Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Jig is Up

There is a conspiracy going on in publishing and has to do with the reluctance, nay, the determination not to embrace digital technology.

Publishers price ebooks nearly as high as hard cover books. The thinking would appear to be publishers are determined to get more money for the writer. That is not the case. I figured out what is really going on when I looked at Kindle versions of authors I was interested in reading. The cost of the ebook was $14.99, an outrageous cost in my estimation, and the hard cover was $18.99. There is no way I am going to shell out $14.99 for ones and zeros sent at the speed of light (or whatever approaches light on wireless) when I can get the hard cover for four dollars more. I can even buy the hard cover for less than $10 if I buy new or used from secondary sellers.

I hit the button to purchase a brand new hard cover copy delivered free for $7.49. That's when it hit me what was happening. It's the publishing version of the protection game.

Consumers, especially in the current economic climate, do not want to waste money. They want value for their dollars and $14.99 is not value for what is in essence a copied digital file. It's cheaper to get the printed version of the book, even if delivery takes longer. That's the whole point. By pricing ebooks at or near the hard copy version of a book, consumers will opt for the print version instead of the ebook, unless they have lots of money and don't care how much an ebook costs. It's the siren call of doing business the old way.

Forget about the claims of rampant book piracy and how ebooks endanger author royalties and the publishing industry. It's all about forcing someone to take what you want them to have rather than giving the consumer what he wants and prefers.

Ebooks will not be the death of the printed book. They are an alternative to print, not replacement for print. It's like buying the paperback copy of a novel and liking it so much you're willing to buy the hard cover so it will last longer. Paperbacks did not ruin hard cover sales and ebooks will not ruin paperback or hard cover sales. That's a myth, a myth propagated by publishers to maintain control of consumers. It's wrong thinking and completely self serving.

In the old days of gangsters and neighborhood crime, a shop owner was approached by gang members, or their representatives, and offered insurance. When the shop owner refused, a demonstration of the insurance's value was staged. Windows were broken. Locks were smashed. Goods were stolen. When the representatives returned in a day or so, shaking their heads and commiserating with the shop owner, they offered the insurance once again. Recalitrant shop owners held out -- as long as their stock and ability to replace the property held out, or until they were killed -- while less well heeled shop owners gave in and bought the insurance -- from the people who would have robbed and destroyed their property without it. Publishing is now in the same business.

Instead of embracing ebooks and offering them at prices in line with the product, publishers offer insurance to consumers by pricing ebooks out of range of their actual value and worth. Publishers don't trust consumers to be intelligent enough or willing enough to buy hard cover or paperback books when ebooks are available, thus alienating and angering a segment of the population that prefer ebooks to print, just as there is a larger segment of the population that prefers print to ebooks. For those bottom line thinking MBAs, that's just bad business.

Good businessmen know that by offering several formats across a wide range of formats will net the most return in sales. Bad businessmen (read: publishers) try to force consumers into the slaughtering chute by hook, crook and the old protection game. It will not work. Consumers will catch on and avoid buying your books, turning instead to secondhand bookstores, piracy and remainder stores where they can get what they want. Profits will fall and you will be out of business when authors jump ship for self-publishing or an indie publisher that will offer better terms, larger royalties and the same (lack of) services. Take heed. The writing is on the wall and the news is all bad.

Short-sighted publishers will soon be a vanishing breed, and good riddance to them all. Piracy will continue when prices remain high, especially in a difficult economy like this. More authors, like Barry Eysler, Joe Konrath, and others, will continue to jump ship for indie publishing, or for the new kid on the block, Amazon, or they will dive into self-publishing with a vengeance. Those publishers who will survive the coming storm will buy a clue and get smart. They will price ebooks at competitive rates while continuing to sell hard cover and paperback at the usual prices. Smart publishers will give value for the product and revise author contracts and royalty percentages. The rest will end up where Al Capone ended up: broke, insane and eventually dead. When some archaeologist or tabloid journalist decides to enter the sealed room where they once purportedly kept their hauls, it will, as Al Capone's vault, be empty and silent.

Read the writing on the wall or find someone who speaks the language. The old methods do not work. Move with the times or be buried. The jig is up.

At the foot of Pikes Peak, in the shadow of its usually snow-covered shoulders visible from the bedroom window, J. M. Cornwell writes while looking out over the abandoned-appearing back yard on the other side of a weather beaten, snaggle-toothed fence. She transcribes dreams into words and calls them novels.

Ms. Cornwell is the author of fourteen books, contributing stories to several Chicken Soup, Cup of Comfort and various anthologies and writes book reviews for Authorlink. Ms. Cornwell's first novel, Past Imperfect, was published by L&L Dreamspell July 2009. Among Women is the latest novel, the first in a two-part series on New Orleans in 1984.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Say It in Writing

One of the hardest tasks an author faces is sitting down in a chair to face the blank page. There is no doubt that after yesterday's announcement that V. S. Naipaul said that no woman could equal him as a writer because of sentimentality and female tosh, the task of facing the blank page got a bit easier. Naipaul seems to find inspiration in controversy and feuds. Since his 15-year feud with Paul Theroux has ended, he needs something new to boost his ego and his writing, thus his attack on women.

