Archive for June, 2011

Who Will Play in The eBook Supply Chain?

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on June 30th, 2011

I was reading this Konrath post by Barry Eisler on the “Attack of the self-publishing memes” in which he argues that there isn’t an inherent conflict of interest for agents to also help authors epub their books. This got me thinking about the steps (tasks) in the current supply chain, who was going to provide them, and where the biggest value lay.

Here’s the process right now as I understand it from manuscript to reader. The numbers are only task identifiers and don’t represent sequential order in every case, although I did try to sort them that way.


1. Promote manuscript to editor at publisher
2. Negotiate contract with publisher

3. Story edit manuscript
4. Revise for story edits
5. Copy edit manuscript
6. Revise for copy edits

7. Create cover design and art (a marketing/advertising function)
8. Obtain ISBN
9. Typeset book
10. Print book

11. Establish book selling hierarchy (lead book, second lead, etc.)
12. Obtain reviews from trade publications, newspapers, websites, authors, etc.
13. Create sales catalog and other sales documents
14. Contact book buyers and promote books (calls, visits, conferences, etc.)
15. Take orders

16. Ship to retail outlets and wholesalers
17. Warehouse book
18. Process reader purchases & returns

19. Publicity, including free copies
20. Advertising
21. Co-op display purchases


1. Story edit manuscript
2. Revise for story edits
3. Copy edit manuscript
4. Revise for copy edits

5. Create cover design and art (which you could lump under marketing)
6. Obtain ISBN
7. Format book for ereaders and POD services (CreateSpace etc.)

8. Upload book to retail and library outlets
9. Warehouse the bytes
10. Process reader purchases & returns

11. Obtaining reviews from trade publications, newspapers, websites, authors, etc.
12. Publicity, including free copies
13. Advertising, including website display etc.

There are actually two channels here–physical audio books (CDs) and downloads (Audible, etc.).

I would assume the physical audio would follow the marketing, distributing, and promoting aspects of the paper channel tasks and add in the audio production tasks. Downloadable audio would follow the marketing of the ebooks and add in the audio production tasks.

I’m sure I’m missing some key steps somewhere. Somebody please supply them if you see gaps.

As for the future, here’s what I see. The paper channel tasks aren’t going to change much. Nor do I think the people performing the various tasks will either. For example, I just don’t think POD machines are going to catch on in stores and wipe out distributors. They may take out printers (#10) of trade and mass market paperbacks. But I haven’t seen a POD machine that can do hardbacks. Maybe the PODs will move to the retail outlets. But I don’t think so. Somebody disabuse me of the notion.

However, I do think there will be some interesting developments in the ebook/POD channel.

Right now a lot of authors are spending time performing tasks 6, 7, and 8. Some literary agencies are wanting to charge 15% forever for those steps with maybe a little cover design. But tasks 6-8 are the tasks that require the least amount of skill and will soon be automated.

Formatting for ebooks now is like coding html was for webpages 10 years ago–people in the code spending hours tweaking crap. Right now it takes you about a day to learn how to format a novel for the various ebook readers. Once you know how to do it, you’ll spend a day, maybe two, formatting your novel and uploading it. Or you can pay someone else to do it–any responsible teenager will do.

But within the next year I predict an application coming (if it’s not already here) that will hook into Word and other programs that will make the labor obsolete. Creating a Kindle document will be like creating a PDF document in Word today—you just click Save.

Uploading could be automated as well across various sites with some application. But it’s fairly easy now.

So for which tasks are these ebook distributors wanting to charge 15% forever? Obtaining an ISBN?

I don’t even think they even do that.

Amazon and the other ebook retailers have a lock on 9 & 10. It would be incredibly hard to dislodge those gorillas. So I think the place where literary agencies and others who want to play in the indie ebook/POD supply chain are going to flourish is in the other tasks that require the most skills–editing, cover art, and marketing, which I’ve marked in blue.

Authors interested in the indie ebook/POD channel are going to want service providers who can deliver great editing, cover art, and marketing. They’re going to want folks who can help them sell into traditional domestic and foreign paper distribution channels. They’re going to want folks who can help them sell rights to other buyers–audio, film, etc.  And they’re going to want help with their contracts.

If I were an agency, graphic artist, editor, intellectual rights lawyer, or some other entrepreneur trying to serve indie ebook/POD authors, that’s where I’d spend my time.

