discount, any deductions made to establish the Amount Received figure from which the royalty calculation will be based.

And I could go on.

Notice that yet again, the onus is on the author/agent to go out of their way to request this information. It won’t necessarily or automatically be stated on the statement.

If we are having such a revolution in publishing over the electronic book, is it too much to ask that publishers have a revolution regarding the info provided on a statement? You got to change the system anyway to account for these new royalty structures. Why not make the whole reporting process more transparent. Heck, why can’t all this info be readily available online and the author can access it at anytime.

Now that would be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bonus Clauses—Another Item to Re-evaluate With eBooks?

STATUS: Anita, our new assistant, started her first day of work today. Hooray! We have so much work we could pile on but we are trying to be reasonable. Both she and Sara have colds. Oi! Knock on wood that I don’t catch whatever is going around.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SWEET EMOTION by Aerosmith

Here is an interesting thought.

Agents will often negotiate bonus clauses with publishers. A popular one is a bonus (increasing the advance) for X number of net copies of the title sold during a certain period of time (12 months being a popular number).

Currently, the publisher ties the bonus to the specific edition. For example, if the title is published as an original trade paperback, then the bonus will be tied to X number of copies of the trade pb edition sold within that time period.

Make sense?

Well, eBooks are changing the landscape and are often released simultaneously with the original edition (be it hardcover, trade pb, or mass market).

So my thought? Why not count and include the sales of the electronic books in the total that is triggering the bonus clause? True, it is considered a separate edition but it’s rather unique in that it mirrors the original edition and doesn’t need a separate performance creation like, let’s say, an audio book.

Brilliant! Oh I’m sure Publishers will be stampeding to this point of view (not) but it is an interesting discussion, no?

My guess is that now we need to start creating bonus language specifically for sales connected to the eBook—especially as this format becomes more prominent and the sales start catching up or outstripping the other main format editions.

Fun fun!

Monday, February 22, 2010

You Need A Reserve For Returns For eBooks Like You Need A Hole In Your Head

STATUS: I had a To Do list a mile long but I buckled down and just concentrated on it. The fact that I only got 70 emails rather than my usual 120+ today made a big difference in accomplishing what I did.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY, SOUL SISTER by Train

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about contracts. I know. Your favorite thing but to be honest, contract language is ALL I’ve been thinking about for the last 3 weeks since Apple made their big iPad announcement, Amazon pulled the links for Macmillan titles to flex some muscle, and publishers such as Macmillan and Hachette moved solely to an agency commission model for the sale of eBooks. (See sidebar tags for “publishing contracts” and “electronic books” to get up to speed on these past events.)

The hardest part about being an agent right now is figuring out what dang language to put in the contract when terms are changing, literally, every week.

But today’s topic is a no brainer when it comes to contract terms that need to be revisited in light of the ever-changing eBook landscape.

Publishers, in the old school world of actually selling physical copies of the book, like to hold a reserve for returns on any given title. This reserve is usually specified on the royalty statement (although some publishers do not include that info and then we as the agency have to specifically request it). Because publishers sell books to booksellers who can then later return them for full credit or refund, they have to hold a certain percentage in reserves to account for the possibility of all these returns. Publishers like to hold reserves on each specific edition of the title.

Got that?

But here’s the interesting thing. Some publishers are holding a reserve on the eBook edition.

Right. Explain to me how somebody would return an electronic book. They can’t. eBooks are non-returnable so why would a publisher be holding a reserve for returns on an electronic edition?

What a good question. They shouldn’t be. So now we’ve implemented policy here at the agency to make sure that no reserves are being held for eBooks on any past contract where that was not specified (which means we are having to ask when each roy. statement arrives and make sure reserves are not held). Oh what fun!

And on future contracts, we are including specific language that no reserves will be held on the electronic edition. And yes, if you don’t specifically raise a ruckus about this, some publishers are holding a reserve on the eBook (not all, mind you, but some are).

Oh, I’m going to be ranting about this kind of stuff all week so stay tuned. Those of you who are agented authors, aren’t you glad somebody is worrying about this stuff on your behalf?