While controversy makes for interesting news and provides ample fuel for bonfires of some writer's vanities, it is not enough to rely on when it comes to sitting down and facing the blank page of work on a novel, short story or article. There is no substitute for hard work and discipline, even though many writers have dived into bottles and drugs to support their creativity. Having seen some of the resultant work, I cannot agree that drugs or alcohol, or whatever chore or tasks takes the writer away from the central task of writing, ever works -- or works for very long. Physical deterioration detracts from work, it does not enhance it.

Some writers have no problems with ending one project and beginning immediately on the next, while other writers find themselves in the midst of a blue funk with completion of one novel and unable to dive in and begin the next. Everyone is different and no one rule applies to all writers, except the one unbreakable rule that in order to have a book one must write it first.

My biggest problem is getting back up on the horse -- or in the chair and writing the next book. Once a project is completed, I must also see it through to publication since I am self-publishing, manage the marketing, do interviews and handle all the myriad details of getting attention for my work. There is no point in writing, unless it is for personal use only, if no one knows what has been written. With tens of thousands of books published every year in one for or another, getting noticed is more important and requires a substantial amount of work.

It would be easier to dive right into the next book, and preferable in most circumstances. It's not that easy to manage with all the work required of the author in promotion and advertising. Time is finite. Promotion it seems is eternal. The downtime between projects makes it that much more difficult to sit in the chair, put fingers to the keys and begin typing. Distance and time are not a writer's friends, at least not where output is concerned. The days of taking a year or two, or even five, to write the next book and still be in the public eye, are gone. The world moves too quickly and writers are quickly forgotten before they ever find an audience.

It all comes down to numbers: pages written, words written, books written, etc. The numbers either are or are not in favor, which adds yet one more burden to the already over burdened author. One can only handle so much before crumbling beneath the sheer weight of expectation.

All of this comes from my own personal fight with the post book blues, my name for the funk that surrounds me when I am finished with the bulk of marketing and promotion and know that I must now sit down and write another book. My current project has me stymied. All the research and incorporating it into a fictional novel, coupled with the ongoing promotion of my last book and the inevitable fears that I may not be up to the task come crashing down like the contents of Fibber and Molly McGee's closet, battering me to the floor.

And then I read Naipaul's condescending and egotistical comment that women are sentimental and what they write is not equal to his own work. After all I have read about Naipaul since I happened across his comments, I can see how he would think that, since he does not believe that anyone, male or female, is equal to him. Suddenly, I have a reason to sit down in the chair and face the blank page so I can fill it with proof that female writers are not just sentimental and that some female writers know exactly what it means to be master, or rather mistress, of a home and shoulder all the burdens normally handled by a big, strong male. I've been doing it for decades and am none the worse for it, although I think my sentimentality has been relegated to cards and pictures from my children and grandchildren.

One might think my sudden returning writing fervor is because I have something to prove, and maybe I do, but not to V. S. Naipaul or any fan. I must prove to myself that I have the strength and determination to continue in the face of incredible odds. My book is selling well and I need something to back it up to show I'm not a one, or in this case fourteen, book wonder. I have something to say that is not sentimental or female tosh. I have truths to impart and miles to go before I sleep. I have purpose. I am a writer.

Whatever it takes to get your bottom into the chair and your fingers whizzing over the keys, find it and don't stop until you do find whatever makes you mad enough, excited enough, or determined enough to get back into the saddle and write. Sometimes it's discipline and sometimes it is a bigoted, misogynistic, egotistical gas bag with a penchant for creating controversy. It's one way to stay in the public eye and make people remember who you are, even if they cannot manage to get through one of your books. This may be a man's world, but this woman still has a lot to say and will continue to say it in writing.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Kindle book of the week

It takes time to get a good marketing roll going, and this is the next step. Don't be fooled. It also takes money to get a marketing roll going. In the end, though, it is up to the author and the book to keep the readers' interest. Here's hoping the interest continues for Among Women. It's not your average novel, but something more akin to Scheherazade's tales in the 1001 Arabian nights tales, except with women inmates in a New Orleans jail. Get it while it's hot.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Into Every Life a Little Rain

The controversy and discussion, heated at times, continues over the cost of ebooks in terms of price and of sustainability, sustainability being the watchword of the beginning of the 21st century. Some pundits decry the death of the print book, as if print will ever go out of style, and blame ebooks on the substandard quality of books currently printed. Printed books already had planned obsolescence built into them a long time before ebooks came on the scene, a very long time. Some of the complaints about eReaders include the cost of breaking them down and returning them to their components parts for disposal, many components of which are toxic to the environment (notably battery acids and the need for power to run them). No innovation is every cheap or doesn't have an impact on the previous technology and, yes, print books are technology of a different sort. The one thing forgotten in this equation is the positive impact on readers.

