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29Mar/110

Writers Readers Direct – A new site for authors and readers of ebooks





Writers, Readers, Direct – a new site for both authors and readers to find each other.

I received an email last night from Susan Barrett, an established author, who tells me that she ran into all manner of problems about getting her work published through traditional channels after taking a break from writing.

This has resulted in her setting up a website (www.writersreadersdirect.com) which will allow writers to submit their books for publication as ebooks (PDF and ePub formats) and then if accepted, they will be offered for sale on the site.

Obviously readers can visit the site and buy ebooks from it in the normal manner.

Only just started, so not many ebooks yet… But..

As it is a very new site, ( I am writing this on 30th March 2011) it has not got a very wide range of ebooks on offer yet, but as it becomes better known, obviously the number of ebooks being offered for sale there will increase.   We all have to start somewhere after all.

Pricing reasonable:

The pricing structure is very simple, full length ebooks will sell for 3 British Pounds (I don’t seem to have the symbol for that currency here…curious), short story bundles will go for 1 British Pound, so the pricing is very reasonable in my view.   The process for purchasing  ebooks is also straight forward, pay with  a credit card or PayPal and it is done.

Good royalties for writers:

The nice thing is the amount the author gets for any ebooks that are sold, for a full length ebook they will receive 2 British Pounds, and for a short story, 75 Pence, which is very generous.    You can see that it is a site set up by a writer rather than a publisher………

However, if you submit a book to them, they will charge you a non-returnable reviewing charge of 5 British Pounds.  Actually, this isn’t unreasonable, as they will look after all the steps needed to convert your book to ebook format, placing it on their site and so on.

Writers retain rights to their work:

By the way, one important note for authors, this site does not require that they have sole rights to your ebook, you are completely free to find other ways of selling your ebook……

The site itself is well set up and all works well, so wandering around it – as I did – is easy.   The various genres of ebook are categorized properly, there is a forum (still not really being used, but once again, give it time and it should be very lively).

They also offer a professional  reviewing service to authors should they wish to have their ebook read and criticized by a small group of writing professionals, a sort of Peer review which is a rather nice idea…  But this service is pretty expensive, ranging from 75 to 300 British Pounds according to length.  But this is not compulsory, happily.

As I mentioned above, this site does not yet have a very wide range of ebooks on offer, but what ebooks it does have now cover a reasonably wide range of genres, and as it is a site that is obviously both writer and reader friendly, I am sure it will grow.

I know there are already loads of self-publishing websites out there, such as Smash Words et.al, but I don’t see that as a problem, it is a big world after all, and there should be room for as wide a choice as possible.

Also, as Rich Adin has remarked, sites such as Smashwords are now so big they have become almost too big and cumbersome for the average person to use….   Try and find an ebook that interests you on such sites…  It has become a sort of gambol, one chooses an ebook in desperation in the end after ploughing through thousands of ebooks by unknown authors, and hope to find the jewel among the dross.

So, I wish this site all the best, and hope that many writers and readers head on over to it and help make it into what I feel it richly deserves to become – a largish, friendly place for writers and readers of new writing to find each other.

Link: http://www.writersreadersdirect.com/

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26Mar/110

National Writers Union response to Google Book Settlement decision

Screen shot 2011 03 26 at 10 50 26 AM

From their website:

“Judge Chin’s decision that the Google Book Settlement was ’not fair, adequate and reasonable’ gives the National Writers Union even more reason to pursue other means through Congress and the courts to protect and affirm writers’ rights against this sort of corporate infringement,” declared Larry Goldbetter, president of the NWU, the union of freelance writers. ”Because writers’ copyright infringement claims against Google have yet to be resolved, the NWU calls on Google to stop scanning without permission — now.”


