By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From July 19, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin
Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.
“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” —Elizabeth Eslami
In the EtherDome
Pearson Buys Author Solutions
Friedman, Gonzalez, Strauss, Gaughran, Dawson, Owen, Greenfield, Jones, et al
Since this occurred past “press time” for the Ether (how discourteous can Pearson be?), I do want to recommend to you several sources of info to follow on this.
- Our good colleague and host of the Ether, Jane Friedman, has written an important piece on the story: Is the Author Solutions Acquisition a Good Thing for Authors?
I’m sad to say I’ve heard publishing executives talk about the opportunity to “monetize unpublished manuscripts” and it’s why I left commercial publishing. Is this where the industry is headed? If so, I want no part of its future.
- Guy LeCharles Gonzalez actually comes out of blog-suspension and lays hands to keyboard on this one, in Penguin’s Modest Self-Publishing Gamble
While ASI almost definitely has more experience with digital marketing and analytics than Penguin does, those skills could easily be internalized for much cheaper than $116m, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of that work is being done by staff in the Philippines!
- David Gaughran looks at the track record for which Author Solutions has been infamous, in Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers
- Laura Dawson is back with another go at the topic, this one headlined: Service or tool?
- Our colleague Philip Jones weighs in at TheFutureBook with a couple of predictors remembered from the IfBookThen conference, in Penguin changes the conversation. Jones:
At IfBookThen earlier this year, Molly Barton, global digital director at Penguin USA who co-founded Book Country, an online community for writers, said the next stage in that site’s development would be to introduce “services” that the writers could buy, for example editorial, or design services. She also told me that Penguin was looking to take the site international, including a UK launch.
- The basic details are in a Reuters-London write, Penguin owner buys self-publisher Author Solutions
- Laura Dawson has contributed a quick but useful set of observations on the deal, which can supply some logical context: Penguin and Author Solutions
- Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has covered Author Solutions for a long time and has a list of questions she’d like answered: Pearson Buys Author Solutions
- Laura Hazard Owen at paid Content has listened to the conference call and files Penguin buys self-publishing service Author Solutions for $116m
- Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch has filed Penguin Acquires Self-Publishing Service Author Solutions For $116 Million
- And Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World has Penguin Buys Self-Publishing Platform Author Solutions for $116 Million
One question that comes to mind is how this might affect the BookCountry manuscript-development community Penguin operates. Greenfield, listening to the press call, has this:
“It’s early days. We haven’t thought in detail about Book Country,” said Penguin CEO John Makinson on a press conference call.
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And one more: A class action lawsuit has been announced against Harlequin, alleging that three authors, the plaintiffs, received much less in royalty payments than their agreements with the romance publisher stipulated. For this one, I recommend the early writes from:
- Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch with Three Authors File Class Action Suit Against Harlequin On Deprivation of Digital Royalties and
- Laura Hazard Owen at paid Content with Authors sue Harlequin for non-payment of ebook royalties
- Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch has a very short statement from Harlequin, saying it, “wishes to make clear that this is the first it has heard of the proceedings and that a complaint has not yet been served.” This one is Harlequin Says Authors Have Been Treated Fairly
You also can see the plaintiffs’ announcement of their action here. And the hashtag #harlequinlawsuit is following an online discussion, which includes Jane Litte of Dear Author offering tweeted summaries.
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For the past three years, ITW has in fact welcomed self-published authors as members. We have a number of self-published authors who are full members, including James Scott Bell (which is why his book was eligible for an award).
This is Douglas Preston writing to me. He is co-president of the International Thriller Writers (ITW). And he responded very promptly to my request for a statement on the ITW’s stance on self-publishing authors as members of the organization. Preston goes on:
Since we are an honorary organization in which membership is free and for life, self-published authors need to demonstrate a high level of accomplishment and professionalism.
Speaking of a high level of accomplishment and professionalism among the members, author and writing coach James Scott Bell let me know that his novella, One More Lie, was named the first self-published finalist in ITW’s awards at the organization’s annual ThrillerFest this week in New York.
Here’s what I was getting from Bidinotto:
We continue to be belittled by many of (the traditional publishing establishment’s) denizens for choosing to publish independently. Established writers’ organizations refuse to allow us full membership privileges, regardless of our proven sales.
The “us” of that comment is self-publishing authors. And Bidinotto’s remark was one among many raised around my between-the-gases post, EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D?
And that’s how the Ether got between the self-publishing camp and the Thriller Writers in a digital dustup about who is writerly enough.
I can leave it to you to get into the subject of the original piece, if you’d like (pack a lunch). The initial mull was prompted by Eugenia Williamson’s heavily criticized write, The dead end of DIY publishing at the Boston Phoenix.com, in which she looked at the self-publishing world’s apparent lack of “R&D” — meaning blockbuster books’ revenue presumably invested in new authors and work by traditional publishers.
