The Business Rusch: Found Information

Business Rusch free nonfiction Freelancer's Survival Guide On Writing

Business Rusch logo webI keep storing up links and information to share on this blog. I always imagine those bits of found knowledge will become a column all by themselves, but some are too short and self-explanatory for that. Others simply reinforce things I’ve discussed in previous blog posts.

So, I’ve decided to do an information round-up this week with some of the flotsam and jetsam from my files. If I already dealt with some of this in the past, I’ll link to that as well as the article. Otherwise, I’ll give a piece of information the few paragraphs it deserves.

First, from the I-Hate-To-Say-I-Told-You-So Department, a court case:

Patricia Cornwell, the #1 New York Times Bestselling writer of more than twenty suspense novels, has sued her former accounting firm and business manager for “negligent performance of professional services, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, equitable forfeiture, and other actions.”

This case began in 2009, when Cornwell became aware of problems with the firm she’d hired, Anchin, Block, and Anchin. According to the complaint, Cornwell paid AB&A $40,000 per month to handle her business matters. In addition to that 40K (which comes out to $480,000 per year—which she paid them over four years), Cornwell also gave AB&A “power of attorney” to handle her affairs.

Why did she give other people complete control over her multi-million dollar business? The answer is actually in the complaint. It’s a two-part answer. We’ll start with part the second:

Cornwell “openly acknowledges her diagnosis with a mood disorder known as bipolar disorder, which, although controlled without medication, has contributed to her belief that it is prudent for her to employ others to manage her business affairs and her investments.”

Okay. Before you guys all attack me for not understanding mood disorders, let me say that I fully understand how serious they are. In addition to some experiences too personal to share, let me mention that I worked for a forensic psychologist for a long time. I do know how crippling mood disorders can be.

I also know that there are ways to handle them without signing your life and finances away. There’s a difference between hiring employees to manage your business affairs and investments because you have a health issue, and giving them complete control over your finances. There are other ways to guard your finances, including monthly oversight by you and your trusted advisors, having at least two people sign a check, and on, and on, and on.

Instead, Cornwell gave this company full control over her finances and those of her company, Cornwell Entertainment, Incorporated. In fact, for all I know, she gave AB&A full control over her entire life. The article I’ve read did not state “limited power of attorney” but “power of attorney.” There’s a huge, difference. Neither of which is something you give lightly, and generally it’s not something you should give at all if you’re of sound mind and body. (Hell, it’s really not something you should sign away even without good health. And yes, that’s worth a long blog post, and no, I’ll probably never write it because I’m not a legal expert, nor do I play one on TV.)

Part the first, also from the complaint is the real core of the matter. Here’s why Cornwell hired AB&A in the first place. Cue the violins:

Ms. Cornwell is a best-selling crime novelist whose ability to write is dependent upon the ability to avoid distractions. A quiet, uninterrupted environment, free of the distractions of managing her business and her assets, including her investments, is essential to her ability to write and to meet her deadlines.

Oh, poor, poor pitiful Cornwell. A woman who used to work in law enforcement. Who writes about the seamy side of humanity. Someone she trusted screwed her—and she was surprised.

There are two kickers here. First, this slick firm was really good at what they did. They lost a ton of money, which they all claim was lost with Cornwell’s approval.

She believes they fattened their coffers at her expense.

That’s the first kicker. I don’t know if these guys stole from her, but she certainly unlocked and opened the door to the treasure room so that they could do so if they wanted to.

The second kicker comes courtesy of my good lawyer friends, who all claim that when a case gets into court—as this one has—some attorney has failed to convince their client to be sensible. Cases like this should get settled, preferably out of court, quietly, so no one’s reputation gets harmed.

The fact that the case is in court means that AB&A believes it has enough documentation for a win, and it’s not paying fines or going to jail for what its principals have done.

Cornwell believes otherwise. She believes these guys screwed her.

I have no idea if they did. The complaint alleges that they took so much money—tens of millions—that she only had one year of earnings in the bank when they were done. This is truly significant, because a twenty-year New York Times bestseller, whose career started in the go-go 90s when writers earned megabucks, should have a fortune rivaling a small country. She doesn’t.

