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Control

A week or so ago, an author friend gave me the heads-up regarding a brief-but-nasty review of Boneshaker (as well as this author’s own works) composed by someone who was irate over Amazon.com’s georestrictions. In short, because this man could not download our books to a Kindle (edited to add: Or otherwise acquire them, apparently) in Australia, he thought he’d take out his frustration on us.

This isn’t altogether shocking, since we-the-authors are arguably the most public face of the publishing process; and, in the reviewer’s defense, when he was asked nicely to remove the reviews, he did so. Of course, his parting shot informed me that my books were available for free in “all the usual places” so he could always just download them anyway. Eh. One step forward, two steps back, I guess.

But this brings up a couple of things that I’ve seen discussed a lot lately: (1). e-piracy and (2). authorial control, and I wanted to clear up a few of the more prevalent misconceptions on these subjects.

Actually, I don’t have much to say about piracy because Nicole Peeler has already produced a pretty good run-down on the subject. However, when I linked her post on Twitter, I received some follow up questions regarding libraries, used book stores, and friend-sharing — so I’d like to take a moment to address them.

In short, of course authors would love it if everyone could buy brand new copies of their books. But the next best thing is borrowing books from a friend or library; and no, most of the authors I know don’t have problems with used book stores, either. The reasons are primarily twofold: (1). original purchase, and (2). scale.


    (1). Libraries are very good markets for books, and we writers love them to bits. You see, if enough people line up to borrow a book, the library will purchase more copies of that book in order to reduce the wait. Therefore, the more people who want to borrow books from the library, the better. Also, libraries tend to be very supportive of writers from a promotional standpoint. They invite us to read, host our events, and often let local booksellers come in to sell copies at these events. To sum up: Libraries are good for authors.

    (2) If your friend has a copy of a book and loans it to you, that’s awesome. If you enjoy the book, maybe you’ll even go buy some other books by the author. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you likely won’t pass that book around to a few thousand of your closest friends. Due to the restrictions of the space-time continuum, a physical object is unlikely to find itself enjoyed by more than a handful of people. The same principle applies to used bookstores. Really, at the end of the day, a used bookstore is just a borrowing service that comes with a fee.


Right. Well then. Now let’s talk about authorial control. First, a disclaimer: Your mileage may vary. Everything discussed below is a result of personal experience combined with the fact that I know a whole bunch of writers, and we tend to talk about these things amongst ourselves. There are exceptions. These are generalizations, not stone-carved facts applicable across the board.


Things Authors Mostly Control

The words. Yes, we are subject to editorial review, revision, and rewriting. Absolutely — and sometimes, quite a lot of it. But we are responsible for the content, and we usually have some negotiating room with regards to how it is handled.

How we present ourselves to the audience. What we wear, the language we use, and the level of accessibility we offer — both online and in person — these are things within our purview.


Things Authors May Influence in Some Measure

The book’s title. Titles get changed all the time, usually with the author’s input — but sometimes without it. Occasionally a title is too similar to another book (in the same genre and/or by the same publisher in the same season), sometimes marketing hates it, sometimes … heaven knows what.

Who gets review copies of books. Though most publishers have a list of which reviewers in what venues get Advance Readers Copies (ARCs), if someone approaches an author and asks for one, the author can pass the request on to a publicist or editor. These requests are honored or ignored at the publicist/editor’s discretion, based on any number of factors. But more often than not (in my experience) they tend to be granted.

Visibility: Part One. A savvy writer can — if he or she has enough free time and/or disposable cash — attend conferences and conventions, manage websites regarding his/her books, and network with other authors, readers, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers. It is also up to the writer whether or not to accept interview requests and the like.

Visibility: Part Two. BUT. The vast bulk of the writers I know do not have the free time or disposable cash to pick up and jaunt to every convention in every city, much less send themselves on tour. Obviously authors who have reached a certain level of profitability will be invited around (expenses paid), but more often than not these things are paid for out of the author’s pocket.* And keep in mind that most of us have day jobs and/or families to juggle.


Things Over Which Authors Have Virtually No Say

The cover. When it comes to covers, the majority of authors are treated like modern royalty: We enjoy the right to be consulted, then ignored. Cover art and design is handled by the art department with the overriding input of marketing and sales. Sometimes if something is glaringly wrong or bad, authors can request changes; but there’s no guarantee anyone will listen.**

The book’s cost. Not up to us. Not even remotely. This is (partially) related to the issue of size and format. See below.

Size and format. You’d rather read a hardback? Or a mass market edition (aka, pocketbook paperback)? Sorry. We typically neither (a). control the initial release format, nor (b). decide when it’s re-released or how. This is one more thing determined by sales and marketing.

