Friday, January 29, 2010

Cris Robins and The Robins Agency: She's Ba-aaack!

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware 

Once upon a time, there was a self-styled literary agent named Cris Robins who ran a purported literary agency called The Robins Agency. For more than ten years, Robins charged editing fees, levied various upfront fees, and, as far as Writer Beware can determine, never made a single verifiable commercial book sale. Complaints about her were among the first Writer Beware collected when we began operation in 1998. Due to the volume of these complaints and the length of time over which they were received, we placed her on our Thumbs Down Agency List in 2006.

That same year, shortly after an unhappy recipient of her editing services won an $8,000 judgment against her for breach of contract, fraudulent business practice, and consumer protection violations, Robins closed her agency's doors. For a time, she continued to solicit her services to writers--in 2007, I got a number of reports from authors who received emails with offers of editing services and the "packaging" of manuscripts for submission to publishers. By 2008, however, Robins had gone silent. Writer Beware dared to hope that The Robins Agency was out of business for good.

But being a fee-charging agent is so easy and so lucrative that many of those who practice it find it difficult to give up. This week, I learned that Robins is once again soliciting writers with offers of fee-based representation.

Robins' email begins:
After a three-year hiatus, The Robins Agency is now accepting new clients. Oh, sure, we still offer a full editorial staff and exceptional literary agents to present your work to publishers and movie producers here and abroad, but this year we’re kicking off a brand new service that sells your books … when buyers want to buy them – like right now.

Our agency shook up the industry when we offered our clients an editorial service, rocked it even more when we charged a retainer for our services; and now, well, now watch out because this is going to be revolutionary!!
A bit of hyperbole here--Robins was prolific in her editorial referrals and her retainer, at $3,200 was astronomical, but her agency was far from the only one that followed such practices. Still, you've got to admire the spin.
Who ever heard of a literary agency that also published books?? Sure, you can find the under-the-table deals; but The Robins Agency is talking about above-board, in-your-face, quality work that lists on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, complete with cover designs, ISBN numbers, copyrights AND royalties to the writer.
Who ever heard of a literary agency that also published books? Well, actually, anyone who has ever seen Writer Beware's Alert on Writers' Literary Agency, a.k.a. AEG Publishing Group, a.k.a. Strategic Book Group--currently being sued by the Florida Attorney General's office for unfair and deceptive business practices.
Let’s talk about investment. How much are you willing to spend to get your work from where it is, to being sold? We understand that money’s tight right now; because we are looking for a few good works, we’re willing to cut our prices to find the best work out there.

Remember I told you we shook up the industry? Here’s how. Instead of sending you bills to cover expenses at the end of each month when you are under the impression that the agency works on commission, we charge a flat rate. We don’t call on Thursdays and tell you that if you want us to represent you on our trip the next day that it’s going to cost you $500. That’s not the way we work.
Um, that's not the way reputable literary agencies work, either. But never mind, we're spinning like a top here in our effort to make our predatory business practices look appealing.
Our base rate, a one year retainer was $3,250; for this promotion only we are dropping it to $2,500.

IF your work needs editing, our standard rate WAS $6 per 250-word page for a limited time, we’re dropping it to $4.50 per 250-word page.

If you want to take advantage of our e-book publishing offer, it will be going up to $950 on Feb. 1; but for this mailing, we’re charging only $750. Remember this includes cover art, inside layout, ISBN, copyright, and submitted to Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and possibly a few others to seize every available opportunity for your work.

I’ve thrown around a lot of numbers, let’s put them all together. Let’s say you have a 300 page manuscript (that’s 75,000 words); what do the numbers look like?

Editing services: $1,350 (a savings of: $450)
Agency retainer: $2,500 (a savings of $750) – it’s like getting the publishing FREE!!
E-book publishing: $ 750 (a savings of $200)

Grand total: $4,600 (a total savings of: $1,400!!)
Gosh golly, what a deal!

So why would you want to pay a track recordless "literary agent" $4,600 for representation and epublishing, when reputable agents charge no fees at all and you can epublish for free on the Kindle? BECAUSE YOU CAN MAKE SO MUCH MONEY, STUPID!
Now, I understand that you may be sitting there thinking that there’s no that you’re going to spend $4,600 to take a chance on your book. So, let me ask you, how hard would it be to sell 1,000 books?? According to the news reports over 12 MILLION e-books were sold last year. Hmm. What if your book only sold 2,000 copies?? At roughly $4.95 per book, you just DOUBLED your investment.