Whose fault is it? The court will determine that.

But the fact is that she is in court. The fact that she needed to be “free of the distractions of managing her business and her assets” in order to write and meet her deadlines means she bought that crap that artists shouldn’t be bothered with business. And then someone convinced her the only way to avoid bother was to sign away power of attorney.

Artists who believe they’re not business people and let someone else manage all of their affairs will get screwed. It will happen, guaranteed. Sometimes the screwing will be short and painful, sometimes it’ll be long and excruciating, but it will happen. I guarantee it.

Thank you, Ms. Cornwell, for proving a point I have made so many times in this blog that I’m having trouble finding just one link to it. Instead, I’ll give you four. Like this post from The Freelancer’s Survival Guide (or any of the other money posts in the Guide. Or the short book called How To Make Money (perhaps it should be called How To Keep Money)). Or this one from November. Or this one from July. Or, heck, just go to the ToC and find anything to do with business. You’ll see all kinds of posts that mention this very problem.

Learn business, people. Handle your own finances. Double-check what your employees are doing on your behalf. And for god’s sake, do the math.

Trust but verify.

Or don’t trust and still verify.

The choice is yours. Because you don’t want to end up in the I-Hate-To-Say-I-Told-You-So Department beside Cornwell.

Second, for all of you who are going into traditional publishing because you believe it will market your book better than you ever could, a statistic:

Harlequin publishes more than 110 titles per month.

Do you believe each one of those 110 books gets the star treatment? Do you think all of them get targeted advertising? Or a big push from the sales force? Do you think the sales force knows the title of all 110 books?

Do you think the sales force knows the name of the authors who wrote those 110 books?

And if you’re naïve enough to believe that the sales force does know the names and titles without referring to some list, then let me ask you this…will the sales force remember one year later that Author A even published a novel with them?

Because the sales force will have done their best to sell 1320 titles since then, and they’ll have another 110 on their plate for January of 2014.

If you’re considering giving up rights and royalties and taking less money than you can make on your own, and tying yourself to a contract that might be impossible to get out of all for the sake of a gigantic marketing push, just think of Harlequin’s 110 titles per month.

Because Harlequin is not unique. Not by any stretch.

So, if you’re going into traditional publishing, make sure you have a reason other than promotion and marketing (and the heartfelt wish that only they can make you a bestseller). In fact, make sure you have lots of other reasons.

Some of them might be good. All will be important to you.

But this whole traditional-publishing-will-make-my-book-standout idea? That’s just magical thinking. And, honestly, it always has been. (Take a peek at this post from 2010 or this from 2011. Or this from one year ago.

Third, speaking of marketing, here’s something traditional publishing does very, very well. It’s called branding:

Branding is, essentially, the at-a-glance marketing your cover does for you. If you’re writing books in a series, those books should look similar but different. For example, here’s the branding that WMG Publishing has done for my Retrieval Artist series:

RA covers

And the branding that WMG is doing for our Fiction River anthology series:

First Year Covers

You’ll see that the art, color scheme, and titles are different, but the font, design, and general look of the covers tells readers that these books belong together. The cues are both subtle and obvious, and quite involved.

You can see more series branding if you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and look up series novels by author. You can also see the recent branding as opposed to previous branding.

A twenty-year series (like [ahem] Cornwell’s) will get rebranded every few years to catch the reader’s eye. The entire series will get new covers. It won’t just be the new book. That’s a marketing ploy that all of us can do.

But there’s one more way that you can and should brand your fiction.

By genre.

Every genre has cover conventions. Sometimes we make fun of them because we notice them, like the clinch cover in romance or that series of tattooed leather-clad tough-chicks who graced urban fantasy for a while.

RT Book Reviews just did a great article, “Fifty Shades of the Same,” on the branding that publishers are now doing with erotica, following the success of Fifty Shades of Gray.  Readers initially loved Fifty Shades’ cover because it was different from the standard erotica cover, so no one knew what you were reading just by a glance.

