- Andrew Jackson
Philip Yancey writes about this many years of experience in publishing.
I had an enlightening experience with e-books in 2013. In April I finished the book The Question That Never Goes Away, based on my visits to three places of great tragedy. My traditional publisher wanted at least nine months lead time to publish it, the typical schedule for a new book, yet new tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings, tornadoes, and school shootings were occurring almost weekly, the very situations my book addressed. So I signed on for an Amazon-exclusive program to publish an e-book for 90 days before the hard copy book came out. Leaning on my friends for email lists, I managed to sell about 3,000 copies. On September 11 and Thanksgiving weekend I offered free downloads and 40,000 people downloaded the book! The moral of the story, as many have learned: things can quickly go viral on the Internet but it's a tough place to generate income.
The National Religious Broadcasters has pressed WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, to resign from its organization over the publishing of a book under a new sister imprint, Convergent Books (for more on that book: "'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality"). Convergent is a little more than a year old. I could care less about this, because I've been ramping up to lead the Lars Walker's Awesomest World Publishing Group for the last few months. Soon that will be the only label you'll want to watch for. You heard it here first.
But seriously, NRB President Jerry Johnson explained the problem in a letter to his board. According to Christianity Today:
"Unfortunately, while the Multnomah Publishing Group is separate from Convergent, as a legal and business entity, the staff of the Multnomah and Convergent operations are substantially the same," Johnson wrote. "Most notably, Steven W. Cobb serves as the chief publishing executive for both groups. … Other Christian workers do so as well. … This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it."
I understand how the book in question is unbiblical, but what about other books? For years, thoughtful Christians have criticized Christian bookstores for selling pablum and heresy. Are these publishers accepted in the NRB? It's one thing to sell The Prayer of Jabez; it's another to sell Joel Osteen's Break Out. Jabez was a mid-90s book from Multnomah. Osteen is published by Faithwords, a division of Hachette.
The publisher's About page shows its diversity: "Based near Nashville, Tennessee, FaithWords has grown dramatically by acquiring a solid list of faith-building fiction and high-profile authors with edifying messages, including bestselling authors Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, John Eldredge, and David Jeremiah. Several FaithWords titles have appeared on national bestseller lists, most recently Every Day a Friday, by Joel Osteen, Living Beyond Your Feelings, by Joyce Meyer, and I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, by David Jeremiah."
Two sister imprints to Faithwords target mainline and "uplifting" divisions in the broadly based spiritual book market, and none of them are members of NRB.
Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits, talks about his business in ways that make him uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m bordering on saying something sacrilegious here, but here it goes: There’s a common strain of thinking among writers, particularly literary writers and the institutions that foster them (conference/colonies/workshops), that insists a book is only as good as its writing."
Although he still believes in the preeminence of good writing, he know believes subject is very, very, and also very important. "Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question 'What’s your book about?' in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold..."
He goes on to say how surprised he was that people in publishing actually want to love your book and that the slowness of the whole process is understandable.
"I remember, as a teenager, reading through the books of Samuel and, upon finishing, thinking to myself, 'This story is as invigorating as any story I’ve ever read, seen, or heard.' What is strange to me now is how surprising a revelation that was. Having grown up with the literature, why didn’t I already think of it as engaging?"
Mark Bertrand interviews Adam Lewis Greene on his plan for an alternative reading experience for the Bible. Bibliotheca will be a four volume edition of the Bible made for readers with beautiful book design.
When The Hobbit was to be published in Germany, the publisher asked for Tolkien's Aryan street cred. Tolkien's personal reply to this English publisher began like this: "I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten & Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of arisch origin from all persons of all countries?"
By way of accommodation though, the author wrote two letters which could be sent to the German publishers, one a bit more harsh than the other. That letter, marked July 25, 1938, began:
"I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people."
"Tyndale House confirmed to The Daily Beast that it does not plan to reprint Driscoll’s 2013 book, A Call to Resurgence, and have put his forthcoming book, The Problem with Christianity, on hold. Once slated to be released this fall, The Problem with Christianity now has no publication date scheduled." (via Prufrock)
Hachette, one of five largest U.S. publishers, has acquired the imprints of Perseus Books Group, giving it more clout in its dispute with Amazon, though that's not the reason they made the deal. It follows the pattern of a major merger 2011 of Random House and Penguin. The new publishing megagroup is said to have the most bargaining ability with Amazon, which controls a third of bookselling market.
