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April 8, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Tidbits

Items that piqued my interest over the past couple of weeks.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest Winner

Sauron...excuse me, has announced that the winner of the Breakthrough Novel Award is Bill Loehfelm, author of the mystery novel Fresh Kills. Loehfelm wins a $25,000 publishing contract with Penguin, which will issue the book via its Putnam imprint on July 31.

As with the first First Chapters competition, the rush to print is no doubt intended to beat the public's short attention span and take advantage of the publicity generated by the award. According to PW, Penguin hopes to have a galley on hand at the upcoming BEA.

Russell Grandinetti, Amazon Vice President for Books, said that "the contest received a tremendous response, and hit its cap of 5,000 submissions two weeks before the deadline. Submissions came from 18 countries and every state, and more than 30,000 customers downloaded excerpts of the submitted novels." Will that translate into sales for Mr. Loehfelm? Only time will tell.

Congratulations and best of luck to Mr. Loehfelm.

New Imprint from HarperCollins

Robert S. Miller, founder and president of Hyperion, is moving to HarperCollins to start a new imprint with, according to the announcement from Harper, "the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution." Details are preliminary, but the imprint will focus on short, lower-price nonfiction hardcovers, will pay low or no advances, and will be dividing profits 50/50 between publisher and author rather than paying conventional royalties. Books will be issued simultaneously in multiple formats, with ebook and audio versions possibly offered along with the hardcovers at no extra cost. The imprint will also aim at selling books on a nonreturnable basis.

At first glance, this is reminiscent of the Macmillan New Writing experiment, which publishes novels from unagented debut writers on a no-advance basis. In fact, there's not a lot of similarity. Other than not working with agents and not paying advances, Macmillan seems to follow the basic trade fiction publishing model. Harper's experiment sounds far more, well, experimental, jettisoning not just advances, but traditional payment structures and bookselling protocols. Significantly, also, it does not exclude agents.

This story has received a fair bit of news coverage, and has spurred much buzzing in the writing community (along with some unfounded rumors, such as the notion that Harper will be eschewing bookstore distribution and selling the books solely online). Given that many things are likely to change as the new imprint shifts from concept to reality, it's premature to do much commenting at this point. But it will be fascinating to see how this shakes out.

PFD goes POD

Troubled uber-agency Peters Fraser Dunlop recently announced that it will be entering into a POD arrangement with Lightning Source to re-publish out of print works from clients and clients' estates. (According to The Guardian, the books will be sold on, so the recent flap over BookSurge shouldn't be a factor here.)

Quoted in The Guardian, PFD's Marcella Edwards describes the plan as "a logical way of plugging gaps that publishers can't fill," and claims that PFD is not turning into a publisher. But the UK's Society of Authors is not amused. According to Kate Pool, the Society's deputy general secretary, "An agency sitting back and saying you can find this book listed on a website is very different from trying to find a publisher who'll take these titles on and bring them back into print. The agents' role is to go out and get the best deal they can. [PFD] seems to be taking 90% of the money for no work."

I agree. Agency as publisher? It's a huge conflict of interest. If an agency can re-publish out of print works itself and reap most of the profits (according to a The Guardian, authors will be paid a flat 10% royalty), what incentive does it have to market those works to other publishers? At what point might it start to seem appealing to offer a publication option to all clients, rather than just those with OP books?

PFD isn't the first to make this move. Richard Curtis's Ereads offers a similar program--and faced similar criticism when it started up.

Magic Lantern

One of the strategies often advised for agent-hunters is to find books similar to theirs in theme, subject, tone, style, and/or genre, and try to find out who agents them.

This is much more difficult than it sounds--not the agent-finding part, which is relatively easy for resourceful search engine users, but the book-identifying part. Genre isn't so hard, nor is theme or subject--but tone and style? How do you quantify something so elusive? And supposing you can, how do you identify similar books?

Here's an intriguing possibility: Booklamp, "a system for matching readers to books through an analysis of writing styles...The technology behind BookLamp allows you to find books that are written with a similar tone, tense, perspective, action level, description level, and dialog level, while at the same time allowing you to specify details." So if you think your manuscript has something of the feel of Kafka, only more humorous, you could plug those specifications into Booklamp and it would, theoretically, spit out a list of matching books.

Kewl? Sure. On the flip side, though, Booklamp presents some knotty copyright issues. In order to make those matches, Booklamp must presumably scan entire books into its database, which it may or may not have permission to do--much like Google and its Google Books Project. Except that unlike Google, Booklamp doesn't list the books it has scanned, so authors who may not want their books to be part of such a system have no way of discovering whether or not they are.

On its FAQ page, Booklamp claims that its use of the copyrighted material is transformative and/or covered by fair use. Booklamp is in beta at the moment, but if it goes live, I expect those claims will be tested.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm a lurker, but I had to comment about Booklamp. I went over to try it. Registration is easy, but then the process is...anticlimactic. There's a very specific list of books from which to choose, and then the program spits out matches (which also seem as though they're from a limited list.)

Am I missing something? I haven't browsed the forums yet because...well (she said sheepishly) I got bored.


Rachel Aaron said...

Booklamp talks about being like Pandora, only for books instead of music. Now, I love Pandora a TON, so I had to try it (also, I was hoping there would be somewhere I could copy in a few paragraphs of my work and see what author I was most like).

However, I've got to say I was pretty unimpressed. I selected 1984 from their very limited list (which is mostly SciFi, is SciFi easier to find online?), and the match they gave me, at 98% compatibility, was "The USA Patriot Act" by the United States Congress…


As my dad likes to say, that says a lot about a lot, right there.

Anonymous said...

Is Booklamp making any of the text accessible?

E-Reads said...

Richard Curtis here just to correct the impression that my agency, Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., is in any way a publisher. E-Reads, the e-book publishing company of which I am a principal, is a completely separate corporation from my agency. Although it does carry, among the more than 800 titles in E-Reads' list of previously out of print books, a number of titles by authors represented by my agency, those authors entered into arm's-length agreements with E-Reads. Richard Curtis Associates takes no commission on royalties paid to E-Reads authors who are also agency clients, and in the ten years since was founded, there has not been a single complaint of conflict of interest. Indeed, like all other authors published by E-Reads, they are uniformly grateful to see their books reissued in e-book and print formats, and they happily deposit the 50% royalty that E-Reads issues quarterly.

Richard Curtis

Victoria Strauss said...

Mr. Curtis, thanks for the comment and the clarification.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the path that PFD appears to be taking. Not one BIT. And if I were one of the few clients who didn't decamp to United Agents when the great agent migration occurred last year, I would almost certainly be moving now.

Jane Smith
(unencumbered by blogger accounts, Google or otherwise.)

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