Friday, February 19, 2010

HESTER by Paula Reed At The Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch, CO

STATUS: TGIF and an author book event. Hooray!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing At the Moment

Dashing out the door to head south to the Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch, Colorado. From downtown, I want to give myself plenty of time.

Even if you haven’t RSVP’d , you can still join in the fun tonight.

We are at the Landsdowne Arms, Library Room from 5-7:15 p.m. Then the signing will be at the Tattered Cover (right next door) at 7:30 p.m.

See you there!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

State Reading Lists

STATUS: Snowing like crazy in Denver right now. What a concept. Snow in Denver. I thought that only happened on the East Coast. Grin.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WALKING IN MEMPHIS by Marc Cohn

My authors love it when I have to eat my words. And today I had to do just that.

So let me tell you the context for today’s entry. Two years ago when I sold PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles, I actually agreed with the publisher that a trade paperback edition was the perfect format. We pretty much envisioned that it would be teens shelling out their own hard-earned dollars for the novel.

After all, given the uh, rather salty language (all in Spanish!) and the rather um, shall I say realistic content of the novel, there was no way I could see state reading lists picking up this title.

For those of you who don’t know, individual states vote on reading lists that will be required (sometimes just suggested) reading for all school librarians, teachers, and students in the state. As you can imagine, this can be a huge factor for long-term sales success for any titles that land on these reading lists.

Well, given what I mentioned above, I didn’t see it happening for this novel. Well, I’m eating my words because PERFECT CHEMISTRY has been nominated for the Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award.

Silly me. I won’t underestimate our educational system again.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Milestone

STATUS: Some pretty great news today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN by Cyndi Lauper

One of my agent friends is constantly chastising me for not taking a moment to celebrate when really big things happen at my agency.

For example, last week, we did a huge film deal and I barely broke stride. I have to admit, I didn’t even go out to a celebratory dinner or anything. I just kept my nose to the grindstone (in my defense, Bologna Book Fair is rapidly approaching—I have to be ready!)

But today, I really can’t just do that. Besides, I don’t want her to berate me again (and I know she’s reading this and will call me up).

Last week was big—no doubt. This week is a huge milestone for an agent and in truth, it doesn’t happen often so I really need to take a moment and acknowledge it so that’s what I’m going to do.

Today, I have two authors sitting on the New York Times Bestseller list at the same time.

Now, I’ve had one author with two books sitting on the NYT list at the same time but never two authors on at the same time.


Great. Now I’ve just raised the bar and I’ll have to do 3 authors on the list at the same time or 2 authors with 2 different books on the list at the same time…. Naw. I’m just going to enjoy this moment.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

4 Submissions

STATUS: I actually caught up on quite a few things sitting on my desk so I’m feeling like it was a productive day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IF I HAD EYES by Jack Johnson

As I mentioned, Sara and I have tried to do a lot of reading as of late. Since you guys seem to like these reports, I don’t mind sharing although I personally don’t think they help you blog readers all that much. So much rides on the writing.

But anyway, last night I read four different sample pages.

Submission 1—Was a nicely written work but didn’t feel big enough for what I’m looking for in women’s fiction.

Submission 2—I’m a pass because the work was not my cup of tea but I thought Sara might like it so I sent on to her (romance).

Submission 3—Liked it. So did Sara. Fantasy genre. We asked for a full. Author’s name did not indicate gender (big grin here). Even if we are looking to add some more male authors to our client list, if the writing isn’t there, it’s a no go.

Submission 4—YA. Great concept. Didn’t find myself getting attached to the characters or the story. I did read all of the 30 page submission as I kind of hoped it would eventually grab me. I can see another agent liking it though. Told the author so.

Not sure if I’ll get any more reading done tonight as I’ve been reading a client manuscript that has me really excited so I can’t wait to get home to continue reading it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Funnies!

STATUS: The best way to start a day is with a smile on your face. Hope today’s entry helps.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JUST LIKE HEAVEN by The Cure

My fav?
“At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.”

Oi that’s funny! Enjoy.

They're Back! Those wonderful Church Bulletins! Thank God for church ladies with typewriters. These sentences (with all the BLOOPERS) actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.' The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.'
Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care much about you.

Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.
Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow..
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered..
The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. Is done.
The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance..
The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: 'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Save Money! Save Trees! No ARCs!

