Bastet's Lair

News, book reviews, essays, interviews, fiction writing, politics, and my view of the world

July 29, 2010

Publisher says e-publishing turns the page on traditional books

The New York publishing business model is dead, so says 32-year-publishing veteran Jerry D. Simmons.
After spending 25 years as a VP of Field Sales with both Random House and the former Time-Warner Book Group, Simmons left traditional publishing for good. In his independently published book What Writers Need to Know About Publishing (available on his Web site), he lets the positive information mix with the negative. Best-selling author Sandra Brown, credits the book as telling "the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of book publishing, told in a straight-from-the-hip manner. New writers take note!"
Jerry D. Simmons
Technorati posed a question-and-answer session with Simmons about the emergence of e-publishing and what it means to the book business:
LV: Now that has reported selling more Kindle titles than hard-cover books, and mass-market paperback sales in a swoon, it's looking increasingly like best way for an author to sell his or her manuscript is to publish it electronically. However, up until now there had been a stigma against e-books with many reviewers and others refusing to take them seriously. Is this beginning to change?

Mainstream media will begin to review and take eBooks more seriously, especially when the first original e-book title arrives on the scene and makes a big sales impact. At that point expect the major newspapers to adopt the digital publication in the same manner they do hardcover and original trade paper. As more of the major New York publishers release content in original e-book format the market will have reached the tipping point.
LV: recently made an offer to publish authors' manuscripts via its Kindle platform, and even sent out instructions for authors to format their copy to fit the Kindle. They would make a 70% share of the profit, according to the press release. This is an enormous  deal compared to the tiny royalties that authors earn today. What could the downside possibly be in this scenario?  How hard is it for average authors to format copy for this program?
Simmons: The only downside to the Amazon scenario is if the author is required to give up any rights to the content published by Amazon. Anyone can follow their directions and convert to Kindle as long as they have patience and understand the basics of programming. For the independent author this is a program they should consider, but only if it fits in their overall publishing strategy. For writers deciding to go it on their own the biggest problem is they have no plan for how to publish or market. Without a clear direction even for one book, it makes it very difficult to sell product. 

LV: Many popular authors are going to Kindle, and you mentioned author J.A. Konrath, whom I have met. He's a great mystery writer who also has a humorous style, much like Janet Evanovich. He has plenty of fans, but I noticed that one of his books, I believe it was Cherry Bomb, did not secure a paperback contract. I wondered what had happened to him and then he showed up on my Kindle. Several of his novels were bargain priced. And there was Cherry Bomb, which I snapped up, since I never got to read that one of the series. For many of his fans, it was a relief to know we could find him again, and now on such a low-priced platform. Discuss his e-book conversion.

Simmons: J.A. Konrath made a very smart and savvy move with his content. Once he realized his earning potential was hampered with a traditional print publisher, he decided to go on his own and the result has been more income for him. The big advantage he has over other authors is a following. He has an audience that was willing to buy his writing regardless of who or how it was published. This has also been done by relatively unknown authors who have achieved a terrific level of success. The key is marketing, whether to your fans or a new pool of readers, if you cannot find ways to alert consumers to your writing you have little chance of selling copies.
LV: Jumping for a minute to iPad as well, I spoke with an author who said that being exposed to so many new, curious readers is a marketer's dream. These people who try out new technology aren't the same ones who read the New York Review of Books. They are willing to try out many new things, including new authors and new genres. Is this true? If so, e-publishing on these new devices could be the way past the barriers that have kept new authors out of New York publishing for so long.

Simmons: The iPad did not suddenly create new readers, it provided a new platform where those interested in technology could find and read content. These folks may never buy books in a bookstore but will purchase an e-book from the iTunes store. Why? The content was seen as relevant, interesting and priced in a way in which the consumer was willing to give it a chance. If they purchase then read and enjoy or find it informative, they will come back. This new method for delivering content is what Apple has created, now it’s up to the publishers to supply the demand for low cost, relevant, interesting and informative content, not to mention entertaining.

LV: Publishers Marketplace is reporting that the Andrew Wylie company is starting a literary agency called Odyssey that will deal solely with e-publishers. Now other literary agencies say they will do the same. Does this mean that they will try to set up the old system that was in place for so long—where, for good or bad, literary agents often had more power than publishers? They used to sort out the obvious garbage that came over the transom, but now they are so frightened of failure that they are rejecting almost everything. Could they bring this same dysfunctional behavior to e-publishing?

Simmons: It makes sense for a literary agency to vertically integrate their business when the cost of e-book production is so low. The traditional method of print publishing carried enormous cost built into the system, now with e-books that cost has gone away. It is inexpensive to produce a quality e-book compared to print so the economics of the business will allow more and more companies to jump in. As for the dysfunctional behavior, I believe that digital publishing will actually provide more opportunities for writers than the old print method.
LV: Finally, anyone who has every published independently knows that marketing is quite difficult. Give writers some tips on how to market e-books, because now there are no book signings anymore, and everything has to be done online. How do you personalize an e-book and ramp up interest? How are YOU ramping up interest?