James Stewart asked someone at Hachette about their dispute with Amazon. "This person said that Amazon has been demanding payments for a range of services, including the pre-order button, personalized recommendations and a dedicated employee at Amazon for Hachette books. This is similar to so-called co-op arrangements with traditional retailers, like paying Barnes & Noble for placing a book in the front of the store."
Stewart report describes the efforts Third Place Books has made to capitalize on Amazon's refusal to pre-order a popular book. They offered The Silkworm at 20% off with free, personal delivery the day it was released. The owner, Robert Sindelar, "along with several other store employees, delivered the books (although a surprising number of customers said not to bother — they wanted to come into the store for their copy). He also handed out what he called 'Hachette swag bags' with a T-shirt and advance copy of a coming Hachette novel. Some buyers also received a surprise visit from a local author, Maria Semple, who wrote the best-selling book Where’d You Go, Bernadette."
Sindelar calls the promotion successful. He sold 60 books that day. Normally, he doesn't believe he would have gotten any pre-orders and maybe a few sales on the day of the release. (via Shelf Awareness)
Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, writes about the thrills and spills of being a digital bestseller.
I finished writing in late January, just as the State Department prepared to issue a much anticipated report on the Keystone XL. If I were writing for a traditional publisher, I’d have to wait months to see my work in print. This time, I’d be read within days, right on top of the news!And there's more.
Exhausted but exhilarated, I headed to the liquor store for a celebratory bottle and returned to an urgent call from my editor in Sydney. “Mate, we’re [bleeped],” she said. The Global Mail’s backer had had a bad financial setback at his firm and evidently decided he could no longer afford a folly like quality journalism. He’d abruptly pulled the plug just hours before I filed my copy, making The Global Mail a dead letter.
Worse still, for me, Byliner hadn’t yet inked its deal with the Aussies. Suddenly I had no platform for a very long story on a subject that was about to be all over the news. And I’d yet to be paid anything beyond my original travel budget (which I’d overrun, in any case).
At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project. (Another fantasy of the digital world: Writers can do it themselves and dispense with all those middlemen.)
Apple has been fighting the accusation that it conspired to fix ebook prices unfairly. I believe I remember this class action lawsuit being wage on behalf of Capital Hill politicians who hadn't felt properly, shall we say, appreciated by Apple over the years. Had a little more corporate lobbying taken place, maybe they wouldn't be having to answer for themselves.
Now Apple is settling. The company is "also appealing the antitrust ruling against it for the same issue of price-fixing."
A few days ago, we pointed out the news that Amazon was not taking pre-orders and delaying orders for books from Hachette. We're talking books you have heard of, possibly read already, or may be looking forward to, such as J.K. Rowling's next crime novel. (Read an excerpt through that link.)
Here's a quick fact list on the Hachette dispute.
Now Amazon is refusing to take pre-orders for The LEGO Movie and other DVDs from Warner Home Video because of a contract delay.
Writers David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy suggest the biggest bookseller on the planet actually needs the money: "Amazon hasn’t really explained what it is after, but here’s one compelling theory: The company just doesn’t have enough money to finance everything it wants to do. Rather than trim its ambitions, it is putting one side of its business through the wringer to pay for another."
In 2010, Amazon disputed its arrangement with Macmillan on ebook prices and removed the publisher's books from its site. Today the largest book dealer on the Internet is refusing pre-orders on new books from Hachette and delaying shipment on existing titles. Stephen Colbert is one of the authors with un-new books on the shelf, and he isn't amused by the delay of what he says could be 30 of his books sold in a year. J.K. Rowling's new book is coming out soon, which means thousands of readers would have pre-ordered it through Amazon by now, but cannot--not for ebook or print.
Since Amazon has 65% of the ebook market, working a deal with them is important to any publisher, but they aren't the only ebook dealer. Barnes and Noble, Powell's, and others are available, and maybe conflicts like this will make any argument for DRM pointless. If I have a Kindle and want to buy an ebook, do I need Amazon to sell it to me?
Barnabas Piper is asking for help launching his new book, The Pastor's Kid, due out in four weeks. You might consider reading it too.
Alastair Horne observes some things happening the science fiction world that may point to good ideas for publishers. In brief:
- Crowd-funding cross media: Publisher Gollancz contributed to a Kickstarter campaign for the video game "Elite:Dangerous" on the contingency that they have the rights to publish tie-in novels.