STATUS: Next Monday is a holiday in publishing! Hooray, another quiet day in the office to get caught up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOT N COLD by Katy Perry

This is the latest rally cry in publishing. One of my authors just found out today that her publisher is not going to be doing ARCs for her book. But it’s not just for her title but for all the mass market titles at this house.

Gone. They’ve decided that it’s too costly to continue with the current economic conditions.

For those of you who don’t know, ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy. This is the main tool in terms of getting reviews and influential blog posts about the upcoming release. Savvy authors can use those ARCs in a variety of ways such as making them available for special promos or having them handy at events or conferences where booksellers attend. And this is just the tip of the ice berg of uses for the ARC.

At the agency, we often use ARCs to shop film or foreign rights (although mainly we prefer a clean, electronic copy—costs of international shipping and all that.

But back to my Author. Her publisher isn’t even offering an electronic ARC. Just a bound manuscript but only on request. Yeah, I said the same thing. This author is feeling really supported….

Now I do understand that the printing of ARCs is expensive and often these copies end up on sale at eBay for pennies (with neither the publisher nor the author seeing any of those royalties) but egad.

As I mentioned above, the publisher did say that they were willing to send out bound manuscripts instead but talk about unwieldy. That’s basically asking a person to lug around 300+ regular sized pages. Any reviewer will be delighted to haul that around on the subway or to the soccer game or wherever they might be trying to squeeze in reading. Not.

I highlight this because now it’s becoming even more important to find alternate ways to connect to your audience before publication.

I have more thoughts on this but it’s getting late so I’m out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Submission Cycles

STATUS: It was a quiet day. NYC socked by snow. I imagine most editors didn’t make it into the office and just worked from home. Perfect excuse for a reading day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KANDI by One eskimO

You guys are going to hate today’s blog entry. After all, it’s hard enough to catch an agent’s attention in general so you definitely don’t want to hear that we have “modes” But hey, I try and share the unvarnished truth so here it is.

Agents read in cycles. There are periods of time where the workload is so overwhelming because of current client stuff, finding new talent is the last thing on our minds. We get behind in reading queries, sample pages, fulls because we aren’t reading incoming submissions on a regular basis.

Then the reverse can be true. When everything is running smoothly and 6 clients haven’t all delivered their fulls in a one week span of time (grin), then suddenly we are hot to find something new, something exciting, something that just reaffirms how much we love this job. So we’ll tackle the slush like it’s on fire.

Guess what mode we are in right now? Yep, now is a good time to submit.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Looking For A Few Good Men

STATUS: I’m actually leaving the office before 6 pm. I know. I’m stunned too.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLACK by Pearl Jam

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been interviewing for a new assistant. We are doing our final second round interview next week and then hopefully the new person will start. Sara and I can hardly wait I have to say. We are really missing having a right hand to help with the workload.

During one of the interviews, an applicant asked a great question. She asked if we had anything against male authors as we hardly had any on our list.

In looking at all our sales, the question is not really a surprise but the answer is that we would love to find a few good men to add to our client list. So what’s the deal?

I have a couple of hypotheses:

1. Overwhelmingly, the majority of our query letters are from women. Statistically speaking, there aren’t as many male writers out there looking for rep.

2. We don’t rep thrillers. A lot of male authors write in that genre so right there that reduces the number of inquiries we get from men.

3. A lot of the inquiries we get from male writers tend to be for literary fiction. My tastes really lean commercial in this realm. I’m more of a Jonathan Safran Foer kind of gal than an Arthur Phillips. And let me tell you, the Jonathan-type writers are hard to find and chances are my agency is not high on the radar (although I do hope Jamie’s HOTEL changes that perception some). I can make a book hit the NYT list folks.

4. Women read more and buy more books. This is why we tend to rep a lot of women’s fic and romance. We gotta pay the bills and genre writers tend to do more than one novel a year and it’s an easier sell. Imprints are always looking to fill slots in romance.

5. For whatever reason, our queries from guys in the field of YA and MG fiction is slim. Where are you? We are gamely waiting.

