Pub Rants

Category: technology

Like your grandmother who couldn’t get rid of that semi-broken toaster because she might need it again someday, publishers have a surprising number of obsolete and defunct clauses hanging out in their publishing contracts.  Most just elicit a chuckle, but at least one can greatly impact an author’s earnings.

The publishing landscape has shifted so radically in the last decade, especially with the rise of ebooks and downloadable audio. Publishing contracts should shift to match. But like your Depression-era grandmother, publishers are loath to get rid of old clauses they’ve had for decades—even though the publisher will not invoke that clause in any foreseeable future I can imagine. Most of these clauses hang out in the subrights section of a publishing agreement. 

My favorite? The publisher’s right to sublicense electronic book rights. Back in 2002, when I first started in the biz, there was a scrappy little electronic publisher called Rosetta Books. Although hard to believe, in those early days right before the electronic shift, some publishers did indeed sublicense electronic book rights to this third-party publisher. In today’s landscape, there isn’t a publisher on the planet who would sublicense electronic rights when such a major chunk of their own profit comes from sales of this format. Why would they share? And yet, if you look at the sublicense section of our pub agreement, the publisher still has the right to sublicense this format to a third party (though we as an agency add “by author approval”). But hey, the publisher might need it again someday, right? So there it stays. 

Also going the way of the dinosaur (sadly, in my opinion) is First Serial. In short, first serial is the publisher’s right to license an excerpt from a novel to a major newspaper, magazine, or other outlet. Think back to when Cosmopolitan or GQ featured up-and-coming authors by printing a chapter or two of their forthcoming novels. But now so many magazines have disappeared (or gone solely online). With that, publishers shifted from licensing first serial to simply allowing an approved excerpt to be posted on top sites as a publicity push. That means no licensing fee. Yet lo and behold, there in the subrights section of a pub agreement is the first-serial clause with a 90/10 split in the author’s favor. (As an aside, you’ll also see a publisher’s right to sublicense mass-market rights—something I’ve never seen a publisher do in twenty years of agenting. But hey, might happen someday, right?)

But the one legacy clause that can bite the author in the you-know-what is the short-print-run clause. So be on the look out for it. What does short print run mean? Originally, after a publisher launched the initial print run into the world (which could be around 5,000 or 10,000 copies or more), it was expensive for a publisher to order a “short” print run, like 500 copies to ensure the title remained in-stock for buyers. Now with print-technology shifts (i.e., print-on-demand), the cost remains fairly static—even for a small print run. The clause originally allowed the publisher to reduce the royalty to the author for said short print run. But today, why should the author have to accept a lesser royalty rate when the publisher did not foot an additional expense? Right. They shouldn’t. 

Most publishers have removed that clause (finally acknowledging it no longer applies), but occasionally I spot that kind of language in a contract and it needs to be handled.

Also, if you missed this news, the Authors Guild made its model book contract public for anyone to read and access. So happy contract reading. 

Photo by 幻影 3D from Pexels

Verdict Out On Whether A Good Idea Or Not

STATUS: For the last three days running, I’ve made it a goal to power through all the emails while I was at Frankfurt. I started out with 170. Made good headway but now for three days running, I’ve started with 130 emails and I still have 130 emails. Can’t shake the feeling of running in place….

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THIS GUY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU by Herb Alpert

As I was walking the Frankfurt Fair floor, perusing the booths on display, I stumbled upon a booth for a company called Booktrack. In short, they do sound tracks for electronic books.

Not sure what I think about that, so I figured I’d give it a listen.

The sample work on the floor was the short work IN THE SOUTH by Salman Rushdie. I popped on the earphones and gave it a listen as I read. There was ambient noise and sounds that connected with the text on the page.

Kind of reminded me of Spa on XM radio.

Did I think it enhanced the reading experience? The jury is still out on that for me.

5000+ Queries In One Day

STATUS: Things are getting back to normal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO by Billie Holiday

A week and one day. Felt like an eternity! In this short span of time, we completely upgraded our entire office computer system with a brand spankin’ new server.

With any major overhaul, there are always a few kinks.

For example: with the migration, something went wonky with our query email. For some reason, the server wasn’t recognizing when emails had been downloaded into the program. One morning, Anita opened the query program to find 5000+ queries in the inbox. That was a shock. The server had downloaded each query 5 to 10 times and then kept repeating it.

I’m happy to report that the problem is finally solved. I don’t think we lost any queries in the process but if you don’t hear from us in the next 2 to 3 weeks, you might want to resend. But you only need to send it once… I don’t think Anita ever wants to open that program and find an eye-popping 5000 queries in the inbox again.

Every day we keep finding a few more things that need to be tweaked. Like this morning. I found one whole folder to be missing. Poof. Just gone. Have no idea where or how. Luckily, we back everything up to the cloud so it was a matter of 15 minutes for me to locate it and repopulate it on the server. But it makes me wonder what other little discoveries are going to occur.

