Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From this Publisher's Desk - Why Buddhapuss Ink was Founded . . . or Why We're Glad to be a Cat!

The following article appeared in today's issue of Publisher's Lunch. It's a look at the old dogs of publishing and why they are chaffing under the epublishing/digital/pricing/royalty wave of change.
Don't get me wrong, I know some of these guys, even worked for them once upon a time. This is at once both an indictment of the status quo at the Big Houses and a testament to what small houses like Buddhapuss Ink are trying to achieve. Yep, it's the Brave New World of publishing 2010.

In Tip to Streisand, CEOs Miss the Way Things Were
It could be the best of times but mostly it's the worst of times, at least as viewed for the majority of this morning's opening conference panel at BEA featuring a variety of executives from across the business: Moderator Jonathan Galassi from FSG, Esther Newberg at ICM, Bob Miller at Workman, author and Authors Guild president Scott Turow, Skip Prichard at Ingram, and David Shanks at Penguin USA.

For the better part of the one-hour and twenty-minute session, most panelists--with no offense a senior, and not exactly youthful group--were weighed down by the challenges and obstacles of the digital transition rather than its possibilities. Everyone's share is under duress--making the value of any particular book, ostensibly the panel's theme--worth less in the marketplace, even as the universe of written content and the means of delivering it expands at an exponential pace. It wasn't until the very end of the session that Ingram's Prichard was able to declare that "overall it's one of the most exiting times to be in the business." He underscored that "this is a creative industry at its heart" and "using that creativity and technology together...it's going to be an incredible five years ahead," acknowleding that it could be "challenging and difficult for many." Penguin's Shanks agreed that there is "no question there is a bigger readership" to be captured with the rise of epublishing. Workman's Miller had pointed earlier on that there is plenty of opportunity for those who can change their models to fit the times: "it's incumbent on us as publishers to overdeliver at reasonable prices."

Put another way, what's potentially threatened is the panelists and their respective interests (or companies), not the books themselves. Turow and ICM agent Newberg quickly took hold of the agenda at the panel's opening, questioning ebook royalties across the board. Turow noted that 25 percent of net revenues "is not in our view what it was in paper publishing" and Newberg bluntly said, "I'd like to hear a publisher explain why we can't have half of the royalties on the backlist" ebooks.

"That didn't take long," moderator Galassi noted. Unsatisfied with Shanks' standard version of the explanation--that ebook royalties are higher than paperback standards, even if lower than hardcover standards, and that legacy publishers have to carry both old-world and new-world infrastructure costs (even though new e-only companies don't have those cost concerns)--Newberg repeated "we're talking about a brand-new thing. What are you doing to jusify not giving us 50 percent of an ebook?"

With no takers, Newberg added that ICM is negotiating with multiple houses and "we're getting different terms" from different companies. "At some point we're going to have to go public about who is giving us what. And some of you are going to look bad."  Later she admitted her ideal on compensation is that "it's never enough."

Separately, Ingram's Prichard noted that publishers large and small are "coming to us saying we want to outsource" infrastructure and supply chain investments, including "larger publisher saying we really need to change the model."

About 30 minutes in Galassi tried to retake control of the panel, reminding its members that "the title was supposed to be the value of the book."

On that theme Galassi said, "I agree with Scott that it was a mistake to ever let Amazon put ebooks out simultaneously and charge the price that they did. All of a sudden all editions are happening at the same time effectively. I think it's going to have a negative effect on the paperback editions." Newberg was confident that "the paperback is going to go bye-bye."

Or will it? Later on, however, Shanks emphasized that for now "the paperback market is not over. There are still hundreds of thousands of places you can buy paper-format books," and print books remain over 90 percent of the business. He added, "we need to protect as long as we can the apparatus that sells physical books. It would be terrible if the booksellers ran out from this event and said 'this is it, it's over.'"

To that point, ABA ceo Oren Teicher reminded the audience that "physical locations can sell digital content, too," adding, "we've got to put them together. That's going to help all of us." But there were no dramatic answers from the panel for booksellers wondering how they survive the dual onslaught of price competition and rising ebooks and ecommerce.

Galassi's concern is that "the value [of a book in the marketplace] has plummeted. I don't think that there is going to be a pick-up in volume" to make up for those lost dollars. He argued for the essential "worth" of a book, but Prichard noted "it's not in a vaccuum.... What that book is worth is dependent on the market."

Miller underscored that there is no turning back on pricing. "We can lament this forever" but as some point have to "kiss it goodbye. The downward pressure" on pricing "is upon us. We're going to have to adjust accordingly."

Teicher asked "is there a compromise...somewhere in the middle" between 99-cent-books and 27-dollar-books, adding "isn't there a way we can do this together?" To which Miller quickly replied, "No, not together." Rather, "it's something we will do differently book to book. I don't think we can sit and decide" pricing as a group.

Returning to the royalty issue in a calmer frame of mind, Galassi admitted that "I'm worried about authors' compensation" going forward. But Prichard noted later in the discussion, "for all the concerns about author compensation, we're still seeing a title explosion."

Among other exchanges, Newberg predicted ebook prices will rise "when you publishers start to enhance these ebooks" but Galassi asked, "who has the time for the enhancement," worring that with all the features added in, "you could be in there forever." But Miller cautioned against reacting harshly to new forms before, imagining people in Gutenberg's complaining "these books are going to be a real time-suck."

