The Business Rusch: Even More Writer Survival Skills (Changing Times Part 20)
The Business Rusch: Even More Writer Survival Skills (Changing Times Part Twenty)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
This past week also saw a lot of changes in the publishing industry, most of which I did not have time to process. Also, I’m not sure if these changes are simply steps along a path leading in a direction we don’t entirely understand yet or if these changes are significant. I’m going to list a couple of them and let you decide.
First, Random House decided to join the other publishers in a pricing structure called “the agency model.” Essentially, what this means is that the publisher sets the price, period. This was what the big fight between Amazon and Macmillan was about last year, and Amazon caved with a petty reaction in its Kindle store. All Agency-priced books have this snarky comment along the bottom: “Price established by the publisher.”
Do realize this is a change in the retail model, not just for books but for most goods. In the past, the retailer got charged a certain amount to place an item in the store. But once that item was in the store, the retailer could give it away for free if he wanted to, so long as the manufacturer received that certain amount.
I would have said that this agency model always raises the price to the consumer, but some book companies are now using discounting as a strategy, as Random House did in February in order to get one of its e-books (Lisa Gardner’s Alone) on that newly established highly bogus New York Times e-book bestseller list. The Times won’t list free books on its list, so Random House set its book price at 99 cents. (Even that caused a momentary controversy, quickly resolved.) Once the book hit the list, the price got raised, but such strategic pricing enabled the publisher to get a run at the list. (Of course, the book’s quality had to be high enough to hit the list. Not every book will sell well enough to hit any list, even when that book is priced at 99 cents.)
The other big news of the week? HarperCollins has decided to limit library downloads of e-books. Now, any Harper e-book purchased by a library may only have 26 downloads before that library license expires. The library must purchase again (at a lower rate).
In response Overdrive, which supplies e-books to libraries, has taken Harper out of the regular catalogue and placed them in a separate catalogue. HarperCollins is calling foul for Overdrive’s behavior, but libraries are calling foul at HarperCollins’s.
I suspect such fights will continue for the next two or three years as we slowly determine what is “customary” and “expected” in the e-book marketplace.
And finally, for those of you still having trouble with my previous post, let me add a few words. First, all of you debating on a particular list serve—um, no, I haven’t peered into the “abyss” of e-publishing and lost my mind. I have believed what I wrote about voice, style, story, and writing fast for more than two decades.
To back up what I said about focusing less on the words and more on the story, let me bring in Elmore Leonard. Over the weekend, the students at our workshop gave me and Dean a lovely book: Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (with some snappy illustrations by Joe Ciardiello). (Thank you, everyone!)
Inside, I found this: “If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
Now, Elmore Leonard initially wrote this in 2001 for The New Yorker and at that time, no one was staring down the abyss of electronic publishing and losing their mind. So if you choose not to believe crazy old me, perhaps you should listen to one of our best stylists as well as a bestseller and damn fine storyteller who happened to be writing for the magazine that stands as the arbiter of literary style in this country. Just sayin’.
(Ooops. Sorry about the grammatical error there. Must’ve been the abyss speaking.)
Okay-doke. Now that we have that weekly stuff out of the way, let’s return to our regularly scheduled blog post.
In the previous two weeks, we’ve discussed what it takes for a modern writer to survive in today’s ever-changing publishing environment. If you haven’t read those posts, now’s the time. Here’s the link to the first and the second.
For those of you who’ve been following along week to week, here’s a short review. First I discussed some of the business skills a writer would need. Those are:
3. Business Savvy
4. Entrepreneurial Spirit
Then I moved away from business and ventured into craft. I said writers with these tools already in their craft toolbox will do better in the modern publishing era. The tools are:
5. Write Fast
6. Storytelling Ability.
The last few skills I’m going to mention can apply to both craft and to business. Frankly, the past five decades in publishing have made the following skills somewhat obsolete. Writers with these skills found publishing much more frustrating than passive writers who believed all of the myths (you can’t make a living; you must write slowly; you cannot write more than one book every five years or you’re committing crap; avoid genre at all costs; avoid clichés at all costs—you get the idea).
To survive in the modern publishing era, writers need to be:
I wrote two separate posts on taking risks in the Freelancer’s Survival Guide. I’m going to link to the second one here, but both are worth reading before you get too deep into this discussion.
The old system removed the element of risk from the writer’s hands and put it in the hands of the publisher. The publisher then tried to tame risk, control it, and pretend that books were widgets instead of little pieces of individuality bound in cloth with a pretty cover.
If you believe the myths, and so many writers do, then writers should never quit their day jobs, write only in their spare time, commit only a few books in their lifetime and hope for the best. No risk, really, because the writer doesn’t have a career; she has a hobby. Her career is whatever her day job is.
The publisher determined if those handful of books that the writer wrote were “worthy” of publication. Of course, no one can know what will make a success in publishing—no one has ever known—so what this really means is that the publisher looked at previously published items, tried to figure out if the new book was similar enough to attract readers, and then the publisher guessed.
The difference between a publisher’s guess and a writer’s guess was a matter of scale. The writer (who had an income thanks to the day job) lost a bit of time and some ego if the book didn’t sell (either to the publisher or to the public once the book appeared). The publisher (who hoped to make a slight [4%] profit on the book) lost a minimum of $200,000 up front money if the book didn’t sell. If that publisher had too many books that didn’t sell, the person who made the publishing decision lost his job. And if the publishing company had too many books that didn’t sell, then the publishing company went belly-up.
The publisher assumed the bulk of the risk and received the bulk of the reward. The writer made that trade-off in order to fulfill her dreams and to be published.
Early on, we all bought into that system. Some of us learned ways around it. Others got crushed by it.
However, a lot of writers survived in that protective bubble because the publishers (and agents) treated writers like children, protecting them from the “realities” of publishing. Sometimes this protection came in the form of withholding information (like never really telling a writer how well her book was selling; obfuscating royalty statements; refusing to answer phone calls), and sometimes this protection came in the form of active lies (“yes, of course, you’re doing well” when the writer isn’t).
Publishers didn’t believe that this behavior had a significant impact on the writer because most writers had day jobs. So yes, writers went away, but mostly writers just moved to other publishing houses where they were no longer the first publishing house’s problem. Writers could still feed their families and if they couldn’t, then who did they think they were? A New York Times bestseller? Why didn’t they get a day job?
