20 Jun

Bundles

Let’s talk for a moment about one of the more interesting innovations that have come about in this digital age: specifically, bundles.

You know what I’m point at, right? These are gatherings of otherwise disparate books or stories into a single entity that the reader then picks up as a single entity. Given that indie publishers are the ones doing most of the innovation in the industry these days, they’re mostly from that group—small publishers with great books and who can move quickly.

Early Days: “The Boxed Set”

When they first started, these indie publishers didn’t even realize they were doing anything unique. We even called them “boxed sets.”

That’s how I thought of my first bundles—which are the way I gathered my Saga of the God-Touched Mage. That’s how it all started. Indie authors putting out segments of their series for broader consumption, and thereby enabling themselves to pass on savings to their avid readers by lowering the overall prices. (the pricing structure of the Saga for example, makes buying the whole package cheaper if you do it at once, and effectively provides me about the same revenue.

Then, Working Together, Bundles!

It didn’t take those folks who thought outside the box long before they were seeing new opportunities. Shared sets, right? Each of ten authors drop a book into a single package, one of them do all the production work, and Bam! You’ve got a totally new thing. Authors loved it because it exposed them to new readers. Readers loved it because it expose them to new authors, often on the super cheap. Ninety-nine books for $.99? Even if you don’t read ninety0seven of them, that’st a helliva deal!

This idea came with lots of administrative heartache on the backside, though. Somehow one of the publishers had to take the lead, push all the publishing buttons, and most importantly, handle money.

This is not a lot of fun.

Enter Service Providers

The obvious happened, of course. Seeing opportunity, bundling companies grew up almost overnight. Services like StoryBundle (where I have a novel in the current Moonscapes bundle), and BundleRabbit (where I have a work in the Beneath the Waves bundle). Both of these have been around for a couple y ears now (a long time in indie publishing time), and lots of interesting things are happening with them. I think it’s mostly due to the business models that each are innovating.

Let me look at both real quick-like.

Moonscapes:

The StoryBundle model works on high-profile packages that are available for only a short time. It also appeals to socially conscious folks because it lets readers choose to support great charities. Moonscapes, for example:

  • Includes Kevin Anderson, Kristine Kathryn Rucsh, Matt Buchman, and Dean Wesley Smith, all writers with a high public profile. It also has me, Maggie Jaimison, Lisa Silverthorne, Annie Reed, and Blaze Ward, all writers who have indie published audiences, and some like me with a foot in the traditional short story markets.
    Gives readers the ability to control their costs by selecting how much they are willing to pay for the bundle.
  • Opens a gate to fund AbleGamers.org, a fantastic charity that is helping disabled gamers be able to enjoy this highly important social activity with their families and friends.
  • And is only available for two more days—meaning if you want to pick up these 10 great books, you can’t wait much longer.

It’s a fantastic bundle, and as you can probably imagine given the quality of the bundle itself, has been doing quite well.

Did I mention you have only two more days to get it? [grin]


buy-now2
Get the Moonscapes Bundle Before June 22 Or It’s Too Late!


Beneath the Waves:

black-marker-beneath-waves

BundleRabbit has a similar dynamic regarding pricing. It also allows readers to support charities to the degree they want. But BundleRabbit has considerable differences in in the background in that (to me) it’s more of a curator’s marketplace than StoryBundle, allowing curators to gather stories and manage the production process. BundleRabbit is also considerably different in that it’s focused on the concept of the long-tail, meaning the bundles are available for long spans of time. Given this viewpoint, Bundle Rabbit has worked with distributors like Amazon and Kobo to make their bundles available through those paths. This gives their bundles a broader feel. It also gives curators a lot of room to innovate even further.

[open disclaimer here, in case it’s necessary. I know Chuck Heintzelman, BR’s proprietor, and we chat about stuff on occasion. I don’t think I’m doing anything to push folks one way or another here, but if you think so, there’s the root of whatever bias I might be showing!]

Beneath the Waves, for example, consists of 20 short stories. So in that sense, it’s a digital anthology. Since it’s going to be available for some time, the pricing has been set to be only $.99 until June 24. After that, the bundle will “jump” to $2.99. Both of these are great deals, of course (and you can always pay more if you want to support the authors, or a charity…which BundleRabbit also features). But BundleRabbit’s model provides this opportunity, whereas StoryBundle’s ticking clock model drives it’s sales pressure.

Did I mention, Beneath the Waves is $.99 for only the next few days?


buy-now2
Get the Beneath the Waves Bundle Before, Like the Tide, the Price Rises!


