What’s Wrong with Publishing? #10: Wrapping Up Digital

The usual disclaimer: The opinions and ideas expressed in WWwP? entries are ruminations, not rants. I’m thinking out loud here. Even if it seems like I’m demonizing some quarter of the industry, I’m really not — I want publishing (every aspect of it) to be stronger and better. Everyone has a role to play. I welcome your thoughts in the comments. I adore just about everyone I’ve met and worked with in publishing; nothing I say here should be construed as denigrating any sector of the industry.

OK, I’m going to spend one more (brief) blog talking about e-books and then, next week, I’m going to move on to some new topics.

If you checked in earlier this week, you saw a spirited discussion in the comments about DRM and similar restrictions on digital content. Commenter Tom Franklin pointed to an entry on his own blog on the topic of e-book pricing, which I promised to read.

Read it I have, and I suggest you all do so as well. Here’s the link: http://tommfranklin.blogspot.com/2010/07/problems-with-pricing-digital-book.html. It’s a nicely-done overview of some of the problems of e-books with regard to pricing, and Tom comes at it as someone with hands-on experience (albeit, as he’s the first to admit, experience with a specific publisher in a specific segment of the market).

Still, it has some hard facts that I’ve been craving. And I’ll say this: If the assumption that 90% of a publisher’s expenses come BEFORE the actual physical production is not only true, but also even close to universal throughout the industry, then the battle over e-book publishing is going to get very, very ugly very, very quickly. Because the average consumer (to say nothing of the early adopter) thinks that the figure should probably be more like 50% and is expecting a commensurate drop in e-book pricing. But if a publisher spends 90% of a books price before ever running off a single copy…then that means there’s only 10% to play around with in terms of discounting.

With regard to the DRM/piracy discussion: I think we’ve hammered that poor dead horse quite a bit, but I do want to point out that Mark Evanier (as usual) says it better than I ever could, and more succinctly, to boot: It’s about respect.

Thoughts?

Writing Life #14: Screwing Up; Moving On

Oh, man. The Writing Life is killing me right now!

I have self-imposed a deadline: By September 1, I have to finish new drafts of both I Hunt Killers and The Book That Will Kill Me. The reason for this is that as of September 1, I’ll be taking a vacation (my first in years) and I don’t want either book hanging over my head while I’m gone. I’m not trying to rush or anything — I fully plan on going through them again when I get back. I just want both books in a good place before I leave.

But this is proving more difficult that it might have seemed at first.

The Book That Will Kill Me is, of course, monstrous. You saw the picture last week. I’ve managed to read through it since then and the news is…mixed.

See, when I was writing the book, it felt very, very…complicated. Difficult. But when I read it this past week, it was a breeze. It wasn’t difficult to read at all.

Now, you may be thinking, “Isn’t that a good thing, Barry? Don’t you want people not to have to struggle to read your work?” And, yeah, that’s fine, but it’s just that… I’ve never been in this position before, where in the writing of something, it felt so firmly and assuredly X, only to discover that it’s really Y. It means I’m taking extra care in the revision process, trying to make sure my revisions fit in with what the book actually is, not what I think it is.

Does that make any sense? Probably not to anyone but me. 🙂

As to Killers. Well. Two beta readers had time to take a look at it last week and — horror of horrors — they both pointed out the same thing. The sort of thing where, as a writer, you think someone might notice it, but you figure 99% of readers aren’t going to, so you convince yourself to let it slide.

And my first two readers pointed it out.

That’s the sort of news that really makes me want to head to the liquor cabinet, folks. One person noticing? Hell, that’s just a perceptive and/or lucky reader. But two people?

That means one thing, and one thing only: Author error. In technical terms, I fucked up.

I know exactly what I did wrong. I know exactly how to fix it.

Well, that’s not precisely true. There are actually two ways to fix it. One is easy.

One is hard.

The easy one, sad to say, feels like a bit of a cheat. I could probably do it, but… I wouldn’t feel right about it.

So I think I’m going to take the hard way out. Which means re-thinking a chunk of the book, making room for some new material, and just generally opening up the guts of it and poking around to see what I can see. Not my idea of a fun time.

But you know what? It’s OK. Ultimately, this is going to make for a stronger book.

A while back, I blogged about how I don’t revise a lot, how what ends up being published is very close to my first drafts. And how I suspected that this year I would end up having to do a lot of revising. An oracle I’m not, but I nailed that particular prediction.

The reason, of course, is because I’m trying new things as a writer. New kinds of stories for new audiences (and, hopefully, for the old audience, too!). This means taking some chances, taking some risks. Tripping over my own feet. Falling down. Getting back up. Tending to the occasional skinned knee. I could keep extending this metaphor, but I’m afraid I’d strain something.