6. We do get a lot of fantasy queries from male writers. I’ve had some stuff come close (as in I worked with the writer on revisions etc. but so far the final connection hasn’t happened).

I have a theory that women writers tend to participate in critique groups more than male writers and subsequently, a lot of those submits aren’t as polished when the writer is first querying. This is totally a guess on my part and I could be wrong.

I probably shouldn’t say this but if you are a guy and your query is solid, chances are really good we are asking for sample pages.

We want you on our client list. Jamie Ford is lonely.

Monday, February 08, 2010

You Are Invited!

STATUS: Too busy a day to even mention here.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IF I COULD WRITE A BOOK by Harry Connick, Jr.

Thrilled to pieces that links are back on at Amazon. Not because I don’t value independent bookstores but because it’s hard not to include possible sales from the largest online bookseller.

Any author would want ALL venues available when launching a debut literary novel in this current economy.

So to celebrate, Nelson Literary Agency is throwing a pre-Tattered-Cover-Highlands-Ranch book party for Denver client Paula Reed—Friday, February 19, 2010.

Click on play to view details in the invite. RSVP and I’ll see you there.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: 2010 Nelson Agency Book Event
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Friday, February 05, 2010

Opening Pages--Action

STATUS: Heading to the mountains to ski. It’s supposed to snow. Fresh Powder

What’s playing on the iPod right now? VERTIGO by U2

Because we’ve been talking about openings, what works, what doesn’t, I wanted to show you an example from an author who is the master of action in the opening pages. Nobody does it better than Linnea Sinclair.

I would also recommend reading this author, even if this isn’t your genre, in order to learn about escalating conflict. Beginning writers often suffer from the fact that they don’t have enough conflict to drive their stories forward in a meaningful way.

Linnea is the master conflict, of raising stakes continuously through her novels. In fact, she often teaches a workshop on doing just that.

So let’s take a look at the opening of GABRIEL’S GHOST. Notice how she balances the action with setting (paragraph 1 & 2). Then in paragraph five, she raises the stakes even within this scene. Sprinkled throughout this opening paragraphs are key details on where our main character is (prison planet), who she was (fleet officer), why she is there (the court martial).

Folks, this is top-notch writing. In fact, you have to nail it this well for genre fiction or it just doesn’t work. I’d like to think you need to nail a form of this for literary fiction too—something aspiring literary writers often forget. Learn to write a plot-driven scene. You won’t use it the same way as one does in genre writing but it will teach you solid pacing—something a lot of aspiring literary works lack.

Only fools boast they have no fears. I thought of that as I pulled the blade of my dagger from the Takan guard’s throat, my hand shaking, my heart pounding in my ears, my skin cold from more than just the chill in the air. Light from the setting sun filtered through the tall trees around me. It flickered briefly on the dark gold blood that bubbled from the wound, staining the Taka’s coarse fur. I felt a sliminess between my fingers and saw that same ochre stain on my skin.

“Shit!” I jerked my hand back. My dagger tumbled to the rock-strewn ground. A stupid reaction for someone with my training. It wasn’t as if I’d never killed another sentient being before, but it had been more than five years. And then, at least, it had carried the respectable label of military action.

This time it was pure survival.

It took me a few minutes to find my blade wedged in between the moss-covered rocks. After more than a decade on interstellar patrol ships, my eyes had problems adjusting to variations in natural light. Shades of grays and greens, muddied by Moabar’s twilight sky, merged into seamless shadows. I’d never have found my only weapon if I hadn’t pricked my fingers on the point. Red human blood mingled with Takan gold. I wiped the blade against my pants before letting it mold itself back around my wrist. It flowed into the form of a simple silver bracelet.

“A Grizni dagger, is it?”

I spun into a half-crouch, my right hand grasping the bracelet. Quickly it uncoiled again—almost as quickly as I’d sucked in a harsh, rasping breath. The distinctly masculine voice had come from the thick stand of trees in front of me. But in the few seconds it took me to straighten, he could be anywhere. It looked like tonight’s agenda held a second attempt at rape and murder. Or completion of the first. That would make more sense. Takan violence against humans was rare enough that the guard’s aggression had taken me—almost—by surprise. But if a human prison official had ordered him… that, given Moabar’s reputation, would fit only too well.