Yes, I thought I did. [grin again]

And This Isn’t The End

I think you’re going to see a lot of indie publishers working these bundles in a lot of different ways in the next year or two. Groups like The Uncollected Anthology (which I’ve been a part of in the past) are beginning to play with bundles in new ways. Dean Smith and Kris Rusch are putting on a week-long creative workshop on how to think about curating, creating, and marketing bundles—and I’m betting that workshop alone will create some kind of new idea that will change something in some fashion that no one can predict until it happens … at which point it will be obvious that twist was coming.

What you don’t see happening right now is bundling with Traditional Publishers. That’s the thing, you see? For a multitude of reasons, indies can move fast. Much faster than traditional publishers. Sure, traditional publishers will always do single-author “Boxed Sets.” And traditional publishing knows how to do fixed anthologies and collaborations. But the bundle world is an interesting twist, and I don’t think traditional publishers have figured out how to make money doing it.

Yet, anyway.

But there is money to make, and I’m expecting that sometime you’ll see traditional publishing figuring something out.

Of course, by then indies will be doing something else.

Because that’s how this works, you see?

If you’re paying very close attention, you’ll note that I have avoided using the term “writer” in this conversation. That’s because when I’m thinking about bundles, I’m doing my best to stop thinking like a writer. I’m trying to think like a publisher. The biggest problem I think a lot of writers have in this conversion, especially those who came up in the “old days” (and among those people I include me), is that the fact is that there is no such thing as an independent writer. Or, maybe the better way of saying this is that unless a writer is working directly for a company (*), that writer is, by definition, an independent. In that way, all writers are independent entities, and that has always been true.


(*) by “working for a company,” I do not mean you have a contract with DAW or TOR or whoever. If you enter a book contract as an independent writer, you are still an independent writer. You are, however, constrained to live by the contract you independently signed. If you sign an employment contract with one of those publishers, then you are no longer an independent writer. This may seem a bit pedantic at all, but to my mind is it not at all. All independent writers have the ability to sign away as much of their independence as they are willing to give a publisher, and sometimes, when they aren’t paying attention, a lot more.

The difference, though, is that writers who going it alone are now also working as independent publishers. And that’s totally different.

As I recently said to a friend: The great thing about publishing my longer work independently is that I get to make all the decisions. The bad thing about publishing my work independently is that I have to make all the decisions. [one big, final grin]

It helps, though, if you find these things fascinating. Which, of course, I do.

And in that light, bundles are an extremely interesting tool.

Aren’t they?

So, What are Bundles, really?

If nothing else, they’re giving readers more options and more ways to find writers. in a sense, they are mini-bookstores, right? I mean, think about it from the view of the old brick and mortar bookstore shopper. If you were like me, you went in, looked for authors you knew, grabbed a few of those, and then your eye would get caught by something different. By whatever random chance of book stacking and marketing gimmick, your eye would fall on something else that kind of looked like something you would like. You would glance at the cover, maybe read a few lines, and next thing you knew that book was being read.

Sounds a lot like what happens with a bundle, doesn’t it?

So, yeah. I like that.

What is a bundle?

Well, it’s a mini-book store. Or, if you prefer, it’s a portable shelf in a bookstore, filled edge to edge with stuff a specific reader wants to read.

Pretty cool.

20 Feb

On the Pulling of Milo’s Book

Some years back I was talking to an editor. At the time I was a pretty bright-faced newbie. We were discussing the job of acquisition editors—in other words, the choices publishers make in deciding what books they buy and what books they don’t.

The guy described the final assessment as this: “If we can make money, we’ll publish it.”

That was it. It didn’t matter about content. Write about anything you want to write about. Drugs, violence, perversion, sex, mother, fathers, assholes, brilliance, human sacrifice, how to vivisection a mouse, mah jong…whatever, and the only question on his mind was how much money the publisher could make from it.

I remember this disturbed me. And, to be fair, it disturbed the editor, too. He understood what that was saying about the moral position of the company he worked for. Of course, that’s the moral position of every company in existence. Companies are not people. Companies, when pushed into a corner, will almost unanimously make decisions that result in them acquiring the most money. This is what they do.

Note, though, that through it all, the editor in question was clear and adamant that this was not about freedom of speech and not about censorship. The concept that the content itself made no difference in the decision was something he was quite committed to, and he would brook no argument on these kinds of political grounds. “We do not censor,” he specifically said. “We, frankly, do not care about anything except how much money we think we can make with a book.”