I call these passive writers “take care of me” writers. For the sake of brevity, we’ll call them TCM writers. TCM writers often behaved like spoiled children, having tantrums when they heard the word “no,” never turning their books in on time, behaving badly at conventions and writers conferences and always indulging in their bad-boy artistic behaviors.
The rest of us who worked fulltime as writers were constantly told by the people who were supposedly our publishing partners to “be realistic” and get a real job so that we “had a base” underneath us. We were told that we had a good run but it wouldn’t last forever. We constantly had to prove our professionalism. And we were often treated like beginners when we had decades more experience than the “publishing professionals” we worked with.
But we put up with it, because we had only one way to publication.
That’s changing now, and the writer who can stomach risk is the writer who will make the best decisions for her career.
Risk-takers have a tolerance for taking the path less traveled. They don’t want someone to tell them what to do. They want help making an analysis of the possible roads, then the risk-taker will follow the road that’s right for her.
No longer is there simply one way to get published. Now there are several, and those paths fork at various points along the way. As someone mentioned in the comments a few weeks ago, which fork you take depends on who you are.
Sometimes, though, the easy way is the way that will cost you the most, not just in money but in time and in the possible destruction of your dreams.
Risk takers know how to assess the risk versus the reward. Risk takers don’t take the greatest gamble; in fact, studies have shown that risk-takers often take the least risky option. But risk-takers actually have done the assessment themselves and know what that least-risky option is.
On Monday, Publisher’s Weekly published a guest blog by Terrill Lee Lankford which is a prime example of what I’m discussing here. Lankford, a self-proclaimed midlist writer, has had two book contracts under negotiation since August. Initially, his editor told him that e-book rights were highly negotiable.
But Lankford has been keeping an eye on the business and he knew that e-rights were becoming hot properties. So as the negotiations progressed, he asked what the current e-book split was. His editor told him, as I have been telling you, that in Big Publishing, the e-book split is this: the publisher takes 75% and the writer takes 25%. (This is of the net, by the way).
I loved Lankford’s response. He said, “Do you have that backwards?” And when his editor didn’t respond, he wrote an e-mail saying, “I’m serious: was this a typo? Does the publisher actually take 75%?”
His editor answered yes, and Lankford wrote one final e-mail. “This amazes me. No amount of ‘platforming’ can justify this. If that’s the rate they expect me to accept, I’m going to have to pass.”
He did. He’s heading into the realm of self publishing. The rest of the post explains why. I think he has very good points.
But the key point, and the reason I bring it up here, is that he knew what he wanted. The risk to him was not losing a publishing deal. The risk to him was being underpaid for the e-rights to his novels. He did a very good financial and emotional assessment of the choices ahead of him and then he made his decision.
He writes: “This is a huge gamble for someone in my position. But I can’t sign away my financial legacy to my children in this fashion.”
He is clearly aware of the risks he’s taking. But he also has his eye on the reward—his children’s financial future.
Risk versus reward will be different for every single writer. Before it was pretty straightforward: you played with the big boys or you didn’t get published. Self publishing didn’t count because your book didn’t get distributed to bookstores. Here’s how publishing worked just as recently as a few years ago:
Writers provide content (product) to Publishers.
Publishers distribute that content to Distributors.
Distributors distribute books to Bookstores.
Bookstores distribute that content to Readers.
If you want to understand how this all works, see the second post in this series. Now, however, distribution has become much easier, which makes the road ahead harder.
There are no simple decisions, and anyone who tells you otherwise can’t see beyond their own navel. I’m finding that my decisions now go case-by-case. Will this book do better in the Big Publishing world? Will losing the e-rights to that book for decades be worth the tradeoff? Will this book benefit from a quick push (the produce method)? Or is this book a slow-grower, a word-of-mouth book?
Suddenly I am balancing a thousand decisions whereas in the past I only had to make a handful. And I’m not alone. Every writer I know is making tough choices, and we’re consulting with each other over the risks versus the rewards.
Ultimately, though, the decision rests with us. And we have to take responsibility for that decision’s success or its failure.
Which brings me to this…
To survive in this modern publishing environment, writers need:
9. A Willingness to Try.
That sound so simple. You need to try. But trying something requires you to go outside of your comfort zone, and everything in the modern publishing world is outside of our comfort zone.
When publishing changed the last time, fifty years ago, the TCM writers became the norm. Those changes indulged the lazy writer’s desire to ignore anything “painful” or “hard” because “writing is hard.” The TCM writer wanted to “focus on the work,” not realizing that part of the work is taking risks, learning business, and not letting someone else take care of you.
Those fifty-year-old changes made everything outside of the average writer’s comfort zone, from paying bills to managing money to discussing business, from running a website to writing cover copy to designing a cover. Mention to these writers that they have to learn new skills and to a person, they all have an excuse as to why they can’t.
Mostly, they search for someone else to take care of them, and those someone elses are making a large fortune off writers who can’t even afford to quit their day jobs. Expect that phenomenon to get worse instead of better for the TCM writer. Expect that myth that writers can’t make money to grow instead of recede.
This is all because TCM writers won’t try. They will say they can’t before they will say that they can. They close their eyes, click their heels together, and wish to go home—back to the days when publishing moved slower and TCM writers ruled.
We’re in the land of Oz now, folks, and writers who try new things, even if they fail, will do so much better than writers who don’t try at all.
My motto in all of this? It’s okay to make mistakes. I just don’t want to make the same mistake twice. New mistakes—fine. The same old mistakes again and again. No way.
Giving myself permission to fail is a way to give myself permission to try.
And finally, the writers who survive in this new publishing world will be
Writers who need rules, who need to be told what to do, who need to know where to stand and where to sit and what clothes to wear, simply won’t survive. Many nonconformist writers were browbeaten over the past several decades into conforming, damaging their spirits and making many of them quit.
But the nonconformists are the ones who will survive now. Nonconformists take risks; nonconformists try. But most importantly, nonconformists want to know “why.”
Why can’t they publish their own work? Why can’t they write fast? Why can’t they manage their own money? Why should they listen to editors/agents/sales departments? Why should they take a 75/25 deal that favors the publisher? Why? Why? Why?
In some ways the most successful writer in the modern environment will have a three-year-old’s creativity and endless curiosity combined with an adult’s business savvy and the intelligence to balance risks as well as rewards.
For people who need to be told what to do, who worry about what others will think, and who can’t color outside the lines, it is scary.
