Great Stuff for Writers, March 16-18, 2013

Primarily a business focus in today’s articles but Kristen Lamb’s funny piece on not being a social media tools tool is a nice counterpoint.

CRAFT

James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) The Perils of Pure Pantsing on The Kill Zone could also be titled “In Praise of Structure.” Note that that’s structure with a u, not stricture with an i. Late in the post, Bell writes that structure “helps readers feel what you want them to feel” (italics his). I compare structure to the bare scaffold of a building. It defines the general shape but says nothing about where the doors and windows will be, the number, shape, or size of the rooms, or what the exterior will look like. That’s where the architect’s art comes in. The same goes for a story: it’s the writer’s art that turns the structure into a story, but without the structure, all you have is a pile of words.

BUSINESS

Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) writes about one of the issues with the Random House ebook imprint contracts that didn’t get a lot of notice: Publishing Reversion Clauses. In short, Smith notes that these clauses didn’t get much attention in the latest kerfuffle yet they, in conjunction with life-of-copyright contracts (which, remember, is 70 years after the author’s death), could deny authors access to income their work might otherwise earn if the author regained control of how a work was published, marketed and distributed. Smith closes his piece by listing some things you should try to get into a traditional contract—or be willing to walk away if you can’t. Fine, I suppose. Good luck if you’re a new author looking at your first contract.

Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) 5 Industry Trends Requiring Every Writer’s Attention provides a good summary of where she thinks the publishing industry is today, minus DW Smith’s anti-agent stance. Two things stand out here: (1) she advises poets, memoirists, and fiction writers, especially those just starting out, to worry far less about their platform than others have advised. Instead, she urges them to concentrate on their writing. What a radical concept! (2) She lists a few new resources for do-it-yourself ebooks, particularly for tablet computers and other Apple devices.

Joe Konrath (@JAKonrath) writes about his almost completely positive experience with Amazon’s KDP Select program, despite its Exclusivity requirement. This has been a big bugaboo with some authors: it requires a KDPS-enrolled ebook be available only through KDPS for 90 days. Konrath argues that if the other ebook distributors want his business, they have to compete for it, that is, find ways to make their services as attractive as the 800 pound gorilla known as Amazon’s are. Sounds good, but that could be a heavy lift if the company’s struggling, the way Barnes & Noble is. And is there a difference between a big-selling author like him versus a new author in these companies’ eyes? Ultimately, if we want to self-publish, we each have to make the business decision on which market or markets we’re going to sell through.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Kristen Lamb (@KristenLambTX) asks Can Social Media Tools Make us a Social Tool? Her answer is, in her usual snarky way, YES! (I can tell you, by the way, having gone to one of her presentations at the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend that her blog persona and her presenter persona are the same—very funny—except she operates at New York speed, not Texas speed, in person.) Behind the snark, though, there’s a serious point: obsess about or get wrapped up in the social media tools—whether that’s Hootsuite, Klout, or the idea of tweeting as one of your characters—is counterproductive at best. And then you’re behaving like a tool.

OPINION

I have a beef with Smith’s post above:  he uses hypothetical situations and anecdotes to illustrate the bad things traditional publishers might do. Might do. Do they—especially, do all of them—do these things on a routine basis? I don’t know but you should be aware of Smith’s anti-traditional-publisher and anti-agent biases as you read this piece. His wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, expresses the same ones in her Business Rusch columns. In both cases, this is too bad, because they both also provide valuable information. And to be fair, they’ve had some bad experiences with agents and publishers. Still, it seems to me that it’s wrong to tar all agents and all publishers with the brushes of those bad experiences. Disclaimers: I am not an agent, don’t know any agents, and don’t have one under contract, or vice versa. Similarly, I am not a traditional publisher, don’t know any, and am not under contract to any. In fact, I plan to publish my next book independently.

What do you think about agents? Do they have a place in 21st century publishing or have they become parasites, sucking money from authors and giving nothing of value in return?

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