Doesn’t look quite so scary now does it? And that’s ONLY if all we sold were the e-book copies. What would happen if while your e-book was selling, and other publishers were considering buying it for print? Would THAT be a bad thing? We didn’t think so either.
Depends on how you define "bad."

There you have it. And, writers, you'd better hurry--'cause Cris Robins only has room for fifteen lucky new clients, and prices go up on February 1.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Author Solutions CEO Wants to Talk to Writers' "Guilds"

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In a video posted to YouTube on Friday, and in an accompanying press release, the CEO of Author Solutions, Kevin Weiss, invited the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (which he incorrectly dubbed the "Science Fiction Writers' Association"--though I can't fault him for this, as PW regularly gets it wrong as well) to sit down with him and other AS representatives to discuss the recent debate over AS's "partnerships" with Harlequin and Thomas Nelson. (Weiss didn't mention another professional writers' group, NINC, which issued a strongly-worded statement in response to the debate.)

(To recap, if you have been living in a cave for the past six months: This fall, Harlequin and Nelson--both major commercial publishers--launched "self-publishing" divisions, whereby aspiring authors could pay a fee and have their books formatted, printed, and distributed online. Both divisions were run by AS. A storm of public criticism ensued, prompting RWA, MWA, and SFWA to issue public statements and to de-list Harlequin, Nelson, or both.)

From the press release:

"I'm inviting the three writers guilds who've expressed the greatest objections with the partnerships we've established with traditional publishing to sit down with us and discuss how we can improve the opportunity for their writers and the choice for readers," Weiss said in the statement. 

In response to ASI's announcements of partnerships with traditional publishers, the three writer's guilds led a campaign to discredit the publishers involved in creating these groundbreaking opportunities, even going so far as to de-list one as a qualified publisher. Weiss believes the guilds may not fully understand the role self-publishing can play in expanding options for writers and consumers while at the same time providing benefits to traditional publishers who are in the midst of tremendous upheaval. 

"Not only do I want to discuss the differences they have with our business, as well as the partnership models that we're engaging with traditional publishing, but I also want to discuss the things that we are doing and plan to do to advance the cause of their members on a daily basis," Weiss said. 

In the video, Weiss claims that "choice is under attack," citing concerns that cheap ebooks and book retailers' price wars will undercut publishers' revenues, resulting in fewer chances for new authors and fewer choices for readers. The implication is that AS addresses that problem by making publishing services available to all (though I would find this more convincing if so many of AS's services weren't predatory and overpriced--there's a good analysis at Shiloh Walker's blog--and if, by Mr. Weiss's own admission, the average sales for an AS title didn't top out at 150).

Weiss also gets a couple of things wrong. I've already mentioned SFWA's name; also, RWA, MWA, and SFWA didn't de-list just one publisher, but both--MWA and SFWA by implication, since Thomas Nelson doesn't really publish in their genres, RWA explicitly, by removing Nelson as well as Harlequin from its conference-eligible publisher list. Plus, the press release's claim that RWA, MWA, and SFWA "led a campaign to discredit the publishers involved" is hyperbolic. The writers' groups made strong responses, but most of the outcry came from individual writers (and involved Harlequin; Nelson more or less got a free pass), and it was largely the outcry that spurred the statements, not the other way around.

I'd also love to know exactly what it is that AS does to "advance the cause" of RWA, MWA, and SFWA members "on a daily basis"--especially given that authors cannot qualify for membership in MWA and SFWA on the basis of self-published books--but I guess Weiss is saving that for the sit-down.

Will a sit-down, if it happens, be productive? Good question. Part of the objection to the AS/Harlequin/Nelson "partnerships" was the misleading way in which they were presented--seriously overstating the benefits of self-publishing for many if not most authors, using the carrot of possible transition to commercial publishing as a hook to draw in customers--as well as, in Nelson's case, a promise of referral fees for agents who steered authors its way, plus a truly exorbitant cost. Given that high costs and less-than-transparent presentation are at the core of AS's services, I don't think that's likely to change. Also, can there ever be a meeting of the minds between professional commercial writers' groups and a company that wants to present fee-based publishing as an "indie revolution?" Part of the problem, I think, is that Weiss is speaking a different language.