After seven years of Google digitizing books without the consent of the copyright holders, the only point that is clear is that the efforts of three parties – Google, the Authors Guild (AG) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) – to resolve the many issues involved were totally unsuccessful and left most matters yet to be decided, added Goldbetter.   NWU hopes that any future settlement talks will include other writers’ groups like the NWU in addition to the Authors Guild, which, according to the judge, may have “antagonistic interests” with at least certain other writers.  (Authors Guild v. Google, Inc., 05 CIV 8136 (DC 2011), p. 20.  ”NWU looks forward to hearing from Google, AAP and AG about how they plan to broaden the negotiations to include all those who offered substantive objections to the settlement,” stated Goldbetter.

NWU agrees with Judge Chin’s determination that certain matters covered by the proposed settlement should properly be decided by Congress, not the courts. The judge included in that category so-called “orphan works,” books whose copyright holders are not easily ascertained, and rights of foreign authors and publishers, who expressed strong objections to the settlement.

NWU would add to the list for Congressional action the creation of a nationwide, publicly funded digital library, which the settlement sought to place in the hands of Google and unnamed, privately appointed representatives of AG and the AAP.  NWU believes in general that Congress is better placed than the courts to protect authors against the kind of wholesale commercial piracy undertaken by Google. NWU notes that the proposed settlement and Judge Chin’s opinion did not deal with the inherent conflict between publishers and authors over control of copyrighted books, a matter that should be addressed in sorely needed copyright reform legislation. As Judge Chin noted, citing a 25-year-old Supreme Court decision, it is “Congress’s responsibility to adapt the copyright laws in response to changes in technology.”  (Authors Guild, p. 23)

“Whether in renewed and expanded settlement discussions or in Congress or both,” Goldbetter stated, “the National Writers Union looks forward to working with our litigation partners, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, to assure that the rights of writers to their works are fully and fairly protected.”

23Mar/110

Should self-publishing writers learn to take no for an answer?

roxaneA lot of articles we cover tend to carry the slant that traditional publishers are on the ropes and self-publishing is the big new thing that will save the industry. For a little bit of balance, here’s an article by Roxane Gay, a writer, micropress editor, and assistant professor of English, pointing out some problems with self-publishing. You may not agree with all her points, but they are interesting ones to make. She explains:

I have no problem with self-publishing. It is not an option I would choose for myself, mostly because I don’t have the time to do the work required of someone who self publishes. However, I don’t begrudge writers who do avail themselves of the self-publishing route and it can be a really interesting way of challenging the publishing establishment and getting your work out there without having to deal with some of the more problematic aspects of mainstream publishing. At the same time, just because you can do something does not mean you should.

Gay contrasts Barry Eisler’s decision to turn down a 0,000 advance with Amanda Hocking’s move to traditional publishing. She finds the decisions both made interesting, but is troubled by a number of the comments implying things about “the direness of publishing.” She points out that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between self-publishing and publishing with a micropress except that authors don’t have to spend their own money with micropresses, and micropresses do the same sort of curation and polishing as traditional publishers.

Also, she echoes Rich Adin’s plaint about self-published e-book quality: she sampled a number of self-published books and found only one of them to be excellent—she cites issues with quality of writing, grammar, plotting, etc. that would have caused them to be rejected by traditional publishers.


And she is concerned by the trend toward $.99-.99 pricing for books, fearing that it devalues authors’ work:

I could see myself selling a short story for a buck or two but a book, a whole book? My work is worth more than that. Your work is worth more than that.  If I cannot sell my books at a ore [sic] reasonable - price point, perhaps the market is telling me something about my writing. Humbling? Perhaps.

She doesn’t make any mention of the fact that a .99 book will sell far more copies than a - book, and the 70% royalty offered by self-publishing on Amazon means a writer could make more money from a .99 e-book than a traditionally-published hardcover.

Her main point about self-publishing seems to be that “[we] live in an age of entitlement” but, in order to learn and grow in their craft, writers should learn to take “no” for an answer. If you’ve been rejected enough times, she suggests, maybe you should think about what you’re doing wrong instead of rush to publish it yourself. She gets the sense that a lot of people considering self-publishing do so out of impatience and “a certain need for instant gratification.”

