Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Archway Publishing: Simon & Schuster Adds a Self-Publishing Division

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Well, it's happened again. Another traditional publisher has added a pay-to-play "division."

Yesterday, venerable trade publisher (and one of the Big 5) Simon & Schuster announced the launch of Archway Publishing, a self-publishing services provider.
"Through Archway Publishing, Simon & Schuster is pleased to be part of the rapidly expanding self-publishing segment of our industry," said Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster. "Self-publishing has become a viable and popular route to publication for many authors, and increasingly a source of content for traditional publishers, including Simon & Schuster. We're excited that we'll be able to help more authors find their own path to publication and at the same time create a more direct connection to those self-published authors ready to make the leap to traditional publishing."
Like the other self-publishing divisions of trade publishers (LifeWay's Cross Books, Thomas Nelson's West Bow Press, Harlequin's Dell'Arte Press [which, unlike other ventures of this sort, produced a furore upon its introduction and had to change its name], Hay House's Balboa Press, and Writer's Digest's Abbott Press), Archway Publishing is outsourced to Author Solutions Inc. S&S is the biggest fish ASI has landed so far.

S&S seems to be hoping to differentiate Archway by presenting it as a "premium" service. According to the Archway (God, I have to stop thinking about those cookies) Free Publishing Guide--which you can't access without giving Archway your name, email, and phone number, even though it's present on the website behind a hidden URL--the familiar ASI basics are joined by such "unique" extras as inclusion in Edelweiss (a national bookseller catalog), a Speaker's Bureau, an author reception at BEA (cue eyeroll), and various video services (some of which are already available from ASI a la carte).

There's also a concierge service, where you work with just one person to coordinate all aspects of publication. Unlike the other extras, this doesn't appear to be included in any of the packages; nor could I find an a la carte price. Instead, Archway invites authors to call to learn more. Hmmm.   

As you might expect, with premium services go premium prices. Even by the standards of ASI--which is generally pricier than similar self-publishing service providers--the cost of Archway's packages is eye-popping. For fiction and nonfiction, prices start at $2,000 and rise to $15,000. Children's books are slightly more economical, beginning at $1,500 and topping out at $8,500. For the business package, you can't get in the door for less than $2,200, and if you go for the whole shebang you'll be on the hook for a cool $25Gs.

Plus, as with all the ASI "brands," there's a whole range of additional--and often highly dubious--"marketing" services you can drop big bucks on.

Archway Publishing has the S&S name in its logo. However, unlike West Bow Press, which prominently touts its connection with Thomas Nelson--or Dell'Arte Press, which doesn't mention Harlequin at all, anywhere--Archway is at some pains to make clear that while S&S has provided "guidance," it's ASI that's running the show. There's still the carrot, though.
Additionally, [ASI] will alert Simon & Schuster to Archway Publishing titles that perform well in the market. Simon & Schuster is always on the lookout for fresh, new voices and they recognize a wealth of talent in Archway authors.
Um, yeah. But that's not actually what Archway Publishing--or any of the pay-to-play subsidiaries of traditional publishers--is all about. What it's about is the money--publishers' desire to cash in on the boom in self-publishing services, and capture a piece of a lucrative revenue stream.

How lucrative, though? The action in self-publishing right now is in the ebook realm, where publishing services are available free. Beside Smashwords, Amazon's KDP program, PubIt! from Nook, etc., expensive POD-centric ASI-style services seem clunky and old-fashioned. Why invest in a costly publishing package when you can ebook for nothing on Smashwords, POD for nothing on CreateSpace, find reasonably-priced cover design services on DeviantArt, and so on?

Of course, there are people who don't want to DIY, and there's no shame in that. Even so, there's no reason to pay an arm and a leg for a publishing package. There are many service providers that are far more cost-effective than ASI.

Crucially, there are also many self-pub service providers that have far better reputations. It's not an exaggeration to say that, right now, ASI is the most hated name in the self-publishing services world. For why, do a search on "Author Solutions" on this blog, or take a look at Emily Suess's many posts about the company. Emily breaks it down:
 The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breech of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories, and calling at least one customer a ‘fucking asshole.’
These are all very similar to reports Writer Beware has received over the years. ASI is the only self-pub service provider about which we get regular complaints.

Look, I understand why traditional publishers want to get involved with self-publishing. It's a business decision--a way for publishers to bring in money to help support their core operations. As long as the publisher doesn't misrepresent the benefits of paid self-publishing services, or mislead authors into thinking that using its service is a back door to a traditional book deal, or attempt to monetize its slush pile by steering rejected writers toward its service (see below), I can live with that.