Now that all erotica covers are a single stark image against a blackish-grayish background, that anonymity has gone away. Readers are complaining that their friends will again know what they’re reading.

But the point of covers isn’t to hide the genre. It’s to advertise the genre.

Cover branding in both series and genre is one of the many reasons that traditional writers will complain about their covers. It looks like every other cover, they’ll say or Jeez, I got one of those headless people on my cover, not realizing that a lot of thought went into that cover from editorial to sales to the art department and back again.

Since most of you will only have your cover to advertise your book in traditional publishing—you won’t get ads placed in major magazines and you won’t get good placement in the catalogue—then your cover needs to do a ton of work for you. Branding helps you attract readers, so if you don’t like your traditionally published cover, place your book near others in its genre and see if it both blends in and stands out in a good way. If it does, don’t complain. Your cover is doing its job.

Indie writers: You should identify the genres you’ve written in—after you finished the book, of course—and make sure your cover reflects that genre clearly to readers.

The RT article is a good place to start your thinking in this area.

If you have trouble figuring out genre—and most writers do—then we’re offering an online class in that. If you don’t know how to design a cover or what elements should go into a cover so that you can direct the designer you’ve hired to make the right cover, then we’re offering an online class in covers.

And, by the way, some of that branding goes inside as well. The interior design is as important as the exterior design. (Didn’t know a book had interior design? Sure you did: those books that are hard to read because of the tiny print or the font—that was a design failure.) And yes, we have an online class for that as well.

Yes, I know. Another learning curve for the poor business-phobic writer. Cue those damn violins.

Fourth, some encouraging impersonal news, with implications for the future:

Kids are reading more e-books than they have before.  Hell, reading has increased across the spectrum, not just e-books, but print books too.

But back to kids. Scholastic put out a study this week that shows that 46% of kids 9-17 read an e-book in 2012, up significantly from the 25% who read e-books in 2010. This, Scholastic believes, is due to the rise in tablet purchases. Kids don’t use dedicated e-readers as much as they use tablets for all kinds of things, including reading.

I’ve watched this up close and personal. The three-year-old daughter of WMG’s publisher often carries a Kindle Fire in one hand and a paper book in the other, and will look at both in the same “reading” session (usually with the stuffed kitty she cuddles with at the office).

Never fear, you e-book haters. There’s good news for you too in this survey. Apparently, 80% of those kids who read an e-book in 2012 also read a print book. In fact, the kids preferred print books for things like having someone read to them or for looking at on their own.

In other words, future watchers, kids are reading in all formats. They’re  not just learning to enjoy e-books. They’re learning to enjoy print books too. Which means sales of both will continue for another generation.

And finally, fifth, some encouraging personal news, with implications for us all:

Victoria Holt, that gothic mistress of so many romance writers’ formative years, was 35 years old when her first novel was published (after writing and failing to sell nine novels). It took another twenty years for her to have her first bestseller. And then Victoria Holt became a household name, even though Holt was just a pen name.

Eleanor Burford Hibbert had at least nine pen names. Three of them became bestsellers—Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr. The others helped Hibbert pay the bills before Mistress of Mellyn took off in 1960. The Holt books pretty much created the romantic suspense genre, and influenced millions.

Why is this encouraging news?

Because, dear writerly friends, success in writing comes not with promotion and marketing and Tweeting and blogging and begging people to buy your very first novel. It comes with persistence and patience and writing a great deal.

Twenty years from first publication to bestsellerdom. Twenty long and clearly frustrating years.

I have no idea if Eleanor Hibbert believed that Mistress of Mellyn would launch an entire subgenre and influence writers (and readers) for generations. I suspect Eleanor Hibbert just had a story to tell, and she found a way to tell it, choosing a new name (for branding? Or because her publishers wouldn’t publish this departure under previous pen names?), and then writing more books.

In fact, Eleanor Hibbert liked writing so much, she actually died at her typewriter in 1993 at the age of 86. Of course, she died at her typewriter while on a cruise and—romantically—she was buried at sea somewhere between Greece and Port Said, Egypt. But she was writing from the time she quit school to the day she died.

She told damn fine stories too.