In short, while it’s a definite annoyance to see that I have a little more work cut out for myself than I’d intended or hoped, it’s a good thing in the long run. I have many, many kinds of stories I want to tell in this Writing Life. That means I’ll always be making mistakes, figuring out new things, and learning as I write.

I can think of a lot worse things.

See you next week!

What’s Wrong with Publishing? #9: DRM

The usual disclaimer: The opinions and ideas expressed in WWwP? entries are ruminations, not rants. I’m thinking out loud here. Even if it seems like I’m demonizing some quarter of the industry, I’m really not — I want publishing (every aspect of it) to be stronger and better. Everyone has a role to play. I welcome your thoughts in the comments. I adore just about everyone I’ve met and worked with in publishing; nothing I say here should be construed as denigrating any sector of the industry.

Back a few weeks ago, one of the comments on this blog said, in part:

here’s the cold, harsh truth: just about anything you put out there to sell can be duplicated with today’s technology.  CDs and DVDs can be ripped and burned, golf clubs can be replicated, clothing, watches, designer handbags can all be copied.  and books can be scanned, turned into PDFs and  distributed freely.

(and don’t think DRM is going to stop -anybody-)

instead of trying to angrily attack a multi-headed beast that grows another head or two for every head you might manage to lop off, or, worse, refuse to go into new technologies for fear of getting ripped off, i think it’s best to acknowledge the potential problems and continue moving forward.  i seriously doubt the people who are either pirating or using pirated versions of anything would likely be paying customers anyway.

The comment was made by a fellow named Tom Franklin, who made many excellent points both on that blog and the one that followed. You should check out what he said here and here (under the handle “fivecats”). For now, I’m just going to discuss his comment above. And, yes, I agree that the existence of piracy should not make us shy to enter into the digital realm. Fear of piracy makes sense when you’re an eighteenth century galleon flying the Spanish flag in contested British waters, but not when you’re a twenty-first century author.

It’s inevitable that a discussion of the future of publishing is going to involve, at some point, DRM (digital rights management, for those of you not hip to the lingo — basically, the electronic copy protection that prevents you from copying digital media and sharing it with the world). Everything sold online attempts — at one time or another — to restrict its use via some kind of DRM. DRM has been with us since even the VCR, when the hated “Macrovision” system allegedly prevented people from copying videotapes (and also, most of the time, made the protected tapes damn near impossible to watch). These days, it doesn’t take long for the crowd-sourced wisdom of the Internet to crack any DRM out there, whether it’s copy-protection on a DVD or even the security “system” built into the operating system on Apple’s iPhone (which is now routinely broken within days of Apple’s updates).

So, Tom’s comment “don’t think DRM is going to stop -anybody-” is not only prescient, but also — so far as we can tell — objectively true.

Except for this: DRM does stop people. All the time. It stops people who can’t be bothered.

Yes, it is almost obscenely easy to crack DRM these days. Hell, there’s even a website that can jailbreak an iPhone with a single swipe of the finger, if you’re so inclined.

“If you’re so inclined” is the operative phrase here.

My feeling is this: Remember the movie In the Line of Fire? John Malkovich tells Clint Eastwood that it’s no big trick to kill the president — you just have to be willing to trade your life for his, is all. What this means is that to someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, there is no obstacle high enough. The same holds true for piracy and digital rights management: To a truly determined pirate, no amount of DRM will stop them. But you know what? Most people who don’t like the president aren’t willing to trade their lives for his, so if you make it minimally difficult to pull the trigger…they won’t. So I acknowledge that we’ll never stop piracy, but if some barriers can be put up that will stop some pirates, I’m happy.

Why? Why do I care? Well, to me it’s very simple: It’s wrong.

People get twisted into philosophical and ontological arguments about piracy, discussing whether or not it helps sales or hurts sales, commenting on the impossibility of stopping it, etc. But for me, it’s very simple: Pirates are stealing from me. And, yeah, I can’t stop them all, but if I catch someone picking my pocket, you can be damn sure I’m going grab his wrist and not let him go until he’s cuffed. It’s not that complicated. I don’t make a career out of looking for pirates, but when I notice my work pirated, I take the appropriate steps. Not because I’m some old-school traditionalist, not because I hate the freedom of the internet, but just because it’s wrong. I did not give them permission to share my work and they are doing it anyway. Period. End of story.

I genuinely don’t understand why people don’t get this. Yes, a determined crook can pick my lock, get into my house, and steal everything I own. Does this mean I shouldn’t bother locking the door at all?

Right now, there’s nothing to stop me from taking my favorite book from my shelf, photocopying it a hundred times, and giving it free to my closest one hundred friends. Nothing except for the cost and hassle. And, of course, the fact that doing so is both illegal and unethical. That is the “DRM” of the analog world, and no one ever complained about it. “Why do publishers make it so difficult for me to get the book flat on the photocopier? They should publish books spiral-bound so that I can make photocopies more easily!”