I tuned out my own breathing. Instead, I listened to the hushed rustle of the thick forest around me and farther away, the guttural roar of a shuttle departing the prison’s spaceport. I watched for movement. Murky shadows, black-edged yet ill defined, taunted me. I’d have sold my soul then and there for a nightscope and a fully-charged laser pistol.

But I had neither of those. Just a sloppily manipulated court martial and a life sentence without parole. And, of course, a smuggled Grizni dagger that the Takan guard had discovered a bit too late to report.

My newest assailant, unfortunately, was already forewarned.

“Let’s not cause any more trouble, okay?” My voice sounded thin in the encroaching darkness. I wondered what had happened to that ‘tone of command’ Fleet regs had insisted we adopt. It had obviously taken one look at the harsh prison world of Moabar and decided it preferred to reside elsewhere. I didn’t blame it. I only wished I had the same choice.

I drew a deep breath. “If I’m on your grid, I’m leaving. Wasn’t my intention to be here,” I added, feeling that was probably the understatement of the century. “And if he,” I said with a nod to the large body sprawled to my right, “was your partner, then I’m sorry. But I wasn’t in the mood.”

A brittle snap started my heart pounding again. My hand felt as slick against the smooth metal of the dagger as if the Taka’s blood still ran down its surface. The sound was on my right, beyond where the Taka lay. Only a fool would try to take me over the lifeless barrier at my feet.
The first of Moabar’s three moons had risen in the hazy night sky. I glimpsed a flicker of movement, then saw him step out of the shadows just as the clouds cleared away from the moon.

His face was hidden, distorted. But I clearly saw the distinct shape of a short-barreled rifle propped against his shoulder. That, and the fact that he appeared humanoid, told me he wasn’t a prison guard. Energy weapons were banned on Moabar. Most of the eight-foot tall Takas didn’t need them, anyway.

The man before me was tall, but not eight feet. Nor did his dark jacket glisten with official prison insignia. Another con, then. Possession of the rifle meant he had off- world sources.

I took a step back as he approached. His pace was casual, as if he were just taking his gun out for a moonlit stroll. He prodded the dead guard with the tip of the rifle then squatted down, and ran one hand over the guard’s work vest as if checking for a weapon, or perhaps life signs. I could have told him the guard had neither. “Perhaps I should’ve warned him about you,” he said, rising. “Captain Chasidah Bergren. Pride of the Sixth Fleet. One dangerous woman. But, oh, I forgot. You’re not a captain anymore.”

With a chill I recognized the mocking tone, the cultured voice. And suddenly the dead guard and the rifle were the least of my problems. I breathed a name in disbelief. “Sullivan! This is impossible. You’re dead—“

“Well, if I’m dead, then so are you.” His mirthless laugh was as soft as footsteps on a grave. “Welcome to Hell, Captain. Welcome to Hell.”

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Latest On Macmillan-Amazon

STATUS: A bit frustrated with all this Amazon stuff.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NEVER THERE by Cake

Which is to say the latest is not much. The links are still not on. February 16 is fast approaching for my author Paula Reed and the debut of HESTER.

As authors, if you are impacted, I think it’s important to have your voice heard on the Amazon Kindle forum where there is a lot of chatter going on. The average everyday customer really doesn’t know much about the ins and outs of publishing and what the hoopla is about.

This in from John Sargent earlier today….

To: Macmillan Authors and Illustrators
cc: Literary Agents
From: John Sargent

I am sorry I have been silent since Saturday. We have been in constant discussions with Amazon since then. Things have moved far enough that hopefully this is the last time I will be writing to you on this subject.

Over the last few years we have been deeply concerned about the pricing of electronic books. That pricing, combined with the traditional business model we were using, was creating a market that we believe was fundamentally unbalanced. In the last three weeks, from a standing start we have moved to a new business model. We will make less money on the sale of e books, but we will have a stable and rational market. To repeat myself from last Sunday's letter, we will now have a business model that will ensure our intellectual property will be available digitally through many channels, at a price that is both fair to the consumer and that allows those who create and publish it to be fairly compensated.

We have also started discussions with all our other partners in the digital book world. While there is still lots of work to be done, they have all agreed to move to the agency model.