Our tech person was even here this afternoon for a few hours. And I do think we’ll see him a few more times before the week is out.

And if this stress of a computer conversion wasn’t enough, our new employee started last week.

Call me a glutton for punishment.

Pirating Made Easy

STATUS: Very chaotic and busy today. Logged a lot of phone hours for a negotiation, a revision phone conference, and a possible Hollywood deal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EVERYBODY HURTS by R.E.M

Today, one of my authors sent me a very interesting link. Basically you can Google to find a tutorial on Scribd that gives you instructions on how to easily download a Google Books “Limited Preview” book in its entirety into PDF.

You know the “partial” preview that is sometimes enabled on Google Books? Well, these instructions tell you how to get around the partial views to download the file. All of it.

Yep, pirating made easy.

Needless to say, I’m not including the link to the instructions on this blog (although if you’re curious, I imagine it’s not hard to find the link.)

One of the issues in this digital age is how authors will get paid for their intellectual property. And no, I’m not going into the whole DRM debate in this entry.

What I want to say is this. If you are a published author with the preview enabled on Google Books, tell your publisher about this quaint little feature on Scribd and the issue with Google Books preview.

Is Publishing Just About To Be Disrupted?

STATUS: How the industry is shifting does make me lie awake at night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY by Donna Summer

And to piggy-back on to what I was writing about yesterday on the blog, I want to share this very interesting article by science writer Michael Nielsen.

I read his blog entry earlier this week and my mind has been in a whirl since. He tackles the question of whether scientific publishing is about to be disrupted but I think the parallels to traditional publishing are very clear.

In the article, Nielsen highlights the signs of impending disruption in the newspaper industry: “Five years ago, most newspaper editors would have laughed at the idea that blogs might one day offer serious competition. The minicomputer companies laughed at the early personal computers. New technologies often don’t look very good in their early stages, and that means a straight up comparison of new to old is little help in recognizing impending disruption. That’s a problem, though, because the best time to recognize disruption is in its early stages. The journalists and newspaper editors who’ve only recognized their problems in the last three to four years are sunk. They needed to recognize the impending disruption back before blogs looked like serious competitors, when evaluated in conventional terms.”

The signs of disruption in the publishing industry are already there. The big question is whether we’ve recognized them in time. The big publishers today are like the Titanic. Huge. Cumbersome. Potentially perceived as unsinkable. And yet, huge tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and the upstart Scribd are changing the face of publishing. What will the big publishers be like in five years? 10 years? They see the ice berg but can they turn in time?

I hope so. I don’t have any answers to share but I certainly see possibilities. Will they merge with big tech companies such as Google? That would not be surprising. What will the role of agent be as publishing transforms?

And digital is the key that has changed all of this.

And how interesting that I’m reading one of the more extraordinary articles to tackle this question on a blog. By a science writer. Not in a publishing industry magazine. Not in a newspaper.

That says a lot in and of itself.

Reshaping Reading

STATUS: Contemplative.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNDER THE MILKY WAY by The Church

Today as I have spotty internet from my home connection (curses Qwest DSL and the fact that I can’t have cable broadband at my home), I can’t help but do a rant on digital technology and how that is reshaping the reading experience.

Today, in Deal Lunch, I read about two new eReaders—the Ditto Book E Ink Reader and a new reader by Vodafone Germany. (For those of you who might not have been to Europe lately, Vodafone is a big mobile phone provider across the pond.)

Lower price points and mobile phone eReader technology.

Then I read about Cory Doctorow’s serialization of MAKERS that’s going to be posted on Then I read about the Hachette Book Group’s initiative to offer free Open Access to a variety of books in their entirety via their website. And to top it off, Chris Anderson’s book FREE viewed by 17,000 people, well, for free via Scribd.

And here’s what I want to say about this. It’s not okay to cling to your Luddite ways. Even if you love the feel of a physical book in your hands and hate the idea of reading digitally, you need to branch out and give it a try.

From the start of my agency, I’ve always read electronically on my computer (tablet PC). Then I got the Kindle the year before last and now I’m reading both on my kindle and my iPhone. In fact, lately, it’s been rare that I’ve read an actual physical book.

And for me, the medium doesn’t matter. Only the story does. Now I know that’s not true necessarily for other people but this is where we are moving and you if you are a writer, you need to experience reading in these other mediums. Why? Because the next generation, I guarantee it, will not be as attached to the physical medium of a book. They are already more used to reading digitally in all kinds of ways—blogs, twitter, texts, books, instant chat, etc.

Books are transforming. They might be multimedia in the future—interactive in the digital form—which would shift how writers think about writing a novel or a memoir or a work of nonfiction. You can’t afford to ignore this.

You can already see the shifts happening.

