Ask The Editor

March 25, 2009

Gawker outs publications that stiff writers

Filed under: Commentary,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 2:56 pm
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One publication kept a freelancer waiting two years for a $40 check, says this piece from Gawker. Another has owed a writer $14,000 since last spring. Several magazines are hiding from writers who call to ask where their money is.

And Gawker’s  list is by no means comprehensive.

Writing for household name publications used to be as safe as money in the bank. Now, it’s become risky business. It seems that three or four magazines go out of business each month and several more are teetering on the brink.

Word of advice: if your assignment involves travel or other major costs, make sure your editor advances you the expense money.

Yes, it’s getting that bad.

– Anita Bartholomew

March 19, 2009

Google and Sony take on Amazon’s Kindle

Talk about a smart move for Sony. It’s made a deal with Google that will allow all Google’s public domain (expired copyright) books to be read on the Sony reader, the Kindle’s biggest rival.

Amazon requires that all Kindle books get purchased through Amazon and appear in its proprietary format. Sony doesn’t require you to buy all your electronic reading material for its reader from it and, as far as I know, never has. But that difference hasn’t been publicized. Or, if Sony has tried to publicize this, the media haven’t covered it.

Getting access to all the public domain classics that Google has scanned gives it a publicity boost. (I believe owners of Sony’s e-reader can already use the Sony devices to read many if not most of the same public domain classics via Project Gutenberg).

– Anita Bartholomew

UPDATE: My colleague, George Sheldon, pointed out that, on the Kindle 2, you can read Word documents, not just documents prepared in Kindle’s proprietary format, and the device has the ability to convert other formats to its own. Like Sony, it can access Project Gutenberg public domain books.

March 16, 2009

Chuck Norris: Big cojones; non-existent funnybone

Filed under: Commentary,News,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 8:06 pm
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Author Ian Spector has penned a parody, poking fun at uber tough guy Chuck Norris. And that has Norris fighting mad… no, not kung fu fighting mad, lawsuit fighting mad.

Norris is suing Spector’s publisher, Penguin, along with Spector, in federal court in New York for trademark infringement and invasion of privacy, among other claims.

What has Spector written that Norris finds so objectionable? Well, Reuters reports enough to make one believe that Mr. Macho is a wee bit lacking in the humor department:

The book capitalizes on “mythical facts” that have been circulating on the Internet since 2005 that poke fun at Norris’ tough-guy image and super-human abilities, the suit said.

It includes such humorous “facts” as “Chuck Norris’s tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried” and “Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits,” the suit said, as well as “Chuck Norris can charge a cell phone by rubbing it against his beard.”

Really, Chuck? You’re taking this seriously enough to make a federal case of it?

Chuck Norris’s hissy fit may be great publicity for Spector’s book. For Norris’s reputation, as Jon Stewart likes to say, not so much.

– Anita Bartholomew

March 10, 2009

What’s worse than a rejection letter? A public rejection “tweet.”

As if it weren’t stressful enough to send out that manuscript you worked on for years and then wait for an agent’s or editor’s reply. Now some authors have to fear public shaming. A couple of literary agents, Lauren E. MacLeod and Colleen Lindsay,  have been mocking the pitch letters of aspiring authors on Twitter.

Okay, so not every pitch is a hit. But, c’mon guys, play nice. This is the author’s baby you’re ridiculing. It may seem like a hoot to you but put yourself in the writer’s place.

Meanwhile, authors, make certain that you follow an agent’s guidelines to avoid incurring wrath and ridicule.

“I know writing and querying are hard,” MacLeod tweeted. “So my queryfails have been chosen from people who did not follow submission guidelines.”

March 6, 2009

Barnes&Noble to challenge Amazon in ebooks

Barnes&Noble is buying Fictionwise, an ebook seller that will allow it to open an ebook store and go head-to-head against Amazon in the ebook business.

It’s a smart move. Amazon just announced that its Kindle application will be available on the iPhone. But Fictionwise, the new B&N acquisition, is already available on iPhones, on which it offers thousands of titles.

And, unlike Kindle titles, which require using Kindle as the application, either on the Kindle device or a supported iPhone or iPod, Fictionwise titles can be read on a variety of applications and devices. That means that there are fewer limits on its expansion. Amazon has tried, in every area where it’s become the leader, to crowd out the competition. When it comes to technology, however, if history is any guide, you want an application to be broadly adopted across platforms, not limited to a few.

March 4, 2009

Why writers shouldn’t bet their careers on magazine writing

An article by Francis Wilkinson in The Week asks whether writing is now a career that only the rich can afford to pursue:

The high end of publishing—books, magazines, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal—has always contained a contingent of wealthy worker bees who don’t actually live off their often meager salaries. But even a couple decades ago, a writer without independent means could still scrape together a living writing about something other than movie stars. Not a good one necessarily, but a living.

It’s not obvious how young writers without accommodating, well-to-do parents or a trust from gramps make it these days. Surely they can’t spend a year or two blogging without pay until an audience evolves to nurture them. They’ll starve.

He also says that “freelance rates for non-fluff magazine writing have barely risen in the past 15 years.” Apparently, Wilkinson doesn’t write for many magazines or he’d know that the problem isn’t just that rates haven’t risen; they’re recently begun falling.

Moreover, the trend of stagnating rates isn’t a recent phenomenon. According to Murray Teigh Bloom, one of the original members of the trade organization that is now known as the American Society of Journalist and Authors, told me about 15 years ago that he earned $1 per  when he began freelancing in the 1950s.

Today, many magazines are still stuck at $1 per word and several want to pay less than that. And it’s not simply because they want to exploit writers (although, they often do because too many writers agree to be exploited).

Every week, at least one magazine goes under. Hallmark magazine folded last week, not because it was doing poorly. It was one of the very few magazines where ad revenues were up.

If a magazine folds because (my assumption) it sees dimming prospects for the future, that solidifies my sense that focusing all one’s energy on writing for magazines is like focusing all one’s energy on selling VHS tapes. Not wise.

I recently wrote an article, for far less than I normally get paid, for an online magazine. It was on a controversial topic, close to my libertarian heart, and I wanted it published, even if it meant taking a pay cut. I felt good about getting the word out there. But the online magazine quickly folded (although its content is still up).

Even writing for major magazines that offer $2 per word and up, you have to contend with the possibility that the publication may not still exist when it’s time to pay you.

But books will always be with us, in some form, even if ebooks supplant paper. And that’s where I’d recommend any writer focus the greater share of his or her energy. It may mean that, in the not-too-distant future, you take on the multiple roles of author, publisher, publicist, distributor and warehouser, because major houses are trimming their acquisitions to those they believe (often wrongly, but that’s another post), will be surefire hits.

Only the intrepid, with an entrepreneurial bent can expect to do well under current conditions that are bad for the economy as a whole but worse for publishing. Any writer who sees him- or herself as too delicate to take on the business of marketing probably won’t survive in this climate absent a hefty trust fund or other means of support.

March 2, 2009

The easiest way to get a book deal these days?

It seems that if you want a publisher to make an offer, the quickest route is to make a fool of yourself in an atrociously public way. Examples include Joe the unlicensed, untruthful plumber who isn’t even named Joe; Ann Coulter, the insultaholic female (although some dispute this) Limbaugh wannabe; and now, to add to that list, we have the disgraced ex-governor of Illinois:

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich announced a “six figure” book deal with Phoenix Books this afternoon. It will be published in October.

Words fail me.

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