For the rest of us, this new world of publishing is freeing. Finally, it’s okay to march to your own drummer. Your drummer might take you to that Carnegie Hall-like structure that is Big Publishing or your drummer might lead you to a small smoky nightclub at the end of a winding road. Or you might follow your eclectic drummer to gigs at both.
The key is: you must follow your own drummer now. And that’s what’s new about this modern publishing world.
The control is back in the hands of each individual writer. We make or break our own careers—with the quality of the books we write, with the way we market them, with the choices we make on craft and storytelling, as well as the way we choose to publish those books. Our business decisions are as important now as the genres we chose.
And that’s a very, very good thing.
The more involved I get in this new world of publishing, the more I enjoy it. I like the interaction that happens every week when I write this blog. I appreciate the comments, tweets, e-mails and donations. I also appreciate the way you folks make me think—and think hard—about the various topics we’re discussing here. So thanks.
“The Business Rusch: Even Modern Writer Survival Skills (Changing Times Part 20)” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Awesome and very inspiring. I feel it in my gut that I need to move forward and take risks, instead of waiting for someone else to believe in me. The bottom line is that it takes work no matter what path you take.
It does take work, PK, but at least our work is fun. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the piece.
Great Post! The best part is that for all of us who have eyes that see ahead and who have endured a lifetime of criticism for being out of the box because we were creative, reckless because we dared to try something new and different, and nonconformists because we could see and think beyond conventional “wisdom” in times that were anything but conventional – our time has come. Bring it on.
(very big grin)
Thanks for this and all the past posts. Since discovering your blog, I’ve saved a bunch of my time by simply referring existing and aspiring clients to the wealth of wise business knowledge you’ve shared here. I find myself reading along and mumbling “naturally,” “of course,” “exactly.” When a friend who oversees an important writing conference asked me for some recommendations for future speakers, I told my friend that she’d be doing the audience a huge favor by inviting you to speak about the changing face of publishing and forget providing another paying gig for a writer who most likely wouldn’t help other aspiring writers with the practical business knowledge about publishing that they’ll need to survive in the changing landscape. Maybe you’ll get that invite. I hope so.
Thanks so much for the recommendation, Jeff. And thanks for sending your clients here. I figure I have the knowledge, so I might as well share. 🙂
And you’re welcome, Marta. I agree. I wake up excited to get to work every day now. Bring it on!
Great post, as always. I’m starting out right from self-publication, I’ve got no interest in the traditional paths.
Although I admit that in my heart, I wish I COULD be a TCM writer for only one reason — promotion. I do my own website, social media work, print prep and e-book prep. I’m comfy rolling up my own on my projects. But while I’ve got a hell of a web presence and two books in print already, what I don’t have is any way to PROMOTE them beyond word-of-mouth of the maybe 50-75 people who read the work.
So, needless to say, looking forward to the upcoming post on promotion.
As for “Day Jobs,” I know this post comes down pretty hard on them… but even striking out on my own with this, I’m not comfortable leaving my day job. Right now, it completely takes care of me and leaves plenty left over for long-term savings, AND affords me enough time to write. On top of that, I’ve got a physical disability which could at any point yank my stability out from under me; without a good cushion to land on I could crash hard. I think that as long as it’s not interfering with your ability to write and enjoy life, there’s nothing wrong with a day job.
Day jobs are necessary for all writers in the beginning, Stefan. And for some writers forever, not because they need the money, but because they need the insurance. (I sure hope this changes for the better in the next few years.)
When I complain about writers and day jobs, it’s for those writers who write one book every five years, and call themselves “a professional writer” when they’re not even writing a page per day. Do you know how little work a writer has to do to finish one book in five years? You could write one page per month and get the book done. That’s not a job; that’s a hobby. And that’s where my attitude comes from.
However, it sounds like you’re working very hard while keeping your day job. That’s the mark of a professional writer.
You know a lot of us would like to do that again. I’m getting back to it and it’s a shame it doesn’t come naturally any more. I’ve had to work at turning loose and just writing. I had forgotten how much fun it is to write what and how you want to write instead of what someone tells you that you must.
You can get it back, Jeanne. I lost it for a while when I was editing, and it came back when I quit. Which is why I’ll never edit again. I love that feeling while writing. That’s why I write. 🙂
Wanted to thank you, ma’am. This blog really hit something, don’t know if it was home or not, but it hit something. The last part especially, which was summed up wonderfully with “The key is: you must follow your own drummer now.” I was writing a story this week before I read this post, had read your other ones preceding this, but had started it before this one, anyway, it was going fine, couldn’t really complain (though I did always thinking it could be better and so on and so on). So, I check in today for your newest post because I want to see how the story ends (even though it really doesn’t, it’s really a beginning) and reading that last part, it had me go back, restart my story but write it MY WAY. The way that is fun to me, the way that makes me enjoy typing like I am some mad composer at the keyboard of an 18th century church organ. The way that makes me feel good when I am done. I had forgotten that feeling, more than likely because I was too preoccupied with how I had to write it so that someone would publish it, or someone would read it, or that it would make enough money to buy a new pair of slippers, and so on. I didn’t think like that this time. I actually had fun writing again. I don’t know what I am going to do with this so called talent that I have been told that I have, don’t know if I am going to publish or try to make a living at it or even us it, but what I do believe is that deep, deep down whatever I choose I want it to be fun. And today it was because I was reminded that it’s really supposed to be.
That’s pretty damn cool in my book. Thank you ma’am.
You’re welcome, Just Passing Through. I love your description: “It had me go back, restart my story but write it MY WAY. The way that is fun to me, the way that makes me enjoy typing like I am some mad composer at the keyboard of an 18th century church organ. The way that makes me feel good when I am done.” Exactly! That’s what writing is all about. Thank you for that. Perfect.
Dean’s reasoning on that makes perfect sense. Most of us can’t do well making 35cents per sale although I happen to know Victorine Lieske and she’s doing pretty well with her novel at that price. I think she’s an exception though.
Thanks about the novel. It is my next ebook release before the end of the month.
I am curious about your opinion on this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/mar/04/ebooks-publishing
The EU has vastly different laws than the US on price-fixing. I believe this is what they got Microsoft on years ago as well. The US is the Wild West compared to the EU when it comes to laws about competition and corporations. The EU is very tough. We’re not. So what happens there will have an effect on pricing overseas, but probably not in the US market. That’s my guess anyway.
Thanks for the link, Jeanne. I hope your new book does well for you. 🙂
Kris, thanks again for a great post. Sorry I missed it yesterday, but I was busy taking your advice. I finished a new novel.