I’m thinking about this today specifically due to the news that Simon and Schuster has cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos’s controversial book Dangerous, for which he was paid a quarter of a million dollars in advance of royalties.

I have no idea of what’s going on in the background of this decision. I have no idea of the discussions that Simon and Schuster have had. I understand Yiannopoulos has been found to have made comments regarding activities that most everyone would consider to be in support of pedophilia. It’s easy to link the two and say S&S suddenly got some kind of an ethical backbone and decided Yiannopoulos had finally gone just way too far.

But seriously, all I could do when I heard this comment was remember the pained look on this guy’s face as he said “We don’t care.”

So, yeah, maybe S&S made a moral or ethical decision.

But the fact that Simon and Shuster already gave Yiannopoulos a quarter million dollars says they do not censor. That fact alone says they do not care. So the fact that they are taking back that quarter of a mil tells me that something else happened–something that almost certainly has more to do with the pocket book than any reflection in any mirror. My purely wild-assed guess is that someone with big pockets called someone else and threatened to pull a plug somewhere else.

But what the heck do I know?

23 May

Rules #3 and #5

Today I got to partake in Heinlein’s Rules #3 and #5. For those of you who read my little bloggy thing and are unfamiliar with Heinlein’s Rules, these are five simple but difficult pieces of advice given by (naturally) Robert A. Heinlein. They consist of:

– – – – – – –

1.) You must write.
2.) You must finish what you write.
3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4.) You must put the work on the market.
5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

– – – – – – –

#3 is, of course, the most controversial—but that is “merely” because people often have difficulty coming to a place where they can be comfortable the simplification inherent in the idea. The point, for me, is to work on the piece until you believe in it, and then let it go.

Here are two good takes on the idea from Charlie Jane Anders and Robert J. Sawyer.

Anyway.

Today I got back copy edits on my short story “Blind Leaps” (which I think is slated to run in a soon-to-be released anthology (that I’ll announce for sure if/when it makes proper sense). There is no contract on this, yet, though. So one shall never say anything is absolute until such things as ink dries on a contracts…and even then, one never says never until such thing as a book appears!). These were turned around promptly. Yes, this is a weak application of the rule, but it still applies at present. No contract, no guarantee.

In addition, earlier I had received an invitation to submit a rewrite on a story, complete with a bit of discussion on why the editor was left dissatisfied. I looked at his comments, looked at the story, and said “you know, Ron, he’s right.” So I broke my expected plan for the day and gave a couple hours to an actual rewrite of a previously submitted story, and turned it back around to the requesting editor.

The work was not hard. The story was not long (but it’s longer now).

There are some out there who might say “of course you would submit a rewrite to an editor that suggested they would look at one.” And in general, that’s true. But not 100% of the time. If I didn’t agree with the comments, I wouldn’t have done the work. If I hadn’t agreed with them, I would have moved right on down to #5 and submitted it elsewhere.  I have two reasons to think that way. The first is that this is my work, and I have to believe in it. The second is that even with this request, there is no guarantee. It’s always quite possible the editor will look at my effort and still not like it, so if I spent the time to fix it to some editorial spec that I didn’t agree with I would be stuck in limbo if the story comes back.

So, yeah, edit to editorial request—but only when you agree with it.

See how that works?

#

I note, however, that I chose to give about half the day to this larger rewrite. This is half a day that I could have used on something else, and in fact had already planned to use on something else (which has now been pushed back a bit).

Hence the rule.

20 May

The Stones, via Salon

I love reading about Exile on Main Street almost as much as I love listening to it. As a few of you know, my short story “Tumbling Dice,” which was written as part of an Oregon Coast Workshop and subsequently published by Analog last year, was essentially a retelling of that album–or at least heavily influenced by it.

If you’re a fan of the Rolling Stones, you’ll want to read this entire article. Because, well … because it’s about the Stones and about their situation and their art and all that good stuff.

If you’re a writer, or anyone else in the “entertainment” industry, you’ll at least want to read through and think about this little gem:

“Mick slipped into the room, wearing a green tweed suit,” Loewenstein goes on.“We sat and talked for an hour or so. It was a good, long chat. His manner was careful. The essence of what he told me was,‘I have no money. None of us have any money.’ Given the success of the Stones, he could not understand why none of the money they were expecting was even trickling down to the band members.”