- Bundling ebooks with print and perhaps book-selling location.
- Digital conversion of mid-list books: Again Gollancz has taken an impressive lead for its readers.
- Dropping DRM on ebooks: Baen and Tor have already done it.
- Accepting fan fiction.
- Publisher subscriptions for a year of books, something Cruciform Press has been doing since the beginning.
By way of our friend Anthony Sacramone (I'd link to his blog, but he's in one of his hiatuses. Hiati?) an excellent article from Intercollegiate Review, "Heinlein, Hugos and Hogwash," by John C. Wright concerning the sad state of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, an organization from which I have also withdrawn:
The purpose of all this hogwash is not to aid the plight of minorities. The purpose is power. The purpose is terror.
One need not ignite a suicide-bomb to enact a reign of terror. One need only have the power to hurt a man’s reputation or income, and be willing to use the power in an arbitrary, treacherous, lunatic, and cruel fashion. For this, the poisonous tongue suffices.
At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.
Read it all here.
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem, by Kevin De Young wins the Christian Book of the Year Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Ron Charles of the Washington Post gives a brief rundown of the book and lists other awards given out yesterday at the ECPA banquet.
Do literary writers find readers and make money in digital publishing? Not yet. Porter Anderson writes:
Literary fiction, by contrast, has no content guidelines, makes no promise of one topic or another, varies vastly in style and form. Not surprisingly, then, it’s perennially difficult to define without a fight. Claims of serious intent and/or artistic achievement may be asserted by fans of literary fiction. Its detractors love to charge that it focuses on language over plot; “navel gazing” poetics over entertainment; precious reflection over storytelling.But Jane Friedman says you can see some successful writing if you look beyond the book length form. She says, "Thoughtful, intelligent 'literary' work is doing quite well digitally if you step away from book-length or novel publishing and into journalism-driven or nonfiction-driven publishing. Most of the following outlets and platforms include some fiction, too, just not a lot." These platforms include: Byliner, Atavist, Medium/Matter, Symbolia, The Magazine, Storybird, and Hi.
In general, she says, people don't want to read short stories or poems on no-name sites like Brandywine Books. Big name sites, like The Poetry Foundation, get readers, but not others. I think the field may still be in flux as more readers read everything onscreen. I also think literary writers should reflect on the poverty of our recent literary traditions and develop a new perspective based more on Shakespeare and Milton than on Freud and Beckett.
Matthew Vines is not a new author. He has been around for a few years, arguing that Christianity and homosexuality are not incompatible. He has a new book coming out next week making the same arguments, but the bigger news may be who is publishing it. It's Stephen W. Cobb, the chief executive of both WaterBrook Multnomah and the new imprint Convergent.
Cobb says the two imprints do not have the same audiences and editorial guidelines, so they aren't the identical, but he does call the final shots for both. With Convergent, those shots are "nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith," such as Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian.
World Magazine makes a big deal about these imprints being unified under one corporate umbrella, but what strikes me as odd is Cobb's insistence that he isn't publishing heresy under the Convergent label. He claims Vines' "believes in the inerrancy and the divinity and the correctness of Scripture," so his book is "biblically based." He says he intends to publish only biblically based books through Convergent.
How orthodox does a "biblically based" book need to be in order to remain based on the Bible? The Book of Mormon and the Koran are literally based on the Bible, but would we call them "biblically based"? If this is the main criteria, then I would understand a wide variety of views being published, but we expect more, don't we?
How much orthodox stock do you put into this publisher or any publisher? Do you notice the publisher of a book and believe the topic, whatever it is, has been thoroughly vetted? Do you believe WaterBrook is still committed to "creating products that both intensify and satisfy the elemental thirst for a deeper relationship with God," as their marketing people say?
Author Robin O'Bryant writes, "I self-published my first book in shame. I was disappointed that after two years of work with my top tier literary agent in New York, editors still didn’t think I had a platform large enough to sell a book."
That book lived for about two years before hitting multiple bestseller lists, due in part to her tireless promotion. Now, Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, is re-released, and Mrs. O'Bryant has a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press.
I wasn't aware of this until recently, but my novel West Oversea has been made available in e-book form, for Kindle or Nook, by the publisher, Nordskog Publishing. It's not on Amazon at this time, but you can get it from Nordskog here.
