I’m Not The Jerk In E-book Pricing, And Trunk Novels

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about some things, so I might as well do a blog post.

* Every time I say “trunk novel”, someone asks what that is. A trunk novel is a term for a novel that won’t ever escape the inside of a trunk. It’s a piece a writer works on solely for his/her own gratification, one that stands little chance of every being published, mostly because the writer understands it’s horrible. It’s the writing version of junk food. I love my trunk novels. (Yes. That’s plural.) Often I work on them during breaks from other books. They’re sort of dry runs, practice to keep me in the game. It can also mean a trunk novel that gets published after a writer is famous, or famous and dead.

* OK, guys, let’s get serious. Lots of you are emailing me telling me that various e-book distributors are protesting publishers’ move to agency pricing by pulling my books. You invariably ask me to “talk to the publishers” and solve this problem.

I cannot do that. Furthermore, I will not even consider it and the very thought makes me cranky.

First, the publishers have little control over whether the distributors carry their books. Publishers and distributors are two separate companies and make their own decisions. Second, I would not dream of coming down on the side of the distributors on this issue, for the simple fact that the publishers’ interests in this case align with my own. The agency pricing model gives writers a better deal, and it keeps the books around for longer. The distributors want to profit at the expense of the writers (who produce the content) and the publishers (who invest in quality control and on the chance that the content will made the money back for them).

In short, THE PUBLISHERS ARE NOT THE ENEMY HERE, AND THE WRITERS ARE NOT THE ENEMY EITHER.

It is perfectly natural for the distributors to want to maximize their profits, or to keep going with business models that benefit them at the expense of the writers or publishers. They’re businesses, maximizing their profits is what they DO. But neither I nor the publishers should take the rap for it. Because it is also well within publishers’ rights to say, “We invest in bringing this content to the marketplace. We pay the advance, we provide the editing and quality control, we provide the art and marketing, and we will set the price for it as we see fit.” And in this one case, the publishers’ views align nicely with the rights and views of the writers producing the books in the first damn place. Professional writers are OF COURSE going to support their publishers in seeking the pricing and policies that grant them a living wage (or a close approximation of one). Or, to be more precise, that maximize the chances that a writer can afford to continue writing because the financial rewards are enough to let them scrape by. (This is where I go off on my “just because you’re published doesn’t mean you’re rich” rant. I’ll save that for another day.)

The distributors’ response–yanking certain publishers’ goods in order to pressure them into dropping the agency pricing model–is greedy and short-sighted in the extreme. Brick and mortar stores, e-book sites like Fictionwise, other sites like Amazon, are DISTRIBUTORS. The whole purpose of these companies is to distribute the goods that people want to buy, in this case, books. If they do not distribute, people should get annoyed and find somewhere else to shop. Distributors shoot themselves in the foot in these kinds of situations, despite their PR working overtime (usually through their customer platforms) to convince customers that someone else (the big bad publishers, the writers) are to blame.

I understand people contact the writers because we are the “face” of our books. People write to me about all sorts of things I have zero control over, like cover prices or font sizes or distribution to foreign countries or or or…you get the idea. It irks me that there are problems I can’t solve for the readers or to facilitate their enjoyment, but that’s life.

But please, please, dear Readers, don’t jump on me because a distributor is kicking and screaming over the e-book pricing model that may very well make or break an author’s chances to keep bringing these books to you. (Although, really, e-books are such a small part of total book sales…even though it doesn’t seem like it to people on the Internet.) Don’t jump on my publisher, or THE publishers, either. The publisher wants me to keep writing as much as you do; the publisher wants you to have the books as much as I do and you do. It’s the distributor who doesn’t want agency pricing because it gives the publisher and writer a bigger slice of the profits (profits that distributors have grown accustomed to in the last five-ten years or so) that deserves your ire. They are the ones you should be demanding an answer from–an honest answer, not “the big bad publishers are picking on poor little us, waaaah!”

Honestly, if it was the publisher being an asshole, I’d tell you. If it was me being an asshole, I’d admit it.

In this case, it’s neither. We’re not the assholes here, and filling up my email inbox with rants about how I need to get on the publisher and yell at them do not help. I know you’re frustrated. I’m frustrated too, as you can probably tell. I have no choice but to sit tight and wait for it to all shake out, since there is literally nothing I can do. In this case, the publishers are going into battle on behalf of writers. Well, it’s on behalf of their own profits, but it’s benefiting writers. Fair enough.

Now I’ve got to go hop on the treadmill and work all this adrenaline anger off.

See you around.

PS: Behave in the comments, please. Thanks.

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Serenity In Rain

Today has been productive. Errands run, a short story proofed, and the afternoon settling into a groove. When will I learn that trying to take days off makes me cranky and slightly depressed? I just don’t feel right unless I work. It may be a coping mechanism, but at least it’s a coping mechanism that benefits me and doesn’t suck.