I don't want to be unduly negative. There are certainly ways in which AS could benefit RWA, MWA, and SWFA members--by providing a reasonable, efficient way for members to bring their out-of-print works back into circulation, for instance. And, simply as a matter of pragmatism, I do think that we will have to get used to at least some degree of cohabitation between commercial publishing and fee-based publishing--since commercial publishers need revenue and fee-based publishing is (for now) extremely lucrative. If, in these difficult times of economic pain and technological transition, launching a fee-based publishing division could help a commercial publisher maintain its core publishing operation--and if the fee-based division were straightforward, reasonably-priced, and transparent (i.e., no bogus farm-team promises, or referral fees, or exaggerated portrayals of the potential for success)--I might be able to make peace with that.

Is AS the right company to provide those services, though? Do publishers even need to hire an outside company to set fee-based publishing divisions up for them? Those are whole other questions.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Google Book Search Settlement Deadline

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writers: Another Google Book Settlement deadline is fast approaching. Per the amended Settlement agreement, January 28, 2010 is the last date you can opt out of the Settlement, or opt back in if you previously opted out and have since changed your mind.

(Note: The Settlement covers only US copyright holders published on or before January 5, 2009, and only books or inserts published in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.)

Here's the deal:

- If you want to opt out of the amended Settlement, you can fill out this online form. Opting out means you will not be included in the Settlement and will receive none of its benefits (including cash payment for any books or inserts of yours that Google may have digitized without permission), but will retain your right to sue Google for copyright infringement and other claims related to the Settlement. Google is currently "voluntarily" promising to remove the works of opt-outers from its database, though there's nothing in the Settlement language to hold it to that.

- If you opted out before the Settlement was amended, and have changed your mind, you can now opt back in. Again, there's an online form you can fill out. Opting back in means your books and inserts will be included in the Settlement, that you'll receive a small cash payment for books and inserts that Google digitized without permission, and that you'll receive a portion of the revenue Google realizes from the commercial uses it makes of your work. You'll also be able to control how and whether your books and inserts are displayed, and how Google will be able to offer them for sale (with some limitations). However, you give up your right to sue Google for any claims related to the Settlement.

As an alternative to the online claim forms, you can contact the Settlement Administrator directly:

Settlement Administrator
c/o Rust Consulting, Inc.
PO Box 9364
Minneapolis, MN 55440-9364
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BookSettlement@RustConsulting.com

- What if you do nothing? If you've already opted out or in, and are happy with your decision, there's nothing you need to do. If you haven't yet done anything, and take no action by January 28, you will automatically be part of the Settlement. US copyright holders are automatically opted in to the Settlement, even if they do nothing (a major objection among Settlement opponents, since this reverses a long-standing principle of copyright law).

- Whatever decision you make, regard it as permanent. It's possible that, at the Fairness Hearing on February 18, the Settlement will be amended again, or even thrown out (though I think that's unlikely). If so, you may have to decide to opt in or out again. However, if the Settlement is approved, you will not get the chance to change your mind. Be prepared, therefore, to live with the decision you make now.

- What next? If you opt out, you're done. If you opt in, however, you must establish how and whether Google will be able to display and sell your books and inserts. To do this, you must "claim" your works. Once again, there's an online form, but there's also the option of a simplified method, which involves emailing your bibliography to the Settlement administrator.

Opt-inners can claim their works at any time. However, if you want to direct Google to remove or exclude your works from its database, you must claim your works on or before April 5, 2011. (For why you might want to do this, see the next-to-last paragraph.) If you ask Google to remove or exclude your works, you may be able to change your mind later--but there are no guarantees. And if you want to receive a cash payment for works that Google digitized without permission, you must claim your works on or before March 31, 2011.

For writers who support the Settlement, it's a simple matter of opting in and claiming your writings. For writers who oppose it and don't want Google to display or sell their writings, things are more complicated. Is it better to opt in, giving up your right to sue but asserting control over your works? Or is it better to opt out and preserve your right to sue, with no guarantee that Google won't someday decide to change its "voluntary" policy of removing opt-outers' works from its database? If you're a pragmatist, the former may make most sense, since it assures you of control (at least, as much as is possible in a hugely open-ended Settlement whose long-term implications are not even remotely clear). For those who stand on principle, however--whatever that principle may be--opting out, even with the uncertainties involved, may be the best choice.

