Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Déjà vu in the Middle East

Are you experiencing déjà vu? As I watch the news and see Israel invading southern Lebanon, I can’t help but feel we’re reliving history. Wasn’t it just about twenty-four years ago that this happened the first time? And the US got involved in a peacekeeping mission that ended, essentially, when the marine barracks got blown up in 1983. Will we go down this road again? I’m betting we will, unless, of course, we decide to let the Europeans step in this time. The French have a long history in Lebanon also. Perhaps, since we didn’t allow them to go into Iraq, they’d like to go back to Lebanon and stand in the way of the hundreds of rockets that are falling on Israel every day.

I notice that the news seems much more focused on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon than on the attacks Israel is undergoing. So, let’s recap events here for a second:

  1. Hezbollah runs most of southern Lebanon as its own fiefdom, with the Lebanese government doing nothing to stop them.

  2. Hezbollah launches years of random rocket attacks and border attacks against Israel, with minimal Israeli response (since the pullout from Lebanon years ago, at the UN’s urging).

  3. Hezbollah crosses into Israel and kidnaps two Israeli soldiers.

  4. THEN Israel starts airstrikes on Beirut, hoping to prevent the movement of the soldiers to Iran or Syria and to cripple communications between Hezbollah and those enemy governments.

Imagine for a second that the Mexican government abdicated responsibility for its own border and allowed a terrorist group to start launching random rockets against San Diego. What would the US do? Damn right! We’d invade that entire country. We’d put F-18s into the air and A-10 Warthogs and we’d find those rocket sites and blow them up. We might even create a DMZ that’s ten or 100 miles deep to prevent further attacks. And if the terrorists came across our border in the night and kidnapped two of our guys and the Mexican government said, “Sorry, we can’t help,” do you think we would sit idly by? Of course not.

But should we put US Marines back in Lebanon? Tough call, frankly. But if you want a glimpse of what it was like the first time around, read Distant Valor, by C.X. Moreau. It’s a novel, but it’s one of those novels that you know rings true, written by someone who was there. It was last republished by ibooks, which is now bankrupt, so finding a copy may be a challenge, but check your library for the prior Forge Books hardcover, or buy it used It’s also still available from Brilliance as an audio book. You won’t regret reading this powerful novel that Kirkus described as “A haunting slice of military life that unsparingly catalogues the risks, rewards, pain, and joys of casting one's lot with warriors.” And we all know how tough Kirkus is, so this must be a good read!

Z

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Handy New Tool for Authors and Agents

As a small business owner, I find that I have to be my own tech support guru, janitor, and chief bottle washer. Interestingly enough, this has resulted in friends of mine at major corporations calling me up with questions on how to do things in Microsoft Word or Outlook. Not that I necessarily know more than their Help Desk guys, but I tend to return calls faster.

Which brings me to a bit of an advertisement. I have been using a program called Message Tag (MSGTAG) for a while now and I have to admit I like it. There’s a free version and a couple of versions you can buy. I just bought the big version and actually signed up to become an affiliate, which means if you click the link and buy it, I get a fee. The same is true if you click through to Amazon.com from my site or on one of those Google ads. I find that it helps pay for the cost of my website over the year and, well, why shouldn’t I make a buck if there’s a buck to be made?

Which brings me back to MSGTAG and why I think it’s something for authors and agents to consider.

I make the majority of my submissions by email. Now, I could use Outlook’s Read Receipt, but users can turn that off or refuse it. They can’t do the same with MSGTAG. It’s automatic and, well, beyond their control. Yes, I’m aware that some people find that intrusive, but to me, it’s a way to confirm safe receipt of an email without worrying or making a follow-up call. So this actually saves me and the editor on the other end some time and aggravation.

There are agents who take email submissions (I’m not one of them, but they are out there) and this system will let an author know if their query by email was received and read, without having to bother the agent. Too often, I send off a submission and find out months later that the editor never got it. MSGTAG Status gives you a dashboard that shows which of your emails have been read and which have not. And those are the folks I can now give a call and ask to check their spam folder for the submission, or otherwise just check their email for my submission.

Sold? Then click on the image below and check it out.



Z

The Dastardly Deep Discount

I said yesterday that I was going to write more about deep-discount clauses and so here I am.