I also sense that these writers want to have a book, any book, even a mediocre book, rather than wait for the right agent, publishing opportunity or even the right book from their arsenal as if we each only have one book in us. While publishers have finite resources, writers, generally do not have a finite number of words they can write. If you write one book, you can probably write another. What’s more important—publishing a book or publishing a good book?

Gay writes that she is optimistic about publishing, and continues to believe that if someone is a really good writer, they will eventually get a book deal. As many good writers as can be found in any bookstore, it seems like good writers have a pretty good chance of making it into traditional press themselves. The publishing industry can’t always be to blame, and she’s puzzled by how publishers have now become “the enemy”—though she admits part of this might spring from being too lazy to want to do the kind of work required to self-publish herself.

And she notes, as I’ve said before, that a lot of writers involved in self-publishing have already built up reputations and audiences in traditional publishing that they bring with them to their self-published efforts.

When they evangelize about self publishing it’s like watching a Jennifer Hudson Weight Watchers commercial and believing that all it takes is following the program to look as amazing as she looks right now. For every writer like these bigger hitters there are, literally thousands of writers who will never do more than sell a handful of their self-published books. There’s nothing wrong with that. Success is a personal measure but it’s important to acknowledge that there are just as many small miracles required to succeed via self publishing.

In the end, she says, writers should have faith in their writing, but learn to take “no” for an answer and do something productive with it.

It’s an interesting essay, and generated a lot of interesting discussion in the comments as people like Nick Mamatas emerged to defend the low price point or other self-publishing-related matters. Whether you agree or not, she does make some points that are worth considering.

18Mar/110

Newspaper Guild calls for HuffPo writers to strike

Via MediaBistro, The Newspaper Guild has asked that the unpaid bloggers and writers for The Huffington Post “withhold their work in support of a strike launched by Visual Arts Source in response to the company’s practice of using unpaid labor.” The strike began when Bill Lasarow urged fellow Huffington Post writers to follow his lead and stop producing free content for the site, and for Arianna Huffington to rethink her payment policy.

From the Newspaper Guild’s press release:

In response to the Huffington Post’s refusal to compensate its thousands of writers in the wake of its 5 million merger with AOL, the Newspaper Guild has requested a meeting with company officials to discuss ways the Huffington Post might demonstrate its commitment to quality journalism. Thus far, the request has been ignored….

We feel it is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing. It is unethical to cannibalize the investment of other organizations that bear the cost of compensation and other overhead without payment for the usage of their content. It is extremely unethical to not merely blur but eradicate the distinction between the independent and informed voice of news and opinion and the voice of a shill….

We call on Arianna Huffington to demonstrate her commitment to the working class she so ardently champions in her writing.

Speaking about the strike at The Wrap Huffington “argued that blogging on the Huffington Post is equivalent to going on Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart or the ‘Today’ show to promote their ideas.

And, she said, there are plenty of people willing to take their place if they do.

“The idea of going on strike when no one really notices,” Huffington said. “Go ahead, go on strike.”

Huffington said that the site employs 183 paid journalists, with generous benefits, who are assigned stories and asked to work overtime when things like the Arizona shootings or revolution in Egypt occur. The bloggers, she said, do not have those responsibilities. “It’s just absurd for me to compare the two.”

Of course, The Huffington Post has gone to great lengths to build its unpaid blogger base. Do these writers contribute to the value of the site? Do they deserve to be rewarded? Or is their reward—as it is for many writers on the internet—purely intangible?

10Mar/110

UK writers call for new anti-piracy campaign

It seems that without exception, any time someone notices e-book piracy, it’s suddenly a huge problem, instead of having built over ten years during which most publishers and authors who were not Harlan Ellison did not find it worth their time to bother doing anything about. An article in the Guardian today is no exception.

UK writers think that a new publicity campaign is needed to educate people on why “stealing” books is wrong. (Clearly they’ve observed the success that those obnoxious, patronizing PSAs Hollywood has tacked onto theatrical movies have had—because naturally the people who pay to see movies are actually all thieves, who will stop their stealing if only asked in the most insulting way possible.)