I opted out of the original Settlement, and I will remain opted out of the amended Settlement. Although the amendments do improve the Settlement's terms, and although I am sympathetic to the idea of a digital world library, for me the principle of copyright trumps all other considerations. By assuming permission, rather than seeking it, Google is turning copyright law on its head, and setting dangerous precedents for the future. I don't deny that copyright law could use some changes--but this should be accomplished through legislation, not as the default result of a lawsuit.

Links for further reading:

- Google's Settlement FAQ

- The Laboratorium is the blog of law professor James Grimmelman. He is an informed, relatively neutral observer of the Settlement, and (in my opinion) has provided some of the most intelligent and reasoned commentary on it. His article, "How to Fix the Google Book Search Settlement," precedes the amendments, but provides a good overview of the history and issues. "The Google Settlement: Why It Matters," written post-amendment, discusses why the changes don't render the Settlement less problematic.

- The Public Index provides general information and links to many documents.

- Transcript of a SFWA panel discussion on the Settlement.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Open Letter from a Writer to New Publishers

Posted by Richard White for Writer Beware

Dear New Publisher:

You may have noticed people discussing your company on various web sites. Normally, this would be a good thing, I mean, free publicity, right? But, when you go to these sites, they may be discussing your company in unflattering terms and asking all kinds of questions about your ability to get books into bookstores.

"But, wait. They can't say that about my baby."

Actually, yes they can. See, just as every writer does not "deserve" to be published, not every person who dreams of being a publisher deserves to hang out a shingle and call themselves such.

Publishing is a unique critter. Even so, one thing it has in common with other businesses is you need experience. Period. This cannot be overstated. If you have no experience in the industry (and being an unpublished or even a published author does not equate to publishing experience), what are you offering your authors?

Sorry, good intentions are not enough.

And if you've never worked in the industry, you don't know what you don't know.

Any publisher thinking about starting up must be able to answer the following questions:
  • What's your experience in publishing?
  • If you don’t have any experience, do you have partners who have publishing experience, people who can guide you over the shoals of a start-up publishing business?
  • Have you ever run a company before in any capacity?
  • What's your business plan?
  • Have you secured sufficient funding to get this business off the ground
  • Do you have realistic goals (starting small, focusing on your strengths, adding new lines only after you get established, not taking on too many authors)
  • What's your target market? Bookstores? E-books only?
  • What's your plan for getting books into bookstores?
  • Do you have your distributors lined up before you open up for submissions?
  • Do you know the difference between a distributor and a wholesaler?
  • Who're your editors?
  • How much experience do they have editing novels or non-fiction?
  • How many authors do you expect to publish a year?
  • Who's handling publicity for your company?
  • Have you established a realistic time line to release ARCs to readers/reviewers/etc. before the book is ready to sell?
  • What reviewers will you be sending preview copies of the book to?
  • Do you have a web site oriented to attracting readers and selling books and not just there to lure in new authors?
  • Who're your sales reps? How many do you have?
  • Do you intend to use your authors as an unpaid sales force?
  • Who're the artists you have lined up to do covers?
  • Are you paying advances?
  • How are royalties calculated? Cover price? Net?
  • Can people see a copy of the contract to compare it against other standard publishing contracts?
  • Is your contract author-friendly, or at least author-neutral?

If you’re not ready to answer these questions, not only are you going to lose a lot of money and time, but you're going to cost your authors a lot of money, time and possibly cost your authors their book. You’re also going to pop up on writing web sites, but it’ll be because people are trying to figure out who you are, why they should trust you with their work, and what you’re offering that they couldn’t do on their own.

New publishers should be ready to PROVE they're ready to go from the moment they make themselves available for any author to submit to them. They should be able to stand up to any scrutiny and have answers for questions that are going to be asked.

And I say these things not only as a member of Writer Beware, but simply as a writer. Writers want publishers to succeed. We don't want them to fail because it's not fun to watch something come crashing down around the creator's ears. It's also not fun to watch what happens to authors who, time and again, get caught in a start-up that wasn't really ready to take that first step and wind up losing their book in the carnage.

What we want is for all new publishers to be certain they're ready to go.