Distribution. Distribution is something so far outside your average author’s sphere of influence that it may as well be handled by hobbits on Mars. If your local bookstore doesn’t have a book you want, the situation’s remedy is in your hands: Almost any bookstore will order titles on your behalf.

Quality control. If your copy of a book is missing pages due to a printer error; if it is not printed on paper you like; if the ink is a funny color; if the font gives you a headache. I mean, obviously authors are sorry about these things — but we had nothing to do with the decisions that created the issues … nor can we do anything to fix them for you.

Digital availability. Most contracts keep digital rights for the publisher, and if an author can wrestle them away, then awesome. Most of us can’t. Therefore, we have no control over what format the digital versions may take, or how they may appear.

Schedule. The calculations publishers use to determine release dates for books are arcane and mysterious. So although sometimes a book’s release is delayed due to authorial issues (handed in late due to failure to back-up files and whoops hard drive asplodey, or whatever), generally speaking we don’t have any say over when the book comes out.

Foreign availability. Sometimes foreign publishers want to translate and produce an author’s book. Sometimes they don’t. The end.

Foreign availability in other same-language countries. In the case of my books, which are written in English, it may appear that there’s no good reason countries like Canada and England shouldn’t have these books on demand. I agree. But see above re: Distribution.

Turning the book into a movie. Sometimes Hollywood producers are interested in turning a book into a movie. Sometimes they aren’t. The end.


In Conclusion

Okay! Well, that’s just the stuff I could pull off the top of my head. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments here or on LJ, or email me — and I’ll do my best to answer them and/or amend this post to include those answers. (See also: If any of you industry pros want to correct me or add your own two cents, feel free.)

Thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

~Cherie



* For example, last year’s 8-day “Paranormal Bender Tour” was paid for out-of-pocket by me, Mark Henry, Mario Acevedo, and Caitlin Kittredge. Likewise, I still am not cool enough for DragonCon to fly me out or put me up; so that’s a couple grand (when all is said and done) that I have to cover for just that one event.
** This is less true for smaller, independent publishers, who — on the whole, I think — tend to be more receptive to author input with regards to design. I realize that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but by and large this seems to be the case.

[Crossposted to/from my website. If you'd like to comment, you can do so either here or there.]

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Comments

( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
mhaithaca
Jan. 20th, 2010 10:58 pm (UTC)
Scott Adams had a good piece on the validity of online reviews the other day, and of course Apple recently booted a developer from the App Store when it was revealed that he'd used a bunch of promo codes to "buy" his own app from several different iTunes Store accounts and post (bogus) favorable reviews.

There's no excuse for the prospective purchaser being a jerk about it, but preferring to buy an electronic copy for his Kindle when he knows full well he could just steal it is something you'd want to encourage. :-) Good to hear he willingly took down the misdirected gripe.
cmpriest
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
But to be clear, there is literally NOTHING I can do to encourage Kindle to make it available to Australia. I don't even know who's in charge of that -- Amazon.com, because it's their device; or Tor, since they have the digital rights tied up.

And honestly, I doubt he had a Kindle. I think he was looking for something to complain about. He'd left identical reviews for dozens of other authors.
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sturgeonslawyer
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
Bravo. A succinct and clear statement of the position of the author in modern publishing.
xnbach
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
Awesome post that I hope clears up a few things
upstart_crow
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
So let me see if I'm understanding here.

Privileged guy can't get his Kindle to work correctly/can't download books to it.

Privileged guy then trashes a bunch of authors because he's angry at Amazon.

...
cmpriest
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
That is correct.
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mhaithaca
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Just came back after reading Dr. Peeler's awesome explanation of life as an author. Thanks for the link to it. Between the two of you writing this out, many people could come to understand much more about how this works. Y'all should write books or somethin'!
toso
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
Great read. I've always been curious about that sort of thing.
jawastew
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
Great post! I'm familiar with the topics you covered, but for those that aren't, this is pretty point by point. Very well laid out, thanks. :)
mr_earbrass
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks, to you and Nicole both!
I got hit as well, and have been unsure whether or not to post about it on my own site as I don't really want to give the thuggish bullyboy in question any free press...but seeing how you handled it I think I might've made a mistake.
cmpriest
Jan. 20th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks, to you and Nicole both!
My friend and I (if he wants to out himself, he's welcome to - but I feel I shouldn't) sent the guy a polite email explaining that he was complaining to/about the wrong person, and asking if he'd consider retracting the review.

It worked, though maybe when he sees this post he'll change his mind and put it back up :)
Re: Thanks, to you and Nicole both! - mr_earbrass - Jan. 21st, 2010 12:03 am (UTC) - Expand
catjuggling
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:03 am (UTC)
Excellent post.

Funny you should bring up the borrow from a friend thing as I'm working through a friend's copy of Boneshaker right now. Additionally, I bet there's a (very small and unreliable) percentage of those "borrowed" books that never make it back home and end up creating a new sale sometime down the road for the original owner.