Whenever a publisher makes an offer to an author, the general approach is to promise the following royalties:

10% on the first 5,000 copies sold; 12 ½% on the next 5,000 copies sold; 15% thereafter

These royalties are based on such things as the “retail price” or the “Suggested Customer Price.”  In other words, the price actually printed on the book.

What no editor in history (I believe) has ever said while making an offer is the following:  “Of course, we won’t be paying those royalties on all copies.  Just on the ones that we sell for lower-than-average discounts.  Once the discount gets above 50% or so, we’ll cut that in half, or change it to 10% of the ‘amount received’ or we’ll subtract from the author one-half of the difference between the discount granted and 48%.”

Just in case this isn’t clear, let’s clarify.  If you could get your hands on the average publisher’s discount schedule, i.e., the document that says if you buy one copy of one book you get this discount, but if you buy ten copies of ten different books, you get a much higher discount, you’d find that most publishers have an “average” discount on hardcover books just under 50% or so.  This, of course, is why bookstores can give you, the reader, such a great discount.  They get that $25.00 hardcover book for around $12.50, then sell it to you for $17.50, or a 28% or so profit.  But it gets better for the bookseller.  And, of course, worse for the author.

The more books a bookseller buys, the deeper the discount.  And, in many cases, the fewer books they return to publishers for credit, the deeper more the discount can be, as an incentive to not return too many books.

Thus, this is why in some cases an author can receive a royalty statement in which 85% of all sales are at a reduced royalty.

Now what’s to be done about this?  Well, a savvy agent can try and limit the number of copies that can be accounted for—versus sold—at the reduced royalty. So, yes, the publisher can sell 85% of the books at a 56% discount, but can only account for 50% of the books at a lower royalty.  Because, after all, an author has no control over discount and, more importantly, deep-discount sales should be the exception, not the norm.

What can you, as a reader, do about this?  Well, probably not a lot.  Are you going to stop shopping at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com?  If you are willing to do that, then find your local small, independent bookseller and buy your books there.  Visit the Booksense website at http://www.booksense.com/ to find one.  You can even search for a store that will let you buy your books online.  Chances are that a smaller independent is not buying enough copies to qualify for truly “deep” discounts and thus sales by them are likely accounted for at the full royalty to the author.

And if you are the author, well, read your royalty statements closely and be sure to question if you see a large number of copies at less than your full royalty.  In one case, such a question resulted in an additional payment of $8,000 to one of my clients!

Z

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Pleasant Surprise...


Well, this was a pleasant surprise. The other day a box of books showed up. Simple enough, I know, but the reality is that I not only wasn’t expecting this box, but when I opened it up, I wasn’t expecting this book. You see, this was a box of the trade-paperback edition of
Promise of Glory, by C.X. Moreau.

Originally published in hardcover in 2000, this book was published more than two years later as a mass-market paperback. Now, nearly four years after that, and almost six full years after hardcover publication, there’s a trade-paperback.

This presents an interesting lesson in the publishing business. Publishers often struggle to know the “right” format in which to publish a book. Generally speaking, if you think a book will sell and review well, you publish in hardcover. Then you publish in paperback, to get those sales in markets that don’t generally sell hardcovers (airport bookstands, drugstores, many supermarkets, etc.). Trade-paperbacks are often saved for “literary” works or, more often, “backlist” titles.

What’s a backlist title, you ask? Well, that’s a book that publishers feel they can sell a certain number of copies every single year. It may be a cookbook, a book on parenting, or a work of literary fiction. By publishing in trade-paperback, you spend about the same money on paper, printing and binding as you do a mass-market, but you get to charge more and thus make more money. Don’t worry, the author makes more money too, since the royalty earned is based on the higher cover price.

Now, I admit that I was never notified that the publisher was issuing Promise of Glory in trade-paperback, but I’m not terribly concerned. It would have been nice to have been notified, so that I could tell the audio publisher and that publisher could have done a new push to the accounts, but the audio publishers should be reading publisher’s catalogues and have that information, I think. Meanwhile, Amazon and bn.com tend to link different editions together, so users should be able to find them all.

Meanwhile, if you pick up this book and enjoy it, I highly recommend the first book by C.X. Moreau,
Distant Valor, particularly since it looks like we might be getting back into a military presence in Beirut!

Z

Here's a Killer Deal for You...




I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse....

Just out from St. Martin’s Minotaur imprint is the third in Sheryl Anderson’s terrific mystery
series featuring intrepid and well-dressed reporter Molly Forrester, Killer Deal. This is a wonderful follow-up to her prior two novels, Killer Heels and Killer Cocktail, so how can you refuse that?