(I can't help but roll my eyes when self-publishing advocates condemn traditional publishers for an outdated business model, yet get morally outraged when they actually change the model. But I digress.)

My problem is with how S&S and others have chosen to dabble in self-publishing--by choosing to work with a company that exploits authors through deceptive PR tactics, misleading rhetoric, and terrible customer service. ASI's poor reputation is not a secret--it's all over the Internet. Could S&S and others not have chosen a more complaint-free service provider--or, even, created the service themselves? You've got to at least give the much-reviled Book Country props for that.

There's also this disturbing tidbit in PW's coverage of the launch: "S&S will refer authors who submit unsolicited manuscripts to the Archway program." I didn't find this in other news coverage, and I'm hoping it's not true--or if it is true, that S&S will re-think it. Such referrals are seriously questionable, since authors who receive them are likely to give them more weight because they come from a respected publisher.

It's been pointed out by journalists and others covering the Archway launch that there's a weird twist to the story: ASI is part of S&S's competitor, Penguin Random House. When Penguin's parent company bought ASI and folded it into Penguin, I expressed the hope that Penguin would start to clean up the problems at ASI, make it more customer-friendly and transparent, as Amazon did years ago when it purchased the then-very-troubled BookSurge. I still hope that will happen--but I know better than to hold my breath.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Publishers Hate Authors? Really?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Without a doubt, the silliest publishing-related article I read this week was this one: "Why Book Publishers Hate Authors" by Michael Levin. (Although this one, which argues that e-reading isn't really reading, runs a close second.)

Levin's article is exactly what its title suggests: a screed on how, no matter how things might seem to the hopeful author or the uninformed observer, publishers just really despise authors. I mean, REALLY despise them. Why? Well, according to Levin, authors are flaky. They're anti-social. They miss deadlines. They ignore their editors' advice. On top of that--gasp--they expect to be paid! Some of them expect to be paid a lot! And publishers HATE that!
So it's understandable that publishers might feel churlish and uncharitable toward authors, on whom their entire publishing model depends. But since the 2008 economic meltdown hit Publishers Row, the enmity has turned into outright warfare.
This deadly conflict is "destroying the options of a writer," as well as "the uniqueness and creativity that readers expect when they buy a book." Publishers are striving, by various nefarious (and undisclosed by Levin) means, to "commoditize writing" in order to "keep the trains running on time" (i.e., protect their profit margins). It's all a diabolical plot--"maybe," muses Levin, "publishers are actually happy when authors fail"--and just one more reason why "book publishing as we know it is going over the cliff."

Gosh! Maybe the US Justice Department should get involved!

Some of what Levin says is true. Returns are a problem, and publishers have curbed print runs to address this (though print run deflation long pre-dates the 2008 economic meltdown, which Levin blames for much of the publisher evil he describes). Bloated advances--while the exception--are a problem. And if you're an author with lackluster sales, BookScan numbers are indeed something you drag around with you like Marley's chains, and can affect your ability to sell subsequent books. Writing under a new name may fool readers and booksellers--but publishers always know who you are.

But does all of this (and don't forget that famous author flakiness) really turn publishers into haters? Does it really drive them to wage covert warfare on the content suppliers that keep them in business? Does it--as Levin explicitly claims--actually benefit publishers to destroy writers' options and careers? Levin's case might be more compelling if he supported it with real evidence or reasoned argument. But he doesn't. Instead, all he offers is a tautology. Authors are flaky and bad things are happening in publishing. Publishers must hate authors. How do we know? Because authors are flaky and bad things are happening in publishing.

Levin makes some other dubious assertions. Publishers are not, as he claims, moving en masse to "a minimal or even zero advance business model." Publishers don't do "zero marketing"--what, does Levin think they want to lose money? How does this fit with his claim that they're doing all this anti-author stuff in order to protect their profit margins?

Levin also says that publishers are striving to "turn writing into a fungible commodity...[so] they're no longer at the mercy of unruly, unmanageable and unpredictable writers." He neglects, however, to provide any examples of how this is occurring or what form it's taking (not surprising, for such a vague and sweeping claim). And then he invokes this doomsday scenario:
The problem is that [publishers] destroy the uniqueness and creativity that readers expect when they buy a book. As the quality of books diminishes, book buyers are less likely to turn to books the next time they need to get information about a given topic. They'll go to Wikipedia, they'll do a Google search, they'll phone a friend. But they won't buy another book.
Yes, it's the "death of books" meme. (There ought to be some kind of corollary to Godwin's Law for bringing this up in a discussion of publishing.) At which point you just have to shake your head. Plus, Levin appears here to be talking about nonfiction--since readers don't generally turn to fiction to "get information about a given topic." Is he really extrapolating from an opinion about nonfiction to all books everywhere?

