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RT Clarification of Its Non Position on Free Ebooks

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The news recently has been all about free ebooks lately, mostly stirred by Oprah’s Valentine’s Day gift of Suze Orman’s bestselling book, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny. More than 1 million copies of the books were downloaded. The news reports have been mostly positive as Yahoo stated that the giveaway did not appear to adversely affect sales.

Carol Stacy, President of Romantic Times, emailed me today after Lynn Viehl posted on the issue of free ebooks. Viehl has given free books away, although not any of her New York published work likely because most contracts ceding US distribution rights to the publisher also cede the right to distribute ebooks. In her post today, Viehl makes a reference to RT:

"Now I wonder if Romantic Times will accuse Oprah and Suze of undercutting other writers’ advances, the way they did with me and Melanie last year. I’m thinking no, how about you?"

Carol Stacy wanted to know what blogger protocol was, because she couldn’t make a comment on Viehl’s site in response to the post. I informed her that some blogs moderated comments and Viehl must be one of them. Stacy informed me that RT had not made any accusations against authors and asked me to the post the following clarification since Viehl wouldn’t allow the comment on her blog. I don’t pretend to understand the beef Viehl has with RT, but I agreed to post Stacy’s response here.

Romantic Times did not say or report in its magazine that it was against free downloads. The article in question was about the e-book industry in general and the mention of free downloads was just a sidebar within the article. Here is the sidebar in its entirety:

As e-books grow in popularity, some authors are embracing the format as a way to give back to fans and attract new ones.

Signet Eclipse and Roc author Lynn Viehl pens free e-books and tie in e-novellas to whet fans’ appetites for her next releases and to thank them for their support.

For other writers, it’s a way to get a book out there that might otherwise never see daylight.

When author Melanie Lynne Hauser realized her novel Jumble Pie might not be published, she decided to make it available for free. "We still hope to see it published someday. But who wants to wait for someday? Not me!"

While this may seem like a boon to fans (free books!) these authors and others like them have angered some in the industry who see this practice as essentially giving away the goods for free.

"To my mind they’re undercutting those of us who aren’t giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work," science fiction author Dr. Howard V. Hendrix said in a statement published online.

No matter who you side with, there’s no denying, e-books sure get people talking!

I read Viehl’s reason for not allowing the comment and I don’t know if I really understand it. Obviously I’ve had issues with Viehl’s blogging style in the past so I’ll refrain from trying to parse out her meaning.

I will say that I am a big fan of ebook giveaways and firmly believe that by giving away free fiction an author can increase her print sales. This phenomenon just occurred for me over the weekend. Last week, I received from Berkley a copy of Maya Banks’ Sweet Surrender. None of the previous Banks books I have read have ever worked for me and I can’t say why I even opened this one up to read. But read it I did and I found that I liked it despite my previous experience negative experiences with her writing. I went online this weekend and saw that her book, Into the Mist, was Samhain’s bestseller. I read the excerpt and bought it.

I thought it was great (it will be one of my March recommended reads) and bought a GC for Samhain and sent it to a friend so that she could read it. So out of one free book, Ms. Banks earned two sales.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

14 Comments

  1. janicu
    Feb 18, 2008 @ 23:48:46

    Hmm. This is one of those “life is too short” topics, but to my mind after googling the Howard V. Hendrix quote and being reminded about what that was about, I thought his opinion was closer to a rant than this quote makes it out to be (I think the word he used was webscabs). Perhaps excluding his more incendiary comments in this quote and the whole background of it has lead to negative attention towards Viehl and Hauser from RT readers. That’s my guess. I personally think giving free copies of things is a very smart business practice to entice new customers/readers. But – to each their own. P.S. I’m not saying anything about whether Viehl is right to feel that RT is on the same side as Hendrix in this issue or if RT is right in trying to respond to her comment.

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  2. Janine
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 00:36:52

    The title of your post made me laugh. We live in a funny world, when even non-positions require clarification.

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  3. Teddypig
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 01:50:53

    After seeing Carol Stacy’s posts on Laura Baumbach’s Blog I am sure Viehl is doing Carol a grave disservice not allowing her to foam at the mouth on her blog. Viehl would just end up with even more ammo.

    People actually read RT? I thought it was some rag you paid off to review/advertise your books like all those other “we’ll show you how to get rich quick from posting Amazon reviews” websites not something you actually had to read.

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  4. Harry~DayDream
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 03:28:05

    Hey there! I actually had a very tough time figuring out how to comment, because I am used to seeing the comments button under the post, so it eluded me for quite some time. Anyways I think that ebooks definitely bring up an interesting side of the business and can be used as a way to get fans, which you stated here too.