Now that it’s easy to make copies of digital products, I don’t see anything wrong in throwing a couple of roadblocks to copying them.

Now, where I have a beef with DRM is here: When I buy a book, I own that physical product. And I can do whatever I want with it, including lending it to a friend, donating it to a charity, or selling it at a garage sale. Not so with an e-book. And that, too, is wrong.

Libraries are already using systems that allow people to borrow e-books. I’d like to see that technology leveraged such that I could, if I liked, allow my friend to borrow my e-book. I could send him an e-mail that has a link allowing him to download a copy of the book that will self-destruct after a period of time I set. For that same length of time, the book would be unavailable to me, just as if I’d loaned out a physical copy. In essence, we would all become lending libraries. (Bonus: Unlike when you lend out a physical book, you know for sure you’ll get this one back!)

Additionally, there should be a little button or menu item or what-have-you that says “I want to sell/transfer this book.” At which point, you would be allowed to e-mail that book to the one person of your choice and it would be deleted from your device. Ta-da. Problem solved.

How would this work? There would probably be some sort of code involved or some sort of check system on the web. Whatever. It’s not nontrivial to design and implement, I’m sure, but it’s also no more difficult than any other “is this person the right person?” system established in the past decade.

Frankly, this is the only reason to dislike DRM in e-books, because it prevents you from giving away or selling your old books, which is something you should totally be allowed to do. Once a solution like the above is implemented, I can’t think of any other reason to complain about it.

I suppose now I’ve opened myself up to all sorts of attacks: I’m anti-freedom, I guess. I hate the amazing liberation of piracy. I’m denying the sales power inherent in free.

No, no, and no.

I have no problem giving away free stuff in order to get people interested in my work. Hell, I was in charge of Free Comic Book Day, remember? I am well aware of the power of free.

The issue, again, is that the decision to give away my work should be mine, not some pirate’s. It is my work. I get to decide. Not you. Not a script-kiddie with too much computing power and too much time on his hands.

Many pirates, it must be said, put their money where their mouths are. They freely give away and allow to be redistributed, for example, the tools they’ve devised to pirate other people’s work. And I applaud them for not being hypocrites at the same time that I exhort them (and everyone reading this) to note that doing so was a choice they made. A choice.

It is not a choice someone else made for them.

So why should they get a free pass in taking that choice away from me?

I don’t think they should.

So, yes — I will never stop the pirates of the world. But that’s OK. I don’t intend to. But I also will never simply throw my hands in the air and say, “OK, everyone — steal from me.”

Because that’s my choice.

(To see the comment thread from the old barrylyga.com, click here. If you want to add to the conversation, use the comment form below.)

What’s Wrong with Publishing? #8: What’s Right with Publishing?

The usual disclaimer: The opinions and ideas expressed in WWwP? entries are ruminations, not rants. I’m thinking out loud here. Even if it seems like I’m demonizing some quarter of the industry, I’m really not — I want publishing (every aspect of it) to be stronger and better. Everyone has a role to play. I welcome your thoughts in the comments. I adore just about everyone I’ve met and worked with in publishing; nothing I say here should be construed as denigrating any sector of the industry.

The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine, a fellow author. I mentioned this little series of blogs about publishing issues and she said, “Aren’t you afraid you might offend someone?”

I explained that I try to avoid that and that — just to be safe — I have a handy disclaimer on each post, but her comment got me thinking. While it’s axiomatic that a series called “What’s Wrong with Publishing?” will focus on the negative, shouldn’t I also give some time to the good stuff about publishing?

Well, duh. Of course.

This entry is by no means intended to be comprehensive. It’s just some things I love about publishing, fired from the hip.

1) Passion. I have yet to meet an author who wants to hack out a book for a quick paycheck. Every editor I’ve ever met wishes every book s/he is editing could be a bestseller and reap rewards not for the editor, but for the author. Selfless! Every publicist I’ve met has wished for a limitless budget to shout the glories of his/her list to the world. The publishing big-wigs — the publishers, executives, etc. — are humble and pleasant, thrilled to speak with their authors. (I’ve never met a “suit” who treated authors as fungible widgets or acted as if authors were to be tolerated.) I have yet to meet an agent who is not unfailingly, unrelentingly upbeat about his or her clients, who would not move heaven, earth, and any other realms to bring success to their clients. This is just a fabulous place to live, this publishing industry.

2) We Create. When was the last time you saw a TV show or a movie that was a remake of something older? When was the last time you heard a song that covered a classic? OK, now that you’ve answered those questions, answer this one: When was the last time you read a book that was a remake of an older one? (And when I say “remake,” I don’t mean “influenced by.” I’m talking about an actual remake.)