Because It Really Could Happen To You—Guest Blogger Sarah Rees Brennan

STATUS: Running out the door in about 30 minutes for all-day meetings. If I had been smart, I would have taken a day or two off right after BEA. Make note for next time….

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BEAUTIFUL DAY by U2

As authors (and even as agents), we aren’t always up on the latest technology so let this be a reminder to always have a backup system in place—even for things you didn’t think needed backing up.

The sad part of this story is that the attack on Sarah Rees Brennan’s live journal and her email account was obviously a deliberate one. We can only assume it was meant to sabotage her release day as Sarah Rees has a large online following and there are a lot of great things tied into her internet presence for her release day.

The good news is that she foiled her saboteur. With the help of a lot of good friends, supporters, and fellow generous writers, Sarah is good to go today–her official release day for her debut YA—THE DEMON’S LEXICON.

Congrats Sarah!

It happened six days before my book came out.

I was in the shower, singing a country music song and blinking coconut-scented bubbles out of my eyes, when I heard my phone ring and scrambled out to answer the phone. It was my friend Bob. ‘Hello, Bob,’ I said in a perplexed way. ‘Aren’t you at work?”

Go to your computer,’ he said. ‘Don’t freak out. I’m going to help you fix this.’

I went to my computer and saw that my blog had been deleted. I’d been writing my blog for seven years, since I was eighteen, and it had a lot of my life recorded in it: the parts dearest to me were the posts announcing my book deal, and all the posts I’d made about the terrifying, wonderful process of publication in the almost two years since then. They were all gone.

Then I tried to get into my email, and discovered that was where the hackers had got in: the thought of malicious strangers being able to go through all of my personal and some fairly crucial business emails had me shaking in my fluffy pink bath towel, but there was just no time to panic: I had to call about a hundred people, starting with my bank, proceeding onward to my website hosts and my friends, all the while being on the phone to report the computer abuse to both livejournal and google.

Thanks to the efforts of my more computer savvy friends, who were basically acting as my ninja team of technology, I got control of my blog and my email back in less than three hours. Unfortunately, that was plenty of time to delete every post I’d ever made on my blog, and every email I’d ever sent or received: emails from a long-distance boyfriend, my first email from my publisher, a million emails from my best friend in the diplomatic service. Not to mention all of my email contacts, which was scary given the whole six days to publication, and all the people I needed to be in contact with whose email addresses I had not memorized.

It still makes me feel a little ill to think of all that, lost. Then my tech ninjas said ‘Sarah… this looks like deliberate malice rather than a regular hack’ and I said sadly that given the timing, I had figured as much.

It was probably just someone who didn’t like my style on my blog, and thought they’d take me down a peg. Holy violation of privacy, Batman! The internet is sometimes a scary place.

Since I was given that object lesson in It Can Happen To You, I collected up some very, very simple tips (I am not a tech ninja, so I can only understand the basics!) on how to safeguard yourself against hackers, and wish to share them with you guys. Especially since I know a lot of you are writers, and I don’t want anyone trying to ruin your big day! So three tips, then.

1. Using your password on public or unsecured wifi is not safe, as it means you’re broadcasting your login data: so if you’re going on holiday or away on business and you’re going to be using public or unsecured internet for some time, change your password before you go and when you come back.

2. Whenever you’re given a link, hover your mouse over it and see where it leads before you go there: just going to a dodgy site can infect your computer, so always regard new sites with a little wariness.

3. And then there are passwords, and how we really do need them to be random, even though it’s so much easier to remember your dog’s or your boyfriend’s name… Not that I’m suggesting those two things are on the same level. I really love my dog! Here’s a great site with tips for creating better passwords.

And if despite your precautions – and I thought I’d taken precautions myself – it happens, well, it happens, and it’s awful, but right after it happened to me my blog readers were collecting up all their saved entries from my blog, and helping me reconstruct it. Lots of people re-sent emails to me that they’d sent me years ago. And one blog reader provided me with some handy tips, much like the ones I’m giving out to you! The internet can be scary sometimes, but it can be great as well.

Even though that day last week was horrible, today is wonderful. My book is out – my very first book, on shelves, where people can read it!

And nobody can delete that.

A stack on the table at the Borders–Penn Station

Bigger Is Better

STATUS: Tomorrow will be as pleasant as a root canal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOD ONLY KNOWS by The Beach Boys

And I’m not saying that just because I went to the dentist this morning. Luckily I got the clean bill of health so no root canal in my future—except for the metaphorical one that’s happening tomorrow. Yep, you guessed it. Computer upgrades.

That means all brand spanking new software needs to be loaded up and all files transferred. I’m sure I’ll love it when the transition is complete but let me tell you, I’m not even doing the upgrade work and it’s nerve-wracking. (And no, I’m not doing Windows Vista as my tech person advises against it. Too many bugs).