And then there’s this little gem:

Novelist Chris Cleave, author of The Other Hand and Little Bee, agreed. "I don’t blame anyone. They don’t do it [download books illegally] because they are evil but because they don’t understand," he said. "In the music industry, when the price of music went down to zero – as it arguably now is because of filesharing – artists didn’t mind that much. My music friends love it because they can make money through gigs and merchandising, they can put their faces on T-shirts. But I’m not a rock star and I don’t have that as an option. If readers lose the habit of paying me for my work, I can’t work. Writing is how I make my living."

The price of music is now “zero”? That must come as news to iTunes, whose 99-cents-per-track music sales have made it the biggest seller of music in the US (or even the world?). Indeed, since music became available at a 99-cent-per-track price, one study has shown that the rate of music piracy has actually plummeted by comparison to other media piracy, making up only 10% of overall BitTorrent traffic (by number of files, not bandwidth). That’s not likely due to any publicity campaign, or even necessarily the RIAA’s habit of filing thousands of file-sharing lawsuits, but because people can now buy what they want in high quality at a reasonable price. (Hey, publishers, are you listening?)

Of course, the same study shows that books make up only 1% of content on BitTorrent.

And piracy is okay as long as it happens to music but not books? I don’t think it’s exactly fair to say that “artists didn’t mind that much” either. Remember the Metallica “Napster BAD” backlash?

To be fair, writers have been seeing fees decrease over the last few years, what with the decline in advances, agency pricing reducing their take-per-book of e-books, and budgetary crises chipping away at the Public Lending Right (which doesn’t cover e-books and audiobooks as it is). But not every, or even necessarily most people who download a book would have bought it (or will even necessarily ever read it).

And some publishers and authors tar second-hand book stores with the same brush. Any time one of their already-sold books changes hands perfectly legally, they’d like to be paid. I would like to see authors get paid for their writing (I have some good friends who are writers!), but I just don’t feel this sort of thing helps the publishing industry’s image. Lest we forget, the depiction of record labels as a bunch of money-grubbing bastards contributed immeasurably to peer-to-peer users’ feelings of entitlement to pirate.

10Feb/110

How should writers respond to criticism? Tao Lin: “Extreme negative reviews are helpful and fun.”

What’s the appropriate response by a writer to a negative review?  In the past—in the era in-between duels and the internet—authors had few avenues for recourse. You could write a letter to the editor or you could start a brawl at a party. Now, in the flatter (though certainly not flattened) media hierarchy, writers have more options: you can post anonymous comments touting your genius (Lee Seigel), you can go on a Twitter rampage telling people to harass the offending critic (Alice Hoffman), you can post hateful comments on their blog stating “I will hate you till the day I die” (Alain de Botton). These are the extreme and unsightly examples, but the fact is that we live in an age where the critic no longer has a monopoly on the megaphone, and writers have an increased capacity to engage in the tightrope act of their own PR. One recent example of this is  Sean Manning who, after his memoir about his mother’s battle with cancer, The Things That Need Doing, was singled out by Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times Book Review as an example of “The Problem WIth Memoirs,” counterattacked with an essay at The Daily Beast titled “My Problem with the NYTBR.” It’s hard to judge when a public relations maneuver is a win or a loss, but you can see Manning struggling with the inherent difficulty of defending himself in print. On one hand, he wants to be logical and rhetorically convincing (“There’s nothing undignified about vomiting or needing your diaper changed. That’s being sick.”) while on the other hand, he is clearly furious, and would like to kick Genzlinger in the nuts (as evidenced when he slips in the low blow “That the NYTBR editors would condone this retreaded snark is disappointing and puzzling, especially coming from someone who writes almost exclusively on television and film.”).