BUT, my primary concern is always for the authors. New publishers don't have the right to experiment with other author's books. I've seen too many new publishers crash and burn and authors lose their books because contracts couldn't or wouldn't be released before the company just disappeared.

None of these publishers set out to do this. But by reading the lists of failed publishers on the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Check forum, there is a unifying theme to them all. Inexperience. Sure, you could be THE one. Or, you could be one of the other 99 who disappear in less than a year.

So, yes, new publishers MUST earn our trust.

Do your homework. Be ready before you ever ask for the first book. Do not learn as you go.

Period.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Law Finally Catches Up With Faux Literary Agent/Film Producer Robin Price

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

An article in the North Devon Journal reports the court appearance last week of UK literary agent/film producer Robin Price, who is accused of stealing more than half a million pounds from clients.

Price is alleged to have "encouraged authors to pay exaggerated literary fees and invest in non-existent film deals," and has been charged with six counts of theft, most committed over the course of several years:

● £293,603 from Cecil Humphery-Smith OBE between 2001 and 2007.
● £99,335 from Judith Day between 2001 and 2008.
● £120,000 from Dr Bryan Walton between 1999 and 2006.
● £14,250 from Chris Bailey between 2001 and 2004.
● £4,200 from Michael William Hawkes between 2004 and 2006.
● £646 from Evelyn Joyce Jolley in 2005.


Price has pleaded not guilty to all charges. A date for his trial will be set in February.

I first heard of Robin Price in 2001, when I began receiving questions about a literary agency called Avalon Associates, which was asking writers for £150 upfront "to cover initial costs of representation." The fees were an obvious red flag, as was the fact that the agency had no discoverable sales, either of books or scripts. Price, who made big promises to his clients and touted his industry connections, also owned a production company, Avalon Films, whose website boasted a huge roster of film and television projects planned or in production, many with well-known writers, actors, and/or directors attached.

There was just one problem: It was all a fabrication. The deals and the connections did not exist. Price never sent out the screenplays and manuscripts he claimed to be submitting on his clients' behalf, and the meetings and phone calls he claimed to be receiving from film industry movers and shakers were all invented. Here's one example, from Writer Beware's files: a client was told by Price that the managing director of a major film studio was seeking funding for the client's screenplay. When nothing came of it, the client herself contacted the individual, only to discover that he'd left the studio some time earlier. He'd never heard of the client's screenplay--but he had heard of Price. "I have known about Price's activities for some years," he wrote in an email to the client, "through my former work at [the studio]. We had continual stories from him of financial, creative, and production involvements which turned out to be entirely fictitious."

By all accounts, Price was extremely persuasive, at least initially. Several successful writers were caught up in his schemes (Price returned their trust by using their names to boost his credibility and ensnare more clients). But in 2001, after one writer spoke out about his experiences with Price, complaints began to surface, and Avalon Associates' listing was removed from the The Writers' Handbook, one of the major UK writers' guides.

With word getting round, Price did what dodgy agents often do: he changed the company's name. In 2002, Avalon vanished and Media Arts International took its place. The M.O. was basically the same: upfront representation fees for writers; a production website with suspiciously enormous numbers of projects, none of which, somehow, ever came to fruition; false claims of contacts, meetings, etc. This time, though, Price did send round a few manuscripts, and even managed to place several books with a publisher called First Century (here's a news story about one of them). Again, though, not everything was as it seemed. As I later found out from one sadder-but-wiser ex-Price client, First Century was a vanity publisher. (It now appears to be out of business.)

More ominously, I began receiving reports that Price was soaking writers for large amounts of cash--persuading them to invest in the production of their own screenplays, or to pay thousands of pounds in setup or legal fees to release production funds. Similar complaints appeared online. Not surprisingly, the productions never got off the ground, and the funds never materialized.

In 2007, still trying to stay ahead of his poor reputation, Price changed the company's name yet again, to Prospero Films. But by this time the police were on his trail. In late 2007, search warrants were served on Price and an associate, and computers, manuscripts, and other documentation were seized. Price was effectively out of business. Amazingly, however, some of his clients continued to give him money for a time, even after being interviewed by the police. As a friend of one of these clients told me, "thus was the incredible hold he had over people."

