Good News, Bad News
April 2, 2009 | Written by admin
Some good news in the world of books: Borders is staying in business. They have a new CEO, they've reduced their debt by 40% in the past year, and they've reorganized their financing. I've said it before — Borders is a good company, and writers need them to stay in business. I love Barnes & Noble, but competition is always a good thing in a free market economy.
And some bad news: Walden Books is going to take it on the chin. In that same meeting where they talked about the future of Borders, it was reported that subsidiary Walden has 240 store leases coming due soon, and the company boss says they're going to shrink the number of stores from more than 300 to about 50 or 60. That's a lot of smaller bookstores going down the tubes.
Some more good news: Books sales don't suck as bad as we thought. Overall books sales at B&N were down 3% in 2008, and at Borders roughly 6%. But sales at Amazon (which includes music and DVD sales, so it's not a true representation of "book" sales) are up 16%. When you throw in the sales at indie stores, numbers from CBA, and all the books moved at big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco, overall book sales were flat. And flat is the new growth! (The big growth category? E–books amounted to only three-quarters of one percent of all book sales, but that represents a four-fold growth. In a flat market, you notice little gains like that.) When you compare the terrible sales numbers of cars, appliances, and most retail items, books are doing okay.
Some more bad news: Random House wants to pay advances a year after a book releases. I swear I'm not making this up. The discussion is to pay 1/4 upon signing, 1/4 upon delivery, 1/4 upon publication, and 1/4 a year after the book releases. You have GOT to be kidding me. I understand the notion of spreading out the risk on a book, but a year after it releases? How is that an "advance"? Seems like it's more of a "delay."
Some other good news: The Author's Guild settled their suit with Google. Um… I guess that's good news. It means Google can digitalize your book without permission, and you can apply for a cash claim if Google digitalized your book in the past. It certainly seems to offer a solution to the arguments made about Google's power-grab for rights. But…
Some other bad news: Nobody seems to know if this settlement really is a good thing or not. I'm an author, not just an agent, and I don't see the Guild speaking for me. It's been argued that the settlement is too unwieldy, pays peanuts, and expects everyone to hand over their permissions rights. Um… we already have a great system for settling publishing rights in this country – it's called a contract negotiation. I'm not sure I see how this is better.
Even more good news: We're still doing business. I mention that because I keep hearing negative stories from people about the book business. Sure, publishers have cut staff. They've trimmed their lists. Things are moving more slowly and advances are generally down. But people are still buying books, I'm still getting offers, and we're still moving forward with things. Have faith. The publishing business is leaner, but we're still here, and still selling books in the best market in the history of the world.
Even more bad news: There are some really schlocky agents out there. There are some bigger agents who have started some very shady practices, like charging a reading fee and turning newbie authors over to in-house fee-for-service editors. Let me share a line from the good folks at the "Predators and Editors" website: "Reputable agents don't charge you a fee up front to represent your book." The well-respected Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America says this: "Any charge made to the author that is payable prior to the sale of the manuscript to a publisher, however characterized by the agent, is a 'fee' and represents inappropriate conduct not in the author's best interest." Under the heading "Dishonest Agents," the folks at Writer Beware encourage writers to stay away from agents "requiring a reading fee with a submission." And the Canon of Ethics for Literary Agents, stated by the Association of Author Representatives on their website, clearly states: "The practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any person or entity. The term 'charge' in the previous sentence includes any request for payment other than to cover the actual cost of returning materials."
Just wanted you to know. So when that agent wants to charge you a fee to read your proposal, or declines to represent you but wants to introduce you to his fee-based editorial service as a way of fixing up your manuscript, tell him to drop dead.
This is from the Dark File: You'll be happy to know that the Messiah sent me his manuscript this week. No kidding. I know he's the Messiah because he told me so. Honest. He began by encouraging me to open my mind, and explained that if I read his manuscript, "the world will not look the same to me." So I read them. But I must not be a true believer, since I'm in Indiana today and it still looks flat and boring. He also noted that the three big arguments in the world today are gay/straight, pro-life/pro-choice, and evolution/design… and here I was thinking the big arguments were Ginger/MaryAnn and maybe Ducks/Beavers (for those who live in Oregon). Silly me.
And this from the Stoopid File: I'm looking for an agent to represent my first book, so I think I'll email every agent in North America… and stick all their emails into the "to" line. Does it not occur to a wannabe author to spend five minutes researching the industry before sending out a message that basically declares "I'm really stupid"? I mean, if I were going to start a career as a ballroom dancer, I'd do a bit of research to try and figure out how the business works, who I should talk to, and how I approach them. What I wouldn't do is send out a notice to every choreographer on the planet, announcing that I'm now available to be a star. And doesn't it ever occur to Ms Stoopid that an agent probably doesn't appreciate seeing that he's just one name on a long list of people the email has been sent to? (Um…apparently not.) I used to just delete this sort of crap. Now I send them a note, encouraging them to spend enough time actually checking out the industry so as not to turn everyone off. End of rant.
It's back to publishing questions — if you've got a questions about books or the book business, let me hear it.