Technology changes quickly and it is doubtful many people still have their first computers, except a few packrats who save everything they've ever owned. Although trees that are used in the creation of paper for books are specially grown, harvested and used in the manufacture of books, the content of the paper has changed drastically in a very short time. Cloth is no longer a part of the mix and has not been since the middle of the 20th century, thus relegating books to a very short shelf life. Books with durable cloth and wood pulp paper cost money to make and leaving out the cloth ensures books will deteriorate and begin to crumble within five years so that new books must be purchased. This does presuppose a use rate that hastens the decline of the paper, necessitating purchase of another book.

Books are not made to last. Is anything these days? While it was de rigueur to keep a book for the life of a private library, or pass it on to a secondhand shop or libary to be sold adn resold, most books, usually brand new books that have been fingered and not purchased, usually end up in landfills by the tons. That won't happen to ebooks. Digitized files made of ones and zeroes and transmitted at the speed of light (depending on analog or non-analog technology) cost very little to make and will last as long as the technology lasts to support it. Current eReaders could soon go the way of the 5.75" floppy or the smaller floppy disk and not last for ten or twenty years (more like 2-5 years), but the files will remain. Some vendors have a loan feature so that ebooks can be shared between friends. The birth of the virtual lending library.

Public libraries, and some bookstores, lend ebooks over and over to readers who download the copy to their device for a specified period when the book reverts back to the library. A lot of publishers are doing the same thing with Advance Reading Copies of new publications so that the time available for reviewers to read and review is limited. At least the IRS won't need to count those books as income since they disappear within 55 days. Sad, but true. One of the perks of being a book reviewer has just bitten the dust.

Paperback books were created to provide a cheaper copy of the hardback book, which is made of better stuff (still no cloth), and lasts a bit longer. Many readers prefer hardbacks for that purpose, but the cost is usually 3-4x the cost of a paperback, which is made to last about five years, less with more handling. Part of the complaint of the physical book cadre is that print copies cannot stand up to the low cost of ebooks. The low cost of ebooks is a myth, except in self-published circles, because publishers are charging nearly as much for the ebook as for the hard cover book, a business move that will doubtless cost publishers in the end. With ebooks priced at between 99 cents and $5.99, NYT best selling authors' books priced at $12.99 to $16.99 will not fare well and people will either buy the paperback or the hard cover version, which is what publishers want anyway. They make more money on physical books than on ebooks, a point that is not lost on readers since piracy of digital files is on the rise. Price a book too high and the invitation to piracy is engraved and hand delivered.

It is harder to pirate a print book, but not unheard of. It's not more difficult that copying a Van Gogh or da Vinci and selling it as authentic. Happens all the time in every trade from antiques made yesterday and carefully aged to bring a higher price from collectors to now include publishing. It was inevitable. Runway show for designer fashions this week and next month the haute couture is on sale at bargain basement prices in retail outlets everywhere next month. It is the price of doing business when business prices are too high. Everyone wants haute couture but at a more reasonable price. It's why businesses like the Price Club and Wal-Mart do so well -- lower prices.

The glass, plastic, metal and chemicals that go into the manufacture of an eReaderdo indeed cause an impact on the environment, but so do cars, planes and batteries, to name a few, all over the world. Junk yards came into business to dispose of the component parts of cars, planes, batteries, and all sorts of toxic and nontoxic component parts and no doubt eReaders will go there when they die and become part of the wonderful world of breakdown and redistribution. Today an eReader and tomorrow a car in Nagasaki or a cooking pot in Australia. The possibilities are endless. With print books, the only place to go is back into the earth to provide land upon which to build houses and businesses or provide nutrients to grow more trees to make into paper to print more books. It's the cycle of business life.

One of the points that no one seems to be making is that ebooks provide an alternative to readers with arthritis or other debilitating diseases that make holding print books more and more difficult since the size of books has increased with the cost. A friend told me last night that she had to quit reading Stephen King's The Dome because it was too difficult to hold with her arthritic hands. She still doesn't know how the books ends and won't find out until she breaks down and gets the ebook version.

With the move to smaller homes with less space for living, let alone having shelves for private libraries, an eReader can hold more than a thousand books available at all times, and some come with lighting that is actually useful in the dark. Some people have streamlined their homes to less than 300 square feet, which is smaller than my first apartment, or my tenth apartment for that matter. The idea seems to be taking up as little space as possible, something that seems lost on cemeteries since the smallest receptacle is a box to hold ashes, while funeral directors are still selling plots that must be lined with a cement casing to hold the coffin to keep the fluids from leaching into the soil as the body decomposes. No more will people have to worry about decomposing bodies in the soil, not with airtight cement liners and coffins built to last longer than the pyramids. The silk lining will decompose, but not the coffin.