It took Loewenstein eighteen months to untangle the contracts and deals. He explained the problem to the band in 1970: Klein advised you to incorporate in the United States for tax purposes; as this new company was given the same name as your British concern— Nanker Phelge (named after their old Edith Grove housemate)— you’ve assumed it’s the same company; it’s not. The American Nanker Phelge is owned by Allen Klein; you are his employees. Royalties, publishing fees—all of it belongs to Klein, who can pay you as he sees fit. This also gives Klein ownership of just about every one of your songs. “They were completely in the hands of a man who was like an old-fashioned Indian moneylender,” Loewenstein writes, “who takes everything and only releases to others a tiny sliver of income, before tax.”

Jagger was humiliated, ashamed. Here was the smartest rocker, the LSE student, being taken in a game of three-card monte.

This was the root cause of their entire tax exile situation, and as such stands as a great cautionary tale for the whole “be careful of what you sign,” thing that Kris Rusch is in the process of deconstructing on her blog now.

22 Apr

What do you do about piracy?

TLDR Version: Ron’s Basic Piracy Policy:

If you are struggling financially, if the idea of spending the price of a book gives you that ugly feeling down in the pit of your stomach and that feeling driving you to go to the pirate sites for free books, send me a note (ron*at*typosphere.com) telling me what book you want. Unless I am contractually constrained otherwise, I’ll gladly provide you one.


A writer buddy of mine asked me what I do about piracy.

In that conversation, he said he was thinking about changing his release approach to address possible loss of sales (putting print out before ebooks, etc.). DRM is a weak protection, he said (which is true). In a lot of ways publishing, and indie publishing in particular, can feel like you’re sitting in a leaky lifeboat and watching the sharks circle.

This reminded me that I had planned on posting my own piracy statement here. So that’s what I’ll do at the end of this note.

Piracy is, of course, a pretty big deal at the end of the day. But, it’s also a question that comes up a lot when I talk to newer writers and almost never when I’m with people who already write for a living. Some of that difference is almost certainly a factor of experienced writers being okay with the fact that you can still swim in an ocean that has sharks. Some of that difference is probably that traditional authors have their publisher’s legal folks to help them. Some of that difference is probably that a lot of indie publishers have already started to use “free” as effective marketing approaches, so they’ve bucketed the threat that these pirates have in a different way than others.

I should start, though, with my own personal “mission statement,” as it were: All I’m really trying to do is write stories that matter, and develop a loyal following.

That’s it. So every time I take effort away from those two things, I’m probably losing something.

I should also say that I do not publish my own work under DRM. I also give a lot of my work away for free at times.

Also, it’s good to note that my basic make-up (hence, my approach and policy) says that a truly loyal following will appreciate my work and be willing to pay for it in the end, even if they can’t afford it right now. I intend to write good books for a lot of years, and I want readers to enjoy the act of paying for them (which most actually do). Sometimes, that means I get to enjoy giving them away for free—but when I do, it’s always with the idea that I’m going to benefit in the end. Think win-win, you know? Most people believe creators “deserve” to get paid for their work.

Finally, as a traditionally published short story writer, and an indie publisher of longer works, I have a very limited legal staff. [grin] This means that I am both financially and time strapped when it comes to fending off the sharks. It means I need to focus on priorities (hence, when in doubt, get thee back to the mission statement).

I realize, however, that I’m a person, so my mind can change. This is how I feel today…but it’s how I’ve felt for some time, so I doubt it will change too much. Shrug.

I find that keeping all of this in mind is helpful when I think about piracy, because, while I get my ego hurt when someone gets something from me for free that I didn’t offer them directly, for the most part it allows me to let it go and focus on the game I’m playing rather than divert a lot of energy into places that don’t move me forward.

With that out of the way, let me get to my thoughts and base policy regarding pirates themselves—which I tend to split into three different groups:

Publishing pirates
“Information wants to be free” pirates
“Can’t afford to pay anything” pirates

Publishing Pirates:

Publishing pirates are the people who steal my work and put it on sites where they either make it available to people for free or sell it without paying me. Of the three groups, these people are the most annoying. They are breaking copyright law by both creating copies of my work, and distributing it—and are generally profiting from it by either direct sales or pushing advertisement. So, yeah, it’s bothersome. If I find one, I’ll drop them a note requesting they take the book down (and perhaps threatening legal action). There are also writers’ organizations that can help. But there are a gazillion of these, and only one of me, so there’s a time/dollar cost/benefit thing that needs to be run.

I’m also of the opinion that, at my current level of success, these people are only hurting me a little. And I’m aware there does exist a philosophical argument that they could even be helping me a bit. Regardless, it is clear they are breaking copyright law because I had zero involvement in their action, so that upsets me.