The rain is coming through in sweeps today, and in between each brisk broom-flick of straight up-and-down falling water is a mini-sunbreak. It’s spring weather, and it washes every newly-sprung leaf and every azalea flower over and over. It’s the sort of day where the rain cleans the air too, and everything is crystalline when the sun breaks out. The entire world smells of green and growing.

Me? I’m inside listening to Joshua Bell playing Kreisler over and over. There’s a candle burning softly and the whole house is quiet except for the violin’s singing. Every window is full of the softstorm light of spring, and words are itching under my skin.

It’s good to be here. I hope your day is just as serene, dear Reader.

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A Ramble About Shelves

When Monday morning is a relief, you know your weekend was borked.

It wasn’t all bad. I did, for example, get three bookcases put together. Now I have a whole reference bookcase, instead of my reference books scattered all over the house in uneven lumps. A book collection is like oatmeal–you want some clumps, but easy ones. Anyway, my Tanith Lee collection is sharing a much bigger case with my Latin books now, and my working metaphysical library has been taken from my altar and placed in my bedroom. Now I have to organize it instead of finding the book I want by a type of intuitive leap. *snort* Ah, maybe I should leave the metaphysical ones jumbled to keep my intuition sharp.

I was amazed to find out just how much poetry I have, too. I should set aside a shelf for that. It’s odd, because there aren’t many poets I truly like. Blake, Shelley, Keats, all right, some Byron when I can forget what he was like in real life. Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Dowson–of course, and I shelve them together because I’m That Way. Sexton, Plath, Auden, most e.e. cummings, Marge Piercy, some (not all) Kerouac; then there’s the shelf with Yehuda Amichai, Neruda, Yeats, and Dylan Thomas. The Beat Reader, for some reason, goes there instead of with Kerouac. Plus, Mira and Rumi go together, but with a reasonable, respectful distance between their physical selves. Some other poets–Sappho, Propertius, Ovid–go with Greek and Latin books instead of in poetry per se. Just like I shelve Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books with the WWII history books. Still, there is one Ovid and one Sappho that go with the poetry just because the translations are so beautiful.

My bookshelves are organized, it just might not look that way to the innocent bystander. I can generally find any book I own in seconds, unless (this is a big thing) someone else who lives here has moved it. I HATE that, because I can’t rest until I find a particular book, if I’m wanting to loan it to someone or just cross-check something in it. I don’t mind people reading the damn books, that’s what they’re for, but I DO like them being put back where you found them. Otherwise I get all messed up. Some people who have lived with me have even hid books from me just to make me crazy.

I always hated that.

Anyway. My weekend was long, complex, draining, but also productive. I put all my Nabokov in my bedroom (a dangerous place, I know) and it’s sharing a small bookshelf with my French and (very small) Russian Revolution collections. This amuses me every time I pass it, though it probably would not amuse him.

Of course, the dust is still settling and small leftover bits are still being sorted into their proper places. But the bulk of the work is done, all that needs to happen now is tiny little shifts in adjustment. A book collection (I hesitate to use the word library in connection with my crowd of well-loved, dusty, ill-behaved and eclectic books, both “working” and leisurely) is like a creative brain. There’s enough order to make things reasonable, and a little disorder to open the door to magic.

So now that I’ve completely bored you talking about my bookshelves, off I go to the rest of my day. I have a little slice of time where I can work only on writing the things I want to write, and there’s a certain self-hating, murderous fae who would like some of my attention.

See you in a bit, dear Reader…

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Simple Link Soup

Today is Take Your Middle-Schooler To Work Day. Since I work at home…yeah, there was pleading. The Princess is usually so good, and she’s worked so hard, that I am allowing her to “come to work” with me today. Which basically means running errands with me, and hanging around the house while I bonk my head against revisions. The lucky little chickadee.

I’m deep in the wilds of revision and making a final push today, plus I have a ton of people who really need answers and correspondence from me. They’ve been very patient, and I need to get right on that and start cracking. So today it’s just a couple of links:

* Yes, health insurers want you dead. Or at least, very ill. Why else would they have $2 billion in stock in fast food companies? (h/t to Mark Morford.)

* Lucienne Diver with three things every writer should know.

* And something I’ve found helpful lately: 50 things you can control right now. In this vein, Thich Nhat Hanh on the here and now. Deeeep breath.

There now. That’s better.

See you on the other side, dear Readers.

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Worry Well

I’ve received a lot of very good advice in the last six months. Some of it I can’t keep in my head because too much has been swirling around. The remainder I repeat to myself daily. Like this:

If you must worry, don’t worry in quantity. Worry in quality. Worry well.

I am a champion worrier. Apparently a key component of my makeup is the phrase, “why be happy when you can brood?” I wouldn’t even hesitate to call my propensity for worry downright Olympian. Or even pathological.