And a lot of them are being reissued—some of the Jean Plaidys and Philippa Carrs have already been reissued because of the Tudor craze. But for the first time in a while, the Holts will come back into print. Looking over the publications list on Wikipedia, I noticed a few that I  missed in later years, so I’ll be picking those up.

I still remember reading Mistress of Mellyn in the hammock outside my parents’ house on a hot summer day.  Would that we all create books so memorable that some day, decades later, one of our readers can remember where they were as the story we told engulfed them.

If you ever think you’re writing too much, remember that Hibbert published at least 180 books in her lifetime. Who knows how many she actually wrote.

If you think you must slave for five years over every word of your novel, then think of Hibbert as well. Realize if she had had the same attitude you have, she wouldn’t have lived long enough to write the Victoria Holt books. (I did a series on this as well. Start with “Perfection.”)

Ah, the things we can learn reading everything from Esquire to The Washington Post to court filings.

And that’s your information round-up for January of 2013.

This blog is part of what I write every week, but unlike anything else I write, it’s nonfiction. I make my living writing fiction, so every moment I spend writing nonfiction takes time from the work that pays me the best—and might have a chance of being read fifty years after first publication.

So please, if you got anything of value from this piece or previous pieces, leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks, everyone, for the comments, e-mails, links, and support. I appreciate it!

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“The Business Rusch: Found Information” copyright 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

24 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Found Information

  1. Several articles today cite Cornwell as stating that this mess has caused her to miss a deadline for the first time ever and (here’s the pitch) claiming that this will cost her $15 million.


    Missing a deadline for an original-fiction novel typically means the release schedule gets juggled and your release date gets pushed back, not that your contract gets canceled. Is there something so uniquely inept about this mega-selling writer’s contractual arrangements that she will be DUMPED by her publisher for missing a deadline? Or is Ms. Cornwell mistating the situation?

  2. Incredible mistake by Cornwell.. wow.. what did her family do here…?

    Great advice about covers, branding is great and having those recognizable books on Amazon and your own Website is what everyone should do. Sadly, a lot of authors underestimate the importance of cover. 🙁

    BTW, who made the covers for your series? And how long ago? They look a bit out of date now (same for the other series example)..

    Thank you for great posts about biz side of things, good to read into it and understand stuff from author’s perspective.

  3. More has been printed about the lawsuit. It’s turning into a Dominick Dunne novel (which I say affectinately, as a fan of Dunne’s work). It sounds in this piece as if turning over all her money and power-of-attorney to managers who allegedly turned out to be unscrupulous could have been part-and-parcel of the rest of her fiscal behavior… The defendants are accusing Cornwell (with various specific examples) of a lifestyle so extravagant that it (they claim) readily accounts for tens of millions draining away in recent years.

    1. Oh brother, this case looks like it has all the hallmarks of a knock-down, drag-out legal fight that is going to expose Cornwell to more public scrunity then she ever wanted….

      But I saw nothing in that article that absolves her of most of the blame….


  4. Love those Retrieval Artist and especially the Fiction River covers! They’re all awesome. (That’s something I really need to work on for the new series that I’m working on to upload next month.)

    I had no idea Victoria Holt wrote under those other names. (I learn something new every day.) Her story gives me a lot of hope (and that having pen names for stories I write in other genres is the way to go for me :-)) Who knows if I write a mystery – a genre I’ve loved to read since I was a teenager – that will suddenly take off? As opposed to the fantasy I normally write?

    Hers is a great story of perseverance. Thanks for sharing.

  5. As someone who struggles daily with an anxiety disorder (even with meds) I can understand the desire to have someone else handle your business for you. I’d probably pay good money (if I had it) for someone just to make phone calls for me. 😉 However, unlimited power of attorney? Heck no! That’s just insane. You might as well be giving those people your permission to commit legal identity theft.

  6. Patricia Cromwell is an advertisement for why a lot of aspiring writers fail – they don’t like all that nasty “business stuff.”

    Writing is the fun part of what we do, but just like in the most of the rest of life, the “boring stuff” is what separates the good from the great.