So, yes, I know there are some people ripping me off. I’ll do my best to fight them when they pop up. But I don’t go out of my way to worry about them. I choose not to get too tied up into this at present because that way lies mental anguish beyond the cost/benefit study. Perhaps if I get bigger I’ll change my attitude.

Information Wants to Be Free Pirates:

The Information Wants to Be Free pirates are the most interesting of the groups. These are either a form of publishing pirate (if they actually distribute the work), or a reader with a self-serving streak or a warped … uh … view of life? … relative to mine. I kind of admire this group, though. Their passion is commendable. Those who are publishing my work under this category meet all the criteria of the above category (including the fact that they are breaking copyright law), and if I find one I’ll take the same kinds of actions.

The readers in this category, however, are different. First, they are completely impossible for me to reach out and stop. So, until I hear other ideas, my reaction is to ignore them. Second, they are not readers that I care to attract because they are withholding payment for philosophical (political?) reasons. They do not care to support the writer—or, maybe better put, they think that writers should be able to find other ways to eat and shelter themselves. In my opinion, these readers are not particularly sharp, but they would probably respond by saying that they just don’t value the same things as I do. That way lay the conversation fodder of all politics, eh?

These readers don’t help me, but in the end neither do they hurt me (Though technically I suppose some do. Nothing is stranger to me than a person who steals a book, and then writes a negative review).

As a general statement, though, I so admire the passion in this group. I think these people are wrong, but I get it. Heck, there’s some chance that when I was much younger I would have felt this way, too. And since (rightly or wrongly) I have a mental picture of most of them being 15-25 years old and progressing up the maturity curve, I expect that most will grow out of it. So my basic approach to this IWTBF reader is to speak to them about the realities of the publishing world in hopes their views will “mature,” and move on.

Can’t Afford to Pay Anything Pirates

This is the group my personal policy is going to actively address.

To a degree I’ve been there. Despite having had a very comfortable upbringing, I can definitely remember what it felt like to be working a low-paying job for a few hours a week. I remember going to bargain bins to buy used records instead of the newest releases. And, yes, I fully admit that, rather than buy an album I really wanted but didn’t have the money for, I might have (on occasion) made a cassette or two from music that friends had. It’s not too hard to take that memory of desire and angst I felt at those times and amplify it to apply to what’s happening to people today.

I hate the idea that someone might have to look at one of my books and truly feel that they have to decide whether paying $4.99 (or whatever) for it will make them have to change what they plan to eat for lunch that day. And, yet, I want this person as a loyal reader—I want them to love my work so much that someday when their finances are stronger they enjoy the idea of supporting me, perhaps even because I supported them.

So, here’s my basic piracy policy: If you are in that situation, if the idea of spending the price of a book gives you that ugly feeling down in the pit of your stomach, and that is driving you to go to the pirate sites for free books, send me a note (ron*at*typosphere.com) telling me what book you want. Unless I am contractually constrained otherwise, I’ll gladly provide you one.

Other writers may not agree with me at all, and what works for me may well not work for them. Other writers may have more resources available to fight things. Pirates may be hurting other writers more than they hurt me (or I may be misguided and they may be stealing so much that I could afford that yacht I need to keep the sharks away … uh, have I mentioned that I moved to Arizona?).

As I said before, I retain the right to change my mind.

But those are all my thoughts and policies toward the idea of piracy as of April, 2016.

Any thoughts are, of course, welcome.

25 Feb

Free Kesha, and other contractual thoughts

If you’re a writer, I think you should be paying attention to the story surrounding Kesha and her contract.

I think it’s a big deal, and I want to take a few moments to discuss it. However, since I am a male, and since this has to do with sexual abuse, I think have to address that aspect first. And, since I assume that not all folks who wander over here will really understand the context, I feel the need to summarize the basic situation briefly (and probably way too simply) by stating these things:

1. Kesha is the pop singer who was known as Ke$ha some time back.
2. She sings stuff that a lot of folks like, but I admit I am not really one of those people. This is fine. You don’t need to be a big fan to discuss the situation. I am not going to pretend to be all pop-culturally savvy here. I am not.
3. She hasn’t put much music out lately, because she’s been too busy suing Sony, her record company, in an attempt to get out of her contract because she says her manager, and not coincidentally, the owner of the record company’s label she works with, has been sexually abusing her for … well … a lot of years. She’s also made it understood that he has not given her the reins to make the kinds of music she wants to make, and has body shamed her into eating disorders. Predictably, it just gets uglier and uglier from there.
4. Late last week, an injunction on her case was not granted, meaning she has to either work for SONY, or not work.
5. This has created a huge flurry of social media from many people in and around the industry.