It was heartening that in all but one instance, our comment contributors avoided the emotional one-upmanship of so many such discussions. Right from the outset, with a smartly articulated comment from author Roz Morris, the debate was sensible, respectful, and focused.
But my curiosity was piqued by Bidinotto’s comment about self-publishing authors being shut out of writers’ organizations. I asked him to supply me with an example. I’d covered his success with Hunter here on the Ether, and appreciated him getting right back to tell me, again in our comments, that the ITW’s policy for full membership precludes self-publishing authors.
And yet Preston’s answer to me in response to my request for a statement says otherwise. And, clearly, Bell was honored for a self-published work (although it should be noted that Bell publishes both traditionally and autonomously — I wondered briefly if that hybrid status was the key to his ITW membership).
Well, I’ve found out there’s more to this situation with the ITW than was immediately apparent. And a mere change in the placement of some explanatory copy could do the trick.
When Bidinotto responded to me with the information I invited him to supply, he referred me, quite logically, to the How To Join page of the ITW’s site. And on that page is exactly the text he cited in his comment:
Active membership is available to thriller authors published by a commercial publishing house. This includes authors of fiction and nonfiction. By “commercial publishing house” we mean a bona fide publisher who pays an advance against royalties, edits books, creates covers, has a regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold, and receives no financial payments from their authors.
Where Bidinotto then supplied ellipses, we find this line, immediately following the above, emphasis mine:
There are nuances involved in all of this, which is why ITW’s board of directors is constantly aware of changing industry trends and makes every effort to accommodate writers who are not traditionally published while maintaining high professional standards for Active member status.
That’s a tad more, but oblique. And it doesn’t have to be. Because the ITW already has clearer language written.
Preston’s statement to me when I asked for an explanation contains a very interesting paragraph that I couldn’t find on this “How To Join” page. That’s because it’s not there. After spending some time poking around, I discovered that you have to make an unlikely click on a link called “ITW maintains a list of recognized commercial publishers.”
And it’s there you’ll find this additional — and much more helpful — copy that Preston sent me:
With particular regard to self-published books, where there is no publisher beyond the author, any determination of the author being a qualified publisher shall be on a case-by-case basis and such factors as the work itself, the breadth of its marketing, the extent of its distribution, the editorial process, its sales, the author’s personal history, reviews in recognized publications, and any other factor relevant to the particular situation may be considered in making such determination. Self published writers are not automatically excluded from being a qualified publisher, but they bear a higher burden to demonstrate their status.
In short, because the proof of viability isn’t supplied by a standing traditional publisher, a self-published author needs to be prepared to provide information as requested by ITW to back up a request for full membership.
Debate the fairness of this if you must. But frankly, without examining the case each time, any organization is hard-pressed to tell who’s a going, selling author and who’s a fine but unsold hopeful.
Now here are a couple of completely unsolicited comments of my own.
To the ITW: Thanks again for supplying this information to me so we could hash out here why Bidinotto felt (I think justifiably) that full membership was out of reach for self-publishing authors. Can you consider placing this last bit of text (“With particular regard…”) on the “How To Join” page, instead of, or in addition to, the page that lists commercial publishers? Forgive me, but this would make more sense. You want the best mysteries to be found in your membership’s books, not on your site. And it would be a lot easier for self-publishers and Ether-stoned journalists to find that explanatory passage if it lived on the “How To Join” page.
To Bell: Congratulations on making a breakthrough for self-published work by having your novella nominated.
To Bidinotto: Go right back to the ITW and apply for full membership. Show them your excellent sale figures on Hunter, the material that’s been written about the book, the interviews with your fellow thriller authors you showed me on your site, your other work, and your Social Security card, if necessary. I’m not the ITW board (nothing so thrilling). But with Hunter’s arrival as a Wall Street Journal “Top 10” in fiction ebooks and a No. 1 Kindle bestseller in mysteries and thrillers? — you look like a candidate to me.
And for all of us, it’s a lesson in communication. How unfortunate it is for the ITW to be subjected to complaints of shutting out self-publishers — when, indeed, they’re nominating a self-publisher for an award and simply not making their full policy findable.
If we all take a moment to think what others may need to know during this wrenching and long-running digital disruption, it can make a big difference in how things go. And it can help us hold down on the more negative noises borne primarily of exhaustion, lack of clarity, and concern about the future.
These are technical difficulties. Strange, sometimes infuriating, niggling, dumbass elements of being in basket-case transition of the industry! the industry!
Have a drink. Have another drink. There’s plenty more industry upheaval where this came from.