Or, the friend who borrowed it didn't realize the bag it was in ended up at his son's feet in the back of the car and is now planning on purchasing a new copy for the lender. Maybe even getting out to a Third Place Books appearance from the author to get it signed...
michael_b_lee
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
The best part? I'm 95% sure that the reason the books are restricted is because of Australia's draconic distribution laws. I'm sure Amazon would be thrilled to make Kindle editions available to Australia, but they aren't allowed to.
gaminette
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:14 am (UTC)
Phooey. Does this mean it's not likely you'll come out in October for New York ComicCon? *frownyface*
burger_eater
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:15 am (UTC)
I know just the reviewer you mean! I saw the "georestricted" review on another book (Rosemary & Rue?) and clicked the "mark as inappropriate" link. Within a day or two it was gone. I just did the same for mr_earbrass.

That guy is rude.
sirena73
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for the informative post!
I'm also reading Boneshaker right now, and am loving it. So thank you for that, as well. :)
silveradept
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
A question for you, and possibly for Ms. Peeler and the rest of the authorial world at large.

e-Readers and their books often come with DRM, which is the bane of electronic formats, in my (working for those socialists, the library, and seeing what kind of blasphemous product they provide us with) opinion.

There is probably a significant portion of the pirate population that will do such things because they object on principle or practice to the presence of DRM stopping them from doing with the electronic copy what they would do with the physical one.

Not that you have any control over whether your digital stuff has DRM on it or not, and what kind of DRM it has, but do you personally feel DRM helps or hinders your sales to piracy ratio?
cmpriest
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
You're right about the "not having any control over that" either, bit, of course.

But by and large, I think DRM probably makes people more likely to steal things. I don't have any figures to back that up, mind you; it's just a gut feeling. I run in circles where people will download things (software, music, etc.) illegally because the legal versions are so crippled as to be unusable.

I mean, people are always going to find ways to steal stuff. There's not much to be done about that. But I suspect there are people out there who'd buy more digital content if it wasn't such a hassle to operate.

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kizayaen
Jan. 21st, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)
Something I've always wondered about - does it affect your cut of the sales based on whether somebody runs out and buys the hardcover, or waits and picks up a later printing in paperback?

I usually wait for the paperback because they're easier to provide shelf-space for, and way cheaper. But if I wanted to support an author in particular, and a hardback would send any extra cash their way, this would be good to know.
cmpriest
Jan. 21st, 2010 01:04 am (UTC)
I think the cut is bigger on a hardback, but I'd never fuss at anyone for waiting for the paperback :)
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ienpuwennofer
Jan. 21st, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
Libraries
I borrowed Boneshaker from my local library and liked it so much I went out and bought it. I do this all the time, borrow a book, read it, like it a lot, buy it and others the author has written...which is why I'm broke all the time :P
smofbabe
Jan. 21st, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
Great post! One data point to mention: Bozo might be completely wrong, not only about the things he's slagging authors about, but about the book availability itself. I don't have a Kindle but I have its software on my iPhone. The other day I tried to download a book from my iPhone using the mobile software and it told me the title wasn't available in Australia. However, when I went to Amazon's site through a web browser on my desktop machine, it was perfectly happy to let me purchase the same book in Kindle format.
epi_lj
Jan. 22nd, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Another thing you can do is that if you have a friend in the region it's available in who doesn't mind you using their credit card number, you can often change your credit card information and billing address temporarily for theirs, make the purchase, download it, and then switch it back and continue to access the content. I don't know if that works on the Kindle or not -- it's a little more tethered-to-home-base than other devices. But that's what I do for U.S.-only titles that I want to buy through the Sony eBook store.
epi_lj
Jan. 21st, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
"If your local bookstore doesn’t have a book you want, the situation’s remedy is in your hands: Almost any bookstore will order titles on your behalf."


Actually, that's not always true. The last physical book I went to buy in a bookstore (I mostly read eBooks now, which I do buy) where I went out of my way to try to patronize a local bookstore was unavailable for order except through the major chain in Canada. If I recall correctly, the explanation was that the publisher had set a minimum order cap of some sort and it was set to such an egregiously high number that nobody but the major chain could afford it. It's been a while, so I might be muddling that one up, but the ultimate result was that the bookstore takes special orders, was more than willing to take my special order, but the publisher would not let them order that book because they were too small to bother dealing with. *shrug*

That still doesn't make it your problem or something you have any control over, but it seems in light of such antics that telling the readers that the power to change the situation is in their hands is unfair.
adalanne
Jan. 23rd, 2010 02:32 am (UTC)
That...doesn't sound right. Do you perchance remember the book? I'd love to be able to poke around the publisher and find out if there's any such policy. I mean, I'm fairly new to publishing, but that seems so many levels of counter-intuitive that even publishers wouldn't be that crazy. Perhaps the store employee had heard some explanation, got something muddled up, and so they gave you their impression rather than the correct answer? As a former salesperson at a very small bookstore, there were quite a few times I pulled answers out of thin air and misunderstanding. I didn't do it on purpose, but more out of the desire of having an answer to the customer's question.