Dystel & Goodrich literary agency recently announced they would do something like this . . . almost.

Over the past months and years we’ve come to the realization that e-publishing is yet another area in which we can be of service to our clients as literary agents. From authors who want to have their work available once the physical edition has gone out of print and the rights have reverted, to those whose books we believe in and feel passionately about but couldn’t sell—oftentimes, after approaching 20 or more houses—we realized that part of our job as agents in this new publishing milieu is to facilitate these works being made available as e-books and through POD and other editions.

Right now, you’re thinking, oh, DGLM is going to be another of those agencies that has decided to become an e-publisher and charge clients whose books they can’t sell 50% of their income for the privilege of uploading their work. Some of you may be mumbling, “Uh…that’s a conflict of interest.” We get it and we understand how that can be the perception. However, we have no intention of becoming e-publishers. As we said above, we have too much respect for the work that publishers do and too much respect for the work we ourselves do to muddy the waters in such a way.

Again, what we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work. We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid. In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.

Our intention is to keep on trying to find books we think we can sell to traditional publishing houses, to negotiate the best deal (always), and to give our authors as many options as we can. Because we will continue to be commission-based, we will not be automatically pushing authors into e-publishing. Again, we want to give our authors options and empower them to do what they set out to do all along: have their work read by the largest possible audience

However, from what I understand they’re not offering to perform the necessary tasks for 15% forever, only the project management of the tasks. Which means the author will still be paying for the editing and cover art and marketing.

15% forever for project management (a list of to-do’s in this case) and a service provider contact list? Where the author still pays for the editing, cover design and art, and marketing?

Ummmmm, no.

Others like D&G will pop up. But the ones that indie authors will eventually go to will be those that deliver on the high-skill tasks for reasonable rates.  Those will be the ones playing in the ebook supply chain of the future.

Many authors will contract the tasks separately themselves.  But a lot of authors won’t want to do that. They’ll want a one-stop-shop. Or one that does most of it. Some of those one-stop-shops will charge an upfront fee and will probably accept anyone who can pay. Others will make most of their money on a % of the sales to readers and libraries, footing the initial costs of the tasks, and will only work with clients they think will pay out, which if you think about it isn’t really an idie (self-pub) model at all. That’s the space traditional publishers play in right now.

But in the ebook/POD world distribution is no longer a key barrier to entry for new competitors. And so I expect to see a whole bunch of new publishers coming to play in that space. Those that select, edit, and market well will flourish.

Meanwhile, I don’t think most of us authors care which road we take and who we play with. Well, as long as they play nice and don’t poop in the sandbox. We just want to get our stories in to the hands of massive numbers of delighted readers.


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Donald Rumsfeld, The King’s Speech, Aquatic Ancestor Apes & Talking Bacteria

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on June 28th, 2011
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Donald Rumsfeld

I just finished Known and Unknown, a fat memoir by Donald Rumsfeld, and enjoyed every page.  Rumsfeld served as the Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush.  But Rumsfeld’s service didn’t start there. He was a Navy pilot, an assistant to a congressman during the Eisenhower days, and, in the early 60’s, a four-term congressman from Illinois.  He held various positions in the Nixon White House in the late 60’s and early 70’s, including ambassador to NATO.  He was Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense when Ford took over from Nixon.  Reagan tapped him to be a special envoy to both the Middle East after the Beirut bombing and to the Law of the Sea treaty discussions.  He was the president of Searle, a pharmaceutical, as well as General Instrument, the company that pioneered HDTV.  Only after all that, did George W. Bush bring him on as Secretary of Defense.

When writing novels, I try to create characters worth knowing, either because of their interesting personality or skills or because of the events they take part in. Donald Rumsfeld is just such a character, except he’s no fiction.

In his memoir he shares insider information on everything from Watergate to 9/11 to the war in Iraq. What emerges is a fascinating look into many of the most important events in the last forty years.  You’ll get insight into some of the issues experienced in various White House administrations and see what really was going on with waterboarding, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, hurricane Katrina and many other of the hot button issues in the Bush years. There are some laugh out loud moments where his understated humor shines through. There are also parts where he reveals some of his differences with others that worked with him in the various administrations, including issues with Nelson Rockerfeller, Colin Powell and Andy Card. But in everything he writes he’s fair and restrained and attempts to present the facts accurately. This is no attempt to settle scores.  Just a wonderful read.