Look, the book business is tough. There's an inherently adversarial aspect to the author-publisher relationship, often expressed in contract negotiations. Authors frequently find themselves at the bottom of the food chain, and must struggle to survive and to thrive. Good books fall through the cracks; things go wrong and writers get screwed (we've all heard the horror stories). Not only that--we're in the midst of cataclysmic change.

But publishers don't "hate" authors, and they're not engaging in any shadowy conspiracies to destroy their careers or their creativity. It's absurd to suggest otherwise--not only because it makes no logical or economic sense, but because companies don't have emotions. People have emotions. And if you've ever worked with people in the book business, you'll know how many of them truly love books and writing--and writers, flaky though they be.

But if publishers don't hate authors, authors sure do hate publishers. Whether from angry rejected writers who want to blame anyone but themselves, or self-publishing evangelists eager to dance on traditional publishing's grave, the chorus of publisher-hating is getting louder every day. That's the real message of Levin's bitter screed (though I'm sure he didn't intend it that way). Sadly, it will fall on receptive ears.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Mustering the Courage to Turn Down a Publishing Contract

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've seen a slew of bad publishing contracts lately, which makes this guest blog post by author Kfir Luzatto especially resonant for me. Turning down a publishing offer when you have one in hand is one of the toughest decisions you will ever have to make...but sometimes, if the publisher has a poor reputation or the contract terms are bad, it's the wise thing to do.

To Kfir's good advice, I'd add one nugget of my own: don't wait until after you have a contract in hand to research the publisher. You will save yourself a ton of grief (and, possibly, an agonizing decision process) if you check publishers' reputations before sending off a query.

Scroll down to the bottom of the post for some good resources for checking publishers' reputations, getting feedback from other writers, and learning more about publishing contracts.

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MUSTERING THE COURAGE TO TURN DOWN A PUBLISHING CONTRACT
by Kfir Luzzatto

Only few emotions compare with the elation of an author, who opens an envelope (whether a paper or a virtual one) and reads the beautiful words, “…we would like to publish your novel.” Winning a lottery is probably like it (although I wouldn’t know, I never won one), and some authors have gone as far as to liken it to the birth of their first child.

But sticking to the lottery simile, imagine being asked to “be reasonable and tear the winning ticket up”. To be able to even consider it you must first realize that you’d be tearing up your ticket to hell — but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Love is blind, and your love for your book is blind and deaf and numbs your senses, starting with your common sense. You read that contract and your brain realizes that your future publisher can’t spell (which can’t be a good sign), but your heart refuses to acknowledge it; you skip the payment clauses because you know that there will be no real money there, but what really matters to you is to get the book published, even if it means ignoring all the good advice that you have found posted on Writer Beware and all over the web.

This is the time to sit down and consider all the good reasons for turning that contract down. I’ve been there and done that, so I know it isn’t easy, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do (and a woman too). Here are ten tips to help you through it:

1. When that letter comes in, don’t start calling everybody to brag about it. Don’t tweet it; leave your Facebook status alone. Make extra sure that it is the real thing before you tell the world.

2. Make sure that you have not been offered a vanity publishing contract. If that’s what it is you must simply trash it and stop thinking about it. It doesn't deserve any of your time and emotions. It’s spam and should be treated like it.

3. Be optimistic, but...a pessimist is an experienced optimist, and experience shows that bad contracts float around in droves, so yours may turn out to be one of those. Start your review of the contract with a low level of expectation.

4. Check out the expected publication date. If the contract speaks of publication in one or two years, take time to consider your options; what’s the rush anyway?

5. Now that you have calmed down and realize that not all that glitters may be gold, do yourself a favor and analyze the contract taking advantage of the many useful resources available on the web, for instance, here.

6. Take advice from others. Writing can be a very solitary endeavor, but if you’ve been at it for a while and have developed relationships with other authors, listen to what they have to say about the publisher, a clause that you find jarring and anything else that you may want to ask them.

7. It is not uncommon for new authors to submit to numerous publishers taken from lists found on the web, which may be old and outdated, or simply not based on much insight into the business of those listed. If you haven’t researched this particular publisher really thoroughly before submitting, now is the time to do it. If you find off-putting references to it on the web it may make your decision to turn the contract down much easier.