But yeah, at said small bookstore I worked at, I don't think we ever ordered more than 50 copies of one book at a time, and I know at least once we only ordered 1 (my boss was dead curious about Madonna's picture books), and we never had any problems.
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zombiegoat
Jan. 21st, 2010 05:27 am (UTC)
All true and somewhat crappy. But hey, at least you got to hang out with Mario Acevedo :)
arienm
Jan. 21st, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. I deal with digital content of a different sort, and piracy there is *rife*. I get very annoyed when I look into it and find people are not just downloading my work (2 or 3 times more than the actual sales numbers too) but are also thanking the person who posted it "for their work". The other, unspoken bit about this is that a lot of the people posting these items are getting financial revenue from the places where they post files, from the advertising posted in the download pages or with the links. I even read in one pirate site that it was wrong to repost the files elsewhere within a certain timeframe, to give the original poster time to really benefit "from their work" posting it first, and get the advertising revenue just for himself. WTF???
I have no reason to believe that book piracy would be any different, but the little I know of it -my other job is as a cover artist for a publishing company- tells me that it's just as bad.

Nicole Peeler also makes very good points, a lot of which are also applicable to the main market I move in, in particular the "not enough sales? sorry, we won't take another of your items since it doesn't sell enough for us to bother, regardless of how much its pirated". A little comment I made last year about this with actual download numbers from a single site can be found here http://www.wyrd-sisters.net/?p=9 ; I don't want to know what the totals would be when including other pirate sites, because then I would have to cry.

The usual arguments of pirates sickens me, and I'm beginning to also be very annoyed at the way certain popular blogs and sites seem to not be promoting piracy, but being very vocally against any effort to curb it. They seem to be promoting the idea that it's ok to pirate anything because the only ones that are being hurt are the big corporations, and that any constrain on distribution is caused by the big corporations too. And that sickens me, but tbh I've got no idea of what more to do to stop it. We are all doing what we can, but I can't spent days trailing pirate sites looking for my stuff, because then I don't do real work and I can't get next paycheck. But what I can say is that I hope *something* can be done about it soon.
papersky
Jan. 21st, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
I was cheering all the way through the post right up until the last point. You make it sound as if, should producers want to turn the book into a movie, it'll happen and you can't say no. You should keep the right to say no -- I always do. That is under the writer's control -- once the writer says yes, they can't affect what happens with the movie, but the writer doesn't have to give permission in the first place.
cmpriest
Jan. 21st, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Well, sure - but until someone wants to produce it, it's not going to happen. I certainly didn't mean to imply what you seem to have gotten from it.

It's virtually identical to the point about foreign rights, after all. Until someone else wants to take the work and adapt it, it doesn't even stand a chance of getting adapted. That's all.

Edited at 2010-01-21 05:16 pm (UTC)
nonspecific
Jan. 21st, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
Really good explanation. I only wish it were so easy to post one in all misunderstood lines of work. I could have used a FAQ posted at the pharmacy when I worked there. ;)
daydreammuse
Jan. 21st, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
Piracy can be used for good, but that is just my guilty mind talking, because I do some reviews based on works I have read as digital copies downloaded for free. It is quite rare for piracy to actually have a positive influence on the artist [the easier the work is available for free the faster the sales drop, at least this is how album and DVD sales are, for books I am not in the market to know for sure, but the same might not apply]. I live way outside the English speaking countries, where the content I want is available to me at a reasonable price to obtain in physical form, so I resort to reading via free downloads, but the very least try to review with measure, showcase and interview the author for further benefit. Not much of a gesture, but until I get me a job, it will trend.

And yes, us authors do not have much control and it's a trending topic all over author blogs especially with these white washed cover scandals.
cassiphone
Jan. 22nd, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
We have this in Australia too, though it's based on an estimate of books in libraries, not based on loans.
desperance
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Libraries are good for authors.

Also, one more reason we in the UK have to love our libraries: we actually get money, every time a book is borrowed from a public library! It's called Public Lending Right, it's financed by the govt and it works out about 6p per loan at the moment. Not sure there's any point your advocating a similar system in the US, because it'd probably be condemned as communism - socialised reading, oh noes! - but we love PLR over here...
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cissa
Jan. 24th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
Honestly, it makes trying to send rings to Singapore- AND getting paid for them, which is not the same thing- look easy.

My sympathies.
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