Bottom line: Google “Kesha” and you’ll find a gazillion better summaries than I just gave you.

I don’t really want to talk about the sexual harassment element of this case, because these things are beyond my ability to adequately comprehend. But I feel like in order to talk about the rest of it—purely the contractual stuff going on (which no one else seems to be focusing on)—I need to address an opinion on the nature of her allegations.

So, let me say that I believe her manager almost certainly took horrifying advantage of her, and that in a just world she would be out of her contract with him. That phrasing “out of her contract with him” is actually more important than it may seem at first glance, but I want to start there.

Yes, there is a (very small) chance that Kesha has made it all up, a small chance that she’s merely playing with the situation in hopes of squeezing a bigger payday out of her contract. But (1) based purely on numbers it is massively more likely that she’s telling the truth and that her manager is a complete scum ball, (2) if that’s the case, there is no way our legal system should force her to fulfill a contract with an abusive client, and (3) it goes almost without saying that the risk/gamble of faking such a situation isn’t particularly wise. After all, SHE’S GOT A DEAL, you know? If she’s not telling the truth, she’s taking a huge risk in fighting against someone who has a helluva lot of power to use against her.

So, yes, I believe that in a fair world, Kesha would be free to make a new deal today because I believe her when she says she was abused. I believe that in the end, she will be found to be justified and that she will eventually win. That is my opinion. It completely sucks, and as a male I find it outright embarrassing, that women are still finding themselves in this position in 2016.

But what I want to focus on right now is that contract itself, and how that contract should make us as writers pay attention to what’s going on around us.

Thing is, since everyone is so busy focusing on the abuse angle, it took me most of a day’s worth of scurrying around to determine what her contract problem really is. When you take this effort, though, a few things become more “clear.” Bottom line: it’s a mess. For example, did you know that her problem is actually an intersection of three separate contracts? One contract (signed when she was 18), is effectively with her manager, the second is between her manager and Sony, which is NOT actually a recording contract, but essentially a services deal, and the third is between Sony and Kemosabe, the Sony label that her manager runs.

All of these three deals together essentially put Kesha into a situation that, abuse or not, leave her at the whim of her manager. He can control what she does as a professional to a degree that few people truly understand, and (again, abuse aside) it appears to be completely legal. The fact that Kesha is suing to get out of that deal (again, abuse or none), suggests to me that it not only appears to be completely legal that her manager can control her, but that this most certainly is what her contract allows her manager to do. To make matters worse, this deal apparently puts her in a situation where she owes at least SIX albums to fulfill her obligations.

Six. I mean … holy shit. That’s a lot of music. And in the lifespan of the average female pop star in today’s world, that seems to me to be just about a lifetime deal.

First things first: this sucks.

Second things second: but still, she signed the deal.

Third things third: the judge in the case says these are fairly standard deals—meaning that a LOT of artists are tied into these kinds of contracts, and if true, every one of them runs the risk of being locked into doing whatever the owner of the contract wants them to do for a very long time.

Poe, another female singer, had contractual problems of a similar but not identical nature, but apparently without the sexual abuse elements. Her issues cost her a decade of her career, and us a decade of what could have been some remarkable work. I am, you might garner, a bigger fan of Poe’s work than Kesha’s … but that fact has nothing to do with the fact that both of them got themselves into contractual binds that threaten to kill their careers.

So, I hear you…what does this have to do with writers? Recording deals are different than writing contracts.

Well, maybe. But maybe not so much.

Let’s pretend for a minute that the abuse did not happen. All right? For just a moment, let’s assume that Kesha’s accusations fall into the 2% (give or take) of such things, and that her accusations of abuse are falsely made. That means that she’s either doing it for the potential of more money (which assumes her future deal would pay her a heck of a lot more), or she’s doing it because she can’t stomach the crap her manger is telling her to sing. Or both, I suppose. Just as important, if her record company decided to not put out the albums, I suppose she’s still required to present the material in order to fulfill the contract.

And until that time, she’s landlocked.

To be blunt, this is, effectively, what traditional publishing companies have worked hard to do with writers for a long time. It is their business to squeeze as much out of writers as they can (why wouldn’t they, I suppose). They want to lock the writer into situations where they have to write what the publishing company wants them to write. And when you add in the idea of the agent, you have the same basic dynamic that Kesha finds herself in—except that Kesha is triple screwed because her “agent” also runs the “imprint” that she records for under the contract she has with the parent company.