And now on to royalties. Three or four weeks ago, we began discussions with the Author's Guild on their concerns about our new royalty terms. We indicated then that we would be flexible and that we were prepared to move to a higher rate for digital books. In ongoing discussions with our major agents at the beginning of this week, we began informing them of our new terms. The change to an agency model will bring about yet another round of discussion on royalties, and we look forward to solving this next step in the puzzle with you.

A word about Amazon. This has been a very difficult time. Many of you are wondering what has taken so long for Amazon and Macmillan to reach a conclusion. I want to assure you that Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us. Though we do not always agree, I remain full of admiration and respect for them. Both of us look forward to being back in business as usual.

And a salute to the bricks and mortar retailers who sell your books in their stores and on their related websites. Their support for you, and us, has been remarkable over the last week. From large chains to small independents, they committed to working harder than ever to help your books find your readers.

Lastly, my deepest thanks to you, our authors and illustrators. Macmillan and Amazon as corporations had our differences that needed to be resolved. You are the ones whose books lost their buy buttons. And yet you have continued to be terrifically supportive of us and of what we are trying to accomplish. It is a great joy to be your publisher.

I cannot tell you when we will resume business as usual with Amazon, and needless to say I can promise nothing on the buy buttons. You can tell by the tone of this letter though that I feel the time is getting near to hand.

All best,

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Why Prologues Often Don’t Work

STATUS: Not happy. Still no Amazon links to Macmillan client books.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HUNGRY FOR YOU by The Police

Kristin’s incomplete list of why prologues don’t work:

1. When the sole purpose of the prologue is to fill the reader in on the back story so the real story can begin.

This is so easy to point out but harder to explain.

In the example of UNDONE, Brooke needed a prologue to show how it all started. To juxtapose who the girls were when they first “meet” versus who they are when chapter 1 begins. The prologue also serves a strong purpose. It sets tone, character, and sets up several questions. Why did Kori become a “I-puke-cheerleaders-for-breakfast” kind of girl? Something has happened but what? Why is Serena obsessed with her by her own admission? And it’s very clear that these two girls have nothing in common in this bathroom scene yet Kori calmly states that they are more alike than Serena knows. They are connected.

This is a prologue with a clear purpose. The reader should want to know more by the end or it doesn’t work. It’s also masterful. Brooke managed to accomplish quite a bit in just 4 short paragraphs and this leads me to the second reason why prologues often don’t work.

2. They are too long.

This is the death of a manuscript if a writer has problem #1 and then it’s combined with problem #2.

3. When the prologue is in a whole different style or voice from the rest of the manuscript.

Then when chapter 1 begins, readers are left flummoxed—especially if that style or tone of voice is never revisited.

4. When the prologue is solely there to provide an action scene to “draw the reader in” but then serves no other purpose or is not connected to the main story arc or is only loosely so.

5. When the prologue introduces the evil character simply so the reader can “know” what is at stake.

I can sum this up in two words. Clumsy writing.

6. When the prologue is supposed to be cool (or I might reword this to say the writer thinks it sounds cool).

Lots of writers overwrite when creating a prologue. It shows.

When all of the above is happening (and there are probably a dozen more reasons why prologues often don’t work), it becomes really clear that the writer isn’t paying attention to dialogue, character development, plot pacing, etc. All key elements of good writing.

This is why almost all the agents I know completely skip the prologue and start with chapter one when reading sample pages. A beginner writer might actually be able to do good character, dialogue, tone, pacing, and whatnot but it’s more than likely not going to show in the prologue.

Now in defense of the prologue, when it’s done well, it’s truly an amazing tool. The number of times I’ve seen a prologue done extraordinarily well in requested submissions? Well, I can count that total on two hands….

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Opening Pages (While We Wait For Amazon To Quit Shooting Themselves In Foot)

STATUS: It’s 7 pm so I’m ready to head out the door and to home.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SAILING by Christoper Cross

Since I’ve been obsessively checking about every hour, the answer is no, the links to my Macmillan client books have not been turned back on. In talking with an editor at Macmillan this afternoon, she said she had no new news to report. Nor had John Sargent made another company-wide announcement. I hope for news tomorrow.