So why the long delay--more than two years--between the seizure and the court appearance? I don't know the answer to this. Possibly it took that much time to track down far-flung victims, disentangle Price's fictions, and assemble evidence. Possibly the case got put on hold for a while (as happened after the FBI raided the premises of fraudulent literary agent/vanity publisher Martha Ivery). What's important is that Price did eventually find himself in court, and will now be prosecuted.

I'll provide updates as I receive them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From the Authors Guild: Simplified Method for Claiming Works for Google Book Search Settlement

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The following message was sent to Authors Guild members this week. If you've chosen not to opt out of the Settlement and haven't yet claimed your works on the Settlement website, this should make things a bit easier.

----------------------------

Claiming a lengthy list of your books, short stories, essays, poems and articles for Google settlement benefits just got much easier. You can now start the process by simply submitting your bibliography to the claims administrator. You need only e-mail -- or send by regular mail -- a list of your books and shorter literary works (poems, short stories, articles) that may appear in books covered by the settlement. When in doubt, we suggest you submit everything.

Although the author's name and the title of the work is enough to get the ball rolling, it's helpful to include this additional information you can find in or on your books: ISBN, publisher, place and year of publication.

E-mail your bibliography to BookSettlement@RustConsulting.com. Feel free to send it as an attachment or paste it into the body of the e-mail itself.

If you prefer to submit your bibliography by regular mail, send it to:

Settlement Administrator
c/o Rust Consulting, Inc.
PO Box 9364
Minneapolis, MN 55440-9364
USA

You may still file your claim through the regular claiming process, which our members with short lists of works have generally found easy to use. To do so, or to learn more about this simplified procedure, go to www.googlebooksettlement.com.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Settlement Administrator will contact you to complete your claim, but it may be several months before that happens. You will be contacted before any of your works are displayed pursuant to the settlement, and you will have ample opportunity to instruct Google regarding which of your works you'd like displayed. (Remember that this is really about out-of-print books. None of your in-print books will be displayed under the settlement without your approval.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Apparently I'm a Boring Wrinkled Self-Published Lesbian

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

No way, you say? Well, fee-charging literary agent Eddie Kritzer begs to differ.

Since Writer Beware's founding, I've been getting questions and advisories about Mr. Kritzer and his company, EKP Productions. In 1998 and 1999, most involved Kritzer's referrals to Edit Ink, a fraudulent editing service that paid kickbacks to agents who sent clients its way. More recently, I've begun hearing that Mr. Kritzer is asking for a $500-600 "advance on commission." (I have documentation of these fees, but you don't have to take my word for it--a number of writers have blogged or posted about their encounters with Kritzer, and there's a whole thread on him at Absolute Write.)

Mr. Kritzer's bio and credits drop some well-known showbiz names--Art Linkletter, Bill Cosby, Burt Reynolds, Christina Aguilera, Phylicia Rashad--and cite a number of TV and radio production credits. Though most of these do check out, many prove on investigation to be rather elderly. For instance, the Rashad TV movie, False Witness, aired in 1989, and the Burt Reynolds TV special, Shattered, premiered in 1986. Animals Are People Too, featuring Alan Thicke, was broadcast in 1999, and How Do They Do That?, a radio show with Ed McMahon, in 1991. Aguilera, who Kritzer's bio claims to have "just" secured for New Dana Perfume, signed with New Dana in 2000, and parted ways with the company in 2002.

Kritzer also cites a number of books sold to publishers. Some of the publishers are reputable, but again, there's a certain lack of recency. Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darndest Things, published by Ten Speed Press, has a hardcover pub date of 1985, with a softcover re-issue in 2005. Bill Cosby's book of the same title, from Bantam, was released in 1998. And Saving Money With the Tightwad Twins, from HCI Books, came out in 2003.

Other "sales" are, well, not really sales at all. Barry Broad's Eve of Destruction (2008), Dr. Tom Yi's The Practical Patient (2004), and Dominic Spinale's G-Men and Gangsters (2004) have all been placed with Seven Locks Press, which offers contracts charging thousands of dollars to publish (Writer Beware has received documented reports of these fees), and has been sued by at least one of its authors for nonperformance (other complaints can be seen here). Craig A. Miller's The Making of a Surgeon in the 21st Century (2008) was placed with Blue Dolphin Publishing, which asks authors to find "investors" to fund the multi-thousand dollar cost of publication (again, Writer Beware has received documented complaints, similar to the one that can be seen here).