I’d be perfectly happy to GIVE my work to libraries. I happen to think that you, Eric Flint, Neil Gaiman and a lot of other people are spot on. If we want people to buy our work, there is a very high chance that first they have to get it free first. I must admit that I consider the 99cents I have on one of my novels the next thing to that though so I’m all right with that too as much as it is criticized. No, I can’t sell all of my work at that price, but as a loss leader, to me it makes perfect sense.
Exactly, Jeanne. Free is a great loss leader, so is 99 cents.
I think Dean is bitching about people who sell all of their books at 99 cents. They’re losing a ton of money for no real reason. The key with the lower price is, imho, to only have it on the book for a short period of time. Like the 1 week free here on the blog. After that, it ain’t free no more. But folks can find it somewhere.
And congrats on finishing the novel!!!!!!
Great post about risk, Kris. I think that’s a little understood fact about great businesses and risks. You can never alleviate all the risks, but you can try to make the best possible decision about them based on the facts at hand (not blind hope like most people operate on).
I think we need to find creative ways around the issues publishers are presenting us. The 75/25 split is one issue. I agree with most writers that it’s a terrible split. But given the resources the big houses have, I would consider *some* of my books going through them to leverage my exposure.
The caveat is that I would try to find a way around that 75/25 issue without actually fighting them on the 75/25 number. It’s clear from a lot of writers that the publishers aren’t budging on that one. But there are options, I think.
I’ll throw out some ideas and see what you all think:
1) If the book is a series or trilogy, only agree to the deal on the first book. Then if it’s a success and they want to sign for additional books, you have the option of getting out without damaging your overall sales. By having the first book with them, you can maximize their advertising leverage while keeping the profits on the later books.
2) Renegotiations on a yearly basis for the 75/25 (I think this was mentioned above or in another post?)
3) Get a clear sunset clause so they don’t keep the 75/25 split forever and you can maximize the longtail of your profits.
4) Give 75/25 for the first few years, but ask for 50/50 after year five.
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I think the key is not taking either option as an all-or-nothing deal. A key component of good decision making in business, or in life for that matter, is to break the decision down to the individual pieces that make up the whole and see if you can change the bad ones to something better and adjust the overall weight of it.
Thanks, Tom, for the comment.
Most writers have already tried the things that you mention, and for the most part, all except the scheduled renegotiation is a no go. Your point #3 is standard in contracts. Contracts must have a limitation (usually a date) or they’re not valid. No contract can exist in perpetuity. So “unlimited” e-book rights are a myth under any valid contract.
The key is to have that limitation on the e-book rights tied to a date and/or velocity. If the book sells less than 50 copies per six month period in e-format, for example, then the e-book is considered out of print. That’s just an example, but such clauses must be in all contracts.
Folks, I say it every week, but pick up the Copyright Handbook.
If you’re starting your own e-business and publishing your own work, you need it to know what you’re licensing. If you’re publishing through NY, you need it so that you understand your contracts. Go forth now and buy. Then, of course, you must read it. 🙂
As far as library sharing goes, it’s a moot point. When a writer becomes an author and uses the self-pub route, guess what…you control the work. When you go through a traditional publisher, guess what…you no longer own the work per whatever contract you have negotiated. Then, the whole two class thought on content is a red herring at best. You don’t think that the whole need for a computer or an e-reader device has already established this (of course you have to distend the logic the above poster has tried to imply)? You really think that the “lower” class has the bread to plop down on the devices necessary to read the work? C’mon, lets not kid ourselves, you only give away what rights you want to give away. If you publish something and sell all the rights away, be happy with your advance and any royalties that might accrue. If you self-pub, you have to take all the risk and with that comes all the reward. Every publisher is different and every contract is negotiable to a degree. The whole point of this blog is to empower writers that go ahead and become authors. If every person would give themselves some credit and grow some self-confidence they would quickly realize that if they are producing solid content, they are and should be in control of their own destiny. You only give away any rights to any work that you WANT TO GIVE AWAY. If you don’t like library sharing, opt out or accept only that compensation you feel fit. The publisher has every right to charge or enforce anything they want, just as every library or consumer has the right to stock/purchase what they want. If you don’t like the split in a particular contract, negotiate a better one. Now, there is really no excuse for writers and authors to be complaining that they were taken advantage of. Negotiate the best deal. If it ain’t good enough, walk away. The technology has made it that simple.
Wow. Lots to deal with this morning. On libraries, let me simply say, I adore libraries. I think they’re valuable. I hate the idea of limiting them because I have been poor and unable to buy books, and have many poor friends who have the same issues now. I agree with John W. I feel like I’ve walked into a bit of heaven when I walk into a library. Writers have complained that libraries have been “stealing sales” from them for decades. The Brits actually have a system where the writer gets reimbursed every time a book gets checked out, but last I heard the current government proposed doing away with that. I’ve always been uncomfortable with it.
I agree with Percy 100%. If the writer doesn’t like it, technology has made it possible for the writer to opt out of the library system (and not build all those readers, she adds snarkily). Go with Harper, don’t go with Harper, publish on your own, go with libraries, don’t go with libraries. It’s really up to you now.
I’m not taking what, to me, are huge risks, but it helps to hear that I might not be a complete idiot for taking them.
I’ve been thinking about Harpers and their decision to limit ebook downloads for library.
I think one point people forget is that a physical book that is being checked out frequently does not last forever. A physical book that is loaned out frequently will wear out and – if it’s still popular – the library buys another.
How often is *frequently*?? I don’t know. But 26 seems like a decent number.
Interesting post, Kevin. Yeah, there are just SO many ways this could go wrong, that it could be exploited by cash-hungry libraries, which is why I really think we need to rethink what libraries are about, and I don’t think that’s being a state-supported Napster for popular ebooks.
This isn’t a new concern. For years, many community libraries have been purging their stacks and reference collections to save room and money, and buying dozens of copies of the latest hot book so they can keep them in constant rotation after released with very little wait. The logic is that patrons who can quickly get the latest Dan Brown or Potter hardcover will think favorably next time a library bond issue or budget argument comes around.
Part of the thinking is that older books and reference items can go months or years without being checked out, and if it isn’t current or popular, then there’s no reason for it to be there.
But dammit, to my mind, this is one of the major reasons we need libraries, to maintain a curated collection of books representing a broad range of interests, which are often not easily found elsewhere.