However, I did derive lots of enjoyment out of reading John Scalzi’s posting on the issue.

Meanwhile while we wait for Amazon to get head out of sphincter since they are throwing a tantrum over earning more money rather than less with the Agency commission model, I figured I’d jump back into our opening pages discussion.

Today’s entry is, thankfully, from a non-Macmillan author whose trade paperback edition just released this week.

Now please remember that when I share opening pages, I’m not sharing the polished final pages one will find in the published novel. I’m sharing the opening pages as I received them upon first submission when I requested the full manuscript. Sometimes that changes for final publication, sometimes not.

I’m going to have a blast with today’s entry. As most agents will tell you, it’s usually a waste of time for a writer to include a prologue when submitting sample pages. The prologue usually has a different voice or approach then the rest of the novel and is often a bad barometer of how the manuscript will unfold.

Not so in the case of Brooke Taylor’s UNDONE. This is an excellent example of how a prologue can completely set the tone. In fact, it can give you chills as a dark prelude of what’s to come. It can completely nail character. In this instance, for our narrator and for her best friend who is the driving force in the novel despite not being there for more than the first third of the work.

In fact, Jay Asher, NYT bestselling author for 13 REASONS WHY calls UNDONE, “A beautifully intense story. Brooke Taylor hooked me with the very first line and never let go.”

As to that very first line, I have to agree with Jay. And I’m sharing it with you right here.

My best friend Kori came with a warning label—a black t-shirt that read: “Don’t believe everything you hear about me.” I was staring openly. Gaping. Gawking my geeky little eighth grade eyes out. I’d expected the bathroom to be empty when I charged in with blue dye from an ill-fated lab experiment soaking through my Ruby Gloom t-shirt. I never expected Kori Kitzler to be standing there, tapping a cigarette out of a red and white box and asking me if I had a light.
My mouth dropped wide open. I don’t know which startled me more— that she really thought I smoked (At school!) or that she was actually speaking to me. From the moment Kori had transformed herself from squeaky-clean cheerleader-wannabe seventh grader to I-puke-cheerleaders-for-breakfast eighth grader, I was fascinated in her beyond any sane boundary.

I looked away, down, my eyes stalling on the warning stretched across her larger-than-most chest. I’d heard a lot of things about her. I’d heard that before school even started, she’d already had oral with half the junior high football team. I’d heard she dropped E with high school boys and had a three-way with two college guys. I’d heard she cracked a Tiffany lamp over Chelsea Westad’s brother’s skull just because he told her she couldn’t smoke pot in their house. I’d heard she threw up on the arresting officer and had lesbian sex while in the holding tank. I’d heard that while the rest of our class was singing Kumbaya and making really crappy jewelry at summer camp, she was pretending to dry out in rehab. And I’d believed it all.

In response to her smirk, I braved direct eye contact. In the almost black of her eyes—like two shots of espresso, just as dark and just as deceptively calm—I expected to see my fascination for her spat back at me. But I didn’t. Under lazy, half-moon lids, her eyes were soothing, almost hypnotic. And in them I saw a serrated edge that offered its own version of protection and danger.

“You don’t know it now.” She paused to take a drag (she had a light after all). “But you and I are connected.” She held the cigarette out for me. As I took it, a seductive curl of smoke rose up like a ghost between us. “We’re more alike than you think.”

Hooked? Then let’s make a statement. Buy this book today but let’s not buy it from Amazon. I’d like to suggest Powell’s—a wonderful independent bookstore with a fabulous online presence. They even do free shipping!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Amazon Macmillan Kerfuffle

STATUS: Well, the above is all I’ve been dealing with this morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SMOOTH by Rob Thomas

Normally Saturdays and Sundays in Publishing are a little quiet. Not so for this weekend. My goodness. I had emails coming at me from left and right on Saturday. I was actually in the office working so I heard the news almost immediately as it was hitting the wires.

To make a long story short, John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, met with Amazon last Thursday to discuss moving to the agency model/commission split structure for Macmillan eBooks starting in March 2010. Amazon was in disagreement in terms of that being the only structure.