8. Think positively. Notwithstanding the bad contract, the publisher in most cases is not a scammer and he really liked your work, which means that your novel is worthy and perhaps you can place it with a better publisher, who will offer you a reasonable contract.

9. Realize that this is not a failure — it’s your decision. You and you alone have the power over the fate of your work. Just like you wouldn’t send your kid to a bad school because it is a couple of blocks closer to your home, you are not sending your brain child to a bad publisher simply because he’s the first one who sent you a contract.

10. Remind yourself that each battle of wills between your brain and your heart is a big stop on the learning curve of the writing business. You will emerge from it a better and stronger author.

But then, you may worry, what happens if this is the only contract offer I’ll ever get? Won't I feel as if I have wasted my only chance?

Heck, no! If you believe in your work you know that other, better opportunities will come along. And if you don't believe in it, what’s the purpose of publishing it anyway?

Kfir Luzzatto is the author of five published novels and several short stories. You can read his blog at www.kfirluzzatto.com and follow him on Twitter at @KfirLuzzatto.

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HELPFUL RESOURCES

Publisher Cautions and Checking Reputations:
Publishing Contract Resources:
Writer Beware Blog Posts on Contract Issues:

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

PASSION BLUE Release and Giveaway!

Posted by Victoria Strauss

We don't often do self-promotion here at Writer Beware--but yesterday was publication day for my young adult historical fantasy Passion Blue--a novel of art, astrology, and romance set in Renaissance Italy.

I'm incredibly excited to have it out there in the world at last, and for the wonderful reviews it has been receiving (Kirkus gave it a star). It's published for the older teen market, but it has plenty of crossover appeal for adults (as indeed do a lot of YA books these days).

I've got a blog tour scheduled for November, with interviews, guest posts, giveaways, and more--the full schedule is posted at my website. I'll be posting links daily on my personal blog.

I'm also conducting a giveaway to celebrate Passion Blue's release. You can enter to win one of 3 great prize packs: a signed hardcover, Passion Blue swag, and a $25 Amazon gift card. Please feel free to post the giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, etc., or to feature it on your blog. Thanks so much!


Amazon Children’s Publishing
ISBN: 978-0761462309


Hardcover: $17.99
Ebook: $3.99

Order from Amazon
Order from Barnes & Noble
Order from IndieBound

Download an excerpt

Be sure you know your true heart’s desire, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive.

This is the warning the Astrologer-Sorcerer gives Giulia when she pays him to create a magical talisman for her. The scorned illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, Giulia is determined to defy the dire fate predicted by her horoscope, and use the talisman to claim what she believes is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs–not likely prospects for a girl about to be packed off to the cloistered world of a convent.

But the convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises. There are strict rules, long hours of work, and spiteful rivalries…but there’s also friendship, and the biggest surprise of all: a workshop of female artists who produce paintings of astonishing beauty, using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion blue. Yet even as Giulia begins to learn the mysteries of the painter’s craft, the magic of the talisman is at work, and a forbidden romance beckons her down a path of uncertainty and danger. She is haunted by the sorcerer’s warning, and by a question: does she really know the true compass of her heart?

Set in Renaissance Italy, this richly imagined novel about a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into a fascinating, exotic world where love, faith, and art inspire passion–of many different hues.

PRAISE FOR PASSION BLUE
 
A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion.
- Kirkus (starred review, editor’s pick for Fall 2012) 

Vividly set during the 15th-century Italian Renaissance, Strauss’s novel has a strong and thoroughly likable heroine who is only one of many well-developed female characters.
- School Library Journal 

Giulia’s unusual story is sure to capture readers’ attention.
- Publishers Weekly 

I don’t just like Passion Blue, I love it...I simply galloped through it.
- Jane Yolen, author of The Devil’s Arithmetic

Strauss combines the spiritual with a hint of the supernatural to tell a story about a girl’s journey to both freedom and passion. A lovely read.
- Megan Whalen Turner, author of The Queen’s Thief series 

An elegant retelling of that old, crucial story of finding one’s place in the world, set against a vivid evocation of the Italian Renaissance.
- Robin McKinley, author of The Hero and the Crown

A glimpse of 15th century Italian life as sure-handed and brilliantly illuminated as the work of a Renaissance master…Passion Blue is both a soul-felt journey and a triumphant work of art.
- Meredith Ann Pierce, author of the Darkangel Trilogy 

A lush, vibrant read that is utterly transporting.
- Lesley Livingston, author of the Wondrous Strange series

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Authors Guild Statement on Penguin-Random House Merger

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The following statement was sent by the Authors Guild to its members on Sunday. The Guild labels the proposed merger between Penguin and Random House (which would create the world's largest publisher) "unsettling," and urges "close scrutiny from antitrust officials at the Justice Department or the FTC."

