Writer BewarePosted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The tragedy in Japan makes things like coming up with new blog posts seem pretty trivial. Nevertheless, here are a few items of publishing news that have intrigued me over the past week or so.

Whoops, they did it again

Another traditional publisher has contracted with Author Solutions Inc. to run a self-publishing division. Berrett-Kohler, an independent nonfiction publisher, announced the launch of Open Book Editions, which it describes as a service for “aspiring authors who can’t be sustainably published through our traditional publication program.”

Unlike other ASI/publisher collaborations, Open Book Editions doesn’t seem to have a dedicated website, but rather a page on the iUniverse website. Its packages are pricey, compared to some of the other collaborations–there are no options under $1,600. Copy editing is mandatory, and requires an additional fee. And as usual, there’s the snake oil: “Open Book Edition titles will be reviewed on a regular basis by Berrett-Koehler to determine if any publications warrant consideration as a core BK publication.”

For the record, I can understand why, in an increasingly difficult publication environment, publishers would want to shore up their bottom lines with a lucrative self-publishing division. But authors should not assume (and should not be encouraged to assume) that these divisions are a kind of farm team or test case. These collaborations are about making money for the publisher, not finding overlooked literary gems.

In related news, Thomas Nelson has just picked up for traditional publication a title first published by its self-pub division, WestBow Press. Note the extraordinary circumstance attending this acquisition: the title had already sold over 30,000 copies.

I paid a big entry fee, and all I got was this lousy sticker

The moneymaking (for the sponsor) awards scheme has come to ebooks. For a fee of $59 (or $49, if you enter more than 3 titles), ebook authors can enter Dan Poynter’s Global eBook Awards in any one of 75 categories, to win…a sticker (a virtual one, that is). Oh, and a certificate.

As with other high-entry-fee, kitchen-sink-category awards (examples, for print books, include the National Indie Excellence Book Awards and the USA Book News Best Books Award, both of which actually charge extra for stickers and certificates), the judges aren’t named, and–despite the Poynter name–the credibility is dubious.

Be careful what you sue for

A judge has dismissed the case of an author who launched a criminal libel suit against a journal editor who published a bad review of her book, and the author has been ordered to pay punitive damages to the defendant.

The moral of this story: bad reviews happen. Don’t make a fool of yourself by whining about it.

This is far from the first time an author has lost his or her head over a bad review.

Ebooks: death of print or new market category?

Over at the always-interesting Idea Logical blog, Mike Shatzkin gives a persuasive argument for something I’ve been saying for some time: there’s a lot of similarity between the revolution created by the growth of cheap mass market paperbacks in the 1940s, and the ebook revolution underway today.

In both cases, a new, cheap book format with an alternative method of distribution created a brand-new book marketplace, capturing a large audience and creating careers for writers who previously could not get a foothold in the world of trade publishing. In both cases, there’s a high level of suspicion and resentment between the new market and the established one, and a good deal of fear that the new format will render the old one obsolete. There’s also an initial absolute separation (in the beginning, publishers did mass market only or hardcover only, and the two did not mix; pre-Kindle, the same was largely true for epublishers and print publishers) followed by increasing assimilation.

The mass market paperback distribution system eventually broke down, and the mass market format–and its audience–is now fully integrated into the trade system. Will the same thing eventually happen to ebooks? Also, we live in digital time now, and the ebook revolution is overtaking us much more quickly than the mass market revolution did. Shatzkin points out some other differences:

There are a slew of differences between the transitions; ebook publishing has a title glut to deal with just like mass-market did, but the challenges are not the same when you don’t have printed books to manufacture and ship around and your distribution isn’t limited by shelf space or pockets to display them. And authors couldn’t do it themselves in the mass-market era the way they can today.

But, he concludes,

…there is a very basic lesson I think publishers better take on board from this history.

Much-less-expensive editions, combined with access to audiences for authors that couldn’t get past the gatekeepers in the established houses, can create millions of new readers that weren’t available to the legacy products at the legacy prices.

And that can lead to economic power that can ultimately swallow up large chunks of the legacy publishing establishment.

That last sentence reflects Shatzkin’s belief that the mass market paperback houses “won,” by buying or merging with the hardcover houses. I think that’s a point that could be debated. But the bottom line is that while the mass market paperback may have cannibalized the hardcover to some degree, it did not supplant it. Instead, it created an entirely new market, and enormously expanded book readership in the process.

Perhaps the death-of-printers should hold off on the victory dance for a little while.

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