I have to say Lynnelle is the calmest person I know. She’d have to be. Just the thought of wrestling with a computer makes me cranky but she actually enjoys it.

But here’s what I’m most excited about. My new 22-inch monitor. Bigger is better baby. I actually thought about doing the dual monitors but with publishers sending contracts electronically, I really want to see the draft and the final side-by-side.

Not to mention, if the final contract is in locked Word, you can scroll both documents simultaneously. Let me tell you, this makes verifying all changes so much easier. And since I have three contracts currently in the review process, I’ll take that new monitor for a test run on Friday.

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. I’m digging out my NYC notes tomorrow…. Have laptop. Will blog.

Kindle Update

STATUS: Into the home stretch. Just one more editor dinner tomorrow night and I’m homeward bound.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LET’S DANCE by David Bowie

Pros definitely outweigh the cons. I think Jeff Bezos should hire me as I convinced more agents and editors to buy the Kindle just by showing them mine and how easy it is to use.

What I love:

1. I love having 2 full manuscripts and 20 partials in one easy to store, easy to hold reader. No more back pain. No paper to lug around. No heavy laptop that needs to sit on my lap to read. And I bought a new purse (another benefit!) that can easily hold my cell phone, Kindle, sunglasses, wallet, spare parts etc.

2. I love being able to choose the font size to read in that is now the default and easy on my eyes.

3. I love being able to have all my favorite books downloaded to the Kindle so I can read them anytime and anywhere I want. Even when I’m traveling and I get the hankering to read Pride & Prejudice for the umpteenth time, it’s there. This is also great in terms of storage. Last year I donated boxes full of books because there was literally no where to put them. I won’t have that problem because even if you don’t want to store it on your kindle, Amazon will store a book for you at your site account.

4. I love the Clipping feature. If I make a note in any document, it is auto saved to this file for easy reference. In other words, I can read 10 sample pages, write a note to myself about each one while reading, and when it’s time to enter my response into the electronic database, I simply open that one file and all the notes are there. I don’t have to reopen each partial that I read. Very handy.

5. I love emailing the documents to myself. No cables. No “I forgot to transfer documents to my Kindle” before walking out the door.

What I would change:

1. I would like more flexibility in being able to organize my downloads into separate folders so my home page always stays neat and clutter free. Right now it doesn’t have that organizational capability.

2. Wouldn’t mind a reader light to turn on just when necessary.

3. Documents downloaded to the Kindle do not have corresponding page numbers that can be used as reference. That’s a bit tough for when I take notes. I can only refer to a chapter.

4. I imagine this was a cost element but a touch interface would be pretty cool.

5. When emailing myself, I’d like the note in the body of the email to be integrated into the document that’s being loaded on the Kindle. Right now, it doesn’t do that.

6. Side buttons are a little cumbersome and it’s easy to turn a page when you don’t mean to.

Other than that, I’m thrilled to have bought one. I spent one night reading a whole novel for 6 hours and my eyes never felt tired. That was the real test.

Read The Fine Print

STATUS: If you have been reading deal lunch lately, then you’ll get a pretty good sense of what I’ve been up to. Deal after deal after deal. Love it. And even better? I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU is still at #4 on the NYT bestseller list. That’s 6 weeks and counting. Maybe it will become a permanent fixture!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHO NEEDS LOVE (LIKE THAT) by Erasure

Sheesh. You probably shouldn’t have to tell a literary agent that! I spent this morning toying with my new Amazon Kindle. I have to be honest and say that before now, I hadn’t shown much interest in e-readers.

So what pushed me over the edge? When I read an article about the new Kindle that detailed that the owner could not only easily download books from but could also email documents to him or herself for reading on the Kindle. Oh baby, can you say “read full manuscripts” on a nice compact and light device instead of my big whopping laptop?

I can. I signed me up for that new device as fast as my fingers could fly across the keyboard. Then promptly waited a full month before my order could be delivered. They have back log of orders at good old Amazon.

Well, the article I read forgot to mention one little thing. Yes, you can email Word and PDF documents to yourself but here’s the catch. It’s Amazon’s wireless whispernet you’re using (in conjunction with Sprint Data Technology) You guessed it. They charge $0.10 an attachment to “convert” the file to their proprietary extension that is then auto downloaded onto the Kindle.

There really is no free lunch is there? Heck, I don’t care. At least there is no monthly wireless charge and I love the darn thing already. (And to be fair, Amazon does allow you to convert to the Kindle file, download to your computer, and then transfer to the Kindle via a USB connection for free but I’m too lazy for all that.) I’m even all excited to read my first requested full manuscript on it starting tonight.

And my tech person is setting it up so Sara can send sample pages from our submissions database to my Kindle as well.

I’ll never be bored in the grocery store line ever again. Have large purse; will travel in Kindle style. Of course, this may bring new meaning to the idea of never leaving work.