Miller argued that "the physical object will regain its magic" even as epublishing rises, and he and other panelists recommended that publishers "spend more time making beautifully-made physical books." But Prichard said "I have to disagree strongly" with the idea that a beautiful product can hold the line on value. "I think that's going to be under enormous pressure with the digital move." When it comes to "the quality of the paper" and the art of design and typesetting, "the vast majority of readers...don't care."

Newberg lamented that Miller had recently "abandoned" his new model of publishing after trying to woo agents and authors. "I'm scared to death. One of the only good things about being old is that I'm not going to have to deal with this for long."

Article from May 25, 2010 issue of Publisher's Lunch

Midlist Author Tries Hybrid Self-Publishing

Midlist Author Tries Hybrid Self-Publishing

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Interview With the Author - Sam Hilliard

The following interview can also be read at The Cajun Book Lady where Sam was the featured author for this year's Blogmania! http://tinyurl.com/2wc58fm

Q&A with author Sam Hilliard:
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

For starters, I can tell you that I’m delighted to be interviewed by the Cajun Book Lady! Thanks to review blogs like yours, not only do readers have a means to find new voices, they have the power to influence other readers in ways never before possible. Kudos to you for being at the forefront.

But to your question. The short version is by day I work at a private all-girls boarding school as the head of technology so I know world class drama first-hand. When I’m not getting roughed up by students who want the Internet turned back on now, I’m writing late into the night.

The long version involves a childhood spent moving around a lot. At some point in college I discovered I liked to write. I promptly drank some more beer and forgot about that for several more years. I graduated. I worked a bunch of jobs, got married and divorced. Now I live outside of NYC with my girlfriend and four cats, which is one feline under the legal limit. To relax I study Krav Maga, and at some point, I’ll finish my skydiving license.


Have you always been a "writer" or was 'The Last Track' an idea that just came to you and you knew you wanted to write?

Lots of people can write, and many of them are really good at it, but what makes them writers is finishing the manuscripts they start and then doing whatever is necessary to get those manuscripts to readers. I always liked to write, it just took hitting a real low to get me to do something about it.

The idea for The Last Track began during a hike many years before the first word hit the page. Something about being among miles of pines got me thinking about how easy it would be to disappear. And for some reason the possibility of it seemed really intriguing, and I said something like, “I’m going to write books about a guy who finds missing people in the woods.” Even though I had the insight to consider it important, I lacked the motivation and time to do anything about it.

Flash ahead to three days after my honeymoon. My employer at the time decided he was tired of ripping the keyboard out of my hand. I also decided I was tired of him ripping the keyboard out of my hand. Suddenly I had some free time and lots of reasons to drink gin. That’s when Mike Brody found his way onto the page.

Can you tell us a little about how it was working on this one...writer's block? What kept you inspired?

The hard part was the rewriting. The seemingly never ending struggle to recognize and polish what worked, and discard what did not. That meant lots of drafts. I had to balance a lot of different voices in addition to the ones in my head, and resolve what I wanted to do with what was actually on the page. It meant several go-rounds with reader groups. Eventually the revisions meant bringing in two professionals—an editor and a copyeditor—who took the pages down to the woodshed and beat the manuscript within an inch of its life. Somehow the pages survived.

Along the way, what kept me inspired was the project itself. I think what I always liked about Mike Brody, even from the earliest drafts, was that no matter how bad the odds looked, he just kept going.

I have a question about Mike Brody! Do you consider his ability more of a paranormal thing or more of a psychic ability?

Interesting! Usually the question is whether his ability is paranormal or the product of training, in which case my answer is that it’s both. Being able to see what other people might overlook at a crime scene isn’t necessarily paranormal, but knowing whether a missing person is still alive definitely is. Navigating through dense woods for days on end with very little gear when the clock is ticking, takes a certain amount of training and discipline, and will certainly help make a good tracker a better one—but it can be practiced and more importantly, explained.

Not everything can be explained about some exceptional abilities, including Mike Brody’s.

For instance, I’ve seen a seventy-three year old man, who walks with great difficulty, strike an opponent twice his size and half his age and send his opponent six feet from the point of impact with a movement that looks no more intense than a waiter presenting a bill to a customer.

So this is why I liken Mike Brody’s ability to that of a classic martial artist. Real mastery in the martial arts takes decades, even a lifetime. The greats often begin training as children. Among the true grand masters, there is a certain flow and emotion to their movements that defy any conventional explanation. But for those of us who have witnessed the effects, there’s no denying its existence.

Yes, SERE training and Ranger School and all the experiences in the military he had made Mike Brody a better tracker. But Mike can do more than what his training would explain. He can tap into the emotional charge that people leave in their tracks and channel it in ways that allow him to find the missing when no one else can. He has always had this gift; it’s the reason he survived his own abduction as a boy, the circumstances of which haunt him to this day.

Will we be seeing more 'Mike Brody' novels anytime soon?

The publisher strongly suggested I have the next Mike Brody book done by June 2011. Given their lean structure and no nonsense tactics, if I make that deadline, they will have the book ready in time for the 2011 holiday season.

Last but Not Least....Where can we keep up with you and your work? Twitter? Web Sites? Fan Pages?

I post at three places pretty regularly:
Website: http://samhilliard.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/samhilliard
Facebook: http://facebook.com/thelasttrack

You can see the book trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQDFWmJOtIE

And of course there is also the publisher’s website: http://www.buddhapussink.com/