If you are interested in politics at all, I think you’ll enjoy this book. Moreover, I think you’ll come out a little wiser, maybe a little better person, for having spent a few hours with Donald Rumsfeld.  

The King’s Speech

I do not watch many r-rated movies.  They are usually too vulgar or pornographic for my prissy tastes. However, I did my research on The King’s Speech, and having heard so many glowing reviews, Nellie and I rented it.

It was wonderful.

The movie tells the story of prince Albert Frederick Arthur George of Britain who did not ever expect to inherit the throne and did not want to, in part because of his stammer. Can you imagine having to be a public figure like a king and have to deal with something like that? Most of us dread the thought of public speaking. Can you imagine having to try with a stammer?

But Albert’s lot was not to live the sheltered life. He became king when his brother abdicated the throne because of improprieties in his personal life. The day before the abdication, Albert went to London to see his mother, Queen Mary. He wrote in his diary, “When I told her what had happened, I broke down and sobbed like a child.” That is not the entry of a power-hungry man.

He assumed the throne in 1936, when England ruled over almost a quarter of the world’s population. Three years later in 1939 WW2 broke out and Britain’s king needed to be able to address the people.

In the movie, Colin Firth plays Price Albert. Geoffery Rush (Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean) plays Lionel Logue, the unorthodox Australian speech therapist to whom Albert’s wife turns for help. The script is wonderful and the star-studded cast is spot on. There are moments of humor and poignancy and triumph. I was caught up in this movie as much as any I’ve seen.

If you like English dramas, you’ll enjoy this one. And the profanity, the reason for the r-rating, is not there to depict casual vulgarity. It was part of a technique used by the therapist. In the end, you’ll overlook it and find yourself on pins and needles, rooting for this fine man.

Aquatic Ancestor Apes & Talking Bacteria

I’ve written about TED before. The annual TED (technology, entertainment, design) conferences, in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Edinburgh, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less). The folks at TED record these speeches and put them up for free on their site for the rest of us to watch. And I just watched two dandies.

The first is by Elaine Morgan who says we evolved from aquatic apes (sigh, just when you think you’ve found grandpa Eddy hanging out in the trees, you learn he’s an imposter). Morgan is a Welsh writer for television and also the author of several books on evolutionary anthropology. In the speech she describes the reasons why it makes sense that humans had aquatic ancestors. Along the way, she illustrates key principles of science, including why science by consensus is no science at all. Her manner is so delightful and engaging I think I could listen to her for hours, preferably around the dinner table. Watch her right now. She just might convince you.

The second speech was given by Bonnie Bassler, an American molecular biologist, who has been part of the team that discovered key insights into how bacteria talk. It appears that bacteria do not invade a host and start doing damage. No, they wait until their numbers are sufficient that they have a chance of surviving. They coordinate defense and mount attacks as a group. Who would have thought? Knowing how this works is not only interesting all by itself, but it has stunning implications for medicine and fighting infection. Bassler is a fascinating and enthusiastic presenter. Among other things, you’ll end up seeing that humans are more bacteria than you could imagine. Watch her.

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Authors love women

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on June 23rd, 2011

Two fascinating articles on who drives books sales. Would love to see original reports.

September, 2010

I arrived back at work, along with 2,000 e-mails and about that many incoming books, I got a report from Bowker, a global firm that tracks people’s book-buying habits. Here are some of the more interesting bits from 2009:More than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 13 purchased a book; the average age of the American book buyer is 42.

Women make 64 percent of all book purchases, even among detective stories and thrillers, where they buy more than 60 percent of that genre. [see, they act all touchy feeling, but most women like to see someone kick hiney. Except I suspect a lot of that 60% is driven by mysteries; or are there a lot of women that like, say, Lee Child?]

Thirty two percent of the books purchased in 2009 were from households earning less than $32,000 annually. A fifth of those sales were for children’s books.

The biggest nonfiction genre is biography and autobiography.

Whoa. Go gals.

June, 2011

Surprise, surprise: the hardcore power users in the eBook world are the same demographics as the hardcore power users in the physical-book word, as a report called Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) indicates both hardcore groups are dominated by women buying fiction.

