Readers Corner

Why Great Writers Starve and Journalism Suffers

A great post today from professional writer Nate Thayer on a recent exchange with an editor at The Atlantic who wanted to ‘repurpose’ his article.


From The Atlantic:

We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month.


From Thayer:

I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts.


Then the clincher from The Atlantic:

I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100.


13 million readers yet they can only afford to pay $100.

How about instead of screwing over their writers, the content producers who keep those 13 million readers coming back, they concentrate on fixing their business model?

Readers Corner

Reader’s Corner: Amped and side of Male Privilege

I’m always up for a good science fiction ethical quagmire, and I enjoyed Robopocalypse, so Amped by Daniel H. Wilson seemed like a decent bet. It wasn’t until I was 80-some pages in that I recognized something amiss:

Apparently the world of Amped has next to zero women.

I don’t usually spend my time calculating the demographic composition of characters in a novel, but Amped was so egregiously male it was impossible not to notice. Because I expect to be accused of exaggerating, I went back through the book page by page and counted every person whose sex is identified, no matter how insignificant.



90 total sex-identified characters (including groups, such as ‘groups of teens’ and ‘several amps’).

15 female. 16.67%


Of those 15:

– Samantha Blake, who’s dead by the end of the first chapter.

– “girl wearing a short skirt and a pair of sunglasses” noticed in passing.

– Police officer who says “hey” as protagonist flees.

– Tammy Rogers, a name at the top of a faux lawsuit decision

– “a couple” I’ll heteronormatively define as one male, one female, mentioned in passing.

– Bank teller with no dialogue who gives protagonist his money.

– Monica, off-stage wife of protagonist’s friend. Mentioned once.

– Lucy Crosby, the love interest.

– Miranda, identified (but never seen) as one of three trailer park residents.

– “my folks”, never seen, parents of a character that again, I’ll define as one male, one female.

– “…Old lady barfs up her nachos”. Only reported, never seen, so might be hypebole.

– Representative of Homeland Security, identified as ‘she’ in a faux newspaper quote.

– Janet Marino, the name attributed to a faux newspaper article.

– Unidentified “I hear a woman screaming from a trailer”.


In short, we have TWO female characters and one pitches herself from a roof seven pages in. The other, Lucy, is a Mary Sue created solely for the romantic attention of the protagonist. She’s thin and blonde , of course. 


Wilson even manages to commit the ever-annoying trope of a father and son with absolutely no glimmer of a mother. Did the Dr. David Grey’s talents include growing a fully functional human being in a petri dish?


If this had been Wilson’s first novel, he’d have an excuse (even if it was only “I’m a privileged tool, but I’ll do better next time”). But seeing as it’s not, and that Robopocalypse managed to present women as something with substance, I really have to wonder what happened here. Where were his first readers, agent, editors and publisher? Was everyone so drunk off his prior success that they didn’t bother reading the manuscript?

The world of Amped had a lot of potential, but despite some great turns of phrase, Wilson doesn’t deliver. Not just because he’s oblivious to half the population (the half that also makes up the vast majority of book buyers and readers), but because he dodges the deep ethical questions that would’ve made this book required reading in classrooms. Truly unfortunate.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Potpourri Readers Corner

It’s official..

I hate writing query letters.

Potpourri Readers Corner

Publishing Industry Explained (sort of…)

Occassionally you will hear me gripe about the book publishing industry, but here is an opportunity for me to explain why. And please read all the way to the bottom cuz that’s the important stuff.

First up, is a Dear Author post, commenting on a Wall Street Journal article and breaking down the current publishing industry model. (there’s a lot more to this post aside from what I’m quoting – please read it in its entirety)

Publishing operates under the Pareto concept. 20% of the titles generate 80% of the publishing houses’ profits. But reliance on the 20% of books to provide a successful and growing book market will inevitably miss whole segments of the reading public.

In 2006, Netflix offered 60,000 DVDs. Out of the 60,000 titles in Netflix’s inventory, I ask, how many do you think are rented at least once on a typical day? Well, the actual answer is 35,000 to 40,000. That’s right: every day, almost two of every three movies ever put onto DVD are rented by a Netflix customer. “Americans’ tastes are really broad,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want — and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process.

Publishing needs to learn more about its consumers. This is where microtargeting can come into play. If publishing spent less in advances and had better POD technology, it could provide more targeted sales. Wouldn’t it be less of a risk to try to make money off of 80% of the publishing list rather than just 20%.