    In my opinion a lot of people would be interested in reading some of the author’s works for free to get a taste and then be from the buying ones. It’s probably how things will go down soon.

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  5. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 05:37:33

    I have a free ebook I use for promotion. I never sent it to a publisher mainly because my work moved on. This was a Regency romance, and I now write Georgian-set romances and contemporary-set paranormal romance. But I always loved this book “Loving Lucy” and so I offer it free at conventions on CD, but the copies are limited, because I haven’t got a multi-burning setup, and it’s in the files of my yahoo loop for new members to pick up. I did serialise it on the loop and we had a great time when it was coming out. Episodes every week!
    I really wish I could do more of this, it was great fun. I do make short stories available (there’s one coming up this week at ARE for instance, and some on my website) but writing a full-length novel takes a lot of time so it’s not always possible.
    Huge fun to do, though and it undoubtedly builds readership. I write series, and I think there’s a case for, three or four books in, offering the first one for free, perhaps for a short time, but that’s not my call, it’s down to my publisher.

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  6. hotflashes
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 08:52:14

    Funny, I understand perfectly why Lynn Viehl would decline Carol Stacy’s post. Maybe she’s returning the same courtesy Stacy had with her. RT no matter what is a magazine. When you write an article you are supposed to get both sides on the subject, not just state “Lynn Viehl gives free books!” and Dr. Howard states “it’s hurting the industry.”

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  7. Alison Kent
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 10:03:00

    Having had my own run-in with Carol Stacey privately after complaining on my blog about the repeated sloppiness with factual errors in the reviews of my books, I think Lynn is smart not to get into a public debate – and I can only imagine how the private correspondence went. There’s a reason I no longer subscribe to RT, and it’s found under the masthead.

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  8. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 10:48:39

    Gotta saw … awwwww…. over the cute kitty pic first.

    awwwwww

    I read Viehl's reason for not allowing the comment and I don't know if I really understand it. Obviously I've had issues with Viehl's blogging style in the past so I'll refrain from trying to parse out her meaning.

    I read the RT mag’s article on ebooks, and my initial response was Way to go, PBW.

    But (there’s always got to be a but) I’m aware that outspoken individuals often make enemies. I imagine the DA ladies have, I imagine Karen S has, I imagine Sybil has, and I imagine PBW has.

    People shouldn’t be attacked for having opinions, but we know they often are. And I’m willing to bet some Godiva chocolate that the RT article, even if it came across to me as favorable one about PBW, it probably ended up with PBW getting some annoying, nastiness emails from some of those who hate her.

    I think once somebody’s been kicked often enough, they get to disliking the kicks and the article probably opened her to kicks.

    I do think the RT article on freebie ebooks was saying something positive about PBW, but there were those in the write-up that came across as not so positive and those who weren’t portrayed so positively might have gotten it in their heads that it was PBW’s fault.

    But she didn’t write the article and from what I’ve gathered, she didn’t even know it had been written until some of us in blogland mentioned it.

    Is it RT’s fault that some people get a ‘hate-on’ for others and use anything to jab at them? Of course not. But even though I liked the article, I imagine some people read it and decided that they were being slighted and it was PBW’s fault.

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  9. Teddypig
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 11:44:21

    it's found under the masthead.

    After reading Kathryn Falk’s diatribe on Karen’s blog and Carol Stacy’s business smarts in dealing with Laura Baumbach at the conference I would have said “under a rock”.

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  10. Robin
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 14:22:53

    Is it RT's fault that some people get a ‘hate-on' for others and use anything to jab at them? Of course not. But even though I liked the article, I imagine some people read it and decided that they were being slighted and it was PBW's fault.

    Here’s what I don’t understand: why would an author believe that a publication would consult them before using a piece of information that is readily available from their website, blog, or public comments? Or is the issue that what was used from PBW wasn’t publicly available? It seems to me that if the nature of PBW’s objection is that RT never consulted her before using the fact that she gives away ebooks and stories then there’s a huge question around whether RT or anyone should feel so obligated. All I kept thinking when I read PBW’s post and comment was that if there’s not more to this story than this seems like a major over-reaction. So I keep waiting for the “more” to the story.

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  11. SandyW
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 17:00:54

    I gather that PBW has gotten criticism for her freebies, on more than one occasion, as a result of the mention in Romantic Times.
    http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2007/12/freebie-sidebar.html
    That may explain part of it.

