Last year I gave a talk at a conference called “The World Domination Summit,” in part because my friend and client Chris Guillebeau was hosting it, but also because I make it a point never to miss out on a conference where dominating the world is the stated intent. That’s no time to be on the outside looking in.
The attendees were a wonderful collection of people pursuing unconventional lives. They were world travelers, bloggers, artists, entrepreneurs and adventurers from more than a dozen countries. So what surprised me wasn’t that many of them also wanted to write a book – what surprised me were the questions.
All weekend long, on my way to lunch, listening to another speaker’s presentation, on the street walking back to my hotel, out at night for one of the conference meet-ups and even once in the restroom, the questions kept coming: How do I get an agent? What are editors looking for? How much of an advance can I expect? How do agents get paid? How do I even find information about agents? How do I write a book proposal? How much money will I make on sales of my books? How long will it take for my book to come out?
Even from those who had managed to attract an agent and land a book deal, the questions continued: Why does Amazon sometimes sell ebooks for more than actual books? Do I have to pay the advance back if my book doesn’t sell? What’s a “reserve for returns”? How do foreign translations work? Why didn’t my publisher put more into marketing my book?
I always enjoy helping authors and so I talked until my voice gave out. When I got home, what struck me about all their questions was that even after twenty years in publishing, I still hear the same questions over and over again.
That’s not the authors’ fault. Book publishing can be maddeningly impenetrable. Things seem as if they should work a certain way and yet they seldom do. What makes it even more challenging is that there’s no clear path for aspiring authors to learn what they need to know to be successful. And so authors often struggle just to get things moving in the right way.
When Chris approached me again – this time with the suggestion of writing a book that would answer all those questions for authors – I decided I had to try.
The result is The Unconventional Guide to Publishing, nearly 50,000 words of information and advice covering everything an author needs to get started and succeed in publishing. It covers everything from developing a compelling concept, creating a proposal and pitching agents, to negotiating the publishing agreement, writing the book and marketing it effectively.
Also included are six book proposals graciously provided by my clients (and representing nearly half a million dollars in book advances) to serve as examples of how to write an effective book proposal. We’ve also included audio interviews with a number of experts to help ensure the material is as complete as possible. They include editors from major publishers like Crown, Little, Brown & Co., and Hudson Street Press, book marketing expert Jonathan Fields, publishing guru Jane Freedman, and even Chris Guillebeau himself, talking about the experience of writing and selling his first book.
My hope is that this guide will not only help aspiring authors to get started on the right path, but to also make sure they get the absolute most out of their writing careers. And if I get five or six more terrific proposals submitted to me along the way, all the better.
Later this week I’ll look at what I learned (a lot) in the process of writing the book that I hadn’t experienced in twenty years of representing authors. I’ll also talk a bit about why I decided to self-publish the book (or rather, co-publish it with Chris) rather than pitching it to traditional publishers, and even post some thoughts about the future of publishing this projects raised for me.
Just heard via Publishers Marketplace that Amazon is including a number of titles in its new Kindle Lending program without either the author or publishers’ consent. Beyond that, Amazon is including titles from publishers they approached about the program and who explicitly refused to take part. If you’re not familiar with the just launched program, it allows members of Amazon’s Prime service to “borrow” one ebook a month for free from a select list of titles. Here’s what PM said about it:
As publishers and agents have started to realize with exasperation today, a number of titles in the Kindle Lending Library program–including some of the bestselling, prominently-promoted titles on the program’s home page–are part of this new initiative without the consent or affirmative participation of the publishers and rightsholders. Not only that, but at least some come from companies that directly turned down Amazon’s initial offer over the past few months to license a broad selection of backlist for a flat fee. Multiple participants were only told by Amazon yesterday (or found out themselves this morning) that this was happening. How could such a thing be possible, many people are wondering?
How? It comes down once again to the difference between the Wholesale and Agency models for selling ebooks. This is a subject that anyone outside of book publishing finds baffling, and which leads to bizarre situations such as ebooks actually being priced higher than the physical copies for some titles. That drives readers insane (and with good reason), but it’s actually not Amazon’s fault. Well, it sort of is, but more on that below.
The way it works is that under the Agency model the publisher sets the price of the ebook and then Amazon collects a commission of 30% on each copy sold. That’s why it’s called the Agency model, as Amazon is essentially acting as the publisher’s agent on the sale, the same way that Apple does for music via iTunes (which is where the whole thing came from in the first place). The Wholesale model, on the other hand, works the same way that publishing has always worked. Amazon (or any bookseller) “buys” a copy of the work from the publisher for about 50% of the cover price and then resells it for however much they want. That allows them to compete with other retailers on price and from the perspective of authors and publishers, once Amazon has bought it for full price, the more they discount it and the more copies it sells, the happier we are.