But the whole concept of a lending library is based on the concept that books are rare, expensive, and when they go out of print (which is usually after a short time) are no longer available in any other form. Even if a book is in print, the possibility of finding a copy in a small town was between slim and none.
Ebooks are undermining almost all of that. Books are becoming cheaper (and could become cheaper still, if we didn’t have to compensate for sales lost to things like…libraries). Most ebooks aren’t going out of print. And for anything that’s in print, you can usually have a copy within seconds, no matter where you are. We’re headed for a model where books are affordable, available, and instantly accessible.
If the intent of a library is just to keep citizens provided with free popular books, within a few years (when ebook readers go through a couple more rounds of price drops), for that function you might not need a collection at all. You just give your patrons vouchers to purchase the books of their choice. (I mean, for that matter, why purchase an ebook at all until the instant a patron actually wants to check it out?)
But I think a library is much more than that. It has important functions as a community center, cultural center, educational center, and archive of rare books, periodicals, documents, and community artifacts. I think, despite all the above, that it’s important to provide books of all kinds to the young and those on low or fixed incomes. (Yes, I think “intellectual welfare” is a perfectly valid thing for a library to do.) Those functions have been falling by the wayside in a lot of libraries in the rush to set up more internet computers and push best-sellers through a revolving door.
I think the nanny-state-Napster model is bad for us, but I think in the long run (though in the short run, it may be irresistible to the people running libraries) its very bad for libraries as well.
That’s why I think it may be time to rethink community libraries. I don’t think they should go away, not by a long shot. But it could be that there are new and better ways for them to serve their communities’ intellectual and informational needs than the traditional model, and that these ways may have a lot less to do with simply collecting and checking out books than in the past.
Concerning the comments about libraries, especially J. Steven York’s above, I respectfully disagree. I think that libraries are a writer’s friends and always have been. I got so inspired I wrote a post on my own blog, which you can access here: http://johnwalterswriter.com/2011/03/04/adventures-in-wonderland-the-inestimable-value-of-libraries/
In brief, libraries are not only a means of education for those who cannot afford to buy books, but they are another way to make yourself know to new readers. Those readers may have borrowed your book at no cost to them, but then they may get turned on to it and want to buy more of your books. But whether they are ever able to or not, it’s not just about the money. Sure, we need to get compensated, we need to be paid, but we can get our money through other channels. It’s also about reaching out to readers, and that means those kids like I was when I would enter a library with awe and a sense of wonder as if I were passing through a portal into another dimension. Come to think of it, I still have that feeling when I enter libraries.
Wow I’ve always wanted to become an author and
didn’t realize the business side. Thanks for the
Is it a good idea to sell a book like music artist
sell their cd’s in the streets.
“The control is back in the hands of each individual writer.”
Control was a major part of my decision to self-publish. I started out writing simply because I like writing, and began to submit my work for three main reasons: I like talking about my stories, I wanted gorgeous book covers, and I wanted to see my books in a bookstore.
There were some aspects of the publication process I didn’t like. Writers had little power over the covers of their books, or what the back copy might say. Even the title might be taken out of my hands if I was published. But the trade-off (Readers! Gorgeous covers! Bookstores!) was worth it.
I had enough confidence in my writing to believe that if I wasn’t accepted immediately, I would be able to improve until a contract came my way, and responses from publishers ranged from immediate form rejection to “I wish I could”. But one experience completely changed the way I felt about traditional publishing.
One of my books passed the first reader at a major SFF publisher. Two years in it survived the cull of books which had passed first reading. Five years in it passed the second reader. Seven years in it passed a conference with the ‘second’ second reader and was formally on the senior editor’s to-do list. Eight years in, the senior editor specified that she would have time to read it in a couple of months. Nine years in, the senior editor lost the manuscript and a replacement was requested. I almost didn’t send it, but felt I’d ‘invested’ so many years that it would be a pity to falter now, and besides the editors would be so embarrassed that they’d give me an answer as soon as possible.
Ten years in, I asked myself if a sighting in a bookstore was really worth giving up so much, and it was with a glorious sense of release that I realised that the answer was ‘no’, and I could let myself withdraw the submission.
While I’m not an ideal person for some aspects of self-publishing (I loathe marketing), I have at least been methodical and sensible approaching the proces: setting limits to my expenses, and spending on areas I felt were critical. I’m gaining a small number of readers. My reviews have been good.
And I have some gorgeous, gorgeous book covers.
Regarding the Agency model, I can’t really get worked up about it, because the German speaking countries have had a fixed price model for books for many decades now and there are no signs of it ending anytime soon, since even the European Court is upholding it. Basically, it’s the reality that I have to live with. On the negative side, it’s annoying if a bookseller, whether brick and mortar or online, gives you a coupon and you can use it on anything – except books. On the plus side, we don’t have supermarkets and discount stores sell a limited number of bestsellers at huge discounts undermining bookstores. So it has both up- and downsides.
Anyway, I am really loving this series and you’ve given me much to think about. I’ll probably still pursue traditional publishing with my novel length manuscripts, but I may offer short stories first published in long defunct magazines, and “unpublishable” novella length pieces as e-books. Six months ago, I would never even have considered this possibility.
Wow, Andrea, ten years? That’s ridiculous. I know which publisher you’re referring to just by that story, and if you’ll note in my extensive backlist that I have never been published by them because I refuse to send them books because of the company’s unprofessional business practices. I think your decision to go self-published is wise.
But let me state for the record, folks, that such behavior on the part of that well-regarded publisher is unique to them and exceedingly unprofessional. I know it sometimes takes writers 2 years to get through the NY system without an agent (or with a bad agent), but that’s the outside limit. And once you’ve sold books, that limit generally shortens to 6 months to a year max.
Cora, I think I’d forgotten that about Germany. Someone told me that last year and it went in one ear and out the other. So thanks for the report on that. I’m glad you’re getting your unpublishable lengths in print. That goes for all of you. It really is fun to see all this work now available. Between the writers I love and the writers I have heard of and the writers I know and the writers I have wanted to read for years, I’m suddenly drowning in material–and loving it.
Terrance, I have no clue about selling on the street. My initial response is..naw. But I do know of at least one writer who did this in NYC and started some buzz. But she went to a community that no one usually approached (the hip-hop/nightclub community) and everyone bought her book, including a NYC publisher when he heard about this. So I have no idea. If you can make it work, give it a shot.