No surprise, really. The BISG says most eBook power buyers – that is, someone buying an eBook at least once a week — are by and large women (some 66 percent), who mostly buy fiction. Out of the entire eBook market, power buyers make just 18 percent of all buyers, but they buy 61 percent of the eBooks. [Holy crap! 18% are driving the sales–who are these people?! Of course, this is just the old 80/20 rule showing its face again.]

In terms of exactly what is selling: literary fiction, science fiction and romance lead the way, each with over 20 percent of the market. [Go SFF!! and those are not the normal breakdowns, SFF is usually under 10%] Overall, eBooks comprise 11 percent of the total book market, with 13 percent of print book buyers also downloading eBooks.

That evolution of the market isn’t surprising: early gadget adopters tend to be men, but as eReaders become more mainstreams, its userbase logically would look like the book market as a whole. And that’s exactly what happened: If women buy 64 percent of all books, it’s no surprise they’re buying 66 percent of all eBooks. [Except I think you got your math wrong; they’re 66% of power buyers. You didn’t say what report said of total sales]


Seems women have been driving entertainment in a lot of ways for a long time. Watch a few minutes of this interview with Hitchcock back in 1964.


Revised version of “Key Conditions for Reader Suspense”

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on June 19th, 2011

Last year I published four very long essays on my site in a series called “The Key Conditions for Reader Suspense.”  The folks at SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) liked them and wanted to reprint them on their site. Of course, as I went through those essays I found things to revise and add. We published the revised essays in a twenty-seven part series. Read those more recent versions here.


Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover & Brown Cow Yogurt

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on June 14th, 2011

Wear some financial underpants

I graduated from BYU with a Master’s degree in accounting. BYU’s accounting program is regularly ranked as one of the top three schools in the nation.

Whoa. Go, John. I ought to be some kind of financial superstar, right? You’d think I would have come out of that program with all my crap put together, living within my means, investing wisely, making a bundle of moo-lah. I’d have a tidy stash.

Yeah, nope.

That program taught me how to account for money, but not how to use it. Or maybe I was just too dumb to get it. We came rolling out of school with thousands of dollars of debt. So instead of graduating and building our wealth, we worked to pay off the man.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I can tell you right now my daughters aren’t going to do the same. They will pay as they go. I’m not co-signing any loans. They’re not going to use credit cards. If it takes them a few years longer to graduate, then it takes them a few years longer.

But they’ll be free when they finish. No shackles for my girls.

I always thought it was a good idea not to send them out into the world without underpants. Or knowing how to brush their teeth. It’s equally important I don’t send them out there not knowing how to build wealth and reap all the security and peace that comes with it.

This is why every child of mine is going to get a copy of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. It’s a goofy title, but the principles in it are sound. I can’t tell you how much I wished I’d known and followed the steps he outlines there on how to build wealth when I was just starting out.

  1. Save $1,000 in an emergency fund
  2. Pay off all your debt except the mortgage using the debt snowball (and don’t go into debt)
  3. Complete your emergency fund by saving three to six months’ expenses
  4. Maximize retirement investing
  5. Save for your kids’ college
  6. Pay off the home mortgage early
  7. Build wealth and give like crazy
  8. Live like no one else

The book starts out by talking about the debt myth, i.e. debt is a great tool and should be used to create prosperity. Sometimes a little debt can be helpful. But in the vast majority of cases “debt adds considerable risk, most often doesn’t bring prosperity, and isn’t used by wealthy people nearly as much as we are led to believe.” Ramsey goes on to say, “Your largest wealth-building asset is your income. When you tie up your income, you lose. When you invest your income, you become wealthy and can do anything you want.  How much could you give every month, save every month, and spend every month if you had no payments? Your income is your greatest wealth-building tool, not debt. Your Total Money Makeover begins with a permanently changed view of the Debt Myths.”

After tackling debt, Ramsey outlines other money myths and wealth-destroying attitudes and then explains each of the principles of the steps outlined above.

I love this book so much it’s part of my gift package to every couple that invites me to their wedding reception. I hope those new couples follow his recommendations. It will bring them peace. If you want to give your children the gift of financial peace, if you want that peace yourself, I recommend you buy this book today and start following those baby steps. You can get the book for a mere $10 bucks at his website

While you’re waiting for it to come, you might want to go over to Larry Correia’s site (another accountant and fiction author), and read his hilarious comments on some real folks who actually were sent out without any financial underwear:

Thick and Creamy

I love thick, creamy yogurt.