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  12. Angie
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 17:16:47

    I don’t see anything in the RT piece to indicate that they’re siding with Howard Hendrix, merely that they’re reporting his stated opinion to show that there are mixed opinions on the subject. Given what info we have here, it looks to me like Lynn Viehl was just taking an opportunity for a quick snark. [shrug]

    On the other hand, I think it was rather ingenuous for RT to invoke the Dr. Hendrix’s quote as though it were merely a private statement — as though they had, for example, found it on his blog or something. In actuality the statement was made while he was a Vice President of SFWA, and the entire statement (which had to be posted for him by someone else, since apparently Dr. Hendrix has a phobia about online technology) started a huge stink and furor, resulting in a mass-posting of free fiction online in protest and mockery of Dr. Hendrix, and some quick disavowals by other SFWA officers to ensure that everyone was aware that Dr. Hendrix wasn’t speaking for the organization in any way. Heck, right at this moment I’m wearing a “Pixel Stained Techno Peasant” T-shirt I got for the occasion, based on another Hendrix quote from the same post. [wry smile]

    I find it rather boggling that whoever wrote the sidebar for RT could have lifted that one quote from Howard Hendrix’s larger piece, and presented it as one side of a balanced presentation of opinion, when in actuality his statement caused a huge outcry in protest, even within his own organization and the people who’d voted him into office. It’s rather like quoting someone from the Flat Earth Society to present a “balanced” view between the side in favor of and that against the whole “spherical planet” thing, without mentioning that the Flat Earthers are considered to be crackpots.

    None of that, however, has anything to do with Ms. Viehl and doesn’t explain exactly what she was snarking about. The most likely explanation I can think of is bad blood in the past and an attack of opportunity.

    Angie

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  13. Robin
    Feb 19, 2008 @ 23:03:09

    Back in September, I started getting a lot of Romantic Times-generated flack because of an RT article accusing me of undercutting the advances of other writers by my practice of giving away free e-books for my readers. I believe Melanie Lynne Hauser was the other author who was attacked for the same thing (note to self: go check out her free content.)

    At the time I chose not to respond to the attack for two reasons: 1) I never actually saw the article in question and 2) it is quite possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. But like most publishing conspiracy theories, this one evidently refuses to die. After I recently talked about free content over on Tobias’s blog, I got a few e-mails from unhappy people who actually believe this nonsense.

    Okay, so it seems to me the key may be in that second paragraph: “I never actually saw the article in question”

    I find it rather boggling that whoever wrote the sidebar for RT could have lifted that one quote from Howard Hendrix's larger piece, and presented it as one side of a balanced presentation of opinion, when in actuality his statement caused a huge outcry in protest, even within his own organization and the people who'd voted him into office. It's rather like quoting someone from the Flat Earth Society to present a “balanced” view between the side in favor of and that against the whole “spherical planet” thing, without mentioning that the Flat Earthers are considered to be crackpots.

    I don’t know anything about Hendrix beyond what I read in his original statement or his clarification, but in both cases, aside from his terribly inflammatory rhetoric, I thought this point was consistently this: “My primary concern is that the webbification of publishing will increasingly disenfranchise authors-’to the benefit of the big bandwidth barons, the media conglomerates.” |

    Now I happen to disagree with him, but his argument itself doesn’t come across as any more crackpotty to me than the arguments by authors that giving away free books will end the publishing industry as we know it. Yeah, it’s extreme, and I think it’s incorrect, but I actually think there are other ways in which publishers are using the new technologies at the expense of authors that should be addressed, and perhaps Hendrix’s comments can be used to open to the door to those discussions.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider to the SF community, but if I were looking for opinions on free books, I’d find Hendrix pretty irresistible, too, precisely because his position is so provocative. I’m not defending the way RT represented Hendrix’s views, but neither can I see the use of his quote as an “attack” on the other two authors in any way, shape, or form.

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  14. Angie
    Feb 20, 2008 @ 07:40:05

    Robin — I agree that Dr. Hendrix’s comments would make a great jumping-off point for a discussion, but I would think that responsible reporting would make it just that: a jumping off point. There was a huge controversy there, and dropping his comment into a sidebar without even a mention of that fact is just ridiculous.

    Based on his statements, I think Dr. Hendrix would certainly have considered Ms. Viehl a “scab,” along with every other professional writer who gives away fiction online, and would have criticized her (along with the rest) harshly for undermining the efforts of earnest people working to better the lot of the working writer. I agree with you, though, that RT’s use of his quote doesn’t constitute any sort of attack on Ms. Viehl by them; it looks to me like they just wanted to present a hint of the controversy, to let their readers know that not everyone thinks this free books thing is a fantastic idea. I think they could have gone about it a bit better, but I don’t see it as a personal attack on Ms. Viehl either. Apparently some other readers did, though, and agreed with it, and chose to send her nasty e-mails? [facepalm]

    I’d have looked up the article before publicly slamming RT, but that’s just me. I think the people who should’ve been slammed, if anyone, were the folks who sent her the nasty e-mails. That was their own choice, without any encouragement from RT, so let them take the heat for their own actions.

    Angie

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