Editor Nick Harrison talks about the writing advice he dislikes, such as writing what you know and never using passive voice.
“Write even if you know you’ll never be published.” Apparently the idea is that a writer writes because he has to (which I agree with) and that writing is somehow its own reward (which I disagree with). I don’t know about you, but I’m writing to be published. I’m glad I don’t know whether or not I will have more books published in the future because if I knew my writing would never see the light of day, I’d probably be tempted to quit.
Steve Laube gives this list of reasons some writers may never see their work in print:
- You Won't Do the Work
- You Are Hard of Hearing
- You Aren't Ready
- Your Idea has Already Been Done
- Agents and Editors are Blind to Your Genius
Last year, Digital Book World asked its Twitter crowd, "Do you read on your smartphone? Do you read on other devices, too?" They got 30 answers. About half said they read on multiple devices; the other half said they don't read long works on their phones.
Now, 56% of Americans have smartphones, which are also called pocket reading devices. Some companies are marketing ebooks only to their pocket readers, like the Samsung Galaxy S4.
With some many mobile devices like this, publishers should consider them first when designing ebooks and ebook marketplaces.
"More publishers investigate Mark Driscoll: Crossway and NavPress begin reviews of the megachurch pastor’s books amid concerns of plagiarism." The company Ithenticate labels this the #3 plagiarism story of 2013.
In other news, ABC plans to stop immediate release of its shows for free online. On January 6, Hulu.com and ABC.com will release broadcast episodes 8 days after to non-paying viewers.
And here's an odd article complaining about works that are not moving into public domain.
Professor Thomas Kidd walks through publishing his next book, a biography on George Whitefield. He says, "There are already excellent biographies on Whitefield, written both from explicitly Christian/pastoral perspectives, and from more academic/scholarly perspectives. I thought perhaps I could bridge those two approaches, as a professional historian and an evangelical Christian. Whitefield’s 300th birthday is coming up in December 2014, so the timing seemed right."
A platform is a way to "get noticed in a noisy world," to borrow from Michael Hyatt's book of the same subtitle. Hunter Baker has a helpful critique of this idea.
"Stop badgering would-be authors with applications designed to tease out how large their platforms are and spend more time locating the best manuscripts," he writes. In the near future, he suggests a big platform will be the very reason speakers and authors will not submit their document to a traditional publisher. They will self-publish.
Follow Chris Henley
Scot McKnight also has several questions about platform and current publishing tactics:
I get hundreds of books sent to me each year, many of them by people with a sizable platform, and I can say without reservation that the bigger the platform the less the author has to say (not always, but often). Big platform authors are guaranteed sales. They’re not guaranteed good content. I get books on my desk from no-name authors that have much better content than big-name authors. ...All of this is troubling, but I don't know what to recommend as a sane alternative. Aren't there publishers who print what they believe to be the best manuscripts they receive? What success are they having? Should litblogs, like this one, have cutthroat review competitions to compare good vs. big platform books?
I know a pastor who was given a 3-book contract, a previously unpublished pastor, had no idea what he wanted to write about, but was told “We’ll take care of that by listening to your sermons.” At about the same time a young author sent me a manuscript that was rejected by the same publisher because he had no platform, but they did agree he had very good content.
Andy Crouch discusses the flak flying over some of Mark Driscoll's publications. Sure, some material was used inappropriately, but is this a plagiarism problem? "There is something truly troubling here, in my view," he writes. "Not that 'Pastor Mark Driscoll' carelessly borrowed a section of a commentary for a church-published Bible study, but that 'Pastor Mark Driscoll' was named as the sole author of that Bible study in the first place."
He points to St. Paul's use of scribes and partners and the unique credit given in Romans 16:22.
Prolific writer and author John Piper has taken to Twitter on this: "If lying is the 'industry standard' reject it. Come on, famous guys, if someone writes for you, put the plebe’s name on it." For more, see Warren Throckmorton's blog for many details.
Irene Gallo, an art director with Tor Books, went to their press building in Gettysburg, PA, to see A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, Book 14) being printed and bound. "The whole process looked like a marvelous bit of Suessian-magic to me, with long conveyer belts that doubled up and looped around," she says. (via Loren Eaton)
Speaking of Mr. Eaton, his 2013 Advent Ghost Storytelling is up.