Her career is in the clutches of her agent/producer/record company, and if they want her to play the pop ingénue forever, or whatever, she pretty much needs to do it. They decide. Poe, for example, was able to skirt her issues to a small degree by recording a few things under different names, but for all intents and purposes, she could not record under her stage name. She had signed away the ability to decide what her art was going to be. Kesha is in a similar situation.

I’ve been around the business for a couple decades now. I’ve signed a lot of contracts for short stories (which are considerably less complicated than novels). I’ve dealt with film options (which are more complicated than short stories, but generally less complicated than novels). I’ve been unlucky enough, however, to not deal with big publishers on novel contracts. I’ve done all my novel length work as an indie/small press publisher. But, yes, know several writers who have been in such ugly situations where they’ve lost control of their careers due to deals they’ve fully agreed to with publishers/agents, and due to a lack of knowledge about how the business worked (or worse, back in the day, due to the fact that they knew how the business worked, but that there was no other way that they could see to keep their careers going).

When your agent/publishing company/record company owns you, you’re at their whim.

That’s just the fact.

To my ability to understand, this thing with Kesha is exhibit A of what can happen when you sign a particularly crappy contract—and it’s also exhibit A of what the publishing world (and music world for that matter) operated like prior to the existence of independent publishing. Her deal is, once again, apparently a fairly standard deal for the traditional music industry.

And that’s why writers should pay attention to the situation Kesha finds herself in.

Even if one discounts the sensational allegations (which one should not), this is one truly smelly situation.

Now, I fully admit that I would love to make a deal with a bigger publisher sometime because they bring things to the table that are a lot of work for me. But I don’t feel any great need to do that, and I won’t do it unless the situation is favorable. I want to own my stuff, so if it screws up, it’s my fault.

And, luckily, we have options today.

Very good options. Options where we can control everything that happens to us (within the limits of anyone’s ability to determine what happens to us in anything that resembles an artistic endeavor, anyway). We do not need to sign a deal that puts our creative control in someone else’s hands. And, to be blunt, any deal that stops a person from in good faith making the art they want to make is a dangerous deal, indeed.

06 Oct

Two Whole Freaking Days?

When it takes you nearly two entire days to update your publishing financial data you can probably say several things:

1. Three months is too long between updates
2. You have a ridiculously complex and detailed system
3. Amazon has changed how they do some things since the last time.
4. It’s time to simplify, stupid

On the plus side, at least that’s done and I’m that much closer to being back into the standard flow–which is really what the last two weeks have been about. The house is coming together, slowly but surely. We’ll be getting a new couch set here tomorrow, so the house may actually look almost like a house most everywhere we look at that point.

Lisa’s working full-time, I’m ramping back up to my normal writing cycle (discounting the last two days, anyway.

So, yeah. It’s coming together.

28 Aug

Kobo cuts you deals for all my stuff!

Turning on the self-promotional voice …

It’s a happy Friday when Kobo decides to give 50% off for all my stuff! (Assuming, that is, you’re a reader in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, or South Africa, anyway). I hear you, my friends. I really do. You’re asking me, “Ron, how does one go about getting this fantastic discount?” And my answer is this: you fill up your sales cart by clicking on the links below, and then as you’re checking out you enter:

Promo Code: SALE50

You can use this code multiple times from now through August 31st, so if you’ve been waiting for just such an event, this seems like a great time to pick up a copy of work like:


Saga of the God-Touched Mage (Vol 1-8) The entire series!
Five Days in May (with John C. Bodin) if racy SF is your bag
Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories my early short SF
Five Magics short fantasy

And if you’re interested in deeper browsing you could check out pretty much everything I’ve got on Kobo. The discount offer applies to everything.

05 Nov

Taylor Swift & The Culture of Free

So Taylor Swift has pulled her catalog off Spotify. She has been a proponent of artists being paid properly for their work, she’s apparently decided to make a point. It’s certainly an interesting one. Let’s face it, Swift is going to make a chunk of change, no matter how she releases her work. That’s what happens when you have a fan base that surely extends out to every listening creature within 8 light years. So it’s not really about money for her. Instead, she’s using her fairly unique platform to speak to the general public, and perhaps even more so to address other artists out there in hopes that they will be firm in their ideas of how to value their work.