DeAna, my personal philosophy is that people aren’t idiots for taking risks. People are idiots when they don’t try. (If you have family or a dependent, then your risks must be more calculated than those of us who have no one depending on us.) So go for it. 🙂
I’m torn about the library thing myself. I was pretty irate when I first heard about it – and frankly, with the Library of Congress already having made changes last summer to make removing DRM legal under certain cases, I have to wonder if the next round of DMCA changes the LOC makes will be to allow DRM removal if the DRM stops lending.
But I’m also thinking about this:
You’ve got a little town, we’ll call it “Podunk”. Podunk is in economic trouble still (many towns are), and is scrambling for funds. They’re considering slashing library funds, maybe even closing the library. But their librarian is tech savvy and bright.
Podunk already charges $25 a year for folks from outside of town to get a library card. The librarian has an idea: get a big catalog of ebooks, and advertise nationally to get people to sign on. For just $25, you can borrow for two weeks any ebook they have. The town takes a risk, and invests a good chunk of change in ebooks and advertising.
They get 100,000 new users within the first month. That money gets reinvested.
By the end of the year, they have 10 million users from around the country, all paying in their $25 a month. Podunk doesn’t have a small town library anymore – they have a massive business, making millions a year for the town, all run out of the back room of the old library building and hosted on a server 500 miles away.
THAT is what I have some concern about – what I think Harper-Collins is worried about, too. A “Blockbuster” or “Netflicks” approach to books that undermines a good chunk of the readership. Would it damage sales? Or would readers just borrow some books, but still spend the same amount on books as they once did (just borrowing some, buying others?). Don’t know. But there’s risk in that change, and I think that sort of thing springing up has the larger publishers very worried.
At the same time, if libraries are limited to a degree that they lose the ability to loan ebooks effectively, then we’re at risk for a different problem: the creation of a literate upper class and a less-literate lower class. When ebooks pass 50% of book sales, which some folks say might happen this year and most agree will happen within 2-3 years, many books just won’t be available in print anymore. Many (most?) print bookstores will just close. Libraries might end up one of the last places where those with less wealth can go to find books. In an increasingly information-driven world, depriving those without wealth of information would have a “vicious circle” effect on poverty.
One day I hope to have a dedicated writing computer … but it’s something my wife would agree to only when the writing itself could buy the computer.
In the meantime, I found that Freedom for Mac is a godsend. I can lock myself off the Internet for up 8 hours a day. So when my daily writing time comes from 12 noon to 2:30, I lock myself out for 150 minutes. It completely frees me to focus on my writing. I do the same thing if I have an extra hour in the morning or evening. I find that if I try to write WITHOUT using Freedom, I’m hopelessly logging on to see what’s happening. I also have the habit of locking myself off the Internet every Friday for a full eight hours. It’s like heaven, the freedom I feel. Next weekend, my wife is taking the kids up to her parents’ lake house for five days at the beginning of Spring Break and I’m sending along our Internet router so I can fully immerse myself in writing. I hope to write a story a day, though I’d be happy if I wrote three.
I’m very much looking forward to your post on promotion. I need something to keep me on the straight and narrow when I find myself getting caught up in the cheer leading.
And thank you again for these posts and letting us pick your brain in these comments. It’s truly wonderful. I appreciate it very much.
What a great idea, Jeff. I had no idea such a program existed. Totally cool.
I use an ancient computer for my writing, which makes getting online a problem even if this old house was amenable to house-wide wireless, which it is not (we have concrete walls in a bunch of places). So rather than crash my computer…
But I plan to upgrade soon, and really work on the wireless, so I might look into that program. Thanks!
Oh, and the brainpicking goes both ways. I’m always pleased at how much I learn from y’all. Thanks!
Nice post, Kris. The list you provide here is simple yet filled with a complex mix of human emotion and foible. Some people just aren’t risk takers and find change too overwhelming.
My thinking is if you never try and never take risks then there is a 100% chance your work will never be seen by anyone.
The biggest barrier to success I’ve seen over the years I’ve been doing this is the depth of the belief in the myths. Now we have the complications of the e-books. I know several published writers who think success in e-books is so rare that’s why it stands out. Sort of like a flavour of the month.
My perception is this is partially true for two reasons: not many successful e-book authors are talking about it, and the change has been slow enough that the true impact hasn’t sunk fully into the market place.
But there are signs that e-books are winning acceptance. The problem is the myths are sometimes getting in the way.
Really good point, Russ. Thanks.
*****A warning: Twitter is a timesink if you run it all the time, so look at it–say–when you get your e-mail and then shut it off.*****
LOL at that, Kris. Like anyone goes and gets their email only once a day.
But the point is taken. The last two months, as I entered this new world of publishing, I’ve tried to tweet like other indie writers. I’ve come to loathe the damn thing. I don’t care when people wake up, or what they’re having for lunch, or anything like that. And I’m not even sure tweeting has gotten me more sales.
Speaking of tweeting and sales … when can we expect your post on marketing/promotion? Is it still on the docket?
I like Twitter as an information source. I stop following people who tweet about breakfast and stuff.
As for e-mail, I don’t have it enabled on my writing computer. Anything that distracts from writing hurts your productivity and pulls you out of creative mode. That means I have to go to a different room to download e-mail or search the internet for a much-needed fact. But it also means that I write more than my colleagues who keep the internet up all the time. I check my e-mail every two or three hours on a break, and that’s when I log onto Twitter. It works.
Thanks for the reminder on promotion. Must get to that….
In reference to selling short fiction to magazines, I remember that Dean wrote something not long ago about using sales to traditional publishers as promotion for your self-published work. He was talking about novels, but the same principle applies to short stories. When I publish a short story in a magazine or anthology I am widening my audience. People will see it who have never heard of me before. This is the best kind of publicity. Plus I will get an upfront payment – imagine, I am getting publicity and getting paid for it at the same time. After publication all the rights revert to me (of course I would never submit to a magazine which claims all rights) and I can give it a second self-published life. It’s a win-win situation.
That’s what I think too, John. In this instance, the new world doesn’t remove the traditional market; it augments it.
I haven’t agreed with much of anything major publishers have been doing in recent years in regards to ebooks, but in this case, I think Harpers may have a point. It’s really time to rethink what libraries are, and what libraries should do, for the ebook age.
Which is going to be a problem, because libraries are an enormous sacred cow were most book-lovers (including writers) are concerned, and I have a bad feeling that the first priority of most librarians in all this is going to be securing their own jobs, even if they have to do it at the expense of writers.