The complex challenges and consequences of dealing with negative reviews is the subject of a nuanced essay by Emily St. John Mandel at The Millions. Mandel brings up a number of points related to negative reviews (using the negative Publishers Weekly review of her second novel as an example), not least of which is the disproportionate power of a review on sales i.e. the writer’s livelihood. But in the end, her sharpest observation is that while critics may not deserve to have the power they wield, the author is probably the worst possible candidate to remedy the situation. One of her writer friends asks, “Why…should the reviewers have the last word?” to which she replies:

Because they’re entitled to their opinions, and they’re allowed to not like your book. Because if they’ve given you a nasty review, you diminish yourself by getting into a figurative fistfight with them. Because their reviews, except insofar as they impact sales, don’t really concern you…at the moment of the review, your job is to write books and their job is to write about them.

But most markedly because given the emotions involved, given all the years you spent writing your book or composing your music or perfecting your play before someone came along and spat on it, it’s extraordinarily difficult to respond to a bad review with grace.

It is so difficult for authors to respond gracefully to negative reviews that I’d like to mention two cases in which I was impressed by novelists and their relationship to bad press. In once case, I brought a particularly nasty review to the attention of Tao Lin. He responded, “Thank you. Extreme negative reviews are helpful and fun and interesting to me.” More recently, Publishers Weekly ran a mixed review of Lars Iyer‘s Spurious—a novel that features a insulting intellectual named W. The PW review concluded: “It’s a love it or hate it book: repetitive, too much in its own head, and self-satisfied, yes; but also piquant, often hilarious, and gutsy.” To which Iyer replied: “Thanks for this! Very amusing. ‘Repetitive, too much in its own head, and self-satisfied’: it’s worth it just for that W.-like put-down!”

You read so often about wounded egos, internet flame wars, petty grievances, vicious critics, and hyper-sensitive authors, that I feel it’s a great relief to encounter writers who are so lacking in vanity that they can view their criticism with a lightness of heart and an vital curiosity.

3Feb/110

Persistent gender gap in coverage of female writers at places that ought to know better

Via a story by Meghan O’Rourke at Slate yesterday, we learned about the persistent gender gap in articles written by or coverage of women in the nations magazines and literary journals. O’Rourke references a study commissioned by VIDA (the arts organization devoted to exploring and advocating for women) that analyzed the continued disparity in coverage between men and women.

Here’s the breakdown for just a few publications:

The Atlantic

Combined ratio of reviews and book reviews: 154 Men to 55 women

Boston Review

Reviewers: 26 men to 19 women; book reviews: 41 books by men to 14 books by women

Harpers

Reviewers: 27 men to 6 women; book reviews: 46 books by men to 21 books by women

The New Republic

Reviewers: 49 men to 13 women; book reviews: 55 books by men to 9 books by women

The New York Review of Books

Reviewers: 200 men to 39 women; book reviews: 306 books by men to 59 books by women

The New York Times Book Review

Reviewers: 438 men to 295 women; book reviews: 524 books by men to 283 books by women

So why the disparity?  O’Rourke suggests that “It may be that more men than women write what editors consider ‘important’ books—in part (and this is speculation) because more men than women write about international affairs and politics.” She also suggests that the idea of what is “important” may also be fraught with certain gender biases that we don’t yet understand.

Still, there’s the question of fiction. Of all the writers on bestseller lists, aren’t women well represented here? I’ll leave O’Rourke with the last word.

The world of novels, we often hear, is a feminine one—book buyers are predominantly women; novels and memoirs by women and about women’s lives often do extremely well commercially. (Think of Eat, Pray, Love and The Lovely Bones.) So you might shrug and say—what’s the problem? But VIDA’s study raises questions about how seriously women writers are taken and how viable it is for them to make a living at writing. As we all know, small rewards and affirmations have a concrete but unquantifiable effect on one’s writing life. So does silence.

3Feb/110

The Need for an American Writers Museum

“Why don’t we have a museum that honors the great writing and the great writers in America?” That’s the question posed by Malcolm O’Hagan, a retired president and chief executive officer of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, who has formed the American Writers Museum Foundation to fill that void.