So what does all this have to do with wrinkles and lesbianism? Well, this past Sunday, Kritzer emailed me to let me know about his latest book sale. If you're wondering why he'd bother, he's unhappy with me because of what I've posted about him on Absolute Write (he's been emailing me for some time to let me know), and I guess he thought maybe the following would make me change my mind, or prove me wrong, or something. You be the judge:

Hi Victoria,

I know your not really in the Publishing business, since you "books" were self published, and you probably dont read much, since your books were a giant flop. Your to busy being a busy body "old decrepit lady with all wrinkly skin; IM sure your husband (if you still have one) which I doubt; because all you do is complain, you are the negative Nelly of the Internet, your so fucken boring, and bored.

Of course I wish you the best of luck and I have nominated you to the "Complainaclochs Hall of Fame; because all you do is bitch and moan and groan [except when you have sex; then you just lay there like a lump of coal, which is what your personality is.

I just wish your "husband" or more likely "Girlfriend" could look at this. actually

All the best during this festive holiday season, and of course a Happy New Year;
read this and fucken weep ?

FLASH/BULLETIN

Eddie Kritzer announces the sale of Psychiatrist Dr Jerry Bruns & Dr Rick Richards The Tiger Woods Syndrome to HCI Books, the publishers of The Chicken Soup for The Soul Series, the best selling book series in the history of Publishing


The sale doesn't seem to have been officially announced anywhere (an Internet search turns up only the fact that "Tiger Woods Syndrome" is a popular phrase with a variety of definitions), but HCI is a real publisher, and I'm content to take Kritzer's word for it, especially given the delightful professionalism on display above.

Congratulations on the sale, Eddie. I'm wishing you a happy New Year too, and also a supply of apostrophes.

(P.S. I'm not the only one getting love notes from Kritzer. Check out this series of blog posts from another writer who displeased him.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

SFWA, NWU, and ASJA on Google Books Settlement

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The National Writers Union, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have written to their author peers in Congress, seeking their support in encouraging the Department of Justice to continue its opposition to the Google Books Settlement.

The text of the letter is embedded below. The Los Angeles Times reports that Google has declined to address the letter's concerns, and the Authors Guild did not respond to a request for comment.

Writers to Congressional Authors

Monday, January 04, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Distributor vs. Wholesaler--Getting Your Book on the Shelf

Happy New Year, everyone!

To kick things off for 2010, we have a great guest blog post from multi-published author Cathy Clamp.

The distinction between a wholesaler and a distributor is an important one, especially for writers who want to get their books onto physical bookstore shelves. Too often, however, writers and startup publishers aren't aware of the difference, and don't realize that a wholesaler like Ingram is only half the distribution picture. Below, Cathy describes what distributors and wholesalers do, and the implications of each for writers (and publishers).

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On nearly every thread in all the rooms of nearly every writer site I visit, the issue of the difference between Distributors and Wholesalers comes up. It seems to me like it's time to discuss the distinction when it comes to getting your books on the shelf.

And I mean all books, because ultimately, it doesn't matter whether your book is self-published, or with a major New York publisher, a small indie press, or even PublishAmerica. It's all the same at this level of the game.

Let's start with major NY publishers. They have a sales force. The sales department is charged with doing nothing but selling books for the publisher. Sales reps meet regularly with the buyers for the major chains and secondary markets. You might have one salesperson who handles Borders and B&N, another who meets with Target and WalMart, a third who handles Booksamillion and Costco, etc. They take the books of the publisher directly to the buyers who handle them.

Every book needs a salesperson to get it into the store. Yes, book buyers are looking for new books--but there is only so much space in each bookstore. So they have to be selective.

But even if every book needs, and deserves, a salesperson--let's face it, a small press or self-publisher often can't afford to have a full time salesperson, much less a sales "force," to go out to meet with every book buyer for every chain. Too, it's unlikely (if not impossible) that the buyer would be willing to meet with every single small press out there. There are just too many of them.

So, a lot of small publishers hire "Distributors." A distributor takes the place of a sales force by doing the exact same thing a dedicated, salaried salesperson would do. And for the same reason. They're salaried.