“You need a body. A really cool dead body . . .”

Molly Forrester’s best friends know exactly what the Zeitgeist magazine advice columnist needs to prove herself as a true journalist. And when Manhattan advertising maverick Garth Henderson is murdered, she just might finally get that chance with this juicy assignment: an exclusive interview with Gwen Lincoln, the victim’s ex-wife and the prime suspect.

Was it a crime of passion---or something more? Manhattan’s business circles are buzzing with rumors that it’s related to Garth’s buyout of a rival advertising firm. Or infighting among “The Harem,” his six beautiful, talented, and ruthlessly competitive creative directors. Or fashion designer Emile Trebask, Garth’s one-time client and now Gwen’s business partner.

As if solving the ad world’s most notorious murder on deadline wasn’t enough, Molly must contend with a fickle editor with her own agenda, a best friend colliding head-on with true love, and ex-boyfriend Peter Mulcahy trying to worm his way into her story and back into her life. Will it all be too much for Molly’s current boyfriend, NYPD homicide detective Kyle Edwards?

Determined to catch the killer and beat the competition, Molly Forrester digs in her four-inch Jimmy Choos because there’s no turning back. In Manhattan, when you strike a deal, you see it through. Even if it kills you.

Just in time for your summer reading pleasure,
Killer Deal is a thrilling, high-spirited novel to while away those hours on the beach.

Z


Oy, My Aching Head

Oy, my aching head. Why, you ask, is my head aching. Well, I just tried to read ISBNs for Dummies, a guide to the changing format of the ISBN.

For those not familiar, the ISBN is the Social Security Number of the book world. Each edition of each book has an individual ISBN. Take my client Patrick O’Donnell’s book, BEYOND VALOR:

The hardcover ISBN is 0684873842.
The hardcover Large Print ISBN is 0786234334.
The paperback ISBN is 0684873850.
The Abridged Audio CD ISBN is 0553714325.
The Abridged Audio Cassette ISBN is 055352805X.
The Adobe and Microsoft Reader eBook ISBNs aren’t listed on Amazon, but there is one for each, I assure you.
The same can be said for the Audible digital download.

Now, keep in mind that’s for a modestly successful nonfiction work. Think of how many different editions of Harry Potter there must be. And each one has an ISBN that’s ten-digits long. Now think what it will take to make every one of those thirteen-digits long and that every system in publishing will have to deal retroactively with the ten-digit format.

Each country has an “issuing organization” that hands out ISBNs. In our country, it’s actually part of R.R. Bowker, a large data-mining firm that publishes a lot of the directories you find in libraries.

Now, the reason I, as an agent, find this transition a bit terrifying is that publishers calculate royalties based on sales, and sales are reported with ISBNs! Just as everything in your life related to your taxes is tied to your Social Security Number, so is everything related to an author’s sales and royalties tied to ISBNs.

Now, it’s not like publishers haven’t had a while to plan for this. In fact, I found an entire website, including a PDF download, for how to deal with the ISBN transition. It’s located at
http://www.isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/transition.asp. But think about Y2K and what a headache it was for companies to change from a two-digit year format (01-01-99) to a four-digit format (01-01-2006). Imagine what a small publisher that has an old royalty system will have to go through to start accurately reporting using thirteen digits instead of ten. Imagine what a large company with an inflexible system might face.

So, a word to the wise author. Start reading your royalty statements closely. Look at each title you have and figure out what your average sales per period are. And if your first statement with a thirteen-digit ISBN shows sales that are not in line with prior periods, request a reconciliation to print or, better yet, do an AUDIT.

I wonder, in fact, if this transition will result in dozens or hundreds more authors conducting royalty audits.

Did you know that very, very, very few publishers ever get audited by authors? Why is this? In part, it’s because audits are expensive for authors. Yet the VP of one publishing house told me of a larger, well established literary agency that hired a forensic accountant and started conducting audits (perhaps if you are a larger enough firm, you can hire someone on salary and not pay huge, hourly fees). The results were, I’m told, thousands upon thousands of dollars in additional royalties. And, of course, in such a case, the cost of the audit would be for the publisher to pay.

Further, I was told that the major discrepancy found related to the deep discount clause. I’m going to write more about the dreaded deep discount clause in the coming days, so stay tuned....

Z