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Here’s our storm-delayed member alert on last Monday’s unsettling announcement that Random House and Penguin, the two largest trade book publishers in the U.S., are merging.

Although Random House has said that the combination would control 25% of the book market, that appears to significantly understate things. The companies’ share of the U.S. trade book market for fiction and narrative non-fiction likely exceeds 35%. Their share in certain submarkets is no doubt even higher. The merger merits close scrutiny from antitrust officials at the Justice Department or the FTC.

While the companies discuss the cost savings from this merger through consolidating warehousing and other operations, those potential efficiencies for such large publishers are probably minor.  Economies of scale only go so far. The business logic of creating Penguin Random House would appear to have much more to do with the ongoing restructuring of the book industry. Barnes & Noble is now the sole brick-and-mortar giant; Amazon’s hold on online bookselling is more solid than ever.

“Survival of the largest appears to be the message here,” said Scott Turow, Authors Guild president. “Penguin Random House, our first mega-publisher, would have additional negotiating leverage with the bookselling giants, but that leverage would come at a high cost for the literary market and therefore for readers. There are already far too few publishers willing to invest in nonfiction authors, who may require years to research and write histories, biographies, and other works, and in novelists, who may need the help of a substantial publisher to effectively market their books to readers.”

We’ll keep you updated on developments in this matter.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Alert: Screenplay Replay Contest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


It's right there in the logo of the Screenplay Replay Contest: the come-on."Where Your Winning Script Gets a Publishing Deal."

Here's more:
In today's competitive script marketplace, adaptation is king. From The Hunger Games to The Help to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an incalculable number of blockbuster scripts started their lives as successful books.

So why not give your own spec screenplay a second life as a novel?

Screenplay Replay is an international competition calling for submissions of complete full-length screenplays in any genre. From these entries, one lucky winner will be chosen by our panel of esteemed judges to work with a successful ghostwriter to adapt his or her screenplay into a novel, which will be published through an imprint of F+W Media, and sold through major distribution channels.

This is a life-changing opportunity to become a published author, enjoying an income stream from your book's royalties!
So, which imprint of F+W Media? The contest guidelines don't say (they also don't name the judges who'll be picking the winner, or the "successful ghostwriter" who'll be adapting the screenplay). Could it be Adams Media? Or F+W Crime? Or Writer's Digest Books? Or any of F+W's many other genuine publishing imprints?

Or could it be Abbott Press, the self-publishing division of Writer's Digest, outsourced by WD to the much-criticized Author Solutions Inc.?

There are some highly suggestive indications that this is so. Abbott Press is listed as the contest's sponsor, and it is the provider of all the additional prizes, which consist of Abbott Press publishing packages for four runners-up, and discounts on Abbot Press publishing packages for 25 finalists.

But indications are not fact--so I contacted Writers Store, where the contest is posted, to find out. Their response:
To our knowledge here at the store, yes it will be Abbott Press who publishes the winner.
Which makes the come-on for Screenplay Replay absolutely the most deceptive I've encountered recently. Abbott Press is not an "imprint" of F+W. An Abbott Press package is not a "publishing deal." I think the chances are good that this isn't even an F+W contest, but an Author Solutions contest (does F+W know its name is being used this way?), designed in large part to draw in new customers. Given ASI's reputation for hard-sell, cold-call solicitations, what are the odds that all contest entrants will be urged to buy Abbott Press packages? Pretty good, I'd say.

Oh, and did I mention that the entry fee ranges from $50 to $100, depending on when you enter?

The last entry deadline was October 31. I deeply regret that I didn't find out about this contest earlier, and that this post comes too late to be a warning. It is, however, yet more evidence of ASI's sleazy promotional tactics--and yet another demonstration of the fact that spending big bucks to enter contests is rarely a good use of writers' money.

EDITED 11/3 TO ADD: In a comment on this post, Jesse Douma, Screenwriting Community Leader for F+W Media and The Writers Store, says this:
The winning entry will be published through an F+W Media imprint and not through our sponsor's self publish channel. The exact imprint will be determined by the genre of the winning entry.
I've posted a response requesting definite confirmation that the staffer who responded to my email was mistaken, and asking whether the contest originated with The Writers Store or with ASI/Abbott Press.