In response, Amazon pulled the buttons for all Macmillan titles on Buyers could still purchase the books from third parties but not directly from Amazon. The buttons were pulled for ALL books—not just the eBooks. To make matters worse, all Macmillan Kindle books disappeared from customer wish lists. Oh shades of last summer when Amazon pulled the illegal eBook from customers’ kindles. As one Macmillan editor said to me, "what a sh*tstorm."

Yes, Amazon is flexing a muscle but whether it’s going to impress the general populace remains to be seen. For my part, I’m trying to fathom their thinking in terms of the PR for this. Perhaps they think their customers are completely wed to the $9.99 price point and will salute their action. Rumor has it that Amazon has been inundated with chatter and emails complaining about the action and thus their step back late on Sunday.

Bottom line, it’s authors who get hurt the most here. I’m really feeling for authors who have on-sale dates for today and maybe tomorrow. I have an author releasing in two weeks in hardcover from St. Martin’s Press (HESTER by Paula Reed) so I’m particularly anxious to see a resolution.

Talking with Macmillan editors, I hear that John Sargent has a meeting this afternoon with Amazon and that the company is “optimistic” that links will be back up by tonight or tomorrow morning. I’ve been assured that the conversation is continuing.

Below is the string of communications from the weekend. Also, Nathan Bransford, Ashley Grayson, and Richard Curtis have excellent detailed entries about this showdown if you want more understanding.

I’ll update if I hear more news.

It begins with New York Times breaking the story late on Friday, Jan. 29 at 11:19 p.m.

Publishers Lunch did an email blast Saturday afternoon:

The Battle Over the Agency Model Begins, As Amazon Pulls Macmillan Buy Buttons
As originally reported last night and many readers know by now, sometime yesterday evening the buy buttons for apparently all of Macmillan's books--including bestsellers and top releases, and Kindle editions--were removed from Amazon's site. Macmillan books remain listed but can be bought only through third-party Marketplace sellers, while Macmillan Kindle titles all lead to pages that read, "We're sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site." It is the first shot across the purchasing bow in big publishers' efforts to reset ebook pricing above the loss-leader $9.99 price point and retake control over that pricing by moving from the wholesale selling model to an agency selling model (first reported exclusively in Lunch Deluxe on January 19), at least for ebooks published simultaneously with new hardcover releases. Kindle customers further reported on Amazon forums that any Macmillan books that were on their "wish lists" disappeared from those lists with no explanation, as apparently did Macmillan sample chapters that had been downloaded previously.

More story here.

John Sargent issued this statement Saturday afternoon:

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us.

You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days.

Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated.

All best,

Amazon retorted with this:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

Late Sunday night, it looks like Amazon is going to step back from their stance via The Consumerist.

And the Association of Authors' Representatives just issued this statement about 10 minutes ago.

A message from the AAR Board of Directors concerning the sale of e-books:

The AAR strongly believes that the future of the digital book market requires a business model that is sustainable over the long term, and is fair to retailers, publishers and our authors. To be in the best interests of our clients, such a model must respect the high value of book-length work, and adhere to the long-held practice in all media (and most retailing) that new and exciting work bears the highest prices. We have never believed that a model that incurs a per unit loss on every sale, and sets an unrealistically low price on the most popular bestselling books, can possibly be in the best long term interests of our clients or the publishing industry. Therefore we applaud Macmillan's stance on e-book terms; and Amazon's stated intention to work within Macmillan's model. We hope and assume other publishers will soon follow suit.

It is unclear at the moment the extent to which the 'agency model' sales terms will work to the advantage of our clients. But it is clear that having access to our authors' work used as a weapon in negotiation is an unacceptable turn of events that we roundly condemn. Regardless of the content of the negotiations between Amazon and Macmillan, about which we have no information beyond what has been reported publicly, we believe that Amazon's punitive choice to stop selling print editions of work by all Macmillan authors was a blow to the industry and to authors. We certainly hope to see Amazon rectifying this situation with regard to our Macmillan authors immediately. We and our clients have been hugely supportive of Amazon's innovative, indeed groundbreaking efforts since its inception, and we hope that going forward the spirit of partnership between Amazon and our authors can be once again something we can depend upon.

Gail Hochman, President
For the AAR Board of Directors