Then we have this little gem which walks you the ‘business’ of owning a bookstore, and explaining how disasterous it is that booksellers can order books from the publisher and then return the unsold copies whenever they please (FYI, books are the ONLY industry where this happens):

However, the big boxes — Borders, Barnes & Nobles, even Amazon, now…had purchasing power…They’re talking potentially in the thousands, even millions [of a single title]

As for Borders, part of their business model is something called churning [returning unsold books]

The usual terms with distributors are 1 week, 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days, depending on your credit history with them.

Order $1000 worth of books. Note the payment says, “since you are fancy massive bookstore with lots of buying power, you have 90 days to pay from the date the order was delivered in full”. However, you still only have 60 days before you can return without a restocking fee & tax-surcharge. So on day 59, let’s say you return $500 worth of books, and get $500 credit from the distributor for books you have not even paid for yet.

That’s churning.

Borders killed (literally) a couple of small presses recently and hurt many more by doing this and here’s how:

They did not return to the original distributor but to Ingram’s [according to this poster, if a bookseller accidentally send to the wrong distributor, they will generally credit the account, then return the books to their proper distributor and get their money back from them]

Now, thing is about small presses: if you order a lot of books from them, it’s going to be hard for them to fill the full order, sometimes…if they [Borders] order 500 copies and only get 100, they don’t pay for those 100 until the other 400 have come in.

Borders is busy ordering, doesn’t have to pay, AND is returning books to Ingrams instead of to the original, small, publisher-distributors. So the publisher/distributor is sending the rest of the order while the first half is being RETURNED FOR CREDIT, and Borders can then use that credit to get books through Ingrams, who carries a helluva lot more than just that one small press.

It’s like, “I ordered 500 copies of the Book of Vacuum Cleaner Hoses, only got 250 so far, then immediately returned those 250 not to Hose Press but to Ingrams, got $5,000 credit, and turned around to use that to purchase from Ingrams 500 copies of Dan Brown’s latest tripe, on which I’ve now made $5,000 on top of the money I didn’t actually even pay yet.”

Notice that Borders has not paid out a single penny yet. Basically, they ordered something, returned it elsewhere, and used that return to buy something else which was sold at a profit.

In case the dots weren’t connected, these small presses, when hit with all these returns went bankrupt. One small press is actually suing Borders for this mess. (whether EC is the ‘right’ press to be suing them is another topic altogether)

Readers Corner

Million Dollar Backlash

From MediaBistro’s Galleycat:

Some readers were not amused by the multi-million dollar bidding wars inspired by Sarah Silverman and Jerry Seinfeld’s respective book proposals this week.

Moonrat responded with a passionate post: “GalleyCat, you know I love you, but how dearly I hope your source was wrong about this. Huge advances like this will never earn out, ever.”

Silverman’s book landed at HarperCollins to the tune of $2.5 million, the NY Observer reports today. Seinfeld’s deal has not been sealed as of this writing.

Following these developments, children’s author Jane Yolen commented on how huge advances affect other non-celebrity authors: “I may have sold millions of copies of my books, but have never commanded even a 100th of the D List celebrity advances. Gotta find me some tassels and practice my singing/dancing chops. After I make it big on my Virgin Grandma tour, I might be able to get me a real advance on my next book.”

I suspect the inner workings of the publishing industry are as a big a mystery to the average person as is the Federal Reserve, but in short, the publishing industry is whining constantly about losing money. Yet, they operate under a ridiculous ‘consignment’ business model, which means that if bookstores can’t sell books, they can just return them to the publisher. No other industry operates under this model, and it’s the reason indie publishers are being crushed. (it’s also the reason you’ll find the latest Stephen King, James Patterson etc. in the clearance bin for $5.99. The retailers don’t have to ‘monitor’ how many copies they order because they can just turn around and return them to the publishers to fee up some capital)

The other insane issue are these ‘celebrity advances’. The publishing companies are heading toward a blockbuster mentality, which would be somewhat understandable except that everyone (and by ‘everyone’, I mean those who pay attention to the publishing industry) knows these multi-million dollar advances rarely, if ever, earn out. It’s as if the publishers get some sort of ego boost from having Celebrity X on their client roster instead of making a legitimate business decision.

So they lose money on these headline making deals. But instead of opting for a lower advance and a higher royalty rate for fake-boobed wonder’s latest tell-all, the publishers choose not to renew midlist authors or turn away new authors because “they’re too big of a risk”. Why fix a mistake when you can just make a new one instead?