3) New Chances. Every single year, new authors are published, fresh-faced debut newbies with new things to say and new ways of saying them. Not all of them survive the cut, but they get the chance. Think about that, the next time you watch a TV show or a movie starring the same old cast. Yes, newbies break out in other media, too, but how many? And how many of them get the opportunities given to new authors? An actor needs to surprise the world with a star turn in a movie or TV show before he or she will be feted and given massive exposure. In publishing, a house can say, “This new guy has promise” and start promoting the new work before anyone knows the new guy’s name.

4) The Words Matter. Your religion, race, age, sexual orientation, favorite Jonas Brother, computer platform of choice, and attitude on the Middle East don’t matter at all. All that matters is the writing. If you want, it’s entirely possible to have books published without anyone knowing what you look like, how old you are, where you’re from, or even what your real name is.

5) Old Chances. Older writers who may have thought their best years are behind them can often find fans at other publishing houses and relaunch themselves. Rare is the publishing professional who will say, “So-and-so is too old for books.” Compare to TV, movies, music.

6) Risk. Publishers take risks. They publish books that may be complicated or weird or off-putting. They try new kinds of storytelling. Since it’s cheaper to publish a book than it is to produce a movie or many other forms of media, they can gamble a little more with an unconventional idea or an out-of-left-field tale. Yes, other media take risks, too, but not on the scale of publishing. Some of the smash hits of publishing were originally books that no one was sure would “take” in the wider audience…but someone took a risk and threw the dice.

7) The Big Support the Small. Now, I don’t necessarily find this an ideal situation and I’d like to see it change, but while the status quo remains, it’s good that the big books earn so much money that publishers can afford to take a chance on smaller books. In a perfect world, each book would be self-supporting and earn its own way, but we don’t live in a perfect world. It would be easy, I imagine, for publishers to say, “Well, we made $10 million on Bigshot McBestseller’s new book. Let’s call it a day and come into the office when the next one’s due.” But that doesn’t seem to be in publishing’s DNA. Instead, someone says, “Let’s carve off a little of that ten million and see what happens with this little book over here that we all love so much.” To those who worry about a “blockbuster” mentality consuming publishing, I point to this as contrary evidence.

There you have it — a baker’s half-dozen of things I love about publishing, things that the industry definitely does right. There are many more, I know, but these are the ones I reflect on often, especially when I write about what the business does wrong. Because even though I want to see things change…I don’t want to see them change to the extent that we lose the many wonderful things publishing gets right.

Writing Life #13: Lucky Thirteen!

Hey, it’s the thirteenth post in Writing Life! Here’s a black cat for you…

 

 

And here’s a ladder…

 

 

 

And last but not least, here’s a black cat…walking under a ladder!

 

 

All right! That ought to take care of plenty of bad luck for us all. Let’s move on.

So, what’s going on in the Writing Life this week? Well, lemme tell ya…

I have officially shipped off the first draft of the first book of I Hunt Killers to a couple of my beta readers. The rest of them aren’t quite ready for it yet, so I’m not deluging them with paper until they give the go-sign. But in the meantime, I get that wonderful, stomach-churning feeling of knowing that People Are Reading My Words. Will they love Killers? Hate it? Worse yet, will they just shrug their shoulders and say, “Meh?”

This can be a tough time for me; Tom Petty was a wise, wise man when he said, “The waiting is the hardest part.” It’s not that I feel that if my betas don’t like the draft that it reflects poorly on me — hey, it’s an early draft, right? It’s more that my whoel reason for writing is so that other people will read — and enjoy reading — my work. If my betas don’t enjoy what I give them, then I feel bad. I mean, it’s great that I get some feedback and can think about my next step (Revise? Rewrite? Or maybe the betas are just wrong…) but in the meantime, there are some folks who read my work and didn’t have fun. Boo.

Fortunately, one of the benefits to writing a million books at once is that there’s always work to do, so I don’t have much time to stress about that! Right now, I’m getting back into The Book That Will Kill Me. I read the first hundred or so pages yesterday and was pleased with them. No mean trick when you realize I wrote those words more than a year ago and haven’t looked at them since. I was surprised at how well they seemed to integrate with what I wrote a month or so ago at the end of the book. So, that’s a bit of good news. I’ll be reading through the entire manuscript over the next week or so, making corrections and adding in bits and pieces that are missing. The whole thing clocked in at 803 pages when I printed it, and I don’t think it’s going to get any shorter. In fact, it may even get a little longer. (Sorry, future editor!)

If you’re curious, here’s what an 803-page manuscript looks like:

 

 

 

I’ve conveniently provided a ruler for scale. (The little stack of 20 or so pages next to the main stack is a set of notes for me to consult while working my way through the manuscript.)

So, between waiting for Killers feedback and working on The Monster (and, of course, noodling around with art for the graphic novel as Colleen sends it), I’m pretty busy right now. I guess I better get back to work…

See you next week!