No matter which end of the print book versus ebook controversy you choose, there are pros and cons to both sides. The only reliable and unassailable fact of life is that everything changes. Print books are not going out of style; they never will as long as there are people who cannot afford to buy a single book, let alone a shelf full of paperbacks quietly and quickly aging into pulp. Print books are here to stay. They don't last as long as the hand illuminated manuscripts carefully lined and limned on papyrus or parchment (made of animal skin) and ebooks will last as long as the technology remains available to read them. Someone will find a way to make the devices cheaper and smaller with more functions, but the word remains. Books are here to stay in one form or another, and that makes my job a little easier since I write so people can read.

Pick a side, any side, and hang on for the ride. Everything is changing -- eventually.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Trailer: Among Women

After much worrying and a bit of nail biting (I used clippers), I finally got the link for the new book trailer for Among Women and it's pretty good. Check it out.

If you'd like to read the book, it's available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Amazon as an ebook, so far, and available at your favorite bookstore in paperback, including Amazon, of course. Feel free to read and review. I'd like to know what you think of the first part of the New Orleans story. Yes, there is a second book.

Magic at The Majestic

When I read a bad review I want to go directly to the source and read or watch what caused so much trouble -- usually. There are some writers and actors that get an immediate down turned thumb from me. Jim Carrey is at the top of the listu. Yes, he's a great comedian with his rubber face, flat feet and seemingly elastic joints, but he gives me a pain ever since Dumb and Dumber and his performance in Batman as the Joker. I much preferred Cesar Romero.

I decided to take another chance on Carrey and watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and I prefer the animated version with Boris Karloff reading the story. It was much closer to Dr. Seuss's tone and message. The multi-car pile-up that was the Carrey version was simply sappy and I didn't even finish watching it, although the little girl who played the little Who girl was quite charming. I avoid Jim Carrey at all costs -- until a couple weeks ago when I decided to give The Majestic a chance. At least it was drama and not comedy, or Carrey's brand of comedy, and he has done fairly well in other dramatic parts before he started believing his press. I was amazed.

The Majestic is nominally about the red scare during the 1950s when Joe McCarthy got a bug up his bottom about communism and communists. This time it was Jim Carrey as a screenwriter post World War II who gets it in the neck by the studio, his fiancee' and his government because he signed a membership roster of what turned out to be a communist group. The screenwriter was in search of the loose morales of a certain young lady of his acquaintance and did not have the hots for socialism or communism.

Carrey decides to run away, or at least put some distance between himsef and Hollywood and the witch hunt, and ends up in a wreck that sends him flying down the river and onto a secluded beach near a small town in northern California where he is mistaken for one of the hometown boys, now missing for nine years. Since he's lost his memory, he reluctantly goes along with the people in hopes of recovering what he's lost. Instead, he finds something he never knew he needed.

The Majestic is about the 1950s, but it could not have been written or produced or shown during that time. Joe McCarthy and his Red vigilante group wouldn't have killed it in its infancy. There is a nostalgic feel that fits post war America through the beginning of the movie that then descends to a bit of camp and thumbing noses at the senate inverstigative committee in front of which Carrey eventually appears. However, the movie still works with all the schmalz and good feelings that characterize this kind of drama. Carrey gives an -- for him -- understated performance that sparkles for the most part. He is real where he needs to be real and honest and eats the scenery a bit in front of the senate committee, for which I think this time he can be forgiven.

Despite the flaws in this movie, I did enjoy it and heartily recommend it for the underlying message of hope and hometown values espoused. It might remind you -- if you're old enough -- that there was a time when going to the movies was a big occasion. People called babysitters and dressed up in their best finery and went to the air conditioned confines of the magic factory where the seats were plush and the surroundings opulent and full of magic. That's the kind of entertainment I remember, the kind that is far from spectacular chase scenes, over done pyrotechnics, special effects that didn't need computers and acting that was dark and gritty and mostly well done. There were stinkers back in the 1950s, too, but it was also the time of Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, and movies that touched the heart like The Boy With the Green Hair. It was magic.

I miss dressing up and going out on the town and so much about the times of my youth, and movies like The Majestic go a long way towards bringing them back. If Jim Carrey continues in this less flamboyant style I may go back to watching his movies. This is the actor who tempted me closer with his short-lived comedy The Duck Factory and didn't completely ruin my belief in his abilities with The Truman Show. Of course, that was before he became famous and lauded for his comedic turns. Give me more of movies like The Majestic no matter who stars, like David Ogden Stiers and Martin Landau, among others, and I will get dressed up and go to the movies once again because that will be entertainment.