Distributors cost money. A lot of money. Plan on about a third of your retail price to pay the distributor. It's a monthly/quarterly contract for the privilege of putting your books in front of the market, selling them to the buyers at the stores and increasing orders for the books. Is it worth the money? Hard to say. If you're an indie press with thirty niche books that might struggle to interest a bookstore without a marketing pitch, then sure. Absolutely. But for a single, stand-alone novel? Doubtful. In fact, it's doubtful a distributor would have a self-pubbed author or small press. It has to be worth the distributor's while, too. Generally speaking, if a press has fewer than ten titles, a distributor won't accept it as a client.

Now, if a publisher (again, whether small press or self-pub) chooses not to spend the money for a distributor, they go with the wholesalers. To make the difference simple, look at it like this:

- A distributor is the equivalent of a pack-n-ship store.
- A wholesaler is the equivalent of your local postal office.

What's the difference?

Well, if you walk in the door of a pack-n-ship store with a glass lamp to send somewhere, you hand them the lamp and they bubble wrap it, put it in a box, fill the box with those styrofoam peanuts or the equivalent, tape it up, calculate the shipping cost, print out the label, put the label on the box and place it with the other boxes for delivery. They will also accept the box back if anything goes wrong in shipping, and many of them will arrange to file your claim if the box is damaged.

The postal office? Will they wrap it? No. Put it in the box? No. Fill the box? No. Print out the label? No. Tape it? Maybe, depending on the office. Calculate the shipping cost? Sure. Put it with the other boxes? Sure.

In other words--a distributor is a "full-service" shipping company. You can pay them to sell the book, take the orders, fill the orders, handle the returns, manage any disputes with the bookstores, etc. They're proactive--taking on the role of the salesperson as though they were a paid employee.

A wholesaler is the post office. They'll keep the book on their list and send it out if it's ordered. They're reactive--taking on no role other than as a pass-through.

Now, one of the tricky things in this industry is that one of the major players, Ingram, is both a distributor and wholesaler. They have separate arms to handle each. But, per the descriptions above, there's a vast difference on what they do if you pay them to be your distributor, versus merely having a listing with them in their wholesale catalog.

Unfortunately, a lot of small presses and POD self-publishing companies try to make you believe they have the distributor relationship when, in fact, they have the wholesale relationship. Since Ingram won't reveal its client list, it's hard to know which is which. However, I believe that right now, Ingram requires that a publisher that's a distribution client must have about $20K+ of income from Ingram in order to qualify. If you think logically, would even PublishAmerica, the powerhouse of POD presses, qualify? Probably not. PA has the titles, but not the sales. PA, and hundreds of other POD-based presses with far fewer titles than PA, would never be accepted as a distribution client. Simply wouldn't happen. They are with the wholesale arm--i.e., they're listed in the Ingram catalog.

But what does that actually mean? Have you ever seen a Columbia House catalog in the mail? It's pages and pages long with titles of movies, and they rotate the titles by season or when a major star has a new movie out. Now, imagine the Columbia House list if they only listed the titles of the movies--with no description of the movie. You might have heard of some, but what about the others? How would you know which to order? Word of mouth? Sure. That always works. Or someone in your family specifically requesting it by name.

That's what the Ingram catalog is. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of titles with ISBN/ISBN-13, author and that's about it. Is it impossible for your book to get onto a shelf that way? No. It's not like winning the mega-lottery--it's closer to winning a small prize in the Pick-Three lottery game, or a prize on a scratch ticket. It happens. But it's not the same as if you had someone going from door to door, talking your book up and pressuring stores to stock and sell it.

Here's a couple of good links to help you understand the process. Read them. Learn them. If you plan to go with a small press or a POD self-publishing company, you'll need to know both the terminology and your path forward.

Understanding the Book Distribution Channels, by Jacqueline C. Simonds

An Analysis and Comparison of Book Distribution Agreements, by Ivan Hoffman

Should You Deal With a Book Distributor or Wholesaler? by Hal Licino

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Cathy Clamp is half of the USA Today bestselling author team of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp. They are winners of the 2008 Career Achievement Award in paranormal romance by RT BOOKreviews Magazine and are moving to the urban fantasy shelves as Cat Adams in June with Blood Song, the first in The Blood Singer series. Cathy has long supported SFWA's goals of protecting aspiring and published writers, and is a member of the Grievance Committee's Special Hasbro Task Force.

Cathy's/C.T.'s current releases and sample chapters of all of their books and anthologies are available at www.catadams.net