Part of the problem is that I was trained as a child to anticipate and care for the needs of everyone around me before even thinking about my own. Part of it, I suspect, is inborn. Another part is my habitual insomnia. Sleeplessness breeds worry like food and oxygen breed Tribbles.

There’s been a lot of changes lately, not the least of which occurred yesterday and involved a metric ton of paperwork as well as some serious cash. I collapsed at home afterward and thought, my God, what have I done? My writing partner saved the day: “It’s called buyer’s remorse, and you should ignore it. This will make you and your kids safer. The way things were before wasn’t sustainable.”

She was right. This is just another instance where I have to worry well.

I often worry that my career will evaporate and I’ll be left with two little ‘uns to support and no means of doing so. It takes a physical effort, sometimes, to remind myself that pessimistic thinking has never really gotten me anywhere and can be downright unhealthy. I have to tell myself, sometimes out loud: If you think about that, Lili, you also need to think about what you’ll do if it doesn’t tank. What if you have a long, successful career? Focus on that, and what you need to do for that. This is healthier and strengthens your odds.

It’s that last part that really convinces even my muscular, overworked Inner Sceptic. I strongly believe that I got published because I work damn hard and I’m willing to learn. Discipline and teachability (in other words, the ability to admit I’d made a mistake and do better next time, which is critical if you’re thinking of getting published) are things I have some control over, and they’re incidentally things that up my chances.

I can’t control what happens tomorrow. I really can’t. But I can control how hard I work today, what priorities I set, and I can definitely control whether or not I admit I’m wrong. Those things happen to maximize my chances of having a good career–or, if the writing tanks, they prepare me to do other things.

I don’t honestly expect my writing career to tank. Sure, tomorrow the publishers could decide I’m not a good risk or readers could decide en masse I’m a hack who isn’t worth the cash spent on a paperback. It could happen. But it’s far more likely that if I keep my head about me I will eke out a living by the written word, seeing as how I’ve come this far. And there is a great deal of this that is up to me.

You see, worry is only very rarely about what you’re actually worrying about. Just like anger is most often about perceived or real helplessness, a lot of worry revolves around control. (Which is, I guess, another response to perceived or actual helplessness.) Realizing that is a huge component of worrying well and effectively instead of flailing around at three in the morning, exhausting yourself and just generally being an idiot.

So now I have to go worry well over these revisions. The book doesn’t suck as much as I thought it might. Then again, I’m only halfway through and there’s plenty of time for things to go wrong…

…or really, really right.

See what I mean?

Over and out.

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Harumph.

I feel like a cranky old granny today. “All you kids get off my lawn!” As I rattle my cane and glare balefully.

The weekend was busy. Fortunately, a huge personal disappointment isn’t throwing me into the slough of despond; I think I’ve reached the point where I’m actively expecting to be treated well. And when that doesn’t happen, I’m cutting my losses sooner. I used to think that if you just loved someone hard enough, everything else would work out. Now I’m slowly learning that loving someone does not have to mean sacrificing every last bit of myself only to have them disdain me in the end for being too easy.

So. This weekend there was much glee, because the couch arrived. I didn’t get a couch before now because, well, there was a lot of cleaning-up I had to do after people and seriously, I did not have time to even THINK of cleaning a couch. Now that the living space has calmed down immensely and I’m picking up after just two reasonable children instead of several over-18 children (oh, don’t even get me started on man-boys!) I felt like I could have something nice. So…I got something nice. And I spent a half-hour with a ratchet putting the sofa arms on.

It was the first time in my life I had actually used a ratchet. I felt quite, quite manly.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, but I didn’t mow the lawn. I probably should have, but it was my friend Monk’s birthday. So there was a new recipe tried for dinner, much laughing and talking, and a generally great time was had by all. Plus, Monk got to crash on the new sofa instead of the laundry pile or the air mattress I used to drag out for him to sleep on.

Sometimes it is just the little things.

The most helpful part of the weekend was reading Jennifer Crusie’s most awesome essay on protecting the work. I realized that I’ve let a lot of Life Stuff impinge on my working in the last six months. Granted, they’re the sort of life stressors, both positive and negative, that can really throw anyone for a loop. But now it’s time to buckle down and really remind myself that people who don’t value me are people I can do without, and people I don’t need to drain myself to take care of.

This is a huge realization for me. I’ve spent a lot of my life taking care of people, and it’s liberating to narrow the field to the people who I WANT to take care of instead of anyone in perceived pain I wander across. Healthier? Yes. Sometimes exhausting because I feel the pull of old bad habits? Oh, hell yes.

Which is why I think I might print out Ms. Crusie’s excellent essay and read it every day for a while. If I have to be a cranky old woman to protect my work…

…well then, I guess I’ll have to buy a cane.

See you tomorrow, dear Readers.

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