  7. Two entirely unrelated comments:

    (1) Ms Cornwell made a bad choice… but primarily of who to trust, not the method she chose. Try reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir An Unquiet Mind carefully, particularly her episodes as a grad student.

    Sadly, this should have been a safe and acceptable choice, especially if the power of attorney was appropriately limited and supervised. However, the financial services industry is even worse at self-regulation than is the legal profession… and that’s a pretty disgustingly low standard.

    (2) I must object to one slightly misleading use of technical language in Our Gracious Hostess’s presentation. She remarks:
    Third, speaking of marketing, here’s something traditional publishing does very, very well. It’s called branding:
    Branding is, essentially, the at-a-glance marketing your cover does for you. If you’re writing books in a series, those books should look similar but different. For example, here’s the branding that WMG Publishing has done for my Retrieval Artist series:

    That’s not branding. That’s trade dress, which is a small — very small — part of branding. Commercial publishers do an awful job of branding, and a marginal job of trade dress; ask Justine Larbalestier. Trade dress is a nebulous relative of trademark; just like a certain burger chain has a famous pair of “golden arches” as a trademark, the uniforms its employees wear, the layout of its menus, etc. all constitute trade dress. (If you want to see this taken to extremes, look up Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763 (1992).)

    Overall, publishers don’t do a very good job of it at all. In fact, an author’s branding is almost entirely the author’s business, from the exact form of the author’s name to the particular quality and content of the author’s works. That is branding. Too often, the publisher tries to claim the author’s branding as its own.*

    Don’t look to a commercial publisher for branding. Look to a commercial publisher for distribution and production and certain other things. The author provides and owns his/her own branding.

    * Ms Vaughn is very circumspect about how frustrating this particular incident got. She really, really is.

  8. I’ve never known anyone with bipolar disorder who had it 100% under control without medication. But of course, they continue to manage their own money and deal with the real world and office/blue collar jobs and kids…

    I have a money manager myself, because it can be complicated. But I look at the statements to see what the heck is going on. I’d sure notice if all the money started disappearing, and it wouldn’t take me FOUR YEARS. And I only sign very limited powers of attorney, for very specific things and limited times.

    Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy, how did I not know or had forgotten they were the same person?! I must have heard about it when she died, but that was 20 years ago. What a career she had, and dare I say it? A romantic death. We should all be half so lucky.

  9. Since I have never had a large amount of cash, I cannot imagine paying someoen $40K a month to manage my money. But I think Patricia Cornwell is at fault here.

    I once saw an interview with the actor who played Bill Cosby’s son in the Cosby show. He said that he used to hate the fact his mother used to drag him every month to a meeting with his finace advisor. Later on, he realized what she was trying to do, and he was in a better position to mange his money.

    I don’t care what problems or lack of interest an author may have, leaving someone to manage your money without your dirtect and continuing input is stupid. I cannot believe that she evidently did not take the time (once a month)to find out what was going on with her money and make decisions. Hell, if I was paying someone $40K/month, I would expect them to come to me. They would be working for me, not for my money.

    I don’t see how the case will turn out, but it is Cornwell’s fault. If she can’t take time to make major finacial decisions, then it’s hard for me to be sympathtic to her plight. I don’t like saying that, because it makes me sound cold. But I guess it’s because I’ve never made $40K in a year, let alone in a month.


  10. Kris, big kudos to Allyson on the Fiction River and Retrieval artists covers. It’s really lovely to see them all together also–it really hammers home how you do successful branding. For those of us working on learning how to do covers, examples like that are gold.

  11. The Cornwell story has been reading its head in the media every so often for a couple of years now. And every time I read about it, I recall the advice of Warren Buffett, who has even more money to manage than Ms. Cornwell had, on the sensible way to manage it: “Put it all in index funds and then get back to work.”

    Yes, she had tens of millions to manage. No, that doesn’t mean her strategies therefore had to be more complicated and time-consuming than the investment strategies of a writer with much more modest earnings–not if she didn’t want to spend a lot of time being distracted by complex fiscal management strategies and structures, which she evidently didn’t. If you WANT complex money management strategies, you need to be willing to invest the time needed to manage money that way. If you DON’T want to take time and focus to closely monitor complicated money management, then you need to keep it simple enough for you to manage.