Simmons: Authors need to stop concentrating on the idea of marketing their book and consider their message or themselves as the focus of their marketing. Publicity sells books and media is interested in a good story, not the fact someone has written and published a book. If an author does not know where their writing is positioned in the market and especially among all the other titles in their genre, they will find it difficult to market. My tips would be 1) decide what to market—their book, message or themselves, and 2) figure out where their title belongs on a bookshelf, between which two competing books?

July 28, 2010

Fourth Larsson Millennium novel may rise from the dead

By Lynn Voedisch

Fans of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy are salivating at the idea that a fourth book may be forthcoming from the late author, and Swedish publisher Norstedts is giving them faint hope that a manuscript could indeed rise from the dead.
This is no mean trick. According to AP, Larsson's books, published in the U.S. as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and are selling more than 50,000 copies a day in the United States. A possible fourth book is bound to be a veritable gold mine for Norstedts and any other publishers that contract for foreign translations.
Steig Larsson
The issue at hand is only 320 pages of the purported manuscript were completed by the Swedish author before he died at age 50 of a sudden heart attack. He had outlines for the book to run to 440 pages. Previously, his live-in girlfriend, Eva Gabrielsson, said she had the manuscript on her laptop. But because Swedish inheritance laws don't recognize common-law marriages, she was not entitled to any of the money made on the novel's sizable profits, or on the money made by the release of the Swedish movie. An American movie is also in the works.
Instead, all the inheritance money has gone to Larsson's father and brother, Erland and Joakim Larsson, who have been outright stingy by any interpretation of events, and will share relatively little money with Gabrielsson. They want the laptop and the partial manuscript, but she's not giving it to them. Talks between the two parties finally reached an impasse in June. Sentiment among the Swedish people remains strongly in Gabrielsson's favor.
Eva GabrielssonMeanwhile, there were hints in the spring from the Swedish press that Gabrielsson had helped Larsson write the novels. Some co-workers of Larsson, who was primarily a journalist, have stated he couldn't possibly have written the books on his own and that Gabrielsson must have co-written them. Only one writer has come to Larsson's defense and he's been roundly criticized by the Swedish press. Gabrielsson has remained mum except to say she might have helped copy-edit the work.
Now, Gabrielsson says she doesn't have the laptop with the manuscript and seems to have forgotten making previous statements about having it. All this is frustrating the heirs, who don't want her to finish the fourth book, because it would give her a clear road to inheriting the money from that novel, according to John-Hentry Holmbert, a friend of Larsson's who was interviewed by A.P.
Norstedts is remaining fairly close-mouthed on the subject. "The questions about the fourth manuscript (are) entirely hypothetical," company head Eva Gedin told A.P. "We have never studied this manuscript and therefore don't know if it exists, how much has been written and if so, what shape the manuscript is in."
According to Holmberg, the e-mail he had received a while back from Larsson details that the novel takes place 120 kilometers north of Sachs Harbour, at Banks Island in Canada in the month of September.
"Did you know that 134 people live in Sachs Harbour, whose only contact with the world is a postal plane twice a week when the weather permits?" Larsson wrote in the e-mail. "But there are 48,000 musk-ox and 80 different types of wild flowers that bloom during two weeks in early July, as well as an estimated 1,500 polar bears."
Holmberg didn't know much more of the plot, but said it would—like all of Larsson's other books—deal with women and violence against women. Fans of Larsson's work are hoping against hope that something will rise from the ashes out of this scenario and that a dead writer will once again produce a best-selling thriller.

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This article first ran as Fourth Larsson Millennium Novel May Rise From the Dead on July 18 on

July 26, 2010

Water overrun

Friday night, Chicago had a torrential rain. Some areas measured seven or more inches of downfall. We were hit badly. Usually the problem is a flooded basement—and that's often the problem we get. Seepage runs in from our walls and we get water congregating in the middle of the floor. Nothing bad. And the shop vac usually gets rid of it pretty easily.

But this time, it came in overhead. Oh, yes. Overhead. Drip, drip, drip, in the kitchen. Something was coming in from the overhead tiles. A pot collected the water until morning. Then in the light of day we discovered a closet upstairs ruined by water damage that had come in along the chimney. Probably along the some fissure that developed along the edge through a hole in the flashing. Nothing big that a roofer can'f fix in a jiffy. But the closet is another thing.

Fortunately most of the mess destroyed in the closet was a bunch of clothes and junk that we should have tossed out long ago. Many of the clothes were things that I had dithered about giving away, but never did. Well, guess what? Now they are history! Some are objects that were given to me, I never liked much, so I stashed in the closet. No one's going to remember giving me that stuff, so there's an easy way to pitch it all.

Our essential papers and pictures of my son when he was a baby? Fortunately saved! My shoes? Saved! But the dry wall is going to have to be replaced and that's going to be a mess.

Look at it this way. Things could have been much, much worse. Our neighbors down the street obvously had a major basement flood, because their had wadded up basement carpet with their Monday garbage. Gottta be a mess.

And an apartment building in downtown Chicago, right on the Chicago River, managed to have its parking garage totally flooded. Somehow diesel fuel got into the chlorinated swimming pool (don't ask me how), creating a toxic gas. Result: the entire building had to be evacuated.

As I say: could be worse.

Our roofer can't make it till next week. Lots of roofs to repair. The weather report is calling for for more rain this week. I think we need umbrellas in the closet.