So what’s happening here with the Kindle Lending program? The trick is that some publishers are on the Agency model and some are on the Wholesale model, as this is all still new enough that a standard way of handling ebook sales hasn’t emerged yet. You might see where this is going. The titles that are showing up on the Kindle Lending program without permission are from publishers who are on the Wholesale model. What Amazon is doing is that every time they “lend” one of those books to a Kindle user, Amazon is paying the publisher as if it’s a normal purchase of the e-book and then taking a 100% loss on the “sale” of that ebook in order to sell more Kindle devices.
How do I feel about this as an agent? I’m really of two minds on it. Part of me feels that as long as Amazon is paying full price for the ebook every time they lend it, I’d be happy having them “lend” my authors’ books as many times as they want. Heck, lend each of them a million times and my authors will all get summer homes. The other part of me can’t help but feel a little creeped out that Amazon would do this not only without permission, but even against the explicit desires of at least some of the publishers involved. Amazon might not realize it – or maybe they do and don’t care - but that kind of action is exactly the reason why so many publishers have moved to the Agency model in the first place, despite the fact that it’s actually not as good financially. That is, they simply don’t trust Amazon.
From the beginning Amazon has tried to deflate the price of ebooks, in large part so that they could sell Kindles and lock customers into their ecosystem. Not surprisingly, publishers not only became concerned about the idea that they might never be able to sell an ebook for more than $9.99, but also about the likelihood that Amazon would come back to them at some point and start pressuring publishers to lower the list prices of their ebooks to reflect the “reality” of the market that Amazon itself created in order to sell Kindles. So when Apple came along with the idea of the Agency model where publishers could set their own prices, many publishers (including nearly all of the biggest publishers) jumped at it.
Of course, now publishers will trust Amazon even less and this may push even more publishers in the direction of the Agency model. Add in the launch of Amazon’s publishing program over the Summer that’s now competing head to head with book publishers for top authors and projects and the relationship between publishers and Amazon is, putting it mildly, tense.
Remember that old curse, “May you live in interesting times”? Well, these are certainly interesting times for book publishing.
Congratulations go out again to James Munton and Jelita McLeod, who just received another terrific review for their book The Con, out now from Rowman & Littlefield. This one is from ForeWord, which calls the book “extremely thorough and timely” and says “For each scenario, the authors describe a con by using a fictional character who’s been duped, and the device works very well, making the material engaging, accessible, and understandable.”
It goes on to say:
The authors bring considerable expertise to the task. James Munton is a magician who’s performed several times at the White House, and is now a speaker on the subjects of identity theft and data breaches, while Jelita McLeod’s journalistic background includes stories for the Washington Post and National Public Radio. That blend works well, since so many cons are much like magic tricks, with sleight-of-hand and misdirection, and it takes a reporter’s skill to really dig into why they succeed.
You can read the full review here. Interestingly enough, I also just received my agent copies in the mail today and the book looks as great as it reads, so wonderful news all the way around.
I’m a huge fan of Stephen Colbert and think he’s one of the sharpest, funniest people on television these days, so needless to say I was very excited when Kevin Mitnick was booked as a guest on The Colbert Report to talk about his book Ghost in the Wires. Where else are you going to get an exchange like this:
Colbert: Why a year in solitary confinement? You don’t look like a dangerous guy.
Mitnick: I’m very dangerous. No. [laughs] The prosecutor had told the judge during a bail hearing that I could pick up the telephone and connect to NORAD and whistle the launch codes and launch a nuclear weapon. And because of this the judge had a special order that I’d have to be held in prison without access to a telephone. So, the only place they could put me was in solitary confinement. So I was there about a year.
Colbert: Can you do that? Could you do that? Because that would be bad-ass.That would be bad-ass.
Check out the interview in its entirety here at the Colbert Report page.
Toward a Better Life is a fascinating oral history covering more than 120 years of the American immigrant experience. These are the true stories of immigrants told in their own words and cover everything from interviews with relatives of Annie Moore (Ellis Island’s first immigrant) and the Von Trapp family (made famous by The Sound of Music) to the inspiring stories of Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”), master chef Jacques Pepin, and musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan, as well as the dramatic tale of Carlos Escobar’s harrowing trip north from Mexico in 1996 to create a better life for his family. With all the passion and heated rhetoric around the the state of immigration in the U.S., this book serves as a remarkably poignant, moving portrait of America’s immigrants over more than a hundred years.
Library Journal says of the book:
Verdict: Coan calls the work a “celebration of all immigrants.” Readers will be engaged in every story. As U.S. immigration is hotly debated, he puts human faces to the contentious subject. History, genealogy, and memoir buffs will enjoy learning about those who left so much behind to seek “a better life.”