In his regular online column at Fine Books & Collections, “Gently Mad,” popular bibliophile Nicholas Basbanes, author of the bestselling compendium of bibliomania, A Gentle Madness, reports that O’Hagan, who claims “the Irish gene for love of literature,”was inspired by the Dublin Writers Museum of his native Ireland.

“O’Hagan’s vision begins with the realization that no such museum exists anywhere in the United States,” Basbanes writes.
‘Look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been contributed to museums, and not a penny has gone to literature,” [O'Hagan] said. “Who has had a greater influence on our culture? The words of Jefferson and Lincoln? The words of Martin Luther King, Jr.? These are the words that resonate with people, and yet we don’t have an institution that recognizes that, and elevates it.’”

A skeptic might argue that this is precisely the role played by our public libraries, and that the world’s largest collection of books, the Library of Congress — where the retired O’Hagan volunteered as a docent — is our monument. The “guiding principles” of the museum, however, explicitly reject the archivist’s role, one “amply fulfilled by the Library of Congress, the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, the Huntington Center in California, the New York Public Library, and many others.” (John Y. Cole, Director of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress is listed as a member of the museum’s executive planning team.)

Basbanes, who has joined an advisory council that includes David Kipen, the former Literature Director of the National Endowment of the Arts and author of The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History (published by Melville House), acknowledges the “remarkable libraries and research collections … many of which mount magnificent exhibitions of books, manuscripts, and archives that include selections from their own vast holdings,” but concurs with O’Hagan that the country requires a museum to “educate the general public on the history, culture, and influence of the great literary canon that is our shared inheritance.”

“We will exhibit the standard manuscripts and letters,” O’Hagan says, “but we don’t want to duplicate what is already being done by the great research libraries.”

“People obviously want to see artifacts … whether they’re original manuscripts or whether they’re the typewriters that people did their works on. Things like that: pens, chairs, desks — people are always interested in that — divorce decrees, maybe, who knows…. They want performance, they want readings, whether it’s by poets or authors — incredibly popular.”

O’Hagan says he is”putting in my own money initially to try to get the ball rolling” but ultimately hopes to raise 0 million, most of it from “a philanthropist or two.”  “The money will come,” O’Hagan says, “if the idea is right … I’m absolutely confident that there are people that will want to fund this.” According to Basbanes, “enthusiastic support for the project has already come from Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago and his staff, with the result that a temporary location for the museum will likely be in that city, probably for five years.”

A museum dedicated to the American writer may not be redundant (a museum devoted to that curio, the reader, may be soon be needed to explain what she was) but during this national emergency, in which funding for public libraries has been cut to zero all across the country, we can only hope that there are more than one or two philanthropists to go around and that when the next Ruth Lilly decides to part with 0 million, she will consider the health of free and public institutions.

The American Writers Museum Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (Federal Tax ID Number 27-1822749). All donations made to the Foundation are 100% tax deductible.

2Dec/100

Home Field: Writers Remember Baseball

Home Field: Writers Remember Baseball

Home Field: Writers Remember Baseball
by John Marshall (editor)

Baseball remembered by nine great writers – there’s community, there’s family, there’s heart. Sherman Alexie leaping from reservation Little League to women, race, and identity. Timothy Egan tells secrets of coaching girls’ Little League, including use of Doppler radar to scan for rain. Holly Morris describes how her women’s softball team, the Smellies, perfected the fine art of hooha. Lynda Barry shares a tale of a magical baseball glove laced with difficult memories of her father. Larry Colton, once a ‘can’t miss prospect’, recalls the hope and pain of his professional pitching debut, then watches a next-generation ‘can’t miss prospect’ make the same mistakes. And much more. Here is baseball without stats but full of life, played by local heroes and heroines on their home field.

Click on the link below to start downloading this free ebook:-
Home Field: Writers Remember Baseball – 211 pages, 275KB (HTML)

The link to this online ebook is under “Chapter Links” on the left side of the page.

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