    It’s not as if success imposes a REQUIREMENT that you have incredibly complex and time-consuming money management. That’s a choice.

    1. “If you DON’T want to take time and focus to closely monitor complicated money management, then you need to keep it simple enough for you to manage.”

      Exactly. Property managed by a letting agent and/or a savings account with high interest would be two easy ways to make passive income. With tens of millions, it’s not like she needed to make more.

    2. I recall the advice of Warren Buffett, who has even more money to manage than Ms. Cornwell had, on the sensible way to manage it: “Put it all in index funds and then get back to work.”

      That does sound very sensible, a lot more sensible than what she eventually did. The index funds will at least mimic the S&P 500 or whatever index they’re tied to.

      I wonder where she got the idea to go with this firm? Then again, with bipolar disorder, I know that this might have looked completely on the up-and-up to her.

  12. I’d noticed the spiffy repackaging of your Retrieval Artist series, and it’s great to get a look at the Fiction River covers. Cool, cool, cool! Covers and packaging are so important, and so is refreshing them. And indie authors control that option now.

    Thanks for reminding me about Mistress of Mellyn. In a sea of sixties Gothics, it was a mountain and did, in fact, inspire me to start my first novel, which ultimately started my career.

    I love the cruising and writing idea for one’s old age.

    The Cornwell case is certainly a canary in the coal mine sighting for all authors. Even mid-listers now have literary legacies worth cheating for.

    Finally, congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award nomination from RT Book Reviews!

  13. I’m stunned at this news about Patricia Cornwell. I can’t imagine giving up everything, no oversight. Wow.

    But your note about Victoria Holt cheered me up. I loved her books! I hope to die as she did, at my keyboard (or whatever we’re using by then) at 100+, with many books behind me.

    And the cruise thing ain’t so bad, either.

  14. I read that piece on Patricia Cornwell, and I could’ve written your response almost word for word simply from what you’ve written on the topic before. That doesn’t make your post on it any less valuable. It just means that you’re getting through.

    I don’t understand the idea of handing your finances over. I don’t understand the idea that bipolar disorder leaves someone incapable of running their finances in any way. I don’t understand the idea that she had to dedicate all her time to writing, and even a cursory look at them would’ve left her incapable of writing.

    1. Liz,

      As I noted in my response to Vera above, my husband has bipolar disorder. And I can tell you that not only could I not trust him with money, he actually went on a spending spree – and this seems to be constant problem among people with this disorder. (I’ve read and heard about others, including one man who was close to retirement & blew all of his retirement money gambling…he’s back on his meds again and has to save up for retirement yet again – and he’s not that far from retirement age as it is.)

      That being said, I agree that I think she should have at least taken a cursory look at what this firm was doing…or brought in another firm to audit them on at least a yearly basis. After all, that’s what most businesses I’ve worked for have done.

      1. I totally agree with you Nancy. My brother in law spent almost my sisters and his entire retirement fund on antiques. Thank goodness with the sale of those antiques they got back most of the money. So yeah I know all about what they can be like with money.
        This lady might have spent the money that she’s accusing them of, who knows. If she can’t handle her money someone needs to have a talk with her about being on meds because in my opinion she needs it.

  15. Wonderful post! What struck me with Ms. Cornwell is that with her disorder she wasn’t on any meds. My brother in law has Bipolor and without meds he would be a total train wreck. I just never heard of managing this illness without meds. Maybe that’s what clouded her judgement. I wish her well as I think she is going to need it.
    I will have to look up Victoria Holt. If she did gothic, I’m a fan of gothic.
    I didn’t start as early as her in life writing-I’m 50 so I will probably not see great success unless I live till 86 or beyond but I guess we can try.

    1. Total agreement with you, Vera. I’m married to a guy who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 6 years ago, and that’s what I was thinking.

      What universe is she living in that she can handle bipolar disorder without meds? (I’ve seen first hand what a person can be like when not on meds – and it’s not fun).

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