Writers (and publishers) aren’t unreasonable in expecting some reasonable (even if reduced) return from ebooks sold to libraries. It can be argued that we’ve always lost sales to libraries, and that’s true, but the traditional print-book library system has been (until recently, anyway, with computers, bar-codes, automatic check-in, sorting and shelving coming into play) so inefficient that libraries couldn’t steal that many sales, even with best-sellers.
Any given book spent a lot of its time sitting on a shelf, checked out, or being processed. To respond to heavy demand for a title, libraries had to buy additional copies, or create waiting lists long enough to frustrate some patrons into buying their own copies. And any book checked out enough quickly wore out so that it had to be disposed of or repaired. And to get a book, patrons had to actually GO to the library, often dealing with traffic, accessibility, and parking problems.
But ebooks never wear out. They can generally be checked out over the internet without ever going near the library. And when a copy is returned, it instantly is available for download by another patron (who, if they’re on a waiting list, may get an email or other reminder).
In a conversation a while back, I threw out the question, how is checking out an ebook from a torrent site different than checking it out from the library? People reacted with horror. OF COURSE it was different! Because! Because it’s a library, and libraries are our friends!
Yes, there are differences. With a library, somebody bought at least one copy of the book, though if it’s read by a hundred people, the penny-on-the-dollar return to the publisher is hardly enough to count. It’s less tangible things I worry about.
No, I don’t think this is primarily about “people getting books for free.” As we’ve seen, there can be benefits from this (as there always have been for libraries) as people choose to buy follow-up books, or reward the author directly through tip-jars and the like.
What worries me is that when somebody downloads a book off a torrent site or otherwise pirates it, they KNOW on some level that they’ve received something without paying for it. At least some of them are going to feel some guilt about that, and feel the need to compensate the publisher/writer in some fashion.
But when you check a book out of the library, it’s guilt free. You aren’t stealing. The book was paid for. You’re hardly even borrowing, as you own the library as a taxpayer and that book is, in a sense, YOURS. There’s no guilt or sense of obligation to compensate the writer. And if you can check out books over the internet, there’s no inconvenience factor either. In fact, as long as books are infinitely and indefinitely available (which unless some limitations are built into ebooks, they likely will be), what’s your incentive EVER to buy?
Now you might think I’m being silly here. Libraries love publishing, love writers. They’re just trying to make books more available and work within their finite budgets. But there’s good love, and there’s bad love, and I’m concerned that, without some adjustment, libraries could love us to death.
Am I being paranoid here? Even I half-though-so, but this has been on my mind for a while, so I recently set out to do some research on the subject. More or less at random, I ended up on the web-site for the King County (Washington) library system seeing how their ebook system worked, and I found this statement right at the top of the ebook page, in bold type no less:
“Why buy when you can borrow?”
Sorry, but that’s not being my friend. Libraries have always promoted literacy and reading. But now they need to get on board with promoting a culture which encourages people to reward the writers and publishers who provide them with reading, even when they aren’t required to. That’s just as important in the long term to books, reading, and literacy as their more traditional role.
If the library is just saying, “take, take, it’s free, why buy?” then they’re undermining the future of books and writing.
Um, Steve, an e-book checked out of the library has rules. It can only go to one person (if you have it, I can’t download it) and it will leave my device after a certain period of time. So you can’t keep it.
I think the 26 limit is too low. Bestsellers would go through that in a few weeks. But maybe 200 or 300 downloads, and I could understand it. Imho.
“Why can’t they publish their own work? Why can’t they write fast? Why can’t they manage their own money? Why should they listen to editors/agents/sales departments? Why should they take a 75/25 deal that favors the publisher? Why? Why? Why?”
Exactly! Why would we want to give the publishers the majority of the money when we can do it ourselves?
“Why not do that to get new audience and the prestige and to build another part of your career?”
I’m doing that right now with the dance reviews I’m doing for California Literary Review. Pay is negligible, but the publication is a good one with a higher prestige level than other places I have published and am building an audience for something that I started to do in Las Vegas, but wanted to expand — arts reviewing. In the process, the magazine has added a dance blog (for which I am the primary content provider), added me to their book reviewer list, and asked me to cover opera and some art exhibits.
Where will all this go? Not sure. But if I don’t take the risk, nothing will happen at all. Plus, there are all those lovely free tickets.
Thanks for all your words of wisdom Kris! You inspire me every time I read your work.
Enjoyment, for the freelancer, is the heart of the business. It’s what keeps you at your desk for long hours. It’s what makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Many people cling to a job or a business or a failing relationship because they have already invested so much time and effort into it. You need to assess whether or not that struggling business or failing relationship can realistically improve.
These, from the link to your Freelancer’s article on risk.
They speak to me because I can honestly say I’m happiest when I’m typing away on something, whether it’s the first draft (or whatever you want to call it) or going through the story looking for typos. I can go for hours, in fact, I’ve gone for two hours just typing, typing, typing. I’ve noticed lately that I have more stamina to go at it after work now sitting in the living room like a pig in shit. (And that’s a good thing. :-))
As to the second, my husband owned a homebrew supply shop back in the 1990s. Home brewing was the rage for a little while back then. The shop made a small profit all three years it was a going concern (hubby and I chuckled that even Amazon wasn’t making a profit at that point in time). But we saw the writing on the wall when a couple more supply shops opened within driving distance; mail order was making in-roads too (and the Internet was just starting to gain a toehold).
So while we did manage to eke out a profit for those three years, we were realistic to reassess once those usurpers came along. Rather than beat a dead horse, we did what the Kenny Rogers song said, so knew it was time to fold. 😉
As to that PW post/article, I actually blogged about it, I was so pissed off. He gets $1.75 after all is said and done. So how is this supposed to be good for the writer? He creates something and the middlemen pounce in?
As to my own writing, I’m already venturing into new territory with the novella I’m writing (first in a series). I like a combo of history and fantasy, but I decided to try something different for me (what I’m calling paranormal suspense), because there’s an element of romance, something I don’t normally think about. And although it’s not central to the story, I’ve made a determined effort to include it because…well, my muse told me to. 🙂
Boy, do I ramble, heh.
Thanks for all you do.
You’re welcome. So glad that the essay helped. 🙂 I tell my students that if the writing’s not fun, why do it? Work should be fun. That’s the best part about this biz, in my opinion. (I couldn’t use imho because I’m not feeling humble at the moment.