Mix it with some raisins or fresh fruit, and I’m in heaven.

The problem is that most of the yogurt on the shelves today is weird Splenda- or NutraSweet-filled crap. Or it’s full of sugar. And none of it has that thick mouth feel.

I had some great yogurt up in Oregon a few years ago, but could never find anything like it here. Then a little while ago I hit the jackpot.

Hello, Brown Cow Greek Yogurt.

Thick. Oh, baby is it thick. Creamy. And full of goodness: 23 grams of protein, 9 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fat, and active cultures of more of our belly friends than any other yogurt I’ve found—give a big welcome to S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei.

I get the plain style. This allows me to mix it to my taste with fruit, granola, or a little bit of sugar or honey.

If you’ve been looking for some good yogurt, let me recommend Brown Cow.

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Since when did young adult fiction become the cure for cancer?

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever, On Writing  by John Brown on June 13th, 2011

Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Stree Journal called “Darkness Too Visible” in which she complained that it was hard to find young adult fiction these days that isn’t filled with coarse, dark material–profanity, pederasty, mutilation, etc. She claims that “contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity” and wonders “why is this considered a good idea?” She concludes by saying:

So it may be that the book industry’s ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young. Still, everyone does not share the same objectives. The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.

This, of course, sent hordes of folks into a frenzy of posts sneering at Gurdon’s so-called prissy sensibilities, decrying censorship, and extolling the virtues of young adult literature and dark material in particular. For example, Mary Elizabeth Williams in a Salon piece called “Has young adult fiction become too dark?” rolls her eyes, then deigns to wade into what’s she thinks is an obviously juvenile argument to apparently show Gourdon how “stupid” she really is. Williams concludes:

One of the terrific side effects of an obviously click-baiting piece of editorial twaddle like Gurdon’s is that it reminds people how many fellow passionate readers there are in the world. That incendiary WSJ piece promptly sparked a tear-jerkingly beautiful twitter #YA saves trend full of heartfelt reactions and links to outstandingly reasoned, article responses from well-read adults and teens on the value within so much of YA literature and its downright lifesaving effects.

Williams suggests fiction doesn’t have the power to lead people into bad behaviors. After all, she assures us, “an entire generation of women managed to devour the ‘Flowers in the Attic’ series without having sex with their brothers.” No, according to Williams (and all the #YAsaves folks), YA fiction only saves lives. And she provides a link to prove it.

But Williams misses the mark. Completely. This isn’t about whether fiction has power to influence us in good and bad ways. There’s a huge body of research on media effects which clearly proves fiction’s power for both. Nor is it about the theraputic uses of dark material.

The heart of the matter revolves around a rather mundane thing–customer service and marketing.

Gurdon and those parents she describes in her article want a certain type of entertainment. For years, YA fiction has provided that type of entertainment. But things have changed, and the YA label isn’t reliable to them any more. It’s like someone who has purchased steel cut oatmeal for years is now suddenly bringing the bags home to find them filled with sardines or, horrors, Twinkies.

We can argue the merits of sardines and Twinkies. And a hundred other foods. We can argue the merits of certain types of stories for certain types of readers. And my metaphor above–maybe you think using Twinkies is unfair; maybe you would have wanted me to use something like Triscuts or Wheat Thins. But that’s all beside the point.

The real problem here is that the publishers have ignored a significant segment of the market who want to buy books but can’t find the types they’re interested in. Either the covers and blurb material don’t help them find what they’re looking for, sometimes misleading them, or the publishers have simply made the mistake of not thinking about this segment of the reading market.

The fix is easy. (1) Produce more books for these folks. (2) Label your books in a way that makes it easy for the consumer to find what they want. They’re not asking for censorship. They’re asking for a nutrition label that lets them know what they’re getting. Publishers can do what the movie and gaming industries have done with rating systems that prominently display on the cover. Or use some other method. This isn’t a moral issue, it’s simply a matter of helping the right customers find your good or service. It’s a matter of good marketing and branding.

And I would think, with the upheavals in the book industry today, that publishers and booksellers would want to do whatever they could to boost sales. Surely it doesn’t help to turn customers away because your package is confusing them.

In the meantime, the battle will rage and this simple practical core of the issue will be lost in the fires and clouds of smoke produced by the arguments extolling and excoriating the virtues and vices of fiction.