In this world where independent publishing is becoming ubiquitous, some folks might confuse the ability to set a price-point for a work to “free” with the idea of free streaming content (or essentially free, as in Spotify, or to a lesser degree in things like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program). They are two very different things.

I am beyond fine with giving people and businesses the ability to leverage cheap entry prices to develop a paying audience—that’s what “free” is in context of a decent independent publishing business plan, it’s the author’s way of establishing the gateway drug. Your first hit is free, and then you pay your way going forward. It’s a business model that’s been working for a lot of folks, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s the model by which a lot of people are making their livings. It works because the current business model provides for the ability to price and market individual elements of your product profile (books, in this case) individually.

But I’m not exactly comfortable with the Spotify/KU concept when it comes to books.

The music industry has been adjusting to this new business world, and things are considerably different now than they were several years back. There are, you see, other ways to monetize the exposure that can come with free streaming services. You can tour, and sell T-Shirts, and whatnot. It’s not like the digital revolution has stopped the creation of new music. But I think the common wisdom is that it’s pretty clear there are fewer people enjoying long careers as musicians. Here’s a study that suggests musical artists are younger today, and have shorter “careers.”

Books and authors are a different thing, though.

I’m not even sure a Spotify-like service can succeed in the long term with books. KU will help us find out, I suppose. Readers, of course, will love it—at least for a while, anyway. But the big question is this: if KU is the only distribution channel in town, how long will it be until the low revenue stream results in the strongest writers opting out (in this case, actually quitting)? This is, of course, a bit of a shell game that I’m playing there. I doubt that KU would ever be the only way to distribute books, after all. And if an author builds an audience, it seems clear that readers will pay for stuff that they like—probably because, unlike music, which is often consumed in fairly mindless situations, to consume a story requires actual commitment of mental resources (even if you’re consuming books in audio format).

In fact, this is probably the biggest advantage us writers have over musicians, and it’s not something I’ve heard discussed much: To consume our products, the reader has to commit time as well as some serious brain cycles.

As a result, perhaps the “culture of free” might be different for music consumers than it is for book consumers. Music consumers are also used to getting the product for “free” over the radio. Book consumers are not so preconditioned.

Of course, I could be completely wrong here. The future will show one way or the other. But my best guess is that you’ll continue to see several fairly strong distribution channels for books continue to exist for the foreseeable future. I think that Taylor Swift’s gambit probably won’t change much in the music industry, nor do I think it is likely to head off whatever the situation is going to turn into with regard to the written word.

But it’s definitely interesting to think about, and interesting to watch unfold.

Curiouser and curiouser, eh?

30 Sep

Chasing the Setting Sun available for pre-buy!

I hear you, I hear you. I really do. You say: “Where can I get this new book of yours titled Chasing the Setting Sun?” And I reply: “Right here and right now! Or, at least you can now run over to a couple of your favorite book vendors and pre-buy the electronic versions!”

So, if you’re interested in what I’ll call “kitchen sink” fiction–you know, a fun mix of alternate history, fantasy, science fiction, and road trip stuff all mixed around with a little baseball here and there–feel free to get thee hence and do the necessary!

These will all host pre-buys (I’ll update Kobo as soon as it goes live there):

PRE-BUY HERE!
Amazon (Kindle)
Smashwords (All Formats)
Kobo (E-pub)



But, Ron, what about giving us a deal on See the PEBA?

I’m glad you asked. You can read Chasing the Setting Sun without reading See the PEBA on $25 a Day, but who would want to, right? Together, after all, they somprise the PEBA Diaries, right? So starting today, and running until Chasing launches, I’m giving you dedicated readers of Typosphere.com the opportunity to grab a copy of See the PEBA absoluetely FREE!

FREE BOOK HERE!
Smashwords (All Formats)
Coupon code: PS88R







Feel Special yet?

I’m sure you do. But why stop here, when you can go whole-hog, instead and subscribe to my newsletter? I’m getting ready to run another free give-away in the next few days, and I can assure you you will not want to miss it! [grin]

GET MORE FREE STUFF HERE!
Subscribe to Ron’s Ramblings



Notice for Mark

Just an aside: when I worked in my corporate role, one of my ex-bosses used to call me RonCo. This was fine by me. I actually use that as my online ID in several forums and other such places. But he liked it because it reminded him of the guy who used to advertise so boldly on television back in the day. You remember them, right? I mean, all the old SNL advertising sketches are pretty much direct rip=-offs of that old playbook. I’ll be forwarding him a link to this one so he can see just how far off the … uh … Mark … he was (or, how close?).