“Now, Elmore Leonard initially wrote this in 2001 for The New Yorker and at that time, no one was staring down the abyss of electronic publishing and losing their mind. So if you choose not to believe crazy old me, perhaps you should listen to one of our best stylists as well as a bestseller and damn fine storyteller who happened to be writing for the magazine that stands as the arbiter of literary style in this country. Just sayin’.
(Ooops. Sorry about the grammatical error there. Must’ve been the abyss speaking.)”
I’m absolutely dying over here. Thank you for the biggest smile I’ve had in weeks, Kris.
You’re welcome, Joseph. 🙂
Thanks so much for putting out this blog series; your perspective on these issues has been enormously helpful to me as I try to figure out how to best launch my writing career. The last three posts in particular have helped me to abandon some of my jitters at the thought of self-publishing (in particular, the ones that come from the old writing myths) and see it as a legitimate business decision which might actually be one of the better options. I haven’t yet decided to take the plunge, but I am positioning myself so that if/when I decided to, I’ll be in a better place to do so.
One question: where do you get the bulk of your news on the publishing industry? Is it mostly from Publisher’s Marketplace, or are there other industry news outlets? I subscribe to the free daily lunch feature, but that’s about it, and I haven’t been reading as regularly as I ought to. What other sources would you recommend for someone who’s just starting out (and needs to spend the bulk of his time actually writing)?
Nothing to add but that I agree. I was nodding my head in agreement all through your post. It reinforces what you and Dean and other writers have been saying for a while now. The smart, fast writers willing to take a few calculated risks are going to benefit the most from this new world. Very exciting times.
Again, thanks for the series!
This post comes at an interesting moment for me. I’ll be looking at 3 manuscripts once I get over this sinus bug and can stay awake for more than a couple hours at a stretch. One is 16k (up from a 3k short story that summarized events) & another is 56k. They’d both be hard to sell, especially the latter. If I’m happy with the plot, characters, and so on, why can’t I publish them myself? Maybe they’ll sell well and maybe not. But if I stick with traditional publishing, I doubt they’d even have the chance to find readers.
Kris, have you thought about venturing away from books for a bit and commenting about magazines? I wonder if the same freedom authors are gaining with books will apply to short fiction. On the one hand, if I offer a short story for 99¢, and depending on how many I sell, I could make the same as I could from a small press, semi-pro, or pro sales. On the other hand, there’s the prestige of selling shorts to magazines (including the small press) and the chance to reach readers you might not otherwise.
My biggest issue with e-publishing vs. traditional publishing and what I’ve gathered from your blog, Dean’s blog, and Konrath’s blog is this: Why would I want to wait 6 months to a year or longer to get a yes from a publisher only to get 25% of my e-sales and have my e-rights taken away from me, probably permanently? Those six months to a year or longer, I could have had my book up, on my own earning money. Maybe only 20 bucks, maybe 200 bucks or 2000. There’s no way to know.
Yes, I’m unpublished. I’m a new writer and I have no idea what sells. An editor might have a better idea than me and might help me develop my craft. But how do they know? How did they learn? You can’t tell me they went to school for that. No way. To quote Captain Kirk, “We learn by doing.” I think the new world of publishing is going to be a school of hard knocks for a lot of folks, leaving many babies crying in the dirt over skinned knees and bruised feelings. I’m still not sure if I want to do both or just self publishing, but the more I look at the dominance of traditional publishing and how much they want from new writers, the more I’m convinced to self publish only and see what happens.
Kris – as someone who has been discovering her inner entrepreneur to go along with the writer who’s always been there, I can’t tell you enough how valuable your posts and Dean’s have been. I recently took the leap into finding and negotiating with a traditional publisher without an agent, then walked away from a contract that wasn’t balanced enough between their needs and mine. Your most recent posts give me heart as I explore all the opportunities that are opening up for authors. And yes, it’s scary. And exciting! And since I’m a bit of a control freak – very freeing. Thanks for sharing!!
I’m enjoying this new world of publishing. I like the freedom, and the control over what I’m doing. Yesterday my latest novel, branching out in a new genre, went up on Nook and Smashwords and it was great to see the response right away. I’m more likely to try new things and see how it works out.
Thanks for writing this series, Kris, always looking forward to these posts.
WRT to the agency model rising prices of not…
To compare books that require translation, ‘The Go Master’, Kawabata, paperback:
English, 14 USD [10 through amazon].
Spanish, 26 USD [19 EUR; slightly over 26 USD]
Can you guess which one has a fixed price?
‘Journey to the West’, Chinese classic, paperback:
English, 45 USD [Amazon, Foreign Lang. Press]
Spanish, 120 USD [again, slightly over]
It supposedly “protects culture”. By [Spanish] law.
Whenever I comment on one of these posts, I feel like I’m not writing enough. But screw it! I’m a professional and a writer. I’m a youth, I’m only 27, so maybe I missed out on what Writers were supposed to do, but here’s what I’m gwan’ do: I’m gwan’ Write a Lot and then See What Happens. I’m not arriving at this from random thoguht-bursts, but I am acting under honest research.
Thanks for all the comments, everyone. David, Ryan, Sharon, Amanda & Jim, yep. It’s fun and it’s on us now. I, for one, love that.
Ferran, I shake my head at those prices. Ouch! Protect culture by keeping the masses away from it, I guess.
Ron, the magazines are very different. They only want an exclusive on e-rights and other rights for about 9 months (or a year, depending). Why not do that to get new audience and the prestige and to build another part of your career? Then you can offer the story up yourself. If the story doesn’t sell to the various magazines, then put it up. Very different. I for one love doing that. I still love publishing in the magazines–but I am biased. Short stories are my first love, and selling them is fun for me. Anthologies don’t have exclusives for long either. So do both in this case, imho.
Oh, the other difference: a magazine will not buy a story that you’ve had online first. A book publisher will. So if you’re going to mail out your stories, make sure they haven’t been posted online.
I’ve had my ear to the ground forever, so I’m reading everything from blogs to newspapers to Publisher’s Lunch (the paid version) to Publisher’s Weekly. However, I find that a lot of my news comes from other writers or from the publishing community whom I follow on Twitter. Most of the folks I follow on Twitter balance my interests: publishing, sports, entertainment, real news. So sometimes I find publishing news buried in a sports link. To do it fast, like you mention, I’d suggest Twitter–provided you follow the links. Scan my list and find some, then go to theirs and you’ll find more. A warning: Twitter is a timesink if you run it all the time, so look at it–say–when you get your e-mail and then shut it off.