In the end, Toward a Better Life paints a powerful, diverse portrait of the mosaic that is American and does so using the words of those who for more than a century have made our country what it is today. These are the stories of ordinary people doing great things in search of a better life for themselves and their families, told by those who actually lived it.
Congratulations(!) to Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon, as the New York Times just reviewed their incredible, about to be published book, Ghost in the Wires, the no holds barred account of Kevin’s life in hacking and his time spent on the run from the FBI, the NSA, and police departments in three different states. The Times said:
Driven by curiosity and compulsion (â€œThereâ€™s always something thatâ€™s more challenging and fun to hackâ€), Mitnick spent most of his young adulthood pilfering proprietary code from technology companies like Sun Microsystems and Novell, partly so he could look for bugs and security holes to use to his advantage, and partly for the thrill of the hunt. He also spent plenty of time making free calls on his hacked cellphone and going to the gym. As the authorities began to close in on him in 1992, he created several false identities, and went on the run until he was finally nailed in February 1995.
as well as:
Unlike computer criminals today, Mitnick ignored the credit card numbers he stumbled across in his pursuit of code. He writes: â€œAnyone who loves to play chess knows that itâ€™s enough to defeat your opponent. You donâ€™t have to loot his kingdom or seize his assets to make it worthwhile.â€ He summed up his personal motive to the former Wall Street trader Ivan Boesky when they were both in prison: â€œI didnâ€™t do it for the money; I did it for the Âentertainment.”
It’s amazing to see this book finally making it into print. This is the book that Kevin and I have been talking about for 11 years and the book that the government literally did not want anyone to read. As part of Kevin’s release agreement from prison the authorities originally sought to ban him from ever telling his story. They eventually settled on a 7 year period where Kevin wouldn’t be allowed to tell his story, hoping that perhaps readers wouldn’t be interested once that period was up. But with this NYT review, an excerpt running in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, another excerpt running on Wired.com’s terrific “Threat Level” blog next week, and an appearance on The Colbert Show scheduled for next week, as well, it’s nice to see that they underestimated Kevin once again.
Congratulations(!) go out to James Munton and Jelita McCleod, whose book The Con: How Scams Work, Why You’re Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself will be published next month by Rowman & Littlefield and just received a terrific review over at Publisher’s Weekly:
Career magician and identity theft expert Munton teams with writer McLeod to deliver this fascinating, informative, and highly entertaining primer on the various ways the uninitiated may find themselves ripped off by a con artist. Filled with personal stories (told in hindsight, of course), the cautionary tales have a common thread: it could happen to anyone–be they financially struggling college student, good Samaritan, single mom, or scientist. Munton and McLeod’s featured narratives include people who have been conned by a new romantic interest or led astray by greed, curiosity, or basic inattentiveness. Rather than inducing paranoia, Munton and McLeod stress the importance of critical thinking when it comes to our money, identities, and time. For example, Munton schools readers on how to recognize a Ponzi scheme and cautions against giving out a social security number without serious consideration; in most instances, the receiving party doesn’t need the social security number at all. This book will help people recognize a credible opportunity when it presents itself, and avoid those “opportunities” that don’t pass muster.
JustÂ saw this terrific trailer for Jackie Hooper’s forthcoming The Things You Would Have Said from Hudson Street Press.
Since its inception in 1982, only 200 people have finished the route within the 12 days allotted. By contrast, Ms. Snyder notes, more than 3,000 people have climbed to Everest’s summit. Just to make the race’s every-thousand-mile cut-offs, riders must average 230-250 miles a day. If you want to win, you’d better cover 350 miles dailyâ€”and survive on about an hour of sleep for each 24-hour period. “Amnesty International,” she says, “would classify such severe sleep deprivation as torture.”
I couldn’t be happier to see this book receiving the recognition it deserves. RAAM (the Race Across America) is an amazing event and one that’s difficult to even comprehend on some level. The Tour de France, for example, is shorter than RAAM by a thousand miles and yet takes more than twice as long to finish. While the tour riders are eating, re-hydrating, getting a massage, and then sleeping 8 hours a night, the RAAM riders simply keep racing. The winner averages just over 1 hour of sleep a day for the 8-9 days during the race and spends an almost unimaginable 23 hours a day on the bike, pedaling his way toward the 1 million revolutions that he’ll complete during the race, all while battling sleep deprivation, hallucinations, saddle sores, extreme temperature and weather changes, and a host of problems that insure this is one race I’ll never even think about entering.
It’s incredible stuff and Amy has done a wonderful job of capturing the 2009 Race Across America, which turned out to be the closest and most controversial in the race’s history. Even if you’ve never heard of RAAM – as I hadn’t before Amy contacted me about it – pick up the book anyway. You won’t regret it.